Saturday, February 28, 2015

Manufacturing Consent: How The Sausage Gets Made

Source: Hyperallergic
There is consent, and then there is manufactured consent. News blackouts are a good way of manufacturing consent. If people don't know about something, or know only a tiny sliver of managed truth, it's easier to get them to go along with official policies they would likely oppose if only they knew

A good example is the corporate news coverage of  last summer's attacks on Gaza by Israel. If you were a U.S. corporate news consumer, you would be left with the impression that Hamas started it (untrue, Israel broke the ceasefire). Also that their rockets were a comparable threat to the bombardment unleashed by Israel on hospitals, schools, water treatment plants and other infrastructure -- a ridiculous proposition.

What is an effective response to managed "news" in our day?

Conceptual artist Banksy traveled to Gaza and painted a kitten on one piece of the thousands of pieces of rubble that Gazans have huddled in this winter while trying not to freeze to death. From NBC News: 

Bansky says, "A local man came up and said 'Please - what does this mean?' I explained I wanted to highlight the destruction in Gaza by posting photos on my website - but on the internet people only look at pictures of kittens."
Here's his video: 

Students at the University of Toronto this week took a different, less aesthetic, yet elegantly simple approach. At a lecture by two prominent deniers of the Armenian Genocide, "WWI 100th Anniversary - Human Suffering in Eastern Anatolia,” students waited until the denial began and then stood and simply turned their backs.
Source: Armenian Weekly
According to the report in Armenian Weekly:
Several racial slurs and discriminatory comments were directed at the protesters as they stood in silence. 
Lecture organizers briefly stopped the event, but after campus police made it clear that the form of protest did not interfere with the event, they were asked to continue. 
Protesters continued standing with their backs to the podium as Fein spoke, then marched out in an organized walk-out, leaving the remaining twenty or so attendees to listen to the rest of the lecture.
The government of Turkey spends quite a bit of money each year to deny that the wealth of its oligarchs is, in many cases, based on the theft of resources the genocide of Armenians made possible. Author Orhan Pamuk was prosecuted by his government for saying in an interview, "Thirty thousand Kurds have been killed here, and a million Armenians. And almost nobody dares to mention that. So I do."

In the U.S. there is yet another way to manufacture consent, this one also at taxpayers' expense: Rep. Chellie Pingree sent out the following survey to her constituents. (She also sent it to me -- though I live in a different congressional district, I guess I have hounded her enough over the years to be considered an honorary constituent). 

You can see my comments following Pingree's carefully managed, Democratic Party flavored list of possible priorities.

My comments in full:

Stop ignoring the 50+% of budget going to the Pentagon and its contractors each year. None of your priorities will be addressed until that problem is fixed. Continuing to show up at General Dynamics/Bath Iron Works year after year pledging allegiance to the military contracting as a job creation program is disingenuous at best. Fix the bloated military budget, it will pay for everything else. 
And if BIW was building public transportation instead of nuclear-equipped warships that cost billions of my tax dollars, it would be creating far more jobs as well. As you claim you well know. It would also be far better for the environment to build something life sustaining rather than weapons of mass destruction. 
But, since this form is set up so that I have to check one of your pre-selected  issues, I will check "oppose unfair trade agreements" aka the Trans-Pacific Trade Partnership. If passed, the TPP will gut Maine jobs on a scale not seen since Bill Clinton passed NAFTA. And make corporate profits more important than state or federal laws. What could go wrong?

Saturday, February 21, 2015

"We Didn't Land On Plymouth Rock, The Rock Was Landed On Us" #MalcolmX50

Racism is still the very air we breathe in the USA, founded as it was on colonial settler violence against native people, and built as it was by the sweat and blood of enslaved Africans. As we remember the sad anniversary of the government-sponsored assassination of Black leader Malcolm X, I recall the best lesson on racism that my children ever received.

