Volume , Number 0
There are no articles.Commentary
There are no articles.Culture
There are no articles.Features
Jeffrey j. Weiss
Paul von Blum
Silja j.a. Talvi
On Second Street
Stolen lives Project
Activist Priorities 2000
Slippin' & Slidin'
Gay and Lesbian Community Notes
Jan knippers Black
There are no articles.
NOTE: Z Magazine subscribers and sustainers have access to all Z Magazine articles here and in the archive. The latest Z Magazine articles available to everyone are listed in the Free Articles box at the top of the table of contents, and are starred in the list below. Questions? e-mail Z Magazine Online.
The Los Alamos Story Spinning Like Crazy
It's media spin in overdrive: Major security breaches have jeopardized the vital work going on at the Los Alamos National Laboratory, where scientists toil to protect America.
But after many years of monitoring key weapons policies, Jacqueline Cabasso dismisses the uproar as “a sideshow.” Cabasso, executive director of the Western States Legal Foundation, is a perceptive expert on nuclear arms issues. Her views don't come near the conventional media wisdom.
“The real scandal,” she told me, “is that while the media focuses attention on a couple of lost and found hard drives, the U.S. weapons labs—Los Alamos, Lawrence Livermore and Sandia—are spending billions of taxpayer dollars busily developing new and improved nuclear weapons, almost completely shielded from public scrutiny or even awareness. Moreover, the U.S. is continuing to brandish these weapons on a daily basis.”
Meanwhile, as far as most journalists are concerned, the purposes of America's weapons laboratories are sacrosanct. The professional thing to do is to echo the assumptions of politicians like Florida Republican Porter Goss, chair of the House Intelligence Committee, who likes to describe Los Alamos as a bastion of “creativity.” In a recent interview on CNN, Goss extolled the lab's mission of “creating the innovation, the creativity, the breakthrough that you need to develop these kinds of weapons and have this kind of progress.”
For several decades, a macabre form of creativity has flourished at the Los Alamos and Sandia labs in New Mexico and at Lawrence Livermore in California. The default position of media coverage is that these are fine institutions; the alarm is about dysfunction, not function.
So, from coast to coast, news outlets marked the summer solstice with an outpouring of fiery complaints about Los Alamos—without the slightest questioning of its mission. “Management there remains shockingly lackadaisical,” fumed a New York Times editorial. “Tighter oversight cannot come soon enough.” With such fixations on secrecy, there is virtually no light shed on the fact that America's massive nuclear weapons program is devoted to being able to incinerate the planet.
Behind the countless news reports about Los Alamos is a prolonged infatuation with notions of protective secrecy. Long ago, Albert Einstein saw the folly. On April 30, 1947, he wrote of atomic weapons: “For there is no secret and there is no defense; there is no possibility of control except through the aroused understanding and insistence of the peoples of the world.”
But the usual news accounts and commentaries, amplifying the voices of policymakers in Washington, refuse to ask why the United States continues to design, test, and deploy nuclear weapons. In the universe of mainstream media, Einstein's observations are upside down: We keep hearing that there is a secret and there is a defense. This posture allows the U.S. government to go unquestioned by citizens, while nuclear design labs stay busy. Their creation —if used as intended—will destroy millions or billions of human lives. That's an odd concept of creativity.
To Cabasso, the media preoccupations are ludicrous. “While the absurd question of who took the hard drives, and why, dominates the national news,” she says, “Armageddon is still just the push of a button away. Today, U.S. Trident submarines are quietly patrolling the world's oceans at the same rate as the height of the Cold War, armed with thousands of the deadliest weapons ever conceived, on hair-trigger alert.”
As an opponent of nuclear proliferation and an advocate of nuclear disarmament, Cabasso sees enormous danger in the status quo: “While the U.S. relentlessly relies on nuclear weapons as the ‘cornerstone' of its national security—and the currency of global domination —it goes to extraordinary lengths to demand that other nations forego this option. This unsustainable ‘do as we say, not as we do' nuclear policy is the real threat to our national security.”
