31 October 2011

Rochester Mayor Tom Richards Complains that Issues of Poverty and Democracy Fall Outside his Job Description

So, having already arrested nearly three dozen OWS-Rochester protesters, the Rochester Police Department is ticketing such violent and destructive actions as affixing signs to lamp posts. Heinous crimes! And, as the Democract & Chronicle also reports, at the same time, Rochester Mayor Tom Richards complains that the OWS folks are raising issues beyond his remit. Well sure, world peace is beyond his control, but how about the central issues of economic mal-distribution, poverty, unemployment? Mayor Richards ought to look at this recent Brookings Institution report that find the poverty rate in the city hovers at approximately 30%. As I noted here a couple of years ago:
In Rochester, the city where I teach, 29.1% of the population lives at or below the poverty rate. Of children in the city, the rate explodes to 48.7%. The percentage of families in the city subsisting at half the official poverty rate is just over 17%. The rates vary, but not by much for the other upstate cities I mentioned above. (The national poverty rate for the entire U.S. is 12.4%, surely bad enough, but it is less than the rate for New York as a whole and nothing compared to Rochester or any of the other upstate cities.) You can refer to this report from the Fiscal Policy Institute in Albany for figures. And this study by The Brookings Institution shows that the rate of concentrated poverty among the working poor in Rochester is not only deplorable but increasing.* During the period 1999-2005 the rate of concentrated poverty in the city increased more than 13%, the fourth highest increase in the nation. The impact of such poverty, as political scientists Michael Dawson and Cathy Cohen established a decade and a half ago, extends beyond its dire direct effects on the health and well-being of individuals to collective consequences, especially a pronounced dampening of political participation.
Hey Tom! Why aren't poverty and democracy your concerns?

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Best Shot (181) ~ Emma Critchley

(208) Emma Critchley ~ 'The in-between state' (30 October 2011).

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Local Event - Fred Ritchin at RIT (11/03/11)

The Caroline Warner Gannett Project at RIT is bringing photojournalist Fred Ritchin to town for a talk this Thursday (November 3rd) - details are here. Ritchin is, among other things founder of Pixel Press and author of the relatively recent After Photography. While I think Ritchin exaggerates the impact of digital technology on the question of truth and accuracy in photography, he is remarkably accomplished and smart. This should be a good event.

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30 October 2011

"I am not fucking dying in Afghanistan."

"Stillborn birth" © Giles Duley

There is an interview here at The Guardian with the remarkable photographer Giles Duley.

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Where Were You in 2009?

From The New York Times here.

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29 October 2011

If You Look up Venality in the Dictionary Today ... You'll find a Snapshot of Quantas CEO Alan Joyce

So, here is a report from August 2011 on the incredible profitability of Quantas airlines for the fiscal year ending June 2011. (Bottom line: net profit more than doubled during the period. And the projection was for even greater profitability in the current period: "The company forecast that yield in the first half of financial 2012 was expected to be higher than the first half 2010/11.")

Yet, today in The Guardian is this report on the lock out of workers that Quantas initiated today - with virtually no warning to anyone, including the Australian government. The airline has literally shut down operations in the face of what it proclaims "unreasonable" demands on the part of unionized workers.

Is this an example of the distinction Rawls draws between rational and reasonable? Or, do I not grasp the concept of reasonable? Or, is it simply that Joyce and the other Quantas execs are unreasonably venal?

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28 October 2011

Best Shots (180) ~ David McCabe

(207) David McCabe ~ Andy Warhol and Salvador Dalí, circa 1964-65
(23 October 2011).

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From Everglades to Madagascar

Just about two years ago I posted on Clyde Butcher, a man who's made depicting the everglades into an overriding preoccupation. Earlier this week I came across something of an update on Butcher and a group of other Florida photographers and their contributions to environmental conservation. This is impressive work.

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27 October 2011

Pragmatics Complicated

"A photograph is a meeting place where the interests of the photographer, the photographed, the viewer, and those who are using the photographs are often contradictory. These contradictions both hide and increase the natural ambiguity of the photographic image." - John Berger
I stumbled across this remark, quoted here; I am not sure where it comes from, but it seems right. And it seems therefore that the project of developing a pragmatics of photography - that is, a conception of photography that attends to its uses by various agents for various purposes - is a terribly complex undertaking.
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So, having recovered from my momentary bout of lazy and stupid, I performed a perfunctory Google search and discovered that the Berger quote comes from the Preface to John Berger & Jean Mohr. Another Way of Telling (Pantheon 1982).

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26 October 2011

Income Distribution Skewed . . . Oh Well?

