Mindfucked:Kalle Lasn on toxic culture, mental environmentalism, and running shoes

When it debuted in 1989, Adbusters magazine was a small "Pacific Northwest rag that had a circulation of 7,000," according to its publisher Kalle Lasn. It was filled with subverted ads that presented an alternate truth to the slick appeals of McDonald’s and Nike, activist news, and how-to guides for "billboard liberation" and other culture-jamming tactics. Today, the Vancouver-based "journal of the mental environment" has a circulation of over 120,000 worldwide and a "culture jammers network" of some 80,000 people who submit content for the magazine, participate in its various campaigns, and send in photos of anti-consumerist pranks carried out around the world. I interviewed Lasn recently on the evolution of the mental environmental movement, the recent activism surrounding the Federal Communications Commission’s June 2 vote on media ownership rules, and Adbusters’ controversial new plan to go head-to-head with brand giant Nike.

Paul Schmelzer: No one expected such a huge outcry against the FCC’s ruling in June—despite a near blackout in the mainstream press, some 2 million Americans contacted the FCC or Congress urging them to overturn the ownership ruling. Is this merely a one-time case of consumer outrage, or is it part of the "mental environmental" movement?

Kalle Lasn: It’s definitely a part of it, but I can’t quite answer to what extent. I do know that, ever since the Battle in Seattle, whenever I talk to other jammers, the edgy issues seem to be less green issues and more blue issues--blue issues being politics of the mental environment and media democracy issues. I think that the real fire in the belly of many activists is this gnawing feeling that they grew up in a toxic culture and they’re not whole human beings anymore. That they’ve been--I keep using this word mindfucked, because that’s the term they use. They say, "I’ve been mindfucked."
The real fire in the belly of many activists is this gnawing feeling that they grew up in a toxic culture and they’re not whole human beings anymore. If you feel that the corporations or the mass media have taken away your soul, I think this is the sort of rage--what I call psycho-rage--that drives revolution.
They feel like they’ve been lied to and subverted all their lives as they grew up. And now at the age of 16 or 18 or 20, whatever they art, they just feel that something valuable has been taken away from them--in Situationist terms, this spontaneity, this authenticity, this feeling of really being alive. That somehow that’s been taken away and they’re forced into these branded, cynical lives that aren’t worth too much. And I think this feeling that they’ve been cheated--that they’ve been mentally cheated, that they’ve been psychically cheated--this is a very powerful force.

If you feel that the corporations or the mass media have taken away your soul like that, I think this is the sort of rage--what I call psycho-rage--that drives revolution. This is the rage that is driving this movement that some people call the media democracy movement and some people call the mental environmental movement and other people don’t even call it anything, they’re just fighting back because they know that something is wrong.

PS: You’ve used the term "Media Carta" for some time now...
This movement has the potential to change every damn nook and cranny of the way the world is run. Everything from the way television stations are run to the way parents look at the media diet of their kids to issues like what is going to be the human right of the communication age.
KL: That’s been our buzzword, but more and more lately, we’re using both. We’re using media carta as a campaign we’re trying to pull off. Now we’re openly talking about the mental environmental movement. And we’re basically saying that this movement will be driven by this psycho-rage, and that rage will be every bit as strong as the eco-rage that drove the physical environmental movement 20 or 30 years ago, and that this movement has the potential to change every damn nook and cranny of the way the world is run. Everything from the way television stations are run to the way parents look at the media diet of their kids to human rights issues like what is going to be the human right of the communication age—well, it’s going to be the right to communicate, the right that every human being on the planet should have to access the media. Not just to have freedom of opinion and freedom of speech, but actually have access: to be able to buy airtime on TV stations and to be able to have your own website (you can already do that). To have real access, so that if you have some opinions, you can make those opinions heard.

PS: Are all these movements gelling together? Mental environmentalism seems to be the umbrella that encompasses the work of Commercial Alert, Adbusters, Free Press, the Center for Cognitive Liberty and Ethics, etc.

KL: I think you’re definitely right. There’s a huge, crazy mix of things: the media literacy movement, on one hand, that’s percolating among high schools and some universities, and there’s pirate radio and pirate TV and there’s these people running around with their camcorders and making really nice short films they can stream on their websites. Then, of course, there’s that larger official media democracy movement that’s holding conferences like the media reform conference that’s happening soon, like the people behind the counter-summit at the information summit in Geneva. They’re actively pushing for this "media carta" kind of right to communicate. So, yeah, there’s a whole motley bunch of people who are all realizing that they well may be part of the same movement that’s gelling now.

PS: Changing subjects: I wasn’t aware that you were actually producing a shoe, the Black Spot Sneaker.

KL: Yeah, we’ve got this exciting thing—this kind of crazy thing—that’s guaranteed to piss a few people off, but we’re seeing where it can possibly lead. It’s at the very, very early stages at the moment, and I’m surprised actually that we’re getting this kind of publicity on it.

PS: My first response is: that’s weird. Now they’re going to run ads in Adbusters and run $500,000 campaigns on CNN? It reminds me, too, of "hip consumerism," the concept Thomas Frank wrote about in The Conquest of Cool: now I can purchase shoes that tell the world I’m anticorporate.

