Laura Barcella

Can You Smoke Pot and Call Yourself Sober?

This article first appeared at The Fix.

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I Was Addicted to Sugar

It was 11:42 pm on a Monday, and I'd just been dumped by the nice guy from Alaska. We'd been dating for three months before he realized, after a messy and recent divorce from his "best friend," that he wasn't ready to fall in love again. I'd had my doubts about our relationship, too, but I'd stuffed them down—goddammit, this was going to work. 

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Full Frontal Feminism

Editor's Note: An excerpt from Full Frontal Feminism follows the interview.

As executive editor of the popular blog Feministing.com ("by and for young feminists"), Jessica Valenti has schooled millions of readers on the issues that affect everyday women. Her cadre of feisty female bloggers cover everything from breaking news (the heartbreaking federal abortion ban) to pop culture indignities (sexism in reality TV) with smarts, passion and political aplomb.

As the public face of Feministing, 28-year-old Valenti has helped bring third-wave feminism to the masses. But she doesn't only want to reach the stereotypical feminist suspects (women's studies majors and middle-aged, middle-class white women). In her new book, "Full Frontal Feminism: A Young Woman's Guide to Why Feminism Matters," Valenti hopes to pass the political torch to younger women who might feel and act like feminists but be too freaked out to call themselves that. The book is written in a light, sometimes sarcastic tone that aims to make women's rights cool again -- to make feminism a lifestyle as well as a movement.

AlterNet spoke with Valenti via telephone.

Why was writing this book important to you?

It was a natural extension of the stuff I've been doing at Feministing. I've wanted to write something like this for a long time. It was a book I wish I had when I was in high school. So much feminism out there isn't accessible to younger women who aren't in women's studies classes. I [see the book as] a fun, easy intro for younger women who might buy into the stereotypes; something really accessible that girls can talk about with their friends ... So many young women are afraid to get involved in politics; they think they don't know enough to get involved. They have the views but don't have the language.

So you mainly wrote the book for young women who aren't necessarily politically active?

Yeah, I'd say so. But I hope the book will be a refresher for women who already think of themselves as feminists.

Why do you think so many young women hesitate to call themselves feminists?

I think younger women have bought into the stereotypes because the stereotypes are so intense and pervasive. I think most younger women have feminist values; that's where the whole "I'm not a feminist, but ..." syndrome comes in. The language and the word [scares women away from using it]; that's how effective anti-feminist rhetoric has become. It's strategic; they're trying to keep you away from something. What's the best way to keep young women away from something? To tell them it's ugly and uncool, and that boys won't like them if they do it. We need to frame it as someone trying to pull the wool over young women's eyes, or get one over on them.

When did you first start identifying as a feminist? Have you always been politically active?

I've always been a feminist, but I didn't have the language to say so. My mom was a feminist. I didn't start identifying as a feminist until college, in women's studies classes. I was afraid to identify as a feminist at first, partly because I was [afraid of] people confronting me about it, asking what it meant. Then, in college, it was a feeling like 'I wish I had known about this, or gotten involved in this, earlier.' It would have affected my life.

In high school, I talked about feminist issues with my friends, and we were politically active in the ways that high schoolers are. But when you're a younger woman who is loud and opinionated, speaks her mind and is candid, you fall into the trap of believing people when they say you need to quiet down, be ladylike and not talk so much. Finding something that told me it was OK to be loud and candid would have been positive ... something that validated who I was.

What are the three feminist issues you're most passionate about today, and why should people care about them?

The idea of the care crisis: childcare and work/life issues. For younger women, that hasn't been as much of a political priority. It needs to start with younger women, though, instead of us worrying about it later on ...

Also violence against women, which has become so normalized that I find it intensely disturbing.

Also close to my heart is the sexual double standard, and how that affects younger women when it comes to repro rights and violence against women. The abstinence-only education thing falls into that, as well ... the idea that women shouldn't like sex; creating legislation that enforces traditional gender roles, or legislation that says that women shouldn't have a say over what happens to their own bodies ... like the case where the girl was gang raped on video in California.

What's one of the more outrageous or scary pieces of information or research you came across while writing this book?

I don't think anything was that shocking to me. But if you've been posting about different issues every day, writing about this stuff on a bigger scale is intense and horrifying. You'd like to think we had come so far, but as I was putting the book together I was like, "Jesus Christ, this is depressing."

How bleak is our reproductive rights climate right now, and what can we do to change it?

It's really bleak. It's insanely bleak. It's not just about Roe anymore. The different kinds of legislation going on in different states is terrible ... it's become a slippery slope -- not just about abortion but about contraception and pregnant women. Anti-choice laws are going to affect all women, not just women who want to have abortions, but also those who want to have babies. Like that [health provision] last year stating that women should treat themselves as pre-pregnant. It's become a slippery slope, using reproductive rhetoric to slowly chip way at women's rights -- all of our rights.

Are you hopeful that things will change for the better in 2008?

I try to remain optimistic. It's hard when you're writing about this stuff every day, but doing Feministing helps keep me positive about the future. So many people are writing in and doing stuff on a grassroots level to make change in their communities ...

What are some of the biggest misconceptions you see out there about the state of feminism and women's rights today?

That we're not out there; that we're dwindling or dying. The same anti-feminist organizations that say we're already dead are setting up groups across college campuses [to fight us]. If feminism is already dead, why are they trying so hard to kill it? If it's dead, leave it alone and let it die.

Something that we fight against on the website is [the idea] that feminism is just for older women; that it's useless, that we're trudging along not doing anything.

But there's a vibrant young feminist community on- and offline. Women are really interested in this work. Are you familiar with the Real Hot 100? Things like that prove that women are doing real feminist work all across the country. They might not even necessarily identify as feminists, but [they're doing feminist work].

Could you talk a little about the Kathy Sierra online death threats debacle? As a female blogger yourself, what issues did that raise for you? What can we do to prevent that sort of horrible cyber-harassment from happening again?

I think her situation was horrible and everyone felt awful for her, but it was good that it shed some light on misogyny online, as well as racism ... The anonymity of using the Internet allows people to be the biggest assholes they want to be. So many feminist bloggers have gotten death threats, including Feministing; we've had to call the FBI. It's sad that it's part of being a feminist, or even being online. But that's bullshit; being harassed daily shouldn't be an accepted part of your daily experience or your work.

You wrote a piece for TPMCafe about how there are generational "feminist sororities" within the movement, and how it's harder for younger feminists to be taken seriously. What prompted it?

I felt like that conversation needed to be had. It happens behind closed doors, but no one wants to talk about it. The backlash against feminism is so intense that showing any sign of strife is scary, because you don't want to give ammunition to the right.

It had been on my mind for a long time, and I finally put it out there. I think most people were great in their responses, like Katha Pollitt's -- it got the conversation started about what we can do to bridge the gaps. So many of us put forth this united front that all is great ...

I just think there needs to be an open discourse. The WAM list (Women Action Media) and their conferences are fantastic help. Not necessarily for women writers, but in national organizing scenes, the onus is on older feminists to pass the torch and make sure younger women aren't just fetching coffee but are in decision-making positions, being taken seriously.

What are your thoughts on the HPV vaccine? It's been debated quite a bit among feminist circles.

Ann [Friedman of Feministing] has written about it. I go back and forth about whether it should be mandatory. It's a really complicated issue. I think it should be affordable and available to younger women. But whether it should be mandated or not, I haven't really figured out yet ...

I know you responded to Carrie Lukas' recent Washington Post piece about the wage gap being a "bargain," and about how women make less money because they choose to. I'm guessing you think that's bullshit.

She used statistics to make a completely tired, crappy argument that women hate making money, that women would rather sit around changing diapers than make money. No one pisses me off more than women anti-feminists; they're selling us all down the river for a pat on the head from men. This is a woman who was well-educated and on the speaker circuit, who works her ass off and makes good money. Come on; tell a working single mother that the wage gap is a bargain!

In "Full Frontal Feminism," you write about how the "romance industry" keeps women distracted from larger issues by teaching them to obsess about their love lives. How destructive is this "industry," and how can women fight the obsession?

I'm glad you brought that up. Samhita [of Feministing] calls it the romantic industrial complex ... I feel like it's destructive to both men and women, because it reinforces these ill gender roles that position women as only caring about finding a partner as their form of personal fulfillment. But it also positions men as the caretakers, as only interested in sex and beer. The whole thing is so ridiculous and limiting for people. It's damaging all around, but to women, specifically, it's insane.

When I think about the amount of time, the number of things I could have done if I hadn't been obsessing about some boy ... it's incredible thinking about it. [Romantic obsession] is not a natural state of being for young women; when you have teen magazines shoving things down your throat, it's a little hard to break out of it.

When it comes to combating it, I don't know. People are subverting it in small ways. But I'm not going to sit and tell someone [they're] buying into the bullshit if they celebrate Valentine's Day or let their boyfriends buy them dinner.

Some feminist bloggers have taken issue with your choice of cover image for the book (a slim white woman's navel with hands on hips). How do you respond?

I can see why people find it controversial; I liken it to Feministing's mud-flap girl icon. It's ironic, and we're tying to flip it around as a fuck-you to the standards.

The book cover has this commercial image, but scrawling "feminism" across the stomach -- I liken it to Kathleen Hanna (of Bikini Kill and Le Tigre) scrawling "slut" across her stomach. I'm comfortable with the idea that a teen girl is going to buy it because she thinks it looks poppy and commercial, and then get the knowledge dropped on her.

You're always going to piss someone off.

****

Excerpt

Copyright 2007 by Jessica Valenti from Full Frontal Feminism: A Young Woman's Guide to Why Feminism Matters. Reprinted by permission of Seal Press (www.sealpress.com), an imprint of Avalon Publishing Group, Inc. All rights reserved.

What's the worst possible thing you can call a woman? Don't hold back, now.

You're probably thinking of words like slut, whore, bitch, cunt (I told you not to hold back!), skank.

Okay, now what are the worst things you can call a guy? Fag, girl, bitch, pussy. I've even heard the term "mangina."

Notice anything? The worst thing you can call a guy is a girl. Being a woman is the ultimate insult. Now tell me that's not royally fucked up. Recognizing the screwed nature of this little exercise doesn't necessarily make you a feminist. But it should. Most young women know that something is off. And even if we know that some things are sexist, we're certainly not ready to say we're feminists. It's high time we get past the "I'm not a feminist, but ..." stuff. You know what I'm talking about: "I'm not a feminist or anything, but it is total bullshit that Wal-Mart won't fill my birth control prescription."

