Friday, March 25, 2005

Mag report The Nation (plus some web features I overlooked last time)

Lloyd and Zach both asked that I do a mag report on the issue of The Nation that I explained was now out of date. (It arrived in the mail this week.) For the record, this will be two issues behind, but okay. It's the March 28, 2005 issue.

First of all, when Katrina vanden Heuvel mentioned an editorial on democracy on The Majority Report, we highlighted that and a number of you couldn't access it. It is available to all users (subscribers or visitors) now so let's note the conclusion of "Democracy's Dilemmas:"

The triumphalists have given very little thought to these issues. What should be clear from our experience in Iraq, however, is that the dangers and dilemmas of democratization will increase if Washington pursues a military campaign against Syria and Iran while ignoring nascent reforms in places where US encouragement can make a positive and peaceful contribution.
Although the triumphalists are wrong in arguing that the democratic opening grew from the Iraq War and wrong to ignore the risks of instability and Islamist extremism the Bush agenda has helped create, they're right about one thing: In an age of satellite television and the Internet, it will be hard to put the genie of democracy back in the bottle. Washington must now act more responsibly than in the recent past, and it must work with its European allies and Middle Eastern countries themselves to make the emerging democratic process more liberal and more orderly.

I'm pretty sure we've highlighted Naomi Klein's "Can Democracy Survive Bush's Embrace?" but in case we haven't:

Brand USA's latest story was launched on January 30, the day of the Iraqi elections, complete with a catchy tag line ("purple power"), instantly iconic imagery (purple fingers) and, of course, a new narrative about America's role in the world, helpfully told and retold by the White House's unofficial brand manager, New York Times columnist Thomas Friedman. "Iraq has been reframed from a story about Iraqi 'insurgents' trying to liberate their country from American occupiers and their Iraqi 'stooges' to a story of the overwhelming Iraqi majority trying to build a democracy, with U.S. help, against the wishes of Iraqi Baathist-fascists and jihadists." This new story is so contagious, we are told, that it has set off a domino effect akin to the fall of the Berlin wall and the collapse of Communism. (Although in the "Arabian Spring," the only wall in sight--Israel's apartheid wall--pointedly stays up.)
As with all branding campaigns, the power is in the repetition, not in the details. Obvious non sequiturs (is Bush taking credit for Arafat's death?) and screeching hypocrisies (occupiers against occupation!) just mean it's time to tell the story again, only louder and more slowly, obnoxious tourist-style. Even so, with Bush now claiming that "Iran and other nations have an example in Iraq," it seems worth focusing at least briefly on the reality of the Iraqi example. The state of emergency was just renewed for its fifth month, and the United Iraqi Alliance, despite winning a clear majority, still can't form a government. The problem is not that Iraqis have lost faith in the democracy for which they risked their lives on January 30; it's that the electoral system imposed on them by Washington is profoundly undemocratic.

Patricia J. Williams has a column in the issue and she's one of my favorite voices but her columns often aren't made available online unless you subscribe to the print edition (as e-mails have noted whenever I've highlighted one).

However this is "mag report" so I'll highlight her column (and note, it's available online only to subscribers of the magazine) "Grim Fairy Tales:"

It seemed too bizarre to be anything but apocryphal, but, hey, I heard it on NPR: William Poole, a high school junior from Kentucky, was taken into custody and charged with threatening to commit second-degree-felony terrorism for writing a story about a horde of zombies who wreak havoc in a school. It seems the boy's grandparents had been reading his journal, found a story he'd been writing for English class and promptly turned him in. According to a police detective, "Anytime you make any threat or possess matter involving a school or function, it's a felony in the state of Kentucky." Based on that kind of reasoning, a judge raised Poole's bond from $1,000 to $5,000 after prosecutors requested it, citing the seriousness of the charge.
I can't imagine what was going on in the hearts and minds of Poole's grandparents--are they the sort who would burn copies of Harry Potter? Do they harbor some religiously based objection to zombies, akin to witchcraft? How great must be their fear, and how little their love! But however subjective or obscure the motives of the grandparents, it does seem to me that the detective and prosecutor are the kind of strict textualists upon whom the "war on terror" has showered foolish amounts of power. "My story is based on fiction," said Poole; but in Clark County, Kentucky, the law is the word. Last heard, he was dispatched to jail to await mercy and a sense of perspective. Let's hope his grandparents don't find any scribblings about manga demons, or he'll be in there for life.

There is a biography of her available online:

Patricia J. Williams, a professor of law at Columbia University, was born in Boston in 1951 and holds a BA from Wellesley College and a JD from Harvard Law School. She was a fellow in the School of Criticism and Theory at Dartmouth College and has been an associate professor at the University of Wisconsin School Law School and its department of women's studies. Williams also worked as a consumer advocate in the office of the City Attorney in Los Angeles.

The above is an excerpt (one paragraph out of two paragraphs) and here's the most recent list of her columns for The Nation and some of them are available to be read by all. Read on to the end of this entry for another Patricia J. Williams resource.

