2/29/2008 4:22:57 PM
One in every 100 Americans are currently in jail or prison, according to a recent study by the Pew Charitable Trust. The prison population grew by approximately 25,000 people last year, and now some 2,319,258 adults are currently locked up. The American inmate population is more than 1.5 times the size of China’s, the BBC reports, even though China has a far larger population and is known for their strong-arm police tactics.
The Pew study calls attention to the enormous amount of money spent on running all the prisons. In the Nov.-Dec. issue of Utne Reader, Glenn Loury calls attention to the overwhelming social impact of putting all those people in jail. Loury writes, “Never before has a supposedly free country denied basic liberty to so many of its citizens.” The Pew study reports that one in every nine black males between the ages of 20 to 34 is behind bars. According to Loury, “this entire dynamic has its roots in past unjust acts that were perpetrated on the basis of race.”
Image by S. Baker, licensed under Creative Commons.
2/28/2008 3:16:32 PM
By now, you’ve no doubt heard that Senator Barack Obama once dressed in the traditional garb of a country that he was visiting, a country that happens to be predominantly Muslim. If this sounds like a non-story to you, brace yourself for eight more months of non-news—the Obama/Muslim narrative is far too tantalizing for it to go away.
Responding to such a smear is delicate: One has to be both adamant that Obama is not and never has been a Muslim and clear that the suggestion shouldn’t be so appalling. But it is appalling to many Americans, and, as Firas Ahmad writes in Utne Independent Press Award nominee Islamica, this puts American Muslims in an odd position: While many admire Obama and see him as sympathetic to their particular struggles as Americans, they also know that if he openly sought their support, it would cause his campaign more trouble than it’s worth.
Ahmad doesn’t call for Obama to throw caution to the wind and embrace the Muslim community; the problem is not with the Obama campaign but with public opinion. Ahmad argues that the American Muslim community should invest more money and energy in the sorts of institutions that can actually change public opinion—journalism scholarships, publications, think tanks that engage the general public. He also insists on confronting the fact that few black American Muslims have leadership roles in the U.S. Muslim establishment, even though many of them have been politically and socially engaged far longer than other American Muslims. Such steps could bring the country closer to a place in which it isn’t shocking to suggest that a presidential candidate is a Muslim, in which a candidate is anxious to court Muslim voters just like everybody else.
See also Omid Safi on why Muslims prefer Obama and Juan Cole on the 14 American presidents who, like Obama, have Semitic names.
2/28/2008 2:51:52 PM
Perceptions of political debates are notoriously subjective. After every Bush v. Kerry debate, many spinmeisters were all-too-ready to declare a “homerun” for both candidates. That's where the communications research company HDC Research is helpful. Viewers can see people’s reactions as they happened throughout the debate with the website MediaCurves.com. The company's latest survey had 454 people watch Tuesday's Democratic debate and rate whether they agreed or disagreed with Clinton and Obama. You can watch the video: here.
The rift between independent and partisan men was one of the most striking aspects of the survey. When Obama spoke, the male independents agreed with what they saw more than any other group, while male Democrats agreed least. When Clinton spoke, the results crossed: Male independents agreed the least of any group, while male Democrats agreed the most.
The one thing that everyone seemed to agree on was that Clinton’s claims of media bias were not exactly agreeable.
2/28/2008 2:47:10 PM
Homophobes in Tennessee took a legislative blow earlier this month when an anti-gay bill died in subcommittee. The proposed law would have made it illegal for public elementary and middle school teachers to discuss issues relating to homosexuality in class, according to the Memphis Flyer. The ban didn't just take aim at sex education curricula, but all areas of study. This attempt to legislate what subjects are worth teaching and learning about should come as no surprise considering the Butler Act was on the books in Tennessee until 1967.
Image by wheat_in_your_hair, licensed under Creative Commons.
