Friday, June 1, 2012

Once again, whites losing ground economically prefer the candidate whose party is responsible

By Marc Jampole

You wouldn’t ask a fox to guard a henhouse. Nor would you ask a known thief to serve as treasurer for a charity. And you certainly wouldn’t have a child molester chaperone a two-week Cub Scout camping trip.

And yet the part of the white middle class that is free-falling towards poverty wants to put a former vulture capitalist in charge of the nation’s economy.

A Washington Post­-ABC poll released earlier this week found that white voters who are struggling financially or experiencing job loss believe that Mitt Romney will do more to advance their economic interests than President Obama will, by a landslide margin of 58% for Romney to 32% for Obama.

It’s just crazy to think that so many more people would trust Romney over any Democrat with their future economic well-being. Say what you will about President Obama’s economic track record as president, Mitt Romney has for decades displayed an enormous disregard for the economic interests of anyone but the super wealthy.

It starts with his profession, investment banker who specialized in buying companies, squeezing costs—often through layoffs—and taking enormous profits.  Bain Capital was never meant to be a job or a wealth creator, but rather a wealth transfer agent that would transfer the value of companies into its bank account.  Sometimes the companies Bain bought and sold thrived and often they went under. Didn’t matter.  Romney and his associates got theirs.

While Romney claims that while he was governor Massachusetts was a job creation machine, the Democrats have released reliable figures that show that Massachusetts was 47th in job creation during Mitt’s years in office, while state debt grew.  That sounds like a Republican, from Reagan to Bush II: slow job growth (or in Bush II’s case, job losses) with an increase in debt.

Now let’s take a look at Romney’s economic ideas:
  • He wants to reduce taxes even more than the current low tax regime that has people with high incomes paying the lowest rates of at least the last 70 years. When rich people don’t pay taxes, they spend some of the extra money, but some gets hidden from the economy in investments that don’t produce jobs. But when the government gets the money, it either spends it or gives it to someone who is going to spend it. Spending money creates demand for goods and services which creates more jobs. Create enough jobs and the demand for labor grows and wages increase.  In a profound way, lowering taxes on the wealthy, as Bush II did, activates a transfer of wealth from middle class and poor people to the wealthy.
  • He wants to make it harder for unions to organize, which means that there will be fewer good paying jobs around, since unionization tends to increase the wages not both of the unionized workers and of other employees at the same company and in the same industry.
  • Romney wants to cut spending on programs that help the middle class and near poor and are making things bearable for the white middle class that has lost jobs. Unemployment, food stamps, health care—you name it, if it’s money that’s going directly to people, Romney doesn’t like it., except of course when it’s tax cuts giving more money to his fellow country-clubbers.
Whites who are struggling—or if you prefer, whites without a college education—have been voting against their economic best interests since the time of Nixon.  Nixon’s brilliant strategist Kevin Phillips developed what was called “The Southern Strategy.” (Phillips has since recanted and spent the rest of his career doing penance for developing this inherently racist and divisive approach to grabbing power by writing a series of books criticizing Republican economic policies).

The objective of the strategy was to pry southern states from the Democratic column by taking stands against busing to achieve integration, affirmative action and other steps to give African-Americans equal rights. The strategy also had Republicans making accusations that the government under Democrats gave away money and jobs to the undeserving (code for minorities).   That message resonated with whites who felt that giving minorities (and women) greater access to the workplace threatened their jobs and who were beginning to lose ground economically as the United States pursued policies that favored its multi-national corporations and banks over maintenance of a strong domestic manufacturing capability.  It was classic “divide and conquer” in which the ruling elite divided the middle class against itself.

Reagan refined the Southern Strategy by adding the white knight of the private sector and unrestrained free enterprise who would save the American people from the wasteful giveaways of the federal government. The coded language defined the undeserving who ended up with “our hard earned money” as minorities, thus playing on old racist myths while strengthening them.

After some 40 years of this brainwashing, it’s no wonder that a large part of the population resents the government and doesn’t realize that the so-called “undeserving” getting government benefits are for the most part very much like themselves—white, uneducated and either poor or struggling.  I can understand their frustration (but not the racism) and I also understand that a lack of education often denies them not just the training to succeed in a technologically driven economy, but also the tools to analyze in depth the absurd claims of right wing politicians.  It doesn’t help matters that there is a large right wing media feeding nonsense to the public and a mainstream media that looks to the right to define the issues on the political agenda.

The result is this grotesque situation in which the oppressed throw their support to a man who symbolizes the oppressors and their techniques of oppression.    

