Friday, April 25, 2008
Piedmont Avenue Elementary appears to be a school of last resort in the Oakland district, one where your child ends up if you are still standing when the music stops. Once there, getting your child transferred to a safer school is about as probable as escaping a French tropical penal colony.
Zachary's father, Anthony Cataldo, is a single father who works as a receiver at a Safeway store in Oakland and has had to take the week off to be with his son.
"We're covering for his salary," said Isaias Dominguez, the store's assistant manager. "We have about 200 employees, and everyone is contributing so he doesn't get penalized for being out.
"I found out what happened this morning, and it's extremely horrible. (Zachary) is a nice kid. A really nice kid."
Zachary was standing in front of the school waiting for a ride on Monday afternoon when, as he tells it, "a fifth-grader picked me up, and he body-slammed me into a tree."
His father said Piedmont Avenue Elementary lacks adult supervision before and after school. That was confirmed Wednesday by Denise Saddler, an administrator with the Oakland Unified School District, who said that at elementary schools throughout the district, only students enrolled in special programs receive supervision.
Assemblyman Gene Mullin, a South San Francisco Democrat who heads the Assembly's Education Committee, said Thursday that he will consider whether a "safe-zone requirement" is needed in state law that would require schools to supervise children for a reasonable period before and after school.
"The fact that they have no adult supervision is troubling, quite frankly," Mullin said. "And if there's a reasonable expectation that youngsters could be in harm's way, it would seem that the school district has some responsibility."
At Piedmont Avenue Elementary, where records show that 97 of the school's 344 children were suspended for violent incidents last school year - nine of which involved weapons - school officials acknowledged that children could be in harm's way.
Saddler said Wednesday that district officials are well aware of the danger.
"We monitor the data regularly," she said. "It's a major concern."
The incident that sent Zachary to the hospital was the third time he had been assaulted at Piedmont Avenue Elementary, his father said.
When Zachary was in kindergarten last year, an older boy spun him around and then let go, the elder Cataldo said. Zachary lost four front teeth and suffered a large red laceration on his chin, a photo shows.
Three months ago, a student kicked Zachary in the stomach, his father said, adding that his complaints apparently fell on deaf ears.
Other parents also are angry about violence at Piedmont Avenue Elementary, according to reviews of the school posted on www.greatschools.net.
"Piedmont has a lot of bullying and violence - my daughter has been a victim on many occasions," an unnamed reviewer wrote in July, adding that it was frustrating that school officials have done little to stop the violence.
Wrote another reviewer: "Bullying and violence is a constant issue."
Meanwhile, Cataldo said school officials did little to protect Zachary after each bullying incident. He said his son recently confided that he'd changed his behavior after being kicked in the stomach this winter.
"Zachary told me that for some time, he'd have to hide in the bushes waiting for his day care provider" after school, Cataldo said. "This really broke my heart."
As police investigate the case, which began with a hospital-room interview of Zachary on Tuesday morning, Cataldo has mixed feelings about the fate of the boy he believes slammed Zachary against a tree.
"Of course I'm mad," Cataldo said, adding that the same boy had tripped a girl from Zachary's day care several months ago. When the girl asked why he'd tripped her, "He punched her in the eye," Cataldo said.
"Obviously, someone's hurting him," said Cataldo, suggesting that any child who goes around hurting other children may be a victim of abuse himself.
"Of course I feel bad, but he hurt my only son. And I'm afraid he's going to hurt someone even more seriously. It's a delicate situation. I definitely believe his parents need to be involved."
After all, if school district officials transfer your child, how can they explain not transferring the other 247 students with no record of violence? Of course, as previously reported in the San Francisco Chronicle, the district is now willing to consider whether Zachary should be transferred after Cataldo sought legal representation.
Meanwhile, the state of California is facing a budget deficit in excess of 10 billion dollars, so any solution will require that the parents of the children at Piedmont Avenue Elementary and throughout the Oakland school district organize themselves to protect their children. And, in the meantime, we should all ponder what we could do with all that money being spent in Iraq and Afghanistan. Provide funding for school districts to hire security for when the school day ends? Provide resources so that violent children can be encouraged to promptly change their behavior or be removed from schools where they prey upon others? Just a thought.
It is, however, the social dimension of this article that is most compelling, Anthony Cataldo, a single father who works for Safeway, trying to raise his young son as best he can, saddened to hear his son describe how he hides while waiting after school for his day care provider. Despite the attack, Cataldo refuses to demonize the perpetrator, recognizing the possibility that it may be indicative of a broader pattern of abuse.
Monday, April 21, 2008
Chafing at ties between American intelligence agencies and Ecuadorean military officials, President Rafael Correa is purging the armed forces of top commanders and pressing ahead with plans to cast out more than 100 members of the American military from an air base here in this coastal city.
Mr. Correa — who this month dismissed his defense minister, army chief of intelligence and commanders of the army, air force and joint chiefs — said that Ecuador’s intelligence systems were “totally infiltrated and subjugated to the C.I.A.” He accused senior military officials of sharing intelligence with Colombia, the Bush administration’s top ally in Latin America.
The dismissals point to a willingness by Mr. Correa, an ally of President Hugo Chávez of Venezuela, to aggressively confront Ecuador’s military, a bastion of political and economic power in this coup-prone country of 14 million people. Mr. Correa’s moves mark a clear break with his predecessors, illustrating his wager that Ecuador’s institutions may finally be resilient enough to carry out such changes after more than a decade of political upheaval.
The gambit also poses a clear challenge to the United States. For nearly a decade, the base here in Manta has been the most prominent American military outpost in South America and an important facet of the United States’ drug-fighting efforts. Some 100 antinarcotics flights leave here each month to survey the Pacific in an elaborate cat-and-mouse game with drug traffickers bound for the United States.
