What if Obama’s State of the Union speech ushers in an age of government sponsored reality TV: “Education Idol,” “Obama’s Biggest Little Losers”and“The Amazing Race to Control the World”?

Before I read around the net for reactions to the state of the union, I thought I would formulate some of my own. So, here are thoughts on a few areas close to my heart: Education, Body Image, and Militarism.

On education, Obama referred to the “national competition to improve our schools.” Wow, will there be a reality TV show to go along with that? How about “Education Idol”?

I agree with Obama that “one of the best anti-poverty programs is a world-class education.” Too bad he doesn’t back this belief with monetary support. Alas, there always seems to be enough money for war but not for education.

On body image, Obama gave a nod to Michelle Obama “who this year is creating a national movement to tackle the epidemic of childhood obesity and make our kids healthier.” Oooh, sounds like the makings for another reality show! How about “Obama’s Biggest Little Losers”?

Instead of targeting body size, how about targeting high fructose corn syrup and ultra-processed Franken foods. Oh no, food corps wouldn’t like that, and now they hold the purse strings…

On militarism, Obama resorted to euphemism again, hiding war cries under the guise of “national security” and “terrorists.”

There seemed to be a big gap in the war portions of his speech – the military budget!!! Why no mention of how our war-happy stance has a lot to do with our current economic collapse? Why no talk of curtailing military spending or cutting back on our bases around the globe?

Seems all his war talk could have the makings of a reality show too – how about “The Amazing Race to Control the World,” “American’s Next Top War,” or “Country Swap”?

To sum up my reaction, I found most of the speech to be about as believable (and disheartening) as reality TV.

I heartily agree with Obama that “America must always stand on the side of freedom and human dignity,” I just think Obama and the US government define freedom and human dignity a little differently than I do.

I don’t find that occupying the globe with our soldiers, bases, and prisons is the best way to bring about freedom. I don’t find that championing corporate capitalism promotes human dignity – to the contrary, it puts profit before people.

If he really wants to stand on the side of freedom and human dignity, Obama must think about de-militarizing the globe and decreasing the corporate stranglehold on our world. Oh yeah, and supporting education with more than just words would be nice too.

What if the preamble to the US Constitution read “We the corporations of America…”?

This week proved the disastrous effects of a Bush-appointed supreme court, or, to put it another way, welcome officially to the United States of Fascism.

As Rural Woman Zone argues, “The Supreme Court’s Decision this week to remove campaign finance restrictions for corporations means the end of participatory democracy.”

In another good post on this catastrophe, Rodrigue Tremblay of Dissident Voice argues we are now a plutocracy, or a “political system characterized by ‘the rule by the wealthy, or power provided by wealth.’”

As Tremblay continues, “the Roberts Court has thus abolished the laws governing American electoral financing and removed limits to how much special money interests can spend to have the elected officials they want. The government they want will largely be ‘a government of the corporations, by the corporations, for the corporations.’”

People have been warning that the US is moving further and further away from democracy, a move that Naomi Wolf warns will be “The End of America” (the same title as her 2007 book, which she discusses here.)

Listening to talk about the recent Supreme Court decision on the radio and around the blogosphere, the following notion rules the (right) airwaves “we can’t limit the first amendment rights of a corporation because that would be un-American.” This argument is based on the faulty notion, writ into law ages ago, that a corporation IS a person and deserves the same free speech rights as a person. Stephen Colbert mocks this idea, noting “corporations do everything people do – except breathe, die, and go to jail for dumping 1.3 million pounds of PCBs in the Hudson River.”

One of the best anti-corporate sources of information I can recommend to those worried about the increasing corporatization of our world is the Canadian documentary The Corporation.

The clip below is especially pertinent to the supposed personhood of corporations:

As Noam Chomsky notes in the above clip, corporations have no moral conscience (unlike most humans, Bush excluded). Would you want Exxon Mobil, General Electric, Wal-Mart, or Citi-Group making moral decisions on your behalf? Would you even want them as a Facebook friend? Hell no!

A corporation is not a person!!! Corporations are ruled by the “bottom line,” or how to make as much profit as possible. They could care less about the environment, social justice, or your Facebook status update. Due to their profit-motives, they tend to lean to the right or very far right and their political contributions will aim to make the US as anti-progressive as you can imagine.

As a dear friend joked recently,

“How do you spell fascism?”

“F-a-c-s-i-s-m” I replied.

“Nope,” he quipped. “U-S-A.”

If you’re worried about this ruling (and if you are not, you should be), go here for a petition and other activist links.

