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April 10, 2001

The Harbinger Years

This is the time of the Spring fundraiser for National Public Radio, and it is impossible to ignore the parallels of commercial-free broadcasting and The Harbinger. The radio personalities explaining the need for pledges effectively portrays how dismal the outlook would be without an independent voice bringing the news that is ignored or underreported by the commercial providers. Ever since our first exposure to the Harbinger, we've known what a void the thinking community here would face in its absence.

We started subscribing because the merits of the venture were plain: news the locals wouldn't touch, thoughtful editorials, inspired artwork, lucid book reviews, informative lecture-series, all made a distinct alternative to redneck culture (bass-boats, football and the dog track). When given an opportunity to help fill the pages, we felt honored and jumped at the chance to share experiences, illuminate clouded issues, and detail the other side of the news -- all the things that the contributors and editors of the Harb already did so well. We considered it a privilege to be associated with these cool people on the progressive fringe.

Journalists have increasingly been influenced by the commerce-side of the business. Commercial publishers and producers have bought into the "don't worry, be happy" dogma for profit reasons. They are careful to not antagonize advertisers and chambers of commerce who figure that an ill-informed public makes for happy citizens, and a happy citizen is a gluttonous consumer, and overconsumption is good for business. As a result reporting gets toned down or censored outright and democracy suffers.

It was frustrating to work with a two-week publishing schedule while the well-funded provided obscurity and fresh lies daily. Despite numerous exclusive stories of local import, the Harb was usually belittled by the commercial voices when it was not ignored completely; the good-old-boys network did not consider it a real arm of the press. To their credit, once in a while an issue brought to light by the Harb was picked up by the daily paper, but lack of circulation of our free pub kept most people unaware of the rest of the story.

In these times the Harb would be more important than ever. Education is going under for the third time (at least) yet state and local money still goes to corporations, most of them highly polluting and many that fold before delivering calculated economic returns. Development sprawls along unabated and unplanned while empty strip-mauls and urban blight expand like melanoma. Leaders argue in backrooms over procedures and pork barrels but meaningful legislation gathers dust on the shelves.

Our basic needs of water and food are increasingly threatened. Corporate mega-farms raise animals on assembly lines, pumping them full of antibiotics and hormones. Unsanitary conditions in packinghouses and insufficient inspections leave meat products filthy with feces. Surface and ground water resources contaminated with sewage. Bioengineered organisms have not been proven safe, but "We'll be careful that none of it gets into the food supply."

Someone said, "If you can remember the '60s you weren't there." We say if you can remember the '80s, you are an environmentalist. That was a time when lobbyists for polluters rewrote environmental bills; when the concept of drinking water that was too clean was heartily embraced; when the Administration's strategy was to mine more, drill more and cut more timber, and environmentalists were equated with Nazis of 1930s Germany. We now face increased drilling in fragile areas like Alaska and coastal zones, higher allowable levels of toxins in food and water, looser air-pollution regulations and energy-efficiency mandates, and broad recall of other measures protective of public health and rational use of natural resources.

George Walker Bush is steering the Ship of State like Captain Joe Hazelwood of Exxon Valdez fame. The Shrub: a man with the oil-addiction of his Poppy, the mental vacuity of Dan Quayle, and the same hazy awareness of reality as Ronnie Reagan. He puts the "duh" in W. He has revived the notion that profit motives take precedence over public health. He has stacked the cabinet with corporate lackeys who want a clearance sale of public resources. While three-fifths of the planet can't get enough to eat, he is willing to stand up for Americans whining for cheap gasoline -- and damn the global climate.

So we have some kind of weird time warp going on and no trustworthy information source. Who can blame any rational human who decides it's time to pack up all that you hold dear and move to a place where life is more manageable? All we know is that the local climate just got chillier, the sunlight a little dimmer. What to fill the void? Will local broadcasters respond to public comment and concern, since they use public airwaves to make money? Will the news publications endorse reader comment, or reject it knowing there are no alternatives? Only time will tell. Meanwhile, to get active with environmental issues log on to the Sierra Club website (; there you can link to local groups and the state chapter.

We are grateful for the Harbinger years. We want to thank all the staff and contributors and send our best wishes up north with Edmund and his family.

For the Planet,

-- Neil S. Milligan and Woody Justice


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