Let's understand where we are politically: Right now, religious fundamentalists are trying to relive the Scopes Monkey Trial all over the United States, from Kansas to Pennsylvania. Science is on the chopping block and empirical knowledge is giving way to political viewpoints. The president has no problem telling his rabble-rousing supporters that he supports the teaching of supernatural explanations for natural phenomena in classrooms.
And the U.S. Food and Drug Administration--the regulatory agency responsible for making our drugs safer and more effective than those of nearly every other nation--has been handed over the politicos who care less about what works than what pleases the yokels who put this administration in charge of things.
Six months ago, the FDA rejected over-the-counter sales of Plan B, also known as the "morning-after pill." As a Government Accounting Office report showed, top Bush administration officials jumped into the decision-making process, something the GAO report noted was "very very rare," and then they ignored both the advice of an independent advisory committee and the FDA's scientific review staff. The GAO report concluded that a top FDA official created a "novel" rationale for rejecting Plan B's over-the-counter status, even making the decision before the review process was concluded.
If there is one issue that drives the far right as crazy as abortion, it's contraception. With regard to the Bush administration's recent high-court nominees, right-wingers have revisited, in terms of right to privacy, the 1965 Supreme Court decision that legalized birth control, Griswold v. Connecticut. To the Right, tying contraception to abortion is like nailing two birds with one big rock, and Plan B is the string.
The hard right is all about using unfounded fears to keep helpful contraceptives off the market no matter how effective the science--to this end, they wield confusion as much as possible, similar to the tactics of the proponents of "intelligent design." As the Boston Globe's Ellen Goodman put it in her Nov. 12 column, "Fear of pregnancy is almost as useful in their kit bag as fear of cancer."
Senior members of the FDA quit in protest over how the drug was used as a political football during the approval process. Dr. Susan Wood, who quit her job as the head of the FDA's Office of Women's Health in August, said in a Nov. 15 New York Times article that the politics and the FDA’s new directors' desire to brush aside science in favor of the right-wing agenda has "only gotten worse" since the agency found yet another reason to delay a decision on Plan B.
The above is from Brian Morton's "Plan C" (Baltimore City Paper) and Joey e-mailed to highlight it. It's Thursday, Indymedia roundup. A number of topics this entry including nuclear energy and the media.
Zach notes Steven T. Jones' "Redemption Songs" (San Francisco Bay Guardian):
But it's equally clear that the California constitution doesn't give cops, prosecutors, judges, or jailers -- those now arguing hardest against letting Williams live in prison -- the authority to make this decision. Clemency is a political decision, one made not on narrow legal grounds but on broad societal considerations.
"It should be enough that he has expressed remorse and apologies for his past involvements without requiring that he become an informant for the state that seeks to execute him," former state senator Tom Hayden wrote in a Nov. 21 letter to Schwarzenegger, urging him not to be swayed by the dogma on either side of the capital punishment debate.
Williams needn't be condemned for a decision that, in other contexts, might be seen as a mark of courage and integrity. In fact, there is no litmus test for clemency, an absolute power that – because of the tricky politics of capital punishment -- US governors have rarely used.
"No one can deserve or earn clemency," Austin Sarat, a professor and author specializing in capital punishment, told me. All someone can do is meet some minimum threshold that would make clemency a plausible decision -- such as showing rehabilitation, the possibility of errors or racism in their trial, or a societal interest in showing mercy -- something Sarat said clearly exists in the Williams case. In other words, the governor can spare him if he wants to.
"This case is as much about Arnold Schwarzenegger as it is about Tookie Williams," he said.
And by extension, this case is about Americans circa 2005. Are we ready to break the cycle of violence that has ensnared our nation? Will we continue to stubbornly assert American exceptionalism and disregard world opinion? Can a man or an entity that has attained power through violence ever be forgiven? Sarat posed the big question as: "What is the state of grace and mercy as a value in the society in which we live?"
Or perhaps more simply: Do we believe in redemption?
We should, because someday we may need to convince the world that we've changed. Through redemption -- either seeking or granting it -- comes the greatest hope for the American experiment. Violence won't vanquish our foes, be they gangsters or terrorists, but redemption is the path toward making them disappear.
Tom asks that we note Democracy Now!'s "10 Years After the Arrest of U.S. Citizen Lori Berenson in Peru, her Father Mark Berenson Reads a Statement She Released from Prison:"
MARK BERENSON: [reading Lori Berenson’s statement] My name is Lori Berenson. I am a New York born and raised political prisoner in Perú. I have spent many years in Central and South America, trying to contribute to the efforts of those who seek social justice for all. I continue this work from prison.