Thursday, May 31, 2012

Teen magazine manufactures new holiday dedicated to shopping

By Marc Jampole

Anyone with doubts that the primary way in which Americans commemorate and celebrate is to shop should see all the proof they need in theannouncement that Teen Vogue magazineis organizing its own private holiday dedicated to shopping calledBack-to-School Saturday on this coming August 11.

The idea of Back-to-School Saturday is to fill the malls with teens and parents looking for sales bargains on clothes and school supplies.  Besides giving Americans another excuse to shop for bargains, it also gets us thinking about school as an opportunity to consume, as opposed to an opportunity to learn career and life skills, gain job certification or explore how to be a thinking and independent member of a free and diverse society.

By organizing Back-to-School Saturday, Teen Vogue (whose function is akin to a training bra for the full assault consumerism of its “big sister” Vogue) has taken the latest step in the evolution of the buying as celebration ideology:
  1. We center traditional holidays such as Christmas around shopping.
  2. We create new holidays like Mother’s Day as a pretext for shopping.
  3. We see the emergence of unofficial grass roots holidays dedicated to shopping such as Black Friday and Cyber Monday.
  4. Now we are creating holidays which have as their rationale nothing more than shopping.
Interestingly enough, Back-to-School Saturday also represents a tour de force of contemporary advertising promotions.  So far, the magazine’s ad reps have gotten major retailers like Staples, H&M, American Eagle Outfitters and Guess to offer sales, samples and coupons for the August 11 celebration; participating manufacturers include Proctor & Gamble.  Even non-readers of Teen Vogue will undoubtedly see a lot about the proposed new shopping holiday. All consumers visiting malls will see the signs and the news media will certainly give feature coverage to the day for at least one day.

But will it work, which means will it not only draw lots of people to malls on August 11, but also lead to increased sales of all back-to-school related items?

The marketing executives of the participating companies seem to think it will. The New York Times article about the big day quoted a chief executive of a retail chain as saying that consumers are “increasingly interested in event-based shopping.” 

That may be so, but to a large degree, sales on event days merely cannibalize sales that would occur on other days.  The premise appears to be that Americans are stupid enough to buy more—to overspend their budget—at these events.  I don’t think that premise is valid, and don’t think the corporations promoting this new holiday believe in it either. But coming early in the season, the sales represent cash into the businesses sooner, which means that they can pay their bills sooner and borrow less money.  So even if the new day leads to no more sales, retailers might still consider it a success.

There is also the image-building part of Back-to-School Saturday. The holiday reminds us that the school term is starting, and reinforces the idea that like all holidays, challenges, private celebrations and life passages, the most appropriate way to react is to buy something. The Back-to-School Saturday holiday thus turn the late summer rite of passage into a reason to buy for anyone in America who hasn’t already gotten the message that returning to school means buying new clothes, school supplies, computers and maybe a special incentive to motivate the kids, and even a special treat for mom or dad after suffering a houseful of kids during the day for the entire summer.  Instilling the buy mentality into teenage girls is particularly important because all studies show that even in the 21st century they will grow up to control most of American non-business spending.

So even if Back-to-School Saturday doesn’t lead to increased sales in the months of August and September, it will help in making certain that there are no competitors in the marketplace of ideas for the ideology of consumerism.

Wednesday, May 30, 2012

Now joining the Un-History channel is Non-Animal Planet with its feature on mermaids

By Marc Jampole

We’re used to the History Channel running pseudo-historical and non-historical shows. And the only thing it seems you can discover on the Discovery channel nowadays are fantasies and fiction.

Et tu, Animal Planet?

This past weekend, the cable channel built around accurate, if sometimes overly cloying or dramatic images and narratives about animals, took the plunge into pretend truth. It ran what it called a speculative documentary about the possibility that mermaids and mermen once existed, and in fact were hominid-tending apes that returned to the sea during a period of massive coastal flooding.

Mermaids: The Body Found unfolds as the typical documentary that most people associate with facts and factual presentations.  Think of Ken Burns, Fog of War and The Sorrow and the Pity.  For that matter, think of almost all of Animal Planet’s programming.  The film has all the techniques of the documentary. Excerpts from newscasts. Shaking video from amateurs. Expert interviews. Except it’s all fake: fake anchors, fake amateurs, fake experts.

As Ed Stockly of the Los Angeles Times pointed out, most fake documentaries are satires which use a variety of devices to wink “just fooling” to the audience. Stockly mentions several examples like Zelig and Spinal Tap, to which I want to add Luis Buñuel’s 1933 masterpiece of satire, Las Hurdes (Land Without Bread.). FYI, some of the most often employed “winking” techniques include exaggeration, patently absurd statements, music with comic tones, or putting words into the mouths of obvious fools.

