28 March 2011

Among The Many Things To Look Forward To This Spring, Here Is Something (yet again)

I have in the past been pretty clear in my admiration for drummer Paul Motian and his music making endeavors. Motian now is 80 and has not one but two new recordings (both on the Winter & Winter label) set to appear. Information on Windmills of Your Mind is here and on Live at the Village Vanguard, III is here.

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Republicans as Anti-Intellectual Thugs

Historian William Cronon who teaches at the University of Wisconsin, has been vocal in criticizing the anti-union Republican Governor of Wisconsin. He has begun to blog on the issues surrounding Scott Walker's politics. And he published this Op-Ed in The New York Times. (You can find some reader replies to the essay here.)

In reaction (yes, that is the proper verb) Republicans are demanding a search of Cronon's UW email account - trawling for some phrase or comment that putatively betrays unlawful partisanship. There - quite rightly - has been a chorus of criticism against this move - here, here, here, here, here, and here, for instance.

Just an observation: I regularly hear right-wingers complain that college faculty are disengaged and irrelevant. Now, an accomplished scholar enters the public domain and what do said conservatives do? They don't actually reply to his arguments or contest the historical perspective he brings to bear on current politics. Instead they seek to shut him up. There are words for that - hypocrisy, intimidation immediately come to mind. You may think of others.

There is little surprise left in the Republican reaction. In reply to criticisms of the sort I've linked to above the Wisconsin GOP reportedly are seeking to portray themselves as the real victims. It seems necessary to state the obvious: there is a difference between the tactics of the Wisconsin Republicans and those who are criticizing them. The latter are taking to the public sphere and arguing, offering reasons, and replying to their opponents. Those on the Right, as is their wont, instead are looking to silence opponents - in this instance by using legal instruments, thereby criminalizing those with whom they disagree. Given a clear choice in strategy - either engage in open debate, defending one's views on the merits or seeking to question or subvert the credibility of one's opponent - the right nearly always chooses the latter. Conservatives proclaim themselves supporters of the "party of ideas" when in fact they are more likely to be party hacks.
P.S.: At Slate Jack Shafer once again proves himself tone-deaf to important distinctions. He writes that there is no such thing as a "bad" open records request. What Shafer misses is that there is a considerable difference between a college professor and an elected official or a bureaucrat with decision-making power. The right is busy (think of the truly dim David Horowitz and his ilk) trying to undermine that distinction by portraying faculty - despite lack of systematic evidence - as domineering liberals picking on poor defenseless conservative students. Faculty have words at their disposal whereas politicians like Scott Walker have tools like the State Police. See a difference Jack?

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Best Shots (155) ~ Amy Stein

(182) Amy Stein ~ Peri. Route 64,Outside
Lexington Kentucky. (23 March 2011).


27 March 2011

Annals of Fair Use ~ Cariou v. Prince

A couple of years ago I posted here on the copyright infringement case that French photographer Patrick Cariou filed against Ricard Prince, his publisher, and gallery representative. At the time I thought the case was a loser for Cariou. He managed to prove real professional and financial damagess, though and it turns out that a Federal Judge has ruled in his favor. As The Guardian reports (and The New York Times here too) the judge has ordered Prince to destroy works with a substantial market value. And the Gallery has to tell those poor folks who bought some of the works that it is copyright infringement to display them! Think what you will of Prince (Me? Answer: not much) this seems like a stupid outcome all around.

In my initial post I suggested a remedy for stupidity - aiming it, mistakenly as things turn our, solely at Cariou. I reiterate my suggestion here and suggest that the judge the plaintiff and defendenet and everyone else do some chillin'.

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Mstislav Rostropovich (27 March 1927 ~ 26 April 2007)

Rostropovich by Salvador Dali.

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25 March 2011

Using Imagination to Avoid Taxes . . .

