Society can’t afford an uneducated underclass

“I don’t have any well-developed philosophy about journalism. Ultimately it is important in a society like this, so people can know about everything that goes wrong.”

“It does no harm just once in a while to acknowledge that the whole country isn’t in flames, that there are people in the country besides politicians, entertainers, and criminals. ”

“Since my retirement, I’ve spent a lot of time trying to help the School of Social Work at the University of North Carolina. A society like this just can’t afford an uneducated underclass of citizens. ”

-Charles Kuralt

I believe all of these ideas are important when we think about the media. A democratic society does need journalists, and not simply entertainers, to tell the country what is going on, which means more than the spectacular. We need to know what is going wrong, and we need education as part of that.

Education & Journalism are key parts of a democratic society. Journalism does not need to be confined to print, and education does not need to be confined to schools. In our televised society the flames and celebrities attract our attention, the politician shout their importance, and the issues behind the flames and politicians are so often forgotten. The people that are affected are presented as victims of unexpected tragedies, but so often the only thing unexpected is which person is affected. We know there will be floods in California’s Central Valley, mudslides & fires through the Southern part of the states, fishermen will lose their jobs as stocks are depleted, and crops will fail as the droughts continue. Diseases will spread further & faster as insects find their viable lifespans and territories increase. These issues are so rarely dealt with in television journalism. How do we encourage the change?

The Road to Anarchy, or away from Westphalia

Not quite the apocalypse but Apple is not taking cash for iPhones anymore, which is another step away from the current state system. This is a move away from trust backed upon government reliability, and towards trust based on corporate reliability. Capital, and purchasing power, have rested in land, gold, silver, precious stones, salt, and government reliability. Now purchasing power is moving exclusively to trust in a credit card company.

Traditional states have rested on several concepts: sovereignty over land, monopoly on violence, and common currency. The rise of strong multinational organizations, whether it be for pure profit, or for common world goals is affecting the global balance of power. From changes to tax laws to draw large corporations to pressing leaders towards free trade agreements the global political situation is something that increasingly can be bought and sold.

Arthur C. Clarke said “CNN is one of the participants in the war. I have a fantasy where Ted Turner is elected president but refuses because he doesn’t want to give up power.” We had Wag the Dog about a president who starts a war to draw attention from a scandal, and discussions over the Clinton bombing in the Sudan (a chemical weapons plant, or a pharmaceutical plant?) but whether or not that is true, the media has indisputably had a large role in shaping the agenda of government for that last 25 years.

The removal of many of the traditional governing tools, responsibilities and powers is a step away from our idea of the western state. We aren’t moving directly to anarchy, but we are leaving the old rules by the wayside. Where will we go?

History of Terrorism, part 1

LET us go then, you and I,
When the evening is spread out against the sky
Like a patient etherised upon a table;
Let us go, through certain half-deserted streets,
The muttering retreats
Of restless nights in one-night cheap hotels
And sawdust restaurants with oyster-shells:
Streets that follow like a tedious argument
Of insidious intent
To lead you to an overwhelming question … 1
Oh, do not ask, “What is it?”
Let us go and make our visit.

There are so many interesting things about terrorism, and I am going to write about the least atavistically engrossing aspects. Terrorism has that gripping life-and-death quality that brings in the ratings. There is something to report about it every day, everyone’s life is touched by it, and really who doesn’t like 24? Now I am going to get into all that stuff that isn’t talked about in this blockbuster subject.

The Problem: Our perception of terrorism
Terrorism kills and injures and even inconveniences relatively few people. The specific terrorist group doesn’t particularly matter as a threat, and neither does the specific target(unless of course that is you, which is unlikely). These things are unimportant – the statistical rise and fall in the rates terrorism barely begins to matter to an extent where you should pay attention. The causes of terrorism perhaps should be a concern, but the cause of terrorism is not the terrorists’ cause.