But many Ecuadoreans have chafed at the American presence and the perceived challenge to the country’s sovereignty, and Mr. Correa promised during his campaign in 2006 to close the outpost.
So far Ecuador’s armed forces, arbiters in the ouster of three presidents in the last 11 years, have bent to the will of Mr. Correa, a widely popular left-leaning president who has sought to assert greater state control over Ecuador’s petroleum and mining industries while challenging the authority of political institutions like the country’s Congress.
Boy, it's not the 1980s down south anymore, is it?
Still, tensions persist over his clash with top generals, which emerged after Colombian forces raided a Colombian rebel camp in Ecuador last month. The raid against the rebel group, the Marxist-inspired Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia, put Ecuador and its ally Venezuela on edge with Colombia. Twenty-five people were killed, including Franklin Aisalla, an Ecuadorean operative for the group, known as the FARC.
The face-off between Ecuador and Colombia ended at a summit meeting in the Dominican Republic, but it has begun again over revelations that Ecuadorean intelligence officials had been tracking Mr. Aisalla, information that was shared not with the president, but apparently with Colombian forces and their American military advisers.
The leak became evident when video and photo images surfaced in Colombia and Ecuador showing Mr. Aisalla meeting with FARC commanders.
“I, the president of the republic, found out about these operations by reading the newspaper,” a visibly indignant Mr. Correa said last week during an interview in the capital, Quito, with foreign correspondents. “This is not something we can tolerate. He added that he planned to restructure the intelligence agencies to give him greater direct control over them.
Friday, April 18, 2008
Not surprisingly, the reporter, Marc Lacey, avoids interviewing indigenous voices, replacing them with more professional, internationally rspected voices, like Jeffrey Sachs.
Hunger bashed in the front gate of Haiti’s presidential palace. Hunger poured onto the streets, burning tires and taking on soldiers and the police. Hunger sent the country’s prime minister packing.
Haiti’s hunger, that burn in the belly that so many here feel, has become fiercer than ever in recent days as global food prices spiral out of reach, spiking as much as 45 percent since the end of 2006 and turning Haitian staples like beans, corn and rice into closely guarded treasures.
Saint Louis Meriska’s children ate two spoonfuls of rice apiece as their only meal recently and then went without any food the following day. His eyes downcast, his own stomach empty, the unemployed father said forlornly, “They look at me and say, ‘Papa, I’m hungry,’ and I have to look away. It’s humiliating and it makes you angry.”
That anger is palpable across the globe. The food crisis is not only being felt among the poor but is also eroding the gains of the working and middle classes, sowing volatile levels of discontent and putting new pressures on fragile governments.
In Cairo, the military is being put to work baking bread as rising food prices threaten to become the spark that ignites wider anger at a repressive government. In Burkina Faso and other parts of sub-Saharan Africa, food riots are breaking out as never before. In reasonably prosperous Malaysia, the ruling coalition was nearly ousted by voters who cited food and fuel price increases as their main concerns.
“It’s the worst crisis of its kind in more than 30 years,” said Jeffrey D. Sachs, the economist and special adviser to the United Nations secretary general, Ban Ki-moon. “It’s a big deal and it’s obviously threatening a lot of governments. There are a number of governments on the ropes, and I think there’s more political fallout to come.”
Indeed, as it roils developing nations, the spike in commodity prices — the biggest since the Nixon administration — has pitted the globe’s poorer south against the relatively wealthy north, adding to demands for reform of rich nations’ farm and environmental policies. But experts say there are few quick fixes to a crisis tied to so many factors, from strong demand for food from emerging economies like China’s to rising oil prices to the diversion of food resources to make biofuels.
If Lacey had done so, he might have discovered that the people in these countries perceive very different reasons for their predicament: the evisceration of public health, education and social services, including subsidies for food, in order to satisfy the demands of finance capital, the inability of their economies to generate employment much beyond the informal sector, or to put it more inelegantly, the street, despite these concessions, the willingness of finance capital and international institutions to permit pliable local elites to amass great fortunes by looting the country's resources, and the willingness of the US, as it has specifically done it Haiti, to promote violent unrest.
But no. As Lacey implies in relation to Haiti, the problem is that these countries haven't become investment friendly enough. Curiously, he doesn't explain what measurs that Haiti, and other countries like it, might undertake to do so. So, again, the question: Feed them or shoot them? The acceleration of events is pressing the question with greater and greater urgency.
Tuesday, April 15, 2008
Perhaps, the obvious explanation is the right one. According to a 2008 survey conducted by the American Society of Newspaper Editors ("ASNE"):
So much for the liberal media.
John McCain and Barack Obama both appeared before the nation's newspaper editors yesterday. The putative Republican presidential nominee was given a box of doughnuts and a standing ovation. The likely Democratic nominee was likened to a terrorist.
At a luncheon for the editors hosted by the Associated Press, AP Chairman Dean Singleton quizzed Obama about whether he would send more troops to Afghanistan, where "Obama bin Laden is still at large?"
"I think that was Osama bin Laden," the candidate answered.
"If I did that, I'm so sorry!" Singleton said.
"This," Obama told the editors, is "part of the exercise that I've been going through over the last 15 months."
Meanwhile, according to ASNE:
The percent of minority journalists working at daily newspapers grew minimally to 13.52 percent from 13.43 percent of all journalists.
Could this possibly explain the fixation of some newspapers with people who persist in falsely characterizing Obama as some kind of foreign outsider, a closet Muslim, someone we should eye warily in regard to his patriotism, while McCain, a man who was captured and incarcerated because he was shot down in Vietnam bombing a civilian light bulb factory, is revered?
