Thursday, November 29, 2007
We Can Stop Global Warming
By implementing new technologies, we can avert a potentially disastrous future.
By Sen. Bernie Sanders, TheNation.com
Scientists now tell us that the crisis of global warming is even worse than their earlier projections. Daily front-page headlines of environmental disasters give an inkling of what we can expect in the future, multiplied many times over: droughts, floods, severe weather disturbances, loss of drinking water and farmland and conflicts over declining natural resources.
Yet the situation is by no means hopeless. Major advances and technological breakthroughs are being made in the United States and throughout the world that are giving us the tools to cut carbon emissions dramatically, break our dependency on fossil fuels and move to energy efficiency and sustainable energy. In fact, the truth rarely uttered in Washington is that with strong governmental leadership the crisis of global warming is not only solvable; it can be done while improving the standard of living of the people of this country and others around the world. And it can be done with the knowledge and technology that we have today; future advances will only make the task easier.
What should we be doing now?
First, we need strong legislation that dramatically cuts back on carbon emissions. The Global Warming Pollution Reduction Act (S. 309), a bill that I introduced with Senator Barbara Boxer and that now has eighteen co-sponsors, would reduce greenhouse gas emissions by 80 percent by the year 2050.
Second, if the federal government begins the process of transforming our energy system by investing heavily in energy efficiency and sustainable energy, we can accomplish the 80 percent carbon reduction level and, at the same time, create millions of high-paying jobs.
Energy efficiency is the easiest, quickest and least expensive path toward the lowering of carbon emissions. My hometown of Burlington, Vermont, despite strong economic growth, consumes no more electricity today than it did sixteen years ago because of a successful effort to make our homes, offices, schools and other buildings more energy-efficient. In California, which has a growing economy, electric consumption per person has remained steady over the past twenty years because of that state's commitment to energy efficiency.
Numerous studies tell us that retrofitting older buildings and establishing strong efficiency standards for new construction can cut fuel and energy consumption by at least 40 percent. Those savings would increase with the adoption of new technologies such as LED light bulbs, which consume as little as 10 percent of the electricity that incandescent bulbs do and last twenty years.
Transportation must also be addressed in a serious manner. It is insane that we are driving cars today that get the same twenty-five miles per gallon that US cars did twenty years ago. If Europe and Japan can engineer their vehicles to average more than forty-four miles per gallon, we can do at least as well. Simply raising fuel-efficiency standards to forty miles per gallon would save roughly the same amount of oil as we import from Saudi Arabia and would dramatically lower carbon emissions. We should also rebuild and expand our decaying rail and subway systems and provide energy-efficient buses in rural America so that travelers have an alternative to the automobile.
Sustainable energies such as wind, solar and geothermal have tremendous potential and often cost no more than fossil fuels (and, in some cases, even less). Increased production and research should cause sustainable energy prices to decline steeply in the future.
Wind power is the fastest growing source of new energy in the world and in the United States, but we have barely begun to tap its potential. Denmark, for example, generates 20 percent of its electricity from wind. We should be supporting wind energy not only through the creation of large wind farms in the appropriate areas but through the use of small, inexpensive wind turbines available today that can be used in homes and farms throughout rural America. These small turbines can produce, depending on location, more than half the electricity that an average home consumes while saving consumers money on their electric bills.
Solar energy is another rapidly expanding technology. In Germany, a quarter of a million homes are now producing electricity through rooftop photovoltaic units, and the cost of that technology is expected to decline steeply. California is providing strong incentives so that 1 million homes will have solar units in the next ten years. The potential of solar energy, however, goes far beyond rooftop photovoltaic units. Right now, in Nevada, a solar plant is generating fifty-six megawatts of electricity. According to the National Renewable Energy Laboratory of the US Energy Department, "Solar energy represents a huge domestic energy resource for the United States, particularly in the Southwest where the deserts have some of the best solar resource levels in the world. For example, an area approximately 12 percent the size of Nevada has the potential to supply all of the electric needs of the United States."
As a strong indication of what the future holds, Pacific Gas and Electric, the largest electric utility in the country, has recently signed a contract to build a 535-megawatt solar thermal plant in the Mojave Desert. This plant, which should be operating in about four years, will have an output equivalent to a small nuclear power plant and will produce electricity for about 400,000 homes. Most important, the price of the electricity generated by this plant, about 10 cents per kilowatt hour, is competitive with other fuels today and will be much cheaper than other fuels by the end of the twenty-five-year contract. Experts in the industry say that dozens of these plants can be built within the next twenty years.
Geothermal energy, the heat from deep inside the earth, is another overlooked resource with real potential. It is free, renewable and can be used for electricity generation and direct heating. A recent report for the US Energy Department by the Massachusetts Institute of Technology suggests that geothermal could supply 100,000 megawatts of new carbon-free electricity at less than 10 cents per kilowatt hour, the going rate today. It is estimated that electricity from geothermal sources could provide 10 percent of the US baseload energy needs in 2050.
As the nation at last confronts global warming, it is no time for denial, greed, cynicism or pessimism. It is a time for vision and international leadership. It is a time for transforming our energy system from the polluting and carbon-emitting technologies of the nineteenth century into the unlimited and extraordinary energy possibilities of the twenty-first. When we do that we will not only solve the global warming crisis; we will open up unimaginable opportunities for improving life all over the planet.
Bernie Sanders is a U.S. Senator from Vermont.
© 2007 Independent Media Institute. All rights reserved.
View this story online at: http://www.alternet.org/story/69178/
Tuesday, November 27, 2007
120 War Vets Commit Suicide Each Week
By Penny Coleman, AlterNet
Earlier this year, using the clout that only major broadcast networks seem capable of mustering, CBS News contacted the governments of all 50 states requesting their official records of death by suicide going back 12 years. They heard back from 45 of the 50. From the mountains of gathered information, they sifted out the suicides of those Americans who had served in the armed forces. What they discovered is that in 2005 alone -- and remember, this is just in 45 states -- there were at least 6,256 veteran suicides, 120 every week for a year and an average of 17 every day.
As the widow of a Vietnam vet who killed himself after coming home, and as the author of a book for which I interviewed dozens of other women who had also lost husbands (or sons or fathers) to PTSD and suicide in the aftermath of the war in Vietnam, I am deeply grateful to CBS for undertaking this long overdue investigation. I am also heartbroken that the numbers are so astonishingly high and tentatively optimistic that perhaps now that there are hard numbers to attest to the magnitude of the problem, it will finally be taken seriously. I say tentatively because this is an administration that melts hard numbers on their tongues like communion wafers.
