Volume , Number 0
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New Party Report
Paul von Blum
Henry Rosemont, jr.
Slippin' & Slidin'
Queering the Scouts
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Sex-Scandal Coverage Evades Contradictions
In the days since Kathleen Willey’s interview on "60 Minutes," media outlets have flooded us with renewed debates over President Clinton’s sexual conduct. But news coverage still fails to consider the Clinton scandals in the context of what he has long been preaching about welfare recipients and other low-income Americans.
So far, the mass media have shown little interest in exploring a subject that’s rich with irony and potential insights—the extreme contradictions between Clinton’s evident irresponsibility and his longtime insistence on tightened moral standards for the needy.
In light of his own behavior, it would be devastating for the news media to revisit the statements that Bill Clinton has made about "responsibility" ever since he launched his drive for the White House at the start of this decade. Whenever Clinton trumpeted such themes, the national press corps applauded with great enthusiasm.
"Opportunity for all is not enough," Clinton declared as he fired up his presidential campaign in May 1991. "For if we give opportunity without insisting on responsibility, much of the money can be wasted and the country’s strength can still be sapped. So we favor responsibility for all. That’s the idea behind national service. It’s the idea behind welfare reform."
The Democratic Party, Clinton proclaimed a few weeks later, "can’t have people think we are captives of our own bureaucracy and that we don’t recognize any responsibility on the part of the people who benefit from government programs to give something back in terms of responsible behavior."
As candidate and president, Clinton found that his repeated emphasis on requiring "responsible behavior" from welfare mothers won him accolades from a wide array of political reporters and pundits. Here, many rejoiced, was a New Democrat willing to move the party away from "special interests" like poor women.
In June 1996, as President Clinton closed in on his goal of "welfare reform," he sounded a familiar theme—the ominous specter of unrestrained sexual activities. "First and foremost, community programs must stress abstinence and personal responsibility. A program cannot be successful unless it gives our children the moral leadership they need to say no to the wrong choices and yes to the right ones."
The subtexts of Clinton’s rhetoric were hardly obscure. Tapping into biases among well-off whites leery of low-class sexuality, Clinton carefully aimed barbs at Americans often presumed to be dark-skinned and wanton. Implicitly, he seemed to be saying that sex was too hot for many poor people to handle. As part of the revised social contract, they would need to learn to restrain themselves. Throughout that summer, Clinton lectured the poor. "A long time ago," he said, "I concluded that the current welfare system undermines the basic values of work, responsi- bility and family, trapping generation after generation in dependency and hurting the very people it was designed to help." In another speech, he proclaimed that the government should "demand responsibility from all Americans."
When the president signed the welfare reform bill in August 1996, dumping a million children below the poverty line in the process, he was upbeat and moralistic: "Today, we are ending welfare as we know it. But I hope this day will be remembered not for what it ended, but for what it began: a new day that offers hope, honors responsibility, rewards work and changes the terms of the debate so that no one in America ever feels again the need to criticize people who are poor or on welfare."
In an exceptional column that appeared in Time magazine last month, Barbara Ehrenreich made a profound point: Clinton "signed a welfare-reform bill that, among many other regrettable things, insults the poor by providing millions for ‘chastity education.’ A president who snatches alms from impoverished moms while consigning their libidos to cold showers and prayer meetings, arguably deserves whatever torments await him as punishment for his own sexual derelictions."
You might think that a president whose behavior has given rise to the word "Zippergate" would provoke some media reassessment of his habitual demands that low-income Americans learn to behave responsibly. But, by and large, the news media seem to accept the idea that affluent and powerful white guys have a perfect right to tell the poor to do as they say, not as they do.
Freedom Of The Press: Don’t Take It For Granted
In early 1898, the French novelist Emile Zola wrote an open letter disputing the false—but widely believed—charges against an army captain named Dreyfus. "My duty is to speak," Zola insisted. "I have no wish to be an accomplice." Within a few weeks, he was in jail.
A century later, men and women in many countries are still facing imprisonment, physical attacks, and even death for daring to engage in independent journalism.
When it comes to muzzling the press, the planet’s hall of shame is crowded. According to a report just issued by the Committee to Protect Journalists, the worst offenders include the governments of Albania, Belarus, Burma, China, Cuba, Ethiopia, Indonesia, Nigeria, and Turkey. The Committee’s 443-page report, "Attacks on the Press in 1997," makes for plenty of grim reading. The cultural contexts and political ideologies certainly vary, but many regimes share a common thread: They want to prevent freedom of expression because it might undermine their power. Last year ended with at least 129 journalists behind bars for doing their jobs. Around the globe, another 26 people were murdered during 1997 because of their journalistic activities. Turkey leads the world in a disgraceful category: At last count, 29 journalists were in Turkish jails. Turkey’s government has subjected media professionals to "arbitrary detention and trial for expression of unfavorable political opinions," the Committee to Protect Journalists says. Meanwhile, as the Committee documents, the most populous nation on earth continues to suffer the dire effects of a totalitarian grip on the news media. "The release from prison and forced exile of dissident writer Wei Jingsheng (in November) did nothing to ease conditions for the press in China, where 15 journalists remain in prison, newspapers are tightly controlled and the Internet is censored." In several Latin American countries, journalists were caught between violent assaults and legalistic reprisals during the past year, the Committee reports: "In Colombia, where four journalists were murdered, the weakened government of Ernesto Samper extends its influence through control of television and radio licenses."