KL: Yeah, but there’s another way of looking at it. Sure we’re selling a shoe, but what we’re really selling is an idea. The idea that you can whine against Nike, you can bite at their heels, you can try to boycott them and all the rest of it, but it’s possible also to develop an anti-brand that uses their multibillion-dollar cool and subverts it in some way and actually reduces their market share--and then uses that money to fuel the sort of ideas and campaigns that we believe in. I know it’s a very controversial idea, but I like the idea. I like the idea of going head-to-head with Philly Boy [Nike CEO Phil Knight]. I’ve already got hundreds of people who preordered the shoe, just in the three days the website’s been up—it’s not even properly up yet.
You can whine against Nike, you can bite at their heels, you can try to boycott them and all the rest of it, but it’s possible also to develop an anti-brand that basically uses their multibillion-dollar cool and subverts it.
PS: Culture-jamming has that notion of jujitsu—using the weight of your enemy against him: this does seem like the manufacturing version of that. It’s a Trojan Horse: it’s an athletic shoe, but it embodies different values.

KL: You can see it as a product, as everybody does at the moment. I just did a radio interview based on that Globe and Mail article, and they tried to blast me out of the water because they just don’t like Adbusters talking that way. But I see that if you’re wearing that shoe of ours, you’re actually wearing more of an idea than you’re wearing a shoe. You’re basically an ad for a different kind of capitalism. The idea side of what we’re doing is way more important than the shoe itself. If we pull this off, I think a similar kind of precedent-setting thing can be pulled off in other industries as well. I don’t see any reason why we can’t develop some sort of anti-brand that has its own cool and its own incredible power.

For the past 10 years, Phil Knight’s been laughing at us. And he’s been playing games with us. And we haven't uncooled him hardly at all. He’s still flying high. This may worry him a bit more than another liberated billboard of his. Especially the way we’ll try to mock him in the New York Times and put up a billboard right next to his Beaverton headquarters and we’ll try to jam his Niketowns. I think we can have some fun with this.

PS: I tend to buy things—if it’s Fair Trade, I’ll buy it because it fits my values. I think people have a problem that it’s you guys doing it, not that you’re selling shoes that are from non-sweatshop factories and…

KL: Paul, I’ll sell you a pair of sneakers!

PS: Of course, I’m critical of it, but I’d like to get a pair too.

KL: That’s another interesting part. Another reason why I’m doing this—it’s a side reason—is I’ve been uncomfortable with this whole sweatshop phenomenon for a long time. I traveled around the poorest countries of the world for three years when I was young, and I know that some of these factories aren’t sweatshops, and some of them are the best factories in those countries. I know that we can find a factory that we can be absolutely proud of in Indonesia or in China or god knows wherever we decide to go. I don’t like the idea that every factory in China is dubbed a sweatshop. That’s not right. This is a big mistake the activist community has made. It’s more driven by the trade union people than it is by the activists. The activists are making a big mistake.

PS: It’s a good point. I’m a big label-reader, but I don’t know if everything in Thailand is produced in sweatshop conditions.

KL: There are some bad sweatshops in Thailand, but I can assure that there are some really good factories there, that are the best factories in the land, that pay more than any other factory, that have better working conditions--and the whole country really needs those factories.

PS: So will these shoes have that kind of transparency? Here’s where it was made, here are the conditions…

KL: I’m not quite sure yet. We’re still brainstorming on all this. Even within the office there are a lot of people who don’t really like what we’re doing. But down the road, I’m sure we’ll muddle through, and we may actually launch a huge debate and challenge the activist community on their half-baked ideas about sweatshops. That could be another side-benefit.



Schwarzenegger makes Bush look erudite and Jesse Ventura seem, well, not quite so dumb. Here he's telling Sean Hannity that he believes gay marriage "is something that should be between a man and a woman." Plus, a lewd interview the family-values Republican did with porn magazine Oui in 1977. Topics: drugs, orgies, penis size.

Die Laughing

In a column that begins, "Here's a headline you don't see every day: 'War Criminals Hire War Criminals to Hunt Down War Criminals,'" the Moscow Times addresses the laughability of the Bush administration's latest plan in Iraq:
...Yes, the sahibs in Bush's Iraqi Raj are now doling out U.S. tax dollars to hire the murderers of the infamous Mukhabarat and other agents of the Baathist Gestapo -- perhaps hundreds of them. The logic, if that's the word, seems to be that these bloodstained "insiders" will lead their new imperial masters to other bloodstained "insiders" responsible for bombing the UN headquarters in Baghdad -- and killing another dozen American soldiers while Little George was playing with his putts during his month-long Texas siesta.

Naturally, the Iraqi people -- even the Bush-appointed leaders of the Potemkin "Governing Council" -- aren't exactly overjoyed at seeing Saddam's goons return, flush with American money and firepower. And they're certainly not reassured by the fact that the Bushists have also reopened Saddam's most notorious prison, the dread Abu Ghraib, and are now, Mukhabarat-like, filling it with Iraqis -- men, women and children as young as 11 -- seized from their homes or plucked off the street to be held incommunicado, indefinitely, without due process, just like the old days. As The Times of London reports, weeping relatives who dare approach the gleaming American razor-wire in search of their "disappeared" loved ones are referred to a crude, hand-written sign pinned to a spike: "No visits are allowed, no information will be given and you must leave." Perhaps an Iraqi Anna Akhmatova will do justice to these scenes one day...
[T]he U.S. alliance with Saddam's killers -- yes, the very ones who inflicted all those human rights abuses which, we're now told, was the onliest reason the Dear Leader attacked and destroyed a sovereign nation in an unprovoked war of aggression -- was described demurely as "an unusual compromise." (As opposed to, say, "a moral outrage," or "a putrid stain on America's honor," or "a monstrous copulation of rapacious conquerors with bloodthirsty scum.") However, the Post hastens to assure us that the wise sahibs do recognize the "potential pitfalls" of hooking up with "an instrument renowned across the Arab world for its casual use of torture, fear, intimidation, rape and imprisonment."