Do you think it's fair that a guy will make more money doing the same job as you? Does it piss you off and scare you when you find out about your friends getting raped? Do you ever feel like shit about your body? Do you ever feel like something is wrong with you because you don't fit into this bizarre ideal of what girls are supposed to be like?

Well, my friend, I hate to break it to you, but you're a hardcore feminist. I swear.

Feel-Good Feminism
For some reason, feminism is seen as super anti: anti-men, anti-sex, anti-sexism, anti-everything. And while some of those antis aren't bad things, it's not exactly exciting to get involved in something that's seen as so consistently negative.

The good news is, feminism isn't all about antis. It's progressive and -- as cheesy as this sounds -- it's about making your life better. As different as we all are, there's one thing most young women have in common: We're all brought up to feel like there's something wrong with us. We're too fat. We're dumb. We're too smart. We're not ladylike enough -- stop cursing, chewing with your mouth open, speaking your mind. We're too slutty. We're not slutty enough.

Fuck that.

You're not too fat. You're not too loud. You're not too smart. You're not unladylike. There is nothing wrong with you.

I know it sounds simple, but it took me a hell of a long time to understand this. And once I did, damn, did it feel good. Why go through your life believing you're not good enough and that you have to change?

Feminism not only allows you to see through the bullshit that would make you think there's something wrong with you, but also offers ways to make you feel good about yourself and to have self-respect without utilizing any mom-popular sayings, like "Keep your legs together," or boy-popular screamings, like "Show me your tits!"

Really, imagine how nice it would be to realize that all the stuff you've been taught that makes you feel crappy just isn't true. It's like self-help times one hundred.

But all that said, I really do understand the hesitancy surrounding the f-word. My own experience with the exercise that kicked off this chapter -- "What's the worst possible thing you can call a woman?" -- was presented by a professor on the first day of a women's literature class after she asked how many of us were feminists. Not one person raised a hand. Not even me. My excuse-ridden thinking was, "Oh, there's so many kinds of feminism, how can I say I know what they're all about? Blah, blah, blah, I'm a humanist, blah, blah, blah. Bullshit. When I think back on it, I knew I was a feminist. I was just too damn freaked out to be the only one raising her hand.

Most young women are feminists, but we're too afraid to say it -- or even to recognize it. And why not? Feminists are supposed to be ugly. And fat. And hairy! Is it fucked up that people are so concerned about dumb, superficial stuff like this? Of course. Is there anything wrong with being ugly, fat, or hairy? Of course not. But let's be honest: No one wants to be associated with something that is seen as uncool an unattractive. But the thing is, feminists are pretty cool (and attractive!) women.

So let's just get all the bullshit stereotypes and excuses out of the way.

But Feminists are Ugly!

Yawn. Honestly, this is the most tired stereotype ever. But it's supersmart in its own way. Think about it, ladies. What's the one thing that will undoubtedly make you feel like shit? Someone calling you ugly.

Back in fifth grade, the love of my life was Douglas MacIntyre, who told me I'd be pretty if only I didn't have such a big, ugly nose. I shit you not when I say that for months, every day after school I would stand in front of the three-way mirror in my bathroom, staring at the offending body part and trying to figure out how a nose could go so horribly, horribly wrong.

Ugly stays with you. It's powerful, and that's why the stereotype is so perfect. The easiest way to keep women -- especially young women -- away from feminism is to threaten them with the ugly stick. It's also the easiest way to dismiss someone and her opinoins. ("Oh, don't listen to her -- she's just pissed 'cause she's ugly.")

Seems stupid, right? I mean, really, what's with this na-na-na-boo-boo kind of argument? Have you ever heard of a Republican saying, "Oh, don't be a Democrat; they're all ugly"? Of course not, because that would be ridiculous. But for some reason, ridiculous is commonplace when it comes to the f-word.

For example, conservative radio host Rush Limbaugh says that feminism was established "to allow unattractive women easier access to the mainstream of society." Okay -- have you ever seen Rush Limbaugh? Yeah, enough said. Oh, and by the way -- I think I'm pretty hot now. So screw you, Douglas MacIntyre.

But Things Are Fine the Way They Are! What do I know? Maybe things are fine for you. Maybe you're lucky and superprivileged and you wake up in the morning to birds chirping and breakfast in bed and all that good stuff. But chances are, that's not the case.

There are plenty of folks who argue that feminism has achieved its goal. The 1998 Time magazine article "Is Feminism Dead?" said, "If the women's movement were still useful, it would have something to say; it's dead because it has won."

There's no doubt that women have made progress, but just because we get to vote and have the "right" to work doesn't mean things are peachy keen. Anyone who thinks women have "won," that all is well and good now, should ask why the president of Harvard can say that maybe women are naturally worse at math and then have people actually take him seriously. Or why a teacher can still get fired for being pregnant and unmarried.

Seriously, are things really cool the way they are when so many of us are upchucking our meals and getting raped and beat up and being paid less money than men? And being denied birth control, and being told not to have sex but be sexy, and a hundred other things that make us feel shitty?

Methinks not. It can be better. It has to be.

Barbara Ehrenreich on the Importance of Collective Joy

Barbara Ehrenreich's latest book, Dancing in the Streets, is surprisingly optimistic. A "history of collective joy," it explores the origins of communal celebration in human biology and culture -- and explains why modern Americans have grown so resistant to ... well ... having fun together.

Ehrenreich links the epidemic of depression to our growing lack of group bonding rituals (think church, feasts and carnivals). She also explores how, throughout the ages, group celebrations have brought people together in a spirit of solidarity, joy and union, helping to fight both oppression and depression. From the ancient Greeks' worship of Dionysus to the medieval practice of Christianity as a "danced religion," Dancing in the Streets traces the roots of the very human need to dance, sing and revel together -- and how these sorts of festivities can be vehicles for social change.

AlterNet spoke with Ehrenreich via telephone.

Tell me how the idea for this book came to you, and why you wanted to pursue it.

I started working on this book 9 years ago. It wasn't like right after Bait and Switch I decided I wanted to do this. It required a huge amount of research. The [original idea] came from some questions I had about humans, and my species.

After writing another macro-historical book about war (Blood Rites), I was interested in the bright side of human bonding. Not the bonding of humans in opposition, but how bonding holds a community, and even strangers, together.

We are a very social species. I was reading about it for months and months, but came across this universal pattern of ecstatic rituals -- it's hard to think of any society that doesn't have them. They all seem to feature these ingredients of costuming, dancing, masking, face/body painting, feasting ... techniques that people in widely different cultures have used to generate joy. Why have we got so few [ecstatic rituals] today?

In a nutshell, generalizing over many cultures and times, these sorts of activities have been suppressed by elites -- according to class, race, gender -- because the [rituals] came to be seen as disruptive, subversive and even dangerous. They were seen as antithetical to the social discipline that came to be expected by mass society.

Class and issues of power are a huge part of this. In the Caribbean in the 19th century, carnival would be a huge part of slaves' revolts.

Why did you think the time was right to publish it now?

This isn't timed to anything specific, but I think it's very important for people involved in social movements to think about [this stuff]. I'm struck by the ways that, in the last 67 years, there has been a carnivalizion of protest. Especially in the anti-globalization movement -- there's been an increased amount of music, face painting, and costuming at demonstrations.

People want to experience collective joy and solidarity in artistic and fun ways. The other thing that's larger, in a way, is that if we are going to have an ecologically sustainable world, it can't be about giving up things we have now -- cars, plastic. We need to think about positive gains we can have. How can we find joy in ways that don't just involve trashing the environment? [In this book], here it is.

In modern America, where do we stand on the collective joy scale?

Well, it's interesting to me how sports fans have managed to carnivalize sports events -- consider rhythmic activities like the wave -- turning sports from something where you just sit and watch athletes, into something where you're a participant in a great big collective event. We had an outbreak of this in the rock rebellion of the 1950s and '60s, where a new kind of music invited people not to sit still anymore ... to turn an event into a participatory event where you can get up and dance with other people.

America also experiences this in the Pentecostal religious movement, with people achieving trance states. People creating completely new holidays and occasions out of nothing -- Burning Man is the best example. And the Berlin Love Parade, where a million people have danced in the streets. Halloween, in gay culture, has become more of an adult celebration, but it's not necessarily political ...

Do people experience collective joy differently in different parts of the country?

Every culture has its own context, whether it's seen as religious or recreational. But the ingredients are universal: dancing and music; costuming, masking or face painting.

In our culture, face painting has become the universal mark of having a good time, from children's birthday parties to sports events. Then there's feasting and wine ... There can be a procession through a town or village. Sports events, theater, mockery of the authorities; those are worldwide.

Which modern cultures tend to be most open and encouraging of collective joy?

Latin America, Brazilian culture, African [culture]. Trinidad has a huge carnival; it's less commercial.

Why do you think modern America has gotten so resistant to experiencing communal joy? Are we too solitary and self-possessed for our own good?

Yeah, and I think we are paying the price for it with the epidemic of depression. I talk in the book about how [depression in this country] has reached epidemic proportions. People are isolated.

It's not that all human problems would be solved if we got out and danced together, but it's a classic, prehistoric method of people bonding together. We don't do it anymore ... or not enough.

Can you expand on that? You write in the book that the "death of carnival might have contributed directly to the epidemic of depression."

I was struck by the ways that traditional festivities got wiped out, most dramatically in northern Europe. Around the Protestant Reformation, and the rise of Calvinism, you had clergymen and physicians talking more about melancholy -- how they were seeing it in more people. I thought there must be some connection, but I didn't want to oversimplify.

I concluded that ecstatic rituals were a cure for depression -- you can see that in many cultures. An example of a culture that uses it as a cure is some North Africans -- if a woman were to take to her bed and become depressed, family would call in a zar healer who would bring in musicians and healers to engage in days and nights of ecstatic dancing, and soon the woman would get up and join. Some cultures would see this as a cure for melancholy. We do drugs instead, both antidepressants and illegal drugs.

We have never lost the capacity for collective joy. It's part of our nature. But if you look at how little we get to exercise it ... if we compare ourselves to the French in the 14th century, with Saint's Days and this huge calendar of festivities, we just don't do it very much, if at all.

This [lack of festivities] represents a triumph of the powerful, and their idea that you have to work all the time. This is a recent [development]. Historically, peasants worked when they had to, when they had to plant or harvest. When they didn't have to work, they worked on having a good time -- planning festivities, costumes, dance steps; great expressions of human creativity.

