I just got back from a Labor Day weekend trip to Southern California to visit relatives. Due to time constraints, I actually thought about flying there...but at the last minute, I chickened out. (One factor that influenced my decision was finding out that the cost of a plane ticket plus a car rental in Southern California was about the same as the cost of just renting a car in Portland and driving down and back.)
Driving allowed me a chance to take in some thought-provoking (and frankly disturbing) scenery. I am thinking of the “Congress Created Dust Bowl” signs lining Interstate 5 from south of Stockton to just north of Bakersfield. These signs have undergone a transformation; their creators have changed the signs to read, “Stop the Congress Created Dust Bowl” and have added the names of members of the U.S. Congress who have been targeted by the American Right wing for removal. The connection between these signs and the rhetoric of the Tea-bagger/Glenn Beck/Fox News crowd is unmistakable, with their growth-at-any-cost message and their vehement opposition to any restrictions on the rights of wealthy agricultural landowners for the sake of the common good.
These signs have been designed to look like an expression of small-time, homemade grassroots activists from a distance. But there was one such sign on a wooden utility pole in an unfenced field near a gas station where I stopped, and upon closer examination I saw that its professionally produced message had been printed on a sheet of nearly indestructible Tyvek. As I said, there are dozens of these signs, as well as much larger billboard-sized signs with the same message in fenced fields within sight of the freeway. Making and installing these signs must have cost a lot of money.
The location of the signs tells us a few other disturbing things. Prior to 2008, the cost of farmland in the Central Valley averaged around $15,000 per acre, although by March of 2009 it had fallen to around $10,000 per acre. (Source: “California's Central Valley Farmland and Prices Not Immune to Recession”.) However, a quick search of agricultural land for sale revealed that most parcels under 40 acres cost over a million dollars. There are not very many small parcels near Interstate 5 that cost under $500,000. I only found one, and it was being marketed as a “home with property” for people who like “country living.” But then again, I only did a quick search. Those who want to try searching for themselves can go to a site like Schuil and Associates.
My point is that it seems to me that the people behind the “Stop The Congress Created Dust Bowl” campaign are all wealthy holders of large agricultural properties, and who are major players in the industrial factory farming model of agribusiness. They are not poor small farmers. Their signs are not homemade. They are not a display of grassroots activism.
They are, however, a display of the lengths to which the wealthy in this country are willing to go to seize, enlarge and consolidate their political and economic power at the expense of the rest of us and of the environment. Now that the U.S. Supreme Court has ruled that corporations have the same rights of “free speech” and paid political expression as individuals, the wealthiest and most powerful members of American society are pulling out all the stops. Farms are on my mind, so I'll mention the forest of “Chris Dudley for Governor” signs I saw on my way through Oregon on Interstate 5. I think it's probable that most of the farms sporting these signs are also large, expensive agribusinesses. But it's also interesting how many large buildings in the Portland Metro area have been covered with Chris Dudley banners, regardless of whether the tenants in those buildings like Dudley or not. And there's uber-wealthy Carly Fiorina's bid to become a U.S. Senator. (See also “$200 Million GOP Campaign Avalanche Planned, Democrats Stunned”.)
The most disturbing sight I saw came when I arrived home again today shortly after midnight. I was on my computer checking my e-mail (and wasting time surfing a few sites) when I discovered that Thomas Nelson Publishers, who had released the "American Patriot's Bible" in 2009, was now agressively pushing this 'Bible' via Glenn Beck and Fox Television. Truly this would have been for me a “spew coffee all over keyboard” moment if I'd been drinking any coffee. According to several reviews, their “Patriot's Bible” is a compilation of stories of American patriots inserted into a New King James translation, along with commentary “illustrating” how Biblical principles “fit” into the founding of the United States. The aim of this “Bible” is to continue to promote the myth that the United States is an “exceptional” nation founded by God, and that the proof of this is unending material prosperity for America, as well as justifying all of this nation's wars of conquest.
You can read some objective reviews of this “Bible” below:
“The American Patriot's Bible,” Burnside Writers' Collective,
“The Patriot's Bible and Justified Torture,” Greg Boyd,
And “Book Review: The Patriot's Bible,” Out of Ur.
It's interesting that this “Bible”, which was basically unheard-of for several months, should be aggressively pushed right now, only a few months before the November election. It's as if American evangelicalism with all of its entertainment/content “industries” had become simply another arm of a wealthy right-wing corporatist/materialist enterprise.
I'll say right here that I am a Christian – a Bible-believing, fundamentalist Christian. (Hopefully, that won't make you spew your coffee all over your keyboard;) But when I read the Bible, I come to conclusions that are radically different from those of the nationalists and xenophobes of the American right. I think that much of American history is an abomination. (Millions of former slaves, exterminated Native Americans and dead Iraqis would agree with me.)
I think of the religious parts of America not as Christian, but as Christ-haunted (in the Flannery O'Connor sense): destructive, materialist, greedy people who say the name of Jesus quite loudly, yet persecute as “Socialist!!!” anyone who suggests that maybe we should act like Jesus. The editors and publishers of the “Patriot's Bible” spent a lot of time inserting nationalist, war-mongering propaganda into their “Bible,” yet they failed to take heed to this passage from the Good Book: “I testify to everyone who hears the words of the prophecy of this book, if anyone adds to them, may God add to him the plagues which are written in this book...”
The American Patriot's Bible is yet another expression of the longing of many Americans for a magical, something-for-nothing life in which one never has to face the negative consequences of one's own foolish choices. It is yet one more piece of propaganda pushed by the wealthiest members of a rapidly shrinking American “mainstream” who fear a multipolar world in which they must learn to live within their means. The shrinkage of our means and the rise of that multipolar world are coming, whether we like it or not. Meanwhile, beware of denialist propaganda. It can be found oozing out of surprising places.