Category Archives: Public service

Charts of the day: The secret of Trump’s success


We begin with a question and answer from Martin Longman, writing in the Washington Monthly:

How do you say that someone is a billionaire but he’s not an elite?

Well, you can say that if the billionaire talks at your level and your level is not elite. Many people might not realize that Trump is resonating with them in large part because he doesn’t use any hifalutin language that makes them feel inadequate in some way, but at least some of them are aware of this and don’t mind mentioning it as one of things about Trump that they find appealing.

Strangely, it makes them want to have a beer with him even though he doesn’t drink beer and claims to have never touched a drop of alcohol in his life. It makes them think that he understands and cares about their problems even though Trump was a millionaire by the time he was eight years old and has shown no sincere signs of caring about anyone but himself in his entire life.

It might be exasperating for college graduates, but Trump’s mangling of the English language and his fifth grade way of expressing himself has helped him form a strong bond with a lot of people who actually want a president that doesn’t challenge them intellectually.

The secret may be that Donald Trump is a man of few words, words he pounds out in endless streams of intolerance, resentment and sheer malice.

The numbers tell an interesting tale

Consider the Flesch-Kincaid Reading Ease Formula, and the associated Automated Readability Index and the Fog Count.

Back in the 1970s, the U.S. Navy grew concerned that technical manuals used to train sailors were too complex for trainees, so they looked for ways to evaluate texts. They took the three measures and modified them after evaluating the accessibility of existing texts based on tests of recruits at four naval training facilities.

The tests went on to become so popular that they’re now integrated into software programs like Microsoft Word.

Basically, the test focus on two areas, the was actually developed for the military in the 1970s as a way to check that training materials were appropriate and could be understood by its personnel. It is used as a measurement in legislation to ensure documents such as insurance policies can be understood.

There are a number of competing algorithms. They use different approaches, but all try to do one of two things, measuring the text according to the educational grade level needed to grasp the content of a text, and a second measure, reading ease. Which sets the grade level according to nationwide statistics.

Factba.se is the free consumer version of commercial software developed by FactSquared designed to process texts, PDFs, video, and audio to and anaylze the resulting data.

They turned their skills on the verbal output of Trump and his nine memediate predecessors and discovered that Agent Orange is unique, speaking at the lowest grade level, using both the smallest vocabulary and words of the fewest syllables:

In terms of word diversity and structure, Trump averages 1.33 syllables per word, which all others average 1.42 – 1.57 words. In terms of variety of vocabulary, in the 30,000-word sample, Trump was at the bottom, with 2,605 unique words in that sample while all others averaged 3,068 – 3,869. The exception: Bill Clinton, who clocked in at 2,752 words in our unique sample.

The following graphics from the Factba.se report tell the tale.

First up, the grade level attainment needed to understand the pronouncements of fifteen consecutive Chief Executives [click on the images to enlarge]:

And next, two charts reflecting [top] the average number of syllables in words employed presidentially and [bottom] the size of the vocabularies deployed:

Our final graphic comes from Branding in a Digital Age, a presentation by Marshall Kingston, Senior Brand Manager at Tetley, the British-born, Indian owned global tea giant:

Kingston writes:

If you think that’s his natural vocabulary you’re wrong, Trump uses repetition, short sentences, he repeats himself constantly ad uses the most basic form of a word instead of nuances. Our tendency is to think that consumers are becoming more. . .well read and want the cold hard facts. But simplicity is actually more memorable, more comprehendible and more compelling to the decision processing part of our brain.

In other words, Trump is following a rule also developed, like those used to create those charts we’ve just seen, by the U.S. Navy, and more than a decade earlier, the KISS Principle, for “Keep It Simple, Stupid.”

Some observations from academia

Then consider this, from a 7 January 2017 Washington Post story:

Trump is a “unique” politician because he doesn’t speak like one, according to Jennifer Sclafani, an associate teaching professor in Georgetown University’s Department of Linguistics.

“He is interesting to me linguistically because he speaks like everybody else,” said Sclafani, who has studied Trump’s language for the past two years. “And we’re not used to hearing that from a president. We’re used to hearing somebody speak who sounds much more educated, much smarter, much more refined than your everyday American.”

>snip<

Sclafani, who recently wrote a book set to publish this fall titled “Talking Donald Trump: A Sociolinguistic Study of Style, Metadiscourse, and Political Identity,” said Trump has used language to “create a brand” as a politician.

“President Trump creates a spectacle in the way that he speaks,” she said. “So it creates a feeling of strength for the nation, or it creates a sense of determination, a sense that he can get the job done through his use of hyperbole and directness.”

Ruth Ben-Ghiat, an American-born Professor of History and Italian Studies at New York University, is an expert on bombastic authoritarianism, evident in countless academic papers and a shelf full of books on the subject [including the forthcoming Strongmen: How The Rise, Why They Succeed, How They Fall].

In a 4 November 2016 New Yorker interview, she compared Trump to Benito Mussolini, the vigorously verbose Il Duce:

“These people are mass marketers. They pick up what’s in the air,” Ben-Ghiat said. The film reel was to Mussolini as Twitter is to Trump. “They give the impression of talking directly to the people,” she said. They can be portentous and relentlessly self-assertive. In a way, authoritarians have to be, Ben-Ghiat explained, since they’re selling a paradox: a savior fashioned as the truest, most authentic expression of the masses. Trump summed it up baldly at the Convention: “I am your voice. I alone can fix it.” The authoritarian makes the contradiction fall away, like an optical illusion.

She expanded on her views in an 10 August 2016 essay she wrote for the Atlantic

Italians learned in the 1920s what Americans are learning in 2016: Charismatic authoritarians seeking political office cannot be understood through the framework of traditional politics. They lack interest in, and patience for, established protocols. They often trust few outside of their own families, or those they already control, making collaboration and relationship building difficult. They work from a different playbook, and so must those who intend to confront them.

The authoritarian playbook is defined by the particular relationship such individuals have with their followers. It’s an attachment based on submission to the authority of one individual who stands above the party, even in a regime. Mussolini, a journalist by training, used the media brilliantly to cultivate a direct bond with Italians that confounded political parties and other authority structures and lasted for 18 years.

Trump also cultivates a personalized bond with voters, treating loyalty to the Republican Party almost as an afterthought. It’s why he emphasizes the emotional content of his events—he “feels the love,” or fends off “the haters.” Early on, he introduced a campaign ritual more common in dictatorships than democracies: an oath pledging support to his person, complete with a straight-armed salute. Securing this personal bond is a necessary condition for the success of future authoritarian actions, since it allows the leader to claim, as does Trump, that he embodies the voice and will of the people.

Mussolini’s rise to power also exemplifies another authoritarian trait America has seen during this campaign: The charismatic leader who tests the limits of what the public, press, and political class will tolerate. This exploration begins early and is accomplished through controversial actions and threatening or humiliating remarks toward groups or individuals. It’s designed to gauge the collective appetite and permission for verbal and physical violence and the use of extralegal methods in policing and other realms. The way elites and the press respond to each example of boundary-pushing sets the tone for the leader’s future behavior—and that of his followers.

Implications and lessons learned

As President with strong Congressional support and a stacked Supreme Court, the real estate developer and pop culture figure has used his ill-gotten gains to forge a populist cultural phenomenon.

He grasps the art of the unifying message, spelled out in visceral barroom language, rather than the bureaucrat phrases so often mouthed by his opponents.

Trump wasn’t going to do a restructuring of the roles and hierarchies of federal agencies. No, he was vowing to drain the swap, three short syllables that were o so memorable.

Like 20th Century fascist leaders, he flies across the realm, holding rallies, selling uniforms to make his followers readily recognizable — both to themselves and to others. Instead of Hitler’s Brown Shirts and Mussolini’s Black Shirts, TrumpTrolls sport red MAGA hats. But the leaders of all three groups hail followers who beat journalists.

In a system already rigged against folks who feel power should be based in the people, rather than in corporations and financial giants and the plutocrats who reap all those ever-grander and increasingly offshored profits.

To combat Trump and the system that put him in office, the Left needs a unifying, simply yet powerfully expressed message: Public good trumps private profit, and the Americans whose labor produce so much of that wealth are entitle to a greater share.

We need to recognize that soaring economic disparities create anger and uncertainty, states of arousal that make us vulnerable to manipulation, a task made easy by website cookies, email records, telephone tracking, television sets with embedded systems to spy on viewers, omnipresent surveillance cameras — just of tools available to governments, politicians, lobbyists, and others eager to find ways to identifying and manipulating our vulnerabilities for the private profit of the privileged phew.

As skilled general and rulers of old lined realized, your worst enemy is the best teacher, and Donald J. Trump is a pedagogical prodigy for those who would only listen and learn.

How about a first simple message to Dirty Don:

Kick Him Out!

UN blasts Trump for his war on the press


Donald Trump’s war on the press comes at a time when American journalism is dying, its ranks radically thinned as giant chains, many of them owned by investment banks interested only in profit rather than community service.

