Posted by: jt | September 29, 2008

did i wake up 70 years ago?

My life is a bit of a blur at the moment and I admit, I’m not keeping tabs on current events as closely as I (like to think I) usually do.  This afternoon, deliberately taking a breather from a hectic day, I decided to read some news.

And I got confused.  Is this 2008 or 1938?

One of these events, taken on its own, would be ludicrous enough but, when taken in concert…Do we learn nothing from history?

Contaminated Milk – Melamine in China’s milk supply isn’t really news at this point. The fact that contaminants have now been found in Cadbury’s and Mars products – you know, like Snickers, M&Ms and Oreos – that’s raised a new level of alert.

Lesson From 1938 – After a Tennessee drug company marketed a product containing antifreeze that killed over 100 people, including many children, Congress passed the Food, Drug, and Cosmetic Act on June 25, 1938. We’ve been here before but again, in the interest of making an extra buck, our globalized food sources have dropped our regulatory guards.

Wall Street Bail Out – As the collapse of the U.S. financial system continues to drag world-wide markets into tailspins, Americans are, rightly, pissed off that decades of conservative deregulation and lack of government oversight is now costing taxpayers $700 billion. Seven. Hundred. Billion. Dollars.

Lesson From 1938 – After lack of financial regulation caused the Great Depression, things started perking up with the New Deal until a recession in 1937.  FDR’s main response to the recession was a $5 billion government spending program in the spring of 1938, an effort to increase mass purchasing power.

But let’s be real. What pulled the U.S. out of the Great Depression and related recessions wasn’t FDR. It wasn’t the New Deal. (I hate to bring this up because Americans are so quick to point fingers and we fail to look in the mirror.) What brought us out of the Depression back in the 1930s was…

The Rise of the Radical Right – Austria just had national elections over the weekend.  Roughly 30% of the vote went to the mainstream liberals, 26% to the mainstream conservatives and 29% split between their two far-right parties. That’s twice the level of support the far-right got in Austria just two years ago. Dammit.

Lesson From 1938 – One word: Anschluss. I hate even writing this because I’m really tired of Americans tying all things Germanic back to one horrible era, but then…we need to stop voting for such things. We all need to stop voting for such things.

I was studying in Austria in 2001, shortly after Jörg Haider’s far-right Freedom Party formed a coalition government with the mainstream conservatives. The rest of Europe freaked out and imposed sanctions, while Americans said, What? The place with the kangaroos? Oh, you mean the place with Hitler! What’s wrong with those people?

Many of my fellow American students reacted with self-righteous indignation asking, How could Austrians be so [insert derogatory term here]? I watched, with depressed amusement, as the Austrian student in question would raise one eyebrow and reply with, And how could Americans elect George W. Bush? Right down to the ironic abuse of the word “freedom,” there are far too many parallels between those two far-right politicians.  Oh, except one of them actually started a war with racist overtones. Let’s take a look in the mirror before we start pointing fingers.

1938 was a tough year in history. Let’s take those lessons and learn. Let’s end the pattern of corporate greed costing us the lives of innocent people. Let’s end the pattern of citizens paying billions of dollars because government caved to big business. Let’s end the politics of fear and hate.

Yes. We. Can.

The question is, what are you going to do about it? Can you make phone calls? Can you write letters? Can you host parties? Can you knock on doors? Can you donate time? Can you donate money?

If you care – if you are outraged – it is your responsibility to act.

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