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  • Tuesday, August 31, 2004


    Justice League of America?

    Molly Ivins has a lovely little item in a recent column. To wit, AlterNet: Did You Sign Up for This?: "Unnumbered weirdness by John Ashcroft (it's too hard to keep count): The Department of Justice has asked the Government Printing Office 'to instruct depository libraries to destroy five publications the department has deemed 'not appropriate for external use.' Of the five publications, two are texts of federal laws. They are to be removed from libraries and destroyed, making their content available only to those with access to a law office or law library,' according to the American Library Association. All the documents concern either federal civil or criminal forfeiture procedure, including to how to reclaim items that have been confiscated by the government during an investigation."

    Monday, August 30, 2004


    Huzzah! A book I really like!

    So this is the book I've been looking for since I started blogging. I just didn't know it was this book. All the President's Spin : George W. Bush, the Media, and the Truth by Ben Fritz, Bryan Keefer, Brendan Nyhan is an excellent antidote to the ever-deepening levels of nuanced truth in the US political process. Nuance truth? Yeah, I'd say that's descriptive. There's a review of it here.

    Although specifically about Resident Bush's administration and its reliance on a public relations approach to politics, the book (and the associated web site provides examples of different types of spin. I find this valuable to decrypting spin from any source. The web site is also more politically agnostic in its targets. Micheal Moore and John Kerry have been called to task as well for using hyperbole or misleading facts. A little subtitle on the web page is pithy and descriptive: The nation's leading watchdog of manipulative political rhetoric.


    Documania! the sequel

    I'm still enjoying going though documentaries from the local video store. Mostly the DVDs from the Media Education Foundation (MEF). I thought The Myth of the Liberal Media: The Propaganda Model of News (1997) was good although I did notice the dating on the examples from the first term Clinton presidency. With interviews featuring Noam Chomsky and Edward Herman, it examines the pressures and filters through which "news" goes before reaching the consumer. Favorite factoid: approximate percentages of revenue from advertising for different media. For magazines, 50%; for newspapers, 80%; and for television, virtually 100%. With that sort of advertising pressure on TV, I'm surprised they do anything except entertainment programing. Or do they?

    I also watched No Logo: Brands, Globalization & Resistance (2003)featuring Naomi Klein. This quote sums some of it up: "Analyzing how brands like Nike,The Gap, and Tommy Hilfiger became revered symbols worldwide, Klein argues that globalization is a process whereby corporations discovered that profits lay not in making products (outsourced to low-wage workers in developing countries), but in creating branded identities people adopt in their lifestyles." I especially liked the point about mall space being faux common space, designed to appear like it's a town square but with very specific restrictions on what can be done there (i.e., no pickets, strikers, freedom of speech, etc.) If it interferes with the shopping experience, it's not allowed.

    Sunday, August 29, 2004


    News to watch

    I'm the sort of person who collects books of lists. I also enjoy learning about politics and the media. So the publication of Project Censored's annual "Censored:The Top 25 Censored Stories" is something I eagerly await. The 2005 edition should be out soon. Here is the home page of Project Censored. It's always a revelation to read, full of stories I missed completely. The process for getting to the 25 finalists is very interesting as well. From several thousand stories down to about 700 selected for evaluation by faculty and community evaluators. Then through increasingly rigorous levels, examining the stories for credibility and accuracy. Fascinating reading.

    Wednesday, August 25, 2004


    Creepy Tales of Silencing Dissent

    No thanks, my ride and gag are here.
    This reminds me of a news story I saw recently on TV. It was about the legal wrangling going on around where the protest rally in New York City during the Republican National Convention will be allowed to occur. They aren't being given the use of Central Park, yada, yada. The newscasters were talking about this legal, PEACEFUL rally. No plans for storming the RNC or throwing blood on the delegates or anything. Halfway through, the piece segues into the anti-terrorist squads practicing assaults and a voiceover talking about the tight security needs to protect the convention from disruption. This linkage of any protest with terrorism is scary to me. Depressing too. And angry, did I mention angry?
    Update: This article by Laura Flanders on Protester Scare Stories touches on this theme.

