by Pat Holt
Friday, May 2, 2003
WHY AMERICANS ARE GIVING UP ON THE PRESS (PART II)...
Suggesting again that American audiences are turning away from traditional media and going online for news (see #364), a letter from Peter Coyote to Senator Barbara Boxer may be the hottest thing zipping around the Internet these days.
Coyote is the actor and author who last year narrated "Unprecedented," a documentary that explains how 54,000 votes from predominantly Democratic African American voters in Florida were "illegally expunged," as he puts it, during the presidential election of 2000.
Coyote says he and the film crew "interviewed the computer company that did the work, filmed their explanations of the instructions they received and their admissions that they knew their instructions would produce massive error. That figure [of expunged votes] has now been revised to 91,000."
He writes to Senator Boxer now, he says, because recent elections of Republicans such as Senator Chuck Hagel of Nebraska have raised the issue of voter fraud in a new and "ominous" context.
We've seen some coverage of the chaos in Florida, the possibilities of racism and manipulation, and the need for more better voting machines. But as Coyote indicates, after "Jeb Bush was sued, and was supposed to have returned these voters to the rolls, and did not, which explains his last re-election," that seemed to be the end of it as far as traditional media were concerned.
Meanwhile, however, furious voices raged on at Internet websites (see #363 and #364), but of course these voices are biased. The old idea - that you get objective reporting from established media and one-sided table-pounding from the mavericks (hey!) would seem to indicate that plowing through Internet sources ranging from Coyote to xxx is too much for the average person to bother with. But let's go on.
Coyote believes that the very emergence of the new "corporate programmed, computer controlled, modem-capable voting machines" is not going to solve the problem. In Nebraska at least, they *are* the problem. For one thing, 80% of the computers in Nebraska are owned by a company that was in turn owned by the company that "Hagel was head of, and continues to own part interest in."
In his first runs for the Senate beginning in 1996, according to Thom Hartmann in an article for CommonDreams.org, which Coyote uses for source material in his letter to Boxer, Hagel, a former conservative talk-show host, surprised everyone after he "won virtually every demographic group, including many largely Black communities that had never before voted Republican. Hagel was the first Republican in 24 years to win a Senate seat in Nebraska."
Few could figure out why Hagel won until he was forced to disclose his relationship with the voting machine company. It just seems awfully suspicious that "80% of those votes [in Nebraska] were counted by computer-controlled machines put into place by the company affiliated with Hagel," notes Hartmann.
But here's the catch: Hagel's opponent requested a hand count, but "his request was denied because Nebraska had a just-passed law that prohibits government-employee election workers from looking at the ballots, even in a recount. The only machines permitted to count votes in Nebraska, he said, are those made and programmed by the corporation formerly run by Hagel."
Coyote also refers to the perplexing defeat of Georgia Democratic incumbent Max Cleland. A popular Vietnam war hero (he lost three limbs in combat), Cleland "had long been considered 'untouchable' on questions of defense and national security." Republicans tried to make his opponent, Saxby Chambliss, appear "more patriotic" than Cleland, but Chambliss had avoided service in Vietnam, and voters knew it. Yet despite the fact that "many in Georgia expected a big win by Cleland," Hartmann points out, the "computerized voting machines said that Chambliss had won."
More perplexing still, says Coyote: The Director of the Senate Ethics Committee attempted to question Hagel on his "failures to disclose the details of his ownership in the company that owned the voting machine company," but two days after their second meeting, "the Director of the Senate Ethics Committee resigned his job."
Lamenting the fact that "Democrats decided not to pursue the issue of [voter] fraudulence in the last Presidential election," Coyote suggests that a pattern has emerged in these and other Republican victories, including that of Alabama Governor Bob Riley.
What we need to double-check the system is a paper trail created by these machines, just in case a hand count is again requested. But according to Coyote, "election 'reform' laws are now prohibiting paper ballots (no paper trail) and exit polls, effectively removing all trace and record of votes, making prosecution of voter fraud virtually impossible."
