Category Archives: History

Press fails to cover policy issues in election stories


The decline of the American press is nowhere more evident than in its coverage of the 2016 presidential race.

Rather than examine the policies and substantial issues embodied by each of the candidates, the press has has focused on the personalities of the major party contenders, starting with the primary campaigns and continuing after the nominations were declared at the national conventions.

Admittedly, the contrasting personalities of the two contenders has never been greater — the flamboyant huckster and the wooden machine politician — but Americans are given little notion of what the candidates represent and what they actually stand for.

And now a series of studies from Harvard University’s Thomas E. Patterson, Bradlee Professor of Government and the Press at the Shorenstein Center on Media, Politics and Public Policy at the Kennedy School of Government, confirms the worst.

He writes about his findings for The Conversation, an independent open source academic journal:

Years ago, when I first started teaching and was at Syracuse University, one of my students ran for student body president on the tongue-in-cheek platform “Issues are Tissues, without a T.”

He was dismissing out of hand anything that he, or his opponents, might propose to do in office, noting that student body presidents have so little power as to make their platforms disposable.

Sadly, the news media appears to have taken a similar outlook in their coverage of the 2016 presidential campaign. The stakes in the election are high. Key decisions on foreign and domestic policy will be affected by the election’s outcome, as will a host of other issues, including the appointment of the newest Supreme Court justice. Yet, journalists have paid scant attention to the candidates’ platforms.

That conclusion is based on three reports on the news media’s coverage of the 2016 campaign that I have written for the Shorenstein Center on Media, Politics and Public Policy at Harvard’s Kennedy School of Government, where I hold a faculty position.

The third report was released today and it covers the month-long period from the week before the Republican National Convention to the week after the Democratic National Convention.

The first report analyzed coverage during the whole of the year 2015 – the so-called invisible primary period that precedes the first actual contests in Iowa and New Hampshire.

The second report spanned the period of the primaries and caucuses.

10 major outlets studied

Each report was based on a detailed content analysis of the presidential election coverage on five television networks (ABC, CBS, CNN, Fox and NBC) and in five leading newspapers (Los Angeles Times, The New York Times, The Wall Street Journal, The Washington Post and USA Today).The analysis indicates that substantive policy issues have received only a small amount of attention so far in the 2016 election coverage. To be sure, “the wall” has been in and out of the news since Donald Trump vowed to build it. Other issues like ISIS and free trade have popped up here or there as well. But in the overall context of election coverage, issues have played second fiddle. They were at the forefront in the halls of the national conventions but not in the forefront of convention-period news coverage. Not a single policy proposal accounted for even 1 percent of Hillary Clinton’s convention-period coverage and, collectively, her policy stands accounted for a mere 4 percent of it.

Trump’s policies got more attention, but not until after the Democratic convention, when he made headlines several days running for his testy exchange with the parents of a slain Muslim U.S. soldier.

Continue reading

The real business of America. . .is religion


While the founders believed they were a creating a nation where Church and State were separate, including in the Constitution an Establishment Clause declaring that “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion,” that First Amendment phrase has been subject to Supreme Court rulings allowing for churches to gain increasing power over the nation’s political institutions.

Among those rulings are decisions mandating the expenditure of tax revenues for religious schools, including direct funding through vouchers, payment for textbooks and computers, and even provision of funds for busing students to church schools and direct payments for educating students in charter schools and religious colleges. For a comprehensive review, begin here, here, here, here, and here.]

In addition, churches and their institutions receive massive tax breaks, with exemptions from income and property taxes, while salaries they pay may be exempt from Social Security and unemployment taxes.

Added to all those tax-exempt contributions from the faithful, the resulting picture is one of an institution with unparalleled economic and political clout.

No wonder that there are calls for an end of the religious tax exemptions. . .

And it’s a trillion-dollar business. . .

Just how much economic clout does organized religion wield.

In a word, huge.

From the Guardian:

Religion in the United States is worth $1.2tn a year, making it equivalent to the 15th largest national economy in the world, according to a study.

The faith economy has a higher value than the combined revenues of the top 10 technology companies in the US, including Apple, Amazon and Google, says the analysis from Georgetown University in Washington DC.