    Monday, August 23, 2004


    My civics lesson

    When I was a wee boy, I learned all about the government of the United States. There were the three branches: legislative, executive, and judicial. These provided a series of checks and balances on each other. The Constitution of the United States arranged it like this so no one branch could control the government. I always had a soft spot for the Judicial branch. I thought it was cool. Making judgements based on the Constitution and jurisprudence. Wow! Then I found out that many judges are appointed by politicians. Sometimes the judges make judgements based on political ideology and not on the law. I was sad. Maybe justice wasn't always posssible in the courts. I thought this was like a teacher taking the bully's side in a playground argument. This seemed unfair. I wondered who would protected the common people of the United States from tyranny and oppression? Who would correct wrongs done to innocent people? Would the President? Would the Congress? Would the Courts? I don't know. I think I've said too much already. I have to go.


    Musings on prison and protest

    Shock and awe. This was a theme and mandate for the US invasion of Iraq. This is a tactic that has spread over the last fifteen years in military and law enforcement circles. As the perceived need for S.W.A.T. (Special Weapons and Tactics) teams has evolved, so too the use of militarized tactics. Overwhelming aggression and domination is taught to immediately control a situation. Loudly shouted commands, intensely intimidating body language, and overwhelming firepower are used to secure suspects as quickly as possible with as little danger to the officers as possible. The goal is to minimize casualties of police, civilians, perpetrators, and suspects. The line between appropriate force and excessive force depends on the situation. Erring on the side of safety for the police is sensible. Until you put police trained in these tactics in situations where a protest rally is taking place. Loud chanting, shouts, sudden movements?

    Here's my little analysis of the police/public protest interaction. In the eyes of law enforcement, protest is, ipso facto, a disruption of the status quo. Law enforcement is protector of the status quo and upholds criminal laws. Therefore it is incumbent on the police to limit or stifle public protest rallies and marches, either deliberately or through intimidation and obstructionism. Laws may be broken at a rally. The police have an interest in arresting lawbreakers. The police don't often know ahead of time where and when laws will be broken. So the police are looking for violations and determined not to let anything get out of hand. In the police's mind, a public protest is, by its very existance, already barely within the law.

    The growth of the SWAT approach to crime has increased at the same time that our prison population has increased tremendously. The US prison system currently holds approximately 2 million people. Think about that number. The US population is almost 300 million so 2 million is approximately two thirds of a percent. Another way of looking at it is that 1 in every 150 people in the US is in jail. That's a lot of people.

    I just found the blog of Micheal Petrelis, a guy I used to know back in the days of ACT-UP Boston in the 1980s. Here's a link to his blog.

    Sunday, August 22, 2004


    New Maginot Line

    It occurs to me that the current stricter security for passengers and flying in general is very like the Maginot Line in France. You remember the Maginot Line, right? After WWI, the French built a very impressive defensive line along their border with Germany to prevent another invasion from them. Problem was that Germany did an end run around it for WWII. They never actually broke the line. This is not to say security shouldn't have been tightened, just that I doubt terrorists will use the same tactic again. An advantage (or problem) with guerrilla fighters is that the specifics of tactics are fluid depending on opportunity and targets. Gee, that sounds like I've really thought about this problem but it just makes sense to me.

    Saturday, August 21, 2004


    Ooh, ooh! This is fun!

    For a good time, go to Claims vs. Facts Database - Center for American Progress. Nice little database that you can plug in a topic and/or a speaker (conservatives, that is) and up pops relevent quotes and why the quote is, well, dishonest is the kind word. I can be kind. I wouldn't dream of calling anyone a dirty stinking liar. Nope. Some people do need realignment with the truth occasionally.


    Satire or mockery?

    Here is a clever idea about the Bush administration. Over the course of the last four years, while carrying out the extreme policies of the Neocons*, this administration has created huge long-term problems in many areas. If Kerry is elected, these problems will require much energy from the new administration just to ameliorate or bring back to balance government agencies, policies, etc. Will Kerry be able to accomplish much new while doing this? I don't know. I refer to this as the Bushies' Scorched Earth policy.

