Tuesday, December 28, 2010

Where Are The Jobs? For Many Companies, Overseas: Corporate profits are up. Stock prices are up. So why isn't anyone hiring?

Where Are The Jobs? For Many Companies, Overseas: Corporate profits are up. Stock prices are up. So why isn't anyone hiring?
by Associated Press
Common Dreams

Actually, many American companies are — just maybe not in your town. They're hiring overseas, where sales are surging and the pipeline of orders is fat.

More than half of the 15,000 people that Caterpillar Inc. has hired this year were outside the U.S. UPS is also hiring at a faster clip overseas. For both companies, sales in international markets are growing at least twice as fast as domestically.

The trend helps explain why unemployment remains high in the United States, edging up to 9.8 percent last month, even though companies are performing well: All but 4 percent of the top 500 U.S. corporations reported profits this year, and the stock market is close to its highest point since the 2008 financial meltdown.

But the jobs are going elsewhere. The Economic Policy Institute, a Washington think tank, says American companies have created 1.4 million jobs overseas this year, compared with less than 1 million in the U.S. The additional 1.4 million jobs would have lowered the U.S. unemployment rate to 8.9 percent, says Robert Scott, the institute's senior international economist.

"There's a huge difference between what is good for American companies versus what is good for the American economy," says Scott.

American jobs have been moving overseas for more than two decades. In recent years, though, those jobs have become more sophisticated — think semiconductors and software, not toys and clothes.

And now many of the products being made overseas aren't coming back to the United States. Demand has grown dramatically this year in emerging markets like India, China and Brazil.

Meanwhile, consumer demand in the U.S. has been subdued. Despite a strong holiday shopping season, Americans are still spending 3 percent less than before the recession on essential items like clothing and more than 10 percent less on jewelry, furniture, electronics, and big appliances, according to MasterCard's SpendingPulse.

"Companies will go where there are fast-growing markets and big profits," says Jeffrey Sachs, globalization expert and economist at Columbia University. "What's changed is that companies today are getting top talent in emerging economies, and the U.S. has to really watch out."

With the future looking brighter overseas, companies are building there, too. Caterpillar, maker of the signature yellow bulldozers and tractors, has invested in three new plants in China in just the last two months to design and manufacture equipment. The decision is based on demand: Asia-Pacific sales soared 38 percent in the first nine months of the year, compared with 16 percent in the U.S. Caterpillar stock is up 65 percent this year.

To Read the Rest of the Article

Monday, December 27, 2010

Mark Potok: Hatewatch’s 4th Annual Smackdown Awards

The Last Word: Hatewatch’s 4th Annual Smackdown Awards
by Mark Potok
Southern Poverty Law Center

A skirt-chasing neo-Nazi huffs about the sexual mores of “the Jews.” An infamous Fox News personality predicts that one quarter of Americans will be starving come New Year’s Day. A Southern heritage group initiates a festive commemoration of the war that left more Americans dead than any other. A woman who took a walking tour of Auschwitz six decades after the Nazis ran it describes it as a luxurious and friendly work camp. All ’round, it’s been quite a year on the domestic radical right, and our intrepid staffers have had quite a time keeping up with it all. But as we do every year, we’ve hiked up our pants, put on our wading boots, and plunged into the sewers in an effort to bring you a hair-raising assortment of the very worst of the radical right in 2010. Here, with apologies to Keith Olbermann, is a countdown of the list dredged up by Hatewatch’s 4th Annual Smackdown Awards Committee:

To Read the List

Kevin Onden, Tariq Ali, Gilbert Achcar and Ahmed Shawki: End the Siege of Gaza

End the Siege of Gaza
Panel with Kevin Ovenden, Tariq Ali, Gilbert Achcar and Ahmed Shawki
Socialism 2010 (Chicago)
We Are Many

After the Israeli military assault on the Freedom Flotilla (Kevin was part of the Flotilla), condemnation of the attack has spread around the world. In this panel discussion, four activists and scholars discuss the impact of this event on the international movement in solidarity with the Palestinian struggle.

To Listen to the Panel Discussion

Sunday, December 26, 2010

Ha-Joon Chang: Kicking Away the Ladder -- Neoliberals Rewrite History

Kicking Away the Ladder: Neoliberals Rewrite History
By Ha-Joon Chang
Monthly Review

There is currently great pressure on developing countries to adopt a set of “good
policies” and “good institutions”—such as liberalization of trade and investment and
strong patent law—to foster their economic development. When some developing
countries show reluctance in adopting them, the proponents of this recipe often find it difficult to understand these countries’ stupidity in not accepting such a tried and tested recipe for development. After all, they argue, these are the policies and the institutions that the developed countries had used in the past in order to become rich. Their belief in their own recommendations is so absolute that, in their view, they must be imposed on the developing countries through strong bilateral and multilateral external pressures, even when these countries don’t want them.

Naturally, there have been heated debates on whether these recommended policies and institutions are appropriate for developing countries. However, curiously, even many of those who are skeptical of the applicability of these policies and institutions to the developing countries take it for granted that these were the policies and the institutions that were used by the developed countries when they themselves were developing nations.

Contrary to the conventional wisdom, the historical fact is that the rich countries
did not develop on the basis of the policies and the institutions that they now recommend to, and often force upon, the developing countries. Unfortunately, this fact is little known these days because the “official historians” of capitalism have been very successful in rewriting its history. Almost all of today’s rich countries used tariff protection and subsidies to develop their industries. Interestingly, Great Britain and the United States, the two countries that are supposed to have reached summit of the world economy through their free-market free-trade policies, are actually the countries that have most aggressively used protection and subsidies.

Contrary to the popular myth, Britain was an aggressive user, and in certain areas
a pioneer, of activist policies intended to promote its industries. Such policies, although limited in scope, date back to the fourteenth century (Edward III) and the fifteenth century (Henry VII) in relation to woolen manufacturing, the leading industry of the time.

England was then an exporter of raw wool to the Low Countries, and Henry VII, for
example, tried to change this by taxing raw wool exports and poaching skilled workers
from the Low Countries. Particularly between the trade policy reform of its first Prime Minister, Robert Walpole, in 1721 and its adoption of free trade around 1860, Britain used very state-directed trade and industrial policies, involving measures very similar to those used later by countries like Japan and Korea to develop their industries. During this period, it protected its industries more than did France, the supposed counterpoint to its free-trade free-market system. Friedrich List, the leading German economist of the mid-nineteenth century, argued that given this history, Britain preaching free trade to less advanced countries like Germany and the United States was like someone trying to “kick away the ladder” with which he had climbed to the top. List was not alone in seeing the matter in this light.

Many American thinkers shared this view. Indeed, it was American thinkers like Alexander Hamilton, the first Treasury Secretary of the United States, and the now-forgotten economist Daniel Raymond, who first systematically developed the infant industry argument. List, considered the father of the infant industry argument,
started out as a free-trader (ardently supporting the Zollverein, a customs union which eliminated trade barriers among German states) and learned about this argument during his exile in the United States during the 1820s.

Little known today, the intellectual interaction between the United States and Germany during the nineteenth century did not end there. The German Historical School—represented by people like Wilhelm Roscher, Bruno Hildebrand, Karl Knies,
Gustav Schmoller, and Werner Sombart—attracted a lot of American economists in the
late nineteenth century. The patron saint of American neoclassical economics, John Bates Clark, in whose name the most prestigious award for young American economists is given today, went to Germany in 1873 and studied the German Historical School under Roscher and Knies, although he gradually drifted away from it. Richard Ely, one of the leading American economists of the time, also studied under Knies and influenced the American Institutionalist School through his disciple, John Commons. Ely was one of the founding fathers of the American Economic Association (AEA); to this day, the biggest public lecture at the Association’s annual meeting is given in Ely’s name, although few of the present AEA members would know who he was.

Between the Civil War and the Second World War, the United States had the most heavily protected economy in the world. Abraham Lincoln was a well-known protectionist who cut his political teeth under the charismatic politician Henry Clay in the Whig Party, which advocated the “American System” based on infrastructural development and protectionism. They understood that free trade was in the interests of Britain, but not the United States. One of Lincoln’s top economic advisors was the famous protectionist economist, Henry Carey, who was described as “the only American economist of importance” by Marx and Engels in the early 1850s but has now been almost completely airbrushed out of the history of American economic thought.

In protecting their industries, the Americans were going against the advice of such
prominent economists as Adam Smith and Jean Baptiste Say, who saw the country’s future in agriculture. However, the Americans knew exactly what they were doing. They
understood that Britain had reached the top through protection and subsidies, and they needed to do the same if they were going to get anywhere. Criticizing the British preaching of free trade to his country, Ulysses S. Grant, the Civil War hero and U.S. president from 1868 to 1876, retorted that “within 200 years, when America has gotten out of protection all that it can offer, it too will adopt free trade.” When his country later reached the top after the Second World War, it too started “kicking away the ladder,” preaching free trade to the less developed countries and forcing them to accept it.

To Read the Rest of the Essay

Joan Hechinger: U.S. Teens Lag as China Soars on International Test

"U.S. Teens Lag as China Soars on International Test"
by John Hechinger

China’s success in Shanghai results from the government’s abandonment of a system of “key schools” for elites and the institution of “a more inclusive system in which all students are expected to perform at high levels,” the OECD said in the report. China also raised teacher pay and standards and reduced rote learning, while giving... students and local authorities more choice in curriculum.

