Monday Reads: First World Problems Edition
Posted: August 4, 2014 Filed under: just because
So, I’m starting my post out with a bit on a Weird Al Yankovic song called “First World Problems. All I kept thinking is that I know people like this–including ones I’m related to–and I really wish they’d leave my neighborhood and go back to wherever they came. The song is done in the style of the Pixies which is probably one of the most over-hyped, overrated bands around. Yankovich resembles that blonde guy that keeps appearing in movies I don’t want to see on that hit TV series I’ve never watched about meeting somebody’s mother.
I actually found the parody via Alternet but I swear there are guys like these walking my neighborhood now and driving the house prices and rental sky high. What really gets me about this parody song and many of the others on his new album is that it’s all about trivial problems that worry us and self-created horrible situations that we deal with in terms that are way over simplified. It also takes on the tin foil right wing media nuts and our current pop culture which seems as banal as the heydays of bubblegum music.
In “ First World Problems,” done in the style of the Pixies, Al takes on our bourgeois obsession with comfort and consumption, while simultaneously poking fun at the indie rock preoccupations of suburban white kids who complain about their cushy lives: “My house is so big I can’t get wi-fi in the kitchen,” whines the douchey blonde kid Al plays in the video.
“Tacky,” set to the tune of Pharrell’s overplayed hit “Happy,” skewers not only the tackiness of dressing cluelessly, but wandering the Earth in a solipsistic bubble: “Nothing wrong with wearin’ stripes and plaid/I Instagram every meal I’ve had…Can’t nothin’ bring me shame.” The brilliance lies in the intimation that the happiness sold by slick pop icons like Pharrell is predicated on a state of oblivion that cuts us off from the plight of our fellow humans.
Perhaps the best song of all is the Crosby, Stills & Nash-inspired “ Mission Statement,” made for everyone who has found herself sinking in the mire of meaningless gibberish that flows through the modern corporate office. In the video, which features that annoyingly overused trope of a hand scribbling illustrations, the despair of office alienation is juxtaposed with the relentlessly upbeat buzzwords and conventions taught in MBA schools. What’s particularly resonant about this song is how Al skewers the corporate capitalism which promised us all the wonders of efficiency, harmony and prosperity, only to deliver us to Dilbert’s cubicle of despair.
In “Mission Statement,” the dreams of love and peace echoed in ’60s folk tunes have congealed into a nightmare in which we can’t escape capitalism’s relentless propaganda. Instead, we’re brought to a kind of posthuman wretchedness in which we are forced to speak in the tongues of the market’s abstract gods.
Weird Al’s finally got a number one album by releasing this one on you tube one vidoe at a time and parodying the yuckyness of the American Consumerist. I left the burbs to get away from this kind’ve crap and now I’ve found it’s reintroduced back into my inner city neighborhood as hipster culture. All of that is juxtaposed against watching the horrors of the Gaza genocide and reading story after story on the decimation of our planet by those whose greed and need for crap and money just seems bottomless.
The cult of privatization appears to want make all of us miserable. They continue to push workers who’ve gained benefits through either unions or working for government into bottom feeders. ALEC has been attacking Paid Sick Days. More and more municipalities have been trying to pass local legislation to grant paid sick leave to the more than 40 million workers who have none.
As the paid sick day movement has gained momentum, its opponents – particularly those in the restaurant industry – have tried to thwart it.
“The opposition is stepping up its game,” Bravo said.
The most common tool of the corporate interests opposed to paid sick days have been “preemption” laws to block local and county governments from enacting paid sick day measures.
Since 2011, eleven states have thwarted local control through paid sick day preemption laws. Alabama and Oklahoma joined that list in 2014.
The paid sick day preemption effort can largely be traced back to the American Legislative Exchange Council, or “ALEC.”
At ALEC’s August 2011 meeting in New Orleans, a paid sick day preemption bill recently signed into law by Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker was shared with the Labor and Business Regulation Subcommittee of the ALEC Commerce, Insurance and Economic Development Task Force as a model for state override. ALEC’s Labor and Business Regulation Subcommittee at the time was co-chaired by YUM! Brands, Inc., which owns Kentucky Fried Chicken, Pizza Hut and Taco Bell.
Legislators attending the Labor and Business Regulation Subcommittee meeting were also handed a target list and map of state and local paid sick leave policiesprepared by ALEC member the National Restaurant Association (NRA). An NRA executive also participated in that meeting.
