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What Can Noam Chomsky's Co-Author Teach Us in the Age of Trump?

February 20, 2018 in Blogs

By Justin Podur, AlterNet

Ed Herman's media criticism remains as vital today as ever.


The story goes that Einstein's theory of relativity began with a simple question: What if a person could sit on a beam of light? A single inquiry led to an entire field of study, and perhaps the world's most famous scientific breakthrough.

The late Ed Herman's questions were less playful. They were about war and death, lies and power politics, but they too created entire areas of study. If properly considered, they can even guide us through the perilous age in which we're living.

Herman is best known for co-authoring Noam Chomsky's iconic Manufacturing Consent, which explores how U.S. corporate media operates as a system of disinformation. Written during the Cold War, the book challenged readers who understood propaganda to be a tool of the Soviet Union. How could a diverse industry without official censors to monitor what it published or aired, that was neither owned nor controlled by the state, be used for social control? Quite easily, as it turns out.

The world offers an almost infinite array of events that can be covered, and media institutions must decide what's most relevant to their audiences. In other words, they operate as an information filter. But how do they provide their viewers, listeners and readers with the best possible understanding of the world? Ideally, these institutions produce the kind of coverage necessary to make informed decisions about public policy. In reality, Chomsky and Herman discovered, they serve the interests of the rich and powerful.

In their propaganda model, the pair identified five distinct filters: Media ownership, which is concentrated in the hands of a few spectacularly wealthy corporations; ideology, specifically anti-communism, which “helps mobilize the populace against… anybody advocating policies that threaten property interests or support accommodation with Communist states and radicalism”; advertising, or the selling of audiences to advertisers, which can lead to any number of distortions and misconceptions; official sourcing, which often leads to self-censorship as media outlets become dependent on their access to members of the government; and finally organized flak, which allows lobbies to lean on journalists and …read more

Source: ALTERNET

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The Brutal History of Japan’s ‘Comfort Women’

February 20, 2018 in History

By Erin Blakemore

Lee Ok-seon, then 80, in a shelter for former sex slaves near Seoul, South Korea, holding an old photo of herself on April 15, 2007. (Credit: Seokyong Lee/The New York Times/Redux)

Lee Ok-seon was running an errand for her parents when it happened: a group of uniformed men burst out of a car, attacked her and dragged her into the vehicle. As they drove away, she had no idea that she would never see her parents again.

She was 14 years old.

That fateful afternoon, Lee’s life in Busan, a town in what is now South Korea, ended for good. The teenager was taken to a so-called “comfort station”—a brothel that serviced Japanese soldiers—in Japanese-occupied China. There, she became one of the tens of thousands of “comfort women” subjected to forced prostitution by the imperial Japanese army between 1932 and 1945.

Lee Ok-seon, then 80, in a shelter for former sex slaves near Seoul, South Korea, holding an old photo of herself on April 15, 2007. (Credit: Seokyong Lee/The New York Times/Redux)

It’s been nearly a century since the first women were forced into sexual slavery for imperial Japan, but the details of their servitude remains painful and politically divisive in Japan and the countries it once occupied. Japan itself remains conflicted on whether and how to apologize for its actions, while records of the actual subjugation of the women are scant. There are very survivors: an estimated 90 percent of “comfort women” did not survive the war.

Though military brothels existed in the Japanese military since 1932, they expanded widely after one of the most infamous incidents in imperial Japan’s attempt to take over the Republic of China and a broad swath of Asia: the Rape of Nanking. On December 13, 1937, Japanese troops began a six-week-long massacre that essentially destroyed the Chinese city of Nanking. Along the way, Japanese troops raped between 20,000 and 80,000 Chinese women.

The mass rapes horrified the world, and Emperor Hirohito was concerned with its impact on Japan’s image. As legal historian Carmen M. Agibay notes, he ordered the military to expand its so-called “comfort stations,” or military brothels, in an effort to prevent further atrocities, reduce sexually transmitted diseases and ensure a steady and isolated group of prostitutes to satisfy Japanese soldiers’ sexual appetites.  


A Nationalist officer guarding women prisoners said to be “comfort girls” used by the Communists, 1948. (Credit: Jack Birns/The LIFE Picture Collection/Getty Images)

“Recruiting” …read more

Source: HISTORY

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Why We Need Black Feminism More Than Ever Under Trump

February 20, 2018 in Blogs

By Shannon Weber, AlterNet

This political time calls for intersectionality.


