Whole Foods: The Wal-Mart of Natural Foods

I've always felt my money is better spent at a local food co-op than at Whole Foods, but my evidence was always anecdotal, gleaned from friends employed at natural foods markets: Whole Foods has national buying so store managers can't customize their product offerings to best serve their specific community. They're a huge 143-store chain, not local, not worker-owned, not cooperative. They have their own NASDAQ symbol. But add to that list this verified fact: they're fiercely anti-union.

According to The Capital Times of Madison, Wisconsin, Whole Foods "has one of the most fiercely anti-union records of any retail conglomerate this side of Wal-Mart" and its CEO is "an old-school corporatist so determined to deny workers' rights and representation that he pens pamphlets, including one titled 'Beyond Unions,' that celebrate the anti-worker extremism of Ronald Reagan's economic guru: Milton Friedman." Since WF employees in Madison voted to become the nation's first unionized Whole Foods last year, management has done everything to stifle worker rights, from delaying negotiations to firing pro-union workers. It's happening across the country, according to WholeWorkersUnite.org: in Falls Church, Virginia, union organizers at a WF store have allegedly been illegally fired, surveilled, intimidated, polled, and physically assaulted. All this despite Whole Foods' core values that state the opposite: "community citizenship," "shared fate," "empowering work environments," and "integrity in all business dealings." Another core value that made me look twice--Stewardship. They don't use the familiar definition of nurturing sustainability in work and natural environments. Instead, they define the term this way: "We are stewards of our shareholders' investments and we take that responsibility very seriously." Apparently.

Mailer on war and the white male ego

Norman Mailer ponders why we really went to war in an excellent TimesOnline (UK) commentary: the white male ego has been taking a beating for 30 years, as the women's movement has made great strides and minorities have taken over most sports. White boys needed a boost. And who better to lead us than George W. Bush:
Be it said: the motives that lead to a nation’s major historical acts can probably rise no higher than the spiritual understanding of its leadership. While George W. may not know as much as he believes he knows about the dispositions of God’s blessing, he is driving us at high speed all the same. He is more of a white male by at least an order of magnitude than any other boyo in America, yes, we have this man at the wheel whose most legitimate boast might be that he knew how to parlay the part-ownership of a major-league baseball team into a gubernatorial win in Texas. And — shall we ever forget? — was catapulted, thereafter, into a mighty hymn: All Hail to the Chief!


What ever happened to the fiscal conservative? The federal government will default on the national debt next month unless Congress raises its borrowing authority--now capped at an all-time high of $6.4 trillion. (As Hesiod blogs, Why is it that everything George W. Bush runs eventually goes bankrupt?) Still, Bush plows ahead with his campaign to sell tax cuts: he's one vote away from approving a $550 billion tax cut.

US fires on, kills more Iraqis:Two more Iraqis are killed and 14 injured as--just a day after American troops fired on a crowd of protesters killing 13--gunfire continues in Baghdad.

Hatemongers for Peace!The White House has nominated Daniel Pipes--often described as a "Muslim basher and Islamophobe" who has claimed that up to "15% of Muslims are potential killers" and that “Western...societies are unprepared for the massive immigration of brown-skinned peoples...maintaining different standards of hygiene”--to the Board of Directors of the United States Institute of Peace. Click here to learn more.

Dixie Chicks rise. You wouldn't guess it reading the anti-dissent harangues in the mainstream media about the Dixie Chicks, but this country band is still at the top of the charts (#3 on Billboard's country charts) and has sold out all but one of its 59-venue world tour. As Michael Moore, whose book "Stupid White Men" is still at the top of the New York Times' bestseller list after he made anti-Bush/anti-war statements at the Oscars, proves, we need not fear the free-speech "backlash."

Don't eat the lettuce. Two news studies have found rocket fuel residue in the nation's lettuce crops; the Bush administration's response: put a gag order on the EPA so they can't discuss it, and propose a bill in Congress "that would effectively exempt the Pentagon and defense industry from much of their potential liability for perchlorate cleanup."



Inimitable Times columnist/economist Paul Krugman, in a must-read commentary, asks:
Does it matter that we were misled into war? Some people say that it doesn't: we won, and the Iraqi people have been freed. But we ought to ask some hard questions — not just about Iraq, but about ourselves.

First, why is our compassion so selective? In 2001 the World Health Organization — the same organization we now count on to protect us from SARS — called for a program to fight infectious diseases in poor countries, arguing that it would save the lives of millions of people every year. The U.S. share of the expenses would have been about $10 billion per year — a small fraction of what we will spend on war and occupation. Yet the Bush administration contemptuously dismissed the proposal.

Or consider one of America's first major postwar acts of diplomacy: blocking a plan to send U.N. peacekeepers to Ivory Coast (a former French colony) to enforce a truce in a vicious civil war. The U.S. complains that it will cost too much. And that must be true — we wouldn't let innocent people die just to spite the French, would we?
Read it all.

Pro-Israel Spin

From EI:
The Electronic Intifada has obtained, and today publishes in full, a document prepared for pro-Israel activists by the public relations firm The Luntz Research Companies and The Israel Project. The document spells out the tactics that Israel and its US advocates should use to maintain support for Israel and its hardline policies.

The document, entitled "Wexner Analysis: Israeli Communication Priorities 2003," counsels pro-Israel advocates to keep invoking the name of Saddam Hussein, and to stress that Israel "was always behind American efforts to rid the world of this ruthless dictator and liberate their people." Despite his solid support for Israel and Ariel Sharon, the document warns pro-Israel advocates not to compliment or praise President Bush. At the same time it acknowledges that Yasser Arafat has been a great asset to Israel because "he looks the part" of a "terrorist." The installation of Mahmoud Abbas as Palestinian prime minister, and potential replacement for Arafat, comes "at the wrong time," because he has the potential to improve the image of the Palestinians, and that could put the onus on Israel to return to negotiations. The document advises supporters of Israel to appear to affect a "balanced" tone, but admits that in arguing for Israel's policies, the illegal "settlements are our Achilles heel," for which there is no good defense.

US war crimes in Iraq

A Brussels-based lawyer, acting on behalf of 10 Iraqis who witnessed atrocities by US troops during Operation Iraqi Freedom, is filing a war-crimes complaint against Gen. Tommy Franks in Belgian court.

In related news, US troops fire on anti-occupation protesters in Baghdad killing 13, including three boys under age 11.


Lying their way to Baghdad

The Independent reports that the road to war was paved with lies: plagiarism, tips from unnamed Iraqi "defectors," distorted intelligence briefings by the Bush administration, and info obtained from Iraqis who receive Pentagon paychecks.

Something hopeful

The 14th Dalai Lama, Tenzin Gyatso, writes about science and mindfulness in the Sunday New York Times:
The calamity of 9/11 demonstrated that modern technology and human intelligence guided by hatred can lead to immense destruction. Such terrible acts are a violent symptom of an afflicted mental state. To respond wisely and effectively, we need to be guided by more healthy states of mind, not just to avoid feeding the flames of hatred, but to respond skillfully. We would do well to remember that the war against hatred and terror can be waged on this, the internal front, too.


