Thursday, July 24, 2008

Bad Days for Newsrooms—and Democracy

AP photo / Mark Lennihan

Rupert Murdoch, news tycoon and the nation's leading employer of shrill ideologues, soap-boxes before Wall Street Journal employees who know that, no matter what the plunger from down under has to say, the good times are gone.

By Chris Hedges

The decline of newspapers is not about the replacement of the antiquated technology of news print with the lightning speed of the Internet. It does not signal an inevitable and salutary change. It is not a form of progress. The decline of newspapers is about the rise of the corporate state, the loss of civic and public responsibility on the part of much of our entrepreneurial class and the intellectual poverty of our post-literate world, a world where information is conveyed primarily through rapidly moving images rather than print. 

All these forces have combined to strangle newspapers. And the blood on the floor, this year alone, is disheartening. Some 6,000 journalists nationwide have lost their jobs, news pages are being radically cut back and newspaper stocks have tumbled. Advertising revenues are dramatically falling off with many papers seeing double-digit drops. McClatchy Co., publisher of the Miami Herald, has seen its shares fall by 77 percent this year. Lee Enterprises Inc., which owns the St. Louis Post-Dispatch, is down 84 percent. Gannett Co., which publishes USA Today, is trading at nearly a 17-year low. The San Francisco Chronicle is now losing $1 million a week. 

The Internet will not save newspapers. Although all major newspapers, and most smaller ones, have Web sites, and have had for a while, newspaper Web sites make up less than 10 percent of newspaper ad revenue. Analysts say that although Net advertising amounts to $21 billion a year, that amount is actually relatively small. So far, the really big advertisers have stayed away, either unsure of how to use the Internet or suspicious that it can't match the viewer attention of older media.

Newspapers, when well run, are a public trust. They provide, at their best, the means for citizens to examine themselves, to ferret out lies and the abuse of power by elected officials and corrupt businesses, to give a voice to those who would, without the press, have no voice, and to follow, in ways a private citizen cannot, the daily workings of local, state and federal government. Newspapers hire people to write about city hall, the state capital, political campaigns, sports, music, art and theater. They keep citizens engaged with their cultural, civic and political life. When I began as a foreign correspondent 25 years ago, most major city papers had bureaus in Latin America, the Middle East, Europe, Asia and Moscow. Reporters and photographers showed Americans how the world beyond our borders looked, thought and believed. Most of this is vanishing or has vanished. 

We live under the happy illusion that we can transfer news-gathering to the Internet. News-gathering will continue to exist, as it does on this Web site and sites such as ProPublica and Slate, but these traditions now have to contend with a new, widespread and ideologically driven partisanship that dominates the dissemination of views and information, from Fox News to blogger screeds. The majority of bloggers and Internet addicts, like the endless rows of talking heads on television, do not report. They are largely parasites who cling to traditional news outlets. They can produce stinging and insightful commentary, which has happily seen the monopoly on opinion pieces by large papers shattered, but they rarely pick up the phone, much less go out and find a story. Nearly all reporting—I would guess at least 80 percent—is done by newspapers and the wire services. Take that away and we have a huge black hole.

Israel-Hamas standoff deepens water woes

The Christian Science Monitor
High risk: Children at the Al Shati camp, Gaza, play in water that has bacteria levels up to five times the level deemed safe by the World Health Organization. (Rafael D. Frankel)

Severe water contamination in the Gaza Strip is worsened by Israeli blockades, say many Palestinians.

By Rafael D. Frankel


Five hundred yards south from where hundreds of children play in the water next to this refugee camp, a pipe spills 20 million liters of raw sewage into the Mediterranean Sea each day.

Between 105 and 120 million liters of sewage are generated daily in Gaza. Of that, only 20 million liters are fully treated, while another 40 million liters are partially treated. The rest flows raw into the sea, storm drains, and a massive landfill north of Gaza City, which spans 4.3 million square feet. The resulting pollution has sullied not only the seawater, but also the aquifer below Gaza, causing a severe shortage of potable water and putting the population at risk for a range of illnesses.

Untreated water is by no means the only pollutant in Gaza. "If there is a stronger word than catastrophe, I would use that word," says Nader Al Khateeb, the Palestinian director of Friends of the Earth Middle East, an environmental group working in Israel, Jordan, and the Palestinian territories, while describing the overall environmental situation in the Gaza Strip.

Much of this environmental deterioration can be attributed to Gaza's dilapidated water and sewage infrastructure, which has been further undermined by attacks and fuel blockades resulting from the standoff between Israel and the Hamas government. While the recent ceasefire has provided an opportunity for work on damaged facilities to resume, there's mounting concern that Israeli water supplies are vulnerable to cross-border contamination.