The Socioeconomic Contributions of Religion to American Society: An Empirical Analysis [open access] calculated the $1.2tn figure by estimating the value of religious institutions, including healthcare facilities, schools, daycare and charities; media; businesses with faith backgrounds; the kosher and halal food markets; social and philanthropic programmes; and staff and overheads for congregations.

Co-author Brian Grim said it was a conservative estimate. More than 344,000 congregations across the US collectively employ hundreds of thousands of staff and buy billions of dollars worth of goods and services.

More than 150 million Americans, almost half the population, are members of faith congregations, according to the report. Although numbers are declining, the sums spent by religious organisations on social programmes have tripled in the past 15 years, to $9bn.

Twenty of the top 50 charities in the US are faith-based, with a combined operating revenue of $45.3bn.

Businesses with a religious twist

In addition to churches, schools, and religion-based NGOs, the paper also identifies major corporations with a strong religious link, including programs devoting to furthering religious agendas — programs that are also, in most cases, tax-exempt.

The following table from the study lists some of those major business entities:

blog-churchy
More from the study:

In 2014, a landmark decision by the United States Supreme Court determined that the closely held for-profit corporation Hobby Lobby is exempt from a law that its owners religiously object to, as long as there is a less restrictive means of furthering the law’s interest. That ruling was the first time the Supreme Court recognized a for-profit business’s claim of religious belief. While the ruling was limited to closely held corporations, it sets up the situation where the boundaries of faith and business are clearly not absolute. It is therefore reasonable in any valuation of the role of faith to the U.S. economy to recognize businesses that have religious roots. This expands our purview beyond companies that have a specific religious purpose, such as producing traditional halal or kosher foods, to companies that have religion as a part of their corporate culture or founding.

To identify such companies, this second estimate includes companies identified recently as having religious roots. For instance, Deseret News recently identified 20 companies with religious roots, and CNN produced a list of religious companies besides Chick-fil-A. Also, the recent book by Oxford University business professor Theodore Malloch produced a global list of such faith-inspired companies. Not all of these would identify specifically as being faith-based. But faith is part of the founding and operating ethos. Malloch notes that although the commercial success of Walmart is well known, “less well known are Walmart’s connections to the distinct religious world of northwest Arkansas and rural America … [and its] corporate culture and how specific executives incorporated religious culture into their managerial philosophy”. . . Likewise, although the Marriot Hotels are not religiously run, John Willard Marriott, a member of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, founded the chain and supplied many of the rooms with not only the Bible but The Book of Mormon.

Some other companies listed, however, have a more overt religious identity. Tyson Foods company, founded by John Tyson, provides 120 office chaplains for employees, ministering to the personal and spiritual needs regardless of the employee’s faith or non-faith, as the case may be. The Deseret News story notes that Tyson speaks openly about the company’s aspiration to honor God and be a faith-friendly company. Also, as a further indication of the company’s faith-orientation, Tyson recently financed the launch of the Tyson Center for Faith and Spirituality in the Workplace at the University of Arkansas.

And to close, here’s John Oliver. . .

In a repost of a segment he did a year ago on America’s ,egachurches and their egregious tax exemptions.

From Last Week Tonight:

Televangelists: Last Week Tonight with John Oliver

Program notes:

U.S. tax law allows television preachers to get away with almost anything. We know this from personal experience.

Our Lady of Perpetual Exemption will not be able to accept donations from Church supporters from the states of Mississippi, Nevada, Pennsylvania, or South Carolina. We apologize for any inconvenience.

New studies reveal extent of corporate power grab


Corporations have replaced nation-state’s as the globes real sources of power. But unlike governments, which are nominally responsible to their citizens, corporations answer to nothing other than the bottom line.

While governments, at least in theory, evaluate their success by the extent to which they meet the needs of the public for security and survival, corporations see those same citizens as simply resources to be mind for profit.

The measures corporations take to extract that wealth aren’t limited by the need to ensure the well being of the public. Indeed, the only limits on their avarice are imposed by the governments they increasingly control both by their capture of the electoral process and their ability to demand those governments implement international agreements ceding state sorverignty to corporate boards.

