5.19.2003

Dressing up democracy

Arundhati Roy:
Democracy, the modern world's holy cow, is in crisis ... every kind of outrage is being committed in the name of democracy. It has become little more than a hollow word, a pretty shell, emptied of all content or meaning... Democracy is the Free World's whore, willing to dress up, dress down, willing to satisfy a whole range of tastes, available to be used and abused at will.

Beating Bush

Alternet asks: Will Bill Clinton's plan for beating Bush in 2004--devising a brilliant healthcare agenda and pounding relentlessly on Bush's failed economic policies--work?

5.17.2003

Truth in Advertising

California Peace Action has taken out ads showing the infamous 1983 photo of Donald Rumsfeld shaking hands with Saddam Hussein after having brokered an arms deal in Iraq's war with Iran. The ads--to run on transit boards in DC, Boston, and Chicago and in the New York Times and Los Angeles Times--reads, in part:
U.S. troops die for the failures of policy makers. The war in Iraq marked the seventh consecutive time that American troops have been sent into combat against a regime the U.S. had previously backed. We aided both Osama bin Laden and Saddam Hussein. While American soldiers and innocent civilians paid the price, policy makers avoided accountability.
Burned into the photo is the headline that predicts future US-funded wars: "Who are we arming now?"

5.16.2003

Oh God.

The end really is near. Like one letter away. I accidentally transposed two letters in the URL for Eyeteeth and got this. Am I being targeted by fundamentalist apocalyptic nutjobs? It would seem so, but actually the "Mega site of Bible studies and information" owns the URL http://blogpsot.com/. So if you mistype the address of ANY weblog hosted by Blogger, you can learn more than you ever wanted to know about the end of days:
Will Russia and some Arab nations invade Israel and the U.S.A. become involved?  Yes.
*
Will 1/4th of the world’s population die?  Yes.
*
Will there be a one-world system or global economy?  Yes.
*
Will diseases increase such as AIDS?  Yes.
*
Did you know the Bible tells us about what is happening?

*****
   
The Bible gives us over 50 descriptions about the people at the time of the end. These fit the people of today perfectly, but did not fit the people of fifty years ago. Here are some:
 
 A. Some would depart from the faith and go into devil worship-1 Tim 4:1. This is perfect.


B. People would mock about the last days and not believe-2 Pe 3:3; Jude 18.
 
C. People would become lovers of themselves-2 Tim 3:1,2. Remember the TV commercials—"I do it for me"?

D. People would be disobeying their parents-2 Tim 3:1,2.

E. People would be grateful for nothing-2 Tim 3:1,2.

F. Homosexuality would increase-Lk 17:28,30; ref Gen 19:5; Ro 1:24,26,27.
 
G. People would be without self-control in sex-2 Tim 3:1,2,6; Rev 9:21, Lk 17:28,30; Jude 7. Is this not the great sex generation?

H. People would love pleasures more than God-2 Tim 3:1,2,4. This is true. Shall we go on a picnic, watch football, or sleep. Church?—we can go another time. Our American motto "In God we trust" has become a joke. Remember, these were all predicted centuries ago as part of the signs that we are at the time of the end.

I. People would be taking drugs-Rev 9:21. The Greek word for sorceries, in Rev 9:21, means pharmaceuticals or drugs. God’s Word is 100% right on every one.

*****

It has been said that it is virtually impossible for anyone to make 11 straight predictions, 2000 years into the future. There is only one chance in 8 x 10 to the 63rd power, or 80 with 63 zeros after it that such a thing could be done. If such a set of predictions existed, it would have to be the Word of God.
Turns out you'll be directed to the same site if you try to access soapopera.com, mmjb.com (a miscue of MusicMatch Jukebox), aaronsbible.net/.com/.org.and God knows how many others. (Read through the guest book to see some of the odd mistyped URLs people used to access the site, from the former Iraqi website to porn pages.) Seems to me that if the "truth" they're pushing is so self-evident, they wouldn't need to be so deceptive to call attention to it. Then again, some people can't seem to discern between technological trickery and divine intervention. One guestbook signer wrote: "I found this site by accident but I'm very glad I did! Was it an accident or did God direct me here???????."