After that August 2011 ALEC meeting, similar preemption legislation has spread across the country, in most cases introduced or sponsored by ALEC legislators, and with the support of the state NRA affiliate.
Oklahoma and Alabama are no exception.
The Oklahoma NRA affiliate, the Oklahoma Restaurant Association, played a key role in pushing SB 1023, which crushed local efforts to guarantee a fair wage and paid sick days in that state. The bill was signed into law in April by Governor Mary Fallin, an ALEC alumni who gave the keynote at ALEC’s Spring meeting last year.
In an end-of-legislative session report, the Oklahoma Restaurant Association’s lobbyist claimed credit for SB 1023, describing it as ” legislation the ORA introduced” and boasting that it “passed the Senate, and the House, without an amendment of any kind” and “was signed by the Governor without fanfare.”
The fanfare came after the sneak attack was successful, with Rachel Maddow and others expressing shock at the legislature’s effort to stomp out local control.
“Since that time many questions have been raised about the legislation,” the Oklahoma Restaurant Association’s lobbyist boasted, “but none before it was enacted.”
Alabama also snuck the preemption bill through the legislature, at the behest of the NRA.
At the end of 2013, the Alabama NRA affiliate announced to its members that in the coming legislative session: “We might have a few surprises, such as possibly introducing a bill that would prohibit local municipalities and jurisdictions from enacting paid sick leave ordinances.”
Notice that most of these workers are in industries where there are no unions. These are also states with the poorest of the poor. Workers are paid badly to begin with so going without pay for any time basically means upsetting an already precarious situation.
Meanwhile, the same folks continue to push policies that ignore global warming. The beginnings of a series of bad situations have begun and are being exacerbated by use of water for things like fracking. California’s in the middle of a devastating drought. It’s not getting better there by any measure.
The U.S. Drought Monitor, a government-funded weekly map of drought conditions, issued a shocking report today indicating that 58% of California is suffering from the harshest of drought conditions. All of the state has been suffering from drought conditions since May, the first time in 15 years.
This is also the first year that any part of California has experienced “exceptional drought” conditions since regular drought measurements began in the late 1990s. Now, nearly three-fifths of the state is under those conditions, with another 22% of California added into this level in the past week.
Heavy-population centers all suffer from extreme drought or exceptional drought.
The severity of the drought threatens California’s $44.7 billion agricultural industry. The state now tops the U.S. with 75% of its rangeland and pastures rated in very poor to poor condition, according to USDA. The region’s topsoil and subsoil all but depleted of moisture, according to the report.
California’s 154 reservoirs are 60% below their historical average. Although this is not a record for this time of year, the state is more than a year’s worth of water short in its reservoirs.
The state’s farmers have idled about 800,000 acres this year. As a result, consumers can be expected to pay more at the grocery store for a wide range of staple foods. The Department of Agriculture warns that “major impacts from the drought in California have the potential to result in food price inflation above the historical average.”
Earlier this month, California imposed statewide water-use regulations for the first time. State regulators approved stringent measures limiting outdoor water, including $500 fines for using an outdoor hose without a shut-off nozzle.
Meanwhile, hopes that the drought would break by autumn have been tempered. The National Weather Service’s Climate Prediction Center downplayed the help that El Niño may bring to the drought-plagued West in its monthly report of Pacific Ocean weather patterns. While the Center is still projecting that sea surface temperatures will be warmer than usual—a phenomenon known as El Niño—it is now saying that the effect will be only “weak to moderate.”
Meanwhile, we’re depleting the countries’ aquifers and other fresh water sources at an alarming rate. A lot of water usage is for things like golf courses, cemeteries, swimming pools and green lawns. That doesn’t even include the wasting of water by industry. We’re creating long term, real problems for first world. This National Geographic article deals with the Groundwater Depletion around the Colorado River Basin.
Thanks to a NASA satellite mission called the Gravity Recovery and Climate Experiment, orGRACE, which began in 2002, we are getting a look at changes in water storage both above and below ground in watersheds around the world.
Using twin satellites, the GRACE mission measures the mass of the earth over time and space. Because changes in water storage result in changes in mass, GRACE provides fairly accurate estimates of water depletion over time.
When Stephanie Castle of the University of California-Irvine and her colleagues analyzed GRACE data for the whole Colorado River Basin over the period December 2004 – November 2013, what they found stunned them: the Colorado Basin had lost nearly 53 million acre-feet of water (65 billion cubic meters) – equivalent to two full Lake Meads.
