Tuesday, December 30, 2008

Regret the Error: 2008 Plagiarism/Fabrication Round-Up; Crunks 2008: The Year in Media Errors and Corrections

(Courtesy of On the Media. Independent journalist Craig Silverman keeps Regret the Error free of advertising, so if you like the website, you might consider buying his new book.)

2008 Plagiarism/Fabrication Round-Up

The Year in Media Errors and Corrections

Blossom Swap: US Seed Exchange

(Courtesy of Danny Mayer)

Got extra seed? Looking for different types of seeds? Here is a seed exchange site:

Blossom Swap: US Seed Exchange

Here is an example of the latest post:

Let's Share!
Submitted by: Constant Gardener

I have:
Seeds of:
Brussels sprout
Thai eggplant (round green)
white sesban (edible flowers-young leaves)

bitter gourd
ivy gourd (coccinia indica)-- edible fruit and leaves
ridge(angled) gourd

Flower Seeds:
canna lily (pink)
French marigold (orange/yellow/red, variegated)
Pride of Bardados (yellow)
Rose of Sharon (white, pink, and purple, with maroon center)
white mimosa
yellow daylily

I'm interested in:
Seeds of Bleeding Heart, Cyclamen, Lupine, Poker Primrose, Spike Speedwell, ... etc.

I Accept:
Trades or Postage
Jersey City, Zone 6A

Nathan Hodge: YouTube, Twitter--Weapons in Israel's Info War

(Courtesy of Washington Babylon)

YouTube, Twitter: Weapons in Israel's Info War
By Nathan Hodge
Wired Magazine Blog Network

Days after sending aircraft to strike Hamas militants in Gaza, the Israeli government is launching a campaign to dominate the blogosphere.

Among other things, the Israeli military has started its own YouTube channel to distribute footage of precision airstrikes. And as I type, the Israeli consulate in New York is hosting a press conference on microblogging site Twitter. It's pretty interesting to see the Israeli-Palestinian conflict reduced to tweets of 140 characters or less ("We hav 2 prtct R ctzens 2, only way fwd through neogtiations, & left Gaza in 05. y Hamas launch missiles not peace?"; "we're not at war with the PAL people. we're at war with a group declared by the EU& US a terrorist org").

The Jerusalem Post quotes Maj. Avital Leibovich, the head of the Israeli Defense Forces' foreign press branch on the digital media campaign. "The blogosphere and new media are another war zone," she says. "We have to be relevant there."

It appears, however, that some of the YouTube posts have already been scrubbed. A note on the page of the pro-Israel YouTube channel reads: "We are saddened that YouTube has taken down some of our exclusive footage showing the IDF's operational success in operation Cast Lead against Hamas extremists in the Gaza Strip. ... It is also worth noting that one of the videos removed had the highest number of hits (over 10,000) at the time of its removal."


Bill Moyers Journal: Ken Silverstein on Influence Peddling in Washington DC

(From 2007, this report is just as relevant now, in that it provides a glimpse into the infuence peddling process that involves all levels of Washington DC elites)

Ken Silverstein
Bill Moyers Journal (PBS)

"Although there are distinct limits to what they can achieve, lobbyists are the crucial conduit through which pariah regimes advance their interests in Washington." --Ken Silverstein

Ken Silverstein, HARPER'S Magazine's Washington Editor, has for years been reporting on the questionable lobbying practices of certain Washington firms that advocate in Congress on behalf of corrupt foreign regimes.

For his latest article, he decided to pose as the representative of a fictitious investment group with business interests in Turkmenistan, and approached several prominent Washington lobbying firms to see how they might bolster the image of Turkmenistan as a viable international economic and diplomatic partner.

"The first step was to select a suitably distasteful would-be client. Given that my first pick, North Korea, seemed too reviled to be credible, I settled on the only slightly less Stalinist regime of Turkmenistan." And in hopes of raising even more red flags, Sliverstein claimed affiliation with The Maldon Group, a mysterious investment firm about which he would divulge little to no information (understandably since it does not really exist), only that it's involved in the Turkmen-Ukraine Natural Gas trade, "which has been marked by flagrant corruption - as can be ascertained by anyone who cares to perform a Google search."

After initially phoning and emailing with four companies, Silverstein eventually met with two prominent Washington firms: APCO and Cassidy & Associates, both of which prepared elaborate powerpoint presentations and written reports explaining why their firm was the best candidate to bolster the image of the new Turkmanistan government, with very few questions asked.

"It was a vision of just how regimes like Angola and Azerbaijan, Nigeria and Equatorial Guinea, the serial abrogator of 'human dignity,' can make and keep their wealthy American friends. Someday soon, perhaps, the same will happen for Turkmenistan - God and lobbyists willing."

To Listen to the Interview


Sliverstein's original Harper's articles:

Their men in Washington: Undercover with D.C.'s lobbyists for hire

Lobby Shops for Turkmenistan: Will lie for money

Check out Silverstein's blog that covers similar stories:

Washington Babylon

Monday, December 29, 2008

CFP: Religion and Popular Culture (May 15, 2009)

(I am a co-editor of this special issue--please forward it to any relevant list-serv, share it with comrades, and/or post on department walls. Feel free to ask questions. We also need reviews for the issue: books, film, TV, music, new media, exhibitions/performances, etc... propose it to me and I will let you know if it will work. )

CFP: Religion and Popular Culture
Call for Submissions
Religion and Popular Culture
Reconstruction: Studies in Contemporary Culture
Deadline: 15 May 2009

At a time when many in the U.S. and around the world encounter religion as a polarizing subject, one especially revered by some and utterly contested by others, this issue of Reconstruction seeks to explore questions arising at the intersection of religious experience and popular culture. To engage the relationship of religion and popular culture requires discipline-based, trans-disciplinary, and inter-disciplinary approaches in order to interpret these broad ranges of human experience.

Over the past three decades, scholarship in the Humanities evaluating the relationships between religion and popular culture has increased dramatically. This particular issue seeks a broad array of perspectives that explore, analyze, and/or interpret the myriad interrelations and interactions that exist between religion and popular culture. Despite some recent attention, the role popular culture plays in religious experience is often undervalued. Popular culture not only presents and portrays religious ideas and norms, it also operates as both a vehicle and medium through which religious meaning is communicated and understood. Submissions need not be directed toward any particular religious tradition or geared for any single definition of religion. Instead, religion might be imagined in any (or none) of the following ways: as an expression of doctrinal beliefs and/or core values, as an on-going movement between an individual or community and a larger socio-cultural matrix, or as essentially a cultural construction. Theological investigations that engage cultural studies from a faith perspective are certainly encouraged. We also welcome perspectives that interrogate the stability of meaning(s) assigned to such terms ("culture," "religion," "popular," etc.) and their complex inter-relations.

Specifically, submissions should be framed with at least one of the following four rubrics in mind: religion within popular culture, popular culture within religion, religion as popular culture (and vice versa), or religion in tension with popular culture.

We welcome manuscripts that produce conversations engaging historical, ethnographic, normative, literary, anthropological, philosophical, artistic, political or other terms that elaborate a relationship between religion and popular culture. For example, submissions might investigate religious expression(s) in relation to any of the following realms of contemporary popular culture:

* Music
* Literature
* Film
* Broadcast media (particularly religious broadcasting)
* Journalism
* Athletics
* Comic books
* Novels / poetry / short story
* Television
* Radio
* Print media
* Internet / technology
* Popular art / architecture
* Sacred vs. profane space
* Advertising
* Consumerism
* New religious movements/religious subcultures
* Socio-political religious movements (liberation theologies, Zionism, right-wing Evangelicalism, etc.)
* Atheism/Skepticism/Secular Humanism

Note: This list is representative, but certainly not exhaustive.

Please send proposals, abstracts, completed essays, multimedial performances, etc. to Nate Hinerman and Michael Benton at religionculture_at_gmail.com by 15 May 2009. We are happy to consider abstracts and proposals prior to this date. Publication is expected in the first quarter of 2010. All submissions are refereed. Papers must follow the Reconstruction guidelines for submission.

Reconstruction: Studies in Contemporary Culture (ISSN: 1547-4348) is an innovative online cultural studies journal dedicated to fostering an intellectual community composed of scholars and their audience, granting them all the ability to share thoughts and opinions on the most important and influential work in contemporary interdisciplinary studies. Reconstruction publishes three themed issues and one open issue quarterly. Reconstruction is indexed in the MLA International Bibliography.


““When you live in times of terror, when everything is a conspiracy, then everyone must play the detective.”
--Walter Benjamin

Speaking of Faith: Architecture of Decency

Architecture of Decency
Speaking of Faith (American Public Media)
Host: Krista Tippett

Auburn's Rural Studio in western Alabama draws architectural students into the design and construction of homes and public spaces in some of the poorest counties. They're creating beautiful and economical structures that are not only unique but nurture sustainability of the natural world as of human dignity.

