Saturday, May 18, 2013

Quit complaining! We won!

From the Heartland this morning, Margot McMillen breathes easier: A great e-mail this morning, just one of many from progressive organizations that won some key issues in the Missouri legislature. Last night, the session closed with the traditional ritual of throwing the huge stacks of bills into the air. And we held back the bad guys on some key issues. Here's what the e-mail said: We Won Important Victories— Thank YOU for Helping Preserve Local Control & Support Family Farms Thanks to the hard work of our members and supporters who took action, numerous pro-CAFO, anti-local control and anti-family farm bills were defeated or severely weakened during the 2013 legislative session, which ended today. Every Lobby Day visit, every phone call and every email made a difference, and there were thousands of them! These are big victories for family farms, rural communities, local control and the food supply. This was a very difficult and long legislative session, and our bills were in play to the very last day, but all your hard work paid off and we THANK YOU! These victories show that we can win on key issues for family farms, the environment and the future of our communities when we work together to hold policymakers accountable to the people and to our communities. Below is a brief summary of some of the bills we impacted: Senate Bill 342— SB 342 was an ag-omnibus bill that Reprentative Guernsey added bad anti-local control language to. This disastrous anti-local control language was removed in Conference Committee…but not without a fight. The anti-local control language would have: • Forced counties to hire a CAFO operator to administer any local health ordinance that affects CAFOs. • Stopped any county from passing manure application standards that are stricter than the current inadequate DNR/state standards, including setbacks from farms, homes and communities. • No current ordinances are grandfathered in, so all existing local ordinances passed by County Commissions and Health Boards will be null and void unless they comply with these mandates. • Stopped County Health Boards from passing ANY health ordinances without getting the approval of the County Commission. Senate Bill 9— Similar to SB 342, SB 9 was amended in the House by Representative Guernsey to include bad anti-local control language. Again, thanks to your hard work making phone calls and sending emails, the language was removed by Senator Pearce in Conference Committee. House Joint Resolution 7&11—The So-Called “Right to Farm” The original House version of HJR 7&11 was a proposed constitutional amendment that would have taken away Local Control from Missouri counties, stopped the legislature from protecting the health and welfare of Missourians related to corporate agriculture, and limited the constitutional right of Missourians to utilized the ballot initiative process. Everyone’s calls and emails resulted in this language being taken out and a specific sentence added to protect Local Control. This was a major accomplishment. The bad news is that this bill still adds unnecessary language to our constitution and could have negative unintended consequences—We already have the right to farm. Senate Bill 41—“The Pollution Protection Act” The “Pollution Protection Act”, SB 41 would have taken away constitutional rights of farmers and landowners to protect their property & property rights through the court system. Corporate lobbyists once again convinced some legislators of the need to protect a very small minority of corporate industrial livestock operations at the expense of the property rights of the majority of family farms and rural landowners. This bill finally died today, the last day of the legislative session. ________________________________________ Our future work depends on the commitment of these legislators to continue to support our issues. It is really important that we let them know that we appreciate the actions they took to protect Local Control & Family Farms.

Thursday, May 16, 2013

Another CAFO cover-up, and Casey Guernsey's amendment to SB 342

From the Heartland, Margot McMillen writes: Tomorrow is the last day of the legislative session here in Missouri and wouldn’t you know, even though the bad bills have mostly gone away, there’s one corporate flak, Representative Casey Guernsey, that hasn’t gotten the picture. Guernsey is a CAFO owner (Confined Animal Feeding Operation) in the smelly area that many of us call “baja Iowa.” With plenty of corn, immigrant labor and isolation, that area is perfect for corporate hog systems that don’t want the public to see them. Obviously, one of the problems of these CAFOs (many folks call them “pig shit factories”) is pig shit. So part of Guernsey’s bill would stop any county from passing manure application standards that are stricter than the current inadequate DNR/state standards, including setbacks from farms, homes and communities. The news tonight on all the TV stations is about another CAFO scandal in the state, this one in southwest Missouri (I guess we could call the area “upper Arkansas”) where a closed rendering plant buried 2,500 cow carcasses in a trench. Those are leaking into the groundwater and who knows what the results will be. Language in SB 342 would negatively impact the statute that gives County Commissions and County Health Boards the authority to pass local ordinances to rein in these CAFOs and protect the health of their citizens, farm families and rural communities. Representative Guernsey’s Anti-Local Control Amendment on SB 342: • Forces counties to hire a CAFO operator to administer any local health ordinance that affects CAFOs. • No current ordinances are grandfathered in, so all existing local ordinances passed by County Commissions and Health Boards will be null and void unless they comply with these mandates. • Stops County Health Boards from passing ANY health ordinances without getting the approval of the County Commission. This mandate would infringe on Local Control and the authority of local governments to respond to the needs of its citizens, and creates another level of detrimental unnecessary government bureaucracy.

