Monday, June 27, 2011

Orwell's Era: Corporate Governance as Big Brother

An essay by Kenneth H. Laundra

The United States is not a democracy. It is a plutocracy. We are ruled by the wealthy in every conceivable way, in every conceivable corner of society. We have reached the point where almost every major policy decision, at every political level, is made in deference to multinational corporate interests. Often, these elite interests quite obviously collide with the common good of the vast majority of average Americans, but are easily obfuscated through a media system ruled by the invisible, but heavy hand of highly organized, global, corporate profit seeking, manifest in the corporate form today. These interests control the rules and they control the collective narrative, allowing a new form of dictatorial rule and exploitation of most Americans, and those interests are increasingly consolidated.

plu·toc·ra·cy /pluˈtɒkDescription: Description:[ploo-tok-ruh-see]
1. the rule or power of wealth or of the wealthy.
2. a government or state in which the wealthy class rules.

Let’s shine some light on American inequality today, in an Orwellian society where almost all human interaction is mediated through manufactured desires (victory gin, anyone?), in which overwhelming influence over congress comes from multinational corporations instead of real people, and “where money not only talks, it screams.” While it is true that the U.S. has more very rich people than ever before, the percentage of those who are wealthy is far less today, so that now about 1% of Americans own almost half of all the wealth. The middle class is shrinking and the number of working poor is staggeringly high for such a wealthy society. Incomes for the top 1% continued to rise through the most recent economic crisis (brought on by those same interest groups through fraudulent, unregulated corporate banking, mortgage and investment schemes) while middle and working class families experience stagnant or falling wages and dramatic price increases for just about everything, not just gas and food. The evidence for these new economic realities is not hard to find online and doesn’t need to be regurgitated here, including a recent conversation with Nobel Peace Prize winning economist Paul Krugman and an intriguing article recently published in Vanity Fair.

Of course, most middle class Americans don’t need scholarship on the issue to tell them that times are harder than ever before. Daily life is our proof. We are working harder and longer for less, a reality we see firsthand every day. But seeing is not always believing. It is probably more accurate to say that we believe what we think we see, which begs the question, who is telling us what we see? More to the point, how is our worldview shaped in this modern era of ubiquitous telecommunications, where more than ever the “medium is the message”? 

It is utterly baffling that these realities are not readily acknowledged by every single semi-conscious American, regardless of political party affiliation. Baffling, that is, until you consider the modern day propaganda machine and its corporate origins. What might seem like honest public debate over the role of government in America, individualism, or free market principles is, upon closer inspection, actually a heavily contrived narrative produced through a network of “astroturf” (as opposed to truly grassroots) movements funded by just a handful of elite interests. For instance, Americans for Prosperity, one of the largest Republican think tanks, and the foundation of what came to be known as the “Tea Party”, is actually a front for the Koch Brothers (ranking numbers 5th and 6th on the richest Billionaire’s List), designed to serve their conglomerate of industries and media operations (see “The Billionaires Tea Party”,worth watching). Coupled with a 24-hour propaganda platform disguised as real news, with Limbaugh, O’Reilly and Beck barking out the playbook, it is easier to understand how nearly 30% of Americans continue to believe that climate change is a liberal myth, that universal health care is a direct path to socialism, and that the President of the United States has not produced a valid birth certificate, is secretly Muslim and openly Marxist.

War is peace. Freedom is slavery. Corporations are people.

Orwellian doublespeak like this is more easily choked down through mainstream, round-the-clock opinion news sources like Fox News and CNN where, if you say something enough times people believe it. This media net is vast, pervasive and utterly inescapable, even for the three remaining people on the planet that do not, as yet, have a Facebook account. But the apparent array of diverse choices for news and entertainment, from YouTube to 60 Minutes, is illusory because, in fact, just a handful of corporate entities own and operate virtually everything you see and hear in every media outlet.

