Sunday, January 31, 2010

Glenn Greenwald: Nostalgia for Bush/Cheney Radicalism

Nostalgia for Bush/Cheney radicalism
By Glenn Greenwald

As has been voluminously documented here, one of the most notable aspects of the first year of the Obama presidency has been how many previously controversial Bush/Cheney policies in the terrorism and civil liberties realms have been embraced. Even Obama's most loyal defenders often acknowledge that, as Michael Tomasky recently put it, "the civil liberties area has been [Obama's] worst. This is the one area in which the president's actions don't remotely match the candidate's promises." From indefinite detention and renditions to denial of habeas rights, from military commissions and secrecy obsessions to state secrets abuses, many of the defining Bush/Cheney policies continue unabated under its successor administration.

Despite all that, there is substantial political pressure from all directions for Obama to reverse the very few decisions where he actually deviated from Bush/Cheney radicalism in these areas. In the wake of extreme political pressure, mostly from Democrats, the White House just forced Eric Holder to retreat on his decision to try Khalid Sheikh Mohammed in New York City, and numerous Democrats now appear prepared to join with the GOP to cut-off funding for civilian trials altogether, forcing the administration to try all Terrorists in military commissions or just hold them indefinitely. The administration has created a warped multi-tiered justice system where only a select few even get civilian trials -- those whom they know in advance they can convict -- yet there are growing signs that the President will abandon even that symbolic, piecemeal nod to due process.

Meanwhile, The Washington Post is publishing demands from former Bush CIA and NSA Chief Michael Hayden -- who presided over the blatantly criminal warrantless eavesdropping program -- that Obama must even more closely model his Terrorism policies on Bush's, as though the architects of Bush's illegal policies are our Guiding Lights when deciding what to do now. Even Obama's own top intelligence official criticized the Justice Department's decision to treat Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab as what he is -- a criminal -- and accord him normal due process. And an internal Justice Department investigation which -- under Bush -- had concluded that John Yoo and Jay Bybee committed ethical violations in their authoring of the "torture memos" and should be investigated by their state bars has now, under Obama, reportedly been changed -- whitewashed -- to conclude that they acted appropriately (even if their written opinions exhibited "poor judgment").

In sum, there is clearly a bipartisan and institutional craving for a revival (more accurately: ongoing preservation) of the core premise of Bush/Cheney radicalism: that because we're "at war" with Terrorists, our standard precepts of justice and due process do not apply and, indeed, must be violated. To relieve ourselves of guilt and of the bad lingering taste left from having such discredited and unpopular leadership for eight years, we collectively pretended for a little while to regret the excesses of the Bush/Cheney approach to such matters. But it's now crystal clear that the country, especially its ruling elite, is either too petrified of Terrorism and/or too enamored of the powers which that fear enables to accept any real changes from the policies that were supposedly such a profound violation "of our values." One can only marvel at the consensus outrage generated by the mere notion that we charge people with crimes and give them trials if we want to lock them in a cage for life. Indeed, what was once the most basic and defining American principle -- the State must charge someone with a crime and give them a fair trial in order to imprison them -- has been magically transformed into Leftist extremism.

To see how radical our establishment consensus in this area has become, just consider two facts. First, look at the Terrorism policies of what had previously been the most right-wing administration in America's history: the Reagan administration. In this post yesterday, Larry Johnson does quite a good job of documenting how Terrorism by Islamic radicals had been a greater problem in the 1980s than it is now. There was the 1983 bombing of our Marine barracks in Lebanon, a 1982 and 1984 bombing of Jewish sites in Argentina, numerous plane hijackings, the blowing up of a Pan Am jet, the Achille Lauro seizure, and what the State Department called "a host of spectacular, publicity-grabbing events that ultimately ended in coldblooded murder" (many masterminded by Abu Nidal).

Despite that, read the official policy of the Reagan Administration when it came to treating Terrorists, as articulated by the top Reagan State Department official in charge of Terrorism policies, L. Paul Bremer, in a speech he entitled "Counter-Terrorism: Strategies and Tactics:"

Another important measure we have developed in our overall strategy is applying the rule of law to terrorists. Terrorists are criminals. They commit criminal actions like murder, kidnapping, and arson, and countries have laws to punish criminals. So a major element of our strategy has been to delegitimize terrorists, to get society to see them for what they are -- criminals -- and to use democracy’s most potent tool, the rule of law against them.

It was also Ronald Reagan who signed the Convention Against Torture in 1988 -- after many years of countless, horrific Terrorist attacks -- which not only declared that there are "no exceptional circumstances whatsoever" justifying torture, but also required all signatory countries to "ensure that all acts of torture are offences under its criminal law" and -- and Reagan put it -- "either to prosecute torturers who are found in its territory or to extradite them to other countries for prosecution." And, of course, even George W. Bush -- at the height of 9/11-induced Terrorism hysteria -- charged attempted shoe bomber Richard Reid with actual crimes and processed him through our civilian courts.

How much clearer evidence can there be of how warped and extremist we've become on these matters? The express policies of the right-wing Ronald Reagan -- "applying the rule of law to terrorists"; delegitimizing Terrorists by treating them as "criminals"; and compelling the criminal prosecution of those who authorize torture -- are now considered on the Leftist fringe. Merely advocating what Reagan explicitly adopted as his policy -- "to use democracy’s most potent tool, the rule of law against" Terrorists -- is now the exclusive province of civil liberties extremists. In those rare cases when Obama does what Reagan's policy demanded in all instances and what even Bush did at times -- namely, trials and due process for accused Terrorists -- he is attacked as being "Soft on Terror" by Democrats and Republicans alike. And the mere notion that we should prosecute torturers (as Reagan bound the U.S. to do) -- or even hold them accountable in ways short of criminal proceedings -- is now the hallmark of a Far Leftist Purist. That's how far we've fallen, how extremist our political consensus has become.

To Read the rest of the article and access hyperlinks

Glenn Greenwald Radio: Eric Boehlert -- Bloggers on the Bus: How the Internet Changed Politics and the Press

Eric Boehlert's new book about political blogs
Glenn Greenwald Radio (Salon)

Eric Boehlert has just released ... Bloggers on the Bus: How the Internet Changed Politics and the Press. As the title suggests, the book examines the impact which the blogosphere has had on both journalism and political activism... .

In order to dispel stereotypes and myths propagated about bloggers (mostly by establishment journalists eager to demonize what they perceive as their competitors), Boehlert focuses on 8-10 bloggers, and writes in detail about their background and what brought them to blogging. There is a chapter that focuses heavily on the fight over FISA and telecom immunity... . Today, Salon has published a partial excerpt from that chapter, and it thoroughly highlights how that fight was waged and what it reflects about the ability of bloggers and their readers to affect our political debates.

Boehlert's book is a very balanced and provocative examination of the role blogs now play, and he devotes an entire chapter -- perhaps the most interesting one -- to the acrimonious civil war that erupted during the Obama-Clinton primary fight. He also examines what role bloggers now play in light of Obama's victory. One of Boehlert's specialties, as a Senior Fellow at Media Matters and author of the equally excellent Lapdogs, is the profoundly corrupted establishment media, and the book does an excellent job of describing the dynamic between establishment journalists and blogs.

The Heavy Hearts: Spit When You Say My Name

The Trucks: Titties

Heard this on KEXP's Music That Matters podcast

Sue Halpern: Breaking a Conspiracy of Silence

Breaking a Conspiracy of Silence
By Sue Halpern
The New York Review of Books

This past July, a little over a year after the United Nations Security Council finally declared rape a crime of war, the parents of Taraneh Mousavi, a twenty-eight-year-old beautician from Tehran, received a call from an anonymous stranger. The young woman had been missing for weeks, ever since she'd attended a post-election rally at the Ghoba mosque; it was rumored that she was being held by Basiji militiamen. The caller said that Mousavi had had "an accident," and was in the hospital with "tears in her womb and her anus." Mousavi's parents rushed to the place where she was supposed to be, but she wasn't there. They still have not found her—or her body.

UN Resolution 1820 expressly foresaw the situation that Taraneh Mousavi found herself in on June 19, one year to the day of its adoption. " Noting," it says,

...that women and girls are particularly targeted by the use of sexual violence, including as a tactic of war to humiliate, dominate, instill fear in, disperse and/or forcibly relocate civilian members of a community or ethnic group.

There are many ways to define war, just as there are many ways to violate a woman's body.

It would be naive to imagine that a string of tortuously constructed sentences issued by an organization whose own "peacekeepers" have been implicated in the rapes of girls and women in Sierra Leone, Congo, Ivory Coast, Haiti, Cambodia, and Bosnia, among other places, would reverse or forestall a practice that dates back to the Mongols, and likely before them. Indeed, as the playwright Eve Ensler wrote in The Washington Post the day that UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-Moon was supposed to issue a one-year assessment of the resolution, rape in the eastern Democratic Republic of Congo, where girls as young as three are systematically brutalized, has actually doubled and in some areas tripled in that time. As she pointed out, "The girl children born of rape are now being raped."