Catching up

Sorry folks, I've been swamped with other projects and unable to update Eyeteeth much. So here's a few quick links. I'll be back at it with, um, gusto soon:

Microsoft Worry: As a freelance writer e-mailing Microsoft Word files to editors hither and yon, this story was worrisome. If you send a Word file, you might also be sending personal data, information from other files open on your desktop while you're using the application, or any of the text you edited out.

Fast Food follies: Stay Free! has just digitized an old issue that features tales from fast-food's front lines, including my encounter with Burger King's acid vats. Mmmm, mmmm.

Blogger's delight: If, like me, you do lots of internet research, the New York Times' Lisa Guernsey offers research tips, special Google commands, and web resources you might not've stumbled on yourself. (I'd add to the list the blog search engines Technorati, Blogdex, and Daypop).

And don't forget the politics: The news these days is so disheartening I hesitate to dwell on it long enough to do an Eyeteeth post: estimates for costs of rebuilding infrastructure in Iraq have been steadily rising (now Bremer says it'll cost "several tens of billions of dollars" in the next year); meanwhile, Bechtel and Cheney's buds at Halliburton are getting an even sweeter deal for their work in Iraq (an additional $350 million of taxpayer cash); kids keep dying in Iraq (yet our fearless president hasn't found time--what, with his busy fundraising schedule and all--to attend a single funeral for fallen US GIs). (Check out Cursor for a daily recap of news you should know.)

Yes! Read it.

Quote du jour: "One problem I have with Arnold Schwarzenegger is that he looks like a condom stuffed with walnuts" (Molly Ivins).


Greatest American Hero

As Siva Vaidhyanathan once said in this space, "Libraries are considered to be dangerous places and librarians are our heroes... 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." So forget the $39.99 George W. Bush action figure, here's a more fitting hero for John Ashcroft's America: The Librarian Action Figure! Modeled after real librarian Nancy Pearl, the figurine comes with "push-button shushing action"--and hopefully Patriot Act–defying nerves, paper-shredding motion, and record-purging powers as well. (Via Mother Jones.)

Click here for other action figures: Freud, Rosie the Riveter, Shakespeare, Einstein, Jesus, and the, um, Albino Bowler.


Choking on lies

Any lie the Bush administration tells is excused as required for national security. Even if it harms people (and, let's be honest, most of them do). Take the admission that the EPA had absolutely no evidence suggesting the air in New York City was safe to breathe following the September 11, 2001 terrorist attacks. Nonetheless BushCo pressured the EPA to release a false statement. The AP reports:
...The White House "convinced EPA to add reassuring statements and delete cautionary ones" by having the National Security Council control EPA communications in the wake of the Sept. 11 terror attacks, according to a report issued late Thursday by EPA Inspector General Nikki L. Tinsley.

"When EPA made a Sept. 18 announcement that the air was 'safe' to breathe, the agency did not have sufficient data and analyses to make the statement," the report says, adding that the EPA had yet to adequately monitor air quality for contaminants such as PCBs, soot and dioxin.

In all, the EPA issued five press releases within 10 days of the attacks and four more by the end of 2001 reassuring the public about air quality. But it wasn't until June 2002 that the EPA determined that air quality had returned to pre-Sept. 11 levels -- well after respiratory ailments and other problems began to surface in hundreds of workers cleaning dusty offices and apartments.

The day after the attacks, former EPA Deputy Administrator Linda Fisher's chief of staff e-mailed senior EPA officials to say that "all statements to the media should be cleared" first by the National Security Council, which is Bush's main forum for discussing national security and foreign policy matters with his senior aides and Cabinet, the inspector general's report says.
Read the full story. Via TruthOut.org.

Franken wins

As expected, Fox's trademark infringement lawsuit against Al Franken for using their trademarked language "Fair and Balanced" in his new book title, was laughed out of court. Literally. Deeming the work a legitimate form of expression--parody--the judge concluded, "Of course, it is ironic that a media company that should be fighting for the First Amendment is trying to undermine it."


RIP Sally Baron

Remembering her mother who passed away this week, Stoughton, Wisconsin's Maureen Bettilyon reminisces, "She'd always watch CNN, C-SPAN, and you know, she'd just swear at the TV and say 'Oh, Bush, he's such a whistle ass!' She'd just get so mad." So when the family of the late Sally Baron met to write her obituary, they included the line: "Memorials in her honor can be made to any organization working for the removal of President Bush."

While I predict bloggers the world over will seize on the story of Baron's anti-Bush obituary (which might be a fitting testament, given her political convictions), I'm glad to see that The Capital Times' John Nichols hasn't trivialized the woman's life. He writes:
Sally Baron was born in the far north of Wisconsin in the year that Franklin Delano Roosevelt swept Herbert Hoover from office. When she was growing up around Hurley, Republicans weren't even on the radar. People voted for Democrats for president and for the old Progressive Party - a wild mix of renegade La Follette Republicans and radicals - in state races.

My friend Laurie Carlson used to represent the north in the Legislature as a Progressive, and he swore that the movement's truest believers could be found on the back roads of Bayfield, Ashland and Iron counties. That was where hardscrabble farmers, fishermen and miners nurtured a healthy disgust for the smirking elitists who controlled too much of the economy and, as the years went on, too much of the politics of the nation.

Sally Baron grew up in a time and a place where Laurie Carlson and his comrades battled against the corporate elites and "Tory" Republicans with a passion they traced back to the days of the American Revolution against the British royals and a feudal system that handed power from father to son. Even at 90, Laurie still waded into debates on the side of the workers against bosses, the farmers against agribusiness, and hard-knocks kids against the fair-haired sons of privilege.