So this just gets worse and worse. Could it be that "Hagel's surprise victory is a trial-run for the [next] presidential election," as Coyote believes? Even if it isn't, Coyote notes that episodes like the 2000 presidential election and "surprise" upsets by Republicans are having an invisible, probably irrevocable effect.
"Eventually voters will 'sense' even if they cannot prove that elections are rigged, and the current 50% of those boycotting elections will swell to the majority. Privatization of the vote is tantamount to turning over the control of democracy to the corporate sector," Coyote concludes in his letter to Boxer. "I urge you to use your considerable powers and to address this issue."
So here is one person's opinion now circulating the Internet for all to see. You might think that's the trouble with the Internet - like the customer "reviews" on Amazon.com, you just get opinions, not objectivity.
In fact, it's the other way around. Internet sites and stories *must* show evidence behind every accusation, every suggestion, or readers will just click them off. We can further check them out through search engines like Google.
For example, for weeks after the now-famous toppling of the statue of Saddam Hussein, most (not all, I grant you) of the US mainstream media said that Iraqis crowded into the square to cheer American soldiers as they who pulled the statue to the ground. On the Internet, however a number of sources reported that only about 150 Iraqis "crowded" into the square, and these had been flown in by the American counterintelligence. Not only do we see evidence in the form of photos from such sites as: http://www.uscrusade.com/2003/100420032.html
We also see evidence of doctored photos supporting headlines in the mainstream press that "FREEDOM" was celebrated by "Jubilation on the Streets of Baghdad" (these photos show such blatant examples of cut-and-paste methods to englarge the crowd that it's almost more fun than horrifying to see what kind of propaganda is coming to us from the "independent" press):
So I go into Coyote's letter at some length because I think it reveals the key reason that readers are turning to the Internet and giving up on traditional media for the news: One is accountable, the other is not. The mainstream press depends on its established reputation, its (ack, I hate this word) "brands." Internet websites and blogs, stories and letters must prove their value with every line, every sentence, every paragraph. Time *tells* us what is true; BuzzFlash.com, MemoryHole.com, UScrusade.com and a hundred others *show* us.
Facts and assertions in Peter Coyote's letter, for example, are easily verified through links and a simple search that take the reader to such sources as CommonDreams.org, BlackBoxVoting.com, the BBC, LancasterCountyDemocrats.org, Talion.com, Congress' own The Hill.com, OilEmpire.us, and by the way, you can read the whole Coyote letter at: http://www.mapcruzin.com/news/bush041603b.htm
One last note: Thanks to the knowledge we find on the Internet, we can then turn with a more educated eye to mainstream news. Only a few days ago (4/29), Orange County, CA, announced that its Board of Supervisors may purchase new voting machines so that voters "won't have to worry about dimpled, dented or hanging chads," as the Los Angeles Times reports.
The county can afford this because it expects to receive $10 million from the "Help America Vote Act" a $3.9 billion package that President Bush signed into effect last October.
"Although some remmain concerned about the need for a paper trail, others say the county might be better off without it," the Times continues. "Supervisor Bill Campbell said he believes the electronic memory is sufficient and that a paper record is not worth the cost, which he said could be $5 million or more."
FBI ANTI-TERRORIST UNITS BLASTED IN CONNELLY NOVEL
What a joy to see that post-9/11 anti-terrorist units in the FBI - you know, the ones that imprison swarthy "suspects" without due process, the ones that barge into libraries and violate patrons' privacy - are given a blistering indictment by Michael Connelly in his latest detective thriller, "Lost Light" (Little, Brown; 360 pages; $25.95).
I discovered this growing phenomenon (okay, "growing" is a dream) while listening to the unabridged audiotape from Warner (7 cassettes; $36.98). Actor Len Cariou does a good job interpreting the tough-but-world-weary voice of series protagonist Harry Bosch, the retired Los Angeles homicide detective who's called in to solve one last case.
Except for a Jamaican-born reporter who sounds suspiciously Irish the longer Cariou reads her part, the audio version sparkles with a variety of voices, especially that of a quadriplegic cop who got shot in a bar and now has to squeeze his words out in a rush of breath because he can't speak normally.