Unconcerned about bin Laden

While the White House busies itself powdering the president's nose, giving "tax relief" to the rich, and leveling Baghdad in the name of American national security, terrorism seems somewhat unhindered. The truck bombings that killed 34 in Saudi Arabia on Monday appear to have been personally ordered by a still-living Osama bin Laden. Take Back the Media compiles quotes by an extremely distracted president on the issue of Osama:
"The most important thing is for us to find Osama bin Laden. It is our number one priority and we will not rest until we find him." (09/13/01)

"I want justice...There's an old poster out West, as I recall, that said, 'Wanted: Dead or Alive,'" (09/17/01, UPI)

"...Secondly, he is not escaping us. This is a guy, who, three months ago, was in control of a county . Now he's maybe in control of a cave. He's on the run. Listen, a while ago I said to the American people, our objective is more than bin Laden. But one of the things for certain is we're going to get him running and keep him running, and bring him to justice. And that's what's happening. He's on the run, if he's running at all. So we don't know whether he's in cave with the door shut, or a cave with the door open -- we just don't know...." (12/28/01, as reported on official White House site)

"I don't know where bin Laden is. I have no idea and really don't care. It's not that important. It's not our priority." (03/13/02)

"I am truly not that concerned about him." (03/13/02, reported in The New American, 4/8/02)

Calvin's urinary tracts

What drives someone to express deeply held convictions through car-window stickers showing a cartoon boy or his tiger urinating? Boing Boing links to a lengthy, ahem, tract on the evolution of the "Calvin peeing on ________" meme. My favorite, a generation or two removed from the early versions, shows Calvin hosing off the words "JAP CRAP." Consider: does the owner of the sticker hate Japanese imports? Or, conversely, since our cartoon pal is taking a leak on the words, perhaps the driver despises the very notion, the concept if you will, of poorly made Asian autos: "I piss on the notion that you think the Japanese produce inferior transportation technology." I wish I'd asked the driver of the monster truck sporting that sticker to clear this up for me. In retrospect, it's probably OK I didn't.

Dumping dowries

A bride in India has become a national hero for sending her husband to jail for demanding a dowry. UPI reports: "Nisha Sharma has now called on other Indian women to resist the demand for dowry, which is banned but widely expected in Indian society. Sharma, a 21-year-old software engineering student, called police when Munish Dalal and his parents allegedly demanded a car and $25,000 in cash at the time of her wedding."

Oily adviser

The Pentagon's adviser overseeing the reconstruction of Iraq's oil industry admitted that "absolutely" he faces conflicts of interest because of financial ties he has to companies bidding on the country's oil contracts. But rest assured: he promises to try to avoid any conflicts by distancing himself from the oil-contracting process.

Made-for-TV presidency

President Bush seems to be all about image and very little about substance. Several reports have enumerated the extremes the administration will go to to "sell" policy decisions, influence opinion polls, and play for the cameras. And I'm not just talking about the costly and unnecessary press conference aboard the USS Lincoln:
The White House efforts have been ambitious — and costly. For the prime-time television address that Mr. Bush delivered to the nation on the anniversary of the Sept. 11 attacks, the White House rented three barges of giant Musco lights, the kind used to illuminate sports stadiums and rock concerts, sent them across New York Harbor, tethered them in the water around the base of the Statue of Liberty and then blasted them upward to illuminate all 305 feet of America's symbol of freedom. It was the ultimate patriotic backdrop for Mr. Bush, who spoke from Ellis Island.

For a speech that Mr. Bush delivered last summer at Mount Rushmore, the White House positioned the best platform for television crews off to one side, not head on as other White Houses have done, so that the cameras caught Mr. Bush in profile, his face perfectly aligned with the four presidents carved in stone.

And on Monday, for remarks the president made promoting his tax cut plan near Albuquerque, the White House unfurled a backdrop that proclaimed its message of the day, "Helping Small Business," over and over. The type was too small to be read by most in the audience, but just the right size for television viewers at home.
To sell his monster tax plan, Bush appeared on TV in Indianapolis, but, to convey the impression that the tax cut benefits not just the rich, Bush staffers asked the VIP audience members to remove their ties. Sadly, this stuff works: despite a mushrooming deficit, a $350 billion tax cut just passed, and Bush's approval rating remains sky high. I wish we had an electorate that would vote on diplomacy and results, rather than manufactured, reality TV-style charisma.

