This is the 42nd chapter of the Utopia/Dystopia series. The story follows one character in two possible futures. In Utopia Jack Randell is an educator in a world recovering from global warming. In Dystopia global warming has been allowed to careen out of control and DJ is in a fight for his own survival. The story is always followed by a nonfiction discussion of the concepts that lead to the plot.
This week in Utopia, Jack has returned home from his adventure but his mind is still in the desert.
The nonfiction portion of the text follows a common thread through last week's news stories.
As always you can see a souped up version of the post with pix, links and reading lists at my blog.
"In one way or another, this is the oldest story in America: the struggle to determine whether "we, the people" is a spiritual idea embedded in a political reality -- one nation, indivisible -- or merely a charade masquerading as piety and manipulated by the powerful and privileged to sustain their own way of life at the expense of others."--Bill Moyers
Utopia 21: The Red God Speaks
The sun is bearing down on his head. Jack can taste the grit in his mouth. The sands of the desert floor whisper as they dance about his feet. He watches them do their dance between his parted feet before they shuffle off into the desert and he looks after them wondering what they are whispering about.
Rat-tat-tat. The sound of desert castanet's sends icy fingers down his spine. He yanks his eyes forward looking for its owner. The snake appears from behind a rock and it casually slithers closer rattling its warning at him. To Jack’s relief the snake turns and continues on its way ignoring Jack completely as though it has pressing business elsewhere. The sound its body makes as it glides off over the sands seem to speak a word. A word that is just out of reach for Jack’s mind. But no matter the snake is gone.
The wind has picked up. Its fingers pull through Jack's hair and he can feel the temperature drop. More sand whispers under Jack's feet. He turns his face into the wind to savor the relief that it gives. There he sees a wall of billowing red sand approaching him at alarming speed.
He is running in the opposite direction, dodging rocks and brush. He looks over his shoulder. The wall of sand moves hypnotically ever closer. A face appears in the front wall. An aged face with a long beard. An angry face. This terrifies him anew. He runs faster and with less care thrashing his shins against the spiny brush that dots the desert; tearing his clothes and his skin.
The Red Face begins to speak and it utters the same word as the sands and the snake. Jack can almost make it out but not quite. His mind is too terrified to work on this puzzle. Something "your". Whatever it is, he does not wish to know. He runs in blind panic now; tripping on a stone and nearly going down but catching his balance at the last moment and careening forward out of control.
The Red God is bearing down on him and its voice is a thunderclap. Something "your". Jack's lungs are about to burst. He can not go faster as much as he wills it. The Red God is almost upon him and Jack understands what it is saying and it frightens him even more than the angry face in the sand itself.
"Failure." the God speaks. "Failure." the colliding sands in the awful torrent of wind confirms.
Jack trips. He looks behind him before he can get up and the Red God now towers over him with his mouth agape, about to consume him. Jack opens his mouth to scream but the red sands flood into his open mouth coating his tongue and throat. Choking him. He tries again to fill his lungs but only sand enters as he gasps for air. He opens his mouth for what he knows will be his last time and...
Jack drew in clean, cool, spring air. The sheets were wet with his sweat. Had he cried out in his sleep? Unsure. He laid back panting and covered his face with his hands. All was still for a moment, and then he began to weep.
The Concepts Behind the Fiction:
1. Goodbye Bill Moyers
"There are honest journalists like there are honest politicians -- they stay bought."--Bill Moyers
Bill Moyers has had a 40 year journalistic career in which he received over 30 Emmey's and 9 Peabody's. His hard hitting, take no prisoners style of Edward R. Murrow journalism is hard to find these days. Less than a handful of journalists have that tenacity (Greg Palast, Amy Goodman, Juan Gonzalez, Tariq Ali, Jerimy Scahill, to name a few). He is retiring this week. If only I could write as eloquently as he does. I can only hope that he is retiring from journalism to run for President. He would have my vote indeed.
In honor of Mr. Moyers, I would like to do something a little different. I am going to analyse last week's top stories.
