by The Other Katherine Harris
That Fisher-Price toys were top quality became a tenet of faith for me, when my son was small. They survived all a toddler could throw at them –- including being thrown, themselves –- and kept working. They even kept looking good. Since they didn’t splinter into threatening bits, their toughness was a safety plus, too. They were also designed and decorated cautiously, with no sharp corners or finishes nasty to gnaw on. From a Fisher-Price toy, you got a clear sense that the company understood little children and cared about them.
Given the trust earned by this firm through decades, yesterday’s news that they’ve recalled nearly a million toys was a surprise. That these toys are Chinese imports covered with toxic paint was a shock of high order — not much short of learning your grandmother runs a brothel.
To their credit — and that of Mattel, their parent company since 1993 — they noted the problem fast enough to sweep most offending merchandise off store shelves. Some did reach consumers, though, and despite efforts to get those products back, there’s no assurance of a happy ending. Somebody’s snookums is probably teething on a stacking ring laced with lead and suffering nerve and brain damage, as I write these words.
This didn’t have to happen to a company that managed to merit the loyalty of American families for 77 years. What caused it, of course, was greed. By this, I don’t suggest that Fisher-Price (or Mattel) is particularly greedy. Their overseas operations are said to be exemplary, compared to most. But the greed gestalt of the 1980s led them to start moving production outside America. Fisher-Price was then in heated competition with bigger, richer competitors: Hasbro, the Rubbermaid Little Tikes line and, yes, Mattel, which eagerly acquired F-P once it regained profitability.
I remember that sad era vividly. As the race to the bottom began, I watched clients close U.S. factories. The most ironic example was Pioneer Wear, then the world’s leading producer of western-style leather outerwear, from frontiersy fringed jackets to increasingly fashion-forward styles like suede suits, down-filled coats and knits with southwestern motifs. Expanding into product categories dominated by larger companies prompted the owner to move production offshore. John wasn’t notably generous to his Albuquerque seamstresses, but the wage they were paid to produce high-quality, labor-intensive garments was far too much, measured against his rivals’ outlays in Singapore and Malaysia.
In those Reagan Years, when the Culture of Greed took hold, the notion of doing anything to protect American jobs became anathema. Besides turning manufacturers loose to produce goods wherever they chose, with no penalty attached to selling them here, he kept busy demonizing unions; closing public mental institutions and releasing the patients to “community care” (aka homelessness); empowering the media to lie with impunity; deregulating everything in sight; and generally bolstering big business by any and all means. For the benefit of utilities and oil companies, he swiftly killed solar and other alternate energy development by ending Carter’s tax credits to consumers who bought their products, thereby funding further R&D. In the blink of an evil eye, the firms were gone (many of my clients among them).
That’s when America’s infrastructure began degrading, too. Which brings us to (sinister music break) The Bridge that fell Wednesday evening, after being pronounced “structurally deficient” in 1990.
This didn’t have to happen, either. We had 17 years to fix that bridge (and others ticking toward ruin) and, back in the 1990s, we had money. Remember that big surplus? But would the Republican Congress authorize the necessary spending? Read this 1993 article. While all Republicans wouldn’t agree with its author that having a national transportation system constitutes a “socialist nightmare”, such thinking has been prevalent enough to foster serious neglect — with the ultimate goal of privatizing more and more public resources.
Yesterday I read and heard torrents of outrage from people of both parties, the theme being that American bridges aren’t supposed to collapse.
Well, American babies’ toys aren’t supposed to poison them, either. Nor are American steam pipes and levees supposed to burst for lack of maintenance. Nor are Americans in a drowning city supposed to be abandoned and later housed in death-trap trailers. Nor are Americans supposed to die in mines and refineries known to be operating in hazardous ways. Nor are Americans supposed to suffer from “approved” drugs holding perils concealed by the makers. Nor are Americans supposed to brush their teeth with Chinese antifreeze and eat seafood from Asian water so filthy the fish can’t live in it without chemicals destructive to human health.
This brings us to another related story that broke yesterday.
Testing by several states has found about half the seafood we import from Asia is tainted with substances so scary that even our lax FDA bans them and yet the FDA — now headed, like all similar agencies, by “regulators” who abhor regulation — tested a meager .06 percent of shipments last year and rejected a miniscule .01 percent. In defense of this execrable record, director of seafood safety William Jones set up the straw man of universal testing and said, “You can’t test every single entry. If you did, you wouldn’t have any food.” His claim of a shortage is illogical, too. America has loads of coastline and fish farms. We’re importing 83 percent of our seafood (up from 57 percent in 1996) only because corporations make more money by buying overseas.