The Causes of Terrorism
Political Economics
Some of the big causes of terrorism lie in political economy (really what doesn’t?). Maybe it is just a good way of counting ambition, greed, and power. Terrorists tend to be from middle class backgrounds in countries that don’t really have a middle class. Raised with ambition, well-educated, and intelligent, in societies that do not have room for growth. My favorite description of this group is ‘wall-leaner’, they aren’t going hungry, or needing a job, just bored. Without opportunities to influence the government and power structure of their countries they can look to other methods. No matter how hard Osama bin Laden worked in Saudi Arabia – even inheriting his fathers wealth and becoming the richest man – he would still only have the influence of his voice in his home country.

History of Terror
Terrorism began with the Reign of Terror during the French Revolution of 1793-1794. It was the government sponsored killing of the aristocracy and wealthy as enemies of the people. It has obviously mutated a bit, but a good current definition is: political violence, usually against civilians, meant to inspire fear & further specific political goals. The most experienced victims of terrorism are the UK(Northern Ireland), France(Northern Africa) and Israel. The most effective terrorist group is probably the IRA, but they had to give up their quite a bit of their violent side to move into their current political standing. It is effective as long as the populace can be swayed by the fear of the terrorist.


Britain, the Airline Bomb Plot, Accusations and Evidence

As you might have heard or read, if you have gone anywhere near any sort of news vendor, 11 people have been charged in the ‘airline bomb plot’. The charges are varieties of conspiracy to commit terrorism, or knowing about it and not reporting it. So I decided to go through the various articles and coverage I could find with a google news search and create a quick overview of what I think should be important in the media coverage.

Some quick numbers:

  • 25 people arrested since August 10 in Britain for the airline bomb plot
  • 11 people of the above 25 were charged today
  • 3 people have been released with no charges
  • 11 others remain in custody without being charged with a crime
  • British police can detain someone for 28 days without pressing charges under recent terrorism legislation
  • “Scotland Yard has until Wednesday evening to question 10 of the other 11 suspects and was tonight applying for a custody extension in the case of the 11th.”
  • Up to 17 people are also being held in Pakistan for the plot.
  • 69 locations have been searched
  • 400 computers, 200 cellphones and 8,000 data storage devices have been confistcated(6000 gb worth of data)

Evidence so far:

  • hydrogen peroxide
  • electrical components
  • suicide notes & wills
  • ‘martyrdom’ video recordings
  • surveillance data

I am also giving the Irish Examiner extra points in the media fairness game for including this quote:
“Ms Hemming reminded the media to report today’s developments in a responsible manner which would not prejudice forthcoming legal proceedings. She said: ‘These individuals are only accused of these offences and they have a right to a fair trial.'”

I would say I read about 15 articles which were written with the data from the same press conference, this article was the only one to mention that! It’s also important to understand that giving the government greater powers to prevent terrorist attacks and supporting preemptive actions, such as detaining people without pressing charges, and looser rules of search and seizure, also means that we need to give people a better trial.

Some sources:
The Chron
The Star
The Irish Examiner
I read quite a few other articles, including ones from more respected sources such as the Financial Times, CNN and more, but they didn’t have any more information to report and didn’t have the detail and different perspectives that these did. Also they blended together and were boring.

Signing Statements: The Torture Example

The latest and most legally and procedurally intricate complaint about President Bush has been regarding his use of signing statements. These historically operate by:
“(1) explaining to the public, and particularly to constituencies interested in the bill, what the President believes to be the likely effects of its adoption,
(2) directing subordinate officers within the Executive Branch how to interpret or administer the enactment, and
(3) informing Congress and the public that the Executive believes that a particular provision would be unconstitutional in certain of its applications, or that it is unconstitutional on its face, and that the provision will not be given effect by the Executive Branch to the extent that such enforcement would create an unconstitutional condition,
according to this memo on the Department of Justice website.

The Torture Example

One example of a signing statement(with a ticking bomb scenario straight out of 24 used as justification by the administration) is this in the latest Defense Bill HR 1815:

The executive branch shall construe Title X in Division A of the Act, relating to detainees, in a manner consistent with the constitutional authority of the President to supervise the unitary executive branch and as Commander in Chief and consistent with the constitutional limitations on the judicial power, which will assist in achieving the shared objective of the Congress and the President, evidenced in Title X, of protecting the American people from further terrorist attacks. Further, in light of the principles enunciated by the Supreme Court of the United States in 2001 in Alexander v. Sandoval, and noting that the text and structure of Title X do not create a private right of action to enforce Title X, the executive branch shall construe Title X not to create a private right of action.

