Letters 11-23-2015

Cheering From Petoskey While red-eyed rats boil fanatically up from the ancient sewers of Paris to feast on pools of French blood, at the G20 meeting the farcical pied piper of 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue thrusts a bony finger at the president of the Russian Federation and yells: “liberté, égalité, fraternité, Clinton, Kerry--Obamaism!”

The Other Mothers And Fathers Regarding the very nice recent article on “The First Lady of Yoga,” I have taken many classes with Sandy Carden, and I consider her to be a great teacher. However, I feel the article is remiss to not even give acknowledgement to other very important yoga influences in northern Michigan...

Drop The Blue Angels The last time I went to the National Cherry Festival, I picked the wrong day. The Blue Angels were forcing everyone to duck and cover from the earsplitting cacophony overhead...

Real Advice For The Sick In the Nov. 16 article “Flu Fighters,” author Kristi Kates fails to mention the most basic tool in our arsenal during Influenza season... the flu vaccine! I understand you might be afraid of being the victim of Jenny McCarthyism, but the science is there...

Keeping Traverse City in the Dark Our environment is our greatest asset. It sustains our lives; it drives our economy. We ignore it at our peril. Northern Michigan Environmental Action Council (NMEAC) has submitted letters of concern to both the city commission and planning commission regarding the proposed 9-story buildings on Pine Street. We have requested an independent environmental assessment with clear answers before a land use permit is granted...

All About Them Another cartoon by Jen Sorensen that brings out the truth! Most of her cartoons are too slanted in a Socialist manner, but when she gets it correct, she hits the nail on the target! “Arizona is the first state to put a 12-month lifetime limit on welfare benefits.” That quote is in the opening panel... 

Unfair To County Employees It appears that the commissioners of Grand Traverse County will seek to remedy a shortfall in the 2016 budget by instituting cuts in expenditures, the most notable the reduction of contributions to various insurance benefits in place for county employees. As one example, the county’s contributions to health insurance premiums will decrease from ten to six percent in 2016. What this means, of course, is that if a county employee wishes to maintain coverage at the current level next year, the employee will have to come up with the difference...

Up, Not Out I would like to congratulate the Traverse City Planning Commission on their decision to approve the River West development. Traverse City will either grow up or grow out. For countless reasons, up is better than out. Or do we enjoy such things as traffic congestion and replacing wooded hillsides with hideous spectacles like the one behind Tom’s West Bay. At least that one is on the edge of town as opposed to in the formerly beautiful rolling meadows of Acme Township...

Lessons In Winning War I am saddened to hear the response of so many of legislators tasked with keeping our country safe. I listen and wonder if they know what “winning” this kind of conflict requires or even means? Did we win in Korea? Did we win in Vietnam? Are we winning in Afghanistan? How is Israel winning against the Palestinians? Will they “take out” Hezbollah...

Home · Articles · News · Books · Notes from the Underground
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Notes from the Underground

Nancy Sundstrom - May 22nd, 2003
Most readers of Eric Schlosser’s 2001 best seller “Fast Food Nation“ found themselves bewildered, outraged, horrified, and called to rise up in action, and appropriately so. Those who tackle his latest expose, “Reefer Madness: Sex, Drugs, and Cheap Labor in the American Black Market“ can count on having the same sort of reaction.
According to author and Atlantic Monthly journalist Schlosser, around 10% of the American economy, and probably more, is built around illegal, underground enterprises surrounding drugs, pornography, and the exploitation of (largely) illegal immigrant labor. You’re not going to read about much of this in Newsweek or the Wall Street Journal, but as has become his trademark, Schlosser quickly builds a compelling, well-researched case that examines why each of these industries has not only existed, but flourished over the past 30 years, and is definitely on the rise in America.
He does it in the same style that made “Fast Food Nation“ so readable and credible, and the evidence presented defies one not to look at the way society as a whole has contributed to these enterprises, publicly denouncing, but privately supporting them.
In this excerpt from the chapter “The Underground,“ Schlosser explains the premise for his book:

