6/30/2009 4:56:34 PM
What’s up with all the Ayn Rand love we’re seeing lately? Hasn’t the boring and didactic novelist’s most prominent acolyte, Alan Greenspan, been revealed as an empty suit in the wake of the financial crash? And hasn’t her crassly anti-altruistic, dollar-worshiping world view been soundly dismissed as right-wing fantasy? Yet Atlas Shrugged has reappeared on bestseller lists, and Rand’s muddle-headed “Objectivism” is back in the zeitgeist.
Mother Jones (July-August 2009) puts it all together for us in “And the Rand Played On,” which unpacks the current neo-Rand vanguard and the strange bedfellows it has created. One wing of the movement includes right-wing blogger Helen Smith and the “Going Galt” movement she inspired, in which rich people, excuse me, the “producers,” inspired by Atlas Shrugged hero John Galt, are going to withhold their contributions from society to protest wealth redistribution. (Um, OK.) Another wing includes celebrity-philosophers such as Brad Pitt, Angelina Jolie, Billie Jean King, Christina Ricci, and Vince Vaughn, who have all gushed about Rand’s genius. But Mother Jones writer Amy Benfer has a different take:
’s particular genius has always been her ability to turn upside-down traditional hierarchies and recast the wealthy, the talented and the powerful as the oppressed. … In this world, it is not possible to admit that the rich and the Republicans may have been undone by their own greed and cluelessness. Instead, the Galters have rewritten the story of how we got here with a dash of idealistic fantasy and a side of empty rebellion.
Hear, hear. If I see one more coffeehouse hipster with a dog-eared copy of Atlas Shrugged or The Fountainhead next to his Mac, I’m going to go Galt on him and refuse to hand him the half-and-half at the creamer station.
UPDATE (7/2/09): There's a call among some conservatives to "Go Galt" on July 30 and "phone in conservative" to work, and also to not spend any money on that day. I'm not sure how many Galters will sign on to the idea, but here's the vision as laid out by Anthony G. Martin, who blogs as the Columbia Conservative Examiner:
If this means businesses lose billions of dollars on that day, fine. If this means that travel will be disrupted, good. If this means communication systems are crippled, so be it. ... For now, this is a peaceful but firm protest to show Washington and 'progressives' that they can no longer expect us to simply roll over and play dead as they ram a socialist agenda down our throats. There are more of us than there are of them. We can shut this country down if we so choose.
I love it. Stealing tactics from the labor movement (striking), the anti-consumer camp (stop shopping), and anarchists (the state is the enemy), the Galters have come up with an idea that could bring Rand's message to a wider audience—and convince them just how nutty and confusing it is.
Sources: Common Dreams, Huffington Post, Mother Jones, Columbia Conservative Examiner
, licensed under
6/26/2009 6:06:16 PM
News from Iran is quickly receding from the 24-hour news cycle, but the situation in Iran has not gone back to normal. In fact, this coming weekend may be a turning point in the protests. Neda Salehi Agha Soltan, the murdered student who has become a martyr to many in the protests, was killed on June 20. Speaking from London, Iranian journalist and writer Azadeh Moaveni pointed out that Shi'ism traditionally commemorates a person on the seventh day and the fortieth day after a death. “In politics in Iran,” said Moaveni, “these are very important events, because people will turn out for these commemorations, and then they turn into protests.”
This weekend marks the seventh day after Soltan’s death, and the Iranian government has tried to tamp down on remembrances. The British Times reported, “The authorities had already banned a public funeral or wake and have prevented gatherings in her name while the state-controlled media has not mentioned Miss Soltan's death.”
The question, according to Moaveni, is “Will [the protests] flare up again in response to the emotional outpouring for Neda?”
Source: Azadeh Moaveni, The Times
6/26/2009 12:19:19 PM
As Lithuania struggles with the legacy of Nazi and Soviet occupation, Lithuanian prosecutors in the country have launched several public investigations, targeting Jewish Holocaust survivors as war criminals. Most of them are in their late 80s and have penned memoirs, including Yitzhak Arad, who is also part of a commission dedicated to establishing “historical truth” about the occupations initiated by the President of Lithuania, Valdas Adamkus.
Writing about the investigations in Foreign Policy, Nick Bravin writes:
How a country that was once a center of Jewish life has now begun targeting the few remaining victims of history’s worst crime is a story of foreign occupiers, former Jewish partisans, and modern-day Lithuanian ethnic nationalists. But more broadly, it is a story of books, memory, and a small country’s ongoing struggle to make sense of its tangled, bloody historical narratives—a struggle facing all of Eastern Europe.
The biggest obstacle for Lithuanians in confronting their history is the now well-established fact that hundreds, if not thousands, of Lithuanians voluntarily participated in the Holocaust. Many of the country’s Jews were shot by local police and by a special unit of Lithuanian killers incorporated into the Nazi SS. Since its independence in 1990, only three Lithuanian collaborators have been charged with war crimes, and none was punished.