My older kids went to the Margaret Chase Smith School in Skowhegan, Maine, hometown of the plucky woman who stood up to Joseph McCarthy's Communist witch hunt during her first term in the U.S. Senate. It was a school with only 5th and 6th graders and they were fortunate to have some great teachers there, including Mrs. Richter for social studies and reading.

My children are from a racially diverse family. My parents were of northern European stock with a smidgen of Indian (hidden and denied, mostly, but not by my mom). My oldest son's other grandfather grew up on Staten Island in a Black community. He was of mixed race and so light skinned that the recruiters tried to wave him into the white group when he enlisted to fight in WWII. But he refused to pass, and instead went off to war with other Black men in the segregated U.S. Army. A Japanese woman met and married him, and their child was my son's father.

On annual book character day at the MCS School, my oldest son chose to read The Autobiography of Malcolm X and then come to school as that character. Yes, his costume did involve a little dark pancake makeup plus an eyebrow pencil goatee, a pair of thrift store nerd glasses (not yet trendy), a white collared shirt with a skinny black tie, and black dress pants.

My son wrote a speech using Malcolm X's actual words (hooray for Mrs. Richter for teaching research skills to 5th and 6th graders!). He gave a fiery speech at the podium including a quote he was quite excited about: "We didn't land on Plymouth Rock -- the Rock was landed on us!"

Maybe if the Daughters of the American Revolution blue-haired ladies that were the judges had known he was descended from a passenger on the Mayflower, my son might have had a chance.

Instead, a girl with wire in her pigtails who did a decent job of channeling Pippi Longstocking (a perennial entry in the contest) won the prize. She was cute as a button, and entirely non-threatening.

Mrs. Richter was indignant. When she told me about it later she said that my son's presentation was far and away the best that day, and she was quite disappointed for his sake that he did not win.

But I thought the other way around.

What better way for my blue-eyed, fair-skinned son to get the corrosive effects of structural racism than to lose based on his authentic portrayal of a righteously angry, articulate Black man?

It's the kind of racism that is mostly invisible to those of us with White Privilege. Low income people here in Maine, the whitest state in the USA, make claims like, "We may have grown up white, but we certainly didn't grow up privileged."

But they did. And White Privilege is a thing, impoverishing our collective spirit and stunting our potential.

May my children live long enough to see it laid to rest.

Thursday, February 19, 2015

Wedded To War: Working For The Man, Every Night And Day

Codepink organizers held a news conference in Oakland, California this week responding to Obama's request for yet another Authorization for the Use of Military Force (AUMF), this time against "the terrorist organization that has referred to itself as the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant and various other names (in this resolution referred to as "ISIL")." 

The myriad reasons why another AUMF is not a good idea have been ably detailed by Codepink's Janet Weil.

An excerpt:
Obama: “As Commander-in-Chief, my highest priority is the security of the American people.” 
CP: The most important causes of Americans’ untimely deaths are heart disease and cancer, followed by suicide and road accidents. Death by terrorist attacks doesn’t even make the top 50. Our security would be improved by better healthcare, including mental health care and suicide prevention; reduced income inequality; and safer roads -- all underfunded because about 60% of the discretionary federal budget goes to the military.
Of course, Obama is lying. As Commander-in-Chief his highest priority is serving the interests of the corporations who profit from the death dealing that comprises the bulk of U.S. manufacturing capability in the 21st century. The corporations that put him in office, that is, and will put his successor in office -- the successor who will have a handy AUMF in his or her back pocket immediately upon assuming the role of celebrity spokesperson for the military-industrial complex.

What about we ordinary mortals here on the ground -- why would we want a new AUMF to be issued by Congress?

Let me illustrate with an anecdote from one of the poorest rural school districts in the poor, rural state of Maine.

A teacher who formerly worked with functionally illiterate adults was approached by a former student in the grocery store. The student said that he remembered her because years before she had helped him be able to read just about anything, and this ability had changed his life. He was grateful to her and wanted her to know that he had gone from being barely employable to being a huge success -- a head welder at Bath Iron Works!

