Obama Presidency Will Galvanize 30 Million American Idealists and Reformers, and A Personal Memory of Paul Newman
by Stephen Fox, Contributing Editor, New Mexico Sun News
Founder, New Millennium Fine Art
As introduction, I must say that Paul Newman's passing has saddened me profoundly, not because of any of his movies, but because of a personal memory which stirs up in me now, as I write this, a few profound thoughts from the political and governmental realms.
In the late 70's, Jimmy Carter appointed Paul Newman as a Personal Representative or Goodwill Ambassador to the United Nations. I was privileged to attend the United Nations First Special Session on Disarmament, and in a thrilling moment on the General Assembly floor between speeches, I met and talked with Newman for about ten minutes about my view that the Special Session was like Theater of the Absurd at the peak of the Arms Race, in which Nations sent their Ambassadors and Foreign Ministers to give speeches decrying the buildup of nuclear arsenals, and the big guys, the Superpowers, would make minute carefully calibrated offers to deescalate a tiny bit here or step one infinitesimal step back from the brink there, in an elaborate charade reminiscent of Japanese Noh theatre, lots of gestures and rehearsed protocol, but no words, just like at the UN at such a conference, there would ultimately be no real progress.
Paul Newman listened, said a few things, then agreed, and added this: "WE HAVE TO KEEP TRYING."
My condolences go to all of his daughters, particularly Nell, with whom he developed Newman's Own, starting with Salad Dressings and then Italian Tomato Sauces made with all organic ingredients, moving on to, among other products, one of the best selections of organic dog foods on the American market, plus snacks like organic chips. Everytime I shop for groceries, I see Paul and Nell on the labels of their products, dressed up like the Iowa Dentist and the Artist's sister Nan, from Grant Wood's American Gothic, and I recall my brief conversation with Paul on the floor of the UN General Assembly.
Among the conversations with luminaries I met back then at that UN Special Session, Newman's words, plus those of Pierre Trudeau, Canada's Prime Minister, as well as Pete Seeger, were what stuck with me the most over the past 30 years, because each of them took the time to share an extended and profound dialogue with me.
Carter's Presidency was in retrospect a time of great idealism, coming on the heels of the Nixon/Ford years. Jimmy has ripened into even more of a sterling idealist and humanitarian than he was back then; my friend from Redlands High School in California, James Fallows, was his Chief Speechwriter, starting at the young age of 27, and is now National Correspondent for Atlantic Monthly and author of the best book I know of on the US in Iraq: BLIND INTO BAGHDAD.
Idealism does blossom on the vine, off and on, depending on who is in power and the general Climate of Opinion, and the Zeitgeist, as Historians like to call it. Idealism also can dry up, wither, and seem to die. Every American knows that our Nation's idealism and capacity for reform have taken side-by- side back row seats during the past 8 years in these United States, maybe even much longer, and both Idealism and Reform have even taken frequent beatings out behind the Neocon woodshed.
These guys have basically succeeded in turning over the functioning of government to corporate power; the Religious Right was just a backdrop, a kind of smoke and mirrors, a superficial philosophical facade and ideological skirmishing compared to what was really going on vis-a-vis the massing of corporate power throughout all phases and branches of government, especially in the regulatory realms.
I am not an economist, nor was meant to be, so all I will say here about the proposed Wall Street Bailout is that it seems an enormous fraud to me, perhaps the largest in American history. I can't and won't even try to venture any pontification in any macroeconomic discussion, except to reiterate my long held view that Government Economics is not rocket science at all, and that clarity must be accessible the majority of Americans, since we are being asked to pay for this Bailout.
In Northern New Mexico, farmers have constructed centuries-old irrigation ditches, directed by the majordomos of each small village, most of whom I would more trust with the flow of government monies than a lot of these guys in Washington. Historically, these "ditch masters" controlled the indispensable vital flow of water to the various fields as a kind of bequest allowing the farmers to survive. In Spanish, this is called the "mother ditch," or Acequia Madre, and the ditch master is called the Majordomo. He is far more important to his village and ultimately deserves much more trust than any of the elected officials like the Alcalde, or Mayor.
The government sponsored economic fields which have been watered so generously by Bush/Cheney/Rumsfeld since 2000 have been those of Military, Security, Weapons, "Defense," Blackwater, Kellogg Brown and Root, and (we can't forget Cheney's fiscal backyard) Halliburton!
What were the fields that didn't get watered? Oh, just about everything else: Education, Inner Cities, Scientific and Medical Research, Stem Cell Research (and I don't mean the kind of Stem Cell Research that depends on destroying fetuses), Agriculture, Infrastructure basics like highway repair, Alternative Energy, Sustainability----you name it, just about everything else.