Pie.

We can put a man on the moon, but we can't figure out how to put pie in a jar? Not anymore. (Via Boing Boing).

5.14.2003

Slam Dunks

1. Dunkin' Donuts will become the first national brand to sell espresso drinks made exclusively with Fair Trade Certified coffee.
2. Organic fast food? That's what Real Mealz is. The chain is opening outlets in Germany and the Netherlands.

5.13.2003

Can Bush count?

The Congressional Budget Office predicts that the government will end 2003 with the biggest budget deficit in American history: $300 billion. Some private analysts have painted a grimmer picture, putting the figure at $425 billion. Next week, Republicans will try to ram through legislation in the Senate--already passed in the House--that will raise the government's borrowing limit by $984 billion to $7.38 trillion.

And don't forget: 60 million Americans find themselves uninsured during a year, 2.7 million people who had jobs when Bush took office now don't, and the unemployment rate recently jumped to six percent. The president's solution to these woes--a plan shot down by Alan Greenspan: give $550 billion in tax cuts, primarily to the rich.

"Yes, I'm worried about the deficit, but I'm more worried about the fellow looking for work," said the president, preposterously, on his tax-cut campaign stop in Omaha. "I'm more worried about the single mom who's worried about putting food on the table for her children so she can find work."

A day in the life.

Tired of war, Bush, "and now the numbers," downsizing, unreturned phonecalls, tepid Democrats, country music, right-wingers, Cub Foods, potholes, Republicans, SARS, Fox News, loudmouth pundits, prescription drug commercials, pollen, dog-fur dustbunnies, beautiful people, cell phones, news about the Dixie Chicks, Dick Cheney, anything that rhymes with Rumsfeld, SUVs with flags, terrorism, much of the state of Texas, nicknames like Dr. Germ and Chemical Ali, "The Matrix Reloaded," my job, "Liberate Iraq" lawn signs, Darryl Worley, Clear Channel, orange-stained fingers from Cheetohs, Michael Powell, Tony Blair, redundancy, redundancy, the president's flight suit, people who say "Westconsin," patriotism, or whatever else is getting under your skin these days? I can't help with any of that. Sorry. But I can recommend a visit to A Day in the Life, a web site that shows a single photo every day. Just one. Shot by a different photographer from a different location. It's...simple.

Art at street level

Trying to track down who was behind the "Weapon of Mass Destruction" stencil used on one of the bosses' SUVs the other day, I stumbled upon the Wooster Collective: plenty of antiwar stencils, street photography, graffiti, and other kinds of autonymous culture.

5.12.2003

A friend of the workin' stiff

The Washington Post reports:
About 340 workers at an Omaha plastics factory will lose pay or have to work next Saturday to make up for time lost during a visit by President Bush on Monday to promote his "jobs and growth plan," their boss said today.

Brad Crosby, president of Airlite Plastics Co., said about 170 of his workers will lose a full day's pay and another 170 will be docked for part of their pay for Monday unless they make up the time they spend attending Bush's speech.

Airlite, which will shut down for its first shift and part of the second shift to provide a photogenic backdrop for Bush's speech, will be the Monday afternoon stop on a two-day swing by Bush to pressure senators to support a large tax cut as the measure heads to the Senate floor.

Jobless

Reuters reports:
Since President Bush took office in January 2001, some 2.7 million jobs have been lost from private-sector payrolls, including more than half a million in February through April alone, according to government statistics.

There is little in recent economic data to suggest a sharp resurgence in growth. The most optimistic projections see a recovery of only 1.5 million jobs by the end of 2004, leaving hundreds of thousands unemployed as they go to the polls.

Loaves and McFishes

It may be easier for a camel to pass through the eye of a needle than for a rich man to enter the kingdom of God, but how about a fat man? To fund the pope's fifth visit to Spain this year, the Spanish church is partnering with grease-giant McDonald's. Tickets to the two-day pope-a-thon will run from $11 to $43, and the faithful will leave with a bagful of Catholic schwag--"You Will be My Witnesses" tour cap, CD, rosary and prayer book--plus a full belly from meals provided by McDs. God and McDonald's: talk about a co-branding partnership made in heaven.