Can you provide some historical examples of authority figures trying to suppress ecstatic rituals that were viewed as dangerous or disruptive?

The book maps out this repression. One striking example is the repression of Dionysian worshippers in ancient Rome; it was an extremely bloody repression. Dionysus was the god of ecstasy, who required that his worshippers engage in revelry and drink wine and enter trances of dancing. Women were chief among his worshipers. This alarmed the authorities ... charges were brought; they hunted and killed the worshipers of Dionysus.

In the Christian era, it's been a long battle against the 'common people' who thought the church should involve music, dance and revelry.

Things got much worse with the Protestant era, and the crackdown on Saint's days, festivities, holidays and sports.

What do you hope readers will take away from the book?

It's a big thing to come across a lost tradition. I want people to own it and rediscover it. I want people to say, 'Hey, this is a human skill and tradition, and we can generate joy without commodities -- without someone setting it up for us.'

What are your favorite ways to experience this sort of pleasure?

If there's an occasion, a party, I'll dance and enjoy it a lot. I'm not a good dancer, but that's not the point. One of the things I hate about the TV show "Dancing with the Stars," which I have watched a few times, is that it's so intimidating about dancing ... It's very judgmental and critical. They're featuring couples dancing, which is a very late addition. In the 16th century [couples dancing] became big; it's innately more threatening than dancing in a line or circles, which is the more traditional thing to do.

How can progressives use collective joy to help motivate people and promote our causes?

People who are working for change need to think about how to make their events draw on the solidarity and creativity of lots of people together. That's been happening ... but it's something we need to address. Bringing art and culture into politics is a way to express what we are seeking, what our vision of the world is.

More 9/11 lies

As you might already know, on the rapidly approaching five-year anniversary of September 11, 2001, ABC (which is, of course, owned by Disney) is slated to air a 6-hour docu-drama called "Path to 9/11."

According to Act for Change:

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The Slow Death of the Middle Class

In his new book, Screwed: The Undeclared War Against the Middle Class, Air America host Thom Hartmann provides an exhaustive argument that America's backbone and lifeblood -- its middle class -- is vanishing. (Or being cast out, set aside, and methodically destroyed, depending on your perspective.)

Hartmann blends current affairs with a vital crash course in history to demonstrate the ways in which -- under 25 years of right-wing wonkery -- working people, once treasured as the foundation of our economy, are now neglected to the point of extinction. Through concrete examples of laws passed, unions busted and programs dismantled, Hartmann reminds us how, since Reagan's 1980 ascension to the throne, conservative policiticans have done little except "conserve" their own wealth- and power-grubbing interests.

But it wasn't always like this, as Hartmann makes sure we remember. With the creation of post-Depression initiatives which benefited everyone, such as Social Security, antitrust laws and the minimum wage, America's most forward-thinking politicians helped revitalize the economy and make the country a more unified whole.

Why can't it be like that again? In an AlterNet telephone interview, Hartmann explains that it can -- but that it will only happen when more Americans get out and elect the few politicians who actually give a damn about the rest of us.

Laura Barcella: What are the three biggest hurdles currently affecting the middle class?

Thom Hartmann: Free market ideology; a variety of practices to drive down the cost of labor -- from destruction of the union movement to encouragement of immigration, both legal and illegal; and the promotion of the idea that democratic institutions are an aberration, that vast wealth is the natural order of things in the human and animal kingdoms.

LB: In Screwed, you write about the "Golden Age" of the middle class. Can you remind us of what a healthy middle class looks like?

TH: Teddy Roosevelt was the first in the modern era to identify what it would mean to [have a] middle class in a society that wasn't propped up by slavery and land taken from the Native Americans (which was largely responsible for the first middle class, in the 1700s).

The Republican Roosevelt realized that without government intervention clearly defining the rules of [business] to serve society as well as capitalism, there couldn't be a middle class.

[Roosevelt] suggested that the hallmarks of a "living wage" (he was the first person to use that phrase), were that with an honest week's work, a single family's wage-earner would be able to support their family, raise their children, provide education for those children -- including college, care for all their health needs -- even in times of sickness (quoting Roosevelt), take an annual vacation, and set enough aside that retirement and old age would be comfortable and secure.

Franklin Roosevelt set about putting that vision into place 30 years later with the Wagner Act in 1935, which established the right to unionization, and the Social Security Act providing a safety net for old age (and for people incapable of working due to 'circumstances of birth'). ... All of this led to the strongest middle class this nation has ever seen, in the '50s, '60s, '70s and the beginning of the '80s.

LB: And then what happened?

TH: Then in the 1960s and '70s, a group of worried ideologues saw the social upheavals of that era -- women demanding equal pay and reproductive rights, African-Americans demanding voting rights, working people demanding [fair wages], activists demanding a clean environment -- and the ideologues thought what they were seeing were symptoms of society melting down.

It confirmed their fear, which echoed a fear of the early founders (John Adams and Alexander Hamilton), that too much democracy would lead to social anarchy. A ruling elite operating under the guise of democracy was the most stable form of government, and if we had a strong middle class like we had in the '60s and '70s, people had too much time on their hands and too little fear. ...

These folks (who comprised Ayn Rand's objectivists, libertarianists, and old-line segregationist conservatives who agreed with Edmund Burke that in order to be stable, society must have "classes and orders") set out to restore a more hierarchical, more "stable" America. They didn't believe in democracy; they thought they were doing the right thing. ...

Special interest groups, like the NRA, joined forces to roll back the healthy middle class and the dissent associated with it, and replaced it with a Dickensian reproduction of Victorian-era society, where there's a small powerful ruling class, a small mercantilist middle class, and a large class of working poor who are sufficiently afraid of losing what little they have that they aren't going to engage in social or workplace protest.

LB: So when, in your opinion, did the middle class officially begin to start falling apart?

TH: Nixon's Southern Strategy brought the racists into the fold in 1972, and George Bush's courting of the Christian right brought the fundamentalists into the fold.

But Ronald Reagan officially launched the [war on working people]. He kicked it off with busting PATCO. We are now 26 years into that war, and papers no longer have labor sections -- they only have business sections, and most workers no longer have pensions.

We've gone from 25 percent of the work force being unionized -- when Reagan came into office -- to about eight percent of the private work force being unionized. The small sliver that's still unionized is under aggressive attack, and they represent the last bastion of the classic middle class.

The conservatives can't allow them to survive; [unions] bring democracy into the workplace, so they represent a threat to conservative wealth and power. ... The only thing that will allow unionization to happen is force of law; to elect public officials who are willing to enforce the Wagner Act and repeal the Taft-Hartley Act of 1947. This requires [politicians] who represent the will and needs of the middle class, instead of the wealthy, powerful gentry.

LB: Who are a few of the politicians you feel are up to this task?

TH: Bernie Sanders. Byron Dorgan. Peter DeFazio. There's not a shortage of good people in politics; they are just not a majority.These aren't radical positions, they are ones that Eisenhower held. And there are good, honest Republicans like Kevin Phillips and Paul Craig Roberts out there, pointing out [the ways the GOP has been corrupted], but their voices are a distinct minority.

LB: Talk a little about George W. Bush, and how his politics and presidency have affected the plight of the middle class.

TH: G.W. Bush is the most toxic president we've had against working people in the U.S. since [William] McKinley. Bush absolutely believes in a ruling elite -- into which he was born, by the way -- and serfdom. It wasn't a slip at that Town Hall meeting a few months ago, when he asked a woman what she did and she said she worked three jobs, and he patted her on the head and said, "Isn't that great? That's an all-American story."

Her working three jobs means she won't be out in the street demanding economic, reproductive or social rights -- which is exactly the way he would like it.

LB: And what about the war's effect on working people?

TH: The war in Iraq's impact on the middle class has been extremely corrosive. I wouldn't [even] call it a "war;" I'd call it a successful invasion that took only a few months, and the subsequent occupation. All illegal, by the way.

The occupation of Iraq has been financed by borrowing money in our names -- and in the names of our children and grandchildren -- from China, Saudi Arabia, Japan, and a few very wealthy families, like the Bushes. Those creditors will be beneficiaries of the war, and the middle class will pay the bill eventually, just like the economic difficulties Jimmy Carter suffered after the bill was due for Vietnam. The next generation will have to confront some very difficult times as a result of Bush's $9 trillion debt.

This year, over $300 billion of the federal budget is interest on a debt that Reagan ran up in order to make the economy look good, on borrowed money, to get himself reelected. That's enough money to provide full scholarships to public universities for over 15 million students.

LB: Talk a bit about the impact of the minimum wage.

TH: The minimum wage can be thought of in two ways. One, it provides a floor for workers, and should be set at a level matching Teddy Roosevelt's' criteria which we discussed earlier. We are a wealthy-enough country that if you play by the rules and work hard, you should be able to have a decent life.

The other thing the minimum wage does is provides a warning flag [about] the fiscal health of working Americans. In that regard, the fact that the minimum wage is the lowest it's been since the1940s, when the middle class was just emerging, tells us that conservatives have been successful in producing a large, terrified class of working poor, who can be easily manipulated and who don't have enough time to be politically active.

LB: What can people do to help stop the death of the middle class?

TH: The thing so few people get about why the middle class is vanishing is that it's not just [driven by] greedy industrialists. It's not just about money. In fact, it's not even half about money. It's about power. It's about reestablishing the world Dickens described in "A Christmas Carol," where Bob Cratchit had to beg for a lump of coal and health care for his child. Conservatives look at that time in that world and they see a time that was comfortable, stable and predictable. Those are higher values, to them, than freedom and egalitarianism and social justice.

When America gets it that these are ideological issues -- not just economic -- then it will translate into the political realm, and something might be done about it.

LB: But how can more Americans "get it"?

TH: In my book, I reproduce a 1936 speech by Franklin Roosevelt about this issue -- how royalists were trying to seize control, how allegiance to democracy requires the overthrow of such corporate power.

Ever since the '80s, since Reagan conservatives started [insisting] that communism was being taught in school civics classes, we have had a generation of people who came of age in the '90s who have no recollection of what was conventional wisdom in 1936: that there is an economic and class war going on. As Warren Buffet said, "Of course there's a class war, and my class is winning."

We need to reawaken people under 30 and 40, to remember what the ideals of this country traditionally have been, and how healthy that is for the world -- not just the U.S. [We need to] keep telling stories of how it was in the old days. The conservatives are doing everything they can to strip American history.