No wonder, then, that Sally Baron bristled at the sight of George W. Bush. The wife of a miner who was injured in a pit accident, she raised six kids in a world our inherited and selected president could never imagine. Sally Baron's kids say she did not like the way Bush smirked when he spoke. Considering that he did not even win the most votes in the 2000 election, her thinking went, he could have been more humble.
Just for old times' sake, a few organizations working for the removal of Bush: 1, 2, 3.

(Via Cursor.)

Bush to industry: "Pollute all you want."

Remember this when the president campaigns about his sterling environmental record: gutting the Clean Air Act and caving to industry pressure, the White House has decided to "allow thousands of older power plants, oil refineries and industrial units to make extensive upgrades without having to install new anti-pollution devices."


Beware Patriotic Acronyms

The newly drafted Vital Interdiction of Criminal Terrorist Organizations Act of 2003--cleverly acronymized as VICTORY--is really just a rehashing of elements of the USA PATRIOT ACT II, according to Wired News. But there's a twist:
The Victory Act also seems to be an attempt to merge the war on terrorism and the war on drugs into a single campaign. It includes a raft of provisions increasing the government's ability to investigate, wiretap, prosecute and incarcerate money launderers, fugitives, "narco-terrorists" and nonviolent drug dealers. The bill also outlaws hawalas, the informal and documentless money transferring systems widely used in the Middle East, India and parts of Asia.
Timothy Edgar, ACLU legislative counsel, says, "It's cleverly packaged as an antiterrorism package, when really it's just a grab bag of changes the Justice Department wants."

More from Ruminate This.


A democrat's Democrat

Walking Chomsky after work tonight, I happened upon Georgeanne and her small, yellow, wig-shaped dog, Wolfi. "Did you hear about this new candidate?" she asks. "Kucinsky?" I corrected her: Kucinich. He had made good sense when she saw him at St. Paul's Central High School a few days ago, she said. "He gives us a real chance to have a Democrat to vote for in the next election." I didn't miss the nuance of her words. While Howard Dean has borrowed the Wellstone adage, "I represent the Democratic wing of the Democratic Party," it's really Kucinich who's the standard bearer for real, homegrown, progressive democratic government.

Lydia Howell, writer and KFAI radio reporter, interviewed Rep. Kucinich during his visit to the Twin Cities over the weekend. Here's a bit of what he had to say:
We’re ALREADY PAYING for universal healthcare. We’re just NOT GETTING IT... Insurance keeps going up. What do insurance companies do? They make money by EXCLUDING coverage. Everyone knows this. More deductibles, higher co-pays, less access. This is the trend. The ONLY way to freeze costs is for a single-payer system that cares for everyone. Take the profits out so these companies don’t have their hands on your wallet!
On the USA Patriot Act, which President Kucinich would repeal:
As the Administration has propelled fear, they’ve become more powerful and the American people have become less powerful. With less power politically and economically, you have a population easier to manipulate and control.
On the war:
This Administration, cycling fear, created pretexts for war. They became more powerful as they did that. With lies and manipulations, now, they seek to totally destroy the social agenda of our nation with a military build up: $400 billion budget, 13 percent increase. We’re rapidly coming to the point where we spend more on the Pentagon than all other countries COMBINED spend on their defense! What implication does this have for our democracy? This continued military build up will be the DEATH-knell for our democracy. They’re SUCKING OUT THE OXYGEN that’s needed for the economy! ...I’ll correct this direction. We’ll have a strong defense, but we ALREADY had that before 9/11. My concern is that we understand that education is part of national defense, Healthcare is national defense. Having good jobs and full employment is national defense. Making sure veterans have the full benefits we promised them when they said they’d serve is national defense. This is a moment for fundamental and deep change and my candidacy represents that.
Read the full story

Kucinich blog

Ever since Al Gore supposedly said he invented the internet, I've always considered politicians' proclamations about technology a tad suspect. While Howard Dean's been winning press right and left for his tech-savvy campaign, it's Rep. Dennis Kucinich who outpaces everyone in the technology department. He's been a guest blogger on Stanford law professor Lawrence Lessig's blog where he discusses things I'm still trying to figure out: Creative Commons Licenses, GNU General Public Licenses, utility deregulation, and the continuing battle for corporate media accountability.


Adbusters is launching a curious venture: they're going head-to-head with sweatshop kingpin Nike by producing an "unbranded" athletic shoe. Adorned with their trademark Black Spot emblem--the conspicuous consumer's version of the blemish of Hogarth's syphilitic--the shoes will be sold through ad copy that reads:
Nike founder Phil Knight had a dream. He'd sell shoes. He'd sell dreams. He'd get rich. He'd use sweatshops if he had to. Then along came a new shoe. Plain. Simple. Cheap. Fair. Designed for only one thing: kicking Phil's ass.
I'm not sure what to make of this. Interesting idea, but...

A $500,000 ad campaign on CNN and The New York Times? Ads in their ad-free magazine? Borrowing Thomas Frank's concept in The Conquest of Cool, isn't Adbusters just creating a kind of "hip consumerism"--where self-identity, whether anticorporate or not, can be purchased off the rack?

Al-Qaeda blackout?

Bin Laden and Co. are claiming responsibility for last week's blackout on the East Coast and Canada, according to the Egyptian paper Al-Hayat. (Via Utne.)


Art, Crime, Bacon.

