Day: August 14, 2011

Would Orwell Love the Bush Administration?: 4/2/2004

In 1948, when George Orwell was writing 1984, he modeled his Big Brother government after Joseph Stalin’s regime in Russia. The oppressive Big Brother was always watching, always at war and always controlling the flow of information to the people of Oceania (England and the Americas).
Does this sound familiar to anyone out there? Well for those of us caught on the wrong side of the “You’re either for us or against us” fence, the Bush administration bears a striking resemblance to Big Brother.
Start with the Patriot Act. (Orwell would have loved the doublespeak quality of the name.) Patriots are in favor of being watched. Patriots have nothing to fear from our dearly beloved Big Brother/Bushies as long as we behave, post an American flag out front and do what we are told. Those that don’t follow the rules can be taken away, held without charges and questioned without representation. The Thought Police in 1984 employ this same type of governmental control over the people of Oceania.
The Homeland Security/Ministry of Love is there to protect us from the outside evils of the enemy, isn’t that right? We are supposed to feel safer, aren’t we? If it weren’t for Tom Ridge and his boys wouldn’t the evil enemies kill and destroy us? It is this type of fear that allows us to relinquish our rights for supposed safety. Oh, so we give up some of our freedoms, at least we are safe. As I recall we had a pretty good streak of being safe before 9/11. I can hear you out there already, “Those times were different. We weren’t targets of terrorist attacks then. We are now.” Just keep telling yourself that as we pour billions of dollars into “fighting terrorism” overseas as we sink deeper and deeper into debt here in the United States. As long as fear rules we can allow our infrastructure to deteriorate, we can allow big business to run amok, we can allow our environment to take a backseat to terrorism, and we can continue to pay more and more for all of those services that used to be part of our lives.
Fear also gives the Bush administration the right to attack Iraq to find weapons of mass destruction and then shift the war to one of ultimate good. We wanted to free the people of Iraq. We wanted to build a democratic nation in the Middle East. We needed to rid the world of a great evil.
In 1984 the government is constantly at war with shifting enemies. The people of Oceania begin to forget who the enemies are and who the allies are. The Bush administration has clearly delineated who is an enemy and who isn’t. This axis of evil has identified the good guys and the bad guys or has it? Where does France fall? How about Saudi Arabia? (Most of the 9/11 terrorists were from there.) Is anyone outside of the “Coalition of the Willing” an enemy. The lines get a bit blurry when we look beyond what the Bushies are telling us.
The one certainty is that we are going to be at war with evil for an undetermined length of time. Don’t worry; we have already adjusted to being at war. Unless you are in the military or have a loved one in Iraq, how has your life been changed by this war? I still go to work. I still take my children to school. I still do my patriotic duty and go shopping at Wal-Mart. For most Americans this war has little or no impact on our lives other than enduring the body count on the evening news. We really have entered into a situation where “War is Peace” (one of the three slogans of Big Brother).
The Bush administration has also restricted the free flow of information within our country. Mass media monopolies give us lots of flashy pseudo-news, but where is the substance beyond talking-heads ranting on both sides of the debate? News seems to be boiled down to sensationalized hysteria and not newsworthy. The Bushies have capitalized on this element of our culture more than any other administration. The use of the media during the Iraqi invasion was pure genius. Embedded journalists gladly gave up their ability to view the war objectively for the ability to ride along with the troops. It was a form of censorship the media seemed too dumb to notice and no one seemed to question because it made for great television.
When one looks deeper into the media relationship with the Bush administration, one begins to see how difficult getting information directly from the top really is. President Bush is reluctant to allow the press to question him directly, but he is always there with a grin and a wave for a photo op at his ranch looking the part of the everyman. These canned news items are easy to cover and provide the Bush administration just what it needs, the appearance of news without any real news. Orwell would have admired this aspect of the narrowing of the news. Big Brother narrows the news and narrows thought through newspeak, the official language of Oceania. Big Brother certainly has more direct power over the people than the Bush administration, but the areas of debate have been restricted and will continue to be.
At the end of 1984, Orwell’s hero, Winston Smith, has been tortured by the Ministry of Love to the point that he agrees that 2 + 2= 5. He is then returned to the streets of London, not as a martyr but as a disciple of Big Brother. When Winston finally gives up his independence of thought and loves Big Brother he is killed and the novel ends. This bleak end to the novel is intended as a warning. We should never allow our government to gain too much power. We should never allow ourselves to be manipulated into unthinking drones swallowing whatever the government feeds us. We should never be satisfied with a government which places its own self-interest above ours.
Orwell would have been horrified by the policies of the Bush administration and so should we.

