Belonging Where?

By David Trend:

Throughout its existence the United States has shown a strange tendency to turn against itself, dividing citizens against each other with a vehemence rivaling the most brutal regimes on earth. Some have rationalized the resulting crisis of “belonging” in America as an understandable consequence of cultural diversity, economic stress, and global threat. After all, haven’t there always been “insiders” and “outsiders” in every culture? Aren’t competition and aggression wired into human nature?  Or is there something peculiar about the personality of the U.S.?  Could it be that prejudice is the real legacy of the “American Exceptionalism,” in traditions dating to the genocide of indigenous populations, the subjugation of women, the rise of slavery, the scapegoating of immigrants, and more recent assaults on the poor or anyone falling outside the realm of normalcy?

I discussed selected aspects of America’s divisive pathology in my book A Culture Divided: America’s Struggle for Unity, which was written in the closing years of the George W. Bush presidency.  Like many at the time, I had completely given up on the idea of “common ground” amid the residue of post-9/11 reactionary fervor and emerging economic recession. Media commentators were buzzing constantly about red/blue state polarization.  Opinions varied about the cause of the divide, attributing it to factors including regionalism, media sensationalism, partisan antipathy, or all of these combined. Also joining the fray were those asserting the divide was fabricated, with evenly divided elections showing most people in the middle of the curve on most issues.  My somewhat contrarian view was that the “problem” shouldn’t be regarded problem at all. After all, America always had been divided––through war and peace, boom and bust. Division was the country’s national brand.  But as a book about politics, A Culture Divided didn’t get to the roots or the lived experience America’s compulsive divisiveness.

Speaking at the 50th anniversary of the Selma to Montgomery marches, President Barack Obama described America as an incomplete project––a nation caught between ideals of a perfect union and the lingering realities of their failure. While citing advances in civil liberties since the bloody apex of the Voting Rights Movement, Obama also spoke of a federal report issued just days earlier documenting structural racism and misbehavior toward African Americans by police in Ferguson, MO, where months before law enforcement officers had killed an unarmed black teenager. “We know the march is not yet over.  We know the race is not yet won,” the President stated, adding, “We know that reaching that blessed destination requires admitting as much, facing up to the truth.” Continue reading “Belonging Where?”

Elsewhere in America

Elsewhere in America: The Crisis of Belonging in Contemporary Culture by David Trend (Routledge: 2016)

The book uses the term “elsewhere” in describing conditions that exile so many citizens to “some other place” through prejudice, competition, or discordant belief. Even as “diversity” has become the official norm in American society, the country continues to fragment along new lines that pit citizens against their government, each other, and even themselves.  Yet in another way, “elsewhere” evokes an undefined “not yet” ripe with potential. 

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The book argues that even in the face of daunting challenges, elsewhere can point to optimism, hope, and common purpose. Through 12 detailed chapters, Elsewhere in America applies critical theory in the humanities and social sciences in examining recurring crises of social inclusion (“belonging”) in the U.S.  After two centuries of struggle and incremental “progress” in securing human dignity, today the U.S. finds itself riven apart by new conflicts over reproductive rights, immigration, health care, religious extremism, sexual orientation, mental illness, and fears of terrorists. Why are U.S. ideals of civility and unity so easily hijacked and confused? Is there a way of explaining this recurring tendency of Americans to turn against each other? Elsewhere in America engages these questions in charting the ever-changing faces of difference (manifest in contested landscapes of sex and race to such areas as disability and mental health), their spectral and intersectional character (as seen in the new discourses on performativity, normativity, and queer theory), and the grounds on which categories are manifest in ideation and movement politics (seen in theories of metapolitics, cosmopolitanism, dismodernism).

For more information: https://www.routledge.com/Elsewhere-in-America-The-Crisis-of-Belonging-in-Contemporary-Culture/Trend/p/book/9781138654440

Divided America

America is big, awesome, and beautiful. We’re also divided in ways we can’t afford to ignore.

In today’s Slate: “This is not to say that the union is tottering on the brink of collapse. There are many good reasons as to why the United States has stayed intact for so long. We had the bloody Civil War some years ago, and the idea of secession has long been discredited as a result. Recent years have seen a number of peaceful secessions, such as the “velvet divorce” between the Czech Republic and Slovakia. It is far from obvious that the United States would be willing to use its military might to coerce Hawaii or Alaska from leaving the union if, for whatever reason, their electorates were determined to do so. So I doubt that it is the threat of chaos and violence alone that keeps us together.