No surprise in the "news" (picture and words) this morning. But ask yourself, if even the government is admitting that the rich are getting richer while the rest are largely stagnating, can democratically elected representatives can continue to simply shrug their shoulders? And, if the representatives do simply continue to respond as though this pattern is natural, and so irremediable, the next question is what might be wrong with the workings of a putatively democratic system that gives us such callous representatives?

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23 October 2011

Arts Funding Skewed

I heard this report on npr this morning and figured it was revealing. Yes, even during difficult times the rich often give buckets of money to charity. But it is important to keep your eye on the ball, because their philanthropy does not go to the poor, oppressed and downtrodden. It tends to go to the burdensome task of entertaining themselves and their wealthy friends. And then rich donors get not only tax breaks for their generosity, but get an atrium or a row of seats or a recital hall or, heck, a whole building named after them. So, let's face it, even the charity they are giving to their friends is hardly selfless.

And, of course, we have not even asked where all that money came from in the first place! There is a comment in the sidebar from Rebecca Solnit that bears repeating here: "Art patronage has always been a kind of money-laundering, a pretty public face for fortunes made in uglier ways."

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Mind the Ideology

Discover here at Mother Jones why pervasive Republican talking points on the economy are bullshit.

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22 October 2011

Framing OWS

This image graces the cover of The Economist this week, my copy of which arrived in the mail this morning. Two things are worth noticing. The first is the seeming incongruity between the anti-capitalist OWS protester and the American flag he seems to be carrying. There is, it seems, an increasingly apparent disconnect between traditional "American values" like equality and freedom and the force of cash in the polity. When so much current talk about the movement has to do with the convergence (or otherwise) between OWS and the Tea Party, this seems like an important point to make. The second is the way the editors at The Economist frame the image. I cannot find a larger version of the cover, but even the thumbnail at left makes clear the upper border of the image is presented as having a roughly and unevenly torn edge. This gives a certain air of urgency, danger even, to the red on black headline - Rage Against the Machine. What is the point there? If anything, it seems that while frustrated and angry, the OWS folks have kept any "rage" they might experience well in check. To be fair, the cover essay acknowledges the reasons people have for their deep, abiding dissatisfaction with the political economic system - even as it then proceeds to sketch wholly inadequate remedies. But this cover seems to be locating the source of our difficulties less with capitalism and more with its vaguely threatening critics. What is rending the social and political fabric is not protesters who've reached the end of their tether, but the excesses of capitalists in both the economy and in politics.

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21 October 2011

Kathy Ryan

Among the things that impressed me when I first watched War Photographer - Christian Frei's insightful but overly adoring film about James Nachtwey (whose work I acknowledge is incredible) - was how forthrightly Frei depicted the editorial work that both Nachtwey and magazine editors did to get his photographs just right. For someone like me, who is an outsider to the photography profession, this offered a useful corrective to the notion that individuals just go out with a camera and come back with fully formed images. A couple of weeks ago I made a note to myself to post on this feature at TIME's "Light Box" precisely because it focuses on the work of Kathy Ryan a creative and influential photo editor.

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A Photograph of Epochal Transformation?

Occupy Wall Street participants in Times Square in New York.
Photograph © Emmanuel Dunand/AFP/Getty Images.


"In this photograph we see the end of that consensual age, which turns out to have lasted just 20 years, when the free market was essentially beyond criticism. The very use of the word "capitalism" seemed corny a decade ago. What was the point of applying such a term to a way of life that seemed to have no outside to it? . . . Capitalism is in trouble because of the very fact that people are once again widely calling it "capitalism" – with the implication that we can dissent from it."

Well said. Read the rest of the essay here at The Guardian. Perhaps the neo-, or un-hyphenated, conservatives who proclaimed the end of history or countered with warnings about the clash of civilizations will have taken notice?

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20 October 2011

Best Shots (179) - Shahidul Alam

(206) Shahidul Alam ~ The only fish that matters … ilish fishing on the river
Brahmaputra, Bangladesh. (16 October 2011).

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19 October 2011

Andrew Cuomo a "Game Changer"?

Governor Andrew Cuomo and Arianna Huffington at the
Huffington Post "Game Changers" event, Tuesday Oct. 18,
2011 in New York (Photo Credit: Billy Farrell, BFAnyc.com).