Ignoring this basic fact, we tune into the channel we trust (and never that other channel), never questioning the choice of headlines, or lack of stories about the really important stuff we are never told about. If you don’t believe me, just turn on Fox News right now, where they are either analyzing the latest murder trial or debating whether Obama is a bad President or the worst President ever. By ignoring important stories about corporate malfeasance, the current environmental crises, or global inequality and human suffering and, instead, focusing on fear and political divisiveness - and knowing full well that both major parties are in their pockets - corporate media are able to shape the American worldview for their own privilege and profit. It is an intentional distraction.

In America today, the wealthiest country in the world, about 1 in 4 children live below the official poverty line. Did you know that? Who told you?

If you accept this premise, that corporations largely control both Republican and Democratic parties, it is not difficult to imagine what true corporate governance through the media might look and sound like. You would hear “experts” justifying a corporate bailout by middle class taxpayers while simultaneously ignoring the root (corporate) causes of the crisis. You would see devastating images of the country’s worst oil spill - in the form of an oil-soaked Pelican - devoid of any substantive discussion of a country addicted to oil and in desperate need of a modern energy plan. You would hear alarmists demanding that we reduce the federal deficit by .0001% by outlawing teachers unions or by defunding NPR , and that we cut Medicare for seniors as a top national priority, while simultaneously announcing that a closer inspection the military budget and its trillion dollar wars (which constitutes nearly half of the entire federal budget)  is simply “off the table” and not up for debate. You would hear testimony from anti-evolution politicians who are certain the planet is just six thousand years old that the overwhelming evidence (and dire consequences) of man-made climate change presented by literally thousands of reputable climatologist across the globe is an organized hoax. You would not see accurate coverage of the largest, most diverse public protests in American history that took place across the country in every major city in the past few years over health care costs, education and poverty. In defense of the corporate agenda, cleverly disguised as a defense of American individualism, you might even see a re-make of the movie, Atlas Shrugged!

And people will believe, despite any contradictions to reason, because people tend to fear the unknown, which in this case is unfiltered information about the world around us. We will believe because we do not believe there is an alternative story to be told, and because we fear changing our pre-existing worldview. We fear changing our mind because it is easier not to, and the role of corporate media has been to incite fear and to entrench opposing ideologies against each other.

Given that true power in an information age is control over information, doesn’t today’s corporate media conglomerate become the Big Brother that Orwell imagined, in that it is all-encompassing, both producing and pacifiying our fears? In both essence and practice, claims that commodify life, reducing everything in life to economic value, are propagated while ideas that might threaten the dominant, corporate worldview become thoughtcrimes, handled bureaucratically through either selective media newspeak, or what Noam Chomsky calls manufactured consent, which often consists of not talking about it at all.

As imagined by George Orwell, in his apocalyptic future novel, 1984, such a society would also necessitate unprecedented surveillance of its citizens and a fusion of mind and body control. These Big Brother invasions of the private sphere would be justified with large scale fear campaigns designed to convince citizens that their personal safety is in unprecedented peril and that heightened government security and surveillance is a necessary moral imperative for a misguided nation. In true doublespeak, they might also decry government involvement in corporate affairs as the best means for ensuring social stability and economic prosperity.

War is peace. Freedom is slavery. Corporations are people. And that is why this happened, and also why this is happening, with no serious public opposition whatsoever.

Being a socially responsible American means being an informed and engaged citizen. It means participating in both local and global communities, making life fairer and helping those who suffer. And more now than ever, it requires us to look behind the media veil, to pull back the curtain and see the true face of Big Brother whom, if he had a face today, would necessarily be that of a corporate lawyer. We have to seek out alternative stories being told in the corners of cyberspace, in the margins of mainstream news, and in our treasured tradition of intellectual freedom on our campuses to balance the misshapen images cast by the dominant corporate agenda that functions solely for global profits and which, consequently, has a vested interest in what you think is happening out there in the world.

We should be more like Winston Smith, the hero in Orwell’s timeless novel, who refused to lie when asked how many fingers his malevolent torturer was holding up, despite knowing he would be tortured again and again until he conceded. Admirably, he resisted easy answers and spoke truth to power because of his commitment to an ideal higher than any other – freedom of thought. Although Winston was ultimately rendered powerless, we are not, at least not yet. And like Winston, we should resist. We should resist a false narrative driven by a single-minded corporate worldview because it is falsely singular and one-dimensional, seeking profit over all else, and at the expense of all those nonmaterial things that make life worth living, such as relationships with other human beings not mediated by economics. More than that, it is a repressive force that hinders human evolution, intellectual growth and enlightenment.