Source: Foreign Policy
Image by uzvards, licensed under Creative Commons.
6/26/2009 11:50:39 AM
As the fortieth anniversary of the Stonewall Riots approaches, The Gay and Lesbian Review Worldwide honors those momentous six days of rebellion.
The violent response to the police raid of a gay bar in Greenwich Village was an iconic turning point for the modern gay rights movement, and marches around the world are commemorating the riots, even in countries where homosexuality is condemned. David Carter, who is the author of Stonewall: The Riots That Sparked the Gay Revolution, writes about the significance of these marches:
Marchers are sometimes attacked by skinheads and the like, often with the complicity of the government, and forced to fight back. Thus the militancy and sometimes even the violence of Stonewall continue to be recapitulated in such places, where rights are far from won—which is to say that Stonewall continues to serve as a symbol of gay rebellion and liberation.
Another piece lists the Top 10 Historic Gay Places in the U.S. In addition to the Stonewall Inn, the site of the famed Walt Whitman’s tomb is included, along with Castro Street, San Francisco, Laramie, Wyoming, and Hart, Michigan, home to the Michigan Womyn’s Music Festival, founded in 1976. And of course there is Cambridge City Hall in Massachusetts, the site of the first same-sex marriages in the history of the U.S.
Source: The Gay and Lesbian Review Worldwide (article not yet available online)
Image by MShade, licensed under Creative Commons.
6/24/2009 9:02:48 AM
Hands-free legislation leads people to believe that it’s safe (or at least safer) to drive while talking on a cell phone with the aid of a hands-free device, reports Governing. Well, it’s not.
Governing points to a 2006 study that found no difference between drivers talking on hand-held phones and those talking on hands-free devices—as soon as people started talking, they became more likely to rear end another car than a legally drunk driver. More recently, researchers found that simply talking on a phone cuts the brain activity devoted to driving nearly 40 percent. Even the wireless industry seems to be having second thoughts: Traditionally opposed to handheld bans, in January the industry shifted its official line to “neutral.”
So why aren’t we seeing outright bans on cell phones in the car? Twenty-nine states have enacted some form of limitation on phone use while driving, but none have gone so far as to wholly prohibit it. Governing has a theory as to why:
The best explanation is a rather disturbing one: Many drivers, state legislators among them, have simply come to depend on using cell phones during drive time to take care of business, check in with spouses or catch up with friends. This may make long commutes more professionally and socially productive. But it also makes the roads more dangerous for everybody.
Pam Fisher, New Jersey’s director of traffic safety, tells Governing that we’re at “the beginning of a ‘social norming’ process.” Fisher thinks that attitudes toward talking on the phone while driving can and will shift—much in the same way drunk driving became socially unacceptable. In the meantime, pass on the suggestion: Hang up and drive.
Image by gillicious, licensed under Creative Commons.
6/22/2009 3:24:30 PM
Conservatism is alive and well in Europe, thanks to anger over the recession and some good, old-fashioned fear-mongering. The recent European Union (EU) parliamentary elections saw major gains for center-right parties, as well as the groundbreaking election of a few far-right candidates. The Huffington Post reported that across Europe, “voters deserted left-wing parties in droves,” sparking some serious soul-searching among the Left.
According to Huffington Post, parties that gained seats included the following: Hungary’s “anti-immigration” Jobbik Party; the Greater Romania Party, “which is pro-religion, anti-gay and anti-Hungarian”; the Netherlands’ Freedom Party led by Geert Wilder, who “has called Islam's holy book, the Quran, a fascist text and made a film that linked images of terrorist attacks to Quranic verses”; and, the British National Party, whose leader, Nick Griffin, has called the Holocaust a hoax.
Can the Left save itself? David Lammy for New Statesman laments that “while D-Day veterans remembered the sacrifices of those who fought fascism, two racists from the British National Party were elected to represent us in Europe.” His analysis of what’s gone wrong with Labour and how to fix it urges politicians to abandon the blame game and focus on addressing the “deeply felt grievances of cultural loss and injustice” that permeate contemporary British society. He also acknowledges that the election results reflect larger public disillusionment with politics in general, fed by recent scandals like the abuse of expense accounts by Members of British Parliament (MPs).
Also for New Statesman, Jonathan Derbyshire takes the long view on the future of Left-wing politics. He cites the director of the left-of-center think tank Demos, Richard Reeves, who claims that Labour’s problems are too profound to fix before the next general election. Instead, they should concentrate on the “longer-term intellectual and political renewal of the progressive left.”
Sound similar to the current soul-searching among American Republicans? Perhaps British Labour and the European Left in general can take heart at the fact that, when it comes to politics, parties rise, parties fall, and what goes around comes around.