2/28/2008 12:27:44 PM
Gustavo Arellano, the wisdom slinger behind the syndicated ¡Ask a Mexican! column we profiled in 2006, handily debunks the myth of the Hispanic anti-black bloc as only he can:
The negrito-hating Mexican voter meme floating around America these days is the biggest ball of political mierda since Tom Tancredo. It presupposes that Mexicans choose candidates based only on race, whether backing their own or opposing another. The funny part about this claim is reality: Mexicans largely ignored the presidential run of New Mexico governor Bill Richardson and have supported black politicians, from the days of Vicente Guerrero (the mulatto Mexican president who outlawed slavery in 1829) to big-city mayors like Tom Bradley and Harold Washington, to even Democratic Party presidential nominee Barack Obama in his various Illinois campaigns and this one.
So why do polls have Hispanics favoring Clinton?
Heaven forbid Mexicans support a nationally known personality with whom they’re more familiar instead of a first-term senator from a flyover state. And anyone ever think Mexicans are more inclined to vote for Clinton because they like her centrist policies more than Obama’s liberal promises? But try telling either of those points to gabachos, whom forsake logical explanations for the easier rationale that Mexicans just don’t like negritos.
2/28/2008 11:21:55 AM
It’s the last-ditch tactic of argumenteers the world over: When all else fails, equate your enemies with Nazis. Spiked’s Neil Davenport does just that to take on those low-down opponents of mega-chain grocery stores, alleging that these naysayers hold values closer to the Third Reich’s policy-makers than to Third World farmers. “Of course, shouting ‘fascists’ is a shrill, cheap shot in contemporary debate,” Davenport admits in a show of masterly preterition.
He then builds his case against proto-Nazi “supermarket-bashers.” They are nature-loving, urbanization-hating, middle-class elitists, a la the German Mittelstand of the 1920s and 1930s, whose support helped the German government create laws against chain-store expansions. Supermarket-bashers in the UK do not create “community cohesion,” he argues; they stress the budgets of the poor. Promoting local shops, backed by the government’s Competition Commission, will lead to bigger grocery bills and, therefore, a greater burden for the working class. (Davenport avoids discussing the nutritional value of supermarkets’ affordable fare.)
While campaigning against supermarkets shows support for local businesses, it is also a display of style, he writes, “creating a new dividing line between the haves and have-nots—that is, those who have taste, and those who do not have taste.”
Comparing co-op lovers to Nazis is an overstatement, and Davenport’s assertion is outlandish that chain store critics’ goal is to drive down working-class living standards. However, he does raise an important point: Proponents of local business and strong communities should consider the systemic issue of working-class incomes vis-à-vis rising food costs if they want their movement to be inclusive and truly sustainable.
Image by _e.t, licensed under Creative Commons.
2/26/2008 11:59:13 AM
Tired of seeing your public spaces wallpapered with campaign signs? Las Vegas Weekly has some tips for amending and enforcing local laws to bring the placard deployment under control.
, licensed under
2/26/2008 11:24:29 AM
Committed citizens vote. But what about Peace Corps volunteers and embassy employees? Finding a polling place or postage for an absentee ballot can prove challenging in Cambodia or Cologne, even for Americans who have a personal stake in our international image. To ease that burden, the overseas branch of the Democratic Party instituted a new online voting system with this month’s Global Primary reports Adriane Quinlan in the New Republic. With an estimated 20,000 members casting ballots, Democrats Abroad will send 22 delegates to the Democratic National Convention, just one less than the state of North Dakota. Voting ended February 12, and, after a technical glitch, the group announced on Friday that three delegate votes are pledged to Obama, one and a half to Clinton, and another two and a half to be determined at the Democrats Abroad Global Convention in April.
2/22/2008 4:48:30 PM
That Barack Obama. He’s such a nice guy.
2/21/2008 3:00:58 PM
The ever-snarky Wonkette offers a hilariously offensive analysis of the GOP machine’s strategy to target Barack Obama if he wins the Democratic presidential nomination. It’s a satirized version of actual plans laid out at the Republican National Committee’s “winter retreat” in Beverly Hills.
, licensed under
2/20/2008 11:03:19 AM
If you like public radio, traveling, Wes Anderson movies, and irony, there’s a chance you might be white. The hilarious blog Stuff White People Like chronicles some of the things most popular with Caucasians. As the author says, “They are pretty predictable.” The website carries on the tradition of race-based satire started by BlackPeopleLoveUs.com, but this blog is still being updated regularly.