The other pentagon

Introducing the cast of neoconservative characters that have hijacked the White House, Michael Lind of The New Statesman writes that these "neo-con defense intellectuals" are at the "center of a metaphorical 'pentagon' of the Israel lobby and the religious right, plus conservative think-tanks, foundations and media empires": conservative thinktanks like the American Enterprise Institute; the Likud-supporting Jewish Institute for National Security Affairs; the Christian right; radical right media run by Rupert Murdoch (Fox News and The Weekly Standard), Conrad Black (The National Interest, The Jerusalem Post, and Canada's Hollinger group), and Reverend Sun Myung Moon (UPI, The Washington Times), etc. A frightening article, because it suggests that the current reign in Washington is about something far more nefarious than oil, Bush, or capitalism. Read Lind's "The Weird Men Behind George W Bush's War."

Bush's grand ambition, and the Left's response

William Greider writes that Bush and Co. want to return to McKinley-era values of government:
Bush's governing strength is anchored in the long, hard-driving movement of the right that now owns all three branches of the federal government. Its unified ranks allow him to govern aggressively, despite slender GOP majorities in the House and Senate and the public's general indifference to the right's domestic program.

The movement's grand ambition--one can no longer say grandiose--is to roll back the twentieth century, quite literally. That is, defenestrate the federal government and reduce its scale and powers to a level well below what it was before the New Deal's centralization. With that accomplished, movement conservatives envision a restored society in which the prevailing values and power relationships resemble the America that existed around 1900, when William McKinley was President. Governing authority and resources are dispersed from Washington, returned to local levels and also to individuals and private institutions, most notably corporations and religious organizations. The primacy of private property rights is re-established over the shared public priorities expressed in government regulation. Above all, private wealth--both enterprises and individuals with higher incomes--are permanently insulated from the progressive claims of the graduated income tax.

* * *

Constructing an effective response requires a politics that goes right at the ideology, translates the meaning of Bush's governing agenda, lays out the implications for society and argues unabashedly for a more positive, inclusive, forward-looking vision. No need for scaremongering attacks; stick to the well-known facts. Pose some big questions: Do Americans want to get rid of the income tax altogether and its longstanding premise that the affluent should pay higher rates than the humble? For that matter, do Americans think capital incomes should be excused completely from taxation while labor incomes are taxed more heavily, perhaps through a stiff national sales tax? Do people want to give up on the concept of the "common school"--one of America's distinctive achievements? Should property rights be given precedence over human rights or society's need to protect nature? The recent battles over Social Security privatization are instructive: When the labor-left mounted a serious ideological rebuttal, well documented in fact and reason, Republicans scurried away from the issue (though they will doubtless try again).

To make this case convincing, however, the opposition must first have a coherent vision of its own. The Democratic Party, alas, is accustomed to playing defense and has become wary of "the vision thing," as Dubya's father called it. Most elected Democrats, I think, now see their role as managerial rather than big reform, and fear that even talking about ideology will stick them with the right's demon label: "liberal." If a new understanding of progressive purpose does get formed, one that connects to social reality and describes a more promising future, the vision will not originate in Washington but among those who see realities up close and are struggling now to change things on the ground. We are a very wealthy (and brutally powerful) nation, so why do people experience so much stress and confinement in their lives, a sense of loss and failure? The answers, I suggest, will lead to a new formulation of what progressives want.

The first place to inquire is not the failures of government but the malformed power relationships of American capitalism--the terms of employment that reduce many workers to powerless digits, the closely held decisions of finance capital that shape our society, the waste and destruction embedded in our system of mass consumption and production. The goal is, like the right's, to create greater self-fulfillment but as broadly as possible. Self-reliance and individualism can be made meaningful for all only by first reviving the power of collective action.


White House: War had nothing to do with WMD

After spooking Americans about Iraq's "likely" possession of weapons of mass destruction, the White House now admits nukes and bioterror agents had very little to do with it:
To build its case for war with Iraq, the Bush administration argued that Saddam Hussein had weapons of mass destruction, but some officials now privately acknowledge the White House had another reason for war — a global show of American power and democracy.

Officials inside government and advisers outside told ABCNEWS the administration emphasized the danger of Saddam's weapons to gain the legal justification for war from the United Nations and to stress the danger at home to Americans.

"We were not lying," said one official. "But it was just a matter of emphasis."
On March 17, here's what our "not lying" president had to say: "Intelligence gathered by this and other governments leaves no doubt that the Iraq regime continues to possess and conceal some of the most lethal weapons ever devised."

Anti-UN efforts

The anti-interventionist, neoconservative online publication The Federalist is sending around an e-mail petition calling for US withdrawal from the UN:
Date: 4/25/03 10:46 AM
From: The Federalist

(Please forward this invitation to fellow American patriots, especially families and friends of our armed forces.)

Terminate U.S. Membership in the UN

PatriotPetitions.US, the nation's leading public opinion advocate for U.S. national security and sovereignty, has released its newest campaign entreating President George Bush, Speaker of the House Dennis Hastert and Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist "to terminate all participation by the United States in the United Nations, terminate any and all U.S. taxpayer funded support for the UN, and prohibit American Armed Forces from serving under the command of the United Nations anywhere in the world."

Something rotten in Baghdad?

How come Saddam didn't blow up any bridges, use any of his many airplanes, set major oil fires, or utilize the countless tanks, rounds of ammo and armored vehicles he had at his disposal? And how come the looters at the museum of antiquities had keys? How come every attempt to kill Saddam missed, but just barely? Sam Hamod says there's something fishy about this war: did Bush and Saddam cut a deal?

Regime-change playing cards

You've seen the Pentagton's deck of cards bearing the visages of the 55 most-wanted Iraqis, now check out the Trade Regulation Organization's "regime-change" deck featuring images of Dick Cheney, Tom Ridge, George Bush and others. Brought to you by the good people at gatt.org (the fake WTO website run by The Yes Men).

What's black and white and read (white and blue) all over?

Warning the British press of the dangers of becoming Americanised, BBC director general Greg Dyke laid into the American media for its "gung-ho" war coverage, warning that the U.S. has "no news operation strong enough or brave enough to stand up against" the White House and Pentagon:
Personally, I was shocked while in the United States by how unquestioning the broadcast news media was during this war... I think compared to the United States we see impartiality as giving a range of views, including those critical of our own Government's position. I think in the United States, particularly since 11 September, that would be seen as unpatriotic.
Of the US radio empire Clear Channel, he added:
We were genuinely shocked when we discovered that the largest radio group in the US was using its airwaves to organise pro-war rallies. We are even more shocked to discover that the same group wants to become a big player in radio in the UK.


Real life at Sinclair

Bryan Moore writes in response to my AlterNet story on Sinclair Broadcast Group:
I worked for Fox 22 in Raleigh, NC when Sinclair took over. They basically tore apart a credible and wonderful news organization and left it in shambles. A once thriving newsroom of some 40 people is now down to about 10. When Sinclair came in one of the first things they did was fire the Community Affairs Director and replace her Sunday morning public affairs show with an infomercial...

I hate what they've done to local news and I hate that the FCC seems to be fine with it all. The funniest thing is watching the "local" News Central weather person in Raleigh consistently mis-pronounce the names of the cities she's forecasting for. It's a joke and I hope people will realize it and turn it off.