What if you could buy social justice? (Part 10: Avoiding the ATM: Breaking the Consumerist Mindset)

This series has been based on my conviction that green products, pink ribbons, rubber bracelets, political t-shirts, and Oprah give-aways are NOT going to bring about social justice. The consumer activism mindset that has taken hold in US society will not end genocide, war, poverty, racism, or anything else. In fact “consumer activism” is largely an oxymoron. Although one can be a “conscientious consumer” (and take an activist stance via NOT shopping/promoting certain corporations (i.e. Wal-Mart)), I don’t believe a socially just world cannot be bought – no matter how much is being spent.

Further, although many social justice organizations need money in order to do their work, donating money will not in and of itself bring about equity. Such donations are important no doubt, but what is just as necessary (if not more so) is using your voice, your brain, your pen, your keyboard, your body to PROTEST those things that are wrong in our world. (And NOT buying can certainly be a form of protest.) Besides, throwing money at a situation never works – it may make things look better on the surface, but dig a little deeper, and the problem will still be there.

In spite of this, justice through consumerism is being sold to the world citizenry at an alarming rate. Donate to this politician and your country will be saved. Buy this car and the environment will be healed. Purchase products with pink ribbons and breast cancer will disappear. Send money and the ravages wrought by Katrina will be fixed. Order a box of Thin Mints for a soldier and ameliorate the damages of militarization. These are the types of messages that we are inundated with. They vary in type and urgency, but all, at their core, have the same purpose: to make us, as humans, believe that through consumption we can make the world a better place.

This mass-delusion keeps the wheels of advanced corporate capitalism spinning us happily towards our doom as we go about lives driven largely by consumerist desires. Even more abhorrent though is the way the consumer mindset has infiltrated activist/social justice movements. I imagine many earlier visionaries are rolling in their graves. Emma Goldman certainly would take issue with consumerized voting movements such as Rock the Vote. Karl Marx would hardly endorse the push for re-usable bags over and above the push for worker’s rights (after all, how many of those Whole Foods shoppers with their cloth bags are thinking about the exploitive labor that picked that organic produce?) Virginia Woolf would see right through pink-washing. And I doubt if Sojourner Truth would be quick to buy a rubber bracelet claiming “Ain’t I a woman?”

Part of the reason that this consumerist mindset has taken such a strong hold is that consumerism has become the new one world religion, as discussed in parts 1 through 5 of this series. We are encouraged that with shopping comes salvation, that buying is the best form of worship. Yet, in spite of the ways consumerism has infiltrated every facet of life, including not only religion but also activism and protest, there are a number of indications that the world populace is beginning to question justice through buying. Sites like Enough.org are good signs “enoughism” is gaining appeal. Enoughism, a concept that Berkeley Professor Wendy Brown describes as “a threshold of wealth and consumption above which no one needs more…a threshold below which no one can thrive” seems to be the type of system that combines socialism with capitalism in a productive way – a system that would allow for capitalism with a social conscious and a collective world view (Brown quoted in Ms., Winter 2009, p.37). Perhaps one positive outcome of the global economic crisis will be more people saying “Enough!” to the corporatist greed that got us here. Perhaps it will lead people to break their ATM habits, to a switch from a consumerist mindset to an enoughism one.

Meanwhile, I believe that instead of heading to the ATM, literally or figuratively, we would do better to spend time, rather than money, doing the following:

  1. Reading/Writing
  2. Thinking
  3. Talking
  4. Listening
  5. Acting

To elaborate:

Reading/Writing: We would be better served by educating ourselves about the many problems in our world rather than running out to buy green/pink products. Reading about the complex history behind the problems that plague human society is vital. We cannot hope to change the world without doing our research first. Writing is the next part of this equation – whether it is writing a blog post, a letter to an editor, or a missive to Dear Aunt Hilda. The pen (or keyboard) is indeed mightier than the sword.

Thinking, an activity that is woefully under-rated, must occur both individually and collectively. We need to think about the changes that need to be made, examine what prevents these changes, and consider how we can make change a reality (rather than merely a rhetorical stance peppered in speeches). Buying is easier than thinking, hence many opt to purchase something in hopes this will bring about change (i.e. a politically hip t-shirt or a rubber bracelet) rather than THINKING about what really needs to occur for change to happen.

Talking, or raising awareness, is crucial. We cannot hope to change the world until the masses wake up from their slumbering sheep-state. However, as the conversation is currently controlled by the corporate owned BIASED media, most of the ‘talking’ that takes place on a societal level works to maintain and perpetuate things as they are. We must interrupt this conversation and CHANGE the subject(s)!