As humans, we are dependent upon the diversity of life on this planet for our very survival. Thus, as co-evolvers with other species we have an innate awareness in the benefits of coexistence with diverse others because we know that without these vibrant interactions we would be diminished in every way. So we value diversity in all its forms, but especially diversity of thought, because it buys us something corporate interests are unable to sell. It provides us with an opportunity for intellectual growth and moral development that is not constrained by any single claim or worldview (like capitalism or religious dogma). It provides us with a sociological imagination that allows us to understand our society from various vantage points that cut across class, culture, gender and race. Diversity of thought provides us with a strong community of free thinkers - and all the other things money can’t buy.

These are the reasons for resisting the mainstream mandate pushed forward by multinational corporate interests, for questioning their authority, and for speaking truth to power. In truth, our willingness to question authority is the reason for the resistance. Like Winston, we are compelled to seek the truth in the face of coercive powers bent on obscuring it. This is what makes us fully human, and not merely corporate objects valued solely for our ability to consume and produce.

How many fingers am I holding up? Just one. My middle finger.  

*For a more thorough expose’ on corporate media control, see the Link TV special:
Published online in Sosh Chat, 6/28/2011                                             
Kenneth H. Laundra, Ph.D. | Department of Behavioral Sciences | Millikin University

Monday, April 4, 2011

Atlas Shrugged - double-checkin those premises

A Critique of Atlas Shrugged
By Ken Laundra

There are two novels that can change a bookish fourteen-year old's life: The Lord of the Rings and Atlas Shrugged. One is a childish fantasy that often engenders a lifelong obsession with its unbelievable heroes, leading to an emotionally stunted, socially crippled adulthood, unable to deal with the real world. The other, of course, involves orcs.        -Paul Krugman

“Who is John Galt?” The phrase is, according to author Ayn Rand, used by the characters in her book to say something equivalent to, “well, that’s just the way it is and nothing can be done”. Used in this sense, the novel’s message of the value of reason, free thought and rational self interest as a means to happiness and prosperity (known more formally afterwards as objectivism) is advanced by comparing this ideal to the presumably more lackluster ideology behind the Galt phrase which represents a belief in irrational ideas such as altruistic intentions and valuing policies aimed at the common good over profit-seeking.

Ok fine, sounds good to me so far, although I must confess to a nagging voice in my head while reading this book that something was logically askew or, more to the point, missing from the fundamental thesis of the book. I was also often bored while listening to business details of a hypothetical (and historically inaccurate) train industry, a subject (like business principles in general) that does not crank my gears at all. The writing was frigid and devoid of human compassion (including the sex scenes), probably because compassion for humanity as a whole is apparently an abhorrently unprofitable excursion from the more noble pursuit of malevolent and egotistical industrialism. Let’s break it down:

The thesis of the book need not be regurgitated by me, the ideological center of her belief is commonly asserted in any cliff note summary, such as this one:

Great creative minds such as Galt's, by definition, think new thoughts and discover new knowledge. They neither conform to social belief nor obey a tyrant's command. They follow their own vision and pursue their own truth. In making intellectual breakthroughs, people like John Galt lead mankind's progress. The creative mind looks only at the facts, whether of metallurgy, energy conversion, or another field. It does not bow to the whims of a dictator. If people like Floyd Ferris or Wesley Mouch can, by decree, stifle or redirect the research being done by a Galt or a Rearden, they've placed a gun between the great mind and the facts that it studies. This explains why the freest countries are the most advanced, and why the brutal dictatorships that proliferate across the globe wallow in backwardness and abysmal poverty. Galt's strike recognizes that the first right of human beings is the freedom to think and act independently. The result of this freedom is the unshackling of the human mind and a dramatic rise in living standards.

