Wednesday, February 29, 2012

W. Lance Bennett, Regina G. Lawrence, and Steven Livingston: When the Press Fails: Political Power and the News Media from Iraq to Katrina

Excerpt from When the Press Fails: Political Power and the News Media from Iraq to Katrina
by W. Lance Bennett, Regina G. Lawrence, and Steven Livingston
University of California Press

Press Politics in America
The Case of the Iraq War

We now know that officials in the Bush administration built a case for the U.S. invasion of Iraq that was open to serious challenge. We also know that evidence disputing ongoing official claims about the war was often available to the mainstream press in a timely fashion. Yet the recurrent pattern, even years into the conflict, was for the official government line to trump evidence to the contrary in the news produced by mainstream news outlets reaching the preponderance of the people. Several years into the conflict, public opinion finally began to reflect the reality of a disintegrating Iraq heading toward civil war, with American troops caught in the middle. But that reckoning came several years too late to head off a disaster that historians may well deem far worse than Vietnam.

There is little doubt that reporting which challenges the public pronouncements of those in power is difficult when anything deviating from authorized versions of reality is met with intimidating charges of bias. Out of fairness, the press generally reports those charges, which in turn reverberate through the echo chambers of talk radio and pundit TV, with the ironic result that the media contribute to their own credibility problem. Yet it is precisely the lack of clear standards of press accountability (particularly guidelines for holding officials accountable) that opens the mainstream news to charges of bias from all sides. In short, the absence of much agreement on what the press should be doing makes it all the more difficult for news organizations to navigate an independent course through pressurized political situations.

The key question is, can the American press as it is currently constituted offer critical, independent reporting when democracy needs it most? In particular, this book examines whether the press capable of offering viewpoints independent of government spin at two key moments when democracy would most benefit: (1) when government’s own public-inquiry mechanisms fail to question potentially flawed or contentious policy initiatives, and (2) when credible sources outside government who might illuminate those policies are available to mainstream news organizations. It may seem obvious that the press should contest dubious policies under these circumstances, but our research indicates otherwise. The great irony of the U.S. press system is that it generally performs well—presenting competing views and vigorous debate—when government is already weighing competing initiatives in its various legal, legislative, or executive settings. Unfortunately, quite a different press often shows up when policy decisions of dubious wisdom go unchallenged within government arenas.
The Iraq Story as Told by the Unwritten Rules of Washington Journalism

Our story begins with the post-9/11 publicity given to the Bush administration’s claims that Iraqi dictator Saddam Hussein possessed weapons of mass destruction (the now infamous WMDs), and had connections to the terrorists who attacked the United States. Leading news organizations so emphasized those claims over available information to the contrary that two prestigious newspapers later issued apologies to their readers for having gotten so caught up in the inner workings of power in an administration determined to go to war that they lost focus on other voices and other views. Here are excerpts from a now legendary New York Times report from the editors to their readers:
We have found a number of instances of coverage that was not as rigorous as it should have been. In some cases, information that was controversial then, and seems questionable now, was insufficiently qualified or allowed to stand unchallenged. Looking back, we wish we had been more aggressive in re-examining the claims as new evidence emerged—or failed to emerge.

The problematic articles varied in authorship and subject matter, but many shared a common feature. They depended at least in part on information from a circle of Iraqi informants, defectors and exiles bent on “regime change” in Iraq, people whose credibility has come under increasing public debate in recent weeks. … Complicating matters for journalists, the accounts of these exiles were often eagerly confirmed by United States officials convinced of the need to intervene in Iraq. …

Some critics of our coverage during that time have focused blame on individual reporters. Our examination, however, indicates that the problem was more complicated. Editors at several levels who should have been challenging reporters and pressing for more skepticism were perhaps too intent on rushing scoops into the paper. … Articles based on dire claims about Iraq tended to get prominent display, while follow-up articles that called the original ones into question were sometimes buried. In some cases, there was no follow-up at all.

Despite this introspection, much the same pattern of deferring to officials and underreporting available challenges to their claims would soon repeat itself—beginning the very month in which this critical self-assessment appeared—in reporting on the treatment of prisoners in U.S. military detention centers in Iraq and elsewhere. The importance of the Abu Ghraib story for understanding the close dependence of the press on government spin is developed more fully in chapter 3. For now, the point is that this pattern of calibrating political reality in the news to the inner circles of Washington power will go on, despite occasional moments of self-examination by the press, unless leading news organizations and the journalism profession somehow resolve (and develop a standard) to temper their preoccupation with the powerful officials whose communication experts often manage them so well.

To Read the Rest of the Excerpt

To the Best of Our Knowledge: Information

To the Best of Our Knowledge (Wisconsin Public Radio)

We’ve all heard we live in “the information age,” but what does this mean? We’ll give you a short history of information – from talking drums onward. But do we now have too much information? We’ll hear how information overload is actually re-wiring our brains. Also, the new theory in physics that information may be the basic fabric of the universe.

James Gleick on the History of Information

James Gleick's "The Information" is a sweeping history of information, going back to the invention of writing and the African tradition of talking drums. He tells Steve Paulson that the invention of information technologies has changed the very nature of consciousness.

Borges' "Library of Babel" reading

Borges' "The Library of Babel" has inspired generations of writers and now, many scientists. Here, we read several excerpts from the story.

Nicholas Carr on Internet and the Brain

Nicholas Carr believes the Internet is rewiring the human brain with its instant access to all sorts of information. Are we losing our ability to focus on one thing for any length of time?

Ann Blair on Information Overload

Information overload seems to be the quintessential 21st century problem. Actually, people have worried about this for centuries, going back to the ancient Romans. Ann Blair provides a short history of information-gathering.

Paul Davies on Physics of Information

What are the basic buildings blocks of the universe? Some physicists now say they're not subatomic particles or even the laws of physics, but information itself. Physicist Paul Davies explains.

To Listen to the Episode

The Burt Cohen Show: Taking On Monsanto's Massive Political Muscle

Taking On Monsanto's Massive Political Muscle
The Burt Cohen Show (WSCA: Portsmouth, NH)

We've seen it before in American history: farmers, workers, and young people taking to the streets, uniting against powerful forces of greed. In this case, it's Food Democracy Now and others taking it straight to Monsanto, maker of harm-causing genetically modified organisms. They've seen to it that we don't know when we're eating such foods and that farmers who object to Monsanto's power being subjected to legal harassment and intimidation. But today's guest David Murphy, founder of Food Democracy Now, says the fight for safe foods and farmers' rights has just begun. And we can all help.

To Listen to the Episode

Tuesday, February 28, 2012

To the Best of Our Knowledge: Mysteries of Childhood

Mysteries of Childhood
To The Best of Our Knowledge

Alex Rider, Nancy Drew, The Cat in the Hat, and Harold and the Purple Crayon – for millions of children of all ages, they're some of the most imaginative and mysterious stories around. But as it turns out, the authors sometimes have their own, personal mysteries to share. In this hour of To the Best of Our Knowledge, we'll talk with Anthony Horowitz, the creator of the Alex Rider series, about his complicated past. Michael Chabon talks about some of the stories that shaped his childhood. And we'll hear about the radical political origins of some of best known children's books.

Anthony Horowitz on Fiction for Children

Anthony Horowitz has written dozens of books for children, including the teen superspy series featuring Alex Rider.

Ellen Handler Spitz on "The Brightening Glance"

Ellen Handler Spitz is the author of many books on psychology and aesthetics. She talks with Jim Fleming about her latest - "The Brightening Glance: Imagination and Childhood."

Michael Chabon on "Manhood for Amateurs"

Pulitzer Prize winning novelist Michael Chabon has written both for adults and young readers. In a recent book of essays, "Manhood for Amateurs," Chabon tackles his own childhood.

Julia Mickenberg on "Tales for Little Rebels"

Julia Mickenberg tells Steve that some of the best known children's book writers were longtime political radicals.

To Listen to the Episode

Monday, February 27, 2012

Democracy Now: Supreme Court to Decide Whether U.S. Corporations Can Be Sued for Abuses Overseas

Supreme Court to Decide Whether U.S. Corporations Can Be Sued for Abuses Overseas
Democracy Now

The U.S. Supreme Court will hear oral arguments Tuesday on whether U.S.-based corporations can be sued in U.S. courts for human rights abuses committed overseas. The case involves nine Nigerian activists, including Ken Saro-Wiwa, executed for protesting Royal Dutch Shell. We’re joined by Marco Simons, legal director of EarthRights International, which filed a "friend of the court" legal brief in this case and has been a pioneer in using the Alien Tort Statute to sue corporations for human rights abuses in Burma, Nigeria, Colombia and other nations. Some legal analysts are comparing the case to the landmark campaign finance ruling in Citizens United, which found that corporations have broad rights under the First Amendment and can directly fund political campaigns. "This case is really about whether a corporation that participates in serious human rights abuses, such as crimes against humanity or genocide or state-sponsored torture, can profit from those abuses and shield those profits from the victims when the victims come to take them to court," Marco says.