To Read the Article

Monday, December 20, 2010

David Hudson: Jafar Panahi Sentenced to 6 Years in Jail, 20 Years of Silence

Jafar Panahi Sentenced to 6 Years in Jail, 20 Years of Silence
by David Hudson

Shocking and terrible news from Tehran today. Farideh Gheirat, a lawyer representing several of the politicians, journalists and artists detained during the protests that immediately followed the disputed 2009 Iranian presidential election, has told the ISNA news agency (as reported by Reuters and the AFP) that Jafar Panahi has been sentenced to six years in jail and that his "social rights," including "making movies, writing scripts, foreign travel and giving interviews to domestic and foreign media, have been taken away for 20 years."

"Panahi, an outspoken supporter of Iran's opposition green movement, was convicted of gathering, colluding and propaganda against the regime," reports Saeed Kamali Dehghan. "Hamid Dabashi, a professor of Iranian studies at Columbia university, told the Guardian the sentence showed Iran's leaders could not tolerate the arts. 'This is a catastrophe for Iran's cinema,' he said. 'Panahi is now exactly in the most creative phase of his life and by silencing him at this sensitive time, they are killing his art and talent. Iran is sending a clear message by this sentence that they don't have any tolerance and can't bear arts, philosophy or anything like that. This is a sentence against the whole culture of Iran. They want the artists to sit at their houses and stop creating art. This is a catastrophe for a whole nation."

Gheirat has announced that she will appeal this decision, so we do have some hope that this incredibly harsh sentence will not stand. Panahi was one of several mourners who'd gathered near the grave of Neda Agha-Soltan in a Tehran cemetery who were arrested in July 2009. So, too, was filmmaker Muhammad Rasoulof, who has also been sentenced to six years today. When Panahi was released that summer, his passport was revoked and he was forbidden to leave the country. In March of this year, he was arrested again because, as the Iranian culture minister put it, he "was making a film against the regime and it was about the events that followed election." Throughout the ordeal, prominent filmmakers, film societies and festivals formally protested Panahi's detainment, and finally, in May, he was released on bail.

The speech he delivered during his hearing in November has been widely cited and quoted, and you can read it in full at Current Conflicts. Here's just a bit: "You are putting me on trial for making a film that, at the time of our arrest, was only 30 percent shot. You must have heard that the famous creed, 'There is no god, except Allah,' turns into blasphemy if you only say the first part and omit the second part. In the same vein, how can you establish that a crime has been committed by looking at 30 percent of the rushes for a film that has not been edited yet?... I, Jafar Panahi, declare once again that I am an Iranian, I am staying in my country and I like to work in my own country. I love my country, I have paid a price for this love too, and I am willing to pay again if necessary. I have yet another declaration to add to the first one. As shown in my films, I declare that I believe in the right of 'the other' to be different, I believe in mutual understanding and respect, as well as in tolerance; the tolerance that forbid me from judgment and hatred. I don't hate anybody, not even my interrogators."

To Read the Rest of the Report and Access Hyperlinked Resources

Saturday, December 18, 2010

Oscar Reyes and Tamra Gilbertson: Carbon Trading -- How It Works and Why It Fails

Carbon Trading: How it Works and Why it Fails
by Oscar Reyes and Tamra Gilbertson
New Left Project

Emissions trading is the EU’s flagship measure for tackling climate change, and it is failing badly. While in theory it provides a cheap and efficient means to limit greenhouse gas reductions within an ever-tightening cap, in practice it has rewarded major polluters with windfall profits, whilst undermining efforts to reduce pollution and achieve a more equitable and sustainable economy. This article briefly examines the theory of carbon trading, then looks at the empirical record of the EU Emissions Trading System and the UN Clean Development Mechanism - the world’s largest carbon trading schemes. It then briefly surveys the many alternative and equitable ways to tackle climate change.

Proponents of carbon trading argue that it offers a way for companies to `internalise’ the economic costs of climate change. It enables them to put a price on climate change impacts, which traditional economists would describe as an `externality’ - something that remains off the balance sheet and is therefore not taken into account when decisions are made. Putting a price on carbon is seen as allowing this `externality’ to be included in a company’s balance sheet. This is achieved either through taxation or trading (though the latter is claimed to be more flexible and corporate-friendly). The hidden hand of the market then guides finance towards the cheapest options for tackling climate change.

But there are some fundamental problems with this conception. Firstly, the claim that markets offer the cheapest solutions for tackling climate change begs the question: cheapest for whom and over what timescale? In fact carbon markets have tended to pursue short-term `fixes’, whilst displacing the responsibility for tackling climate change onto the global South. In this respect, such markets are promoting climate injustice.

Secondly, the adoption of carbon pricing through carbon trading entails a reframing of the climate change debate. It presumes that global warming can be addressed by the relatively simple translation of `unpriced’ pollution into a tradable, ownable commodity. This reduces the politics of climate change to a simple economic calculation about how to incentivise shifts in private sector investment. In so doing, it closes down the space for asking the very questions that are crucial if we are to make the structural changes that might tackle climate change: what changes do we need for escaping from our dependence on fossil fuels? What `development paradigms’ are being pursued? What environmental regulations are appropriate and just? What public investment programmes are needed, and how can community control of these finances be ensured? Is constant economic growth compatible with greenhouse gas emissions reductions?

More generally - and partly because of this reframing - the idea that the trading of `carbon’ as a commodity will address climate change implies that there is no need to ask key questions about where and when changes should be made. Even if the theory worked out as planned - which is far from the case - it would end up chasing the cheapest short-term cuts, incentivising quick fixes to patch up outmoded power stations and factories, rather than pursuing more fundamental changes. Moreover, what is cheap in the short term does not translate to an environmentally effective or socially just solution over the long term.

Cap and trade

There are two main forms that carbon trading takes: `cap and trade’ and offsetting. Under cap and trade schemes, governments or intergovernmental bodies set an overall legal limit on emissions in a certain time period (`a cap’) and then grant industries a certain number of licenses to pollute (`carbon permits’ or `emissions allowances’). Companies that do not meet their cap can buy permits from others that have a surplus (`a trade’). The idea is that a scarcity of permits to pollute should encourage their price to rise; and the resulting additional cost to industry and power producers should then encourage them to pollute less. The empirical evidence, however, suggests that the incentives created by the scheme work very differently - awarding profits to polluters and encouraging continued investment in fossil fuel-based technologies, while disadvantaging industry that is focused on transition away from fossil fuels. This is not an arbitrary product of misapplied rules; it is a product of the way these markets reinforce existing power relations, thereby contributing to unjust economic decision-making.

The world’s largest cap and trade scheme is the European Union Emissions Trading Scheme (EU ETS). It has created a trade in European Union Allowances (EUAs), which are allocated according to National Allocation Plans, which are in turn subject to European Commission approval. The EU ETS covers approximately 11,500 power stations, factories and refineries in 30 countries - the 27 EU member states, plus Norway, Iceland and Lichtenstein. These account for almost half of the EU’s CO2 emissions, and include most of the largest single, static emissions sources, including power and heat generation, oil refineries, iron and steel, pulp and paper, cement, lime and glass production.

In the first phase of the scheme, from 2005 to 2008, however, far too many emissions permits were handed out to these industries - largely as a result of intensive corporate lobbying. When the first emissions data was released in April 2006, it showed that 4 per cent more permits were handed out than the actual level of emissions within the EU. In other words, the `cap’ did not cap anything. Nor was it just the first year of the scheme that was over-allocated. By the end of phase 1, emitters had been given permits to emit 130 million tonnes more CO2 than they actually did, a surplus of 2.1 per cent. As a result the price of carbon permits collapsed and never recovered. From a peak of around 30, the price slid below 10 in April 2006, and below 1 in the spring of 2007.

A further major criticism levelled at the first phase of the EU ETS is that it generated huge `windfall profits’ for power producers, helping them to make large unearned financial gains as a result of flaws in the rules rather than any proactive measures taken to reduce emissions through structural changes. An inquiry by the UK Parliament’s Environmental Audit Committee found that `it is widely accepted that UK power generators are likely to make substantial windfall profits from the EU ETS amounting to £500 million a year or more’. At first glance, this seems contradictory. How can polluters profit when the value of the credits in the scheme fell to almost nothing? The answer lies in the way energy companies account for the costs of the EU ETS. The costs that are indirectly passed on to consumers through an increase in wholesale energy prices do not reflect what carbon credits actually cost, but rather what the companies assume they may cost. This leaves considerable scope for over-estimates. First, by assuming a larger than necessary need to buy permits or credits; second, by assuming that there will be a high carbon price; and third, by assuming the costs of replacing EU Allowances, irrespective of their actual use of offset credits, which in any case have consistently commanded lower prices. When these assumptions have turned out to be over-generous, the surplus is more often pocketed as profit than returned.