“The United States does not have linguistic divisions that map relatively neatly onto geographical divisions, which helps dampen secessionist sentiment. Yet there is no question that the differences in the cultural sensibilities of, say, the Deep South and the Pacific Northwest are far greater than the differences between Ontario and America’s neighboring Great Lakes states. A few wild-eyed dreamers have thus wondered if we’ve necessarily divvied up North America in the right way, from environmentalists dreaming of an “Ecotopia” west of the Cascade Mountains to white nationalists looking to build an Aryan ethnostate in northern Idaho and Montana. George Kennan, the renowned foreign policy thinker and all-purpose crank, fantasized late in life about a fragmentation of the United States not unlike that which befell the Soviet Union.

“Could America break apart along religious lines, with devout Christians going one way and the rest of us going another? Think of the old “Jesusland” meme—the map of a North America divided between “Jesusland,” the states that backed George W. Bush in the 2004 presidential election, and “the United States of Canada,” consisting of the states that backed John Kerry and Canada that delighted liberals enraged by Bush’s re-election. At least some devout religious believers fear that as the ranks of the religiously unaffiliated grow, and as secular Americans insist on imposing their values on others, the faithful might face persecution. In 2000, Father John McCloskey, a conservative Catholic with a polarizing reputation, penned a controversial fictional take on how America might break apart. In it, a new religiously infused country, the Regional States of North America, secedes from the United States in the wake of a “short and relatively bloodless conflict” with their secularist oppressors.

“Fortunately, good sense usually prevails. Way back in March of 2012, Vice President Joe Biden, he of the loose lips, told an audience at Iowa State University that the Obama administration had “screwed up” the first version of its contraception mandate by failing to provide some accommodation for religious nonprofits that wanted no part of it. Yet the president did eventually accommodate religious nonprofits. And though the White House didn’t want to extend this accommodation to companies like Hobby Lobby, the Supreme Court intervened to suggest, gently, that if the accommodation worked for religious nonprofits—that is, if the goals of the contraception mandate could still be achieved without forcing these organizations to do something they’d prefer not to do—it could work for closely held private companies. Rough-and-ready compromises like this one are why McCloskey’s nightmare vision will never come close to coming to pass.

Continue reading “Divided America”

American demographics seen through ads

“Demographic change,” Paul Taylor explains in The Atlantic, “is a drama in slow motion.” The United States is undergoing two simultaneous transformations. It’s becoming a majority non-white country, and a record number of Americans are aging.

But this kind of change is paradoxical—”even though it happens all around us, it’s sometimes hard to see.” As Taylor, who researches demographic and generational changes at the Pew Research Center, observed, “You don’t hold a press conference to announce that we’re becoming older or becoming majority non-whites.”

During a talk at the Aspen Ideas Festival, Taylor showed three ads that aired during the football game or shortly thereafter.

One, a Cheerios commercial, showed a black father and a white mother telling their biracial daughter, via cereal, that they were expecting a baby boy (the ad was a sequel to a controversial spot that ran last spring).

The second ad, a divisive Coca-Cola commercial, featured Americans of various ages, races, and religions singing “America the Beautiful” in different languages.

The third, from Chevrolet, depicted an assortment of families—a heterosexual couple with one child, multi-generational households, single parents, a gay couple with two kids. “While what it means to be a family hasn’t changed, what a family looks like has,” the narrator says. “This is the new us.”

If these commercials had footnotes, they might look something like these charts, from Taylor’s “Next America” study for Pew. (Note that in the third graph, on the immigrant share of the population, the U.S. is actually returningto its makeup before a wave of immigration restrictions between the 1920s and 1960s.)

Corporations, Taylor pointed out, generally aren’t the ones affecting social change—they’re the ones affirming it. “Product advertisers are not in the business of making political statements, and they’re certainly not in the business of making political enemies, not when they’re spending $4 million for 30 seconds before the biggest national audience we have,” he said. “Each of them surely knew, because they focus-group these things to death, and they market-research these things to death, that if you have images of parents who are opposite race and same sex, and if you have ‘America the Beautiful’ being sung in six or seven different languages, you are going to offend some portion of your customer base.”