Here’s an example:
#47 Indie Music
If you want to understand white people, you need to understand indie music. As mentioned before, white people hate anything that’s “mainstream” and are desperate to find things that are more genuine, unique, and reflective of their experiences.
Fortunately, they have independent music.
Image by Jason & Alyssa DeRusha, licensed under Creative Commons.
2/19/2008 5:50:17 PM
There is no end to the vocabulary we’ve devised to slap people with the fat label—obese, overweight, portly, soft, plump, chubby, tubby, etc. But are all these words created equal? As it turns out, no. Mark Morton reports in Gastronomica’s summer issue (subscription required) that the language we use to describe fat people smacks of race, class, and gender stereotypes.
More euphemistic words for fat are used to describe those in higher-paying professions. For example, Morton found that a Google search for “portly” resulted in descriptions of doctors, lawyers, and professors, but rarely for janitors and plumbers. And “fat teacher” turned up 10,600 hits, while a search for “fat professor” turned up only 1,190. Race was another factor influencing word-choice. Although “white man,” “white woman,” “black man,” and “black woman” all got around the same number of hits when the phrases stood alone, adding “fat” skewed the results. The phrase “fat black woman” got eight times as many hits as “fat white woman,” while “fat white man” got 12 times as many hits as “fat black man.” And black women were dubbed fat, obese, and overweight at far higher rates than the others.
Now that’s all interesting, but what does it mean? Morton concludes that our propensity for denoting black women’s weight more frequently than others' reflects not the reality of waistlines, but the reality of disenfranchisement: “It’s analogous to what happens in the schoolyard: the outsiders are the ones who get called the names, not those at the center of the clique.”
(For more from Gastronomica’s summer issue, read "The Food Police," reprinted in Utne Reader’s Jan.-Feb. package on our obsession with obesity.)
2/19/2008 4:42:58 PM
Professional athletes never stray far from the public eye, on or off the field. Whether it’s run-ins with the law or run-ins with criminals targeting them, every week seems to bring another disgraced or victimized celebrity athlete into the limelight. Writing for Reason online, Chris Sprow looks at the NFL and NBA’s gun control policies, using the murder of Washington Redskins safety Sean Taylor as an example of how the policies put players in danger. While Sprow spends some time skipping down the oft-trod path of the gun lobby, pondering how different things would have turned out if Taylor had only been packing heat, he makes some interesting inroads as well. The NBA and NFL’s paternalistic approach to governing their players’ lives is rather disturbing, and Sprow suggests that race has a lot to do with this meddling.
2/19/2008 3:29:19 PM
A vegan strip club opened this month in Portland—allegedly the world’s first, Willamette Week reports. At Casa Diablo Gentlemen’s Club, club owner Johnny Diablo tells KPTV, his customers can enjoy “meat on the pole, not on the plate.” Some feminists quickly took issue with this instance of exploiting women’s bodies in lieu of exploiting animals, a la PETA’s racy “I’d rather go naked than wear fur” ad campaign. Diablo maintains that his club provides “cruelty free pleasure.”
In addition to slinging healthy vegan fare, Casa Diablo is Portland’s only smoke-free strip club. It’s questionable whether clean air or a clean conscience for carnally indulging will be customers’ first reasons to visit.
2/14/2008 9:53:54 AM
The Chinese authorities have never been terribly vigilant about policing their country’s thriving market of pirated goods. But with the Olympics closing in, China has been mercilessly tracking the unsanctioned sale of products bearing the 2008 Beijing Olympics logo. As reported in Reason, the government owns the logo and in 2002, anticipating its successful bid to host the Olympics, passed a law extensively outlining its proprietary rights. As a result, “exactly 24 stores” are able to sell Olympics merchandise.
Now, if only the Chinese black market could produce cleaner air for the international athletic community to breathe.