Marco Simons, legal director of EarthRights International.

To Watch/Listen/Read

Sunday, February 26, 2012

2012 Oscar Selections

I do not have TV hooked up at my house, so I won't see them (but I will probably pop online from time to time to see the general progression). I believe that the Oscar nominees are once again very limited. Still, I guess I am obligated to make my choices as a film studies professor -- so here goes:

Best Picture: The Tree of Life
Actor in a Leading Role: Jean Dujardin (The Artist)
Actress in a Leading Role: Rooney Mara (The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo)
Actor in a Supporting Role: Nick Nolte (Warrior)
Actress in a Supporting Role: Berenice Bejo (The Artist)
Animated Feature Film: Rango
Cinematography: Emmanuel Lubezki (Tree of Life)
Art Direction: Dante Ferretti and Francesco Lo Schiavo (Hugo)
Costume Design: Sandy Powell (Hugo)
Directing: Terence Malick (Tree of Life)
Documentary Feature: If a Tree Falls: The Story of the Earth Liberation Front
Film Editing: Thelma Schoonmaker (Hugo)
Sound Editing: Lon Bender and Victor Ray Ennis (Drive)
Foreign Language Film: A Separation (Asghar Faradi: Iran)
Sound Mixing: Various (Moneyball)
Writing (Adapted Screenplay): Various (Moneyball)
Writing (Original Screenplay): Asghar Faradi (A Separation)

Robert Joe Stout: Do the United States and Mexico Really Want the Drug War To Succeed?

Do the United States and Mexico Really Want the Drug War To Succeed?
by Robert Joe Stout
Monthly Review


Both the governments of Mexico and the United States have demonstrated a need to justify military actions and to portray the “War on Drugs” as a battle between good and evil with no gray areas in between. To make the rhetoric effective it has been necessary to villainize the perpetrators of the “evil” and to ignore the dominant reasons that the evil exists: unabated drug consumption in the United States. Also overlooked has been drug-associated violence in the United States, particularly in city ghettos where gang warfare involving drug distribution has existed since the 1960s.

Until late in the twentieth century heroin and cocaine addiction in Mexico was not considered a major problem. Narcotics filtered to Mexican buyers as a spin off from smuggling, but most production and distribution was focused on getting the narcotics to consumers north of the border who would pay ten or more times what the drugs sold for in Mexico. Governmental sources in both countries consistently denied that U.S. military intervention into Mexican territory was being planned; nevertheless several governors of states on the U.S. side of the border have requested permanent military “protection,” including armed patrols and battle-ready commandos.

Many of the groups that distribute narcotics in the United States are linked to specific Mexican corporations just as U.S. auto, livestock, cosmetics, and computer exporters are linked with importers in Mexico. Gangs in the United States clash primarily over obtaining drugs for street sales, but the majority of imported narcotics passes into the hands of white-collar distributors with regular clients who can afford the prices established for purchasing cocaine and other drugs.

Although many journalists and editors would like to deny it, newspapers and television which rely financially on readers, viewers, and advertisers profit more from graphic reports about beheadings, drug raids, and high-speed chases than they do from features about controlled or casual use of narcotics. Attitudes towards drug use in both countries run a gamut between “drugs are a sin” to “I enjoy them, why not?” That they can be detrimental to one’s health, just as the consumption of alcoholic beverages, cigarette smoking, overeating, driving a car at excessive speeds, or long-term exposure to direct sunlight can be detrimental, is grounded in fact.

Unfortunately facts and politics do not go hand in glove. Nor do facts and marketing. Newspaper wire services and television reports designed to stimulate interest and sell sponsors’ products (and/or comply with ownership political biases) influence public opinion and public opinion influences the decisions of legislators and Congressmen. As Laura Carlson insists: “These claims and others like them, although unsubstantiated, accumulate into a critical mass to push a public consensus on implementing dangerous and delusional policies…. Like the model it mimics—the Bush war on terror—the drug war in Mexico is being mounted on the back of hype, half-truths, omissions and outright falsehoods.”

Unfortunately, major questions that need to be answered are shunted aside by policymakers on both sides of the border and preference is given to partisan stances that have less to do with the drug trade or the war against it than they have to do with maintaining economic and political power. Neither government seems capable of asking: Can Mexico really afford to end the production and exportation of heroin, cocaine, marijuana, amphetamines, and designer drugs without its U.S.-dependent economy collapsing?

In many respects, the drug organizations operating in Mexico exemplify what “free enterprise” is about: developing and marketing a product that satisfies willing consumers. Their armed components make their competition deadlier than competitors in other industries, but their methods of operation duplicate those of legitimate corporations: they seek (or buy) government support, network a well-organized retail trade, and invest their profits in condominiums, the stock market, and high-visibility consumer items. Their corporate structures, divided into distinct operations and with well-defined chains of command, enable them to replace any executive who is arrested or killed without that materially affecting production or sales.

To Read the Entire Essay

Radio West: Scott Carrier - Prisoner of Zion

Prisoner of Zion
Radio West (KUER/Public Radio International: Salt Lake City, Utah)

... Doug is joined by independent radio producer Scott Carrier. When the US invaded Afghanistan after the attacks on 9/11, Carrier decided to go there too. He wanted to meet the enemy himself and find out what life is like in their world. But when he returned, he also found an enemy at home. It was the fear and anger that he says Americans have towards others. Scott Carrier has just published a book of stories from the post-9/11 world. It's called "Prisoner of Zion."

To Listen to the Episode

Michelle Richardson: "Patriot Act" Extended -- Assault on Liberties Continues

"Patriot Act" Extended: Assault on Liberties Continues
The Burt Cohen Show

In opposing the four year extension of the so-called Patriot Act, Senator Mark Udall said, "Americans would be alarmed if they knew how this law is being carried out," and Sen. Ron Wyden said, "When the American people find out how their government has secretly interpreted the Patriot Act, they will be stunned and they will be angry." Listen to this interview with the ACLU's legislative counsel Michelle Richardson and you'll see what they mean. Problem is, it was all done quietly.

To Listen to the Episode

Saturday, February 25, 2012

Daniel Kovalik: The CIA, Cocaine and Death Squads -- The U.S. War for Drugs of Terror in Colombia

The CIA, Cocaine and Death Squads: The U.S. War for Drugs of Terror in Colombia

I just had the pleasure of reading an important new book entitled, Cocaine, Death Squads and the War on Terror: U.S. Imperialism and Class Struggle in Colombia. This book, which was ten years in the making, is written by Oliver Villar & Drew Cottle and published and published by Monthly Review. The premise of the book is that, despite the U.S. claims that it is engaged in a war against drugs in Colombia, it is in fact engaged in an anti-insurgency war against the left-wing FARC guerillas – a war which does not seek to eradicate coca growing and cocaine production in Colombia at all.

Rather, the U.S. war effort (which has cost U.S. taxpayers over $7 billion since 2000) is designed to ensure that the allies of the U.S. in Colombia — that is, the Colombian state, paramilitaries and wealthy elite who are favorable to U.S. business interests and to the U.S.’s desire for exploitation of Colombia’s vast resources — are themselves able to monopolize the drug trade so critical to their survival.

This thesis is well expressed in the Forward by Peter Dale Scott:

The CIA can (and does) point to its role in the arrest or elimination of a number of major Colombian traffickers. These arrests have not diminished the actual flow of cocaine into the United States, which on the contrary reached a new high in 2000. But they have institutionalized the relationship of law enforcement to rival cartels and visibly contributed to the increase of urban cartel violence. The true purpose of most of these campaigns, like the current Plan Colombia, has not been the hopeless ideal of eradication. It has been to alter market share: to target specific enemies and thus ensure that the drug traffic remains under the control of those traffickers who are allies of the Colombian state security apparatus and/or the CIA. This confirms the judgment of Senate investigator Jack Blum a decade ago, that America, instead of battling a narcotics conspiracy, has in a subtle way . . . become part of the conspiracy.