Ban's report, when it was finally released, was full of recommendations to gather

more and better data to enhance our understanding of the various forms of sexual violence in conflict and its aftermath, including its magnitude, nature and risk factors; the profile and the motivation of perpetrators; the consequences of this violence; and the effectiveness of programmes and prevention strategies.

It urged

State and non-State parties to armed conflicts to ensure that civilian superiors and military commanders use their authority and powers to prevent sexual violence and punish crimes committed by subordinates, failing which they themselves must be punished.

Still, as toothless as all this reads, UN Resolution 1820 was a small step toward ending what Jan Egeland, the former United Nations undersecretary-general for humanitarian affairs, called recently "one of the biggest conspiracies of silence in history."

One party to that conspiracy has been the mainstream media, which, as Nicholas Kristof and Sheryl WuDunn point out in their stellar new book, Half the Sky: Turning Oppression into Opportunity for Women Worldwide, is what happens when a phenomenon is extensive, entrenched, and so common as to be perpetually old news even while it's happening. The one consistent exception has been Kristof himself, in the column he's written for the Op-Ed page of The New York Times since 2001. On a page where others can be relied on to elevate the conventional wisdom, Kristof earnestly takes up the cause of the poor and oppressed of the world, most of them women, and of those who work on their behalf. For him, it seems, the traditional newsroom dynamic is reversed: the fact that another girl has been denied an education, or sold to a brothel at seven, or raped by the police to whom she was reporting that she had been raped, or left to die because of an obstetric fistula that has left her leaking urine and feces is worthy of comment because it has happened again, and will keep on happening until something—moral outrage, jurisprudence, grace—intervenes. In the meantime, and to press for change, Kristof invites us all to bear witness with him.

It wasn't always like this. As Kristof and WuDunn, who is both his writing partner and his wife, point out, when they were young reporters, newly married and newly posted to China for the Times,

We assumed that the foreign policy issues that properly furrowed the brow were lofty and complex, like nuclear proliferation. It was difficult back then to envision the Council on Foreign Relations fretting about maternal mortality or female genital mutilation. Back then, the oppression of women was a fringe issue, the kind of worthy cause the Girl Scouts might raise money for. We preferred to probe the recondite "serious issues."

Then Tiananmen Square happened, and the recondite was overtaken by the intractable but urgent issue of human rights. (The two reporters won a Pulitzer Prize for their coverage of China.) And then they stumbled upon another, less dramatic human rights story, the widespread practice by Chinese parents of withholding medical treatment for their baby girls, who were, therefore, dying in infancy in statistically anomalous numbers. "Those Chinese girls never received a column inch of news coverage," they write, "and we began to wonder if our journalistic priorities were skewed."

To Read the Rest of the Review

Henry A. Giroux: Howard Zinn -- A Public Intellectual Who Mattered

Howard Zinn: A Public Intellectual Who Mattered
by Henry A. Giroux

In 1977 I took my first job in higher education at Boston University. One reason I went there was because Howard Zinn was teaching there at the time. As a high school teacher, Howard's book, "Vietnam: the Logic of Withdrawal," published in 1968, had a profound effect on me. Not only was it infused with a passion and sense of commitment that I admired as a high school teacher and tried to internalize as part of my own pedagogy, but it captured something about the passion, sense of commitment and respect for solidarity that came out of Howard's working-class background. It offered me a language, history and politics that allowed me to engage critically and articulate my opposition to the war that was raging at the time.

I grew up in Providence, Rhode Island, and rarely met or read any working-class intellectuals. After reading James Baldwin, hearing William Kunstler and Stanley Aronowitz give talks, I caught a glimpse of what it meant to occupy such a fragile, contradictory and often scorned location. But reading Howard gave me the theoretical tools to understand more clearly how the mix of biography, cultural capital and class location could be finely honed into a viable and laudable politics.

Later, as I got to know Howard personally, I was able to fill in the details about his working-class background and his intellectual development. We had grown up in similar neighborhoods, shared a similar cultural capital and we both probably learned more from the streets than we had ever learned in formal schooling. There was something about Howard's fearlessness, his courage, his willingness to risk not just his academic position, but also his life, that marked him as special - untainted by the often corrupting privileges of class entitlement.

Before I arrived in Boston to begin teaching at Boston University, Howard was a mythic figure for me and I was anxious to meet him in real life. How I first encountered him was perfectly suited to the myth. While walking to my first class, as I was nearing the university, filled with the trepidation of teaching a classroom of students, I caught my first glimpse of Howard. He was standing on a box with a bullhorn in front of the Martin Luther King memorial giving a talk calling for opposition to Silber's attempt to undermine any democratic or progressive function of the university. The image so perfectly matched my own understanding of Howard that I remember thinking to myself, this has to be the perfect introduction to such a heroic figure.

Soon afterwards, I wrote him a note and rather sheepishly asked if we could meet. He got back to me in a day; we went out to lunch soon afterwards, and a friendship developed that lasted over 30 years. While teaching at Boston University, I often accompanied Howard when he went to high schools to talk about his published work or his plays. I sat in on many of his lectures and even taught one of his graduate courses. He loved talking to students and they were equally attracted to him. His pedagogy was dynamic, directive, focused, laced with humor and always open to dialog and interpretation. He was a magnificent teacher, who shredded all notions of the classroom as a place that was as uninteresting as it was often irrelevant to larger social concerns. He urged his students not just to learn from history, but to use it as a resource to sharpen their intellectual prowess and hone their civic responsibilities.

Howard refused to separate what he taught in the university classroom, or any forum for that matter, from the most important problems and issues facing the larger society. But he never demanded that students follow his own actions; he simply provided a model of what a combination of knowledge, teaching and social commitment meant. Central to Howard's pedagogy was the belief that teaching students how to critically understand a text or any other form of knowledge was not enough. They also had to engage such knowledge as part of a broader engagement with matters of civic agency and social responsibility. How they did that was up to them, but, most importantly, they had to link what they learned to a self-reflective understanding of their own responsibility as engaged individuals and social actors.

He offered students a range of options. He wasn't interested in molding students in the manner of Pygmalion, but in giving them the widest possible set of choices and knowledge necessary for them to view what they learned as an act of freedom and empowerment. There is a certain poetry in his pedagogical style and scholarship and it is captured in his belief that one can take a position without standing still. He captured this sentiment well in a comment he made in his autobiography, "You Can't Be Neutral on a Moving Train." He wrote:

"From the start, my teaching was infused with my own history. I would try to be fair to other points of view, but I wanted more than 'objectivity'; I wanted students to leave my classes not just better informed, but more prepared to relinquish the safety of silence, more prepared to speak up, to act against injustice wherever they saw it. This, of course, was a recipe for trouble."

In fact, Howard was under constant attack by John Silber, then president of Boston University, because of his scholarship and teaching. One expression of that attack took the form of freezing Howard's salary for years.

To Read the Rest of the Essay

Saturday, January 30, 2010

Joshua Frank: The Coal Ash Industry Manipulated EPA Data

The Coal Ash Industry Manipulated EPA Data
by Joshua Frank

The coal ash industry manipulated reports and publications about the dangers of coal combustion waste, reports Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility (PEER). The group stated that the Environmental Protection Agency allowed the multibillon-dollar coal ash industry to have virtually unfettered access to the EPA during the Bush administration and now under President Obama.

As a result of the industry's formal relationship with the EPA, insiders were allowed to edit and ghostwrite publications and official reports on the effects of coal waste. The documents obtained by PEER indicate that the coal ash industry "watered down official reports, brochures and fact-sheets to remove references to potential dangers" of coal ash waste. Additionally, the so-called "environmental benefits" of coal ash were repeatedly aggrandized.

"For most of the past decade, it appears that every EPA publication on the subject was ghostwritten by the American Coal Ash Association," stated PEER Executive Director Jeff Ruch, whose group examined thousands of coal industry and EPA communications. "In this partnership it is clear that industry is EPA's senior partner."

There is little debate that coal ash is toxic, despite what the wavering EPA and steadfast coal industry purport.

Coal ash is the sludgy muck that is left over after coal is burned to produce electricity and is often laden with heavy metals like arsenic, mercury, cadmium, lead and selenium. These harmful substances can produce cancer, kidney problems and nervous-system disease. The amount of heavy metals in coal-ash depends largely on the type of coal burned. However, all coal produces this waste, even though the toxicity may vary slightly depending on the type of coal being incinerated.

While the EPA continues to discuss whether or not it should classify coal ash as a hazardous waste, the environmental and health effects of a coal slurry impoundment at the Tennessee Valley Authority's (TVA) Kingston coal-fired power plant in Harriman, Tennessee, are still not known. The December 2008 catastrophe caused more than 500 million gallons of toxic coal ash to enter the Tennessee River.

