Sunday, November 30, 2008

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November 30:

1886 : Folies Bergere stage first revue

Once a hall for operettas, pantomime, political meetings, and vaudeville, the Folies Bergere in Paris introduces an elaborate revue featuring women in sensational costumes. The highly popular "Place aux Jeunes" established the Folies as the premier nightspot in Paris. In the 1890s, the Folies followed the Parisian taste for striptease and quickly gained a reputation for its spectacular nude shows. The theater spared no expense, staging revues that featured as many as 40 sets, 1,000 costumes, and an off-stage crew of some 200 people.

The Folies Bergere dates back to 1869, when it opened as one of the first major music halls in Paris. It produced light opera and pantomimes with unknown singers and proved a resounding failure. Greater success came in the 1870s, when the Folies Bergere staged vaudeville. Among other performers, the early vaudeville shows featured acrobats, a snake charmer, a boxing kangaroo, trained elephants, the world's tallest man, and a Greek prince who was covered in tattoos allegedly as punishment for trying to seduce the Shah of Persia's daughter. The public was allowed to drink and socialize in the theater's indoor garden and promenade area, and the Folies Bergere became synonymous with the carnal temptations of the French capital. Famous paintings by Edouard Manet and Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec were set in the Folies.

In 1886, the Folies Bergere went under new management, which, on November 30, staged the first revue-style music hall show. The "Place aux Jeunes," featuring scantily clad chorus girls, was a tremendous success. The Folies women gradually wore less and less as the 20th century approached, and the show's costumes and sets became more and more outrageous. Among the performers who got their start at the Folies Bergere were Yvette Guilbert, Maurice Chevalier, and Mistinguett. The African American dancer and singer Josephine Baker made her Folies debut in 1926, lowered from the ceiling in a flower-covered sphere that opened onstage to reveal her wearing a G-string ornamented with bananas.

The Folies Bergere remained a success throughout the 20th century and still can be seen in Paris today, although the theater now features many mainstream concerts and performances. Among other traditions that date back more than a century, the show's title always contains 13 letters and includes the word "Folie."

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General Interest
1886 : Folies Bergere stage first revue
1874 : Winston Churchill born
1954 : Meteorite strikes Alabama woman
1993 : Brady Bill signed into law

Getting Rid of the Hell of Fiscal Paradises


by: Nathalie Guibert, Pascale Robert-Diard and Adrien de Tricornot, Le Monde

Olivier Pastre: (tax havens) "were selling opacity to two types of clientele: criminals, but also presumably respectable companies quoted on the New York Stock Exchange...." (Photo: Paul Ames / AP Photo)

Olivier Pastré and Renaud Van Ruymbeke are, respectively, IM Bank's lead economist and a financial magistrate.

Le Monde: The crisis has relaunched the debate over tax havens, which shelter two-thirds of hedge funds. Can they be regulated without attacking the offshore centers?

Renaud Van Ruymbeke: No. One can only be surprised that political leaders are suddenly realizing that offshore centers exist! We denounced them, as did other judges in 1996 when we launched the Geneva appeal against these lawless zones, for tax havens are also judicial havens. The judges are working on issues of criminal money, but it's not criminal money alone that transits through these offshore centers. Why have people waited so long to act? It is politically conceivable to remove all their nuisance ability.

Olivier Pastré: We agree on the diagnosis, but not necessarily the solutions. In 1999-2000, the role of tax havens had already been brought to light with the Enron scandal, a company that had indulged in financial and accounting turpitudes unimaginable up until then. The company had created 3,000 "special purpose vehicles" to hide its indebtedness - 1,000 of which were based in the Cayman Islands.... Then we discovered that countries were selling opacity to two types of clientele: criminals, but also presumably respectable companies quoted on the New York Stock Exchange. And nothing was done.... Our differences bear on the means and the timing. We must not be naive: we won't make tax havens disappear with the shake of a magic wand.

R.V.R.: And why is that?

O.P.: All humanity would have to agree for that to be settled. The question is fiscal competition. I don't believe that perfect world governance is likely. So let us be modest, yet still resolved.

R.V.R.: More and more money transits through tax havens: 50 percent of world financial flows. I don't say we have to eliminate them from one day to the next, but that should be an objective. We reproach Luxembourg with harboring untaxed assets. In France, the index of bank and similar accounts (Ficoba) centralizes all bank accounts for the tax authorities (DGI). Why doesn't Luxembourg do the same? That organization's data would be transmitted to the countries involved. It could be a simple rule within the European Community. Let's start by cleaning up our own house!

O.P.: If that proposal is applied, it will have one effect only: to impoverish Luxembourg while Liechtenstein and the Cayman Islands will be enriched by it....

R.V.R.: The same reasoning was upheld for corruption: "If you sanction French companies that bribe African leaders, American companies will take over the market." To escape from this system, a public authority that defends the collective interest is required. Globalization is economic and financial. On a political level, it's in retreat: states want to preserve their prerogatives. Regulation means they agree to delegate part of their sovereignty to an organization that can slap their hands, on the basis of transparency laws common to all.

A sort of financial UN?

R.V.R.: Yes, but not a UN that watches two armies fire on each other!

O.P.: The market economy is like a boxing match. The participants hit each other, but under the eyes of an arbiter and in a ring surrounded by ropes. Those ropes have been slackened. They have to be tightened up again. The crisis has shown that regulations can be useful: even the most die-hard capitalists acknowledge that.

R.V.R.: But there is no arbiter.

O. P.: Let's say that there is a myopic arbiter.... An enormous step would have been accomplished already if the major global financial establishments prohibited themselves from operating in certain tax havens. We must be ambitious, but realistic.

The OCDE has established a list of uncooperative tax havens. Only three tax havens - Andorra, Monaco and Liechtenstein - figure on that list, while thirty-five others are committed to cooperation. Is that truly the reality of the situation?

R.V.R.: The fact that we have only three acknowledged tax havens, when there are many more in fact, shows all the hypocrisy of the system. It's true that technically the problem is not a simple one to settle. But if, for example, Germany's political will with respect to Liechtenstein seems real to me (Germany infiltrated the banking system of the principality to discover its citizens' hidden assets), that's the first case of a government pounding its fist on the table of a neighboring micro-state. I would like someone to explain to me why we can make war on Iraq, but are incapable of setting a minimum number of rules applicable to little countries that have no military or political weight.

O.P.: We've taken a few nano-steps with respect to cooperation. I don't see tax havens disappearing in the short term because there's no American resolve to cooperate, including from Barack Obama. However, the opportunity to pose the problem is a historic one. Political leaders have discovered that a source of the current crisis was difficulty scoping out bank risks, for technical reasons, and because of their positioning in tax havens. Regulatory authorities will - at least so one hopes - look into this subject. No one could have said in February that Gordon Brown and George W. Bush would nationalize the banks. It's also not impossible that governments will condition their aid on banks making progress in these areas. Self-regulation may also come into play: it is not inconceivable that the biggest world banks should agree not to compete in the matter.

R.V.R.: So I am not the only Pollyanna.... But that would be a minimum. For it's shocking to see banks that benefited from the system be rescued, not by Liechtenstein, but by their own countries' taxpayers. There's a paradox: they condemn governments; they sidestep them, and the day when it all blows up they run home to them.

The obstacles financial magistrates encounter do not incline you to believe in self-regulation....

R.V.R.: When we investigate corruption, we run up against insurmountable obstacles. In twenty-four hours, the money may move from Singapore to Gibraltar, by way of Delaware, Monaco and Liechtenstein. Our investigations end up at the end of several years by hitting a short-circuit: suitcases of cash are withdrawn from one offshore account and deposited in another offshore account. It's an admission of failure.

Solutions come through transparency: to be able to identify the true owners of an account and the real shareholders of offshore companies. A company should have to have a business, a board of directors, officials. Today, I can go to Switzerland and for 5,000 Euros buy a Cayman Islands company with keys in hand and pilot the great oil tankers that circle the planet! Transparency exists inside each state. Control exists in the United States, apart from Delaware which is considered a tax haven by Americans. But at the supra-national level, it's the law of the jungle.