The same problems of over-allocated permits and windfall profits for polluters are occurring in the second phase of the EU scheme, which runs from 2008 to 2012. Research by market analysts Point Carbon, for example, has calculated that the likely windfall profits made by power companies in phase 2 could be between 23 billion and 71 billion (and between 6 and 15 billion for UK power producers alone). Given that the majority of permits are still allocated for free, the EU ETS is effectively providing a subsidy stream for highly polluting industry. The example of ArcelorMittal, the world’s largest steelmaker and the holder of the greatest surplus of EU ETS permits, is instructive. It has routinely been awarded a surplus of permits of around 25 to 35 per cent above its actual level of emissions, and this has allowed the company to gain a subsidy of up to 2 billion since 2005. A recent Carbon Rich List survey, meanwhile, concluded that the 10 industries (mostly steel and cement companies) with the largest surplus of permits stand to gain over 3.5 billion in subsidies between 2008 and 2012.

To Read the Rest of the Essay

Monday, December 13, 2010

Beth Connors-Manke: Art-Gate -- A Fight Over the Public

Art-gate: a fight over the public
By Beth Connors-Manke
North of Center

In our last issue, Betsy Taylor wrote a poignant and critical article entitled “Islam, Violence and Mourning in America.” In that article, she wrote about the murder of her friend Dan Terry in Afghanistan; after 30 years of work in community development abroad, Terry was gunned down in August. Terry represented a “dynamic sense of human solidarity, open and creative” – he was an exemplar of civic action, civic being.

Taylor’s article was about the loss of a friend, but it was also more broadly about how American culture has come to work, politically and otherwise. Advocating for an American civic sphere in which citizens come together in order to act together, to create a reality together, Taylor drew on the work of political philosopher Hannah Arendt who describes a citizenry “who pledge to act together for the common good.”

Arguing against an American climate in which defensive boundary protection rules the day, Taylor wrote that this citizenry “is more open and less anxious about boundaries. . . It [has] a covenant to both care for the commons and to safeguard individual dignity and agency — to recognize their interdependence.”

Taylor was a professor of mine, and it is she who first introduced me to Hannah Arendt’s work. A German Jew, Arendt was forced to leave Germany in 1933; she eventually immigrated to the U.S. in 1944, where she remained until her death. I almost immediately fell in love with Arendt’s political philosophy because it conceptualized a political culture in which citizens could come together to create a shared world without having to enforce one common identity or political ideology.

Arendt’s views on American public controversies weren’t always well received. Her 1959 essay “Reflections on Little Rock” about the integration of Central High School in Little Rock in 1957 angered activists and writers. In “Reflections,” the philosopher argued against racial oppression and the federal enforcement of the integration of public schools.

Arendt pointed out that while adults were making children the agents of social and political change, they were ignoring the fact that a more important human right was being ignored: the right to marry whomever one wishes. In other words, the South was allowed to keep its miscegenation laws on the books. The political philosopher felt that “the right to home and marriage” was more fundamental than “the right to attend an integrated school.”

In other words, Arendt was asking: Are you fighting the right fight?

The Art-gate Fight

Also in our last issue, on the back page, was a photo of a new mural publicly displayed on N. Limestone. I had noted and enjoyed the mural. I asked a few people if they knew who had done it; they didn’t know. The piece itself had nothing indicating the author’s name or the title of the mural.

When a photographer submitted a photo of the mural, we ran it with a caption mimicking the experience of passersby who saw the art and wondered who did it. The caption asked for the name of artist and the mural’s title so we could, in our next issue, “solve the mystery.”

The response to that caption and the running of the photo of what turned out to be Niah Soult’s mural churned up a discussion that was unexpected, emotional, accusatory, and at times uncivil. NoC has come to call the episode Art-gate.

To Read the Rest of the Essay

Emptywheel: The Misplaced US Determination To Indict Assange

The Misplaced US Determination To Indict Assange


Exactly what laws would the DOJ prosecute Assange under? There are two options that appear to have gained traction, the first being the Espionage Act, which is codified in US statutory criminal law in Title 18, Chapter 37, i.e. 18 USC 792 et seq. There are really only two provisions here that could likely be applied to Assange/Wiki, 18 USC 793 “Gathering, transmitting or losing defense information” and 18 USC 798 “Disclosure of classified information”. A review of both statutes yields, at first blush, language that could encompass the conduct of Assange and WikiLeaks.

The infirmity of both provisions becomes apparent upon closer inspection. 18 USC contains several stated active prohibitions, however “publication” is certainly not one of them. There is solid historical authority that such omission of “publication” as a prohibited act was intentional (one would assume in light of the First Amendment). As Jennifer Elsea states in a wonderful discussion in a recent official Congressional Research Service Report:

Moreover, the statutes described in the previous section have been used almost exclusively to prosecute individuals with access to classified information (and a corresponding obligation to protect it) who make it available to foreign agents, or to foreign agents who obtain classified information unlawfully while present in the United States. Leaks of classified information to the press have only rarely been punished as crimes, and we are aware of no case in which a publisher of information obtained through unauthorized disclosure by a government employee has been prosecuted for publishing it. There may be First Amendment implications that would make such a prosecution difficult, not to mention political ramifications based on concerns about government censorship. To the extent that the investigation implicates any foreign nationals whose conduct occurred entirely overseas, any resulting prosecution may carry foreign policy implications related to the exercise of extraterritorial jurisdiction.

Exactly. And the last bit on “extraterritorial jurisdiction” is not to be overlooked in the discussion either (although it mostly has been to date). Neither Assange nor WikiLeaks committed any overt act on US soil, within its territorial bulge, nor in or on a US controlled facility overseas. Assange is neither an US citizen or permissive resident, nor does his conduct seem to fall within the parameters of the within the Special Maritime and Territorial Jurisdiction of the United States. In short, Assange is neither a US subject of any kind, nor does he appear to have physically committed any overt act within the jurisdiction, even extended, of the United States.

To conclude the Espionage Act discussion, I harken back to New York Times v. United States, where Mr. Justice William O. Douglas wrote,

It is apparent that Congress was capable of, and did, distinguish between publishing and communication in the various sections of the Espionage Act.

The various concurring majority opinions in New York Times v. United States are a treasure trove of law directly against the attempt by the Obama DOJ to prosecute Julian Assange under the Espionage Act, and they are a roadmap for Assange’s defense if they do. If the DOJ undertakes such charges, it is a crystal clear signal their own written prosecutorial standards, as discussed above, are worthless and not worth the paper they are printed on.

The second charging modality against Assange that has been identified by the government relates to receiving and/or retaining stolen property. Receiving and trafficking in stolen property is by definition almost always a state law based offense; however, there is a Federal statute that has occasionally been used in situations having at least some analogy to Assange. The statute is 18 USC 641 and it was used to prosecute Samuel Morison and Jonathan Randal. The difference, of course, is that both Morison and Randal were government employees working in intel (Morison) and for the DEA (Randal).

In short, both gentlemen – Morison and Randal – were Bradley Manning, not Julian Assange; and in both cases the press was not pursued. Because the press is simply in a different posture in light of the First Amendment and the plethora of crystal clear caselaw. Secondly, 18 USC 641 facially contemplates a “thing” or “property” and the argument could certainly be made that no such tangible object was ever removed from the government’s possession, nor were they deprived of the use or possession thereof.

Frankly, while this is an argument I would certainly throw out were I defending Assange, I would not want to hang my hat on it. It is not so hard to see a court finding a digital copy of the cable files to be within the ambit of the statute; especially after the warning Harold Koh gave clearly setting up this application of section 641. The problem is, the DOJ still runs headfirst into the brick wall that is the First Amendment separation of press and publication under the seminal New York Times v. United States case. Again, it is impossible to read the majority opinions in New York Times and find the headroom for the US DOJ to prosecute Julian Assange short of engaging in the production of contorted and scurrilous horse manure.

Oh, and one other thing, about the thought that if Assange is prosecuted, the New York Times could be too; no less an authority than former Bush Attorney General Michael Mukasey suggests, while such may place the NYT squarely within the prosecutorial ambit, that the DOJ simply engage in straight up selective prosecution and go only after Assange. Nice. Remember when all those high minded bloggers were saying how principled Mukasey was and what a refreshing choice he would be to replace Alberto Gonzales? I do; that didn’t work out so well.

Eric Holder and the DOJ cannot possibly find jurisdiction to charge American contractors who torture and murder people in the course and scope of their employment by the US Government abroad, and cannot charge CIA supervisors and OLC lawyers who patently admit to destruction of evidence and conspiracy to commit war crimes; however, the same DOJ is now suddenly able to be so legally creative as to find a path to charging a person under the Espionage Act who is not a US citizen, owed the US no duty under citizenship and treason provisions, committed no act within the jurisdiction of the US and who is a member within the general definition of “press” and who only published purported whistleblower leaks given to him. It is amazing how the DOJ is willing to go out on that “limb” when it wants to, but can never so travel when the interests of justice really demand it to.

In conclusion, and to bring this post full circle, there is no established viable basis for prosecuting Julian Assange, in fact all precedent is to the contrary. To do so flies directly in the face of the once vaunted DOJ guidelines for criminal prosecution. For these reasons, there is no reason to consider the attempts by the US government to prosecute Assange as anything but a craven facial assault on the First Amendment and freedom of the press. After seeing the disdain, contempt and avarice the Obama Administration has displayed toward the Fourth Amendment and Fifth Amendment, I guess no one should be shocked.