Behind all of this is the same greed –- a greed so extreme that it negates the traditional social contract between a government and the governed. Everywhere we see parts of the same picture: a danse macabre portrait of deliberate decay, brought to us by those who don’t give a damn about the citzenry, except insofar as we can be induced to buy both their products and their lies on the airwaves they monopolize (which we’ve forgotten we own) and insofar as we can be taxed to support corporate subsidies and bailouts; war profiteering; militarism; paramilitary forces; prisons and police state powers; privatization of government functions; environmental destruction as a path to drill Arctic oil; an educational system structured to produce terrified worker-bees laden with debt; special breaks for the ultra-rich; the export of our own jobs and foreign “aid” programs designed to reduce other countries to the same level of subservience that the Masters of the Universe call “freedom”.
Let’s face it, the Masters of the Universe want America broken. It’s nothing personal; they want every nation broken, except in the capacity of its government to control the people. Then all they have to do is control the governments, which are easy enough to buy.
Let’s face this, too: Reagan’s economic policies were continued and even expanded under Bill Clinton. He happily gave us NAFTA and signed the Telecommunications Act of 1996 with pleasure. Al Gore was all for it, too. (Links to remarks by both are HERE.) This legislation erased virtually all limitations on media ownership, allowing vast conglomerates to form and flourish. Thus were fully unleashed Rupert Murdoch (Hillary’s new best friend) and the other media pirates who had begun throwing objective, newsworthy news overboard when Reagan’s minions overturned the Fairness Doctrine. His FCC first attacked it in 1985, the same year when Australian-born Murdoch became a naturalized American citizen because only citizens could own U.S. television stations Amazing, isn’t it? We fret about the duplicity of immigrants marrying for green cards, but welcome into the corridors of power those whose selfish purposes exist on a grander scale. Murdoch isn’t even a duly tax-paying citizen for us, thanks to Newscorp’s complex structure, transnational scope and use of offshore havens, and soon the fabulist of Fox, the New York Post and the Weekly Standard (to mention just a few of his holdings) will start spreading his smarm in the Wall Street Journal, too.
So where lies hope, if any? Certainly not with Hillary, and Obama is also cavorting too freely with the grillionaires. The extent of media venom against Edwards reinforces my perception that he’s our best shot at regaining some semblance of democracy and economic justice after nearly 30 years of rampant corporatism.
Funny that there are now middle-aged people who can’t remember America before Reagan. If you’re one of them, please accept my solemn word that life was far, far better for regular folks in every respect. Small businesses provided about 80 percent of all jobs, so most people had cordial relationships with colleagues and even competitors. Health insurance and services weren’t so expensive that families feared being bankrupted by illness or injury. Just about anyone could afford college at a state-run school, because tuition was cheap (in some states free) and even those earning minimum wage had more spending power than today. There was a feeling of calm about having what you needed — maybe not all you wanted, but enough –- and in that calm were dignity and purpose. There was confidence in government, too. Its agencies existed to do their jobs, not to pretend or refuse to do them, so pollution was on the wane, for instance. Apart from importing oil and tropical fruit, we were self-sufficient and the oil prob was being effectively addressed until Reagan reversed the progress. Best of all, the media were still honest. That kept most elected officials pretty honest and barred Nixon from doing grave damage, although the forces of darkness were massing then for a mighty assault.
The past three decades in America, during which the majority have lost so much to a tiny minority, will be seen someday as a brief detour from our founding principles or as the beginning of the end. I can’t see any middle ground. It shouldn’t be hard to reject toxic toys, poisoned food, tumbling bridges, crumbling levees, manipulative media, crappy jobs, dying communities, endless war and other forms of dominating others, mindless test-based education, laws and regulatory agencies that favor the powerful and bought-and-paid-for politicians of both parties who try to tell us there’s no alternative to death-by-free-trade. At least it shouldn’t be hard, if we view all this as the unified phenomenon it is: not capitalism, but unbridled corporatism trying in its fascistic glory to make slaves of us.
This doesn’t have to happen, because there is really only one enemy and we are many.