My Memorial Day: 5/28/2004

I grew up in a small community in central California. The two major industries (if you can call them that) were farming and the Navy. It might seem odd to people that there would be a Navy base far from the water, but the San Joaquin Valley provided the Navy with clear skies for the pilots to get lots of air time and practice. In my small neighborhood most of my friends had fathers who were Navy pilots.

As a young boy, I remember listening to a conversation between my father and a next door neighbor who had just returned from a tour in Vietnam. The neighbor described what was happening over there as “hell”, an image that was very vivid in my mind as a child growing up in the church. Although the war in Vietnam was thousands of miles away, it was a very real part of my community, so much so that I had friends who had fathers who were POWs and MIAs. These men loved flying, but they also loved their country in a time when service to their country was not too popular.

I also remember talking to one of my friends about his father, who was a pilot, who had been awarded a medal for bombing a building. My friend said to me, “I guess my dad has killed people.” My friend seemed to have trouble with the dual images of father and soldier.

The life of a Navy family didn’t change much after Vietnam, because the fathers were often gone on long cruises around the world. These cruises could last as long as 6 months and were very difficult for my friends who were without a father during that time. It is an incredible sacrifice for a family to make and it is one that continues today.

One of the most memorable people that grew up on my block was another kid. Vincent “Otis” Tolbert was a few years older than me and his father was also a Navy pilot. Otis was a large kid and grew into an even larger man. When he was a senior in high school, I was a freshman. He was the star fullback on the football team, and tossed the discus for the track team. He eventually went to Fresno State on a football scholarship.

One day Otis dropped by my house to talk to my older sister, she wasn’t home. Otis saw that I had a Risk game out and asked if I wanted to play. We played for a few hours, they were memorable hours for me, because Otis was all of those things I longed to be; popular, athletic, and intelligent. For him to sit down and play a game with me, meant so much. It was as if a personal hero had dropped by my house just to spend time with me.

I followed his career at Fresno State until I moved away and lost touch with where he was and what he was doing.

I know now that Otis was serving his country in the Navy, like his father. He served in Desert Storm and then took a job serving his country at the Pentagon. On September 11th, Otis was at work when a high jacked airplane slammed into his office killing him.

I found out Otis had been killed when I read a list of 9/11 victims, at first it was hard to believe that someone as strong and athletic as Otis had died. He was one of those people I assumed would live on beyond me because of his vitality and strength, but he didn’t.

I am not a flag waving American, but I do believe in the ideals that the United States represents. Otis also believed in the ideals of our country, so much so that he was willing to serve his country as a soldier. His sacrifice is what Memorial Day is all about. It is about him and the thousands like him who have died in the line of duty. With Otis, Memorial Day has become more personal for me. I will think of him this weekend, I will think of his family, I will think of the other families I grew up with who had fathers serving in the Navy and I will thank them for what they have done for all of us who practice our freedoms daily. I will also hope for the day when people like Otis Tolbert will not have to give their lives for freedom. I will hope for world peace and I will hope for a day where we celebrate an end to all war.