 But Mermaids: The Body Found never winks. In interviews the filmmaker, Charlie Foley, has preferred to play it coy, with statements about “some interesting questions on whether mermaids might be plausible.”

I would like to be gentle with both Animal Planet and the film itself. After all, speculation about mermaids, unicorns and other fictional beasts is harmless fun. In theory, a fiction that unrolls like a documentary has no moral flaw in it, that is, as long as everyone knows it’s a fiction, a piece of speculation with no basis in reality.

That’s in theory. In the real world, the film minimizes the disclaimer almost out of existence. Moreover, the very fact that the documentary appears on Animal Planet gives it the air of truth.  Run the same show on the comedy channel between reruns of Harold & Kumar and Cheech & Chong and you could get a lot of laughs. Run it on Animal Planet and you are putting a lot of nonsense into the heads of a lot of viewers, many of whom are under age.

For the most part, the news media has accepted the documentary not as describing truth, but as describing a possibility for which evidence may exist; for example, see Mermaids are real! At least that's what Mermaids:The Body Found wants us to think,” “’Mermaids:The Body Found’ Explores The Possibility Of Real Life Mermaids” and Mermaids: The Body Found’ stirs speculation that the sea creatures are real”

In this readiness to open a debate on the past existence of mermaids we find the most negative impact of Animal Planet running this fiction. We are living in an age in which lies parade as truth. How many pseudo-scientific documentaries and books are out there purporting to prove that the world is not getting warmer or that intelligent design ignited the universe and guides it through its evolution? How many politicians claim that raising taxes slows economic growth or that Social Security is in dire straits, even as study after study demonstrates otherwise?  Sending forth yet another fiction parading as truth makes it all the harder for people to learn how to ascertain truth.

With as many as 8.7 million species of animals on Earth, you would think that Animal Planet would have enough topics for many decades to come and wouldn’t have to resort to anti-scientific, anti-rational bunkum.

Tuesday, May 29, 2012

Is the mainstream moving left or just reacting to right-wingers behaving badly?

By Marc Jampole

The main stream seems to be taking a hard look at some of the more radical ideas of the right wing. Over the past week or so, we have seen a number of signs that the mainstream is beginning to push back against the constant bullying by the right-wing on such issues as women’s reproductive rights, tax policy, global warming and gun control:
  • The latest Economist reports that the Heartland Institute, a think tank that promotes skepticism about global warming, lost an estimated $825,000 in contributions after it posted a billboard in which Unabomber Ted Kaczynski says ”I still believe in global warming. Do you?,” which followed the revelation that it had been planning on sending teaching materials denouncing global warming to American primary schools.  That sent PepsiCo, BB&T Bank, Eli Lily and other donors out the doors.
  • Today’s Pittsburgh Post-Gazette reports that 15 Pennsylvania state legislators have cut ties with the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC), joining hundreds of legislators nationwide and such large corporations as The Coca Cola Company, PepsiCo, McDonald’s Corp. and software giant Intuit.
  • Over the weekend, Washington Post reported that an increasing number of Republicans running for Congress are declining to sign the Norquist pledge not to raise taxes. Of the 25 candidates this year promoted by the National Republican Congressional Committee as "Young Guns" and "Contenders" at least a third are saying they won’t sign the pledge.
  • A few weeks back, when one of the wealthiest men in the world, Joe Ricketts, agreed to finance a scurrilous series of ads against President Obama built on the fact that he went to a church whose pastor made a number of outrageous statements, the outrage in the mainstream was immediate and thunderous.
With the exception of the repudiation of the tax pledge, these repudiations of the right all come after particularly obnoxious events: Ricketts really did want to go beyond the pale. ALEC is still suffering from its support of “Stand Your Ground” laws. The Heartland Institute has crossed the truth line often enough to begin to embarrass the more mainstream of its corporate masters. Add to these, Rush Limbaugh’s awful remarks, which led to him losing massive numbers of national and local sponsors, and the dipping of the Komen Foundation into the waters of the extreme right by temporarily defunding Planned Parenthood. (I can see why Republican candidates are starting to inch away from the no-tax pledge.  No matter who wins the presidential election, it is likely that part of the legislative deals after the election will be tax hikes.)

Because most of these instances of mainstreamers coming to their senses come as a reaction to truly obnoxious events, there is no telling if these are signs of a sea change in American politics, a movement by the mainstream back towards the progressivism of 1930-1976.  We do see the limits of the right-wing finally, but those limits have less to do with what is being advocated as it does with how it is advocated.  Call someone a slut and you’re going to lose your sponsors. Tell outright lies to children, and even purveyors of consumer illusions will desert you.