Listening to ALL kinds of ‘others’ regarding how to make the world a more socially just place is vital. Everyone deserves a place at the table, and the more diverse the voices the better. We must listen to others as their experiences will be different from ours – even if they share the same sex/gender/race/class/sexuality/belief etc. This is one of the reasons the big umbrella labels we use can be problematic – not all women are the same, not all queers are the same, not all trans people are the same. Each person, no matter how many ‘social positionings’ they share, will bring something new and different to the conversation. We must keep our ears open for to ALL types of voices coming from all types of places. We need to seek out others to listen to who have different “lenses” or experiences from our own.

Acting in ways both small and large to bring about the socially just world we envision is the essential culmination of these five steps. If we do the first four, and forget about the fifth, not much will be gained. We need to take action regarding all of the above, continually asking ourselves “What actions can I take to change things? What activism can I be a part of?” What we do NOT need to do is act in more ways that our bound up with consumerism!

(And, for a list of sites that encourage NOT buying, go here to find a number of great sources compiled by Dervish.)

What if you could buy social justice? (Part 3: The Temple of Wal-Mart)

When I read that a Wal-Mart worker had been trampled to death by stampeding shoppers eager for bargains on “Black Friday,” I flashed back to Reverend Billy. His over-the-top evangelical-style preaching’s that encourage ‘worshipers’ to STOP SHOPPING in the docu-comedy What Would Jesus Buy equate our consumerism to evil, to greed, and, catchingly, to the “SHOPACOLYPSE.” Black Friday’s news, with one Wal-Mart worker dead as a result of consumer madness, and several others injured, as well as the shoot out at a Toys-R-Us in Palm Desert that left two more men dead, seemed to indicate that the ‘SHOPACOLYPSE’ is indeed upon us.

As someone who includes a directive to please not buy any needed supplies at Wal-Mart on my course syllabi, I often get questions as to why I have a vendetta against this store. Many cite it is hardly the only company that relies on exploitive labor systems both here and abroad, and that, more prosaically, they rely on the cheap prices. Well, Wal-Mart is like the grand-daddy of exploitation, the icon of cheap consumerism. If we can, as socially conscious consumers, bring down this evil symbol of corporate global capitalism, other companies will surely take notice.

As for the claim that people ‘need’ to shop at Wal-Mart for economic reasons, I do not fully agree, at least not in all cases. I understand that restrictive budgets require ‘bargain shopping,’ yet, what places like Wal-Mart promote is not shopping for necessity, but shopping in mega-quantity, the happy face price slasher beckoning customers to fill, fill, fill that oversized cart.

Wal-Mart encourages people to BUY MORE and PAY LESS doing so, rather than to buy less and be willing to pay more for equitably produced products. Yet, I realize that for some non-urban dwellers, Wal-Mart is pretty much the only place to shop (as the corporation has been so successful at putting mom-and-pop stores out of business). For others, the cheap prices really are a necessity. It is not these shoppers that are treating Wal-Mart as a temple – these are the very shoppers that are consumer capitalist system FORCES to make choices that are in fact counter to their own interests. Those at the most exploited end of the labor system are the most likely to HAVE to shop at places like Wal-Mart, and also the most likely to be exploited by employers such as Wal-Mart and other corporations. This is why, of course, that in these darker economic times (I say ‘darker’ as they have been dark for MANY for a lot longer than this latest “economic meltdown”), about the only places seeing sales increase are places like Wal-Mart. What horrible irony that the very corporations that create such an exploitive, unequal society also reap the most benefits when the economic house of cards comes crashing down…

At cites like Wake Up Wal-Mart and Wal-Mart Watch make clear, Wal-Mart is a major corporate evil-doer – it is, in keeping with the faith metaphor, the devil that entices us to keep sinning, both individually and collectively. This holiday season alone, each employee will generate over $2,000 in profit for Wal-Mart, or, “from the work of 1.4 million Americans, Wal-Mart will reap billions of dollars in sales” (as cited here). Yet, these workers will not reap the benefits of the billions in profits. Rather, they will, in true Wal-Mart fashion, be denied healthcare and other benefits, be underpaid and overworked, and be prohibited from unionizing. Or, they may be, as Jdimytai Damour was on was on Black Friday 2008, trampled to death by Wal-Mart customers.

As Jeff Fecke reports in “Always Low Wages. Always,” WalMart is allowed to carry on their heinous practices with merely a light slap on the wrist once in awhile, as in the case of the latest settlement where the company has agreed to pay $54.3 million to settle a lawsuit. The suit, about their practice of requiring employees to work off-the-clock, is one of many taken against this frown-inducing corporate giant. As Fecke reflects,

“While it’s good to see the suit settled, and employees compensated after a decade of stalling, I’m a bit disappointed that it’s being settled. As noted, a jury trial could have cost the company $2 billion, and that kind of money might have motivated them to, you know, pay their workers and give them adequate breaks. Instead, Wal-Mart will pay their parking ticket and continue to screw over their workforce.”