Two new studies point to the success of the corporate agenda, first in capturing global wealth, and, second, in seizing the instruments of state used to monitor and control the citizenry.

The corporate capture of global wealth

First, from Global Justice Now, a report on the dramatic rise of corporate financial power, a power that exceeds that of the world’s nation states:

10 biggest corporations make more money than most countries in the world combined

  • 69 of top 100 economic entities are corporations not countries
  • Walmart, Apple, Shell richer than Russia, Belgium, Sweden
  • British government told: stop supporting your corporations, support your people

Corporations have increased their wealth vis-à-vis countries according to new figures released by Global Justice Now. The campaign group found that 69 of the world’s top economic entities are corporations rather than countries in 2015*. They also discovered that the world’s top 10 corporations – a list that includes Walmart, Shell and Apple – have a combined revenue of more than the 180 ‘poorest’ countries combined in the list which include Ireland, Indonesia, Israel, Colombia, Greece, South Africa, Iraq and Vietnam.

The figures are worse than last year, when 63 of the top economic entities were corporations. When looking at the top 200 economic entities, the figures are even more extreme, with 153 being corporations.

Global Justice Now released the figures in order to increase pressure on the British government ahead of a UN working group, led by Ecuador, established to draw up a binding treaty to ensure transnational corporations abide by the full range of human rights responsibilities. Campaigners are calling for the treaty to be legally enforceable at a national and global level. Britain doesn’t support the process, and has repeatedly vetoed and opposed such proposal in the past.

Nick Dearden, director of Global Justice Now, said:

“The vast wealth and power of corporations is at the heart of so many of the world’s problems – like inequality and climate change. The drive for short-term profits today seems to trump basic human rights for millions of people on the planet. These figures show the problem is getting worse.

Corporations captures government’s secret functions

And the second instance of the corporate seizure of government power, this time focusing on the power to set the most secret agendas of the exercise of power in the secret exercise of power and the ability to invade the most intimate areas of privacy.

From an enlightening essay by veteran journalist Tim Shorrock for The Nation:

The recent integration of two military contractors into a $10 billion behemoth is the latest in a wave of mergers and acquisitions that have transformed America’s privatized, high-tech intelligence system into what looks like an old-fashioned monopoly.

In August, Leidos Holdings, a major contractor for the Pentagon and the National Security Agency, completed a long-planned merger with the Information Systems & Global Solutions division of Lockheed Martin, the global military giant. The 8,000 operatives employed by the new company do everything from analyzing signals for the NSA to tracking down suspected enemy fighters for US Special Forces in the Middle East and Africa.

>snip<

Leidos is now the largest of five corporations that together employ nearly 80 percent of the private-sector employees contracted to work for US spy and surveillance agencies.

This is incredibly risky for a country so dependent on intelligence to fight global wars and prevent domestic attacks.

Yes, that’s 80 percent. For the first time since spy agencies began outsourcing their core analytic and operational work in the late 1990s, the bulk of the contracted work goes to a handful of companies: Leidos, Booz Allen Hamilton, CSRA, SAIC, and CACI International. This concentration of “pure plays”—a Wall Street term for companies that makes one product for a single market—marks a fundamental shift in an industry that was once a highly diverse mix of large military contractors, small and medium technology companies, and tiny “Beltway Bandits” surrounding Washington, D.C.

[T]hese developments are incredibly risky for a country more dependent than ever on intelligence to fight global wars and prevent domestic attacks. “The problem with just five companies providing the lion’s share of contractors is that the client, the U.S. government, won’t have much alternative when a company screws up,” says David Isenberg, the author of Shadow Force: Private Security Contractors in Iraq.

Moreover, the fact that much of this privatized work is top secret—and is generally underreported in the press—undermines the accountability and transparency of our spy agencies. That should deeply concern the American public.

What’s the source of that power?

We close with a quote from a 20 April 2015 essay or Harper’s by New America Foundation scholar Lee Drutman:

Something is out of balance in Washington. Corporations now spend about $2.6 billion a year on reported lobbying expenditures—more than the $2 billion we spend to fund the House ($1.18 billion) and Senate ($860 million). It’s a gap that has been widening since corporate lobbying began to regularly exceed the combined House-Senate budget in the early 2000s.