The spill was over 40 times larger than the 1989 Exxon Valdez spill in Alaska. Approximately 525 million gallons of black coal ash flowed into tributaries of the Tennessee River - the water supply for Chattanooga and millions of people living downstream in Alabama and Kentucky. The true adverse effects of the spill are still not known.

An immediate crackdown on TVA and other coal-slurry impoundments by the EPA was likely sidelined as a result of the American Coal Ash Association's formal partnership with the EPA during the Bush administration. If coal ash were deemed a hazardous waste, coal companies could potentially lose billions of dollars in revenue, as they would not be able to promote their toxic coal ash substances for agricultural, consumer and industrial use.

It seems as if the efforts of coal industry representatives have paid off handsomely. Back in 2002, the EPA released a report that indicated the agency had information on the risks of coal ash, yet requests for the data under the Freedom of Information Act were either denied or the documents that were released, with the estimates of cancer risks, were largely blacked out.

To Read the Rest of the Article

Leanna Wolfe: On Kittens and the Very Invented Culture of Polyamory

On Kittens and the Very Invented Culture of Polyamory
By Leanna Wolfe
Electronic Journal of Human Sexuality

Presented at Poly Pride NYC, October 4, 2008, at the Blue Stockings Book Store

I have a 7-month-old kitten that loves to sneak outside. He has long gray fur and holds his super-fluffy tail straight up. Trapped inside the house he sleeps countless hours. I get worried. Being his mother/guardian I want him to have a full-rich life—to know his way around trees, insects, lizards and small birds. My mind is in a constant tizzy over his safety vs. his living a deep and amazing life. When I let him out I worry he’ll be hit by a car or captured by a coyote. I also worry that if I were to keep him captive for all of his months of kittenhood, he won’t know his way around other cats. His brain might stagnate…and his life will be dull and limited. The day before as I picked him up, he purred, licked my faced and sprouted a confident cat erection. Hmmm I wondered…is it time for this fluffy boy to be neutered or should I grant him a full life? Do I trust him to only have safe sex with equally sweet females who also are also bonded with an equally freethinking human guardian? What if one day his cat testosterone kicks up and he opts to become an alley cat and never return to our interspecies life of purring and hugging and licking?

Deciding to set your lover free into the wide world of polyamory also has its consequences—consequences so overwhelming that the vast majority of Americans simply say, “no.” In that biologically humans are a pair-bonding species, short-term monogamy can feel like the high road and the right road. And certainly romantic love brain chemistry conforms to this template and approach. In the attraction phase of romantic love our brains produce large amounts of dopamine causing us to feel intensely focused on one love, to feel jealous if our access to that love is threatened and anxious over the mutuality of it all. Poly people view this phase of romantic love with a wide-screened lens. They know that the sensations caused by their dopamine highs won’t last and that at best such a love will convert to the attachment phase, which is more relaxed, being supported by the brain chemicals vasopressin and oxytocin. These chemicals foster feelings of confidence that the now established relationship will continue. Once in the attachment phase poly people comfortably invite in new attractions and new loves. A shared belief is that the attraction phase, referred to in poly circles as NRE or new relationship energy is short-lived, fun, but nothing to personally take very seriously nor to feel threatened by in a partner.

Mainstream Americans put NRE on a pedestal and thus consider polyamory to be supremely foolhardy. It’s been noted by anthropological observers that American society’s attitudes towards romantic love are very adolescent (Rapaille, 2006, p. 33). As lovers Americans behave like teenagers. We take our crushes seriously and we measure our self worth by being able to demand the fidelity of our partners and the health of our relationships by the intensity of passion we’re able to co-generate.

Is polyamory’s wise attitude towards NRE enough to keep poly people safe? Unlikely, if under-the-skin, they embrace Western cultural values. Like me with my fluffy gray kitten, they ponder the balance between freedom, security and mutual happiness. I think that much of what poly people engage in to ensure home-life security is what might be called polyarmory (Byrd, 1998). Polyarmory practices can include veto rights over a partner engaging a (particular) new lover, the practice of safe sex (both viral and emotional) and the imposition of hierarchies (wherein only the home relationship is a primary relationship and all others are relegated to secondary and tertiary status). These practices can function as emotional and sexual chastity belts. While perhaps not as drastic as neutering a cat or locking a kitten inside, they can cramp our styles and suffocate our spirits. Nonetheless, many poly people are uneasy at the thought of loving their partners so unconditionally, that they’d be willing to set them free.

To Read the Rest of the Essay

Friday, January 29, 2010

Stephanie Mencimer: Sarah Palin's Tea Party Dinner Disaster

Sarah Palin's Tea Party Dinner Disaster: Unsold tickets, activists demanding refunds—will Palin wind up addressing a half-empty room at the Tea Party convention?
By Stephanie Mencimer
Mother Jones

Tea Party Nation founder Judson Phillips likely assumed that scoring a dinner speech by the former Alaska governor and GOP vice presidential candidate would guarantee a huge turnout for his National Tea Party Convention, scheduled to start Feb. 4 at Nashville's Gaylord Opryland Hotel. But according to Tea Party insiders, the tickets for the Palin banquet aren't selling—and some conservative activists who have already paid to attend are now demanding refunds. With the controversial event shaping up to be a potential flop, some Tea Partiers are urging Palin to cancel her speech to avoid a humiliating public relations disaster.

The problems began after news broke that Phillips intended to profit from the convention—which costs $549 a person for access to both the conference and Palin’s banquet, or $349 for a ticket to the dinner alone. With one prominent conservative blogger charging that the event seemed "scammy," several key sponsors yanked their support, including the National Precinct Alliance, the American Liberty Alliance, American Majority, and the Federation for American Immigration Reform. As the rash of bad press continued, this week Rep. Marsha Blackburn (R-Tenn.), announced that she’s considering pulling out as a convention speaker. And some Tea Party activists think Palin should join her. According to internal convention planning documents obtained by Mother Jones, Palin will be paid $115,000 to address the attendees—as they dine on steak or lobster. To some Tea Partiers, this lavish affair sounds suspiciously like an exclusive GOP fundraiser and a betrayal of their grassroots movement. (In mid-January, Palin told Fox News' Bill O'Reilly that she will not profit from her appearance at the convention, suggesting she would donate her speaking fee to Republican candidates. But she has not provided any details on that, and a Palin spokesperson did not respond to requests for clarification.)

To Read the Rest of the Article

Econstories TV: "Fear the Boom and Bust" a Hayek vs. Keynes Rap Anthem

Thursday, January 28, 2010

Haiti and the Devil's Curse

The Real News Network

"While everyone piles on Pat Robertson, the rest of the mainstream media is making the same error he did, attributing Haiti's misery to the supernatural. Avoiding any discussion of the true history ... "

Media Matters: Labor Organizer Steve Early

Steve Early Labor Organizer
Media Matters with Bob McChesney

Steve Early was a Boston-based international representative or organizer for the Communications Workers of America for 27 years. Prior to working for CWA, he served as a headquarters staffer for the United Mine Workers and staff attorney and newspaper editor for the Professional Drivers Council (merged in 1979 into Teamsters for a Democratic Union).

As a free-lance labor journalist, he has written for The Nation, The Boston Globe, Boston Herald, New York Times, Washington Post, Los Angeles Times, Newsday, The Wall Street Journal, and various other publications.

A collection of Early's "participatory labor journalism" was published in May, 2009, by Monthly Review Press. It's called Embedded With Organized Labor: Journalistic Reflections on the Class War at Home.

To Listen to the Conversation

Urszula Clark: War Words -- Language, History and the Disciplining of English

Clark, Urszula. War Words: Language, History and the Disciplining of English. NY: Elsevier, 2001.