2. The NY City (almost) Bombing
"You’ve no doubt figured out my bias by now. I’ve hardly kept it a secret. In this regard, I take my cue from the late Edward R. Murrow, the Moses of broadcast news. Ed Murrow told his generation of journalists bias is okay as long as you don’t try to hide it. So here, one more time, is mine: plutocracy and democracy don’t mix. Plutocracy, the rule of the rich, political power controlled by the wealthy. Plutocracy is not an American word but it’s become an American phenomenon."--Bill Moyers
On May Day Faisal Shahzad loaded a Nissan Pathfinder with fire works, petrol, and propane. He bought Nissan with cash and removed the VIN number from the dash but not the engine or the door. He drove it to Times Square where the bomb failed to go off. Experts say, as bombs go, this one showed shoddy workmanship. Instead, it started smoking. The police were alerted to the smoking vehicle by three street vendors. Faisal was forced to flee the area or be arrested. Fortunately, he had a black, Isuzu, get-away car parked close by. Unfortunately, he left the keys to the get away car in the smoking Pathfinder so he had to "flee" on public transit. Just another benefit of public transport. He had to ask the landlord to let him into his apartment because the apartment keys were with the get-away car keys in the smoking Pathfinder. He was later apprehended by the police on a flight to Dubai. (He was on the flight despite being on the Federal "no-fly" list. Apparently still a problem that has not been fixed since the underwear bomber. He was also under "surveillance" during all this but had somehow slipped out of view to do this work.) He is questioned for an hour by the police before he was read his Miranda warnings. He was then questioned some more and admits to doing all this.
Faisal had moved to the US from Pakistan and obtained a master's degree in business. He worked as an analyst for 3 years and he also became a naturalized US citizen. He became disenamored with the US during the Bush administration (understandable) and strongly disagreed with the Iraq War (funny, me too). He was from an upper class family and enjoyed a middle class life here. He had a house in the burbs that he lost to foreclosure shortly before he spent 5 months in Pakistan, where it was rumored that he was trained by the Taliban to place bombs. Oh yeah, the keys to that house, also on the key chain left in the smoking
The message of the story seems clear in the aftermath. This is one of many stories designed to tell us to be afraid, Be Afraid, BE AFRAID! But be afraid of the right things--other people. Foreign people. People from the Middle East. Be afraid so that the war on terror can continue and "security measures" can be implemented without too much notice. Be afraid so the no fly list problem and Miranda warning problem aren't as noticeable. In fact there is an argument that he should have been made an enemy combatant so Miranda warnings would no longer be necessary. In fact never mind all that innocent until proven guilty, due process crap all together.
Never mind that one of the people to alert the police was also a foreign born Muslim man, Alioune Niass of Senegal. Unlike his two counterparts, US born war veterans, he has not gotten much press. Never mind that this was not exactly a well put together or well executed plan. If I were running the Taliban, I probably would not have taken credit for it in a you tube video. Never mind that Faisal may have more in common with Joseph Andrew Stack, the man who flew his plane into an IRS building, than with most people in the Taliban. Stack was also articulate and smart and part of the middle class. Joseph Stack burned down his house on the day of his suicide. He hated George Bush and clearly hated the IRS. He was also not wild about GM or steel mills as his neighbor was a widow of a retired worker whose pension had been raided and was eating cat food to survive. He was also not too crazy about banks and wall street who had wiped out his own retirement several times over. What he did not have in common with Faisal is that he was white and born here. He did not fit the be "afraid" stereotype and so gets called a crazed criminal instead of a terrorist.
Xenophobia does not provide a solution to these situations. Both of these men were a little unhinged but they also both had valid points to make. Xenophobia prevents us from looking at those points. At the real reasons the 9-11 terrorists sought to kill Americans that day. At the reason this sort of violence is on the increase. The alienation and frustration people feel when fighting such a big machine that has the power to destroy their lives on a whim.
The communist creed:
From each according to his ability, to each according to his need.
The capitalist creed:
From each according to his gullibility, to each according to his greed.--Joseph Stack in his suicide note.
3. In a Related Story
"Secrecy is the freedom tyrants dream of."--Bill Moyers.