What the f_ _ _ is up with the music biz?

Trying to thwart illegal downloads of her new album “American Life,” Madonna released decoy mp3s on file-sharing network KaZaA that, while the full length of a single, carried only the queen of pop’s voice, sneering, “What the fuck do you think you’re doing?” An annoyed hacker community told Madonna what they thought: one broke into her website and posted three mp3s of “American Life” songs and quipped “This is what the fuck I think I’m doing...” And dozens of remixes called cutups and mashups (set to trance, house, and techno beats) of Madonna’s tsk-tsking have been collected on various sites. Dmusic is holding a contest for best remix, offering “Boycott RIAA” t-shirts and stickers for prizes. The New York Times says that the publicity caused by these remixes can only boost sales of an album filled with such “joyless narcissism”: “Planned or not, it's the kind of free-range collaboration the Internet was made for.”

In other music news, a Spanish artificial intelligence company has stumbled onto a computerized hitmaking formula, they say. Polyphonic HMI’s “Hit Song Science” analyzed every song from the last five year’s Billboard top 30 for factors including melody, beat, harmony, pitch, octave, and timbre. Studying the data clusters, they realized they could compare unreleased songs to past chart-toppers and predict its popular success. Sound silly? Sony, RCA, and Universal (UK) have already signed on, and Hit Song Science accurately predicted the success of 8-Grammy winner Norah Jones.

5.11.2003

Blogger glitch

Try to say something nice about yer mom for Mother's Day, and Blogger won't let you. Apologies for the rather unremarkable, Blogger-glitch-inspired conclusion to the previous post. Happy mother's day, nonetheless. Especially you, Ma.

Mothers Day Proclamation(s) of Peace

Before Hallmark got to it, Mother's Day wasn't so much about flowers and cards and tender poems. It was about peace. Julia Ward Howe, best known for authoring the "Battle Hymn of the Republic," wrote the following proclamation in response to the outbreak of the Franco-Prussian War in 1870. It's a call to arms, of sorts, calling women--and men--to be engaged mothers (and fathers):
Arise then, women of this day!

Arise all women who have hearts, whether your baptism be of water or of tears!

Say firmly:

'We will not have questions decided by irrelevant agencies.

'Our husbands shall not come to us reeking of carnage for caresses and applause.

'Our sons shall not be taken from us to unlearn all that we have been able to teach them of charity, mercy, and patience.

'We women of one country will be too tender to those of another country to allow our sons to be trained to injure theirs.

'From the bosom of a devastated Earth a voice goes up with our own, it says "Disarm! Disarm!"

'The sword of murder is not the balance of justice.

'Blood does not wipe out dishonor, nor violence indicate possession.'

As men have forsaken the plow and the anvil at the summons of war, let women now leave all that may be left of home for a great and earnest day of counsel.

Let them meet first as women, to bewail and commemorate the dead.

Let them solemnly take counsel with each other as to the means whereby the great human family can live in peace, each bearing after his time the sacred impress not of Caesar, but of God.

In the name of womanhood and humanity, I earnestly ask that a general congress of women without limit of nationality be appointed and held at some place deemed most convenient and at the earliest period consistent with its objects, to promote the alliance of the different nationalities, the amicable settlement of international questions, the great and general interests of peace.
Of course there were other Mother's Days, but this one seems most apropos today. I'm reminded, because of the example of my own mom--her example of peace-making, and the kind of Catholic social-justice "engaged spirituality" she and my dad taught me--of an excerpt from one of my favorite Wendell Berry poems, "Manifesto: The Mad Farmer Liberation Front," which, ending with the powerful command "Practice resurrection," seems to fit the kind of mother's day we need today:for power, please women more than men.
Ask yourself: will this satisy
a woman satisfied to bear a child?
Wil this disturb the sleep
of a women near to giving birth?Seems like a decent measure to me. (After all Saddam and Osama and George W and Dick aren't women.) But women aren't faring so well in this world. Globally women (and children) suffer disproportionately in terms of poverty, violence and disease (Billl Gates speaking on NOW Friday night backs this up, as did Cheryl Thomas, director fo the 0 comments

5.10.2003

Protest music

"What does the peace movement need?" asks Sojourners associate editor Julie Polter. Music:
We need laments and elegies: Innocents (and innocence) have died and will again, and the struggle to hope is hard and haunted by loss. In "Solo le pido a Dios," Argentinean vocalist Mercedes Sosa sings, roughly translated, "All I ask of God is that I don't become indifferent to suffering."