O.P.: Governments are interested in the disappearance of tax havens because they represent tax losses. But no reform has any meaning unless it is integrated in new rules of the game: better control of rating agencies, redefinition of accounting and prudential norms, reduction in the weight of unregulated markets, introduction of a form of hedge fund regulation, etc. That doesn't mean more regulation, but better regulation.

R.V.R.: I'm afraid that once the economy takes off again, regulation will no longer seem necessary. Has the shock been strong enough to induce a resolve for control?

Monaco has committed to make efforts to cooperate. Where is that country, and also Switzerland and London, with respect to those efforts?

R.V.R.: Monaco asserts transparency. But there, as elsewhere, investigations get bogged down when money circulates from one tax haven to another. In the end, it's impossible for us to determine the totality of hidden assets. Monaco remains a black hole of globalization. There's still money laundering going on there. In London, banking secrecy is very strong. It's almost as impossible to get information from the City as it is from Jersey. Switzerland, like Luxembourg, has fiduciary companies that supply financial engineering and organize the circulation of capital in such a way that it cannot be found.

O.P.: I would correct: Monaco is more of a "gray" hole. My own banking experience gives me the certitude that there is less questionable capital in Monaco. As for Switzerland, if a tax haven is a place where significant accounting and financial opacity exists, it's clear that it is one.

Must we abolish bank secrecy?

O.P.: I am, in principle, in favor of bank secrecy; it's a human right, a guarantee of democracy. It should not be upset except with the most extreme caution.

R.V.R.: I can't allow that to go by. If it's a human right, then only three countries in Europe assure that right: Liechtenstein, Luxembourg and Switzerland, since they allow those who are the subjects of banking investigations to contest them! With respect to public interest, there should be no banking secrecy.

Is regulation an issue of morality or of efficiency?

O.P.: If it were only a question of morality, one could be much more pessimistic ...

R.V.R.: On this point, we are in complete agreement!


Translation: Truthout French language editor Leslie Thatcher.


Anatomy of a Meltdown: Ben Bernanke and the Financial Crisis

Federal Reserve Chairman Ben Bernanke. (Photo: Reuters)

Anatomy of a Meltdown: Ben Bernanke
and the Financial Crisis

John Cassidy, The New Yorker: A history of the
lead-up to the financial crisis, closely
examining the leadership of Federal Reserve
Chairman Ben Bernanke.

Fed Commits $800 Billion More to Unfreeze Lending


by: Scott Lanman and Dawn Kopecki, Bloomberg

The Federal Reserve Building in Washington, DC. (Photo: Reuters)

The Federal Reserve took two new steps to unfreeze credit for homebuyers, consumers and small businesses, committing up to $800 billion.

The central bank will purchase as much as $600 billion in debt issued or backed by government-chartered housing-finance companies. It will also set up a $200 billion program to support consumer and small-business loans, the Fed said in statements today in Washington.

With today's announcement, the central bank is starting to use some of the unorthodox policy tools that Chairman Ben S. Bernanke outlined as a Fed governor six years ago. Policy makers are aiming to prevent a financial collapse and stamp out the threat of deflation.

"They're trying to put funds into the system, trying to unfreeze these markets," said William Poole, the former St. Louis Fed president, in an interview with Bloomberg Television. "Clearly, the Fed and the Treasury are beginning to take a large amount of credit risk."

The Fed will purchase up to $100 billion in direct debt of Fannie Mae, Freddie Mac and the Federal Home Loan Banks and up to $500 billion of mortgage-backed securities backed by Fannie, Freddie and Ginnie Mae, the statement said.

Help for Housing

"This action is being taken to reduce the cost and increase the availability of credit for the purchase of houses, which in turn should support housing markets and foster improved conditions in financial markets more generally," the Fed said.

Fannie and Freddie bonds rallied. The yield premium on Fannie Mae's five-year debt over similar-maturity Treasuries tumbled 21.5 basis points to 114.7 basis points as of 8:35 a.m. in New York, according to data compiled by Bloomberg. A basis point is 0.01 percentage point.

"The cheaper that they could issue their debt, the more aggressively they should be able to buy mortgages in the secondary market," said Alan Bosworth, director of agency trading at Vining Sparks in Memphis, Tennessee.

Separately, under the new Term Asset-Backed Securities Loan Facility, the Fed will lend up to $200 billion on a non-recourse basis to holders of AAA rated asset-backed securities backed by "newly and recently originated" loans, such as for education, automobiles, credit cards and loans guaranteed by the Small Business Administration, the Fed said.

Commercial Paper

The ABS program is similar to the Fed's effort to bring down the cost of financing for commercial paper, the short-term debt companies issue to finance payrolls and other expenses, because it goes beyond banks.

"What the Fed has been trying to do is get a sense of what works and what doesn't work," said Derrick Wulf, who helps manage $70 billion in mostly fixed-income assets at Dwight Asset Management Co. in Burlington, Vermont. "One of the things that has worked is the commercial paper facility."

Wulf added that "it can certainly improve credit conditions for consumers."

The Treasury will provide $20 billion of "credit protection" to the Fed in the lending program, using funds from the $700 billion financial-rescue package. The Treasury said in a statement that the facility may expand over time and cover other assets, such as commercial and private residential mortgage- backed debt.

"Continued Disruption"

On the ABS facility, the Fed is trying to avoid having "continued disruption of these markets" that would limit lending and "thereby contribute to further weakening of U.S. economic activity," the central bank said.

Under the new lending program, known as the TALF, the New York Fed will auction a fixed amount of loans each month for a one-year term. Assets will be held in a special-purpose vehicle to be created by the Fed. The program will stop making new loans on Dec. 31, 2009, unless the Fed Board of Governors extends it.

Lenders providing credit under the TALF "must have agreed to comply with, or already be subject to," executive- compensation restrictions in the October bailout law, the statement said.

The Fed will start buying the direct debt of government- sponsored enterprises - Fannie, Freddie and a dozen federal home loan banks - through primary dealers in government debt from next week. The purchases of mortgage-backed securities will be done through asset managers, and officials aim to begin the effort by year-end.

Purchases of both types of debt "are expected to take place over several quarters," the Fed said.


Disposable Youth in a Suspect Society: A Challenge for the Obama Administration

by: Henry A. Giroux, t r u t h o u t | Perspective

Chicago students rally for a high school re-enrollment program for individuals who dropped out before earning diplomas. (Photo: Tim Boyle / Getty Images)

Youth and the crisis of the future.

While there is little question that the United States - with its burgeoning police state, its infamous title as the world leader in jailing its own citizens, and its history of foreign and domestic "torture factories" [1] - has moved into lockdown (and lockout) mode both at home and abroad, it is a mistake to assume that the Bush administration is solely responsible for transforming the United States to the degree that it has now become unrecognizable to itself as a democratic nation. Such claims risk reducing the serious social ills now plaguing the United States to the reactionary policies of the Bush regime - a move which allows for complacency in light of the potentially inflated hopes raised by Barack Obama's successful bid for the presidency. What the United States has become in the last decade suggests less of a rupture than an intensification of a number of already existing political, economic, and social forces that since the late 1970s have unleashed the repressive anti-democratic tendencies lurking beneath the damaged heritage of democratic ideals.

What marks the present state of American "democracy" is the uniquely bipolar nature of the degenerative assault on the body politic, which combines elements of unprecedented greed and fanatical capitalism with a new kind of politics more ruthless and savage in its willingness to abandon - even vilify - those individuals and groups now rendered disposable within "new geographies of exclusion and landscapes of wealth" [2] that mark the neoliberal new world order. Nowhere is this assault more evident than in what might be called the "war on youth," a war that not only attempts to erase the democratic legacies of the past, but disavows any commitment to the future.