These may seem like wild claims at first blush, but the authors put this in context by reminding the reader of the history of U.S. war efforts since World War II, many of which have been financed, at least in part, through alliances with drug traffickers. The litany of this is a long one, with the OSS (the predecessor of the CIA) forming a strategic alliance with the Sicilian and Corsican mafia after World War II to prevent possible communist uprisings in Europe and to smash left-wing unions; the CIA’s assisting the Kuomintang with its opium trafficking operations to fund their joint anti-communist efforts in Asia; the CIA’s actual trafficking of opium out of Laos, Burma and Thailand to help fund the U.S. counter-insurgency effort in South East Asia; the CIA’s support of “the chief smugglers of Afghan opium, the anti-communist Mujahedin rebels in Afghanistan” in their efforts against the pro-Soviet government in Afghanistan, leading ultimately to Afghanistan becoming one of the largest opium suppliers in the world (a status only briefly interrupted when it was under Taliban control); and the Reagan Administration’s funding the Nicaraguan Contras (after such funding was outlawed by Congress) by, among other things, cocaine smuggling operations.

To Read the Rest of the Review

Thursday, February 23, 2012

David Bowie: Changes

Where’s your shame? You’ve left us up to our necks in it!
-- David Bowie, "Changes" (1971)

Media Matters: Bruce Williams and Michael X. Delli Carpini discuss the future of news and journalism

Bruce Williams and Michael X. Delli Carpini discuss the future of news and journalism
Media Matters (WILL: Illinois Public Radio)

The new media environment has challenged the role of professional journalists as the primary source of politically relevant information. After Broadcast News puts this challenge into historical context, arguing that it is the latest of several critical moments, driven by economic, political, cultural and technological changes, in which the relationship among citizens, political elites and the media has been contested. Out of these past moments, distinct 'media regimes' eventually emerged, each with its own seemingly natural rules and norms, and each the result of political struggle with clear winners and losers. The media regime in place for the latter half of the twentieth century has been dismantled, but a new regime has yet to emerge. Assuring this regime is a democratic one requires serious consideration of what was most beneficial and most problematic about past regimes and what is potentially most beneficial and most problematic about today's new information environment.

Bruce A. Williams received his Ph.D. in political science from the University of Minnesota and has taught at the Pennsylvania State University, the University of Michigan, the University of Illinois, and the London School of Economics. His current research interest focuses on the role of a changing media environment in shaping citizenship in the United States. He has published five books and more than forty scholarly journal articles and book chapters. His two most recent books are The New Media Environment: An Introduction (with Andrea Press), published by Wiley-Blackwell in 2010 and After Broadcast News: Media Regimes, Democracy, and the New Information Environment. He is the editor (with Andrea Press) of The Communication Review. He is starting a new research project examining the influence of media on understanding the role of American military force in the world.

Michael X. Delli Carpini, Dean of the Annenberg School for Communication, received his B.A. and M.A. from the University of Pennsylvania and his Ph.D. from the University of Minnesota. Prior to joining the University of Pennsylvania faculty in July of 2003, Professor Delli Carpini was Director of the Public Policy program of the Pew Charitable Trusts, and member of the Political Science Department at Barnard College and graduate faculty of Columbia University, serving as chair of the Barnard department. Delli Carpini began his academic career as an Assistant Professor in the Political Science Department at Rutgers University. His research explores the role of the citizen in American politics, with particular emphasis on the impact of the mass media on public opinion, political knowledge and political participation.

To Listen to the Episode

Wednesday, February 22, 2012

Media Matters: Richard Arum -- Academically Adrift: Limited Learning on College Campuses

Author Richard Arum discuss higher education
Media Matters (WILL: Illinois Public Radio)

In spite of soaring tuition costs, more and more students go to college every year. A bachelor’s degree is now required for entry into a growing number of professions. And some parents begin planning for the expense of sending their kids to college when they’re born. Almost everyone strives to go, but almost no one asks the fundamental question posed by Academically Adrift: Limited Learning on Higher Education: are undergraduates really learning anything once they get there?

For a large proportion of students, Richard Arum and Josipa Roksa’s answer to that question is a definitive no. Their extensive research draws on survey responses, transcript data, and, for the first time, the state-of-the-art Collegiate Learning Assessment, a standardized test administered to students in their first semester and then again at the end of their second year. According to their analysis of more than 2,300 undergraduates at twenty-four institutions, 45 percent of these students demonstrate no significant improvement in a range of skills—including critical thinking, complex reasoning, and writing—during their first two years of college. As troubling as their findings are, Arum and Roksa argue that for many faculty and administrators they will come as no surprise—instead, they are the expected result of a student body distracted by socializing or working and an institutional culture that puts undergraduate learning close to the bottom of the priority list.

Richard Arum is professor of sociology in New York University's Department of Sociology and professor of education at New York University's Steinhardt School of Culture, Education, and Human Development. In January 2011 his book, Academically Adrift: Limited Learning on College Campuses, was published by the University of Chicago Press. The book received national media attention for its findings that, after the first two years of college, a significant number of students demonstrate no improvement in a range of skills including critical thinking, complex reasoning, and writing.

Professor Arum is also Program Director of Educational Research at the Social Science Research Council, where he has directed the CLA Longitudinal Project and successfully led efforts to organize educational stakeholders in New York City to create the Research Alliance for New York City Schools (an entity loosely modeled after the Consortium on Chicago School Research) that focuses on ongoing evaluation and assessment research to support public school improvement efforts.

To Listen to the Episode

Tuesday, February 21, 2012

Casting Call for Lexington Film Production of "The Townie" (3/5)

[Students, extra credit for auditioning -- I'll be at the auditions]


On MARCH 5TH we will be holding AUDITIONS for

a Sound & Vision unlike any other

from 5pm to 9pm
No need to bring a monologue! We’ll supply the sides! Simply bring your glowing personality, myriad idiosyncrasies, and a pleasant and proactive attitude!
“The Townie” conveys the confluent tales of an aimless wanderer seeking a shoe, a young philosopher judging his weight in the world, a madman combating a malefic witch’s coven, a casual lover trying to see his girl, and a sex addict thrusting his way to enlightenment.

A few roles of interest:

INDIGO, a sarcastic demimondaine with morals

YOMURA NAGITO, a transsexual Japanese witch and cruel, immane manipulator of weak minds and hard hearts

MITCH, a knife wielding videographer

GYURKA ETTINGTON, a limping, broken man, embittered to the point of parody

YOUNG WOMAN, an ingenue

OLD MAN, a lech

JONES, a harem doorman who's not in love with his anvil

MURREL WISDOM, a jovial giant and jokester

EXTRAS! for a PARTY! And BLOOD ORGY! (no nudity and nothing pornographic)

Monday, February 20, 2012

John Bellamy Foster, Robert W. McChesney, and R. Jamil Jonna: The Internationalization of Monopoly Capital

The Internationalization of Monopoly Capital
by John Bellamy Foster, Robert W. McChesney, and R. Jamil Jonna
Monthly Review

In a 1997 article entitled “More (or Less) on Globalization,” Paul Sweezy referred to “the three most important underlying trends in the recent history of capitalism, the period beginning with the recession of 1974-75: (1) the slowing down of the overall rate of growth; (2) the worldwide proliferation of monopolistic (or oligopolistic) multinational corporations; and (3) what may be called the financialization of the capital accumulation process.” (Globalization, he argued was not a recent trend but a process that characterized the entire history of capitalism.)1 The first and third of these three trends—economic stagnation in the rich economies and the financialization of accumulation—have been the subjects of widespread discussion since the onset of severe financial crisis in 2007-09. Yet the second underlying trend, which might be called the “internationalization of monopoly capital,” has received much less attention. Indeed, the dominant, neoliberal discourse—one that has also penetrated the left—assumes that the tendency toward monopoly has been vanquished. In this narrative, the oligopolistic structure of early post-Second World War capitalism in the United States and elsewhere was broken down and replaced by a new era of intense global competition.

We do not intend to argue, in what follows, that those perceptions of growing global competition were all wrong. Rather, we suggest that renewed international competition evident since the 1970s was much more limited in range than often supposed. It has since given way to a new phase of global monopoly-finance capital in which world production is increasingly dominated by a relatively few multinational corporations able to exercise considerable monopoly power. In short, we are confronted by a system of international oligopoly. We present the broad contours of our argument with empirical evidence and explanation. Our treatment of these issues will no doubt raise as many questions as it will answer. Nevertheless, our objective is to demonstrate that addressing the internationalization of monopoly capital is a necessary prerequisite to understanding present global economic trends, including the period of slow growth and financialization in the mature economies.

