Article 25

Following the News

In Uncategorized on 04/15/2016 at 3:09 pm

Media column

Journalism and Information Subsidies

By John Nerone

CBS Chairman Les Moonves lifted the veil when he said, “It may not be good for America, but it’s damn good for CBS.” He was referring to Donald Trump’s dramatic surge toward the Republican presidential nomination. He was confessing to a weird symbiosis between news organizations and the people they cover.

Moonves isn’t a journalist. But CBS’s news division is nestled inside the business he runs. The same is true for almost all U.S. news organizations, which have to live inside entities that aren’t run by journalists. Even the very best news organizations, which are run by journalists, employ more non-journalists than journalists.

So if it’s the journalists who have to produce the news content, they’re going to need some help. They get this help by partnering with other organizations or institutions. Think of business news. What you see or read piggybacks on information from markets like the New York Stock Exchange or corporate announcements or reports from a government agency.

Those government reports and market reports and corporate announcements are “information subsidies” for news organizations. It would be hard to report on the business world without them. Can you imagine the work it would take for the Wall Street Journal to produce its own estimates of unemployment, for instance?

Information subsidies are necessary for the news system. But not all of them. The world is full of people and groups who want to shape the news, and producing information subsidies is one of the easiest ways to do it.

Information subsidies distort the news

A lot of what you know about the world comes from governments. In the United States, governments are required to report on all sorts of things, and all of it is supposed to be as true and as neutral as the weather reports that the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration produces. Our governments are not supposed to propagandize us. People go berserk if they think the government is trying to manipulate the public, even if the only aim is to get people to obey the law and use social programs. Google “Obamacare propaganda.” You’ll see.

Private organizations we expect to propagandize. The entire advertising and public-relations industries are set up to do just that, though they don’t use the word propaganda anymore. Hitler and Stalin made it sound bad.

Most private organizations want to avoid looking political. Any business that wants to appeal to the mass market tries to steer clear of anything that would make it look partisan. But there are all sorts of ways that businesses can subsidize news organizations to queer the political landscape.

Take climate change. Denialists have done pretty well in recent years. They’ve produced enough stuff to make even intelligent people wonder whether the earth is really warming up. And they’ve gotten enough of the stuff into the public sphere to give cover to the politicians who say climate change is a hoax.

And who funds them? Energy companies, among others. The Koch brothers, whose privately held companies are massively invested in coal. Exxon Mobil, under investigation by the New York Attorney General’s office for funding climate change denialist research and misleading its investors while its own internal research supports the consensus of climate scientists.

I said before that journalists are outnumbered in their own news organizations. They are also outnumbered outside their news organizations by what Michael Schudson has called “parajournalists,” public-relations consultants and public-information officers who are trying to put across a point of view and who have more time and money and expertise than the journalists they’re wrangling. “Parajournalist” is a little misleading; it compares them with paralegals and paramedics, but hey, paralegals are supposed to assist lawyers, not manipulate them.

Climate change is an example where bad guys use information subsidies. Good guys use them too: labor activists, academics, reformers of various sorts.

But it is not a level playing field. Money talks.

Information subsidies and presidential politics

News organizations are always looking for help filling their news holes and holding onto their audiences. Campaigns are eager to help. But some campaigns, evidently, help more than others.

This year Donald Trump is the leading supplier of free content to news media, especially cable news. By most counts, he has gotten more air time on cable news than all the other candidates combined. He has earned this by being good TV. He is a one-man information subsidy that can’t shut up.

A lot of the news coverage of Trump, and the other candidates, too, reports on tweets. Now is where this gets silly. Every important person or organization has an official Twitter account now. The Pope tweets. Is this not the cheapest imaginable way to drive a news cycle? But not all tweets are created equal. They’re given different value by the people who like them and retweet them, among other things. Trump, or whoever manages his Twitter account, has been very good at this.

Journalists can’t handle this. They operate on a different time scale. They need to report, which requires at least enough time to make a few phone calls. A tweet can run halfway around the world while reporting is still putting on its shoes.

People, we’ve seen this show before. Ronald Reagan. Silvio Berlusconi.

Is there a way to limit the damage to public discourse? Healthy investment in actual journalism is the place to start. Or maybe divine intervention is more likely.

John Nerone is professor emeritus at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign.