He ramped up his attacks Thursday night [2 August], devoting most of the evening’s rally to a relentless attack on the Fourth Estate, as the Associated Press reports:

“Whatever happened to the free press? Whatever happened to honest reporting?” Trump asked, pointing to the media in the back of the hall. “They don’t report it. They only make up stories.”

Time and time again, Trump denounced the press for underselling his accomplishments and doubting his political rise.

>snip<

“Only negative stories from the fakers back there,” the president declared.

With each denunciation, the crowd jeered and screamed at the press in the holding pen at the back of the arena.

His assault on journalism came on the same day that two leading United Nations officials spoke out against his escalating assault on the free press.

From the United Nations:

Human rights experts denounce Trump’s attacks against media

The United Nations expert on free expression has condemned President Donald Trump’s repeated attacks on the press, warning that the US leader’s rhetoric is eroding public trust in the media and could spark violence against journalists.

“His attacks are strategic, designed to undermine confidence in reporting and raise doubts about verifiable facts,” David Kaye, UN Special Rapporteur on freedom of expression and Edison Lanza, Inter-American Commission on Human Rights, said in a joint statement on Thursday.

Mr. Trump has labelled the media as being the “enemy of the American people,” “very dishonest” and “fake news,” the statement said. Moreover, he has accused the press of distorting democracy and spreading conspiracy theories and blind hatred.

“These attacks run counter to the country’s obligations to respect press freedom and international human rights law,” the experts said, expressing concern that the attacks risk increasing targeted violence against journalists.

The experts stressed that over the course of his presidency, Mr. Trump and his administration have sought to undermine reporting that had uncovered fraud, abuse, potential illegal conduct and disinformation.

“Each time the President calls the media ‘the enemy of the people’ or fails to allow questions from reporters from disfavoured outlets,” the experts continued, “he suggests nefarious motivations or animus.” However, they pointed out that not even one time was he able to show any specific reporting that was driven by untoward motivations.

“It is critical that the US administration promote the role of a vibrant press and counter rampant disinformation,” they underscored.

To this end, they urged President Trump to not only “stop using his platform to denigrate the media” but to condemn the attacks, including press threats at his own rallies.

Affirming that media attacks go beyond Mr. Trump’s language, they encouraged his administration, including the Justice Department, to “avoid pursuing legal cases against journalists in an effort to identify confidential sources,” saying that it undermines the media’s independence and blocks the public from accessing information.

The experts also appealed to the Government to “stop pursuing whistle-blowers through the tool of the Espionage Act.”

“We stand with the independent media in the United States, a community of journalists and publishers and broadcasters long among the strongest examples of professional journalism worldwide,” they asserted. “We especially urge the press to continue, where it does so, its efforts to hold all public officials accountable.”

The experts encouraged all media to act in solidarity against the efforts of President Trump to favour some outlets over others.

“Two years is two years too much, and we strongly urge that President Trump and his administration and his supporters end these attacks,” they concluded.

Special Rapporteurs and independent experts are appointed by the Geneva-based UN Human Rights Council to examine and report back on a specific human rights theme or a country situation. The positions are honorary and the experts are not UN staff, nor are they paid for their work.

As someone who’s devoted his working life to practicing the craft of journalism, we are deeply alarmed at the state of the American press.

Trump wants what any tyrant wants: A silencing of opposing voices.

And with the press now own by those seeking profit over principle, the prognosis is bleak,

The decline and fall of American journalism


Community newspapers across the U.S. are dying, slain by a combination of greed, changing public media habits, and indifference.

We begin with a story from Monday’s BBC News:

The New York Daily News, one of the city’s two tabloid papers, is halving its editorial staff, the latest sign of trouble in the local news business. The cuts will leave the newsroom with about 40 people, according to former employees.

They come less than a year after the paper was bought by Tronc, which has a reputation for low newsroom investment.

The New York Daily News started in 1919 and has won 11 Pulitzer Prizes, one of them last year.

Tronc faced backlash from staff at the Los Angeles Times, who formed a union and cast a spotlight on the cuts at Tronc-owned publications, despite high compensation going to top executives and other insiders.

Tronc is paying Merrick Ventures, a private equity firm led by Tronc’s biggest shareholder, $5m (£3.8m) a year for “management expertise and technical services”. The newspaper company, which also owns the Chicago Tribune and Baltimore Sun, subsequently sold the Los Angeles Times.

And it’s not just the Big Apple tabloid’s newsroom on the chopping block. Heads are rolling  today at the chain’s other papers,across the country, as reported by CNNMoney:

The newspaper publisher is laying off staffers at some of its other papers “today and tomorrow,” according to a Monday afternoon memo from Tronc CEO Justin Dearborn.

The announcement immediately spooked staffers at papers like The Baltimore Sun and The Chicago Tribune.

Dearborn said the cuts will not be as severe as in New York.

“The Daily News is unique in that local leadership determined a complete redesign of its structure was needed post-acquisition,” he wrote. “We do not expect reductions of this scale in any of our other newsrooms.”

“With that said, several newsrooms and business units are implementing much smaller reductions today and tomorrow to reduce expenses and contain costs,” he wrote.

But it’s not the gutting of papers that should concern a citizen in a deomiocrayc; it’s also the closing of papers by the giant chains that now control most of the nation’s community journalism.

From PBS’s Independent Lens:

In 1983, 50 corporations controlled most of the American media, including magazines, books, music, news feeds, newspapers, movies, radio and television. By 1992 that number had dropped by half. By 2000, six corporations had ownership of most media, and today five dominate the industry: Time Warner, Disney, Murdoch’s News Corporation, Bertelsmann of Germany and Viacom. With markets branching rapidly into international territories, these few companies are increasingly responsible for deciding what information is shared around the world.

There are also major news organizations not owned by the “big five.” The New York Times is owned by the publicly-held New York Times Corporation, The Washington Post is owned by the publicly-held Washington Post Company and The Chicago Tribune and Los Angeles Times are both owned by the Tribune Company. Hearst Publications owns 12 newspapers including the San Francisco Chronicle, as well as magazines, television stations and cable and interactive media.

But even those publications are subject to the conglomerate machine, and many see the “corporatizing” of media as an alarming trend. Ben Bagdikian, Pulitzer-prize winning journalist, former Dean of the Graduate School of Journalism at UC Berkeley and author of The New Media Monopoly, describes the five media giants as a “cartel” that wields enough influence to change U.S. politics and define social values.

Newspocalypse Now! in three easy graphics. . .

Three images capture the sad story of the decline and fall of community journalism.

First up is a graph by Clinton Mullins, a Twitter exec who formerly held a senior position at old school media legend Conde Nast, showing the steady decline in American newspapers:

Next, from a January Bureau of Labor Statistics report on the state of journalistic employment across all platforms:

And from the Pew Research Center, a global look at the percentages of folks who believe their media are doing very/somewhat well at reporting the news:

One could argue that new media journalists are filling some of the decline seen in print newsrooms, but we would argue that in one very critical respect they are not.

Once newspapers were mostly locally owned, and their journalists and their publishers live in the communities they served.

And most significantly , community newspapers served as platforms for democracy, since providing information for a broad range of the public reflecting wide diversity of activities and opinion and thus constituting m modern version of the ancient Greek agora, the marketplace where both business and democracy took place.

And that’s why the changing nature of media ownership is of such vital importance,

The worst of the  predators stake out their prey

There’s an increasing probability that if you’re reading a U.S. newspaper. It’s owned by that most rapacious of predators, an investment bank. One such outfit, New Media Investment Group, was created as a shell to control the assets of Gatehouse media, with 144 daily newspapers and 333 weekly newspapers in 27 states, with the New Media itself being, according to its website, “externally managed and advised by an affiliate of Fortress Investment Group LLC, a global investment management firm.” Fortress, in turn, owns everything from casinos and retirement homes to other investment firms, a mortgage company, and a railroad.

From The Rise of a New Media Baron and the Emerging Threat of News Deserts, a two-year study by the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill’s Center for Innovation and Sustainability in Local Media:

Much attention has been focused in recent years on the country’s largest and most revered national newspapers as they struggle to adapt to the digital age. This report focuses, instead, on the thousands of other papers in this country that cover the news of its small towns, city neighborhoods, booming suburbs and large metropolitan areas. The journalists on these papers often toil without recognition outside their own communities. But the stories their papers publish can have an outsized impact on the decisions made by residents in those communities, and, ultimately, on the quality of their lives. By some estimates, community newspapers provide as much as 85 percent of “the news that feeds democracy” at the state and local levels.

This means the fates of newspapers and communities are inherently linked. If one fails, the other suffers. Therefore, it matters who owns the local newspaper because the decisions owners make affect the health and vitality of the community

>snip<

Over the past decade, a new media baron has emerged in the United States. Private equity funds, hedge funds and other newly formed investment partnerships have swooped in to buy — and actively manage — newspapers all over the country. These new owners are very different from the newspaper publishers that preceded them. For the most part they lack journalism experience or the sense of civic mission traditionally embraced by publishers and editors. Newspapers represent only a fraction of their vast business portfolios — ranging from golf courses to subprime lenders — worth hundreds of millions, even billions, of dollars. Their mission is to make money for their investors, so they operate with a short-term, earnings-first focus and are prepared to get rid of any holdings — including newspapers — that fail to produce what they judge to be an adequate profit.