Since these new wars began, and in spite of a continuous flood of alarming reports, the Department of Defense has managed to keep what has clearly become an epidemic of death beneath the radar of public awareness by systematically concealing statistics about soldier suicides. They have done everything from burying them on official casualty lists in a category they call "accidental noncombat deaths" to outright lying to the parents of dead soldiers. And the Department of Veterans Affairs has rubber-stamped their disinformation, continuing to insist that their studies indicate that soldiers are killing themselves, not because of their combat experiences, but because they have "personal problems."
Active-duty soldiers, however, are only part of the story. One of the well-known characteristics of post-traumatic stress injuries is that the onset of symptoms is often delayed, sometimes for decades. Veterans of World War II, Korea and Vietnam are still taking their own lives because new PTSD symptoms have been triggered, or old ones retriggered, by stories and images from these new wars. Their deaths, like the deaths of more recent veterans, are written up in hometown newspapers; they are locally mourned, but officially ignored. The VA doesn't track or count them. It never has. Both the VA and the Pentagon deny that the problem exists and sanctimoniously point to a lack of evidence they have refused to gather.
They have managed this smoke and mirrors trick for decades in large part because suicide makes people so uncomfortable. It has often been called "that most secret death" because no one wants to talk about it. Over time, in different parts of the world, attitudes have fluctuated between the belief that the act is a sin, a right, a crime, a romantic gesture, an act of consummate bravery or a symptom of mental illness. It has never, however, been an emotionally neutral issue. In the United States, the rationalism of our legal system has acknowledged for 300 years that the act is almost always symptomatic of a mental illness. For those same 300 years, organized religions have stubbornly maintained that it's a sin. In fact, the very worst sin. The one that is never forgiven because it's too late to say you're sorry.
The contradiction between religious doctrine and secular law has left suicide in some kind of nether space in which the fundamentals of our systems of justice and belief are disrupted. A terrible crime has been committed, a murder, and yet there can be no restitution, no punishment. As sin or as mental illness, the origins of suicide live in the mind, illusive, invisible, associated with the mysterious, the secretive and the undisciplined, a kind of omnipresent Orange Alert. Beware the abnormal. Beware the Other.
For years now, this administration has been blasting us with high-decibel, righteous posturing about suicide bombers, those subhuman dastards who do the unthinkable, using their own bodies as lethal weapons. "Those people, they aren't like us; they don't value life the way we do," runs the familiar xenophobic subtext: And sometimes the text isn't even sub-: "Many terrorists who kill innocent men, women, and children on the streets of Baghdad are followers of the same murderous ideology that took the lives of our citizens in New York, in Washington and Pennsylvania," proclaimed W, glibly conflating Sept. 11, the invasion of Iraq, Islam, fanatic fundamentalism and human bombs.
Bush has also expressed the opinion that suicide bombers are motivated by despair, neglect and poverty. The demographic statistics on suicide bombers suggest that this isn't the necessarily the case. Most of the Sept. 11 terrorists came from comfortable middle- to upper-middle-class families and were well-educated. Ironically, despair, neglect and poverty may be far more significant factors in the deaths of American soldiers and veterans who are taking their own lives.
Consider the 25 percent of enlistees and the 50 percent of reservists who have come back from the war with serious mental health issues. Despair seems an entirely appropriate response to the realization that the nightmares and flashbacks may never go away, that your ability to function in society and to manage relationships, work schedules or crowds will never be reliable. How not to despair if your prognosis is: Suck it up, soldier. This may never stop!
Neglect? The VA's current backlog is 800,000 cases. Aside from the appalling conditions in many VA hospitals, in 2004, the last year for which statistics are available, almost 6 million veterans and their families were without any healthcare at all. Most of them are working people -- too poor to afford private coverage, but not poor enough to qualify for Medicaid or means-tested VA care. Soldiers and veterans need help now, the help isn't there, and the conversations about what needs to be done are only just now beginning.
Poverty? The symptoms of post-traumatic stress injuries or traumatic brain injuries often make getting and keeping a job an insurmountable challenge. The New York Times reported last week that though veterans make up only 11 percent of the adult population, they make up 26 percent of the homeless. If that doesn't translate into despair, neglect and poverty, well, I'm not sure the distinction is one worth quibbling about.
There is a particularly terrible irony in the relationship between suicide bombers and the suicides of American soldiers and veterans. With the possible exception of some few sadists and psychopaths, Americans don't enlist in the military because they want to kill civilians. And they don't sign up with the expectation of killing themselves. How incredibly sad that so many end up dying of remorse for having performed acts that so disturb their sense of moral selfhood that they sentence themselves to death.
There is something so smugly superior in the way we talk about suicide bombers and the cultures that produce them. But here is an unsettling thought. In 2005, 6,256 American veterans took their own lives. That same year, there were about 130 documented deaths of suicide bombers in Iraq.* Do the math. That's a ratio of 50-to-1. So who is it that is most effectively creating a culture of suicide and martyrdom? If George Bush is right, that it is despair, neglect and poverty that drive people to such acts, then isn't it worth pointing out that we are doing a far better job?
*I say "about" because in the aftermath of a suicide bombing, it is often very difficult for observers to determine how many individual bodies have been blown to pieces.
Penny Coleman is the widow of a Vietnam veteran who took his own life after coming home. Her latest book, Flashback: Posttraumatic Stress Disorder, Suicide and the Lessons of War, was released on Memorial Day, 2006. Her blog is Flashback.
© 2007 Independent Media Institute. All rights reserved.
View this story online at: http://www.alternet.org/story/68713/
Sunday, November 25, 2007
Friday I took a pilgrimage to spend time with and be hugged by Amma. Her message is as presented on her website http://www.amma.org/ :
Amma has time and again emphasized that the duty of every human being is to realize his true Self, or in other words,' know who we really are.' She does not favor any particular religion. When asked to which religion she belongs, she says, “My religion is love and service.”
“ Love is the foundation of a happy life. Knowingly or unknowingly we are forgetting this truth” she says. Amma on several occasions has said that it is important not only to feel love but also to express it. “ After all, love is our true nature. When we do not express love in our words and actions it is like honey hidden in a rock. “ she says, “ It is of no use to anyone. This mutual sharing and expressing of love should begin at home between married couples and between parents and children. Only then will there be peace and harmony at home and in the society.”
Once when someone asked Amma as to whom she would term as a true disciple, Amma said that, “One whose legs rush to offer help, whose lips utter comforting words of love and whose eyes shed tears of compassion on hearing the cry of the distressed, such a person I would call a true disciple."
Thursday, November 22, 2007
Wednesday, November 21, 2007
Sunday, November 18, 2007
Monday, November 12, 2007
Child On White House Tour Momentarily Seizes Control Of Nation
October 31, 2007 Issue 43•44 of The Onion
WASHINGTON, DC—In an event unprecedented in American history, Brandon Myers, a relatively obscure Iowa 10-year-old with no previous experience in domestic politics, took advantage of a clear leadership void and seized control of the United States Tuesday after he slipped away from his White House tour group and locked himself in the Oval Office.