Wednesday, May 15, 2013

The real score in Bush II v. Obama on civil rights: the country loses

By Marc Jampole
Persecuting medical marijuana merchants. Sending drones after U.S. citizens. Trying to restrict access to the Plan B birth control pill. Making special investigations of right-wing groups. Fishing through the records of Associated Press reporters.

It looks as if the Obama Administration is continuing in the disgraceful tradition of the Bush II Administration when it comes to trampling on the rights of the citizens of the United States.

Of course, we could look on the bright side: At least we aren’t torturing anyone anymore.

Despite healthcare reform and a much-needed increase in taxes on the wealthy, the Obama presidency has basically come down to not being Bush II-Cheney.  In fact, didn’t Obama win what has turned out to be an undeserved Nobel Peace Prize for not being Bush? 

Here are some of the ways that Obama has proven to be nothing more than “not Bush”:
  • We started no new wars and reduced our commitments in the two that Bush II started.
  • Evacuating and caring for people went a whole lot better after Sandy than after Katrina.
  • The Benghazi confusion looks like a well-executed Busby Berkeley number compared to the utter incompetence with which Bush II’s folks handled the early occupation of Iraq.
  • There are no additional prisoners at Guantanamo under Obama. 
But the Obama Administration uses the same excuses and justifications as Bush II did for its actions: national security; the president has the right to supersede the law; somebody low down on the totem pole goofed.

Obama’s politics are centrist in most ways, and he has certainly put together a more competent team than Bush II did.  But it shares the basic operating principles of the Bush II Administration when it comes to civil rights and flaunting the law. Of course, most administrations since Lincoln’s 150 years ago have tried to gain power for the executive branch in areas related to security, defense and civil liberties.  Obama is merely following in the often illegal footsteps of not just Bush II, but also of Reagan, Carter, Nixon, Johnson, Kennedy, Eisenhower, Truman, both Roosevelts and Wilson, among others. 

We shouldn’t forget that some of the most egregious executive abuses have been covered up, e.g., Reagan’s deal to sell arms to Iran if it held the hostages until after the 1980 election or the fact that there was no military reason to drop the atom bombs. Then there was the collective willingness of the political and media classes to assume that bad intelligence and not the lies of Bush II and his people was what misled us into thinking Saddam Hussein had weapons of mass destruction. The Obama decision not to pursue criminal cases against the architects of the Bush II torture policy fits nicely into this tradition.

It seems as if only those willing and wanting to expand the power of the executive branch ever get the financing to make a legitimate run at the presidency. Or perhaps once in office, the seductions of power and the inertia of past executive abuses by our continuing government entice the new president to think his (and maybe one day her) actions are different, allowable or absolutely necessary for national security.  Whatever the reason, every president chips away a little bit more of our freedom.

The tragedy is that most people and the mass media are so afraid of terrorism and crime that they don’t mind this whittling away of basic rights. That is, of course, except the one right that doesn’t exist except in twisted interpretations of the second amendment: to own and carry guns without restriction.

Tuesday, May 14, 2013

Monsanto Beats Bowman, and We're the Losers

From the Heartland, Margot McMillen writes: “Don’t know if you saw this,” my sweetie said, pointing to a headline in the Wall Street Journal. It said, “Indiana Farmer Loses Fight Over Monsanto Seed Patent.” He said, “You probably knew about it…” Well, yeah, I hadn’t heard, but I suspected it. “A put-up deal.” I said. It’s the third or fourth time in the last week I’ve let my cynicism run free, and I’ll try to do better. In Bowman v. Monsanto, it was obvious from the first that the corporation had the precedents and cases to confirm that the patent holders would win their argument that Bowman owed them fees when he planted their seeds and harvested them. To paraphrase the Journal, “using the seed to reproduce itself infringed on Monsanto’s patent,” even though planting and harvesting has been the business of seed owners from the beginning of agriculture. Monsanto’s lead attorney repeated the hackneyed Monsanto line that the patented seeds represent “breakthrough 21st-century technologies that are central to meeting the growing demands of our planet and its people.” OK OK OK. I won’t comment on that line. But I will say that if citizens are to fight the takeover of seeds, agriculture, and food on “our planet and its people,” we can’t depend on help from the courts. We have to do it ourselves, and as soon as possible.

Monday, May 13, 2013

Oreos decides that a “Sesame Street” approach will sell cookies to adults

By Marc Jampole
Adults read the New York Times.