Clearly, the calculation at Coca-Cola, General Mills, and General Motors was that those outraged customers would be in the minority.

http://www.theatlantic.com/national/archive/2014/06/americas-demographic-revolution-in-super-bowl-ads/373639/

Myth of war on religion

Last week, the Public Religion Research Institute published a study showing that Americans want their fellow citizens to think they are more religiously observant than they really areimgres. When asked by a live human being on the telephone how often they attend religious services, respondents were more likely to say they attend frequently. When filling out a self-administered online survey, by contrast, they were more likely to admit that they do not.

Surprising? Not terribly. But this may be: Liberals were more likely to exaggerate their religious attendance than conservatives. Liberals attend services

Why does this matter? Because it’s more evidence that the claim that liberals are waging a “war on religion” is absurd. You can hardly listen to a GOP presidential hopeful or flip on Fox News without hearing the charge. In 2012, Rick Perry promised that if elected he’d “end Obama’s war on religion.” Bobby Jindal recently warned that “the American people, whether they know it or not, are mired in a silent war” against “a group of like-minded [liberal] elites, determined to transform the country from a land sustained by faith into a land where faith is silenced, privatized, and circumscribed.” Ann Coulter explains, “Liberals hate religion because politics is a religion substitute for liberals and they can’t stand the competition.”

Notice the claim. It’s not merely that liberals are not religious themselves. It’s that they disdain people who are, and this disdain creates a cultural stigma (and a legal barrier) to religious observance. “Bigotry against evangelical Christians is the last acceptable form of bigotry in the country,” Ralph Reed said recently. Continue reading “Myth of war on religion”

American success stories

Writing in the New York Times Book Review, UCI Department of Art faculty member Sandra Tsing Loh discusses two recent books on immigration and identity in contemporary America. Loh’s cover-story review, entitled “Secrets of Success,” is  excerpted briefly below:

“Quanyu Huang’s new book, “The Hybrid Tiger: Secrets of the Extraordinary Success of Asian-­American Kids,” may sound like yet another flogging for hapless Western parents, but it’s not.

“You can’t blame American mothers for still smarting from Amy Chua’s best-selling 2011 book, “Battle Hymn of the Tiger Mother.” In breathtaking and bold calligraphic strokes, she laid out her argument: American parents overindulge their children, allowing them sleepovers, video games and laughable ­extracurricular activities like playing Villager Number Six in the school play, as they collect trophies for being themselves in a self-esteem-centered culture. By contrast, Chinese parents strictly limit television, video games and socializing, accept no grades but A’s and insist on several hours a day of violin and piano practice, regardless of their children’s complaints. As a result, ­Chinese-parented kids play Carnegie Hall at 14, get perfect scores in science and math, and gain early admission to Harvard while their floundering American counterparts wonder what on earth hit them. Continue reading “American success stories”

Conservatives losing ground as political identity

Americans continue to be more likely to identify as conservatives (38%) than as liberals (23%)images-2

But as Gallup  recently reported, “the conservative advantage is down to 15 percentage points as liberal identification edged up to its highest level since Gallup began regularly measuring ideology in the current format in 1992. The figures are based on combined data from 13 separate Gallup polls, including interviews with more than 18,000 Americans, conducted in 2013.When Gallup began asking about ideological identification in all its polls in 1992, an average 17% of Americans said they were liberal. That dipped to 16% in 1995 and 1996, but has gradually increased, exceeding 20% each year since 2005.

“The rise in liberal identification has been accompanied by a decline in moderate identification. At 34% in 2013, it is the lowest Gallup has measured, and down nine points since 1992. Moderates had been the largest ideological group throughout the 1990s, and competed with conservatives for the top spot during the 2000s. Since 2009, conservatives have consistently been the largest U.S. ideological group.

“The percentage of conservatives has always far exceeded the percentage of liberals, by as much as 22 points in 1996. With more Americans identifying as liberals in recent years, and conservative identification holding steady, the conservative advantage of 15 points ties the 2007 and 2008 gaps as the smallest. Continue reading “Conservatives losing ground as political identity”

The conservative stupidity agenda

Among the many visionary goals of our nation’s right wing—impoverish older people, starve the poor, deny climate change, outlaw abortion and contraception, eliminate healthcare for millions—few are more foundational than defunding education in general and higher education in particular.images

As Susan Douglas writes in In These Times, “Public colleges and universities nationwide have seen significant funding cuts over the past five years, and while the recession is usually blamed, the Right keeps the fiscal screws tight by cutting taxes on the wealthy and corporations. Here in Michigan, in Republican Gov. Rick Snyder’s first budget, there was a 15 percent cut in state aid to universities and a $1.8 billion tax cut for businesses.

