Archive for the ‘Media’ Category

Hearing Honduran Voices

June 30, 2009
AP caption: A soldier shoots at supporters of ousted Honduras' President Manuel Zelaya

AP caption: A soldier shoots at supporters of ousted Honduras' President Manuel Zelaya

It seems that the faux government in Honduras is attempting to limit free media coverage in much the same way that the Iranian government has:

Yesterday in the afternoon journalists from the radio station Globo, which objectively reported what was happening in the country, were attacked. These journalists were wounded, with broken bones and cuts on their body. In addition, their equipment was destroyed. Cable service from the International Spanish Television (TSI) has been cut and so this station is now transmitting on broadband. Honduran journalists critical of the de facto government are being arrested and menaced with death. The same way, the journalists of Telesur and AP were arrested by the military, although later freed in response to international pressure.

The world needs to start hearing Honduran voices.  My aunt Rosemary is an archaeologist who has lived on-and-off in Honduras for some 30 years.  She’s started a blog to air her views — and more importantly, those of her friends and colleagues in Honduras — on the crisis there:

Today finally I am receiving email from colleagues in the country, many sending on passionate statements by educated members of the younger generation decrying the return to conditions most never knew, having been born after the end of the last military government with the Constitution of 1982. It is important to underline that, contrary to some emerging reporting, support for President Zelaya is not limited to the poor and poorly educated in the country whose material conditions his action in raising the minimum wage did indeed improve. Zelaya is not Huey Long. Support for the legal government of the country and a return to rule of law, freedom of speech and press, freedom to assemble, and freedom to circulate comes as well from the most promising members of the future generation of leaders that Honduras can ill-afford to lose.

Honduras, Iran and Us

June 29, 2009
Zalaya -- maybe he should start wearing green?

Zelaya -- maybe he should start wearing green?

You may have seen the news about the military coup in Honduras that removed a democratically-elected leftist from power.  Or maybe not, as this story is bound to receive about 1% of the attention granted to the crisis in Iran.  But I’m getting ahead of myself:

Roberto Micheletti was sworn in as provisional president to the applause of members of Congress, who chanted, “Honduras! Honduras!” Outside the building, supporters of ousted President Jose Manuel Zelaya protested, but their numbers were limited, and the streets remained mostly peaceful. Micheletti told CNN en Español Sunday evening that he has imposed an “indefinite” curfew.

Micheletti, the head of Congress, became president after lawmakers voted by a show of hands to strip Zelaya of his powers, with a resolution stating that Zelaya “provoked confrontations and divisions,” within the country. A letter of resignation purported to be from Zelaya was read to members before the vote.

But the deposed president, Zelaya, emphatically denied in an interview with CNN en Español that he wrote the letter. Speaking from Costa Rica, where he was taken after the coup, he said he plans to continue exercising his presidential duties with a trip to Managua, Nicaragua, to attend a summit of Central American heads-of-state.

Zelaya awoke to the sound of gunfire in his residence and was still in his pajamas when the military forced him to leave the country Sunday morning, he told reporters. He was flown to Costa Rica, where he has not requested political asylum.

“This was a brutal kidnapping of me with no justification,” Zelaya said.

He called the coup an attack on Honduran democracy.

To my mind, the coup in Honduras is at least as bad as the apparent election fraud in Iran, and probably a lot worse.  While the fraud in Iran is bad, fraud is an acknowledged part of electoral systems all over the world, even here in the good ol’ USA.  The difference between what happened in Iran and what happened in Mayor Daley’s Chicago in 1960 (or Florida in 2000, or Ohio in 2004) is a difference of scale, not of kind.  A military coup, on the other hand, is simply beyond the pale.  Further, while the Iranian fraud was bad, it didn’t involve violence (although the repression of subsequent protests has been quite violent).  The coup in Honduras is a blatantly violent act committed against President Zelaya but also against Honduran voters and their democracy.

So I’m pretty interested to see how Americans will respond to the coup.  I’m betting that it won’t raise too many eyebrows, despite being (arguably) worse then the apparent electoral theft in Iran.  And I think this will happen because the Honduran coup doesn’t work as a vehicle for the kind of stories that Americans want to tell.