As usual, Connelly pads his story shamelessly, and he can be irritating in the extreme when the story turns cartoonish and plodding. But he's also an old-fashioned police procedural junkie who knows how to embrace a delicious new adversary when he sees one.
This new enemy is a BAM ("By Any Means") antiterrorist division within the FBI's Los Angeles office that's motivated by self-righteousness and far too much power. Its agents see nothing wrong with stealing documents, tapping phones and cars, seizing records of Internet use at the library, using interrogation techniques right out of the Inquisition and making "dark-skinned [men] of Middle Eastern descent" disappear.
When Bosche finds himself "disappeared" as a prisoner on the 9th floor of the FBI building in L.A. and tries to impress the FBI agent who heads the squad with the importance of "a little thing like justice," he's told that finding and busting "a terrorist training camp" is worth any extreme or previously illegal measures.
"I'm not talking about in Afghanistan," the BAM squad leader tells Bosch. "I'm talking about within a hundred miles of our border. A place where they train people to kill us. In our buildings, in our planes. In our sleep. To come across that line and kill us with blind disregard for who we are and what we believe. Are you going to tell me that I'm wrong, that we should not do everything we can to find such a place if it exists?"
Connelly must have been drooling when he read the USA Patriot Act, knowing that this kind of rogue agent was going to emerge. Bosche responds with a quote from a philosopher he can't remember. "This guy said that whoever is out there fighting the monsters of our society should make damn sure that they don't become monsters themselves. See, because then all is lost. Then we don't have a society."
Of course, the FBI agent, not Bosche, knows that the philosopher who made the comment was Nietzche. Connerly's message: The new bad guys not only have more power to dismantle the Constitution than ever before, they know they're becoming the monsters they were sent to fight and don't give a fig about it.
The impact of fiction on real life can't be measured, of course, but no doubt novels like "Lost Light" add fuel to the fire in many communities that are fighting the USA Patriot Act.
As Evelyn Nieves at the Washington Post reports at http://www.washingtonpost.com/ac2/wp-dyn/A64173-2003Apr20?language=printer, a number of cities across the country are passing resolutions that urge local law enforcement and others to refuse government officials who make demands under the US Patriot Act when these demands appear to "violate an individual's civil rights under the Constitution."
Arcata, California, is the first American town to go a step further by passing an ordinance that *outlaws* compliance with the USA Patriot Act. According to Nieves, "the Arcata ordinance may be the first, but it may not be the last. Across the country, citizens have been forming Bill of Rights defense committees to fight what they consider the most egregious curbs on liberties contained in the Patriot Act."
Following Arcata's example, even though "federal law trumps local law in any case," may be the next step for many.
JUDITH LEVINE WINS LOS ANGELES TIMES LITERARY PRIZE
Now here is a great story. Last year, Minnesota University Press published a critically acclaimed but hugely controversial book called "Harmful to Minors: The Perils of Protecting Children From Sex" by Judith Levine (#315, #318).
The book explains how our fears of child exploitation have themselves been exploited, mostly by the Ultra Right and a flabby, subservient press. (See a summary of the book from #315 at the bottom of this item.)
The book got attacked from here to O'Reilly and Levine found herself fighting every battle until she realized many of her interviews were mostly a con game to bring attention to the (usually Christian Right) interviewers. Though aligned with and respected by civil rights advocates in ACLU, FEN, ABBFE, ALA, etc., Levine nevertheless radiated that "troublemaker" image to the book industry. Paperback publishers faded into the woodwork until that strong-willed and tough-minded independent press, Thunder's Mouth, bought the rights for release this summer.
Perhaps the point is that it takes an independent press to appreciate Levine's book and see the long-range potential in sales and in its contribution to posterity. But this week we learned the corollary point, that perhaps it takes critics, rather than reporters, to single out a book as hot as this one and an author as outspoken as Levine to give it the acclaim - and the thanks from grateful judges - that it deserves.