In April 1977, members of the black feminist Combahee River Collective—named after Harriet Tubman’s 1863 raid in South Carolina to lead more than 700 enslaved people to freedom—published a document called the Combahee River Collective Statement. In this document, they made a case for understanding how racism, sexism, class oppression, and homophobia are all connected, writing, “If black women were free, it would mean that everyone else would have to be free since our freedom would necessitate the destruction of all the systems of oppression.”

Over 40 years after the Combahee River Collective Statement, and as movements like Black Lives Matter and the Dreamers remind us, America is still failing to provide an equal playing field for all people. And when it comes to electoral politics, even “progressive” leaders too often leave out those whose lives fall at the intersections of discrimination, such as poor black women or undocumented LGBTQ youth. Under the Trump administration, these groups are meanwhile overtly targeted for discriminatory treatment.

But despite the continued abuses against marginalized people in 2018, it’s important to remember that black feminist thinkers and activists have been dreaming and fighting for nuanced solutions to systemic oppression for several decades.

Standing in sharp contrast to a modern version of “trickle-down” social justice where those with the most power have their interests addressed first, the Combahee River Collective instead argued the reverse: that those who are most marginalized and disenfranchised in society should be centered, and through lifting up the most disenfranchised, everyone’s standard of living would in turn improve.

The trickle-up approach provides, in many ways, a contrast not only to the Reaganomics that would follow closely behind, but also to the second-wave liberal feminist movement of the 1970s, which emerged as a movement largely focused on the needs of white, middle- to upper-class, heterosexual cisgender women. While this relatively privileged branch of the feminist movement failed to internalize various race-, class-, and sexuality-based critiques, iconic feminist movement builders like Audre Lorde, bell hooks, Angela Davis, Barbara …read more

Source: ALTERNET

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The GOP Is Conducting Cyber Warfare Against Political Opponents

February 20, 2018 in Blogs

By Steven Rosenfeld, AlterNet

Automated Twitter storms, faked emails and fabricated endorsements are all part of the GOP's bag of dirty tricks.


As speculation builds over the extent of Russian meddling in 2018’s elections, the deceptive and influential tactics revealed in last week’s indictment by special counsel Robert Mueller—as well as some newer tactics—are already in use by U.S. politicos with pro-corporate, pro-GOP agendas.

The examples run the gamut from the seemingly trite to the more overtly serious: A Republican Senate candidate in Arizona touts an endorsement from a new website impersonating local newspapers; a tweetstorm calling for Minnesota Democratic Senator Al Franken to resign, which he did last year after escalating accusations of sexual harassment; and tens of thousands of faked emails calling for the repeal of net neutrality, which the GOP-led Federal Communications Commission recently repealed.

In these examples and others, a new hall of mirrors is emerging that threatens American elections and governance, and it is coming from shadowy domestic operatives, not Russians. Websites mimicking news organizations are endorsing candidates. Online identities are being stolen and used to send partisan messages, with people unaware they are being impersonated for partisan gain. Targets are slow to detect or acknowledge the high-tech ruses used against them. The media is catching on, but typically after the fact—not before crucial decisions are made.

While many progressives were split on whether Franken should have left the Senate, the Republican right was unambiguous in seizing the moment to force the Democrats to lose a popular senator.    

Twitter War

“White nationalist provocateurs, a pair of fake news sites, an army of Twitter bots and other cyber tricks helped derail Democratic Senator Al Franken last year, new research shows,” a report by Newsweek’s Nina Burleigh began, describing new details about how Franken was targeted. “Analysts have now mapped out how Hooters pinup girl and lad-mag model Leeann Tweeden's initial accusation against Franken became effective propaganda after right-wing black ops master Roger Stone first hinted at the allegation.”

“A pair of Japan-based websites, created the day before Tweeden came forward, and a swarm of related Twitter bots made the Tweeden story go viral and then weaponized a liberal writer's criticism …read more

Source: ALTERNET

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The Saudi-Iranian Cold War

February 20, 2018 in Economics

By Emma Ashford

Emma Ashford

By late 2017, about the only thing lower than President Donald
Trump’s approval rating was the likelihood of a near-term
Saudi-Iranian rapprochement in the Middle East. Five years of
constant low-level regional proxy conflicts between the states
during the Arab Spring and its aftermath have increased the
long-standing animosity and security fears of the two countries,
and brought this rivalry into the public eye. It’s now widely
accepted that Iran and Saudi Arabia are engaged in a ‘Cold
War’-style struggle for primacy of the Middle East.