The Fate of Local News

My story on "centralized news," media deregulation, and the death of the hometown news team is now online at AlterNet:
Tune into the evening news on Madison, Wisconsin's Fox TV affiliate and behold the future of local news. In the program's concluding segment, "The Point," Mark Hyman rants against peace activists ("wack-jobs"), the French ("cheese-eating surrender monkeys"), progressives ("loony left") and the so-called liberal media, usually referred to as the "hate-America crowd" or the "Axis of Drivel." Colorful, if creatively anemic, this is TV's version of talk radio, with the precisely tanned Hyman playing a second-string Limbaugh.

Fox 47's right-wing rants may be the future of hometown news, but – believe it or not – it's not the program's blatant ideological bias that is most worrisome. Here's the real problem: Hyman isn't the station manager, a local crank, or even a journalist. He is the Vice President of Corporate Communications for the station's owner, the Sinclair Broadcast Group. And this segment of the local news isn't exactly local. Hyman's commentary is piped in from the home office in Baltimore, MD, and mixed in with locally-produced news. Sinclair aptly calls its innovative strategy "NewsCentral" - it is very likely to spell the demise of local news as we know it.
Read the full story.

Men in Green

If Cheney can get rich off the Iraq war, why can't American GIs? Four members of the 4th Battalion of the 64th Armored Division got busted for trying to pocket nearly $1 million of the $700 million in cash found hidden on the grounds of several estates in Baghdad.

Some good news...

While the US government was so boneheaded (or, as some argue, devious) as to not prevent looting of ancient Mesopotamian artifacts from the Iraq National Museum, Iraq wasn't so dumb. According to The Wall Street Journal's Yaroslav Trofimov, the museum had the foresight to hide key treasures, including the kings' graves of Ur and the Assyrian bulls, in safe vaults. While ancient manuscripts were destroyed at the Iraq National Library and countless important objects were looted from the museum ("the sacral vase of Warqa, from Sumerian times, and the bronze statue of Basitqi, from the Accadian civilization"), it's heartening to know that some of the antiquities were spared.

Some bad news...

How low will Bush and Co. stoop to win the next election? Try leveraging grief around the 3rd anniversary of September 11th, for one. Especially appalling: they admit it freely.
President Bush's advisers have drafted a re-election strategy built around staging the latest nominating convention in the party's history, allowing Mr. Bush to begin his formal campaign near the third anniversary of the Sept. 11 attacks and to enhance his fund-raising advantage, Republicans close to the White
House say.

In addition, Mr. Bush's advisers say they are prepared to spend as much as $200 million Ð twice the amount of his first campaign Ð to finance television advertising and other campaign expenses through the primary season that leads up to the Republican convention in September 2004. That would be a record amount by a presidential candidate, and would be especially notable because Mr. Bush faces no serious opposition for his party's nomination.

The president is planning a sprint of a campaign that would start, at least officially, with his acceptance speech at the Republican convention, a speech now set for Sept. 2.

The convention, to be held in New York City, will be the latest since the Republican Party was founded in 1856, and Mr. Bush's advisers said they chose the date so the event would flow into the commemorations of the third anniversary of the World Trade Center and Pentagon attacks.

The back-to-back events would complete the framework for a general election campaign that is being built around national security and Mr. Bush's role in combatting terrorism, Republicans said. Not incidentally, they said they hoped it would deprive the Democratic nominee of critical news coverage during the opening weeks of the general election campaign.
Read the full story.


Copycat Republicans

The grassroots website BetterMinnesota.org prominently features a quote by Republican former governor Elmer Andersen: "Taxes are the way people join hands to get good things done. That's the tradition of Minnesota." The Star Tribune's Doug Grow reports that the state's modern-day Republicans aren't so communal in their opinions on taxes. Created to provide an alternative to the harsh service-gutting "no new tax" budget of Republican Gov. Tim Pawlenty, BetterMinnesota.org has some competition. Click on BetterMinnesota.com and you're directed to a Republican website on "DFL Budget Games" that bashes the viewpoints of those who are, as their lawn signs say, "Happy to Pay for a Better Minnesota." The state GOP communications director says of their copycat website, "We didn't want somebody hijacking the term 'betterminnesota.' We just wanted to expand the debate." As Grow writes, "It's odd how the GOP can 'expand' a debate."

A 68% improvement over Paul Wellstone

St. Louis Park (MN) native and satirist Al Franken shares a phonecall from US Senator Norm Coleman, who came under fire recently for bragging to a Washington political magazine, "To be very blunt, and God watch over Paul's soul, I am a 99 percent improvement over Paul Wellstone." By the end of the "call," Coleman dropped that number considerably:
On the phone, Coleman sounded anguished. "I believe I owe it to the people of Minnesota and to Paul's soul to explain that other 1 percent where Paul was definitely better than me."

"Yes, I was curious about that," I told him.

"Well, for one thing, I guess you'd have to say passion. Paul was definitely more passionate than I am. Which I think came from his deep conviction," Coleman explained.

"So passion and conviction?" I asked.

"Yes. And probably authenticity. That was an area where I'd have to say he was head and shoulders above me. I mean, let's face it, Paul Wellstone was the real deal."

"So authenticity too?"

"Yeah. Paul was genuine. As I say, that's something I could use some work on," Coleman admitted.

"So we have passion, conviction and authenticity, right?"

"Yeah. You know, now that I hear it coming from another person, I'd have to say that's more than 1 percent. I'd give those 3 percent," Coleman conceded magnanimously. "So, come to think of it, I'm probably just a 97 percent improvement over Paul."
Read the rest. (Thanks, Adrienne.)

Coleman McCarthy on "one-version news"

The Washington Post's Coleman McCarthy (who also founded The Center for Teaching Peace) writes on one-sided war coverage. While he says only C-SPAN offered "the left wing, the right wing and the whole bird," here's what he says about the rest of 'em:
The tube turned into a parade ground for military men -- all well-groomed white males -- saluting the ethic that war is rational, that bombing and shooting are the way to win peace, and that their uniformed pals in Iraq were there to free people, not slaughter them. Perspective vanished, as if caught in a sandstorm of hype and war-whooping. If the U.S. military embedded journalists to report the war from Iraq, journalists back in network studios embedded militarists to explain it. Either way, it was one-version news.
(Via Cursor.)

Anti-spam poetry

BadAds.org reports on a novel new way to battle e-mail spam: haiku. A California company, Habeas, has trademarked a series of haiku that individuals can use for free (but companies must license for a fee). If you ask everyone on your contact list to include this personalized haiku, then set your mail filter to only accept haiku-rich e-mails, you'll be spam free. The best part: Habeas promises to sue spammers who incorporate their haikus into mass mailings for trademark infringement--for at least $1 million. A few corporations--like the mortgage refinancing service Avalend and its sister company, Intermark Media--have found out that Habeas isn't kidding. The've been named in a new trademark-infringement suit. In theory, a brilliant--and rare--use of trademark law to protect the little guy.


The Anarchist in the Library: Discussing cultural democracy with Siva Vaidhyanathan

Siva Vaidhyanathan's work on intellectual property cuts a wide swath through culture, from blues and hip-hop to digital copyright law, Napster and mp3 downloading to the FCC's upcoming vote on media deregulation and the heroism of librarians in John Ashcroft's America. While the topics he ponders as the author of the forthcoming book The Anarchist in the Library and assistant professor of Culture and Communications at NYU can be pretty complicated, he always keeps the discussion interesting, down-to-earth, and--above all--human. Because in a culture transformed by advanced technology, that's what's often missing. During my April 8 interview with Vaidhyanathan, the conversation kept revolving around a simple, broad theme--reclaiming cultural democracy.