Liza Featherstone's "Race to the Bottom" addresses the issue of Wal-Mart and the African-American community. Here's the conclusion of that article:

Madeline Janis-Aparicio of the Coalition for a Better Inglewood says about her campaign's success: "We were also lucky--Wal-Mart did something really stupid." In trying to pass an ordinance exempting itself from the town's laws, the company violated the largely black community's most basic requirement: respect. "We used that," says Janis-Aparicio, who credits that theme with winning over the church leadership and many Inglewood voters. After one large, mainstream black church joined the anti-Wal-Mart fight, the rest followed, not just lending passive endorsement but enthusiastically rallying their forces. Another helpful issue was crime--Wal-Mart is the nation's leading purveyor of guns. To rural white communities, that's often a political asset, but to urban black voters it's a harsh liability. In the last few days of the Inglewood campaign, the anti-Wal-Mart coalition hung a flier in the shape of an M-16 rifle on everybody's door. "Some on our side felt it was a scare tactic," Janis-Aparicio admits, but, she adds with justified pride, "it had a powerful impact."
Even in Chicago, Wal-Mart's own actions may end up helping its opponents. Elce Redmond says, "A lot of people who supported Wal-Mart at first are now saying, 'Elce, you were right.' Wal-Mart made a lot of promises, and hasn't delivered." Politicians and community leaders are now finding that since Wal-Mart secured permission to open the West Side store, its officials aren't returning their calls too readily. Rather than agreeing to pay workers decently, the company sent 300 holiday turkeys for the community's needy. That struck many people as a shallow response to concerns about the store's economic impact. "People are beginning to ask questions," says Redmond. "Why can't Wal-Mart pay a living wage? Why can't its workers have a union if they want one? Why not?"

And Karen Houppert's "The New Face of Protest?" is an article I think the community will enjoy. It addresses the anti-war movement and raises some issues not often noted. From that article:

While the antiwar movement embraces soldiers who brave such hostility to express their qualms about the war, dissenting military voices do not always share all of the peace movement's goals and priorities. As a result, these alliances have the potential to backfire. For example, Specialist Wilson's comment to Rumsfeld about the lack of armored vehicles was the complaint heard round the world. But if it gets invoked as justification for increased military spending, the cheers may fade. Or if the complaints of military families who lament the current operational tempo that has their spouses deployed more than they're home spur a military buildup, they may find themselves at odds with the larger peace movement. Indeed, progressives may be putting the military out front for the same reasons that the Democrats are now determined to put religion out front--and both "projects" raise the same serious questions: Is this capitulating to the political climate rather than contesting the very premise that says the God-fearing make the best leaders, or the khaki-clad soldiers the truest patriots? And when some of those "true patriots" are the perpetrators of crimes, like those committed at Abu Ghraib, will the peace movement's promilitary stance inhibit strong criticism?
Ultimately, there is a danger that the soldier's perspective, so crucial to the peace movement now, may prove problematic to the larger progressive movement that activists hope this will spawn. After all, for many soldiers this is a one-platform plank, making their immediate asset their long-term flaw. "So many of the other activists at this United for Peace and Justice convention can be written off by Americans as crazy pinko commie lefties," Hoffman told me privately, after he had addressed the larger assembly of peace activists in the St. Louis convention hall. "But we're the vets who've been there and fought, and it seems it's hard for us to be dismissed. We've been to Iraq. We've seen it. We know it's wrong. We have to end it." He shrugs and raises his hands, palms up, as if he holds a tidy package. "It's very simple. There's not a lot of other issues we're talking about."

In the post about the online features of The Nation, I overlooked a number of things that several wiser community members didn't. Sherry noted that John Nichols has a web feature entitled The Online Beat available. Keesha noted that Peter Rothberg has ActNow! available online and recommends it "as a great resource." My apologies for overlooking both which I honestly wasn't aware of -- underscoring the point of how the community is a resource for all of us, myself included.

When I read Sherry and Keesha's e-mails, I thought of a feature that I did know about but completely forgot to mention. Marc Cooper hosts RadioNation which features many wonderful interviews and the occasional speech. This feature is available to everyone, subscriber and non-subscriber alike. I believe at some point I've noted it before here because I'm about to note some of the people you can hear via RadioNation and it seems familiar. (Maybe it's a deja vu?)
I've enjoyed hearing Gloria Steinem, Gore Vidal, Tom Hayden, Juan Cole, Howard Zinn and others.

RadioNation can be heard on some public radio stations once a week. The most recent episode is one with Lou Dubose discussing Tom DeLay. One of my favorites has been Patricia J. Williams' speech entitled "Republic in Ruins" from September 8, 2004. For those who've not heard Patricia J. Williams speak before (she's been a guest on The Majority Report and hopefully will be again), you should really check out that recording.

Back to the print edition, you get Alexander Cockburn's columns, Calvin Trillin's poetry, the amazing letter section and a lot more including contributions from people like William Greider, Christian Parenti and Ruth Rosen. So please visit The Nation's web site, but if you've never looked at the print edition of The Nation, please check your local libraries and bookstores.

[As noted before, Alexander Cockburn's writing can be found online at CounterPunch which he co-edits. Also note that there will be a mag report on The Progressive this weekend -- barring an all nighter with The Third Estate Sunday Review. The latest issue arrived in the mail Wednesday but the web site still has the old issue up -- not a complaint.]