Any discourse about the future has to begin with the issue of youth because young people embody the projected dreams, desires, and commitment of a society's obligations to the future. In many respects, youth not only register symbolically the importance of modernity's claim to progress; they also affirm the importance of the liberal democratic tradition of the social contract in which adult responsibility is mediated through a willingness to fight for the rights of children, enact reforms that invest in their future, and provide the educational conditions necessary for them to make use of the freedoms they have while learning how to be critical citizens. Within such a modernist project, democracy is linked to the well-being of youth, while the status of how a society imagines democracy and its future is contingent on how it views its responsibility towards future generations. But the category of youth does more than affirm modernity's social contract, rooted in a conception of the future in which adult commitment and intergenerational solidarity are articulated as a vital public service; it also affirms those representations, images, vocabularies, values, and social relations central to a politics capable of both defending vital institutions as a public good and contributing to the quality of public life.

Yet as the twenty-first century unfolds, it is not at all clear that the American public and government believe any longer in youth, the future, or the social contract, even in its minimalist version. Since the 1980s, the prevailing market inspired discourse has argued that there is no such thing as society and, indeed, following that nefarious pronouncement, institutions committed to public welfare, especially for young people, have been disappearing ever since. Those of us who, against the prevailing common sense, believe that the ultimate test of morality resides in what a society does for its children cannot help but acknowledge that if we take this standard seriously, American society has deeply failed its children and its commitment to democracy.

At stake here is not merely how American culture is redefining the meaning of youth, but how it constructs children in relation to a future devoid of the moral and political obligations of citizenship, social responsibility, and democracy. Caught up in an age of increasing despair, uncertainty, and the quagmire of a global financial collapse, youth no longer appear to inspire adults to reaffirm their commitment to a public discourse that envisions a future in which human suffering is diminished while the general welfare of society is increased. Constructed primarily within the language of the market and the increasingly conservative politics of a corporate dominated media culture, contemporary youth appear unable to constitute themselves through a defining generational referent that gives them a sense of distinctiveness and vision, as did the generation of youth in the 1960s. The relations between youth and adults have always been marked by strained generational and ideological struggles, but the new economic and social conditions that youth face today, along with a callous indifference to their spiritual and material needs, suggest a qualitatively different attitude on the part of many adults toward American youth - one that indicates that the young, especially under the Bush administration, have become our lowest national priority. Put bluntly, American society at present exudes both a deep-rooted hostility and chilling indifference toward youth, reinforcing the dismal conditions that young people are increasingly living under.

The hard currency of human suffering that impacts children is evident in some astounding statistics that suggest a profound moral and political contradiction at the heart of our culture: for example, the rate of child poverty is currently at 17.4 percent, boosting the number of poor children to 13 million. In addition, about one in three severely poor people are under age 17. Moreover, children make up 26 percent of the total population but constitute an astounding 39 percent of the poor. Just as alarming as this is the fact that 9.4 million children in America lack health insurance and millions lack affordable child care and decent early childhood education. Sadly, the United States ranks first in billionaires and defense expenditures and yet ranks an appalling twenty-fifth in infant mortality. As we might expect, behind these grave statistics lies a series of decisions that favor economically those already advantaged at the expense of the young. Savage cuts to education, nutritional assistance for impoverished mothers, veterans' medical care, and basic scientific research, are often cynically administered to help fund tax cuts for the already inordinately rich.

This inversion of the government's responsibility to protect public goods from private threats further reveals itself in the privatization of social problems and the vilification of those who fail to thrive in this vastly iniquitous social order. Too many youth within this degraded economic, political, and cultural geography occupy a "dead zone" in which the spectacle of commodification exists alongside the imposing threat of massive debt, bankruptcy, the prison-industrial complex, and the elimination of basic civil liberties. Indeed, we have an entire generation of unskilled and displaced youth who have been expelled from shrinking markets, blue-collar jobs, and the limited political power granted to the middle-class consumer. Rather than investing in the public good and solving social problems, the state now punishes those who are caught in the downward spiral of its economic policies. Punishment, incarceration, and surveillance represent the new face of governance. Consequently, the implied contract between the social state and its citizens has been broken, and social guarantees for youth, as well as civic obligations to the future, have vanished from the public agenda. Within this utterly privatizing market discourse alcoholism, homelessness, poverty, joblessness, and illiteracy are not viewed as social issues, but rather as individual problems - that is, such problems are viewed as the result of a character flaw or a personal failing and in too many cases such problems are criminalized.

Poor black youth are especially disadvantaged. Not only do a mere 42 percent who enter high school actually graduate, but they are increasingly jobless in an economy that does not need their labor. Marked as a surplus and disposable population, "black American males inhabit a universe in which joblessness is frequently the norm [and that] over the past few years, the percentage of black male high school graduates in their 20s who were jobless has ranged from well over a third to roughly 50 percent.... For dropouts, the rates of joblessness are staggering. For black males who left high school without a diploma, the real jobless rate at various times over the past few years has ranged from 59 percent to a breathtaking 72 percent." [3] For many poor youth of color, punishment and fear have replaced compassion and social responsibility as the most important modalities mediating the relationship of youth to the larger social order. For instance, a "Black boy born in 2001 has a 1 in 3 chance of going to prison in his lifetime ... A Latino boy born in 2001 has a 1 in 6 chance of going to prison in his lifetime.... [and] although they represent just 39 percent of the US juvenile population, minority youth represent 60 percent of committed youth." [4]

Youth within the last two decades are increasingly represented in the media as a source of trouble rather than as a resource for investing in the future and are increasingly treated as either a disposable population, cannon fodder for barbaric wars abroad, or defined as the source of most of society's problems. As Lawrence Grossberg points out, "It has become common to think of kids as a threat to the existing social order and for kids to be blamed for the problems they experience. We slide from kids in trouble, kids have problems, and kids are threatened, to kids as trouble, kids as problems, and kids as threatening." [5] While youth, particularly those of color, are increasingly associated in the media and by dominant politicians with a rising crime wave, what is really at stake in this discourse is a punishment wave, one that reveals a society that does not know how to address those social problems that undercut any viable sense of agency, possibility, and future for many young people. In spite of the fact that crime continues to decline among youth in the United States, the popular media still represents young people as violent and threatening. When youth are addressed in a more complex term they are either viewed merely as commodities, markets, or simply self-indulgent and irresponsible. Then again, in a society in which politicians and the marketplace can imagine youth only as either consumers, objects, or billboards to sell sexuality, beauty products, music, athletic gear, clothes, and a host of other products, it is not surprising that young people can be so easily misrepresented.

Both the problems that young people face and the sites they inhabit are increasingly criminalized. Under the reign of ruthless neoliberal politics with its hyped up social Darwinism and theatre of cruelty, the popular demonization of the young now justifies responses to youth that were unthinkable 20 years ago, including criminalization and imprisonment, the prescription of psychotropic drugs, psychiatric confinement, and zero tolerance policies that model schools after prisons. School has become a model for a punishing society in which children who violate a rule as minor as a dress code infraction or slightly act out in class can be handcuffed, booked, and put in a jail cell. Such was the case in Florida when the police handcuffed and arrested 6-year-old Desre Watson, who was taken from her kindergarten school to the Highlander County jail where she was fingerprinted, photographed for a mug shot, and charged with a felony and two misdemeanors. Her crime? The six-year old had thrown a tantrum in her kindergarten class. [6] Couple this type of domestic terrorism with the fact that the United States is the only country that voted against a recent United Nations resolution calling for the abolition of life imprisonment without the possibility of parole for children under the age of 16. [7] Moreover, it is currently the only nation that locks up child offenders for life. A report issued in 2007 by the Equal Justice Initiative claims that "there are 73 Americans serving [life] sentences for crimes they committed at 13 or 14." [8]