His crime spree gone wrong, a burglar in the UK confessed his sins to his mother (and the law) when he accidentally found among his would-be loot what appeared to be a human head floating in a jar. Unfortunately for him, it was really a sculpted head made by "naive conceptualist" artist Richard Morrison. The head--a critique of consumerism--was fashioned out of bacon.


Getting over organic

"Did you know that Wal-Mart is the biggest volume seller of organic produce?" the good-looking guy with the monobrow asked. I hadn't known. "That's a good thing. I'll buy organic from Cub, Wal-Mart, or the co-op," he continued. "It doesn't matter, as long as it's organic." Say what? I was at a meeting of members and community activists working to start up a new co-op in Minneapolis. While I've always been an advocate of organic agriculture, I'm not fond of buying it at anti-union Wal-Mart or Whole Foods. The point was lost on this new co-op's board member. Sustainability? Fair labor practices? Community accountability? Species diversity? Aren't these our values too? Buying organic isn't just about the type of food you consume; it's about the whole system of production.

Botany of Desire author Michael Pollan addresses the issue in the latest issue of Orion. While the plethora of newly organic products and practices--high-fructose corn syrup? organic factory farms?!--means the conversion of thousands of acres of conventional agriculture to more sustainable farming, something has been lost in the process. But, he concludes, the original organic dream is in peril:
In fact, many of the best farmers in this country no longer even use the word organic. The USDA developed a set of rules -- and they got pesticides, hormones, and many drugs out of the system. All wonderful. But if you look at the new rules, that's all they address. There is nothing written about the kind of food that may be called organic, or its distribution. There is no rule against high-fructose corn syrup. Myriad synthetics are allowed in processed organic food. And we find ourselves with an organic transcontinental strawberry: 5 calories of food energy that use 435 calories of fossil-fuel energy to get to a supermarket near you. This is organic food forced through the industrial system, shorn of its holism. What has been lost is that one key insight about organic: that everything is connected. The organic dream has been reduced to a farming method.
Read Pollan's "Getting Over Organic."

ALSO: Don Roberts points out that the US Post Office recently issued a new stamp featuring United Farm Worker founder Cesar Chavez. Buy a few and help promote the man's values.

Institutionalized deception

The Catholic Church made the suppression of information on clergy abuse an express policy, according to a 1962 document uncovered by Texas lawyer Daniel Shea. Deemed authentic by the church in the UK, the document "Crimine solicitationies" was sent to every bishop in the United States. The Guardian reports:
The Vatican instructed Catholic bishops around the world to cover up cases of sexual abuse or risk being thrown out of the Church.

The Observer has obtained a 40-year-old confidential document from the secret Vatican archive which lawyers are calling a 'blueprint for deception and concealment'. One British lawyer acting for Church child abuse victims has described it as 'explosive'.

The 69-page Latin document bearing the seal of Pope John XXIII was sent to every bishop in the world. The instructions outline a policy of 'strictest' secrecy in dealing with allegations of sexual abuse and threatens those who speak out with excommunication.

They also call for the victim to take an oath of secrecy at the time of making a complaint to Church officials. It states that the instructions are to 'be diligently stored in the secret archives of the Curia [Vatican] as strictly confidential. Nor is it to be published nor added to with any commentaries.'


Presidential Plastic

How did I miss this: a new 12-inch George W. Bush (in)action figure, complete with flight suit just like the one he took off when went AWOL from the Texas Air National Guard in 1972! And you can own it for just $39.99:
Exacting in detail and fully equipped with authentic gear, this limited-edition action figure is a meticulous 1:6 scale recreation of the Commander-in-Chief's appearance during his historic Aircraft Carrier landing. On May 1, 2003, President Bush landed on the USS Abraham Lincoln (CVN-72) in the Pacific Ocean, and officially declared the end to major combat in Iraq. ...Attired in full naval aviator flight equipment, the President then took the salute on the deck of the carrier.

This fully poseable figure features a realistic head sculpt, fully detailed cloth flight suit, helmet with oxygen mask, survival vest, g-pants, parachute harness and much more. The realism and exacting attention to detail demanded by today's 12-inch action figure enthusiast are met and exceeded with this action figure. This incredibly detailed figure is a fitting addition to the collection of those interested in U.S. history, military memorabilia and toy action figures. Actual figure may vary slightly from item.
And, via Cursor, the way the action figure should really look.


Bring 'Em On (Home)

With some 267 American GIs killed in Iraq to date, military families are organizing to bring their sons, daughters, and spouses home. Body-bags and unreported injuries aside, they've got plenty to complain about: on top of it all, the Pentagon hopes to cut by $225 a month the pay of its 148,000 troops in Iraq and 9,000 troops in Afghanistan.

ALSO: Buzzflash offers a comprehensive links page for information on war casualties.

(Via Cursor.)


F & B

OK, OK, I'm "fair and balanced" too. Just like these guys. Take that, Fox.



Al Franken is threatening to trademark the word "funny" and then countersue Fox for using it (it's reminiscent of Iowa Communication professor Kembrew McLeod trademarking the term "freedom of speech"). Press on the frivolous lawsuit has paid off; the book has just hit number-one on the Amazon sales rankings. (But you should buy it here.)

ALSO: The St. Paul Pioneer Press' Brian Lambert, probably the best local media critic, writes a great piece on the brouhaha:
Fox lawyers argued that "Franken is neither a journalist nor a television news personality. He is not a well-respected voice in American politics; rather, he appears to be shrill and unstable. His views lack any serious depth or insight."