So when Levine won the prestigious Los Angeles Book Award in the Current Interest Category, and the judges themselves praised her for writing "in the best tradition of social criticism," the author gave an acceptance speech that addressed the urgency of current concerns. Typically she spoke of the big picture, an umbrella of censorship that is growing larger every day:
"At the airport, in the bookstore and the university, we are being asked to weigh safety against freedom," Levine stated. "In the name of safety, how much freedom is it legitimate to curtail? What are the dangers we are being protected from? Are they real or manufactured to scare us into consent?
"What are the costs of too much protection? The costs of living under a government that values order over imagination, and cannot imagine security without authority.
"These are not just issues of foreign policy and civil liberties. They are the central questions of parenting and family life, and of the sexual education of children -- the subjects of 'Harmful to Minors.' The book says that many of the so-called protections from sex that Americans have fashioned for youth - censorship, abstinence education, parental consent for abortion - do not protect them. Their real aim is to insulate the young altogether from the realm of the erotic. This ends up denying kids any preparation for either the perils or the pleasures of sexuality. Such protection is more harmful to minors than sex itself.
"Our anxieties have shifted from sex to terrorism, another danger that is both real and infinitely expansive to justify any authoritarian measure. Many of these measures, like those to which we subject our kids, only rob us of our freedoms; they do not make us safer. "Thank you for recognizing a book about pleasure at a time when pleasure may seem trivial. And a book that says we must never regard freedom as dangerous or luxurious, even for children..." At the end, Levine held up the award and cried happily, "Here's to you, Dr. Laura!"
[A quick summary of "Harmful to Minors" from #315: "Americans, Levine says, are in the grip of hysteria about sex and children. Thanks largely to the Christian Right and media exploitation, we have come to believe that pedophiles are everywhere, teen (and preteen) sex is soaring, sexual predators of children abound on the Internet and child pornography is a thriving, multi-billion-dollar business.
"According to Levine, *none* of that is true to the huge degree we think it is. But because we believe it's true, we've allowed narrow right-wing forces to dictate ground rules for sex education (such as it is), and any time we see the 'harmful to minors' label on, say, a music CD or book or activity, no matter who's telling us what's harmful, our first response is not to question but to acquiesce.
"The result is a punitive view of sex that offers few options other than the "just say no" abstinence-until-marriage response. This leads young people to the only place that does talk about sex freely and openly, the Internet, which also, according to Levine, offers (not enough!) websites that are responsible, health-oriented and educational. Of course they also say that sex is not dark and dirty and that pleasure is terrific so they're part of the problem as far as the Christian Right is concerned."]
CORRECTIONS AND EXCUSES
1) Thanks to the many readers who pointed out my mistake in using .com for the URLS of media watchdog FAIR and alternative press AlterNet. The correct addresses for these terrific and informative sites are:
2) I never thought a person could wince and laugh at the same time until subscribers began sending congratulations for the "new infrequency" of Holt Uncensored.
Heh heh, of course it was intentional to let a few weeks go by before filing the last column, and this one, and maybe the next one. As it happens, I've been a bit bowled over by the success of Manuscript Express, which is moving forward at such a steady clip that the entire staff is working night and day to keep "Express" from being replaced by "Delay." (for details on Manuscript Express, see click here)
Since M.E. is our only source of income, and the staff insists on renting that island in the Pacific again this summer, our priorities were reorganized for a time. We'll be back on a weekly schedule very soon so the column won't look like another Internet bozo, no matter what I said above.
Dear Holt Uncensored:
Since I haven't seen it on your list of links, I want to mention another good resource for "genuine news," Mother Jones magazine. Their Web site is http://www.motherjones.com. They've had a Webzine, MoJournal, for quite a while, highlighting their brand of investigative journalism and information you won't generally see in the mainstream press until some congressperson gets nervous about it.
MoJo goes way back to the mid-1970s and the story about exploding gas tanks on the Ford Pinto. They recently started a wonderful weekly e-zine, Must Reads, which gives us short-of-timers the main events of the week and links to much, much more.