Design like you mean it

A lovely new architecture book called Design Like You Give a Damn recently made its way onto my crowded desk. Edited by the founders of Architecture for Humanity (a grassroots nonprofit shelter group), the book features photos, interviews and articles about some of the design world's most visionary responses to homelessness, poverty and unsafe housing across the world.

Included are poignant portraits of communities like Bayview, Virginia's "Rural Village." Under the guidance of architect Maurice D. Cox and resident community leader Alice Coles, the town was transformed over the course of six years (with financial help from about 17 different funders, including a grant from local arena-rockers the Dave Matthews Band). What was once a decaying 52-family outpost with only one contaminated well as its water source has become a vibrant rural community with affordable, high-quality homes to rent and own.

Design Like You Give a Damn covers many other, equally innovative (though less publicized) initiatives by architects around the globe -- from northern Ireland to Chile, Vietnam, India, Alabama, Los Angeles and NYC. It's definitely worth picking up.

Military recruiters raping female enlistees

This CBS News story about the high number of women being raped and assaulted by military recruiters is scary.

According to the piece, which is based on a 6-month AP investigation,

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The most vile promotion ever

You've gotta be kidding me... The EWG (Environmental Working Group) summarizes the ultimate match made in hell better than I could:

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How do we shatter the glass ceiling?

In a recent WaPo article, writer Shankar Vedantam confirms that it helps all female workers when women get hired in high-ranking management positions.

Covering the conclusions of a new Montreal sociology study, Vedentam notes that American women "earn substantially more money and narrow the long-standing gender gap in income if other women in their workplaces reach the ranks of senior management."

Interesting stuff, non? The study, based on 1.3 million American workers in nearly 30,000 jobs and 79 metropolitan areas, confirms that when women break through the proverbial glass ceiling, it sweetens the pot for other female employees.

The piece also reveals that even within the same industry or a single company, women workers are, generally, not equally represented in high- and low-profile divisions. As Cynthia Fuchs Epstein, a sociologist at CUNY, summarizes in the article, "one reason men are more likely to reach upper management, is that the express elevators to the top -- high-profile jobs -- tend to be filled with men, whereas the elevators that stop at more floors along the way tend to be filled with women."

I'm not so sure about the elevator reference, but the study is certainly food for thought; an indication that, even if we disagree with their politics (Hi, Hillary and Condi!) it's a boon for American women when female politicans are elected to high-ranking positions.

A New Constitution for Bush

This is pretty hilarious. Via Massachusetts-based satire website CrystalAir:

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The NSA is watching you

In a crazy blockbuster scoop today, USA Today (of all places!) revealed that the scope of the NSA's citizen-spying is much, much worse than we'd thought -- and much, much more extensive than Bush confessed to back in December.

Apparently, the NSA now holds a "a complete listing of the calling histories of millions of customers" and one source claimed it was "the largest database ever assembled in the world." (Um...whoa.)

According to USA Today:

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Pop star rips Bush a new one

Once upon a time, as a fresh-faced college graduate in the year 2000, I landed a job as an editor at a teen magazine in NYC. My job was to interview and write about all the bubbly blond celebrities coming down the pike. These were the days of Britney and Justin (together! forever in love! and virginal!), the Backstreet Boys, and Mandy Moore -- when she was all of (eeeeep) fifteen years old.

One day, a crazy new pop act calling herself "Pink" came to our office for an interview. She was small and charming, with short platinum blond hair and an actual brain, which she actually -- shockingly -- ventured to use during the course of our interview. (See, most of the new wannabe celebrities we interviewed had been thoroughly trained by their PR peeps before coming to us. They said and did little beyond smiling, nodding, tossing their hair around and professing their bountiful love of singing.)

Anyway, Pink was the first -- and only -- burgeoning celebrity I'd met at that point who seemed bright and passionate enough to get somewhere. Thankfully, she didn't seem "trained." She spoke openly about her sordid past as a crazy club kid in Philadelphia, about her adolescent dalliances with hardcore drugs and about how -- and why -- she wanted to make it. She said she wanted to help empower other young women, which I found impressive.

And she wrote most of her own music, which was -- seriously -- a big deal among teenybop pop tarts back then. She actually seemed, well, cool.

Sure, her songs were kinda cheesy. But she had a pretty voice, and at least she was writing her stuff herself, and she cared about something bigger than, well, her own rising fame and fortune. (Oh, and lest I forget -- she complimented me on my hair, which was platinum with, yes, pink streaks back then.)

In the last six years, Pink has become a full-fledged pop star, floating in and out of the Billboard charts as well as the tabloids. She's made a name for herself as a smart and outspoken singer-songwriter who dares to broach subjects like body image, domestic abuse and, now, the sheer incompetence of president Bush.

Yes...her new song, "Dear Mr. President," swiftly and sadly rips George W. a new one -- about his war in Iraq, his treatment of Cindy Sheehan, and his avoidance of domestic issues like homelessness. Check out the lyrics below, and isten to it here...

How Secure Is Your Job?

In his new book, "The Disposable American," New York Times business writer Louis Uchitelle takes a sobering look at the sordid history -- and the future -- of layoffs in America.

Though the bulk of his expertise lays in the business realm, Uchitelle argues that layoffs' ascending frequency isn't just damaging America's job security, but our sense of self-worth. He writes that the ever-insidious "self-help" movement (specifically, books such as "Who Moved My Cheese?") has encouraged workers to accept more responsibility for their own job security than necessary -- unfairly placing the whole burden of fair wages, pensions and workplace stability on employees' shoulders rather than the corporate heads hiring (and firing) them in the first place.

Unsurprisingly, almost every person he interviews in "The Disposable American" seems to prove Uchitelle right. The human stories shared in the book echo Uchitelle's hypothesis that getting laid off has long-term negative effects on motivation and self-esteem, as well as making it harder to land a more challenging position the next time around.

Fortunately, though, Uchitelle isn't just the bearer of bad news. He also offers ideas for strategic solutions -- potential ways to reverse, or at least downshift, what he dubs the "U-turn" in job security that began in the late 1970s in response to rising foreign competition.

He spoke with AlterNet via telephone from his New York office.

Laura Barcella: First, tell me why you decided to write this book.

Louis Uchitelle: I have been covering the rise of job insecurity since the late '80s, and I became interested in what was happening to people. There was always this idea that we would get rid of the blue-collar workers [who] weren't pulling their weight, and it kept going, on and on, into the white-collar workers.

At the New York Times, I was the lead writer on a long, six-part series in 1996 that laid out what was happening -- and by then we had gone through so many barriers of resistance to layoffs, or of limiting them, and the Clinton administration at that point came in and said -- we'll keep the layoffs and handle it by job creation and by reconditioning workers -- education and training. And we'll cycle them back into the work force. The more I wrote about that, the more I realized that something was very wrong, and I finally put it together in a book proposal.

LB: What sorts of reactions have you received thus far?

LU: People think it's an important book Two issues that I think are very important is this myth that people can, through more education and training, cycle back into the work force with perfectly good jobs. The evidence is definitely against that. First of all, there is an oversupply of skilled people relative to the jobs that are available. And secondly, we don't properly measure the damage to the companies themselves and the productivity that comes from job security.

To people who are, in effect, told that this is a be-your-own-manager society, when they're laid off, [it's implied] that they don't have value as workers -- and that's a considerable psychological blow and a source of mental illness. I didn't realize that until I started to report this book, and ran into it over and over again among the people I was interviewing. I went to psychiatrists, and they said that there was no question about [layoffs' damaging psychological effect] on people -- some people more than others -- depending on their personality and predispositions.

But it means that people don't get back into the work force using all their old skills. They don't take risks, and they suffer. It's a memory that undermines them for many years -- and this is not a story about unemployment, it's story about layoffs. Most people go back to work again or drop out altogether.

LB: What were some of the long-term psychological effects of layoffs?

LU: I found people constantly trying to figure out what happened to them, trying to figure out if they had just done this, or had a different boss, or changed departments They kept going over and over it again; why did this happen to them? They sought, in these conversations, some peace of mind. They tried to regain their self-esteem.

There's a sociologist named Richard Sennett who, in his book "The Corrosion of Character," makes the point that we all have a life narrative, and work is part of that narrative, and the narrative is part of our identity. If you take away the work and the identity that comes with the work, you interrupt the life narrative.

I found people trying to reconstruct that narrative in various efforts, and I think you would see that in somebody like Kim Dewey, one of the mechanics [quoted in my book]. There's others, like Craigy Imperio, who got his engineering degree and who, through hard work, has managed slowly to work his way up the ladder. But others don't do it.

LB: Were the psychological effects similar or equal among people -- blue collar vs. white collar?

LU: The effects are similar for everyone -- blue or white. There's not that distinction. The effects are determined a bit by personality. Some people are more prone to damage than others. But there is some damage [for everyone]. Some people bounce back from it, but most don't bounce back from it easily. They lose something.

LB:You said it could almost be seen as a mental illness, in terms of how the workers see themselves

LU: Well, I don't want to make it seem like mental illness in the sense of straightjackets. It takes away their self-esteem, and that undermines your mental health. It's not good for mental health.

LB: Did most of the people you spoke with bounce back later?

LU: There's one person in the book, a first-rate aviation mechanic, who got his engineering degree while he was a mechanic. He was hurt by [his layoff] and rather than take a challenging job and risk having this happen again, he's now working in the Indianapolis school district as a maintenance man.

Another mechanic who had this happen also got his engineering degree after he got laid off, in fact he was spurred to do that by the layoff, and he has a pretty tough life behind him. He ended up having to take an aviation mechanic's job at half his old salary, but by dint that he's a good politician, he played golf with his supervisor, he got to know this one and that one, and he got himself finally promoted to an engineering job and is working his way back up the ladder. He still isn't making as much as he was making before, but he dealt with it differently. He was also damaged, but he came back from it better.

You can't tell who is more damaged. You can't say -- well, we can do this because enough people aren't all that damaged. You don't know what's going to happen.

LB: Have you ever been laid off?

LU: No.

LB: I was -- in my first magazine job after college. They laid off about 20 people at once.

LU: It's not unusual for young people to go through a few job changes before they arrive at a career, but at some point in our 30s, people commit themselves to something, or try to -- and then if they lose that job, it's really a blow. They commit and then spend five or six or ten years at it, and [if they] then lose it, it's difficult.