I had high hopes for this novel, particularly since it was written by a scholar of obvious high intelligence, and an advocate for reason, rationality and atheism. On its face, the logic seems sound and, moreover, it is an attractive idea. Don’t block a bright mind from innovation through the pursuit of self interest and profit, for this is the means by which societies prosper, both intellectually and economically. Conversely, since government intervention and regulatory policies block such progress, such acts are necessarily evil, characterized as “looting” by Rand throughout the novel.

But these ideas are only comprehensible when you assume that societies always prosper with unrestricted, free market principles and that societies always fail when policies aimed at the common good are advanced instead. She characterizes these conflicting ideologies as incompatible, reminding us to “check our premises”, but provides a shallow and unconvincing argument that these causal effects actually occur in the real world, outside a fantastically fictional world where a mere handful of heroically brave, wealthy industrial elites are held back by a mass of uneducated slackers that, evidently, comprise the majority of mankind. In what universe does such a society with such one dimensional people exist?

Furthermore, Rand’s indignation and contempt for the working class ruins her attempt at shallow reason. What a pompous ass! To assume that such an elite group of self-interested, rational individuals exist, and that by simply unshackling them from the burdens of social and moral responsibility we would all enter into a utopian era of prosperity is laughable to me. But an even greater leap of reason might be her assertion that a keen understanding of free market principles, void of irrational concern for the welfare of others, is the ultimate key to human enlightenment and happiness. For reals?

If the social consequences of a de-regulated, private banking industry (the 2008 trillion dollar bank bailout due to fraudulent lending and accounting practices), or the consequences of unregulated gulf oil rigs (BP Oil Spill 2010), or the consequences of profit-driven war for increasingly scarce oil (the decade long, 3 trillion dollar wars with Iraq and Afghanistan), or the consequences of not adopting Kyoto climate change protocols in time to save the planet’s ecosystems because it is deemed “too expensive” are not sufficient examples of rational self-interest run amuck, then you have obviously crash landed your brain into John Galt canyon.

Time and time again, throughout history, deregulated industries have broken all moral covenants with the overall welfare of society by exploiting workers, lowering wages, defrauding consumers, trimming worker benefits, outsourcing jobs, and polluting the environment – all in the name of short term profit-seeking for the company’s stockholders. It cannot be reasonably argued that the invisible hand of the free market does not regularly slap society across the face when given a chance, that it always benefits the common good, particularly when you consider the important difference between a high quality of life and a merely high standard of living, a distinction Rand does not appear to grasp the significance of.

Wealth does not guarantee happiness (although it certainly helps), but in conflating these two distinct human goals, Rand makes the erroneous assertion that they are synonymous achievements (e.g. John Galt, the ideological hero of Atlas Shrugged, argues that "a free mind and a free market are corollaries"), and that, hence, in accumulating wealth you will attain self-fulfillment. This claim is only evidenced in a fairy tale of industrialist dreams that is Atlas Shrugged. In the real world of actual people, we strive for satisfying relationships with other people, wealthy or poor as they may be, and we are cognizant of our social responsibilities and common plight as one species on a fragile, interactive planet. We value diversity of ideas and diverse cultural experiences from people of all walks of life, capitalist or communist in orientation, and most of these cherished relationships are not grounded in economic exchange or mediated through economic principles at all. There is simply much more to life and more to value about our fellow human beings than Rand is willing to acknowledge. In fact, by asserting that economic structures dictate our social experiences so fully and completely, Rand reveals herself as more Marxist in orientation than many socialists living today! There’s a contradiction for ya, Ayn!

At its best, Rand’s free market worldview is overly idealistic, not well grounded in the actual, complex patterns of human interaction. At its worst, it is an ironically totalitarian manifesto, founded in a clear bias toward the peculiar economic morality of production and greed. Given the spectrum of contrary and negative outcomes that the capitalist agenda has levied on us throughout human history, one can only conclude that Atlas Shrugged falls on its face, in the face of facts and reason. It seems reasonable, then, to wonder if Rand should reconsider this contradiction and - check her premises.

Ken L.

