Sunday, January 23, 2005

AW Review: Torture, Reproductive Rights, Radio Sucks, and The Village Voice covered the protests

We'll do a brief Alternative Weeklies review. Brief because I spent two hours on this post only to lose it when it was supposed to be posting.

Geov Parrish in The Seattle Weekly:

The torture scandal is as good a measure as any of what happens to miscreants in the Bush administration. They keep their jobs (Donald Rumsfeld, Gen. Ricardo Sanchez, Gen. John Abizaid) or are promoted. Gonzales is one; Jay Bybee, author of a memo defining which interrogation techniques could be used, is another. Bybee, like Chertoff, received a lifetime federal judgeship for his efforts. Condoleezza Rice, War on Terror hardliner, is now secretary of state.
In Chertoff's case, the mass roundup of Arabs, Muslims, and South Asians after 9/11 was not only a civil-liberties atrocity, it was wholly ineffective. None of the detainees was ever charged, let alone convicted, of any terrorism-related crime. Few, if any, had any useful intelligence value.

Frontlines has this:

Three years after it was created, the U.S. prison camp at Guantanamo remains an enclave outside the law, Human Rights Watch said today. As the Pentagon prepares to build a permanent prison at its Guantanamo naval base, the U.S. government continues to detain people indefinitely without charge or trial or without applying the Geneva Conventions. The Bush administration still rejects any serious inquiry into the mounting evidence that U.S. officials have tortured or mistreated prisoners at Guantanamo."Guantanamo has become the Bermuda Triangle of human rights. Basic rights vanish there," said Wendy Patten, U.S. Advocacy Director at Human Rights Watch. "By flouting international law in its treatment of detainees, the Bush administration has drawn worldwide criticism and undermined support for U.S. counterterrorism efforts." The United States currently holds some 550 people as "enemy combatants" at Guantanamo. Although gathering intelligence has been a central U.S. justification for the detentions, some U.S. officials say most of the detainees are no longer considered of intelligence value. Recently, senior administration officials have indicated that the Pentagon intends to move away from regular interrogation of most detainees, and to provide less restrictive conditions of detention for many of those whom the U.S. government does not want to release.

The Independent Weekly weighs in on the need for a paper trail in "Who Won, Who Knows" by Bob Geary:

It's not like we weren't warned. In the months leading up to the Nov. 2 elections, citizen activists and computer geeks alike pleaded with the State Board of Elections not to depend on paperless touchscreen computers--the direct recording electronic devices, or DREs, you've heard so much about by now--to count our votes in North Carolina. Please add printers to the DREs (they urged) so there'll be a paper trail of the ballots just in case. "We don't trust computer voting machines," said Warren Murphy, a programmer himself as well as state chair of the reform group Common Cause, at a press conference in Raleigh on July 13. "They have failed too many times already, and our votes are too important to be lost."
Hey, when you're right, you're right. And Murphy was right--on Nov. 2, we discovered that one of the still-paperless DRE machines in Carteret County had "lost" 4,438 votes. We know the exact number because the machine counted how many votes were cast; it just stopped recording what was on them when the software decided it was "full." A "glitch," in short. So sad. Votes gone. (However, since they were all "early" voters, we do know who they were.)
. . .
Critics of the paperless DREs had insisted, too, that printouts were needed not merely to recapture lost votes but also to discover--and safeguard against--stolen votes.
That's right, the critics warned, not printing out any ballots was an invitation to corrupt interests who could slip "backdoors" into the software, hack the results using modems and flash drives, and otherwise pull off stuff that, if you're a Democrat, you absolutely know the Republicans would try to get away with if they could ... and if you're a Republican, well, you know what those Democrats would do given half a chance.

In the Orlando Weekly, Rebecca Hyman has an important article:

There's a new front in the battle for abortion rights – the literal front, that is, of a T-shirt designed by writer and feminist activist Jennifer Baumgardner that proclaims "I had an abortion." The shirt, initially for sale on Planned Parenthood's national website and now available on Clamor magazine's website, has generated controversy among not only the anti-abortion community but also pro-choice feminists.
Inspired in part by the bold irreverence of second-wave feminists, who circulated a petition proclaiming the fact of their own abortions and published it in the first issue of Ms., Baumgardner created the T-shirt in order to remove the stigma that relegates those who have had an abortion to shame and silence. The shirt is one component of a multipart project Baumgardner conceived to draw attention to women's experiences of abortion. Other elements of the project include a film that will debut at the anniversary of Roe v. Wade Jan. 22, featuring interviews with women who have had abortions; a guidebook to busting through the gridlock on the abortion debate, with a photo essay by Tara Todras-Whitehill, that will be published by Akashic Books; and the creation and distribution of resource cards that help women locate abortion services and obtain post-abortion counseling.
. . .
In the face of such a far-reaching anti-choice agenda, the presence of women wearing T-shirts proclaiming their decision to have an abortion would seem a forceful response. As Barbara Ehrenreich recently reminded readers in a New York Times editorial, "Abortion is legal – it's just not supposed to be mentioned or acknowledged as an acceptable option." Since Roe v. Wade, she writes, "at least 30 million American women" have had abortions, "a number that amounts to about 40 percent of American women." Yet according to a 2003 survey conducted by a pro-choice organization, "only 30 percent of women were unambivalently pro-choice."
Ehrenreich logically surmises that many women who refuse to state publicly that they are pro-choice have nevertheless obtained safe, legal abortions. By remaining silent about their experience, or by refusing to call the act of terminating a pregnancy because of fetal birth defects an abortion, these women are tacitly supporting those who seek to outlaw abortion. To be vocal about abortion – not by supporting an abstract "freedom of choice," but instead by naming abortion as a fact of women's experience – is thus to break the dual threat of political and private shaming that keeps women silent.
That both Ehrenreich and Baumgardner have called upon women to speak publicly about their abortions is no coincidence; rather, it represents their desire to honor, and perhaps resuscitate, a tactic integral to the politics of second-wave feminism. Many of the political agendas of second-wave feminists were the byproduct of consciousness-raising groups, which encouraged women to speak out – not only to break the silences that foster discrimination but also to build community. This legacy of speech-as-activism is still found in Take Back the Night vigils – in which women name their experiences of physical and sexual abuse – as well as in the explosion of feminist zines and the music of riot grrrls.
Like Ehrenreich, who called for women to "take your thumbs out of your mouths, ladies, and speak up for your rights," Baumgardner sees a direct correlation between the increase in women's speech and the increase in their rights. "When women were most vocal about their experiences of abortion," she said, "Roe v. Wade was enacted. Now that women are silent about their experiences of abortion, we are seeing a decline in their reproductive rights."
Given this history of feminist politics, it's no surprise that Planned Parenthood, which initially agreed to sell 200 shirts on its website, sold out so quickly that it had to refer potential customers to Baumgardner's site to meet the demand. Ehrenreich wears her shirt to the gym; Ani DiFranco wore hers to an interview with Inc., an apolitical business magazine. When the photograph of DiFranco sporting the shirt and holding her guitar appeared, readers wrote to the editors to protest, sparking an extended dialogue about abortion rights on Fresh Inc., the magazine's blog.