Foucault does not deny that tradition and continuity act as forces of influence upon an idea, but rather that they are not enough in themselves to act as significant forces in creating change. The expression and site of ideas he calls discourse, is for him an active and dialogic, rather than a passive and monologic, process. Any discourse at any given moment in time is structured as much by the assumptions about what constitutes it as a discourse as by the boundaries of language itself. Discourse in a Foucaudian sense, then, combines linguistic utterance, whether spoken or written, with the underlying non-linguistic structures—such as the cultural, social and economic—through which utterances are realized and suppressed. Within education, for example, institutional practices control the access of individuals to various kinds of pedagogic discourse. (Clark, 4) {MB—see Foucault, 1972: 46, which she references; also Bakhtin; Irving/Moffett}

The historical process of cultural institutions, of which the education system is a part, has also been investigated by Raymond Williams. In Marxism and Literature (1977), Williams divides into three the elements which are responsible for what Inglis (1995) calls the value-loadings of discourse: residual, dominant, and emergent. These elements co-exist in varying degrees at any cultural moment. By the ‘residual’ Williams does not imply archaic elements of past culture which survive. Rather, they are experiences, meanings and values which have been formed in the past but cannot be expressed in the terms of the dominant culture. Even when in opposition to it, they are still present and potentially active within it. ‘Emergent’ culture involves the making of new forms and discourses, in the process of which there occurs pre-emergence, where expression is active but not yet fully articulated. Furthermore, the very existence of subordinate and repressed cultures point to the fact that culture is not a unitary phenomenon. Non-dominant, discursive elements interact with dominant ones at various times, co-existing with, being absorbed or destroyed by them, as well as challenging, modifying or even displacing them. Consequently Williams views historical time as dialogic and multi-dimensional. According to Williams, then, any analysis of cultural formations is an attempt to explain how cultural value is ascribed, and has to take into account the interaction between legislation in the form of the state ascription of value and historio-cultural processes. (Clark: 5)

Because of its association with value, feeling, and experience as expressed through language, and particularly as literature and the national language, English as a school subject quickly came to be more than the transference of a particular body of factual knowledge. It also came to be concerned with contemporary beliefs about the nature of human individuals and societies: that is, with cultural knowledge and how to live. (Clark: 5)

Consequently, issues about English, particularly when it comes to constructing policies about language, are at one and the same time an outcome of power struggles and an arena within which they take place. Therefore, any attempt to outline the formation of an idea such as that of English as a school subject and its relationship with language has to take account of both the struggles ‘outside’ as well as ‘within’ the subject. (Clark: 6)

For Bernstein, ‘text’ can refer to the dominant curriculum, dominant pedagogic practices as well as any pedagogic representation, be it written, visual, postural, sartorial, spatial. … {MB—Likewise} the term ‘text’ is used to refer to anything that occurs or exists in a classroom, from the slightest movement of an individual, materials and books, to the spatial and visual settings of that classroom. … Thus, the importance of Bernstein’s theory … is that it provides a framework within which the formation of English as a curriculum subject in general, and issues of language in particular, can be considered. As such, it considers not only the subject’s discursive practices and the texts privileged within it, but also how they came to be constituted and constructed in the way they have. (Clark: 10)

In other words, for a theory of cultural reproduction to be complete, it has to explain how a text came to be constituted as it is and accorded a privileged status as well as what is transmitted. (Clark: 11)

Black English or Ebonics, because of its categorization as a variety of English, is excluded from recognition as a minority language. Consequently, it ranks below all others in terms of linguistic hierarchy to such an extent that it does not feature in issues of linguistic democracy at all. Learning to be literate in American society, therefore, also carries with it the dual aspect of learning a specific cultural literacy (Hirsch, 1978; 1987) and what it means to be an American, based upon a Eurocentric language and culture, a ‘white’ way of being. Thus, any challenge or change to the norms associated with learning to be literate, such as that posed by the Oakland Resolution, represents nothing less than a challenge or change to what it means to be American. (Clark: 229)

As one of the subjects most closely associated with the reproduction of culture and cultural values as these are generated through language, and with concepts of language themselves constructed around the central notion of standard English, battles over language are always and inevitably to do with battles over culture, identity and Williams’ notion of ‘ways of being’. Ultimately, they are also struggles for control of the pedagogic device itself. Williams makes the point that “A definition of language is always, implicitly or explicitly, a definition of human beings in the world. The received categories—‘word,’ ‘reality,’ ‘nature,’ ‘human’—may be counterpoised or related to the category ‘language,’ but it is now commonplace to observe that all categories, including the category of ‘language,’ are themselves constructions in language…” ({MB-Raymond} Williams, 1977: 21). Education is thus never neutral, but a site of cultural reproduction as much as any other. Nevertheless, systems of education also contain within them the seeds of their own transformations. Just as reproduction is historically configured at any given moment in time, today’s acquirers become, in turn, tomorrow’s reproducers and producers of knowledge. Schools then, and the curriculum they teach, are at one and the same time sites of cultural reproduction and of potential future transformations. (Clark: 257-258)

David G. Mills: It's the Corporate State, Stupid

It's the Corporate State, Stupid
David G. Mills
Information Clearing House

"Fascism should more properly be called corporatism because it is the merger of state and corporate power." - Benito Mussolini.

The early twentieth century Italians, who invented the word fascism, also had a more descriptive term for the concept -- estato corporativo: the corporatist state. Unfortunately for Americans, we have come to equate fascism with its symptoms, not with its structure. The structure of fascism is corporatism, or the corporate state. The structure of fascism is the union, marriage, merger or fusion of corporate economic power with governmental power. Failing to understand fascism, as the consolidation of corporate economic and governmental power in the hands of a few, is to completely misunderstand what fascism is. It is the consolidation of this power that produces the demagogues and regimes we understand as fascist ones.

While we Americans have been trained to keenly identify the opposite of fascism, i.e., government intrusion into and usurpation of private enterprise, we have not been trained to identify the usurpation of government by private enterprise. Our European cousins, on the other hand, having lived with Fascism in several European countries during the last century, know it when they see it, and looking over here, they are ringing the alarm bells. We need to learn how to recognize Fascism now.

Dr. Lawrence Britt has written an excellent article entitled “The 14 Defining Characteristics of Fascism.” An Internet search of the number 14 coupled with the word fascism will produce the original article as well as many annotations on each of the 14 characteristics of fascism that he describes. His article is a must read to help get a handle on the symptoms that corporatism produces.

But even Britt’s excellent article misses the importance of Mussolini’s point. The concept of corporatism is number nine on Britt’s list and unfortunately titled: “Corporate Power is Protected.” In the view of Mussolini, the concept of corporatism should have been number one on the list and should have been more aptly titled the “Merger of Corporate Power and State Power.” Even Britt failed to see the merger of corporate and state power as the primary cause of most of these other characteristics. It is only when one begins to view fascism as the merger of corporate power and state power that it is easy to see how most of the other thirteen characteristics Britt describes are produced. Seen this way, these other characteristics no longer become disjointed abstractions. Cause and effect is evident.

To Read the Rest of the Essay

Greta Christina: "I Don't Want to Want What I Want"

(Courtesy of Laura W.)

"I Don't Want to Want What I Want"
Greta Christina's Weblog

If you read the sex advice columns (and who doesn't?), you see this sort of thing a lot. "I'm gay, and I don't want to be." "I'm kinky, and I don't want to be." "I have a fetish, and I don't want to."

"I don't want to want what I want."

Now, despite what some may think about us sex-positive advocates, I'm not going to reflexively say, "Oh, just go for it." I don't necessarily think that everything we want is good, or good for us. (Snickers bars come to mind.) Some sexual desires can do us harm if we act on them: the desire for barebacking, say, or the fetish for being fed until you gain massive amounts of weight. And if what you want sexually is immoral -- sex with children, say, to use the most obvious example -- then that's a no-brainer. Being sex-positive doesn't mean being positive about all sex, in every situation.

But let's say that what you want sexually isn't immoral, by any useful definition of the word. Let's say that what you want is consensual, and honest, and doesn't hurt anybody in a way that they don't want to be hurt. And let's say that it's reasonably safe as well: no more likely than any other hobby to cause serious or lasting harm, to you or to anyone else.

Dark bed And let's say that you still don't want to want it. Let's say you're still distressed and unhappy with what you want in bed.

What then?

I don't pretend to have an answer to this. Not one that could be written in a short blog post, anyway. But I think part of the answer lies in doing a careful, thorough, honest inventory of your thoughts and feelings... and figuring out, not why you want the sexual thing you want, but why exactly you feel so bad about it.

I think there are three main reasons why people wish they didn't want the kind of sex they want. 1) They've internalized the social stricture against sex in general: they think sex is trivial and silly, and in general not worth wanting or pursuing. 2) The kind of sex they want is one that society frowns upon, and they've internalized the social stricture against it: they believe it's immoral and bad, even if it's consensual and honest and doesn't hurt anybody. Or 3) The kind of sex they want is one that society frowns upon... and pursuing it will be inconvenient at best and dangerous at worst.

To Read the rest of the Essay

Howard Zinn: 1922 - 2010

I am truly devastated to hear that Howard Zinn has died. He was a fundamental thinker/historian/teacher in my development as an activist/citizen/teacher. He will be missed... and he will be with me always when I work in my community, when I teach my classes, when I write my own histories, and when I protest injustice.

San Francisco Chronicle: 'People's History' author Howard Zinn dies at 87

Democracy Now: Archive of Howard Zinn

Howard Zinn: Democratic Education

Howard Zinn: Holy Wars

Zinn Education Project

Dan Simon: Howard Zinn Coming of Age

The People Speak trailer

Ziga Vodovnik: An Interview with Howard Zinn on Anarchism

Seeing Red Radio: The US Constitution and the Rebellion that Shaped It, Pt. 1

Bill Moyers Journal: Howard Zinn -- The People Speak

Dave Zirin: The People Speak -- When Television Makes History

Peace and Conflict Studies: Howard Zinn Archive

Wednesday, January 27, 2010

Ad Freak: '2028' movie is actually teen-pregnancy PSA

Read this Ad Freak report first: '2028' movie is actually teen-pregnancy PSA

RTA Advertisement (NW, Australia): You Know What They Say About Male Speeders!