BIW is the pinnacle of employment opportunity for working class men in Maine. An historic shipyard with deep ties to the Navy, it is now owned by the General Dynamics corporation and turns out the battleships called destroyers with alarming frequency. (What or whom they will destroy never seems to concern my reps in Congress, who always show up to pledge allegiance at each new "christening" and launch.) Pentagon contracts need to keep rolling in to create jobs at Maine's largest single employer -- or so we are told.

BIW is about two hours by car from the community where the welder lives with his family. I would imagine that his kids put up with his long absences yet brag about his job at BIW, as I have heard many students do over the years. There are precious few jobs that pay a living wage in Maine: working in a paper mill or shoe factory or textile mill used to compete, but there aren't many of those left. Young people with ambition generally leave the state; many join the military.

This is what a war economy does to its people.

It's not a new problem. Imperial Japan starved its population to feed its war machine, as people in Tokyo explained to me when I lived there in the 1980's. Nazi Germany imprisoned and exterminated millions of Jews and used their resources to occupy Europe. Turkish oligarchs created their new nation from the ashes of the war-exhausted Ottoman Empire by stealing from Armenians destroyed in that genocide...and so on.
Meryl Streep as Mother Courage  Source:
The German playwright Bertholt Brecht created a great play about the problem. Writing in Europe during the rise of 20th century fascism, he set the action of Mother Courage and Her Children amid an historic war that seemed endless. 

Mother Courage feeds herself and her children by following the army with a canteen wagon, doing business with the war machine with one hand while using her other to keep her children safe. Ultimately, she fails. Son #1, vain and proud, is easy prey for the army recruiter. Son #2, a clever boy, is pressed into service as an army payroll clerk -- and then thrown under the bus when the corruption of his boss comes to light. The only daughter is traumatized by the sexual violence that ever accompanies war and rendered mute. But, she sacrifices her own life to sound a bell that warns civilians of an impending sneak attack. At the end of the play, the grieving mother continues alone, still selling meals to fuel the war that has consumed her family.

Because how else do you make a living when a war economy is all you've got? Ok, instead of welding or selling sausages at BIW you could work for the corporations that make the propaganda or help corporations evade taxes or force genetically modified food on subject nations or sell fracked "natural" gas or tar sands oil. You'll need to work for The Man one way or another in order to pay off the thousands of dollars of student loans that allowed you to get a college education.

Join the Spring Mobilization for Peace with a street theater performance of a version of Mother Courage aka Canteen Annie on Saturday, March 21 outside the gates of BIW in Bath, Maine. RSVP here or on facebook.

Wednesday, February 11, 2015

Deafening Silence Of Corporate Media On #ChapelHillShooting Of 3 Muslims

People in the U.S. not on twitter had to wait until the media woke up in the U.K. to find out about the murder of three Syrian-Americans yesterday in Chapel Hill, North Carolina.

The International Business Times carried this story:

To be fair, local tv news station WRAL carried the story in a timely fashion, posting a report by 6:13 pm (about an hour after the crime) that included these grim facts:
Deah Shaddy Barakat, 23, of Chapel Hill, Yusor Mohammad, 21, of Chapel Hill, and Razan Mohammad Abu-Salha, 19, of Raleigh, were pronounced dead at the scene, police said. 
All three victims were shot in the head, sources said. 
According to WRAL, a 46 year old white man named Craig Stephen Hicks turned himself in and was charged with the murders.

Comedian and social commenter Chris Rock had this to say about the "deafening silence" around the hate crime targeting Muslims.


And the facts just keep getting grimmer. The three killed were upstanding citizens studying professions (the youngest still in college) and doing medical relief work for Syrian refugees. You can see the family's tribute page "Our Three Winners" on facebook here.

Their killer? He once studied paralegal at a community college by his own report. 

