Category Archives: Public service

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.”