But while there are some aspects of this picture that are
accurate, it is also an oversimplification of a complex regional
environment. This narrative also underplays the extent to which
U.S. foreign policy in recent years has helped to shape today’s
regional conflicts, a mistake that the Trump administration’s
one-sided approach to the region risks exacerbating.

The description of Saudi-Iranian tensions as a new “Cold War”
did not originate in a direct comparison to the U.S.-Soviet
rivalry, but in the 1950s-1960s regional struggles dubbed by the
historian Malcolm Kerr the “Arab Cold War.”1 This earlier rivalry
between Nasser-style Arab nationalism and regional monarchies was
driven in part by domestic political factors-notably fears about
regime stability-and in part by insecurity and a zero-sum picture
of regional power dynamics. Instead of direct military conflict,
states focused on proxy conflicts and support for non-state actors
to gain the upper hand. The similarities today are clear.

But while the pithy ‘Cold War’ framing has become shorthand for
media stories about Saudi-Iranian tensions, relying on it to
actually understand regional dynamics is problematic.2 For one
thing, it implies a struggle over ideology comparable to that of
the United States and Soviet Union, with many outside observers
focusing on the idea of a sectarian religious conflict to explain
the rivalry. Yet the notion of monolithic Sunni and Shi’a blocs of
states struggling against one another is largely inaccurate.

Rising bipolar tensions
between Iran and Saudi Arabia are real, and have serious
implications for U.S. foreign policy.

Instead, there are strong divisions inside the Sunni camp, which
Gregory Gause has described as an “intra-Sunni Cold War.”3 These
divisions are most clearly visible in the ongoing Saudi embargo of
Qatar, a country not only culturally and religiously similar to
Saudi Arabia, but also a fellow member of the Gulf Cooperation
Council. They also played a key role in worsening the post-Arab
Spring wars: the United Arab Emirates, Qatar, and Saudi Arabia each
backed different foreign rebel groups often directly at odds with
one another. And there are many regional flashpoints-from Kurdish
separatism to …read more

Source: OP-EDS

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Millions of Americans Are Among the Poorest People in the World

February 20, 2018 in Blogs

By Paul Buchheit, AlterNet

People in power won't do anything about it.


In 2015 it was reported that up to 50 million American adults had negative wealth and thus numbered among the poorest 10 percent of the world's adults. This was disputed by Vox writer Matthew Yglesias, who said, “…that's absurd. The poorest people in the world are the people with rock-bottom material living standards.”

It's difficult for many Americans to admit the truth about extreme poverty in our country. Our poorest citizens may not be living in a farming village where they eat millet soup and walk a mile for water. But they have to deal with homelessness, alcoholism, mental health disease, opioid addiction, stress-inducing indebtedness and inequality, and pollution levels that are the highest in the developed world. All of that makes for rock-bottom living standards.

According to Credit Suisse data over the past three years, anywhere from 4 to 10 percent of the world's poorest decile are Americans. That's 20 to 50 million adults. It's likely that many of them are only temporarily in debt, and that they have a much better chance than a third-world villager to climb out of poverty. But it's just as likely that they'll be replaced by other impoverished Americans, especially with an aging population woefully unprepared for retirement, and with the great majority of new job prospects temporary or contract-based, without security or benefits.

A Second Denial


“There are millions of Americans whose suffering, through material poverty and poor health, is as bad or worse than that of the people in Africa or in Asia.” That's the conclusion of Princeton researcher Angus Deaton, who along with his wife Anne Case documented the “marked deterioration in the morbidity and mortality of middle-aged white non-Hispanics in the United States after 1998.” In a recent opinion he cites the rising mortality rates from drugs, alcohol and suicide. Based on World Bank and Oxford numbers, he estimates that over 5 million Americans are absolutely …read more

Source: ALTERNET

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7 Places from Famous Paintings That You Can Visit in Real Life

February 20, 2018 in History

By Stefanie Waldek

Cafe Terrace at Night, by Vincent van Gogh, alongside the real cafe in the painting. (Credit: Universal History Archive/UIG/Getty images & Alessandro Bonvini/Flickr Creative Commons/CC BY 2.0)

Artists throughout history have found inspiration in their surroundings, from Japanese artist Katsushika Hokusai’s Edo-era woodblock studies of Mt. Fuji to French post-Impressionist Paul Gauguin’s Technicolor explorations of Tahiti. But specific structures have also served as inspiration for artists. While famous landmarks make an appearance in many compositions, there are some lesser-known locales that have worked their way into famous paintings. A handful of them still exist, including these seven real-life locations from famous paintings that can still be visited today.

