James Clay Fuller

Things We're Not Supposed to Say

Saturday, February 07, 2004

Duh big news

Yessiree, people! Big news! Dick Gephardt endorsed John Kerry John Kerry for president!

Or was it Joe Lieberman?.... Nope. It was Kerry.

Whoobloodypee! Or, as everybody under 60 says these days, “Duh!”

The fact that one old-style pol, who always has depended on big money to stay in office, endorsed the only other old-style, big-money-dependent candidate who still has a shot at the Democratic nomination must be big news. It got major air play for most of two days, and it hit the top of most front pages around the country.

Never mind that as “news” it is about equal to a report of someone winning $100 in a lottery. The fact had to be reported for the record, but it didn’t deserve the placement, the time or a tenth of the space most newspapers and television news outfits accorded it.

The extreme over-play of the Gephardt endorsement is just one more pebble on the mountain of evidence of how badly we are served by the country’s news agencies. It shows again the lousy judgement of the people running those agencies, the cowardice that leads them always to do what all the others are doing, and the pandering to those who are seen as “middle of the road” and powerful.

As that good Texan, Jim Hightower, said in an interview published in the November, 2003 issue of The Progressive, “The media is asleep. The media is also corporate.”

Friday, February 06, 2004

We're not in Minnesota any more

The Minnesota Legislature opened its 2004 session this week, an event fraught with peril for the average citizen, especially since the extreme right wing of the Republican party took control of the House of Representatives some years ago. The “oh-oh” factor rose last year with the installation of a new governor, one Tim Pawlenty.

Pawlenty is the most dangerous sort of politician. He is handsome, has a good haircut, wears clothes very well, goes to church regularly and professes a deep Christian faith, speaks well in a nicely modulated voice. Just what you’d want in a head of corporate public relations.

However, he is an ideologue, not a thinker, and his deepest fealty is to the interests of the very wealthy. He has found a home in the pocket of something called the Taxpayers League of Minnesota, which is a front for the chief executives of the state’s largest corporations. (No attempt is made to hide that fact; they know most people aren’t paying attention anyway.)

Pawlenty has a winning smile, and gives an impression of great affability. He makes little secret of his ambition to play at the national level, and he probably will make it. His ability to win and manipulate middle class suburbanites and rural believers in guns, snowmobiles and military action is phenomenal.

The gov also can spot the Bush crowd three points and still win a five-point game of Distraction and Disinformation. No kidding. He’s that good. He came pretty much out of nowhere – he was a not-widely-known speaker of the House from a suburb with a recent history of electing right wing extremists to office.

But he came fully prepared to rise quickly to the top, and he has no scruples about grinding the poor into the dirt or cutting the financial legs out from under middle class suburbanites even as he pats them on the head and plays to their prejudices.

Fortunately, 2004 is not a major budgeting year in Minnesota, which tackles the big financial questions every two years, so that the evils likely to come from this session are of another sort. It will be particularly ugly, but most residents won’t be immediately affected.

What Pawlenty and his allies in the House are aiming for this year is big-time playing to the nastiest elements of our society, the sometimes hidden hatreds and prejudices, the fears, founded and unfounded, the distaste for everybody who is “different.” Major distraction and disinformation, in other words, with truly horrifying results for some and smug satisfaction for the ignorant.

It’s likely that most Minnesotans will get screwed one way or another, but lots of them won’t know they’ve been had, or won’t know who did the damage. The press and Minnesota television stations won’t tell them.

Here are just a few of the problems facing the state – many or most created by the Legislature with the help of our smiling ideologue governor:

* Continuing very large budget deficits, which to a substantial extent can be attributed to the House and the governor’s unwavering commitment to the Taxpayers League insistence on no tax increases and no new taxes, regardless of need or damage to state services or infrastructure. Of course Pawlenty and Co. ignore the fact that their stance has forced local governments into substantial increases in regressive property taxes. The citizens who don't understand local government commitments lay all the blame on those governments "that can't learn to live within their means."

* Rising costs of college education, which are pricing many citizens, even middle class citizens, out of the market. Tuition at the University of Minnesota has risen far beyond the rate of inflation, and an exodus of top faculty members has begun. State universities also are hurting and even community college students are being squeezed out.

* Public schools face a genuine crisis because of last year’s horrendous budget cuts. We’re seeing rising class sizes, lack of books and supplies, curtailment of or closing down of many “nonacademic” classes such as music and art (not sports, of course), ridiculous new standards for schools – standards that emphasize the rightist point of view of history and social studies, among other things. There is a large and growing gap in achievement between whites and people of color – one of the worst in the country – that can be at least partially attributed to differences in levels of support and facilities. And much more.

* The Republicans are forcing more people onto welfare (yep, that’s right) by drastic budget cuts for child care supplements so that people who were working must quit to care for their kids.

