Bad Buzz From the Capital Hive

Bees in Brooklyn are producing honey that’s bright red in color. Or, as The New York Times described it, “an alarming shade of Robitussin.”

No, it’s not a sign of the Apocalypse. Apparently, the insects have been sipping nectar on the wrong side of town. The theory is that they’ve been imbibing runoff filled with Red Dye No. 40 and corn syrup from a factory that processes maraschino cherries for desserts and mixed drinks. I’m not kidding.

Maraschino cherries could just be the start; soon the bees may be dining on cocktail onions and flying with those little paper umbrellas bartenders stick in mai-tai’s. Or worse, drunkenly singing karaoke. Okay, now I’m kidding. But the real bottom line? Like so many other Americans, even though nearby farmland is filled with fresh fruit and vegetables, rich in nectar, pollen and other healthy stuff, the bees prefer junk food.

Coincidentally, news of this ruby-hued dietary phenomenon came on the same day that the United States Senate, that hive of rancid rhetoric and inertia, actually passed something nutritional — the food safety bill. While far from perfect, the legislation represents the most sweeping overhaul of regulations in seven decades and will, as The Washington Post observed, “require food manufacturers and farmers to use scientific techniques to prevent contaminated food… delivering a revamped safety system that would confer vast new authority on the Food and Drug Administration, accelerate the government’s response to outbreaks and set the first safety standards for imported food.”

The vote was 73-25. “It’s an unusual and shining example of how bipartisanship can work in Congress,” said Erik Olson, director of the Pew Health Group food programs.

Bipartisanship? What a concept. But don’t get used to it. The website Talking Points Memo reported on Wednesday that,  “According to a letter delivered to Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid this morning, Republicans will block all debate on all legislation until the tax cut impasse is bridged and the federal government has been fully funded — even if it means days tick by and the Senate misses its opportunity to pass DADT, an extension of unemployment insurance and other Dem items.”

The letter, signed by Minority Leader Mitch McConnell and all the Republicans in the Senate, proclaims, “While there are other items that might ultimately be worthy of the Senate’s attention, we cannot agree to prioritize any matters above the critical issues of funding the government and preventing a job-killing tax hike.”

Harry Reid’s reply: “My Republican colleagues… know that the true effect of this letter is to prevent the Senate from acting on many important issues that have bipartisan support. With this letter, they have simply put in writing the political strategy that the Republicans pursued this entire Congress: Namely, obstruct, delay action on critical matters, and then blame the Democrats for not addressing the needs of American people. Very cynical, but very obvious. Very transparent.”

Transparent when Republicans – and some conservative Democrats — are determined to continue tax cuts to the wealthy, and if they can, make them permanent. Never mind that much bemoaned mega-deficit (not to mention those 2.5 million Americans whose jobless benefits end this month).

But  here’s another coincidence: The website reports, “Nearly a quarter of the incoming class of 84 House Republicans have assets of at least $1 million, according to a Politico analysis of financial disclosure forms, a sign that this anti-Washington, anti-establishment crowd of congressional freshmen has been quite successful in the private sector…

“Nearly half the current Congress — 261 lawmakers — already have assets exceeding $1 million, according to a recent report from the Center for Responsive Politics [CRP], and that number appears to be growing. Last year, 237 lawmakers made the mint club.”

In a moment of classic understatement, CRP spokesperson Dave Levinthal told Politico, “There’s a possibility they could be out of touch with reality because they don’t have to live it themselves.”

You think?  Because not only do we have the members of Congress with considerable earned or inherited wealth blindly ignoring the huddled masses. There are also, of course, the generous corporate benefactors of the elected – more bountiful than ever in the wake of the Supreme Court’s Citizens United decision — eagerly anticipating the service they bought and paid for when they funneled vast amounts of cash, millions of it in anonymous contributions, to the candidates of their choice. Tax breaks, deregulation, stymied reforms – you name it. When you can afford to buy your own reality, everything is honey.

Nothing – NOTHING – will restore any semblance of representative democracy in this country until we mobilize and adopt a constitutional amendment that overturns that Supreme Court ruling. In his forward to an updated report from the progressive citizens’ group People for the American Way, Jamie Raskin, American University professor of constitutional law (and a Maryland state legislator) writes, “ Citizens United tore down the wall of separation between corporate wealth and public elections, a wall that has protected popular democracy against the tyranny of fat cats and plutocrats for a century at least. The 5-justice majority in the case overthrew decades of precedent to declare that billion-dollar corporations have the same political rights as citizens do, meaning that while all citizens can write campaign checks from the same personal accounts that we buy groceries and pay utility bills from, CEOs can spend tens of millions of dollars from their corporate treasuries to get pliant politicians elected to serve the corporate will.”

Makes you see red, doesn’t it? Time to sting back.

MICHAEL WINSHIP is senior writer at Public Affairs Television in New York City.


MICHAEL WINSHIP is senior writer of the weekly public affairs program Bill Moyers Journal, which airs Friday night on PBS.