, licensed under
2/13/2008 8:36:55 AM
Local bloggers are shaking up the media and politics as usual
by Brendan Mackie
In a dimly lit bar an overwhelmingly male crowd jabbers in various degrees of tipsiness, dreaming about battalions of camcorder-armed citizen journalists who record every politicians’ every move, edit it, and put it online. Conversation tonight, however blurry with beer, is more likely to steer toward polling data and endorsements than the new episode of Lost. This is the Minneapolis chapter of Drinking Liberally, a web of progressive groups that congregate in 46 states and the nation’s capital “promoting democracy one pint at a time.”
Political junkies have been gathering in smoky backrooms from Athens to Philadelphia for the full course of democracy. But there’s something markedly different about these political junkies. They are mostly local political bloggers, and as such are relative newcomers to the game. The doings of these bloggers might not seem any sexier than a shut-in adding the latest article about Ron Paul to his Digg profile, but political blogging—especially the local variety—could drastically reshape the face of political reporting and politics.
At the turn of the millennium, political blogging seemed sentenced to the lonely backwoods of nerddom, along with Star Trek and the polka. But all that changed in the primaries for the 2004 presidential election, when Howard Dean—buoyed by the support of large antiwar websites like MoveOn.org and Daily Kos—pulled in buckets of cash from the new internet grassroots (quickly christened the “netroots”). The money allowed Dean to assume a formidable perch at the head of the pack as the primaries got rolling and branded the netroots as a powerful force in liberal politics. Over the next few years, blogging edged its way into the mainstream, and the once free-flowing discourse became dominated by a handful of big-name bloggers.
Then came the 2006 midterm elections. National blogs pushed the senatorial candidacy of the antiwar Ned Lamont in Connecticut, who mounted a primary challenge against the deeply entrenched (and deeply conservative) Joe Lieberman. Even though Lamont lost the general election to a newly Independent Lieberman (after besting him in the primary) the scuffle sent a message to Democrats that the netroots had enough power to dismount a political bastion. Republican presidential hopeful George Allen spat a racial slur a few months later, and when the video hit YouTube it routed Allen’s ambitions like a bad bout of the whooping cough can derail a first date.
In the last four years blogs have gone from an obscure wonk-hangout to a respected—if somewhat independent—salon of political debate, endorsing candidates and hobbling political careers in the process. The big names in the blogosphere were nobodies six year ago and now have their blogs featured on the websites of the old guards of the traditional media: Matthew Yglesias, for instance, began his personal blog in 2002 and is now at the Atlantic. Matt Drudge turned his conservative-leaning email list into one of the most visited websites on the Internet.
For all the hype, blogging has not yet reached the apex of its importance. As traditional media struggle to gain a foothold outside of print, they will increasingly turn to bloggers who, emerging from their parents’ basements, will change the processes of politics and media.
Though the media mavens’ eyes have turned to the big national blogs, the real change will happen on the local level, where small-to-medium sized operations will be able to report on local issues and swing the crucial votes that can make or break smaller elections. Here, for all the hubbub about the big name bloggers, is where blogging can really make a difference.
You can read your local newspaper for decades and never see its writers in person. Walk into the local chapter of Drinking Liberally and you can see your favorite blogger, maybe drunk, and engage him on your pet set of issues. “It’s an interaction you can’t have with a newspaper,” says Robin Marty, a blogger at the Minnesota Monitor and an organizer of the Minneapolis chapter of Drinking Liberally. “There’s a personal voice that’s added to it. That’s what engages a reader.”
The Minnesota Monitor, a collaborative state-based blog, is a peek into what the future of local blogging might look like. While the bloggers at the Monitor weigh in on the heady national issue du jour, they also write about the issues itching Minnesotans (posts often circle around how the Republican National Committee is preparing for the convention in Saint Paul). What sets Minnesota Monitor apart from other local blogs is how professional it feels: the site itself is well-designed, the writing fresh, well-edited, and often reported. The Monitor, and its sister sites, state-based blogs funded by the Center for Independent Media, stand out from the crowd.
What are these blogs trying to do? Local blogs are not angling to supplant the dominance of traditional media and become the new newspapers. Through a mix of pointing to and commenting on news stories, and reporting their own stories, local blogs like these look to be an appendix to traditional media—a knowing comment on the chattering bulk of newspapers, TV shows, and magazines. Many bloggers even see their efforts as aimed at traditional reporters, who they hope will pick up their stories and storylines.