We need rants and rally cries: Anger is often what shakes us out of fear or complacency and gets us to the street or voting booth. Le Tigre, Ani DiFranco, and the Coup might do. If your thing isn't newer music or curse words, dig out Public Enemy's "Prophets of Rage" or "Fight the Power," Dylan's "With God on Our Side," or most anything by The Clash.

We need wordplay and songs that make us move: Without humor and play, we'll tire before the job is done and drive others away with our self-righteousness. Stevie Wonder's 1974 "You Haven't Done Nothin'" seems especially prescient for the current administration ("We are amazed but not amused/ By all the things you say that you'll do") and you get the Jackson 5 singing backup on the "Doo, doo wop" chorus. Or sing along with Billy Bragg on "Waiting for the Great Leap Forwards": "The Revolution is just a T-shirt away."

We need to sing, even if we can't agree on the song.

5.09.2003

Helliburton

Cheney's former company, and current holder of a no-bid contract to rebuild Iraq, Halliburton makes the news yet again:
The Houston-based company, once run by Vice President Dick Cheney, said it discovered during an audit that one of its foreign subsidiaries operating in Nigeria paid $2.4 million to an entity owned by a Nigerian national in order to get favorable tax treatment.

The individual pretended to be a tax consultant though he worked for a local tax authority, the company said in the filing. Halliburton said the payments 'clearly violated' its code of conduct and internal control procedures and added that it is cooperating with the SEC in its review of the situation. It may also have to pay as much as an additional $5 million in taxes in Nigeria.

Democratizing oral history

In an effort to democratize the recording of oral histories, radio documentarian David Isay is is building a 6 x 8’ confessional/recording booth so that passersby in Grand Central Station can stop and record their own histories. The Studs Terkel-meets-Karaoke-meets-This-American-Life project will expand, if funding permits, to locations throughout New York. His goal is to chronicle working life in the City as comprehensively (or moreso) as the WPA did two generations ago. "This is our beachhead against 'The Bachelor'" Isay said, referring to the reality television show. "It's about reminding America what kind of stories are interesting and meaningful and important." Read The New York Times’ story on the project.

Rumsfeld's short attention span

In The Two Faces of Donald Rumsfeld, The Guardian looks at Rummy's relations with North Korea and its nuclear industry: in 2000, he was on the board of a company that sold North Korea two light water nuclear reactors for $200 million. In 2002, he helped designate the country part of the "Axis of Evil" for its nuclear program. Rumsfeld doesn't "recall" the sale being brought before the board.

5.08.2003

Today's quote.

Janeane Garofalo in The Progressive, on why she spoke out against the war:
I can't stand watching history roll right over us. It's like they're asking you to bend over, put your head in the sand, and put a flag in your ass.

You've heard of him now.

Ken Livingstone, Mayor of London: "I think George Bush is the most corrupt American president since Harding in the Twenties. He is not the legitimate president."

Ari Fleischer on the highest-ranking official in the UK's largest city: "I've never heard of the fellow."

Irony: Rather healthy, in fact.

Ha. Ha-ha. Hah-ha-ha-haw! Ha! Huh-ha! Haw-haw. Ha.

Ha.

Murdoch, bias, and media concentration

On the same day News Corporation head Rupert Murdoch tries to convince a Congressional committee to allow him to buy up satellite company DirectTV, the UK's Independent Television Committee is investigating Fox on nine complaints of bias. It's a strong case for stricter media ownership rules: if Murdoch owns everything, is a right-wing "warmonger," and runs a biased news operation, what becomes of an informed democracy?

Irony: Not dead.