“This equals a win-win for the Right: Keep the fat cats in your corner, and constrain the opportunity for young people to learn a host of things that might, well, make them interrogate right-wing policies. The Pew Research Center and others have found that lower income and less-educated whites are becoming more likely to vote Republican than Democrat, with 54 percent of those without a college degree identifying as Republican in 2012; only 37 percent identified as Democratic, so the gap is, well, quite wide. Continue reading “The conservative stupidity agenda”

How income inequality kills

Only a few miles separate the Baltimore neighborhoods of Roland Park and Upton Druid Heights. But residents of the two areas can measure the distance between them in years—twenty years, to be exact. Today’s edition of The Nation explains:

“That’s the difference in life expectancy between Roland Park, where people live to be 83 on average, and Upton Druid Heights, where they can expect to die at 63.

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“Underlying these gaps in life expectancy are vast economic disparities. Roland Park is an affluent neighborhood with an unemployment rate of 3.4 percent, and a median household income above $90,000. More than 17 percent of people in Upton Druid Heights are unemployed, and the median household income is just $13,388.

“It’s no secret that this sort of economic inequality is increasing nationwide; the disparity between America’s richest and poorest is the widest it’s been since the Roaring Twenties. Less discussed are the gaps in life expectancy that have widened over the past twenty-five years between America’s counties, cities and neighborhoods. While the country as a whole has gotten richer and healthier, the poor have gotten poorer, the middle class has shrunk and Americans without high school diplomas have seen their life expectancy slide back to what it was in the 1950s. Economic inequalities manifest not in numbers, but in sick and dying bodies.

“On Wednesday, Senator Bernie Sanders convened a hearing before the Primary Health and Aging subcommittee to examine the connections between material and physiological well-being, and the policy implications. With Congress fixed on historic reforms to the healthcare delivery system, the doctors and public health professionals who testified this morning made it clear that policies outside of the healthcare domain are equally vital for keeping people healthy—namely, those that target poverty and inequality. Continue reading “How income inequality kills”

Not blaming schools

Google the phrase “education crisis” and you’ll be hit with a glut of articles, blog posts and think tank reports claiming the entire American school system is facing an emergency.Much of this agitprop additionally asserts that teachers unions are the primary cause of the alleged problem. Not surprisingly, the fabulists pushing these narratives are often backed by

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anti-public school conservatives and anti-union plutocrats. But a little-noticed study released last week provides yet more confirmation that neither the “education crisis” meme or the “evil teachers’ union” narrative is accurate.

Before looking at that study, consider some of the ways we already know that the dominant storyline about education is, indeed, baseless propaganda.

As I’ve reported before, we know that American public school students from wealthy districts generate some of the best test scores in the world. This proves that the education system’s problems are not universal–the crisis is isolated primarily in the parts of the system that operate in high poverty areas. It also proves that while the structure of the traditional public school system is hardly perfect, it is not the big problem in America’s K-12 education system. If it was the problem, then traditional public schools in rich neighborhoods would not perform as well as they do.

Similarly, we know that many of the high-performing public schools in America’s wealthy locales are unionized.

We also know that one of the best school systems in the world—Finland’s—is fully unionized. These facts prove that teachers’ unions are not the root cause of the education problem, either. After all, if unions were the problem, then unionized public schools in wealthy areas and Finland would be failing, reports In These Times.

“So what is the problem? That brings us to the new study from the Southern Education Foundation. Cross-referencing and education data, researchers found that that a majority of all public school students in one third of America’s states now come from low-income families.   Continue reading “Not blaming schools”

Nations of addicts

Watch out America, a new study suggest that Great Britain is a society of addicts.

The Guardian reports it thus: images-1

“Othello, act 2, scene 3. As part of his evil plan, Iago, you will remember, is trying to get Cassio drunk, singing a song to get him rowdy. “I learned it in England,” he says, “where, indeed, they are most potent in potting: your Dane, your German, and your swag-bellied Hollander – Drink, ho! – are nothing to your English.” Ever the entertainer, Shakespeare knew that you could always get a cheer from a crowd in this country by complimenting them on their drinking.

“But why is it a compliment? The crippling intensity of one’s hangover the morning after, the unwiseness of one’s antics the night before, what makes these things that Britons boast about? The Centre for Social Justice, founded by Iain Duncan Smith, has just released a report that argues for it to be a matter of shame. “Britain is the addicted man of Europe,” the authors say. “Growing sections of society are dependent upon mind-altering substances.”

