Archives for category: Journalism

I’m just going to riff on this for a bit and see if I reach any conclusions. Let’s start, as my friend Brian suggests, with more than one legally owned firearm for every man woman and child in the US. In other words, we can’t make something immediately illegal tomorrow that was legal yesterday.

The big news this week is that kids are now leading the fight for common-sense gun laws and (as heard on the BBC yesterday) companies are now starting to dissociate themselves from the National Rifle Association. Firms that formerly gave discounts to NRA members are no longer doing so. That’s a huge step in the right direction – the NRA brand has never been this toxic. For decades, Wayne LaPierre and his cold-dead-hands predecessors have fought for money to buy off legislators so that it’s always easy to get guns, no matter what your criminal background. Of course, state by state, your mileage may vary. And once you commit a crime with a gun, in many states including Florida, these stand-your-ground laws have made it more possible to get off if you happen to be white or white-ish. I’m looking at you, George Zimmerman. (NRA-written statutes enacted in Florida in 2005 and in two dozen other states made it impossible to arrest Zimmerman because he claimed self-defense. In addition, jury instructions made it impossible for them to convict even though Zimmerman stalked Martin and was told by the cops to back down and not confront the teenager.)

Martin had just turned 17 at the time and was killed six years ago this week (26 February, 2012).

Of course, there are racist aspects to how the various laws regarding gun ownership and use are treated. Note the cold-blooded murder of Philando Castile, a black Minneapolis school employee who noted to the officer at a traffic stop that he had a concealed carry permit. Within twenty seconds of reaching for his ID had five bullets fired into him. The officer in question was acquitted of all charges, despite dashcam footage from the cop car and Castile’s death livestreamed by his girlfriend just after the shots were fired. Arming school employees is all well and good, I suppose, but I can’t (as others who have pointed to the Castile case in the wake of the Florida massacre two weeks ago) see such things working out equally for all concerned. I tried to read the Wikipedia article on Castile’s murder and couldn’t stomach the heartlessness of the cop, of the jury, of the system.

And lets not lose sight of the domestic terror aspect of this latest case. Who trained N.C. (let’s stop naming the animals who do this stuff, please) to carry out his massacre? Had it been a Black or Muslim organization, they would have been hounded out of the woodwork so quickly heads would be spinning. As it stands, he was raised by a member of Republic of Florida, a white supremacist group. The ROF leader who claimed Cruz trained with them has since walked that back.

There’s also the speech by Florida AG Pam Bondi in the direct aftermath of the shooting. I recognize that there was a certain pressure to say something, but for crying out loud, couldn’t she have talked about something other than what the state of Florida was going to pay for? When someone carelessly breaks something precious and irreplaceable, the last thing you want to hear is that person saying they’ll pay for it. (Are Florida Governor Rick Scott and Bondi shills for the NRA in the same way Florida Senator Ted Cruz is ($77,000 in the 2012 election cycle alone)? I’m not sure. Yes, linking to a tangentially related article like that is shitty and shoddy journalism.) But what we’re not hearing from any of these people in so-called leadership positions is how to prevent these things.

The same Brian I quote at the top shared the following response to calls the current arguments:

Things a Constitutional amendment banning firearms will not fix:

An absence of compassion for fellow citizens.
An absence of value of lives of fellow citizens.
An absence of value in the success of others.
An absence of value in the health of others.
An absence of value in the welfare of others.
An absence of value in the education of others.
The patriarchy.
Toxic masculinity.
Radical conservationism.
Selfishness.
Dangerous nationalism.
Xenophobia.
Homophobia (not a phobia, you’re just an asshole).
Institutionalized racism.
General racism.
Intentional incarceration of minorities to deny their communities of viable male role models, at a critical mass, to actively prevent the establishment of viable successful family models.
Redlining.
Predatory lending.
Criminalization of poverty.
Criminalization of homelessness.
Criminalization of addiction.

And and infinite list of other things.

Our culture is diseased, broken, and rotting, but by all means, keep overlooking that, and keep focusing on the end-result.

There are a lot of one-liners out there in response to these latest deaths – If teachers should be armed, presidents should be required to read is one. Another compares the gun rights supporter (and presumed Republican) suggesting that those who don’t know the difference between certain kinds of firearms shouldn’t legislate from a position of ignorance, to which the gun rights opponent (and presumed liberal) responds: Please draw and explain the female reproductive system.

Image credit: http://military.wikia.com/wiki/FlintlockHowever, this evinces the kind of whataboutism that makes political discussion today such a bloody fraught proposition. The gist is that occasionally white people are refreshed in the fears for themselves and their children that POCs live under all the expletivedeleted time. This is something that happened in Florida this month – nice suburban white high school terrorized by a young man with a gun irrationally marching through what should have been a safe space to learn and grow. Black Americans going about their daily business should expect and experience not being harassed or killed without probable cause, right? And I’m engaging in a variation of the same whataboutism, I suppose. A recent parallel is the Netflix dramatization of Margaret Atwood’s The Handmaid’s Tale. Again, not an original though on my part, but in Atwoods’ vision of the future, white women are treated the same way black women have been treated in America for centuries. I’m sure I’m not the only one to draw this comparison between Atwood’s fiction and the news treatment of our various tragedies. This situation is wrapped up in a lot of other American situations including the school to prison pipeline, Riker’s Island, and the stop-and-frisk policies all over the country.