Even more striking, 77 percent of that loss – some 41 million acre-feet – was water stored underground. That’s enough to meet the home water use of the entire US population for eight years.
(An acre-foot is the volume of water that would cover an acre of land one foot deep. It equals 325,850 gallons, roughly the amount eight people in the U.S. would use at home in a year.)
“We don’t know exactly how much groundwater we have left, so we don’t know when we’re going to run out,” Castle said in a press release announcing the study.
“This is a lot of water to lose. We thought that the picture could be pretty bad, but this was shocking.”
Now, it’s common for farms and cities to pump more groundwater during droughts in order to make up the gap between supply and demand. The assumption is, that during times of surplus, the groundwater basins will fill back up.
“This is a lot of water to lose. We thought that the picture could be pretty bad, but this was shocking.” — Stephanie Castle, lead author of the study.
But what if they don’t re-fill?
Some groundwater basins do not receive much recharge even in wet times. I wrote last week about how drought is leading farmers to pump more heavily from the Ogallala Aquifer beneath northwest Texas, a largely irreversible loss of groundwater. Areas of similar “non-rechargeable” aquifers also exist in the Colorado River Basin.
This particular NBC news reel deals with the depletion of the Ogalala Aquifer. This is a significant source of water for America’s farm belt. This is also the source of water that is most threatened by the Keystone Pipeline which is another item of minimal benefit to the American populace but possibly a major cash cow to the oil industry.
The Ogallala Aquifer spreads across eight states, from Texas to South Dakota, covering 111.8 million acres and 175,000 square miles. It’s the fountain of life not only for much of the Texas Panhandle, but also for the entire American Breadbasket of the Great Plains, a highly-sophisticated, amazingly-productive agricultural region that literally helps feed the world.
This catastrophic depletion is primarily manmade. By the early eighties, automated center-pivot irrigation devices were in wide use – those familiar spidery-armed wings processing in a circle atop wheeled tripods. This super-sized sprinkler system allowed farmers to water crops more regularly and effectively, which both significantly increased crop yields and precipitously drained the Ogallala.
Compounding the drawdown has been the nature of the Ogallala itself. Created 10 million years ago, this buried fossil water is–in many places—not recharged by precipitation or surface water. When it’s gone, it’s gone for centuries.
So, our tax money is basically going to companies that are ensuring a horrible future for us. The decreases in government spending and the parade of the privatization effort take away programs and jobs that contribute to overall well being. But, where do our resources go? Our money, weapons and technology are also going to places that create a hostile world.
We continue to support governments intent on wiping entire populations off the face of the planet. Only a group of political leaders and business leaders that are so far removed from normal people could create problems that don’t need to exist. I’ve been overwhelmed recently with realization that we’ve not come very far to end racism, sexism, and oppression based on sexual orientation, ethnicity, and religious identification. We seem to be undoing all the progress of the 1960s and 1970s.
The nearly month-long attack by Israeli forces on Gaza has revealed that anti-Arab racism permeates many levels of Israeli society. Indeed, to acknowledge Palestinians as humans worthy of a state, a home and basic necessities such as medical care, electricity, food and water, would undermine the brutality of Operation Protective Edge.
Racism among the Israeli population is either stronger than ever, or simply more visible today thanks to social media and the proliferation of online means of expression.
Some Israelis are openly thrilled that Gaza is being leveled. A Danish reporter came upon a cheery group of people who gathered outdoors in the southern Israeli town of Sderot with folding chairs and popcorn to watch the air war, clapping each time a bomb dropped on Gaza. Other Israelis gathered in Tel Aviv to celebrate the killing of Gaza’s children. They were videotaped singing a song whose words included, “In Gaza there’s no studying; No children are left there,” and calling for violence against two of the Israeli Knesset’s Arab members.
The verbal vitriol is also flowing strongly. Early on in Israel’s operation, writer David Sheen compiled a list of what he called “Terrifying Tweets of Pre-Army Israeli Teens,” which included such gems as “Death to these fucking Arabs” and “We wage war so this will be our land without any Arabs.”
But the racism has gone beyond mere celebrations of war and death. While the horrific revenge killing of 15-year-old Mohammad Abu Khdeir is being dismissed as an extremist act, and the police beating of his cousin Tariq Abu Khdeir is being “investigated,” more attacks have followed with little U.S. media attention. For example, Israeli newspaper Ha’aretz noted that “two Palestinian youths were reportedly assaulted by a Jewish mob in Jerusalem.”