In 1980, the U.S. was 80 percent white not Hispanic and about 20 percent minority, according to the U.S. Census Bureau. By 2006, the U.S. was 66 percent white who are not Hispanic and minorities were 34 percent, according to the census bureau.
Apparently, if yesterday is any indication, editors are quite comfortable with McCain's desire to remain in Iraq for a hundred years, and to bomb bomb bomb bomb bomb Iran. Obama's suggestions that we withdraw from Iraq, and actually initiate a dialogue with the Iranians? They don't appear to be very enthusiastic.
Regardless of what you think about the American political process, and whether it is worth taking seriously, the differing receptions of McCain and Obama point towards some rather troubling possibilities about racial bias and the acceptability of military violence to resolve international disputes among newspaper editors.
For a more extreme case, just consider how they cover Hugo Chavez in Venezuela. I don't recall a single newspaper editorializing that he should be returned to power after the 2002 coup, and many papers, like my local one, The Sacramento Bee, frequently run columns condemning him based upon demonstrably false information.
Chavez seeks to eliminate term limits by a constitutional referendum? He's obviously a dictator, but nearby, Alvaro Uribe, the President of Colombia, can actually successfully do so, and it's no problem, despite the Pentagon's belief that he was connected to the Medillin cartel and a personal friend of Pablo Escobar. Could part of the problem, beyond the obvious political one, be the fact that he is black and indigenous? And, that such people aren't supposed to talk back to the US?
Monday, April 14, 2008
Or, maybe, these women assume that all of us are militarists? Or, perhaps, the author cherrypicked the quotes to fit the story that she wanted to publish? That's always a strong possibility.
Oops, there is a brief throwaway reference to Clinton's support for the Iraq war in the last paragraph, after much handwringing and dismay as to the undercurrent of misogyny that the women interviewed perceive in relation to the excitement generated by Obama. It is, after all, essential that such subjects be placed in the appropriate context.
lenin, over at Lenin's Tomb, summarizes the situation pretty well:
The Service Employees International Union turned their dispute with the California Nurses Association violent by attacking a labor conference April 12, injuring several and sending an American Axle striker to the hospital.
A recently retired member of United Auto Workers Local 235, Dianne Feeley, suffered a head wound after being knocked to the ground by SEIU International staff and local members. Other conference-goers—members of the Teamsters, UAW, UNITE HERE, International Longshoremen’s Association, and SEIU itself—were punched, kicked, shoved, and pushed to the floor. Dearborn police responded and evicted the three bus loads of SEIU International staff and members of local and regional health care unions. No arrests were made.
The assault took place at the Labor Notes conference, a biennial gathering of 1,100 union members and leaders who met to discuss strategies to rebuild the labor movement.
David Cohen, an international representative of the United Electrical Workers, asked protesters why they came. He said one responded, “they told us just to get on the bus.” The protesters included several members with young children, who had to be ushered away when SEIU tried to force their way into the conference banquet hall. Protesters were targeting Rose Ann DeMoro, executive director of the AFL-CIO-affiliated CNA. DeMoro was scheduled to speak but declined to appear after threats were made against her union’s leadership.
Despite being welcomed to the conference earlier in the day—and given space to debate supporters of the CNA and the National Nurses Organizing Committee about neutrality organizing agreements—SEIU international and regional staff shouted down speakers at workshops and panels throughout the event.
“Labor Notes has always been a space for open debate, but when a union decides to engage in violence against their brothers and sisters, we draw a line,” said Mark Brenner, director of Labor Notes. “Violence within the labor movement is nacceptable and we call on the national leadership of SEIU, including President Andy Stern, to repudiate it.”
It will be interesting to see if SEIU brings such tactics out here to California to challenge CNA on its home turf. I'd recommend that CNA labor representatives consider obtaining permits to carry mace in anticipation of such a development.
The SEIU leadership is increasingly bent on a model of business unionism, cutting sweet-heart deals with employers that rule out strike action and promise to increase the bottom line. It means imposing such templates from the centre and expecting local affiliates to comply. It also includes loyalty oaths being imposed on members by the leadership. Though anti-democratic and disempowering local workers, it seems to be a vision that inspires some admiration at Business Week. This has produced a rift in the organisation with a layer of workers demanding a more militant and democratic approach. So, it seems that several SEIU members were present at this conference, whose purpose was to establish a viable strategy for effective unionism. Also present were members of the CNA, who have long been in a dispute with the SEIU over its timid politics and strategy, with complaints summarised here. The SEIU, including the dissident faction led by Sal Rosseli, charges that the CNA aggressively undermines SEIU recruitment and organising efforts. Following a negotiated truce in which the two unions agreed to keep to respective geographical areas of strength, the war of attrition has continued, and the SEIU is now engaged in an aggressive campaign against the CNA and its national off-shoot, the NNOC. The SEIU dissidents are refusing to have anything to do with it, considering their tactics a form of union-busting. The SEIU leaders, and several hundred loyal members, clearly saw this weekend's efforts as a defense of the union's interests and long-term strategy. The current SEIU leader, Andy Stern, is adored in much of the media ("charismatic", "firebrand"), but doesn't appear to have much to recommend him. Promises of explosive growth thanks to a brilliant new strategy to one side, he seems to be a leader very much in the mould of his predecessor John Sweeney, and not a great deal different from past advocates of business unionism such as George Meany or Lane Kirkland.
Saturday, April 12, 2008
Thursday, April 10, 2008
The Olympics: Athletic Fascism
Early April 2002: Hugo Chavez returns to power after a coup attempt, the suspension of all constitutional rights and the installation of a new government recognized by the US. At the time, I had some awareness of Chavez and the Bolivarian Revolution, primarily through his October 2001 condemnation of the US attack upon Afghanistan as an instance of fighting terror with terror, replete with photographs of dead Afghans. It was one of those profound moments, a truly brave statement of resistance at a time when the political leadership of the rest of the world was cowed into silence in the face of US intentions to militarily expand its influence in response to 9/11.