Here in California, Alden Global Capital — another vulture — owns the great majority of Golden State newspapers [38], accounting for an equally large majority of the readership.

Alden runs them through a shell, Digital First Media, which in turn has no less that three other shells to run their California papers. And Digital First President Joe Fuchs has his priorities, as he told a recent press conference: “Alden or any of their peers, doesn’t get involved in something to lose money.”

Alden’s capture of the California Fourth Estate and the ensuing ruthless and repeated downsizings play a leading role in the decline of California print employment reflected in this stunning graphic from the Federal Reserve Bank of St. Louis:

Alden and its principal are so vicious in their attacks on the newsrooms that a 26 March Bloomberg News report on the company carried this headline:

Imagine If Gordon Gekko Bought News Empires

The reality is even worse: This raider sinks decimated newsrooms’ revenue into bad investments.

In an 17 October 2016 report, the Poynter Foundation charted the ownership types of the top 25 newspaper companies. Those gray malignancies dramatically illustrate the metastatic grasp of investment banks in the dramatically downsized dead-tree trade where we spent the most fulfilling years of our life:

The accompanying text reveals one of many things that happens when the hedge-funders seize control:

Because they own so many newspapers, they can absorb the loss if an individual newspaper fails. If investment firms cannot sell an underperforming newspaper, they close it, leaving communities without a newspaper or any other reliable source of local news and information.

As newspapers die, large areas of the country are transformed into news deserts, counties with few or no paid reporters covering the local communities in black and white.

From Columbia Journalism Review, a look at the news deserts in the contiguous 48 states, with the palest areas representing counties with no remaining papers:

One map reminded us of another, this county-by-county reflection [Wikipedia] of the relative proportion of the winning votes for Hillary Clinton [blue] and Donald Trump [red]. The reason for the blue in the news deserts of Atizona and New Mexico is accounted for by the presence of tribal reservations:

More from an 8 April Politico report:

President Donald Trump’s attacks on the mainstream media may be rooted in statistical reality: An extensive review of subscription data and election results shows that Trump outperformed the previous Republican nominee, Mitt Romney, in counties with the lowest numbers of news subscribers, but didn’t do nearly as well in areas with heavier circulation.

POLITICO’s findings — which put Trump’s escalating attacks on the media in a new context — were drawn from a comparison of election results and subscription information from the Alliance for Audited Media, an industry group that verifies print and digital circulation for advertisers. The findings cover more than 1,000 mainstream news publications in more than 2,900 counties out of 3,100 nationwide from every state except Alaska, which does not hold elections at the county level.

The results show a clear correlation between low subscription rates and Trump’s success in the 2016 election, both against Hillary Clinton and when compared to Romney in 2012. Those links were statistically significant even when accounting for other factors that likely influenced voter choices, such as college education and employment, suggesting that the decline of local media sources by itself may have played a role in the election results.

That gives new force to the widely voiced concerns of news-industry professionals and academicians about Trump’s ability to make bold assertions about crime rates, unemployment and other verifiable facts without any independent checks. Those concerns, which initially were raised during the campaign, were largely based on anecdotes and observations. POLITICO’s analysis suggests that Trump did, indeed, do worse overall in places where independent media could check his claims.

The White House declined to comment for this story, but Trump and his campaign officials have made no secret of their preference for partisan national outlets and social media to mainstream outlets of all types.

Newspaper closings lead to higher taxes

Close of local newspapers carries another cost for the impacted communities.

From “Financing Dies in Darkness? The Impact of Newspaper Closures on Public Finance,” by three finance professors, Pengjie Gao of the University of Notre Dame, and Chang Lee and Dermot Murphy of the University of Illinois at Chicago:

Newspapers play an important monitoring role for local governments. Other papers have shown that the loss of a local newspaper leads to worsened political outcomes in the region, and we illustrate that there are worsened financial outcomes as well. In particular, we show that long-run municipal borrowing costs increase by as much as 11 basis points following a newspaper closure, and we utilize several identification tests to show that these results are not being driven by underlying economic conditions in the region. We also show that government efficiency outcomes are substantially affected by newspaper closures. In particular, we find that government wage rates, government employees per capita, tax dollars per capita, and the likelihoods of costly advance refundings and negotiated sales all increase following a newspaper closure. From a finance perspective, our results suggest that local newspapers are important for the health of local capital markets.

For counties that have experienced local newspaper closures, we do not expect these newspapers to return, nor do we think that they should, per se. Online news outlets are fundamentally changing the way that people consume news, and they are very likely to remain the dominant source for news consumption. However, these paradigm-shifting news outlets do not necessarily provide a good substitute for high-quality, locally-sourced, investigative journalism. In the long-run, perhaps an equilibrium will be reached in which these online-based organizations contract out work to local reporters and tailor their news to the local areas. In 2009, former Baltimore Sun reporter and famous television producer David Simon stated the following: “The day I run into a Huffington Post reporter at a Baltimore Zoning Board hearing is the day that I will be confident that we’ve actually reached some sort of equilibrium.” We concur, and our evidence suggests that economic growth at the county level will be better off in that equilibrium.

Just how much a paper’s closure costs local taxpayers whe n their government seeks bond funding is summed up in a graphic from co-author Murphy:

BLOG News bonds

The Trumpster delivers a coup de grâce

And now the biggest beneficiary of the decline of community journalism is dealing Ameirca’s newspapers another deadly blow, forcing papers to cut back even more, writes veteran press-watcher Ken Doctor noted in a March report for the Nieman Lab:

Now the battle is heating up on Capitol Hill over tariffs that the Trump administration imposed on Canadian groundwood paper earlier this year.

The tariffs increase the cost of newsprint by as much as 30 to 35 percent, though the impact on publishers is highly uneven, with some chains in better shape and the dwindling independents most at risk. The predictable impacts already in motion: more newsroom layoffs, thinner (and reshaped) print products, fewer Sunday preprints, and an overall further diminishing of the value proposition newspapers are offering their readers.

The Pittsburgh Post-Gazette will reduce its printing days from seven to five next month. The Nevada Appeal in Carson City, Nevada, moves from seven to just two days, while its parent cuts frequency on three adjacent papers.

Within the industry, there’s talk of “dropping Mondays” and replacing print editions with e-editions on other days as well. It looks as if newsprint tariffs will force more publishers to take the path Advance Publications first took six years ago, swapping daily print for digital.

And so it goes. . .

We started in print journalism doing volunteer reporting for a Colorado mountain daily, beginning with a byline and photo on the front page banner story of the 9 November 1964 San Luis Valley Courier, heading next to Arizona for a $50-a-week gig in Arizona at the weekly Winslow Mail, moving next to Nevada and hitch as crime, civil rights, poverty, and radical politics reporter [the last three beats by our own devising and the first such beat assignments in the history of Silver State journalism] on the staff of the Las Vegas Review-Journal — then as now the state’s dominant newspaper.

Our next job was back in Arizona, where we’d spent 30 days covering schools and general for the Tucson Daily American, a newspaper with the temerity to close before we got our second paycheck.

After starting our journalism addiction at 7600 feet above sea level, our first California gig put us om the Pacific Coast, two blocks from the beach at the Oceanside Blade-Tribune. The town’s main industry was the Camp Pendleton Marine Corps Base, where Vietnam War-bound jarheads got their field training before they headed out to combat.

The next newspaper gig was in another coastal town at the superb family owned Santa Monica Evening Outlook, the finest job we ever held. Then it was on to the Sacramento Bee, the dominant and then only newspaper covering the capital city of the nation’s most populous state.

Our final newspaper job was at the Berkeley Daily Planet, the California city that gave rise to the legendary Free Speech Movement.

Of those newspapers, the Winslow Mail, Tucson Daily American, Oceanside Blade-Tribune, Santa Monica Evening Outlook, and the Berkeley Daily Planet were owned by families or individuals and have folded, vanishing from front porches and newsstands, their communities left without local news produced by committed journalists who, despite by their own inevitable personal biases, work hard to fairly and accurately report differing views.

Each of the communities they once served has become a news desert.

Obama administration’s private prison payoff


The whole notion of letting private corporations run American prisons is abominable, going back to 1852 when California opened the first such institution, the now state-run San Quentin Prison.

Privatization failed to gain traction, and governments ran prisons, which, after all, are extensions of the governments’ judicial systems, until Ronald Reagan took over the White House.

Reagan, an avid proponent of turning public institutions into centers for private profits, inaugurated a building boom, with privately owned and operated prisons proliferating like noxious weeds across the country.

The prison contractors have emerged as the nation’s most potent lobbying force, reported the Washington Post in April, 2o15:

The two largest for-profit prison companies in the United States – GEO and Corrections Corporation of America – and their associates have funneled more than $10 million to candidates since 1989 and have spent nearly $25 million on lobbying efforts. Meanwhile, these private companies have seen their revenue and market share soar. They now rake in a combined $3.3 billion in annual revenue and the private federal prison population more than doubled between 2000 and 2010, according to a report by the Justice Policy Institute. Private companies house nearly half of the nation’s immigrant detainees, compared to about 25 percent a decade ago, a Huffington Post report found. In total, there are now about 130 private prisons in the country with about 157,000 beds.