Here's his facebook brag from January 20:

But, as the NRA keeps reminding us, guns don't kill people. People kill people. Why would Hicks be angry at or jealous of the three shining lives he destroyed? Maybe like a lot of working class white people he struggles in this economy, and has been fed a lot of Islamophobic and racist crap by the corporate media that is always free, always on, and couldn't be bothered to cover his crime.

It remains to be seen what Hicks' motives were for the shootings, and we may never know. But one fact is certain: angry, disaffected white men in the U.S. can always get ahold of a loaded gun. And then look how powerful they feel.

Tuesday, February 10, 2015

AIPAC Aside, @SenAngusKing Doesn't Want Netanyahu's Speech

Senator Angus King responds to a constituent urging him to "Skip Mr. Netanyahu's speech" (more politely than he did at the University of Maine when another constituent urged him to stop supporting Israel's attacks on Gaza), and I respond to King's letter.

For more on why even AIPAC might be ready to get rid of Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin (Bibi) Netanyahu and his entourage, read Uri Avnery's great piece "Over Bottled" in Tikkun.

Sunday, February 8, 2015

#FY16Budget Is Bad For Kids, Good For Pentagon Contractors -- Again

Blaming poor school funding on bad Republicans is only half the story.
I continue to be amazed in these declining days of neoliberalism by the adamant refusal of economic justice and public education advocacy organizations to name the elephant in the room. The elephant in the room is out of control military spending at the expense of programs that benefit actual people, such as SNAP food stamps for low income families, or quality public education starting at Pre-K. Also contributing to the problem: corporate tax breaks on the income side of the balance sheet.

The elephant in the room is also a donkey, by the way. And therein lies the fundamental problem. Despite decades of evidence to the contrary, economic justice and public education groups continue to ignore the cold hard facts: wealthy corporate interests are represented by Democrats and Republicans alike, at the expense of the people.

Click here for a letter to the editor tool created by Win Without War.
Let your community know how you feel about the proposed FY16 federal budget.
During the years when Obama's party controlled Congress, Pentagon contractors continued to make huge profits. Meanwhile, vast numbers of workers had two or three part-time jobs that fail to produce a living wage. And schools in low income neighborhoods were underfunded year after year. If education is the path out of poverty, what message is U.S. corporate-controlled government sending to children going to school? 

According to a landmark study by the Southern Education Foundation, the number of states where more than half of students qualify for free or reduced lunch quadrupled in ten years.

The project of keeping the false dichotomy of elephants and donkeys alive of course has nothing to do with maps like these. It has to do with elephantine villains and fools of comic proportions on the one hand
"Get out of here, you low-life scum" snarls Republican Sen. McCain at antiwar protesters from Codepink.
juxtaposed with articulate, highly educated donkeys on the other.

But donkey budgets look like the people who made them aren't intelligent at all. 

They look like the people who made them got a lot of campaign contributions from military contractors:

There is always a giant slice of the pie for the Pentagon (which includes the NSA spy-industrial complex) and crumbs for welfare and public education. 

Not only is unequal access to education and public services for kids a bad investment for our collective future, it is also unfair, often in a racist way. From "The Engagement Gap: Social Mobility and Extracurricular Participation among American Youth" by Kaisa Snellman, et al. 
Over the past two generations, the difference in educational achievement between the children from poor families and that of children from wealthy families has grown substantially. Whether we look at standardized test scores, college admission, or college graduation, the achievement gaps between children from upper-middle-class families and children from working-class families are steadily increasing. Today, the income gap in test scores is 40 percent larger than it was three decades ago (Reardon 2011). 
For high-income students, the college graduation rate increased by 18 percentage points over the past two decades; in contrast, the graduation rate of low-income students grew by only 4 percentage points (Bailey and Dynarski 2011). Moreover, wealthy students make up an increasing share of the enrollment at the most selective and prestigious four-year institutions (Reardon, Baker, and Klasik 2012), while low-income students with similar test scores and academic records are more likely to attend two-year colleges (Alon 2009Hoxby and Avery 2012).
And inequity extends far beyond the crumbling walls of inner city schools. What kids do after school is affected by poverty, and poverty is affected by what kids do after school. analyses of four national longitudinal surveys of American high school students that reveal a sharp increase in the class gap in extracurricular involvement. Since the 1970s, upper-middle-class students have become increasingly active in school clubs and sport teams, while participation among working-class students has veered in the opposite direction. 
A vicious cycle that the fight over donkeys vs. elephants willfully ignores.