To Listen to the Interviews and to Access More Resources

Altcountry #62: Old Crow Medicine Show, Cosmic Rough Riders, Romi Mayes, Ribbonpigeon, Glen Campbell, Will Quinlan & the Diviners, et al

#62 Friendly Fire From...
Altcountry.nl (Netherlands)\
Host: Hugo Vogel

Jolie Holland

Old Crow Medicine Show, Cosmic Rough Riders, Romi Mayes, Ribbonpigeon, Glen Campbell, Will Quinlan & the Diviners, Kevin Bowe & the Okemah Prophets, Jolie Holland, Matt Bauer, Beaver Nelson, Fayssoux, Fred Eaglesmith, Hank Williams III (with Bob Wayne)

To Listen to the Show

Internet Culture: Best of 2008

There are all kinds of lists of the "year's best" thrown around this time of the year. Dialogic began as a place where I could try to map out my explorations of Internet cultures. It quickly developed as a place where I could also help my students (who were interested) do the same. Eventually it expanded as a project to address the problem of the United States of Amnesia (USA). Always I believed in having fun, as long as the entertainment doesn't insult our intelligence. With this in mind... The Best Internet Culture of 2008:

  • Business/Labor/Economics

  • Culture/Humanities

  • Education

  • Global Voices

  • Health

  • History/Social Sciences

  • Keywords

  • Media/Communication/Journalism

  • Music

  • Peace/Conflict Studies

  • Place/Environment/Geography

  • Politics/Law/Government

  • Science/Technology

  • Sexuality/Relationships

  • Spirituality/Religion/Philosophy/Psychology
  • Sunday, December 28, 2008

    Chargers Beat Broncos! You know you are from San Diego if...

    (Coming down from my trip to Costa Rica by watching my hometown team cap an unlikely playoff qualifying season with a victory over the first place Broncos. The Chargers are the first 4-8 team to end up winning the rest of their games and make it into the playoffs! To all the rejoicing Charger fans, a list from my friend Monique Bedard Manning that lets ...)

    You know you are from San Diego if...

    -Your high school had a surf team~
    -You can correctly pronounce Tierrasanta, La Jolla, Rancho Penasquitos, San Ysidro, Otay Mesa, Jamacha, Jamul, Cuyamaca, and El Cajon~
    -There are four distinct seasons: Summer, Not Quite Summer, Almost Summer, and Oh Hey Look Its Summer Again~
    -Chula-juana is a real town.~
    - Your house is worth more than some small countries~
    - You know what MB, OB , and PB stand for~
    -Every street name is either in Spanish or Spanish related, and you're surprised when other areas don't have this~
    - You can determine the accuracy of someone's "I'm ghetto" claim by knowing their high school. For example, El Camino High School or Crawford High School~
    -You see weather forecasts for four different climate zones in the same county, and aren't remotely surprised. The Micro Climate Weather~
    -You've gone to Mt. Helix in July and known you still need a jacket~
    - You've tailgated at Qualcomm Stadium, and for bonus points, also tailgated when it was Jack Murphy Stadium~
    - You have a favorite- the WAP or the Zoo~
    - You've been on a field trip to see an Imax movie at the Reuben H. Fleet Science Center ~
    - You still call it the Del Mar Fair~
    - You say "I'm going to the track" and people know what you mean~
    -You understand what May-Gray and June-Gloom is~
    -A famous skateboarder/surfer lives in your town~
    -There's a North County , a South County , and an East County but no Central County ~
    -"Mossy Nissan! Mossy Nissan! Mossy Nissan Moves You!"~
    -You know what it means when two guys are walking in Hillcrest~
    -You know what it means when a girl in a short skirt is walking on El Cajon Blvd
    -You've gotten stuck in the Horton Plaza parking structure traffic after a Padres game~
    -You know what "The Merge" is, and will plan your entire day around not being on it during rush hour~
    -You've been to Belmont Park
    -You've taken the Coaster and laughed at people sitting in traffic on the 5~
    -You know the difference between Clairemont Mesa, Kearny Mesa, and Mira Mesa and maybe you remember Serra Mesa too!
    -You've gone to Sea World on a warm day and sat in the first few rows at the Shamu Show to get cooled off~
    -You've been delayed at the Border Checkpoints on the 5 and the 15~
    -There are more bands than people~
    -Your house doesn't have air conditioning~
    -You know its San Diegan, not San Diegoan, or San Diegoite~
    -Everyone has their favorite beach~
    -No matter what the weather is, there is always someone walking around in a t-shirt, shorts, and flip flops~
    -You live on, near or are surrounded by hills~
    -You hate tourists and their bad driving. GET OFF THE ROAD NORTH DAKOTA, NOBODY WANTS YOU HERE. SERIOUSLY. GO HOME~
    -You have family and or friends that have moved to Arizona ~
    -You used to, and sometimes still do ride the carousel at Seaport Village ~
    -You know someone who doesn't own pants, and have a neighbor who doesn't seem to own a shirt~
    -You know what Santa Ana's are, and that they have literally nothing to do with the city of Santa Ana~
    -If the menu doesn't have California burritos on it, forget it, its not real Mexican food~
    -If you're NOT from San Diego.... That sucks

    Tuesday, December 16, 2008

    Nathan Cunningham: Sex, Drugs, and Identity Crisis: a response to Performance

    (ENG 282 International Films Studies Student Response)

    Sex, Drugs, and Identity Crisis: a response to Performance

    By Nathan Cunningham

    Performance is what your parents didn’t want you to see. It has every element that struck fear in the hearts of the parents of the late 1960’s. There was brutal violence, blatant drug use, open and uninhibited sexuality, forward thinking literature, and just a hint of gender confusion. Worst of all was the addition of counter culture icon Mick Jagger. Jagger plays a musician who has lost the ability to captivate crowds and maintain his popularity. The surprising thing about this film is that Jagger doesn’t make it into the movie until almost halfway though. This was an excellent choice to keep Jagger from really dominating the narrative. The main character of the film is a man named Chas. Chas is a better choice for the main role because he represents the typical upstanding, tough guy. The evolution of Chas’ character is one of the most compelling aspects of this film.

    In the beginning of the film Chas is an adult bully. He takes pleasure in torturing others at every turn. If he is not berating his fellow employees about deceased loved ones, he is shaving a man’s head as a form or humiliation. Chas takes sadistic pleasure in what he does. Chas’ bloodlust comes to a terrible climax when he kills a man in cold blood. This forces Chas to go into hiding. Chas ends up staying with a man named Turner (Mick Jagger) and his female companionship. His new roommates change Chaz’s life forever.

    The character of Chas is great because he represents the “square” crowd. Even though he was a criminal he was somebody the general population could somewhat identify with. Chas commits terrible acts, and seems to enjoy them. What is made clear though, is that Chas doesn’t believe is what he is doing. When Chas commits a brutal act, he is trying to show everyone who he is a loyal soldier. When in reality he is trying to convince himself. Every act of violence is and over-compensation. Many Americans and other people living in industrialized countries can identify with trading your own identity for what people think you are or should be. When Chas commits murder, he completely crosses the line into madness. Chas has become what he thinks his peers and his boss want him to be. Many people trade their individuality for the chance to be accepted by their peers. It is very interesting that this particular film deals with the issue of peer-pressure. In the late 60’s and 70’s the perception was (and still is) that peer-pressure would lead to drug use and premature sexual activity. Both sides, accepted society and the counter-culture, want you to be like them. This validates their lifestyle. So in an attempt to “fit in” we put on our performance. When Chas goes to live with Turner, he finds another man whose need to perform also drove him to the brink of madness.

    Turner is a musician who has lost his ability to perform. He lost that dangerous and wonderful demon that drove him to greatness. Turner identifies with Chas because he too has been pushed to his breaking point by living a life on stage. Turner looks to self-medication to try and make his life better. He turns to the comforts of women and psychedelic drugs to escape the life he had once and can’t seem to recapture. Turner and Chaz explore each other’s mind with the help of hallucinogenic mushrooms. They share each other’s feeling and form a bond. During their “trip” Chas changes his look. He goes from clean cut blonde hair, to a large mop-top that sits wildly on top of his head. The new look represents a change in Chas’ life. He is becoming Turner, which is foreshadowing for the end of the film.

    This movie is about the counter-culture, and how it attempted to save the world. The people of this movement believed they could convince a generation to embrace individuality. It took the ultimate sacrifice to save Chas. Turner gave up himself for Chas so that Chas could live his own life. This was not his only motive. Turner did it to find his demon. If Turner was going to live, he would have his means to uncover the madness he longed for. If he was going to be killed, he had done it to give a good man a chance.

    Jeremy LeGrand: Lines of Knowledge - A Response to A Bittersweet Life/Dalkomhan insaeng (South Korea: Ji-woon Kim, 2005)

    (ENG 282: International Film Studies student response)

    "Lines of Knowledge"

    Dalkomhan Insaeng, "A Bittersweet Life," is filled with excellent passages and dialogue, an incredible film directed by Ji-woon Kim. I was blown away at the very opening of this film, a scene of soft treesblowing in the wind with shades of green and gray. The followingpassage is expressed while zooming into the slow-motion branches blowing:

    "One late autumn night, the disciple awoke crying. So the master asked the disciple, "Did you have a nightmare?" "No." "Did youhave a sad dream?" "No," said the disciple. "I had a sweet dream.""Then why are you crying so sadly?" The disciple wiped his tears awayand quietly answered, "Because the dream I had can't come true."

    By dream, Kim is referring to his love that will never unfold (I'll elaborate more on this later). Set with the theme of revenge the story takes on so much more. The plot is that of a hotel management/gangster storyline filled with betrayal and graphic violence which could be compared to "Oldboy."