LB: Did you notice any differences among people who had been laid off individually or in small groups vs. in huge companywide layoffs?

LU: To some extent, if it's a layoff where it's a unionized shop and everyone gets laid off by seniority -- in four or five steps -- that's a little bit better. But, no, it's still a sense of loss, and it's still a disruption. People want to belong to an organization. And when they can't, they try to find some other way to belong, if they can possibly do it.

We are destroying the communal nature of our lives -- that's what I'm trying to say in the book. I don't think we can stop the layoffs. We do live in a global society, there is a change; but we're not dealing with this as a community, and in not doing that, we are going to excesses.

LB: Can you explain what changed in the late '70s, when, as you noted in the book, there was a "U-turn" in layoffs?

LU: In the late 1800s, we created these giant corporations. We had this big ocean-to-ocean mass market. No nation in the world had ever had such a large market. We served it first with these big coast-to-coast railroads, and then with Sears Roebuck and U.S. Steel. These were complicated, huge organizations, and the managers of these organizations understood that they had to have experienced, skilled people to run them. That required longevity in the jobs, which meant job security. They designed pensions so that the people would stay and they encouraged that -- it actually had a name -- welfare capitalism.

While there was plenty of hiring and firing going on in this period, the major companies, the pace-setters, pushed for job security as the best, most efficient way to run their companies. Alfred Chandler, a famous economic historian, describes this vividly in a book called "The Visible Hand." He's an older man now, a Harvard economist; it's a classic book.

A company like Procter & Gamble, concerned about losing people, started offering a percentage of stock every year. As the stock kept going up, that became a wonderful retirement fund, but you had to stay in the company for 30 years to get your hands on the money. Then we came to the Depression, and companies weren't so eager to keep people on. Then we had New Deal legislation, which strengthened job security.

You have to understand that you can describe, in the 1920s, a period very similar to what's going on now. But then we didn't know any better, and we were going up the ladder towards job security, and now we're going down. [The downward trend] started in the mid to late '70s, when we were no longer the dominant supplier of goods and services -- not only to ourselves, but to the whole world. Suddenly we got competition, and we dealt with it with layoffs, some of them quite legitimate.

But slowly thereafter, from '77 to '97, we started taking down barriers to layoffs. We started insisting that there was no problem, that the people who got laid off weren't properly skilled -- all they had to do was go back to school and get more skills, and they would qualify for all the good jobs out there that were going begging.

In fact, there's any number of statistics that show that we have skilled people in excess of the demand for them. Thirty-seven percent of all airline attendants have bachelor's degrees. You don't need a bachelor's degree to be an airline attendant. It's nice to have it.

As one barrier [to layoffs] after another came down, the layoffs went up. We had a steel company shutting down mills, and there was uproar about it, attempts from the communities and the unions and church groups to buy the mills and keep them open, then that disappeared. We gradually acquiesced to the process. There was a backlash in the early '90s, when there were corporate killer type of articles. There was a lot of bragging, on the parts of CEOS, about what was happening. And there was a political backlash. Ross Perot in '92 and Pat Buchanan in '96 did well in primaries and elections, on the basis of the unhappiness over layoffs. Clinton finally dealt with it by saying, "Look folks, we can't stop the layoffs. We will try to make companies responsible."

The companies themselves got the message and became much more PR-oriented in dealing with layoffs. They didn't reduce the layoffs, but handled the announcements a lot more suavely than they had before. Clinton said that we would create jobs and provide training to reinvent people as workers. First of all, he didn't provide enough money for the training, and second of all, even if he had, it would have been hard to work out. So, we didn't do it as a community. We didn't say, "Look, there aren't enough good jobs out there. If layoffs must go on, as a community we have to have some way of helping these people."

LB: You mention that the way people get laid off has changed. How?

LU: We've acquiesced to it -- that's one thing. You don't find mass layoffs as much as you used to. You find announcements that 20,000 people are going to be laid off, but in fact it doesn't happen like that. Companies lay off a dozen people today, and another dozen three weeks from now. It goes slowly, and the people who remain say to themselves, "Maybe it won't happen to me if I keep my head down."

But there isn't this mass -- from one day to the next, 20,000 people disappearing. That happens occasionally, but not very much. The companies themselves are as careful as they can be about handling it; they just keep doing it.

LB: What about the psychological effects on corporate heads? Are they internalizing this fear and anxiety, too?

LU: I don't know the answer to that -- that's to be explored. I know that there isn't an acknowledgment. I've asked psychiatrists at the American Psychiatric Association [about] why they don't go public. Why isn't there a warning label on layoffs, as there is on cigarettes, that this is bad for your health? They say, "We can't do that." Then we'd have to put a warning label on divorce, or war, so we'll treat the symptoms, not preventative medicine.

That might get revised as time goes on. I'm going to appear on a panel at a psychiatric convention to discuss this issue. There are people wondering about it. There was one group that tried to raise an issue about this in the early '80s -- long before I discovered it. I suddenly ran across a book that was written. I met with these people, and they said it was very hard; they were all consultants at companies, and the people that employed them did not want to hear about what damage they were doing.

LB: What are some viable alternatives to layoffs?

LU: I'm a great believer in democracy. I think that whatever happens has to come out of the people. The first order of business is to count the layoffs accurately. We undercount them; we leave out the hidden layoffs, the forced retirements. If we included them, we would probably come up at seven or eight percent of all full-time workers losing their jobs every year. And another four percent or so that are newly counted.

Secondly, I think that we should require companies to document how people leave -- by retirement, by layoff, by quitting, whatever means. We would then have a database that we could study; academics could come in and say, "Among computer-makers, the norm is 100 layoffs a year, but here's a company that's doing 150 -- why are they beyond the average?"

I'm talking on the margin. I have no overall solution. Then we have to face the concern -- how are we going to create enough jobs for the people who are laid off? How can we send them the message that we want them employed? That might require, perhaps, some recognition that the private sector -- by itself, even with the best will in the world -- cannot create enough jobs to keep people fully employed at good wages. Once that's acknowledged, we have to decide where to go next. My job is to lay out the case.

LB: What can people do who might be nervous?

LU: They could band together, form groups, and understand what's happening to them. Face the idea that if they look at it as a group, it's not a comment on their skills, that they are corks at sea in a storm. And perhaps make the point, politically, that this business of retraining for good jobs is not a solution. I'm not saying we shouldn't be educating people -- we absolutely should be. I'm not saying education doesn't matter at all. If you're going to build a bridge, you need engineers to build it. But you have to have a demand for the bridge as well as the engineers. There is a certain supply and demand, working together -- but we're trying to make it all supply. We're trying to say that everyone who gets properly educated will magically have good work and good pay, and if you don't have it, you must not be doing the right thing.

LB: How are you hoping your book will influence the layoff landscape and job security in general?

LU: I'm hoping it will help people look at it more realistically and puncture the myths that are out there. They should also recognize that we are a communal society; we have always been that. Once they look at what has happened, what this trajectory has been -- from more and more job security to, now, the U-turn -- knowledge will strengthen their own mental health. And they will come up with actions, they'll begin to question political candidates, they'll begin to look for responses in the people they elect.

LB: How have layoffs shifted depending on the political landscape and who is in office?

LU: I don't think it shifts at all. I think Republicans and Democrats are almost identical in how they handle this. There hasn't been any change at all. There was once a movement in this country to supplement private sector jobs with public sector jobs. I don't mean moving dirt from one side of the other to stimulate the economy. There's real needs out there -- for quality child care, for example, or public transportation rebuilding schools, all sorts of things.

That might be one way of absorbing the excess people who cannot find good jobs in the private sector. But they don't exist in sufficient quantity. I also think it's a good idea for people to be as well-educated as possible Although education, by itself, is not the solution.

LB: You wrote that certain self-help treatises have wrongly trained people to feel responsible for their own job security.

LU: "Who Moved My Cheese?" is the famous book. It compares two humans with two humanlike mice, and the "cheese" is the jobs. The mice, as soon as the cheese disappears from its usual place, go out and start looking for a new supply -- whereas the humans sit there and moan and feel sorry for themselves and hope that the cheese will come back. Finally, they get their heads on straight and go out looking for another supply of cheese.

That's a little bit like saying, "Don't moan about losing your job! Get yourself an education; do what you have to do. The cheese is out there; you just have to figure out how to do it. And if you don't figure out how to do it, it's your fault."

That message of "your fault" is devastating in this country. It's not that we shouldn't be responsible -- we should go to school. It's politically a lot easier to put the responsibility on the victims rather than the politicians or the unions taking on all the responsibility. We've acquiesced to layoffs and outsourcing, and we've made it easy, and that greases the way for more than is necessary.

LB: Do you think the trend will continue?

LU: I have no idea. The whole purpose of writing the book is to influence what happens next, and not by some policy description, but trying to give people a sense of trajectory and history and to remember that job security has a long history in this country, and it still serves a purpose. Maybe not in the old way, I'd be the last to argue that, but it serves a purpose.

Anti-war weekend

On Monday, March 20, it will be exactly three years since Bush invaded Iraq. To commemorate this tragic anniversary -- and the hundreds of thousands of lives lost since -- there will be more than 500 anti-war protests happening all over the country this weekend.

United for Peace and Justice has compiled a list of national events occuring this weekend and beyond. Go here to find a peace event happening near you -- then get out there, damnit.

Also, a reminder to NYC dwellers: the much-hyped and excellent-looking "Bring 'Em Home Now" benefit concert, featuring many an acclaimed celebrity activist -- from Michael Stipe to Chuck D to Bright Eyes to Susan Sarandon, and of course, the indomitable Cindy Sheehan -- happens at Hammerstein Ballroom on Monday night. All proceeds benefit Iraq Veterans Against the War and Veterans for Peace, and ticket prices are at the higher end of reasonable, starting at $28. Buy 'em here.

MySpace mayhem

The love-to-hate social networking site MySpace has been increasingly under fire lately.

First, people freaked (for good reason) about the site's sale to Rupert Murdoch. Now, rather belatedly, adults are starting to realize the real reason kids are obsessed with MS: because it makes chatting and flirting and "hooking up" so damned easy. Especially if you're young and female. Indeed -- young women get fawned over like they're in short supply on MySpace, and unsurprisingly, some ill-intentioned older men are taking advantage of this.

The mayhem is a-brewing, especially in Danbury, Connecticut, since two men were arrested yesterday for allegedly sexually abusing two young (11 and 14 years old) girls they "met" on MySpace.