    Remember when the Bush admin moved into the White House? There were all these rumors about how the petulant Clinton/Gore staffers vandalized the place, carving obscene words in the desks and walls, smashing equiptment, etc. Of course these rumors were contradicted by the GAO (Government Accounting Office) report issued in June, 2002. The 220 page PDF version is here (kinda big). The report seems to indicate that trash and damage was mostly about the same as other transitions. Well, except for those 50-100 keyboards with the damaged "W" key...

    *I prefer the terms Radical Reactionaries, or Radreacs, and the New Fascists, Neofasces. (My, now isn't that rude of me!)



    I can't help it. I just keep taking out documentaries from my local video store. Can't I just watch movies for pleasure? Sure, as long as it involves zombies or explosions (preferably both). I only wish that were a joke. Still, I sure have enjoyed catching up on the many offerings from the Media Education Foundation (MEF). I just watched Hijacking Catastrophe: 9/11, Fear & the Selling of American Empire (2004) which has pretty good analysis of the background of current Bush Administration policy. Worth looking for.

    Another recently watched doc is Beyond the Frame: Alternative Views on the September 11th Atrocities. Some of the interviews on this DVD were done only a week after 9/11/01 which makes for a fascinating perspective. Some comments are eerily precient about the Bush administration's response to the event. Others, not so much. Still worth looking at but you need some tolerance for just talking heads. There's no other footage besides the interviews themselves. And there's a lot of them, about 2 and a half hours. Fortunately, the DVD menus break it up into subjects and then into interviews within that subject making it easy to skip from one interview to the next.


    Lyric of fear

    I seem to be on a poetry jag, writing bits of, well, images and emotional impressions to soothe some itch in myself. I named this "Sheltering Sadness" at first but I think "Fight Fascism!" is more appropriate. I particularly like the last two lines: "Fascism isn’t the boot in your face;/It’s the boot in the face next to you."

    Calls running down the line from the past,
    Epitomized, without eulogy, by the scent
    Of dry grass summer days.

    The framing of we in the country of silence,
    A shared alliance against loneliness, a suture
    In preparation for colonial imperialism.

    Could we shy away? Would we prevaricate
    In dulcet tomes? Should we read this sortie
    As remedial or rectification? A reification?

    There is a stamp of sad bemusement about us,
    Stolen participation leaving voids of consent
    Where we sing paeans to a false history.

    Can we replace tear-filled byes with shock and paw?
    A mauling we requested without knowledge, yet
    Offering withered fruit on the vine in tribute.

    Snarling anger lashes, contempt so present and
    Palpable it’s a organism living beyond its origins,
    Rising metaphor creating the new rhetor.

    No shelter remains viable, the erosion of complacent
    Idylls leaves only firebrands ascendant and joyous,
    Renewed through blood and such special fire.

    These flames are dark, birthplace of broken glass
    On night sidewalks, torches refracted by shards in
    Pools of liquid so black, cooling in the moonlight.

    We were told and told and still we forgot:
    Fascism isn’t the boot in your face;
    It’s the boot in the face next to you.

    Tuesday, August 17, 2004


    Some bias involved

    For some reason, I was surprised to see the "Outfoxed" documentary in my local video store. I don't know why I was surprised. Watched it and learned little that was new to me. However one bit I don't think I knew was that the "Fairness doctrine" (that radio and TV must give equal time to opposing views) was eliminated during the Reagan years. This helps explain the rise of the News Corp (Fox's parent company) extreme bias. Alas.

    Friday, August 13, 2004


    Complementary books

    So I'm reading these two books and I realize that there are some parallel ideas weaving through the two of them and of course I just have to share my little epiphany. First is ''Reason: Why Liberals Will Win the Battle for America'' by Robert Reich. The other I mentioned before, "Blinded by the Right" by David Brock. First was the mention of Robert Bork in both books, citing both his influence as a conservative and the battle over his nomination to the Supreme Court in 1987. Reich has a strong respect for conservatives as noble opposition, but has less tolerance for the so-called neoconservatives (who he more aptly refers to as radical conservatives or radcons.) Brock really became involved in the Washington conservative scene during the Reagan and Bush I years, so these political contests really shaped his conservative development. I'm still reading so I don't know how many more parallels there are but since they seem to be talking about the same political space and time I expect more in this vein.