Upon hearing about the coup on April 9th, I realized that Chavez was a seminal figure of the age, someone around whom opposition to the purported war on terror and US inspired neoliberal policy had coalesced. The popular uprising that restored Chavez to power within days after the coup, and his victory in a national referendum on the question of his removal from office a couple of years later, after an attempt by workers and managers in the state turn oil company, PDVSA, to bring the economy to a halt by shutting down the production, literally changed the course of history.
Along with the enduring ability of the Iraqi insurgency to inflict grievous losses upon the US, losses in both blood and money that have impaired the offensive capabilities of the US military, the survival of Chavez has prevented the US from recreating the global economy in its own imperialistic image. Even more important, his survival has served as an inspiration for social movements around the world dedicated to the goals of fulfilling the needs of impoverished people and empowering them.
Consistent with this, we tend to disregard the extent to which Chavez is admired because, as a dark skinned ruler, with indigenous and Afro-Venezuelan roots, he presents a marked contrast to the Eurocentric figures that have dominated not just South America, but many other parts of the world as well. The Irish documentary about the failed coup, The Revolution Will Not Be Televised, provides some excellent insight into these themes.
Here is Part 1 of that documentary:The remaining segments are readily available on YouTube.
Of course, Chavez is not without flaws. He vacillates between policies of economic centralization and decentralization; he has not put sufficient land in the hands of campesinos so as to reduce Venezuela's dependency upon other countries for much of its food supply; he has failed to reduce the country's notorious incidence of violent crime, and, he tends to reflexively embrace other anti-American leaders around the world indiscriminately.
But these failings do not outweigh his strengths. Since the end of the late 2002, early 2003 PDVSA sabotage, he has presided over an impressive period of economic growth, as indicated here and here, one that has disproportionately benefitted the poorest of Venezuelans. Unemployment has dropped from 16.6% when he was elected to 7.6% in February 2008, after being just over 10% in January 2008 and December 2007. Such a record stands in marked contrast to the domestic record of the Bush presidency.
Chavez has created a culture of democratic participation at all levels of society to replace the duopoly, governance by elites that relied upon the practice of alternation, the rotating substitution of rule by one party by the other, to implement neoliberal policies. If anything, as noted by Lula and others, he has subjected Venezuela to an excess of democracy through electoral and referenda campaigns that have seemingly followed one after another.
Accordingly, Chavez remains a strong anti-imperialist with an impressive record of economic accomplishment. Predictably, despite the referendum defeat last year, he remains popular with the Venezuelan public. The preservation of his legacy depends upon confronting new economic challenges emerging over the course of this period of growth, the emergence of a new generation of leaders within Venezuela capable of carrying forward the Bolivarian Revolution, the continued vitality of leftist movements throughout the continent and, just possibly, the continued success of Iraqi insurgency.
Wednesday, April 09, 2008
Off to a great start already, and the relay doesn't start for another two hours. No doubt narcissistic torch relay runners like Helen Zia and Jill Slavery will find some way to rationalize it. After all, the man got what he deserved by violating the rule that the Olympics, and all the events surrounding it, are not supposed to be politicized, or rather, they are only to be politicized by the host country seeking to burnish an atrocious human rights and labor rights record.
And, when the torch relay goes through Tibet?
It appears that China has completely wrested control of the 2008 Olympics away from the International Olympic Committee. One can only hope that it continues to conduct itself in such a ham handed way so as to permanently destroy the credibility of the event.
In China, government officials warned against attempts to disrupt the torch as it travels through Tibet on the most controversial leg of the tour.
"If someone dares to sabotage the torch relay in Tibet and its scaling of Mount Everest, we will seriously punish him and will not be soft-handed," said Qiangba Puncog, governor of the Tibetan Autonomous Region, at a press conference in Beijing.
Tuesday, April 08, 2008
But what precisely is the problem? Yes, at one level, the problem is precisely as they understand it, a centralized, authoritarian Chinese government that increasingly relies upon xenophobic appeals to nationalism to justify the suppression of different peoples, cultures and proponents of a more tolerant, diverse society. Certainly, a change in government in Beijing, or even merely a relaxation in the political orientation of the CCP, would improve the conditions under which Uighurs, Tibetans, peasants and manufacturing workers live.
In Paris, at the Trocadéro, opposite the Eiffel Tower, human rights organizations like Amnesty International and press freedom groups like Reporters Without Borders protested side by side with representatives of a banned underground Chinese democracy party, Taiwan nationalists and proponents of independence for the Uighurs, a Muslim minority in western China.
“We all have the same problem,” Can Asgar, a leader of the Uighur diaspora in Munich, yelled into a microphone at the Trocadéro. "Freedom for Uighurs. Freedom for Tibet. We must fight together.”
Indeed, it is this internal dynamic, the growing social unrest within China, as discussed here and here and here, that interweaves Tibet and Xinjiang into a larger pattern of discontent. China has abandoned state socialism and remorselessly implemented neoliberal economic policies since the early 1980s, creating an exploitative system that Peter Kwong, quoting a colleague, describes as high tech feudalism. As a consequence, it appears increasingly evident that the government believes that such a system cannot be preserved, even if reformed, without enforcing imperial control over peripheral regions with large numbers of non-ethnic Chinese.
Hong Kong, and possibly even Taiwan, as providers of capital for the Chinese industrial machine, can be provided with a certain measure of autonomy, because they accept the socioeconomic principles upon which the society is built. But Tibet and Xinjiang are problematic, as they emphasize ethnic and religious values that are incompatible with them. Moreover, the peoples of these regions, if granted control over their lives and resources, could set a troubling example for the laboring classes within China.