Considering what's at stake, the narrow range of media discourse about nuclear weapons is outrageous. Forget the hard drives. The most serious problem at the Los Alamos laboratory is its function. “In the interests of our human security,” Jacqueline Cabasso points out, “a comprehensive, open, publicly accessible national debate on nuclear weapons and national security is desperately needed and long overdue.”
Can “E-Government” Bring Us Point-And -Click Democracy?
There's a slick new term surfing its way into the mass media: “E-gov- ernment.” Al Gore has given it a big shove forward with a major campaign speech. “The power of government,” he proclaimed, “should not be locked away in Washington, but put at your service—no further than your keyboard.”
Gore promised online access to almost every government service by 2003: “Together, we will transform America's collection of ramshackle bureaucracies into an e-government that works for every American.”
Many citizens would be glad to see the Internet streamline their dealings with federal agencies. But we're now hearing claims that go way beyond matters of efficiency— to conflate convenience and democracy. “You should not have to wait in line to communicate with your self-government,” Gore said in his June 5 speech, evoking visions of “a new system of e-government.”
The vice president correctly figured on a spate of respectful news stories when he declared that his plans for booting up an “Information Age government” amount to “a second American revolution.” But let's get a grip. These days, even accounting for customary political hyperbole, the rhetoric about e-government is somewhere between exaggerated and absurd. No matter how much officeholders vow to level the digital playing field, the barriers will loom much higher for some than for others. Ability to take part in government should not be determined by economic resources. Imbalances in access to state-of-the -art computers and the latest software just exacerbate the kind of chronic inequities that the Internet supposedly alleviates.
The digital divide is far from the only problem with the e-government boom. While Gore asserts that it will bring remedies to “an electorate that is too often alienated and often feels voiceless in a system corroded by special interests and powerless to make change,” the whole idea of online government is a cyber-placebo. The notion that e-government gives power to the powerless is nice—but delusional. No matter how dazzling, technology doesn't empower people.
People can empower themselves. And they remain supplicants to centralized economic and political power if they rely on sitting in front of screens, downloading government documents and filling out forms on official websites. As a matter of fact, the prevailing concepts of e-government are fully compatible with a wide variety of regimes that have little or no use for democratic decision-making.
Four days before Gore's big e-government speech, he announced that Jordan will become the 13th nation to participate in the Clinton administration's Internet for Economic Development initiative—which aims to “foster the development of e-government.” Jordan's rulers, led by King Abdullah, are moving to integrate the trappings of e-government into their authoritarian monarchy.
One of the charter members of the American initiative for e-govern- ment is Egypt, which continues to commit serious human rights abuses. According to the U.S.-based Committee to Protect Journalists, the press laws in Egypt are “draconian.” Or consider Singapore, where the government is so arbitrary and repressive that it has maintained a ban on chewing gum since 1992.
As the country's Straits Times newspaper noted recently, “anyone caught importing, manufacturing or selling chewing gum can be fined” —up to $5,800. The defense minister of Singapore, Tony Tan, cheerily boasted on June 6: “We have begun the process of transforming ourselves into an e-government.”
He did not mention any plans to lift the national ban on gum, which Premier Goh Chok Tong describes as necessary for the smooth functioning of Singapore's transit system: “There were urchins who put the chewing gum where doors open, holding back the schedules.” For autocrats who don't want to gum up the works with messy liberties, “e-government” can provide a sheen of ultra-modernity without disrupting basic power relations. Singapore officials plan to spend $872 million for e-government during the next three years. Who knows, the program may even help to keep the subway trains running on time.
In a country such as Singapore or Egypt, the e-government pretensions are likely to be transparent. In the United States, the pronouncements of politicians and media commentators are apt to encounter credulous enthusiasm when we confuse convenience with democracy—and technical advances with civic ones.
Point-and-click ersatz democracy may be perfect for a governance system tacitly predicated on illusions of choice. If it all seems “interactive,” so much the better.