Australia advertisement that seeks to play on male anxieties in order to get them to quit speeding

Media Matters: Mark Lloyd - Communications Lawyer

(Mark Lloyd is the Associate General Counsel and Chief Diversity Officer for the FCC: Federal Communications Council.)

Mark Lloyd, Communications Lawyer
Media Matters with Bob McChesney

Mr. Lloyd was most recently the Vice President for Strategic Initiatives at the Leadership Conference on Civil Rights/ Education Fund, where he oversaw media and telecom initiatives. Mr. Lloyd was also an adjunct professor of public policy at the Georgetown University Public Policy Institute, and from 2002-2004 a visiting scholar at MIT where he conducted research and taught communications policy. Previously Mr. Lloyd has been a senior fellow at the Center for American Progress, the General Counsel of the Benton Foundation, and an attorney at Dow, Lohnes & Albertson. Before becoming a communications lawyer, Mr. Lloyd had a distinguished career as a broadcast journalist, including work at NBC and CNN.

To Listen to the Episode

JoAnn Wypijewski: Sexual Healing

Sexual Healing: Carnal Knowledge
By JoAnn Wypijewski
The Nation


As Rachel Maines demonstrates in her delightfully illuminating history The Technology of Orgasm, making patients out of sexually unsatisfied women was good business. The afflicted would neither die nor be cured but required regular massage treatments, weekly, sometimes daily, for an hour or even three. By one 1863 estimate, such therapies accounted for three-quarters of physicians' business, but doctors seem to have got no pleasure out of diddling women. It was, Maines says, "the job nobody wanted." And bringing women off was work, abstracted from sex (i.e., the robust progression from male hard-on to vaginal penetration to male orgasm) and requiring time and skill. With the vibrator, doctors' productivity exploded, as sixty-minute visits shrank to ten, raising more revenue from more patients per day, until the device became so popular and multipurpose (Sears marketed a home vibrator with attachments for beating eggs, churning butter, operating a fan) that the medical profession had worked itself out of a job. Miraculously, the sick were healed as soon as the first vibrator popped up in porno in the 1920s.

Leap across the decades, and this quaint history appears positively progressive in that, willy-nilly, medicalization marched toward putting sexuality into women's hands, into their heads in terms of body knowledge, and into the mix of culture, personal relations and a polymorphous physicality more true to life than biological function alone. The white coats came out again with Masters and Johnson but bumped into a counterculture and an emancipation movement that pushed against their categorizations of normal or not. Every 1970s woman might not have gone to one of Betty Dodson's masturbation workshops; every man certainly was not reborn as an attentive, exploring lover. But nor was everyone straight, in all senses of the word, and the fluidity of sexuality as part of the great mishmash of human experience was in the air-conditioning system of the culture. It was sexual but political, too. Today the cultural air is thick with sex, but the rhetoric of freedom and rights largely serves a commodified notion of sexual satisfaction. The politics has dropped out, and without politics we're all just patients, or potential patients.

How else to explain that a reality as old as god--that the vast majority of women do not climax simply through intercourse--has re-emerged as dysfunction? Or that another grab bag of indicators of dissatisfaction and low desire are renamed as symptoms of hypoactive sexual desire disorder, for which a female Viagra or a testosterone patch or cream or nasal spray must be developed? How to explain that middle-aged women go under the knife for vaginal rejuvenation, basically pussy tightening, and that young women go under the knife for laser labiaplasty, basically genital mutilation, saying they only want to feel pretty, normal, and raise their chances of orgasm through intercourse? How to explain that a doctor like Stuart Meloy of North Carolina, a throwback to charlatans who tried to shock hysterics into health with electric charges, has even one patient to test his Orgasmatron, an electrode threaded up a woman's spinal cord and controlled by a hand-held button that the patient can push (assuming the procedure doesn't paralyze her) to make her clit throb with excitement during intercourse and reach the grail of mutually assured orgasm?

A terrific new documentary, Orgasm Inc., by Liz Canner, addresses those questions in terms of corporate medicine and the creation of need via pseudofeminist incitements to full sexual mastery by Dr. Laura Berman and other shills for the drug industry. Female sexual dysfunction, it turns out, was wholly created by drug companies hoping to make even bigger money off women than they have off men with the comparatively smaller market for erectile dysfunction drugs. That's capitalism; that's its nature. The more obstinate question is why so many people are willing to be its slaves, and whether a resistant politics can grow up to say not just "We want in" to healthcare but "We want out" of the profit system and, on the sex front, out of a medical model that elevates a doctor over "playing doctor" or a more sensual ease with oneself and others.

"So many times I don't think sex is a matter of health," Dr. Leonore Tiefer, a sex therapist and founder of the New View Campaign to challenge the medicalization of sex, told me the other day. "I think it's more like dancing or cooking. Yes, you do it with your body. You dance with your body, too. That doesn't mean there's a department of dance in the medical school. You don't go to the doctor to learn to dance. And in dancing school the waltz class is no more normal than the samba class." You might not be a good dancer by some scale of values. You might not get the steps right, or do steps at all, but even in wheelchairs people learn to move to the music.

To Read the Rest of the Editorial

Tuesday, January 26, 2010

Media Matters: Michael Moore "Capitalism: A Love Story" and Sue Wilson "Broadcast Blues"

Michael Moore "Capitalism: A Love Story" and Sue Wilson "Broadcast Blues"
Media Matters with Bob McChesney

Filmmaker Michael Moore sits down with Bob McChesney this week to discuss his new movie "Capitalism: A Love Story."

Sue Wilson will then join us live to talk about her movie "Broadcast Blues" the movie "the media does not want you to see." The website for Broadcast Blues.

To Listen to the Episode

Sunday, January 24, 2010

Chloe Cockburn: Black People "Loot;" White People "Find"

Comparison of two media reports of Katrina Hurricane victims:

Black People "Loot;" White People "Find"
by Chloe Cockburn

In the aftermath of the earthquake, there have been numerous reports of dangerous looting in the capital. The Washington Post has a video showing people "looting" a shop, as stated in the caption. The items taken appear to be food and supplies. There is no violence on the camera. But the violent connotation of the word remains.

In contrast to international news of looting in Haiti, local reports indicate that in reality, there is not massive violence or unrest. Partners in Health recently stated that "Our team on the ground reaffirms that the reports of violence on the streets of Port-au-Prince have been grossly exaggerated and have become a major obstacle to mounting the response needed to save tens of thousands of lives each day.” United Nations officials in Haiti have criticized reporters for sensationalizing the earthquake aftermath, exaggerating looting reports, noting that the situation among civilians was calm. In a New York Times op-ed, Haitian novelist and Port-au-Prince resident Evelyne Trouillot wrote, "Many of us Haitians are offended by the coverage of the earthquake. Once more, a natural disaster serves as an occasion to showcase the impoverishment, to exaggerate the scenes of violence that are common to any catastrophe of this type."

Law professor Guy-Uriel Charles recently wrote a CNN column calling out this practice as a description “void of empathy” and one that relies on and perpetuates racial stereotypes. This message needs to be repeated. Not only does the “looting” moniker wrongly disparage and degrade the local people, it also springs from assumptions about black people and their relation to poverty and property. When the news camera captures footage of a Haitian man taking rice, what does it show? Theft? Survival? What if that man is white? In the aftermath of Katrina, a famous juxtaposition of AP images showed that black people "loot," and white people "find." A "looter" is the other, a criminal undeserving of help. This perspective threatens to undermine the relief effort and the future work of rebuilding. Dehumanizing people has consequences.

Link to the Hyperlinked Report

ACLU: Handcuffs in Middle Schools, A Shock to the Conscience

(Courtesy of Laura W.)

Handcuffs in Middle Schools, A Shock to the Conscience
by Joshua David Riegel
American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU)

Daija is a 13-year-old girl from the Bronx who dreams of one day being a veterinarian and has always enjoyed school. This changed on the morning of October 7, 2009, when Daija's mother dropped her and a friend off at school. Daija and her friend were confronted by two strangers who were being rambunctious, yelling, and acting threateningly toward them. Scared and panicked, Daija texted her mother.

Observing the threats, a school safety officer (SSO) instructed Daija to go into the school building, but Daija insisted on waiting outside for her mother. Incensed by Daija's refusal to follow an order, the SSO grabbed her and began pulling her into the building. Struggling and upset, additional SSO's were called to assist in handcuffing and dragging Daija into school. Once inside, Daija was tripped onto the floor by a SSO who then put her knee into Daija's back, pinning her to the ground, while taunting her to "get up."