Such a perspective remains, however, too narrow. Increasingly, the global neoliberal economy is a creation of the US, Europe, Japan and China. Commodities and capital move between these economic zones, and then out to the lesser developed countries of the world, in search of the most profitable opportunities, opportunities dependent upon environmental degradation and a docile workforce that will accept the most demeaning treatment.
At the center of this economy is the relationship between the US and China. US corporations have offshored production to China, commonly through subcontractors, and the manufactured commodities return to the US, where they are purchased by consumers, often through extensive access to generous credit. Of course, the credit aspect of this equation is under stress, as discussed here, putting the future prospects of this model in question, but that does not invalidate my description of the situation.
Accordingly, the 2008 Beijing Olympic Games constitutes a coronation of this global structure, with the torch relay being the procession in advance of it. A visit to the relay's official website reveals the predictable corporate sponsors, Coca-Cola, Samsung and Lenovo. Similarly, the Games has an even wider range of corporate sponsors in addition to the relay ones, including VISA, Panasonic, Kodak, GE, Johnson & Johnson, Adidas and Volkswagon. Paralleling the control that China imposes upon its workforce, the participating athletes are not permitted to wear political badges, and innocuous ones worn by torch bearers in Paris may subject them to sanction.
The Olympic Torch has therefore become the symbol of the dominant neoliberal economic order, necessitating repressive measures similar to those required to maintain stability in production facilites around the lesser developed world. It is no accident that the police presence required to escort the torch through the cities of Europe and the US evokes memories of past anti-globalization protests.
But the angry, bleeding protesters have not cast a broad enough net of condemnation. The problem is not just China, but its incorporation into a global economically coercive system of social control. The protesters should therefore aspire not just to put out the torch because of China's atrocious human rights record, but to seize it and destroy it in a provocative public exhibition of contempt for what it perversely represents.
Monday, April 07, 2008
I must admit that this is not a subject that I have examined in depth. At minimum, we should be alarmed at the close relationship between the FBI, the Pentagon and white supremacists when it came to King. The prospect that they would see King as threatening is compelling, precisely because he integrated civil rights with anti-imperialism.
He was assassinated forty years ago just after 6 pm as he stood on a balcony of the Lorraine motel in Memphis, Tennessee. A single rifle bullet hit him in the jaw, then severed his spinal cord. James Earl Ray, a white man, was convicted of the killing and sentenced to 99 years. Ray was certainly the gunman.
But there are credible theories of a conspiracy, possibly involving US Army intelligence, whose role in the life and death of Martin Luther King was explored by Stephens Tompkins in the Memphis Commercial Appeal in 1993.
The Army's interest in the King family stretched back to 1917 when the War Department opened a file on King's maternal grandfather, first president of Atlanta's branch of the NAACP. King's father, Martin Sr., also entered Army intelligence files as a potential troublemaker, as did Martin Jr. in 1947 when he was 18. He was attending Dorothy Lilley's Intercollegiate School in Atlanta and 111th Military Intelligence Group in Fort McPherson in Atlanta suspected Ms Lilley of having Communist ties.
King's famous denunciation of America's war in Vietnam came exactly a year before his murder, before a crowd of 3,000 in the Riverside Church in Manhattan. He described Vietnam's destruction at the hands of ''deadly Western arrogance,'' insisting that ''we are on the side of the wealthy, and the secure, while we create a hell for the poor We were taking the black young men who had been crippled by our society and sending them eight thousand miles away to guarantee liberties in Southeast Asia which they had not found in southwest Georgia and East Harlem." US Army spies secretly recorded black radical Stokely Carmichael warning King, "The Man don't care you call ghettos concentration camps, but when you tell him his war machine is nothing but hired killers you got trouble." Carmichael was right.
After the 1967 Detroit riots 496 black men under arrest were interviewed by agents of the Army's Psychological Operations Group, dressed as civilians. It turned out King was by far the most popular leader. That same year, watching the great antiwar march on Washington in October 1967 from the roof of the Pentagon Major General William Yarborough, assistant chief of staff for Army intelligence, concluded that "the empire was coming apart at the seams". He thought there were too few reliable troops to fight the war in Vietnam and hold the line at home.
The Army increased surveillance on King. Green Berets and other Special Forces veterans from Vietnam began making street maps and identifying sniper sites in major American cities. The Ku Klux Klan was recruited by the 20th Special Forces Group, headquartered in Alabama, as a subsidiary intelligence network. The Army began offering 30.06 sniper rifles to police departments, including that of Memphis. King was dogged by spy units through early '67. A Green Beret unit was operating in Memphis the day he was shot. The bullet that killed him came from a 30.06 rifle purchased in a Memphis store. Army intelligence chiefs became increasingly hysterical over the threat of King to national stability.
Cockburn correctly observes that King is now revered precisely because he was killed without successfully transforming American society as he intended. As a result, his conduct has been sanitized, the rough, populist edges worn away, as the presentation of his life has been forced to conform to a middle class model of socially acceptable behaviour. Note that the revelations about King's promiscuity are completely consistent with such an approach.
If there was a credible argument against the King holiday, it was this, that the institutionalization of celebrating King as an exemplar of the African American experience necessarily requires the deliberate misrepresentation of his life and achievements. Michael Eric Dyson indirectly touched upon this on Friday when he emphasized the judgmental, confrontation rhetoric that King used to condemn the Vietnam War when speaking before African American audiences:
Sounds familiar, doesn't it? If King were alive today, Barack Obama would find himself criticized for attending one of his services, but, one suspects, there would be a different rule for whites. The curious aspect is that the fundamental subject of King's sermons, much like the ones of Jeremiah Wright that were publicized recently, was not the Vietnam War (in Wright's case, the Iraq one) or the predations of US foreign policy, but rather, the primacy of the Christian God over nations on earth created by men.
