A DOG, A DUCK, AN ELEPHANT AND A CAMEL
by Robert Gelfand
American Reporter Correspondent
San Pedro, Calif
LOS ANGELES, March 6, 2006 -- Mallard Fillmore is that most irritating of waterfowl, a cartoon character who recites right wing rhetoric. Firedoglake is a liberal Internet blog. Together, they have explored the role of consumer protest against corporate behavior - the former on the conservative side, the latter on the liberal side. It is old news on the conservative side, but a great step forward for liberalism.
Regarding Mallard Fillmore, the less said the better, but it is necessary to mention a couple of things. This cartoon strip by Bruce Tinsley (samples available on the Internet) features a duck who spouts right wing propaganda. I guess it is intended to be funny, but as Rush Limbaugh points out (and logic forces me to agree with Rush on at least this one thing), humor ordinarily requires that the satire have some element of reality.
The Mallard strip typically presents cartoonish "liberal" straw men who are unlike any real-world liberals I have ever met. They say the stupidest things imaginable. (Implied message: liberals are stupid, dishonest, hypocritical; message actually communicated: right wing humor isn't all that funny.)
Here's one recent example: A man who is drawn, strangely enough, to resemble George Will or perhaps Coach Lou Holtz, speaks: "That's right Mallard! As a spokesperson for the Habitually Offended Community, I speak for all habitually offended Americans about what to be offended about, how to vote, etc." The duck replies, "Don't any of the "Habitually Offended Community" find that a little patronizing?" George/Lou responds, "Some, but they're obviously just "self loathing."
Perhaps this is what the right wing finds humorous. I don't know. On another level, however, Mallard Fillmore is every bit a part of the right wing noise machine, and here's where it gets interesting. In the cartoon dated 3-1, Mallard is speaking directly to the reader: "Twice in the past month, Christian T.V. viewers have gotten N.B.C. to change programming offensive to them by using letter writing campaigns." Mallard finishes his sermon, "Note to Islamic extremists: This approach is far more effective than bombing N.B.C.'s offices or beheading Jay Leno."
Aside from the truly offensive reference to Leno, there is an important clue here. In the right wing universe of Mallard and his friends, shutting down offensive tv shows is considered virtuous. Going after networks and sponsors is normal behavior.
For some reason, this tactic unfortunately has not caught on with liberals. Back in 2004, I wrote about how the right wing went after Whoopi Goldberg for remarks she made at a Kerry-for-President rally. The manufactured uproar got her fired by one of her sponsors within a couple of days.
At the time, I suggested that liberals ought to pick up the same set of tools. It's long-since time to fight back in this war over the media.
Well, Jane Hamsher of firedoglake.blogspot.com is now doing just that. Hamsher has been organizing her readers to lobby television networks and newspapers about their right wing content. Her blog has spearheaded campaigns to raise money for liberal candidates and to funnel it through organizations such as Actblue.com. The Republican propaganda machine is still running full throttle, but it is finally getting a hint of payback.
Hamsher is loosely allied with several other liberal Internet producers, including Kos (dailykos.com). An ad hoc mission called the Roots Project is described in the blog Vichy Democrats: "The Roots Project is an effort by a loose group of bloggers, including VichyDems, Glenn Greenwald, Jane Hamsher, John Amato of Crooks & Liars, and Digby of Hullabaloo, to work with local bloggers in each state to mobilize local grassroots/netroots/"netboots" efforts."
Still, there is one element in the battle that is mostly missing. It is to organize consumers to contact sponsors who support right wing propaganda shows. People who buy pricey automobiles, not to mention all manner of other goods, would be surprised to learn what sorts of hate-radio their money is paying for. It's time to let them know that their sponsorship is not appreciated. As we have described here previously, radio stations running angry propaganda are sponsored by a surprisingly centrist-looking collection of businesses.
For example, the local radio station KABC (AM, 790) which carries Bill O'Reilly, Sean Hannity and Larry Elder proudly lists advertisers on its web site. These include, among many others, Aamco, dealers in Fords and Jaguars, the Southern California Audi Dealers, Southern California Edison, AT&T, SBC Yahoo DSL, Healthnet and the Los Angeles World Airports (this is the formal name for the authority which runs the Los Angeles International Airport, popularly referred to as "LAX").