As noted, I’m riffing. There are no conclusions here, just frustration.

First off: I live in a country where the highest tax bracket is 52% and one reaches it pretty quickly. I’m an experienced technical writer by profession and could probably make USD 75-85,000/year if I returned to the US. I’ve worked in The Netherlands for over seven years and almost the entire time have had the benefit of what’s called the 30% ruling. Under this plan, the first 30% of the income of expats who qualify (based on age and earning capacity, primarily, though the tax authority here can be capricious) is untaxed. For the next 2 1/2 years, I will still benefit from this ruling. After that, half my income goes to the taxman.

When that time comes, I will probably complain a bit, as will my wife who earns a great deal more than I do. That said, we took on a mortgage three years ago and are generally happy to continue living here, even after our taxes go up. When we moved here, there were no austerity measures in place and the euro was a great deal stronger, but the system here mostly works. First responders are responsive, the city is clean, there are very few homeless. While we live in a college town about the size of Cambridge (123,000) and a little larger than Santa Barbara (90,000), even Amsterdam basically works as well – more homeless, more crime, but we’re not talking San Francisco levels of either.

I want to suggest that my tax euros go towards making the place I live a place I want to live. (Yes, I also pay a very small portion of Geert Wilders’ salary. It’s another price one pays to live in a democracy.) I don’t have a hard time saying that I don’t necessarily want those at the next income level above me to take a tax hike so that I can get a break. I don’t know much about the capital gains, inheritance, or corporate tax laws here. I also can’t speak for my family and friends in the US (where the top tax rate is much lower than it is in Nederland). That said, I think most of them aren’t so interested in tax cuts of their own, but would like to see higher taxes on the very wealthy so that the infrastructure of the US might work again.

NPR suggests, in a blog entitled State of the Union: 5 Things To Watch, that President Obama will introduce a plan to raise taxes on the wealthy in order to provide a tax break to working families. I know that money is tight all over, especially now that the 85 richest people in the world have as much wealth as the 3.5 billion poorest, and I would’t begrudge any working family whatever break they can manage. I would, however, say that tax increases on the wealthy might benefit working families in more ways:

  • After school programs so that kids have something to do while whatever parentage they have in the home can work until quitting time without worrying about what junior is up to
  • And on the subject of schools: smaller class size and better supported teachers.
    And on that topic: When did public school teachers, who do some of the hardest and most thankless work, become the bogeymen for all that is wrong in America?
  • Funding for public hospitals
  • training programs for the unemployed and underemployed
  • Fully staffed mental health facilities and VA hospitals

For a start.

When I moved to San Francisco in 1985, there were homeless, but they were mostly holdovers from the late 60s and people who followed expecting the city to resemble the parking lot at a Grateful Dead show. (A fine dream, but one that generally only existed at some music festivals.) That’s a bit disparaging, I know, but that was my experience of SF’s street population, such as it was when I was relatively young. The issues in San Francisco become much bigger with successive booms and busts and of course it’s happening again and on a larger scale with the most recent boom. With all the money that city has had for the last three decades, it’s never been able to address its own social issues, or think big enough to tackle them effectively. Higher taxes on business and the wealthy – if put to good use – might help. I use SF as an example I know (not that I know too many people who can still afford to live there – of 70 or so close friends who lived there when I left in 2002, I’m certain of four, two of whom managed to buy their own houses at auspicious times. Cities large and small across the US have impossible tasks of making the infrastructure work for the greatest numbers of people. I’m sure there’s more to say on the matter, but I think NPR’s bloggers, and possibly Obama as well, have it wrong if they think tax cuts are the only possible balance to tax increases on the wealthy. It’s not a zero sum game, either. Do those at the top really feel that a better functioning society isn’t to their benefit too?

ETA: I’ve now skimmed much of the SOTU address and was rather glad to see that Obama addressed these things as well. Of course with the Republicans in charge of both houses, we’re in for a rocky, suicide pill-laden two years, but I’m hopeful.

 

When former Washington Post editor Ben Bradlee died a couple of weeks ago, a lot of ink was spilled on how fearless he was generally, and most specifically in light of the stories brought him by a pair of reporters named Woodward and Bernstein. The record is long on Watergate and what these two reporters divulged about high crimes committed by members of the Nixon administration.

Nicked from http://creativecrista.wordpress.com/2013/02/04/concentration-of-media-ownership/The thing is, this kind of reporting doesn’t happen anymore and even at the time didn’t happen often. And the cojones it took to print it, unheard of in today’s media. A lot of that has to do with media consolidation. Whereas there were, I’m guessing, at least a hundred major media outlet owners in 1973, there are vastly fewer today. I would need to do a little more research to back up that number, but blogger FrugalDad created an infographic a couple of years ago that stated 90% of media outlets in 2011 were owned by six companies, whereas that number was 50 companies in 1983. freepress.net offers more useful numbers. The Bain/ClearChannel and NBC Comcast stats are especially scary.