Just Leave Me Alone: 6/3/2004

This past weekend, I went to see the movie Troy. My expectations for a Hollywood version of The Iliad were not high and so I was not disappointed. What did disappoint me, and has disappointed me for the past three years is that I have to watch ridiculous commercials before I get to watch a movie I paid for! I am not talking about the movie trailers for upcoming releases; I am talking about the commercials that are now being played before most movies.
Commercialism has become so prevalent in our society that we don’t even see it slowly encroaching on our lives. Having to watch a commercial used to be the cost of getting free access to a television show or sporting event, but now most of us pay for our television and at the same time we get to pay to watch commercials. What a great deal!
There was a time when people drank water straight from the tap, but now you can pay to get water in a bottle. Why? Is there so much pollution in the world that our water supply is tainted? Well, the Bush administration did raise the level of allowable arsenic in our water supply, but bottled water was around before that happened. Suddenly people are paying $2.00 for something that most people can get for free just about anywhere in the United States.
This is the price we are paying, and will continue to pay, as we allow commercialism to seep into our culture. Our government used to protect us from blatant commercialization, but as budgets shrink for most governmental organizations more and more of the services once provided by the government are now being taken over by business. There are people who believe this take over is a positive trend and will save us money over time. The idea that business can do the government’s job better than the government is just wrong.
The $10 billion contract to provide Homeland Security for the United States was just given to Accenture; a company incorporated in …Bermuda! Bermuda, the nation famous for shorts? Bermuda, the nation well known for its cocktails and beaches? Bermuda, home of tax-dodging American companies! My tax dollars, your tax dollars, are going to support a company who avoids taxes by incorporating itself in Bermuda. This company is also going to provide Homeland Security better than the government could? What happens if shareholders want to increase profits? Will Accenture downsize their Florida office? Maybe they will shut down Homeland Security in Montana.
Halliburton’s business dealings in Iraq are another example of, “Big business can do it better” thinking. Halliburton was charging the Army between $2.64 – $3.06 for a gallon of gasoline that the Defense Department’s Energy Support Center was supplying for $1.32. The American tax payer picks up the overcharge. According to the Wall Street Journal Halliburton billed the US for 42,042 meals a day in July of 2003, but served only 14,053. Halliburton was billing the US tax-payer $85.98 for a sheet of plywood that cost $14.06 in the US. What were they doing, flying each sheet of plywood to Iraq in a first-class seat?
Commercialism has slowly been seeping into our schools for a number of years. First it was soda machines, then it was cafeteria service provided by McDonalds and now it is field trips. Petco offers field trips to their stores. They pay the transportation costs and the students get a fabulous learning experience in how to become a consumer for Petco. The kids all get a free coupon for a goldfish and have a great time poking around the store. The message Petco has purchased for the price of transportation and a few goldfish is priceless. Petco gets a captive audience of children and the stamp of approval from the school.
Next time you go to your local high school look around at the signs, most of them are probably provided by a major corporation. These images become so much a part of our daily life that we don’t even notice. Companies call you at home, spam your computer, advertise anywhere they can and slowly slip into your subconscious. These companies have done the same thing with our government. Do we really want a government run on the principle of profit?
There is a growing movement across our nation to cut taxes and streamline government. The layers of fat are easy targets for tax cutters, but those layers of fat are never touched by a reduction in funding. These tax reduction efforts often end up costing us in other arenas. Maybe we lose access to libraries. Maybe we have cutbacks in police and fire departments. Maybe we can’t replace pot holes in our streets. Eventually all of these “savings” end up costing us more as a society. If you don’t read books or have enough money to buy books, cutting library hours won’t hurt you. If you never need the police or fire departments, what difference will it make to you if there are cutbacks? A pot hole in your street is easy to drive around for a while, but eventually that pot hole enlarges and other pot holes appear. In essence our entire society is becoming marked with pot holes that cannot be filled. We want to have all the services, but we don’t want to pay for them. Industry has slipped into a government void and is slowly making itself more and more necessary for our everyday living. As we become more reliant on business to fill our needs we open up the possibility to being victims of profit margins. Big business is not going to monitor itself and cut into profit. Remember the promises California heard about competition and energy prices? What happened to them can happen to us on a national scale.
The lines between business and government have become so blurred that it is difficult to see where one ends and one begins. I want government in control of industry and not the other way around. We need leaders who are not married to big business serving our country, and we need a new separation, a separation of industry and government.

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