Paul Schmelzer: The background for your work on copyright: huge corporations are gradually but firm-fistedly getting more control over information that at some point should become the property of the culture at large--the kind of information that the framers of the Constitution thought vital to advances in creative culture: literature, music, scientific research, ideas. Why is this happening? And why is it important for the average citizen to take notice?

Siva Vaidhyanathan: Both democracy and creative culture share this notion that they work best when the raw materials are cheap and easy and easily distributed. You can look at any cultural development that’s made a difference in the world—reggae, blues, crocheting—you can look at any of these and say, y’know, it’s really about communities sharing. It’s about communities moving ideas between and among people, revision, theme and variation, and ultimately a sort of consensus about what is good and what should stay around. We recognize that’s how culture grows… In the last 25 to 30 years, the United States government made a very overt choice. The United States government decided that the commercial interests of a handful of companies--we can name them as the News Corporation, Disney, AOL-Time Warner, Vivendi--these sorts of corporations were selling products that could gain some sort of trade advantage for Americans.
You can look at any cultural development that’s made a difference in the world--reggae, blues, crocheting--and say, y’know, it’s really about communities sharing.
Therefore all policy has shifted in their favor. That means policy about who gets to own and run networks, who gets to own and run radio stations, how long copyright protection will last, what forms copyright protections will take. We’ve put ourselves in a really ugly situation though, because we’ve forgotten that a regulatory system like copyright was designed to encourage creativity, to encourage the dissemination of knowledge. These days, copyright is so strong and lasts so long that it’s counterproductive to those efforts.

PS: So how has copyright changed with the advent of digital technology?

SV: It didn’t have to change. In 1976, Congress made it very clear that any work that’s fixed in any tangible medium is covered by copyright. So we already had copyright in digital materials. Every time you wrote an e-mail it was protected by copyright. The problem is that the companies that invest so many millions of dollars in these high-end commercial products--the sort of products the US Government decided represented culture--stopped believing in copyright. They stopped believing that you could regulate culture softly and reasonably, because they were afraid that digital technology would encourage us to undermine the market for those legitimate goods. There was this untested assumption that markets for music, for instance, would disappear if digital technology allowed people to share music files.
The Digital Millennium Copyright Act took the regulation of culture away from human beings, courts, and Congress and shifted it into the machines, made it a matter of technology rather than humanity.
Well, in order to head off this problem, Congress at the behest of the media industries actually just passed a bill that the media industries wrote for them. It’s called the Digital Millennium Copyright Act. The [DMCA] was a radical shift in how we regulate culture. It took the regulation of culture away from human beings, courts, and Congress and shifted it into the machines, made it a matter of technology rather than humanity. The [DMCA] also made technology sacrosanct. In other words, if there’s a technological form that wraps a particular piece of culture--like a song, if there’s a digital file of a song and it’s covered by encryption--the [DMCA] makes it illegal to evade that encryption without permission, even if the song in question is in the public domain, in other words it’s not covered by copyright; in other words you own it. You can’t even get past those sorts of barriers to get to material that you and all of us own.

So this created a much higher level, a really absurd level, of protection. These digital locks, they last forever, theoretically. Although with technological breakdown, they could last forever and be inaccessible. They have absolutely no way of feeling through the complexities of the ways we use culture in our lives. And, there's been a huge chilling effect on librarians and scientists who do work in areas surrounding encryption and digital distribution and digital information management. So we've created this really ugly situation through the foolish deployment of technology to intervene in what are complex human, social and cultural problems.

PS: How is this different from when we were kids and would Xerox chapters of books or copy a record onto a cassette tape and trade them with friends?

VS: All of those behaviors--those behaviors of sharing culture--are older than even cassette tapes. The behaviors of sharing culture are what build culture. So this is a long-standing human habit. What is different is that these behaviors have been amplified and extended by the powers of digital technology and networking. We can't deny that quantitatively we're in a new situation, although qualitatively we are not. We're actually behaving the way we always have.
Culture is worthless if you keep it in your house.
Culture is worthless if you keep it in your house. So, yes, in that sense, this proliferation of shared culture--this proliferation of ostensibly free material--is simply the electronic simulation of what we've been doing in towns and villages and neighborhoods and garages and high schools all around the world for centuries.

PS: In your first book Copyrights and Copywrongs, you discussed blues music as arising from something akin to "the circle" in African cultures, where ideas are introduced, gestate and grow within community. Is such a circle still alive now, and what's the prognosis for its health?

VS: This sort of creative circle--the drum circle or the blues-singing circle--is simply the most vivid image we have of these sort of creative communities. These creative communities are all over the place. Anyplace artists gather, any place musicians just jam for the fun of it… I think that this is a powerful form and a powerful habit. It's also an important part of being human. It's the essence of being cultural.

We're not missing those communities; we're just not investing in them and celebrating them like we should. Because the form of cultural production that this country and therefore the world has decided to celebrate, protect and promote is the industrial form. It's the form that says: it's gonna start with a piece of paper by a scriptwriter, it's going to go through a series of meetings, it's going to be produced step by step with the contribution of hundreds or thousands of people with hundreds of thousands to millions of dollars and then be distributed to millions of people, perhaps billions of people, in a form that the institution that produced it dictates.
The form of cultural production that this country and therefore the world has decided to celebrate, protect and promote is the industrial form.
Now, all of that in some ways makes our life better. These mass-produced movies are things that human beings value, share, talk about. They become parts of our cultural commerce. They become parts of our cultural life. We quote Star Wars all the time in daily life. We quote Casablanca. And I don't think we want to imagine a world in which there's no incentive to produce Star Wars or Casablanca--although we might imagine a world without Jar-Jar Binks--and we might imagine a world in which someone could write a sequel to Casablanca and not be laughed at (although perhaps that's hard to imagine). Nonetheless, it's this notion of working from the common cultural phenomena that we share to build new and special things. That's what we have to focus on. That's why we need a low barrier of entry to creative processes. That's why we need free and cheap access to cultural materials. Free and cheap access can come a number of ways: through electronic networks, through networks of friends sharing material, through public libraries, through universities, through schools, through churches. These are all institutions built for sharing. One of the things I'm concerned about is this ideology of the industrial production and dissemination of cultural products is infecting some of those institutions as well.

PS: The title of your forthcoming book is The Anarchist in the Library. I like where you're talking about the anarchy of cassette tape culture--leaderless, vibrant, creative networks. Tell me about that: where do you find hope in the face of this corporate onslaught?