. . . although King spoke famously against the Vietnam War before a largely white audience at Riverside Church in New York in 1967, exactly a year before he died, he reserved some of his strongest antiwar language for his sermons before black congregations. In his own pulpit at Ebenezer Baptist Church in Atlanta, two months before his death, King raged against America's "bitter, colossal contest for supremacy." He argued that God "didn't call America to do what she's doing in the world today," preaching that "we are criminals in that war" and that we "have committed more war crimes almost than any nation in the world." King insisted that God "has a way of saying, as the God of the Old Testament used to say to the Hebrews, 'Don't play with me, Israel. Don't play with me, Babylon. Be still and know that I'm God. And if you don't stop your reckless course, I'll rise up and break the backbone of your power.' "
We are not exposed to punishment and degradation because of what we create these nations to do. Instead, we are exposed to it because we believe that the nation state is superior to the word of God. Accordingly, there is a hubris associated with such a belief that invariably culminates in brutality. Naturally, at a time in which Christian evangelicalism is ascendant, no one objected to this aspect of Wright's sermons. Liberals act as if this aspect of King's activism never existed.
Friday, April 04, 2008
So, King's death there was analogous to the death of a President or a Pope, except that it had a much more intimate quality. King was the local African American minister writ large, he could have been the pastor across town in one of the churches in the black section. He was paradoxically larger than life, yet someone that people felt they knew personally.
By comparison, RFK was a distant, remote figure, a manifestation of Northern political power that southerners both respected and resented, a modern day Sherman. His death a couple of months later was traumatic, but had nowhere near the emotional consequences in the Deep South that King's did. RFK was someone that you would only ever expect to see on television, but you could imagine yourself bumping into King walking down the street.
But a lot of this was beyond me at the time. I could tell, however, from watching the television and hearing the radio that something very bad had happened, and that it involved white and black people very much like the ones that I lived around in Macon. You couldn't escape black and white there. My parents were divorced, and my mother worked evenings in the composing room of the Macon Telegraph.
For a long time, I suggested that my life during this time was poverty stricken, but it really wasn't. Her salary, as a unionized newspaper employee, was probably one of the best in Macon outside of the Brown and Williamson cigarette plant. A middle aged African American woman named Louise Walker took care of me while she was away. Back then, we called her a maid, as everyone else would have, but now she would be known as a nanny.
Every now and then, we would go over to visit Louise and her family, and it was a trip into a segregated world that a lot of people have never experienced. The roads in her neighborhood were not paved, and the drainage lines were above ground. In that respect, it was not so very different from the peripheral squatters' neighborhoods adjacent to Venezuelan cities like Caracas and Barquisimento that I encountered in 2005. Unlike these neighborhoods in Venezuela, though, they did have utilities such as water and power, and the homes were far superior.
It was incomprehensible that I would go to the same school as Louise's children. I attended an elementary school on the outskirts of town that was virtually entirely white. There may have been an African American or two, but I have no recollection of them. By 1972, my mother had remarried and moved us across the country to midtown in Sacramento, California, where I was enrolled in fifth grade at Fremont Elementary at 24th and N Street.
Today, midtown is a gentrified part of the central city, with some of the highest property values, but, back then, it was a neighborhood significantly abandoned by whites who had fled to surburbia. My classmates were the children of the remaining lower middle income ones, along with many Latinos and Asians, most of them from immigrant families. It was about as different from Macon, Georgia as one could imagine. It was a privilege to go through the educational system with them.
But it is hard for me to think of King without remembering Louise Walker. At first, King seems to have believed that he could open the door to opportunities for people like her by changing the law. But, as Michael Eric Dyson observes in today's Los Angeles Times, King recognized that something more was required. Although he was scrupulous about never publicly using the term, he decided that it would be necessary for the country to adopt socialist practices in order to overcome the poverty that afflicted millions of Americans of all kinds.
Hence, King was killed in Memphis while championing the cause of sanitation workers laboring under embarassingly demeaning conditions. He was just about to launch the Poor People's Campaign, which aspired to shut down the government unless it confronted poverty. Of course, he had already condemned the Vietnam War in stark terms in a 1967 speech at the Riverside Church in Harlem.
King the civil rights advocate could be incorporated within the American social system, but King the closet socialist and anti-imperialist could not. James Earl Ray, and possibly others, eliminated the threat he posed to the established order. Afterwards, millions of African American entered the middle class while millions of other lower middle income and lower income ones struggled to survive, as many of their children were warehoused in the prison system through increasingly draconian sentencing laws.
One rarely hears King described in relation to anarchism. Certainly, he did not espouse an overtly anarchist vision of society. And yet, as a religious figure, his vision transcended the boundaries of the nation state. He did not believe that the war in Vietnam was immoral just because of its baleful consequences for Americans, as many liberals today believe about the war in Iraq, but rather because the recourse to such violence itself was immoral, and that the victims of this violence were the peoples of the world subjected to American militarism.
Indeed, one can interpret King's references to American militarism in his 1967 Riverside Church speech as references to the inherent militarism of the nation state itself. It is doubtful that King actually went this far in his thought, but he must have certainly been aware that nation states find the use of this kind of violence extremely seductive. Had King lived, would he have emphasized the notion that nation states manipulate violence to justify their existence and control others? It's not at all implausible.
King also brushes against anarchism in his recognition that we had to confront poverty as a global phenomenon. For him, a woman like Louise Walker stood with millions of others around the world. His covert socialism was not for just one country, a nationalistic kind, but, ultimately, for everyone. His death casts a shadow that remains to this day.