The corporate logo is "Imagination at Work." My father worked for General Electric for nearly all of his adult life. That means G.E. paid for my childhood and my college. It pays for my parents's retirement too. The company also cut my home town Pittsfield , Massachusetts off at the knees when it pulled out of town. So, let's say I have pretty mixed feelings.

If you go to the G.E. web site there is a page called "G.E. in the News." When I checked this evening the top item was that the company's C.E.O. had been appointed by President Obama to head his Council on Jobs and Competitiveness; there was no mention of this report in The New York Times indicating the the company paid not a single dime of corporate income tax to the Federal Government for 2010.

Of course, company flack catchers are quick to point out that there is nothing "illegal" going on here. Maybe so. But it still reeks. On npr this evening we got the whitewash about how the company simply took advantage of a byzantine tax code, exploiting loopholes, tax breaks, and so forth. And, of course, G.E. is in good company as other corporations pursue the same shirking strategies. Sure enough. But that does not mean we can shift responsibility for the stench away from the capitalists onto the government. How did we get such a ridiculous tax structure? Might it have had anything to do with the lobbying that corporations pay huge amounts for?

This is - and should be - a major embarrassment for the Obama administration except for the fact that it is filled with people who think there is nothing the least bit malodorous about massive and massively profitable corporations paying no taxes.

Oh, and did I mention that the Federal Government bailed out G.E. Capital a couple years back?


Passings ~ Brian Lanker (1947-2011)

Photojournalist Brian Lanker has died. You can find the obituary from The New York Times here.


23 March 2011

Asked & Answered, Or What I Learned in History Class

Reading around on some photo-related blogs today, I realized that two apparently different questions prompt pretty much the same answer.
Q: What are unions good for (besides, weekends, vacations, minimum wage and working hours standards, of course)?
A: They help keep companies from killing employees (for the historically challenged - look here).

Q: What is photojournalism good for?
A: It helps keep companies from killing employees (same episode, slightly different lesson).
As I've pointed out here before, while critics like Sontag complain that photography has grown up hand-in-hand with war, it has grown up hand-in-hand with democracy too. Sometimes it is a good thing to remind ourselves of that.

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The Poor Oppressed Business Community!

These are the panels of a mural by Judy Taylor that, since 2008, has adorned the building housing the Maine State Department of Labor. According to news reports the Governor - Republican Paul LePage - has ordered the mural removed because it allegedly makes the Department inhospitable to businesses. He rationalizes his order by reference to a set of complaints (anonymous, as far as I can tell) from those suffering the discomfort. The mural was funded by the state Arts Council, the artist was selected via a competitive process, and the panels depict workers, their organizations, and the history of labor conflicts (including - gasp! - strikes!) in the State. This mural hardly is in-your-face agitprop. After all it simply celebrates freedom of association.

The governor also has ordered a set of rooms in the Department that currently are named after labor and political leaders be re-labeled. (As if the business elites would be quaking at the memory of Frances Perkins!) His putative aim is "neutrality" that will make the business community comfortable enough to invest in Maine. And here I thought businessmen were oh so robust and vigorous. How could a simple mural be so intimidating?
P.S.: All this really raises a question in my mind. If the Republicans don't like welfare recipients because they don't work, and they don't like working people because they might organize to stick up for themselves in the face of authoritarian business structures (and firms are indeed authoritarian), just who is it that Republicans like?

P.S.2: And here is a report from the newspaper of record.

P.S.3: Update on subsequent events here and the resulting court filing here.

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Art & Politics Now

I've never met Susan Noyes Platt but have corresponded with her. On a couple of occasions she has made smart, helpful suggestions on posts. I have not actually tracked down a copy of her new book, but plan to do so. It looks quite interesting. You can find relevant information here.


21 March 2011

Which is Worse - Photographs of Murder or Murder?

(L. to R.) Spc. Jeremy Morlock, Spc. Andrew Holmes,
Spc. Michael Wagnon, Spc. Adam Winfield.