This means that most of the Bushite cronies after January 2009 will retire obscenely rich with their ill-gotten gains, and this wholesale theft is leading to a culmination in the Wall Street Bailout, largely blessed as sanctimonious by the Religious Right. Suffice it to say that seven members in total of the G-8's Finance Ministers have all unanimously rejected any kind of Bailout for their nation as either unnecessary, or as fiscally stupid and/or dangerous. ______________________________________________
Leaving Economic discussions aside, I have been perenially much more focused deep down on Consumer Protection and Reform of the FDA, because real consumer protection could prevent so many needless and early deaths. When (or must I say "if"?) Obama wins, he will appoint a new FDA Commissioner, who will oversee the 25% of the US Economy that is either drugs or food.
The present Commissioner, Andrew Von Eschenbach, M.D. Urology, will pack up and head back to Houston, I am guessing, to the Anderson Cancer Center where he was head honcho before his current appointment, or maybe he has lined up a far better paying bunch of corporate boards to "serve" on; after all, he has been such a good boy to all of the Big Pharma corporations.
Since Andy is a cancer survivor himself, I initially held high hopes that he could and would do something about the massive amount of carcinogens added by industry to our foods, like Aspartame, the neurotoxic and carcinogenic artificial sweetener added to 8000 products.
In 2006 and in 2007, I had endless battles with lobbyists and corporate hired guns in the New Mexico Legislature over a bill I created to ban it for New Mexico, sponsored by the Honorable Gerald Ortiz y Pino, easily the most progressive member of the New Mexico Senate. The lobbyists went all out and ganged up to try to eviscerate the bill, then finally strangled the bill in committee.
These lobbyists represented Ajinomoto of Japan, the world's largest manufacturer of both aspartame and of Monosodium Glutamate, as well as their predictable American cronies, Coca Cola, Pepsi, plus an assortment of Retail Grocers, Grocery Manufacturers of America, and the American Diabetic Association, which still perpetuates the ludicrous corporate sponsoredmythology that if your pancreas is not making enough insulin and you have diabetes, you should be substituting sugar with something that turns to formaldehyde and methanol.
21 of the 112 New Mexico Legislators signed two letters addressed to Dr. Von Eschenbach and to Bush asking them to order that Aspartame's FDA approval be rescinded, on the grounds of its carcinogenicity. (Even Nixon rescinded approval for cyclamates on the same grounds, largely at the behest of Washington consumer advocate lawyer and Nader Raider Jim Turner, plus a few pediatricians and oncologists).
Sadly, all Andy did was reply to the 21 New Mexico legislators with more predictable corporate pleasantries about the 200 (industry-paid for studies "proving" aspartame as safe. He and the rest of the FDA chose to ignore the Sofritti Studies done by the European Foundation for Oncology's work proving aspartame was causing all kinds of cancers, also called the Ramazzini report, after the name of the Foundation.
When you as a mere American consumer write to the FDA about aspartame or the 92 symptoms from its list of attributed symptoms derived from actual consumer complaints, you rarely get any kind of response, unless it is one of those form letters about how safe it is, which refers you to some industry-paid-for pro-aspartame website....
Last year, I said let's try this in Hawaii, since Hawaiian consumer activists were trying to get help with their aspartame banning effort in Hawaii and asking me how to do it. The ban bill failed in the Health Committee when Hawaii Senator David Ige deferred action. Hawaii Senator Ron Menor said in committee that what they should do is create a Resolution, which I then wrote with Dr. Betty Martini over one very intense long weekend.
That was Senate Concurrent Resolution 191 from 2008, which you can easily read on the Hawaii Legislature website; certainly, no legislative body has ever considered a document more complete and more damning on the subject of Aspartame than this Resolution. Then, happily, unbeknownst to the lobbyists and the corpporations involved, 44% of the Hawaii Senate, including 9 Committee Chairs and Vice Chairs, signed the Resolution sponsored by the Honorable Suzanne Chun Oakland.
Then, one of the other Senators, a lady from Maui, a powerful ex-lobbyist herself, Chair of the Senate Ways and Means Committee, leaned on the Health Committee Chairman, Senator David Ige (Ige had even signed as cosponsor), telling him we were just spouting "Internet Junk Science," and lo and behold, the Resolution never even got a hearing in Hawaii's Senate Health Committee.
Corporate lobbyists are the scourge, to be polite, of Democracy!