In many cases, the mainstream media does just that. Chase Martyn, managing editor of Iowa Independent, a prominent local political blog also funded by the Center for Independent Media, said that back in the run-up to the Iowa caucuses the media and politicians were “watching our every move. When we post something we sometimes get press inquiries and angry phone calls from campaigns only an hour after the story goes up.”
As local blogs are busy courting the attention of the mainstream media, the mainstream media have been trying to figure out blogs’ success. Marty at the Minnesota Monitor sees bloggers and newspapers in a race to develop a new style of interaction with readers, one that mixes the easy demeanor of blogs with the credibility of newspapers.
“Everybody’s still trying to find the perfect match of how you can have the immediacy of a blog, but have the reputation, sourcing, and confidence in the material of a newspaper,” she said. “Eventually I don’t know whether bloggers will get the quality, or if the newspapers are going to figure out how to be quick enough and how to be natural, but they are going to get closer and closer to that middle ground.”
If you look only at the impact that local blogs have on the broader media, though, you will miss out on a huge part of their appeal. The tens of thousands of words, the hundreds of links, the incessant tracking of stories and storylines, the obsessions of the blogs—it all may seem to be terribly centered on the narratives of politics: who did what, when, where, how. But local blogs are more than a centralized information clearinghouse; they can often become a meeting place for like-minded activists, where the issues and debates play out in real time. Readers might start visiting a blog to get information they agree with, but they keep coming back to the blog to add to voluminous comment threads, become involved in the campaigns, or find stories to write about on a blog of their own.
The locals who put their energy into blogs are often the same committed, urgent people who make up the bulk of politics’ shock troops: the door-knockers, the phone-bankers, the donators. When involved in local politics, in which the energetic actions of a few committed individuals can make or break a race, this social aspect of blogs might be more important than its traditional journalistic activities. Functions like Drinking Liberally are the natural next step in blogging, taking politically active people away from their computer screens so they can find each other and begin to organize around shared issues.
The path to a blog-connected civic utopia is not paved with flowers, though. The same democratic impulse that makes blogs so accessible also means they lack credibility. The stories of large news organization, edited and (hopefully) fact-checked, have an aura of austere authority. The misspelled, over-caffeinated screeds of the blogosphere don’t. Even a large national blog, hosted and linked to by the traditional media, has more believability than some political junkie living in Iowa.
But in some way, these blogs don’t need to get around the problem of believability, because most readers don’t go to blogs for unbiased information. In a 2004 study (pdf) Thomas Johnson and Barbara Kaye showed that less than four in ten people think that blogs are fair. But six in ten think that they are believable. A blog’s bias is even seen as a strength: It allows them more depth, and since the bias is transparent, bloggers can be both honest and interested.
Nevertheless, for many bloggers—especially those seeking to influence the media—believability is crucial. Reporters need to trust a blog to use it as a source. Some local blogs are closing the credibility gap, although it will take some time. Chase Martyn said that the “mainstream media is paying more and more attention to local blogs, to the point that they are no longer afraid to take a story from a local blog and use it as a tip to write their own story. That hasn’t yet existed.”
Another problem facing local blogs is that national blogs are still dominating the conversation. Matt Stoller, who blogs at Open Left, thinks that the relationship is getting “healthier,” in part because the missions of the two groups are pretty much the same. “There are big fights going on in Congress and there are big fights going on in state legislative races and in local areas. The character of these fights is related; they’re all about the same power struggle. The national blogs are a kind of clearinghouse for the fights when they reach a national level of interest, but the hardcore work in terms of creating change is in this synthesis between national and local blogs.”
Local blogs have the power of brining abstract national issues to our homes. Local bloggers can write the story about the dead soldier next door, the struggling immigrants down the street, the corrupt politician representing the district. Stoller’s blog keeps a list of Bush-Dog Democrats: legislators who capitulated to the president on key issues. Local bloggers who find their legislator on the list will find their local fight plugged into a vibrant national struggle.