Jill J. Jensen
Holt responds: So true! I could not believe the latest (May/June) Mother Jones cover story, "Full Metal Racket," in which writer Barry Yeoman describes in LUSH factual detail how for-profit private contractors are now hired by U.S. military to train thousands of soldiers and sailors and to "carry out clandestine operations without committing U.S. troops or attracting public attention." Congress provides "little oversight" on these private companies, yet they "now enjoy an estimated $100 billion in business worldwide each year."
Dear Holt Uncensored:
I agree that there are far too many incompetent and irresponsible journalists running around Iraq endangering themselves and (much worse) others. Thank you for your piece on the Me! Journalists. I'd add Dr. Gupta of CNN to this list. This morning, CNN ran a piece in which he described how he was asked to and did save an Iraqi girl's life with emergency brain surgery. He did have the good grace to try to appear embarrassed about the whole focus of the piece.
How about a piece on the other journalists who are not necessarily Americans and are not embedded in the American military? I have heard many thoughtful accounts from Canadian, British, and other European reporters. Declining to be embedded in the military is not in and of itself irresponsible. It may reflect a desire to report news other than the pro-military spin so strongly encouraged by being embedded in a military unit. Or, it may simply reflect the fact that the reporter in question is not an American citizen. I believe that only American citizens are eligible for the opportunity to be embedded in a US military unit.
Dear Holt Uncensored:
This is from the Bay Area Tech Wire: http://www.bayareatechwire.com
"Chronicle Terminates Reporter Who Protested War
"San Francisco -- Henry Norr, a technology reporter for the San Francisco Chronicle, who was suspended after being arrested at a rally opposing the U.S. invasion of Iraq, was terminated on Wednesday, Reuters reported. "He no longer works at the Chronicle, effective today," spokesman Joe Brown said. He declined to give a reason for the action. The Chronicle does not bar its reporters from participating in political events, but a memo distributed internally by the paper last month advises its staff to be cautious and gain approval from superiors first. Norr has said in the past that he was unfairly treated. (http://makeashorterlink.com/?M2B832454)
I'm well aware of the need for reporters to report and not be the subject of the news. However, provided one is doing these activities as an individual, not as a spokesperson for one's employer, requiring permission from superiors seems to be inappropriate to me. Clearly, this was not a topic that was related to his beat. He's the technology reporter, not the Washington bureau, not a war correspondent. He reported on tech.
If the topic were related to my beat, I probably wouldn't participate in the rally. But that wasn't the case here. Of course, in any possible intersection of one's activities and one's reporting it is entirely appropriate to require disclosure. But being a reporter shouldn't mean that you have to stop being a citizen.
So, when did employers last openly make one's private political affiliations a job-related issue? Is the House Un-American Activities about to be reconstituted?
Holt responds: I think it's even worse than that - HUAC has gone underground so that we don't have public hearings any longer. We just have little holes appearing here and there - today Henry Norr gone from the Chronicle and tomorrow a real-life person asking too many questions who "disappears" in an FBI cell like the fictional Harry Bosch (see above).
Dear Holt Uncensored:
Your efforts in producing your newsletter are greatly appreciated. Belief that dissent is "disloyal" is not a phase -- we saw the same "you're aiding the enemy" nonsense directed against anti-Vietnam-War protesters. I'm forced to conclude that this belief indicates a person who does not really believe in, or understand, democracy, free speech, and freedom in general.
Dear Holt Uncensored
Thanks very much for your mention of Library Juice in your column. While much of what I put in there is kind of esoteric for a general audience, I do want to make a correction about one of your examples. "Phones installed in free library" was actually a story that I think the average person would be interested in, because it was a 1912 article in a San Francisco newspaper about a telephone being installed in the library, and how this would be a good thing for library users (because they could phone home to find out what a certain title was, for instance). I really like running those bits from the past.
Holt Uncensored provides this forum for the free and uncensored exchange of thoughts and ideas from writers of all callings. The opinions expressed here are not necessarily those of Pat Holt or the Northern California Independent Booksellers Association.
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