The bloodless coup occurred when Myers, a fifth-grader at Mulberry Elementary School, stormed into the empty office and seated himself at the president's desk, thereby toppling the world's longest-running democracy. Myers spent much of his reign, which lasted from approximately 2:00 p.m. to 2:15 p.m., spinning in circles in the president's chair before proclaiming that he was "President Brandon" with a handwritten decree scrawled in cursive on White House stationery.
"Earlier this afternoon, sometime between a description of the James Buchanan portrait in the Main Hall and the question-and-answer session, a pre- adolescent boy overthrew the president and gained executive authority over the United States of America," White House press secretary Dana Perino said at a news conference Tuesday. "Several minutes ago, our nation's new leader made his first statement: 'Brandon rules.'"
Shortly after forcing former president George W. Bush out of office, Myers issued an executive order for pizza using the intercom in the Oval Office. Congress immediately passed emergency funding for 1,200 stuffed-crust pepperoni pizzas from Pizza Hut.
While the sudden change in government came as a shock to millions, a number of Washington insiders claimed that Bush's low poll numbers and lame-duck status created the perfect environment for an ambitious individual to fill the nation's leadership vacuum. But, though Myers was put through the same level of security as anyone wishing to take a tour of the White House, there was no initial indication that he had ever before attempted to overthrow a sovereign nation. Further investigation, however, revealed that Myers possessed specific knowledge of the inner workings of the U.S. government.
"He knew about the three branches of government, and he understood how a bill becomes a law—that's when I knew he was serious," said the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, Adm. Michael Mullen, who claimed Myers called the Pentagon more than 40 times on the president's direct line, using different voices before hanging up. "While it was certainly unorthodox when he ordered us to use our most awesome tanks to invade 'someplace' but would not say specifically where, the military functions by following orders."
Added Mullen: "That boy is the commander in chief, after all."
Pentagon sources also confirmed rumors that the Brandon administration mobilized the Iowa National Guard for deployment to Myers' school, where they received instructions to lower their pants and moon the principal.
Minutes after the coup began, Secret Service agents still loyal to President Bush snuck the ousted leader out of the White House's back door, and rushed him into an unmarked vehicle bound for Dulles International Airport. Denied access to Air Force One, Bush and his family then fled the nation on Lufthansa flight 687 bound for Zurich.
Though Myers appeared to have the support of top military leaders, opposition figures claim that his most heinous acts while in the office—including emptying out desk drawers, knocking over a priceless bust of Thomas Jefferson, and ripping down drapery and wearing it as a cape—are punishable by the harshest forms of spanking in the land. Others have questioned the 10-year-old's legitimacy altogether.
"While the Constitution does not explicitly address this situation, standards set forth in the Federalist Papers and other writings indicate that, by using the president's official pen on the president's official paper while sitting in the president's official chair, Myers became de facto ruler of the United States," said Georgetown University law professor Steven Fuller, adding that Myers' appointment of his friend Hal as vice president was equally binding. "The fact that [Myers] spelled 'president' wrong, however, does make it a bit of a legal gray area."
At press time, the nation remained in a state of flux, and it was unclear who would take over the Oval Office after Myers finally resigned out of boredom and left to rejoin the members of his tour.
Though his reign was brief and tumultuous, Myers could boast of several accomplishments during his 15-minute term, such as balancing the budget, pulling the troops out of Iraq, and establishing universal health care.
Saturday, November 10, 2007
Biographer: Norman Mailer dead at age 84
By RICHARD PYLE, Associated Press Writer
Norman Mailer, the pugnacious prince of American letters who for decades reigned as the country's literary conscience and provocateur with such books as "The Naked and the Dead" and "The Executioner's Song," has died at the age of 84.
Mailer died Saturday of acute renal failure at Mount Sinai Hospital, J. Michael Lennon, the author's literary executor and biographer, said.
"He was a great American voice," said a tearful Joan Didion, author of "The Year of Magical Thinking" and other works, struggling for words upon learning of Mailer's death.
From his classic debut novel to such masterworks of literary journalism as "The Armies of the Night," the two-time Pulitzer Prize winner always got credit for insight, passion and originality.
Some of his works were highly praised, some panned, but none was pronounced the Great American Novel that seemed to be his life quest from the time he soared to the top as a brash 25-year-old "enfant terrible."
Mailer built and nurtured an image over the years as bellicose, street-wise and high-living. He drank, fought, smoked pot, married six times and stabbed his second wife, almost fatally, during a drunken party.
He had nine children, made a quixotic bid to become mayor of New York City on a "left conservative" platform, produced five forgettable films, dabbled in journalism, flew gliders, challenged professional boxers, was banned from a Manhattan YWHA for reciting obscene poetry, feuded publicly with writer Gore Vidal and crusaded against women's liberation.
Mailer had numerous minor run-ins with the law, usually for being drunk or disorderly, but was also jailed briefly during the Pentagon protests in the late 1960s. While directing the film "Maidstone" in 1968, the self-described "old club fighter" punched actor Lane Smith, breaking his jaw, and bit actor Rip Torn's ear in another scuffle.
But as Newsweek reviewer Raymond Sokolov said in 1968, "In the end, it is the writing that will count."
Mailer, he wrote, possessed "a superb natural style that does not crack under the pressures he puts upon it, a talent for narrative and characters with real blood streams and nervous systems, a great openness and eagerness for experience, a sense of urgency about the need to test thought and character in the crucible of a difficult era."
Norman Mailer was born Jan. 31, 1923, in Long Branch, N.J. His father, Isaac, a South Africa-born accountant, and mother, Fanny, who ran a housekeeping and nursing agency, soon moved to Brooklyn.
Mailer earned an engineering science degree in 1943 from Harvard University, where he decided to become a writer, and was soon drafted into the Army. Sent to the Philippines as an infantryman, he saw enough of soldiering to provide a basis for his first book, "The Naked and the Dead," published in 1948 while he was a postgraduate student in Paris.
The book became a best seller, and Mailer returned home to find himself anointed the new Hemingway, Dos Passos and Melville.
Buoyed by instant literary celebrity, Mailer embraced the early 1950s counterculture, defining "hip" in his essay "The White Negro," allying himself with Beat Generation gurus Jack Kerouac and Allen Ginsberg, and writing social and political commentary for the Village Voice, which he helped found. He also churned out two more novels, "Barbary Shore" (1951) and "Deer Park" (1955), neither embraced kindly by readers or critics.
Mailer turned reporter to cover the 1960 Democratic Party convention for Esquire and later claimed, with typical hubris, that his piece, "Superman Comes to the Supermarket," had made the difference in John F. Kennedy's razor-thin margin of victory over Republican Richard M. Nixon.