According to the preliminary findings of a study conducted in May and June by the World Health Organization (WHO), seven of 30 seawater areas sampled in Gaza are now contaminated with either human or animal feces, or both. In the contaminated areas, tests registered levels of bacteria two to five times greater than the amount deemed safe, says Mahmoud Daher, WHO's national health officer for Gaza.

Due to sewage seeping into the ground, the aquifer beneath Gaza, which provides water for drinking and washing, is now so polluted with nitrates that only 10 percent currently meets WHO standards for safety, adds Monther Shoblak, the director of the World Bank-funded Gaza Emergency Water Project.

"If I would use WHO standards to supply the people here with water, no one would drink," says Mr. Shoblak.


In These Times

McCain's War on Women

By Kate Sheppard


Women: John McCain wants your vote! (But think twice before giving it to him.)

Sen. John McCain's (R-Ariz.) campaign and the media would have us believe that herds of disaffected women voters will be stampeding to the Republicans this year because a woman candidate won't be on the presidential ballot in November.

McCain's campaign has been making a clear play for women voters in recent weeks, hosting conference calls with Republican women and touting that his policies on national security, the economy and healthcare appeal to women voters.

But the suggestion that women — and feminist women, at that — will be lining up behind him is a fairytale. At least, it should be. McCain's record and policies on issues of importance to women are neither moderate nor maverick.

In The Nation, Katha Pollitt put it simply: "[T]o vote for McCain, a feminist would have to be insane."

The global economy is at the point of maximum danger

By Ambrose Evans- Pritchard

It feels like the summer of 1931. The world's two biggest financial institutions have had a heart attack. The global currency system is breaking down. The policy doctrines that got us into this mess are bankrupt. No world leader seems able to discern the problem, let alone forge a solution.

The International Monetary Fund has abdicated into schizophrenia. It has upgraded its 2008 world forecast from 3.7pc to 4.1pc growth, whilst warning of a "chance of a global recession". Plainly, the IMF cannot or will not offer any useful insights.

Its "mean-reversion" model misses the entire point of this crisis, which is that central banks have pushed debt to fatal levels by holding interest too low for a generation, and now the chickens have come home to roost. True "mean-reversion" would imply debt deflation on such a scale that would, if abrupt, threaten democracy.

The risk is that these same central banks will commit a fresh error, this time overreacting to the oil spike. The European Central Bank has raised rates, warning of a 1970s wage-price spiral. Fixated on the rear-view mirror, it is not looking through the windscreen.

America's last taboo

Barbara Ehrenreich has been called a Marxist just for writing that the US is not a classless society. But criticism has never stopped her exposing social injustice before. Emma Brockes talks to her about her new book, Barack Obama and the great wealth divide

Barbara Ehrenreich
Barbara Ehrenreich, columnist, activist, essayist, writer, at her home in Alexandria, Virginia, USA July 3, 2008. Photograph: Jay Westcott/Rapport

Twenty years ago, Barbara Ehrenreich wrote an article for the New York Times in which she pointed out the growing inequality of American society and was promptly denounced, by a rival paper, as a Marxist. "The Washington Times is an extreme-rightwing publication," she says, so there was no surprise there. But the paper's reaction underlined a general principle: that while one can say "fairly wild" things about race and gender in the US, there persists a certain coyness about class. "There's this powerful myth that America doesn't have classes; that they're an ancient English or European thing that we abolished. And that if you're not rich, it's your own damn fault."
Now 66, Ehrenreich has devoted most of her career to disproving this maxim. Her 2001 bestseller Nickel and Dimed was an account of the year she spent trying to eke out an existence on the minimum wage, which caused affluent readers everywhere to exclaim guiltily: "We had no idea!" She reported that companies cheat their staff of wages (there are 70 lawsuits pending); limit the number of toilet breaks staff take; forbid them from talking to each other or using "profanity" on the premises, and that the cleaner you hired through a "reputable" firm is probably made to clean your house while sick or injured. The book's success owed much to the personal journey of Ehrenreich herself, who suggested the idea to her editor for a younger journalist to take on. But she fitted the profile of the invisible worker - middle-aged, female and knackered. Once in situ, she was bullied by various bosses and forced to retire each night to a motel because she couldn't afford a flat.