SV: When I look at how cultures build themselves and proliferate, they pretty much do what anarchists have been describing as the ideal political state. I'm not willing to go far enough to say this I think this is the ideal political state, but I do think the anarchists are onto something descriptively, if not prescriptively. Culture is anarchistic. Culture builds itself without leaders. Culture proliferates itself through consensus and revision. Culture works best when there is minimal authority and guidance. Now if we accept that culture is anarchy, then we have to look at these systems in which oligarchy is imposing itself and creating all sorts of horror stories about anarchy. The horror stories might be legitimate, they might have some serious ramifications. I think the best example is: the information systems that we've built that are inherently anarchistic help child pornographers. I don't think anyone can support the notion that child pornography is so easily available, so widely distributed. Those of us that celebrate the freedom of these new information systems, tend to want to ignore those problems. Tend to want to ignore the fact that some very bad things can go on through these systems. There's some measure of irresponsibility.
Culture is anarchistic. Culture builds itself without leaders. Culture proliferates itself through consensus and revision. Culture works best when there is minimal authority and guidance.
The real question is: what methods do we use to attack those bad things. Do we want to interpret these bad things--child pornography for one, white supremacy being another, terrorism in general being a third--these are real problems. How do we attack them? Do we attack them by building new machines that stop up these flows of information? Is that good in the long term, and, just as importantly, is that harmful to those of us who want to use those systems for good. This is my big problem with it: I think that these real problems are complex, are deep-seeded, have deep historical roots and are gonna take decades or centuries to confront, if we're going to confront them honestly. Instead, we're trying to confront them technologically and shallowly, and I think this is a big mistake. The negative externalities of this, the spillover effects of this sort of harsh technological policy is that legitimate movements for freedom and democracy and creative culture are undermined, along with the bad stuff. The big problem is, these moves don't actually do enough to stop the bad stuff.

PS: We've got John Ashcroft in power, and we've got a legitimate need to deal with terrorism and intercept e-mails, for example, to prevent terrorist acts, but to Ashcroft, just about everything is "bad stuff."

VS: One of the things the United States government has been pushing since September 11, 2001 is a new information policy, a new information system. There are suggestions coming out of Washington DC to radically redesign the internet, or at least the last mile of the Internet--the mile through which the users interact with the internet service providers--to have more oversight, less privacy, to tether our internet presence to a particular place, a particular city, state or country. There are also efforts to monitor all of our electronic transactions, whether that’s through credit cards or long-distance phonecalls or cellphones, and have a huge database--run through the Pentagon--trace all our moves.

There are two questions here: would such a system be effective against the real problems? And would the harm that comes from that sort of intervention outweigh the benefits? The second question is really hard to ask, so let me ask it a different way. If this technological intervention is effective--and that’s a big if--is there a less intrusive way to achieve the same result, and if so, I think we should look for the less intrusive way.
The USA Patriot Act is a blank check to a government institution that is notorious for overstepping its bounds, notorious for being ineffective, incompetent and on the verge of corrupt. It’s probably the biggest example of legislative malpractice in the last 50 years.
So if surveillance of everybody might stop a handful of terrorist acts--and hopefully that’s all we’re facing--is there a way to imagine more targeted surveillance? Surveillance based on hard work, surveillance based on real investigations. Surveillance based on the trust the government establishes with its citizens, such that its citizens feel invested I the public good? What I mean by that is: the best way to stop any illegal act, terrorist or otherwise, is to make sure that those terrorists do not have support structures in society in general. In order to eliminate those support structures, you have to make sure life is good and secure and that the people around those ne’er-do-wells have some sort of investment or loyalty in the larger community. Now this sounds sort of snitchy, and that’s really what I’m talking about. There are really complicated, hard, messy ways to attack terrorism, and they’re expensive, and they’re imperfect. But I think that they are ultimately, down the road, more effective and more likely to engender trust in the nation at large.

PS: The USA Patriot Act is pretty scary. Do we have any evidence how they’re utilizing it and that rights are being stripped?

VS: Part of the problem with The Patriot Act is that it is self-denying. If you’re being investigated under the powers of the Patriot Act, you’re not allowed to tell anybody that you’re being investigated. If you run an institution like a library or a bookstore and the FBI comes and says “Look we want to look at all the records of this particular patron,” you’re not allowed to complain about that, protest that, inform the person who’s being investigated. You’re sworn to secrecy. In other words, you’re enlisted in the world of security and law enforcement, whether you want to be or not.

We don’t know what the effects of the Patriot Act are. And Congress doesn’t know. Congress doesn’t know how many times it’s been invoked. Congress doesn’t know how many people are being investigated under this system. Congress doesn’t know and therefore we don’t know how effective it has been and we have absolutely no way of testing it. This is a blank check to a government institution--in this case the Federal Bureau of Investigation--that is notorious for overstepping its bounds, notorious for being ineffective, incompetent and on the verge of corrupt. It’s an institution that we know is and has been blatantly racist in many of its practices. This is not the sort of power we want to give to any particular government agency without very careful oversight. But that’s exactly what we did. Well, Congress did it. And Congress did it without even reading what it was doing. The USA Patriot Act is probably the biggest example of legislative malpractice in the last 50 years.

PS: The title of your book, then, takes on a new tenor when you think about how independent booksellers and librarians are shredding records to protect the privacy of readers and municipalities are voting not to enforce the Patriot Act. The Anarchist in the Library takes on a whole new cast.

VS: For some reason, libraries have become the site of conflict. Libraries are perceived now as a den of terrorists and pornographers. And this is not only a misdescription of how libraries work in our lives, but I think ultimately also a very dangerous assumption. What we’re doing though is making librarians choose among their values. Librarians believe very strongly in recordkeeping and in maintaining archives. It’s part of the historical record; that’s half of what they do. But the other half of what they do is serve and protect their patrons. The federal government has made librarians choose between retaining records that might be useful, for instance in budgetary discussions not to mention historical research, and protecting their patrons, so their patrons don’t feel intimidated by the books they choose to read or by the potential of oversight of the books they choose to read. There are a lot of librarians around the country right now who are taking a very noble and strong stand against this situation, and I think we need to celebrate them and support them in this effort.

PS: I love the title of the book because you think of librarians as mousy and meek, but now they’re the vanguard…
A library is a temple to the notion that knowledge is not just for the elite and that access should be low cost if not free, that doors should be open.
VS: Libraries are considered to be dangerous places and librarians are our heroes. This is something that we really have to emphasize. The library is also not just functionally important to communities all over the world, but a library itself is the embodiment of enlightenment values in all the best sense of that. A library is a temple to the notion that knowledge is not just for the elite and that access should be low cost if not free, that doors should be open. Investing in libraries monetarily, spritually, intellectually, legally is one of the best things we can do for our immediate state and for the life we hope we can build for the rest of the century.

PS: Since we’re in the library, I first saw you on "Now with Bill Moyers" and someone on there was raising the specter of “pay-per-use” models for culture and how the “lending library” will change.

VS: Yeah. Hollywood has this dream of efficiency. A dream of a perfectly efficient distribution system. Stuff in Hollywood is pretty inefficient. They invest millions of dollars in products up-front that could completely bomb on the market. They have no way to steer these ocean liners deftly as they walk through the production process and the markets. So one of the reasons that business people in Hollywood are so nervous is that they never really know what’s going to win or what’s going to lose. They don’t what their markets and audiences really want; they don’t know how to adjust things in mid-stream. So there’s constant pressure to make their systems more efficient.

The notion of pay-per-view comes right out of that desire for a more efficient distribution system. In a pay-per-view system you’re not paying for thousands of prints of a movie, you’re paying to keep the digital material on a handful of servers. And you know the people who are going to tap into this server are precisely the people who want to watch it. People who, if they’re charged low prices, aren’t going to feel ripped off by this process. But to install this kind of pay-per-view system, much like we have with cable TV, in all forms of culture--to build a global jukebox--they feel like they need to have control over every step of the commercial process, in terms of format and content and so forth. Price. So to build the global jukebox they have done things like pass the [DMCA] and go crazy on enforcement. They’re afraid that we’re going to build that jukebox by ourselves with our own material. And, unfortunately for them, that’s exactly what we’re doing.