    Thursday, August 12, 2004


    News from a progressive perspective

    It seems I don't do as much writing as I would like to in this blog. When I do write, it generally seems to involve linking to sites I visit often. The reasons I like particular sites varies but I guess I think all of them are worth visiting. Not every one of them is great. Still, I guess analysis isn't really my strong point at the moment so I'll just point to people who are good at analysis.

    Here are a few sites that aggregate generally politically progressive news and views.

    Alternet seems to gather opinion from many different sites plus some original content. Some of the current authors include Molly Ivins, Greg Palast, Dan Frosch (In These Times), Thomas Schaller (Gadflyer) and others.

    Media Matters for America (MMFA) examines news stories for extreme right wing bias and very often gives factual corrections. I check this one daily because there's always updates and new stories. David Brock (author of Blinded by the Right) is very involved here. Since he spent more than fifteen years very involved in the radcons attack tactics, he provides excellent perspective on these tactics.

    Last in this little roundup is TomPaine. TomPaine is a combination of opinion items, action tips and news that may not be getting the attention deserved.


    Finding the facts

    I've recently been trying to find sites that particularly counter political spin from all sides. I don't like news that accepts the press release of ANYONE. Here are a few site I find very good at doing this.

    Fairness and Accuracy in Reporting is a watchdog group that keeps tabs on bias on both sides. They have an excellent analysis of the Fox networks use of commentators and pundits. They also recently examined PBS and found them much less liberal than many seem to think.

    Two sites that are particularly focused on fact checking major news stories and printing corrections are the Annenberg Political Fact Check and Spinsanity. Both are good for keeping tabs on spin and veracity.

    Wednesday, August 11, 2004


    Silenced by thought

    These are the times of silence amid the uproar. There's plenty of people talking, on TV, in the papers, on the web, but sometimes I wonder about the intimidation from our government. Is it just paranoia or should I worry about my reading habits. I recently watched "Weather Underground" (2003), a documentary about the 1960s-70s group that bombed all sorts of government offices. It was a very startling feeling to listen to them talk about the "revolution" and how commited they were to it. I don't know. Maybe it's the talk I had with a woman who was in her twenties during WWII. About the current Iraq occupation: "We just have to trust the government about why we went to war. We just have to say goodbye to some of our liberties in order to be safe. There are reasons the government can't tell us everything. We're safer now."
    I wanted to weep. The "my country, right or wrong" attitude, the "government knows best" view that I thought was put to rest after Watergate. I guess every generation needs to relearn some lessons. Or will we?

    Monday, August 09, 2004


    Compare and contrast

    Recently wondering how to answer the questions I ask. I come up with a slew of questions and often have problems figuring out where to go on the Web to find accurate or even somwhat definitive answers. I think my questions are interesting, but do you? Here are a few questions and sites to go with them.

    What percentage of the population is homeless?
    To go after this one I had to go sideways at it. Since, as a group, the homeless are one of the most difficult demographics to pin down, I decided instead to start with poverty figures and then move on to estimates. The census figures from 2002 on poverty are shockingly large. I was particularly interested in how the number of people below the poverty line jumped almost 85% after subtracting taxes. So after taxes, 19% of the US population was living below the poverty level.

    A Massachusetts page on homelessnesness statistics also provided this little nugget:
    The 2002 poverty guidelines (a rough and ready figure) in the contiguous states
    are set at an income of $18,392 for a family of four, $9,183 for an individual. Source: US Department of Health and Human Services.
    A rule of thumb I heard over 25 years ago was that, ideally, your housing budget should not exceed one-fifth of your income. In urban US areas, that level is nearly impossible. For info from Sodexho (City Mayors Society) on poverty, try this link.

    Tuesday, August 03, 2004


    Fabulous George W. Bush Gay?

    Oh, this was too good not to put in. Be prepared to laugh a little. NO ONE can use the word that many times, can they? Is Fabulous President George W. Bush a Fabulous Homosexual?

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