Thursday, April 03, 2008
But sometimes, even the bad guys have good ideas and projects worthy of our participation. StoryCorps is a national oral history project, an opportunity for us to sit down with one of our loved ones, whether family, friends, co-workers or significant others, and relate the most important formative experiences of our lives. Or, alternatively, the most playful ones . . the most emotional ones . . . or, all of them together.
Why do I consider this project to have merit? As many of you know, one of my preoccupations on this blog has been the extent to which postmodern entertainment culture consciously and subconsciously persuades us to diminish the importance of our lived experiences to the point of erasure. Passive observation of entertainment media has replaced much of the folkloric transmission of knowledge, experience and joy that used to be so prevalent.
In other words, it enables us to assert the primacy of our lives, and the importance of sharing our experiences with one another, against the artificial social creations of transnational entertainment companies. It empowers us to decide what is important and what is not, as opposed to having it filtered through focus groups, marketing surveys and the programming decisions of telecommunications companies.
Even more seditiously, it allows us to exploit the very technologies utilized to disassociate us from ourselves, the computer, the Internet, the DVD and miniaturized audio equipment, to recover our sense of self and our relations with the people around us. Cynics will say that the recordings will rarely be heard. Perhaps. But I think that they underestimate how prized these recordings will become for those who participated. With the passage of time, people will increasingly enjoy hearing them and actively seek them out. Beyond this, I suspect that they will constitute a bountiful resource of sociologists and historians.
Of course, I may be romanticizing the potential for this project, but, even so, it is critical to understand, as I said earlier, that the mere act of participation is a form of individual empowerment. To step forward, and speak about ourselves with the understanding that our experiences have value, to recognize their importance, is a powerful act of self assertion. Or, to put it differently, we are persuaded to marginalize ourselves by silencing ourselves, and this project induces us to resist it.
More specifically, I believe that it is essential for those of us on the left to participate so as to document our lives, our experiences and our values. We can preserve them for others to hear through this project. Note that the participants receive a free, broadcast quality CD from the project. Just imagine what we could do with them if we participate. By memorializing our values and experiences through this project, we can pass them down to our children and generations to come, leaving open the possibility that another world is possible. An incremental effort, to be sure, but then, isn't history shaped by the collective accumulation of such efforts?
I intend to make a reservation for when the StoryBooth comes to Sacramento. For more information about how you can participate, please go here. Apparently, there are ways to have your stories recorded, even if you can't get to a StoryBooth location.
Wednesday, April 02, 2008
It wasn't intentional, though, at least as far as the reporters themselves were concerned. Most newspapers had adopted a business model that made the publication of such stories inevitable. Of course, we now know that elite papers like the New York Times and the Washington Post had moved in this direction as well, but they had hired reporters, like Judith Miller, for example, that had consciously decided to move in this direction for ideological reasons.
Yesterday, the Sacramento Bee sanctified this trend by hiring Cynthia Dell to replace Janis Heaphy as publisher. The Bee, as one of the flagship papers of the McClatchy chain, a respected regional one, had a history of trying to resist the encroachment of press release journalism, even if it imposed a stodgy writing style upon its reporters and copy editors, but now, with the financial catastrophe of its purchase of Knight-Ridder apparent, it too, has acquisced.
The Internet, and the opportunities that it purported presents for allegedly synergistic partnerships with major advertisers, opportunities celebrated by The Bee's new publisher, Dell, appears to pushing the trend to its logical extreme, the ulimately end point, the publication of press releases without an intermediary interpretation by the reporter.
Look at this "article" posted on The Bee's website today:
It is pretty obvious that the reporter, Dorsey Griffith, just summarized what he read in the release. Why, you might ask, is a Sutter Health press release being given such prominence, and by extension, credibility, through placement on the news tab of the website? Perhaps, the fact that Sutter Health is one of the most ubiquitous advertisers on The Bee's website just might have something to do with it.
Sutter Health announced Tuesday that it has donated $737,000 to health programs in three Northern California communities.
The Effort, a Sacramento-based community clinic providing primary care, substance-abuse treatment and mental health services for the under-served, will receive $262,000, according to a Sutter news release.
Other grants went to Perinatal Health Project, a program working to improve the health of pregnant mothers in disadvantaged Northern California communities including in Yolo County, and to Operation Access, a group that coordinates free surgeries for uninsured Bay Area residents, the release said.
Furthermore, consider the possibility that the mom's group created by The Bee, SacMomsClub, is proud to welcome Sutter Health as a partner has something to do with it as well. No wonder The Bee was critical of the efforts of the Service Employees' International Union to litigate alleged environmental disclosure deficiencies and impose community benefit guidelines in regard to a major expansion of one of Sutter's hospital facilities here.
They used to say that a good newspaper had no friends. The reverse is true as well. A mediocre one has too many, especially of the corporate kind. And liberals continue to wonder why many Americans still believe that Saddam Hussein had WMDs and assisted al-Qaeda.
Tuesday, April 01, 2008
I can't help reading this without wondering whether the reporter, Dale Kasler, is an old school journalist in the vein of Sinclair Lewis. Is he or she skilled at getting satirical material past the literal minded editors on the copy desk? Perhaps, but we shouldn't ignore the possibility that the editor was complicit.
Dell, an 11-year McClatchy veteran and a native of the Modesto area, comes to The Bee with a reputation for finding new ways to engage readers and advertisers, particularly on the Web. For instance, the News Tribune sends out a daily business-news e-mail alert ("The Biz Buzz") to interested subscribers and just started a feature that lets readers post their own restaurant reviews online.
In recent years McClatchy has put pressure on its publishers to enhance their Internet operations, and "more often than not, Cheryl has been the first in the company to innovate," said Frank Whittaker, vice president for operations at McClatchy.