Now, what does this mean for libraries? That means that there are incredible pressures on libraries to conform to this pay-per-view model. We’re seeing it first in the world of academic journals, which are coming to libraries in electronic form more and more, less in paper form. So imagine this: an electronic journal gets streamed into a library. A library never has it on its shelf, never owns a paper copy, can’t archive it for posterity. Its patrons can access the material, maybe can print it, maybe not. But if the subscription runs out, if the library loses money and has to cancel that subscription, if the company itself goes out of business, all the material is gone. The library has no trace of what it bought: no record, no archive. It’s lost entirely. This is not a good model for a library. It defeats a lot of the purpose of a library. You might as well be sitting at a computer terminal in Kinko’s at that point. We have to be very careful because librarians are facing this decisions every day. And because we’re not investing enough in acquisitions for libraries, they're having to make these very difficult choices.

PS: There are certainly pragmatic issues--you can’t write in the margins of a non-physical book--but there’s also a moral issue in treating culture like commerce rather than…culture.

VS: There is. I don’t think we can get around the fact that commerce is an engine of culture as well. It certainly doesn’t have to be a problem in culture. We’re not talking about zero-sum. That’s one of the things we have to remember about culture: it’s not either/or, it’s everything. It’s about mixtures, proliferation. It’s about trading and borrowing and adding, rather than subtracting or substituting. It’s a false dichotomy between commerce and culture. What we need to do is build a system, or at least accept a system, where there’s gonna be some free stuff and there’s gonna be some expensive stuff. And that may be OK, as long as users, consumers, citizens, and creators on the ground, we’re not locked out of either system by virtue of our economic status or our aesthetic choices…

PS: Another scary topic: on June 2, the Federal Communications Commission will likely vote to "deregulate" broadcasting ownership rules. How does this fit in?
Shouldn’t our priority be diversity? Shouldn’t we be chopping up our spectrum in such a way as to maximize the number and variety of voices? The FCC and Congress are doing just the opposite.
VS: The FCC is constantly facing choices that speak to this directly. One of the things we need to do is look at these policy choices as a whole. There are people who write and think a lot about copyright, and there are people who write and think a lot about FCC regulations and media ownership and concentration. These are not separate issues.

First of all, the very fact that so many media companies have merged into so few, has increased their political power or the political power of each one of them, that has radically altered all of these regulatory systems and phenomena. Secondly, our goal should be diversity and distribution of culture. Our goal should be cultural democracy. Our goal should obviously be real political democracy. We can’t have either one of those if we have a limited number of voices on our airwaves. We can’t have either of those if there isn’t some sense of the local, some sense of the specific. What we have in America right now is a very standardized set of radio habits. And we have an increasing series of mechanized radio stations where there’s no human interaction at all on the local level. This is a very efficient distribution system. It’s a great business model. The federal government has decided that “we reward great business models”. Well I want to raise the question: if it’s such a great business model, why do you need the federal government to enforce it? If it’s such a great idea, shouldn’t it be able to capitalize on the market itself, instead of taking advantage of state-created scarcity, by that I mean licenses of particular areas of spectrum?

So, we need to ask bigger questions about all of these things. Shouldn’t our priority be diversity? Shouldn’t our priority be some sort of local input on matters of culture and politics? Shouldn’t we allow churches across the United States to set up small radio stations to serve their constituents? Shouldn’t we allow activist groups to do the same? Shouldn’t we allow Native American groups, whether they are on their own nation’s land or not, to operate in the same ways? Shouldn’t we actually be looking for lower levels of regulation? Shouldn’t we be chopping up our spectrum in such a way as to maximize the number and variety of voices? The FCC and Congress are doing just the opposite. This does speak to the same problem. We need to examine all of these issues as cultural policy, and we need to come up with a set of principles about the cultural policy we choose to live under.


Privatizing Iraq

Naomi Klein in The Guardian:
Some argue that it's too simplistic to say this war is about oil. They're right. It's about oil, water, roads, trains, phones, ports and drugs. And if this process isn't halted, "free Iraq" will be the most sold country on earth.

Bush for life?

For years, Rep. Jose Serrano (D-NY) has been introducing a bill that would do away with term limits for the presidency. Only now does it seem so damn spooky. (Via This Modern World)


On the road

I'm traveling for the next nine days, so blogging will be light [and possibly nonexistent]. If you miss me, visit the sites of these kindred spirits, oddballs, and bona fide journalists:
The Guardian
Boing Boing
The Sydney Morning Herald
This Modern World

And: some sites I've wanted to blog about, but haven't gotten to yet:
The Center for Cognitive Liberty and Ethics
Public Knowledge

Plus: the "bestselling series of paranoid, pro-Israel end-time thrillers" of Tim LaHaye, Left Behind. Yikes, yikes, and yikes.

Have a good week.

The spoils of war: trademarking "Shock and Awe"

One day after the start of Gulf War II, Sony rushed to the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office in an attempt to register the phrase "Shock and Awe."

The electronics giant is planning to use the term as the title to a new, combat-themed video game.

Sony is one of 15 businesses that are trying to own "Shock and Awe." A Texas pesticide company, an Ohio fireworks firm, a California t-shirt designer, and a New York maker of beer mugs and decorative plates all have filed applications.

The worst may be a Mansfield, Texas man who wants to control the "Shock and Awe" term, whether it's used to name "inflatable bath toys," "aftermarket automobile products," "alcoholic beverages," "smoking jackets," or "television programming."


Listen online

To listen to my interview with "Copyrights and Copywrongs" author Siva Vaidhyanathan online, click here, then scroll down and click on "KFAI Evening News - Thursday." The interview is about 10 minutes into the 30 minute broadcast.

Tax this

AlterNet's Matt Wheeland offers a step-by-step guide to protesting the war through tax evasion in War Tax Resistance Made Simple.

Plus: The Noble American Tradition of Tax Evasion.

Mahatma Gandhi:

"What does it matter to the dead, the orphans, and the homeless whether the mad destruction is wrought under the name of totalitarianism or the holy name of liberty or democracy?"


Truth kills

Robert Fisk ponders the recent deaths of journalists in Iraq. Are they mere accidents? Or murder?
First the Americans killed the correspondent of al-Jazeera yesterday and wounded his cameraman. Then, within four hours, they attacked the Reuters television bureau in Baghdad, killing one of its cameramen and a cameraman for Spain's Tele 5 channel and wounding four other members of the Reuters staff.

Was it possible to believe this was an accident? Or was it possible that the right word for these killings – the first with a jet aircraft, the second with an M1A1 Abrams tank – was murder?
Likewise, is it mere coincidence that voices for peace like Rachel Corrie or International Solidarity Movement activist Brian Avery, shot by Israeli troops last week in Palestine, are dying just as journalists in the occupied territories are? Is truth-seeking and peacemaking a fatal flaw?

(Thanks, Heather.)