I have to say that Arianna bungled this one. According to the HuffPost account: "The event honored forward-thinking leaders and visionaries changing their respective fields, from Politics to Style to Food and Travel. New York Governor Andrew Cuomo was presented with the Game Changer of the Year award for his historic work to legalize gay marriage in New York." While he may deserve some credit for the gay marriage law (I would give way more to the various state legislators and senators of both parties who placed themselves in real political jeopardy by supporting the legislation), Cuomo is in other respects a deeply problematic figure. He refused to sustain taxes on high income earners in the state, choosing instead to try balancing the NY State budget on the backs of public sector workers. In that sense, Cuomo is only a slightly kinder-gentler version of Scott Walker.

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Thoughts on Political Space

There is a typically provocative piece by Rebecca Solnit here at TomDispatch.com. As she tends to do, Solnit ranges widely, drawing parallels and inferences that may not immediately seem apparent, but that actually coalesce into a persuasive pattern. All in the service of peddling of what she calls 'hope in the dark.' And there is a video here at Al Jazeera about the role of images and new social media in fomenting and sustaining the 'Arab Spring.' The various amateurs interviewed for the video bring to mind the phrase a democracy of images that became the title for the post-9/11 exhibition in lower Manhattan. The phrase travels well.

To their credit, the reporters who constructed the video strive to impress on viewers that the revolution was made by real bodies - courageous and vulnerable - in the streets and not just by images. Indeed, both Solnit and the Al Jazeera video reminds me of what Allan Sekula wrote in the preface to his series of photographs "Waiting for Teargas: White Globe to Black" where he wrote of the WTO protests in Seattle - "something very simple is missed by descriptions of this as a movement founded in cyberspace: the human body asserts itself in the streets against the abstraction of global capital." Solnit forms her essay as a letter to the young vendor Mohammed Bouazizi whose self-immolation ignited the Tunisian revolution and much else by extension. And the videographers have their subjects - the individuals who filmed crucial episodes in the protests in Tunisia and Egypt - acknowledge the heroes in the streets, risking life and limb against the security forces. Yes, images and social media are new tools, but what they depict and disseminate are real agents taking real actions in dangerous situations. So while Sekula's phrasing is oddly passive - "the human body asserts itself" - I think he is on to something about the power of actual embodied protesters asserting themselves and being caught in the act.

This is the basic message I find lacking in this otherwise interesting recent piece by Michael Kimmelman in The New York Times. He is right, of course, about the power of place and especially about the importance of public space to politics. I can hardly dispute that sort of claim given what I've written here in the past. But I think Kimmelman neglects the conflict and contestation involved in how political agents must occupy and act out their freedom in public. The Al Jazeera video depicts just that process.

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17 October 2011

The Global Political Economy of Labia

I noticed a pair of news items over the weekend. The first, from The New York Times, proclaims the anticipated demise of genital cutting as a 'coming of age' ritual imposed on young girls in Senegal among other African countries. The second, from The Guardian, recounts the emerging practice of women opting for 'designer vaginal surgery' in the United States. So, which is more objectionable - the adults of a community performing a ritual of passage or a gaggle of 'cosmetic' surgeons peddling useless but profitable surgical procedures?

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15 October 2011

People Are Pissed Off, And They Have Good Reason

I have, over the years posted pretty regularly about rapidly increasing and persistent political economic inequality - and its effects. And it has generally bee with a fair dose of resignation that regular people have been so quiescent about the patterns and consequences. Well, it seems that the occupy this-or-that folks here in the states and around the world have pretty much gotten fed up. Good. In case you think the occupiers are off base or simply whacked out hippies without a clue, have a look at the graphics here.

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11 October 2011

Interview: Mel Rosenthal


Q. ~ Do you consider yourself a leftist?

A. ~ I’m not a leftist. My father said to me: “When I die, I will not have any money; no belongings. The only thing I will have is to tell you, ‘When you come onto this earth, there is no justice, no fairness.’ ”

You can call this leftist, but I call it being objective.

I used to say, “I just want to overthrow the government.” That was a mistake; not the right thing to say. Times change and they change in difficult ways. Not knowing what to do about it, I go back to simple stuff — which is, I hope, to make photographs thinking about truth and justice.

This is a good bit from a short interview with photographer/teacher Mel Rosenthal that you can find here at The New York Times today. His approach to residents of the communities where he worked reminds me in many respects of Milton Rogovin and that is a high compliment. In any case, Rosenthal is retiring after four decades of teaching at Empire State College.

NOTE: "His farewell exhibition and party will be held Tuesday, Oct. 11, from 6:30 to 9:30 p.m. at 325 Hudson Street. True to form, the public is invited. Free." That is this evening in NYC.

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09 October 2011

Mariana Cook on Stone Walls and Hope

Sheep Shearing Shed Wall in Mist
(Chilmark, Mass., Nov. 28, 2003).
Photograph © Mariana Cook.