How is it that regulated utilities, a publicly owned airfield, monopoly telephone companies and all manner of other well known organizations have not been held accountable for supporting the most partisan right-wing propaganda venue in the nation's most populous state?
Whether it is a diet aid (like the one that fired Whoopi Goldberg) or an automobile dealership or a restaurant chain, the logical targets for liberal protest are the corporations that pay the bills.
Liberals are less eager to fight these battles than the right wing because they associate it with censorship. The sentiment is admirable, but in this case it is misdirected. Liberals have a perfect right to communicate their displeasure to any business or organization that knowingly contributes to the right wing propaganda machine. Publicly regulated monopolies should not be using their customers' money to push such highly partisan projects, at least not without being made aware of our irritation. Nobody is trying to tell the Audi dealers that they can't spend their money as they see fit; we ought to be telling them that we resent it. Liberal consumers have the same rights as conservatives in the marketplace.
The most important points in the recent frenzy over American ports and the proposed United Arab Emirates operators seems to have been missed entirely by hundreds of reporters, pundits and late night comedians. It is a little hard to explain in three syllable word-bites (binary vs. multivalued comes to mind), so I will take a different approach, comparing what was written with what should have been written.
How many times did we read words almost exactly like this: "The Emirate of Dubai will not be handling security. Security will still be managed by the Coast Guard and Homeland Security, and American longshoremen will still be handling the cargo... ?"
A fairer assessment would go something like this: The Coast Guard will manage security to the extent that its funding, manpower and equipment allow; how effective this may be is an open question. In this post-Sept. 11 world, the major ports have been begging for additional federal security aid and have been disappointed year after year.
The Dubai people will not be handling security, except to the extent that it chooses to do so on its own, and to the modest extent that it is required to do so by law and contracts. Even then, we can't be entirely sure that the terminal operators will always be diligent or honest. In this sense, the presence of Arab ownership could provide the marginal damage to port security that would allow for a serious incident.
Let's summarize the logical error that has come through in so much of the commentary: The by-rote jaw-flapping that "the Coast Guard will be in charge of security" implies that there is such a thing as effective security, that the Coast Guard and Homeland Security are capable of enforcing it, and that foreign-owned terminals will have little or no effect on that enforcement. These assumptions are invalid, because they imply an all-or-nothing state of "security."
That's the "binary" way of thinking, in which everything is zero or one, true or false, all or none. Real-world familiarity with how seaports function reveals a very different situation, a world in which wide gradations from very secure to dangerously insecure can exist side by side (the "multivalued" view of the world).
It would be fairer to say that the Coast Guard and Homeland Security are stretched very thin, that they are lucky to catch even a modest fraction of smugglers, and that every additional stress on the system makes them that much less effective. In this sense, the Dubai deal might be minimally toxic, but it could also be the straw that breaks the camel's back. At the moment we do not know.
In recent months, the Port of Los Angeles has had its share of incidents; one container caught fire, while another container was found to be filled with illegal Chinese immigrants n(a "container" is either 21 or 42 feet in length, or of the trailers pulled by "semis," without the wheels). Homeland Security now finds and confiscates tons of counterfeit consumer goods, but concedes that they can't catch everything. Clearly, the situation is complicated, and there is a certain amount of luck involved in law enforcement.
Part of the security web involves inspection of cargo manifests that are supposed to describe the contents of each container. There is no way that even a modest fraction of all the containers can be physically inspected to determine the accuracy of each manifest. In that sense, our security system depends to some extent on the credibility of the shipper and its terminal.
There is one other point that will become increasingly tendentious in coming years: This deal represents just one more example of how our once-wealthy nation is becoming a debtor to oil producers and Asian manufacturers. As foreign investors (including governments) accumulate dollars and pounds, they will tend to buy up our national resources, because we will have little else to sell them.
We went through the same emotional frenzy in the 1970s, only it was Japan that was the foreign creditor at the time. This time around it will be the oil producers and China. The remedy, to adopt a balanced budget and enforce strong priorities in favor of reducing our trade deficit, are politically unpopular.
Since we seem to be unwilling to do what is necessary, we are doomed to go another round.