Café Terrace at Night (Place du Forum)

Cafe Terrace at Night, by Vincent van Gogh, alongside the real cafe in the painting. (Credit: Universal History Archive/UIG/Getty images & Alessandro Bonvini/Flickr Creative Commons/CC BY 2.0)

Vincent van Gogh
Where: Le Café la Nuit: Vincent van Gogh, Arles, France

Vincent van Gogh is one of the most popular and prolific artists of all time, though he never found fame (or money) during his short life. One of his more famous paintings, completed in his signature Post-Impressionist style, is the 1888 work Café Terrace at Night, which depicts a brightly lit café against the starry sky. Visitors can still dine on this terrace, now part of a van Gogh-themed restaurant called, fittingly, Le Café la Nuit.

The richly colored painting is famous for being one of the first works the Dutch artist completed during his stay in Arles, France, a particularly productive period in his life. The artist had moved to Arles from Paris seeking new inspiration, as well as a respite from city life. He intended to start an artists’ colony there, inviting his good friend Paul Gauguin for a stay, but their friendship soured after an argument that ended with an Gogh severing his own ear. Van Gogh, suffering from deep depression, checked himself into a mental hospital in Saint-Rémy after the incident, and would go on to commit suicide in 1890.

American Gothic


American Gothic, by Grant Wood, 1930, alongside the real home, that was featured in the background, in Eldon, Iowa. (Credit: Tristan Fewings/Getty Images for Royal Academy of Arts & Charlie Neibergall/AP Photo)

Grant Wood
Where: The American Gothic House in Eldon, Iowa

This quintessential American painting of a farmer and his daughter is one of the most parodied works of art of all time, inspiring everything from advertisements to magazine covers to cartoons. …read more

Source: HISTORY

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The U.S. Falls Embarrassingly Far Behind Other Wealthy Countries in Infant Mortality Rates

February 20, 2018 in Blogs

By Julia Conley, Common Dreams

Eighty percent of our newborn deaths are entirely preventable.


A report by the United Nations' children's rights agency found that the United States' infant mortality rate is below average for high-income countries, and is only slightly lower than that of less economically-stable countries including Ukraine and Sri Lanka.

Four out of every 1,000 American newborns die within a month of being born, while other wealthy nations have an average infant mortality rate of three per 1,000 live births, according to UNICEF's report, entitled “Every Child Alive.”

Iceland and Japan had the two lowest infant mortality rates, and countries including Finland, France, Estonia, and Germany all had far better rates of newborn survival. The vast majority of the countries on the report's list of high-income nations have government-run healthcare systems instead of allowing healthcare to be treated as a product offered by private health insurance companies like the United States does.

“We know we can save the vast majority of these babies with affordable, quality healthcare solutions for every mother and every newborn,” Henrietta Fore, UNICEF's executive director, told the Guardian of worldwide infant mortality rates. “Just a few small steps from all of us can help ensure the first small steps of each of these young lives.”

The report noted that Rwanda successfully cut its infant mortality rate in half—from 41 out of every 1,000 births in 1990 to 17 in 2016. The vast improvement in outcomes for newborns “was made possible by a committed government that took an active role in implementing a national insurance scheme that reached the poorest, most vulnerable mothers.”

The Central African Republic, Somalia, and Afghanistan were the three most dangerous places to be born, with each recording more than 38 infant deaths per 1,000 live births.

Eighty percent of newborn deaths are brought on by preventable causes, according to the report.

“Millions of young lives could be saved every year if mothers and babies had access to affordable, quality healthcare, good nutrition, and clean water,” reads the report. “But far too often, even these basics are out of reach of the mothers and babies who need them most.”

UNICEF released the report ahead …read more

Source: ALTERNET

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A Basic Income Need Not Reduce Employment

February 20, 2018 in Economics

By Ryan Bourne

Ryan Bourne

Suppose the government redistributed to every adult Briton a
basic, unconditional income of £10,000 from tax revenues.
Would aggregate employment levels a) rise, b) fall, or c) stay the
same?

This is the blue-sky policy question that former Labour leader
Ed Miliband has been toying with.

He’s not alone. Ideologically-diverse bedfellows from the
neoliberal Adam Smith Institute through to the Green Party have
weighed up the merits of giving everyone cold hard cash as
insurance against fears of automation and lack of job security in
the labour market.