There are two projects I would like to undertake here at the homestead in Hamlin. One is to install a wind turbine so we can generate our own power. the other is to construct stone walls - across the front of the property and around a possible patio in the back of the house. Both projects require a commitment to and investment in place that I find simultaneously foreign and inviting.

There is politics here too. Obviously, there is the fact that walls mark boundaries and define property. Some (many?) stone walls are the product of forced labor - slaves who could do the hauling and piling. Others, we are assured, are free of such troubling history.
"One of their charms is what they tell us about the hopes and expectations of the people who built them. Constructing a dry stone wall demands considerably more time and skill than other forms of enclosure, but the result can be depended upon to last longer. Each one represents a human investment in the future as a heroic effort to build something, which will define the landscape and protect the land for generations."*
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* You can find the quoted passage at the end of this notice of Mariana Cook's terrific wall series today in
The New York Times along with a link to these two earlier notices of her work.

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Robert Adams on Landscape and Lost Hope

You can find this brief set of reflections from Robert Adams over at Artforum.

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08 October 2011

Cookie-Monster

I am off to the public market but thought I would pass along this bit of humor. It is making the rounds on Facebook.

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07 October 2011

What Would Keynes Do?

Changing the subject from the seemingly beatified Steve Jobs, here is an essay - What Would Keynes Do? - that Tom Geoghegan published in The Nation recently. The basic premise: "For Keynes, the problem would be not just getting people into stores, or even getting employers to hire but getting our plutocracy to invest. It’s not just our jobless rate but our huge trade deficit that would appall him. He’d be aghast to see the United States bogged down in so much debt to the rest of the world." You can find a couple of installments of comments on Geoghagen's essay here and here. More to follow if and when they appear.

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Can We Get a Grip, Please?

I just read this column at The Gawker which lampoons those enveloped in paroxysms of grief because Steve Jobs has died. I could hardly agree more. For a sampling of the over-the-top responses to his death see this column at The Guardian.

So maybe we need some perspective. On the drive home this evening I heard this encomium to Jobs and his marketing prowess on npr and figured it would be worth underscoring just part of the segment. Because while the npr folk - and this was the business groupies at Marketplace - thought they were singing Jobs's praises, they actually revealed what a manipulative genius he truly was:

Making people feel like it cares is exactly why Apple is Apple, says Jen Drexler, a brand analyst at Just Ask a Woman.

Jen Drexler: You joined it. It's like enrolling in college and wearing the sweatshirt. You joined this brand the second you became hooked on one of the products.

Part of it is the cool factor. Drexler says instead of focusing on selling to businesses and targeting the cubicle culture, Mac aimed its products at musicians, filmmakers and visual artists.

Drexler: And then everyone else who has one can feel a little bit of that too. I can tell you I've never done anything creative with mine ever, but I would like to believe people think I do.

And once you buy in to that perception, it's hard to get out. Apple's products have never played very well with others. PC documents won't open on your Mac; your iTunes songs wont load onto your Android phone. All of which creates an aura of superiority, says consumer behavior consultant Britt Beemer.

Britt Beemer: Part of that non-compatibility was kind of a snob appeal Apple also created for its customers.

Beemer points out Apple products also quickly become incompatible with themselves. For instance, if you buy a new iPhone, it won't work with your 4-year-old MacBook Pro. And when you finally break down and buy a new laptop, you will discover it no longer syncs up with your old iPod. At least that's what I hear.

Beemer says this cycle, vicious though it feels, is exactly what Apple's consumers thrive on. The short life span makes Apple products synonymous with what's new and what's cool. Which kind of makes you cool.

Beemer: People discarded an Apple product to get the new Apple product. If you have an Apple product, you always have the latest technology.

Beemer did a series of consumer studies for Steve Jobs back in the '80s. He says even back then, Jobs wanted people to get emotionally attached to their machines.

So, what Jobs did at Apple was to manipulate people into thinking that the company gave a shit about them as something other than sources of income. And once he tapped the consumer's emotions and got he or she to identify with the brand, he regularly updated the product line in ways that extracted money from said consumer on a regular basis - and, by the way, relied on planned obsolescence that is wholly non-sustainable and so environmentally reprehensible. The result? Under the illusion of being "cool" consumers made Apple successful and Jobs filthy rich. That was his job and he did it exquisitely well. Case in point? The consumer and investor disappointment just this week when Apple failed to announce the iPhone 5 and updated only to the 4S!