The general outlines of what we have to say will not, of course, be a revelation to all of our readers. Evidence of the internationalization of monopoly capital has been mounting for decades. As Richard Barnet and Ronald Müller wrote in 1974 in their book, Global Reach: The Power of the Multinational Corporations: “The rise of the global corporation represents the globalization of oligopoly capitalism….The new corporate structure is the culmination of a process of concentration and internationalization that has put the economy under the substantial control of a few hundred business enterprises which do not compete with one another according to the traditional rules of the classic market.”2

As in all cases of oligopoly, where a few firms dominate particular industries or spheres of production, what is evident is not competition in the classic sense. Rather we are confronted with a dialectic of rivalry and collusion.3 In particular, “price competition”—or “price warfare,” as it is often called in business—is viewed as too dangerous, and generally avoided by the giant corporations. Instead, competition between firms largely takes other forms: the search for low-cost position, which remains the bottom line for business; competition for resources and markets; and product differentiation.

The typical or representative firm today is a monopolistic multinational corporation—a firm that operates in numerous countries, but is headquartered in one. In recent years, there has been a growth of multinational corporations in the periphery of the capitalist economy, but in the main such global firms are predominantly headquartered in the rich nations of the center (the more so the larger the firm). As the United Nations Conference on Trade and Development (UNCTAD) stated in its 2010 World Investment Report, “The composition of the world’s top 100 TNCs [transnational corporations] confirms that the triad countries [the United States, the European Union, and Japan] remain dominant,” although “their share has been slowly decreasing.”4

Mark Casson, a leading mainstream analyst of the global corporation, observed in 1985: “From a broad long-run perspective, the postwar MNE [multinational enterprise] may be regarded simply as the latest and most sophisticated manifestation of a tendency towards the international concentration of capital. This view emerges most clearly from the work of Lenin [in Imperialism, the Highest Stage of Capitalism].”5

Today this tendency is manifested most concretely in the growth of international oligopolies. For Louis Galambos, a business historian at Johns Hopkins University, “global oligopolies are as inevitable as the sunrise.”6 Indeed, as the Wall Street Journal put it in 1999:

In industry after industry the march toward consolidation has seemed inexorable….The world automobile industry is coalescing into six or eight companies. Two U.S. car makers, two Japanese and a few European firms are among the likely survivors.
The world’s top semiconductor makers number barely a dozen. Four companies essentially supply all of the worlds recorded music. Ten companies dominate the world’s pharmaceutical industry, and that number is expected to decline through mergers as even these giants fear they are too small to compete across the globe.
In the global soft drink business, just three companies matter, and the smallest, Cadbury Schweppes PLC, in January sold part of its international business to Coca-Cola Co., the leader. Just two names run the world market for commercial aviation: Boeing Co. and Airbus Industrie.7

The same tendency is evident across the board: in areas such as telecommunications, software, tires, etc. This is reflected in record annual levels of global mergers and acquisitions up through 2007 (reaching an all-time high of $4.38 trillion), and in vast increases in foreign direct investment (FDI), which is rising much faster than world income. Thus FDI inward stock grew from 7 percent of world GDP in 1980 to around 30 percent in 2009, with the pace accelerating in the late 1990s. (See Chart 1, below.) Even these figures are conservative in demonstrating the growing power of multinationals since they do not capture the various forms of collusion, such as strategic alliances and technological agreements that extend the global reach of such firms. Nor is there any accounting of the massive subcontracting done by multinational corporations, extending their tentacles into all areas of the global economy. In these and other ways, the rapid expansion of multinationals is creating a more concentrated world economic system, with the revenue of the top five hundred global corporations now in the range of 35-40 percent of world income.

Jane Ayers: 300,000 Organic Farmers Sue Monsanto in Federal Court

300,000 Organic Farmers Sue Monsanto in Federal Court
By Jane Ayers
Reader Supported News

Little did Willie Nelson know when he recorded "Crazy" years ago just how crazy it would become for our cherished family farmers in America. Nelson, President of Farm Aid, has recently called for the national Occupy movement to declare an "Occupy the Food System" action.

Nelson states, "Corporate control of our food system has led to the loss of millions of family farmers, destruction of our soil…"

Hundreds of citizens, (even including NYC chefs in their white chef hats) joined Occupy the Food System groups, ie Food Democracy Now, gathered outside the Federal Courts in Manhattan on January 31st, to support organic family farmers in their landmark lawsuit against Big Agribusiness giant Monsanto. (Organic Seed Growers & Trade Association v. Monsanto) Oral arguments were heard that day concerning the lawsuit by 83 plaintiffs representing over 300,000 organic farmers, organic seed growers, and organic seed businesses.

The lawsuit addresses the bizarre and shocking issue of Monsanto harassing and threatening organic farmers with lawsuits of "patent infringement" if any organic farmer ends up with any trace amount of GM seeds on their organic farmland.

Judge Naomi Buckwald heard the oral arguments on Monsanto’s Motion to Dismiss, and the legal team from Public Patent Foundation represented the rights of American organic farmers against Monsanto, maker of GM seeds, [and additionally, Agent Orange, dioxin, etc.]

After hearing the arguments, Judge Buckwald stated that on March 31st she will hand down her decision on whether the lawsuit will move forward to trial.

Not only does this lawsuit debate the issue of Monsanto potentially ruining the organic farmers’ pure seeds and crops with the introduction of Monsanto’s genetically modified (GM) seeds anywhere near the organic farms, but additionally any nearby GM fields can withstand Monsanto’s Roundup herbicides, thus possibly further contaminating the organic farms nearby if Roundup is used.

Of course, the organic farmers don’t want anything to do with that ole contaminated GM seed in the first place. In fact, that is why they are certified organic farmers. Hello? But now they have to worry about getting sued by the very monster they abhor, and even have to spend extra money and land (for buffers which only sometimes deter the contaminated seed from being swept by the wind into their crop land). At this point, they are even having to resort to not growing at all the following organic plants: soybeans, corn, cotton, sugar beets, and canola, …just to protect themselves from having any (unwanted) plant that Monsanto could possibly sue them over.

"Crazy, crazy for feeling so….."

The farmers are suffering the threat of possible loss of Right Livelihood. They are creating good jobs for Americans, and supplying our purest foods. These organic farmers are bringing Americans healthy food so we can be a healthy Nation, instead of the undernourished and obese kids and adults that President Obama worries so much about us becoming.

So what was President Obama doing when he appointed Michael Taylor, a former VP of Monsanto, as Sr. Advisor to the Commissioner at the FDA? The FDA is responsible for "label requirements" and recently ruled under Michael Taylor’s time as FDA Food Czar that GMO products did not need to be labeled as such, even though national consumer groups loudly professed the public’s right to know what is genetically modified in the food system. Sadly to remember: President Obama promised in campaign speeches that he would "let folks know what foods are genetically modified." These are the conflict of interests that lead to the 99% movement standing up for the family farmers.

Just look at the confusing headlines lately that revealed that mid-western farms of GM corn will be sprayed with 2,4-D toxins found in the deadly Agent Orange. Just refer to the previous lawsuits taken all the way to the U.S. Supreme Court by U.S. Veterans who tried to argue the dangers of Monsanto’s Agent Orange, and high rates of cancers in our soldiers who had to suffer the side effects from their wartime exposures in Vietnam.

In 1980 alone, when all this mess started with corporations wiping out the livelihoods of family farmers, the National Farm Medicine Center reported that 900 male farmers in the Upper Midwest committed suicide. That was nearly double the national average for white men. Even sadder is the fact that some of the farmers’ children also committed suicide. Studies show that when one generation of family farmers lose their farms, then the next generation usually can’t revive the family business and traditions later.

Jim Gerritsen, President of the Organic Seed Growers and Trade Association, has pointed out that there are 5th and 6th generation family farmers being pushed off their farms today, and because of a "climate of fear" (from possible lawsuits from Monsanto), they can’t grow some of the food they want to grow.

These farmers are the ones who have been able to survive the changes over the past twenty years by choosing to go into the budding niche of organic farming. Now look at what they have to deal with while trying to grow successful businesses: Monsanto’s threats.

To Read the Rest

Bruce Levine: Are Americans A Broken People?

Are Americans A Broken People?
The Burt Cohen Show

Compared to other western nations, Americans seem more accepting of our own powerlessness over institutions that run our lives. Psychologist Bruce Levine, author of Get Up, Stand Up: Uniting Populists, Energizing the Defeated, and Battling the Corporate Elite looks into the many reasons for the widespread demoralization and suggests what can be done about it.