The Bush administration not only waged a war against youth, especially poor youth of color, it also offered no apologies because it was too arrogant and ruthless to imagine any resistance. For many young people, the future looks bleak, filled with the promise of low-paying, low-skilled jobs, the collapse of the welfare state, and, if you are a person of color and poor, the threat of either unemployment or incarceration. Youth have disappeared from the concerns of many adults, and certainly from the policies that have been hatched in Washington during the last twenty years. In his acceptance speech, President-elect Obama raised the issue of what kind of country young people would inherit if they lived to see the next century. The question provides an opening for taking the Obama administration seriously with regard to its commitment to young people. Young people need access to decent schools with more teachers; they need universal health care; they need food, decent housing, job training programs, and guaranteed employment. In other words, we need social movements that take seriously the challenge of dismantling the punishing state and reviving the social state so as to be able to provide young people not with incarceration and contempt, but with dignity and those economic, political, and social conditions that ensure they have a decent future. Surely, this is an issue that the Obama administration should be pushed to recognize and address. Dietrich Bonhoeffer, the great Protestant theologian, believed that the ultimate test of morality resided in what a society did for its children. If we take this standard seriously, American society has deeply failed its children and its commitment to democracy. The politics and culture of neoliberalism rest on the denial both of youth as a marker of the future and of the social responsibility entailed by an acceptance of this principle. In other words, the current crisis of American democracy can be measured in part by the fact that too many young people are poor, lack decent housing and health care, and attend decrepit schools filled with overworked and underpaid teachers. These youth, by all standards, deserve more in a country that historically prided itself on its level of democracy, liberty, and alleged equality for all citizens. We live in a historic moment of both crisis and possibility, one that presents educators, parents, artists, and others with the opportunity to take up the challenge of re-imagining civic engagement and social transformation, but these activities only have a chance of succeeding if we also defend and create those social, economic, and cultural conditions that enable the current generation of young people to nurture thoughtfulness, critical agency, compassion, and democracy itself.

* * *


[1] I have taken the term "torture factories" from Angela Y. Davis, "Abolition Democracy: Beyond Empire, Prisons, and Torture" (New York: Seven Stories Press, 2005), p. 50. The United States has 2,319,258 people in jail or prison at the start of 2008 - one out of every hundred and more than any other nation. See The Associated Press, "A First: 1 in 100 Americans Jailed," (February 28, 2008). Online:

[2] Mike Davis and Daniel Bertrand Monk, "Introduction," in Mike Davis and Daniel Bertrand Monk. eds. "Evil Paradises" (New York: The New Press, 2007), p. ix.

[3] Bob Herbert, "The Danger Zone," New York Times (March 15, 2007), p. A25.

[4] These figures are taken from Summary Report, "America's Cradle to Prison Pipeline," Children's Defense Fund. online at:

[5] Lawrence Grossberg, "Caught in the Crossfire" (Boulder: Paradigm Publishers, 2005), p. 16.

[6] "Kindergarten Girl Handcuffed, Arrested at Florida School," (March 30, 2007). Online:

[7] Adam Liptak, "Lifers as Teenagers, Now Seeking a Second Chance," The New York Times (October 17, 2007), p. A1.

[8] Adam Liptak, "Lifers as Teenagers, Now Seeking a Second Chance," The New York Times (October 17, 2007), p. A1.


Henry A. Giroux holds the Global TV Network Chair in English and Cultural Studies at McMaster University in Canada. His most recent books include: "Take Back Higher Education" (co-authored with Susan Searls Giroux, 2006), "The University in Chains: Confronting the Military-Industrial-Academic Complex" (2007), and "Against the Terror of Neoliberalism: Politics Beyond the Age of Greed" (2008).

Unembedded Poetry: A Review of David Smith-Ferri's "Battlefield Without Borders"

by: Ryan Croken, t r u t h o u t | Review

Iraqi in Tawheed Mosque, Baghdad.
An Iraqi stands amid the ruins of the Tawheed Mosque, Baghdad, February 4, 2005. (Photo: Ghaith Abdul-Ahad / Unembedded)

On the eve of the invasion of Iraq, as our political figures and talking heads wrangled over the best way to babysit the cradle of civilization at the barrel of a gun, American poet and peace activist David Smith-Ferri had a different idea: he would go to Iraq and ask the people who lived there how they felt. "I wanted to interview Iraqis," he writes, "about the threat of war. Surely, I reasoned, it should matter to us what people in Iraq think."

This presumption, startling in its seeming innocence and radical common sense, underpins the poetic and humanitarian mission of his book, "Battlefield Without Borders: Iraq Poems." Culled from Smith-Ferri's experiences as a writer and importer of contraband medical supplies on three separate trips to the Middle East between 1999 and 2007, "Battlefield" is a staggeringly eloquent portal into the forgotten human dimension of our engagement with Iraq, and an exercise in the project of person-to-person diplomacy. As an unembedded storyteller, Smith-Ferri reinserts Iraqi civilians back into the generally depersonalized conversation we are having about them and without them. Through the uniquely equipped medium of poetry, Smith-Ferri delivers hard-earned insights and reflections that broaden our emotional framework for understanding Iraq, and lend heart-wrenching individuality to an otherwise undifferentiated mass of "irrational people / masked terrorist tribes, hands around throat s." It is in this spirit of reporting not just what is happening, but also who it is happening to that we lift off with the poet on his first visit to Iraq.

It's 1999, and after nearly a decade of military and economic warfare, the nation is in bad shape. Sanctions have decimated Iraq's ability to provide clean water and a functioning medical system. Children are dying by the tens or hundreds of thousands from diarrhea and easily curable diseases. Smith-Ferri and his co-workers drift through pediatric wards that seem more like preludes to morgues than centers of healing. As the same contaminated waters that gurgle in the rivers outside pour from the faucets of hospital sinks, Smith-Ferri pauses to take stock of the situation in meditations that blur the genre lines between field notes and elegy:

Daily, like a sorcerer, the sun warms Iraq's sewage-laden rivers,
conjuring cholera and typhoid and E. coli
that are killing children in this hospital ward,
slowly draining juice from their tiny bodies.
Here lies the desiccated fruit of a generation.

Smith-Ferri and his delegation wander through a malignant landscape where bombings more routine than rain have stolen countless limbs, and fields of depleted uranium have created "nuclear children ... slowly roasting, / leukemia a fire in their bones and blood." Leaning over the deathbeds of these victims, Smith-Ferri and his fellow activists ask an Iraqi doctor - "a grim, tour-weary guide" - what he does to try to provide hope for the patients' parents. The doctor, helplessly flanked by his empty medicine cabinets, responds plainly, "like a metronome," as if bolstered by the authority of his incapacity, "There is no hope. This child will die ... That child will die ... They're all going to die."

Amid this assault of visceral information and a sense of powerlessness that is omnipresent and "pathologic," Smith-Ferri has to struggle to maintain his balance. His encounters with the Iraqis leave him breathless, speechless and existentially "immaterial." He struggles to preserve a sense of identity amid the vast expanses of the desert and the surreal "timelessness of war." Smith-Ferri stands, spectral, beside an innocent young victim in the aftermath of a capricious US missile attack. What words of condolence could he offer to a child whose arm has just been severed by shrapnel, without warning or purpose? The poet has nothing to say.

A one-armed, seven-year-old boy looks right through you.
His black-robed mother,
standing behind his bed,
won't even look your way.

Smith-Ferri's verse is characterized by a tremulous poise that reflects his search for composure, order, justice and an alleviation of suffering. We can almost imagine him taking a break at the end of each line, gathering himself together before proceeding down the page. But his linguistic command of these narratives is as refined as it is raw; these are chiseled, elegant stanzas: cutting, measured, smooth and confident in their authenticity. With empathy and precision, Smith-Ferri fluently translates a foreign trauma into language that is both accessible and unfathomable. Like the blank space that follows a bomb, these words point to the wordless, hinting at the incomparable kind of experience that can only be lived in, and expressed by silence.

But "Battlefield" is full of voices, and not just the author's. With titles such as "Walid's Story," "Amal Speaks," "Ahmed Speaks" and "Suad's Words," many of the poems in this book are either dedicated to, or written in, the voice of the people Smith-Ferri meets. At hospitals and bombing sites, inside a record store, at a dinner party, while kicking a deflated soccer ball with a child on the brink of invasion, Smith-Ferri works tirelessly as a poetic journalist, documenting the mood of the nation, asking Iraqis to share their thoughts, fears, ideas and aspirations. Their responses are seamlessly woven into the text, and are often nestled into a narrative context that endows them with enormous weight and emotive punch. Their voices ring in your ears long after you've turned the page. "If you can heal my child, please take him with you." "What is the mood in the United States? Will they attack?" "Your president is a coward, / fighting a coward's war, / attacking unarmed people ." "You like it here? Why not buy a home in Baghdad? / Prices have never been better!" "I want to show you something. / My left ear does not work, thanks to a car bomb." "The US will find a pretext to attack. / It will either be weapons of mass destruction / or support for terrorism. / No proof will be given." "Five hundred varieties of dates ... One huge one is called donkey's balls."