Political blogs might be trapped in a complicated hall of mirrors made up of blogrolls, links, comment threads, and campaigns that, while producing engaging conversations, do little to actually change the world. I spoke with John Swon, a blogger for the conservative website Truth vs. The Machine, who said that the problem was that blog writers and members of the media were all speaking the same “language of political wonkiness. They enjoy politics, they enjoy the issues, they enjoy debate. That’s something that’s outside the bounds of 95 percent of most voters.”
The phenomena of local political blogging could turn out to be another big balloon of hot air, and that balloon might burst once its illusion is poked hard enough. “The influence of blogs is very, very limited, except for the fact that they have the ear of some important people—which is more than some people can say. But that doesn’t necessarily translate to anything that happens at a poll,” Swon said.
But then again, there’s a reason why Swon continues to blog. He’s a political junkie. Political junkies find dry discussions of policy matters enlightening, even enlivening. The real power of local political blogs is that they have made part of the experience of talking about politics sexier and more informed—and they let political junkies get together and talk. By giving the policy wonks in our communities a soapbox, local blogs have amplified amateur concerns, turning hobby interests into something powerful. These blogs may facilitate nothing more than people talking with themselves. But, as Stoller says, “There’s nothing wrong with talking to yourself.”
Image by Brett L., licensed under Creative Commons.
2/12/2008 3:23:45 PM
When it comes to their pocketbooks, “most people have been hurting for quite a while,” writes David Sirota for In These Times' online edition. Yet, it’s only recently that Washington’s line has switched from “Nothing to see here. The economy is fabulous. Move along,” to one more reminiscent of the shrieking at a 1964 Beatles concert.
“Stimulus” has become the Beltway buzzword of the new year, and earlier this month a $168 billion spending package steamrolled through Congress at breakneck speed to land on Bush’s desk this week. The reason for the sudden reversal? The downturn has started preying higher on the economic food chain:
Before, it was just commoners complaining—regular homeowners, wage earners, troops coming home from Iraq, you know, the 99 percent of us who can’t afford the thousand-dollar-a-plate political fundraisers. But now Wall Street is panicking.
For bonus reading, scroll through the number of thoughtful comments that follow Sirota’s article.
2/12/2008 2:41:19 PM
I have a recurring dream involving a 72-ounce steak, a baked potato, a salad, a dinner roll, and a shrimp cocktail. Ironically, as I learned from Greg Beato in the January issue of Reason, this is exactly the meal you have to eat, in 60 minutes or less, at the Big Texan Steak Ranch in Amarillo to win a free dinner.
Even in my dream, I never quite finish the artery-clogging smorgasbord of unadulterated, corn-fed Americana. The heart attack–inducing components of the Big Texan meal are the staple of old-fashioned comfort food: meat, starch, a smattering of veggies, more meat, more starch. And, Beato argues, it’s these long-loved ingredients—not Big Bad Fast Food—that have us reaching for the last notch of our belts.
Beato examines the history of America’s love affair with fatty foods and our nostalgia for the old-time diner to show that “McDonald’s, Wendy’s, and the rest of their fast food brethren” have been cooked up as “savory scapegoat[s] for our perpetual girth.” In assuming their center stage position in the obesity blame-game, Beato points out, Mickey D’s and the likes have opened themselves up to such public scrutiny they could never get away with serving the 6000-calorie Big Texan meal. Fast food companies will continue their slow, fat lobby–induced rollout toward food that won’t quite kill you. But diners and other iconic eateries will continue to get away with serving whatever they damn well please. Like a 72-ounce steak that will make your heart explode.
Is Beato penning yet another fast food–sponsored rant about our obsession with obesity? No, his argument—fueled by the refreshing libertarian logic that Reason’s known for—is more nuanced than that. In our obesity panic, we (and the litigators) have taken aim at fast food instead of ourselves. “The idea that rootless corporate invaders derailed our healthy native diet may be chicken soup for the tubby trial lawyer’s soul,” Beato writes, “but in reality overeating fatty, salty, sugar-laden food is as American as apple pie.”
Image by Mulling It Over, licensed under Creative Commons.