Sunday, February 6, 2011

Facing the Storm: The Egyptian Whiteout

In Chicago last week, there were reports of thundersnow - thunder and lighting during a snowstorm that brought the city to a screeching halt. During the height of the blizzard, many were forced to stop their cars in the middle of the street, get out, and walk. Imagine how it must have felt to step out of your warm, dry car, face first into the ripping winds of a huge blizzard, your face pelted by stinging ice pebbles as you stride down Lakeshore Drive, with crashing thunder all around you! It must have felt somewhat apocalyptic. I mean, really, a thunderstorm within a snowstorm!?!

Many have commented on these rare, but increasingly common weather events, suggesting that this extreme weather may signal a new era of global unpredictability, instability, and uncertainty. But does it? Should we see any single storm, drought, mudslide, or crashing iceburg as a curious but isolated event, or as emblematic of larger, more consequential sea changes in the global ecosystem? As a prelude to annihilation?

While we may not always know how to interpret these extreme events, we should at least be paying more attention to them. Viewing these events as the culmination of complex, interrelated forces, whether they manifest as natural or man-made catastrophes, is crucial to seeing our way through the blizzard of disinformation and political hype that blows around us. Regardless of its form, an extreme event serves as a warning beacon, illuminated to get our attention. During these moments, we need to pause from our daily lives and take stock of these events because they often represent the balancing of an extreme imbalance, and too often we fail to see it coming.

Whether it takes the form of thundersnow in Chicago, a tsunami in Indonesia, rampant unemployment in an economic crisis, or a mass revolt in Egypt, extremities in the world tend to represent uneven forces leveling out. When the seas rise and a levee breaks, the turbulent water razes everything in its path, but it will eventually flow into equilibrium, a state of harmony with its surroundings. The same might be said of social unrest, likened to a cracked wall holding back an ocean of oppression. When the force of inequality grows into a hurricane of upheaval, there will naturally be chaos as the wall of injustice breaks and as the liberated masses flow into the streets. Eventually, though, it flows into reform, a balancing of the social seas.

This ebb and flow of societies can have a numbing effect, though, much like watching the rhythmic pattern of snow passing through dim headlights while driving through a snowstorm. We have been trained to focus on the road and not the storm. Don’t panic. Stay in the car. Just stay calm, look forward, and keep driving until the storm passes. As such, it is easy to think of a public protest or even a massive political revolution as a singular and temporary state of imbalance - a seemingly natural cycle of action and reaction. Stability, then increasing instability, extreme event, and then balance. The storm grows, the energy is released, then the calm. One by one they come and go, flowing across our TV screens and over our heads. Stay in the car and keep driving forward, knowing that this too shall pass. So it goes.

So, as we watch events unfolding in Egypt, it is easy to dismiss this most recent political upheaval as just that - another political upheaval in the Middle East, the latest storm to pass by. A real yawner this one is too - they don’t even have guns in Egypt, just some rocks and a few Molotov cocktails! No need to crane-neck on this one. Keep driving. Turn up the volume and tune out the struggle. Besides, American Idol is on tonight and CNN has just broken coverage of the revolution for breaking news - Lindsay Lohan is under investigation for theft.*

But stop your car for a minute and consider what we are witnessing in Egypt today. For those tuning in, what we are witness to is something new to the landscape of revolt, a mass protest unlike any other in history, and one that signals a new path through the extreme storm that encompasses all of humanity today. To really see the storm, though, you have to get out of your car and look outside for yourself. Look past the media blizzard.

A famous lyric from a 60's song says, "The revolution will not be televised". At first glance, the classic quote has seemingly lost its prophecy, as evidenced by the Egyptian revolt which has garnered almost round-the-clock coverage on 24-hour news stations. In fact, since the first Gulf War, every American has enjoyed the option of watching bombs fall and buildings burn, all live in HD on a 52" plasma TV screen. But are we truly embedded, or just in bed with these images? For the most part, we are watching a studio version of the truth, a larger truth that has been shrunk down to fit our TV screens - and our worldviews.