While these characters express a range of sentiments - anger, valor, resilience, desperation, uncanny hospitality - they share one thing in common: they are all undeniably human. In working towards, as Kathy Kelly, author of the book's foreword, puts it, dispelling "the dangerous notion that only one person live(s) in Iraq, the notorious dictator Saddam Hussein," Smith-Ferri transforms a hazy crowd of very foreign foreigners into a collection of individuals who are extremely relatable and very much "like us." In the world of "Battlefield," people have been turned back into people, and, consequentially, the doors to empathy and communication are swung open. Suddenly re-humanized through the thoughtful deftness of Smith-Ferri's art, the crisis flares in our hands. Iraq is no theoretical quandary. It becomes personal, intimate, active. As the poet continues to bring Iraqi voices to American ears, we realize that these are not conversations to be overheard, but to be absorbed dir ectly. "Tell the American people we are not their enemies. / Tell the American people we love them, / but we must have our lives back!" The message is clear: if you are an American person, these people are speaking directly to you.

"Tell my story ... tell my story ... tell my story ... " After hearing "these same three words" over and over again while traveling around Iraq and through neighborhoods in Jordan where uprooted Iraqis struggle to survive in exile, Smith-Ferri becomes explicit in his intention to relay the insights, appeals and agonies of a deeply misunderstood country.

Here on this page I spill Suad's words,
jagged obsidian chips that lacerate this paper,
its blood marking the hands of everyone who reads this book.

All of this storytelling begs the question: how do we listen? Thusly marked by Suad's bloodied words, how do we respond? "Battlefield" does not answer these questions for us. It is a window, not an instruction manual. It invites us to contemplate our interconnectedness with another people in a world where borders - cultural, linguistic, geopolitical - have been erected to prevent the recognition of a shared humanity. Literally and literarily, Smith-Ferri crosses these borders and bears witness to previously inaccessible realities. After visiting a bomb shelter that became a tomb for over 400 Iraqis after two "very smart" American missiles slipped into the ventilation shaft and incinerated everyone inside, Smith-Ferri is slammed with an inter-culture shock of such bare-faced enormity that it kindles a sudden dark enlightenment:

My eyes were never meant to see this,
to flare like torch, sudden with knowledge,
like windows, to open on this illuminative dawn,
but like tinder in its box (named American, middle class)
to remain cold, untouched,
and far from flintstone truth.

Smith-Ferri's "flintstone truth" burns at the heart of his stories, whose ultimate lesson is perhaps that we ourselves are a part of them. This realization of suddenly being a part of the plot destabilizes the cozy illusion that there are vaguely bad things happening somewhere way over there in a strange land that many of us can't locate on a map. The battlefield has come home. The wounded are laid bare before us. "Fighting them over there so we don't have to think about them over here" loses its absurd currency. Distance is capsized, walls are torn down, and we find ourselves fighting this war not only on our shores, but in our own hearts and minds. What is our obligation to Suad? Where do complicity and culpability lie? "These poems strip us of our innocence," Kathy Kelly observes. "David prods us to be uncomfortable"; he prods us to become sensitized actors in a drama that is already difficult to observe from the air-conditioned mezzanine.

"Battlefield Without Borders" offers brutal, vivid and tender portraits of the fallout of the modern American-Iraqi engagement. Its lessons should be at the forefront of our minds as we try our best to figure out how to respectfully assist in the reconstruction of a country whose history and future have become inextricably linked to our own. More information about the book can be found at its Web site, All proceeds from the sale of the book are donated to Direct Aid Iraq, a grassroots humanitarian relief organization aimed at providing urgently needed medical care to Iraqis displaced by the sanctions, the invasion and the ensuing occupation. Information about Direct Aid Iraq is available at


Ryan Croken is a freelance writer and editor based in Chicago. He can be reached at


What to Do


by: Paul Krugman, New York Review of Books

What to do?
(Photo: Phil Fersht / ZDNet)

What the world needs right now is a rescue operation. The global credit system is in a state of paralysis, and a global slump is building momentum as I write this. Reform of the weaknesses that made this crisis possible is essential, but it can wait a little while. First, we need to deal with the clear and present danger. To do this, policymakers around the world need to do two things: get credit flowing again and prop up spending.

The first task is the harder of the two, but it must be done, and soon. Hardly a day goes by without news of some further disaster wreaked by the freezing up of credit. As I was writing this, for example, reports were coming in of the collapse of letters of credit, the key financing method for world trade. Suddenly, buyers of imports, especially in developing countries, can't carry through on their deals, and ships are standing idle: the Baltic Dry Index, a widely used measure of shipping costs, has fallen 89 percent this year.

What lies behind the credit squeeze is the combination of reduced trust in and decimated capital at financial institutions. People and institutions, including the financial institutions, don't want to deal with anyone unless they have substantial capital to back up their promises, yet the crisis has depleted capital across the board.

The obvious solution is to put in more capital. In fact, that's a standard response in financial crises. In 1933 the Roosevelt administration used the Reconstruction Finance Corporation to recapitalize banks by buying preferred stock - stock that had priority over common stock in terms of its claims on profits. When Sweden experienced a financial crisis in the early 1990s, the government stepped in and provided the banks with additional capital equal to 4 percent of the country's GDP - the equivalent of about $600 billion for the United States today - in return for a partial ownership. When Japan moved to rescue its banks in 1998, it purchased more than $500 billion in preferred stock, the equivalent relative to GDP of around a $2 trillion capital injection in the United States. In each case, the provision of capital helped restore the ability of banks to lend, and unfroze the credit markets.

A financial rescue along similar lines is now underway in the United States and other advanced economies, although it was late in coming, thanks in part to the ideological tilt of the Bush administration. At first, after the fall of Lehman Brothers, the Treasury Department proposed buying up $700 billion in troubled assets from banks and other financial institutions. Yet it was never clear how this was supposed to help the situation. (If the Treasury paid market value, it would do little to help the banks' capital position, while if it paid above-market value it would stand accused of throwing taxpayers' money away.) Never mind: after dithering for three weeks, the United States followed the lead already set, first by Britain and then by continental European countries, and turned the plan into a recapitalization scheme.

It seems doubtful, however, that this will be enough to turn things around, for at least three reasons. First, even if the full $700 billion is used for recapitalization (so far only a fraction has been committed), it will still be small, relative to GDP, compared with the Japanese bank bailout - and it's arguable that the severity of the financial crisis in the United States and Europe now rivals that of Japan. Second, it's still not clear how much of the bailout will reach the components of the shadow banking system - largely unregulated financial organizations including investment banks and hedge funds - that are at the core of the problem. Third, it's not clear whether banks will be willing to lend out the funds, as opposed to sitting on them (a problem encountered by the New Deal seventy-five years ago).

My guess is that the recapitalization will eventually have to get bigger and broader, and that there will eventually have to be more assertion of government control - in effect, it will come closer to a full temporary nationalization of a significant part of the financial system. Just to be clear, this isn't a long-term goal, a matter of seizing the economy's commanding heights: finance should be reprivatized as soon as it's safe to do so, just as Sweden put banking back in the private sector after its big bailout in the early Nineties. But for now the important thing is to loosen up credit by any means at hand, without getting tied up in ideological knots. Nothing could be worse than failing to do what's necessary out of fear that acting to save the financial system is somehow "socialist."

The same goes for another line of approach to resolving the credit crunch: getting the Federal Reserve, temporarily, into the business of lending directly to the nonfinancial sector. The Federal Reserve's willingness to buy commercial paper is a major step in this direction, but more will probably be necessary.