2/12/2008 1:02:26 PM
In 2001, Zarah Ghahramani was imprisoned, tortured, and held in prolonged solitary confinement in Evin, one of Tehran’s most feared prisons. Her unforgivable crime? Adjusting her headscarf to reveal some of her hair. In an interview with Mother Jones, the college student talks about her experiences in prison; her recent memoir, My Life as a Traitor; and her fear for the friends she left behind when she fled Iran to Australia.
2/12/2008 12:55:43 PM
Poor Paraguay. It’s one of those countries that sixth-grade geography teachers carefully point out on a map, only to have their students immediately confuse it with Uruguay. Which is why Gary Brecher, in an article for the Russian alt biweekly the eXile, tells the strange story “of how Paraguay went from a wannabe Prussia to the Rodney Dangerfield of South America.” Brecher recounts the 1864-1870 War of the Triple Alliance, during which South America’s two largest countries—Brazil and Argentina—and Uruguay pummeled little Paraguay, destroying more than half its population and leaving it in a state of chaos that, 150 years later, it still hasn’t fully recovered from.
2/12/2008 10:45:52 AM
By now, I’m assuming most people have seen the Barack Obama “Yes We Can” video on YouTube. Here’s a pretty funny counterpoint about John McCain.
2/11/2008 4:57:10 PM
Let’s start with some background: Last October, the police raided a Maori village in a nationwide action targeting Maori militants and environmental activists suspected of training in military-style camps and plotting terrorist acts. Maori groups called the raids, during which police allegedly shot tires and held at least one family at gun point, overblown responses to benign survival-training activities. The government moved to charge 12 people—indigenous Maoris and whites—under the Terrorism Suppression Act, but the effort faltered when the solicitor-general said the post-9/11 law was “incomprehensible.” In the end, the Associated Press reported in December, the authorities settled on charges of illegal possession and use of firearms.
The arrests upset the normally quiet island nation, breaking along one of New Zealand’s most unsettling fault lines: the treatment of the country’s 540,000 Maoris. (Maoris make up 15 percent of the population but more than half of the country’s prisoners.) Large demonstrations were held to protest the arrests and the anti-terror law, the radical environmentalist Earth First! Journal reported. Then, last month, the government acknowledged that it had received a formal letter of inquiry about the incident from the United Nations.
Denis O’Reilly, a columnist on Maori youth issues for the New Zealand Edge, places the blame for the incident on New Zealand’s misguided adoption of foreign strategies. Through the use of imported labels like “terrorist” and the equation of groups of disaffected Maori youth with American street gangs, the domestic discourse has conflated its local problems with various international boogie-men. Instead, O’Reilly argues, New Zealanders should deal with their country on its own terms:
We import models, concepts, and words from abroad and then seek to apply them here. In the same way as some of our early NZ town planners and architects [...] fail to take into account that we are in the Southern rather than the Northern Hemisphere and we end up living facing the wrong way for the natural elements that surround us.
O’Reilly wonders what the outcome would have been if the government looked to its own shores for a homegrown response: What if the prime minister had approached the accused through indigenous communication channels like members of the tribal police liaison instead of sending in the cops?
Image of 2007 demonstration in Auckland, New Zealand, by InfonewsNZ, licensed under Creative Commons.
2/8/2008 5:12:35 PM
In part one of our attempt to tear our eyes briefly from the presidential horse race, we discussed the interesting fact that several other countries have elections this year, too. Today, we turn our attention to the 50 states. No, we won’t be discussing the politics of bickering over primary dates or methods of assigning electors to the Electoral College. Our topic is another responsibility that falls to states, something nearly as important, if far less sexy: determining and implementing policy in most of the areas that affect U.S. citizens’ lives.
The January issue of Governing—a monthly magazine published by Congressional Quarterly—includes a helpful summary of the ins and outs of the major policy issues states are facing this year. Immigration reform, water shortages, same-sex marriage, the death penalty, health care, housing... you know, the central domestic policy debates and problems of our time.
The piece is a great primer on the issues. It also serves as a good reminder that it’s probably at least as important to know who your state representatives are, and what votes are coming up for them, as it is to study up on the complicated delegate math in the neck-and-neck Democratic primary.