Sources: Huffington Post, New Statesman
Image by The Labour Party, licensed under Creative Commons
6/19/2009 5:14:15 PM
Back in 2005, smart people believed that Karl Rove and his neocon operatives had achieved a small but durable majority in American politics. Rove’s strategy of pandering to the Republican base and viciously attacking the Democrats had changed the political landscape, and progressives like Thomas Frank and Paul Waldman assumed that Democrats needed to be more vitriolic and polarizing to survive. In their 2006 book The Way to Win, Mark Halperin and John Harris asked, “Where is our Karl Rove?”
“To reread the major political books from the years around Bush’s reelection is to be plunged, as if into a cold pool, back into a world of Democratic gloom and anxiety,” Ronald Brownstein writes for Democracy Journal. With the benefit of hindsight, Brownstein reviews the panicked myopia that captured the Democratic psyche.
Though many of the books Brownstein reviewed provided trenchant analysis, none of them saw that predicted the disaster that would become the Republicans in Bush’s second term. They also missed the fact that Rove’s polarizing tactics would give Democrats the opportunity to create a lasting majority of their own.
“Today,” according to Brownstein, “it is the Democrats who have the greater opportunity to establish a lasting advantage.” Brownstein breaks down the demographic reasons why the Republicans lost power and the Democrats gained the electoral edge.
Now it’s the Republicans who are scrambling for a coherent message to combat the Democrats, instead of the other way around. USA Today’s Susan Page recently wrote about a poll showing a lack of clear leaders in among Republicans. According to Page, a divided Republican party is struggling to answer “Who speaks for the GOP?”
The irony of Page’s analysis, pointed out on the Politico blog, is that Page wrote a nearly identical story in 2001, simply switching the parties in power. At that point, the article read, “No clear leader of Dems, poll says.” In it, a little-known political strategist named David Axelrod, who later served as one of Barack Obama’s top political advisers, assured Page that in politics nothing last forever. Axelrod dismissed the polls saying, “It's the nature of being the party out of power.”
Sources: Democracy Journal, Politico
6/19/2009 12:32:12 PM
In our May-June International Issue, we highlighted an article by Canadian Geographic on the challenges involved with standardizing toponymy—the science of place names. The magazine featured the Inuit people of Nunavut in northern Canada, who use “descriptive” names to identify where certain places are located. The method works for locals, but is often confusing for newcomers and humanitarian workers.
Elsewhere, reporter Andrea Gourgy faced the same problem—but with a new twist. When working in San José, Costa Rica, she felt rather directionally challenged when locals started giving her directions that were all in relation to “the old fig tree.” She writes in Verge:
Indeed most addresses in Costa Rica are given in relation to a known monument. Where’s the pharmacy? It’s 20 metres north of the jazz café. Where’s the jazz café? It’s 10 metres north of the church. Where’s the church? Why, it’s just across from the old fig tree of San Pedro, of course. But where the hell is this damn tree? I deduced that most addresses given in San Pedro—the upscale suburb of San José where I was renting a room—were dictated in relation to the old tree…this tree seemed to be the key to unlocking the entire navigational system of the area.
To find anything, Gourgy first needed to locate the fabled tree for a point of reference—but she searched endlessly. Finally a taxi driver clued her in on one very crucial secret: “The tree, of course, it’s no longer standing. Now we just give directions from where the tree used to be.”
Sources: Verge, Canadian Geographic (articles not available online)
Image by edwin.11, licensed under Creative Commons.
6/18/2009 11:27:53 AM
Immigration hearings in the United States are federally mandated to be open to the public, with very few exceptions. When the Nation’s Jacqueline Stevens tried to attend two hearings, however, she was repeatedly denied entry, and not because of the exceptions. Stevens, an associate professor in the Law and Society Program at the University of California, reports “The immigration courts at Florence [Arizona] are either closed to the entire public or are screening for ICE critics. Both actions are illegal.”
Experts interviewed by Stevens agree that barring observers from the courts increases the chance of exploitation and could prevent people from getting a fair hearing. Mary Naftzger, a member of the Chicago New Sanctuary Coalition who frequently attends immigration hearings, told Stevens, “We have feedback from lawyers who say the judges are more respectful when court watchers are there.”
Source: The Nation
6/16/2009 1:26:33 PM
This Thursday, the German parliament will vote on a plan to censor its internet. Ursula von der Leyen, Germany’s Minister for Family Affairs, recently brought the proposal to the German government in an effort to block child pornography, says political blog netzpolitik.org. She has since been dubbed “Zensursula,” (translated-“Censorsula”) by her growing number of opponents. netzpolitik.org writes:
German politicians already seem to be lining up with their wish-list of content to be censored in future – the suggestions ranging from gambling sites, Muslim web pages, “killer games”, and the music industry, cheering up with the thought of finally banning pirate bay and p2p.
Source: netzpolitik, tech President, Boing Boing
, licensed under
6/16/2009 12:59:16 PM
1. Provide Cover: If you are Twittering about events in Iran from outside Iran, you have the luxury of not worrying about that knock on the door. Not so for Iranians. There is a movement afoot to provide cover for Iranian cyber-dissent by changing your Twitter profile to match the time zone and location of the Iranians brave enough to tweet the updates and calls to action. To do this, simply open the settings page and select "GMT+03:30 Tehran" and change your location to Tehran, Iran.