To Listen to the Interview

Mike Fasano and Mike Brickner: Florida Lawmakers Defeat Prison Privatization amid National Push for For-Profit Jails

Florida Lawmakers Defeat Prison Privatization amid National Push for For-Profit Jails
Democracy Now

The Florida State Senate has defeated a measure to privatize at least 27 prisons, which would have created the largest corporate-run prison system in the country. Despite the vote, Republican Gov. Rick Scott could still privatize the prisons through executive authority. According to the U.S. Department of Justice, the number of prisoners being added to privately run jails is outpacing the overall prison population by 17 percent compared to 4 percent. The nation’s largest operator of for-profit prisons, Corrections Corporation of America, recently sent letters to 48 states offering to buy up their prisons in exchange for a 20-year management contract, plus an assurance that the prison would remain at least at 90 percent capacity. We discuss prison privatization with two guests: Florida Republican State Senator Mike Fasano, who led the charge against the bill to handover South Florida’s state prisons to private companies, and ACLU of Ohio spokesperson Mike Brickner, co-author of the report, "Prisons for Profit: A Look at Prison Privatization."


State Senator Mike Fasano, Florida Republican who led the charge against the bill to hand over South Florida’s state prisons to private companies.

Mike Brickner, communications and public policy director at ACLU of Ohio. He co-authored the report "Prisons for Profit: A Look at Prison Privatization."

To Watch/Listen/Read

Media Matters: Mari Jo & Paul Buhle weigh in on the largest pro-labor mobilization in modern American history

Mari Jo & Paul Buhle weigh in on the largest pro-labor mobilization in modern American history
Media Matters (WILL: Illinois Public Media)

In the spring of 2011, Wisconsinites took to the streets in what became the largest and liveliest labor demonstrations in modern American history. Protesters in the Middle East sent greetings-and pizzas-to the thousands occupying the Capitol building in Madison, and 150,000 demonstrators converged on the city.

In a year that has seen a revival of protest in America, here is a riveting account of the first great wave of grassroots resistance to the corporate restructuring of the Great Recession.

It Started in Wisconsin includes eyewitness reports by striking teachers, students, and others (such as Wisconsin-born musician Tom Morello), as well as essays explaining Wisconsin's progressive legacy by acclaimed historians. The book lays bare the national corporate campaign that crafted Wisconsin's anti-union legislation and similar laws across the country, and it conveys the infectious esprit de corps that pervaded the protests with original pictures and comics.

To Listen to the Episode

Sunday, February 19, 2012

US Department of Agriculture: Hemp for Victory!

[This is a US Department of Agriculture video trying to convince farmers to grow hemp to support the war effort -- it says that farmers were often required to watch the video (not sure in what context?) -- an added bonus for Kentuckians, it features Kentucky throughout the ten minute video. Seems Kentucky was the center of hemp production. ENG 102 students, think about the changing history of the argument concerning hemp production.]

Courtesy of Occupy Marines

Fred Magdoff: Food as a Commodity

Food as a Commodity
by Fred Magdoff
Monthly Review

Food is one of the most basic of human needs. Routine access to a balanced diet is essential for both growth and development of the young, as well as for general health throughout one’s life. Although food is mostly plentiful, malnutrition is still common. The contradiction between plentiful global food supplies and widespread malnutrition and hunger arises primarily from food being considered a commodity, just like any other.

For many millennia following the origin of our species, humans were hunters and gatherers—an existence that one might think of as tenuous. However, judging from archeological evidence as well as recent examples, hunters and gatherers generally ate a diverse diet that supplied adequate nutrition. For example, studies in the 1960s and ‘70s of the !Kung of southern Africa, foragers for literally thousands of years, indicate that although they ate meat that they hunted, about two-thirds of their food was plant-based—nuts (supplying more than one-third of caloric intake), fruits, roots, and berries—and their diet provided approximately 2,400 calories a day. The groups of hunter-gatherers were egalitarian, with everyone participating in the provisioning of food.

Agriculture, which developed some seven to ten thousand years ago, provided surplus food that allowed the development of cities and the hierarchies and civilizations that went along with them—farmers, artisans, priests, kings, warriors, scribes, and other functionaries. But just because there was a surplus did not mean that people were better nourished than hunter-gatherers. In fact, the narrowing of available foods used from the wide variety in the hunter-gatherers’ diets, along with the reliance primarily on grains to provide calories, is thought to have caused a decrease in the health of early agriculturalists—as indicated by their decreased height compared that of hunter-gatherers. In these agricultural societies surplus food production was mainly appropriated for the use of the non-food producing classes. Most pre-capitalist agricultural societies had many producers relative to non-productive classes.

In some ancient empires imperial tribute took the form of food shipped long distances from the place of production. North Africa, for example, was the granary for Rome. Much of Chinese history involved constructing infrastructure to store and provide food far from its place of production. Nevertheless, in much of the world (including feudal Europe) food was produced either by peasant farmers and consumed by their families or else appropriated by landed aristocracies on a fairly local basis. What markets existed were often on a barter basis and trade in food was in kind, without becoming a commodity.

This changed with capitalism or generalized commodity production. The endless accumulation of profits, the motive force of the capitalist system, occurs through the production of commodities or services to sell at a price in excess of the production costs. Production for the purpose of sale and profit, instead of production for use, is a defining characteristic of capitalism and essentially all commodity exchanges take place in markets. During the early stages of capitalism, when most people still lived and worked on the land, a large portion of food was produced to be consumed locally in the rural areas and did not exist as a commodity. However, farmers near growing cities and/or near water transport shipped food to the industrializing urban centers.

The commodity nature of food became much more pronounced as capitalism grew and conquered most of the world’s societies. Imperial powers brought the peasants of their colonies into the money economy by extracting monetary rather than in-kind taxes. The need to obtain money to pay taxes began a process that converted a portion of the food produced into commodities.

The industrial phase of capitalism caused rural populations to decline in Europe, North America, and Japan. People were forced off the land and looked for work in the cities, moving to the growing industrial centers. (Many also migrated from Europe to North America, Australia, New Zealand, South Africa, and elsewhere.) The development of canals, railroads, and road systems allowed for long-distance transport of food within large landmasses. Advances in shipping by sea also greatly decreased the cost of global trade in food.

Almost all of the crops and animals raised using the scale and approach of industrial farming are sold as undifferentiated commodities. Farmers sell their crops to buyers who resell the raw commodities to be processed—or themselves process the raw commodity—with the semi-processed commodities then sold to final processors/packagers who sell to wholesalers who then sell to retailers who finally sell food to the public. Thus, the farmers producing the bulk of food in the wealthy countries have become greatly separated from the public that finally purchases their products—not just physically, but also by the long chain of intermediaries between farms and people’s tables. Farm mechanization has increased labor productivity, leading to fewer farmers and larger farms. As industrial methods were applied to raising crops and animals, the agriculture-input sector grew dramatically and became highly concentrated—with relatively few companies now producing and selling farm machinery, fertilizers, pesticides, and seeds. Industrialized food systems also saw concentration and centralization of production and growing monopoly power. For example, large integrated “protein” (meat) firms now contract with farmers to produce poultry and hogs in large facilities under crowded and inhumane conditions. Because corporations mandate that their contractors be located near where they decide to build slaughtering facilities, this frequently means long distance transport of feed. Beef cows are increasingly raised in large feedlots.

Indeed farming, the actual raising of crops and animals, is only one part of the whole food system. The commodity nature of all parts of the agricultural/food system—farm inputs, actual farming, purchasing and processing raw agricultural goods, and wholesaling and retailing—means that many different types of commodities are produced and sold. Farming itself has been reduced to a component in a larger system of agribusiness, with many of the remaining small farmers in the United States increasingly becoming subcontractors to large corporations. The input side of agriculture was one of the last sectors of the economy to go through concentration of ownership, leading to fewer machinery companies, fewer “agrichemical” (fertilizer and pesticide) companies, and fewer seed companies. A few input and purchasing/processing corporations are able to exert near monopoly power. One of the most recent developments in the inputs sector has been the creation of transgenic (genetically modified, or GM) varieties of crops. Industry consolidation was stimulated by the greater control exerted on prices (and farmers), and today about 40 percent of the entire global seed market is controlled by three firms—Monsanto, DuPont, and Syngenta.

