I just got done watching the HBO documentary Gasland. I had to turn it off because I was crying too much and my head started to hurt really bad. Here’s a summary of what the movie explores:
It is happening all across America—rural landowners wake up one day to find a lucrative offer from an energy company wanting to lease their property. Reason? The company hopes to tap into a reservoir dubbed the “Saudi Arabia of natural gas.” Halliburton developed a way to get the gas out of the ground—a hydraulic drilling process called “fracking”—and suddenly America finds itself on the precipice of becoming an energy superpower.Even as I’m typing up this blog post, I am still crying. I want to lock every last one of the government-hating teabagger crowd into a room with this movie and scream at them, “What the fuck is wrong with you!?”.
But what comes out of the ground with that “natural” gas? How does it affect our air and drinking water? GASLAND is a powerful personal documentary that confronts these questions with spirit, strength, and a sense of humor. When filmmaker Josh Fox receives his cash offer in the mail, he travels across 32 states to meet other rural residents on the front lines of fracking. He discovers toxic streams, ruined aquifers, dying livestock, brutal illnesses, and kitchen sinks that burst into flame. He learns that all water is connected and perhaps some things are more valuable than money.
I want to lock Dick Cheney in a house right next to a natural gas drilling operation and force him to drink the water that has made all of the people in this movie sick and not let him out until the poisons have fully leeched into his system, given him seventeen different types of cancer and caused his brain tissues to melt away.
If anyone can watch this movie and not come away with the profound sense that we, as a country, are permanently and irredeemably fucked, I really don’t know what to say.
We really are permanently and irredeemably fucked. I don’t even know why I bother to fight it anymore.
One of the factors that helps drive my belief that somewhere around three-quarters of the people in this country are barely-evolved, easily-led sheeple is the fact that lots of them are so easily bamboozled by bullshit industry front groups that pass themselves off as the voice of ever-so-concerned real Americans (see, astroturf).
In that vein, yours truly received a plaintive missive from someone passing himself off as a terribly concerned citizen, railing at me to stop New York’s proposed beverage tax. Note all the effort to make the email seem personal and heartfelt (emphasis all mine):
My name is Joseph. I’m contacting you today on behalf of nobeveragetaxes.com to bring an urgent issue to your attention. Americans are up against legislation that may implement a food and beverage tax on sugary foods and beverages. For some products, it would increase the price by as much as 50%. Additional burden will be placed on families and businesses already struggling in this trying economy. Ultimately, thousands of jobs related to the sugar industry will be at risk. New York State alone stands to lose up to 6,000 jobs. If this happens, how will our economy get back on track? [...]It goes on with more treacly nonsense for a while. The tone of the email, and the obvious front-group-fraud it was perpetrating, prompted me to do a bit of research.
As citizens, it is our responsibility to let our officials know that the solution to childhood obesity relies in education, not taxation, and that punitive, discriminatory taxes will only hurt hard-working Americans. I’m hoping you’ll join me in voicing the statement, No Food and Beverage Taxes! before it’s too late.
First, a quick whois search revealed that the website in question is registered to a company in Washington D.C. named Goddard Claussen:
Next, a quick Google search revealed that Goddard Claussen is a powerhouse D.C. public relations firm that shills for all kinds of corporate interests. As it turns out, they were the groundbreaking PR firm that shilled for the health care industry in the 90s with their infamous “Harry and Louise” ads:Registrant: Goddard ClaussenSue Zoldak701 8th St NW Suite 400Washington, DC 20001USPhone: +1.2022935870Email: [email protected]
National advocacy advertising didn’t just happen. It was invented. And we invented it in the early ‘90’s with the fictional couple – “Harry and Louise” – created to give a clear, unified voice to those who opposed President Clinton’s sweeping health care proposal. The unique campaign, managed by Goddard Claussen, caught the attention of the media, the White House and the American people. A year later, “Harry and Louise” earned a spot on Advertising Age’s prestigious “Marketing 100” and was named the Best Public Policy Campaign by the American Association of Political Consultants. It’s widely credited as being the key factor in defeating the Clinton Health Plan.Now, I’m not saying that companies and industries aren’t supposed to be able to fight for what’s in their own interest, i.e., more profits.
I just take serious exception to all the bullshit corporate astroturfing that is going on right now, in which corporations hide their self-advocacy behind a series of smokescreens that paint an image of real grassroots anger about some particular issue.
And the really serious thing that pisses me off is that this thinly veiled bullshit works.
People really are stupid enough to think that emails like the one I got express the genuine concerns of a fellow citizen, rather than the perfectly valid push by an industry group to protect its members’ profits.
I’m not sure that we’re ever truly going to evolve beyond the state humanity finds itself in today.
Update: I thought Joseph would like to know that I responded to his request and created a blog post on the topic he is so concerned about. So I sent him back the below email (and CC’ed the entire leadership team at Goddard Claussen):
Thanks for your email. As you requested, I posted a thought-provoking blog entry about the important issue raised by your email. I hope you’ll check it out at http://www.librarygrape.com/
2010/03/beverage-industry-. I’ve also copied it in below for your convenience. I hope this post (on my popular and widely-read blog) will generate a lot of attention to the issue that underlies the work that you are doing. shill-firm-goddard.html
Metavirus @ Library Grape
Awesome. Just plain awesome.
The progressive PR firm Murray Hill Inc. has announced that it plans to satirically run for Congress in the Republican primary in Maryland’s 8th congressional district to protest the Supreme Court’s disastrous decision. A press release on its website says that the company wants to “eliminate the middle man” and run for Congress directly, rather than influencing it with corporate dollars:
“Until now,” Murray Hill Inc. said in a statement, “corporate interests had to rely on campaign contributions and influence peddling to achieve their goals in Washington. But thanks to an enlightened Supreme Court, now we can eliminate the middle-man and run for office ourselves.”
“The strength of America,” Murray Hill Inc. says, “is in the boardrooms, country clubs and Lear jets of America’s great corporations. We’re saying to Wal-Mart, AIG and Pfizer, if not you, who? If not now, when?” [...]
Campaign Manager William Klein promises an aggressive, historic campaign that “puts people second” or even third. “The business of America is business, as we all know,” Klein says. “But now, it’s the business of democracy too.” Klein plans to use automated robo-calls, “Astroturf” lobbying and computer-generated avatars to get out the vote.
Murray Hill Inc. plans on spending “top dollar” to protect its investment. “It’s our democracy,” Murray Hill Inc. says, “We bought it, we paid for it, and we’re going to keep it.”
The vast majority of the the American people are already the equivalent of easily led cattle in a corral. The impending dump of billions of dollars into specifically targeted campaign-style ads will inevitably lead to more corrupt, corporatist lapdogs in Congress. This doesn’t bode well for us…
In a ruling that has major implications for how elections are funded, the Supreme Court has struck down a key campaign-finance restriction that bars corporations and unions from pouring money into political ads.
The long-awaited 5-4 ruling, in the Citizens United v. FEC case, presents advocates of regulation with a major challenge in limiting the flow of corporate money into campaigns, and potentially opens the door for unrestricted amounts of corporate money to flow into American politics.
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