While Life magazine called his next book, "An American Dream" (1965), "the big comeback of Norman Mailer," the author-journalist was chronicling major events of the day: an anti-war march on Washington, the 1968 political conventions, the Ali-Patterson fight, an Apollo moon shot.
His 1968 account of the peace march on the Pentagon, "The Armies of the Night," won the Pulitzer Prize and the National Book Award and was listed in the top 20 on a 1999 New York University survey of 100 examples of the best journalism of the century.
When he covered the 1968 Democratic convention in Chicago for Harper's magazine, Mailer was torn between keeping to a tight deadline or joining the anti-war protests that led to a violent police crackdown. "I was in a moral quandary. I didn't know if I was being scared or being professional," he later testified in the trial of the so-called Chicago Seven.
Jorge Herralde, editor of Mailer's Spanish publishers, Anagrama, said Saturday that Mailer was a titan of literature who, like Kafka, was never awarded a Nobel prize. "He surely had too excessive a profile for that award," Herralde said.
Mailer's personal life was as turbulent as the times in which he lived. In 1960, at a party at his Brooklyn Heights home, he stabbed his second wife, Adele Morales, with a knife. She declined to press charges, and it was not until 1997 that she revealed in her memoir how close she had come to dying.
His other wives were: Beatrice Silverman, Lady Jeanne Campbell, Beverly Bentley, Carol Stevens and Norris Church. He had five daughters, three sons and a stepson.
"He had such a compendious vision of what it meant to be alive. He had serious opinions on everything there was to have an opinion on, and everything he had was so original," friend William Kennedy, author of "Ironweed."
Mailer's suspicion of technology — "insidious, debilitating and depressing" — was so deep that while most writers used typewriters or computers, he wrote with a pen, some 1,500 words a day. In a 1971 magazine piece about the new women's liberation movement, Mailer equated the dehumanizing effect of technology with what he said was feminists' need to abolish the mystery, romance and "blind, goat-kicking lust" from sex.
Time magazine said the broadside should "earn him a permanent niche in their pantheon of male chauvinist pigs."
"He could do anything he wanted to do — the movie business, writing, theater, politics," author Gay Talese said Saturday. "He never thought the boundaries were restricted. He'd go anywhere and try anything. He was a courageous person, a great person, fully confident, with a great sense of optimism."
In "Advertisements for Myself" (1959), Mailer promised to write the greatest novel yet, but later conceded he had not. Among other notable works: "Cannibals and Christians" (1966); "Why Are We in Vietnam?" (1967); and "Miami and the Siege of Chicago" (1968).
"The Executioner's Song" (1979), an epic account of the life and death of petty criminal Gary Gilmore, won the 1980 Pulitzer Prize for fiction. "Ancient Evenings" (1983), a novel of ancient Egypt that took 11 years to complete, was critically panned.
"Tough Guys Don't Dance" (1984) became a 1987 film. Some critics found "Harlot's Ghost" (1991), a novel about the CIA, surprisingly sympathetic, considering Mailer's left-leaning past. In 1997, he came out with "The Gospel According to the Son," a novel told from Jesus Christ's point of view. The following year, he marked his 75th birthday with the epic-length anthology "The Time of Our Time."
Mailer lived for decades in a Brooklyn Heights town house with a view of New York harbor and lower Manhattan from the rooftop "crow's nest," and kept a home in Provincetown, Mass., where he spent increasing time in his later years.
Despite heart surgery, hearing loss and arthritic knees that forced him to walk with canes, Mailer retained his enthusiasm for writing and in early 2007 released "The Castle in the Forest," a novel about Hitler's early years. "On God: An Uncommon Conversation," came out in the fall.
In 2005, Mailer received a gold medal for lifetime achievement at the National Book Awards, where he deplored what he called the "withering" of general interest in the "serious novel." Authors like himself, he said often, had become anachronisms as people focused on television and young writers aspired to screenwriting or journalism.
Lennon said arrangements for a private service and burial for family members and close friends would be announced next week, and a memorial service would be held in New York in the coming months.
National Writer Hillel Italie in New York contributed to this report.
Copyright © 2007 The Associated Press.
Friday, November 09, 2007
Published on Thursday, November 8, 2007 by The Huffington Post
Yet Another Alarm Sounded on Homeless Vets and PTSD. But, Who’s Listening?
by Jon Soltz
One out of four homeless are veterans, and though there hasn’t been a very comprehensive study of just Iraq and Afghanistan veterans, the VA estimates at least 1500 homeless veterans of the current wars. I’ll bet you everything I got that the number is significantly higher.
There are a number of wonderful groups doing all they can to find these veterans and get them into housing. But that’s not enough. The real point to this tragedy is buried in the AP story:
“The Iraq vets seeking help with homelessness are more likely to be women, less likely to have substance abuse problems, but more likely to have mental illness - mostly related to post-traumatic stress, said Pete Dougherty, director of homeless veterans programs at the VA.”
The VA finds that, overall, 45 percent of participants in the VA’s homeless programs have a diagnosable mental illness. We know from previous studies that greater than 30 percent of Iraq veterans coming home have some PTSD. Those studies were done before third deployments and 15 month extensions. And, remember, sometimes PTSD takes years for manifest itself. So bank on the number with PTSD being higher by war’s end and in years after.
And yet, the process for mental screening is deficient, as are the number of qualified people within the DoD and VA health systems to diagnose and treat PTSD. This doesn’t even address the severe VA underfunding that simply keeps veterans from getting the care they need.
It was just reported this month that two VA hospitals in Florida were turning veterans away, because they couldn’t deal with the load. The money crunch, as well, has the agency pinching pennies and setting the bar for PTSD, and full disability, very high. I had a soldier call me last year requesting a memorandum from an eyewitness officer from Iraq that could validate the soldier had in fact been in combat, despite the fact that the army had already concluded that this soldier was suffering from PTSD! These are the hurdles that are set up.
So, here’s how it goes. A veteran goes to the VA, if they can get in, because something is just not right in their mind. Instead of PTSD, they’re told they have “adjustment disorder” or a preexisting mental condition, neither of which allows them to collect disability. They don’t get the right treatment, allowing their mental condition to worsen. They simply cannot hold down a job, they don’t get disability, and, not surprisingly, they cannot afford a place to live and become homeless.
There is no blood test that can tell if you have PTSD. It’s not a simple injury to find — an injury to your psyche. And, until this administration gets serious about greater funding and a real strategy to deal with this coming tsunami, it doesn’t matter how many wonderful charitable groups are out there, trying to find and house homeless veterans, because we’ll just be dealing with the result — homelessness — rather than the root cause - PTSD.
Oh, and by the way, the president is vowing to veto the Labor-HHS bill which includes $3.4 billion for the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA), which provides mental health and suicide prevention services, and $23.6 million for the military veterans that comprise a quarter of America’s homeless population in the Homeless Veterans Program.