To Read the Entire Commentary and to Access Hyperlinked Resources

Robert Scheer: Payback at the Polls

In this live chat session, Robert Scheer responded to readers’ questions and comments about his latest column, “Payback at the Polls,” dealing with the 2010 midterm election.


Anderson: The first question is from Bob from Fulton, Mo.: With the president already on record more or less intending to govern as a moderate Republican, what should progressives do in the next two years to influence the conversation?

Scheer: Well, a moderate Republican in the mode of Dwight Eisenhower, who was far better than any of the presidents who came after him, would be welcome. You know, even Richard Nixon favored a guaranteed annual income. What I’m worried about is Obama may do what Clinton did, which was move to the right—to the right of Richard Nixon, to the right of Dwight Eisenhower. And it was Bill Clinton, in response to his reversal in the ’94 election, who ushered in the disastrous radical financial deregulation that caused this whole problem. And Obama, in his extreme stupidity—and I use those words advisedly—turned to the same fools that created this mess under Clinton, to Lawrence Summers and Timothy Geithner, the protégés of that raging genius, Robert Rubin, and gave us this stupidity that said that Wall Street did not need any brakes on the system, any road rules, any rules of engagement.

And as a result, we have 50 million Americans that have either lost their homes or have their mortgages underwater and are thinking of walking away from their homes. We have 44 million Americans living under the official poverty line. We have a disaster going on here, and the people who call themselves progressives, that have sold their soul to the Democratic Party, seem to have an inability to recognize this. They’re yapping cheerleaders. Even Jon Stewart, who I’ve respected in the past, would have Obama on just before the election, and accept this nonsense that, oh, “Summers did a heckuva job.” He only quibbled about the word? This is a disaster that we’ve had. And as a result, the right wing, which can be very dangerous—if they start blaming immigrants, if they cut back needed social programs, yeah, they’re a real danger. And if we don’t do what we have to do to get out of this mess, it’s a really big problem.

Anderson: [Question from Truthdig member chacaboy]: There’s a preamble here. It says, “If Obama had not shown so much deference to Wall Street and the military and such eagerness for an exorbitantly expensive occupation of Afghanistan and excessive military budget, I could have sympathy. But as it is, I cannot distinguish Obama from most Republicans, including George W. Bush.” So now he says: “I would like to ask if there is any truth to the idea that we have something to lose by our critique?” I guess progressives critiquing Obama is the context there. “Is there anything to the argument (i.e. columnist Ruth Marcus) that Obama passed a stimulus package, he got health care done, and he passed financial regulations, and to withdraw support from him now would be to lose more ground by throwing the baby out with the bathwater?”

Scheer: Well, you know, we live in a democracy, and the key to democracy is that we not surrender our common sense or our ability to think. And what she [Marcus] said in that article was just gibberish. I mean, what are we talking about? First of all, the American people have rejected health care. At least half of them find it terrible, and the other half seem to be quite tepid about it. I’m tepid about it. You know, yeah, there are some good things in the health care thing, but there’s no cost control. It forces people to buy health insurance from insurance companies that are not going to do us any favors. This administration gave us something called health reform which is really, at best, mild, and at worst quite costly and disastrous. It certainly is not the thing they should have moved on when they had a banking meltdown, when we had a disaster in the economy. It was a feint. It was an attempt to find some win-win thing which didn’t work out. Health care should not have been the big item on the agenda; it was done for opportunistic reasons, you know, because they didn’t want to confront Wall Street. And instead of spending his capital on making the Wall Street system correct and putting sensible regulations in, he settled for very mild regulations on Wall Street and a very weak consumer agency; he couldn’t even push through Elizabeth Warren as a confirmed appointee with some real power. And as a result, you know, health care basically did not help him, and it’s been mostly a distraction. And the right wing has used it—you know, “socialized medicine” and all that garbage; of course, it’s nothing of the sort.

And so the real problem is that Obama has not only failed to deal with our meltdown; he’s exacerbated it. The stimulus was not effective. An enormous amount of money has been spent making the banks whole. I don’t know why these columnists can’t look at the numbers—the apologists for Obama—why don’t they talk about the over $2 trillion that were spent to take toxic assets off the books of the banks, but not a penny—not a penny really being spent to make people whole who are hurting. Where is the mortgage forgiveness, where is the moratorium on mortgage foreclosures? We don’t even know who owns these homes, 65 million homes, thanks to a system that Bill Clinton helped put in place, with the great liberals at Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac cooperating with the swindlers at Countrywide Mortgage, put in place this Mortgage Electronic Registration Systems so 65 million American homes are owned by a computer bank in Reston, Va., owned by the banks, and we don’t even know who owns these homes.

And so last month we had the highest number of foreclosures, people are in great pain, and progressives still blindly support the president out of some idea that he’s the lesser evil. That’s a betrayal of democracy. We’ve got to call it the way we see it. And the best thing you can do for Obama is to have sharp criticism from the progressive side, and he hasn’t been getting it. He was able to roll over the progressives, he was able to take them for granted, and unfortunately some of those very same progressives were the victims of this folly, like [Sen.] Russ Feingold in Wisconsin. My God, I mean the poor guy was one of the few people who stood against this, and he got overwhelmed by this rage out there. So I really have no sympathy at all for this position. We keep going this way, and it’s going to be a real, a bigger Republican sweep in two years.

To Read the Entire Live Chat and/or Listen To It

Sunday, December 12, 2010

TomDispatch: Karen Greenberg -- Gitmo 2.0

Gitmo 2.0

Karen Greenberg, of the NYU School of Law, discusses the future of Guantanamo detainees. (music: Wyclef Jean & Celia Cruz)

To Listen to the Interview

Dave McDougall: History Lessons (Pt. 2) -- Notes on Steven Soderbergh's "Che"

History Lessons (Pt. 2): Notes on Steven Soderbergh's "Che"
by Dave McDougall


Part Two of Che begins with images of Bolivian miners. These are not portraits of revolutionaries, but of the need for revolution.

Domino theory, or, the threat of a good example: Again we return to maps. This time they are of South America as a whole, each country labelled as if in a future trajectory of revolution. Then, all countries together, turning shades of red. Again the maps historicize the situation, and walk us through strategies for takeover. Now the Cuba map from the overture of Part One clicks: these maps represent not just a geography, but a plan of attack. Now we know what we’re in for in Bolivia – and perhaps, elsewhere. The battle for Bolivia is thus a bigger wager than that of an exported national revolution – it is a test of the historical inevitability of communism in Latin America.

History, again: we watch a television showing Fidel reading Che's letter of resignation. Our view is slanted, our images doubly framed. History is viewed from afar, obscured, sideways. History makes icons out of people, symbols out of leaders, decorations out of actions. History is framed.

To Read the Rest of the Visual Essay

Friday, December 10, 2010

Guardian: Bettencourt feud ends but battle rumbles on for Sarkozy

Bettencourt feud ends but battle rumbles on for Sarkozy: L'Oréal heiress and daughter settle court fight, but French elite still on edge after saga exposes gulf with rest of France
by Angelique Chrisafis

The cast list and plot twists were almost too bizarre to be true: an octogenarian billionaire; an eccentric dandy who peed in her flowerbeds and took gifts worth almost a billion euros; politicians who came to dinner and left with envelopes of cash; and a disgruntled butler who hid a tape-recorder in the drawing room.

The family feud that has torn apart one of France's richest dynasties officially ended this week when the Bettencourts, heirs to the L'Oréal cosmetics empire, signed a surprise truce between warring mother and daughter. But France is still reeling from what the spat has revealed about the nation.

It has renewed accusations that Nicolas Sarkozy's France is an oligarchy, where the president's coterie of extraordinarily wealthy business friends enjoy special privileges in exchange for financial support. Judges continue to investigate allegations of illegal political party funding, influence peddling, conflict of interest, tax evasion and phone-tapping of the media that have arisen from the Bettencourt case.

These inquiries into potential political corruption could prove damaging to Sarkozy and his bid for re-election in 2012. Already the case has caused outrage by exposing the widening gulf between the super-rich elite and rest of France. And the upstairs-downstairs Bettencourt story – described by several newspapers as "the nation's soap opera" – is now likely to inspire a round of films.

The drama unfolded in the Bettencourts' €30m mansion, secluded behind poplar trees in the rich Paris suburb of Neuilly-sur-Seine, known as Sarkozy's fiefdom after his time as mayor. Here, Liliane Bettencourt, 88, the richest woman in France, is waited on by 17 staff, including chambermaids, cooks, hairdressers, nurses and a beautician who undertakes the daily "preparation of her skin" before her makeup is applied. Works by artists from Matisse to Braque line the walls. Meals are served on antique porcelain and the dogs eat only fresh fish.

Bettencourt, whose fortune exceeds €17bn (£14bn), was once France's poor little rich girl. Her mother died when she was five, leaving her alone with her workaholic father, Eugène Schueller, a chemist and one-time Nazi sympathiser who made a fortune as the inventor of modern hair dye and founder of L'Oréal. His daughter went on to marry the politician André Bettencourt, who died in 2007. After his death, their daughter, Françoise Bettencourt-Meyers, decided to take legal action against her mother's eccentric best friend, the photographer and artist François-Marie Banier.