To Read the Rest of the Essay

Media Matters: Susan Saladoff - Hot Coffee

Susan Saladoff - Filmmaker - Hot Coffee
Media Matters

Susan Saladoff (Producer, Director) spent twenty-five years practicing law in the civil justice system, representing injured victims of individual and corporate negligence. She stopped practicing law in 2009 to make the documentary, HOT COFFEE, her first feature-length film. She began her career as a public interest lawyer with the law firm of Trial Lawyers for Public Justice, now known as Public Justice, an organization that, for the last 25 years, has been at the forefront of keeping America’s courthouse doors open to all. Susan was recognized by her peers as an Oregon Super Lawyer for five consecutive years from 2006 to 2010. She is a graduate of Cornell University and George Washington University Law School, and has frequently lectured at the state and national levels on the importance of the civil justice system.

To Listen to the episode

Saturday, February 18, 2012

Stacey Peebles: Stories from the Suck -- The First Wave of Iraq War Narratives

Stories from the Suck: The First Wave of Iraq War Narratives
by Stacey Peebles

War stories have been with us forever, but at some points in human history they demand our attention more urgently than at others. Now would seem to be one of those times, as the United States remains deeply engaged in Iraq, Afghanistan, and now Libya, and—perhaps more importantly—welcomes home wave after wave of veterans whose military service has been quite different than that of their parents and grandparents. As a nation, we are only beginning to understand the nature of that service for the soldiers and how those combat experiences will shape the way our community as a whole thinks about the causes and effects of war.

A great deal of the way we think about war is the product of popular representations—the books, photographs, films, and (these days) online content that takes combat as its subject matter. Think of the Vietnam War, and you’re probably thinking as much (or more) about Full Metal Jacket, Platoon, Philip Caputo, Michael Herr, and Tim O’Brien as you are about first-hand stories from friends and family members. In film and text, young men are drafted into service and find themselves tangled in thick jungle and guerrilla warfare, gradually descending into disillusionment and political cynicism to the sound of a rock-and-roll soundtrack. Contemporary war is a different story.

Welcome to the Suck focuses on the soldier’s experience in the Persian Gulf War and the Iraq War as represented in prose, poetry, film, and new media. The war in Afghanistan predates the Iraq War and has officially outlasted it, as combat operations in Iraq were officially called to a close on August 31, 2010. But to date, that war has inspired fewer and less prominent war stories than the war in Iraq. This may change, as political and cultural attention shifts to Afghanistan during Obama’s presidency, and the ways in which this war blends with and differs from Iraq will be a compelling avenue of study in future years.

The American soldiers fighting in Iraq and represented in these new war stories have grown up in a culture of mediation, where it has been more acceptable than ever before to subvert or transcend traditional categories and norms of behavior, gender, and ethnicity. At the same time, new communications technologies have enabled people to experiment with virtual or alternate identities—in venues like blogs, forums, and more comprehensive online worlds like Second Life. Advances in battlefield technologies offer those interested in a military career the promise of a fighting self supplemented by things like GPS-guided Humvees, night-vision goggles, digital battle simulation, and robotics. As young people, these soldiers have been encouraged to revel in their individuality, challenge restrictive categories, and make ample use of technology to do so. Contemporary American culture traffics, after all, in identities that are cyborg, hybrid, avatar.

A film like Avatar, in fact, demonstrates this emphasis very well. The protagonist, Jake Sully, rises above the restrictions imposed on him by his nationality, his culture, his disability, and even his basic biology. It’s worth noting that he is a soldier, and that this is a war movie.

But it’s also a fantasy, and not just because of the blue skin and floating islands. The transcendence that Jake steps into like a warm bath proves to be frustratingly and even devastatingly elusive for soldiers fighting in Iraq. War—real war—enforces categorization even as it forces encounters across the boundaries of nation, the body, and technology.

Consider someone like Kayla Williams, who published her memoir Love My Rifle More Than You: Young and Female in the U.S. Army in 2005. Williams worked as an Arabic linguist and interpreter, a tough, smart soldier as eager for challenges as her male colleagues. She is female—and thus historically not typical American soldier material—but she has no doubts about her ability to do the job and do it well. What’s the currency of military masculinity, after all? Grit, brains, competence, and dedication to the group. Williams has all that in spades, and she goes to Iraq ready to take her place as a brother-in-arms. But it doesn’t work out as she’d like. Two instances of sexual assault shake her badly, but even more telling is her account of the fellow soldiers who treat her well. They pat each other on the ass to express acceptance and affection—a gesture called the “good game”—but they are extra careful not to touch her. “As a female,” she says, “I was not really a part of the ‘good game.’”

To Read the Rest of the Essay

Friday, February 17, 2012

Preface to Censored 2012: Sourcebook for the Media Revolution

[Work in progress -- ENG 102 students: background/context for people/groups/concepts/issues discussed on pages 11-25]

Plato's Cave (12)

Book VII of The Republic: The Allegory of the Cave

Wikipedia: Allegory of the Cave

Mark Cohen (University of Washington): Allegory of the Cave

Contemporary interpretations

Crisis in Journalism (12)

Steve Coll: Crisis in Journalism and Potential Policy Responses (New America Foundation)

History for the Future: Victor Pickard on the Crisis in Journalism (Audio)

Todd Gitlin: Journalism in Criss -- Circulation, Revenue, Attention, Authority, and Deference (University of Westminster, London)

Astroturfing (12: Political and Corporate Front Groups posing as Grassroots Organizations)

Wikipedia: Astroturfing

Sourcewatch: Astroturf

Sourcewatch: Archive of Reports on Astroturf Groups

Sourcewatch: Astroturf Blogging

Center for Responsible Lending: What's An Astroturf Group?"

The New PR Wiki: AntiAstroturfing

PR Watch

Michael Dean Benton: Astroturf Organizations Spreading Propaganda - "Don't Make Us Pay"

Coal Cares (Satire)

The Fourth Estate (12)

Wikipedia: The Fourth Estate

The Dylan Ratigan: Glenn Greenwald -- The Media Failed on WikiLeaks (audio)

Judith Vidal-Hall: A press fit for the purpose? Finding a new model for press and public service broadcasting

Orwell Rolls in His Grave (USA: Robert Kane Pappas, 2003)

Radio Berkman: Yochai Benkler -- Fear of a Networked Fourth Estate

George Carlin (13)

Remembering George Carlin (May 12, 1937 - June 22, 2008)

Seven Words You Can Never Say on Television (1972)

Baseball vs Football (1990)

The American Dream (2005)

A compilation of clips from George Carlin's memorable comedy performances

Michael Dean Benton: Nougat Declares What Words Shall Not Be Used

Literate Citizenry (13)

Michael Dean Benton: Questions I Have About My World

Marilyn Brown: Fewer Students Reading Between the Lines

Chris Hedges: America the Illiterate

Susan Jacoby: The Age of American Unreason

Michael Wesch: A Portal to Media Literacy/Michael Benton: Thinking About 21st Century Multiliteracies

Robert McChesney: Rich Media, Poor Democracy

Benjamin Barber: “The Educated Student: Global Citizen or Global Consumer?”

Thursday, February 16, 2012

David Graeber: Anthropologist

David Graeber: Anthropologist

Calhoun, Craig and David Graeber. "The Democracy Project." The London School of Economics and Political Science." (April 30, 2013)

Graeber, David. "Concerning the Violent Peace-Police: An Open Letter to Chris Hedges." N + 1 (February 9, 2012) [More Resources: an archive of Chris Hedges statements, other statements and an introduction from Michael Benton]

---. Debt: The First 5,000 Years. Brooklyn, NY: Melville House, 2011 [PDF file of the Book: also available Here]

---. "Debt: The First Five Thousand Years." Mute (February 10, 2009)

---. Direct Action. Oakland, CA: AK Press, 2009. [Entire book in PDF format]

---. "Occupy and anarchism's gift of democracy. The US imagines itself a great democracy, yet most Americans despise its politics. Which is why direct democracy inspires them." The Guardian (November 15, 2011)

---. "Occupy Wall Street's anarchist roots: The 'Occupy' movement is one of several in American history to be based on anarchist principles." Al Jazeera (November 30, 2011)

---. "On Bureaucratic Technologies & the Future as Dream-Time." School of Visual Arts (January 19, 2012)

---. "On the phenomenon of bullshit jobs." libcom (August 20, 2013)

---. "A Practical Utopian's Guide to the Coming Collapse." The Baffler #22 (2013)

---. "The Shock of Victory." UK Indymedia (October 15, 2007)

---. "What’s the Point If We Can’t Have Fun?" The Baffler #24 (2014)

Graeber, David and Richard Wolff. "The Vast Machine to Perpetuate Hopelessness (Marxian Class Analysis 1)." Unwelcome Guests #624 (October 6, 2012)

Graeber, David, et al. "Let Your Life Be A Friction (To Stop The Machine)." Unwelcome Guests (March 3, 2012)

---. "Occupy 2.0 (Peer Produced Politics)." Unwelcome Guests (March 10, 2012)

---. "The Psychology of Transition: Undoing Millennia of Social Control." Unwelcome Guests #597 (March 31, 2012)

---. "Resisting The Military Financial Complex (Just Say No To Debt Repayment)." Unwelcome Guests (September 22, 2012)

---. "Waking Up And Smelling The Kool-Aid (The Rhetoric and Practice of Finance Capital)." Unwelcome Guests (September 28, 2012)

The Death and Return of Superman

Thom Hartmann: Unequal Protection: How Corporations Became 'People' and How You Can Fight Back

Available on TruthOut

Introduction: The Battle to Save Democracy

Part I: Corporations Take Over

Chapter One: The Deciding Moment?