And this is just a few weeks after police in Middletown, CT began investigating reports that up to seven girls were sexually assaulted by men who had contacted them via the website (apparently the men lied, pretending to be teenagers, in their online interactions with the girls).

According to the CT News Times:

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South Dakota banned abortion today

Today, in what NARAL calls a "monumental setback for women," the South Dakota Senate voted to ban abortion in that state.

It's the broadest abortion measure passed by any state in more than 10 years, and a scary harbinger of what might lie ahead in the fight to preserve choice.

From Planned Parenthood:

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Juarez murders update

Thanks to Feministing, I just learned the frightening news that Mexican feds have concluded that "the numerous slayings of women in the border city of Ciudad Juarez in the past decade were not the work of a serial killer, and that the city is not the most dangerous in Mexico in terms of women's homicides."

These "conclusions" were released in a new report yesterday -- "the same day the Attorney General's Office created a new national prosecutor for crimes against women throughout Mexico."

Since 1993, there have been at least 379 young women killed in Juarez. There are countless newspaper and magazine articles about the still-unsolved case (as well as a yet-to-be-released Jennifer Lopez movie).

Until now, the deaths were widely presumed to be the work of a serial killer, or group of killers, because -- duh -- that's the only answer that made sense. The victims had many similarities: the majority were under 18 years old; about 2/3 were students and factory workers from poor backgrounds; and, in more than 70 percent of the victims, "the cause of death...was either asphyxia resulting from strangulation or injuries caused by blows."

Many of the women were kidnapped and subjected to brutal sexual violence before being killed:

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Hollywood for Bush?

Bushwatch has an interesting theory -- based on a recent New York Times article -- about why certain documentaries have been excluded from the just-announced Oscar nominations.

According to the NYT, glaring omissions from the roster of documentary nominees (such as the reputedly-excellent new flick "Why We Fight," by Eugene Jarecki of "Trial of Henry Kissinger" fame) should be chalked up to super-strident new Academy rules about which documentaries can be considered.

John Anderson writes that to be considered for an Oscar, a documentary must now "have made its debut in theaters and played for at least a week in New York or Los Angeles, and films that appeared only on television -- or even those that appeared on television before moving to theaters -- are disqualified."

Why it matters whether the films were broadcast on TV first remains to be explained. But the Bushwatch peeps just aren't buying Hollywood's lame "it's the rules, stupid!" excuse.

Politex at Bushwatch writes: "At best, one could believe that the Oscar rulemakers are simply incompetent, or perhaps even biased, toward certain kinds of documentary content… The bottom line is that the Academy was put on the spot politically when Michael Moore won an Oscar for Farenheit 9/11" [after his decidedly anti-estab., anti-Iraq war acceptance speech].

I haven't seen "Why We Fight" yet, but I realllllllly want to. I'm a full-fledged documentary freak, and was happy to hear that Jessica Sanders' lovely new feature, After Innocence was "considered a certainty" for the Oscar shortlist (um, even if her mom is president of the documentary voting branch.).

I'm not sure if I agree that any absence of left-leanin' political docs in this year's Oscar roster has much, if anything, to do with the administration "intimidating Oscar," as Bushwatch believes. Hollywood is still notoriously liberal. But is the Academy voting board trying to avoid controversy? Probably. Are their votes affected by internal ego-driven dramas, some of which may be politically-based? Again, a strong possibility.

Still, the reach and influence of the Bush machine is so scarily vast these days that, as Bushwatch writes, "given…the Bush regime's propaganda, a White House hand in Hollywood is hardly out of the question."

Miserable now?

A new MotherJones piece by deputy editor Clara Jeffery provides cold, hard stats to prove what most of us (women, at least) already knew to be true: when it comes to female advancement in America, we've still got a loooooooong way to go, baby.

Some choice bits?

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A sad reminder

A tragic reminder of war's traumatic after-effects for veterans…

Freeway Blogger just posted a "suicide note" from Iraq war vet Spc. Douglas Barber, who shot and killed himself on Monday.

Barber was outspoken about his "personal war" with PTSD (post-traumatic stress disorder) since coming home from Iraq. His anger and pain are palpable in his letter, and he encourages readers not only to take this pain seriously, but to do everything they can to remind the media, the administration and the American public that this is a needless, thankless war; a war for nothing:

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That damned book club

Oprah just can't seem to do right by her book club.

Just days after a recent pick, James Frey's A Million Little Pieces, got shot down by the media, fans, and publishing insiders alike for being too close (to fiction) for comfort, Winfrey's new selection, Elie Wiesel's classic memoir Night, is raising questions -- this time, not necessarily about how much of the story is true, but about how the first-person tome should be labeled and marketed.

The Nobel Prize-winning Wiesel's account of his family's harrowing experience at Auschwitz has been described as both "fiction" and "non-", depending on who you ask. (That bastion of academic greatness, CliffsNotes, calls it "fiction;" Wiesel's publisher, Farrar Strauss and Giroux, dubs it "Memoir.") Apparently, Wiesel's refined narrative style confuses readers, who assume that his beautifully-rendered depictions of the Holocaust must have been exaggerated. (Huh?)

When Oprah announced Night as her latest Club pick, the book shot up to #1 on Amazon.com's bestseller list, knocking Frey's AMLP out of first place.

According to the AP:

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Random entertainment roundup

Jon Stewart is hosting the Oscars. Isn't that special? It is for me. He's bound to be tons better than the boring old standbys of recent years. Plus he's sure to throw plenty o' choice anti-Republican jokes into the mix, pleasing the liberal Hollywood throngs. Of course, I'd watch the Oscars no matter who was hosting, because I'm crazy like that. No, I just like looking at the dresses.

Oh, the joy: Queen Latifah just became the first hip-hop artist crowned with a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame. Ah, Queenie -- how we love thee. Why do you keep making such crappy movies, though? I miss your good old "UNITY" persona, when you used to rap about not calling women bitches. I still think your heart's in the right place; I just wish you'd pick better films because some of your cinematic choices embarrass me.

In the new issue of Vanity Fair, teen actor and party girl supreme Lindsay Lohan finally fesses up to being bulimic and, um, dabbling in drugs last year (remember when she looked skinny enough to evaporate?). Phew. There's nothing like the feelin' of coming clean, right, L-Lo?

She's young and frilly, but I liked her performance in "Mean Girls." So I think it's cool that Lohan admitted (finally) to "making herself sick" when she got so slight -- instead of maintaining the celebrity stand-by lie that she dropped excessive amounts of weight the natural way.

Duh; we're too smart for that -- and it sets a better example for other ladies fighting eating disorders to learn that it is possible to recognize your problem and decide to change it.

Of the notorious "Saturday Night Live" episode that frightened many a viewer into having second helpings, Lohan said, "I knew I had a problem and I couldn't admit it… I saw that S.N.L. after I did it. My arms were disgusting. I had no arms."

The Failures of Post-9/11 Media

Kristina Borjesson knows well what can happen to journalists who push too hard to expose government secrets.

The award-winning reporter-cum-media critic was actually fired from her job at CBS after digging too deep -- and refusing to shut up -- about what caused the 2001 crash of TWA flight 800. In her acclaimed 2002 book "Into the Buzzsaw," Borjesson chronicled her forced exile from mainstream media and encouraged other banished reporters to share their stories, too.

Now she's at it again. In October, Borjesson released "Feet to the Fire" (Prometheus Books), a strapping collection of 21 interviews with the country's most influential TV, newspaper and magazine journalists. Her subject at hand? The impact of muddled intelligence -- and White House spin -- on mainstream media's desultory reporting of the lead-up to Bush's 2003 invasion of Iraq.

What might be different today if the press hadn't swallowed so many administration lies, hook, line and sinker? Is it the media's responsibility to report what the people need to know, or what the government wants us to hear? And which -- if any -- journalists got their war reporting right?

With an arsenal of questions like these, Borjesson aims for the heart -- and the top -- of the "media elite," brain-picking notables such as Ted Koppel, Ron Suskind, John Walcott and Christopher Hedges.

And with Bush's approval at recent all-time lows, his administration marred by a succession of increasingly Orwellian scandals, Borjesson's timing couldn't be better.

AlterNet spoke with Borjesson via telephone about the power and prejudice behind the "free press."

Why and how did you decide to do this book?

Kristina Borjesson: Actually, it's a logical extension of my last book, "Into the Buzzsaw," which looked at the problems big investigative journalists have. It was important to me to tell people who these [journalists] were. It's important to me that the American public knows who the good journalists really are and the lengths they go to bring the important stories to the public.

Here we are in this amazing era of profound crisis. Particularly pre-war, I was watching television and reading the news, and when it was announced that we were going to war with Iraq, I was wondering why no one was really holding the administration's feet to the fire and asking loudly and often, "Why are we doing this, and why is nobody presenting information that reflects reporting is really digging into this?"

Then when we went off to Iraq, I felt like I needed to understand how this country's top journalists interact with this country's leadership at a time of crisis, to figure out what went right and what went wrong. I decided to pick journalists who were covering areas that I thought were most germane to that period -- whether it was people covering the White House [or] covering the war -- national security intelligence reporters, which is where the rubber met the [road], because the reasons for going to war were ostensibly based on intelligence.

The bottom line for me is to try to examine the best journalists out there, and see what it is about them and how they go about doing their work. And in the course of it, I just exposed a lot of stuff.

Were you shocked or scared by anything you learned over the course of your interviews for "Feet to the Fire"?

The thing that I found really profound was that there really was no consensus among this nation's top messengers about why we went to war. [War is the] most extreme activity a nation can engage in, and if they weren't clear about it, that means the public wasn't necessarily clear about the real reasons. And I still don't think the American people are clear about it.

The other thing that I found interesting was looking into why their reporting didn't get the kind of traction it should. The best reporters were from Knight Ridder. This is not according to Kristina; this is according to all the other top reporters that I spoke to. The reason why their reporting didn't get traction was because their reporting wasn't on television, and while they have a huge audience of 11 million readers during the week, they're not in the power centers of this country, meaning that they don't have a presence in New York or Washington.

Again, what does that say? It's not as if there aren't other bright reporters in television. If you look at the two power newspapers, the New York Times -- most famously, or infamously, their key reporter was Judith Miller. And Walter Pincus [of the Washington Post] was doing all this great reporting, but it was ending up on page 17.

It's what I said about "Buzzsaw" -- people who are on the major radar don't do the kind of reporting that people below that radar do. The question is to look into why. The more powerful the news outlet is, the more visible it is, the more attention it attracts from people who, either inside or outside, want to suppress that reporting.