>snip<

The Justice Policy Institute identified the private-prison industry’s three-pronged approach to increase profits through political influence: lobbying, direct campaign contributions, and building relationships and networks.

One current presidential candidate, Libertarian Gary Johnson, won the New Mexico governorship on a platform which included the promise to privatize all prisons in his state.

From the Sentencing Project:

Gary Johnson’s platform during his initial 1994 run for governor of New Mexico included a pledge to privatize every prison in the state. By the time he left office in 2003 44.2 percent of the state’s prisoners were in privately run facilities.

And the Obama administration jumped on the bandwagon, no doubt with the prompting of his former chief of staff Rahm Emanuel, who since decamping to win the job of mayor of Chicago has ruthlessly privatized public housing, schools, parking meters, nursing services, and more.

It’s no wonder that private prisons are an American corporate success story: With only five percent of the planet’s population, the U.S. accounts for 25 percent of the global incarceration population.

Mapping the Prison/Industrial Complex

This map, from the federal Bureau of Prisons, shows the locations of prisons currently run by private corporations on behalf of the notional government:

BLOG Prisons

Another map, this time from The Private Prison Project, shows the locations of state and federal prisons run by the three largest private prison corporations:

BLOG Prisons all

Federal prisons mushroom, violence reigns

So how effective are private contractors at running their prisons?

A just-released review of private federal prisons by the Justice Department’s Office of the Inspector General concluded:

We found that in a majority of the categories we examined, contract prisons incurred more safety and security incidents per capita than comparable BOP [Bureau of Prisons — esnl] institutions. We analyzed data from the 14 contract prisons that were operational during the period of our review and from a select group of 14 BOP institutions with comparable inmate populations to evaluate how the contract prisons performed relative to the selected BOP institutions.  Our analysis included data from FYs [fiscal years — esnl] 2011 through 2014 in eight key categories: (1) contraband, (2) reports of incidents, (3) lockdowns, (4) inmate discipline, (5) telephone monitoring, (6) selected grievances, (7) urinalysis drug testing, and (8) sexual misconduct. With the exception of fewer incidents of positive drug tests and sexual misconduct, the contract prisons had more incidents per capita than the BOP institutions in all of the other categories of data we examined.

And just how much more violent are private prisons compared to prisons run by Uncle Sam?

One chart from the Inspector General’s report says it all:

BLOG Prisons assaults

A massive release of documents acquired by The Nation revealed a stunning lack of concern:

[N]ew records show that BOP monitors documented, between January 2007 and June 2015, the deaths of 34 inmates who were provided substandard medical care. Fourteen of these deaths occurred in prisons run by CCA. Fifteen were in prisons operated by the GEO Group. The BOP didn’t respond to repeated requests for comment or to written questions before deadline.

The records and interviews with former BOP officials reveal a pattern: Despite dire reports from dozens of field monitors, top bureau officials repeatedly failed to enforce the correction of dangerous deficiencies and routinely extended contracts for prisons that failed to provide adequate medical care.

The Obama administration greases the skids

And that brings us to the latest boondoggle, reported by the Washington Post:

As Central Americans surged across the U.S. border two years ago, the Obama administration skipped the standard public bidding process and agreed to a deal that offered generous terms to Corrections Corporation of America, the nation’s largest prison company, to build a massive detention facility for women and children seeking asylum.

The four-year, $1 billion contract — details of which have not been previously disclosed — has been a boon for CCA, which, in an unusual arrangement, gets the money regardless of how many people are detained at the facility. Critics say the government’s policy has been expensive but ineffective. Arrivals of Central American families at the border have continued unabated while court rulings have forced the administration to step back from its original approach to the border surge.

In hundreds of other detention contracts given out by the U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement agency, federal payouts rise and fall in step with the percentage of beds being occupied. But in this case, CCA is paid for 100 percent capacity even if the facility is, say, half full, as it has been in recent months. An ICE spokeswoman, Jennifer Elzea, said that the contracts for the 2,400-bed facility in Dilley and one for a 532-bed family detention center in Karnes City, Tex., given to another company, are “unique” in their payment structures because they provide “a fixed monthly fee for use of the entire facility regardless of the number of residents.”

The rewards for CCA have been enormous: In 2015, the first full year in which the South Texas Family Residential Center was operating, CCA — which operates 74 facilities — made 14 percent of its revenue from that one center while recording record profit. CCA declined to specify the costs of operating the center.

Prisons and presidential politics

Marco Rubio was the private prison industry’s favorite son, the source of both their largess and of legislation that gained them even greater profits, as the Washington Post reported last year:

Marco Rubio is one of the best examples of the private prison industry’s growing political influence, a connection that deserves far more attention now that he’s officially launched a presidential bid. The U.S. senator has a history of close ties to the nation’s second-largest for-profit prison company, GEO Group, stretching back to his days as speaker of the Florida House of Representatives. While Rubio was leading the House, GEO was awarded a state government contract for a $110 million prison soon after Rubio hired an economic consultant who had been a trustee for a GEO real estate trust. Over his career, Rubio has received nearly $40,000 in campaign donations from GEO, making him the Senate’s top career recipient of contributions from the company. (Rubio’s office did not respond to requests for comment.).

And while Hillary Clinton has made some statements about reining in the trend, as with so many things, her promises may well prove a facade, and the Intercept reported in June:

The chief executive of the largest private prison company in America reassured investors earlier this month that with either Donald Trump or Hillary Clinton in the White House, his firm will be “just fine.” Damon Hininger, the chief executive of Corrections Corporation of America, was speaking at the REITWeek investor forum.

Private prisons have received a great deal of criticism this election cycle, first with Bernie Sanders campaigning to end for-profit incarceration, followed by Clinton taking up a similar pledge.

After The Intercept revealed that the Clinton campaign had received campaign donations from private prison lobbyists, a number of activist groups confronted Clinton, leading her to announce that she would no longer accept the money and later declaring that “we should end private prisons and private detention centers.”

But Corrections Corporation is apparently not concerned. Asked about prospects under Trump or Clinton, Hininger argued that his company has prospered through political turnover by taking advantage of the government’s quest for lower costs.

A call to action: Children prey to chemical mayhem


BLOG Kids

As folks who’ve read this modest little blog know by now, one of our most passionate concerns is the vulnerability of children to chemicals that we spew almost unchecked into their environments.

Only now are we discovering that many everyday compounds, from plastics to fire retardants and soaps powerful alter the development of growing bodies, and especially nervous systems.

As you will read in the following statement by some of the nation’s leading healthcare providers:

The vast majority of chemicals in industrial and consumer products undergo almost no testing for developmental neurotoxicity or other health effects.

First, the announcement of the statement from the University of Maryland:

An unprecedented alliance of leading scientists, medical experts, and children’s health advocates, including Devon Payne-Sturges, assistant professor in the University of Maryland School of Public Health, agree for the first time that today’s scientific evidence supports a link between exposures to toxic chemicals in food and everyday products and children’s risks for neurodevelopmental disorders.  The alliance, known as Project TENDR, is calling for immediate action to significantly reduce exposures to toxic chemicals to protect brain development for today’s and tomorrow’s children.

Neurodevelopmental disorders include intellectual disability, autism spectrum disorder, attention deficits, hyperactivity, and other maladaptive behaviors, and learning disabilities.

Prime examples of the chemicals and pollutants that are contributing to children’s learning, intellectual and behavioral impairment include:

  • Organophosphate (OP) pesticides
  • Polybrominated diphenyl ether (PBDE) flame retardants
  • Combustion-related air pollutants, which generally include polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons (PAHs), nitrogen dioxide and particulate matter
  • Lead
  • Mercury
  • Polychlorinated Biphenyls (PCBs)

“The public health disaster in Flint, Michigan has reminded the American people and our leaders the importance of preventing children’s exposures to neurotoxicants in our environment. But lead is not the only neurotoxicant to which we are routinely exposing our children,” says Payne-Sturges, one of the authors of the consensus statement. “We must address the cumulative exposures to multiple chemicals in our air, water, food and consumer products that harm brain development. We are all exposed to multiple chemicals and we know now that these have synergistic effects and our children are the most sensitive to those effects.”

Dr. Payne-Sturges, who is part of the Maryland Institute for Applied Environmental Health in the UMD School of Public Health, helped draft the Project TENDR statement on air pollution risks and contributed expertise on cumulative risk assessment to the scientific consensus.

“This is truly an historic agreement. It’s the first time so many leaders in public health, science, and medicine agree on the message from the scientific evidence: that toxic chemicals are harming our children’s brain development,” said Irva Hertz-Picciotto, TENDR Co-Director and environmental epidemiologist at UC Davis. “Ten years ago, this consensus wouldn’t have been possible, but the research is now abundantly clear.”