On November 30, 1995, I was pulled off of a public bus in Lima. Like thousands of Peruvians, I was detained by the anti-terrorist police, tried for treason by a hooded military tribunal under draconian anti-terrorism laws and condemned to life in prison.
This all occurred in the context of an internal conflict in Perú that began in the early 1980s with the armed insurgence of the Shining Path, and later the Tupac Amaru Revolutionary Movement.
When I was arrested, Peruvian President Fujimori made me a symbol for his anti-terrorist campaign. His ability to use the media for his own publicity purposes led to my case being very high profile.
Because of the tireless efforts of my family, friends and many others, the Fujimori regime was forced to retry me in a civilian court. In 2001, I was sentenced to 20 years for collaboration. In 2004, in light of the international anti-terrorism campaign in our post-9/11 world and under extreme pressure from Perú's political class, the Inter-American Court of Human Rights ratified my sentence.
The details of what happened to me are irrelevant in the broader picture of the thousands of Peruvians who have been killed, disappeared, tortured and detained during this internal conflict. Since history has always been re-written by those who have the upper-hand, the issue of subversion became the scapegoat for all of Perú's problems.
In all parts of the world, symbolic culprits are used to obscure the root causes of social discontent, to distract attention and distort realities when any group of people question the existing order. The world order, especially in this era of globalized capitalism, is designed to benefit a powerful few at the expense of the majority of our world's peoples. This system is unjust, immoral, terrifying and just plain insane. We must change it.
People all over the world are imprisoned today and suffering tremendous injustices for challenging this order. I express my solidarity with all of those prisoners, and in particular my admiration for those whose courage we can hear in the voice of Mumia Abu-Jamal, in the writings about Leonard Peltier, in the struggle for the liberation of Puerto Rico, and many others.
For prisoners, the struggle for basic dignity is a daily plight. Prisons are just a smaller version of the general system that operates in this world, and that is what is wrong. The desire to change it is why many of us are here in the first place. It is a worthy cause to be behind bars for.
AMY GOODMAN: The words of Lori Berenson, read by her father, Mark Berenson. Lori is in prison in Peru. She has served ten years, has another ten years to go. Scheduled for release in 2015, just shy of her 46th birthday, she would be released. You can go to our website at DemocracyNow.org, and there, you can click on the full hour -- hour-and-a-half interview I did with Lori as the first journalist to get into her prison in Peru. I spoke with her a few years ago. Lori Berenson, in her own words. That's DemocracyNow.org. Her website is FreeLori.org.
Now a look at the media. First up, Gore Vidal Is God highlights Sidney Blumenthal's "No more Watergates: Bob Woodward brought down Nixon, but failed to exhibit the same scepticism about Bush" (The Guardian):
Woodward advocates no ideas and is indifferent to the fate of government. His fabled access has been in the service of his technique of accumulating mountains of facts whose scale fosters an image of omniscience. As his bestsellers and wealth piled up, he lost a sense of journalism as provisional and inherently imperfect, seeing it instead as something engraved in stone. But his method made him particularly vulnerable to manipulation by cunning sources.
Woodward's 2002 book Bush At War, based partly on selected National Security Council documents leaked to him at White House instruction, was invaluable to the administration for its portrait of Bush as strong and decisive. Its omissions are as striking as its fragmentary facts, such as the absence of analysis of the disastrous operation at Tora Bora that allowed Bin Laden to escape. Plan of Attack includes intriguing shards of information about the twisting of intelligence to justify the war, but he fails to develop the material and theme.
By the publication of Plan of Attack, Woodward was "hunkered down," hiding his "secrets" from his newspaper, its readers and the prosecutor. He cryptically told one of the subpoenaed Post reporters to "keep him out of the reporting". He said there were "reasonable grounds to discredit" Joseph Wilson, the whistleblower. He asserted that a CIA assessment had determined that Plame's outing had done no damage, but the CIA said no damage assessment report had been done. But when a source outed Woodward to the prosecutor, his cover-up was revealed. Above all, the extent of his credulity is exposed. It is more than paradoxical that the reporter who investigated Nixon and worked closely with professionals in government alarmed by the abuses should exhibit so little scepticism about Bush.