    The real "enforcers" are conveniently disguised as hotel managers. Our main character Sun-woo, "Byung-hun Lee," is not actually expressed as the antagonist or protagonist. It is the first film I have viewed in which you as the viewer could decide for yourself. His boss sends him on the task of watching over his young girlfriend while he is away on business.

    "Have you ever been in love," he says, "No", says Sun-woo,"That is why you are perfect for the job."

    Now this leaves you guessing if this is just a set up to see if he actually falls in love, or remains as the faithful servant to his master. The following quote reinforces this decision, a split in the way a viewer could make sense of this plot:

    "Be smart. Things are going good for you now. But the world is not easy. You can do 100 things right, but one mistake can destroy everything."

    He inevitably makes this very mistake and ends up falling for this girl. His very dream will never come true, because he has never fallen in love. He has been stripped of his emotions, and knows nothing at all except carrying out brutal tasks as an enforcer.

    "Kim Sun Woo, doyou think the world is all yours?"

    He cannot get what he wants except the revenge he seeks after falling in love and not being able to get what he wants. Another twist is how the revenge is actually played out. Once, twice, even three times you see him at the brink of death but somehow he manages to escape and pursue on his path to slay his boss, this same boss who once said:

    "Being young is a gift, as you get older you lose patience."

    Patience in the sense of you messup, no matter how many years you served under me, your done…

    Lance Hood: The Reign of the Chihuahua--A Response to Performance (1970)

    (ENG 282 Student Response)

    The Reign of the Chihuahua

    Labeling Performance (1970) as anything less than a mind-fuck of the highest caliber would be foolish. One might even go so far as to argue that even that extreme label isn't enough to account for the visual and aural wonderland created by the masterful hands of director Donald Cammell. This film is an excellent reminder of the contributions to society made during what was arguably one of the most controversial decades in United States history. Chock-full of sex, drugs and rock n' roll, Performance will bring back fond memories of anyone who lived through this tumultuous time period, and let us youngsters take a first-hand look at everything that we missed.

    From the opening scene, viewers are pulled in by use of camera and editing tricks strikingly similar to the famous shower scene in Psycho (1960)—we are never shown penetration in either—be it by knife or… other means—but I could have sworn that it was present in both. With an opening like that, filled with rapid scene swapping, surreal audio effects that tingle the ear drums and random bursts of visual flare, it is hard to not give the film one's utmost attention for the rest of the duration. But the film doesn't make keeping up with the narrative easy, in fact, Cammell seems to try and break the viewer's concentration and send their minds out on wild goose chases a random moments throughout the viewing experience.

    The magic of this film lies within these wild goose chases. The scenes are built around establishing a sense of normalcy and as soon as the viewer begins to catch hold of what is going on, the floor drops out. Anything can happen. I recall feelings akin to what Alice must have felt when she fell into the rabbit hole—I never knew what sort of experiences to expect, and I was always pleasantly surprised to find that nothing could have prepared me for what was ahead.

    Films like this were uncommon then and I am sad to say that they are still uncommon today. Sure, directors pop up every once in a while and put out films like Donnie Darko (2001) that attempt to tread a path similar to Cammell, but the fact of the matter is, films like this just do not bring in the big bucks. So we are left relying upon the true artists; the directors who would rather finely tune their vision into a 'perfect' film that the average Joe will never see than live extravagantly—and this kind of director is not easy to find. This, of course, begs the question, "why don't these movies sell?" The answer is obvious—they are entirely too complicated.

    When the average consumer—Americans in particular, but this is likely true for other places as well—sits down to enjoy a movie, he doesn't want to think. Thinking is what happens at work. We, as a country, do not like to be challenged. We like to have our hands held and we would prefer the finer details and cultural references be left out, as we will likely miss them anyway. This is a sad truth and is becoming more apparent as I get older. Growing up, I never noticed how simplistic people like to keep things.

    This is a problem that can be fixed, though. It won't be easy, but if everyone who enjoys a film more challenging than, say, Beverly Hills Chihuahua (2008) (the very mention of this 'film' makes me want to bang my head against the wall) bands together, we can at least make our voices heard. In order to prevent our voices from falling on deaf ears, we must show these kinds of films to everyone that we know. We may not always be met with the best remarks about the films. Hell, we may even be deemed insane for liking such 'wastes of mental energy'. It certainly wouldn't be the first time that I have been met with such remarks, and I have a feeling that I am not alone.

    Film lovers, heed my call! If you truly love the film industry, but hate the garbage that it has been feeding you for the last decade, take a stand. Grab your closest friends and sit them down to watch Performance. Have a beer, have a laugh, have a lot of time set aside for explaining the film to them, because we can't expect everyone to remove their training wheels on the first night. We can right the wrongs of the film industry, but we can't do it alone. End the tyranny of the mindless movie-goer. Save your children from having to sit through more movies about Chihuahuas, they'll thank you when they're older.

    Monday, December 15, 2008

    David Morgan: Senate Report Ties Rumsfeld to Abu Ghraib Torture; Democracy Now: Senate Report Finds Rumsfeld Directly Responsible for US Torture...

    Senate Report Ties Rumsfeld to Abu Ghraib Torture
    by David Morgan (Reuters)

    The report found that the military derived the techniques from a Survival Evasion Resistance and Escape program, or SERE, which trains U.S. soldiers to resist enemy interrogation that does not conform to the Geneva Conventions or international law.

    "These policies are wrong and must never be repeated," McCain, who last month ended an unsuccessful bid for the White House, said in a statement released with the executive summary.

    McCain said the report revealed an "inexcusable link between abusive interrogation techniques used by our enemies who ignored the Geneva Conventions and interrogation policy for detainees in U.S. custody."

    The full report, billed as the most thorough examination of U.S. military detainee policy by Congress, remains classified.

    Committee staff said the full report was approved on November 20 in a unanimous voice vote by 17 of the panel's 25 members. The panel consists of 13 Democrats and 12 Republicans.

    The executive summary also traces the erosion of detainee treatment standards to a Feb,. 7, 2002, memorandum signed by President George W. Bush stating that the Geneva Convention did not apply to the U.S. war with al Qaeda and that Taliban detainees were not entitled to prisoner of war status or legal protections.

    "The president's order closed off application of Common Article 3 of the Geneva Conventions, which would have afforded minimum standards for humane treatment," the summary said.

    Members of Bush's Cabinet and other senior officials participated in meetings inside the White House in 2002 and 2003 where specific interrogation techniques were discussed, according to the report.

    The committee also blamed former Chairman of the U.S. Joint Chiefs of Staff Gen. Richard Myers for undermining the military's review of interrogation methods.

    To Read the Entire Article

    Senate Report Finds Rumsfeld Directly Responsible for US Torture of Prisoners
    Host: Amy Goodman
    Democracy Now

    A bipartisan Senate report has accused former Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld and other top Bush administration officials of being directly responsible for the abuse and torture of prisoners at Guantanamo and other US prisons. We speak with the man who sued Donald Rumsfeld in Berlin, German, attorney Wolfgang Kaleck.

    Wolfgang Kaleck, General Secretary of the European Center for Constitutional and Human Rights. He brought a war crimes suit against former Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld.

    To watch/listen/read

    Michael T. Klare: The Fall of Triumphalism; GLOBAL TRENDS 2025: THE NATIONAL INTELLIGENCE COUNCIL'S 2025 PROJECT

    (The study can be found here: GLOBAL TRENDS 2025: THE NATIONAL INTELLIGENCE COUNCIL'S 2025 PROJECT)

    The Fall of Triumphalism
    By Michael T. Klare
    The Nation

    In a remarkable evocation of the strategic environment of 2025, the National Intelligence Council (NIC), a government intelligence service, portrays a world in which the United States wields considerably less power than it does today but faces far greater challenges. The assessment, contained in Global Trends 2025: A Transformed World (dni.gov/nic/NIC_home.html), was released November 20 and is intended to be read by President-elect Obama's transition team as well as the general public. "Although the United States is likely to remain the single most powerful actor," the council notes, "the United States' relative strength--even in the military realm--will decline and US leverage will become more constrained."

    The report is devoted largely to an examination of the major trends--political, economic, military and environmental--that will shape the world of 2025. Many of these will be familiar to Nation readers: the rise of China and India as major actors in world affairs; Russia's growing significance as a power broker in Europe; the increasing role of corporations, crime networks and other nonstate actors; and the growing impact of climate change. But two key developments, by the council's own admission, stand out above all others: the decline of America's global primacy and the growing international competition for energy.

    One can, in fact, read this extraordinary report on two levels: as a forceful indictment of the policies that have governed US foreign and energy policy for the past eight years and as a clear-eyed look at the devastating repercussions of those policies stretching far into the future.

    If the Bush/Cheney administration ever stood for anything, it was the perpetuation of America's dominant international role for decades to come. This vision was first articulated during the Bush I administration, when Under Secretary of Defense Paul Wolfowitz composed the infamous Defense Planning Guidance (DPG) for the fiscal years 1994-99. "Our first objective," the 1992 document affirmed, "is to prevent the re-emergence of a new rival, either on the territory of the former Soviet Union or elsewhere, that poses a threat on the order of that posed formerly by the Soviet Union." Although this precept was repudiated by Bush I in 1992 after the DPG was leaked to the press and aroused a storm of international criticism, it was later embraced by his son, who declared in a key 1999 campaign speech that if elected, he would strive to preserve America's paramount position "not just across the world but across the years."