2. Change Your Facebook Picture: We did! It's a small thing, but a show of support on Facebook is something Iranians can see, so long as the government doesn't shut down the internet completely.
3. Spread the Stories: Iran is a deeply misunderstood place. Stereotypes abound and are typified by the front page of today's New York Post, which featured a photo from the protests and the headline: TURBAN WARFARE. Powerful narratives are emerging from inside Iran. Put them in your Twitter feed, on your Facebook page, on your blog, or send them out via email. The best place to find these narratives is over at Andrew Sullivan's Atlantic blog The Daily Dish or through a Twitter search for tweets about Iran.
, licensed under
6/16/2009 12:32:27 PM
This blog was originally posted on ProPublica, an independent, non-profit newsroom, and licensed under Creative Commons.
One of our goals for tracking the $787 billion stimulus package is figuring out how much each federal agency is actually spending — something that’s trickier than it sounds: The numbers on each agency’s Web site are far from clear, and they don’t always add up with other publicly available figures.
Consider the U.S. Agriculture Department. The department’s Web site dedicated to the stimulus says, “USDA was appropriated $28 billion (3.5 percent) of the package.”
So Congress authorized USDA to spend a total of $28 billion in stimulus funds at some point in the future. But how much of that is actually in the process of getting spent right now? There’s no one clear answer to that.
A stimulus dollar’s journey starts with appropriation in Congress and ends when it’s paid out to a contractor. But the middle part of that equation involves a trek into the murky world of spending terminology.
Different bureaucratic terms are used for different stages in the process, and different federal agencies seem to use these terms interchangeably. That, coupled with the fact that some federal Web sites are more up to date than others, makes tracking spending — the key to public transparency — equal parts accounting and detective work.
We tried making sense of the USDA’s numbers.
On the USDA Web site, there’s an interactive map that shows a state-by-state breakdown of USDA projects funded by the stimulus. We added up the total amount spent in each state and got $5.4 billion. The figures on the map are not dated, so there’s no way of knowing how current they are.
Meanwhile, under a table titled “Funding Notifications by State” on Recovery.gov, the federal government’s hub for stimulus information, it says the USDA has allocated just over $610 million nationwide. Elsewhere on the site, it says that $1.68 billion has been “paid out.”
But if the USDA has allocated just $610 million, how can it have already paid out nearly three times that much?
To try to clear things up, we took a look at Recovery.gov’s interactive map that breaks down “funding notification” by both agency and state. We added up USDA spending for each state. The total? A mere $362 million, or about one-fifth of what Recovery.gov lists as paid out. Like the data on USDA.gov, no date is given for the figures on the Recovery.gov map, so it’s hard to know how recent they are.
Ed Pound, director of communications for the Recovery Transparency and Accountability Board, which manages Recovery.gov, said the site is still a work in progress and that he couldn’t explain the different figures. “We’re not in the business of verifying the data,” he said. “Our job is to put this stuff up that we receive from federal agencies.”
A spokeswoman for the USDA, asked about the discrepancies between figures on USDA.gov and Recovery.gov, refused to comment for the record.
So to sum up, we have one federal department, with four different numbers for stimulus spending, some of which are perfectly clear — and some not so much. “Available” versus “allocated,” “obligated” versus “committed,” “invested” versus “notified,” “funded” versus “paid out” — your typical taxpayer would need an advanced degree in accounting to figure out just how much of his money is being spent.
6/16/2009 9:37:21 AM
Sometimes words and numbers just don’t do the trick. While most of us know about North Korea’s long-standing conflict with South Korea, and its strict policy of isolation, these realities are far more arresting through the lens of Tomas van Houtryve’s covert camera. In his photo essay “The Land of No Smiles,” which appears in Foreign Policy, Houtryve exposes the people and landscapes of North Korea during “stark glimmers of everyday life.” Deserted streets and smudged human faces in the dark of a subway train are interspersed with a few of Houtryve’s verbal observations on his trip through the capital city. So forget reading for a minute and just try glancing through Houtryve’s photos without understanding more than you bargained for about this country so far from our own.
Source: Foreign Policy
6/15/2009 1:19:46 PM
For many middle class, white American parents, the decision to send their children to private, predominately white, well-funded schools is a no brainer. Confronting or even thinking about race and class barriers is easily avoided and life continues smoothly and comfortably.
Writing in Geez, Dee Dee Risher laments the “massive desertion of the public school system by middle-class whites” and defends her choice to send her children to an urban, poorly funded public school.
“I seek experiences that would not infect my children with a sense of privilege, entitlement or racial superiority. I want to give them a truer sense of all the diversity and inequality in the world and help them develop their own sensibility for justice. I want my children to move through the world able to relate to and understand very different people. I want them to be safe and to grow up feeling strong.”