“This national problem is so pressing that the TENDR scientists and medical experts will continue their collaboration to develop and issue recommendations aimed at significantly reducing exposures to toxic chemicals that are harming children’s brain development,” says Maureen Swanson, TENDR Co-Director and director of the Healthy Children Project for the Learning Disabilities Association of America. “Calling for further study is no longer a sufficient response to this threat.”

Project TENDR is a joint endeavor of the Learning Disabilities Association of America (LDA) and the University of California Davis MIND Institute (Medical Investigations of Neurodevelopmental Disorders).

And the statement itself, as published in Environmental Health Perspectives, a scientific journal supported by the National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences , National Institutes of Health, U.S. Department of Health and Human Services:

Read the full statement, with links, after the jump. . . Continue reading

Recession kills, and the victims are mostly male


Today we’ll consider research on suicides and the Great recession.

Our first and newest study comes from the Research Society on Alcoholism [via Newswise] and reveals a noticeable increase in the correlation between higher alcohol consumption and male suicides during tough economic times. There was no change for women:

Prior research has shown a link between the impact of contracting economies, especially as reflected by the unemployment rate, and suicide mortality risk. This study assesses changes in the rate of heavy alcohol use among suicide decedents, for both genders, during the 2008-2009 economic crisis.

Researchers obtained data for suicide decedents ages 20 years and older from the National Violent Death Reporting System, a surveillance system that records detailed accounts of violent deaths. Individuals participating in the 2006-2011 Behavioral Risk Factor Surveillance System, which surveys alcohol use, comprised the comparison group. The data were examined to see whether changes in acute intoxication – a blood alcohol content equal to or greater than 0.08 grams per deciliter – in the deceased group before (2005-2007), during (2008-2009), and after (2010-2011) mirrored changes in heavy alcohol use in the living sample.

Results indicate that acute alcohol use contributed to suicide, particularly among men, during the economic downturn. Male suicide decedents experienced a significantly greater increase (+8%) in heavy alcohol use at the onset of the recession than men in the non-suicide comparison group (-2%). Among women who died by suicide, the rate of heavy alcohol use was very similar to that of the general population. The authors suggest that women may show resilience – or men show vulnerability – to the dangerous interaction of alcohol with financial distress.

In an June 2014 report published in Social Science & Medicine, Rutgers sociologist  Julie Anne Phillips discovered another fascinating correlation — men committed suicide at higher states in states with higher levels of women in the workforce:

BLOG Suicides

In yet another study, researchers found another interesting change in Great Recession suicides in the U.S., as reported in the May 2015 issue of the American Journal of Preventive Medicine [emphasis added]:

Suicide circumstances varied considerably by age, with those related to job, financial, and legal problems most common among individuals aged 40–64 years. Between 2005 and 2010, the proportion of suicides where these circumstances were present increased among this age group, from 32.9% to 37.5% of completed suicides (p o0.05). Further, suffocation is a method more likely to be used in suicides related to job, economic, or legal factors, and its use increased disproportionately among the middle-aged. The number of suicides using suffocation increased 59.5% among those aged 40–64 years between 2005 and 2010, compared with 18.0% for those aged 15–39 years and 27.2% for those aged >65 years (p<0.05).

In yet another study, sociologists from Rutgers and the University of Wisconsin found a clear correlation between suicides and home foreclosures. In other words, the banksters who made all those dirty loans were killing people. As Jason N. Houle and Michael T. Light conclude in their report published in the June 2014 issue of the American Journal of Public Health, “Rising home foreclosure rates explained 18% of the variance in the middle-aged suicide rate between 2005 and 2010.”

Changes in suicide and foreclosure rates: all 50 US states plus Washington, DC, 2004–2010.

Changes in suicide and foreclosure rates: all 50 US states plus Washington, DC, 2004–2010.

And on to Europe, first with a Greek exception

All studies of suicides during the Great Recession reveal that the greatest increases have been among middle aged males, with the notable exception of Greece, where cuts in aid to the elderly, both in terms of direct payments and in medical care assistance, have led to a dramatic increase in suicides among the oldest male cohort, as revealed in this graph from a report published 25 March 2015 in the open access edition of the British Medical Journal:

Suicide rates by sex and age group in Greece [2003–2012].

Suicide rates by sex and age group in Greece [2003–2012].

Perhaps the most fascinating piece of research comes from a 6 October 2014 article [open access] in the European Journal of Public Health, looking at changes in suicide rates in 20 EU countries from 1981–2011.

Researchers found that two factors accounted for much of the increase in male suicide rates: Unemployment and debt. Two factors had no impact on the suicide rates: Unemployment benefits and antidepressant pharmaceuticals.

Another decisive variable was whether or not a country has an active labor market program [ALMP] and, if so, whether the program was well funded or not.

ALMPs consists of state-run employment offices, job training programs, and subsidies either to private sector employers or through work programs operated by the state.

All in all, much like the programs implement by Franklin Delano Roosevelt in the U.S. during the Great Depression.

So what kind of impact does an ALMP have?

Consider these two charts from the report:

Trends in male suicide and the unemployment rate, by ALMP, 2006–10. Notes: Luxembourg, Malta, and Cyprus are excluded due to small sample size. High/Low is measured as above or below the median level between countries of the within-country means (i.e., US$135 per person per annum) of spending on active labour market programmes. Source: WHO Health for All European Mortality database 2013 edition; OECD 2013 edition

Trends in male suicide and the unemployment rate, by ALMP, 2006–10. Notes: Luxembourg, Malta, and Cyprus are excluded due to small sample size. High/Low is measured as above or below the median level between countries of the within-country means (i.e., US$135 per person per annum) of spending on active labour market programmes. Source: WHO Health for All European Mortality database 2013 edition; OECD 2013 edition

The authors summarize their findings at the end of their report:

  • Suicide increases in Europe during the great recession have been concentrated in men, but large variations exist across nations and over time.

  • Unaffordable housing was not significantly associated with suicides; in contrast, additional job losses and household indebtedness were stronger determinants of population suicide rises.

  • Economic risk factors significantly increase suicide rates among men of working age but not among those >65 years of age.

  • Where active labour market programmes (ALMP) and social capital were relatively high, there was no elevated risk of suicide during the recent recession.

Headline of the day: Good boy, now go to jail


From United Press International:

Holder: Snowden’s actions a public service, but he must be punished

Edward Snowden’s surveillance program revelations were a public service but he must still face punishment, former U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder said.

Quote of the day: Corporatizing the university


From Avery J. Wiscomb’s “The Entrepreneurship Racket” in the latest Jacobin, a fascinating dissection of the American university’s turn towards the entrepreneurial doctrine and the exploitation of research and students for the private rather than the common good:

Today, the culture of entrepreneurialism in higher education claims both students and faculty’s creative energy and ideas at their source, and when challenged insists this is what students and faculty really want, or what they really need.

This is a perversion of the values of education, especially when students are paying for the privilege of having their labor appropriated while at university, and many are going deep into debt to do it. Entrepreneurship in higher education masks increasingly exploitative and super-exploitative types of institutional practices.

As Jeffrey J. Williams asked in the Winter 2016 issue of Dissent: What is innovation for? And for whose interests? Similarly, we should ask what good is the entrepreneurial spirit in higher education, if it brings us exploitation? Innovation has become a buzzword that points to a corporate ethos and co-opts the positive rhetoric of change for its own ends; while entrepreneurialism indicates a deeper and more intractable installation of business values, remaking our universities through its physical places as well as policies.

More and more universities are turning to the creative labor of students and faculty as a source of funding, transforming higher education into a research service for the tech industry. We need to foster a different spirit of innovation in the university — one that serves the shared social welfare of students and faculty and recaptures the ideals of education.

Sen. Elizabeth Warren holds itchy feet to the fire


Leonard N, Chanin is a real mofo. That is, he works for Morrison and Foerster, a law firm representing some real mofos. But we’re calling him a mofo because his new employer’s web handle is http://www.mofo.com, right [wink wink]?.

From his mofo webpage:

Leonard Chanin is Of Counsel in the Financial Services group at Morrison & Foerster LLP. A recognized expert in the field of consumer financial protection with extensive experience in regulation and supervision of the myriad statutes affecting retail banking, Mr. Chanin counsels financial institutions on consumer financial services law issues. Mr. Chanin regularly advises clients on issues relating to the Home Mortgage Disclosure Act, Truth in Lending Act, Electronic Fund Transfer Act, Fair Credit Reporting Act, Truth in Savings Act and Equal Credit Opportunity Act.

Before rejoining Morrison & Foerster, Mr. Chanin served as the Assistant Director of the Office of Regulations of the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau. There, he headed the agency’s rulemaking team by supervising nearly 40 lawyers responsible for promulgating rules and regulations implementing consumer financial protection legislation. He also provided legal opinions to Bureau supervisory and enforcement offices on federal consumer financial protection laws.

It was in his previous post with Uncle Sam that Chanin managed to ignore alarm bells about hinky loans and allowed the American financial ship of state to sail onward into iceberg that was the start of Great Recession in 2008.

And that’s what got Sen. Warren really steamed up when Chanin appeared before the Senate Banking Committee for a long-delayed hearing called by Republicans to discuss financial regulations.