There are legion concerns, trade-offs, and practical
difficulties with such a policy. Yet the employment question
arguably resonates most, and both proponents and opponents seem
confused about it.

Last week on Newsnight, Miliband simultaneously argued that
there would be little to no employment impact, but also implied
that the ability to turn down work was one of the scheme’s
virtues.

Critics assert that earning money is what brings human dignity,
without seeing that this might be why people would continue to work
even with this cash stream.

The idea that paying people unconditionally would lower
employment is intuitive. Some people would pocket the income and
not engage in formal labour market activity, especially if they
currently feel compelled to work to get by, or due to the
conditionality of existing benefits.

Students may prefer to focus on their studies. Parents of
newborns may opt to spend more time with their children. With a
generous safety net, those between jobs may take longer to find
positions that genuinely match their skills and talents too.

All these things might lower the employment rate at any given
time. As Miliband implies, for people in certain situations this
might not be a bad thing.

Yet this is only part of the story. When assessing the impact of
a basic income, we have to ask: compared to what?

The UK’s existing welfare state for working age people
gives money with conditions and means-testing. This raises the
incomes of poor people, but it paradoxically makes it harder for
them to earn income.

As someone works more, or gets promoted, they face benefit
withdrawal as well as taxes. Even under Universal Credit, this
creates effective marginal tax rates of around 75 per cent – a
severe disincentive to earn.

If a pure basic income replaced existing welfare, no such
disincentive would exist. The overall impact on the employment rate
of these two effects would therefore be ambiguous.

Here’s where specifics about the scheme matter and
trade-offs come in. The key problem is that a generous basic income
would be extraordinarily expensive. A £10,000 basic income
for adults alone would cost £580bn, far higher than the
current £252bn social protection …read more

Source: OP-EDS

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Will the U.S. Go to War with China over Taiwan?

February 20, 2018 in Economics

By Ted Galen Carpenter

Ted Galen Carpenter

While America’s attention has been focused on the North
Korea crisis, diverted occasionally to developments in the South
China Sea, another volatile East Asia confrontation has reemerged.
China is adopting a growing number of measures to intimidate
Taiwan, including emphasizing that any hopes the Taiwanese people
and government have to perpetuate the island’s de facto
independence are unrealistic and unacceptable. Hostile actions
include a renewed effort to cajole and bribe the small number of
nations that still maintain diplomatic relations with Taipei to
switch ties to Beijing, extremely explicit warnings that China will
use force if necessary to prevent any “separatist”
moves by Taiwan, and a sharp increase in the number and scope of
military exercises in the Taiwan Strait and other nearby areas.

The military maneuvers are especially unsettling. According to
Taiwanese media accounts, China has conducted 16 military drills around Taiwan in 2017,
compared to just eight in 2016 and even fewer during the years
between 2008 and 2016. Chinese military aircraft engaged in
exercises near Taiwan’s northern coast in December. Beijing’s naval and
air power war games culminated in January 2018, when a flotilla
including China’s only aircraft carrier sailed through the Strait. A
senior Chinese official, Liu Junchuan, the liaison head of
China’s Taiwan Affairs Office, boasted that “the contrast in power
across the Taiwan Strait will become wider and wider, and we will
have a full, overwhelming strategic advantage over Taiwan.”

Understandably, the Taiwanese are increasingly worried about
Beijing’s saber rattling. Officials in Taipei assert that the
burgeoning military activity poses an “enormous threat” to Taiwan’s
security. The Chinese government responded by telling the Taiwanese
that they needed to get used to air force and naval units
encircling the island, because those activities were not going to
cease.

It’s time to rethink our
defense commitments. Risking a catastrophic conflict is too great a
price for Taiwanese independence.

The mounting tensions between Taipei and Beijing should be
attracting more notice. Beijing’s increased assertiveness, if
not outright belligerence, is more than a matter of abstract
concern to the United States. The 1979 Taiwan Relations Act (TRA), which Congress
adopted when Jimmy Carter’s administration formally
recognized the People’s Republic of China (PRC) and
downgraded Washington’s relations with Taipei to informal
economic and cultural ties, specified two security concerns. The
United States pledged to regard any PRC effort to coerce Taiwan as
a grave threat to the peace of East Asia. It also promised to sell
“defense articles and defense services in such quantity as
may be necessary to enable Taiwan to maintain …read more

Source: OP-EDS