All these actions should be coordinated with other advanced countries. The reason is the globalization of finance. Part of the payoff for US rescues of the financial system is that they help loosen up access to credit in Europe; part of the payoff to European rescue efforts is that they loosen up credit here. So everyone should be doing more or less the same thing; we're all in this together.

And one more thing: the spread of the financial crisis to emerging markets makes a global rescue for developing countries part of the solution to the crisis. As with recapitalization, parts of this were already in place during the autumn: the International Monetary Fund was providing loans to countries with troubled economies like Ukraine, with less of the moralizing and demands for austerity that it engaged in during the Asian crisis of the 1990s. Meanwhile, the Fed provided swap lines to several emerging-market central banks, giving them the right to borrow dollars as needed. As with recapitalization, the efforts so far look as if they're in the right direction but too small, so more will be needed.

Even if the rescue of the financial system starts to bring credit markets back to life, we'll still face a global slump that's gathering momentum. What should be done about that? The answer, almost surely, is good old Keynesian fiscal stimulus.

Now, the United States tried a fiscal stimulus in early 2008; both the Bush administration and congressional Democrats touted it as a plan to "jump-start" the economy. The actual results were, however, disappointing, for two reasons. First, the stimulus was too small, accounting for only about 1 percent of GDP. The next one should be much bigger, say, as much as 4 percent of GDP. Second, most of the money in the first package took the form of tax rebates, many of which were saved rather than spent. The next plan should focus on sustaining and expanding government spending - sustaining it by providing aid to state and local governments, expanding it with spending on roads, bridges, and other forms of infrastructure.

The usual objection to public spending as a form of economic stimulus is that it takes too long to get going - that by the time the boost to demand arrives, the slump is over. That doesn't seem to be a major worry now, however: it's very hard to see any quick economic recovery, unless some unexpected new bubble arises to replace the housing bubble. (A headline in the satirical newspaper The Onion captured the problem perfectly: "Recession-Plagued Nation Demands New Bubble to Invest In.") As long as public spending is pushed along with reasonable speed, it should arrive in plenty of time to help - and it has two great advantages over tax breaks. On one side, the money would actually be spent; on the other, something of value (e.g., bridges that don't fall down) would be created.

Some readers may object that providing a fiscal stimulus through public works spending is what Japan did in the 1990s - and it is. Even in Japan, however, public spending probably prevented a weak economy from plunging into an actual depression. There are, moreover, reasons to believe that stimulus through public spending would work better in the United States, if done promptly, than it did in Japan. For one thing, we aren't yet stuck in the trap of deflationary expectations that Japan fell into after years of insufficiently forceful policies. And Japan waited far too long to recapitalize its banking system, a mistake we hopefully won't repeat.

The point in all of this is to approach the current crisis in the spirit that we'll do whatever it takes to turn things around; if what has been done so far isn't enough, do more and do something different, until credit starts to flow and the real economy starts to recover.

And once the recovery effort is well underway, it will be time to turn to prophylactic measures: reforming the system so that the crisis doesn't happen again.

Financial Reform

"We have magneto trouble," said John Maynard Keynes at the start of the Great Depression: most of the economic engine was in good shape, but a crucial component, the financial system, wasn't working. He also said this: "We have involved ourselves in a colossal muddle, having blundered in the control of a delicate machine, the working of which we do not understand." Both statements are as true now as they were then.

How did this second great colossal muddle arise? In the aftermath of the Great Depression, we redesigned the machine so that we did understand it, well enough at any rate to avoid big disasters. Banks, the piece of the system that malfunctioned so badly in the 1930s, were placed under tight regulation and supported by a strong safety net. Meanwhile, international movements of capital, which played a disruptive role in the 1930s, were also limited. The financial system became a little boring but much safer.

Then things got interesting and dangerous again. Growing international capital flows set the stage for devastating currency crises in the 1990s and for a globalized financial crisis in 2008. The growth of the shadow banking system, without any corresponding extension of regulation, set the stage for latter-day bank runs on a massive scale. These runs involved frantic mouse clicks rather than frantic mobs outside locked bank doors, but they were no less devastating.

What we're going to have to do, clearly, is relearn the lessons our grandfathers were taught by the Great Depression. I won't try to lay out the details of a new regulatory regime, but the basic principle should be clear: anything that has to be rescued during a financial crisis, because it plays an essential role in the financial mechanism, should be regulated when there isn't a crisis so that it doesn't take excessive risks. Since the 1930s commercial banks have been required to have adequate capital, hold reserves of liquid assets that can be quickly converted into cash, and limit the types of investments they make, all in return for federal guarantees when things go wrong. Now that we've seen a wide range of non-bank institutions create what amounts to a banking crisis, comparable regulation has to be extended to a much larger part of the system.

We're also going to have to think hard about how to deal with financial globalization. In the aftermath of the Asian crisis of the 1990s, there were some calls for long-term restrictions on international capital flows, not just temporary controls in times of crisis. For the most part these calls were rejected in favor of a strategy of building up large foreign exchange reserves that were supposed to stave off future crises. Now it seems that this strategy didn't work. For countries like Brazil and Korea, it must seem like a nightmare: after all that they've done, they're going through the 1990s crisis all over again. Exactly what form the next response should take isn't clear, but financial globalization has definitely turned out to be even more dangerous than we realized.

The Power of Ideas

As readers may have gathered, I believe not only that we're living in a new era of depression economics, but also that John Maynard Keynes - the economist who made sense of the Great Depression - is now more relevant than ever. Keynes concluded his masterwork, The General Theory of Employment, Interest and Money, with a famous disquisition on the importance of economic ideas: "Soon or late, it is ideas, not vested interests, which are dangerous for good or evil."

We can argue about whether that's always true, but in times like these, it definitely is. The quintessential economic sentence is supposed to be "There is no free lunch"; it says that there are limited resources, that to have more of one thing you must accept less of another, that there is no gain without pain. Depression economics, however, is the study of situations where there is a free lunch, if we can only figure out how to get our hands on it, because there are unemployed resources that could be put to work. The true scarcity in Keynes's world - and ours - was therefore not of resources, or even of virtue, but of understanding.

We will not achieve the understanding we need, however, unless we are willing to think clearly about our problems and to follow those thoughts wherever they lead. Some people say that our economic problems are structural, with no quick cure available; but I believe that the only important structural obstacles to world prosperity are the obsolete doctrines that clutter the minds of men.

- November 20, 2008




Robert Fisk, Independent, UK - The collapse of Afghanistan is closer than the world believes. Kandahar is in Taliban hands - all but a square mile at the centre of the city - and the first Taliban checkpoints are scarcely 15 miles from Kabul. Hamid Karzai's deeply corrupted government is almost as powerless as the Iraqi cabinet in Baghdad's "Green Zone"; lorry drivers in the country now carry business permits issued by the Taliban which operate their own courts in remote areas of the country.

The Red Cross has already warned that humanitarian operations are being drastically curtailed in ever larger areas of Afghanistan; more than 4,000 people, at least a third of them civilians, have been killed in the past 11 months, along with scores of NATO troops and about 30 aid workers. Both the Taliban and Mr Karzai's government are executing their prisoners in ever greater numbers. . .

"Nobody I know wants to see the Taliban back in power," a Kabul business executive says - anonymity is now as much demanded as it was before 2001 - "but people hate the government and the parliament which doesn't care about their security. The government is useless. With so many internally displaced refugees pouring into Kabul from the countryside, there's mass unemployment - but of course, there are no statistics. . .

Afghans working for charitable organisations and for the UN are telling their employers that they are coming under increasing pressure to give information to the Taliban and provide them with safe houses. In the countryside, farmers live in fear of both sides in the war. A very senior NGO official in Kabul - again, anonymity was requested - says both the Taliban and the police regularly threaten villagers. "A Taliban group will arrive at a village headman's door at night - maybe 15 or 16 of them - and say they need food and shelter. And the headman tells the villagers to give them food and let them stay at the mosque. Then the police or army arrive in the day and accuse the villagers of colluding with the Taliban, detain innocent men and threaten to withhold humanitarian aid. Then there's the danger the village will be air-raided by the Americans."