By the time Chanin left his hot seat squirmathon, he’d been subjected to a though Elizabethan grilling, and it was wondrous to behold.

From Senator Elizabeth Warren:

Senator Elizabeth Warren at Banking Hearing on Consumer Finance Regulations

Program notes:

Senator Elizabeth Warren’s Q&A at an April 5, 2016 Senate Banking Committee hearing titled, “Assessing the Effects of Consumer Finance Regulations.”

A fascinating new tool for exploring the past


From the Georgia Institute of Technology comes a new tool for an animated exploring the spread of ideas through millions of pages from nearly 2,000 newspapers in hundreds of America cities between 1 January 1836 through 31 December 1922.

More than that, you can see the newspaper pages where the ideas appeared.

But you’re not limited to ideas. You can also used the website to track down what your ancestors were doing way back when, something we’ve spent a few hours doing to our endless fascination.

The site also tracks words appearing in advertisements.

To see the actual newspaper pages, simply click on the dots appearing after you’ve made your search.

First up, a video from Georgia Tech:

Going Viral Looked a Lot Different 100 Years Ago

Program notes:

Researchers from Georgia Tech and the University of Georgia have looked at how ideas when viral 100 years ago. They used data science techniques to analyze 10 million newspaper pages published between 1836 and 1924 and animated the data on a free website http://www.usnewsmap.com

And more details from the Georgia Tech newsroom:

Populist presidential candidate William Jennings Bryan electrified the 1896 Democratic National Convention with a speech in which he called for a new currency standard based on silver rather than gold. Over the next few years, his “Cross of Gold” ideas spread across the country, with thousands upon thousands of newspaper mentions.

But it took 120 years and a collaboration between Georgia Tech data scientists and University of Georgia historians to see what the spread of that idea had actually looked like. Starting in Chicago, site of the convention, “Cross of Gold” moved to the populous East Coast, then jumped to the West Coast before filling in the less populated areas.

“Going viral” may have taken longer in the 19th century, but the principle was much the same.

Researchers tracked Cross of Gold’s spread using U.S. News Map, a database of more than 10 million newspaper pages that is helping researchers see history with spatial information that hadn’t been available before. Using digitized newspaper articles and cutting-edge search technology, the project is helping researchers see the nation’s history in new ways.

“Every historical development has a spatial component to it, and often one that is central to explaining the ‘how’ and the ‘why,’” noted Claudio Saunt, chair of the Department of History at the University of Georgia. “With this new search engine, we now have the ability to see where newspapers were writing about a subject, and how interest in that subject changed over time. It’s a powerful tool for historians, and one that can shed new light on the past.”

A free service, the database is available at USNewsMap.com. It is based on data from approximately 10 million pages published in nearly 2,000 U.S. newspapers between 1836 and 1924. The newspapers represent what was happening in nearly 800 U.S. cities. More pages are being added all the time, though some states still have not contributed digital newspaper data and are therefore not represented on the project’s map.

To create the database behind the search engine, text from the newspaper pages was scanned by universities around the country, and each word indexed, explained Trevor Goodyear, a research scientist in the Georgia Tech Research Institute (GTRI). The application uses Apache Solr database software, a document database that allowed GTRI researchers to efficiently store and index the large volumes of text and associated metadata.

There’s lots more, after the jump. . . Continue reading

And now for something completely different. . .


Yet another animation from the National Film Board of Canada, today’s offering is the story of Seraphim “Joe” Fortes, a man born in the Caribbean in 1863, who transformed attitudes in one Canadian city simply by doing the things he loved best, swimming and teaching others to swim.

From the Dictionary of Canadian Biography:

Fortes came to Granville (Vancouver) on the Robert Kerr, debarking on 30 Sept. 1885. The town was booming because of the lumber industry and its designation as a railway terminus . People moved from Vancouver Island to the mainland in search of jobs, and a number of blacks came as well from eastern Canada, Alberta, the Pacific northwest, the West Indies, and even further afield. Consequently, the centre of British Columbia’s African Canadian community changed from Victoria to Vancouver as the century drew to a close. Most members of the black population there, which never numbered more than around 300, lived mainly in what became known as Strathcona or the East End.

For eight months, until the great fire of June 1886, Fortes ran Vancouver’s earliest shoeshine stand, in the Sunnyside Hotel on Water Street. Afterwards he worked as a bartender and porter at such local establishments as the Bodega Saloon on Carrall Street in Strathcona and the Alhambra Hotel at the corner of Carrall and Water. Known to be clean, sober, and an expert mixer of cocktails, he was most famous, however, for his volunteer work as a swimming instructor and lifeguard. He was a common sight at English Bay beach, where he taught thousands of children to swim. It was not until around 1897 that the city, in recognition of his services, put him on its payroll as a lifeguard; at some point he was also made a special police constable. He reputedly saved more than 100 people from drowning, including many children and several adults, among them John Hugo Ross, who would die in the sinking of the Titanic.

And without further ado, from the National Film Board of Canada:

Joe

Program notes:

This animated short tells the story of Seraphim “Joe” Fortes, one of Vancouver’s most beloved citizens. Born in the West Indies, Joe Fortes swam in English Bay for over than 30 years. A self-appointed lifeguard at first, he became so famous that the city of Vancouver finally rewarded him with a salary for doing what he loved best. He taught thousands of people to swim and saved over a hundred lives. Yet there were some who did not respect him because of his skin colour. Through his determination, kindness and love for children, Joe helped shift attitudes.

Directed by Jill Haras – 2002

Headline of the day: First Amendment heroes


From the Guardian:

You are not what you read: librarians purge user data to protect privacy

US libraries are doing something even the most security-conscious private firm would never dream of: deleting sensitive information in order to protect users

Map of the day: Cooperatives in the U.S.


From the University of Wisconsin Center for Cooperatives:

BLOG Coops

And now for something completely different. . .


Imagine Akira Kurosawa, director of all those classic Toshiro Mifune samurai flicks, had lived long enough to make a public service ads about a thoroughly modern Japanese problem, Aruki-sumaho [smartphone walking] and all those inevitable accidents.

Such, apparently, was the think of folks ar Japanese wireless carrier DoCoMo, and the result is a PSA featuring many of the classic elements of a samurai flick: The sankin kotai was the mandatory pilgrimmage of a daimyo — feudal lord — to the palace of the Shogun — feudal overlord — in Edo [Tokyo].

Failure to make the trip resulted in the slaughter of the daimyo’s family, so it was a journey fraught with consequences.

Now imagine that smartphones had existed back then and you have all the elements you need to appreciate this from DoCoMo:

Samurai Smartphone Parade

And if you haven’t seen a Kurosawa film, Seven Samurai is a good place to start, a film remade as Sergio Leone’s Spaghetti Western The Magnificent Seven, which, in turn, spawned a whole succession of imitators, most recently films from Quentin Tarantino and [shudder] Adam Sandler.

Only one Kurosawa film is online, the haunting Rashomon, which deals with the conflicts in eyewitness testimony in a visceral way.

H/T to The Presurfer.

And now for something completely different. . .


With all the political venom in the air, we decided to recall what many journalists feel was the high water mark of American television, an event that would sink the political career of a would-be tyrant who played to paranoia and fears of an enemy within.

For Sen. Joseph McCarthy, a Republican from Wisconsin, the opportunity came because of genuine fears of communist infiltration of American institutions. High officials lowly soldiers had indeed supplied Soviet agents with state secrets, including critical information on nuclear weapons during World War II.

But McCarthy, liked Donald Trump and others today, took real fears transformed their objects into immediate threats to everyone, threats requiring radical action and curtailment of previously granted rights.

And to accomplish that agenda, anyone who dared voice opposition to their excesses was subject to naming and shaming, to identifying with that object of fear.

It took one man, Edward R. Murrow, to catalyze the growing doubts and concerns about McCarthy methods.

Murrow was a journalist, and one trusted by millions of Americans for his radio broadcasts from Europe before and during World War II. In those pre-television days, radio journalists had to paint the scene with words, and Murrow’s incisive, matter-of-fact reports brought listeners a compelling sense of what it was like “over there.”

Perhaps his most famous broadcasts were made in the summer and fall of 1940, when he covered the Blitz, the brutal but ultimately failed German aerial warfare on Britain.

All the following videos are from vlogger KD:

Edward R. Murrow from a London rooftop during the Blitz – 22 Sept. 1940

Program notes:

Full transcript.

So it was Murrow who had the credibility and the courage to take a stand against man whose resentment-fueling attacks seemed all to familiar to a journalist who had covered the fascist leaders of Europe during the run-up to World War II.

Murrow hosted See It Now, a weekly half-hour program on CBS featuring interviews with the prominent and not-so-prominent.

In those pre-cable, four- and soon three-network days, CBS was considered the Tiffany network, the examplar for what a commercial network ought to be, with news carried as a public service [usually] and a loss leader supported by proceeds from entertainment shows.

And so it was that on 9 March 1954 that Murrow deviated from his usual interview format and produced a landmark in the history of the American electronic media.

See it Now: “A Report on Senator Joseph R. McCarthy”

Program notes:

Full transcript.