Also weighing in on Woody, highlighted by Melanie, Mark Jurkowitz's "From watchdog to lap dog: Bob Woodward's 'Plamegate' blunder showed the world what many knew for years: we need a bunch of new Bob Woodwards" (The Boston Phoenix):
There was a great deal of finger-pointing aimed at Woodward in the wake of the November 15 revelation that he remained silent about his conversation with an administration official about CIA operative Valerie Plame, as the "Plamegate" scandal exploded into a high-level indictment and a journalist's jail term. But none is more damning than the charge that the reporter who once helped topple a president had turned from fearless outsider to cozy insider, from White House watchdog to Beltway house pet.
"It just looks really bad," said Rolling Stone contributing editor Eric Boehlert in an interview with Woodward's paper, the Washington Post. "It looks like what people have been saying about Bob Woodward for the past five years, that he's become a stenographer for the Bush White House."
"I wish I were wrong, but to me Woodward sounds as if he has come a long way from those shoe-leather [Watergate] days -- and maybe on a path that does not become him," declared Village Voice media critic Sydney Schanberg, in a column written more in sorrow than in anger.
This burst of somber but serious criticism of Woodward -- a genuine journalistic icon for three decades and a symbol of the power and prestige of the mainstream media -- may mark the closing of a distinct and important chapter in American journalism.
Woodward's Watergate exploits inspired a generation of starstruck baby boomers to flock to the news business and yielded a movie starring two of Hollywood's leading men, Dustin Hoffman and Robert Redford. But the tarnishing of his reputation comes at a time when the media business is so desperate for heroes, that it has had to reach back half a century to find one: CBS's chain-smoking, crusading Edward R. Murrow, the protagonist of George Clooney's new film Good Night, and Good Luck.
The demythologizing of Woodward is occurring during a period when the kind of investigative reporting that built his legend faces a constellation of daunting obstacles, including declining newsroom resources, a secrecy-obsessed administration, and prosecutors and judges using subpoenas to poison the relationship between journalists and their confidential sources.
The mounting critique of Woodward as access-seeking insider also corresponds to the growth of public skepticism about the mainstream media’s methods and motives. Citizens frequently see journalists as biased, unaccountable and -- perhaps most of all -- part of a privileged power elite rather than a populist voice fighting for their rights and interests.
In the end, playing into that corrosive public perception of the media as a cadre of elites may prove to be Woodward's biggest sin.
"Gradually, as [Woodward] moved higher and higher in the stratosphere, he became a kind of princeling of American journalism," says Danny Schechter, editor of Mediachannel.org and author of the new book, The Death of Media (Melville House). "I feel he basically abandoned investigative journalism and basically became an emissary from the powerful to the media."
Still on the media, Larry notes William Hughes' "Why Ted Koppel Shouldn't be Compared to Murrow" (Baltimore IMC):
I remember when Koppel first started out in 1979 with his "America Held Hostage" shows about the Iranian takeover of the American Embassy in Tehran. What he never told his audience, however, was how the U.S. and British governments (on behalf of "Big Oil") had plotted a coup d'etat ("Operation Ajax") in Iran, in 1953, that unseated the democratically elected government of Prime Minister Mohammad Mossadegh. They replaced it with their own tyrannical stooge, Mohammad Reza Shah. It was the Shah's corrupt regime which in turn inspired the 1979 Islamic Revolution in Iran. (1) This was critical background material that I don't recall Koppel ever revealing. In addition, by "Nightline" playing, ad infinitum, the hostage situation, it helped to undermine Democratic President Jimmy Carter and, eventually, it led to the GOP's Ronald Reagan, in 1980, capturing the White House. Once in office, Reagan began to systematically undercut the social justice programs enacted under FDR's "New Deal." He also greatly enlarged the Pentagon's budget, assaulted Organized Labor and created national deficits of unprecedented proportions. (2) It's strange, too, how Koppel could spend 444 days on the Iranian "Hostage" story, where no American lost a life, and yet he couldn't find one program to run dedicated to the survivors of the "USS Liberty" and their quest for justice. Thirty-four Americans died on the "Liberty" and 174 more were wounded as a result of a murderous assault by the Israelis on June 8, 1967. Recently, veterans of the Liberty filed "War Crime" charges against "elements of the Israeli military forces." (3)Can anyone imagine what those national networks would look like if you had an independent political personality, such as a Gore Vidal, Robert Fisk, John Pilger, Charley Reese, Rep. Maxine Waters, "Johnny Bob" McDonagh, Rep. Cynthia McKinney, Justin Raimondo and/or a Paul Craig Roberts anchoring the nightly newscasts? Truth-tellers, like those named, can't get close to a microphone/camera controlled by or under the influence of the Establishment. This is so even when there is a so-called "fair and balanced" newsmaker program, and guest commentators are invited on to give supposedly competing views on the issues. Only Establishment-oriented types need apply for those kinds of heavily "staged" news events.