I’ve written before about how the American fascination with the Iranian crisis has to do with our need to make the situation all about ourselves, and to use the events in Iran to further our own narratives about ourselves and the Islamic world.  But Honduras is a part of no such American narratives.  Hondurans don’t work as freedom fighters inspired by Bush’s war against “Islamo-fascism,” or as the face of moderation and modernity in a culture that’s supposedly implacably radical and backward-looking.  We don’t read stories in the newspaper about Hondurans who enjoy Western music and smile to ourselves, our cultural superiority reaffirmed.  The only ongoing American narrative that involves Hondurans is about “illegal immigration,” and that’s not likely to win much sympathy from the Glenn Beck crowd.

And, of course, the crimes against democracy in the two countries have two very different political outcomes for our government.  The reformers in Iran would be more amenable to US goals in the region, while President Zelaya is part of a bloc of democratically-elected leftists who are making traditional US dominance of the region more difficult.

So when you add it all up, it seems clear that Americans aren’t going to be as outraged at what happened in Honduras as what happened in Iran, despite the fact that the former was (arguably) worse.  You can see that at Pundit’s site, where the news in Honduras is lumped into a weekend wrap up piece that includes Michael Jackson and Billy Mays.  This isn’t a critique of Pundit — at least he mentioned it, and a blogger isn’t required to talk about everything.  But I think it indicates the level of attention that we’re going to give to Honduras vs. the level of attention that we’ve given Iran.  And I think that indicates something about us.

Answering the “Why?” in the One Sunset Scandal

June 24, 2009

Wny did this happen?

Why did this happen?

The News is reporting that 5 of the 9 members of the Common Council are calling for a “full and complete” audit of the Brown administration’s use of federal anti-poverty money.

Leading the charge is South District representative Michael P. Kearns, who is challenging Mayor Byron W. Brown in September’s Democratic primary.

Brown’s communications director insisted that today’s action is fueled by politics. Peter K. Cutler claimed city officials are already working closely with HUD representatives to address concern.

“This is yet another example of Council Member Kearns’ thinly veiled political agenda masquerading as good government,” said Peter K. Cutler. “With Mickey, it’s all politics, all the time.”

“This isn’t about politics … it’s about poverty,” Kearns said.

The Council’s call for an expanded federal review was made at a news conference outside a now-shuttered restaurant on Delaware Avenue near West Delavan Avenue.

HUD officials have raised concerns about the use of anti-poverty block grant funds for One Sunset. The restaurant received $160,000 in city and county loans and grants before it closed last December.

An investigation by The Buffalo News concluded that One Sunset was premised on a faulty business plan and that BERC employees circumvented the agency’s loan committee to snare money for the restaurant.

Well of course this is political.  It’s being spearheaded by Kearns and the anti-Brown faction on the Common Council, and it’s designed to make the mayor look bad.  But so what?  The mayor should be made to look bad because the situation is bad, and he shouldn’t get a free pass just because it happens to be election season.

For me, the real story is in how this is all being reported.  The News has done a great job of bringing the rotten One Sunset situation to light, and they should be commended for it.  But what’s been almost entirely missing from the discussion is one obvious question: why did the mayor, Michelle Barron, Brian Davis and others go so far out of their way to help Leonard Stokes?

I mean, sure, the city might regularly squander and misuse anti-poverty money, but that doesn’t explain what happened here.  The mayor, who has been nearly impossible to meet with for so many, has no problem having more than one meeting with an unqualified twenty-something businessman looking for a handout?  Barron gets money for Stokes by evading the internal BERC structures that were in place to avoid giving bad loans, and goes on to act as the de facto manager of the restaurant?  Davis covers the restaurant’s overdue rent with a personal check?  I don’t know the details of every business that the city grants aid, but I have to believe that this kind of hands-on help is unique.  So while the News has done a great job of answering the who/what/when/where questions, they’ve not yet answered the most important question: why?

I’ve suggested an answer to that question, namely that Stokes is related to one of the co-founders of the Grassroots political organization.  I’d love to see someone with a press credential start asking about those connections.  In fact, I’d love it if they had asked those questions right from the start.

Terrorist vs. Militant

June 11, 2009
This is what I was talking about, folks . . .