Brian Morton makes some noteable observations in The Baltimore City Paper:

You may be wondering what a subject like this is doing in a political column, but the fact is, politics affects everything. As that great Greek philosopher Pericles put it in 430 B.C., "Just because you do not take an interest in politics doesn't mean politics won't take an interest in you." Radio's suckage began in earnest in 1996, when President Clinton signed the Telecommunications Act. It allowed for a massive consolidation of radio-station ownership, thus helping create broadcast behemoths like Clear Channel and Infinity Broadcasting (WHFS’s parent company). Between the desire for ridiculous corporate profit margins and debt service for the cost of buying up all those stations, companies selling radio "product" need to drag in as many ears as possible to their stations, and then sell as many ads as can be crammed into an hour. Radio already has technology that can shoehorn "more minutes" into an hour via compression and devices that suck out time between DJs' words, and songs are often cut off long before their actual ends in order to bring up the next "hit"-- so listeners have long been subjected to more and more "music" while actually getting less and less in terms of quality content.
Come 2005 and much popular music consists of manufactured stars of negligible talent (Ashlee Simpson makes Milli Vanilli look like the Rolling Stones) created by marketing entities and reality TV. This year's Fantasia Barrino is last year's O-Town. These acts tend to be leveraged to the hilt to the record companies and radio conglomerates that create them, so the artist (and we use that term ever so loosely) rarely makes any money, as contracts for musical acts don't get around to paying the act any substantial cash until they're on their second or third contract
-- the money goes to the promoters, agents, tour companies and all the rest of the soul-grinding "biz." Clear Channel helps create, promote, market, and tour the "star," and keeps the lion's share of the cash, which it then turns around to pay dividends to its shareholders, service the debt, and help create more crap.
Think about it: We are in the middle of an increasingly unpopular war, brought to us by massive deceit on the part of our political establishment and collusion on the part of corporate media culture. Have you heard or seen anything reflecting this in pop culture?
Except for Michael Moore's Fahrenheit 9/11 -- which has been vilified and marginalized to the point that anyone who points out that Moore had a point is soundly censured -- there is virtually no protest film or music out in mainstream culture channels at all. Quite likely the reasoning for this is the utter squelching of any large-scale artists who may decide to put their conscience into their work. You haven’t heard much from the Dixie Chicks lately, have you?

In The Village Voice's "Scenes from a Coronation", Kristen Lombardi does what the New York Times couldn't or wouldn't, reports on the protests:

I walked towards the protesters, while scribbling down some notes. Immediately, a D.C. police officer intervened. He demanded, "What are you doing here?" When I explained that I was a member of the press, the cop responded, "You have to stand over there. That's where the media stand," motioning about 10 feet behind the blue-uniformed perimeter. When I paused, he took the liberty of ushering me to the area. There stood a cameraman from MTV, sitting on a concrete barrier, smoking a cigarette. Two Washington Post reporters huddled together, their mouths agape, as if stunned by the sheer volume of police. No one was recording a thing.
Eventually, I walked around a parked ambulance, across the street, and came at the protest from another side. Black-clad kids were skipping and singing, to the tune of the Beatles' Yellow Submarine, "We all live in a fascist regime." Protesters draped in orange shouted at the fashionably late ball attendees, "Do you know what you’re supporting?" Other than that, most of the protesters stood silent, taking in the security.
"It's just typical police tactics," offered Russ Buchan, a Los Angeles resident who found himself arrested at the RNC in NYC this past August. "It's either keep us divided [into small groups] or arrest us en masse."
Despite the heavy police presence at the end, Buchan said, most protesters felt like the day had ended in success. "They couldn’t get us off the street today," he said, which meant that Bush and his supporters "couldn’t possibly ignore us."

Bob Shrum is bowing out of political races "finally!" (as Rick noted when he e-mailed this in).

And The Mountain Xpress has a story Amnesty International Human Rights Film Festival.