This, I remind you, is from the people who employ Sean Hannity and Bill O'Reilly and give Matt Drudge and Ann Coulter more air time than most non-Republicans. Strictly speaking, can any of the Fox News "team" be considered any more a "journalist" or "news personality" (emphasis on the "news") than Franken, who I don't believe has ever said he was either?

More to the point … "shrill," "unstable" and lacking in "serious depth" … hello!?

Have Fox's lawyers ever watched their own channel? It's essentially programmed by and for the shrill, unstable and depthless. If Roger Ailes, Fox News' svengali, ran the place with any concern for journalism and none for shrill, unstable hype, spin and marketing, CNN would be eating his lunch, instead of vice versa...


What they knew

Turns out the Bush administration ignored the warnings--36 warnings--about the possibility of an Al-Qaeda terrorist attack. While Bush and Co. refuse to release the entire 9-11 report, what they did report revealed that:
In September 1998, the [Intelligence Community] obtained information that Bin Laden's next operation might involve flying an explosive-laden aircraft into a U.S. airport and detonating it.

In the fall of 1998, the [Intelligence Community] obtained information concerning a Bin Laden plot involving aircraft in the New York and Washington, D.C. areas.

In March 2000, the [Intelligence Community] obtained information regarding the types of targets that operatives of Bin Laden's network might strike. The Statue of Liberty was specifically mentioned, as were skyscrapers, ports, airports, and nuclear power plants.
As Nixon White House counsel John Dean says, "In sum, the 9-11 Report of the Congressional Inquiry indicates that the intelligence community was very aware that Bin Laden might fly an airplane into an American skyscraper. Given the fact that there had already been an attempt to bring down the twin towers of the World Trade Center with a bomb, how could Rice say what she did"--that the administration had no idea "these people would take an airplane and slam it into the World Trade Center, take another one and slam it into the Pentagon"?

A bigger question is, with some $5 billion a month going to fight a lingering war in Iraq, is the Bush administration doing what it takes to prevent another attack of 9-11 proportions?

Kucinich on the media

Guestblogging on Stanford law professor Lawrence Lessig's weblog, Representive Dennis Kucinich directly address how, as president, he'd deal with corporate media:
First, the Justice Department will engage in an ongoing dialogue with major media over how the public interests can be better served. Second, I will sign an executive order which will require all broadcast licensees to provide free time for all federal candidates. Third, additional funds will be appropriated for the support of public television and public radio. Fourth, community cable systems will receive guidance as to how they may more effectively enlist community participation in the airing of broadcast media programs. Fifth, a White House conference on the protection of the First Amendment and its relationship to media concentration will be formed to enlist the participation of academics, activists, and the industry, in order to facilitate a broader and more effective understanding of the central role which media plays in the life of our nation.
Also: Kucinich's personal blog.

Lying Liars and the Folks They Sue

Fox News is suing comedian Al Franken for using the words "fair and balanced" in the subtitle of his new book, Lies and the Lying Liars Who Tell Them: A Fair and Balanced Look at the Right. The phrase (but arguably not the principles behind it) has been a "signature slogan" since '96, the network argues. The suit will likely backfire--much as the suppression of Michael Moore's book Stupid White Men after September 11, 2001, drove sales through the roof--prompting even more people to ponder how "Fair and Balanced" Fox News really is. Could Franken ask for a better pre-release PR campaign?


Arnie v. Arianna

Agreed: Californians are pissed off. Facing a $38 billion deficit, over a million of them have signed a petition to have Gov. Gray Davis (in office only nine months) recalled. But will they be better off with any of the nearly 200 wannabe politicos who've signed up to run in the recall? Having lived through Minnesota's Ventura Years--where the disgruntled previous-non-voter segment carried the ex-wrestler into the Summit Avenue Governor's Mansion--I fail to see how electing Arnold Schwarzenegger, Gary Coleman, Larry Flynt, or watermelon-smashing comedian Gallagher is going to do anything but shift responsibility for the state's financial shitstorm onto someone even less qualified to deal with it.

The media is gobbling up the Schwarzenegger candidacy, salivating at the chance of another Jesse Ventura to boost their newsstand sales: Time gave this retrograde Reaganite a cover story this week. Like Ventura's much-publicized babblings--how he'd like to be reincarnated as a brassiere, how he had sex at a Nevada brothel, then agreed to leverage the fact in advertisements for the The Moonlite Bunny Ranch--Schwarzenegger has a few of his own. In the just re-issued 1977 film Pumping Iron, which features Arnie smoking a joint between reps, he expounds on his taste in women: "I like them with black hair, with brown hair, with red hair, with big breasts, with little breasts, with a big ass, with a little ass." (No wonder George W. Bush says that he thinks Arnold would "make a good governor.") Politically, little is known about Schwarzenegger's stances; two indicators: he voted for Proposition 187, the 1994 ballot measure to deny basic social services to illegal immigrants; its architect, former Governor Pete Wilson, now heads Arnie's election campaign.

Rising to the top of a field dominated by ex-pornstars, athletes, and entertainers is someone who might actually do a decent job, political commentator Arianna Huffington. Mounting a grassroots campaign, she promises, "I will conduct no polls. I will run no attack ads. I will always tell you the truth and I will give it to you straight." An excerpt from her speech announcing her candidacy:
Let me start with a few words about the extraordinary process that has brought us to this point. My Democratic friends say that this recall is a right-wing power grab, backed by those who want a backdoor way to overturn an election they lost.

And you know what? Those friends are right. There are indeed a lot of sore losers here using big money to try to overturn the defeat they suffered in November.