The alarm is blaring, but who is listening?
Jon Soltz, is Co-Founder and Chair of VoteVets.org.
Copyright © 2007 HuffingtonPost.com, Inc.
Article printed from www.CommonDreams.org
URL to article: http://www.commondreams.org/archive/2007/11/08/5106/
Wednesday, November 07, 2007
Consumers International – Press briefing
International Bad Product Awards 2007
The International Bad Product nominations were submitted by CI member organisations and CI expert staff. The final four, including the overall winner, were chosen by the CI Secretariat and
are detailed below. Criteria for final selection included the size of the company, the global scale of sales and marketing, the direct impact on consumers, and the potential actionable change by the
Award: Bad Toys
Action: Recall of toys
Mattel recalled over 21 million toys from around the world over a five-week period in 2007, due to design faults and the use of poisonous levels of lead paint. The recall included one toy that
contained over 200 times the amount of lead permitted by US lawmakers.
Mattel CEO Robert Eckert was accused of stonewalling a US congressional investigation into the
safety of the company’s products, not acting on a request for access to the factories in question,
and not allowing key Mattel staff to be interviewed by investigators.
While at first allowing China to take the blame for substandard production, in late September
2007 Mattel appeared to admit that some defects were actually a design fault of the company’s
own making and that Mattel should be held responsible.
The company later said that this apology had been ‘mischaracterised’ and that they were, in
effect, only taking responsibility for around 11 million of the 21 million recalls.
‘This is a classic case of avoiding accountability and shifting responsibility on a global scale.
Wherever the fault lies, the safety of consumers was compromised and this should be the full
focus of Mattel’s attention, not finger pointing and not blame dodging.’
Award: Bad drinks marketing
Action: Repackaging tap water
Coca- Cola is undoubtedly one of the most recognised and successful brands on the planet, but
even they have pushed marketing into the realms of the ridiculous with their international bottled water – Dasani.
In 2004, Coca-Cola was forced to take Dasani, off the UK shelves after a public outcry because it
contained nothing more than tap water. As a result it’s never made it to German or French shops.
But sales of Dansani are still rising in the US and it is being strongly promoted in Brazil,
Argentina, Chile, Mexico and several other Latin American countries.
Coca-Cola itself says that Dasani isn’t spring water and that it is sourced from local tap water
supplies. But from its marketing and packaging, one could easily think otherwise. Dasani
promotional material gushes with terms like:
‘Filtered for purity using state of the art processes’ and ‘enhanced with a special blend of minerals for a pure, crisp, fresh taste’
What is doesn’t say quite as loudly is that Dasani comes from the same local municiple reservoirs as the water out of the tap.
Coca-Cola is not doing anything illegal, but advertising which suggests their bottled water is
significantly superior to local tap water is misleading. They are simply repackaging in plastic
containers a common resource and charging consumers hundreds to thousands of times what it
would cost out of the tap.
‘Sustainable access to essential services, such as water, is a basic consumer right. By bottling up this universal resource to sell back to us, corporations, such as Coca-Cola have created a
US$100 billion industry at a time when one billion people in the world lack access to safe drinking water. Making profits out of increasingly fragile water supplies is unsustainable, irresponsible and against the basic rights of consumers everywhere.’
Award: Bad food
Action: Advertising junk food to kids
Kellogg’s is known the world over for its breakfast cereals. The company had net global sales of
US$10.9 billion in 2006 and spent US$916million on advertising.
Key to Kellogg’s success has been the use of some of the most persistent and persuasive
marketing methods to children. Kellogg’s recently told The New York Times that 27% of its US
advertising budget was spent promoting products aimed at the under 12s.
In Australia, Kellogg’s previously used a popular children’s entertainer to publicise Coco Pops,
and used online social-networking techniques aimed at kids. They recently promoted unhealthy
Coco Pops and Rice Bubbles with a Shrek promotion and produced boxes of Green fruit loops
and added green candy pieces ‘ogre bits’ to their Coco Pops LCM bars.
In New Zealand, Kellogg’s Crispix have come with Star Wars stickers and Ice Age 2 DVD
giveaways in recent years. Coco Pops has a competition kids can enter as often as they like –
provided you keep buying the product. Prizes up for grabs include quad bikes, and Apple iPods.
In the UK, there have been Coco Pops tie-ins with Dreamwork’s cartoon motion picture Flushed
Away. Frosties, Cornflakes and Rice Crispies packaging has been covered in Shrek imagery and
offers of free cinema tickets for children.
But the issue here is not only how they market, but what they market.
Kellogg’s are one of a number of international food companies that make money by selling
products high in fat, sugar and/or salt. Threatened with litigation in the US, Kellogg’s have agreed to change some of their marketing practices, however we believe they are doing too little, too slowly.
Examples from around the world of Kellogg’s contribution to our children’s diets include:
Rice Bubbles in Australia – containing 720mg of salt per 100mg
Kellogg’s cereals in France - 33% sugar
Coco Pops in Australia – 36.5% sugar
Frosties in the UK – 37% sugar
Frosted Flakes in Mexico – 40% sugar.
Food containing 20% sugar is deemed as ‘high’ in sugar content by many leading authorities.
CI members have campaigned against the marketing of Kellogg’s high sugar content products
with success in Australia, the UK and Mexico.
Earlier this year, El Poder del Consumidor, one of CI’s members in Mexico successfully
campaigned to have the TV advert for Kellogg’s Frosted Flakes taken off the air. The advert
claimed that children would develop amazing physical attributes when in fact the cereal contains
40% sugar. An invaluable success in a country that is second only to the US in terms of obese
and overweight people.
‘CI is committed to stopping the marketing of junk food to children. Together with our membership we are campaigning for international restrictions on marketing to under 16’s, to give our children the chance of a healthy start’.
Award: Bad Drug promotion
Company: Takeda Pharmaceuticals
Action: Advertising sleeping pills to children
The US subsidiary of Japanese drug firm Takeda Pharmaceutical took out a TV advertisement in September 2006 for its sleeping drug Rozerem. It was a ‘reminder’ ad which, under US direct-toconsumer advertising (DTCA) law, pharmaceutical companies can use to keep consumers aware of the need to buy their drugs.
This particular ad was released at the beginning of the school year and used images of children,
chalk boards, school books and a schools bus. The accompanying voiceover stated:
“Rozerem would like to remind you that it’s back to school season. Ask your doctor today if
Rozerem is right for you.”
Under the tagline ‘Back to School’
It doesn’t take a PhD in marketing to see that this is an effort to persuade parents to seek out the sleeping drug for their children – to help them get through the stress of term starting.