Chapter Two: The Corporate Conquest of America

Part II: From the Birth of American Democracy through the Birth of Corporate Personhood

Chapter Three: Banding Together for the Common Good

Chapter Four: The Boston Tea Party Revealed

Chapter Five: Jefferson Versus the Corporate Aristocracy

Chapter Six: The Early Role of Corporations in America

Chapter Seven: The People's Masters

Chapter Eight: Corporations Go Global

Chapter Nine: The Court Takes the Presidency

Chapter Ten: Protecting Corporate Liars

Chapter Eleven: Corporate Control of Politics

Part III: Unequal Consequences

Chapter Twelve: Unequal Uses for the Bill of Rights

Chapter Thirteen: Unequal Regulation

Chapter Fourteen: Unequal Protection from Risk

Chapter Fifteen: Unequal Taxes

Chapter Sixteen: Unequal Responsibility for Crime

Chapter Seventeen: Unequal Privacy

Chapter Eighteen: Unequal Citizenship and Access to the Commons

Chapter Nineteen: Unequal Wealth

Chapter Twenty: Unequal Trade

Chapter Twenty-One: Unequal Media

Chapter Twenty-Two: Unequal Influence

Chapter Twenty-Three: Capitalists and Americans Speak Out for Community

Chapter Twenty-Four: End Corporate Personhood

Chapter Twenty-Five: A New Entrepreneurial Boom

Chapter Twenty-Six: A Democratic Marketplace

Chapter Twenty-Seven: Restoring Government, of, by, and for the People

Democracy Now: Army Whistleblower Lt. Col. Daniel Davis Says Pentagon Deceiving Public on Afghan War

Army Whistleblower Lt. Col. Daniel Davis Says Pentagon Deceiving Public on Afghan War
Democracy Now

"Senior ranking U.S. military leaders have so distorted the truth when communicating with the U.S. Congress and American people in regards to conditions on the ground in Afghanistan that the truth has become unrecognizable." That’s the assessment of a damning new report by Army Lt. Col. Daniel Davis, who returned in October from his second year-long deployment in Afghanistan and says military officials have misled the American public about how poorly the decade-long war is going. He argues that local Afghan governments are unable to provide the basic needs of the people and that insurgents control virtually all parts of Afghanistan beyond eyeshot of a U.S. base. We speak with Michael Hastings of Rolling Stone, who obtained a copy of the full report and published it last week. "Lieutenant Colonel Davis is on the right side of history, and the fact [is] that he believes in this and is willing to risk [his career]," Hastings says


Michael Hastings, contributing editor at Rolling Stone magazine. His latest article is "The Afghanistan Report the Pentagon Doesn’t Want You to Read." His new book is called The Operators: The Wild and Terrifying Inside Story of America’s War in Afghanistan.

To Watch/Listen/Read

Wednesday, February 15, 2012

Sven Beckert and Seth Rockman: How Slavery Led to Modern Capitalism

How Slavery Led to Modern Capitalism
By Sven Beckert and Seth Rockman

When the New York City banker James Brown tallied his wealth in 1842, he had to look far below Wall Street to trace its origins. His investments in the American South exceeded $1.5 million, a quarter of which was directly bound up in the ownership of slave plantations.

Brown was among the world's most powerful dealers in raw cotton, and his family’s firm, Brown Brothers & Co., served as one of the most important sources of capital and foreign exchange to the U.S. economy. Still, no small amount of his time was devoted to managing slaves from the study of his Leonard Street brownstone in Lower Manhattan.

Brown was hardly unusual among the capitalists of the North. Nicholas Biddle's United States Bank of Philadelphia funded banks in Mississippi to promote the expansion of plantation lands. Biddle recognized that slave-grown cotton was the only thing made in the U.S. that had the capacity to bring gold and silver into the vaults of the nation's banks. Likewise, the architects of New England's industrial revolution watched the price of cotton with rapt attention, for their textile mills would have been silent without the labor of slaves on distant plantations.

The story we tell about slavery is almost always regional, rather than national. We remember it as a cruel institution of the southern states that would later secede from the Union. Slavery, in this telling, appears limited in scope, an unfortunate detour on the nation's march to modernity, and certainly not the engine of American economic prosperity.

Yet to understand slavery's centrality to the rise of American capitalism, just consider the history of an antebellum Alabama dry-goods outfit called Lehman Brothers or a Rhode Island textile manufacturer that would become the antecedent firm of Berkshire Hathaway Inc.

Reparations lawsuits (since dismissed) generated evidence of slave insurance policies by Aetna and put Brown University and other elite educational institutions on notice that the slave-trade enterprises of their early benefactors were potential legal liabilities. Recent state and municipal disclosure ordinances have forced firms such as JPMorgan Chase & Co. and Wachovia Corp. to confront unsettling ancestors on their corporate family trees.

Such revelations are hardly surprising in light of slavery’s role in spurring the nation’s economic development. America's "take-off" in the 19th century wasn't in spite of slavery; it was largely thanks to it. And recent research in economic history goes further: It highlights the role that commodified human beings played in the emergence of modern capitalism itself.

To Read the Rest

John Sifton: A Brief History of Drones

A Brief History of Drones
by John Sifton
The Nation

It was ten years ago this month, on February 4, 2002, that the CIA first used an unmanned Predator drone in a targeted killing. The strike was in Paktia province in Afghanistan, near the city of Khost. The intended target was Osama bin Laden, or at least someone in the CIA had thought so. Donald Rumsfeld later explained, using the passive voice of government: “A decision was made to fire the Hellfire missile. It was fired.” The incident occurred during a brief period when the military, which assisted the CIA’s drone program by providing active service personnel as operators, still acknowledged the program’s existence. Within days of the strike, journalists on the ground were collecting accounts from local Afghans that the dead men were civilians gathering scrap metal. The Pentagon media pool began asking questions, and so the long decade of the drone began.

The CIA had been flying unarmed drones over Afghanistan since 2000. It began to fly armed drones after the September 11 attacks. Some were used during the air war against the Taliban in late 2001. But by February 2002 the CIA hadn’t yet used a drone for a strike outside military support. The February 2002 attack was a pure CIA kill operation, undertaken separately from any ongoing military operation. The drone operators were reported to have come across three people at a former mujahedeen base called Zhawar Kili—later, officials would never claim they were armed—including a “tall man” to whom the other men were “acting with reverence.” (On one previous occasion, a year before the September 11 attacks, CIA observers thought they’d seen bin Laden: a tall man with long robes near Tarnak Farm, bin Laden’s erstwhile home near Kandahar. This sighting by an unarmed drone was what had led to the first arguments among the White House and CIA about arming drones with missiles, a debate that simmered until it was snuffed out by the September 11 attacks.)

After the February 2002 strike, military officials quickly acknowledged that the “tall man” was not bin Laden. But they insisted the targets were “legitimate,” although they struggled to explain why, using vague and even coy language to cover up what appeared to be uncertainty. Pentagon spokeswoman Victoria Clark said, “We’re convinced that it was an appropriate target.” But she added, “We do not know yet exactly who it was.” Gen. Tommy Franks told ABC News that he expected the identities of the three to prove “interesting.”

Pentagon spokesman John Stufflebeem spoke of the government’s being in the “comfort zone” of determining that the targets were “not innocent,” noting there were “no initial indications that these were innocent locals,” a curious phrase reflecting a presumption of guilt. “Indicators were there that there was something untoward that we needed to make go away…. Initial indications would seem to say that these are not peasant people up there farming.” Rumsfeld later chimed in, offering his signature pseudo-philosophical analysis to address the allegations that the dead were civilians. “We’ll just have to find out. There’s not much more anyone could add, except that there’s that one version, and there’s the other version.”