Banier already had a history of friendships with rich widows when he became Bettencourt's confidant and court jester. The one-time golden boy of 1970s Paris had partied with celebrities from Salvador Dalí and Yves Saint-Laurent to Kate Moss. But some of Bettencourt's domestic staff were horrified by his style. One reported that Banier urinated in the flowerbeds and called Bettencourt a "bitch", another told how he grabbed a lipstick from her saying it was an "ugly" shade. Bettencourt said he made her laugh and she gave him almost €1bn worth of gifts, including paintings and a salary from L'Oréal. Her daughter filed a court case suing Banier for exploiting her mother's frail mental state.

Then secret recordings made by Bettencourt's butler threatened to engulf France's ruling political class. The tapes included her financial adviser instructing the confused Bettencourt to sign cheques for politicians, including Sarkozy. Eric Woerth, the budget minister and treasurer of the president's party, was described as "a friend" to whom she should give money. Woerth's wife, Florence, was employed in the team that managed Bettencourt's riches, a potential conflict of interest given that her husband was in charge of collecting tax. The tapes also revealed nearly €80m hidden in Swiss accounts, as well as the secret ownership of Arros, a private island in the Seychelles, which appeared to have been promised to Banier.

To Read the Rest of the Article

Forbes: An Interview With WikiLeaks’ Julian Assange

An Interview With WikiLeaks’ Julian Assange
by Andy Greenberg


These megaleaks, as you call them, we haven’t seen any of those from the private sector.

No, not at the same scale as for the military.

Will we?

Yes. We have one related to a bank coming up, that’s a megaleak. It’s not as big a scale as the Iraq material, but it’s either tens or hundreds of thousands of documents depending on how you define it.

Is it a U.S. bank?

Yes, it’s a U.S. bank.

One that still exists?

Yes, a big U.S. bank.

The biggest U.S. bank?

No comment.

When will it happen?

Early next year. I won’t say more.

What do you want to be the result of this release?

[Pauses] I’m not sure.

It will give a true and representative insight into how banks behave at the executive level in a way that will stimulate investigations and reforms, I presume.

Usually when you get leaks at this level, it’s about one particular case or one particular violation. For this, there’s only one similar example. It’s like the Enron emails. Why were these so valuable? When Enron collapsed, through court processes, thousands and thousands of emails came out that were internal, and it provided a window into how the whole company was managed. It was all the little decisions that supported the flagrant violations.

This will be like that. Yes, there will be some flagrant violations, unethical practices that will be revealed, but it will also be all the supporting decision-making structures and the internal executive ethos that cames out, and that’s tremendously valuable. Like the Iraq War Logs, yes there were mass casualty incidents that were very newsworthy, but the great value is seeing the full spectrum of the war.

You could call it the ecosystem of corruption. But it’s also all the regular decision making that turns a blind eye to and supports unethical practices: the oversight that’s not done, the priorities of executives, how they think they’re fulfilling their own self-interest. The way they talk about it.

To Read the Entire Interview

Oliver Broudy: Has Assange Turned Me Into An Anarchist?

Has Assange Turned Me Into An Anarchist?: WikiLeaks wants to topple the Information State. Bring it on.
by Oliver Broudy
Mother Jones


That some of the leaked secrets actually seem to support American interests shows how government can become captive to its own insular culture, and lose the wherewithal to shape public debate based on the facts. One might feel better about this if journalists could still convincingly carry out this function. However, journalistic access to official sources has become harder to come by than ever. Between 2006 and 2009, news room budgets were cut by $1.6 billion. Meanwhile, on the government side, between 1996 and 2009, the number of documents and other communications containing information labeled secret has risen 1,000 percent. We are at the mercy of PR, an industry that in the space of a decade has more than doubled.

In fact, the best evidence that traditional journalism may no longer be an effective watchdog is the unprecedented series of front page stories that even this relatively low-level, if voluminous, stash of cables produced: If journalists had the resources and access they needed, they might have broken some of these stories a long time ago. (As Assange told the Sydney Morning Herald earlier this year, "How is it that a team of five people has managed to release to the public more suppressed information, at that level, than the rest of the world press combined? It's disgraceful.")

Of course, the incrementalists have a point too, which is that WikiLeaks' radical tactics will only give rise to more secrecy, and that the establishment will simply slink deeper into the shadows. The already shrinking space in which journalists operate will contract even further, leaving more room for make-believe journalists like Glenn Beck.

Sure enough, less than one week after the most recent WikiLeaks dump, Sen. Joe Lieberman (I-Conn.) proposed legislation making it illegal to publish the names of informants serving the US military or intelligence agencies. For the journalist, the rules of the game are rarely so clearly manifest: Either be content with the crumbs that the political establishment flicks from the table, or be prepared to lose your access entirely. It's the same tension that limits the really disruptive questions in White House press briefings to interloping activists with nothing to lose. Really probing inquiry, ultimately, is about as welcome to the government as an anarchist at a GOP presidential convention.

We usually accept this just as we accept partisan gridlock and corporate lobbying: This is the way the system works. We take it for granted that very little can be done about it. Right up to the moment, that is, when someone plants himself, like the Tianamen Square tank man, squarely before the government juggernaut, and refuses to step aside. Then we're treated to an amazing spectacle: This is what it looks like when power squirms. When the US government warns its employees to steer their eyes away from the WikiLeaks documents even though they're on every front page and news site. When Sweden and Interpol, possibly in response to US pressure, pursue trumped up charges against the WikiLeaks founder. When Mike Huckabee calls for alleged leaker Bradley Manning's execution, Sarah Palin says Assange should be "hunted down," and Congressman Peter King (R-N.Y.) declares that WikiLeaks should be designated a terrorist organization.

For those of us struggling to interpret these events, the attacks on Assange suddenly shift the debate from the content of the cables to whether it was right for them to be released in the first place. By force of habit we tend to defer to the establishment, simply because there's no point in backing a loser, and so long as the establishment writes the rules of this game, the establishment can't ever lose.

But here's where a final distinction between the anarchist and WikiLeaks revolution reveals itself: Thanks to the internet, where more than 1,200 copies of the WikiLeaks site are currently mirrored, this revolution might actually succeed.

It was precisely this kind of revolution that the internet once promised. In the '90s, we thought it was going to change everything by ushering in a new age of democracy, of equality, of access. Instead, it became just another way to buy shoes. How gratifying, then, to see that promise renewed. And how tempting to finally be able to say: Screw Joe Lieberman.

To Read the Rest of the Essay

David C. Simmons: The Dysphoric Style in Contemporary American Independent Cinema

The Dysphoric Style in Contemporary American Independent Cinema
by David C. Simmons
The Florida State University College of Arts and Sciences


This dissertation argues that contemporary American independent cinema needs to be theorized in a new way. Film criticism has traditionally defined independent film in one of two ways: financing (which, as we see by George Lucas’ independently financed Star Wars: Episode III—Revenge of the Sith [2005], is not an adequate approach) or anti-Hollywood content (which is problematic because it only explains what this cinema is not, rather than what it is). Instead, I argue that contemporary American independent cinema is best defined in terms of style. This style may best be described as dysphoric (a state of anxiety or restlessness specifically constructed for the spectator). Building from David Bordwell’s analysis of film form, I show how the dysphoric style structures the aspects of 1) narrative causality; 2) temporal relations; and 3) spatial relations. Such a style arises from and conveys the nihilistic themes that characterize contemporary American independent cinema.

Chapter 1 examines narrative, arguing that the dysphoric style constructs narratives
with loose causality, ambiguity, unresolved gaps, an open ending, and passive characters devoid of clear goals. Looking closely at the film Pi (Darren Aronofsky, 1998), I explicate how its narrative is distinct from a film with similar themes, but which arises from a completely different group style, A Beautiful Mind (Ron Howard, 2001). Comparing and contrasting the pair of films in this and subsequent chapters allows for greater illumination of the distinct nature of the dysphoric style. I also provide additional examples of independent films in this and the following chapters to substantiate my argument. Chapter 2 examines the realm of temporality, arguing that Memento (Christopher Nolan, 2001) constructs time in a way that heightens ambiguity and leaves unresolved narrative gaps, something quite different than Pulp Fiction (Quentin Tarantino, 1994) which I show to be a mainstream film, despite its reputation. Chapter 3 looks at space, while providing a critique of Bordwell’s account using more recent scholarship. I argue that dysphoric space is fragmented, unstable, unclear, metaphoric, and subjective. Here SLC Punk (James vi Merendino, 1998) is revealed as being spatially dysphoric, while Mallrats (Kevin Smith, 1995), a film often considered independent, is really only performing the same old classical maneuvers. Chapter 4 describes the evolution of the dysphoric style, presenting a case about how it morphed from the existential styles of film noir and European Art Cinema of the 1960s. I also demonstrate how the dysphoric style in turn influences its own neighboring contemporary cinemas. This dissertation provides a new way to conceptualize, theorize, and discuss the phenomenon I am calling contemporary American independent cinema. It enables a more nuanced understanding of its films. It provides an opportunity to notice how contemporary American independent cinema intersects, informs, is distinguished from, and is influenced by other cinemas. Most importantly, it allows us to understand U.S.
culture in a more complex manner by seeing how this cinema not only reflects nihilism, but produces it.