The Bee's revenue fell 17 percent last year to $211 million, according to McClatchy's Securities and Exchange Commission filings. The Tacoma paper's revenue fell just 2 percent, to $83 million.
Industry analysts say the Internet effect is hitting large papers like The Bee much harder than smaller papers like the News Tribune. According to SEC filings, The Bee's weekday circulation is 270,697; the News Tribune's is 112,370.
In addition, The Bee is suffering from a slump in real estate advertising and the overall softness in the region's economy. The Bee's troubles, along with similar woes at the Miami Herald, are a big reason McClatchy's revenue fell 7.9 percent last year and is down 13.2 percent so far this year.
Dell, though, said The Bee has a history of rebounding from financial problems.
"There have been peaks and valleys in revenue at The Bee over the course of 150 years," she said. Each time, the paper has emerged in better shape, she said.
Dell, who was born in Oakdale, had her picture published on the front page of McClatchy's Modesto Bee when she was 5. Her first daily newspaper job came at age 24, in the advertising department of the Contra Costa Times, and she began her McClatchy career as ad director in Modesto in 1997.
Her husband, Brad Dell, is a former teacher at Sacramento's Hiram Johnson High School and is coordinator of disaster response for Associated Ministries, a coalition of Tacoma-area churches.
"This feels so much like a homecoming for me," she said.
In Tacoma, she is known for extensive community involvement. Among other things, she chairs the Tacoma-Pierce County Economic Development Board, a public-private entity that recruits businesses.
"I've certainly been impressed with her sense of community," said David Graybill, president of the Tacoma-Pierce County Chamber of Commerce.
David Zeeck, executive editor of the Tacoma paper, said Dell has done an excellent job of navigating the often tricky path newspaper publishers must face – advocating for the community without compromising the editorial independence of the newspaper.
Let's look at the first paragraph of my blockquote again: Dell, an 11-year McClatchy veteran and a native of the Modesto area, comes to The Bee with a reputation for finding new ways to engage readers and advertisers, particularly on the Web. For instance, the News Tribune sends out a daily business-news e-mail alert ("The Biz Buzz") to interested subscribers and just started a feature that lets readers post their own restaurant reviews online.
Yes, the Biz Buzz, something right out of Main Street. Indeed, it is worth breaking this down even more. First, note the use of chirpy public relations lingo in describing Dell: . . . comes to the Bee with a reputation for new ways to engage readers and advertisers. Here, Kasler masterfully subjects her and this PR mentality to ridicule even as the recipients gobble it up as straight praise.
Second, let's carefully scrutinize Kasler's description of Dell's creativity: . . the News Tribune sends out a daily business news e-mail alert ("The Biz Buzz") to interested subscribers . . . We should assume that Kasler is well aware that newspapers have been sending out alerts connected to their news, arts, sports, and, yes, business coverage for years, and that most of us who receive them find them an aggravating nuisance necessitating immediate deletion from our account. Furthermore, discerning readers get extra points for recognizing Kasler's subtle implication that Dell is a proponent of using newspapers, in the tradition of Hearst and Chandler, as propagandizers for business interests.
It gets better. Let's move to the next paragraph: In recent years McClatchy has put pressure on its publishers to enhance their Internet operations, and "more often than not, Cheryl has been the first in the company to innovate," said Frank Whittaker, vice president for operations at McClatchy. Well, there is no way to politely translate it. Kasler is intimating that Dell is . . really, there's only one way to say it . . a kissass.
The key to understanding this passage is the reference to Whittaker's remark about Dell being the first in the company to innovate. For Kasler and his colleagues, this has meant a willingess to lay off or buy out experienced journalists and replace them with lower paid, less talented, more malleable ones. Just as there were young Chinese students who excitedly leapt at the opportunity to persecute others during the Cultural Revolution, Kasler implies that Dell enthusiastically volunteered to implement cost cutting measures while degrading the quality of content.
Time to move forward. In case you were reading the article too quickly to understand Kasler's subtlety in the earlier passages, there's this towards the end:
Here are even more delightful nuggets. For example, how does a newspaper publisher purport to have any credibility while serving as chair of the region's Economic Development Board? There's no answer, is there? And, then, note how Kasler conflates Dell's sense of community to the promotion of local business, all through the surgical placement of a quote from the president of the Chamber of Commerce. There's no way an editor could object to that one, even if they recognized the cynical irony that Kasler was trying to convey to the reader.
In Tacoma, she is known for extensive community involvement. Among other things, she chairs the Tacoma-Pierce County Economic Development Board a public-private entity that recruits businesses.
"I've certainly been impressed with her sense of community," said David Graybill, president of the Tacoma-Pierce County Chamber of Commerce.
Finally, there is this. One can read the article in its entirety at The Bee website, and fail to find a single instance where Dell is associated with a qualitative improvement of content. Not one. Of course, that's not very surprising as Kasler summarizes her background as devoid of what would commonly be known as journalistic experience: Her first daily newspaper job came at age 24, in the advertising department of the Contra Costa Times, and she began her McClatchy career as ad director in Modesto in 1997. There is nothing to suggest that she has ever served as a reporter, editor or bureau chief.
Conversely, look at this about Heaphy, the woman she is replacing: During Heaphy's tenure, The Bee won numerous journalism awards, started multiple Web sites and developed a Spanish-language publication. Record profits and revenue were the hallmark "for many of Janis' 10 years," Whittaker said.
Looks like Whittaker is part of the conspiracy, doesn't it? Maybe he was the mastermind that shaped the whole story, or, at least collaborated with Kasler. In any event, the prognosis is clear. The Bee is going to become more irrelevant than it already has become, as the McClatchy newspaper chain seems incapable of escaping its death spiral.