U.S. Media: A Security Zone For Israel
One phrase—“security zone”—sums up an entire era of media spin about Israel's 22-year occupation of southern Lebanon. When Israel completed its pullout in late May, most U.S. news outlets remained in sync with the kind of coverage that they've provided for more than two decades.
In March 1978, the UN Security Council demanded unconditional Israeli withdrawal from Lebanon. Ever since, the flagrantly illegal—and brutal—military occupation has been shrouded by a thick media haze in the United States.
All through history, of course, occupiers have come up with benign-sounding buzzwords to put a lofty gloss on their iron boots. But journalists aren't supposed to adopt the lexicon of propaganda as their own.
Unfortunately, dozens of major American newspapers and networks have continued to matter-of-factly use the preferred Israeli fog words —“security zone,” “buffer zone” and “buffer strip”—to identify the area in Lebanon long occupied by Israel. “The center of Israel's buffer zone in southern Lebanon has abruptly collapsed,” a front-page story in the New York Times began on May 23.
Meanwhile, USA Today utilized a murky passive voice while referring to Israel's imminent “pullout from its 10-mile wide ‘security zone' that had been set up as a buffer between Lebanon and northern Israeli towns.”
The next day, the Chicago Tribune was reporting on events in “Israel's former Lebanon ‘security zone.'” The first sentence of the Boston Globe's page-one article put it this way: “Blowing up five military outposts before dawn today, including a Crusades-era castle that served as a command center, Israeli troops completed their pullout from Israel's crumbling southern Lebanon ‘security zone,' leaving the land to their Shiite Muslim guerrilla enemies.”
So it went—as it has gone for decades—with journalistic language routinely draped over the Israeli line.
Consider these front-page headlines. The San Francisco Chronicle: “Israel Losing Control Over South Lebanon Security Zone.” The Chicago Tribune: “Israel Reels As Buffer Collapses.” The New York Times: “Israel's Buffer Strip in South Lebanon Collapsing.”
Major TV networks were in step. On “NBC Nightly News,” Tom Brokaw started his report this way: “The Middle East peace process is in chaos again tonight as Israel withdraws from the security zones it's occupied in southern Lebanon for 22 years.” On ABC's “World News This Morning,” the anchor explained that Israel “hopes to end two decades of bloody confrontations over territory it has occupied as a security zone.”
CBS reported: “Troops are headed back to their homeland, leaving what was Israel's security zone to Lebanese guerrillas. The zone was established in 1985.” There's that handy passive voice again, dodging the matter of who “established” the zone on Lebanese territory.
You might expect something better from National Public Radio. If so, you're sadly mistaken. NPR's newscasts repeatedly used the “security zone” mantra as though it were a journalistic term. On the night of May 23, for instance, the top-of-the- hour news announcer referred to the area “that Israel has occupied as a security zone.” The next morning, the “NPR News” verbiage was in the same groove, again flatly reporting on Israel's “security zone.”
I asked NPR officials for an explanation. The network's ombudsman, Jeffrey Dvorkin, responded promptly. And defensively. “The aim of NPR's reporting is clarity, and the use of the term ‘security zone' is understood broadly,” he replied. In contrast, NPR foreign news editor Loren Jenkins said: “I basically don't think that we should be talking about a ‘security zone.'” But he added that his foreign-desk post does not have oversight of newscasts.
Perhaps the most light on the “security zone” tic came from Greg Peppers, the supervising senior producer of NPR's newscast unit. “We were rewriting the wire copy from Associated Press and Reuters,” he told me. “That's probably where it came from.” In other words: Other news outlets do it. So, we do it, too.
The dismal American news coverage of the Israeli occupation of Lebanon is an apt metaphor for the overall reporting on conflicts that involve Israel. Harmonizing with the tenor of Washington's official policies toward the Middle East, the U.S. press corps winks and nods as Israel—annually receiving a few billion dollars in aid from Uncle Sam—continues to suppress the human rights of Palestinians.
On some issues, it is possible to argue for wider debate in America's mainstream news media. But on the subject of Israel, how does one widen a debate that doesn't really even exist?