And there is nothing more laughable than hearing Republican leaders lay the blame for California's economic troubles solely at the feet of Gray Davis while conveniently ignoring the orgy of fiscal irresponsibility that the White House and the Republican Congress are presiding over.

Let's get real: as ineffectual as Davis may be, there can be no doubt that it is the Bush administration, with its tax cuts for the wealthy, its perverted economic priorities, and its cozy relationships with crooked energy companies like Enron that has led California to the brink of financial disaster.

It was George Bush, who insisted on another round of tax breaks for the wealthy and fought against real assistance to the states. And it was George Bush who lined the pockets of millionaires while letting states like California choose between cutting kindergarten and laying off 3,000 teachers...
A new CNN poll puts Schwarzenegger in the lead, with 42 percent of the vote, if the election were held today. If you'd like to support Huffington's progressive, grassroots campaign, click here.


One-Term President

Stencil, sticker, or poster your town.

Hiroshima mayor slams Bush

On the 58th anniversary of the atomic bomb attack that killed more than 200,000 of his city's residents, the mayor of Hiroshima slammed George Bush and his administration for worshipping nuclear weapons as gods. Tadatoshi Akiba:
The Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty, the central international agreement guiding the elimination of nuclear weapons, is on the verge of collapse... The chief cause is U.S. nuclear policy that, by openly declaring the possibility of a pre-emptive nuclear strike and calling for resumed research into mini-nukes and other so-called usable nuclear weapons, appears to worship nuclear weapons as God. ...We must somehow convey to them that nuclear weapons are utterly evil, inhumane and illegal under international law.
According to this Japan Times article, Akiba said that the American invasion of Iraq contradicted Bush's claim that peace can be achieved through war, adding that it was carried out with "disregard for the multitudes around the world demanding a peaceful solution."


Gore-Lieberman 2004?

Fat chance. While Mario Cuomo is urging Al Gore to enter the race for the presidency, the chance of Lieberman getting to the Oval Office are--thankfully--pretty slim. In a recent Iowa Poll, he was rated the second "least liked" candidate, with only Rev. Al Sharpton faring worse. Further, the poll showed him trailing candidates whose "extremist ideologies" he sees as too liberal: former Vermont Governor Howard Dean, Massachusetts Senator John Kerry, and former House Minority Leader Richard Gephardt. While Lieberman claims to be fighting for the very soul of the Democratic Party, John Nichols writes in The Nation that "it is not Dean or Kerry or Kucinich who represent what Lieberman describes as 'the discredited example of our party at its worst.' It is Lieberman, himself."

ALSO: Bob Harris does a side-by-side comparison of Kucinich and Dean, if you're still shopping for a progressive candidate.


The Pentagon admits that US troops used firebombs--incendiary bombs made with kerosene jet fuel--on troops in Iraq. Considered inhumane by many human rights groups (but remaining legal under international law), firebombs are familiarly referred to as napalm, due to effects on the human body that are "remarkably similar" to the controversial benzene-and-gasoline bombs of Vietnam. Col. James Alles said, "The generals love napalm. It has a big psychological effect."

ALSO: Pfc. Isaac Kindblade of the Army's 671st Engineer Company writes that "we are in over our heads" in Iraq.


Robinson confirmed as bishop

At their national convention here in Minneapolis, the Episcopalian church today named Gene Robinson the first openly gay bishop in the worldwide Anglican communion. While this is sure to cause rifts in the Episcopal church (walkouts are threatened by some clergy), it strikes me as a brave move and a powerful step toward further integrating Christian spirituality and sexuality.

I'd like to buy the world a carcinogen-laden carbonated beverage.

From the Hindustan Times:
Twelve popular soft-drink brands have been found to contain dangerously high levels of pesticides and insecticides.

Delhi-based NGO Centre for Science and Environment (CSE) tested brands of market leaders Coca-Cola and PepsiCo. It found that Coke contained 30 times and Pepsi 36 times the amount of pesticides considered acceptable by the European Economic Commission (EEC).

The NGO also tested one bottle each of Coke and Pepsi bought in the US. They were both free of pesticide residue.

Coca-Cola and PepsiCo have threatened legal action against the NGO...
(Via Grist Magazine.)

Editorial bias?

According to a new Harvard report, the so-called "liberal media" does a more balanced job of covering both Democrats and Republicans on their editorial pages. Some findings from New York magazine columnist Michael Tomasky, who did the study for the Joan Shorenstein press center:
Tomasky examined the editorial commentary on 10 Bush and Clinton episodes that were roughly comparable. He did not include extraordinary events, such as the Lewinsky scandal or 9/11... The liberal papers criticized the Clinton administration 30 percent of the time, while the conservative papers slapped around the Bush administration just 7 percent of the time.

The liberal papers praised the Clintonites 36 percent of the time, while the conservative papers praised the Bushies 77 percent of the time.

One more set of numbers: The liberal papers criticized Bush 67 percent of the time; the conservative papers criticized Clinton 89 percent of the time.

As for intensity, Tomasky cites a Journal editorial soon after the Clintonites arrived in Washington, describing administration figures as "pod people from a 'Star Trek' episode . . . genetically bred to inhabit the public sector."

The Next Front in the InfoWars

Michael Powell and the FCC's bungled handover of the public airwaves to corporate media was intended as just the first step in restricting the free flow of information. As Jeff Chester, head of the Center for Digital Democracy, writes, the Net is next:
From Congress to Silicon Valley, the nation's largest communication and entertainment conglomerates -- and software firms that want their business -- are seeking to restructure the Internet, to charge people for high-speed uses that are now free and to monitor content in an unprecedented manner. This is not just to see if users are swapping copyrighted CDs or DVDs, but to create digital dossiers for their own marketing purposes.