So long, infodiversity

On June 2, the FCC will likely drop regulations that prevent media monopolies in local markets. Currently six corporations own a majority of TV networks and broadcast stations; such deregulation will give the Vivendis and Viacoms of the world even more of a stranglehold on the kind of news and programming you can access. Goodbye, infodiversity. Given the mainstream media blackout on this issue, I want to revisit a piece I wrote for Adbusters awhile back, on what motivates FCC chair Michael Powell's zeal for deregulation:
"Regulation is the oppressor here," explained Michael Powell, chairman of the Federal Communications Commission, at a conservative forum last year.

By his thinking, free markets should rule the $950 billion communication industry, and the government - his boss - is keeping the little guy down. The "oppressed" happens to be underdogs like AOL Time Warner, Vivendi, and Viacom, who must struggle to make ends meet under restrictions intended to prevent media monopolies. But when asked recently what the words "public interest" mean in the FCC's mission, Powell replied, "I have no idea… I try to make the best judgement I can in ways that benefit consumers. Beyond that I don't know."
Read more.

Bill Moyers has been the most prominent voice on the topic of information diversity and media ownership. Visit the site for NOW with Bill Moyers to read an interview with FCC chair Michael Powell and learn more about how the FCC is giving the public airwaves to corporations.


What does it mean to be an American?

Ask these proud owners of Hummers, America's war machine (as quoted in The New York Times):
"When I turn on the TV, I see wall-to-wall Humvees, and I'm proud," said Sam Bernstein, a 51-year-old antiquities dealer who lives in Marin County, Calif., and drives a Hummer H2, an S.U.V. sibling of the military Humvee. "They're not out there in Audi A4's," he said of the troops. "I'm proud of my country, and I'm proud to be driving a product that is making a significant contribution... If I could get an A1 Abrams, I would, but I don't know if California would allow it."
Rick Schmidt, founder of I.H.O.G., the International Hummer Owners Group, said: "In my humble opinion, the H2 is an American icon. Not the military version by any means, but it's a symbol of what we all hold so dearly above all else, the fact we have the freedom of choice, the freedom of happiness, the freedom of adventure and discovery, and the ultimate freedom of expression... Those who deface a Hummer in words or deed, deface the American flag and what it stands for."
"It definitely helps," said Clotaire Rapaille, a consumer research consultant for G.M. and other automakers. "I told them in Detroit, `Put four stars on the shoulder of the Hummer and it will sell better.' The Hummer is a car in uniform. Right now we are in a time of uncertainty, and people like strong brands with basic emotions."
Travis Patterson, 35, an Air Force veteran who lives in Arlington, Tex., said: "To me, the Hummer, the H1, is the most American vehicle on the planet. It oozes patriotism. You put some flags on the Hummer and drive down the road and everyone is honking and waving at you."
As the patriots say: Pray for America. Often.

Delusions of Grandeur

Minnesota Senator Norm Coleman: "To be very blunt and God watch over Paul's soul, I am a 99 percent improvement over Paul Wellstone. Just about on every issue."

Contact Mr. Wonderful and tell him he's wrong: opinion@coleman.senate.gov or 202.224.5641.


American Penal Colony

There are now more Americans in prison than ever before: more than two million incarcerated people. More troubling is that twelve percent of black men between ages 20 and 34 are imprisoned. (Only 1.6% of white men in the same age group are incarcerated.)

We like taxes

Here's a funny thing Minnesota Governor Tim "No New Taxes" Pawlenty probably won't understand: many of us are more than happy to pay for the exceedingly high quality of life we have here. Pawlenty's plan to balance the budget through drastic service cuts and shifting burdens to municipalities, local property taxes, and user fees won't preserve the quality of life we've come to enjoy. Better Minnesota is a new group that urges Pawlenty to consider other options for our budget shortfalls--and discourages him from pitting arts funding against homeless shelters, highway funds versus firefighter benefits. Click here if you're Happy To Pay For A Better Minnesota.

Who's spammin' who?

Sick of getting flooded by promo e-mails touting Extreme Colon Cleanser, FAT-N-EMY and Extreme Power Plus, an anti-spam activist outted the emails' sender, George Allen Moore, publishing his name and address on the internet. The move resulted in Moore receiving threatening phonecalls, about 70 unordered packages, and 200 unsolicited magazine subscriptions. Moore is suing Francis Uy, who posted his name on a website, for--ironically--harassment.

Distributive Justice

What piece of the social pie do you deserve? The online art/socioeconomic project Distributive Justice polls visitors on their attitudes and personal demographics, trying to piece together a picture of how we as global citizens see the distribution of material and nonmaterial goods. Set up as games and questionnaires, the project--brainchild of Zagreb-based artist Andreja Kuluncic--offers a curious and sometimes chilling view of a world in flux.

Mickey-Mouse peacemaking

In March self-help guru Deepak Choptra suggested that a Disney World in the Middle East would ensure lasting peace in Iraq by easing fear and anger among children. Stay Free! offers some alternatives to this and Chopra's other nine peacemaking suggestions.


Bracing for sacrifice

The president is "bracing US troops and the country for further sacrifice," according to a new AP report. Consoling families of military personnel killed in Iraq, Bush said, "These were sacrifices in a high calling: the defense of our nation and the peace of the world." The use of the word sacrifice--so biblical and metaphorically potent--has been slung with verve by Bush and fellow conservatives lately. Sen. Ted Stevens (Alaska) suggested yesterday that New York police officers and firefighters should work overime without pay as a wartime sacrifice. "Those people overseas in the desert - they're not getting paid overtime... I don't know why the people working for the cities and counties ought to be paid overtime when they're responding to matters of national security," he said. The president, who never saw combat and never completed his military service with the Texas Air National Guard, is making sacrifices of his own: according to a glowing USA Today profile, "He's being hard on himself; he gave up sweets just before the war began."

Irony in an age of unprovoked war

"We all have a plan and destiny, a pursuit of happiness to work out in our lives that God made us. That's the genius of America--the pursuit of happiness--and it is directly out of the Bible. Good things come to the U.S. because the country is imbued with biblical principles."
Pat Robertson speaking recently at Princeton


Banned in Bethlehem

If God is on our side, why is the president banned from visiting the birthplace of Christ? Officials at the Church of the Nativity in Bethlehem have barred Bush, as well as Dick Cheney, Donald Rumsfeld, Tony Blair, and Jack Straw from the holiest of Christian shrines, calling them "war criminals and murderers of children" for their aggression against Iraq.


It's a little unnerving when you find out The Onion's fake news...isn't:
Government No Longer Even Bothering To Hide Halliburton Favors

WASHINGTON, DC—With last week's announcement that it will award Halliburton a lucrative contract to put out Iraqi oil-well fires after the war, the U.S. government has officially stopped trying to hide its favoritism toward the Houston-based company. "When we first started cutting Halliburton sweetheart deals, we'd worry about how it would look, with Dick Cheney being their former CEO and all," White House press secretary Ari Fleischer said. "Somewhere along the line, though, we just kind of said, 'Ah, fuck it.'" Fleischer added that Halliburton has something "real juicy" coming its way when the U.S. invades Iran in July 2004.

Plus: I Should Not Be Allowed to Say the Following Things About America

Hijacking Jefferson

The editors at the conservative web publication The Federalist--hyperbolically touted as "Requested by more Americans than any other publication on the Internet"--have a habit of hacking Thomas Jefferson quotes from their contexts and repurposing them for un-Jeffersonian ends. Feeling feisty, I challenged them on their claim to online ubiquity, and received an e-mail reply from one Faith Long who asked: "Ever heard of an e-journal?" OK, so The New York Times could be requested more than any other internet publicaton, but since it's not dubbed an "e-journal," The Federalist's got 'em beat? Hmm.