Oil-Free Wellington

In Uncategorized on 04/14/2016 at 9:42 am

Oil-free Wellington

Environmental activists in Wellington Harbor. Photo by Steven Paul Lansky.

‘Change Everything’ gathering and day of action

By Steven Paul Lansky

Wellington, New Zealand, was in the news again. Americans there were the first to vote in the Super Tuesday Democratic Primary. (This was because of the time difference.) On Dec. 12-13, 2015, Wellington was the site of a response to the Paris Climate Conference.

Seventy brightly colored kayaks, paddled by men and women in life vests and wet suits, gathered at the breakwater and raised their paddles with a cheer. Greenpeace members manned an inflatable. A man talked into a megaphone and his amplified voice crackled in the sun-splashed afternoon on Wellington Harbor between a playground and the Te Papa Museum as 300 people gathered onshore. They held banners and shouted responses to the call of the man with the megaphone. A drone flew overhead, humming back and forth over the scene.

New Zealanders gathered Saturday, Dec. 12, at St. John’s in the City to listen to presenters and plan for the action.

Green capitalism

Inside the arches of an inner-city church with wooden doorways and big open rooms, about 200 people met. Many of the workshops included presenters who opened with a Maori greeting. One began with the leader speaking for a time in the indigenous language.

Emily Bailey of Climate Justice Taranaki spoke about Maori history, told of a seafaring people who traveled on sailing canoes (wakas) from New Zealand in the South Pacific to and from Tahiti, taking as little as two weeks to do so. They made these journeys for years before the Europeans arrived with their large sailing ships. Bailey honored the people who lived without fossil fuels. Her efforts were in community building. A small settlement that she participated in sought support in other forms than money. She described plowing with horses, gardening with organic fertilizer with four or five others. This effort was the essence of small-scale sustainability.

James Barber also spoke. Green Capitalism, and the problem that everything has a monetary value, seemed to be his focus. He claimed that buying the right product is not a holistic solution. There was mention of eggs from caged chickens and a roundtable for sustainable palm oil. Take the WWF’s “Help Save the Lipstick” advertising campaign, for example. It draws attention to the use of palm oil that comes from rainforests and at the expense of natural habitat for flora and fauna. This, as palm oil is touted as a very environmentally friendly commodity, according to critics who cite its high yield-to-hectare farmed ratio.

Barber further questioned the burying of gasses in old mines and called it an impractical solution to the storage of polluting waste material. Efforts to plant trees were criticized as monocultures. And the idea of privatized forests was held up to scrutiny. He argued that while carbon credits for developing countries looked like a compromise, the actual gain for the environment did not make sense. A real solution, he said, meant radical change and oil drilling must stop.

Frances Mountier of Oil-Free Wellington opened her talk in Maori. She spoke about the economics of climate change and called for a moratorium on coal mining. She challenged the growth narrative of capitalism. Rebecca Solnit’s book A Paradise Built in Hell was mentioned. There was an explanation of Marxist economics and how to facilitate a transition to workers having control of the means of production.

The soda problem

During a Q and A period one participant rose from her seat to excoriate SodaStream. It’s a product that makes soft drinks and soda water at home with a rechargeable CO2 cartridge. The woman claimed the company did not save energy or reduce pollution, and she further stated it was an Israeli company. The product reduces the reliance on disposable bottles and cans, bottling or canning, and the problem of carrying full bottles or cans from the store to the home. Some in the audience applauded her. On returning to the United States, a little research turned up some websites that describe SodaStream as exploiting Palestinian labor and operating a facility that employed 500 people on the West Bank. More research yielded the fact that the West Bank facility has closed, and some sources attributed this to a boycott. Even the SodaStream spokesman acknowledged that efforts by the “Boycotts, Divestment and Sanctions” (BDS) movement against Israel had at least hastened the closing.

The company is still targeted for protests by BDS regarding its labor practices. BDS seems to align with anti-oil New Zealanders and reflects anti-Israeli sentiment that targets any businesses in its sphere. A well-written rebuttal of BDS’s position described a company and CEO whose morality, and business model, was caught in a much larger struggle. Clearly, SodaStream is a commodity that swims with sharks. Why is a business model such as theirs reliant on the Middle East? It seems obvious that the product is a threat to big industry and that it has become a target in the Middle East. It is not clear whether BDS has legitimate human-rights claims against SodaStream or if the protest group is operating based on other motives. Here is an example of a product that seems to be environmentally productive; and as an alternative to corporate soft drinks, it may be an improvement. But, it still operates in a growth economy, and its workers, as happy as they seemed to be, even in the West Bank, before Israel restricted their daily travel, do not own the means of production.