What's wrong with this story from The New York Times? The topic is a set of photographs that putatively confirm that the fine fellows pictured above engaged in all sorts of bad behavior while wearing the uniform of the U.S. Army. Of course, these men have not been convicted of anything. But the story in The Times suggests that the evidence against them is damning. Let the trial proceed as it should.

The first problem with the story is that the news reports do not show the photographs in question. My understanding is that the Army and a U.S. Court have issued orders to suppress publication. I have not found them anywhere on line. Your tax dollars at work. What ever happened to the idea of a free press?

The second problem is that the U.S. Army is continuing an official practice we've repeatedly witnessed when Americans do heinous things. They are apologizing, quite fervently, for the images and the distress they cause instead of the actions that the images depict. Pretty poor aim there soldier.
P.S.: My thanks to Stanley Wolukau-Wanambra for this link to the report in Der Spiegel which published some of the images.

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20 March 2011

Yet Another Follow-Up on "Today, we are all Joan Miró" - On Art & Politics

"If people are willing, in extreme situations, to shed their own blood for freedom,
they have a greater chance of actually gaining that freedom than if they are not
willing to do so . . . But I would immediately add another important thing: such
decisions cannot be made for others. If you wish to sacrifice your life for our
common freedom, you may. If I wish to sacrifice my life, I may. But neither of
us have any right to compel anyone else to do it, or not to ask him and simply
sacrifice his life." ~ Václav Havel (1986)

In The Guardian today you can find this longish, sympathetic primer for the Miró exhibition opening soon at The Tate Modern. This gives me an opportunity to follow up on two earlier posts - here and here - that I wrote a short while back in reply to a column by Jonathan Jones, also in The Guardian. Jones admonishes Miró (and by extension everyone who voices political criticisms without setting off for the front) for lacking the courage of his political convictions. I thought his complaints were - politely - wholly unfair. I still do. I will resist the temptation to explain once again why that is so. But the article today gives me the opportunity to invoke this remark from Havel as yet another follow-up. Moralism of the sort Jones purveys is facile and politically dangerous.

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19 March 2011

Prix Pictet 2011

Amos Power Plant, Raymond, West Virginia, 2004 © Mitch Epstein.

Mitch Epstein has won the 2011 Prix Pictet photography prize for his series American Power.


(Among the Reason) Why I Loath Bi-Partisanship

My oldest son Douglas is set to graduate from college this coming May. He has been a good student and an athlete for four years. The obvious consideration at this point is what he is going to do with his B.S. in Biology (minor in Environmental Studies) once he navigates the end of the semester festivities. So, this installment from Paul Krugman hits home with even greater force than it might:
"I still don’t know why the Obama administration was so quick to accept defeat in the war of ideas, but the fact is that it surrendered very early in the game. In early 2009, John Boehner, now the speaker of the House, was widely and rightly mocked for declaring that since families were suffering, the government should tighten its own belt. That’s Herbert Hoover economics, and it’s as wrong now as it was in the 1930s. But, in the 2010 State of the Union address, President Obama adopted exactly the same metaphor and began using it incessantly.

And earlier this week, the White House budget director declared: “There is an agreement that we should be reducing spending,” suggesting that his only quarrel with Republicans is over whether we should be cutting taxes, too. No wonder, then, that according to a new Pew Research Center poll, a majority of Americans see “not much difference” between Mr. Obama’s approach to the deficit and that of Republicans.

So who pays the price for this unfortunate bipartisanship? The increasingly hopeless unemployed, of course. And the worst hit will be young workers — a point made in 2009 by Peter Orszag, then the White House budget director. As he noted, young Americans who graduated during the severe recession of the early 1980s suffered permanent damage to their earnings. And if the average duration of unemployment is any indication, it’s even harder for new graduates to find decent jobs now than it was in 1982 or 1983.