Today, the biggest companies have upwards of 100 lobbyists representing them, allowing them to be everywhere, all the time. For every dollar spent on lobbying by labor unions and public-interest groups together, large corporations and their associations now spend $34. Of the 100 organizations that spend the most on lobbying, 95 consistently represent business.

Add in the disastrous corporate agenda set by the U.S. Supreme Court and we are looking at nothing less than a de facto and de jure coup in the most powerful nation the planet has ever seen.

The only question is whether or not it will take a second American revolution to restore the balance we have lost.

Chevron’s malignant legacies in Ecuador, Bay Area


In the second of three programs on the brutal policies of a global oil giant [first part here], Abby Martin looks at the lethal pollution of Ecuador’s land and water by an American oil giant, a bizarre U.S. court ruling made by a judge who owns stock in the company, the the firm’s heavy-handed politics in Richmond, California.

During our six years at the Berkeley Daily Planet, we covered environmental politics in nearby Richmond, one of the San Francisco Bay Area’s poorest communities, and watched as Chevron Texaco fought to control city council elections to ensure that operations at the company’s massive refinery were unhindered by council members’ concerns about dangers to the health and safety of their constituents.

Martin lived nearby and saw firsthand how the company spared no expense in courts and in political and public relations campaigns, and we’re glad that the issue will gain wider exposure through her efforts.

And now, one with the shot.

From teleSUR English:

The Empire Files: Chevron vs. the Amazon – The Environmental Trial of the Century

Program files:

In Part II of this three-part series, The Empire Files continues the investigation into the battle between Chevron Texaco and Ecuador.

In this installment, Abby Martin uncovers what really happened throughout the 22-year legal battle between the oil corporation and indigenous Amazonians, interviewing lead attorney for the case, Pablo Fajardo.

This episode also chronicles the shameful, scandalous history of Chevron Texaco—from the support of Hitler’s Nazi movement, to backing war crimes in Myanmar—and its retaliatory attacks against its victims.

Climate change ravages U.S. parks, monuments


The opening a a sobering report from the Guardian:

After a century of shooing away hunters, tending to trails and helping visitors enjoy the wonder of the natural world, the guardians of America’s most treasured places have been handed an almost unimaginable new job – slowing the all-out assault climate change is waging against national parks across the nation.

As the National Parks Service (NPS) has charted the loss of glaciers, sea level rise and increase in wildfires spurred by rising temperatures in recent years, the scale of the threat to US heritage across the 412 national parks and monuments has become starkly apparent.

As the National Parks Service turns 100 this week, their efforts to chart and stem the threat to the country’s history faces a daunting task. America’s grand symbols and painstakingly preserved archaeological sites are at risk of being winnowed away by the crashing waves, wildfires and erosion triggered by warming temperatures.

The Statue of Liberty is at “high exposure” risk from increasingly punishing storms. A national monument dedicated to abolitionist Harriet Tubman, who will be enshrined on a new $20 note, could be eaten away by rising tides in Maryland. The land once walked by Pocahontas and Captain John Smith in Jamestown, the first English settlement in the US, is surrounded by waters rising at twice the global average and may be beyond rescue.

These threats are the latest in a pile of identified calamities to befall national parks and monuments due to climate change. Receding ice, extreme heat and acidifying oceans are morphing America’s landscapes and coasts at a faster pace than at any time in human history.

Graphic Representation: Politics, with art & music


Today’s graphic offerings look at American politics from the other side of the pond.

Our first offering, from the Guardian, translates an Olympic phenomenon and takes it to the political arena:

Ben Jennings: The cupping of Uncle Sam

BLOG Eurotoon Jennings Trump

And the Independent watches The Donald’s transformation:

Dave Brown: Lighter than air

BLOG Eurotoon Bronw Trump

Finally, from the Guardian once again:

Martin Rowson: Celebrating Syrian airstrikes

BLOG Eurotoon Rowson Syria

We love European cartoonists, in part because their works so often reference great artists of the past.