During one of the sessions attention was drawn to the economic success of New Zealand. A Universal Basic Income (UBI) was proposed as a right of all citizens. By providing for the basic needs of individuals – such as food, clothing, shelter and transportation, with no questions asked – it would radically change the profit motive for individuals. This has been proposed in Finland, the Netherlands and the Basic Income Canada Network (BICN) in Ontario, Canada, is also considering it. It was not discussed at length or in detail at the gathering.

Naomi Klein’s work This Changes Everything was mentioned to a chorus of support and applause.

On Sunday, there were many other groups enjoying the fair weather and light breeze on Wellington Harbor. While the action began, a brass band played Tequila on a portable bandstand adjacent to the men, women and children gathered with signs, megaphones, and a PA system. The drone that photographed the action had been engaged by Oil-Free Wellington to document their work. Photos and video can be found on their website.


Uneven Surfaces

In Uncategorized on 04/12/2016 at 1:52 pm

Uneven Surface sign

Death Mother Meets Apocalyptic Mother

By Mary Pierce Brosmer


Inspiration for my Article 25 column came from a simple sign on the elevated walkway to the garage outside Cincinnati’s Music Hall warning of “uneven surfaces.”

For me, a reader of layers of meaning in most things, the sign triggered the pattern of this column, a pattern I hope to be able to live into in successive editions of this human rights paper.

We live in an era in which everything is breaking down, creating uneven surfaces that challenge us to walk in new ways. There is, of course, the truth that things are always falling apart and coming together, but it’s a time when the too-muchness of human occupation of the planet is evident. I shuddered to hear the head of U.S. Fish and Wildlife on PBS referring to the “sixth great extinction.”

In an article documenting a conversation between Jungian analyst Marion Woodman and evolutionary anthropologist Daniela Sieff in which they contrast “Death Mother” with “Apocalyptic Mother,” Woodman says:

“Change is fundamental to being alive – to remain fixed is to rot. If the Death Mother archetype is part of our body-psyche, the profound fear means that we try to destroy anything that might precipitate meaningful change. We will do anything to ensure that our life feels safe and secure, even if it is static, rotten and dead. Our way of relating to the world is written in stone.” (The Psychology of Violence: A Journal of Archetype and Culture, Spring 2009)

Sieff later coins the term “Apocalyptic Mother,” saying: “The word ‘apocalypse’ derives from the Greek word meaning ‘to reveal’ or … ‘to uncover that which has previously been hidden.’ ”

In my last column I wrote about the “death-life” or zombie life created by the most successful among us, those with the most access to levers of power, people guarding the stone on which the rules were long ago written, while desecrating the lives and spirit of those the rules were written to protect – people such as the man in my poem “Uneven Surfaces” who abandons his less hardy wife to the treacherous walkway:

a man,

already arrived at end of the walk.

He is impeccably dressed in the old way

as well: gabardine suit, rep tie,

an elderly gentleman, presumably husband,

hardy and handsome.


He is neither looking for her

nor at her, impatient, so it seems,

for what is to come next for him.

People such as those “fathers of the church” held up again for scrutiny in the film Spotlight, leaders who surrendered children to pedophiles as a way of keeping the institution, and their allies within it, safe.

In addition to observing what Apocalyptic Mother is revealing about how we have created culture, I try to imagine and tell stories about ways we might re-create it (as opposed to defending it to the last child, the last vulnerable species).


In a recent front-page article, “Bucking the Trend,” the Cincinnati Enquirer told the story – stories, really – of women in Clifton who had lead an effort to manage deer population in the area through sterilization vs. sanctioned bow hunting. Chris Lottman and Laurie Briggs raised $40,000, to sterilize 40 does in a local herd. It was complicated, from inception of the idea as less cruel (though more unusual) than herd culling by hunters, to fundraising, to finding a garage to serve as a surgical room and many, many more steps on the uneven and slippery surfaces of our relationship with wildlife in human-habited spaces. I was struck by the sub-headline: “Deer Sterilization: When compassion, sport, need, and science collide” and by this phrase later in the article: “becoming more aware of a swirling chorus of viewpoints and values along the way.”