So the next time you hear some Republican declaring that he’s concerned about deficits because he cares about his children — or, for that matter, the next time you hear Mr. Obama talk about winning the future — you should remember that the clear and present danger to the prospects of young Americans isn’t the deficit. It’s the absence of jobs.

But . . . these days Washington doesn’t seem to care about any of that. And you have to wonder what it will take to get politicians caring again about America’s forgotten millions."
Douglas is, in the eyes of his father, indeed one in a million. But that phrase takes on an unhappily ironic cast in the age of bi-partisan political delusion. If it sometimes sounds like my criticisms of Obama and his failure to stand up to the right are personal that is because they are.

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17 March 2011

Best Shots (154) ~ Bob Gruen

(181) Bob Gruen - Iggy Pop & Debbie Harry,
Toronto, 1977 (17 March 2011).


14 March 2011

The Consequences of Speaking the Truth in American Politics - Part 2

"No one has ever doubted that truth and politics
are on
rather bad terms with each other . . ."
~ Hannah Arendt

James O'Keefe - pimper of truth - outside
the U.S. Federal Building in New Orleans,
Louisiana on May 26, 2010.

Well, a high level official at the U.S. Department of State has been fired because he managed to admit in public that the Obama administration's ongoing treatment of Bradley Manning, the soldier accused of giving classified files to WikiLeaks, is “ridiculous and counterproductive and stupid.” According to news reports, P.J. Crowley "resigned" his position, but we all know better than that. He was forced out for telling the truth. Does the administration think this sort of behavior makes their position less stupid?

And speaking of stupid . . . the higher ups at the Corporation for Public Broadcasting and at NPR must be a least a tiny bit chagrined for falling over themselves to fire folks in the wake of conservative outrage after one of their employees told the truth about the Tea Party and the GOP. Heads rolled and, on inspection, the putatively incriminating video of said truth telling, produced by serial liar James O'Keefe, turns out to be just the sort of crap everyone ought to have expected in the first place.

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13 March 2011

Assignment Egypt: Analyzing News Photos from the 18 Day Revolution

Cairo, 2011. Photograph © David Degner.

Michael Shaw, who coordinates the terrific photo-analytic blog BagNewsNotes has put together what looks like a terrific virtual event. In addition to Michael, I know two of the participants - David Campbell and Michelle Woodward and they are both terrifically smart and insightful - each worth the price of admission on their own! The "Salon" is next Sunday, March 20th - more details here and here.

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12 March 2011

General Strike?

Union men (and a boy) pick up their supplies of groceries for the Seattle
General Strike. During the five-day strike in February 1919, Seattle workers
walked out of all jobs (except hospital and electric-supply related work), in
the city. Washington, USA (February 1919). Image: © PEMCO - Webster
& Stevens Collection; Museum of History and Industry, Seattle/CORBIS.

Several years ago I noted an essay in Harpers extolling the possibilities a general strike; that was under the Bush administration. Desperate times seemed to call for radical measures. Well, now under a Democratic administration - one that has basically abdicated a role in leadership just as under BushCo the Democrats abdicated the role of opposition - the idea is being floated again. You can find reports here and here and here. Given that the putative progressives in the Democratic party have fallen down on the job (actually they don't think of implementing worker friendly policies as their job in the first place), something like this might get their attention. And it might well demonstrate that reactionary politics of the sort Scott Walker and other Republicans are purveying are not popular.

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10 March 2011

Best Shots (153) ~ Ziad Antar

(180) Ziad Antar ~ Walid Jumblatt, Labanon, 2005 (9 March 2011).


09 March 2011

On Wisconsin

Here is the report from The New York Times on the conclusion to the union busting campaign in Wisconsin. The upshot is that the Republicans confirmed that this is not at all about budget matters - they stripped all those out of the bill by which they eliminated worker rights to collective bargaining - and just went straight for the throats of public sector employees. No quorum, no opposition, no floor debate, none of that pesky democratic (small d) apparatus. This is the sort of thing that conservatives get all worked up about when it happens elsewhere.