Monday, February 2, 2015

Hell Hath No Fury Like Alpha Male @SenJohnMcCain Embarrassed Before His Hero

We all know that Sen. John McCain (R-AZ) is an angry, angry man. McCain is famous for having been a POW during the Vietnam War, surviving years of torture in order to return home and seek elected office. It must have been a personal milestone, then, to be elevated to Chair of the Senate Armed Services Committee following his party's triumphs in the mid-term elections. McCain's image had been tarnished by his choice of running mate in the presidential election where Obama beat him. The former governor of Alaska seemed so brazenly ignorant and yes, dumb, that it was hard to credit McCain's judgement in choosing her. Unless, of course, he was determined to lose the election and thus play his part in what Frank Zappa famously called, "the entertainment division of the military-industrial complex."

Henry Kissinger, on the other hand, the exalted geriatric warmonger (see the citizens' idictment against him here) who bears major responsibility from having put McCain in harm's way in Vietnam -- his very presence is apparently enough to make McCain's heart swell with pride.

Imagine getting to chair a hearing with Kissinger as the honored guest! Such are the dreams that might keep a young airman imprisoned in the "Hanoi Hilton" from going mad.

Then, along come women -- women! -- dressed in pink, no less, to spoil the greatest day of your life.

Women with the effrontery to speak out of turn, disrupting the start of your hearing in the hallowed chambers of power. McCain appeared to lose his temper when he said, "Get out of here, you low-life scum" to Codepink's Alli McCracken, among others. Or, maybe it was a Freudian slip, since it would be difficult to find a scummier creature on this planet than Kissinger.

Should a powerful Senator and former candidate for the highest office in the land really have to call out, "If we can't get the Capitol Police in here immediately..." Such a plea for backup could make the pleader appear weak in his own eyes, and in the eyes of his hero.

McCain's false claim that Codepink protesters wanted to physically harm Henry Kissinger is a coward's defense. Even if McCain has failed to pay attention since 2003 when Codepink began disrupting congressional hearings to call out warmongers, his staff knows better than that. Did McCain's staff not brief him on what would be entirely likely to occur in that hearing? Was there no one in charge of making sure the Capitol Police -- who know Codepink protesters very, very well by now -- were in the room and alert to intervene when the disruptions began? As far as controlling the message, McCain and his staff made a poor showing.*

So poor that McCain is on record groveling (per C-Span's transcript):
People often ask what is the point of such disruptions. Henry Kissinger got fawned over, not led away in handcuffs. Madeleine Albright was not called to account for the deaths of thousands of children in Iraq under U.S. sanctions prior to Shock and Awe, deaths she said were a price worth paying.

The point is that the message HENRY KISSINGER WAR CRIMINAL was seen by millions around the globe, including lots of young people for whom Kissinger is a cipher. The Vietnam war and the bombing of Cambodia and Laos are history to millennials and all who follow. It's why the Pentagon has embarked on an enormous propaganda campaign to rewrite the history of the U.S.'s genocidal exercise in Southeast Asia. And also why the organization Veterans for Peace, founded by Vietnam vets now long of tooth and grey of hair, has mounted its own campaign to tell the truth about that war. Their website for the purpose, Vietnam: Full Disclosure, will be a resource for educators for years to come.

Unless information control in the 21st century becomes even more insidiously effective. In which case, we'll all be reduced to accepting McCain and Kissinger and Albright's versions of history. And that really would be a tragedy.