“The report itself is a muddled, shrill and selective document, determined to bring together issues such as binge drinking, heroin addiction, legal highs, cannabis smoking and alcoholism, which have different levels of seriousness, patterns of use and potential for harm. Yet at the heart of it lies a truth: Britain is a nation addicted, not necessarily to drugs oralcohol per se, but to excess itself.

“Here the facts are not in question. Although rates of drug use are broadly stable or falling, rates of opiate addiction are high in European terms, and in its penchant for party drugs Britain leads the world. Last year’s World Drugs report, which ranked countries on the prevalence of different drugs, put the Isle of Man and Scotland at numbers one and two for cocaine use, with England fourth and Wales sixth. All four figured in the top 10 for ecstasy use as well. Britain also appears to be a hub for the development of new synthetic drugs, often known as “legal highs”, because our laws take a while to ban them. Continue reading “Nations of addicts”

Racial divide persists in U.S.

Once upon a time, millions of people seemed to believe that electing Barack Obama president would automatically improve race relations in America, reports today’s Daily Beast.images-1

“Jason Wilhite, an African-American from Charleston, S.C., was one of them. “I did a jig around the house I was so happy,” Wilhite says. “I thought Americans really had made progress in how they viewed black people as a whole.” His assessment now? “Man, did I read that wrong.”

“Wilhite isn’t alone. Nearly four years into the Age of Obama, many Americans are coming to the conclusion that choosing a black man as commander in chief has done little to speed up racial progress or soothe racial tensions. In fact, some even suspect that Obama’s presence in the Oval Office may be slowing us down—and pushing us farther apart.

A new Newsweek poll puts this remarkable shift in stark relief for the first time. Back in 2008, 52 percent of Americans told Pew Research Center that they expected race relations to get better as a result of Obama’s election; only 9 percent anticipated a decline. But today that 43-point gap has vanished. According to the Newsweek survey, only 32 percent of Americans now think that race relations have improved since the president’s inauguration; roughly the same number (30 percent) believe they have gotten worse. Factor in those who say nothing has changed and the result is staggering: nearly 60 percent of Americans are now convinced that race relations have either deteriorated or stagnated under Obama. Continue reading “Racial divide persists in U.S.”

The trial and “post-racial” America

Shock, horror and then rage. These were the feelings experienced by tens of thousands of people across the country as they struggled to comprehend the meaning of George Zimmerman’s acquittal, writes Keeanga-Yamahtta Taylor in In These Times: ” How could Zimmerman be free? It was he who stalked Trayvon Martin, confronted him, pulled out a gun and ultimately murdered the unarmed teenage boy.

“Before the verdict was even determined, the mainstream media did its best to both whip up hysteria about the potential for riots in the event of a not-guilty verdict, while simultaneously broadcasting appeals to “respect” the system and whatever outcome was announced. These media-generated appeals helped to provide law enforcement with a cover to harass and intimidate protesters–and they once again shifted the blame for racially inspired violence onto the victims and away from the perpetrators.

“The media might have instead performed a public service to publicize the new warning that has issued forth as a result of the outcome of this trial: It is open season on young Black men.

“Trayvon Martin was killed in February 2012 because George Zimmerman decided he was in the wrong place at the wrong time. Instead of Zimmerman being held accountable for his deadly act of racial profiling, Martin, his family and friends were put on trial, first in the media and then in the courtroom—and they were ultimately found guilty of being Black in a country where Black lives get next-to-no value nor respect.

“The facts surrounding this case, from its beginning to its shocking end, show the depth of racism in the United States—and yes, that’s a United States presided over by an African-American president.

“It took more than six weeks for George Zimmerman to even be arrested and charged with any crime, despite the fact that he had murdered an unarmed teenager who was doing nothing more than carrying Skittles and iced tea back from a convenience store.

“The police immediately and instinctively accepted Zimmerman’s version of events—that he acted in self-defense. His arrest only came after weeks of protests that brought thousands of ordinary people into the streets to demand justice. The outcry was so widespread that even President Barack Obama felt compelled to make a sympathetic public statement about Martin.