For Democratic and Independent voters the lesson should be crystal clear - Republicans do not play well with others. In fact they prefer not to play with others at all. They have a reactionary agenda aimed at working people and the poor. And they will cram that agenda through regardless of proprieties or even legalities. If you think bi-partisanship is important it is a mistake to ever support any Republican. Instead of voting for civility (and engaging in the fantasy that the GOP cares a whit about that) you should vote to protect yourself and others from the predations of the right.

I am certain that all the Tea Party types who so value liberty and oppose tyranny will be out in the street protesting?

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The Consequences of Speaking the Truth in American Politics

Well, apparently it is now not possible for anyone to actually characterize our American right-wingers in accurate terms. As The New York Times reports an executive at NPR is being pilloried for suggesting that he considers (and according to the reports he clearly states that he is speaking for himself not the network) the Tea Party racist and thinks they have high jacked the Republican Party. My problem is that this is seen as an opinion rather than an accurate description. The assessment of the relationship between the TP and the GOP is eminently defensible. And the remarks about the racism of the TP movement are denied only by the movement itself. It is, after all, a movement of resentful well off white men (mostly) who are pissed off about the increased visibility of women, minorities and the disadvantaged. The next time a conservative whines to you about how American political culture is stacked against them, this episode should serve as a sufficient reply.*

And, of course, how many times will putative liberal elites fall for the hypocritical undercover stings that right wingers are trying to set? Actually, the "success" rate of these stings is remarkably low. The NPR folks ought to have avoided the situation entirely. But having agreed to have lunch with the impostors (aka liars) they repeatedly refused alleged no-strings financial offers and clearly differentiated their personal from their official views. In other words these people acted professionally and the right is still whining. Good grief!

And, predictably the head of NPR now has fallen on her sword over this putative "scandal." Even if you think that is an appropriate response (which I do not), can anyone recall a conservative ever resigning from anything in this sort of case?
* And before anyone goes off about how there is a double standard here relative to the notorious Juan Williams, remember that this was an individual (a fund raiser, not a journalist) speaking at a private luncheon and offering his personal views. Williams was being paid to proclaim himself in the national media. He lost his job at NPR for doing so in ways that called his journalistic credibility into question. I actually defended Williams at the time, even though I think he is a windbag.

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08 March 2011

What's At Stake ... Political Power

From this defense of unions by Jacob Hacker & Paul Pierson at The Washington Post:

“The battle between Republicans and labor unions in Ohio, Wisconsin and other states is ostensibly about public workers' pay, benefits and bargaining rights. What is really at stake, however, isn't labor's income. It's labor's influence - not just in the American workplace but in American politics.

Critics of unions cast them as exclusive clubs for which the rest of Americans pay the dues. Wisconsin's GOP governor, Scott Walker, likes to say that unions are the "haves" and everyone else the "have-nots." And it's certainly true that unions aggressively pursue their own interests - sometimes to others' detriment. When asked in the early 20th century what the American Federation of Labor wanted, the union's gruff head, Samuel Gompers, famously replied, 'More.'

But unions play another role, too - one more like that of civic groups than private associations. Although they want "more" for their members, they also want to make good middle-class jobs the norm. And the most important way they pursue this larger goal isn't by demanding concessions at the bargaining table, but by operating as a counterweight to the demands of corporations and Wall Street in the corridors of power. That is precisely why opponents of organized labor are seizing upon state fiscal troubles to try to destroy its remaining clout.”

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"Left-handedness has sometimes been treated as pathological."

I noticed this essay on left-handers in The New York Times the other day. But it only just struck me that the only thing "left" about either Clinton or Obama is the hand they hold the crayon with.

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06 March 2011

Political Predicaments

Lori Berenson and her son, Salvador, in Lima, Peru.

A Moment of Calm Berenson prepared her son for the chance
that she could have returned to prison.