Joe Lieberman looks more and more like the evil sith-lord Palpatine in the Star Wars Trilogy. And he has gone to the dark side for sure this time. He wants to strip people charged with terrorism of US citizenship. Yale, who gave Lieberman his law degree in '67 (the same year, incidentally, the Supreme Court decided the government could not take away your citizenship), should retract his degree.
Forget for a moment the obvious argument--innocent until proven guilty, due process yada, yada. This battle has been fought before and despite what Hillary Clinton says, citizenship is a right and not a privilege according to the Supreme Court. There is a reason for that. The government can not take your citizenship away because the government is of the people; that's right a servant of the people. If it could take away your citizenship for what you thought or did then it would be putting the government above the people. Only you can give up your citizenship.
"So this is how liberty dies...with thunderous applause."--Padmé Amidala
Once you decide the government can choose who to kick out, it is no longer a government by the people. For example, before the Supreme Court right now is a case in which a person wrote an op ed in favor of Hammas. The government says this is "giving material support" to a terrorist organization. So if dissent causes you to lose citizenship then you can not have a democracy. You need to have a back and forth exchange of ideas. Even unpopular ideas like--for example arguing that a group that was elected to the government by a free election should not be considered a terrorist organization any more because it no longer fits the definition of terror. If you can be kicked out of the government for contributing to a charity that is connected to a terrorist organization or writing an op ed about them and the government gets carte blanche to decide who is and is not a terrorist, then you do not have a democracy anymore.
4. In a Vaguely Related Story
Our very lives depend on the ethics of strangers, and most of us are always strangers to other people.--Bill Moyers
Arizona decides that it is actually illegal to look like an illegal. Papers! Wo bist du papiers!
5. Crying over Spilled Oil
"It turns out, by the way, that oil rigs today generally don’t cause spills. They are technologically very advanced. Even during Katrina, the spills didn’t come from the oil rigs, they came from the refineries onshore."--President Obama 2 weeks before the spill.
BP, aka British Petroleum, aka Beyond Petroleum, aka Blaire Petroleum, had a little accident in the Gulf. Unless you have been under water you probably already know about the millions of gallons of oil spilling from the rig and about to become the worst environmental disaster in history.
What you may not have known is that government regulators exempted BP from a comprehensive environmental review based on a loop hole created for people building trails or outhouses on public lands. Mind you this is BP, the oil company with the worst safety record in the US.
"BP is a London-based oil company with one of the worst safety records of any oil company operating in America," says Tyson Slocum of Public Citizen. "In just the last few years, BP has paid $485 million in fines and settlements to the US government for environmental crimes, willful neglect of worker safety rules, and penalties for manipulating energy markets." DN!
Instead, they parroted BP's own words about how a spill was unlikely throughout their report. A claim for which there is no evidence. This is the same thing they have done for hundreds of other rigs in the Gulf and that they continue to do even now after the disaster.
Or that our old friend Halliburton was responsible for a cement job that was supposed to prevent the blowout about 20 hours before the blow out. Federal regulators learned in 2004 that a vital piece of this drilling process may not have been functioning in deep water seas but they did nothing about it.
Or that an obscure 1990 law may shield BP from paying more than $75 million of the damages due to the spill.
Or Obama had decided to open up large swaths of the Atlantic, Gulf, and Alaska to off shore oil drilling.
6. Wall Street has a Melt Down...Again
"America's corporate and political elites now form a regime of their own and they're privatizing democracy. All the benefits - the tax cuts, policies and rewards flow in one direction: up."--Bill Moyers
On April 30 tens of thousands marched on Wall Street, San Francisco, and Atlanta. It appears they had had it with bank bail outs, 8.5 million jobs lost, foreclosures and the like. In response the Senate defeatedbill to break up the "too big to fail" banks and avoid future bailouts by a vote of 61 to 33. They also defeated a measure to increase oversight of the Federal Reserve.
Wall Street, not to be outdone, let the Dow Jones take a 1000 point tumble due to a typo (we think). Apparently a Citigroup trader with a really fat finger wanted to sell 15 million in share but actually typed in 15 billion share. A 1000 fold error. Oops. And Wall Street was off on the wildest ride it had ever had courtesy of computers.