Vince e-mails to note Daniel Burton-Rose's "The Lit Interview: Octavia Butler: Breaking color and gender barriers in science fiction" (San Francisco Bay Guardian):
SHIORI MATTHEWS, the protagonist of Octavia Butler's new novel, Fledgling, is an African American vampire. Melanin protects her from the sun's rays, allowing her to walk freely in daylight. Though she is "Ina" -- the word the sophisticated vampire community uses to describe itself -- she was stripped of her cultural memory by assailants who murdered her family and damaged her brain. Shiori must regain her heritage in order to survive continued attempts on her life.
Butler once quipped that she began writing science fiction when she noticed that "there were no black people in the future." An incorrigible genre-buster, she's a perfect person to bring us the first black vampire. For more than 25 years, Butler has been penning tales that disturb and empower. Her stories -- be they set in the antebellum South, near-future coastal California, or an alien-run nature preserve for humans -- are propelled by women of color who exhibit an unflappable determination to survive impossible situations. Despite the difficulties, these struggles are not all doom and gloom. Fledgling, in particular, is candy-coated with glimpses into the polygamous networks that sustain the bloodsuckers.
Butler spoke with the Bay Guardian from her Seattle home just before she launched a speaking tour to promote Fledging and an expanded edition of her prizewinning collection of short fiction, Bloodchild and Other Stories.
Bay Guardian: Are you a longtime devotee of the vampire novel, or are you a recent convert?
Octavia Butler: It's not something I paid a lot of attention to. I read Bram Stoker's Dracula ages ago. It was on my mother's bookshelf. It was nice: I read whatever was on her bookshelf, grazing and finding what I could. Later on I heard about Anne Rice. I read her first book and found it interesting, but I didn't pay that much attention.
Then I hit a writer's block after my most recent book, Parable of the Talents, and I didn't know how to get out of it. I kept writing, but the writing was bad, not anything I would want to sell. I'm a member of a book club -- of several, actually. Unfortunately, they're not the good kind of book club, where you get together with your friends and discuss your favorite book. They are the bad kind of book club, where, unless you return that card in time, they're going to send you a book you don't want. I don't know whether I failed to return the card on time or wrote the wrong number, but I wound up with this vampire novel. My choice was to send it back or read it. I wound up reading it. It was fun. It wasn't very good, it wasn't very well written, but it was fun. So I went to the store and bought a bunch of other vampire novels, and I had fun reading them. Finally it occurred to me that I might want to write one.
What caught my attention is that you can write a vampire novel as a historical novel, as a mystery, as a romance, as science fiction. The variety amazed me. I thought, "There are all these different kinds of vampires. I'm going to make my own."
BG: I've seen Fledgling classified in bookstores under "Horror," but it could just as easily be under "Erotica."
OB: I am surprised. I didn't realize that there was this division. I thought it was all just fantasy. I realize now that the division exists, but I didn't know before.
Durham Gal e-mails to note Sue Sturgis' "Nuclear power's dirty secret" (Raleigh-Durham Independent Weekly):
We the people of North Carolina and other states across the nation face a decision that will affect not only our own well-being and that of our children, but the well-being of countless future generations. Our choice is whether to allow utilities to meet our energy needs by building new nuclear power plants that routinely emit long-lived radioactive pollution to our already-contaminated environment.
The decision comes as a federal science panel has found that there is no safe level of radiation exposure--a fact not accounted for in current nuclear plant regulations.
Companies around the United States are pushing to expand nuclear capacity for the first time in more than 30 years, since the Three Mile Island nuclear reactor disaster in 1979. In one of the more ambitious plans, Progress Energy of Raleigh said earlier this year that it would apply for licenses from the Nuclear Regulatory Commission to build as many as four new reactors at two sites, one in the Carolinas and another in Florida. The company, which is also seeking more coal-fired plants, expects to pick its nuclear locations by early next year, according to spokesperson Julie Hans.
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