This is what I was talking about, folks . . .

Is there any doubt that this guy would be called a terrorist rather than a militant had he killed civilians for some other cause?

Anti-Castro Cuban militant Luis Posada Carriles won’t stand trial on immigration fraud and perjury charges until next year.

A federal judge in El Paso agreed Thursday to delay the trial until Feb. 1 so Posada’s lawyers can have more time to prepare their case.

Posada, an aging and ailing former CIA operative and U.S. Army soldier, is accused of lying about his involvement in the planning of a series of hotel bombings in Havana in 1997 and lying to immigration authorities.

Oh yeah, he also helped blow up a civilian airliner in the 70s.  That’s pretty militant.

Gay Marriage, Black Churches, and Kyriarchy

May 19, 2009
Rev. William Gillison: Homophobe

Rev. William Gillison: Homophobe

As the marriage equality issue heats up, the media continues to pit blacks and gays against each other in a competition to define “civil rights.”  The Buffalo News got into that game with an article on Monday:

Black clergy have long opposed the march toward legal same-sex marriages. Now, they’re also challenging the growing efforts of gay-marriage supporters to frame the issue as a civil rights cause.

The Rev. William Gillison, pastor of Mount Olive Baptist Church, a large African-American congregation on East Delevan Avenue, said he is insulted by the comparison.

“We know what we have gone through as an ethnic group. We feel the terminology, the definition itself, has really been hijacked,” he said. “Unfortunately, it’s just another ploy to garner more support from people who may not understand what the civil rights struggle was all about.”

Bishop Michael A. Badger, pastor of Bethesda World Harvest International Church on Main Street, said that he doesn’t doubt there is discrimination against gay people but that it is hardly on the order of what African-Americans have encountered and still face.

“As an African-American, I don’t have a choice in the color of my skin. I have a choice in whether I’m abstinent or not,” Badger said. “I don’t think you can compare the two.”

The intended effect of articles like this is twofold: first, they damage the credibility of marriage equality advocates by removing one of their strongest claims to legitimacy; and second, they damage the reputation of the black community as a whole by highlighting those black “leaders” who are bigots and buffoons.  Of course marriage equality is a civil rights issue — it questions whether the government has sufficient cause to deny equal rights to a particular (and historically oppressed) group.  And of course homosexuality isn’t a choice, nor can someone stop being gay by abstaining from sex.

What can’t be as easily dismissed are the tensions between different forms of oppression that are at the heart of the conflict.  Trying to sort out whether racism or homophobia (or other oppressions) are “more important” or “worse” seems like a waste of energy at best, and dangerously counterproductive at worst.  Nobody wins when racial minorities, women, LGBTQ folks and the poor are fighting amongst themselves, yet our typically rigid and dichotomous way of looking at oppression practically guarantees that that’s what happens.

I was doing some reading on this subject when I came across the concept of kyriarchy. Some may already be familiar, but it was new to me:

Kyriarchy – a neologism coined by Elisabeth Schussler Fiorenza and derived from the Greek words for “lord” or “master” (kyrios) and “to rule or dominate” (archein) which seeks to redefine the analytic category of patriarchy in terms of multiplicative intersecting structures of domination…Kyriarchy is best theorized as a complex pyramidal system of intersecting multiplicative social structures of superordination and subordination, of ruling and oppression.

Let me break this down for you.  When people talk about patriarchy and then it divulges into a complex conversation about the shifting circles of privilege, power, and domination — they’re talking about kyriarchy.  When you talk about power assertion of a White woman over a Brown man, that’s kyriarchy.  When you talk about a Black man dominating a Brown womyn, that’s kyriarchy.  It’s about the human tendency for everyone trying to take the role of lord/master within a pyramid . . .
But, the pyramid stratifies itself from top to bottom.   And before you start making a checklist of who is at the top and bottom – here’s my advice: don’t bother.  The pyramid shifts with context.  The point is not to rank.  The point is to learn.
This seems like a much more valid — and useful — model for understanding oppression and how it operates.  It recognizes that everyone — even members of historically oppressed groups — can be oppressors themselves, and it steers us away from contests about “who has it worse” while recognizing that all oppressions aren’t the same.  And it doesn’t allow people like Gillison and Badger to hide their bigotry behind their own history of oppression.