Ah, Citigroup. The same people who brought you "Operation Dr. Evil" in which they created market panic by short selling $16 billion of government bond futures so they could pocket $20 million.
7. Shock Doctrine for the Greeks
What's right and good doesn't come naturally. You have to stand up and fight for it -- as if the cause depends on you, because it does.--Bill Moyers
Greeks were forced to lower their public debt from 149 % of the GDP to 144% in the next 3 years by the EU and the IMF. The US debt for comparison hovers around 100% these days. The Greeks will take another pay cut, lose holiday bonuses and allowances. They will also see some higher taxes--4% higher. And significant losses in pensions and retirement ages. Companies who were barred from firing more than 2% of their workforce at a time will have that restriction lifted. Oh and they are going to bail out their big banks. Sound sort of familiar? It is the same plan the IMF has forced down many third world nation's throat shortly before it forced them into total collapse.
Here is something unfamiliar. The Greeks rioted demanding that the money come from the arms industry and business, maybe even the church, as opposed to the poor and middle class.
8. And Here are a Few Stories You Might of Missed
"We have to face the unpleasant as well as the affirmative side of the human story, including our own story as a nation, our own stories of our peoples. We have got to have the ugly facts in order to protect us from the official view of reality. Otherwise, we are squeezed empty and filled with what other people want us to think and feel and experience."--Bill Moyers
Study: Americans "Bombarded" With Cancer Causes
A government panel is warning Americans are being "bombarded" with cancer-causing sources including chemicals, radiation, and other hazards threatening "grievous harm." The President’s Cancer Panel says cancers caused by environmental exposures have been "grossly underestimated" and require stronger government regulation. In a cover letter to a 240-page report, the panel urges President Obama to "most strongly use the power of your office to remove the carcinogens and other toxins from our food, water and air that needlessly increase health care costs, cripple our nation’s productivity, and devastate American lives." DN!
Plant Overlooked Contaminated Materials in Children’s Medicines
The Food and Drug Administration is accusing a Pennsylvania plant of knowingly using contaminated materials in children’s medicines. On Tuesday, the FDA said the Johnson & Johnson-owned McNeil Consumer Healthcare plant had used materials contaminated with bacteria and failed to investigate consumer complaints. The plant is responsible for manufacturing most over-the-counter children’s medicines for cold relief, including Tylenol, Motrin and Benadryl. McNeil has issued a recall that could ultimately effect seventy percent of the market for pediatric medicine. DN!
Report: FCC Plans to Keep Broadband Deregulated
Advocates for a free and open internet are expressing alarm over reports that Federal Communications Commission Chair Julius Genachowski is leaning toward keeping broadband deregulated and not reclassifying it as a a telecommunications service. Josh Silver of the group Free Press said: "Such a decision would destroy Net Neutrality. It would deeply undermine the FCC’s ability to ensure universal Internet access for rural, low-income and disabled Americans. It will undermine the FCC’s ability to protect consumers from price-gouging and invasions of privacy." Silver warned that unless the FCC re-establishes authority over the nation’s Internet service providers, companies like Comcast, AT&T and Verizon will be able to slow down, block or censor content at will. DN!
9. The Common Denominator
"New ages don't arrive overnight, or without "blood, sweat, and tears.""Bill Moyers
The common denominator among all the big stories last week and for that matter this year is the same. A dysfunctional government. If not for a foreign and domestic policy that devastated people and was beyond their control, would we have seen a spike in terrorist style violence? Instead we are handed xenophobia as a solution. Of course we can not lock America away like ancient Japan, Communist China or Berlin so this is hardly a solution. At every turn this argument is used to chip away at our rights of privacy or due process.
Meanwhile the government hands business what ever it wants--freedom from tax, bail outs, no oversight--whatsoever. All at the expense of those they are supposed to represent. Why? Because they no longer represent us. They represent the big businesses they are helping.
It is time to make a major change to the way our government is managed. To admit to ourselves that we made a grievous error letting it get this out of hand. To take hold of our democracy once again. To start over.
"Democracy belongs to those who exercise it."--Bill Moyers