Latest Parade Magazine begs question: has eating replaced buying stuff as the way to celebrate in America

By Marc Jampole

Most of us have heard of twice baked potatoes and those who frequent Chinese restaurants often see twice cooked pork on the menu.  And home brewers sometime pride themselves on their twice fermented beer.

But today’s Parade Magazine one-ups all double-cooking by presenting a menu of delights that has been homogenized not once, not twice, but three times.  Let’s call it thrice-homogenized cuisine.

The basic starting ingredient in Parade’s recipe is Memorial Day.

In the past, Parade has often had special articles, sections and whole issues dedicated to Memorial Day. Today there was not a trace of the holiday, originally meant to honor the members of the United States armed forces who fell while fighting in the Civil War and long ago expanded to include American soldiers who died in any war (which thankfully leaves out the immoral traitors of the Confederacy who fought for slavery and against their own country).

What Parade did feature for its Memorial Day issue, on both its cover and the main story covering 3.33 of the 12 pages that did not have full-page ads, was an article about 12 foods they called “All-American classics.”

The largest of the several cover headlines gives a hint to how Parade’s editors cooked up the notion of an issue essentially dedicated to American food classics.  The headline reads: CELEBRATE SUMMER FOODS! 

The jump from Memorial Day to American food classics “Celebrate Summer Foods” is a simple matter of homogenizing three times. Each homogenization involves the reduction of a complex experience to a single attribute shared with other experiences:
  1. Memorial Day is homogenized until it becomes not a holiday to honor fallen soldiers, but the beginning of summer.
  2. Summer activities homogenize into eating summer foods.
  3. Summer foods homogenize into American food classics.

Thus, Memorial Day serves as the unspoken rationale for an article that tells us the origin of and one great place to buy 12 food products that all originate in the United States.

Parade arranges its menu of American classics into four categories, as follows:
  • Crispy: Corn dogs, fried clams, granola, cob salad (iceberg lettuce topped with lots meat, eggs and a creamy dressing)
  • Creamy: Ice cream cones, California dip (dry soup mix stirred into sour cream), whoopee pie (two circles of chocolate cake with vanilla cream in between)
  • Chewy: Hamburgers, chili dogs, saltwater taffy
  • Cheesy:  Muffulettas (New Orleans cold cut sandwich), chimichangas (deep fried fritters).
As usual, Parade scraps any pretense of healthy eating from the start. The only real vegetables are the crudities you bathe with dip and use to line the iceberg lettuce. The only real fruit is the dried stuff you mix into the high-calorie granola.  Parade could have provided balance and supported the movement for better nutrition by substituting many healthier American dishes such as fruit or sweet potato pie, green bean casserole, collard greens, baked beans, clam chowder and pot roast with root vegetables.  I have saved for its own sentence the quintessentially healthy American dish, one that other than hamburgers and hotdogs symbolizes Memorial Day/summer picnics: corn on the cob!

Parade is probably the most widely-read publication in the United States by virtue of being a freebee found among the coupon offers and advertising circulars of most Sunday newspapers.  The Parade website has no reference to Memorial Day except for an article by Martha Stewart on her favorite Memorial Day recipes and another giving 20 recipes for a Memorial Day cookout. Looks to me that as far as Parade is concerned, all its readers want for Memorial Day is a good home-cooked meal.

Since beginning OpEdge almost three years ago, I have written often about the commoditization of all emotions and human interactions in contemporary America. To express anything, we buy.

I’m wondering now if food consumption—eating something—has replaced the economic consumption represented by buying something as the central way to express oneself, at least in groups.  Today’s Parade made me realize that we now reduce Memorial Day to a barbecue; that’s pretty much what July 4 is, too. My Mother’s Day blog built a case that the primary means to celebrate Mother’s Day is to bring her breakfast in bed (with a nice restaurant meal a close second).  We’ve always had Thanksgiving and the candy elements of Valentine’s Day and Halloween.  A few years back, the news media reported on the trend of every childhood activity, even a simple practice, to be accompanied by a snack.  Do we see reality reflected in situation comedies, in which a lot more of the action takes place over food nowadays? Compare “Big Bang Theory” and “2.5 Men” to “All in the Family” and “The Jeffersons” (or even to “Seinfeld” and its dependence on a local restaurant booth as a regular set.)  In the contemporary sit coms I cited, the actors spend much more time chowing down than in older sit coms.

At the end of the day Parade’s triple homogenization is based on the double consumption of raising food to the primary expression of celebration: you have to buy it to eat it, which means you are consuming twice, once as an economic entity and once as a celebrator.