While the Times does not release readership demographics segmented by age, it lets potential advertisers know that the median age of its readers is 52, meaning that exactly half of all readers are older than 52. By the way, that’s about 15 years older than the U.S. median age of 37.1.  The Times also tells us that 60% of its readers have gone to college. Very few children age 12 or under are academically gifted enough to handle college and among those 12 year olds who can do college work, a miniscule number who are have parents who send them.

We can assume that any advertiser in the New York Times understands these demographics and is seeking to convince adults to buy its products or services. A full-page ad in the Times does not target children.

That makes the Oreo ad on the back page of the front section of today’s New York Times perhaps the most overt example ever of infantilization of American adults, the process by which American retailers and the mass media encourage adults to retain their immature or juvenile hobbies and entertainment habits of their childhood.

Oreo is the bakery product created by squeezing a thick sugar-water paste that Nabisco, its maker, calls “creme” between two round chocolate cookies.  For decades it has been one of the most, if not the most popular packaged cookie in the United States, and certainly the most advertised.

Today, Oreo spent tens of thousands of dollars to give New York Times readers a multi-panel cartoon version of a music video that can be found at its website. The video visualizes a peppy children’s song with animation, language and colors associated with pre-school education to re-imagine three tales: the three pigs plus generalized myths about vampires and great white sharks. Each story—and each verse of the song, which is sung with the child-like and child-loving joy of Raffi or Sherry Lewis—starts with the phrase “I wonder if I gave an Oreo to…”: first to the big bad wolf, then to a vampire and then to a shark. In all cases, the harmless-looking villains share the Oreo with their intended victims (pigs, a girl and baby seals) and everyone becomes friends.

Every element of style in sound, visuals or language in the video has been used before and almost always to communicate specifically to children. The same can be said for the print ad—every visual and language detail tells us that the ad is meant for children. The ad comes with a child’s mentality. It presents the colorful and happy world we often present to children. The primitive illustrations with the varying size of letters define a convention of children’s book design.  The basic idea—Oreos can make nasty people behave in a friendly manner—has the magical simplicity of a preschool child’s reasoning. There is no attempt to speak through the child to the parent. The ad simply speaks to children, mostly those under the age of eight.

But the audience who will see the ad in the Times is overwhelmingly adult. Oreos must think that this puerile approach will appeal to adults.

Oreos has broadcast a series of TV commercials appealing to adults over the past few years.  In one, a father and son eat Oreos in the traditional way of licking the “creme" before devouring the cookies.  The TV spot may appeal to nostalgia for childhood—eat Oreos just like you used to as a kid—but it does so in an adult way: connect with your child by eating one of your favorite treats from childhood.  In another Oreo ad for adults, two slacker-looking 20-something males in a lifeboat on the ocean argue about the proper way to eat an Oreo. Humor for both children and adults can turn on the incongruous, but the situation is sophisticated enough to qualify as for adults.

By contrast, the “I wonder if I gave an Oreo…” print ad and online video treat the audience as children.  Publishing the print ad in adult media therefore infantilizes adults because it assumes that adults will respond to the same simple stimuli that attracts preschoolers.  If we assume that Nabisco has the best market research available, there must be a body of information that says that this approach will work. Nabisco is speaking to adults as if they were children because its marketing executives think we are children and respond to children’s entertainment.

I can just imagine that it’s bedtime and the chief executive officer of Nabisco brings me and my significant other a plate of Oreos and big glasses of milk.  We crunch on the cookies and sip from our plastic cups, while he gently reads us a bedtime story about the three pigs. No huffing and puffing, though, which is a good thing, since now I won’t have a nightmare about wolves (or vampires).  They really are our friends, at least as long as we keep feeding them Oreos.  I wonder if eating Oreos can reverse global warming?


March of Dimes aspirational message tells kids to strive for celebrity

By Marc Jampole
Ideological imperatives shine through most strongly in the details that marketers or writers select to adorn the basic idea or narrative of a piece of communications.
That’s a mighty fancy statement. What it means is that be it a TV show, print ad, news feature or charity solicitation, the creator of a piece for the mass media selects details to exemplify or underscore the main message. These details often contain unproven ideological assumptions or widespread societal beliefs which convey a hidden message, which is often more important or compelling than the main one. For years, I have called these hidden messages “ideological subtext.”

We can see the insidious affect of ideological subtext in a current marketing campaign for The March of Dimes called “I’m born to.” Now I have nothing against the March of Dimes. It is a wonderful organization that has raised a lot of money to fight childhood diseases, first polio, and for decades now prevention of birth defects and infant mortality. I can say nothing bad about the organization or its mission.

But this latest campaign, built around the phrase, “Every baby is born to do something great. Help them to be born strong and healthy,” uses details to express the following hidden message: The most admirable thing to be is a performance celebrity.