Progressive Review
- The notion that Obama was all about change is beginning to get a bit worn, so the LA Times has thoughtfully given Obama an alternative amazing virtue: "Obama assigns centrists to make radical economic moves. The team led by Lawrence Summers, Timothy Geithner and Christina Romer will have to strike a balance between extraordinary government intervention and the nation's commitment to free markets." Those centrists radicals will do it every time.

Chris Bowers - Even after two landslide elections in a row, are our only governing options as a nation either all right-wing Republicans, or a centrist mixture of Democrats and Republicans? Isn't there ever a point when we can get an actual Democratic administration? Also, why isn't there a single member of Obama's cabinet who will be advising him from the left? It seems to me as though there is a team of rivals, except for the left, which is left off the team entirely. Not a single, solitary, actual dyed-in-the-wool progressive has, as far as I can tell, even been mentioned for a position in the new administration.

Ralph Nader - Having defeated Senator Hillary Clinton in the Democratic Primaries, he now is busily installing Bill Clinton's old guard. Thirty one out of forty seven people that he has named so far for transition or appointments have ties to the Clinton Administration, according to Politico. One Clintonite is quoted in the Washington Post as saying: "This isn't lightly flavored with Clintons. This is all Clintons, all the time.". . . Now, recall Obama's words during the bucolic "hope and change" campaign months: "The American people understand the real gamble is having the same old folks doing things over and over and over again and somehow expecting a different result." Thunderous applause followed these remarks.


Guardian, UK -
The Metropolitan police is to boycott the home secretary's plan to arm 10,000 frontline officers with Taser stun guns because of their potential to cause fear and damage public confidence. The Metropolitan Police Authority said yesterday it had no intention of immediately taking up Jacqui Smith's offer to sanction an increase in the availability of Tasers. "We recognise the potential to cause fear and damage public confidence if the use of Tasers is extended to non-specialist trained police officers and is perceived by the public to be indiscriminate," the MPA said. "There is no doubt that in some circumstances Tasers are a very effective alternative to firearms . . . but their use must be tightly controlled and we have seen no case made out to extend their availability."

Newsweek - When the Olympic torch passed through Juneau, Alaska, in 2002, 18-year-old Joseph Frederick saw a chance at TV airtime. His tactic: a banner reading BONG HITS 4 JESUS. Not amused, Frederick's principal confiscated the banner and suspended him for five days. He shot back something about Thomas Jefferson. She tacked on another five. Frederick took his free-speech argument to court, with backing from the ACLU. Five years later it was before the U.S. Supreme Court, with Kenneth Starr representing the school. The court ruled that since Frederick was holding the banner at a "school-supervised" (though not on school grounds) event, the principal had a right to restrict what he said about illegal drugs-even if his message was rather nonsensical. Now 25, Frederick is learning Mandarin and teaching English in China. Although he is proud that he stood up for his rights, he regrets "the bad precedent set by the ruling." His case was finally settled at the state level in November, winning him $45,000 and forcing the school to hold a forum on free speech.


Gary Stager -
Here is a most stunning principle of the school the Obama children and Biden grandchildren will be attending. . . Wikipedia: "The school does not rank its students, as this conflicts with the Quaker Testimony of Equality." . . What? Not ranking students? No winners or losers? No AYP? Where is the accountability in that? Perhaps there are other ways of identifying educational accomplishment? . . . You wouldn't think so if you listened to President-elect Obama speak about public education.

San Diego Union-Tribune - Kevin Change said it was strange the first time he saw an advertisement across the bottom of his calculus test. But now he and his classmates look for them. . . Some are pithy one-liners, hawking the names of local businesses: "Brace Yourself for a Great Semester! Braces by Henry, Stephen P. Henry D.M.D." Others are inspirational quotes, like "Keep the company of those who seek the truth, and run from those who have found it - Vaclav Havel." They only appear on the first page of an exam. The unusual advertising may be here to stay, said calculus teacher Tom Farber, who came up with the idea to pay for his printing costs.


Raw Story -
US officials told scores of firms offering security in Iraq that their personnel will lose immunity from prosecution under a new US-Iraq security pact due to take effect in January. The officials told reporters that they briefed delegates from 172 security contractors employing nearly 175,000 Americans, Iraqis and others in Iraq about the new rules under a pact set to replace a UN mandate expiring December 31. . . Under the changes, contractors "can no longer expect that they will enjoy the wide ranging immunity from Iraqi law that has been in effect since 2003," when US-led forces invaded Iraq to topple Saddam Hussein, according to the statement.

Jeff Stein, Spy Talk - When last seen in these parts, Iraqi exile leader Ahmed Chalabi was serving up phony defectors to the New York Times in a campaign to justify toppling Saddam Hussein. Some suspect Chalabi was acting on behalf of Iran, to get rid of its major nemesis, and has continued to do its bidding in Baghdad. So imagine our surprise when we found Chalabi's byline in the New York Times telling the U.S. to get out of Iraq. In "Thanks, but You Can Go Now," the Iraqi Zelig writes that "there are still those in Washington's corridors of power who want to reduce Iraq to being an American puppet state, like Jordan or Egypt, nations governed through a corrosive mix of covert intelligence and military support spoon-fed to a permanent oligarchy." He should know. Years back, the portly master intriguer fled Jordan after being charged with looting a bank.


Raw Story
Bolivian leader Evo Morales accused the US government of encouraging drug-trafficking as he explained his decision to banish the US Drug Enforcement Administration. Morales. . . said the staff from the US agency had three months to prepare to leave the country, because "the DEA did not respect the police, or even the (Bolivian) armed forces." "The worst thing is, it did not fight drug trafficking; It encouraged it," the Bolivian leader said, adding that he had "quite a bit of evidence" backing up his charges. Presidential Minister Juan Ramon Quintana presented a series of documents and press clippings at a news conference. . . that had influenced Morales' decision to suspend DEA activities last week.. . . Throughout the 1990s, the DEA in Bolivia "bribed police officers, violated human rights, covered up murders, destroyed bridges and roads," said Quintana. Morales earlier said that after a 1986 operation in Huanchaca National Park, it was determined that the largest cocaine processing plant "was under DEA protection." He also charged that the DEA had investigated political and union leaders opposed to neoliberal economic policies, which he said amounted to political persecution.


Guardian, UK - Two Teddington rowers are planning to strip off for a perilous 4,350 mile trip across the Indian Ocean in a self-built boat to raise cash for charity.
Daring Roger Haines and Tom Lee will have to manage around 2.6m oar strokes during the mammoth challenge which will see them travel from the coast of Australia to Mauritius. The pair will brave 50ft waves, 17 species of shark, 10 types of whale and even pirates - and they will do it completely nude for most of their 105-day journey in order to avoid chafing. They hope to raise L100,000 for charity, as well as become the first duo to row across the Indian Ocean - the third largest in the world. Roger and Tom are one of 30 teams competing in the Indian Ocean Race 2009, and despite putting L30,000 of their own money into the contest they still need L40,000 for items including a medical kit, a life raft, insurance and food provisions.

Fark - Florida town to rename street after Obama. That's interchange we can believe in






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Editor: Sam Smith









Sam Smith -
Some weeks back, I stumbled into a trend I had missed entirely. I order the latest disc (or so I thought) of the fine protest punk band Blowback and was stunned to open the package and find a 45 rpm. So I wrote to Franklin Stein of said ensemble:

"I ordered a CD and got a 45 rpm. . .Have I missed out on something. . . . Or was I expelled backwards from the current age by the forces that be?"

In due course, the band's 45 rpm explicator, Senor, replied:

One big problem with MP3s and even CDs has been that packaging got kicked to the curb. At its best, music is an immersive experience -- nothing beats listening to new music while poring over the artwork and liner notes. This has been lost. CDs gave us technical gains in fidelity, but shrunk the packaging down to a glorified postage stamp and unpleasant plastic case. MP3s and iTunes make it even worse - the tangibility is non-existent and all music basically looks the same. So, people got used to not paying as much attention to their music. No wonder the business tanked.