    This vision of enduring primacy was sustained, of course, by a belief that US military power was more than sufficient to overcome any conceivable adversary--with or without the support of allies. And it was with this confidence, this swagger, that the Bush/Cheney team initiated the invasion of Iraq. No plans were made for the post-invasion occupation or the possibility of a persistent insurgency, because it was assumed that the "shock and awe" of American power would produce an aftermath conducive to US interests. Similarly, the reluctance of US allies to join the venture was considered irrelevant, given the overwhelming military advantage enjoyed by American forces and the presumed availability of Iraqi oil to finance the entire operation.

    Now, following years of debilitating fighting in Iraq and the systematic depletion of the Treasury, the prospect of extending American dominance "not just across the world but across the years" appears to have vanished for good. "By 2025," the NIC report suggests, "the US will find itself as one of a number of important actors on the world stage," forced to share power with other key players, including China, India and Russia. Inevitably, "the multiplicity of influential actors and distrust of vast power means less room for the US to call the shots without the support of strong partnerships"--which will be that much harder to form, given America's diminished clout and the competing interests of other players, including allies like Japan and Europe.

    Another debilitating legacy of the Bush/Cheney years underscored in the NIC report is the nation's continued reliance on imported petroleum. Along with the epochal shift in political and military power from the United States to its competitors, Global Trends 2025 points to the equally momentous shift in wealth taking place from the oil-importing countries to their major suppliers in the Persian Gulf and the former Soviet Union. "In terms of size, speed, and directional flow, the global shift in relative wealth and economic power now under way--roughly from West to East--is without precedent in modern history." Much of this largesse is being deposited in so-called sovereign wealth funds, huge investment accounts controlled by governments and used (among other things) to acquire large stakes in American banks and corporations--acquisitions that could, in time, provide major leverage over US political and economic policies.

    Our continued dependence on imported oil--actively fostered by the Bush/Cheney team in myriad ways--is also contributing to what the NIC report sees as a period of intense geopolitical struggle over diminishing energy supplies. "Perceptions of energy scarcity will drive countries to take actions to assure their future access to energy supplies. In the worst case, this could lead to interstate conflicts if government leaders deem assured access to energy resources to be essential to maintaining domestic stability and the survival of their regime."

    Not only will the United States be weaker in 2025 because of the hubris of Bush and Cheney; it will face a world of multiplied dangers, emboldened challengers and a paucity of reliable allies.


    Sunday, December 14, 2008

    Democracy Now: US Interrogator in Iraq Says Torture Policy Has Led to Deaths of Thousands of American Soldiers

    US Interrogator in Iraq Says Torture Policy Has Led to Deaths of Thousands of American Soldiers
    Democracy Now
    Host: Amy Goodman

    We speak with a former special intelligence operations officer who led an interrogations team in Iraq two years ago. His nonviolent interrogation methods led Special Forces to Abu Musab al-Zarqawi, the head of al-Qaeda in Iraq. He has written a new book, How to Break a Terrorist: The US Interrogators Who Used Brains, Not Brutality, to Take Down the Deadliest Man in Iraq. The publication date for the book was delayed for six weeks due to the Pentagon’s vetting of it. The soldier wrote it under the pseudonym, Matthew Alexander, for security reasons. He says the US military’s use of torture is responsible for the deaths of thousands of US soldiers by inspiring foreign fighters to kill Americans.


    Lisa Miller: Our Mutual Joy

    (This is the cover story of the current Newsweek)

    Our Mutual Joy: Opponents of gay marriage often cite Scripture. But what the Bible teaches about love argues for the other side.
    By Lisa Miller

    Let's try for a minute to take the religious conservatives at their word and define marriage as the Bible does. Shall we look to Abraham, the great patriarch, who slept with his servant when he discovered his beloved wife Sarah was infertile? Or to Jacob, who fathered children with four different women (two sisters and their servants)? Abraham, Jacob, David, Solomon and the kings of Judah and Israel—all these fathers and heroes were polygamists. The New Testament model of marriage is hardly better. Jesus himself was single and preached an indifference to earthly attachments—especially family. The apostle Paul (also single) regarded marriage as an act of last resort for those unable to contain their animal lust. "It is better to marry than to burn with passion," says the apostle, in one of the most lukewarm endorsements of a treasured institution ever uttered. Would any contemporary heterosexual married couple—who likely woke up on their wedding day harboring some optimistic and newfangled ideas about gender equality and romantic love—turn to the Bible as a how-to script?

    Of course not, yet the religious opponents of gay marriage would have it be so.

    The battle over gay marriage has been waged for more than a decade, but within the last six months—since California legalized gay marriage and then, with a ballot initiative in November, amended its Constitution to prohibit it—the debate has grown into a full-scale war, with religious-rhetoric slinging to match. Not since 1860, when the country's pulpits were full of preachers pronouncing on slavery, pro and con, has one of our basic social (and economic) institutions been so subject to biblical scrutiny. But whereas in the Civil War the traditionalists had their James Henley Thornwell—and the advocates for change, their Henry Ward Beecher—this time the sides are unevenly matched. All the religious rhetoric, it seems, has been on the side of the gay-marriage opponents, who use Scripture as the foundation for their objections.

    The argument goes something like this statement, which the Rev. Richard A. Hunter, a United Methodist minister, gave to the Atlanta Journal-Constitution in June: "The Bible and Jesus define marriage as between one man and one woman. The church cannot condone or bless same-sex marriages because this stands in opposition to Scripture and our tradition."

    To which there are two obvious responses: First, while the Bible and Jesus say many important things about love and family, neither explicitly defines marriage as between one man and one woman. And second, as the examples above illustrate, no sensible modern person wants marriage—theirs or anyone else's —to look in its particulars anything like what the Bible describes. "Marriage" in America refers to two separate things, a religious institution and a civil one, though it is most often enacted as a messy conflation of the two. As a civil institution, marriage offers practical benefits to both partners: contractual rights having to do with taxes; insurance; the care and custody of children; visitation rights; and inheritance. As a religious institution, marriage offers something else: a commitment of both partners before God to love, honor and cherish each other—in sickness and in health, for richer and poorer—in accordance with God's will. In a religious marriage, two people promise to take care of each other, profoundly, the way they believe God cares for them. Biblical literalists will disagree, but the Bible is a living document, powerful for more than 2,000 years because its truths speak to us even as we change through history. In that light, Scripture gives us no good reason why gays and lesbians should not be (civilly and religiously) married—and a number of excellent reasons why they should.

    In the Old Testament, the concept of family is fundamental, but examples of what social conservatives would call "the traditional family" are scarcely to be found. Marriage was critical to the passing along of tradition and history, as well as to maintaining the Jews' precious and fragile monotheism. But as the Barnard University Bible scholar Alan Segal puts it, the arrangement was between "one man and as many women as he could pay for." Social conservatives point to Adam and Eve as evidence for their one man, one woman argument—in particular, this verse from Genesis: "Therefore shall a man leave his mother and father, and shall cleave unto his wife, and they shall be one flesh." But as Segal says, if you believe that the Bible was written by men and not handed down in its leather bindings by God, then that verse was written by people for whom polygamy was the way of the world. (The fact that homosexual couples cannot procreate has also been raised as a biblical objection, for didn't God say, "Be fruitful and multiply"? But the Bible authors could never have imagined the brave new world of international adoption and assisted reproductive technology—and besides, heterosexuals who are infertile or past the age of reproducing get married all the time.)

    To Read the Rest of Article


    Newseek provides an interesting mapping of the arguments pro and con in response to the cover story:

    Kurt Soller: A Religious Reaction to Gay Marriage

    Aeon Skoble: Rear Window - Looking at Things Ethically

    "Rear Window: Looking at Things Ethically"
    by Aeon Skoble
    Open Court Books

    In this podcast, Aeon Skoble looks at Hitchcock's famous thriller Rear Window and unearths a perplexing ethical scenario. Is protagonist Jeff in the wrong when he snoops on a neighbor, even though his snooping leads to the apprehension of a crazed murderer?

    To Listen to the Episode

    Point of Inquiry: Jennifer Michael Hecht - Doubt

    Jennifer Michael Hecht - Doubt
    Point of Inquiry

    Jennifer Michael Hecht is the author of award-winning books of philosophy, history, and poetry, including The End of the Soul: Scientific Modernity, Atheism and Anthropology; Doubt: A History; The Happiness Myth, and her book of poetry, Funny, which Publisher’s Weekly called one of the most original and entertaining books of the year.

    In this conversation with D.J. Grothe, Hecht talks about the relationship of her book Doubt: A History to the books of the New Atheists, if media reception of the New Atheists was "gendered," and in what sense her book is "less evangelical" than theirs. She explains what she means by the kind of doubt she believes in, how it is broader and deeper than mere disbelief, and the ways in which doubt can feed belief. She explores the implications of doubt for scientific inquiry, and how doubt should be applied to the questions and the certitude that some scientists and skeptics express. She talks about the importance of art, poetry and psychoanalysis for doubting, and how such forms of introspection and expression increase the benefits of doubt. And she reveals some her favorite doubters in history, and what she learns from them.