Even as her father wonders if Risher is using her children in “an ideological experiment,” Risher finds a “richness” in her decisions that is not “rooted in elitist and stratified social choices.”
Image by calculat0r, licensed under Creative Commons.
6/11/2009 4:26:51 PM
To much of the world, Burma, also known as Myanmar, is a closed country. The military dictatorship in power tries its best to keep it that way. Under the regime’s oppressive control, the 2007 anti-government uprising that happened there could have passed without much notice, were it not for the daring work of a few video reporters who risked torture and death to provide some of the only footage of the protests to the outside world.
The film Burma VJ follows a group of clandestine video journalists (VJs) known as the Democratic Voice of Burma as they dodge secret police and try their best to document the uprising. Mere possession of a video camera in the country is enough to get a person arrested by the police, and much of the film is shot by shaky hand-held cameras, hidden inside bags to avoid detection.
In August of 2007, the Burmese junta lifted fuel subsidies, causing a sharp rise in prices on everything from bus fares to food. The film’s main character, known only as “Joshua,” began filming small-scale protests that were swiftly quelled by government forces. By September, thousands of Buddhist monks joined and began leading the protests against the government.
One particularly illuminating scene came when a reporter from the Democratic Voice of Burma tried filming the Buddhist monks protesting. At first, the monks tried to push the journalist away, saying they didn’t want trouble. The narrator said they had mistaken the journalists for secret police. Moments later, the real secret police appeared and tried to arrest the journalists. The monks physically protected the reporters from arrest, and accepted the journalists into their march.
Footage of the protests, including the government’s strong-armed responses, were somehow smuggled out by the Democratic Voice of Burma and broadcast on CNN, the BBC, and other major news outlets. Eventually, more than 100,000 people joined the protests, openly advocating for the junta’s downfall. The images captured the attention of then-President George Bush, who strongly condemned the junta’s "vicious persecution" and expanded sanctions on the country.
The sad truth of the film is that the protests did not work. Government forces became increasingly violent, firing tear gas and guns at unarmed protesters, killing many, including a Japanese journalist Kenji Nagai. The monks backed down, but not before many were beaten, killed, and disappeared by the junta. The government is still in power today, and journalists are still the targets of attack.
One of the few inspirations in the film was opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi, winner of the Nobel Peace Prize in 1991. In the film, protesters marched toward her home, where she had been under house arrest for 13 years. Today, Suu Kyi is making headlines again, facing accusations from the government that she violated her house arrest by sheltering a man who swam to her compound.
If there’s one hopeful outcome of the government crackdown, it’s in the Democratic Voice of Burma. The group claims to have recruited 80 new video journalists, many inspired by the 2007 uprising, who will continue to try and report from inside the country.
You can watch the trailer for Burma VJ below:
Image courtesy of Oscilloscope Laboratories/HBO Documentary Films.
Source: Burma VJ
6/11/2009 10:37:14 AM
In his latest column for The Progressive, sportswriter Dave Zirin jabs his populist pen at the "Houses of Steinbrenner and Wilpon" and their new stadiums (for the Yankees and Mets, respectively) that cost nearly two billion dollars in taxpayer money. Being careful to laud the work of the architects, construction workers, and designers, he gets right to the work of shaming the forces of greed behind America's beloved pastime (which is becoming something of a pastime in its own right):
The stadiums are cathedrals. But these are churches that desperately entice the money changers, and want to toss the rest of us out of the temple. After underwriting these ballpark Vaticans, the people have been positively priced out...This is merely the latest example that shows that while the relationship between fans and the great sport of baseball may be sacred, it is also abusive.
Many teams have relinquished the myth that baseball is somehow "recession proof" and have tried to adjust...but the Yankees and Mets didn't get the memo, spiking prices to unconscionable heights. This led to a recent story on ESPN of a boss who had to decide whether to keep his newly priced season tickets or lay off two workers. He chose to keep the workers and lose the tickets. The boss was lauded like a hero. But it does make you wonder how many folks in the park have taken the other option.
Source: The Progressive
. Licensed under
6/10/2009 2:08:42 PM
Media outrage over abortion provider George Tiller’s murder in Wichita, Kansas has led to charges that the crime should be considered domestic terrorism, and that Scott Roeder should be punished accordingly. Arguments have ranged from Cenk Uygur’s sarcastic call in The Huffington Post for Roeder to be waterboarded to Joe Conason’s serious consideration for Truthdig of the government’s responsibility to guard us from extremists. Conason writes:
Although an overwhelming majority of abortion opponents bear no responsibility for the doctor’s murder and should feel free to exercise their constitutional freedoms to the fullest extent, there is a violent fringe on the far right that has earned the designation of terrorist. And the federal government is responsible for ensuring our safety from those menacing forces.
But, will the feds go so far as to call Tiller’s murder terrorism? Lindsay Beyerstein at Huff-Po thinks not. Beyerstein reports that although the Justice Department will investigate whether Roeder violated the Freedom of Access to Clinic Entrances (FACE) Act, to classify the crime as terrorism would exceed the feds’ capabilities.