Now that refers to Title X, relating to Detainees(Section 1092), which is on the web and searchable here, which basically says they can’t use statements gained through “undue coercion” and clarifies some peculiarities of the Guantanamo Bay situation and deserves a whole nother post. Important things to note are that it specifies one court for all these issues to go to: United States Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit and that the main question it can address is “whether subjecting an alien enemy combatant to such standards and procedures [as exist at Guantanamo Bay] is consistent with the Constitution and laws of the United States”

Now what does the signing statement mean? From a good article in the Boston Globe: David Golove, a New York University law professor who specializes in executive power issues…”The signing statement is saying ‘I will only comply with this law when I want to, and if something arises in the war on terrorism where I think it’s important to torture or engage in cruel, inhuman, and degrading conduct, I have the authority to do so and nothing in this law is going to stop me,’ “ and why does this mean more than him just saying it? Well because Justice Alito, during his confirmation hearing revealed that the administration felt they were still authorized to commit torture abroad on non-US citizens so as the Boston Globe article said an Amendment was passed by veto-proof majorities “explicitly saying that that the cruel, inhuman, and degrading treatment of detainees in US custody is illegal regardless of where they are held”. Then Pres. Bush had a press conference, praised the measure and signed the bill with this signing statement!

Go here if you are interested in an even longer, (well)written by a professional, interpretation.

Nancy Pelosi, Hu Jintao and the American debt

First, yesterdays LATimes Opinion Piece by Nancy Pelosi(the House Minority Leader and Representative for San Francisco), discussing Chinese President Hu Jintao’s visit. The Wall Street Journal also gave the story a front page column today discussing how the visit has gone. A few facts stood out in the Wall Street Journal article:
1) Hu spent more time with CEO’s and business people than with political leaders
2) no concrete promises were made
3) an agreement was reached that the US and China would pursue peaceful means to deal with Iran and nuclear proliferation

The trade deficit and amount of American dollars held by the Chinese is probably the most worrisome thing in the Chinese-American relationship. They are helping their own ability to sell by financing our debt. No agreements were reached, in fact Hu did not seem to respond to Bush’s overtures in that direction.

They apparently avoided human rights as an issue , which seems pretty wise considering the American and Chinese records pretty much cover the gamut. Interestingly different defences though. The Chinese say the human rights advocates are powerless because the victims are Chinese criminals on Chinese soil. The Americans say the human rights advocates are powerless because the victims are foreign nationals on foreign soil and we are at war.

The protesting woman was also interesting. A 47 year old pathologist snuck into the ceremony to start shouting at the Presidents. I still don’t understand how that is supposed to accomplish anything.

So… ineffective Democratic protest of the meeting, business getting done, a screaming protestor and a elephant in the room that no one will mention, sounds like your usual diplomatic meeting with an added bonus: war with Iran is further away today than it was yesterday.

On blogging

“The populace is like the sea motionless in itself, but stirred by every wind, even the slightest breeze” — Titus Livius

Blogging has been touted as a wonder of communication, networking, global communication and a useless hobby. It’s also a community of people thinking, reading and writing. “The human heart is like a ship on a stormy sea driven by winds blowing from all four corners of heaven,” says Martin Luther. Blogging is another breeze, or storm wind, and it can be wild and shifting. The understanding that there are many influences and they can slowly influence a few, or greatly influence many is the best thing to be had from the blogging community.

We are not all guided by any set of priorities, beliefs or editorial systems. We will disagree over facts as much as opinions and I won’t be an authoritative source. I don’t do research(I may research a post, but when I do you’ll be able to tell because I will link and/or cite), I don’t have access to privileged information. I read. I think. I write.

Everyone should be influenced by the thoughts and feelings of others. Writers are not gods and just because a phrase rolls off the tongue does not mean it is meaningful or true. Writing and communicating, thinking, discussing and sharing, are however the truest democratic influences. It balances any lobby or spinmaster eventually. We can vote on the basis of commercials or a couple news articles. We can even read biographies and judge the voting history of candidates. But how do we understand the issues? the opposing opinions? Discussion and thought and writing.