    To Listen to the Conversation

    John Nichols: Hands off the United Auto Workers (UAW)

    (An important reminder of why we should care about what happens to the UAW)

    Hands Off the UAW
    By John Nichols
    The Nation

    Before there was talk of a "transformational presidency," Barack Obama needed a transformational moment. It came in February at a sprawling General Motors plant in Janesville, Wisconsin, where the Illinois senator--trailed by a press corps skeptical about his ability to appeal to white union members--electrified thousands of autoworkers with a populist promise of infrastructure investment, new trade policies and a future for American manufacturing. His pre-Wisconsin primary vow to defend auto plants offered a lifeline to workers who knew that their industry--battered by years of bad CEO decisions, shortsighted federal energy policies and dysfunctional trade deals--was teetering on the brink of the disaster that unfolded as the year progressed. Days after Obama spoke to them, the autoworkers of Janesville voted in overwhelming numbers to make him the Democratic presidential nominee. It was a critical moment for the candidate, one that he would refer to repeatedly as the campaign progressed toward the November 4 election. Obama and his aides, taking counsel from Wisconsin Senator Russ Feingold, had picked the right room in the house of labor in which to make their move.

    Seventy-three years earlier, United Auto Workers Federal Labor Union No. 19324 met near the plant where Obama spoke, forming a piece of the quilt of local unions that would become the nation's most powerful industrial organization. Today Janesville's UAW members, like their more than 1 million brothers and sisters nationwide, are members of a union that has for decades pushed the labor movement, the Democratic Party and the government to cross lines of racial and regional division in pursuit of social justice, sound yet humane economic principles and international solidarity. It was the UAW that fought for national healthcare and pensions and, when those policy initiatives were blocked by reactionary Congresses, forced corporate America to create a social safety net for workers and retirees that would form the model for union and nonunion workplaces across the country. It was the UAW that fought government- and corporate-sanctioned racial discrimination, integrating Southern factories, supporting the 1963 March on Washington and bailing the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. out of jail in Alabama. It was the UAW that withdrew from the AFL-CIO in the 1960s and '70s rather than take labor's big right turn; the UAW that opposed the Vietnam War; set up a research department that studied the cost of bloated military budgets to domestic progress; opposed apartheid in South Africa with such passion that when Nelson Mandela toured the United States after his release from prison, he insisted on celebrating with Dearborn's UAW Local 600. And it was the UAW that, three decades ago, scored Detroit for failing to design and produce small fuel-efficient vehicles as a response to rising oil prices and mounting foreign competition.

    To a far greater extent than the auto companies, parts suppliers and distribution networks it has organized, the UAW has stood on the side of progress--never perfectly, as union dissidents have noted over the years, but invariably with an eye to providing economic security for working families and a future for communities in every region of the country that are threatened by a severe global economic crisis. Remarkably, however, it is the UAW that is under attack. Despite the union's sweeping, some argue draconian, concessions to keep the auto giants competitive--lowering company costs to such an extent that a vehicle produced in a UAW plant is now competitive with one produced in a nonunion one--a primary argument for delaying a federal bailout of the auto giants is the union. George Will argues on national television and in columns that Congress should "do nothing that will delay bankrupt companies from filing for bankruptcy protection so that improvident labor contracts can be unraveled." Mitt Romney preaches that it makes economic sense to "let Detroit go bankrupt." Even the Boston Globe editorializes--under the headline No Concessions? No Bailout--that the UAW should abandon efforts to protect workers and retirees, echoing the themes of the conservative National Legal and Policy Center, which claims, "The union will not allow companies to deploy capital in ways that the market would dictate, such as closing plants and layoffs."

    The cruelty of such statements is writ large in Janesville. The GM plant there, though recently modernized and highly productive, is slated to close in December, leaving the 2,600 workers who cheered Obama in February without jobs. Forcing the auto giants into bankruptcy will hasten the shuttering of more efficient plants and will ravage the networks of parts suppliers, distributors and dealers that extend far from GM, Chrysler and Ford factory floors. That infrastructure supports more than 3 million workers, the vast majority of them non-UAW members, and along with them thousands of Main Streets.

    The strategy of bankrupting the Big Three to break the UAW will not merely destabilize the auto industry. It will tear the heart out of a bulwark of industrial unionism and weaken a labor movement that economic royalists have attacked for decades as part of a broad campaign to weaken social and economic gains in every region of the United States. Anyone who think that breaking the UAW will only weaken the circumstances of autoworkers is missing the point of the royalist enterprise, which is to weaken the ability of all American workers to demand fair pay and benefits. As such, almost any bailout would be better than bankruptcy, but the best bailout is one that--perhaps by giving the UAW a piece of the action and placing union representatives on corporate boards, perhaps by giving states a stake--strengthens the hand of the one player in the auto industry that is committed to assuring that federal dollars are spent to defend the interests of workers and retirees while modernizing an industry Obama calls "the backbone of American manufacturing."

    The dithering of tone-deaf CEOs, the Bush administration, Congressional Republicans and some postmodern Democrats could delay a full-scale bailout until Obama takes office. That's risky for an industry on the ropes, but this risk offers an opportunity. The new president can and should bring us full circle from the dawning days of the conservative era, when Ronald Reagan destroyed a union--the Professional Air Traffic Controllers Organization--in order to undermine the entire labor movement. Now Barack Obama can use a popular mandate larger than Reagan's to save a union, the UAW, and to revive the ability of organized labor to improve the conditions of union and nonunion workers in the twenty-first century.


    Saturday, December 13, 2008

    Media Matters: John Nichols, Washington correspondent for The Nation

    John Nichols, Washington correspondent for The Nation
    Media Matters with Bob McChesney (WILL: University of Illinois)

    Our guest this week is regular guest, and friend of the show, John Nichols. Nichols writes about politics for The Nation magazine as its Washington correspondent. He is a contributing writer for The Progressive and In These Times and the associate editor of the Capital Times, the daily newspaper in Madison, Wisconsin. His articles have appeared in the New York Times, Chicago Tribune and dozens of other newspapers.

    To Listen to the Episode

    Out of the Past--Investigating Film Noir: Asphalt Jungle

    Episode 8: The Asphalt Jungle
    Out of the Past: Investigating Film Noir

    Shannon and Richard argue that John Huston's directorial evolution from "The Maltese Falcon" to the prototype heist film "The Asphalt Jungle" provides a blueprint of the evolution of film noir from the early 40's to the early 50's. With "The Asphalt Jungle" noir enters an even darker phase in it's history: an ensemble of tragic criminals (all brilliantly cast) displaces the strong leading man; the certainty of contained criminality cedes to the anxiety of widespread malfeasance; the city is a wasteland of corruption; time is an inexorable force that marches characters toward their doom. It is a vision so dark, so fatalistic, that it seems to owe as much to Italian Neorealism as to the noir tradition.

    To Listen to the Episode

    Democracy Now: Senate Report Finds Rumsfeld Directly Responsible for US Torture of Prisoners

    Senate Report Finds Rumsfeld Directly Responsible for US Torture of Prisoners
    Democracy Now

    A bipartisan Senate report has accused former Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld and other top Bush administration officials of being directly responsible for the abuse and torture of prisoners at Guantanamo and other US prisons. We speak with the man who sued Donald Rumsfeld in Berlin, German, attorney Wolfgang Kaleck.

    To Listen/Watch/Read

    Thursday, December 11, 2008

    Democracy Now: Winter Soldier on the Hill -- War Vets Testify Before Congress

    (Support those who serve--listen to their testimony)

    Winter Soldier on the Hill: War Vets Testify Before Congress
    Democracy Now
    Host: Amy Goodman

    War veterans from Iraq and Afghanistan came to Capitol Hill earlier this year to testify before Congress and give an eyewitness account about the horrors of war. Like the Winter Soldier hearings in March, when more than 200 service members gathered for four days in Silver Spring, Maryland to give their eyewitness accounts of the injustices occurring in Iraq and Afghanistan, “Winter Soldier on the Hill” was designed to drive home the human cost of the war and occupation—this time, to the very people in charge of doing something about it.

    To Watch/Listen/Read

    Der Spiegel International: The Riots in Greece and Solidarity Protests Across Europe (Reports/Photos)

    (These reports and pictures are all--except the last one--from Der Spiegel International. This is a great publication and it is good to see how they are adapting their international coverage to the Internet medium. Perhaps as our news press takes one last gasp of breath before sinking into obscurity,they might observe how some press organizations actually report on world events [as opposed to simply allowing officials to tell them what is happening]. The essential American news source that still brings us news of the world, Democracy Now, informed me of these protests and in another report reminded me to check out Der Spiegel.)

    Riots Throw Greece into Deep Democratic Crisis
    By Jörg Diehl in Athens

    There's violence on the streets and distrust is growing: The serious riots are merely the visible manifestation a far deeper loss of faith in the government. Many normal Greeks share the same views as the Black Bloc anarchists: They consider the country's elite to be corrupt and incompetent.

    To Read the Article

    Photo Galleries:

    Day Five of Streetfighting in Greece

    Days of Chaos in Greek Capital

    Greece in Chaos after Fourth Day of Rioting

    Solidarity Protests Across Europe Turn Violent

    As Greece entered its sixth day of unrest sparked by the police shooting of a 15-year-old boy, violence spread to other parts of Europe on Thursday. Solidarity protests in cities including Rome, Madrid and Copenhagen turned into skirmishes between demonstrators and police.