“The three essays in this book shed light on different aspects of the American underground - and on the ways it has changed society, for better or worse. “Reefer Madness“ looks at the legal and economic consequences of marijuana use in the United States. Pot has become a hugely popular black market commodity, more widely used throughout the world than any other illegal drug. The enforcement of state and federal laws regarding marijuana guides its production, sets the punishments for its users, and suggests the arbitrary nature of many cultural taboos. Americans not only smoke more marijuana but also imprison more people for marijuana than any other western industrialized nation.
“In the Strawberry Fields“ examines the plight of migrant workers in California agriculture, who are mainly illegal immigrants. The state‘s recruitment of illegals from Mexico started a trend that has lately spread throughout the United States. Many employers now prefer to use black market labor. Although immigrant smuggling looms as a multi-billion-dollar business in its own right, the growing reliance on illegals has far-reaching implications beyond the underground, affecting wages, working conditions, and even the practice of democracy in the rest of society.
“An Empire of the Obscene“ traces the history of the pornography industry through the career of an obscure businessman and his successors. It describes how a commodity once traded only on the black market recently entered the mainstream, turning behavior long thought deviant into popular entertainment. Profits from the sale of pornography that used to be earned by organized crime figures are now being made by some of America‘s largest corporations. The current demand for marijuana and pornography is deeply revealing. Here are two commodities that Americans publicly abhor, privately adore, and buy in astonishing amounts.
Linking all three essays is a belief that the underground is inextricably linked to the mainstream. The lines separating them are fluid, not permanently fixed. One cannot be fully understood without regard to the other. The vastness and complexity of the underground challenge the mathematical certainties of conventional economic thinking. Hard numbers suddenly appear illusory. Prices on Wall Street rise or fall based on minuscule changes in the rate of inflation, the unemployment rate, the latest predictions about the GNP. Billions of dollars may change hands because an economic measurement shifts by one-tenth of a percent. But what do those statistics really mean, if 20 percent, 10 percent, or even 5 percent of a nation‘s economy somehow cannot be accounted for? America‘s great economic successes of the past two decades -- in software, telecommunications, aerospace, computing -- are only part of the story...
What happens in the underground economy is worth examining because of how fortunes are made there, how lives are often ruined there, how the vicissitudes of the law can deem one man a gangster or a chief executive (or both). If you truly want to know a person, you need to look beyond the public face, the jobs on the résumé, the books on the shelves, the family pictures on the desk. You may learn more from what‘s hidden in a drawer. There is always more to us than what we will admit. If the market does indeed embody the sum of all human wishes, then the secret ones are just as important as the ones that are openly displayed. Like the yin and yang, the mainstream and the underground are ultimately two sides of the same thing. To know a country you must see it whole.“

Yowser. Schlosser shows how good-old American know-how and ingenuity have been put to work for the betterment of pot, porn, exploitation, and excess, and draws fascinating parallels between underground and above-board operations. Especially effective is his putting a human face on the carefully researched numbers and socio-analysis through interviews and two case studies that back up his accusations of cultural malaise.
The questions he poses are tough, and the answers difficult. For example, why do we throw the book more harshly at growers of marijuana than murderers, and why does the system allow for poverty stricken Mexican laborers to be arrested, and then leave growers on their own to hire more? Schlosser believes that industries like pot and porn need to be made over ground and in the light of day instead of being the clandestine operations that they are, because only in that way can they be controlled. Many will undoubtedly challenge assertions like these, but what he really seems to be attacking is our hypocrisy as a society. And that is something that is hard to argue with.
“Black markets will always be with us,“ he writes. “But they will recede in importance when our public morality is consistent with our private one.“ Just as Schlosser did with Whoppers and Big Macs in his other books, he turns a glaring light on the dark side of our consumer appetites and throws down the gauntlet. The sight isn’t pretty, and you’ll most likely never look at strawberries in the same way again.

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