The other thing that was very clear in the pre-war phase is that the relationship between the White House (the executive branch) and the public, and the executive branch and Congress has changed profoundly. Walter Pincus mentioned that.

Basically it's about decisions that are made inside, and then it's a PR job. It's no longer this dialogue among our executive branch and our top leaders and Congress and the people via the press. [TV news is] essentially a PR job, and it's a very effective one; it's very sophisticated, and it's all day.

That created public perception that was pro-war. So people in television, a lot of whom tried to ask questions, were met with public outcry. That's another reason why [pro-war] reporting got traction. There is intense pressure and intense PR and perception-bending going on that makes it hard for really critical reporting on these sensitive issues to get out.

Were any nonmainstream media outlets reporting the real story?

There were plenty of them. But I was trying to look at the most powerful outlets I could find that were doing a good job. And basically what I'm doing with this book is bringing these people to the public's attention and saying, "Forget about Chris Matthews on 'Hardball.'" Go ahead and watch 'Hardball' if you want, but if you want the real nuts-and-bolts reporting, go to Knight Ridder. Look at what John Walcott, Jonathan Landay, Warren Strobel are doing.

I am going to try to make the great journalists of this country stars, and bypass all those little triggers that suppress great journalism and keep the public misinformed or uninformed.

If you had to make one or two interviews from your book required reading for the American public, which would you pick?

You've got to read the Landay and Strobel one, and the Walcott one. The national security and intelligence reporters are the key ones in the book for a lot of reasons.

Why? What might people be shocked to learn in those particular interviews?

Jonathan Landay was invited just recently to speak on "Hardball" about his reporting. For some reason he got bumped, and the producer on the show read his pre-war stuff and she goes, "Oh my god, you were reporting this stuff back in 2002."

When he was doing the comparison between the national intelligence estimate's classified version and the public version, and he was doing the analysis on what it would take to have nuclear weapons and what could you see just read those chapters.

There's Ron Suskind as well. He really tells you who these people are and how they're operating. And Pincus is interesting because he explains the problems, the whole PR attitude. That's a huge component of the problem, because it creates the other problem, which is a public that's hostile to getting the real information.

The only other thing that people should be aware of is the bigger picture of what Krugman calls "the Revolution" -- how this group of people came into power through a system that they are now trying to dismantle, both on the national and international level. And that in the superbig picture. It's basically about the paradigm shifting from nation-states to corporate states, where the nation-state's resources -- their money and their military, and so on -- are used in the furthering of corporations.

Bush and Blair's press conference [at Camp David on Sept. 7, 2002], when they quoted from a report by the International Atomic Energy Agency, came up repeatedly in your interviews. Can you explain its significance in the context of pre-war intelligence?

In [that] joint press conference, they talked about this IAEA report [which allegedly said] that Saddam Hussein could reconstitute his nuclear arsenal in a very short time. The fact of the matter was that no such report existed.

In fact, older reports basically said the opposite.

It was reported, and a few journalists picked it up. It was picked up by NBC's Robert Wyndham that day. But it was interesting, because when [Wyndham] mentioned that there was no such report, the White House didn't say, "We're sorry, we didn't mean the IAEA report, we meant another report." Their answer was, "Well, that was our perception at the time."

It was just a bizarre response. And then the report disappeared from their website, and that was it. The whole event disappeared.

It's fascinating what's going on, because there's this virtual reality that's created by speeches and statements. If there's nothing there to counter it, it becomes the [public's] perception. And everybody acts on the perception. Whether it's real or not, it's now treated as real, so it becomes real.

The press is going 50 on this issue, and the administration and their perception-bending machines are going 500. And that's the problem that needs to be solved institutionally.

When, for example, Colin Powell goes and gives his speech to the U.N., how, as a reporter covering it, can you question every fact that he [gives] while he's putting it out, so that when that speech is over, you know what's true and what isn't?

It's possible. The networks could do it, the print reporters could do it, just by having somebody checking everything back at the office and staying in touch with that reporter in the field. It's possible to do. But it's not done

I think they should have access to international fact-checkers. One of the biggest problems with investigative journalism, and journalism in general, is the delay between when statements are made and when they're checked out, because you have to report what the president says right away when [he says] it.

Do you think that lack of fact-checking and follow-through are part of the reason that the American people are still so muddled about the link (or non-link) between Saddam Hussein and 9/11?

Well, yes. The fact is that unless networks are willing to do the real reporting, it's a tough thing to ask of them. Because of the leadership's PR machine, if the public is hostile to getting critical information, then you could lose a lot of money.

What's happening now is that there's a whole alternative press system out there that is doing their homework, and they're doing it really fast. And people are beginning to know where the good sites are and where conscientious reporters [are] -- whether they're journalists or professors or whatever.

Look at Juan Cole's Informed Comment [blog]. A lot of people I know don't watch the network television news anymore. Every once in a while when I do catch it, it's a day or two behind sometimes. So why bother? They're going to suffer from that; they are suffering from that.

How have the internet and blogs contributed to this -- the way we're getting our news, credibility ?

It's making it very scary for the networks, because they're obsolete from A to Z. This woman, Robin Meade on CNN in the morning, with the Jessica Simpson look-alike makeup? If you put Jonathan Landy and Warren Strobel on television, that's it -- they will have no competition.

These guys are good-looking, they're edgy, they're intense and they're telling you the truth -- they're lifting the veil. Nothing would glue people to their chairs more than something like that. Because what you're getting are these older white guys who are coloring within the lines constantly. Even the subjects that they choose to cover for the news are just obsolete from beginning to end.

They keep trying to make it more entertaining. And they don't realize that, in this new world now, what would be most compelling is just really hard, true reporting being presented, by the way, by the people who are actually doing it -- and packaged in a way that is more interesting, and that moves more, with more cuts.

Even I have to admit that I love MTV -- I love the style.

When I watch network news, it's just so hard to watch. It isn't attractive. They all look alike, they all sound alike, they all say the same things. And I don't care how much makeup Robin wears, or how high she teases the back of her head and smiles and whatever. She's not interesting, and she's not covering interesting stories.

Literally -- the other day, she was covering something about dogs. It was obviously a throwback to one of those [ideas that] "the key stories are vets, pets, tits and tots."

You said earlier that it can be hard for reporters to deliver the truth if Americans are hostile to that truth. Do you think this has changed at all since the war started?

What's interesting is that there's a pattern to the coverage whenever we go to war. Before the war, everybody is gung-ho, because the PR machine is in full swing [and] everybody wants to get behind the president. Really, if you want to be re-elected, start a war, because people don't like to change presidents.

And then you go to war, and there's bang-bang footage and it's all exciting. And the people start to die, and now you're into the everyday flogging of the war. It's the same stuff all the time, so people get tired of that.

But as the casualties start to rise, that's when the reporting starts getting critical, because it's hitting a critical mass with the public that their kids are dying. Once a critical mass of kids start arriving home in coffins, the reporting starts to change, because journalism is not proactive, it's reactive.

In the case of this war, there is another added element to that. People have discovered, way before the war is over, [that] the president's reasons for going to war turned out to have no basis. That creates questions in people's minds, too.

But again, you're constantly swimming against the PR machine that comes out with, "You're not supporting the troops if you're critical. We're going to win this war; it's important -- the Iraqi people are behind it." Our tax dollars are being used to blow smoke at us. That is profoundly troubling.

You can see that people are sidestepping the mainstream system now, with the internet and so on. You can do the Buckminster Fuller thing with getting out the information, but now, when you've got this machine that's constantly trying to create and bend perceptions, and that doesn't go through the journalism outlets.

In one of your chapters, Tom Yellin said that his biggest question as a [ABC News] producer is determining whether to lead viewers to the right story or respond to what they want to hear. That seemed to be a common conflict among most of the reporters you spoke with.

That's the vise they're in, exactly.

How do they reconcile the two?

This is where James Bamford, who's independent, really slams the network people. And, by the way, all of these journalists, when asked, "Who do you think did the best job?" Many pointed to Sy Hersh [of the New Yorker], but he didn't feel comfortable being interviewed.

The decision to run a story, or not, ultimately doesn't rest in the hands of the journalists who do the stories -- it rests in the hands of their superiors. And their superiors are the ones who have to make decisions based on whether it's good business or not. And believe me, if you're going to lose viewers because you're going to tell a highly critical story, more often than not, in television, the story will not go on.

In newspapers, what they do is just put it on page 17. They marginalize it in the back pages.

Krugman has a fan base over at the New York Times, but he is "balanced" by David Brooks, so there is always a mitigating factor that keeps a certain perspective from gaining primacy. For example, Bamford pointed out that, on television talk shows, the way they "balance" things is this: If you're going to have Richard Perle on, he's a neo-con, super-right-wing guy. So his real equal, on the other side, might be someone like [Noam] Chomsky. But Chomsky will never get on television; he's too left-wing.

But Perle isn't too right-wing. So what they do is take a centrist, slightly left-wing senator, maybe, who is going to provide a weaker left-wing perspective to Perle's overwhelming right-wing perspective. And that's how it's done on television. That's how a certain viewpoint is controlled on television. That's why the whole thing about the left-wing mainstream media is laughable, particularly when it comes to television, just by virtue of the sources that they choose to bring on.

It seemed like most of the journalists you interviewed were very concerned with their credibility, and how that would convey to their audience. Tom Yellin talked about it being all-important for journalists to earn the public's trust. Do you think people are as worried about that as journalists are?

This is a strange era that we're living in, because it's polarized now between right and left. Obviously there are people who choose their news sources because their politics dovetail with that of the news source. But that should not be a concern of any good journalist.

It seems like most American people don't care about a journalist's credibility unless it's called into question.

Well, they certainly attack it enough. If you read Ron Suskind's chapter, I ask him, "Given all the events that have occurred, what kind of system of government are we moving towards?"

There was this silence. And I said, "I'm going to record the fact that there's a long silence here."

[Then] he started talking about how you have to be judicious in what you say, so as not to be marginalized.

I don't know if it's on both the right and the left, but if the truth is 12 inches long, some journalists will only go six inches into that truth. Because to go the full 12 inches might create a backlash that could marginalize them. But to go six inches into it is still safe.

Because [under] this administration, if you're on their radar, and you write or air something that is critical enough and gets their attention, they will lash out at you, and they're very good at it. That does have a deterring effect, even on the big journalists.