    To Read the Article

    Uprising in Greece: Protests, Riots, Strikes Enter 6th Day Following Fatal Police Shooting of Teen
    Democracy Now

    Protests, riots and clashes with police have overtaken Greece for the sixth straight day since the fatal police shooting of a teenage boy in Athens Saturday night. One day after Wednesday’s massive general strike over pension reform and privatization shut down the country, more than a hundred schools and at least fifteen university campuses remain occupied by student demonstrators. A major rally is expected Friday, and as solidarity protests spread to neighboring Turkey, as well as Germany, Spain, Italy, Russia, Denmark and the Netherlands, dozens of arrests have been made across the continent. We speak to a student activist and writer from Athens.

    To Watch/Listen/Read

    Wednesday, December 10, 2008

    HUM 220: Peace/Conflict Studies (Historical) Supplement Pt. 6

    Media and the War on Terror:

    Bill Moyer's Journal: Buying the War

    Torture and War on Terror (Legal Thinking):

    Z Magazine: Alberto Gonzales & the Lawyers of the Third Reich

    Wendell Berry: A Citizen’s Response to the National Security Strategy (Orion Magazine)

    TomDispatch: What Do We Call the Enemy?

    Gonzalez Memos

    Psychology of Torture and Imprisonment:

    Shock Doctrine video (Filmmaker Alonzo Cuaron/Narrator Naomi Klein based upon her book The Shock Doctrine: The Rise of Disaster Capitalism)

    For a Student Researching Theories Regarding Military Prison Camps

    Project Censored 2009 #10: American Psychological Association Complicit in CIA Torture

    Alston Chase: Harvard and the Making of the Unabomber (The Atlantic)

    Understanding How Good People Turn Evil: Psychologist Philip Zimbardo On his Landmark Stanford Prison Experiment, Abu Ghraib and More

    Stanford Prison Experiment

    On “torture”:

    Effectiveness of Torture (various reports)

    Project Censored 2007 #7: US Operatives Torture Detainees to Death in Afghanistan and Iraq

    Bill Moyers Journal: International Lawyer Phillippe Sands on TORTURE TEAM: RUMSFELD'S MEMO AND THE BETRAYAL OF AMERICAN VALUES

    A Study of the History of US Intelligence Community Human Rights Violations and Continuing Research

    C-SPAN After Words: Jane Mayer The Dark Side: The Inside Story of How the War on Terror Turned into a War on American Ideals

    Chris Shumway: Pattern Emerges of Sexual Assault Against Women Held by US Forces

    Studio 360: Errol Morris' Standard Operating Procedure; Depicting Abu Ghraib

    Jane Mayer: The Dark Side/Extraordinary Rendition/Outsourcing Torture; Canadian Citizen Imprisoned By U.S. Speaks Out

    Christopher Hichen’s Waterboard Session

    NOW on PBS: Torture Tactics--Interview with Alex Gibney about Taxi to the Dark Side

    Silja Talvi: Torture Fatigue (In These Times)

    The Hindu Business Line: Tormentors and Tormented

    More resources on torture in the Peace/Conflict Studies Archive

    New York Times: Across The Country, Public Agencies Look At Cutting Pensions

    (Workers of the world... you better unite and begin forging broader connections in order to develop powerful proactive solutions! Courtesy of DA and LRIS: Labor Relations Information Systems)

    Across The Country, Public Agencies Look At Cutting Pensions
    From The New York Times, November 6

    After losing a leg in the line of duty, Dan Toneck, a San Diego police officer, spent nearly a year in rehabilitation before returning to work, doing his job for another five years with an artificial limb.

    Mr. Toneck, 37, was granted a disability retirement last year after 16 years on the job. Some of his fellow officers wept as he left headquarters for the last time.

    Then, 10 months later, the impossible happened. San Diego cut his pension by about 10 percent, along with those of about 180 other disabled city retirees. “They’re trying to pay the bills on the backs of the employees,” Mr. Toneck said.

    Across the country, government workers’ pensions are protected by guarantees even stouter than those on pensions in the private sector. The legal promises, often backed up by union contracts, cover more than 15 million people.

    Years of supporting court interpretations have enshrined the view that once a public employee has earned a pension, no one can take it away. Even during New York City’s fiscal crisis 30 years ago, no existing pension promises were reduced.

    But now a number of state and local governments are quietly challenging those guarantees. Financially troubled San Diego is the highest-profile example, but a handful of states, cities and smaller government bodies have also found ways to scale back existing promises and even shrink some current payments.

    While still only scattered cases, these examples may be an early warning sign of what could be coming elsewhere. As local officials take stock of unexpectedly large obligations to retired public workers, some are starting to question whether service cuts, sales of government property and politically acceptable tax increases can ever go far enough to bring things into balance.

    “This is a real-life problem,” said Paul S. Maco, a partner in the law firm of Vinson & Elkins who advises municipalities on the disclosure of these obligations.
    Mr. Toneck said that years ago, while he was still on the police force, he saw signs that San Diego was cutting corners. He recalled having to go to Kmart to buy jumper cables for his squad car. He was not surprised to learn the city had shortchanged the municipal pension fund. But he never dreamed his pension could be reduced.
    “It was guaranteed, written in stone — when I retire, I make this much and they’re not going to be able to touch that,” he said.

    His pension was set at about $35,000 a year. But last May, he received a letter saying he would start getting about $31,000 instead.

    He and the others on disability pensions fell victim to an ambiguously written pension statute that lawyers noticed while combing through San Diego’s financial records in the wake of a pension scandal. But there do not have to be accusations of wrongdoing for a government to start looking into whether its obligations to retirees can be reduced.

    Some places, including Oregon, Rhode Island, Milwaukee County and several cities and towns in Texas, have already cut public workers’ pensions on the basic argument that their pension funds had gone disastrously out of balance. Whether because of investment losses, faulty calculations or other factors, these places have declared that they can no longer sustain a level of benefits that had looked affordable just a few years ago.

    Beyond the sheer political difficulty of removing an existing benefit, an array of legal guarantees — some in statutes, some in state constitutions, some in city charters — were supposed to prevent such reversals. But lawyers have been finding chinks in the armor.

    In Texas, the pension guarantee in the state constitution has an unusual clause, giving towns and cities the chance to hold referendums on whether to opt out.
    Voters in Houston made that choice after learning that pension sweeteners issued there in 2001 were allowing some people to retire in their 40s. Others, who participated in a special program that let them simultaneously work and collect pension money in high-interest accounts, got an even better deal, sometimes walking away with one-time payments of a million dollars or more on top of their regular pensions. The city raised the eligibility requirements for retirement and cut some of the biggest sweeteners.

    Oregon rolled back $6 billion worth of public pensions in 2003, but the cuts have been snarled in legal challenges. In October, a federal appellate panel affirmed that Oregon could stop paying a guaranteed rate of 8 percent a year to participants with individual accounts. But another measure, freezing some retirees’ cost-of-living adjustments, is still unresolved.

    “Retirees have been in a state of turmoil,” said Gregory A. Hartman, a Portland lawyer representing some of them. “They don’t know what their rights are. They don’t know what they’re entitled to.”

    In Rhode Island , state workers’ pensions take an unusually long time to vest, so the legislature was able to cut the planned pensions of everyone with fewer than 10 years of service, about 11,300 people.

    In Wisconsin, Milwaukee County has tried to avoid legal battles by working with its eight public employees’ unions after a pension scandal broke in 2001. A recall election was held and angry voters ousted seven county supervisors from office after learning they had jacked up pensions, including their own.

    “This was a totally corrupt, venal deal by a bunch of politicians and their friends who figured out how to loot the treasury,” said Roger H. Quindel, a county supervisor.

    Even so, Milwaukee County has been able to make only marginal trims so far. Money is draining out of the pension fund so fast that the county has been contemplating the sale of some parks and an airport, along with cuts in government services. And it plans to ask for pension cuts when its labor contracts come up for renegotiation in January.

    “We won’t survive if we don’t,” Mr. Quindel said.

    Wisconsin’s state constitution does not specifically protect public pensions, but the county’s lawyers have warned that a constitutional protection of property rights may cover pensions. The supervisors asked whether the county could shed some of its pension obligations by declaring bankruptcy, as airlines, steel companies and others have sometimes done. The lawyers said no.

    In the private sector, a uniform federal pension law bars companies from reducing pensions that employees have already earned. Since pensions are built up over time, this means that if a company freezes or reduces the growth of benefits at some point, workers will earn smaller benefits going forward, but they cannot be stripped of anything they earned before the change. The only way around that rule today requires a bankruptcy judge to approve a default.

    In the public sector, the protections often go further. About half of the 50 states have constitutional or statutory guarantees, said Robert D. Klausner, a lawyer in Plantation, Fla., who represents state and municipal pension plans in more than 20 states. “The day you’re hired, your benefits are locked in at a minimum level,” he said. If a government wants to cut pensions, it cannot apply the cuts to people already in the work force, as a corporation can. It can only apply them to new hires, he said.

    Governments are also studying the guarantees on retiree health benefits because of a new accounting rule that is now requiring them to calculate, for the first time, the total value of the health benefits they have promised to retirees.

    The numbers now being disclosed are daunting. Mercer Human Resource Consulting estimates that when all the calculations are done, the nation’s states and cities will find they have promised a total of about $1.4 trillion, said Derek Guyton, a senior consultant.

    Little, if any, money has been set aside to fulfill these obligations.