Issues like these are only some of the reasons I target Wal-Mart as a place to BEGIN the consume-less-and-do-so-more-responsibly revolution (ok, so I need to think of a shorter name for this revolution…)

Another key reason to people-cott Wal-Mart is because it perpetuates social inequalities in the areas of race, class, gender, ability, etc. For example, the trampling of Jdimytai Damour serves as a horrible, yet telling, symbol of the racism and classism Wal-Mart propagates. An analysis of the pictures of this tragedy reveals that not only was the person killed a POC, but the majority of people waiting outside to take advantage of bargains were also POC. Is it a COINCIDECE that POC are disporportionately represented as workers and shoppers at Wal-Mart? No – it is a reflection of the race and class inequalities in our society that means CERTAIN people will be more likely to have to work the shit jobs and to shop at shit stores to make ends meet.

This is also true on a global scale – Wal-Mart could in fact be viewed as one of the prime masters of modern slavery. As with earlier historical slave practices, the masters are white (the Walton family) and the slave workers are largely POC – especially the lower down the Wal-Mart job ladder you go (although it can’t rightly be called a ladder as many will never climb anywhere in that corporation). Wal-Mart, as the documentary The High Cost of Low Price makes plain, is not one for advancing/promoting its workers, especially if they have vaginas or non-white skin…

Further, while I appreciate the fact that so many films, websites, and activist groups are focusing on Wal-Mart’s deleterious effects, I take issue with the tendency to offer “buy American” as the (under-analyzed) solution. For, while there are many merits to shopping locally, the “buy American” mantra is often framed in an us-verses-them way. As in THEY (the rest of the globe) are “stealing our jobs,” are “ruining American industry,” are “driving down wages.” What gets lost in this us-verses-them thinking is that we all live on one planet.  In fact, the otherwise wonderful Frontline series on Wal-Mart announces this mentality right there in its title: “Is Wal-Mart Good for America?” What we should be asking instead, is: “Is Wal-Mart Good for the Globe?”

As global citizens we should be worried about fair wages and an environmentally safe planet for ALL PEOPLE, not just for Americans. Further, buying items that claim to be “American” or “Made in the USA” is no guarantee they were produced equitably, nor do “Made in USA” tags guarantee items were actually made in the US let alone made under fair labor conditions (as Ms. Magazines article “Paradise Lost” reveals). This narrative also ignores the fact that there our many sweatshops within the US – they are not all “over there” in China or Indonesia. They are right here in Los Angeles, San Diego, New York. The “made in the USA” is a false feel good tag.

While there are no easy answers to the Wal-Martization of the world, a first step would be for those of us who have the privilege of being able to afford to shop elsewhere to do so. Further, we need to make sure we are not using the “LOW PRICES!” as an excuse to buy more stuff then we really need. We need to ask ourselves is shopping at Wal-Mart REALLY a necessity due to budget, or do Wal-Mart prices encourage the buying of many non-essentials thus mitigating the “I can’t afford to shop anywhere else argument.” If you are buying things you don’t need at Wal-Mart because they are so cheap, the money saved from not buying these things could be used to shop somewhere with more equitable labor practices (and hence higher prices).

Further, rather than worship at this temple dedicated to ceremonies of conspicuous consumption, we could do like Jesus and attempt to destroy the temple. In order to bring down this money-changing temple, we must resolve to resist the false happy face promises, the artificially low prices, and the lure of bargains. For, the bargains at Wal-Mart come at a very high cost – they come at the expense of exploited workers around the globe, environmental harm, and, yes, even democracy. (See, for example, my post here for how Wal-Mart bribes politicians such as California Governator Arnold Schwarzenegger).

So, dear readers, if you haven’t already, please consider people-cotting Wal-Mart. If monetary or geographical locations don’t make this possible, you can take action by staying on top of Wal-Mart news at cites like Wake up Wal-Mart, Wal-Mart Sucks, and Wal-Mart Watch and via signing petitions, writing letters, and making your voice heard in the blogosphere and elsewhere. Wal-Mart may be only one consumerist temple among many, but it is the ‘patriarch’ of temples in so many ways – bringing down this daddy of corporate capitalism would help give our global family a better chance at living free from domination and exploitation brought to us via Wal-Mart sweat-shops, factories, and ‘super-centers.’

And, in case I haven’t dampened your holiday spirit or disturbed or pissed you off enough already, stay tuned for the next post in the series where I attempt to de-throne the mouse: “The Church of Disney.”

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