Both Senators have graciously agreed to try again, so the lobbyists will be back in full force, even louder this year, I am sure, saying that such a ban is unnecessary, since Aspartame is SO SAFE, and that it would have to come from FDA itself, that we can't have any balkanized breakup of authority and such a blatant challenge to certain corporate-sponsored and corporate- serving myths of "federal pre-emption" by the FDA.
Aspartame has killed millions, and is literally making hundreds of millions people sick all over the world. I hope you put down your Diet Coke or removed the Sugarless Wrigley's gum long ago, or at least for a few minutes, in order to read this article with a little more of an open mind and a bit more of that ancient now-disappearing human instinct for survival.
The best colleagues in the aspartame effort in the entire world, Dr. Betty Martini, D.Hum., Founder of Mission Possible International, has bumped Obama out of her electoral vote on this issue, after she learned that twenty years ago he either worked for Sidley and Austin or met his wife there because she worked for Sidley and Austin, the lawyers for Monsanto, then the patent holder for Aspartame. (Monsanto bought those patents from G.D. Searle, the CEO of which in 1981, a Mr. Donald Rumsfeld, forced the approval for Aspartame through the FDA, despite 15 prior years of it being rejected. To spare you the grim details, just google and read RUMSFELD'S BIOWEAPON LEGACY)
Today, the Japanese giant, Ajinomoto owns these patents and makes most of the world's aspartame in Japan, France, and Georgia, USA. The Georgia factory sends tankers full of aspartame to their biggest client, Coca Cola, with workers wearing Hazardous Materials suits, etc. China makes a lot of Aspartame too, but those details are somewhat obscured behind the Red Curtain, so to speak.
Because of the lobbyist/harlots working for these companies and all of the industry fronts and associations of grocers and soft drink bottlers, my sole real hope after January 2009, lies with the FDA's NEXT commissioner, which I implore must be a true consumer protectionist, instead of the corporate lackeys and apologists we have had, who just rubber stamp ultimately whatever Industries like Big Pharma and Big Junk Food want, or whatever they want to keep making money with, the public's health be damned.
I will skip the remaining litany of the regulatory whoredom that goes on at the FDA, and how all they can respond with after a crisis erupts is their usual Congressional Mantra of "GIVE US MORE MONEY, IF YOU WANT US TO FIX WHAT YOU ARE TALKING ABOUT!" which comes out in official pronouncements from the FDA, like immature birds chirping for their parent birds to keep feeding them. But this must not be the case anymore.
It can't go on like this, this "business as usual." People have died, and are continually dying from Aspartame; in so many other product liability realms, even more people are dying preventable deaths and early deaths resulting from American corporate greed and regulatory sloppiness run amok.
Like in all branches of this post-election Federal government, Obama must put in place people who will really reform the processess, and not continue to wallow in the same old BS from past years, as I am sure McCain/Palin would gladly perpetuate. If not, America's credibility will never be restored to what it once was 40 years ago; we will continue to witness that good old "Revolving Door" of experts-corporate apparatchiks going back and forth from the FDA to the very industries the FDA is charged with regulating.
I see that such reform must happen even before January 2009 across the board in so many realms, particularly environmental, education, law, civil liberties, etc., so that America will not continue to fall off the side of the abyss into more and more abject international failure and loss of respect and faith, the abyss over which we have been teetering during the past 8 years.
If Obama loses, there will be much more continuity with the Bush/Cheney/Neocon Heritage. We will see more catastrophic fiscal failures than we are seeing now, with or without that inscrutable $800 billion Bailout Bandaid pushed by Wall Street through an all-too-compliant Congress.
When Obama wins, the same corporate powers will be jockeying to get back into the same power slots to which they have become accustomed over the past 8 years. (Or is it really not the past 60 years?)
However, I have the supreme intuition and faith that Obama will continue to be enough of a Populist that he will say no to them, and thus galvanize the collective energy, brains and enthusiasm of 30 million formerly alienated Idealists and Reformers.
Call such an intuitive faith naive, ridiculous, or immature: call it whatever you like, even a childish vision of Camelot. Just think about what 30 million idealists and reformers could do to bring back Hope to the United States. I would like to see the creation of a powerful new United Nations Undersecretary General for Nutrition and Consumer Protection, personally.
If that revitalized idealism and reform during an Obama Presidency do not have a chance to happen, we are probably doomed as a nation.
As Paul Newman told me 30 years ago: "We have to keep trying!"
Paul, may you rest in peace, and Pax Vobiscum.
Stephen Fox, Contributing Editor New Mexico Sun News
Founder, New Millennium Fine Art