Her latest book, which in the US is called This Land Is Their Land: Reports from a Divided Nation, is the animating force behind all this, a collection of columns that almost amounts to a manifesto. The title comes from a Woody Guthrie song, which Ehrenreich can hardly bear to listen to these days. She writes: "I flinch when I hear Woody Guthrie's line, 'This land belongs to you and me'. Somehow, I don't think it was meant to be sung by a chorus of hedge-fund operators.",,2291935,00.html

McCain gaffes pile up; critics pile on

Republican presidential candidate Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., ...

by Jim VandeHei, Mike Allen

Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) said "Iraq" on Monday when he apparently meant "Afghanistan", adding to a string of mixed-up word choices that is giving ammunition to the opposition. 

Just in the past three weeks, McCain has also mistaken "Somalia" for "Sudan," and even football's Green Bay Packers for the Pittsburgh Steelers.

Ironically, the errors have been concentrated in what should be his area of expertise: foreign affairs.

McCain will turn 72 the day after Sen. Barack Obama (D-Ill.) accepts his party's nomination for president at the age of 47, calling new attention to the sensitive issue of McCain's advanced age three days before the start of his own convention.

The McCain campaign says Obama has had plenty of flubs of his own, including a reference to "57 states" and a string of misstated place names during the primaries that Republicans gleefully sent around as YouTube links. 

McCain aides point out that he spends much more time than Obama talking extemporaneously, taking questions from voters and reporters. "Being human and tripping over your tongue occasionally doesn't mean a thing," a top McCain official said.

Product of the Week

Viscous keyboard-cleaning goop


Fliers Complain About X-Rated Security Screenings

TSA Agents Forced Woman To Remove Nipple Rings, Pulled Pants Off Disabled Man

When travelers go to the airport, they know what kind of security to expect: luggage searches, metal detectors and shoe inspections.

It's all part of our post 9-11 reality enforced by the Transportation Security Adminstration. But as CBS 2 Investigator Pam Zekman reports, thousands of travelers have complained that some of these screenings can become abusive and even x-rated.

For arguing with a TSA agent, Robin Kassner wound up being slammed to the floor. She's filed a lawsuit.

"I kept begging them over and over again get off of me ... and they wouldn't stop," Kassner said.

And it wasn't enough for another woman to show TSA agents nipple rings that set off a metal detector. The agents forced her to take them out.

Mandi Hamlin said, "I had to get pliers and pull it apart."

In Chicago, people like Robert Perry are subjected to exhaustive security checks. He was patted down, his wheel chair was examined and his hands were swabbed, all in public view in a see-through room at the security checkpoint. Perry, 71, is not alone

"It's humiliation," Perry said.

Perry was also taken to a see-through room by a TSA agent when his artificial knee set off the metal detector.

"He yelled at me to get the belt off. 'I told you to get the belt off.' So I took the belt off. He ran his hands down over and pulled the pants down, they went down around my ankle," Perry said.

At that point, Perry was standing in his underwear in public view. He asked to see a supervisor. That made things worse.

"She was yelling 'I have power, I have power, I have power," Perry said. The power to stop him from flying to Florida with his wife that day to celebrate their 50th wedding anniversary.

Tough Times


The Greatest Threat America Has Ever Faced: the GOP?

The Mother of All Messes

By Paul Craig Roberts

Republicans are sending around the Internet a photo of a cute little boy whose T-shirt reads: "The mess in my pants is nothing compared to the mess Democrats will make of this country if they win Nov. 2nd."

One can only wonder at the insouciance of this message. Are Republicans unaware of the amazing mess the Bush regime has made?

It is impossible to imagine a bigger mess. Republicans have us at war in two countries as a result of Republican lies and deceptions, and we might be in two more wars--Iran and Pakistan--by November. We have alienated the entire Muslim world and most of the rest.

The dollar has lost 60% of its value against the euro, and the once mighty dollar is losing its reserve currency role.

The Republicans' policies have driven up the price of both oil and gold by 400%.

Inflation is in double digits. Employment is falling.

The Republican economy in the 21st century has been unable to create net new jobs for Americans except for low wage domestic services such as waitresses, bartenders, retail clerks and hospital orderlies.


Republican deregulation brought about fraud in mortgage lending and dangerous financial instruments which have collapsed the housing market, leaving a million or more homeowners facing foreclosure. The financial system is in disarray and might collapse from insolvency.

The trade and budget deficits have exploded. The US trade deficit is larger than the combined trade deficits of every deficit country in the world.

The US can no longer finance its wars or its own government and relies on foreign loans to function day to day. To pay for its consumption, the US sells its existing assets--companies, real estate, toll roads, whatever it can offer--to foreigners.

Republicans have run roughshod over the US Constitution, Congress, the courts and civil liberties. Republicans have made it perfectly clear that they believe that our civil liberties make us unsafe--precisely the opposite view of our Founding Fathers. Yet, Republicans regard themselves as the Patriotic Party.