Daija was eventually brought to an empty room and forcefully thrown into a seat, where she sat in handcuffs for nearly an hour until she was released to her mother. No charges were ever filed against Daija, but she sustained injuries severe enough to require medical attention. This all happened simply because Daija wanted to wait for her mother.

When I was in middle school, refusal to follow an order would have landed me in the principal's office or in after-school detention. I certainly wouldn't have been handcuffed, roughed up, taunted, and humiliated. There is no rational reason or necessity for this sort of brutal, unnecessary, and illegal use of force against schoolchildren.

Daija's incident did not take place in vacuum. In 1998, the New York City Police Department (NYPD) took control of school safety in New York City's public schools. This change effectively gutted the authority of educators to handle minor disciplinary issues, such as talking back, carrying a cell phone in school, or being late to class. Since then, more than 5,200 SSOs and 200 armed police officers have been assigned to New York City's public schools. To put this in perspective, the NYPD's School Safety Division is the nation's fifth largest police force. It is larger than the police forces in Washington, D.C., Detroit, Boston, Dallas, or Las Vegas. New York City has twice as many school safety officers per student as San Antonio, Texas, has police officers. Given that SSOs are charged with ensuring safety in our schools, it's not unreasonable to assume that SSOs receive appropriate levels of training and supervision tailored to their supervisory role in schools and daily interaction with children. This is not the case. While NYPD police officers must complete a six-month training course before being deployed, SSOs receive only 14 weeks of training before being assigned to schools, and they do not receive proper and meaningful guidance on what their role in schools should be: do they enforce school discipline or enforce criminal law?

When compared to the 3,000 guidance counselors employed by the NYC Department of Education, the message is clear: our schools are less committed to providing enriching educational experiences for our youth and more interested in acting as punitive institutions. This is a world where second chances are rarely given.

As utterly shocking as Daija's incident is, incidents like it are hardly anomalous in New York City public schools. Yesterday, the ACLU Racial Justice Program, the New York Civil Liberties Program (NYCLU), and the law firm Dorsey & Whitney filed a class action lawsuit in federal court on behalf of Daija, four other students, and all New York City public school students similarly at risk of abuse and wrongful arrested by NYPD officers.

To Read the Rest of the Article

David Kairys: Money Isn't Speech and Corporations Aren't People -- The misguided theories behind the Supreme Court's ruling on campaign finance reform

Money Isn't Speech and Corporations Aren't People: The misguided theories behind the Supreme Court's ruling on campaign finance reform.
By David Kairys

Go back almost a century, to the time when the modern corporation was created, and you'll find laws that prohibit or limit the use of corporate money in elections. And yet this week, a 5-4 Supreme Court struck down the limits that Congress passed in 2002 in this tradition in the case Citizens United v. FEC.

The majority's ruling unleashes a new wave of campaign cash and adds to the already considerable power of corporations. The court's main rationale is that limits on using corporate treasuries for campaigns are a "classic example of censorship," as Justice Anthony Kennedy wrote for the majority. To get there, Kennedy depends on two legal theories that blossomed as constitutional principles in the mid-1970s: money is speech and corporations are people. Both theories are strange, if not simply wrongheaded—why, according to the Constitution or common sense, would money be speech or corporations be people? The court has also employed theories not uniformly but, rather, as constitutional cover for dominance of the electoral system by corporations and by the wealthy.

The first theory appeared in a 1976 decision, Buckley v. Valeo, which invalidated some campaign-finance reforms that came out of Watergate. The Court concluded that most limits on campaign expenditures, and some limits on donations, are unconstitutional because money is itself speech and the "quantity of expression"—the amounts of money—can't be limited.

But in subsequent cases, the conservative justices who had emphatically embraced the money-is-speech principle didn't apply it to money solicited by speakers of ordinary means. For example, the court limited the First Amendment rights of Hare Krishna leafleters soliciting donations in airports to support their own leafleting. The leafleting drew no money-is-speech analysis. To the contrary, the conservative justices, led by Chief Justice Rehnquist, found that by asking for money for leafleting—their form of speech—the Hare Krishnas were being "disruptive" and posing an "inconvenience" to others. In other words, in the court's view, some people's money is speech; others' money is annoying. And the conservative justices have raised no objection to other limits on the quantity of speech, such as limits on the number of picketers.

The money-is-speech theory turns out to be a rhetorical device used exclusively to provide First Amendment protection for all money that wealthy people and businesses want to give to, or to spend, on campaigns. It also doesn't make sense under long established free-speech law. Spending or donating money to support or facilitate speech is expressive and deserves some protection. But money simply doesn't make it into the category of things that are and embody speech, such as books, films, or blogs. Traditional speech-law analysis would separate the speech from the conduct (or "nonspeech") elements of campaign spending and donation and allow considerable leeway to regulate the latter. Even as to "pure" speech, "compelling" government interests are overriding. And spending and donating money seem, among the traditional speech-law categories, a "manner" of speaking that the court has said usually can be "reasonably regulated."

The other basic theory supporting the ruling in Citizens United—the court's claim that, for some purposes, corporations are constitutionally, if not actually, people—comes out of the long history of the development of corporations. But the extension of corporate personhood to campaign speech is a controversial innovation of the conservative justices over the last few decades.

Corporations needed some rights usually reserved for people to function as legal entities, so that they could, for instance, make enforceable contracts and sue or be sued. But despite the common cultural personification of corporations—we can easily say "GM was embarrassed today"—they obviously don't and shouldn't have all the rights of people. For example, they don't have the right to vote.

In Citizens United, Justice Kennedy discusses business corporations as if they were clubs or political associations with political viewpoints and elected leaders. But corporate managers don't function as representatives or employees of shareholders, who have no say, no shared political views, and no expectation that their investments will be used for political ends. In the wake of the court's ruling this week, will some corporations pick a party or politics while others channel unheard of amounts of money to both major parties? Will investors be influenced by a corporation's political portfolio?

The Citizens United decision will make it harder to achieve reforms opposed by major corporations and change business as well as politics. Increasing the constitutional rights of corporations beyond their business purposes is really about increasing the rights and power of corporate managers. Government has enabled corporate managers to control huge accumulations of wealth without any personal risk—an arrangement that contributes to wild, bubble-producing economic swings and collapses. Citizens United invites that arrangement directly into politics and elections.

To Read the Rest of the Commentary

Saturday, January 23, 2010

PhD Comics: Dear News Media - When Reporting Polling Statistics Please Keep in Mind

(Courtesy of Laura W.)

PhD Comics

Rebecca Solnit: When the Media is the Disaster -- Covering Haiti

When the Media Is the Disaster: Covering Haiti
Rebecca Solnit


If Words Could Kill

We need to banish the word "looting" from the English language. It incites madness and obscures realities.

"Loot," the noun and the verb, is a word of Hindi origin meaning the spoils of war or other goods seized roughly. As historian Peter Linebaugh points out, "At one time loot was the soldier's pay." It entered the English language as a good deal of loot from India entered the English economy, both in soldiers' pockets and as imperial seizures.

After years of interviewing survivors of disasters, and reading first-hand accounts and sociological studies from such disasters as the London Blitz and the Mexico City earthquake of 1985, I don't believe in looting. Two things go on in disasters. The great majority of what happens you could call emergency requisitioning. Someone who could be you, someone in the kind of desperate circumstances I outlined above, takes necessary supplies to sustain human life in the absence of any alternative. Not only would I not call that looting, I wouldn't even call that theft.

Necessity is a defense for breaking the law in the United States and other countries, though it's usually applied more to, say, confiscating the car keys of a drunk driver than feeding hungry children. Taking things you don't need is theft under any circumstances. It is, says the disaster sociologist Enrico Quarantelli, who has been studying the subject for more than half a century, vanishingly rare in most disasters.

Personal gain is the last thing most people are thinking about in the aftermath of a disaster. In that phase, the survivors are almost invariably more altruistic and less attached to their own property, less concerned with the long-term questions of acquisition, status, wealth, and security, than just about anyone not in such situations imagines possible. (The best accounts from Haiti of how people with next to nothing have patiently tried to share the little they have and support those in even worse shape than them only emphasize this disaster reality.) Crime often drops in the wake of a disaster.

The media are another matter. They tend to arrive obsessed with property (and the headlines that assaults on property can make). Media outlets often call everything looting and thereby incite hostility toward the sufferers as well as a hysterical overreaction on the part of the armed authorities. Or sometimes the journalists on the ground do a good job and the editors back in their safe offices cook up the crazy photo captions and the wrongheaded interpretations and emphases.

They also deploy the word panic wrongly. Panic among ordinary people in crisis is profoundly uncommon. The media will call a crowd of people running from certain death a panicking mob, even though running is the only sensible thing to do. In Haiti, they continue to report that food is being withheld from distribution for fear of "stampedes." Do they think Haitians are cattle?