All told, this is the business plan of America's handful of telecom giants -- the phone, cable, satellite, wireless and entertainment companies that now bring high-speed Internet access to most Americans. Their ability to meter Internet use, monitor Internet content and charge according to those metrics is how they are positioning themselves for the evolving Internet revolution.

The Internet's early promise as a medium where text, audio, video and data can be freely exchanged and the public interest can be served is increasingly being relegated to history's dustbin. Today, the part of the Net that is public and accessible is shrinking, while the part of the Net tied to round-the-clock billing is poised to grow exponentially.
Read the full story in "Stealing the Internet" on TomPaine.com.


National Conference on Media Reform, Nov. 7–9, Madison

Free Press is sponsoring a three-day forum "to democratize the debate over media policymaking." Featuring lectures, workshops, and concerts, the conference will cover topics from FCC ownership rules and regulating children's media to copyright and indymedia. Guests include Billy Bragg, Don Henley, DJ Spooky, FCC commissioners Copps and Adlestein, Juan Gonzalez, and others. I'll be there.

Cross-dressing militiamen

Slate asks: Why are Liberian soldiers wearing fright masks and wedding dresses?

US slips ICC immunity into Liberia deployment

In today's vote authorizing the deployment of a UN- authorized force to stabilize war-torn Liberia, the U.S. put Security Council members in an impossible position by linking the vote to the U.S. effort to ensure permanent immunity for its own nationals from the International Criminal Court.

"It is very troubling the lengths to which U.S. negotiators are willing to go to pursue their efforts to undermine the Court," said Gaelle Laroque, a senior attorney at the Lawyers Committee for Human Rights. "In this case, the U.S. government was willing to jeopardize a peacekeeping force which had widespread international support in order to weaken the authority of the Court. In effect, the U.S. forced the Council illegally to amend the treaty that created the Court and to mandate states to violate their obligations under the Geneva Convention to prosecute serious war criminals."

Although those opposed to the immunity provision attempted to separate it from the authorization for the multinational force, the U.S. delegation refused to negotiate. As a result, several members of the Security Council were forced to abstain even though they fully endorsed the deployment of peacekeepers from West African states.

"No one should be granted immunity from prosecution from the sorts of crimes the International Criminal Court was established to try - systematic war crimes, crimes against humanity, and genocide," concluded Laroque.


Gun law loopholes

Waking up to the sound of gunshots at 5 a.m. the other morning--three shots fired into a passing car by a guy outside my window with a rifle--I began wondering how Minnesota's "conceal and carry" gun law is affecting crime. Anecdotally, things seem to be getting worse, with more drivebys reported and more accidental shootings. But perhaps it's just the lunacy of summer. The new gun law, it turns out, is misnamed: guns need not be concealed, and contrary to popular belief, it applies not only to handguns but to rifles and shotguns as well.

Minneapolis lawyer David Lillehaug writes an eye-opening article in today's Star Tribune about the unexamined parts of the law:
• In contrast with other firearms laws, the trespasser with a gun does not forfeit his firearm. Nor is the gun forfeited if carried illegally on school property or while under the influence of alcohol or a controlled substance.

• You need not be a resident of Minnesota to get a Minnesota permit. No fingerprint is required. Unlike for autos, you need not provide proof of insurance and a picture...

• Training is required to get a permit, but no minimum hours are specified and the training need not be on the guns actually carried.

• Only six groups are certified to train. Only one is for-profit. The for-profit group happens to be owned by the law professor who helped write the law.

• If you're a landlord and don't want guns in your leased space, forget about it. You can regulate your tenant's stereo, grass length and smoking, but no landlord may prohibit lawful carry by a tenant or the tenant's guests.


Jobs and Growth: Just Wait
(or Revenge of the Recently Downsized)

On July 24, John Andrew of Northfield, MN, was downsized from his job with a software company, becoming one of the 930,000 workers who were laid off since March. On July 29, George W. Bush’s economic team started its swing through Wisconsin and North Dakota to tout the so-called rebound of the American economy.

Jobless John decided to tail them.

At the drive-in of a Culver’s restaurant in my hometown of Wausau, Wisconsin, John had an accidental encounter with Treasury Secretary John Snow, who, surrounded by G-men, approached the open window of John’s "Economic Reality Tour" minvan:
"What's your story?" Snow says.

I tell him I was laid off last week & saw that he was coming & I thought it was important to come here and let him see the reality of what's going on in today's economy.

"What industry were you in?"

"Most recently the software industry."

"That's a particularly vulnerable part of the economy."

"Yes, well, I need a new job & it doesn't look good."

"Just wait," he said. "The first tax cuts haven't really taken effect. So just wait... the second tax cut... well, it' won't hit the economy for several months, but I'm sure you'll get a job."

"But, but... we've already lost over 900,000 jobs just since March first... a job at Wall-Mart just won't support my family."

"Just wait, I'm sure you'll find a job."

At that moment the car in front of me pulled ahead for their order and John stepped back from my window. The SS agents signalled for me to pull ahead.

"Just wait?!" I've got a $350 payment for this minivan, a mortgage and two kids! Here's a guy who drives a few hundred miles to see you, four days after he's been laid off, and you tell him to "just wait?"

Boy I'd like to see those words on a PR banner behind Snow at the podium: Jobs and Growth: Just Wait.
Meanwhile, in California, a jobless woman named Bridget is running for governor to cast light on the issue of unemployment.

(Via Cursor.)