John McCain Blasts ‘Low-Life Scum’ Protesters at Senate Hearing
Business Insider
January 29, 2015

What John McCain Told Anti-War Protesters Who Interrupted a Senate Mtg Drew Applause From the Room
The Blaze
January 29, 2015

Watch John McCain Call Kissinger Protesters ‘Low-Life Scum’
January 29, 2015

John McCain Calls Ejected Protester a ‘Low-Life Scum’
The Wall Street Journal
January 29, 2015

‘Get out of here you low life scum’: John McCain loses his cool with protesters
New York Daily News
January 29, 2015

McCain to Kissinger protesters: ‘Get out of here, you low-life scum’
USA Today: Politics
January 29, 2015

WATCH: McCain calls protesters ‘low-life scum’
The Hill
January 29, 2015

McCain to Protesters: You’re ‘Low-Life Scum’
Foreign Policy
January 29, 2015

McCain Calls Protesters ‘Low-Life Scum’ At Senate Hearing
January 29, 2015

Code Pink Tires to Arrest 91-Year-Old Kissinger for ‘War Crimes’, Get Smacked Down by 94-Year-Old George Shultz -
PJ Media
January 29, 2015

Real Clear Politics
January 29, 2015

Senator John McCain Calls Out Protesters Who Swarmed Henry Kissinger -
ABC News
January 29, 2015

McCain rips protesters during Kissinger hearing, calls them ‘low-life scum’ -
Fox News
January 29, 2015

McCain boots ‘low-life scum’ from hearing
January 29, 2015

McCain Lashes Out at ‘Low-Life Scum’ Protesters at Senate Hearing
NBC News
January 29, 2015

John McCain blasts ‘low-life scum’ protesters
The Washington Examiner
January 29, 2015
January 29, 2015

John McCain to anti-war protesters: ‘Get out of here, you low-life scum’
The Washington Times
January 29, 2015

McCain To Protesters: ‘Get Out of Here You Low-Life Scum’
The Daily Caller
January 29, 2015

McCain to protesters: ‘Get out of here, you low-life scum’
UT San Diego
January 29, 2015

Watch John McCain call a bunch of protesters ‘low-life scum’
The Week
January 29, 2015

BEASTMODE: McCain Owns Protester: ‘Get Out of Here, You Low-Life Scum’
The Washington Free Beacon
January 29, 2015

Sen. McCain calls Code Pink protesters ‘low-life scum’ after they shout at Kissinger
Tampa Bay Times
January 29, 2015

McCain to protesters against Henry Kissinger: ‘Get out of here, you low-life scum’
Star Tribune
January 29, 2015

McCain Snaps at Anti-Kissinger Protesters: ‘Get Out of Here You Low-Life Scum’
January 29, 2015

McCain to protesters: ‘Get out of here, you low-life scum’
Yahoo News UK
January 29, 2015

McCain boots ‘low-life scum’ from hearing
ABC15 Arizona
January 29, 2015

John McCain Slams Anti-Henry Kissinger Protester As ‘Low-Life Scum’
Huffington Post
January 29, 2015

McCain Calls Protesters ‘Low-Life Scum’
The Daily Beast
January 29, 2015

McCain to protesters: ‘Get out of here you, low-life scum’
Yahoo News
January 29, 2015

McCain Boots ‘Low Life Scum’ Protesters Out of Hearing with Kissinger
Talking Points Memo
January 29, 2015

Code Pink Tries to Arrest Kissinger - John McCain Tells Them “Get Out of Here You Lowlife Scum”
Gateway Pundit
January 29, 2015

McCain to protesters: ‘Get out of here, you low-life scum’
Fox10 Phoenix
January 29, 2015

McCain to Code Pink Protesters: ‘Get Out of Here, You Low-Life Scum’
National Review Online
January 29, 2015

Chicago Sun Times
January 29, 2015

UPDATE: Is McCain seeing red (or 'green') over Code Pink?
AZ Central
February 2, 2015