Professor David Shulman, who teaches at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem, went further, writing in a July 12 column that “Israel has witnessed a wave of racist hatred on a scale perhaps not known before.” Shulman also cited the advent of “Israeli lynch gangs prowling the streets of downtown Jerusalem … and organized Fascist groups attacking any Palestinians unlucky enough to be going home late at night, after work.”
According to reports, a former soldier posted on Facebook that he was told that Israeli troops have been encouraged to gun down unarmed Palestinians in Gaza to satisfy their thirst for revenge. The former soldier reportedly says he was told “the unofficial reason was to enable the soldiers to take out their frustrations and pain at losing their fellow soldiers.”
Juan Williams suggested on a Fox News Show on Sunday that the impeach Obama movement basically has racist overtones. It seems to have brought out nothing but angry, racist white people.
Fox News pundit Juan Williams on Sunday suggested that conservatives calling for President Obama’s impeachment are racist given that they mostly come from white people.
During a “Fox News Sunday” panel, Heritage Foundation CEO Michael Needham said that while conservatives were concerned that Obama is “lawless,” Democrats are pushing the impeachment rhetoric.
Williams then tore into Needham, explaining that conservative pundits and some elected officials have been pushing for impeachment.
“You listen to Michael, and you understand why there are lots of Republicans who think, ‘This man’s a demon, this guy’s awful, we got to get this guy out of here any way we can, he’s breaking the law,’” he said.
“And then you come on and say, ‘Oh, no. We’re not talking about impeachment, that’s the Democrats.’ All the Democrats are doing is taking advantage of the fact that you guys have demonized President Obama to this extent,” Williams continued.
He then said that some criticize Obama because of his race.
“Lot’s of people see it, especially in the minority community, as an attack on the first black president, think it’s unfair, so it’s going spur their turnout in midterms which is going to be critical in several races,” Williams said.
Fox host Chris Wallace then jumped in to ask if Williams really meant to accuse conservatives of racism.
We also found out yesterday that Israel spied on SOS John Kerry during the failed peace talks several years ago. Yes. Those are our “closest” friends and allies.
Israel spied on the US secretary of state, John Kerry, during peace talks with Palestinians and Arab states last year, the magazine Der Spiegel has reported.
The German weekly said on Sunday that Israeli intelligence and at least one other secret service intercepted Kerry’s phone calls during a doomed, nine-month effort to broker a peace deal.
If confirmed, the report will further sour the diplomat’s relationship with Binyamin Netanyahu’s government and raise fresh questions about the vulnerability of phone communications to eavesdropping.
There was no immediate reaction from Jerusalem or Washington. The State Department did not respond to a request for comment.
The report was published on another bloody day in Gaza, where a projectile hit a street outside a school where people were sheltering, killing at least seven and wounding dozens, many of whom were buying sweets and biscuits from stalls.
Meanwhile, John Stewart’s parody news show matches the parody of Yankovic in showing us how absolutely dysfunctional our government has become.
Jon Stewart does not want Congress to feel too bad about itself. “When you guys suck, it’s not a failure. It’s just you living up to our incredibly low expectations of you,” he said on last night’s “Daily Show.”
The late night comedian was reflecting on the current do-nothing Congress as it heads out for its month long August recess. Although, wait a minute. It’s not as if the legislative body did nothing. The Republicans in Congress are, of course, suing the president. This was their priority. Nothing doing about the thousands of unaccompanied children with nowhere to sleep, except under a bridge, which is probably crumbling because Congress won’t fund any infrastructure or the highways.
“You have to pass all of the laws on your plate—all of them—before you get to have dessert,” Stewart chastised, “which in this case is suing the president.”
With its new nickname, the “‘Sharknado 2’ of government,” sucking because it’s supposed to, Congress now enjoys a lower approval rating than head lice.
Although, as Stewart points out, it could sink lower. There’s still pubic lice.
Parody and satire have always had a role in poking governments. We do have first world problems. It’s the ones we’re letting politicians and billionaire busybodies create that are going to have devastating results for the planet and all of us that live on it. Only those billionaires that are funding them, enacting them, and profiting from them are going to be the ones to avoid the consequences. Meanwhile, there’s a whole lot of people that are being stupefied and mollified by propaganda and useless junk. Folks like Weird Al and Jon Stewart can’t poke us all enough.
What’s on your reading and blogging list today?