Consider how Fox News narrates the Egyptian uprising as a story of chaos between opposing, morally neutral, but equally threatening forces, rather than describing what is actually happening in Egypt – a full blown peaceful uprising by a wide cross-section of educated, moderate people who have been at the hands of an oppressive dictatorial regime for generations. Facing a hardened dictator, a daunting police presence prone to violence, and a military power with questionable intent, hundreds of thousands of people - entire families in fact - poured out in solidarity into the streets, knowing they would have to endure for days on end. These people stopped what they were doing, walked out of comfortable homes and into chaotic streets, and faced the storm - a storm not made of ice pellets but of rocks, tear gas, Molotov cocktails, and global criticism. Incredibly, they stand victorious! Their obvious thirst for freedom overpowered their exhaustion and, coupled with savvy use of social media and some good ol’ fashioned non-violent civil disobedience, they have proven themselves to be formidable. In fact, they have demonstrated a new model for future revolutions in the region. Powerful dictatorial regimes can be toppled with just collective will, Facebook, and a few rocks. And it can be done with relative peace!

We should remember our own country’s origins and stand in solidarity with them, because their struggle is also ours – a fight for equal rights and a participatory democracy. The democracy they want might not look just like ours, but so what? What gives us the right to dictate how democracy looks in every other country around the globe? Democracy as a strategic model for freedom is not a one-size-fits-all program. Thus, we should stand against totalitarianism wherever it exists and worry less about how more easily our American interests are furthered under more easily controllable dictatorships. The true ideals of freedom, the very revolutionary ideals our own country was founded on, are expressed in the struggle for equality. It is a struggle for balance.

These ideals seem obvious, really, when you stop to look at what’s really going on over there. But the truth is obscured by Fox’s corporate camera lens, refracting truth and adjusted to the narrow worldview of the conservative mainstream - middle-aged, white, conservative Christians who assume most Muslims are terrorists anyway. The narrative put forth is this: Some radical Muslims, spearheaded by a dangerously radical group known as the Muslim Brotherhood, are attempting to overthrow our political ally and benevolent dictator, Hosni Mubarak, so that they might institute Islamo-fascism and another political safe haven for Al-Quaeda. Fox News has even taken false consciousness to a new level by suggesting that, in the likely event all Egyptian antiquities are looted and lost, that our American economy will suffer immensely as tourism ceases in this part of the world. One has to wonder if the Muslim Brotherhood might also steal the Sphinx and pyramids as well? Hard to say. It’s like reading hieroglyphics.

In a real sense, then, the revolution is NOT being televised, in that a truly democratic uprising has been obfuscated by corporate media with a profit-driven shock doctrine that requires fear and political propaganda to fuel it. This is why we get the fictional narrative instead of the truth. This is why Fox News chose to break away from live coverage of the uprising, during a critical conflict between pro and anti-Mubarak forces, for what was essentially an infomercial for Rupert Murdock to sell his interest in the new Apple/iphone news application. This is also why, when coverage returned to Fox News, the “breaking news” was that the Egyptian Museum had been set on fire by protesters (which it had not), and why the running narrative that afternoon was fear of chaos, fear of radicalism, fear of protesters. And this is why Lindsay Lohan remains front page news.

It is hard to see truth clearly in such a whiteout. Like driving in Chicago during a blizzard, you have to squint to see the road. You hear booming thunder in the distance but at that moment you can only focus on the vanishing yellow line just beyond the hood of your car. What was that over there? A protest in Egypt? Scary terrorists taking over another country? It’s hard to be certain, so many distractions.

To see clearly you have to stop. Pull your car over to the shoulder and turn it off. Wipe away the fog from your window and squint through the faint light. Remember your destination. Then, step outside your warm, dry vehicle and take a look around. Face the storm. What do you see? See your destination and the road that leads you there. Start walking. Keep walking. Walk straight through the corporate media blizzard, into its pelting ice and wind. Walk in full stride toward more truth and justice in the world. Walk like an Egyptian.**

Ken Laundra
*occurred on CNN while I was writing this essay.
**yeah, I know it was a long way to go to get to this; no the link does not go to the Bangles homepage.