To Read the Dissertation

Thursday, December 09, 2010

UK Guardian: Ongoing Timeline of the Student Protests

UK Guardian: Ongoing Timeline of the Student Protests

Robert Darnton: The Library -- Three Jermiads

The Library: Three Jeremiads
Robert Darnton
The New York Review of Books


Google represents the ultimate in business plans. By controlling access to information, it has made billions, which it is now investing in the control of the information itself. What began as Google Book Search is therefore becoming the largest library and book business in the world. Like all commercial enterprises, Google’s primary responsibility is to make money for its shareholders. Libraries exist to get books to readers—books and other forms of knowledge and entertainment, provided for free. The fundamental incompatibility of purpose between libraries and Google Book Search might be mitigated if Google could offer libraries access to its digitized database of books on reasonable terms. But the terms are embodied in a 368-page document known as the “settlement,” which is meant to resolve another conflict: the suit brought against Google by authors and publishers for alleged infringement of their copyrights.

Despite its enormous complexity, the settlement comes down to an agreement about how to divide a pie—the profits to be produced by Google Book Search: 37 percent will go to Google, 63 percent to the authors and publishers. And the libraries? They are not partners to the agreement, but many of them have provided, free of charge, the books that Google has digitized. They are being asked to buy back access to those books along with those of their sister libraries, in digitized form, for an “institutional subscription” price, which could escalate as disastrously as the price of journals. The subscription price will be set by a Book Rights Registry, which will represent the authors and publishers who have an interest in price increases. Libraries therefore fear what they call “cocaine pricing”—a strategy of beginning at a low rate and then, when customers are hooked, ratcheting up the price as high as it will go.

To become effective, the settlement must be approved by the district court in the Southern Federal District of New York. The Department of Justice has filed two memoranda with the court that raise the possibility, indeed the likelihood, that the settlement could give Google such an advantage over potential competitors as to violate antitrust laws. But the most important issue looming over the legal debate is one of public policy. Do we want to settle copyright questions by private litigation? And do we want to commercialize access to knowledge?

I hope that the answer to those questions will lead to my happy ending: a National Digital Library—or a Digital Public Library of America (DPLA), as some prefer to call it. Google demonstrated the possibility of transforming the intellectual riches of our libraries, books lying inert and underused on shelves, into an electronic database that could be tapped by anyone anywhere at any time. Why not adapt its formula for success to the public good—a digital library composed of virtually all the books in our greatest research libraries available free of charge to the entire citizenry, in fact, to everyone in the world?

To dismiss this goal as naive or utopian would be to ignore digital projects that have proven their worth and feasibility throughout the last twenty years. All major research libraries have digitized parts of their collections. Since 1995 the Digital Library Federation has worked to combine their catalogues or “metadata” into a general network. More ambitious enterprises such as the Internet Archive, Knowledge Commons, and Public.Resource .Org have attempted digitization on a larger scale. They may be dwarfed by Google, but several countries are now determined to out-Google Google by scanning the entire contents of their national libraries.

In December 2009 President Nicolas Sarkozy of France announced that he would make €750 million available for digitizing the French cultural “patrimony.” The National Library of the Netherlands aims to digitize within ten years every Dutch book, newspaper, and periodical produced from 1470 to the present. National libraries in Japan, Australia, Norway, and Finland are digitizing virtually all of their holdings; and Europeana, an effort to coordinate digital collections on an international scale, will have made over ten million objects—from libraries, archives, museums, and audiovisual holdings—freely accessible online by the end of 2010.

If these countries can create national digital libraries, why can’t the United States? Because of the cost, some would argue. Far more works exist in English than in Dutch or Japanese, and the Library of Congress alone contains 30 million volumes. Estimates of the cost of digitizing one page vary enormously, from ten cents (the figure cited by Brewster Kahle, who has digitized over a million books for the Internet Archive) to ten dollars, depending on the technology and the required quality. But it should be possible to digitize everything in the Library of Congress for less than Sarkozy’s €750 million—and the cost could be spread out over a decade.

The greatest obstacle is legal, not financial. Presumably, the DPLA would exclude books currently being marketed, but it would include millions of books that are out of print yet covered by copyright, especially those published between 1923 and 1964, a period when copyright coverage is most obscure, owing to the proliferation of “orphans”—books whose copyright holders have not been located. Congress would have to pass legislation to protect the DPLA from litigation concerning copyrighted, out-of-print books. The rights holders of those books would have to be compensated, yet many of them, especially among academic authors, might be willing to forgo compensation in order to give their books new life and greater diffusion in digitized form. Several authors protested against the commercial character of Google Book Search and expressed their readiness to make their work available free of charge in memoranda filed with the New York District Court.

Perhaps even Google itself could be enlisted in the cause. It has digitized about two million books in the public domain. It could turn them over to the DPLA as the foundation of a collection that would grow to include more recent books—at first those from the problematic period of 1923–1964, then those made available by their rights holders. Google would lose nothing by this generosity; each digitized book that it made available could, if other donors agree, be identified as a contribution from Google; and it might win admiration for its public-spiritedness.

Even if Google refused to cooperate, a coalition of foundations could provide enough to finance the DPLA, and a coalition of research libraries could provide the books. By working systematically through their holdings, a great collection could be formed. It would conform to the highest standards in its bibliographical apparatus, its scanning, its editorial decisions, and its commitment to preservation for the use of future generations.

Should the Google Book Search agreement not be upheld by the court, its unraveling would come at an extraordinary moment in the development of an information society. We have now reached a period of fluidity, uncertainty, and opportunity. Things have come undone, and they can be put together in new ways, subordinating private profit to the public good and providing everyone with access to a commonwealth of culture.

Would a Digital Public Library of America solve all the other problems—the inflation of journal prices, the economics of scholarly publishing, the unbalanced budgets of libraries, and the barriers to the careers of young scholars? No. Instead, it would open the way to a general transformation of the landscape in what we now call the information society. Rather than better business plans (not that they don’t matter), we need a new ecology, one based on the public good instead of private gain. This may not be a satisfactory conclusion. It’s not an answer to the problem of sustainability. It’s an appeal to change the system.

To Read the Entire Essay

Black Mountain: The Hair Song

Black Mountain: Old Fangs

Dave McDougall: History Lessons (Pt. 1) -- Notes on Steven Soderbergh's Che

History Lessons (Pt. 1): Notes on Steven Soderbergh's "Che"
by Dave McDougall


What is a political image? How does it work, and what are the elements that make it work? This is a difficult enough question for the still image; but how is it that political moving images work? Relatedly, how can we unarchive the politicality of images as separate from their political sheen—or, put differently, how can we authenticate the politicality of the moving image?


Spend a few minutes watching the BBC series Maps: Power, Plunder and Possession or take a quick trip to the British Library this fall, and confirm what you might already know: maps, in their chief purpose, are tools of conquest and control. Maps are weapons that structure military campaigns and show geographic realities, and geography can determine history.

A film that entrenches itself in the logistics of the struggle for control, then, ought to situate itself in a context in which this control can be codified, visualized: mapped.

To Read the Rest and to Access Video Clips

Wednesday, December 08, 2010

Watching Theology: Barton Fink (1991)

Barton Fink (1991)
Watching Theology

Some films are clear - you know exactly what you're getting and exactly what you're supposed to learn. Then there's Barton Fink. In the midst of a bad case of writer's block, the Coen Brothers scripted this tale of a talented playwright with his own unusual case of writer's block. Barton leaves the promise and glory of the New York elite for the heartless, business world of Hollywood. Along the way, he checks into the Hotel Earle, meets Charlie and has probably sold his soul.

On this edition, we take a few glances at this metaphor-rich story about a man's self-delusion and the unfortunate fellow residents of, what may be, Hell.

To Watch the Episode

Jo Comerford: The federal budgeting system and how our taxes are channeled into military spending

Just the Tax, Ma'am

National Priorities Project executive director Jo Comerford talks about the federal budgeting system and how our taxes are channeled into military spending.

To Listen to the Interview

Monday, December 06, 2010

Dead Confederate Live at the 2008 SXSW

(This broadcast of their show really makes me want to see them live!)

SXSW 2008: Dead Confederate
National Public Radio

Both in name and in sound, Dead Confederate aims to further the cause of Southern rock. The Georgia band does indeed mix its Neil Young with its Lynyrd Skynyrd, but underneath all those heavy chords is a group of guys raised on Nirvana, Sonic Youth, and other titans of early-'90s alt-rock.