The response, another full segment produced by McCarthy himself, was a classic example of distorted thought and guilt by [non-existent] association, damning Murrow by implication as a vulture flapping his wings to a tune written by Moscow.

Joseph McCarthy responds to Murrow – full See It Now episode

Program notes:

April 6, 1954, “See It Now” on CBS. This is Senator Joseph McCarthy’s televised response to Edward R. Murrow’s famous See It Now broadcast, which aired a month earlier. Murrow offered McCarthy a chance to respond in the original broadcast. Video located by Noah C. Cline.

Leaving Murrow with the last word:

Edward R. Murrow’s response to Senator McCarthy’s accusations

Program notes:

April 13, 1954. Source and full text.

Finally, from vlogger dabell43, an excerpt from third installment of the landmark 1997 Canadian Broadcasting Corporation series Dawn of the Eye, “Inventing Television News, 1946-1959,” featuring some of Murrow’s colleagues at CBS News, most notably Walter Cronkite, a journalist who was once the “most trusted man in America,” recalling the McCarthy era:

Murrow vs. McCarthy

On the mad utopian dreams of neoliberals


A recent episode of Christ Hedges’s news series for Telesur English features an interview with Canadian intellectual provocateur John Ralston Saul on the twisted origins and pernicious intellectual distortions of neoliberal ideology.

An erudite scholar and ferocious analyst, Saul has relentlessly pilloried the intellectual perversions underlying much of modern economic thought in a series of books [most famously Voltaire’s Bastards: The Dictatorship of Reason in the West] and essays, with his most recent targets being the twisted rationales employed by apologists for an economic order that has given rise to modern plutocracy.

In conversation with Hedges, Saul worries that modern neoliberalism has proven to resemble Beniuto Mussolini’s fascism.

From The Real News Network:

Days of Revolt: Neoliberalism as Utopianism

From the transcript:

SAUL: Right? And what they did, most universities, was they did an intellectual cleansing of the economic historians to remove the possibility of doubt, the possibility of speculation on ideas, leaving these sort of hapless — mainly hapless macroeconomists, who fell quite easily into the hands, frankly, of the ideologues, the neoliberals, neoconservatives, who were — you know, let’s face it. What is this ideology? It’s an ideology of inevitability, an ideology based on self-interest, an ideology in which there is no real memory. And at the end of the day, it really is — it’s about power and money.

HEDGES: It’s about, you write, making every aspect of society conform to the dictates of the marketplace, which, as you point out, there’s nothing — and I think you say something like 2,000 or 5,000 years of human history to justify the absurdity that you should run a society based on —

SAUL: On the marketplace.

HEDGES: — the marketplace.

SAUL: Let me just take a tiny step back as a historical marker, which is the day that I realized that the neos were claiming that Edmund Burke was their godfather or whatever, I realized that we were into both lunacy and the denial of history, ‘cause, of course, in spite of his rather crazy things about Mary Antoinette and the French Revolution, most of his career was about inclusion, standing against slavery, standing for the American Revolution, and of course leading a fight for anti-racism and anti-imperialism in India — amazing democratic [incompr.] a liberal in the terms of the early 19th century. So when you see that these guys were trying to claim him, it’s like lunatics today claiming Christ or Muhammad to do absolutely unacceptable things.

And I think that the fascinating thing is once you get rid of history, once you get rid of memory, which they’ve done with economics, you suddenly start presenting economics as something that it isn’t, and you start saying, well, the market will lead. And these entirely theoretically sophisticated experts are quoting the invisible hand, which is, of course, an entirely low-level religious image–it’s the invisible hand of God, right, running the universe. As soon as you hear that term and they say, oh, that’s what Adam Smith said — but when you talk to them, they haven’t read Adam Smith. Adam Smith isn’t taught in the departments of economics. You get quotes from Adam Smith even when you’re doing an MA or whatever. They don’t know Adam Smith. They don’t know that he actually was a great voice for fairness, incredibly distrustful of businessmen and powerful businessmen, and said never allow them to be alone in a room together or they’ll combine and falsify the market and so on, so that what we’ve seen in the last half-century is this remarkable thing of big sophisticated societies allowing the marketplace to be pushed from, say, third or fourth spot of importance to number one and saying that the whole of society must be in a sense structured and judged and put together through the eyes of the marketplace and the rules of the marketplace. Nobody’s ever done this before.

HEDGES: How did it happen?

SAUL: Well, I mean, I think it happened gradually, partly by this emptying out of the public space, by this gradual —

HEDGES: What do you mean by that?

SAUL: Well, by the advancing of the idea of the technocracy and the gradual reduction of the space of serious political debate and ideas, and with that the rise of kinds of politicians who would be reliant on the technocracy and really were not themselves voices of ideas that would lead somewhere, you know, the humanist tradition, democratic tradition, egalitarian tradition. And we can see this all sort of petering out. And you can like them or dislike them, but you can see when the real idea of debate of ideas and risk on policy starts to peter out with Johnson and suddenly you’re into either populists or technocrats.

Martin Luther King Jr. speaks to UCLA students


Three years before his assassination, Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. Came to the UCLA campus in Los Angeles to deliver a passionate speech on the state of black America.

And now, thanks to the digitizing of the archives of the university’s Communications Studies Department, you can hear his rousing oratory once again.

Note that several problems singled out then are back again, most notably the loss of low-end jobs to automation [to which must be added today’s exported jobs] and relentless efforts to disenfranchise blacks by way of prohibitive measures.

While legally mandated racial segregation has been outlawed, class-based segregation, a problem disproportionately afflicting African Americans now as then, remains as powerful now as then.

And listen closely to his ruthless debunking of the implicit basis of the arguments of the temporizers, those who argue that only time, not legislation, can redress the attitudes that have harmed America’s minorities.

When King refers to Proposition 14, he is citing the California ballot measure passed by voters the year before, nullifying the Rumford Fair Housing Act of 1963, which had abolished racial segregation of housing in the Golden State.

Sponsored by the California Republican Assembly and the John Birch Society, the seedbed of today’s neoliberal movement [Fred Koch, father of the Koch brothers was a member until his death in 1967, and Charles Koch was a member at the time of King’s UCLA address], Proposition 14 would be overturned by the California Supreme Court in 1968.

Oh, and another supporter of Proposition 14 was one Ronald Wilson Reagan, elected governor the same year as the state supreme court ruling.

The temporizers are back again in full voice today, declaring that we are living in a “post-racial America,” a loathsome claim that finds endless resonance through Fox News and pundits of the radio airwaves.

From the UCLA Communications Studies Department:

Martin Luther King Jr. at UCLA 4/27/1965

Not Sweet: Big Sugar & Big Science Collude


A dentist with a strong sense of compassion and the skills of an investigative UC San Francisco post-doctoral fellow Crista Kearns has devoted herself to exposing the pernicious interface between three powerful institutions, government, the sugar industry, and academia.

What triggered her curiosity was the failure of federal guidelines to include cautions about sugar guidelines for the education of diabetic patients in healthy food choices. This led her to the discovery of a potent nexus of corruption, where fear of the loss of corporate clout and funds has intimidated legislators to set recommended daily maximums for sugar intake, recruited academic scientists to produce distorted research findings, and launched public relations campaigns to hide the real nature of our sweet addiction.

Kearns has written extensively about the politics and health consequences of Big Sugar’s products, and in this presentation to the 5th Annual UCSF Global Oral Health Symposium, she outlines some of her findings.

From UCTV:

Sugar Industry Manipulation of Research: Implications for Oral Health

Program notes:

The UCSF School of Dentistry hosted the 5th Annual UCSF Global Oral Health Symposium, featuring presentations related to nutrition, sugar, and oral health worldwide. This presentation by Dr. Cristin Kearns, from the UCSF School of Medicine is one of a series of three presentations that address the science connecting the diet, nutrition, and oral health, as well as the challenges in setting guidelines and policy to reduce sugar consumption and improve nutrition worldwide. Recorded on 05.05.2015.

What make Kearns even more unique is her skill as an investigative journalist [as in these two articles for Mother Jones] as well as as an academic [as in this peer-reviewed research in PLOS Medicine].

Writing for Mother Jones, she described the critical turning point in her life, after she became frustrated with the failure of those federal diabetes education guidelines:

I already had a demanding schedule managing dental operations for Kaiser Permanente’s Dental Care Program, so I gave up TV and spent my evenings staring at Google search results instead. It took a while to hone my searches, but I eventually found enough evidence to convince me there was a story to be had. I quit my day job and dug deeper, getting away from the internet and into the musty paper archives of university libraries.

Fifteen months later, near the end of my financial rope, I tried not to get overexcited when I came across a promising reference in a library catalog of files from a bankrupt sugar company. The librarian who had archived the files wasn’t sure they contained what I was looking for; the bulk of the collection consisted of photos kept around to document the impact of the beet sugar industry on farm labor.

There in the library reading room, standing over a cardboard storage carton, I opened a folder and caught a glimpse of the first document. I sunk down in my chair and whispered “thank you” to nobody in particular. For there, below the blue letterhead of the Sugar Association, the trade group that would become the focus of our story, “Sweet Little Lies,” the word “CONFIDENTIAL” leapt off the page. I didn’t yet know what I had, but I knew I was on the right path.