What really struck me about Faith's e-mail was the concluding signature that featured a Jefferson quote strewn among adages from Patrick Henry, Samuel Adams, and Benjamin Franklin about (among other things) how great it is to die for your country:
The tree of liberty must be refreshed from time to time with the blood of patriots and tyrants. ... Resistance to tyrants is obedience to God.
First off, the oft-quoted "resistance to tyrants" line doesn't appear in the same letter--sent by Jefferson in 1787 to William Smith--as the Tree of Liberty metaphor. In its proper context, the passage takes on an ominous cast in today's dark times:
What country before ever existed a century & a half without a rebellion? & what country can preserve it's liberties if their rulers are not warned from time to time that their people preserve the spirit of resistance? Let them take arms. The remedy is to set them right as to facts, pardon & pacify them. What signify a few lives lost in a century or two? The tree of liberty must be refreshed from time to time with the blood of patriots & tyrants. It is it's natural manure.
Last time I heard from The Federalist, it was a forwarded e-mail "Patriot Alert" about boycotting French products to punish the French for not supporting preemptive war in Iraq. Here, Jefferson was heralded as an advocate of international coercion through commerce:
...Commerce, which if properly managed, will be a better instrument for obliging the interested nations of Europe to treat us with justice.
The line the folks at The Federalist left out--just preceding their excerpt:
War is not the best engine for us to resort to
Update: Following my e-mail, The Federalist changed their descriptor to "Requested by more Americans than any other Internet publication." Now if they could only be more Jeffersonian to Jefferson.

Arundhati's Ire

Arundhati Roy characterizes the war this way: "Operation Iraqi Freedom? I don't think so. It's more like Operation Let's Run a Race, but First Let Me Break Your Knees." Her essay in today's Guardian is so good and so comprehensive, I can't summarize it well. So, please, read it. All of it. Way at the end, she finds a squib of hope:
Despite the pall of gloom that hangs over us today, I'd like to file a cautious plea for hope: in times of war, one wants one's weakest enemy at the helm of his forces. And President George W Bush is certainly that. Any other even averagely intelligent US president would have probably done the very same things, but would have managed to smoke-up the glass and confuse the opposition. Perhaps even carry the UN with him. Bush's tactless imprudence and his brazen belief that he can run the world with his riot squad, has done the opposite. He has achieved what writers, activists and scholars have striven to achieve for decades. He has exposed the ducts. He has placed on full public view the working parts, the nuts and bolts of the apocalyptic apparatus of the American empire.

Conyers on conflicts of interest

Congressman John Conyers, Jr.
Ranking Member, Committee on the Judiciary


Honorable Donald H. Rumsfeld
Secretary of Defense

Conyers Letter to Rumsfeld:
Requesting Financial Disclosure from Defense Policy Board

April 1,  2003

Honorable Donald H. Rumsfeld
Secretary of Defense
1000 Defense Pentagon
Washington, DC 20301

Dear Mr. Secretary:
I am writing to request copies of the financial disclosure forms submitted by the members of the Defense Policy Board as well as the minutes of all past Board meetings. As the Ranking Member of the House Judiciary Committee, which has jurisdiction over conflict of interest rules, I have a strong interest in insuring that our laws are being complied with, particularly those which touch on the integrity of our ethical requirements at a time of war. I therefore believe it is critical that this material be provided to help us assess the degree to which members of the Defense Policy Board face real or perceived conflicts of interest which would impede their ability to advise the Defense Department.

I believe such disclosure would be in the best interests of both the Department and the members of the Defense Policy Board.  Richard Perle himself just wrote in yesterday's Wall Street Journal that "the first rule is full disclosure of financial interests of the adviser .... the second rule is ... If the discussions or advice of the board should involve matters that have a direct and predictable effect on an adviser's financial interests, he is recused from taking part."  The problem is that currently, only your ethics officer receives the disclosure forms, so only he or she is in a position to assess whether the rules and safeguards being laid down by Mr. Perle are being followed.  Increased scrutiny and review of these filings would no doubt lead to greater public trust and confidence in your Defense Policy Board.

The alternative is to face a continuing and damaging disclosure of the potential business conflicts of the Board Members.  Just yesterday, my own investigation revealed that Perle is on the board of directors for Onset Technology.  Onset is the world's leading provider of message conversion technology. The company's customers include Bechtel - a government contractor widely considered the leading candidate for rebuilding the Iraqi infrastructure and Raytheon Company which is a provider of defense electronics including the patriot and tomahawk missiles.  I also found out that Perle holds a directorship in DigitalNet, a Virginia-based communications company with Army and Defense Department contracts.

To the extent you are concerned about public disclosure of this material, I would be willing to develop a procedure whereby it is reviewed in confidence.  As a matter of fact, several members of my staff have obtained a security clearance.

I would appreciate your office responding to this letter at your earliest convenience.  Please respond through the House Judiciary Committee Democratic Staff, B-351-C Rayburn House Office Building, Attn: Perry Apelbaum/Ted Kalo, tel. 202-225-6504, fax 202-225-7680.

Rep. John Conyers, Jr.
Ranking Member

Hon. F. James Sensenbrenner, Jr.,
Chairman, House Judiciary Committee

Powell A. Moore,
Assistant Secretary of Defense for Legislative Affairs


Redefining patriotism

Carol Nauheimer knows about patriotism. Her son served as a staff sergeant for 13 years, including a tour of duty in the first Gulf War. He died, she says, because of his service to his country. That's why she'll be up early tomorrow morning, protesting in front of Alliant TechSystems in Edina, Minnesota. Alliant makes depleted-uranium ammunition and missiles currently in use in Iraq--the kind she thinks killed her son. He died of leukemia four years after his return from Kuwait, where he worked to clear the desert of this ammo made from nuclear waste. Nauheimer's protest, she says, is a way to support the troops, long after the battle's over. "I do want people to know I support our troops and I love this country. But it's not just the other side that has weapons of mass destruction. I believe we do, too. I want people to know that when these kids do come home, we must be watchful of them and take care of them."

Read more.

Winning "hearts and minds" through telepathy

Seven veteran war journalists from The Toronto Star offer their on-the-ground assessment of the war in Iraq. Considering the repeated murders of civilians (including at least seven women and children killed yesterday at a checkpoint near Najaf), The Star's Olivia Ward raises some pertinent questions:
Why has no one pointed out one of the astonishing facts of this war, that neither the American nor the British troops appear to have translators with them, in a country where they clearly do not understand or speak the language? They can apparently spend enormous sums on high-tech weapons, and but not on recruiting Arabic-speakers.

Leaders George W. Bush and Tony Blair constantly stress the importance of "winning hearts and minds."

Do they plan to do it by telepathy?

Operation Enduring Kitsch

I'm speechless.

A high price indeed

We ain't started killin' yet, says the Pentagon. "We're prepared to pay a very high price because we are not going to do anything other than ensure that this regime goes away," a US central command official said, adding that US casualties in the war had been "fairly" light. So far, 51 Americans and 26 Britons have been killed and 14 US troops were missing. Iraq said 589 civilians had been killed, and almost 5000 injured.