by Joe Shea
American Reporter Editor-in-Chief
July 4, 2001
Editorial: LOOKING FOR AMERICA
As we celebrate America's birthday today, I can't resist the observation that while America remains a bright and hopeful dream to the poor and oppressed in many parts of the world, to many Americans it has become a memory.
We received an article from Mark Scheinbaum today about the conditions at the local Wal-Mart Superstore near his home in Florida. He spoke of attendants who couldn't understand English, the scarcity of American-made products, the trash-strewn parking lot and the long, slow lines that caused him to leave $150 worth of goods in his shopping cart and flee the store.
Here in California, tens of thousands of high-speed Internet users waited for five days in vain to hear an explanation - or to be offered a refund - for the failure of a central office ATM switch that crippled DSL service from Los Angeles to Reno, Nevada. I got mine - after a tedious complaint to the Public Utilities Commission was forwarded by my Assemblyman, Paul Koretz.
The vast monopolies that have replaced locally-owned providers of everything from garbage pails to electric power are responsible for the diminishing quality of life we want to celebrate today. They have taken an economy that was built by millions of small businessmen and gained complete control over the essential needs of Americans. Without competition, they soon prosper, but our ability to sustain those profits is eroded by higher prices and lower wages in the controlled economy they create.
When we can't keep them profitable, they become desperate for cheaper labor, and they cut every "extra" that distinguishes them from the generic marketplace. Consumers are swayed to the competing megastores, still searching for the bargains and service that smaller businesses can't afford to provide and that the megastores provide only in tv commercials and press releases.
There will never, ever be a coconut cream pie like they served at Miller's Restaurant in downtown Monroe, N.Y., 45 years ago. You couldn't get the farm-fresh milk, butter and eggs, or the patient cook who knew the recipe for the pie crust. Instead, you get a nuts-and-bolts deep-fried doughy lump of processed apples and sugar at McDonald's or Burger King that costs about a dollar and is called an apple pie.
I guess the height of that irony was reached when I walked into an International House of Pancakes in East L.A. about 3 a.m. this morning. All around the restaurant and in the windows were colorful posters and display cards saying "Red, White and Blueberry Pancakes Are Back!" For a moment, my hopes soared: Blueberries inside a hot, fresh pancake - that's one image of the American Dream, to me.
But no, the blueberries are a cheap blue sugary paste with a few berries mixed in just heaped on top, along with jellied strawberries and ultra-processed whipped cream.
The waiter was a young, hard-working Latino kid and he was wearing a Stars 'n Stripes tie to mark the promotion.
"How much is that?" I asked when he had a second to respond.
"They're not available on holidays," he said. I asked how much they were. "$2.99, $3.99, $4.99 and $5.99, depending on what you get with them, eggs or sausage or whatever," he said. We talked about it again as I was leaving.
"They don't sell that on holidays? Not even the Fourth of July?"
"I know," he said. "I can't believe it."
Well, in a lot of ways, we have agreed to be exploited in every way we can be. We elected the members of Congress and the state legislators and the city officials who perpetuate the monopolies and bow their heads before the rich and powerful. We never fail to reject and turn away the independent voices, the free and untrammeled spirits that might raise our hopes and hearts to a higher place.
Like sheep, we follow wherever the dollar leads, and heaven knows it always heads straight for a rich man's pocket. Americans couldn't elect an honest man if he ran almost unopposed - they wouldn't turn out to vote. They'd pick up the anti-good guy mailers from their mailbox and forget his name. They'd turn on tv and watch the images tv providers want us to watch, and vote for the people tv owners want us to vote for. The guy who hadn't sold out would be drowned, tossed out into the American dark like a half-eaten Big Mac. And the fellow who crawled into the Dumpster to find him would be another honest man or woman, likewise unemployed.
When I think about America, I think of it before the Supreme Court started electing presidents, before liars cooked up reasons for going to war, before the landscape was littered with a hundred thousand fast-food joints serving virtually all the same food. That America is a memory. I search for it still in the dark corners of the night, and anywhere it might have escaped our multinational processing; my American dream is to find it again.