2/8/2008 4:43:01 PM
Black Agenda Report, “the journal of African American political thought and action,” recently published its index of 2008’s Ten Worst Places to Be Black. The criteria? Incarceration rates.
Bruce Dixon, the Report's managing editor, explains:
America's prison system, the world's largest houses some 2.2 million people. Almost half its prisoners come from the one eighth of this country which is black. African American communities have been hard hit by the social, political, and economic repercussions of the growth of America's prison state. Its presence and its reach into Black life is a useful index of the quality of life in Black America itself.
2/4/2008 7:36:32 AM
Where do the candidates stand when it comes to supporting alternative media?
by Jason Ericson
So far this election, the media’s focus has been limited to calling (rather unsuccessfully) the long and short odds of the presidential candidates as they jockey for primary positions. Analysis of the candidates’ platforms has been scarce. We know that change = good, terrorists = bad, and health care reform is important (minus the details).
Beyond a few touchstone issues, though, information turns from scant to nonexistent. The sorry state of mainstream election coverage makes this much clear: A flourishing independent media should be a campaign issue. So we ferreted out the candidates’ stances on some key issues that determine the health of the country’s independent media, and homed in on two major strains:
First, we looked at their positions on media ownership, specifically recent trends toward consolidation. This includes the candidates’ responses to the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) rule change in December that relaxed restrictions on a single company’s ability to own both a newspaper and a broadcast outlet in the same market. The rule change is a boon to industry moguls, and, as the Nation reports, poses a great threat to media diversity.
Second, we examined their stances on network neutrality—the belief that in order to preserve the democratic nature of the Internet, service providers shouldn’t be able to charge more based on content, website destination, or platform. In other words, the information highway shouldn’t become an information toll way. This fundamental tenet of the internet has helped usher in an era of unprecedented openness and participation in the creation of media.
There is a sharp contrast in the amount of airtime the two side’s candidates have given these issues. So far this election, supporting independent media appears to resonate more with the Democratic base than the Republican faithful (though federal moves like the recent postal rate hike have mobilized resistance from liberal and conservative publications alike). Despite a paucity of information, we scrapped together everything we could find about the Republican candidates’ views.
Senator Clinton cosponsored the Media Ownership Act of 2007 (S. 2332), a bill designed expressly to counter the FCC’s December rule change. The legislation would lengthen the comment and review periods on FCC rules changes, promote local programming, and encourage women/minority ownership. But the senator has also drawn fire for her odd political relationship with that poster goat of media consolidation, Rupert Murdoch. She took heat for her participation in a fundraising event Murdoch hosted for her in 2006, complaints about which resurfaced, the New York Times reports, at a campaign stop in November. Senator Clinton is also a cosponsor of the pro-network neutrality bill, the Internet Freedom Preservation Act (S. 215). However, the senator has been criticized from the techie-left for not making net neutrality a more prominent part of her campaign.
Along with Senator Clinton, Senator Obama cosponsored the Media Ownership Act of 2007 and the Internet Freedom Preservation Act. In addition, Senator Obama, ahead of the FCC’s December vote, coauthored a strongly worded op-ed piece with Senator John Kerry warning of the danger that media consolidation poses to women-, minority-, and independently owned media outlets. The two senators also sent a letter to FCC chairman Kevin Martin threatening to work to cut the proposal’s funding if it passed. Obama has also pushed for the preservation of net neutrality on the campaign trail.
Huckabee has not articulated a clear position on media consolidation issues. However, the former Arkansas governor has given at least middling support to network neutrality. On 10questions.com, he likened the internet to a highway where vehicles from 18-wheelers down to motorcycles should be granted equal access.
Senator McCain told Michael Arrington of TechCrunch that he does not see any actionable problems with the FCC’s current policies and that the commission should aim to stay out of way of business: “I think [the FCC] should focus on policing clearly anti-competitive behavior and consumer predators. But, frankly, until some foul has been committed, I don’t think it should be interfering in the market, and probably shouldn’t be trying to micromanage American business and innovation.” The senator has not articulated a clear position on network neutrality issues, reports Politico.com.
Former Massachusetts Governor Romney has not articulated a clear position on either of these independent media issues.
, licensed under
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!