The Case For Corporate-Given Names
A public-interest group is urging sportswriters to resist a free enterprise wave of the future. “Corporations are seizing the names of our beloved parks and stadiums, and replacing these with their own,”
Commercial Alert complains in a letter that arrived in early summer at newspaper offices across North America. The organization adds: “There is no law that says that you have to call a sports venue what a big corporation wants you to call it.”
In recent years, several dozen companies have bought major-league naming rights. Baseball teams now play in Tropicana Field (Tampa Bay), Bank One Ballpark (Phoenix), Coors Field (Denver), Network Associates Coliseum (Oakland), Pacific Bell Park (San Francisco) and Safeco Field (Seattle).
Pro basketball games are happening at branded sites from Continental Airlines Arena in northern New Jersey to American Airlines Arena in Miami to Arco Arena in Sacramento. Football and hockey are in the same groove.
A decade ago, we might have been very surprised to see the Washington Redskins playing host to gridiron foes at a place called FedEx Field. Today—”to help us stop the commercial degradation of sports”—Commercial Alert wants sportswriters and fans to call stadiums “by their nicknames, not corporate names.” But such advice runs counter to the current momentum.
The logic of auctioning off the rights to name public places is often remarkable. For instance, your local library system might be called the Starbucks Public Library or the Random House of Books. This would guard against tax levies and prevent the need to increase library fines or charge admission.
Likewise, museums that drain the U.S. Treasury could pay their own way. One day, we might matter-of- factly refer to the Smithsonian Burger King Museum. And private cultural institutions could also balance their books while participating in the entrepreneurial renaissance.
New York's famed Guggenheim Museum and the Metropolitan Museum of Art could become Nike Museum and the Exxon Mobil Museum of Art. Children who go to public school now routinely wear shirts without paying attention to the values of the dollar.
Instead of freeloading their way through childhood with some kind of anachronistic nod to a welfare state, students could meet taxpayers partway by submitting to the discipline of wearing T-shirts with specified commercial logos, as per contracts negotiated between school districts and corporations.
Given the importance of wiping out vestiges of New Deal sentimentalism, Social Security could be named something like the Citibank of America System. Other public-sector naming rights could be opened to competitive bids. Because the goal of reducing taxes runs parallel to a multitude of privatization options, it would be shortsighted to bypass a potentially great source of federal revenues—the renaming of monuments. The magnificent marble shrines dedicated to our third and sixteenth presidents could draw capitalization from aesthetically minded firms that wish to combine reverence for heritage with promotion of their cutting-edge technologies.
How about the Jefferson/Cisco Memorial and the Lincoln/Micro -soft Memorial? The Pfizer drug conglomerate would pay a pretty penny for a multi-year lease on the Washington Monument's naming rights. “The Viagra Monument” might sound strange at first but soon could roll off millions of tongues as easily as “FedEx Field.”
Then there's the Capitol Building. A tasteful sign across the front facade might identify the national legislature as the U.S./AOL Time Warner Congress. To defray some of the governmental operating costs that burden every working American, both chambers could bear additional names such as the Disney Senate and the Viacom House of Representatives.
Nearby, the General Electric Supreme Court might serve us well. Meanwhile, rather than allowing the mansion at 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue to continually deplete the public coffers, any president with a bipartisan spirit would be pleased to live in the AT&T White House, honoring a firm that has given millions to both the Democratic and Republican parties. And there are plenty of other opportunities to gain top dollar from the corporate community.
So, let's start getting used to the kind of news broadcasts that we can learn to accept as perfectly normal: “Speaking in the Dow Chemical Rose Garden today, the president called on the AOL Time Warner Congress to boost appropriations for the Merrill Lynch Kodak Defense Department.
The Secretary of McDonald's State urged full appropriations for the Fox Dreamworks Space Weapons Station and added that further deployment of Philip Morris nuclear missiles will be necessary in order to safeguard the security of the United States of Archer Daniels Midland America...” Z
Norman Solomon is a syndicated columnist. His books include The Trouble With Dilbert: How Corporate Culture Gets the Last Laugh.