“The Zimmerman trial was supposed to show that the system could work in achieving justice for African Americans. Instead, lazy prosecutors—who are used to railroading boys like Trayvon—proved not to have the same vigor in prosecuting someone like Zimmerman. Meanwhile, Zimmerman’s attorneys methodically employed every racist stereotype about young Black men they could conjure up.By the end of the trial, someone who didn’t know the facts of the case might have guessed that Martin profiled, chased and killed Zimmerman—not the other way around.”

 

More at: http://inthesetimes.com/article/15296/the_verdict_on_american_racism Continue reading “The trial and “post-racial” America”

Most still get news from television

Television is the main place Americans say they turn to for news about current events (55%), leading the Internet, at 21%. Nine percent say newspapers or other print publications are their main news source, followed by radio, at 6%, reports Gallup.

“These results are based on a Gallup poll of 2,048 national adults conducted June 20-24, in which Americans were asked to say, unaided, what they consider to be their main source of news about U.S. and global events.

“More than half the references to television are general, with 26% simply saying they watch television or TV news, 4% saying they watch local TV news, and 2% saying they watch the “evening news.” The two leading 24-hour cable news channels — Fox News and CNN — are named by 8% and 7%, respectively. However, no other specific channel — including MSNBC, PBS, BBC, and all of the U.S. broadcast networks that once dominated the news landscape — is mentioned by more than 1% of Americans.imgres

“The vast majority of those citing the Internet — 18% of all Americans — either mention the Internet generally or say they get their news “online.” Two percent identify Facebook, Twitter, or social media as their source, while 1% mention a specific online news site. The New York Times and Wall Street Journal are each named by 1% of Americans — the only specific print publications to earn as much as 1% in the poll. As a measure of U.S. adults’ perception of their primary news source, the question provides insights into the importance of various types of media and news outlets as information sources to the public. It is not meant to indicate the total reach each news outlet has in the population, nor do the results necessarily correspond with television ratings data. Continue reading “Most still get news from television”

Guantanamo shame continues

At least 106 of the 166 prisoners at Guantanamo Bay detention center are reported to be on hunger strike, with 45 currently being force-fed, reports todays LA Times.imgres

“A recently published report by the Constitution Project’s Task Force on Detainee Treatment, to which we contributed, found that the practice of forced feeding at Guantanamo was “a form of abuse and must end.” A member of the task force, Dr. Gerald Thomson, described the process: “You are forced physically to eat, by being strapped into a specially made chair and having restraints put on your arms, your legs, your body and your head so that you cannot move. [You have] a tube inserted into your throat that extends into your stomach, and you’re trying to resist that with the only muscles that are free — in your throat.” Detainees have said that it is intensely painful.

“When the restraint chairs were first introduced to Guantanamo in December 2005, the force-feeding process was reportedly especially punitive. Several detainees said that guards kept them in a restraint chair for hours after the tube feeding ended — sometimes for as long as six hours. Continue reading “Guantanamo shame continues”

Private prison “gladiator school”

The ACLU reports that “On Wednesday, news broke that Idaho is dumping the Corrections Corporation of America (CCA) and searching for a new company to run the state’s biggest prison. imgresThe prison is so violent that prisoners call it the “Gladiator School,” and it has been the subject of both an ACLU lawsuit and an Idaho State Police investigation. And earlier this year, CCA admitted that its employees had falsified nearly 4,800 hours of staffing records at the prison over a seven-month period, billing the state for security posts that they actually left unfilled.

“Idaho’s decision to end the Gladiator School contract with CCA will make it the fourth termination of a CCA prison contract that the company has announced this month.

“The week before the Gladiator School announcement, the Texas Department of Criminal Justice announced that it would be closing down two CCA prisons for budgetary reasons. (One of the two prisons, the Dawson State Jail, was the site of multiple high-profile prisoner deaths, including a baby girl who was allegedly born into a prison toilet after staff ignored her mother’s requests for medical assistance.) The same week, CCA announced that the Mississippi Department of Corrections decided not to renew CCA’s contract to run the state’s Wilkinson County Correctional Facility. Earlier this year, a prisoner was stabbed to death during a prison riot at Wilkinson – which was the second riot in twelve months at Wilkinson and the third uprising at a CCA prison in Mississippi during the same time period. Continue reading “Private prison “gladiator school””

The History of privacy

America’s’s concerns about government intrusion are older than the country itself, says Neil Richards, a law professor at Washington University in St. Louis.imgres-1

“If you want to talk about privacy, what would be less private than having a platoon of Redcoats living in your house, eating your food, listening to your conversations?” Richards asks. “… In the Constitution itself — the quartering of soldiers, the execution of general warrants — all have to do with the privacy of the home, the privacy of papers. NPR says:

“And though the Constitution doesn’t use the word ‘privacy,’ the separation of individuals and their information and their homes and their persons from the state is a theme that runs throughout the Bill of Rights.”