To Listen to the Concert

Sam Mithani: The Hollywood Left -- Cinematic Art and Activism in the 1930s

by Sam Mithani

A Dissertation Presented to the
In Partial Fulfillment of the
Requirements for the Degree
December 2007


The dissertation re-examines the Thirties in its artistic, cultural and political
specificity to place leftist cultural productions in their complex contexts, particularly the ideological. It concentrates on radical/proletarian fiction and Hollywood leftist cinema as expressions of prevalent “crisis” conditions, such the Great Depression and the New Deal, anti-Semitism, anticommunism, labor unionism, racism in the South, and the rise of fascism/Nazism. It demonstrates how the leftist favored genres in literature (proletarian fiction) and cinema (the social-problem film) underwent transformations in response to the changing national and global conditions, leftist political positions and debates on the inter-relations between art, ideology and culture. Working in the tradition of American social criticism, the Hollywood Left responded productively to the challenges by creating a vibrant cinematic counterdiscourse. Leftists strived to create a “popular Marxism” and a “leftist populism” by interpellating their critique within popular Hollywood genres, albeit subject to the commercial mandate of the studio system and its heavy-handed censorship apparatus. This contentious and creative engagement produced some of the most memorable “critical” works of Hollywood’s “Golden Age,” such as I am a Fugitive
from a Chain Gang, Fury and Dust Be My Destiny. The dissertation critically examines these films, compares them to the mainstream “populist cinema” of Frank Capra, and argues that the Hollywood Left creatively reworked this populism to fashion a far more critical, even abrasive, cinema, giving rise to the foundational works of American film noir. The dissertation also frames leftist cinema as a committed response to the remarkable changes in race, class, gender and ideology taking places within American culture. In particular, the totalitarian ideologies of fascism and Nazism presented grave challenges to democracy. The Hollywood Left led the filmic battle against these forces and produced energetic cinematic propaganda in films like Blockade (1938), Juarez (1939) and Confessions of a Nazi Spy (1939), which are the focus of this work. In essence the dissertation calls for a re-evaluation of the “Red Decade” as one of great cultural and artistic renaissance for American culture and the Left rather than one of disappointment, disillusion and disenchantment as has been popularized by conservative critics.

Chapter One: Dissertation premise, method and organization

Chapter Two: The “Red Decade” and its Influence on American
Cinema, Literature and Culture

Chapter Three: A “Marxist” Cinema in Hollywood? Leftist cultural
productions in their Social, Political and Cultural Contexts

Chapter Four: Antifascism, the Hollywood Left and the transformation
of the social-problem film

Chapter Five: Leftist anti-Nazism, Warner Bros. studios and the further
transformation of the social-problem film

Chapter Six: Further research on Leftist studies of the Thirties

To Read the Dissertation

Sunday, December 05, 2010

David Solnit: Eleven Years After WTO -- The Impact of Uprisings

Eleven Years After WTO: The Impact of Uprisings
by David Solnit

Eleven years ago yesterday, on November 30, 1999, a public uprising shut down the World Trade Organization (WTO) and occupied downtown Seattle.

That same week in 1999, three thousand miles away in Immokalee, Florida, farm workers carried out a five-day general strike against abusive growers paying starvation wages. Two weeks ago, on November 16, 2010, those same growers - the Florida Tomato Growers Exchange representing 90 percent of the industry - publicly agreed to every one of the farm workers "Fair Food" demands.

Now seems like an important time to remind ourselves that when we organize, have some strategy and rebel we can build power and win change. The Seattle uprising was just a warm-up for what is needed and to come as we face the crisis of wars, corporate capitalism and climate. We continue to win victories and build movements; from recent, historic farm worker victory in Florida, to the successful US Social Forum in Detroit in the spring to the climate justice mobilization today in Cancun, Mexico.


On November 30, tens of thousands of people joined the nonviolent, direct-action blockade that encircled the WTO ministerial conference site, keeping the most powerful institution on earth shut down from dawn until dusk. People did not back down in the face of teargas, rubber bullets and even the National Guard being deployed.

Longshore workers shut down every West Coast port from Alaska to Los Angeles. Large numbers of Seattle taxi drivers went on strike. All week, the firefighters union refused to turn their fire hoses on people. Tens of thousands walked out of or skipped work or school. Coordinated actions took place across the planet.
Thousands continued nonviolent direct action, marches and protest throughout the week, despite a clampdown that included nearly 600 arrests, the declaration of a "state of emergency" and suspension of the basic rights of free speech and assembly in downtown Seattle. Hundreds of independent media journalists founded Indymedia and did an end run around corporate media, getting the real story out. A month later, after corporate media attempts to marginalize the uprising, a January 2000 opinion poll by Business Week found that 52 percent of Americans supported with the activists at the WTO in Seattle.

Mass action in Seattle and afterward was a convergence of movements, networks and communities taking on the system, not a single movement focused on the issue of trade. Those movements, networks and people continue in Immokalee, Detroit, Cancun and everywhere.


To Read the Rest of the Essay and the Reports about Immokalee, Detroit and Cancun

Saturday, December 04, 2010

Conversations With History: Noam Chomsky

[Expanded discussion on concision and framing, and essential context for thinking about the current Wikileaks whistleblower releases and the American government's/media's repressive attacks]

Noam Chomsky on Concision in the Media

Transformative Radio: Reproductive Freedom

Reproductive Freedom
Transformative Radio

In late February of 2010, various members of Queers without Borders and the Hartford local of the Workers Solidarity Alliance did a panel discussion on reproductive freedom. Among other things, they touch on the theory of intersectionality, the problem of “rights”, anarchism, and organizing in the trans community.

To Listen to the Panel Discussion

Tom Engelhardt and Jonathan Schell on America's Nuclear Trajectory

Engelhardt and Schell on America's Nuclear Trajectory
Tom Dispatch Audio and Video

A conversation between Tom Engelhardt and Jonathan Schell. They discuss American involvement in Vietnam and Afghanistan, and US nuclear policy from the 1960s to the present.

To Listen to the Conversation

Glenn Greenwald on Radio Free Dylan

Glenn Greenwald on Radio Free Dylan
Radio Free Dylan

As shocking as the WikiLeaks documents may be, even more shocking is the U.S. media’s decision to criticize the leaker, as opposed to use the information on America’s behalf.

There are so many pieces to this story, says Dylan. “One obviously to the reaction to the fact that these documents are being leaked, and ‘should they or shouldn’t they be?’ Then there’s the interesting dynamic of whether the so called fourth estate — the media — who theoretically works on behalf of the truth — is actually benefitting from this new information and then using it to amplify the quality, intensity and pointedness with which it’s able to prosecute our political leaders for everything from the wars to relations and arms deals with Saudi Arabia, or for that matter, a most favored nation trading agreement with a nation like China,” says Dylan.

Listen in for an extended conversation with Glenn and Dylan on the possible consequences of the push for the government to reclassify WikiLeaks as a “terrorist organization,” the possible fate of Bradley Manning and Julian Assange, and what the media’s reaction to the WikiLeaks release says about the weak state of the American media in 2010.

To Listen to the Interview

Reporters Without Borders: Wikileaks Hounded?

Wikileaks Hounded?
Reporters Without Borders


This is the first time we have seen an attempt at the international community level to censor a website dedicated to the principle of transparency. We are shocked to find countries such as France and the United States suddenly bringing their policies on freedom of expression into line with those of China. We point out that in France and the United States, it is up to the courts, not politicians, to decide whether or not a website should be closed.

Meanwhile, two Republican senators, John Ensign and Scott Brown, and an independent Lieberman, have introduced a bill that would make it illegal to publish the names of U.S. military and intelligence agency informants. This could facilitate future prosecutions against WikiLeaks and its founder. But a criminal investigation is already under way and many U.S. politicians are calling vociferously for Assange’s arrest.

Reporters Without Borders can only condemn this determination to hound Assange and reiterates its conviction that WikiLeaks has a right under the U.S. Constitution’s First Amendment to publish these documents and is even playing a useful role by making them available to journalists and the greater public.

We stress that any restriction on the freedom to disseminate this body of documents will affect the entire press, which has given detailed coverage to the information made available by WikiLeaks, with five leading international newspapers actively cooperating in preparing it for publication.

Reporters Without Borders would also like to stress that it has always defended online freedom and the principle of “Net neutrality,” according to which Internet Service Providers and hosting companies should play no role in choosing the content that is placed online.

To Read the Entire Statment

Matthew Dowd: To Tell the Truth -- Maybe the government would earn more of our trust if it leveled with us more and invaded our privacy less.

To Tell the Truth: Maybe the government would earn more of our trust if it leveled with us more and invaded our privacy less.
by Matthew Dowd
National Journal

Judging by the press accounts, Washington is still buzzing over WikiLeaks’ release of classified U.S. government information, with both Republicans and Democrats expressing outrage over the disclosures. Meanwhile, many media outlets seem to be practically mute on the subject, avoiding comment on whether WikiLeaks provided a public service or disservice.

Let me offer one man’s perspective on the controversy, from an apartment in Austin, Texas.

As I was sitting with my three grown sons over the post-Thanksgiving weekend watching football at their place (where they have lived together for nearly a year without a major fight, the place burning down, or the police showing up), my oldest son, who served in the Army for five years and was deployed in Iraq for nearly a year and half, turned to me and asked, “When as a country did we become a place where the government gets upset when its secrets are revealed but has no problem knowing all our secrets and invading our privacy?”

Hmm, interesting question.

In Washington’s polarized political environment, Republicans and Democrats seem to agree on a few things: That the government, in the name of fighting terrorism, has the right to listen in on all of our phone conversations and read our e-mails, even if it has no compelling reason for doing so. That the government can use machines at the airport that basically conduct the equivalent of strip searches of every passenger. That the government, for as long as it wants, can withhold any information from the public that it decides is in the national interest and is classified. And that when someone reveals this information, they are reviled on all sides, with the press corps staying silent.