The advertisement ran without noting the very serious side effects that this drug can have,
including increased thoughts of suicide in already depressed patients. Takeda pharmaceuticals
also failed to mention the precautions on its packaging about children using this drug. According
to the product labelling:
PRECAUTIONS (relating to pediatric use)
Use in Adolescents and Children
ROZEREM has been associated with an effect on reproductive hormones
in adults….It is not known what effect chronic or even chronic intermittent
use of ROZEREM may have on the reproductive axis in developing
Safety and effectiveness of ROZEREM in pediatric patients have not been
established. Further study is needed prior to determining that this product
may be used safely in pre-pubescent and pubescent patients.
That such a potentially harmful drug should be geared towards young children is outrageous.
Almost as outrageous was the token action taken by the Food and Drugs Agency (FDA) – the
body that regulates pharma company behaviour in the US:
It took six months for the FDA to tell Takeda to remove the ad - long after the relevance of a ‘back to school’ promotion had gone. Takeda is a US$10 billion dollar pharmaceutical company. It spent $118 million on advertising ROZEREM last year, yet the FDA issued no fine and no
penalty. Just a slap on the wrist.
‘This case demonstrates the lengths to which some drug companies will go to increase sales of
their products, how direct to consumer advertising can promote irrational drug use, and how weak regulation can foster irresponsible corporate behaviour. This company is our overall award winner for irresponsible behaviour for 2007.’
Monday, November 05, 2007
Shocking: 18 Years on and Exxon Still Won't Pay $2.5 Billion for Valdez Oil Spill
By Riki Ott, AlterNet
Posted on November 5, 2007, Printed on November 5, 2007
The Supreme Court's recent decision to hear ExxonMobil's reasons to void the $2.5 billion punitive award in the Exxon Valdez case hit the town of Cordova, Alaska, hard. This small coastal fishing community -- my hometown -- along with the Alaska Native villages in Prince William Sound have borne the brunt of the largest crude oil spill in America's waters; a spill that took place more than 18 years ago, but one that continues to hold the region hostage.
The second painful blow was the high court's decision to not even hear our reasons why the award should be restored to the full $5 billion that a jury of peers decided was necessary to punish the corporate giant back in 1994.
While media pundits, lawyers, and scholars play the Supreme Court's decisions back and forth like a ping-pong ball, people in Cordova share a completely different perspective of this story. It's not about whether the Supreme Court should hear the case. To us, it's about justice and reparation -- making us whole, a promise Exxon made to the community five days after the spill. A promise that Exxon broke before the trial even started five years after the spill.
To us, it's about more than an oil spill, the world's largest oil corporation, and a small fishing community in Alaska. It's about America's failed legal system that inherently cannot dispense justice in the face of corporate globalization.
U.S. corporations have outgrown America's justice system. The system won't work for any community in America that is traumatized by disaster that triggers class action lawsuits -- hurricanes like Katrina, terrorist acts like 9/11, or oil spills like the Exxon Valdez. Yet sociologists warn such disasters will be a hallmark of the 21st century.
People in Cordova wonder how this happened and why our legal system no longer metes out justice. When did "punitive" stop meaning to punish? If the original punitive award of $5 billion was sufficient to change corporate behavior why was Exxon the last corporation to double hull its oil tankers to reduce risk of future spills rather than the first?
Why shouldn't Exxon be expected to pay to clean up its mess, pay penalties for breaking laws, compensate victims for losses, and pay punitive damages? This is what responsible corporations do -- and it's certainly what Americans expect.
The spilled oil -- somewhere between 11 to 38 million gallons (the figure is elusive because as we learned the hard way, the truth was one of the first casualties of the spill) -- created a big mess and broke a lot of federal laws. It shouldn't surprise anyone that Exxon paid $2.5 billion for its cleanup and another $1 billion for penalties. But, it might surprise people who live outside Alaska to learn that taxpayers, not Exxon, paid a majority of that bill. Exxon recouped most of its remaining expense from its insurance companies and from money it paid to settle damages for natural resources -- publicly-owned wildlife and lands.
Further, Exxon rewarded its primary cleanup contractor, formerly VECO, with a cost-plus contract that acted like steroids, bulking up this small-time oilfield service contractor into one of the biggest -- spending, pro-oil lobbyists in the state -- until its fall from grace this year under charges of federal bribery, conspiracy, and more. You may have heard of the ongoing FBI investigation that is sweeping Alaska's politicians -- from state legislators to congressional delegates -- into its widening net.
While that's another story, it serves to illustrate what our justice system deems "good corporate behavior" worthy of consideration to reduce its punitive award.
We ask all of you who share in the cost of this cleanup and the devastation of this spill: How could Exxon fool seemingly everyone into believing that the Sound is now clean, wildlife recovered, and fishing back to "normal"?
How could they fool everyone? Because the reality goes against the "good corporate behavior" meme Exxon has pushed for now nearly two decades in the courts, in the media, and in Congress.
This is our world, our reality: Three of Cordova's five fish processors (canneries) went bankrupt after the spill. The largest one never recovered, leaving the town with not enough capacity to buy and process large salmon returns like this year. Further, the town lost it's only locally owned and operated processor cooperative, leaving fishermen with fewer resources to leverage high grounds prices for their catch. The town tumbled from its ranking as one of the top ten seaports in the nation, based on harvest value, to 53rd after the delayed, spill-related pink salmon and herring population collapses in 1992 and 1993.
The salmon recovered; the herring did not. The herring fisheries are closed indefinitely. Fishermen who held $300,000 commercial fishing permits for salmon and/or herring fisheries at the time of the spill now own pieces of paper worth around 10 percent their former value -- that is, the fishers who did not go bankrupt, lose their permit in foreclosures, take a loss and sell out, die, or commit suicide. Fishermen who buy into the fisheries now pay less for the privilege and expect less in return, while the spill survivors deal with ever mounting debt on permits that the fisheries no longer supports -- and in many cases that exceeds their individual share of the punitive award at the full $5 billion.
This is our world, our "normal."
I am a Survivor of the Exxon Valdez oil spill. I owned and fished a salmon drift permit in Prince William Sound until I sold out after the fish run collapses in the early 1990s. I have a stake in the Exxon Valdez litigation. But so, in a sense, does every American. Here's why.
No other country in the world has a legal system that is as adversarial, costly, formal and complex as the United States system. At its core the American legal process is an adversarial system that pits disputing parties against each other before an impartial judge. Justice is "a zero-sum game," meted out through punishment of the guilty to make the injured whole.
If the Exxon Valdez case is a harbinger of litigation to come, it does not bode well for people, civic society, or the environment. In this case, simply put, a giant corporation used its wealth to aggressively drive up legal expenses and to reduce, delay, and eliminate payment of awards to spill victims for more than 18 years and counting. By so doing, the giant corporation denied justice to thousands of people. In this case, the corporation is Exxon Mobil, but other giant corporations that do battle on class action turf wield similar weapons.