On Parole Lori Berenson at the apartment where she is living in Lima. The
conditions of her parole require her to remain in Peru until 2015

Berenson before a court in Lima, Peru, defending her parole, January 2011.

These images* all come from the cover story in today's New York Times Magazine on the travails of Lori Berenson. It seems pretty clear both that Berenson was railroaded by a desperate and repressive Peruvian government who imprisoned her for a decade and a half and that she set herself up for being railroaded by consorting with militants on Peru who were rapidly going over the deep end. She herself admits the latter point.

How does one simultaneously condemn exploitative and oppressive circumstances without, at the same time, seeming to - or, for that matter, actually - endorsing whatever popular resistance might arise in the face of such circumstances? Activists are caught in a bind and, too often, like Berenson if we take her at her word, allow themselves to be absorbed not into opposition, but into violent opposition. This is a predicament that seems to me to be unavoidable for critics - I think here of someone like Arundhati Roy - who neither endorse or excuse violent resistance nor condone though their silence the actions and circumstances that give rise to it.

The problem, in part, is that no matter how carefully you articulate your stance, there are those who will misconstrue your words, sometimes willfully, sometime by simply not listening. Roy, I think, is a perfect example of that. And, of course, as was the case in Peru during the 1980s and 1990s, both the government and the armed opposition proved more than willing to simply eliminate those who did not simply embrace one side or the other. Berenson is not a terribly sympathetic figure; she surely did not navigate the predicament she confronted very well. But that in no way implies that she brought that predicament on herself.
* Note: All four images © Mary Ellen Mark for The New York Times. Our "paper of record" seems pretty adept at recruiting good talent!

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Stop Drilling

Over the past week or so, The New York Times has run this series of articles on the dangers of natural gas drilling generally and particular techniques called "hydro-fracking" in particular. The reports also suggest that neither state nor federal regulators are doing a terribly good job at dealing with the dangers. I take it as a sign that the reports from The Times are relatively even-handed that both the industry mouthpieces and the government officials formerly charged with regulating them both wrote letters complaining that they are one-sided.

Natural gas typically is depicted as a "clean" energy source but (as is the case with Coal and uranium mining), the extraction processes are highly toxic. They produce millions of gallons of waste water contaminated with chemicals and radioactivity. in unsurprising statement, the reporter from The Times writes: "Industry officials say they are not concerned."And government regulators are busily seeking to so narrow the scope of their inquiries that the conclusions of any investigations are foregone. Everything is just fine!

I've posted here several times recently on this topic. These reports reinforce my view that this sort of drilling is simply a disaster. The surest way to avert it is to stop the drilling now. There are better, cleaner - not perfect, but better and cleaner - ways to generate energy. Why aren't we pursuing them more vigorously?

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05 March 2011

A Good Question

" ... Not content with depriving women of reproductive healthcare, House Republicans want to starve them and their children too. Their budget cuts the Women, Infants and Children Health and Nutrition program by $750 million and Head Start by $1 billion. It cuts $50 million from a block grant that pays for prenatal healthcare for 2.5 million low-income women and healthcare for 31 million children each year. As Charles Blow writes in the New York Times, proposed cuts to medical research strike directly at efforts to roll back the US infant mortality rate, now the highest among advanced economies. The Republicans seem bent on proving the truth of the bitter joke that “prolifers” care about children only before they are born. As for caring about women? Even as fetal vessels, the ladies just don’t count. After all, one in five women has visited a Planned Parenthood clinic—often for routine gynecological care. Is the GOP going to set up a replacement network of clinics to provide Pap smears and breast exams and STD testing and such? Or is Jesus now the national gynecologist? What on earth is the matter with these people?" (Katha Pollitt)
Anybody got a sensible answer?

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03 March 2011

Best Shots (152) ~ Polly Braden

(179) Polly Braden ~ Homeless man in army uniform. Hottest day
of the year - X
iamen, China, August 2007 (2 March 2011).