The Chicago Tribune's Eric Zorn writes about the irony of the president's jet-landing on the USS Lincoln: Bush asked for a transfer from his Texas Air National Guard post in Houston to a desk-job in Alabama, then wandered off, a year early, never to return to the Guard. That story got some news coverage in the 2000 election campaign, enough to raise the "character issue," prompting Sen. Bob Kerrey to ask, "If he is elected president, how will he be able to deal as commander in chief with someone who goes AWOL, when he did the same thing?" But, as Zorn reports, the story all but died: searching through the LexisNexis database for the last seven months of the 2000 campaign he "found 114 stories referencing Bush, the Texas Air National Guard and Alabama. Over that same span, nearly 10 times that many stories--1,076 to be exact--referenced Al Gore and the expression 'invented the internet'"--a fact which has some, however exaggerated, basis in fact. Despite the dearth of reporting on Bush's AWOL year, wouldn't you think the press might catch the irony of an AWOL commander in chief donning a flight suit to play Top Gun? Nah. Zorn writes:
Imagine the derisive merriment in the columns and on the chat shows if former President Bill Clinton revived the skirt-chasing issue by touring a sorority house or if Gore delivered a lecture to the engineers at Netscape Communications Corp. Think of the snickering and the sardonic rehash of history.

But for Bush in flyboy attire, a discreet silence. The only voices I encountered raising this issue were David Corn in the Nation; Newsday columnist Jimmy Breslin, who asked, "Tell me if you ever heard of anybody with as powerful a resistance to shame as Bush"; and talk station WLS-AM's token progressives Nancy Skinner and Ski Anderson, who spent a full hour Sunday afternoon savoring the irony of it all.

There was no relentless examination of the damning timeline on cable news outlets, no interviewing the commanders who swear Bush didn't show up where he was supposed to, no sit-downs with the veterans who have offered still-unclaimed cash rewards to anyone who can prove that Bush did anything at all in the Guard during his last months before discharge.

So much for the cynical distortion that has become conventional wisdom in many circles. So much for the myth of the "liberal media."

5.07.2003

Byrd on Bush's theatrics

Sen. Robert Byrd, in a speech yesterday:
...President Bush's address to the American people announcing combat victory in Iraq deserved to be marked with solemnity, not extravagance; with gratitude to God, not self-congratulatory gestures. American blood has been shed on foreign soil in defense of the President's policies. This is not some made-for-TV backdrop for a campaign commercial. This is real life, and real lives have been lost. To me, it is an affront to the Americans killed or injured in Iraq for the President to exploit the trappings of war for the momentary spectacle of a speech. I do not begrudge his salute to America's warriors aboard the carrier Lincoln, for they have performed bravely and skillfully, as have their countrymen still in Iraq, but I do question the motives of a deskbound President who assumes the garb of a warrior for the purposes of a speech...

We are reminded in the gospel of Saint Luke, "For unto whomsoever much is given, of him shall be much required." Surely the same can be said of any American president. We expect, nay demand, that our leaders be scrupulous in the truth and faithful to the facts. We do not seek theatrics or hyperbole. We do not require the stage management of our victories. The men and women of the United States military are to be saluted for their valor and sacrifice in Iraq. Their heroics and quiet resolve speak for themselves. The prowess and professionalism of America's military forces do not need to be embellished by the gaudy excesses of a political campaign.
Full text.

5.06.2003

Bush's photo op

Paul Krugman on Bush's "Top Gun" campaign commercial aboard the USS Abraham Lincoln:
At first the White House claimed the dramatic tail-hook landing was necessary because the carrier was too far out to use a helicopter. In fact, the ship was so close to shore that, according to The Associated Press, administration officials "acknowledged positioning the massive ship to provide the best TV angle for Bush's speech, with the sea as his background instead of the San Diego coastline."

A U.S.-based British journalist told me that he and his colleagues had laughed through the whole scene. If Tony Blair had tried such a stunt, he said, the press would have demanded to know how many hospital beds could have been provided for the cost of the jet fuel.

But U.S. television coverage ranged from respectful to gushing. Nobody pointed out that Mr. Bush was breaking an important tradition. And nobody seemed bothered that Mr. Bush, who appears to have skipped more than a year of the National Guard service that kept him out of Vietnam, is now emphasizing his flying experience. (Spare me the hate mail. An exhaustive study by The Boston Globe found no evidence that Mr. Bush fulfilled any of his duties during that missing year. And since Mr. Bush has chosen to play up his National Guard career, this can't be shrugged off as old news.)
Read it all.

Priorities

The US Air Force flew French pastry chef Yves Reynaud into Baghdad to cook, among other things, pate aux bombes for 350 American and Iraqi diplomats.