Most people will first see the campaign as bus shelter boards or other printed enticements to visit the website.  The bus shelter board I saw shows two toddlers: the boy is banging a drum while the girl is in a ballet dress. The website has no other photos of children emulating adults professions—no one with a stethoscope, microscope, fire hat, teacher’s long ruler, jack hammer or plumber’s wrench.

“Doing something great” is reduced to entertainers who perform, i.e., celebrities. Some may say it’s cute, but telling kids that they should strive for celebrity status occurs on almost a daily basis in the news media. 

The theme line for the campaign says “Every baby is born to do something great,” which is just not true, unless we redefine “greatness” to mean to be good at a job, kind to others and an active member of society.

But that’s not the definition that the March of Dimes gives us in the images. The images tell us that greatness resides only in performance celebrity. That’s also the definition of greatness we get in lists of daily or monthly birthdays published by many periodicals. It’s the definition we get when we peruse articles built on childhood memories of holidays or favorite recipes. It’s the list we get in marketing blurbs that mention famous alumni of schools. Or when the news media asks non-political famous people their opinion on key social issues.  Or when a TV news reporter wants to report on a rare disease.

There’s something a little disturbing about the words “Every baby is born to do something great,” even if the definition of greatness is not assumed to be “achieving celebrity status.”  Not every child can be great, even if we expand the definition of greatness to include scientific, athletic, literary, business and social achievements. In fact, in the current epoch in which upward mobility has slowed almost to a standstill, college costs have skyrocketed, public schools have been gutted of enrichment programs, rich parents actively spend exorbitant amounts of money to con the system and entry level opportunities often come down to “who you know”—in today’s world there is perhaps less chance of a disadvantaged talented person achieving greatness in any field than at any other time in American history.  In other words, not only can’t every baby achieve greatness, but most babies have no shot at greatness.

At least the March of Dimes wants all children to be healthy and it is doing a lot to attain that lofty goal.  No one should punish it for expressing ideological assumptions that run ubiquitous today. But you can contribute to the March of Dimes outside of its “I’m born to” campaign and make a point of telling the organization that you didn’t like the campaign because it subtly endorsed the idea that all children should strive to be celebrities.

Sunday, May 12, 2013

Sexual abuse in the military is a problem for rural women

From the Heartland, Margot McMillen writes: The subject of sexual assault in the military is a little out of my usual writing realm of food and agriculture, but as a rural woman I am thrilled it has come out. My rural neighbors make up a disproportionate number of military entrants and for years we’ve heard from our girls that, although they begin with the best of intentions, the highest of hopes, they end up in what one told me was a “meat market.” Rural kids make up about 44% of military recruits even though we are only 20% of the general population. Our kids are, in fact, targeted by recruiters. Sharply dressed fellows with successful track records and snazzy videos come to our schools. The army’s rodeo team performs at public sales. In just a few days the “Blue Angels,” a Navy and Air Force demonstration team, will fly over my Missouri neighborhood in a Memorial Day salute that’s free to the public and widely promoted on all the radio and TV stations. Here’s what the National Priorities Project found out: “Rural counties dominated a list of the top 100 counties with the highest military recruitment rates in 2004 and 2008 . . . Their analysis looked at the Army's recruitment rate per 1,000 people aged 18-24 in each county in the U.S. The highest rate in the nation in 2004 was from Mineral County, Montana, with three other counties from that state in the top 20. Other states in the list included Kansas with three counties, Texas with three, and Nebraska with two. Rural counties in Mississippi, Illinois, Virginia, Pennsylvania, Indiana, Missouri, South Dakota, and Kentucky round out the list. That year, more than 44 percent of military recruits came from rural areas, according to Pentagon figures. In contrast, only 14 percent came from major cities. Regionally, most enlistees come from the South (40 percent) and the West (24 percent).” My favorite high school and college kids, upon graduating, will talk about their hopes and plans and then say something like, “and if that doesn’t work out, I’ll join the military.” For the poorest, often those from single-parent homes, a military career is their highest and best hope. Indeed, their role models may be retired military guys since those folks retire to the country, often to farms the family could keep because the kids left farming. It’s amazing any of the youngsters get out with their humanity intact. Their first weeks are spent in total isolation with their units, banned from contact with family and friends. Then, bonded to their buddies, the training intensifies. Protection of the unit includes a grounding in homophobia and, since they don’t know where they’ll serve yet, the kids learn about all their enemies: “we good, they bad, we have big guns.” In this kind of environment, women are almost always the victims. Smaller, optimistic, trained from an early age to be pleasing, the result is inevitable. Kudos to the folks who are speaking out. They are the courageous ones in America’s incessant wars.