The forces of aggression released and sanctioned by the American judicial system are horrific -- no one leaves the field unscathed. Psychiatrist Larry Strasburger noted, "Although it may be that we have exchanged swords and cudgels for subpoenas and depositions, an aura of combat continues to hover about the judicial process, and combat produces casualties."
Psychologists found that adversarial litigation emotionally "arrests" disaster-scarred survivors, forcing them to keep the disaster trauma alive and present. This blocks the normal progression of recovery phases from a stress response and holds disaster-litigants hostage until case closure.
Further, litigation generates new trauma, so-called "Litigation Response Syndrome," with symptoms similar to Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) and General Anxiety Disorder. For disaster-litigants, this amounts to a double helping of stress. It scars even "successful" litigants-those who eventually prevail.
Sociologists Drs. Steve Picou and Duane Gill have studied the evolution of disaster trauma in Cordova since the spill. They report a third of the fisher-claimants in Cordova suffer from clinical depression, nearly 40 percent from PTSD, and 60 percent hold off-season jobs to make ends meet. This is now -- 18-plus years after the spill. Further, they found the stress level attributable to litigation in fisher and Alaska Native claimants is nearly as high as the initial level from the spill.
If American class action lawyers were medical doctors, they would be disbarred for violating the Hippocratic oath: "Do no more harm."
The American justice system is predicated on several underlying assumptions, most of which are not valid in adversarial litigation, as we in Cordova discovered.
Equal treatment under the law? Not possible when those with money use it to influence the laws and public perception, or manipulate courts of law to make punishment moot.
Impartial judges? Not possible when judges are human and often former corporate lawyers.
Decisions based on whole truth and facts? Not even close: Jurors receive only selective information from judges or court masters as gatekeepers, and facts are grossly distorted through corporate-sponsored "science."
Further, when cases extend into decades, unanticipated long-term injury to people and ecosystems often becomes evident along with science linking harm to the original disaster, as was the case with the Exxon Valdez spill. The mechanism to understand the delayed fish collapses in Prince William Sound was not proven until six years after the collapse -- well after the trial was over. Fishers and Alaska Natives were never compensated for this unanticipated, long-term harm.
Another gross oversight of the American judicial system is that it fails to respond to a very basic human dimension of litigation: process. It turns out the process of dispute resolution is a key determinant in "making people whole."
Studies show that the thing parties want most is a process that allows them to participate, seeks to merit their trust, and treats them with dignity and respect. It should not surprise any person that victims who are humans, too, care a great deal about how they are treated beyond the amount of money they may pay or receive and that accountability is important. Yet in class action litigation, individual litigants often feel violated by the very process they are given to make them whole.
Just as the aftermath of war is not simply peace, so too, the aftermath of a disaster, especially one with toxic exposures, is not simply money. But money is all that the adversarial system can deliver to some-at the expense of justice for all who were injured.
As we learned in Cordova, it is flat impossible to expect the American punitive justice system to "make anyone whole." Perhaps it is time for Americans to question whether the adversarial litigation system is really the best way to ascertain truth, insure fairness, and dispense justice.
If the goal of our justice system is to make people whole, then the process should focus on restoring harmony to injured parties and communities with retribution for harm agreed upon through a non-adversarial mediated process. In other words, we need a restorative justice system rather than a punitive one.
And, we in Cordova offer some suggestions for rebuilding our American justice system.
First, post-disaster disputes could be minimized during preliminary planning and scoping of projects by negotiated, legally-binding agreements -- now that we are better informed of the ecological and human costs of disaster.
Second, financial incentives and rules could be created to encourage dispute resolution through non-adversarial negotiated settlements. Such techniques have proven successful even for disasters involving toxic exposure.
Third, incentives could be created to shorten litigation timelines by eliminating mechanisms that reward profits through stalling.
Fourth, if punitive damages are to be effectively applied, then they must be linked with corporate profits rather than compensatory damages and they should be shared not only among victims, but also among the injured communities to rebuild areas devastated by disaster.
In Cordova, we hope that it is just a matter of time before these suggestions or other similar ones are demanded by professionals, activists, and victims fed up with the American "injustice system."
We know that change will have to come from each of us, as there is little hope that the Supreme Court, or any other branch of the current judicial system, will take it upon itself to keep from doing more harm to those it was designed to protect.
This article was adapted from the forthcoming book Not One Drop: Promises, Betrayal, and Courage in the Wake of the Exxon Valdez Oil Spill (Chelsea Green, 2008).
Riki Ott, PhD, is a community activist, a former fisherm'am, and has a degree in marine toxicology with a specialty in oil pollution. She is also the author of Sound Truth and Corporate Myth$: The Legacy of the Exxon Valdez Oil Spill.
© 2007 Independent Media Institute. All rights reserved.
View this story online at: http://www.alternet.org/story/66647/
Saturday, November 03, 2007
Where Does the Right-Wing End and the Media Begin?
By Rory O'Connor, AlterNet
I had the opportunity to sit down this week with one of America's top economists, Paul Krugman, who of course doubles as an influential op-ed columnist for the New York Times. It's more than a bit surprising when the guy from the New York Times sounds more radical than anyone else in the room, but Krugman and his twice-weekly column have been more consistently surprising and radically different than anything else allowed to appear in the Times (or indeed anywhere else in the so-called "mainstream media") for so long that even Krugman himself no longer seems surprised by the force of his own outrage.
He certainly pulled no punches during our conversation, stating in a forthright manner his opinions on such controversial topics as truth and lies in the newsroom ("The Big Lies are all on the right"), media bias ("A large part of it is in fact right-wing bias, because they are effectively part of the right wing") and corporate pressure ("It's very clear that when the parent companies of the major news sources have issues at stake before the federal government ... this definitely influences the coverage.) Perhaps the fact that he's a tenured professor at Princeton -- and not a professional journalist still on the make -- has freed Krugman to speak truth to naked emperors and Times readers on a biweekly basis.
We spoke at the beginning of a national publicity tour for Krugman's latest book, The Conscience of a Liberal, which ranges over the history of the past century to explain what went wrong in America -- and then attempts to point the way to a "new New Deal." Part of what went wrong with America, of course, was the role played in our democracy by the mass media, as Krugman recognized and parsed in one chapter in his book entitled "Weapons of Mass Distraction."
Rory O' Connor: You speak in your book about "movement conservatism," which you call a "radical new force in American politics that took over the Republican Party." What role if any do the media play in movement conservatism?
Paul Krugman: The media are a very important force in it. They shape perceptions, and they conceal issues. Look at the 2000 presidential campaign, for example, where the media were so heavily biased against Al Gore. That's what brought Bush to within a Supreme Court decision of the White House. So if you look at, certainly these last seven years, the role of the media in not telling you reasons why you should be skeptical about the course of the war, for example, it's enormously important.