“That designation would unleash vast federal powers to investigate large swathes of the radical anti-choice movement,” Beyerstein writes. “The feds are simply not prepared for the political fallout that would ensue if, say, Operation Rescue were officially designated as a terrorist organization.”
Regardless of the legal outcome, Tracy Clark-Flory over at Salon.com claims that the recent decision to close Tiller’s clinic proves that, in this country at least, terrorism works.
Sources: Washington Post, Salon.com, The Huffington Post, Truthdig
Image by pdeonarain, licensed under Creative Commons
6/9/2009 10:53:44 AM
With money getting tight across the country, people are dusting off their bicycles for a cheap alternative to cars. That’s not entirely a good thing for people who were biking all along. Bike lanes get crowded and police officers become more likely to crack down on bicyclists who flout the law, according to former Utne Reader editor Craig Cox writing for the Minneapolis Observer Quarterly. At times, bicyclists elevate “reckless cycling habits to a form of political/cultural protest.” That works, if it’s a small number of bicyclists on the road, but if the streets are filled with surly bikers going the wrong way down one-way streets, the law breaking becomes a problem.
Even before the police start making arrests, the cultural divide between car drivers and bikers has already grown from a crack into a chasm. The Urbanite magazine is hosting a road rage roundtable, where spandex-clad bicyclists can hurl insults at car drivers, while enraged motorists can scream about the need to ban bicycles from public roads.
The United States has become “a nation which recognises only the freedom to act, and not the freedom from the consequences of other people’s actions,” George Monbiot wrote back in 2005. Our reliance on driving cars is his example of this anti-social behavior, but bicyclists can be just as bad. “When you drive,” he writes, “society becomes an obstacle,” rather than something you are a part of.
Image by Foxtongue, licensed under Creative Commons.
Sources: Minneapolis Observer Quarterly (article not available online), The Urbanite, Monbiot.com
6/8/2009 2:20:55 PM
On his way home from a bookstore in 2008, Teng Biao was forced into a black sedan by Chinese secret police, a hood was fitted over his head and his hands were tied behind his back. The police threatened, interrogated, and tried to brainwash Teng into denouncing his work as a public intellectual and critic of the Chinese government. He wrote about the experience for the new issue of China Rights Forum (pdf). The circular and changing logic of his interrogators resembled scenes from 1984, and some of the details Teng recalled provide a fascinating look into the police state.
Trying to convince Teng not to criticize the government, an interrogator said, “What country is without shortcomings? The United States is good? A lot more of this goes on in the U.S. than in China.”
He wrote, “The longer I was in there, the more I hated this system. Yet at the same time, the more sympathy I had for those who had to implement the system.” The interrogators, too, had been brainwashed and they believed in the righteousness of their cause. At the same time, they had read nearly every word of Teng's dissident literature, if only to look for evidence. “I felt they couldn’t remain unaffected,” Teng wrote. “If this was the case, my words had not been in vain.”
, licensed under
Source: China Rights Forum
6/8/2009 12:42:08 PM
On March 17, American journalists Euna Lee and Laura Ling were arrested for allegedly crossing the border from China into North Korea while reporting for Al Gore’s user-generated news organization Current TV. In doing so, they became unwitting players in Kim Jong-Il’s ongoing political theatrics, aimed at the U.S. in particular. This drama came to a head today when they were sentenced to 12 years hard labor by North Korea’s highest court for committing “grave crimes” against the country.
For the past month and a half, Gore and Current TV have been mum on the situation, causing SF Gate blogger Phil Bronstein to question what’s going on with our former Vice President:
“Where is Mr. Gore, Nobel winner and formerly the second most powerful person in the world in all this? How about anything from SF-based Current TV, say maybe even just a public expression of concern? At the moment I wrote this, the big story on their web site is, ‘Top 10 Sexting Acronyms For Adults.’” (as of this writing, one of the top stories is “James Cameron Joins Heavy Metal” but alas, no mention of Lee and Ling)
One hopes that Gore’s silence has been out of concern for his reporters’ safety, given the situation’s potential volatility. Indeed, Fox News reports that the State Department “did not rule out” the possibility of Gore’s involvement in negotiations but refused to comment further.
Most journalists and North Korea watchers believe that Lee and Ling will eventually be released. Jason Zengerle over at The New Republic echoes the prevailing sentiment that Pyongyang will use the journalists as a bargaining chip for bilateral talks with the U.S.: “American diplomats will jump through whatever hoops the North Koreans set up for them; and that will be that.” And, Yonhap News predicts that Pyongyang will try to get the U.S. and UN to soften any political and financial sanctions in response to North Korea’s recent nuclear missile tests.
Regardless of the outcome, both Bronstein and LaToya Peterson at Racialicious view this as a defining moment for Current TV’s user-generated, “democratic” mode of journalism.