Friday, January 14, 2011

Arizona Shooting

I don't think the young schizophrenic, Jared Lee Loughner, was driven by right-wing political extremism, he was all over the place and leaned toward the apolitical, but he was talking the same trash on YouTube, he adopted the script that was available to him, so it's a good a time as any to reflect on the state of politics today. The point I would like to make is this: the left just doesn't talk this way, at least almost never, and never which such unbridled zeal. Nobody but the extreme (and sometimes middle) right employ such violent and hateful imagery:

"I tell people don't kill all the liberals. Leave enough so we can have two on every campus - living fossils - so we will never forget what these people stood for."

- Rush Limbaugh, Denver Post, 12-29-95

"Get rid of the guy. Impeach him, censure him, assassinate him."

- Rep. James Hansen (R-UT), talking about President Clinton

"We're going to keep building the party until we're hunting Democrats with dogs."

- Senator Phil Gramm (R-TX), Mother Jones, 08-95

"My only regret with Timothy McVeigh is he did not go to the New York Times building."

- Ann Coulter, New York Observer, 08-26-02

"We need to execute people like John Walker in order to physically intimidate liberals, by making them realize that they can be killed, too. Otherwise, they will turn out to be outright traitors."

- Ann Coulter, at the Conservative Political Action Conference, 02-26-02

"Chelsea is a Clinton. She bears the taint; and though not prosecutable in law, in custom and nature the taint cannot be ignored. All the great despotisms of the past - I'm not arguing for despotism as a principle, but they sure knew how to deal with potential trouble - recognized that the families of objectionable citizens were a continuing threat. In Stalin's penal code it was a crime to be the wife or child of an 'enemy of the people.' The Nazis used the same principle, which they called Sippenhaft, 'clan liability.' In Imperial China, enemies of the state were punished 'to the ninth degree': that is, everyone in the offender's own generation would be killed and everyone related via four generations up, to the great-great-grandparents, and four generations down, to the great-great-grandchildren, would also be killed."

- John Derbyshire, National Review, 02-15-01

"Two things made this country great: White men & Christianity. The degree these two have diminished is in direct proportion to the corruption and fall of the nation. Every problem that has arisen (sic) can be directly traced back to our departure from God's Law and the disenfranchisement of White men."

- State Rep. Don Davis (R-NC), emailed to every member of the North Carolina House and Senate, reported by the Fayetteville Observer, 08-22-01
Published on Truthout (

For a thorough review of right-wing rhetoric, see a recent conversation on Democracy Now with Francis Fox Piven, a sociologist targeted by Glenn Beck on many occasions.

Tuesday, January 11, 2011

BreakAway - Service trip to New Orleans 2011

These are some photos and sociological ruminations from the most recent Millikin University "Breakaway" trip to New Orleans, where we spent a week helping those STILL in need of help. We were all struck by the ongoing needs of the area, particularly in the St. Bernard Parish where we worked. We were also struck by the optimistic attitude of a community ravished by a hurricane and, most recently, by an oil spill. They've been hit hard, but continue to bounce back from it all. We heard so many compelling stories of survival, compassion and injustice. One story that highlights the human side of the tragedy can be read in a book titled, Zeitoun (plot: a Muslim man, a local painter with a good heart, remains in the devastated area to assist stranded neighbors and animals, only to be carted away by the FBI as a suspected "terrorist.") True story.


To better understand sociology's contribution to disaster research, check out this online article entitled, "Finding and Framing Katrina: The Social Construction of Disaster", By Havidán Rodríguez & Russell Dynes. This study criticizes the media's framing and storytelling of the disaster, dispelling the popular myths, for example, that there were hundreds of deaths, bodies and rapes at the Superdome. Another subject not well reported by mainstream media, was the aftermath of relocation, such as the 600 African Americans that were displaced to conservative, white, Mormon Utah - see the full documentary from Free Speech TV, entitled "Desert Bayou" on YouTube..

The full congressional, bipartisan report on the government's (lack of) timely reaction to this nation's worst national disaster, is here, entitled, "A Failure of Initiative."

For a complete bibliography of social science research related to Katrina, go HERE.

See archived photos from survivors HERE.