When did we decide that revealing the truth about the government is wrong?I recall during the Clinton administration when Republicans expressed outrage over a White House health care task force holding “secret” meetings and not releasing the names of attendees or the topics of discussion. And then not many years later, Democrats expressing similar outrage at the Bush administration’s secrecy when it held private meetings related to energy policy. Now both sides have gotten together to attack WikiLeaks over the opposite situation: They are criticizing the Internet watchdog for openly releasing information related to how our government conducts foreign policy.

To Read the Rest of the Commentary

Daniel Ellsberg's Letter to Amazon After They Removed Wikileaks From Their Servers

From Daniel Ellsberg's letter to Amazon:

I’m disgusted by Amazon’s cowardice and servility in abruptly terminating its hosting of the Wikileaks website, in the face of threats from Senator Joe Lieberman and other Congressional right-wingers. I want no further association with any company that encourages legislative and executive officials to aspire to China’s control of information and deterrence of whistle-blowing.

For the last several years, I’ve been spending over $100 a month on new and used books from Amazon. That’s over. I have contacted Customer Service to ask Amazon to terminate immediately my membership in Amazon Prime and my Amazon credit card and account, to delete my contact and credit information from their files and to send me no more notices.

I understand that many other regular customers feel as I do and are responding the same way. Good: the broader and more immediate the boycott, the better.I hope that these others encourage their contact lists to do likewise and to let Amazon know exactly why they’re shifting their business. I’ve asked friends today to suggest alternatives. I’ve removed all links to Amazon from my site, and I’ll be exploring service from Powell’s Books, IndieBound, Biblio and others.

So far Amazon has spared itself the further embarrassment of trying to explain its action openly. This would be a good time for Amazon insiders who know and perhaps can document the political pressures that were brought to bear—and the details of the hasty kowtowing by their bosses—to leak that information. They can send it to Wikileaks (now on servers outside the US), to mainstream journalists or bloggers, or perhaps to a site like antiwar.com, which has now appropriately ended its book-purchasing association with Amazon and called a boycott.

Link to the Full Letter

Democracy Now: Is WikiLeaks’ Julian Assange a Hero? Glenn Greenwald Debates Steven Aftergood of Secrecy News

Is WikiLeaks’ Julian Assange a Hero? Glenn Greenwald Debates Steven Aftergood of Secrecy News
Democracy Now

WikiLeaks is coming under attack from all sides. The U.S. government and embassies around the world are criticizing the whistleblowing group for releasing a massive trove of secret State Department cables. The WikiLeaks website is struggling to stay online just days after Amazon pulled the site from its servers following political pressure. The U.S. State Department has blocked all its employees from accessing the site and is warning all government employees not to read the cables, even at home. "These attacks will not stop our mission, but should be setting off alarm bells about the rule of law in the United States," said WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange. We host a debate between Steven Aftergood, a transparency advocate who has become a leading critic of WikiLeaks, and Glenn Greenwald, a constitutional law attorney and legal blogger for Salon.com.

To Watch/Listen/Read

More Resources:

Glenn Greenwald: WikiLeaks debate with Steven Aftergood (loads of links to more resources on this subject)

Friday, December 03, 2010

Jay Rosen on Wikileaks: "The watchdog press died; we have this instead."

Also check out Jay Rosen on Press Think

In the American case, one of the reasons is that the legitimacy of the press itself is in doubt in the minds of the leakers. And there's good reason for that. Because while we have what purports to be a "watchdog press," we also have -- laid out in front of us -- the clear record of the watchdog press' failure to do what it says it can do, which is provide a check on power when it tries to conceal its deeds and its purpose.

So I think it's a mistake to try to reckon with WikiLeaks and what it's about without including in the frame the spectacular failures of the watchdog press over the last 10, 20, 30, 40 years - but especially recently. And so without this legitimacy crisis in mainstream American journalism, the leakers might not be so inclined to trust an upstart like Julian Assange and a shadowly organization like WikiLeaks . . .

These kinds of huge, cataclysmic events [the Iraq War] within the legitimacy regime lie in the background of the WikiLeaks case, because if it wasn't for those things, WikiLeaks wouldn't have the supporters it has, the leakers wouldn't collaborate the way they do, and the moral force behind exposing what this Government is doing just wouldn't be there. . . . The watchdog press died, and what we have is WikiLeaks instead.

Jay Rosen on Wikileaks: "The watchdog press died; we have this instead." from Jay Rosen on Vimeo.

Glenn Greenwald: Joe Liberman Emulates Chinese Dictators

Joe Lieberman emulates Chinese dictators
by Glenn Greenwald


That Joe Lieberman is abusing his position as Homeland Security Chairman to thuggishly dictate to private companies which websites they should and should not host -- and, more important, what you can and cannot read on the Internet -- is one of the most pernicious acts by a U.S. Senator in quite some time. Josh Marshall wrote yesterday: "When I'd heard that Amazon had agreed to host Wikileaks I was frankly surprised given all the fish a big corporation like Amazon has to fry with the federal government." That's true of all large corporations that own media outlets -- every one -- and that is one big reason why they're so servile to U.S. Government interests and easily manipulated by those in political power. That's precisely the dynamic Lieberman was exploiting with his menacing little phone call to Amazon (in essence: Hi, this is the Senate's Homeland Security Committee calling; you're going to be taking down that WikiLeaks site right away, right?). Amazon, of course, did what they were told.

Note that Lieberman here is desperate to prevent American citizens -- not The Terrorists -- from reading the WikiLeaks documents which shed light on what the U.S. Government is doing. His concern is domestic consumption. By his own account, he did this to "send a message to other companies that might host WikiLeaks" not to do so. No matter what you think of WikiLeaks, they have never been charged with, let alone convicted of, any crime; Lieberman literally wants to dictate -- unilaterally -- what you can and cannot read on the Internet, to prevent Americans from accessing documents that much of the rest of the world is freely reading.

The Internet, of course, is rendering decrepit would-be petty tyrants like Lieberman impotent and obsolete: WikiLeaks moved its website to a Swedish server and was accessible again within hours. But any attempt by political officials to start blocking Americans' access to political content on the Internet ought to provoke serious uproar and unrest. If the Tea Party movement and the Right generally were even minimally genuine in their ostensible beliefs, few things would trigger more intense objections than a political official trying to dictate to private actors which political content they should allow on the Internet (instead, you have Newt Gingrich demanding that Assange be declared an "enemy combatant" and Sarah Palin calling for his murder). Remember, though -- as The Post told us today -- it's "authoritarian governments and tightly controlled media in China and across the Arab Middle East" which are trying to prevent citizens from learning about the WikiLeaks documents.


If there's Nothing New in these documents, can Jonathan Capehart (or any other "journalist" claiming this) please point to where The Washington Post previously reported on these facts, all revealed by the WikiLeaks disclosures:

(1) the U.S. military formally adopted a policy of turning a blind eye to systematic, pervasive torture and other abuses by Iraqi forces;

(2) the State Department threatened Germany not to criminally investigate the CIA's kidnapping of one of its citizens who turned out to be completely innocent;

(3) the State Department under Bush and Obama applied continuous pressure on the Spanish Government to suppress investigations of the CIA's torture of its citizens and the 2003 killing of a Spanish photojournalist when the U.S. military fired on the Palestine Hotel in Baghdad (see The Philadelphia Inquirer's Will Bunch today about this: "The day Barack Obama Lied to me");

(4) the British Government privately promised to shield Bush officials from embarrassment as part of its Iraq War "investigation";

(5) there were at least 15,000 people killed in Iraq that were previously uncounted;

(6) "American leaders lied, knowingly, to the American public, to American troops, and to the world" about the Iraq war as it was prosecuted, a conclusion the Post's own former Baghdad Bureau Chief wrote was proven by the WikiLeaks documents;

(7) the U.S.'s own Ambassador concluded that the July, 2009 removal of the Honduran President was illegal -- a coup -- but the State Department did not want to conclude that and thus ignored it until it was too late to matter;

(8) U.S. and British officials colluded to allow the U.S. to keep cluster bombs on British soil even though Britain had signed the treaty banning such weapons, and,

(9) Hillary Clinton's State Department ordered diplomats to collect passwords, emails, and biometric data on U.N. and other foreign officials, almost certainly in violation of the Vienna Treaty of 1961.

That's just a sampling.

This is what Joe Lieberman and his comrades are desperately trying to suppress -- literally prevent it from being accessible on the Internet. And "journalists" like Capehart play along by continuing to insist there's "nothing new" being revealed by WikiLeaks despite their never having reported any of this. And since the disclosures, does anyone believe that any of these revelations have received anything close to meaningful attention by the American establishment media? But remember -- as Capehart's newspaper taught us today -- "revelations by the organization WikiLeaks have received blanket coverage this week on television, in newspapers" in Free America -- showing what a Vibrant, Adversarial Press we are blessed with -- but "in many Arab countries, the mainstream media have largely avoided reporting on the sensitive contents of the cables."

To Read the Rest of the Commentary and To Access Hyperlinked Resources