* Greatly reduced health care programs for the poor drive many more people into costly emergency rooms for basic health care. Of course, much routine care simply doesn't happen, so that health problems show up only when they've become severe, and costly to treat.

* There is greatly reduced support for the arts, although it is well established that the arts community has been a major factor in drawing top-drawer companies and people to the state.

* Early childhood education problems have been gutted, guaranteeing greater problems in schools, with the law, with health care and the general community welfare in the future.

The list could go on to three, four or maybe five times its present length.....

Now here is a list of topics the rightists in the Legislature, encouraged by their governor, have indicated they will concentrate on during the 2004 session:

* Spending huge sums of public money to build stadia for the professional football and baseball clubs and maybe for the University of Minnesota football team.

* Requiring the Pledge of the Allegiance in public schools.

* Gay marriage -- probably an amendment to the state constitution to prevent it.

* Abortion -- as always.

* Mandatory lifelong incarceration for sex offenders, or something close to it.

* Establishing the death penalty in Minnesota, which hasn’t had one for almost 100 years, when the public was sickened by a screwed up hanging. This one is courtesy of the governor, who pulled it out of the air, though there was no public demand for it all until he raised the issue.

* Ending the Native American monopoly on casino gambling in the state – something that has rankled right wingers ever since the Indians showed that casinos could make money here. There are deals with the tribes – akin to 19th century treaties in fact if not form – but like their 19th century counterparts, legislators have seen the color of the gold, and like his 19th century counterparts, Pawlenty has decided that deals cut 15 years ago “don't fit current circumstances.”

We have a U.S. Senator, Norm Coleman, who was chosen by the Bush crowd for the job, and who slavishly follows their orders. He is known to many as “the third senator from Texas.” Now we have a governor, as well as House or Representatives, who play to the worst in people, and push all the hot buttons while quietly doing dirt to the majority of citizens.

Perhaps we should change the signs at our borders to read: Welcome to North Texas.

Wednesday, February 04, 2004

Out on a limb

A prediction, for the record: Osama bin Laden will be captured this summer or fall, probably in September or October.

Separate and unequal highways

Our handsome, smooth, right wing Minnesota governor, Tim Pawlenty, has advanced a plan for easing the growing and unquestionably miserable congestion of the freeways in and out of Minneapolis and St. Paul.

It is of major concern to him because highway congestion is the top or close to the top irritant for the people who put him into office -- right-leaning middle class to upper middle class suburbanites. A great many of those people hate and fear the central cities, with their smaller houses and lots, busy streets and relatively high percentages of dark-skinned residents. A great many of them also have to go into the cities to work, however. And, no kidding, the traffic is bad.

(When I hear some suburbanite complaining about his/her terrible commute, I usually suggest that they could avoid the worst of it by moving into one of the cities’ beautiful, friendly old neighborhoods, but of course I know that ain’t gonna happen.)

So come this fall, Pawlenty and crew are going to convert what are now car pool and bus lanes into toll lanes on one of the area’s most congested roads, Hwy. 394, leading into and out of Minneapolis on the west side. People who are “willing” to pay the as yet unspecified sum presumably will be able to cruise into and out of the city with minimal competition for road space. The talk, including in the press, always is about those who are willing to pay, not about those who can or can’t afford to pay.

The state’s Department of Transportation, run by another right-winger appointed by the governor, has started talking to private companies about submitting proposals to build toll lanes on other highways in the metropolitan area, primarily those in and out of the central cities.

Such plans are supported by quite a few political liberals, as well as virtually all of Pawlenty’s natural constituency.

Supporters of toll lanes are desperate for solutions to the road congestion, and quite a few of them are stuck with the car-loving Minnesotan’s fear and loathing of public transportation. It doesn’t matter that everything most Minnesotans know about municipal transit systems comes from our own antiquated bus system and from seeing television portrayals of muggings and gun battles in the New York subways.

The toll road proposals are highly objectionable on several grounds.

A major problem is that widening the highways will further chew up the urban landscape, taking homes and businesses and creating new divisions in neighborhoods. (You should hear some of the suburbanites on that topic: Essentially they figure “those old shacks” and “those people” are of no consequence compared with their own “needs”.)

Another big nasty is that toll roads – the building and operation thereof – are notoriously crooked, and the operators around the country have proved highly skilled at corrupting politicians and regulatory agencies. But this is Minnesota? Yeah. So what?

Still another objection is that almost inevitably maintenance of the publicly-operated lanes will slip, and probably slip badly.

Why? Well, some politicians will start looking almost immediately at the possibility of converting most or all of the major roads into and out of the cities to toll operations. They’ll reason that they could avoid raising, might even be able to cut, taxes. The way to get the public to buy into that is to let non-toll roads crumble and say the state can’t afford to maintain them on tax money alone. And, of course, politicians of Pawlenty’s stripe are primarily concerned with the welfare of the well off anyway. Once the folks with money, the ones who vote and provide campaign money, are cruising the toll roads, who cares what happens to the roads used by poor people?

