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Thinking about crime.

I went to the post office to mail a Christmas package. After the usual twenty-seven minutes in line, I reached the counter.

"Is there a letter inside?" asked the clerk.

"No, just a note," I answered.

"Does the note contain more than five words?"

"Yes," I admitted, it contained about ten.

"That will be an extra five dollars, please," the clerk announced.

I'll spare you the details of the rationale for this, but will admit to certain homicidal fantasies, and I don't even work there. Dealing with Federal and state agencies will do that to you. Then I did some Christmas shopping. Everyone I saw was grim and irritable, spending money on stuff no one wanted or would use, but not daring to violate the crazed consumerist ethos of the holidays.

I came home and watched the news. A man angry about his dealings with the New York State workers' compensation board shot twenty-three people, killing five, on the Long Island Railroad. It was Colin Ferguson who prompted the cover of Time to scream ENOUGH! in bright yellow capital letters. More young women and girls were killed. Polly Klaas became famous; most of the rest did not. Cynics that we are, we await, with dread, the TV movies based on these crimes. The news announced more mass murders at restaurants and other public places. Then it showed us Sega's latest video "games," in which women are decapitated.

We are watching the country--and much of the world, for that matter--falling apart, hobbled by dysfunctional and callous bureaucracies, endemic unemployment, major migrations of peoples fleeing their homelands, the rise of pugnacious nationalism and neo-fascism, and the concomitant rise in violence. In the face of this, our illustrious pundits have two messages: Nothing can be done, since what we have is a collapse of "values," but at least you can scapegoat women and minorities.

Now if I hear the term "family values" one more time, as if only white, maleheaded, upper-middle-class nuclear families have them (whatever they are), or watch our wholesale societal decline blamed on young (usually black) women, I'm going to cast a spell on Fred Barnes and George Will. (I'm a feminist, and therefore adept at witchcraft.) I'm going to turn them into entry-level postal workers who are single fathers and live in neighborhoods where they can't get a mortgage but can witness drive-by shootings.

Yep, we got a crisis in values, all right, and in civility, too, but according to the pundits, this crisis is surging up from the bottom and certainly not down from the top. In a nice twist on trickle-down economics, we now have these bankrupt supply-siders blaming the nation's outcasts for trickle-up moral corrosion.

Fred Barnes nailed "illegitimacy" as the root of America's violence spree, while Charles Krauthammer blamed growing up without a father. Neither believes gun control will accomplish anything. Evan Thomas insisted that gun control be accompanied by "deep-reaching things like welfare reform," which means getting those lazy-ass welfare mothers off their butts and out into jobs that don't exist. All "the Left" wants to do about crime, added Thomas, is "some touchy-feely stuff."

The pundits zeroed in on Ferguson, who is black, while Richard Davis, the white man who murdered Polly Klaas, remained unnamed. This was convenient, of course, since Davis was--you guessed it--raised not by a dreaded single mom, but by his father. John McLaughlin speculated that there was a connection between "blacks having been fed ... black supremacism and black separatism" and crimes like Ferguson's. David Brinkley intoned that "as our country changes, there are more groups wanting to kill other groups ... in multicultural America, race crimes are increasing," outstripping, presumably, the hundreds of lynchings that used to occur annually in the United States.

Terrified by the prospect of a race war in America, the pundits nonetheless continue to promote a blacks-against-whites mentality, isolating race like some virulent microbe, and then fleeing from the lab to les contaminated quarters. The following week, they couldn't wait to get back to their own kind and sidle up to the Les Aspin-Bobby Inman story. Flitting from one seemingly unrelated topic to the next, the pundits compartmentalize current affairs into discrete little pellets carefully encapsulated so as not to bleed into each other. Such compartmentalization allows for avoidance of the big problem: the real crisis in values at the top.

When are these guys going to discuss the connections between a bloated military budget that sucks billions away from education and more peace-related jobs, a foreign policy predicated on either kicking butt abroad or sticking our heads in the sand, and the sick blend of violence and cowardice at home?

During the NAFTA discussions, confident predictions were made about the treaty producing hundreds of thousands of new jobs, without the cushy media elite discussing what kind of jobs these might be. With the spate of murders by disgruntled employees, especially postal workers, the focus is on the gunman as a "nut," a "screwball," instead of on increasingly hostile workplace environments in which workers are under constant surveillance and subjected to increasing speed-ups, arbitrary punishments, and stress.

So, you want to talk collapse in values, let's do it. How about an economic and political elite that bails out S&L pirates and turns homeless people into criminals? What about a military elite that says it's okay for drunken pilots to molest women, but not okay for gay people to love each other? What about a corporate culture that values maximizing profits over preserving people's jobs? What about a media environment that insists consumer goods are more important than human beings? Carl Rowan, usually the only perspicacious pundit on the air, noted that "there are more people out there who are sick with rage" and "totally alienated." We feel this way not because of the "crisis in values" at the bottom of society, but because of the inhumane, greedy cynicism at the top, a true bankruptcy in values the pundits don't even notice.
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Title Annotation:Pundit Watch; mainstream media commentators
Author:Douglas, Susan
Publication:The Progressive
Article Type:Column
Date:Feb 1, 1994
Previous Article:Defending choice.
Next Article:The new Victorians.

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