“Concerns about privacy ballooned again in the camera age. “Privacy as a theme in American law, and really in American public discussion, arose in 1890,” Richards says. Supreme Court Justice Louis Brandeis — just a young lawyer at the time — wrote an article for The Harvard Law Review about the personal intrusions of the new “snap cameras.”

“The history of privacy in the U.S. is closely tied with the history of the press, and by the 1960s, that had become an embattled relationship. The ’60s, Richards says, were a major moment for American privacy, in part because of the growth of “pre-modern computers.” Back then, databases were called “data banks,” and they made people nervous. Continue reading “The History of privacy”

The nameless war

For well over a decade now the United States has been “a nation at war.” Does that war have a name? This question is posed in today’s edition of Le Monde: “It did at the outset. After 9/11, George W. Bush’s administrationimages-2

wasted no time in announcing that the U.S. was engaged in a Global War on Terrorism, or GWOT. With few dissenters, the media quickly embraced the term. The GWOT promised to be a gargantuan, transformative enterprise. The conflict begun on 9/11 would define the age. In neoconservative circles, it was known as World War IV.

“Upon succeeding to the presidency in 2009, however, Barack Obama without fanfare junked Bush’s formulation (as he did again in a speech at the National Defense University last week). Yet if the appellation went away, the conflict itself, shorn of identifying marks, continued.

“Does it matter that ours has become and remains a nameless war? Very much so.

“Names bestow meaning. When it comes to war, a name attached to a date can shape our understanding of what the conflict was all about. To specify when a war began and when it ended is to privilege certain explanations of its significance while discrediting others. Let me provide a few illustrations. With rare exceptions, Americans today characterize the horrendous fraternal bloodletting of 1861-1865 as the Civil War. Yet not many decades ago, diehard supporters of the Lost Cause insisted on referring to that conflict as the War Between the States or the War for Southern Independence (or even the War of Northern Aggression). The South may have gone down in defeat, but the purposes for which Southerners had fought — preserving a distinctive way of life and the principle of states’ rights — had been worthy, even noble. So at least they professed to believe, with their preferred names for the war reflecting that belief.Schoolbooks tell us that the Spanish-American War began in April 1898 and ended in August of that same year. The name and dates fit nicely with a widespread inclination from President William McKinley’s day to our own to frame U.S. intervention in Cuba as an altruistic effort to liberate that island from Spanish oppression. Continue reading “The nameless war”

Retiring the term “alien”

The use of the word “illegal” to describe non-citizens who are present in the United States without authorization is finally beginning to die a much-deserved death, at least in the mainstream press, reads a piece in today’s Salon.com ” The announcement by the Associated Press on April 2, 2013, that it would no longer use the word “illegal” to describe a person, only a status or an action, was soon followed by a number of other major newspapers, including the New York Times — which announced on April 23, 2013, that while it would not ban use of the term “illegal immigrant,” it would encourage editors and reporters to consider alternatives — the Los Angeles Times and the Denver Post. Other news organizations, including the Miami Herald, had long since replaced the term “illegal immigrant” with “undocumented immigrant.” (Of course, even the word “undocumented” is imprecise. Non-citizens present in the United States without lawful immigration status possess all manner of documents — just not the right ones.) Continue reading “Retiring the term “alien””

Third World in Every First World

Years ago, Trinh T. Minh-ha famously wrote that “there is a third world in every first world, and vice-versa.” In todays le Monde Jo Comerford and Mattea Kramer write about the growing reality of this in the United States:

“The streets are so much darker now, since money for streetlights is rarely available to municipal governments. The national parks began closing down years ago. Some are already being subdivided and sold to the highest bidder. Reports on bridges crumbling or even collapsing are commonplace. images-2The air in city after city hangs brown and heavy (and rates of childhood asthma and other lung diseases have shot up), because funding that would allow the enforcement of clean air standards by the Environmental Protection Agency is a distant memory. Public education has been cut to the bone, making good schools a luxury and, according to the Department of Education, two of every five students won’t graduate from high school. Continue reading “Third World in Every First World”