Propaganda and the 49er corporate welfare mall


Little Eddie wept when informed that his $100 million gift had squeaked by at the polls. Edward DeBartolo, Jr., had finally shown his dad, one of the biggest shopping center developers in the world, that the son could go papa one better: convince the public to subsidize half a billion in major mall development.

Tearful Junior had learned that retailing and politics are really the same. It's all in the packaging. Wrap it in 49er red and the sheep will give you their golden fleece, especially if you can convince the mayor to dress up as Santa Claus.

Of course, you have to spend money to make money. With the media multiplying as fast at the population, it takes big bucks to adequately influence the great unwashed into thinking right. Thus, last week we witnessed the sorry spectacle of San Francisco 49er interests spending some $2.5 million, some it tax-deductible, to convince San Francisco voters to go tax themselves.

Opponents raised only about five percent of DeBartolo's propaganda budget, so their performance against the corporate welfare steamroller was quite remarkable.

Not so remarkable is that the vote could go DeBartolo's way in supposedly bleeding heart liberal San Francisco. Look again. An organization called Food Not Bombs has been trying to feed the poor in Baghdad by the Bay, with brutal results.

"In San Francisco since 1988, Food Not Bombs members have faced over 1,000 arrests for such charges as trespassing and giving out food without a permit," writes Jenna Ziman in this month's edition of Z Magazine (also graced with a Calder Chism Daily Sparks Tribune cartoon).

"The police have confiscated thousands of dollars of cooking equipment and 12 of the group's vehicles. In such cities as Montreal, Quebec City, Arcata, Whittier, Chicago and San Diego, members sharing food with the homeless population have been arrested, cited, photographed, videotaped, interrogated and harassed by police. This pattern attests to the way many cities are confronting the ills of society: by criminalizing poverty," Ziman writes.

Governments can get away with this because officials have a weakness for going with what works. The most successful political technique over the past two centuries has been Social Darwinism, the totally fallacious assumption that natural selection and survival of the fittest, which take place over eons, also apply to short-term events. The arguably most successful political figures of recent times have all sold some version of Social Darwinism: from Hitler and Lenin to Theodore Roosevelt and a whole raft of presidents who rationalized the conquest of the savage west in Darwinian terms. It fit perfectly with the cowboy mystique of rugged individualism. If you can't make it, there's something wrong with you. Go someplace and die.

Social Darwinism provided political cover for the rape and pillage of the robber baron era a hundred years ago. It's still with us today. Food Not Bombs would not be hassled without the police and politicians having been convinced upfront that the hunger of the poor is their own damned fault. Further, they should be discouraged from spawning and perpetuating their flaws. This twisting of science bore bitter fruit when Hitler and Stalin went to work at wholesale improvement of the breed through unnatural selection by execution.

Today, even polite company may talk about such things as keeping the poor from having all those kids. Can the day be far off when we import the techniques of mandatory abortion from our most favored trading partner, Red China? We don't dare call it "genocide" or even the more modern euphemism, "ethnic cleansing." No, corporate propagandists and think tank apologists have come up with "personal responsibility." This is another example of George Carlin syllable-creep: beware when a problem acquires an increasingly longer and less human name. For example, "shell shock" became "combat fatigue" and eventually "post-traumatic stress disorder."

A few days ago, a reader from the University of Nevada called me. This person is one of the most respected in his or her field. "I was educated in my country, a poor country. But the education was free. America is the only country where everyone must pay. This place is so rich, there is no reason for anyone to be poor or homeless here. But there are, and even education must turn a profit."

Playing to the cowboy myth of standing alone is both dishonest and historically inaccurate. Teamwork built this country. If you want to see the benefits of every man for himself machismo, look at the flaky and corrupt governments of Italy or Mexico.

But tax-deductible corporate propaganda can apparently convince us that down is up. It's perfectly alright for government to grant corporate welfare (the textbook definition of fascism) but it's (gasp!) socialism to help workers or the weak. They should take care of themselves, or move to another state, or just curl up and die. Besides, too many of them sleep on heating grates annoying paying customers standing in line for season tickets.

Money-losing sports facilities and subsidized redevelopments are an easy sell just about everywhere. Look at the Oakland Coliseum and Reno's National Bowling Stadium. Millions for the 49ers, but don't let those do-gooders feed the homeless. Mr. DeBartolo even validated the Social Darwinist marketing technique: the 49ers are like the homeless or stray animals, don't feed us and we'll go away.

Not all communities are so clueless. As I've written several times before, states and municipalities all across the nation are passing living wage laws. Baltimore led the way. Los Angeles and Minneapolis are among the latest.

They mandate that any company doing business at the public trough must pay its workers a living wage, defined as the poverty line for a family of four, about $7.75 an hour. Oddly enough, that's roughly the inflation-adjusted 1968 minimum wage, in the peak year of U.S. dollar buying power.

Right wingers trash any government intervention as hurting the sacred free market. That sacred cow is pure bull. There's no such thing as a free market. Governments intervene all the time. Corporate propagandists have made official meddling somehow acceptable for soul-less companies, but not for their workers. That's why the eight-hour day and overtime pay are now targeted for extinction in the house Newt built.

Witness the sad fate of AB 506, the Displaced Workers Bill of Rights killed by the Nevada assembly a few days ago. Every business entity in the state came out to knife it. On the other side were trade unionists Tom and Kathy Stoneburner and a few laid off workers. One had been fired six months short of a 30-year pension and left with almost nothing.

Jeff Ackerman, publisher of the Carson City Nevada Appeal, wrote more than a thousand words against the bill, such as: "Corporate America came under another attack by the oppressed brothers and sisters...looking for a sugar daddy...sniveling...spoon-fed...mama's bosom...habitual complainers who can't get off their duffs long enough to save owes them a living...Socialist manifesto...In the end it will be the private businessman and businesswoman who will rescue the 'oppressed' long as Big Brother butts out."

Mr. Ackerman probably doesn't even know the history or authors of the cruel gospel he unoriginally recited. So unfettered capitalism will cure all that ails us? That means that those who cause our problems can be trusted to solve them. If that's so, then please explain how more than 7,000 sweatshops employing almost a million workers can currently operate in this country (according to the congressional General Accounting Office).

Meanwhile, companies downsize, fire their own customers and ship jobs to Bangladesh and Vietnam---all with liberal subsidies from us taxpayers who find it increasingly hard to buy 49er t-shirts at Eddie Junior's malls.

Be well. Raise hell.


© Andrew Barbano
Andrew Barbano is a Reno-based syndicated columnist and 28-year Nevadan.
Barbwire by Barbano has appeared in the Sparks Tribune since 1988. This column originally published 6/8/97.

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