    Mr. Maco, the Vinson & Elkins lawyer, said he feared that many towns and cities, particularly in places like upstate New York and along the Great Lakes, were about to discover that years of factory closings and job losses had eroded their tax bases so much that they had no realistic way to pay their full bills.

    “The steel industry can shut down and close its plants, but that’s hard for local governments,” Mr. Maco said. After industries move away, the retired teachers and firefighters will still be there.

    Pension funds can normally operate for many years with a shortfall, because they have investments to call upon and pensions are paid out slowly. But health claims, with little or no money set aside to pay them, can come due right away.

    Some government agencies, like Chicago’s municipal bus and rail authority, have set up a potentially explosive situation by arranging their retiree health claims to be paid directly out of their pension funds. “The taxpayers need to understand the seriousness of our situation,” said Laurence Msall, president of the Civic Federation, a nonpartisan research group in Chicago. “It’s not a far-off crisis.”
    San Diego’s municipal pension fund was also responsible for retiree health care. But when the city’s pension scandal broke, officials separated the health obligations.
    “Now we’re looking at a $3.1 billion debt, and $1.4 billion is health and $1.7 billion is pension,” said Michael Aguirre, the city’s independent attorney.
    He is now in court, leading an unusually aggressive initiative to cut the city’s pension obligations, arguing that benefits granted in 1996 and 2002 were issued illegally and must be annulled.

    California law protects public pensions, but Mr. Aguirre is arguing that those protections conflict with other laws that govern the actions of public officials, which he says San Diego pension trustees violated. If the court agrees with him, the benefits owed to San Diego’s roughly 15,000 city workers and retirees could go back to the level before the 1996 increase — a total reduction of some $500 million to $700 million.

    Mr. Toneck, the disabled San Diego police officer, is not directly affected by Mr. Aguirre’s case. He has petitioned the San Diego city council to reverse the cut in his pension, arguing that workers disabled on the job are the last people who should pay for a mistake that was caused by an ambiguity in the law.

    The council has referred his petition to Mr. Aguirre, who is busy with the broader case.

    Meanwhile, Mr. Aguirre said San Diego still had not developed a plan for paying all of its obligations, whatever the courts ultimately rule. He said he might ultimately have to try bankruptcy court.

    “There’s no good option,” he said. “It’s only painful.”

    Open Source: Douglas Blackmon - Neo-Slavery in Our Times

    Douglas Blackmon: Neo-Slavery in Our Times
    Host: Chris Lydon
    Open Source (Brown University: Watson Institute for International Studies)

    Douglas Blackmon of the Wall Street Journal has written a newsman’s history book with staggering implications about racial reality in America today.

    The heart of the story is that slavery in the American South ended not with the Emancipation Proclamation in 1863 and the end of the Civil War, but at the onset of World War 2. That is: state-sanctioned brutal and abusive bondage ended less than 70 years ago, well within the living memory of millions of Americans, black and white. The gap between “slave time” and now is not five or six generations, but one or two at most.

    The sidewalks of Atlanta today were paved in the 20th Century with millions of bricks made by “slaves by another name” — by black men the city had seized and leased over to the ex-Mayor James English’s Chattahoochee Brick Company. Some of Atlanta’s finest families were in on neo-slavery, in Blackmon’s telling — men like Joel Hurt of Atlanta’s Trust Company. No guard could ever “do enough whipping for Mr. Hurt,” it was said. “He wanted men whipped for singing and laughing.”

    Slavery by Another Name is Doug Blackmon’s complete revision of the Jim Crow story, with an astonishing breadth and depth of documentation and none of the old sugar-coating or vagueness around phrases like peonage and sharecropping. “Neo-slavery” was the hard-core of a public-private system that undid the freedoms that came with Reconstruction for most of thirty years after the Civil War, and then enforced a new reign of terror over all African-Americans in the South.

    What began to happen at the end of the 19th Century was the crushing new phenomenon in which whites in the North gave up on the process and made the decision that whites in the South were going to be allowed to do whatever they wished. The Plessy v. Ferguson Supreme Court decision that sanctified segregation in 1896 gave a legal basis for all this. And by 1900 all of the Southern states had passed an array of laws designed to make it impossible for a black man to avoid being in violation of some ridiculous statute at all times.

    Being black became the crime, and so any black man who could not prove that he had a job at a given time, any black man who sought to change employers, any black man who chose to sell the produce of his farm after dark, rather than selling to the white man nearest him… An endless number of statutes were passed which made it nearly impossible to avoid prosecution. These laws were designed to finish off the process of disenfranchising all black Americans in the South; and they effectively did it by creating this legal jeopardy that all African Americans had to live with.

    The hammer that hung over their heads was the idea that if you get convicted of any of these meaningless crimes, you’ll end up in the horrifying circumstances of a slave mine or some other forced labor camp… There were endless beatings. In a relatively small work camp where you had 75 or 80 forced laborers, there might well be three to four hundred floggings in a given month. The men in the mines were beaten in the mornings if they failed to remove eight tons of coal the day before; and they were beaten at the end of the day if they failed to remove eight tons of coal that day. They were starved, and they were deprived of health care. The general attitude of the people who controlled these laborers was: as long as I’m able to keep them for a year or two years, I’ll get back my investment in the cost of acquiring them. If they die I can cheaply find another…

    --Douglas Blackmon in conversation with Chris Lydon about Slavery by Another Name, April 21, 2008

    Slavery by Another Name is hard reading that ought to be required. At a moment of reckoning around race in our country, Doug Blackmon, a studious child of the Mississippi Delta, has offered a monumental contribution to an agonizing re-learning of who we all are.

    To Listen to the Conversation

    Monday, December 08, 2008

    Institute For Policy Studies: Executive Excess 2008 (report)

    Executive Excess 2008
    How Average Taxpayers Subsidize Runaway Pay
    15th Annual CEO Compensation Survey
    Institute for Policy Studies

    Key Findings

    CEO-WORKER DIVIDE: CEOs in the United States, despite our current ard economic times, continue to pocket outlandishly large pay packages. S&P 500 CEOs
    last year averaged $10.5 million, 344 times the pay of typical American workers. ompensation levels for private investment fund managers soared even further out into the pay stratosphere. Last year, the top 50 hedge and private equity fund managers averaged $588 million each, more than 19,000 times as much as typical U.S. workers earned.

    TAXPAYER SUBSIDIES FOR EXECUTIVE PAY: Average U.S. taxpayers subsidize excessive executive compensation — by more than $20 billion per year — via a variety of tax and accounting loopholes. That $20 billion for America’s most powerful is more than double what the federal government spent last year on educating
    America’s most vulnerable — children with disabilities.

    INDIRECT TAXPAYER SUPPORT FOR RUNAWAY PAY: Many billions more taxpayer dollars indirectly encourage excessive executive pay, through everything from government contracts for goods and services to corporate bailouts. More than 85 percent of the public companies on the federal government’s top 100 contractors list paid their CEOs over 100 times the pay of average U.S. workers.

    REFORM ROADBLOCKS: Legislation that would plug executive-friendly tax loopholes is already pending in Congress. But this legislation has stalled — and will likely remain stalled unless the November 2008 elections change current Congressional voting dynamics.


    IF CURRENT TRENDS CONTINUE: The divide between CEO and worker pay appears likely to grow even wider, since industries projected to show the largest employment growth over the next decade sport pay gaps far wider than industries that are losing the most jobs.

    EXECUTIVE PAY AND WORKER RIGHTS: Excessive executive pay and the tax code loopholes that enable this excess reflect the absence of checks and balances on America’s economic landscape. Historically, trade unions have operated as the most important of these checks and balances. They could play that role again if lawmakers passed the pending Employee Free Choice Act, legislation that would help workers realize their right to organize into unions and bargain collectively with their employers.

    Link to the Full Report and Data/Findings

    Jim Hightower: The Army Experience (video games)

    The Army Experience
    Jim Hightower

    From football to beach volleyball, competitive games can get your juices going.

    But the ultimate game, the one that'll give you the greatest rush, is ... what? Why, it's war, of course. Yeah, man, you literally get to kill the other team! How great is that?

    Such thinking (if it can be called thinking) is behind the latest leap in marketing by the U.S. Army. In its constant effort to lure young people into the killing business, the office of military recruitment has come up with a whiz bang showcase to appeal to a generation that's been raised on computer games and that hangs out at the mall a lot. It's called the "Army Experience Center," and the first one has opened right across from the Dave & Busters food and fun outlet in a mall in northeast Philadelphia.

    With more than 14,000 square feet of prime mall space, the experience center is bigger than three basketball courts and is filled with lots of dazzle. There are nearly 80 video gaming stations, all sorts of interactive exhibits, a replica command-and-control center, and -- best of all -- a bunch of high-tech simulators that let the kids get a feel for the military action of, say, a Black Hawk helicopter.

    The simulators are way cool. For example, youngsters can sit in a model chopper with a simulator that makes it seem as though they're ripping right over a mountain village, and – get this – they get the thrill of shooting at enemies in the village! Yes, the virtural thrill of the kill coming to a mall near you. And, indeed, the army says it hopes to replicate the experience all across the country.

    One enthusiastic Army general says that the center is "a learning laboratory." Yeah, but... do we really want youngsters learning that stuff? Not to worry, say the recruiters, for the Army does have rules – for example, while the "laboratory" is open to all ages, kids can't play the video games until they're 13. No toddlers allowed.