But, there's a lot of people out there who still like having something tangible or collectible to go with their music. We've found a few of these people when we take 7"s to our shows -- people's eyes light up over vinyl with a passion you don't find for CDs. Actually, vinyl has never completely gone away in the punk scene. If you put out your own music on a shoestring, it's way cheaper than pressing a bunch of CDs . . . And now that music is easily found for free on the web, there's not much reason for people to pay for music unless you get something extra with it.

I also think music sounds warmer and little more human when it's analog. There's a distinct EQ curve to vinyl playback, also when recording to analog tape. . .

Most of the stores I go to have gradually been reducing their floor space for CDs, but in many cases are increasing the space they have for vinyl. New releases from major and independent labels alike are often coming out on vinyl now (sometimes with a code included to download the MP3s -- the best of both worlds).

But, more pragmatically -- if you go back a few years and then a few more years, you'll see a bunch of news stories similar to [those below]. I think it's more "real" this time but it's still a niche thing for sure. Vinyl sales are just a rounding error for what's left of the music business and most people can't relate to it at all. We don't have any ideas that putting out a 45 will boost our sales or make a bunch of money (really quite the opposite). It's more just that we wanted to make a great looking and sounding thing that we were proud of. I get pretty fired up about vinyl and the other guys are kind enough to indulge that. We didn't do a CD version for these songs but when we put out the full album it'll be on CD.

You can order the 45 here or listen to the MP3 version here

CNN - According to the Recording Industry Association of America, manufacturers' shipments of LPs jumped more than 36 percent from 2006 to 2007 to more than 1.3 million. Shipments of CDs dropped more than 17 percent during the same period to 511 million, as they lost some ground to digital formats.

The resurgence of vinyl centers on a long-standing debate over analog versus digital sound. Digital recordings capture samples of sound and place them very close together as a complete package that sounds nearly identical to continuous sound to many people.

Analog recordings on most LPs are continuous, which produces a truer sound -- though, paradoxically, some new LP releases are being recorded and mixed digitally but delivered analog. . .

But it's not just about the sound. Audiophiles say they also want the format's overall experience -- the sensory experience of putting the needle on the record, the feeling of side A and side B and the joy of lingering over the liner notes. . .

Nearly 450 million CDs were sold last year, versus just under 1 million LPs, according to Nielsen Sound Scan. Based on the first three months of this year, Nielsen says vinyl album sales could reach 1.6 million in 2008.

"I don't think vinyl is for everyone; it's for the die-hard music consumer," said Jay Millar, director of marketing at United Record Pressing, a Nashville based company that is the nation's largest record pressing plant. . .

"Once I got my first iPod . . . I'm looking at my wall of CDs and trying to justify it," Millar said. "The things I like -- the artwork, the liner notes, the sound quality -- it dawns on me, those are things I like better on vinyl." He welcomed back the pops and clicks, even some of the scratches.

"I like that fact that it's imperfect in a lot of ways, live music is imperfect too," Millar said.

Independent music stores, which have been the primary source of LPs in recent years, say many fans never left the medium.

"People have been buying vinyl all along," said Cathy Hagen, manager at 2nd Avenue Records in Portland. "There was a fairly good supply from independent labels on vinyl all these years. As far as a resurgence, the major labels are just pressing more now."

Time From college dorm rooms to high school sleepovers, an all-but-extinct music medium has been showing up lately. And we don't mean CDs. Vinyl records, especially the full-length LPs that helped define the golden era of rock in the 1960s and '70s, are suddenly cool again. Some of the new fans are baby boomers nostalgic for their youth. But to the surprise and delight of music executives, increasing numbers of the iPod generation are also purchasing turntables (or dusting off Dad's), buying long-playing vinyl records and giving them a spin. . .

Contemporary artists like the Killers and Ryan Adams have begun issuing their new releases on vinyl in addition to the CD and MP3 formats. As an extra lure, many labels are including coupons for free audio downloads with their vinyl albums so that Generation Y music fans can get the best of both worlds: high-quality sound at home and iPod portability for the road. Also, vinyl's different shapes (hearts, triangles) and eye-catching designs (bright colors, sparkles) are created to appeal to a younger audience. While new records sell for about $14, used LPs go for as little as a penny--perfect for a teenager's budget--or as much as $2,400 for a collectible, autographed copy of Beck's Steve Threw Up.

Vinyl records are just a small scratch on the surface when it comes to total album sales--only about 0.2%, compared to 10% for digital downloads and 89.7% for CDs, according to Nielsen SoundScan--but these numbers may underrepresent the vinyl trend since they don't always include sales at smaller indie shops where vinyl does best. . .

In October, introduced a vinyl-only store and increased its selection to 150,000 titles across 20 genres. Its biggest sellers? Alternative rock, followed by classic rock albums. "I'm not saying vinyl will become a mainstream format, just like gourmet eating is not going to take over from McDonald's," says Michael Fremer, senior contributing editor at Stereophile. "But there is a growing group of people who are going back to a high-resolution format." Here are some of the reasons they're doing it and why you might want to consider it:

David Browne, Rolling Stone - As CD sales continue to decline and MP3s are traded without thought, the left-for-dead LP is staging a comeback. In 2007, according to Nielsen SoundScan, nearly 1 million LPs were bought, up from 858,000 in 2006. Based on to-date sales for 2008, that figure could jump to 1.6 million by year's end. (According to the Recording Industry Association of America, CD shipments dropped 17.5 percent during the same 2006-07 period.) Sales of turntables - which tumbled from 1.8 million in 1989 to a paltry 275,000 in 2006, according to the Consumer Electronics Association - rebounded sharply last year, when nearly half a million were sold.

From Bruce Springsteen's Magic and the Raconteurs' Consolers of the Lonely to Cat Power's Jukebox and Portishead's Third, it's now possible to buy vinyl versions of many major new releases at retailers like Best Buy, Amazon and indie record stores. And artists are making their preferences for vinyl known. Before releasing Consolers, the Raconteurs announced that they "recommend hearing it on vinyl." In April, Elvis Costello and the Imposters' Momofuku arrived first on LP, though it included a coupon for a free digital download (the CD version arrived weeks later). "Is it a revolution?" says Luke Lewis, president of Costello's label, Lost Highway. "Fuck, no. But our beliefs have been validated a little bit - not to mention we're making a couple more bucks. It's hard to do that now in the record business, you know."

"Everybody feels last year was a watershed year," says Cris Ashworth, owner of United Record Pressing, the Nashville plant that's one of the country's largest and few remaining. (Around a dozen exist now, down from more than twice that in the Eighties.) When he took over the business in 1989, Ashworth made only a little over $1 million in profit and barely had 10 employees. Today, he employs over 50 and profits have more than quadrupled, thanks to a surge in jobs that included Costello's LP along with pressings of Nine Inch Nails' Year Zero, Ryan Adams' Easy Tiger and independent-label products. "My son was very worried for 10 years," Ashworth says. "He kind of looked at me and shook his head and said, 'Dad, you just ain't livin'.' Now he says, 'Well, maybe Dad's a little bit smarter than I thought he was.'"

Claudine Zap, Buzzlog - Before MP3 players, DVR, and Blu-Ray. Before live streaming and downloads, there were cassette tapes, an analog magnetic tape system for recording, listening, and mixing together your favorite tracks to share and play in your Walkman or boombox. . .

According to Splice Today, for underground bands, cassettes are the new, cool vinyl: "They perfectly suit thrifty DIY labels and musicians trying to maintain a lo-fi aesthetic, as well as the more artistically inclined."

While audio went digital, the lowly cassette was down but not out. In fact, we checked to see the buzz on tapes and found a bump in searches in the last week for "music cassette tapes" (+110%), "blank cassette tapes" (+210%), "books on cassette tapes" (+900%), and the sad but definitely true "cassette tapes problems damage" (+400%).

CBS News Report On Vinyl Resurgence