Kerans also has her own blog, Sugar Politics.

Big Tobacco: The real dangerous drug peddlers


John Oliver does another deft takedown of a giant corporate cabal, this time Big Tobacco, and its relentless drive to bludgeon national governments into submission — a move increasingly reliant on using the power of vastly expensive litigation and hordes of Wall Street lawyers and high-priced lobbhyists .

From Last Week Tonight with John Oliver:

Last Week Tonight with John Oliver: Tobacco

Program notes:

Thanks to tobacco industry regulations and marketing restrictions in the US, smoking rates have dropped dramatically. John Oliver explains how tobacco companies are keeping their business strong overseas.

One point Oliver fails to complete has to do with that trade court action Australia is currently confronting.

What’s happening there is merely an early warning indicator of more litigation to come as the Obama administration relentlessly pushing both trans-Pacific and trans-Atlantic deals in which corporations and banksters will acquire vastly greater power to quash citizen protections put in place by national governments, thanks to the secret trade tribunals incorporated in the agreements.

Under that legal regime, cases are heard in secret, no transcripts are ever provided to the public, and the only announcement of the binding decisions comes in a terse announcement devoid of background and other details — just as already exists for NAFTA.

And who partakes in drafting these noxious “free trade” agreements?

Consider the case of one such agreement now in negotiation, the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership [TTIP], and this from Corporate Europe Observatory:

BLOG Eurolobby

And who does those lobbyists represent?

Again from Corporate Europe Observatory:

BLOG Eurolobby 2

UPDATE: Those Aussie plain cigaret packs really do work.

From the Guardian:

Plain cigarette packaging can deter the take-up of smoking, studies suggest

  • Researchers say that standardised packaging – first introduced in Australia – would likely reduce smoking and can prevent people from taking up the habit

Studies on the health impact of “plain” or standardised cigarette packs suggest they can deter non-smokers from taking up the habit and may cut the number of cigarettes smokers get through, scientists said on Tuesday.

In a collection of scientific papers in the journal Addiction, researchers said that while standardised packs were still too new to provide substantial evidence, studies so far showed they were likely to reduce smoking rates.

Britain plans before May to become the second country in the world to introduce non-branded, standardised packaging for cigarettes, after the government promised last month to pass legislation that would come into effect in 2016.

MexicoWatch: Calls, requests, hubris, & crime


First, from teleSUR, a call for action:

Mexican Rights Groups Call for UN Official on Disappearances

  • Human rights organizations representing families of the 43 missing Ayotzinapa students requested the implementation of a UN disappearances commissioner.

Human rights groups accompanying the families of the disappeared 43 Ayotzinapa students requested that the United Nation’s Commission Against Enforced Disappearances assign a special commissioner to investigate enforced disappearances in Mexico.

“We asked the committee to appoint or deliberate over the appointment of a commissioner for the country, that is someone for Mexico that will diagnose and attend to the situation of enforced disappearances in our country on a full-time basis,” Denise Gonzalez of the Pro Human Rights Center told a press conference Tuesday on the issue of enforced disappearances.

On Monday, Mexico’s Foreign Affairs Sub-secretary, Juan Manuel Gomez Robledo, admitted that the 43 missing students were victims of enforced disappearance.

teleSUR English covers another call:

Mexico: Activists demand Germany suspend police training, arms deals

Program notes:

Social organizations in Mexico turned in thousands of signatures on petitions to demand that Germany suspend bilateral police training and arms agreements with Mexico. Activists said the Mexican government was incapable of tackling the country’s chronic corruption and violence and that any arms sent to Mexico would end up in the hands of organized crime. They also called on the UN Committee on Enforced Disappearances to appoint a commissioner to provide follow-up to its recommendations on Mexico. Clayton Conn reports from Mexico Citry.

And from teleSUR, after more than 100,000 of them, Mexico takes a long-delayed move:

Mexico to Implement a Law on Forced Disappearances by June

  • Mexico’s track record regarding forced disappearances has been in the international spotlight as a result of the case of the missing 43 students.

Mexican government authorities announced Wednesday that the government is committed to drafting and approving a law specific to forced disappearances. Mexico currently does not have such a law, despite the fact that the country has seen a surge in forced disappearances as a result of the war on drug cartels launched by the Mexican state in 2006.

“The Forced Disappearance General Law is an immediate goal,” said Juan Manuel Gomez Robledo, the head of the Mexican government delegation that traveled this week to Geneva to participate in meetings with the United Nations Committee on Enforced Disappearances.

The Committee on Enforced Disappearances criticized the Mexican government for failing to have reliable numbers on the numbers of disappearances, a fact a member of the Mexican delegation admitted is an issue and that the government would work to correct.

From the Guardian, hubris blowback:

Mexico’s president mocked following complaint that reporters didn’t applaud

  • Hashtag #YaSeQueNoAplauden spawned in response to Enrique Peña Nieto’s jokey complaint that reporters greeted an announcement with silence

Mexico’s president Enrique Peña Nieto has become the butt of a wave of social media ridicule following a jokey complaint about the silence with which reporters greeted his announcement of a government probe into allegations of corruption by his family and the finance minister.

Turning away from the microphone at the end of the announcement on Tuesday, Peña Nieto remarked “Ya se que no aplauden” or “I already knew they don’t clap.”

Within hours, #YaSeQueNoAplauden had become the top trending topic on Twitter in Mexico.
https://twitter.com/hashtag/YaS%C3%A9QueNoAplauden?src=hash

A video report for Al Jazeera’s AJ+:

Enrique Peña Nieto Gets No Applause Or Love At Latest Press Conference

Program notes:

President of Mexico Enrique Peña Nieto called a press conference to announce the creation of a government watchdog agency to look into his own corruption, but what everyone really remembers is what he said when he left the podium. Ya Se Que No Aplauden.

More from Latin Correspondent:

#YaSéQueNoAplauden, the latest mistake for Mexico’s embattled President Peña Nieto

Many watching wondered why Peña Nieto expected a round of applause — after all, press conferences are typically given to cynical members of the media, not adoring political supporters. Though Andrade has been appointed to head up an investigation into corruption allegations and potential conflicts of interest in awarding of government contracts, few in Mexico seem to believe that anything substantial will come of the probe.

This newest gaffe comes in the midst of a very difficult few months for Peña Nieto, who has faced accusations of corruption and rising calls for his resignation since the disappearance of the 43 students in September 2014. Things only got worse with the revelation of millions of dollars worth of contracts awarded and close ties with various construction companies, including the one that built a $7 million house belonging to Peña Nieto’s wife, television star Angélica Rivera, and another home belonging to the country’s finance secretary.

Predictably, Twitter and other social media channels in Mexico seized on the moment, just as they did with #YaMeCansé, which became a rallying cry for anti-government protesters in the wake of the student disappearances. Some used #YaSéQueNoAplauden to question exactly why the Mexican government seems to have such an issue understanding the concept of a live microphone or to mock the president’s concern about applause in the midst of such national turbulence, while others simply took advantage of the moment to show off some meme art.

One example, via Erik @Popochafuz, translates as “You, applaud me!” “Yes, boss”:

BLOG Pena

Finally, an excerpt from a Texas Monthly report on the impact of ongoing mayhem in one community:

Death and Twitter

A mysterious murder silences citizen journalists in Reynosa.   

Chuy, who tweets under the handle @MrCruzStar, meets us at a mall a few miles up Boulevard Hidalgo, and the three of us make our way by taxi to his house. In the cab, it’s all small talk. His Twitter activities, after all, are secret. But once we arrive safely at his home, we discuss how he helps coordinate a network of three thousand or so Twitter users who report disturbances throughout the city using the hashtag #ReynosaFollow. On any given day or night, #ReynosaFollow collects dozens of posts warning of a shootout or a blockade or a column of armored vehicles. It’s essentially a 24-hour neighborhood watch for a city of nearly one million people, enabling citizens to know where they can—and can’t—travel safely. “If we didn’t have that information, the fear would make you stay at home,” Chuy says.

But just two months before, early on the morning of October 16, #ReynosaFollow became a vehicle for spreading fear rather than assuaging it. At 3:04 a.m., a tweet was posted from the account of a much-followed user known as Felina. “Friends and family, my name is María del Rosario Fuentes Rubio, I am a doctor, today my life has come to an end,” it read, in Spanish. Two more tweets arrived over the next five minutes: “I have nothing else to say but do not make the same mistake as I did. You do not win anything. To the contrary I now realize that I found death in exchange for nothing. They are closer than you think.” The final tweet came at 3:11 a.m.: “Close your accounts, do not risk your families as I did with mine. I ask for forgiveness.” Embedded in that tweet were two photographs, one of a woman, presumably Fuentes, staring impassively into a camera, another of the same woman faceup on the ground, blood trickling from her nose, apparently executed.

In a matter of hours, Chuy noticed that accounts were disappearing by the dozen. “We lost reliable sources who self-censored out of fear,” he says. “Now, if something happens, we won’t have the same panorama we had before. We’ll be missing those eyes.”