In this last case, Rowson is playing on a remarkable image created by a German artist in the wake of a succession of continent-wide sieges of bubonic plague the century before which had killed about 80 percent of the population of his country. Smaller outbreaks were still continuing at the time a German artist created one of the most memorable images in the history of art:

Danse macabre by Michael Wolgemut, teacher of Albrecht Dürer, from folio CCLXI recto of Hartman Schedel’s Historia mundi, printed in Nuremberg in 1493.

Danse macabre by Michael Wolgemut, teacher of Albrecht Dürer, from folio CCLXI recto of Hartman Schedel’s Historia mundi, printed in Nuremberg in 1493.

The Danse macabre was a frequent motif in Medieval art, with the earliest known instance appearing in a Paris cemetery in 1424, and it has stopped fascinating artists since.

One artist inspired by the dance of death was French composer Camille Saint-Saëns, and his work is one you’re already familiar with, because you’ve heard it on the soundtrack of countless movies.

Saint-Saëns took his inspiration from the poem by Henri Cazalis [1840-1909], translated thusly by Wikipedia:

Zig, zig, zig, Death in cadence,
Striking with his heel a tomb,
Death at midnight plays a dance-tune,
Zig, zig, zig, on his violin.
The winter wind blows and the night is dark;
Moans are heard in the linden-trees.
Through the gloom, white skeletons pass,
Running and leaping in their shrouds.
Zig, zig, zig, each one is frisking.
The bones of the dancers are heard to crack-
But hist! of a sudden they quit the round,
They push forward, they fly; the cock has crowed.

Forthwith, and from the Philadelphia Symphony Orchestra, Euege Ormandy conducting:

Camille Saint-Saëns – Danse Macabre


You can also hear it played by a classical guitar trio, a Finnish accordion maestro, a bass clarinet quartet [and damn, those clarinets are YUGE], and a Korean viola quartet, all all-saxophone orchestra, and a 1930’s Argentine jazz band [grooovy].

Finally, the Danse Macabre itself [not the Saint-Saëns version] also attracted the attention of Walt Disney’s animators way back in 1929.

Enjoy [via Geoffroy Biencourt]:

Silly Symphonies – La Danse Macabre

Time to book your Northwest Passage cruise


Yep, the Northwest Passage, the impossible dream of early European explorers of an Arctic waters shortcut to Asia, is now open.

From NASA’s Earth Observatory:

BLOG Passage

From NASA:

In August 2016, tourists on a luxury cruise departed Seward Alaska and steered toward the waterways of the Canadian Arctic Archipelago. The excursion is one example of the growing human presence in an increasingly ice-free Northwest Passage—the famed high-latitude sea route that connects the northern Atlantic and Pacific oceans. In mid-August 2016, the southern route through the Passage was nearly ice-free.

For most of the year, the Northwest Passage is frozen and impassible. But during the summer months, the ice melts and breaks up to varying degrees. The Visible Infrared Imaging Radiometer Suite (VIIRS) on the Suomi NPP satellite captured the top image of the Northwest Passage on August 9, 2016. A path of open water can be traced along most of the distance from the Amundsen Gulf to Baffin Bay.

“It was a warm winter and spring,” said NASA sea ice scientist Walt Meier. That means that the seasonal ice—ice that grew since the end of last summer, and the type found throughout most of the Passage—is thinner than normal. Thinner ice can melt more easily, break up, and move out of the channels.

A scattering of broken ice is visible just east of Victoria Island. “It looks pretty thin and disintegrating,” Meier said. “I think an ice-strengthened ship could get through without too much trouble.”

The open water this year flows along the southern route, or “Amundsen route.” It’s not unusual for the southern route to open up to some degree, as it is more protected than the northern route and receives less sea ice directly from the Arctic Ocean.

At some point in almost every summer since 2007, conditions along the southern passage have been fairly open. There have been exceptions; the second image shows the Northwest Passage on August 9, 2013, as observed by the Moderate Resolution Imaging Spectroradiometer (MODIS) on the Aqua satellite. Ice that year was relatively extensive. Turn on the image comparison tool to see the difference.

What’s left of the ice in 2016 is opening up fast. Meier expects that the Northwest Passage will open up completely in the next couple of weeks. Moreover, a strong Arctic cyclone appears to be approaching the archipelago. It could push the ice around and further open up still-blocked channels. Or, it could have the opposite effect and push in ice from the north.