Wednesday, March 02, 2005

American dreamin'

Conservatives have an unflagging faith and belief in the free market. Believing in the survival of the fittest among us, they have little room for anyone but themselves and their social darwinistic fantasies. The market is their god, despite their protestations to the contrary and their recitation of family values mantras.

Despite the reality of crushing poverty, dwindling levels of healthcare and tens of thousands of children going to bed every night without adequate food in their stomachs, its all about those bootstraps baby, as in, just pull yourself up by them. Oh, and be careful they don’t snap back at ‘ya!

Repeating the mantra of privatization brought to them by those wealthy plutocrats who never met a silver spoon they didn’t snort cocaine from, red state regiments of the religious right want to keep things lily white and free from the marauders.

I’m in the process of reading the latest investigative work by Eric Schlosser, the irrepressible investigative reporter from Atlantic Monthly, who changed the way we all viewed our drive-thru experiences under the golden arches, with his best-selling Fast Food Nation.

Schlosser is back, this time, pulling back the corner on the box labeled “underground economy”. In his latest work, Reefer Madness, Schlosser states that the underground economy comprises as much as 10 percent of America’s overall economy. Some estimate it’s even larger than that. Regardless of the size, Schlosser looks at the mainstays of the “shadow economy”—pot, porn and migrant labor and U.S. immigration policy.

Like any good investigative journalist, Schlosser connects the dots and paints the picture showing the intertwining of ingenuity, greed, idealism and the overriding hypocrisy that is the American experience.

With my brain on nostalgia-overload coming from of six to eight months of research from a Maine that existed 35-40 years ago, but is no more, juxtaposed against the small amount of news and current events I’m letting trickle into my self-imposed seclusion (in order to get some of this damn book written) with a healthy dosage of Schlosser before bedtime and you can understand the strangely surreal turn life has taken the past week or so. Topping it all off is my annual winter bout with walkin' pneumonia (and the boogie-woogie blues) and you can understand the strange vortex that I’m swimming in this week.

I haven’t had a lot of time to blog, but I’ve been struck by the irony of life, as filtered through my own rose-colored prism of seeing the world.

One particularly interesting section of Schlosser’s book, the tail end of the section on the illegals who come across the border from Mexico, to pick the strawberries in Orange County, California, the prototypical red meat, red state Republican subdivision of Bush’s America:

Driving back to my hotel that night, I thought about the people of Orange County, one of the richest counties in the nation—big on family values, yet bankrupt from financial speculation, unwilling to raise taxes to pay for their own children’s education, unwilling to pay off their debts, whining about the injustice of it, and blaming all their problems on illegal immigrants……

We have been told for years to bow down before “the market.” We have placed our faith in the laws of supply and demand. What has been forgotten, or ignored, is that the market rewards only efficiency. Every other human value gets in its way. The market will drive wages down like water, until they reach the lowest possible level. Today, that level is not being set in Washington or New York or Sacramento but in the fields of Baja California and the mountain villages of Oaxaca (Mexico). That level is about five dollars a day. No deity that men have ever worshipped is more ruthless and more hollow than the free market unchecked. All those who now consider themselves devotees of the market should take a good look at what’s happening in California. Left to its own devices, the free market always seeks a work force that is hungry, desperate, and cheap—a work force that is anything but free.

--from Reefer Madness, by Eric Schlosser (Houghton MifflinCompany, 2003)

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