The Washington Post's Bart Gellman gets letters all the time from people at the Pentagon, or they send letters to the press saying Gellman's reporting is inaccurate. Just recently, the Washington Post had to respond to something like that publicly in an editorial. A lot of the guys in here, certainly the Knight Ridder boys, have no compunctions about reporting exactly what they find, no matter what.

Most of the reporters you talked with denied that there was self-censorship in their news organizations. Do you agree?

I know from firsthand experience that self-censorship goes on. I also know that agenda reporting goes on in these major outlets.

From time to time you'll see a "Nightline" that is so satisfying to watch, because it's looking at some critical issue that needs to be aired, and it's looking at it intelligently and it's presenting facts. Just as often, you'll see reports that are just ridiculous. But what goes on most consistently is just reporting that is either inane or doesn't cover what needs to be covered to the extent that it needs to be covered. That's why people are turning away in droves from those news divisions.

How do you think news coverage of the war has changed?

It has become more critical. More questions are being asked because all this money has been spent. More than 2,000 of our men and women have died over there, and there doesn't seem to be any end in sight.

Notwithstanding the fact that the president keeps talking about victory, we paid a huge price in terms of national prestige and our relationship with countries around the world.

I think the reporting is becoming more critical. I mean, that's why [the Bush administration] keeps mounting all these new campaigns. It's fascinating --it's one campaign after another. They have a message, and then all of them go out there and put out the same message.

But sometimes it backfires, like when they came out against the anti-war critics, it didn't fly very well. After that, Bush came out with a campaign message of, "We will be victorious, and good things are happening and there's an Iraqi election coming up."

They keep waving the flag of democracy under people's noses, but I was reared in Haiti, and the Americans "helped bring democracy" on a couple of occasions, but they didn't like the results. I'm not impressed by the whole "democracy" thing.

What about the international press? How does it compare with the American press in terms of reporting the truth and not kowtowing to what people want to hear?

It's easier to be free to critically cover major events if your own country and the blood of your own countrymen are not invested. In terms of the Iraq war, sure, everybody else has probably been able to do a better job, because they don't have the stake in it that we do. The Germans, of course, having gone through Nazism, [are] more vigilant about censorship and so on.

Although, again, their big media conglomerate, Bertelsmann, controls a lot of the media over there. The corporatization of mainstream media is not just happening here.

But again, the fact that they're not as invested in the Iraq war makes it easier for them to cover it critically.

Do you now have more faith or less in American media and the journalistic process?

I have more faith, because I've met and talked to 21 really smart, conscientious journalists, so obviously that buttresses my faith. I have faith in American journalists just because I've spent since 2001-2002 championing the best journalists, and trying to promote good journalists by having them write about their experiences and, in this case, interviewing them.

What's more important to me is that I've found a way to make the public more conscious of good journalism and journalists. I think it's important for people to know who the good sources of information are. Who they are, because it's an individual matter. It's not Knight Ridder so much as it's Walcott, Strobel, and Landyonce. These people go out over the airways or on panels around the country, and people meet them and hear them speak. People will say, "Oh, now I get it." And to me, there's no better mission right now because of the crisis we're in.

How do you feel about Fox News' impact on TV journalism? Did the reporters you spoke with consider it a valid threat to what they were doing?

Some of them, like Peter Arnett, felt the impact of Fox News. He was interviewed on Iraqi TV and was summarily pulled from view. It was fascinating, because you have Geraldo drawing little maps in the sand and nothing happens to him, but Arnett gets it between the eyes for basically quoting what the American military was saying about itself.

Some of them, like Arnett, felt the power of Fox, because they did 24-hour attacks on him and what he did. He was pulled from view as a result of that.

Then there's Tom Curley, the president and CEO of the Associated Press, who thinks that Fox is an important voice because they present this right-wing point of view. He talks about the diversity of voices, and how Fox is great because it's part of that.

Me, I don't care what wing the truth flies in on -- right or left -- as long as it's the truth.

I frankly do not see Fox as a purveyor of the truth. I don't give a damn that they're right-wing. I don't want to paint them with one big, broad, black brush and say they lie all the time. Sometimes -- I've got to give credit -- in the morning, you can't find anything on Iraq, because Robin's there [on CNN] talking about little pet dogs, but at least Fox is in Iraq.

Really, Fox's audience is very small. It's only about 1.8 million, I believe. But they're powerful, because they are connected philosophically and politically to the White House.

Are there any news websites that you love and would like to promote?

I love Asia Times online. You've got to do a story on those people.

I wouldn't have Juan Cole in my book if I didn't think his website was amazing. It's just intelligent analysis and real information. That's the thing -- you can't just report the facts. If you don't have history and context and good analysis, then that reporting makes no sense. If you want really great analysis, plus the facts, plus people who use all kinds of sources when they're covering the Middle East.

I love AlterNet, too. I go there all the time.

Motherless Subway

Subway -- that ubiquitous purveyor of "eating fresh" -- has opened a franchise in Williamsburg, Brooklyn. And the kids aren't happy about it.

Motherless Brooklyn has unleashed an anti-Subway open letter, aptly titled 'GET THE FUCK OUT,' which reads in part:
We would like you to leave our community. Multinational corporations that put profits before people while polluting the environment and our bodies are absolutely unwelcome here… Williamsburg is a unique neighborhood that embraces artisanship, diversity and individuality. Your new store adds nothing positive to our neighborhood and instead represents homogeny and banality, low wages and manufactured foods.
The diatribe continues by listing five reasons to boycott the supa-chain:
1. Subway is a massive corporation; 2. Subway has bad food; 3. Subway hates people; 4. Subway is boring; 5. There are inexpensive (and better) alternatives.
Though I'm all for corporate bashin' and backlashin' -- and I only eat at Subway when I'm seriously hurting for one of their delectable, but, yes, overprocessed "veggie patties" -- I feel compelled to add a bit of commentary about Williamsburg itself.

Okay, I confess -- I'm not a fan. It used to be diverse, individualistic, artist-friendly and all the rest. But I feel like in recent years it's devolved into an even more annoying version of the East Village's little frat-boy brother -- rich, loud, largely white and 20-something, and beer-obsessed.

Last year I lived in nearby Greenpoint, and though I saw lots of interesting-looking people on the subway every day, I was hard-pressed to find many that were doing interesting things (beyond getting wasted at one of Williamsburg's countless dive bars).

I don't mean to attack the neighborhood itself -- I have good friends who live there and love it. But their devotion mainly stems from the hood's convenient proximity to the city, cheaper-than-Manhattan rents, and, um, proliferation of decent bars.

Maybe I'm just pissed at Williamsburg's sad lack of movie theaters and decent parks (sorry, but McCaren doesn't count; it's the equivalent of a football field surrounded by gross grey concrete and construction). Or maybe I'm just cranky.

Regardless, I'll add my voice to the anti-corporate kids' in urging Subway to stay out of Williamsburg. The drunk hipsters already have at least one all-night bodega per block to satisfy their hangover-fueled munchies.

P.S. Thanks to my lovely friend and fellow Greenpoint-er Becca for sending the tip-off.

Black/white

A new, six-part reality show called "Black.White" will debut on FX in March.

The show -- created by talented rapper/actor Ice Cube, with acclaimed producer RJ Cutler (of cable's "Freshman Diaries" and "American High," as well as the much ballyhooed '93 Clinton doc "The War Room") -- is still two months from airing, but it's already attracting attention for its premise.

What is the premise? Take a hint from its name. The show puts a new, mildly bizarre spin on a tried-and-true ratings-lovin' formula: members of two very different families "trade places" for two months (see the creepily-named "Wife Swap" and "Trading Spouses").

But in the case of "Black.White," two families -- one Caucasian, one African-American -- will live in a house together, and an acclaimed Hollywood makeup artist will "transform" the black family's skin to white, and vice versa. Then cameras will follow the fams through their daily lives, as well as in their shared home sweet home.

Laughs, tears (and surely loads of drama) TK.

In a New York Post article, Cutler -- the show's co-creator -- explained his hopes that the show will spark dialogue and foster understanding about race in America:

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Shiny happy goodness

I'm not in the mood to be miserable and negative (for once), so here are a few things that are pleasing me today.

1. Fender's new line of Hello Kitty guitars and amps. I'm turning 29 next month, but that doesn't mean I can't still enjoy Japanese cartoon cats (and electric guitars adorned with 'em).

Derrr, it's Hello Kitty -- I'll never stop loving that shite. (I used to be into riot grrrl, for chrissakes.)

Anyway, I like that Fender's website shows a bunch of little girls playing guitar. Yes, I know it's just another shameless, consumerist attempt at marketing to kids -- which is inherently twisted -- but I'd much rather see young ladies clamoring to learn how to rock out than begging their parents for the latest Barbies or Bratz or whatever the tots are trotting out these days.

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Call-in to Congress today

Two of the country's biggest anti-war coalitions -- Win Without War and United for Peace and Justice -- joined forces today to organize a nationwide "call-in" to members of Congress to demand an end to the U.S. occupation of Iraq.

If you're one of the nearly 60 percent of Americans who agree that this war is a big fat horrible honkin' failure, find your representative here and step up to the proverbial plate.

Those squirmy White House suckers

Rep. John Conyers has organized a letter-writing campaign urging President Bush not to pardon any indicted White House officials associated with Plamegate.

Writing on Huffington Post, Conyers says:

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Walmart gets randy

Despite the abundance of horrifying headlines from Pakistan, Iraq, and the American Gulf, today's blog post will focus on something a bit more petty and a lot more salacious: s-e-x.

OK, so Walmart won't sell racy magazines, cuss-ridden records, or emergency contraception. But, interestingly enough, the ultrachain has no problem shilling KY-brand personal lubricant (innocently dubbed "Touch Massage" oil).

The store's actually getting rich off the stuff -- according to Advertising Age, K-Y Touch Massage oils have "hit the list of top 10 new health and beauty products of 2005."

Quelle surprise: K-Y is manufactured by conservative megacorp Johnson & Johnson, which last year decided to boost marketing efforts to sexually frustrated middle-American consumers by focusing on "enhanc[ing] intimacy between committed partners" (borrrring. Just kidding!).

Other companies -- like Trojan condoms' Church & Dwight Co. -- are getting friskier, too. C&D recently launched Elexa, a new line of "sexual health" products marketed towards women. The line includes sexually healthy sundries such as vibrating condom rings -- which, for the record, are banned from stores in eight states.

Doh.

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