Free speech is organic.

UPDATE 5/6: Sen. Linda Berglin reports that Dille's amendment was shot down and lines 8.6–8.11 have been removed!

Minnesota state Senator Steve Dille has inserted some keenly pro-business language into a new bill that's aimed to synch up Minnesota's organic farmers with the national organic standard. Dille's aim? To silence farmers who speak out against factory farming and large-scale feedlots. Here's the wording he's trying to insert into bill SF990:
7.34 (d) For the purposes of expanding, improving, and
7.35 developing production and marketing of the organic products of
7.36 Minnesota agriculture, the commissioner may receive funds from
8.1 state and federal sources and spend them, including through
8.2 grants or contracts, to assist producers and processors to
8.3 achieve certification, to conduct education or marketing
8.4 activities, to enter into research and development partnerships,
8.5 or to address production or marketing obstacles to the growth
8.6 and well-being of the industry. The commissioner may not
8.7 provide a grant to or contract with an individual or
8.8 organization that in the previous 36 months has taken, or
8.9 participated financially in, an action to prevent a person from
8.10 engaging in agricultural activities or expanding an agricultural
8.11 operation.
In other words, if you're an organic farmer vocally opposed to factory farming, you won't get funding from the Department of Agriculture.

Call Dille at 651.296.4131 now and tell him to nix lines 8.6 through 8.11 in SF
990, then call your state Senator and tell them to uphold the rights of farmers to speak out against practices that are endangering their livelihood and the environment.

5.05.2003

Mmm.

Pianist Christopher O'Riley transcribed 15 Radiohead songs, pulled from five CDs--Pablo Honey, The Bends, OK Computer, Kid A and Amnesiac--intoworks for solo piano. It's Windham Hill meets No Logo. And not in a bad way.

Abandoning Virtue?

William Bennett--former drug czar, conservative Republican activist, and author of "The Book of Virtues"--wrote that we need "to set definite boundaries on our appetites." One unchecked appetite of Bennett's, writes Joshua Green in the Washington Monthly, is gambling:
Few vices have escaped Bennett's withering scorn. He has opined on everything from drinking to "homosexual unions" to "The Ricki Lake Show" to wife-swapping. There is one, however, that has largely escaped Bennett's wrath: gambling. This is a notable omission, since on this issue morality and public policy are deeply intertwined. During Bennett's years as a public figure, casinos, once restricted to Nevada and New Jersey, have expanded to 28 states, and the number continues to grow. In Maryland, where Bennett lives, the newly elected Republican governor Robert Ehrlich is trying to introduce slot machines to fill revenue shortfalls. As gambling spreads, so do its associated problems. Heavy gambling, like drug use, can lead to divorce, domestic violence, child abuse, and bankruptcy. According to a 1998 study commissioned by the National Gambling Impact Study Commission, residents within 50 miles of a casino are twice as likely to be classified as "problem" or "pathological" gamblers than those who live further away.

If Bennett hasn't spoken out more forcefully on an issue that would seem tailor-made for him, perhaps it's because he is himself a heavy gambler. Indeed, in recent weeks word has circulated among Washington conservatives that his wagering could be a real problem. They have reason for concern. The Washington Monthly and Newsweek have learned that over the last decade Bennett has made dozens of trips to casinos in Atlantic City and Las Vegas, where he is a "preferred customer" at several of them, and sources and documents provided to The Washington Monthly put his total losses at more than $8 million.
The Net's abuzz about this one, generating opinions on all sides (Slate and The Weekly Standard). My favorite is a commentary by Patrick Rooney of The Washington Dispatch:
The reasons [Jonathan] Alter and Green went after William F. Bennett are clear: 1. Bennett is a high-profile Republican and supporter of the president; 2. He’s at odds with the National Education Administration (NEA) from his stint as Education Secretary under Ronald Reagan and also for his K12 initiative which seeks to give parents and kids high-tech internet tools to succeed, thus threatening the NEA’s current education monopoly; 3. He was U.S. Drug Czar and articulated boldly against the legalization of drugs; 4. He has promoted heterosexuality and pointed out the danger of the homosexual life; and most recently 5. He has blasted the anti-freedom critics of our war with Iraq with clear, common-sense observations: “Those who march against the U.S. and the U.K. today, those who condemn Bush and Blair and remain silent when it comes to Hussein, are in league with the wolf’s view that the shepherds are destroying liberty.”