Bronstein writes: “Is this what happens when information becomes more democratic? No one’s willing to step up? If you work for a viewer-supplied TV cable network, does that mean no one has your back? This does not help the argument that the value of large news organizations is dwindling to nothing in favor of small entrepreneurs. There’s no encouragement for 2.0 reporting when its practitioners can disappear into the gulag with no one to fight for them.”
Peterson writes: “As we enter a world where corporate interests often trump stories that impact every day people, Current TV’s work developing user generated content and training citizens to become journalists is rapidly emerging as a model to follow to keep citizens engaged in their communities.
But, it is like the old truism: Nothing in life comes for free. In the process of fighting for truth, we have to dig deeper and go to places we never thought we’d go, often at the risk of running afoul of authorities who would rather this information was not released.”
Sources: New York Times, SF Gate, Fox News, The New Republic, Yonhap News, Racialicious
6/5/2009 3:03:20 PM
Most people don’t want to turn to check cashers and payday lenders to do their banking, but for some people in West Baltimore, there are no legitimate bank branches within walking distance.
The Urbanite cited a 2008 Brookings Institution report on the “non-bank basic financial services industry,” which found that one neighborhood convenience store providing check cashing services for a fee is “at the epicenter of a west-side financial services desert—approximately four square miles with no convenient access to basic services such as checking and savings accounts.” No wonder we have yet to stunt the growth (out of necessity) of fringe banking practices—for many, it’s the only convenient and feasible option for paying their bills on time.
Thankfully, a new coalition has formed to help residents. The Baltimore Cash Campaign aims to help low-and moderate-income families become financially literate. The group organizes free tax preparation services at trusted community locations and helps educate and provide resources to residents on checking accounts, certificates of deposit, and savings options, with the goal of turning those initial sessions into long-term practices—an important first step toward a larger financial conversion that’s desperately needed, especially when you consider some general findings from the Brookings Institution report: Households collectively pay more than $8 billion in annual fees to these non-bank establishments, and a full-time employee can lose upwards of $40,000 of earnings by using these fringe banking services instead of traditional banks. Yow!
The Urbanite was nominated for an Utne Independent Press Award this year for its social/cultural coverage.
6/5/2009 2:44:31 PM
The global financial crisis has many calling for reform in the United States, but “demanding more regulation onshore won’t do any good if you can’t regulate in the same way offshore,” Rachel Keeler writes for Dollars & Sense. Keeler reports that “seventy five percent of the world’s hedge funds are based in four Caribbean tax havens: the Cayman Islands, Bermuda, the British Virgin Islands and the Bahamas.”
Calls for reforming the offshore tax havens have been getting louder recently, with political leaders including Barack Obama joining the chorus. “Tax havens,” according to Keeler, “have become the perfect embodiment of suddenly unfashionable capitalist greed.” So far, however, regulations have been woefully lacking, and global financiers, tax haven governments, and their lobbyists are sure to fight regulation every step of the way.
Source: Dollars & Sense
6/5/2009 2:28:12 PM
General Motors is trying to negotiate its way out of paying damages to victims of known defects in its vehicles, a precedent set by Chrysler in its bankruptcy negotiations. "If any defect in a GM car causes an accident, or injures someone or kills the occupants, there would be no recourse, no opportunity for compensation or to make a claim in a lawsuit. It would affect every single driver of a GM vehicle," Joanne Doroshow, executive director of the Centre for Justice and Democracy, told Inter Press Service. "
Each year, between 500 and 1,000 people are harmed or killed in GM and Chrysler vehicles, according to the Centre for Auto Safety," writes Adrianne Appel, before putting a human face on those statistics:
Robert Doss, of Arizona, filed a lawsuit on behalf of his eight-year-old son, Shaun. Shaun became a paraplegic after the seatbelt in his father's Chrysler Dodge Durango failed during an accident. Their lawsuit will not go forward now, Doss told reporters Wednesday, while visiting Congress.
Jeremy Warriner, of Indiana, whose legs were burned beyond saving three years ago when brake fluid spilled and ignited during an accident in his Jeep Wrangler, said the personal injury lawsuit he filed against Chrysler also is defunct since the bankruptcy deal.
Chrysler used U.S. bankruptcy law to "sweep the people who have been injured by Chrysler products under the rug and walk away as if it never happened," Warriner said.
Source: Inter Press Service
6/4/2009 5:01:00 PM
A strange sound echoes through many residential neighborhoods in Las Vegas these days: It’s the high pitched tweet that smoke detectors give off when their batteries are almost dead. The reason, according to Krissy Clark of American Radio Works, is “there are so many abandoned houses in foreclosure city [a.k.a. Las Vegas], there’s no one to replace all the batteries and make the beeping stop.”
Las Vegas was once hailed as a recession-proof city, where people were nearly guaranteed to make money just from buying a house. Today, the city has the highest foreclosure rate in the country. Clark takes listeners on a tour of the strange world of post-bust Sin City, a place Clark dubbed “Foreclosure City.”