The belief that people in disaster (particularly poor and nonwhite people) are cattle or animals or just crazy and untrustworthy regularly justifies spending far too much energy and far too many resources on control -- the American military calls it "security" -- rather than relief. A British-accented voiceover on CNN calls people sprinting to where supplies are being dumped from a helicopter a "stampede" and adds that this delivery "risks sparking chaos." The chaos already exists, and you can't blame it on these people desperate for food and water. Or you can, and in doing so help convince your audience that they're unworthy and untrustworthy.

Back to looting: of course you can consider Haiti's dire poverty and failed institutions a long-term disaster that changes the rules of the game. There might be people who are not only interested in taking the things they need to survive in the next few days, but things they've never been entitled to own or things they may need next month. Technically that's theft, but I'm not particularly surprised or distressed by it; the distressing thing is that even before the terrible quake they led lives of deprivation and desperation.

In ordinary times, minor theft is often considered a misdemeanor. No one is harmed. Unchecked, minor thefts could perhaps lead to an environment in which there were more thefts and so forth, and a good argument can be made that, in such a case, the tide needs to be stemmed. But it's not particularly significant in a landscape of terrible suffering and mass death.

A number of radio hosts and other media personnel are still upset that people apparently took TVs after Hurricane Katrina hit New Orleans in August 2005. Since I started thinking about, and talking to people about, disaster aftermaths I've heard a lot about those damned TVs. Now, which matters more to you, televisions or human life? People were dying on rooftops and in overheated attics and freeway overpasses, they were stranded in all kinds of hideous circumstances on the Gulf Coast in 2005 when the mainstream media began to obsess about looting, and the mayor of New Orleans and the governor of Louisiana made the decision to focus on protecting property, not human life.

A gang of white men on the other side of the river from New Orleans got so worked up about property crimes that they decided to take the law into their own hands and began shooting. They seem to have considered all black men criminals and thieves and shot a number of them. Some apparently died; there were bodies bloating in the September sun far from the region of the floods; one good man trying to evacuate the ruined city barely survived; and the media looked away. It took me months of nagging to even get the story covered. This vigilante gang claimed to be protecting property, though its members never demonstrated that their property was threatened. They boasted of killing black men. And they shared values with the mainstream media and the Louisiana powers that be.

Somehow, when the Bush administration subcontracted emergency services -- like providing evacuation buses in Hurricane Katrina -- to cronies who profited even while providing incompetent, overpriced, and much delayed service at the moment of greatest urgency, we didn't label that looting.

Or when a lot of wealthy Wall Street brokers decide to tinker with a basic human need like housing.... Well, you catch my drift.

Woody Guthrie once sang that "some will rob you with a six-gun, and some with a fountain pen." The guys with the six guns (or machetes or sharpened sticks) make for better photographs, and the guys with the fountain pens not only don't end up in jail, they end up in McMansions with four-car garages and, sometimes, in elected -- or appointed -- office.

Learning to See in Crises

Last Christmas a priest, Father Tim Jones of York, started a ruckus in Britain when he said in a sermon that shoplifting by the desperate from chain stores might be acceptable behavior. Naturally, there was an uproar. Jones told the Associated Press: "The point I'm making is that when we shut down every socially acceptable avenue for people in need, then the only avenue left is the socially unacceptable one."

The response focused almost entirely on why shoplifting is wrong, but the claim was also repeatedly made that it doesn't help. In fact, food helps the hungry, a fact so bald it's bizarre to even have to state it. The means by which it arrives is a separate matter. The focus remained on shoplifting, rather than on why there might be people so desperate in England's green and pleasant land that shoplifting might be their only option, and whether unnecessary human suffering is itself a crime of sorts.

Right now, the point is that people in Haiti need food, and for all the publicity, the international delivery system has, so far, been a visible dud. Under such circumstances, breaking into a U.N. food warehouse -- food assumedly meant for the poor of Haiti in a catastrophic moment -- might not be "violence," or "looting," or "law-breaking." It might be logic. It might be the most effective way of meeting a desperate need.

Why were so many people in Haiti hungry before the earthquake? Why do we have a planet that produces enough food for all and a distribution system that ensures more than a billion of us don't have a decent share of that bounty? Those are not questions whose answers should be long delayed.

Even more urgently, we need compassion for the sufferers in Haiti and media that tell the truth about them.

To Read the Entire Essay

Chalmers Johnson: Review of Sheldon Wolin's Democracy Incorporated

(Sheldon Wolin's Politics and Vision, 2nd ed., is one of the best political science/theory books I have read. I plan on reading it again and I am going to get his new book described below... which seems essential for understanding the corporate dominance of our political process.)

Inverted Totalitarianism: A New Way of Understanding How the U.S. Is Controlled
By Chalmers Johnson

We now have a new, comprehensive diagnosis of our failings as a democratic polity by one of our most seasoned and respected political philosophers. For well over two generations, Sheldon Wolin taught the history of political philosophy from Plato to the present to Berkeley and Princeton graduate students (including me; I took his seminars at Berkeley in the late 1950s, thus influencing my approach to political science ever since). He is the author of the prize-winning classic Politics and Vision (1960; expanded edition, 2006) and Tocqueville Between Two Worlds (2001), among many other works.

His new book, Democracy Incorporated: Managed Democracy and the Specter of Inverted Totalitarianism, is a devastating critique of the contemporary government of the United States -- including what has happened to it in recent years and what must be done if it is not to disappear into history along with its classic totalitarian predecessors: Fascist Italy, Nazi Germany and Bolshevik Russia. The hour is very late and the possibility that the American people might pay attention to what is wrong and take the difficult steps to avoid a national Gtterdmmerung are remote, but Wolin's is the best analysis of why the presidential election of 2008 probably will not do anything to mitigate our fate. This book demonstrates why political science, properly practiced, is the master social science.

Wolin's work is fully accessible. Understanding his argument does not depend on possessing any specialized knowledge, but it would still be wise to read him in short bursts and think about what he is saying before moving on. His analysis of the contemporary American crisis relies on a historical perspective going back to the original constitutional agreement of 1789 and includes particular attention to the advanced levels of social democracy attained during the New Deal and the contemporary mythology that the U.S., beginning during World War II, wields unprecedented world power.

Given this historical backdrop, Wolin introduces three new concepts to help analyze what we have lost as a nation. His master idea is "inverted totalitarianism," which is reinforced by two subordinate notions that accompany and promote it -- "managed democracy" and "Superpower," the latter always capitalized and used without a direct article. Until the reader gets used to this particular literary tic, the term Superpower can be confusing. The author uses it as if it were an independent agent, comparable to Superman or Spiderman, and one that is inherently incompatible with constitutional government and democracy.

Wolin writes, "Our thesis is this: it is possible for a form of totalitarianism, different from the classical one, to evolve from a putatively 'strong democracy' instead of a 'failed' one." His understanding of democracy is classical but also populist, anti-elitist and only slightly represented in the Constitution of the United States. "Democracy," he writes, "is about the conditions that make it possible for ordinary people to better their lives by becoming political beings and by making power responsive to their hopes and needs." It depends on the existence of a demos -- "a politically engaged and empowered citizenry, one that voted, deliberated, and occupied all branches of public office." Wolin argues that to the extent the United States on occasion came close to genuine democracy, it was because its citizens struggled against and momentarily defeated the elitism that was written into the Constitution.

"No working man or ordinary farmer or shopkeeper," Wolin points out, "helped to write the Constitution." He argues, "The American political system was not born a democracy, but born with a bias against democracy. It was constructed by those who were either skeptical about democracy or hostile to it. Democratic advance proved to be slow, uphill, forever incomplete. The republic existed for three-quarters of a century before formal slavery was ended; another hundred years before black Americans were assured of their voting rights. Only in the twentieth century were women guaranteed the vote and trade unions the right to bargain collectively. In none of these instances has victory been complete: women still lack full equality, racism persists, and the destruction of the remnants of trade unions remains a goal of corporate strategies. Far from being innate, democracy in America has gone against the grain, against the very forms by which the political and economic power of the country has been and continues to be ordered." Wolin can easily control his enthusiasm for James Madison, the primary author of the Constitution, and he sees the New Deal as perhaps the only period of American history in which rule by a true demos prevailed.

To reduce a complex argument to its bare bones, since the Depression, the twin forces of managed democracy and Superpower have opened the way for something new under the sun: "inverted totalitarianism," a form every bit as totalistic as the classical version but one based on internalized co-optation, the appearance of freedom, political disengagement rather than mass mobilization, and relying more on "private media" than on public agencies to disseminate propaganda that reinforces the official version of events. It is inverted because it does not require the use of coercion, police power and a messianic ideology as in the Nazi, Fascist and Stalinist versions (although note that the United States has the highest percentage of its citizens in prison -- 751 per 100,000 people -- of any nation on Earth). According to Wolin, inverted totalitarianism has "emerged imperceptibly, unpremeditatedly, and in seeming unbroken continuity with the nation's political traditions."