"In Mexico, although three journalists were murdered for reporting on the drug trade, threat of prosecution under Mexico’s arcane 1917 libel law remains a more immediate concern than the possibility of violent attack."
"Journalists in Peru say the country’s National Intelligence Service has launched a campaign of legal action and terror to keep them from damaging re-election prospects of President Alberto Fujimori."
The plight of independent journalists is also serious in Cuba, where the government controls every media outlet. "Although the methods of repression are not as violent in Cuba as elsewhere in Latin America—no journalist has been murdered in Cuba in the last decade—the effect is the same. Journalists who publish outside Cuba can be prosecuted for a variety of crimes, from defamation to aiding the enemy." In the United States, pronouncements about the tremendous importance of freedom of the press easily turn into platitudes. Defined as the absence of overt legal restrictions, press liberty is flourishing in this country.
What’s lacking is freedom from severe economic constraints on media. Many U.S. journalists have shown real courage, risking their lives to cover wars and social upheaval in foreign lands. Ironically, the dangers of getting one’s head shot off can seem quite a bit less intimidating than the hazards of clashing with management over matters of principle.
Reporters who don’t hesitate to work in a war zone are often remarkably timid when faced with the edicts of top editors. Maybe taking a bullet seems less scary than the specter of a pink slip or a career dead end. At any rate, biting the hand that signs the paycheck is not exactly a good strategy for career advancement. In our society, the pressures tend to be pre-emptive—and internalized. "Circus dogs jump when the trainer cracks his whip," George Orwell observed, "but the really well-trained dog is the one that turns his somersault when there is no whip."
We should resist the temptation to be smug about the situation here at home, where few whips are in evidence, and somersaults are everywhere to be seen.
Z Magazine Archive
CUBAN 5 - From May 30 to June 5, supporters of the Cuban 5 will gather in Washington DC to raise awareness about the case and to demand a humanitarian solution that will allow the return of these men to their homeland.
Contact: firstname.lastname@example.org; email@example.com.
BIKES - Bikes Not Bombs is holding its 24th annual Bike- A-Thon and Green Roots Festival in Boston, MA on June 3, with several bike rides, music, exhibitors, and more.
Contact: Bikes Not Bombs, 284 Amory St., Jamaica Plain, MA 02130; 617-522-0222; mailbikesnotbombs.org; www.bikesnotbombs.org.
LEFT FORUM - The 2013 Left Forum will be held June 7-9, at Pace University in NYC.
Contact: 365 Fifth Avenue, CUNY Graduate Center, Sociology Dept., New York, NY 10016; http://www.leftforum.org/.
VEGAN FEST - Mad City Vegan Fest will be held in Madison, WI, June 8. The annual event features food, speakers, and exhibitors.
Contact: 122 State Street, Suite 405 B, Madison, WI 53701; firstname.lastname@example.org; http://veganfest.org/.
ADC CONFERENCE - The American-Arab Anti-Discrimination Committee (ADC) holds its annual conference June 13-16 in Washington, DC, with panel discussions and workshops.
Contact: 1990 M Street, Suite 610, Washington, DC, 20036; 202-244-2990; convention @adc. org http://convention.adc.org/.
CUBA/SOCIALISM - A Cuban-North American Dialog on Socialist Renewal and Global Capitalist Crisis will be held in Havana, Cuba, June 16-30. There will be a 5-day Seminar at the University of Havana, plus visits to a co-op and educational and medical institutions.
Contact: email@example.com; http://www.globaljustice center.org/.
NETROOTS - The 8th Annual Netroots Nation conference will take place June 20-23 in San Jose, CA. The event features panels, trainings, networking, screenings, and keynotes.
Contact: 164 Robles Way, #276, Vallejo, CA 94591; firstname.lastname@example.org; http://www.netrootsnation.org/.
MEDIA - The 15th annual Allied Media Conference will be held June 20-23, in Detroit.
Contact: 4126 Third Street, Detroit, MI 48201; http://alliedmedia.org/.
GRASSROOTS - The United We Stand Festival will be hosted by Free & Equal, June 22 in Little Rock, Arkansas. The festival aims to reform the electoral process in the U.S.
LITERACY - The National Association for Media Literacy Education (NAMLE) will hold its conference July 12-13 in Los Angeles.
Contact: 10 Laurel Hill Drive, Cherry Hill, NJ 08003; http://namle.net/conference/.
IWW - The North American Work People’s College will take place July 12-16 at Mesaba Co-op Park in northern Minnesota. The event will bring together Wobblies from across the continent to learn skills and build one big union.
PEACESTOCK - On July 13, the 11th Annual Peacestock will take place at Windbeam Farm in Hager City, WI. The event is a mixture of music, speakers, and community for peace. Sponsored by Veterans for Peace.
Contact: Bill Habedank, 1913 Grandview Ave., Red Wing, MN 55066; 651-388-7733; email@example.com; http://www. peacestockvfp.org.
LA RAZA - The annual National Council of La Raza (NCLR) Conference is scheduled for July 18-19 in New Orleans, with workshops, presentations, and panel discussions.
Contact: NCLR Headquarters Office, Raul Yzaguirre Building, 1126 16th Street, NW, Washington, DC 20036; 202-785-1670; www.nclr.org.
ACTIVIST CAMP - Youth Empowered Action (YEA) Camp will have sessions in July and August in Ben Lomond, CA; Portland, OR; Charlton, MA. YEA Camp is designed for activists 12-17 years old who want to make a difference.
Contact: firstname.lastname@example.org; http://yeacamp.org/.