    Link to the Commentary

    Sunday, December 07, 2008

    Associated Press: Laid-off workers occupy Chicago factory; Jobs With Justice: Hold Bank of America Accountable; UE Updates on the Occupation

    (We here at Dialogic believe that labor/work issues are going to continue to be the most pressing concern facing the majority of Americans and people around-the-world--for ease of marking lets say the bottom 75%--and that we "all" need to begin to stronger alliances of support and action to avoid the predatory shock doctrine style exploitation of workers in this environment of rogue economics. As our treasury is plundered, workers are laid-off; as our banking CEOs use bailout money for bonuses and expense-accounts, workers lose retirement benefits or their funds are looted; as de/non-regulated businesses continue to manipulate/monopolize markets more and more Americans have no health insurance or face the cutting of their health benefits. When will we get tired of this exploitiation? When will we begin to look beyond our immediate circle and form the necessary alliances that can protect our rights? Nod to Michael Marchman!)

    Laid-off workers occupy Chicago factory

    CHICAGO Workers laid off from their jobs at a factory have occupied the building and are demanding assurances they'll get severance and vacation pay that they say they are owed.

    About 200 employees of Republic Windows and Doors began their sit-in Friday, the last scheduled day of the plant's operation. Today, about 50 workers could be seen through a window sitting on chairs and pallets on the factory floor. Reporters were asked to stay out of the plant's work area.

    "We're going to stay here until we win justice," said Blanca Funes, 55, of Chicago, after occupying the building for several hours. Speaking in Spanish, Funes said she fears losing her home without the wages she feels she's owed. A 13-year employee of Republic, she estimated her family can make do for three months without her paycheck. Most of the factory's workers are Hispanic.

    Leah Fried, an organizer with the United Electrical Workers, said the Chicago-based vinyl window manufacturer failed to give 60 days' notice required by law before shutting down.

    Workers also were angered when company officials didn't show up for a meeting Friday that had been arranged by U.S. Rep. Luis Gutierrez, a Chicago Democrat, Fried said.

    During the peaceful take-over, workers have been shoveling snow and cleaning the building, Fried said.

    "We're doing something we haven't since the 1930s, so we're trying to make it work," Fried said.

    Representatives of Republic Windows did not immediately respond today to calls and e-mails seeking comment.

    Police spokeswoman Laura Kubiak said authorities were aware of the situation and officers were patrolling the area.

    Crain's Chicago Business reported that the company's monthly sales had fallen to $2.9 million from $4 million during the past month. In a memo to the union, obtained by the business journal, Republic CEO Rich Gillman said the company had "no choice but to shut our doors."

    Union officials said another meeting with the company is scheduled for Monday afternoon.


    Jobs With Justice: Hold Bank of America Accountable

    United Electrical, Radio and Machine Workers of America (UE) Updates on the Occupation

    On the Media: God No! (The New Atheists)

    God No!
    On the Media (WNYC/NPR)

    No longer content to silently disavow religion, the so-called New Atheists are on the offensive. Borrowing tactics from the faithful, nonbelievers have taken to proselytizing in books and in the media. And yes, they’re even in foxholes.

    To Listen to the Episode


    Freedom from Religion Foundation

    On the Media: The Paper Market (Online Essays for Sale)

    The Paper Market
    On the Media (WNYC/NPR)
    Host: Brooke Gladstone

    Term papers don't write themselves. Most college students pour hours of work into finding sources, crafting thesis statements and writing drafts. But some don't – they pay people to write papers for them. Author Nick Mamatas was a paper-writer-for-hire, and has few regrets about taking money from cheaters.

    To Listen to the Episode

    On the Media: Money Talks/Gateway Drugs (Pharmaceutical Industry)

    On the Media (WNYC/NPR)

    Money Talks

    Pharmaceutical companies spend millions on marketing. Some of those dollars end up in the hands of doctors, researchers and in one case, a public radio host from "The Infinite Mind." An article in Slate back in May led to an investigation by Sen. Charles Grassley, whose findings ended up in a New York Times piece last week. We spoke with NPR's David Folkenflik and Sen. Grassley about the controversy.

    Gateway Drugs

    A journalist’s non-disclosure of millions in pharmaceutical company payments is an obvious conflict of interest. But Gary Schwitzer, director of the University of Minnesota’s Health Journalism Program, explains that what’s ailing news consumers is all the other subtle, insidious ways that Big Pharma’s influence turns up in the news we use.

    On the Media: Snap Judgments

    Snap Judgments
    On the Media (NPR)

    What are the rules that govern journalistic portrait photography? Wide-angle lenses, nonstandard lighting, shooting from below – they’re all fair game and frequently employed by photogs working for major publications. But what obligation is there to the subject? Bob Garfield searches for answers.

    To Listen to the Episode

    Science Friday: Psychology of Food and Eating

    Psychology of Food and Eating
    Science Friday (NPR)
    Host: Ira Flatow

    It's officially the holiday season, time for turkey, mashed potatoes, and a few more inches on our waistlines. In this segment, we'll take a look at how mood, memories and even smell influence what we put on our plates--and into our mouths.

    Ira talks with food psychologist Brian Wansink about why we crave specific foods during the holidays and how our brains trick our stomachs into eating even when we're full. Rachel Herz, an expert on smell, explains how our food preferences are linked to aroma and why smells often trigger such intense memories. Teachers, find more information about using Science Friday as a classroom resource in the Kids' Connection.

    Brian Wansink
    Director, Cornell Food and Brand Lab
    Cornell University
    Ithaca, New York Author, Mindless Eating: Why We Eat More Than We Think

    Rachel Herz
    Professor of Psychiatry and Human Behavior
    Brown University Medical School
    Providence, RI
    Author, The Scent of Desire: Discovering Our Enigmatic Sense of Smell

    Geno Nosenzo
    Executive Chef
    Wegmans Supermarket
    Allentown, PA

    To Listen to the Episode

    Friday, December 05, 2008

    Excerpt from the 5th supplement for HUM 220: Peace/Conflict Studies (Historical Perspectives) course

    (Excerpt from the 5th supplement for my Peace/Conflict Studies course)

    Some additional resources
    The documentaries I mentioned:

    Why We Fight (in which John McCain appeared)
    Film online
    In the beginning of the film Jarecki shows Eisenhower’s Military-Industrial speech
    Another great resource in this film is Chalmers Johnson one of the most important historians of the American Empire. I highly recommend his book Nemesis (if you are interested google his name)

    The Ground Truth (which examines the treatment of soldiers after they come back—the entire film is told through the voices of only soldiers and their families)
    Entire Film Online

    Nicole mentioned Body of War (thanks—I haven’t seen this one—about one wounded soldier’s experiences after coming back from the current war)
    Trailer and Entire Film Online

    Another film that I didn’t mention, but is worth considering with the others is War Made Easy (based on Norman Solomon’s book) which examines how presidential administrations (democrat and republican) frame war (propaganda) and how the mainstream media is complicit in repeating these lies without questioning them:
    Trailer and Film online

    Orwell Rolls in His Grave looks at the increasing problems associated with a corporate-dominated mainstream media that works hand-in-hand with the most powerful to “construct” reality for an increasingly passive and uninformed citizenry:
    Trailer and Film Online

    Standard Operating Procedure is the documentary by Errol Morris that examines the events surrounding the Abu Ghraib prison photos (I believe there were over 600+) and the fate of the prison guards and the Bush administration’s/Military administration’s attempt (successful) to distance itself from the scandal:
    This is a brand new DVD release, so only the trailer is available online
    You can find this in video stores—highly recommended as Morris powerfully explores truth, memory, images and perception.

    All of these are available in video stores (I guess I should start the move toward calling them DVD stores) and/or DVD mailing services like Netflix, Green Cine and Facets. In other words these are fairly mainstream releases (at least in the availability of the films—they were in American theaters and released widely on DVD)

    Some of the background for my discussion in class:

    I first heard about the Vietnam Soldier independent press/coffeehouses (as a media scholar this aspect of the film is very interesting) in Bob Ostertag’s People’s Movements, People’s Press: The Journalism of Social Justice Movements which has chapters on abolitionists, woman suffragists, gay/lesbian press, the underground GI press, the environmental movement.

    Some of my current thoughts on how governments/media (in particular our own) shape our views on the necessity of war have been influenced by:

    Munitions of the Mind: A History of Propaganda from the Ancient World to the Present Day by Philip M. Taylor

    When the Press Fails: Political Power and the News Media from Iraq to Katrina by Lance W. Bennet/Regina G. Lawrence/Steven Livingston (I also highly recommend Lance W. Bennett's News: The Politics of Illusion and his website loaded with political communication resources)

    The Political Economy of Media by Robert McChesney (author/narrator of the book/documentary we watched Rich Media, Poor Democracy)

    Nemesis by Chalmers Johnson
    An interview with Chalmers Johnson on Democracy Now about the book

    The Shock Doctrine: The Rise of Disaster Capitalism by Naomi Klein and a Democracy Now interview with her about the book and various lectures by her on the subject

    Noam Chomsky’s studies on government propaganda

    Howard Zinn’s people’s histories and studies on media

    Nancy Snow’s studies on American persuasion, influence and propaganda

    Last, but not least, the various people studying the current “language shaping our perception of the War on Terror”: http://dialogic.blogspot.com/2004/06/language-of-war-on-terror-take-3.html