What is perhaps most pathetic about this dynamic is this inference. If Jobs managed to get consumers to buy into the "cool cult," what they are engaged in now - complete with votive candles and shrines at the mall - might be interpreted less as mourning Jobs than as expressing anxiety about the source of their own coolness. The brand - and so their identity - is under threat and that must make them uneasy. Right? Uncharitable maybe, but not implausible.

I'll end with a comment on visuals. I have seen the image above numerous times today. And once I heard the Marketplace story this evening, I began to ponder Jobs the manipulative genius.
Manipulation, after all, is not an admirable practice. It consists in my influencing you in some way behind your back, taking you unawares, exploiting your lack of information, your guilelessness, or your emotional proclivities. That made me view the image above in a less friendly and somewhat sinister light. And it brought to mind these images - of Rush Limbaugh and Newt Gingrich - making me wonder if indeed we have failed to locate Steve Jobs in the proper frame just yet.

This last comparison might seem to be a stretch. But, after all, one crucial feature of the Jobs strategy was to segment the market, keeping Apple products (and hence their users) from interacting outside the brand. A profitable strategy, no doubt. But remember - one common symptom of an abusive personal relationship is that one party tries systematically to isolate the other from contact with family and friends outside the relationship so as to create and sustain a heightened emotional dependency. That is what I think of this evening as I see pictures of distraught consumers mourning at Apple stores.
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P.S.: The Marketplace folk offered this mea culpa today following an onslaught of outraged cult members. There is not much in the listener complaints that makes me reconsider the post. I explain why in the comment thread below.

P.S.2 (10/8/2011): I would recommend this short piece over at The Gawker for those tempted to the cult of St. Steve. I am less concerned that the guy
could be a jerk on a personal level - lots of people fit that description - even though harassing and insulting subordinates in the workplace is pretty much inexcusable. And I do not deny the opening comments about his talents and impact on industry and so forth. But the bit on labor conditions and the environmental impact re: Apple production and, of course, the bits about restricting free expression are in keeping with what I initially wrote. Sometimes, it seems, Jobs was not just manipulative - in the sense of exercising influence behind people's backs - and was instead willing to simply exercise power blatantly for his own purposes.

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06 October 2011

One Brought Us Toys, the Other Equality

Photo Credit: AP

Two remarkable, influential men died yesterday, although the news media have devoted disproportionate coverage to just one of the deaths. By now everybody knows that Steve Jobs has died. It is plastered across the front page at our newspaper of record. Jobs was my age, an incredibly creative person who designed and branded toys that we all like. (I write this on my MacBook Pro. I've gone from being a skeptic to being a user. Not a convert.) Jobs's passing - tragic because premature - has more or less totally over-shadowed the death yesterday of Fred Shuttlesworth, pictured above. Shuttlesworth was a civil rights leader in the 1950s and 1960s - a practitioner of non-violent direct action in the deep South of the US, who spoke and stood for our putative ideals even as his actions placed himself in mortal danger. He helped bring us freedom and equality and the sort of self-respect that comes from embracing rather than simply mouthing our deepest principles. His legacy endures, but his task is ongoing. Our largest deficit is not fiscal, it is a deficit of freedom and equality. That should be front page news too.

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05 October 2011

Best Shots (178 ) ~ Kevin Cummins

(205) Kevin Cummins ~ Joy Division, Manchester, 1979 (2 October 2011).

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03 October 2011

See No Evil ~ Omar Mullick

A young shepherd boy stands on the walls of an outhouse located
on the edge of his village in Band-e-Amir, Afghanistan
(March/April 2011). Photograph © Omar Mullick.

I just came across this photo essay - "See No Evil: the War in Afghanistan, Minus the Warriors" - that appeared in Foreign Policy last summer.

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02 October 2011

Poetry & Politics in Mexico and in the U.S.?

"The movement is significant both for its symbolic value and because, historically, conflict-stricken societies can make meaningful steps toward peace only when their people — not their politicians, but average people — come together in an active movement against the violence."
This observation appears in this perceptive essay by Enrique Krauze on an emergent movement against widespread, ongoing, deadly violence in Mexico published yesterday in The New York Times. The movement rightly seeks to focus not just on the "criminals," but on the corrupt government structures and those who occupy them that have enabled the violence to fester and spread. And it confronts the reality that murderers and corrupt politicians are not only quite unlikely to welcome change, but surely will actively resist it. It confronts the reality too of needing to find practical institutional arrangements that might embody it's oppositional stance.

In all these ways, it seems to me, the incipient oppositional movement in Mexico mirrors the one we are witnessing in Manhattan and, apparently, elsewhere in the U.S..

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