April 17, 2016

Replacing hate with love

GUEST: Brian Trautman, board member of Veterans For Peace and college instructor in peace studies and economics, talks about how and why veterans have become active in combating racism and Islamophobia.

Veterans have more of a voice in the empire than ordinary citizens, unless of course they are worth billions of dollars. 

People listen to veterans because they "served" their country, and risked their lives when so many haven't. Being a veteran gives one the chance to say antiwar things, and for the most part get away with it.

Veterans also know about racism because they have seen it first hand, in the wars they have fought and in the 800 foreign military bases that the empire maintains throughout the world. US military dominance is preserved through terror and veterans know that better than anyone else in America. They have been a part of that terror, and done things that they can never forget.


In the empire's wars for oil and geopolitical dominance, Muslims became our enemy of choice. Our bombs and blockades have killed over a million in Iraq alone, and left that country looking like the war torn and cratered moonscape of Vietnam. Defy the empire and your country will go back to the Stone Age.

Veterans who have done the dirty work get to tell the whole story about war crimes done in our name. Veterans have little to lose telling the truth to the American people. In fact, they have a great deal to gain by exposing the racism of empire. They hope to win back some measure of decency and humanity. 

As a veteran, I am eager to tell the story of how the empire's racism abroad feeds hatred here at home. I give my thanks to Veterans For Peace and activists like Brian for replacing hate with love. 

April 8, 2016

We Need More Journalism, Less Media

In my previous post, (“Reality TV Eats American Politics’), I described how the Republican Presidential campaign has assumed all the theatrics of reality TV.  In thinking further about the role of television in our civics and politics, I was reminded of what critic and communications theorist Neil Postman said in the 1980s. 

At the time, another group of proto-reality TV personalities were hitting the airwaves: evangelists such as Pat Robertson, Jimmy Swaggart, Jerry Falwell, Oral Roberts, Robert Schuller, Jim and Tammy Faye Bakker, and others.  A pioneer in the field of Media Ecology, Postman was frequently asked to comment on the appeal of the bible-thumpers who were bringing a new combination of fire, brimstone and fundraising into American living rooms.  While he pointed out that the brand of religion being peddled was second-rate and a disgrace to Judeo-Christian traditions, Postman said he was not overly concerned about the effect of religion on TV.  In his book Amusing Ourselves to Death, he said that “the danger is not that religion has become the content of television shows, but that television shows may become the content of religion.”

Postman’s prescience is obvious when one looks at what is going on in Mega-Churches and other religious institutions today, with their mammoth video screens and emphasis on social media.  What I was trying to get at in my essay was that, in this same way, television has become the content for politics.  The orientation to ratings and advertising, and the philosophy of dumbing down information to the lowest common denominator, has permeated the civic arena.  The subtitle of Postman’s Amusing Ourselves to Death was “Public Discourse in the Age of Show Business.”  He had no idea how low things would go in the era of Trump and a new generation of political bible thumpers such as Ted Cruz.

But the Democrats, while certainly more adult and respectful, are also reduced to sound bites and personal attacks.  Only in comparison to the idiocy of the Republicans could the debates between Sanders and Clinton be considered educational, enlightening, or inspirational.  The larger problem lies not with the candidates, but the system they are part of and the failure of the media to fulfill its duty to expose it rather than facilitate it .

Of course, one of the reasons this year’s campaigns have been so surprising and entertaining is that the insurgent campaigns of Trump and Sanders have challenged the party orthodoxy and hegemony.  This would be all to the good if it weren’t for two factors:

First, the parties are not independent institutions being guided by political ideology and competition alone.  They are subservient to the campaign finance system just as much, if not more, than the candidates (at least some candidates, like Sanders, refuse to take corporate and PAC money).  And the parties serve as the primary cog in the fund-raising machinery, requiring elected officials to spend much, if not most, of their time fund-raising; funneling money to certain races; and maintaining the absurd fiction that candidates and PACs do not coordinate their campaign strategies.   It is also worth noting that over the past couple of decades, the parties and networks have wrested control of political debates away from the non-partisan League of Women Voters and other non-partisan, good government groups, with predictable results.  The debates can be revealing, but there isn’t a college debate team that doesn’t put these candidates and the mamby-pamby moderators to shame.