The genius of our inverted totalitarian system "lies in wielding total power without appearing to, without establishing concentration camps, or enforcing ideological uniformity, or forcibly suppressing dissident elements so long as they remain ineffectual. A demotion in the status and stature of the 'sovereign people' to patient subjects is symptomatic of systemic change, from democracy as a method of 'popularizing' power to democracy as a brand name for a product marketable at home and marketable abroad. The new system, inverted totalitarianism, is one that professes the opposite of what, in fact, it is. The United States has become the showcase of how democracy can be managed without appearing to be suppressed."

Among the factors that have promoted inverted totalitarianism are the practice and psychology of advertising and the rule of "market forces" in many other contexts than markets, continuous technological advances that encourage elaborate fantasies (computer games, virtual avatars, space travel), the penetration of mass media communication and propaganda into every household in the country, and the total co-optation of the universities. Among the commonplace fables of our society are hero worship and tales of individual prowess, eternal youthfulness, beauty through surgery, action measured in nanoseconds, and a dream-laden culture of ever-expanding control and possibility, whose adepts are prone to fantasies because the vast majority have imagination but little scientific knowledge. Masters of this world are masters of images and their manipulation. Wolin reminds us that the image of Adolf Hitler flying to Nuremberg in 1934 that opens Leni Riefenstahl's classic film "Triumph of the Will" was repeated on May 1, 2003, with President George Bush's apparent landing of a Navy warplane on the flight deck of the USS Abraham Lincoln to proclaim "Mission Accomplished" in Iraq.

On inverted totalitarianism's "self-pacifying" university campuses compared with the usual intellectual turmoil surrounding independent centers of learning, Wolin writes, "Through a combination of governmental contracts, corporate and foundation funds, joint projects involving university and corporate researchers, and wealthy individual donors, universities (especially so-called research universities), intellectuals, scholars, and researchers have been seamlessly integrated into the system. No books burned, no refugee Einsteins. For the first time in the history of American higher education top professors are made wealthy by the system, commanding salaries and perks that a budding CEO might envy."

The main social sectors promoting and reinforcing this modern Shangri-La are corporate power, which is in charge of managed democracy, and the military-industrial complex, which is in charge of Superpower. The main objectives of managed democracy are to increase the profits of large corporations, dismantle the institutions of social democracy (Social Security, unions, welfare, public health services, public housing and so forth), and roll back the social and political ideals of the New Deal. Its primary tool is privatization. Managed democracy aims at the "selective abdication of governmental responsibility for the well-being of the citizenry" under cover of improving "efficiency" and cost-cutting.

Managed democracy is a powerful solvent for any vestiges of democracy left in the American political system, but its powers are weak in comparison with those of Superpower. Superpower is the sponsor, defender and manager of American imperialism and militarism, aspects of American government that have always been dominated by elites, enveloped in executive-branch secrecy, and allegedly beyond the ken of ordinary citizens to understand or oversee. Superpower is preoccupied with weapons of mass destruction, clandestine manipulation of foreign policy (sometimes domestic policy, too), military operations, and the fantastic sums of money demanded from the public by the military-industrial complex. (The U.S. military spends more than all other militaries on Earth combined. The official U.S. defense budget for fiscal year 2008 is $623 billion; the next closest national military budget is China's at $65 billion, according to the Central Intelligence Agency.)

Foreign military operations literally force democracy to change its nature: "In order to cope with the imperial contingencies of foreign war and occupation," according to Wolin, "democracy will alter its character, not only by assuming new behaviors abroad (e.g., ruthlessness, indifference to suffering, disregard of local norms, the inequalities in ruling a subject population) but also by operating on revised, power-expansive assumptions at home. It will, more often than not, try to manipulate the public rather than engage its members in deliberation. It will demand greater powers and broader discretion in their use ('state secrets'), a tighter control over society's resources, more summary methods of justice, and less patience for legalities, opposition, and clamor for socioeconomic reforms."

Imperialism and democracy are, in Wolin's terms, literally incompatible, and the ever greater resources devoted to imperialism mean that democracy will inevitably wither and die. He writes, "Imperial politics represents the conquest of domestic politics and the latter's conversion into a crucial element of inverted totalitarianism. It makes no sense to ask how the democratic citizen could 'participate' substantively in imperial politics; hence it is not surprising that the subject of empire is taboo in electoral debates. No major politician or party has so much as publicly remarked on the existence of an American empire."

To Read the Entire Review


To Read the First Chapter of Democracy Incorporated

To Read the First Chapter of Politics and Vision

Democracy Now: Jamin Raskin -- In Landmark Campaign Finance Ruling, Supreme Court Removes Limits on Corporate Campaign Spending

In Landmark Campaign Finance Ruling, Supreme Court Removes Limits on Corporate Campaign Spending
Democracy Now

In a landmark decision, the Supreme Court rules corporations can spend unlimited amounts of money to elect and defeat candidates. One lawmaker describes it as the worst Supreme Court decision since the Dred Scott case justifying slavery. We speak with constitutional law professor, Jamin Raskin.

Professor of Constitutional Law at American University and a Maryland State Senator. He is the author of several books, including Overruling Democracy: The Supreme Court vs. The American People.

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Mark Glaser: Your Guide to Hyper-Local News

Your Guide to Hyper-Local News
by Mark Glaser

What Is It?

Hyper-local news is the information relevant to small communities or neighborhoods that has been overlooked by traditional news outlets. Thanks to cheap self-publishing and communication online, independent hyper-local news sites have sprung up to serve these communities, while traditional media has tried their own initiatives to cover what they've missed. In some cases, hyper-local sites let anyone submit stories, photos or videos of the community, with varying degrees of moderation and filtering. Pioneers such as Northwest Voice in Bakersfield, Calif., and YourHub, which started in Denver, actually reverse publish select material from their websites in print publications. Both of them are run by mainstream newspaper publishers.

The motivation for starting independent hyper-local sites is often to tell the previously untold stories of communities, while also bringing like-minded people together online. Mainstream news outlets that have created hyper-local sites are trying to engage their readers, while also creating a place for smaller, niche advertisers who want to reach a highly geographically targeted audience.

The business models for hyper-local news sites are still evolving, and some independent sites are run as labors of love by their publishers and communities. Venture-funded startups Backfence and Bayosphere tried and failed to make a business out of creating a series of hyper-local sites, while Pegasus News was recently bought by Fisher Communications.
Methods for Collecting Hyper-Local News

In the past few years, people have used a variety of methods to capture hyper-local news, from assigning professional journalists to hyper-local beats to collecting stories from interested citizens, to a combination of the two. In terms of presentation, the storytelling format has included everything from articles and videos to blogs, wikis, and annotated maps. The following is a list of some of the ways that traditional and independent media have gathered hyper-local news.

To Read the Annotated Guide and Access Hyperlinked Resources

Mark Glaser: Your Guide to Local Watchdog News Sites

Your Guide to Local Watchdog News Sites
by Mark Glaser


Probably the biggest question in journalism circles these days is: What's going to happen to hard-nosed local reporting as newspapers shrink and close?

The answer is happening in so many places online that it's hard to count them all up. There are place-blogs, citizen journalism reports, video outfits, podcasts, and Twitter feeds galore. Each of them might do a smidgen of original reporting, but some of the most interesting local reporting comes from a crop of newish local websites that include newspaper refugees and usually some form of reader donation or non-profit model. Not surprisingly, the people who did all that hard-nosed reporting at newspapers might well be the people who continue to do the reporting -- albeit in stripped-down, possibly virtual newsrooms, with less overhead costs and less pay.

As each metro newspaper downsizes and cuts staff, those reporters are considering their next moves. These sites offer a temporary safe haven for reporters, a chance to not only continue to do reporting, but to do it online in new ways. Rather than write sparingly for the print newspaper, they can now blog more frequently about more subjects and write longer pieces. They might take photos and video to go along with their text stories. And surely they will have more contact with the readership through online comments, forums and other community outreach efforts.

The problem is that many of these new sites simply repurpose the newspaper model: run the same types of newspaper stories you see in print without taking advantage of the web. Most could use better eye-catching designs online and tend to be very text-heavy. Plus, few of these sites are doing the kind of database and map mash-ups that are a hallmark of the new brand of online journalism that brings readers back.

What about their business models? Everyone complains that online revenues cannot replace the lost print revenues at newspapers. These sites are trying everything to survive: pay walls, reader donations, grants, millionaire sugar daddies, ads, crowdfunding, and more. And that's what it will take. No one can say for sure which combination of revenues will sustain a local watchdog site, but they are at least taking the first step and trying something. (Already, INDenver Times has lost its initial financial backers and has dropped its plan for a pay wall on premium content.)

The following roundup is a guide to some of the better known local news sites run largely by traditional newspaper reporters, doing mainly original reporting. This list will surely grow over time as newspapers continue to trim staff and communities demand that their information needs are met.

To Read the Annotated/Hyperlinked Guide