Source: American Radio Works
6/4/2009 12:21:57 PM
Conservatives are going apoplectic over the whiff of a national service plan in the United States. Barack Obama’s Whitehouse.gov promises, “the federal government will encourage sustained civic engagement that will transform those serving, the communities they help, and the nation as a whole.” Writing for the American Conservative, Tom Streithorst characterizes Obama’s call to service as “part of a long series of Democratic Party efforts to create pretexts to commandeer more of people’s lives.”
Many of the arguments against national service jump from the federal government encouraging volunteering to the federal government forcing it. “In Washington logic,” Streithorst writes, “since volunteering is a good thing, everyone should be forced to do it.” Whether or not this is true, Streithorst writes that requiring young people to volunteer would be akin to “tacitly repealing the 13th amendment prohibition on involuntary servitude.”
“The plain English word for forced labour is slavery,” Jamie Whyte wrote for the British magazine Standpoint. Whyte focuses on Gordon Brown’s recent suggestions that the government should give teenagers the opportunity for more community service. This program doesn’t give any opportunity that teenagers don’t already have, according to Whyte, and is instead intended to force kids into 50 hours of volunteering. As if the comparison to slavery wasn’t hyperbolic enough, Whyte takes the argument a step further, comparing the program to “a rapist who claimed that by forcing himself upon a woman he was merely giving her an opportunity for sex.”
When critics take a step back from the ledge of hyperbole, they actually make some interesting points about the plans. Writing for Reason magazine, Paul Thornton takes issue with the focus on young people in compulsory service. He writes: “National service proponents never really explain why young people are uniquely suited for their schemes. Rather, they rely on the common assumption that kids should be put to work because, well, they’re kids!”
One reason why kids are the focus, according to E.J. Dionne Jr. in the New Republic, is that they’re having trouble finding other jobs. Dionne asks, “could there be any more efficient (or, face it, a cheaper) way to cut unemployment than through modest subsidies for voluntary service?” Dionne points out that in this economy, national service plans continue to move forward, with little fanfare and in spite of hyperbolic opposition.
6/4/2009 10:54:02 AM
In China's Tiananmen Square today, police officers chased television cameras, blocking shots of the square with opened umbrellas on the 20th anniversary of the massacre there. It's a futile effort, of course, as front pages and homepages worldwide remember the spontaneous and heroic protest of "Tank Man" with images, video, and more of the endless speculation on his fate.
All we know of the tank driver from the video is that he was unwilling to murder this man who stood in his way. I've always imagined the tank driver in a panic inside his war machine—pushed as he was to a point of critical decision: stop (Tank Man lives)or go (Tank Man dies).
A film selected by the 2008 Pangea Day film festival puts us inside the tank where, in this version at least, there is indeed panic. It's a reminder of something almost impossible to glean from the Tank Man images now burned on our brains: This was not so much a standoff between a man and a machine as a meeting of men feeling their way through an unusual moment with nothing but their base instincts to guide them.
6/3/2009 5:08:51 PM
Putting aside moral arguments for or against, same-sex marriage could make the United States a stronger country internationally. Same-sex marriages would be an economic boon to the United States, according to an article from the Christian Science Monitor. State governments could issue more marriage licenses, collect more income taxes, and pay less in health care costs if same-sex marriage were legalized. The article cites studies showing that Massachusetts has added some $37 million to its coffers, and Maine could save $7.3 million on health care costs alone through same-sex marriage.
Critics, including GOP Chairman Michael Steele, have argued that same-sex marriage would actually drive up health care costs by creating more dependents. That would add only 1 or 2 percent to companies health care costs, according to research cited by the Christian Science Monitor, and could be offset because “marriage – whether gay or heterosexual – provides a safety net for spouses,” making more people ineligible for state benefits.
Gay-friendly laws also would allow the United States to attract more of the brightest minds in the world, Stephen M. Walt writes for Foreign Policy. Discrimination on the basis of race, religion, or sexual orientation actually restricts the talent pool of immigrants who might otherwise become productive members of a society. Walt writes:
All else equal, societies that establish strong norms and institutions that protect individual rights and freedoms (including those governing sexual preference, I might add) will become attractive destinations for a wider array of potential citizens than societies that try to maintain a high degree of uniformity. And when you can choose from a bigger talent pool, over time you're going to do better.
Maybe that’s the storm that these people are worried about:
, licensed under
Christian Science Monitor
Want to gain a fresh perspective? Read stories that matter? Feel optimistic about the future? It's all here! Utne Reader offers provocative writing from diverse perspectives, insightful analysis of art and media, down-to-earth news and in-depth coverage of eye-opening issues that affect your life.
Save Even More Money By Paying NOW!
Pay now with a credit card and take advantage of our earth-friendly automatic renewal savings plan. You save an additional $6 and get 6 issues of Utne Reader for only $29.95 (USA only).
Or Bill Me Later and pay just $36 for 6 issues of Utne Reader!