Brett Favre “Tastes of America”

May 9, 2009
You mean this guy isn't Brett Favre?

You mean this guy isn't Brett Favre?

I’m sick of Brett Favre.  I’m especially sick of what he represents.

Speculation continues to swirl around the possibility that Brett Favre will come out of retirement (again) to suit up for the Minnesota Vikings.  Favre has apparently sent x-rays of his right shoulder to team doctors, and if his arm is up to snuff, he’ll be wearing purple next fall.

ESPN’s John Clayton calls Favre a “marquee quarterback,” but the numbers don’t support the claim.  Favre finished the season with an 81 quarterback rating, an equal number of TDs and interceptions, and 6 games with a QB rating under 70.  Those aren’t the numbers of a marquee quarterback — they’re the numbers of an erratic quarterback, the kind of guy who can lose a game just as quickly as he can win one.  In fact, our own Trent Edwards had a statistically superior season to Favre, and unlike Favre he’s likely to improve with age.  So why does much of the media  still consider Favre a game-changing star?

Outdated ideas about what it means to be a man, mostly.  While many of our sports stars have constructed cosmopolitan or metrosexual identities — think David Beckham, Derek Jeter or even A-Rod — Favre has been a throwback, the good ol’ boy with his Wrangler jeans and John Deere tractor.  And since football is the most conservative American sport, football writers eat that shit up.

Race is also a factor, too.  Favre is a drug addict who has spent the last several years putting himself before the team with his annual will-he-or-won’t-he dramatics.  He’s also a successful white athlete in an industry where the gatekeepers — if not the participants themselves — are overwhelmingly white.  It’s unimaginable that a black player in a similar situation would be regarded as a minor national treasure, as Favre is in some circles.

The best satire of America that I’ve ever seen is “Talledaga Nights: the Ballad of Ricky Bobby.”  It touches on the confluence of sports, masculinity and conservatism that’s embodied in Brett Favre.  After kissing him, Jean Giroux told Ricky Bobby “you taste of America.”  The same could be said of Brett Favre.

Doug Turner, the Buffalo News, and Torture

May 1, 2009
Doug Turner: Yoda's white uncle?

Doug Turner: Yoda's white uncle?

On Monday the Buffalo News published an opinion piece that was idiotic even by their lofty standards.  The piece, by their ancient Washington Bureau chief Doug Turner, argues that the Obama administration made a mistake by releasing some of the Bush-era memos authorising the use of torture on suspected terrorists.  Here are the relevant bits of Turner’s piece:

In the wars America won— in less than four years—our intelligence agencies did what was necessary.

By contrast, Obama and radical allies on his left spent last week tantalizing our terrorist enemies and the public with the release of classified interrogation documents and holding out the possibility of show trials of Bush administration officials . . .

[Turner lists US atrocities during WWII and the Cold War] None of this behavior can be justified in the open . . . Obama, by releasing the secret papers on waterboarding and other harsh treatment of terror suspects, has signaled a massive generational and cultural change.

1. Of course, we don’t know that the things our intelligence agencies did in the past were “necessary.”  That we won WWII doesn’t mean that everything we did in the course of the war was necessary.  It just doesn’t follow.

2. That said, even if we accept that the torture of prisoners was necessary in the past, that doesn’t mean that it’s acceptable in the present.  Maybe I’m a starry-eyed dreamer, but I’d like to think that the standards of ethical behavior have changed in the last 60 years.  Our government found that interning Japanese-Americans and intentionally killing millions of civilians was necessary, too — and by Turner’s standard, they would be just dandy today.

3. How would prosecuting Bush administration officials be a “show trial?”  Figures from the Bush administration have already gone on trial.  So did folks from the Clinton and Reagan administrations, to say nothing of the criminal bloodbath that was the Nixon White House.

4. The most amazing part of Turner’s piece is the bit about the difficulty of justifying torture “in the open.”  For Turner, the problem isn’t that our government tortures; it’s that our pesky rabble of a citizenry knows about it.  What we have here is a journalist arguing in favor of government secrecy and public ignorance.  Pathetic . . . and typical.