The government’s evasion was helped by the fact that Zhawar Kili, the site of the strike, was an infamous mujahedeen complex built with CIA and Saudi support by Jalaluddin Haqqani, the mujahedeen scion allied with the Taliban, then and now. In the 1980s CIA officers and journalists used to visit the base. It was the site of two major battles against Soviet forces in the mid-’80s. President Bill Clinton ordered a strike on the area with Tomahawk cruise missiles in 1998 after the two Africa embassy bombings, and the US military pummeled it with airstrikes beginning in late 2001. For a time the military thought that bin Laden and his Al Qaeda forces might have fled to Zhawar Kili after the battle of Tora Bora (a puzzling hypothesis because the area had already been hit by withering fire and was more exposed than Tora Bora). In January 2002 the military sent several search and demolition units there to gather leftover material with potential intelligence value and to blow up the caves.

By February 2002 the place had been deserted by militants for months. Several journalists headed to Zhawar Kili after the strike and spoke with local leaders and the families of the dead, who confirmed the identities of the men killed: Daraz Khan, the tall man, about 31, from the village of Lalazha, and two others, Jehangir Khan, about 28, and Mir Ahmed, about 30, from the village of Patalan. The New York Times’s John Burns was among those who spoke with the families, saw the men’s graves and confirmed their extreme poverty. The men had climbed to the mountainous area to forage for leftover metal from the US airstrikes, bits of shrapnel and bomb tail fins—scavengers could fetch about 50 cents per camel load. Although Daraz Khan was admittedly tall by Afghan standards—5 feet 11 inches—he was six inches shorter than bin Laden.

Reading about the strike later, I felt a slight connection with Daraz Khan. I am also 5 feet 11, and at around the same period I spent time foraging for bomb fragments in remote locations in Afghanistan. As a researcher for Human Rights Watch, working on an assessment of the US air war in the winter and spring of 2002, I had visited locations like Zhawar Kili. With colleagues I had climbed into craters, poked at the twisted tail fins of bombs, and interviewed witnesses and families of the dead. And I was the tallest among my colleagues. Perhaps I could have been mistaken for bin Laden too.

To Read the Rest of the Essay

Neoliberalism (Keywords)

Wikipedia: Neoliberalism

Ali, Tariq. "The Rotten Heart of Europe." Unwelcome Guests #637 (January 5, 2013)

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John Bellamy Foster, Robert W. McChesney, and R. Jamil Jonna: The Global Reserve Army of Labor and the New Imperialism

The Global Reserve Army of Labor and the New Imperialism
by John Bellamy Foster, Robert W. McChesney, and R. Jamil Jonna
Monthly Review


Global Labor Arbitrage

The pursuit of “an ever extended market” Marx contended, is an “inner necessity” of the capitalist mode of production.35 This inner necessity took on a new significance, however, with the rise of monopoly capitalism in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. The emergence of multinational corporations, first in the giant oil companies and a handful of other firms in the early twentieth century, and then becoming a much more general phenomenon in the post-Second World War years, was a product of the concentration and centralization of capital on a world scale; but equally involved the transformation of world labor and production.

It was the increasing multinational corporate dominance over the world economy, in fact, that led to the modern concept of “globalization,” which arose in the early 1970s as economists, particularly those on the left, tried to understand the way in which the giant firms were reorganizing world production and labor conditions.36 This was clearly evident by the early 1970s—not only in Hymer’s work, but also in Richard Barnet and Ronald Müller’s influential 1974 work, Global Reach, in which they argued: “The rise of the global corporation represents the globalization of oligopoly capitalism.” This was “the culmination of a process of concentration and internationalization that has put the world economy under the substantial control of a few hundred business enterprises which do not compete with one another according to the traditional rules of the market.” Moreover, the implications for labor were enormous. Explaining how oligopolistic rivalry now meant searching for the lowest unit labor costs worldwide, Barnet and Müller argued that this had generated “the ‘runaway shop’ which becomes the ‘export platform’ in an underdeveloped country,” and which had become a necessity of business for U.S. companies, just like their European and Japanese competitors.37

Over the past half century, these global oligopolies have been offshoring whole sectors of production from the rich/high-wage to the poor/low-wage countries, transforming global labor conditions in their search for global low-cost position, and in a divide and rule approach to world labor. Leading U.S. multinationals, such as General Electric, Exxon, Chevron, Ford, General Motors, Proctor and Gamble, IBM, Hewlett Packard, United Technologies, Johnson and Johnson, Alcoa, Kraft, and Coca Cola now employ more workers abroad than they do in the United States—even without considering the vast number of workers they employ through subcontractors. Some major corporations, such as Nike and Reebok, rely on third world subcontractors for 100 percent of their production workforce—with domestic employees confined simply to managerial, product development, marketing, and distribution activities.38 The result has been the proletarianization, often under precarious conditions, of much of the population of the underdeveloped countries, working in massive export zones under conditions dictated by foreign multinationals.

Two realities dominate labor at the world level today. One is global labor arbitrage or the system of imperial rent. The other is the existence of a massive global reserve army, which makes this world system of extreme exploitation possible. “Labour arbitrage” is defined quite simply by The Economist as “taking advantage of lower wages abroad, especially in poor countries.” It is thus an unequal exchange process in which one country, as Marx said, is able to “cheat” another due to the much higher exploitation of labor in the poorer country.39 A study of production in China’s industrialized Pearl River Delta region (encompassing Guangzhou, Shenzhen, and Hong Kong) found in 2005 that some workers were compelled to work up to sixteen hours continuously, and that corporal punishment was routinely employed as a means of worker discipline. Some 200 million Chinese are said to work in hazardous conditions, claiming over a 100,000 lives a year.40

It is such superexploitation that lies behind much of the expansion of production in the global South.41 The fact that this has been the basis of rapid economic growth for some emerging economies does not alter the reality that it has generated enormous imperial rents for multinational corporations and capital at the center of the system. As labor economist Charles Whalen has written, “The prime motivation behind offshoring is the desire to reduce labor costs…a U.S.-based factory worker hired for $21 an hour can be replaced by a Chinese factory worker who is paid 64 cents an hour…. The main reason offshoring is happening now is because it can.”42

How this system of global labor arbitrage occurs by way of global supply chains, however, is enormously complex. Dell, the PC assembler, purchases some 4,500 parts from 300 different suppliers in multiple countries around the world.43 As the Asian Development Bank Institute indicated in a 2010 study of iPhone production: “It is almost impossible [today] to define clearly where a manufactured product is made in the global market. This is why on the back of iPhones one can read ‘Designed by Apple in California, Assembled in China.’” Although both statements on the back of the iPhones are literally correct, neither answers the question of where the real production takes place. Apple does not itself manufacture the iPhone. Rather the actual manufacture (that is, everything but its software and design) takes place primarily outside the United States. The production of iPhone parts and components is carried out principally by eight corporations (Toshiba, Samsung, Infineon, Broadcom, Numonyx, Murata, Dialog Semiconductor, and Cirrus Logic), which are located in Japan, South Korea, Germany, and the United States. All of the major parts and components of the iPhone are then shipped to the Shenzhen, China plants of Foxconn (a company headquartered in Taipei) for assembly and export to the United States.

Apple’s enormous, complex global supply chain for iPod production is aimed at obtaining the lowest unit labor costs (taking into consideration labor costs, technology, etc.), appropriate for each component, with the final assembly taking place in China, where production occurs on a massive scale, under enormous intensity, and with ultra-low wages. In Foxconn’s Longhu, Shenzhen factory 300,000 to 400,000 workers eat, work, and sleep under horrendous conditions, with workers, who are compelled to do rapid hand movements for long hours for months on end, finding themselves twitching constantly at night. Foxconn workers in 2009 were paid the minimum monthly wage in Shenzhen, or about 83 cents an hour. (Overall in China in 2008 manufacturing workers were paid $1.36 an hour, according to U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics data.)

Despite the massive labor input of Chinese workers in assembling the final product, their low pay means that their work only amounts to 3.6 percent of the total manufacturing cost (shipping price) of the iPhone. The overall profit margin on iPhones in 2009 was 64 percent. If iPhones were assembled in the United States—assuming labor costs ten times that in China, equal productivity, and constant component costs—Apple would still have an ample profit margin, but it would drop from 64 percent to 50 percent. In effect, Apple makes 22 percent of its profit margin on iPhone production from the much higher rate of exploitation of Chinese labor.

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