I sent the article to my grandson, Max, who at age 14 is imagining veterinary science in his future, and who had been very disturbed when he witnessed wild pigs trapped in cages next to his grandfather’s home in Tennessee. He told me how horrified he was by hearing the gunshots when the pigs were dispatched. “It wasn’t fair,” he said. “It was more like murder.” I love his innocence and his sense of fairness.

If I were to say what I hoped he might learn from this experience and from the article I sent him, it was how to think and feel across what I call a spectrum of truths (many of them equally valid) and possibly grow into someone able to bridge either-or thinking and acting. When we talk more about this, if we do, (as I don’t believe in pushing something when a young person is not ready), I’ll be making evident to Max our own family spectrum in this universe. My father was a skillful hunter who scoured the hills of Hocking, Athens, Vinton and other counties for game during the Depression, or as I put it in a poem, “Enough,” I wrote to Max when he was still in utero:

I would not sentimentalize.

            I still carry the body memory

            of my father’s hunger, his pushing

            in ever-widening circles from home, trying

            to flush a rabbit, a squirrel, a groundhog: any

            taste of meat in a beans-and-bread boyhood.

 His sons, my brothers, are hunters who taught my son, Max’s father, to hunt when he was a boy. Moreover, we all eat meat. We eat pork that might have come from the Tennessee mega-farms from which those pigs, or their forbears, escaped and became feral, threatening the landscaping and gardens of Max’s grandfather’s neighborhood.

How then to walk on the increasingly uneven surfaces of the world with integrity and not hypocrisy? Too much for 14-year-old Max, but oh how I pray his heart-brain grows capable of this elusive awareness of which I speak and write. There IS right and wrong, and right action, and yes, evil, but knee-jerk reactivity and certainty that I am right (good) and you are wrong (bad) is the source of the evil!

To hear and hold the “swirling chorus of viewpoints and values along the way” and then to step out into the actions you hope, as do the Clifton women, might (or might not) create a better way, knowing you will be a target for the binary thinkers, ideologues – those terrified of complexity, those who rage against change. These are the all too common “Death Mothers” – more often, in my experience, “Death Fathers” like Cardinal LAW, whose religion is not Christ-ism (at least as I was taught his story) but exceptionalism, which is just another name for narcissism:

Mychurch (the true church)

Mycountry (right or wrong)

Myrace (superior to yours)

Myway (because I hold the levers of power-over).

I described in an earlier column my up-close observations of Death Mother while living in a condo community complex rife with boosterism, exceptionalism and the psychological violence and divisiveness these attitudes spawn. Narcissism so breathtaking and so cavalierly expressed by the “leaders” who run the place – and I do mean “run,” as opposed to “serve” – that I gather evidence of what these people say and do to prove to my friends and family that I’m not making this up. One insider with a much vaunted Ivy League education actually described two octogenarians as “irreplaceable,” arguing that “term limits are a shame because we lose good people.”

(One of the irreplaceables has been on the board since 1987.) Asked, “Would you support town hall meetings before making major decisions?” the same “leader” replied, without elaboration, “No, I don’t believe in town hall meetings.”

My fervent wish for 2016 is that Apocalyptic Mother is revealing to us that all beings, all truth, all reality exists along a spectrum. The hard-edged, competitive boxes we protect with our blood and treasure and hate all too easily become cages in which innocence and fairness is murdered.

New Neighbor Love Poem for College Hill

It’s not my way to love a place

by pretending it’s better than any other place,

and, to be my kind of neighbor here

I will try (I could use your help)

to not go to war with

with what (or whom)

I can’t yet bring myself to love .


(war on anything

makes more war)


It is only left for me to do love here,

(a tall order – will you help me?)

love LaBoiteaux woodland, feeding us green

love the Farmer’s Market, feeding us more green

love the chain stores, love the churches

love the blind curves, the congestion,

(I can’t love litter, but I can pick it up

will you help me?)


Doing love is looking at everything –

(another tall order – I could use your help)

Look close-up, look standing back,

I promise to look at you,

even if I’m afraid of you

(as you may well be of me).


Doing love is thanking everyone who lived

here before me, is believing

they were trying to do love here in

their way, in their time, (another

tall order: I find it so much easier to judge).


Love is remembering

(oh, Lord help me!)

            that I am not the center

of this or

any place.

 (Will you help me?)

Mary Pierce Brosmer is a poet, a whole-systems thinker and founder of Women Writing for (a) Change.



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