Second, the media is not performing its journalistic function of probing and fact-checking.  This is obvious when you consider the now-popular refrain that Trump and Sanders are tapping in to the same well of anger and disaffection, just from different asides of the well.  Perhaps there is some small percentage of mindlessly angry voters who honestly can’t make up their mind whether to support the Democratic Socialist Sanders or the neo-fascist Trump, but even that  would be less of an indication of voter ignorance and more of a reflection on media coverage that treats affords both candidates roughly the same level of scrutiny and respect, which is to say almost none at all.

Speaking recently about the Trump candidacy at a conference of media executives, CBS executive chairman and CEO Les Moonves, said "It may not be good for America, but it's good for CBS."  Wow.  OK, many Americans understand the reality of ratings and advertising, but to have the head of a network admit, without apparent embarrassment, that the quest for profits completely overrides the obligation of his news organization to ask tough questions or provide reality-based analysis is astounding and horrifying.  Ever since the Communications Act of 1934 established the system of commercial broadcasting in this country, mainstream media institutions have had to rely on advertising to pay for news reporting.  But we have reached a dangerous tipping point when the head of a once-respected network shrugs off the fact that what he is broadcasting is doing real damage to the Republic.  

One last point: if television has had a deleterious effect on public discourse, as Neil Postman noted more 30 years ago, it is nothing compared to the Internet.  All those impacts of TV – the spreading of false or misleading information, the illusion of audience involvement and democratization, the emphasis on personality and bombast rather than substance and logic – are magnified many times over on the Internet, especially social media.  Winston Churchill and Mark Twain are both credited with saying that a lie gets halfway around the world before the truth gets its shoes on; in the age of Fox News, Twitter, Instagram, Vice, and Gawker, lies blanket the world instantly while the truth just sits there, unreported.  
-- Gary Kenton

Why isn't Charles Hynes in prison?

GUEST: David McCallum, who was falsely convicted of murder at 16 and spent the next 29 years in prison, talks about his eventual exoneration, the role of Rubin "Hurricane" Carter, and the shame of our racist criminal justice system. 

I don't know how a society can tolerate what happened to David McCallum and so many other Black teenagers who where unjustly sent to prison by white prosecutors and detectives. 

How can people in authority knowingly sacrifice Black youths in order to advance their own careers? Talk about "super predators," as Hillary called African American young people caught up in the criminal justice system.

The tactics of Detective Joseph Butta of Brooklyn from the website Ken Klonsky Outing the Law.

Steve Drizin at the Bluhm Legal Clinic (Northwestern University), one of McCallum’s supporters, uses the term ‘fed fact’ to elucidate this phenomenon. An unscrupulous or severely deluded police detective can plant details into a suspect’s confession if the suspect’s concerns about a conviction are minimized. Hence both Willie and David ‘confessed’ because each thought that the other was going to prison for the murder. Detective Butta must also have told Stuckey and McCallum that they needed specific details in their confessions to make them believable.  In a sense, they thought they were in a competition to become a witness as opposed to a murderer. So Butta supplied the details from what he had already learned about the events surrounding the crime. Either he thought that he had the real culprits and wanted to solidify a case with no evidence or he needed these two boys to substitute for the real culprits. McCallum and Stuckey, during their trial, both claimed that Butta had slapped them and effectively intimidated them. McCallum also claimed that Butta held up a chair and threatened to hit him over the head if he didn’t tell him what he wanted to hear. Under duress and handcuffed with no recording of the interrogation, the two boys swallowed the fed facts. They confessed on video because each thought that they would be going home.

David talked about the protections for district attorneys and detectives who pray upon innocent people to gain notoriety and political power. Former district attorney Charles J. Hynes is one example. His replacement, Kenneth Thompson, had the last word:
 I inherited a legacy of disgrace with regards to wrongful conviction cases. 
 Why isn't Charles Hynes in prison? The color of his skin? The absolute corruption of our criminal justice system?