William Bennett was simply too rational, too articulate, too... moral, for liberals to take.
Too moral, eh? I think the problem with the right is that it's only immoral if they're not doing it.

Bush Pioneers revealed

As part of a lawsuit under way in Dallas, the Bush campaign was forced to reveal its full list of fundraising "Pioneers"--a cadre of 538 well-connected people. Each member agreed to raise at least $100,000, but, the records show, many generated three to five times that amount. Bush expects the group to raise a record-setting $200 million. What do the Pioneers get in return? According to the Houston Chronicle, at least 19 Bush Pioneers received ambassadorships. At least 44 are from the energy industry, including Enron's Ken Lay, who raised $112,000 for Bush. Tom Ridge, now the head of Homeland Security, raised at least $251,550. Court records show that Bush and Co. were lying about the scope of the Pioneer program, which until now listed only 212 members. "As we thought all along, the campaign was not being forthright in the size of the Pioneer network and the amount of money it was delivering to the Bush campaign," said Craig McDonald of Texans for Public Justice.

5.04.2003

Repost: Vaidhyanathan on Cultural Democracy

The Eyeteeth interview with Siva Vaidhyanathan, NYU professor and author of the upcoming book "The Anarchist in the Library," has been making the rounds on the internet. A wide-ranging interview, it covers topics from the Patriot Act and the Digital Millennium Copyright Act to the vital role of librarians in our culture. Read it here or pick up the link at Utne.

Don't forget: Bush went AWOL

It's worth repeating, since the major media essentially blacked out the fact when reporting on the president's glorious campaign stop/jet landing on the USS Abraham Lincoln: essentially, Bush went AWOL on the last six months of his military obligations with the Texas Air National Guard. Remember that when you see W in his flight suit in the sure-to-follow campaign commercials.

Attacks on journalists are war crimes

From The Courier Mail:
US attacks on a Baghdad hotel housing foreign journalists and an Arab television station were war crimes, the head of the international journalist watchdog group Reporters Sans Frontieres (RSF) said yesterday.

"Seeing an American tank firing at the Palestine Hotel and Americans hitting Al-Jazeera television, we're no longer talking professional risks. These are war crimes," said RSF secretary-general Robert Menard.

George Loves Clear Channel

Radio giant, concert-promotions monopolist, and pro-war rally organizer Clear Channel has deep ties to the Bush family and campaign. Take Back the Media graphs the connections.

Vicious about dogs, but not war

Newsday's Jimmy Breslin wonders: why are people more pissed off about his comments about dogs than about the president's lies about the war: "I had written that the war was a fake and a fraud, that there were no weapons of mass destruction and that George W. Bush was a myth, or thereabouts. Only a few people were angered. Most were vicious in defense of their dogs. That would seem to show where their interests are. The dog is more important than a war."

Datamining Latin American voters

The Florida company that bungled voter registrations in 2000, disenfranchising thousands of black voters and throwing the election to George W Bush, has a $67 million contract with the Bush administration to gather detailed personal information, possibly illegally, on thousands of people in Latin America. Choice Point earned $11 million last year from the Department of Justice, but the Bush administration won't reveal what the data is being used for. Read the story in The Guardian.

5.02.2003

Adbusters

The new issue of Adbusters is out and includes the CD compilation "Live without Dead Time"--titled after a Situationist slogan--mixed by DJ Spooky and featuring tracks by Saul Williams, Asian Dub Foundation, Michael Franti, Public Enemy, Fugazi and others. Don't miss my story on Adcreep: how ads are weaseling their way into hospital-room TVs (General Electric's The Patient Channel, which features "health programming," interrupted by ads for prescription drugs: talk about captive audiences!), online video games, and--yes--weblog culture.

God and Allah need to talk

Photolink, via BoingBoing.

4.30.2003

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!

Headlines

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."

4.29.2003

Krugman!

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.

4.28.2003

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.

4.27.2003

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.

4.25.2003

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.

4.24.2003

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.

4.23.2003

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.

4.22.2003

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.

4.21.2003

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.