That’s not cynicism, that’s reality. If you doubt it, take a good look at what’s happened in just the past couple of years to health care, education and a whole lot of other key facets of life. Them what has, gets.

However, the biggest objection to toll roads is that they move us another big step toward having two Americas, one for those who have plenty of money and the other for everybody else.

If we create separate infrastructures for the rich and poor, they are not going to be equal. The Audis will cruise, the old beaters will bounce and break on lousy roads, and the disdain and even hatred of the two sets of drivers, each for the other, will grow. That’s not what our country’s founders conceived, it’s not the way it is supposed to be in this purported home of the free. We’re supposed to have one government, one set of rules and services for all.

A small aside: Tim Pawlenty was very recently and very suddenly converted from an enemy of public transit into a supporter of some commuter rail service. I have no clue as to what was behind that conversion or where it’s going. It did not take place in public.

Tuesday, February 03, 2004

Obvious but effective

So Federal Communications Commissioner Michael Powell is shocked, enraged, nearly apoplectic over the exposure of a female breast during the broadcast of the Super Bowl, is he?

Sure he is.

That’s the same Michael Powell who recently rolled unchecked over Congress to give still greater control over what the American public sees and hears to a tiny bunch of media conglomerates, right? The Michael Powell who labored unstintingly on behalf of multi-billionaire contributors to the Bush Administration whose companies produce most of the “filth” Powell professes to abhor?

Yes, of course. It’s simply another shot in the Bush Administration’s ongoing campaign of distraction and disinformation. Get us all fired up over use of the “F word” on television and we won’t notice how the information we receive is increasingly controlled by the rightist propaganda machine. Couldn’t be more obvious, yet a whole lot of ill-educated people will buy into it, many with encouragement from the preachers of the extreme Christian right.

Oh, about that exposed breast: It apparently was the result of a stupid and tasteless bit of showmanship. There were other pieces of the Super Bowl show that were, in fact, even more tasteless, and so were some of the commercials. So someone needs to tell the woman to shape up, but there's no legitimate point in making such hooha. Many women have breasts --two of them, in fact. That’s been true for several generations now. Exposure happens now and then at beaches, in shops, at parties and even in the office. If Powell and his ilk try very, very hard, perhaps they can rise above the emotional level of the typical 13-year-old when it comes to dealing with human anatomy.

Sunday, February 01, 2004

Uncertainty about threats to airlines

Another question no one in the mass media is going to address:

Are the recent international flight scares real, or are they just another Machiavellian tool, used to keep the majority of Americans clinging to the Bushies for perceived safety?

At first glance, that seems a terribly cynical question. But I am not a cynic. I am, however, a skeptic (something all reporters should be, and too few are today). Also, I learned long ago to consider the source of any information, any claim.

The word of the Bush Administration, the source of all the airline scares of the past several months, is not to be trusted on any level. That is an established fact. They lied to the world about the “intelligence” that led to the invasion of Iraq, they have lied consistently about what they are doing on the environment, on energy policies, on education, about who is profiting to what degree from the Iraq invasion and how those profits are allocated, and about dozens of other goals and activities.

I have a file folder, growing thicker by the day, that contains nothing but single-sheet reminders of specific, documented lies to the public from the Bushies.

OK. Why airline scares?

Because a large measure of citizen support for the nominal president is rooted in the belief – carefully created and nurtured by the administration – that “he” is doing more than anyone else could or would to keep America safe from further terrorist attacks.

Cancellation of a few flights now and then is a great way to keep the fear and the belief alive, and also useful in distracting the public and television from topics considerably less favorable to the administration. And, yes, the Bush crowd IS cynical enough to use such tactics; the number and baldness of the lies to the public make that clear.

If the threats are real, why is it that only our intelligence services – their incompetence and willingness to be manipulated for the Bushies’ political ends now also proven – are turning up the threats. Recently cancelled flights have been those originating in England, Scotland and France, where intelligence services generally have been somewhat more reliable than ours. (The Brits on Iraq aside.) Yet reports on the supposed terrorist threat to the flights apparently have come from our people, not theirs – and on their turf.

Certainly there is a genuine terrorist threat to this country. It is another tragic, terrifying fact. Almost as certainly, the posturing and measures touted by the Bush administration won’t prevent determined terrorists from hitting us again.

Are the threats to various specific airline flights real?

Damned if I know.

But the question and the answer matter, because if the threats are fake, demonstration of that would show the public the degree to which it is being manipulated and frightened for base political ends. If the threats are shown to be real, well score one for the Bush crowd and honor them for catching those threats and protecting the public.

Sadly, no news agency in the country will even hint that there might be a question.