FrugalDad’s 2011 infographic is here.

I’d like to believe that the illusion of press freedom was put to bed about ten years ago when Dan Rather reported on George W. Bush’s preferential military service treatment during the 2004 presidential campaign. Alas, there’s a lot of doubt regarding the authenticity of the documents Rather and CBS news relied on for their reporting. On the left, there was a lot of desire for some of the shit that was flung about Resident Bush to actually stick. Alas, not only did the Killian document assertions not stick, they weren’t the shit we were looking for either.

I digress. In the 70s, Bradlee expressed a bravery that was uncommon in the news biz. No one in US history had suggested printing a story that might take down a sitting president. I’d like to believe that if the story had involved a president on the left, Bradlee (a confidante of JFK’s) would have made the same call.

Reporting today at least in the West has lost a lot of that editorial bravery. You still have reporters from around the globe going into the most dangerous places, but it seems in the US and the UK we’ve lost the bravery to take on the crimes of our leaders. Reporting the truth can get you killed in many parts of the world, but here it just gets you ridiculed.

It used to be that there were a few conflicts of interest – nuclear power, for example, is still never covered on NBC and its affiliates, given that NBC’s parent company from 1986 to 2013 was General Electric.

ETA: There’s a really good Bradlee story here: http://www.washingtonpost.com/posteverything/wp/2014/10/22/how-ben-bradlees-outrageous-use-of-white-privilege-turned-my-life-around/

Police cautions to be scrapped in England and Walesn

The warnings in question are those sometimes offered to minor offenders rather than charging them with an offence.

The reasoning offered is that ‘victims shouldn’t ‘feel that criminals are walking away scot-free.’

I definitely appreciate that the recommended new system includes making apologies and restitution to victims. This is a step in the right direction. As is scrapping verbal warnings for violent offences including rape. That the current justice system hasn’t taken rape seriously enough to prosecute consistently in Britain makes my skin crawl.

Much to be said on that.

What worries me, however, is a trend towards giving victims a say in how punishment is administered. I think it undermines a push towards a system of properly blind justice. Because the systems in (to be fair) most of the world don’t actually work as they should, we might think that giving the victim a say in punishment will make it more fair, more just. The fact is, however, that someone who has been victimised is likely to want something harsher for the perpetrator than the crime might merit.

Less probable is the likelihood that victims might face retribution from the perpetrator’s circle if they are seen as having had a hand in a criminal’s sentencing.

To be honest, the article seems to be a bit of a hodgepodge. The new program is a pilot to see how better to prosecute low-level crime. This I can support, I think. The last line of the piece is possibly the kicker: 230,000 cautions were issued in England and Wales last year. How does that compare to the number of crimes reported? To the number of not guilty verdicts in crimes that went to trial? To the number of wrongful accusations?How about the speed of trials? Recidivism rates of first-time offenders over time. One of the only quotes in the article comes from the shadow justice secretary. This is an issue because it’s an extended attack on prosecution policy under the Cameron government. This doesn’t help the reader understand the new programme and the writer doesn’t do anything to challenge the bias of the speaker who is trying only to score points against the Cameron government.

Another story in the news this weekend is about a push to get photos of politicians wearing t-shirts that read ‘This is what a feminist looks like’. In theory, I think this idea is fine. Cameron would’t put one on and took flack for it. This, I think is less fine. Don’t give a non-feminist a hard time for not putting on a shirt that publicises a campaign in which he obviously and honestly doesn’t believe. Give him flack for not doing things in his rather huge power that don’t benefit women. The t-shirt campaign is throwing soft balls to politicians who aren’t doing the work of making people’s lives better. It’s easy for Clegg and Miliband to jump on the bandwagon, because women, theoretically are a more important part of their constituencies than they are of Cameron’s.

When we’re after some substantive discussion on the subject, who jumps in but News Corp. No love lost between me and the Murdoch empire, but it’s not as though they work to make the discourse clearer and policy differences more stark. No. What does the Daily Mail report, as reported on the BBC this morning?

The Mail reports that the shirts (which retail for 45 quid, profits donated to charity) are made by women paid 62p per hour in Maurtius sweat shops. The charity in question, The Fawcett Society claims they were promised the shirts were made ‘ethically in the UK’. Halfway down the BBC article a Fawcett rep is quoted as saying “At this stage, we require evidence to back up the claims being made by a journalist at the Mail on Sunday.” The Beeb might have started their article on the matter the same way. When reading anything published in a News Corp paper (or spouted on their TV stations – Fox News to start with), your first question should always be, ‘In what way is this person lying to me?’

(I wish I had jotted down a recent Wall Street Journal piece that Rachel Maddow quoted. She goes all out against Fox News several times a week, but just because the WSJ used to be respectable doesn’t mean it still is since its takeover by News Corp a few years ago.)