We have a situation right now in which there are several major parts of the news media that are for all practical purposes part of "movement conservatism" -- Fox News, the New York Post, the Washington Times -- and in which other news organizations are intimidated, at least to some extent. I sometimes talk about what I call "asymmetrical intimidation." If you say a true but unflattering thing about Bush or in fact about any other prominent conservative, oh, boy! People are going to go after you. I mean, I've got people working full-time going after me, right? But if you say a false, unflattering thing about a Democrat or a progressive, no risk ... And that shapes coverage, no question about it. It's better now, but it's still very asymmetric. The other thing we should mention about the media is their addiction to the trivial. We've got the most substantive election coming up, I think, ever. We've got clear differences on policies between parties. And what are we seeing news stories about? John Edwards' hair and Hillary Clinton's laugh ... this is horrifying! And again -- it's asymmetric. I can think of lots of unflattering things to say about any of the Republican candidates -- Mitt Romney's saying his sons are serving the country by helping him get elected! -- but it doesn't get nearly as much play in the media.
ROC: It sounds like you're saying there's a bias in the media. If you are, what is the bias?
PK: The media's bias, a large part of it is in fact right-wing bias, because they are effectively part of the right wing. Fox News ... there's nothing like Fox News on other television networks that you can look at. There is no liberal equivalent of Fox News, there is no network that, if a conservative got the Nobel Peace Prize, would have responded the way Fox News did to Al Gore's Peace Prize, by first saying nothing at all, then when they figured out the line, talking about how fat he is ... So there's no correspondence there.
Beyond that, there's two things at least; first, the hatred of substance -- they really want to talk about all that trivia -- and there's also the fetish of evenhandedness. If one candidate says something that's completely false, and the other something that's true, the media will say, "Some people believe what that guy said was false, and some people say it was true." Way back in the 2000 campaign, I wrote a piece in which I said that if Bush said the earth was flat, the headline would read: "Opinions Differ on Shape of the Planet." I was thinking specifically about what Bush was saying about taxes and Social Security, which were just out and out lies! But no one would say that, and they still won't. It's better now, a little, but they still won't say it, and that tends -- I imagine in some future environment that might work to the advantage of some dishonest candidates on the left -- but the fact of the matter is the Big Lies are all on the right right now. So it works much more to their advantage.
ROC: Do you think it's possible that economics is driving politics in the media?
PK: The role of economics in driving the media is an interesting one. One question is simply, "Do they respond to what sells?" And to some extent the focus on the trivial is there due to that. And also, by the way, talking heads screaming at each other is a lot cheaper than actually having reporters out in the field doing reporting, so that's one reason why you get that.
I guess the question that you want to ask is, "To what extent is news coverage biased by the corporate interest of the parents?" And that's hard to pin down in any direct way, but one of the interesting things that you notice right now is the remarkable reluctance of some of the networks to follow what the viewer ship numbers seem to be saying. I mean, look at Olbermann's show versus anything else at MSNBC, for example. Why aren't there more programs like that? Why is CNN still trying to be Fox Lite, when you clearly can't outfox Fox and there clearly seems to be a bigger market opportunity on the other side? And you really do start to think that -- there probably aren't, at networks other than Fox, there probably aren't memos saying here is how we are going to slant the news today -- at Fox there are, every day. But there's probably this general sort of pressure to go for the views that won't upset the CEO of the firm that controls the network that has a lot of business interests that are best served by one side or the other ... so yes, this is a problem.
ROC: So deregulation, consolidation and corporate issues like that might affect news coverage?
PK: Oh sure. It's very clear that when the parent companies of the major news sources have issues at stake before the federal government -- and if one party controls the White House and both houses of Congress, and has made it very clear that it keeps lists and remembers who its friend and not-so-friend are -- this definitely influences the coverage. A lot of people I talk to in the media say that they have received pressure in ways that only seem to make sense if you think that at some level management -- not the guys that think about audience shares but the guys who think about broader concerns -- are taking into account the political liabilities. Which is one reason why it is remarkable, although it's still not what I want, that the news coverage has gotten a whole lot better -- funny, no? -- after the polls really turned the other way.
ROC: In your book, you talk about the media's use of "storylines" and what you've called the "Rambofication of history."
PK: Yes, I'm rather proud of the term "Rambofication." In the years immediately following Vietnam, all of this stuff that now seems so much a part of the story -- that we lost the war because we were stabbed in the back, that the "weak" politicians, the Democrats, can't be trusted on national security -- wasn't very much out there. I actually went back and looked at a lot of polling and what people had to say at the time. In 1977, people still remembered what Vietnam had actually been like, and why we needed to get the heck out of there.
It wasn't really until the 1980s that the history began to be re-invented, so if only we'd let Sylvester Stallone flex his muscles, we could have gone back and won the war. The idea of Democrats as "weak" on national security really got invented then -- and you know there were a couple of events that played into that, such as the collapse of the Soviet Union, which I really don't think had much to do with Reagan, but helped make the storyline. So when 9/11 came along, the realities of 9/11 were that the Clinton people had been working pretty hard to try to so something about Bin Laden, and the Bushies said as soon as they came in, "We're not interested, we want to think about a war with China." But the storyline that the media fell into was that, "We're the tough guys, the other guys neglected it." And that gave them a good run -- they won two elections, in '02 and '04, which I think otherwise they would have lost -- by playing on this notion of "We're strong, and they're weak." I guess the sort of good news is that they have done such an incredibly terrible job at all of that that we may have at least a while before all that scare tactic stuff comes back.
ROC: Or we may hear in four years how the Democrats "lost Iraq."
PK: I'm worried, obviously. Clearly, if it's a Democrat who withdraws from Iraq, which it appears likely it will be, then it will be more of the, "We were winning, we were on the edge of victory, then they stabbed us in the back ..."
ROC: "They spit on our soldiers ..."
PK: Yeah, that's amazing, the "spitting on our soldiers" thing -- because it never happened, there are no documented cases -- but it became part of the storyline. Will that happen again? Certainly they'll do their damnedest to make it happen ...
I guess I'm more optimistic about the American public, that it will take a lot more than four years, for us to see that again, because it took more than four years after Vietnam, and right now the American public has a pretty good sense of just what a disaster that's all been ... I think people have made up their minds that this is a disaster. Maybe 10 years from now, they'll have forgotten and be willing to, you know, see movies in which some heroic guy goes back and wins the Iraq war but ... not for a while anyway.
ROC: Well, I'm more of a Mencken disciple when it comes to the American public, but I hope you're right.
PK: I hope I'm right too!
Filmmaker and journalist Rory O'Connor is now completing AlterNet’s first-ever book, which is on the subject of right-wing radio talkers like O’Reilly, and will be available early in 2008. O'Connor also writes the Media Is A Plural blog.
© 2007 Independent Media Institute. All rights reserved.
View this story online at: http://www.alternet.org/story/65870/