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Anya Schiffrin: Who Knew We Were Living in the Golden Age of Investigative Journalism?

By: Tom Engelhardt Sunday July 24, 2011 1:22 pm
A cartoon news boy delivering papers on a laptop computer screen

Maybe journalism isn’t dying after all.

Almost a decade ago, I spent more than a year freelancing for a major metropolitan newspaper — one of the biggest in the country. I would, on an intermittent basis, work out of a newsroom that appeared to be in a state of constant churn. Whoever wasn’t being downsized seemed to be jumping ship or madly searching for a life raft. It looked as if bean counters were beating reporters and editors into submission or sending them out of the business and into journalism schools where they would train a new generation of young reporters. For just what wasn’t clear. Jobs that would no longer exist?

Before the special series I was working on was complete, my co-writer — the paper’s Washington investigative editor — had left for the friendlier confines of academia and the editor who greenlit the series had resigned in the face of management’s demands for steep cuts to newsroom staff. It seemed as if the only remaining person associated with the series was a gifted photographer (who left for greener pastures within a year).

I thought I was witnessing the end of an era, the death of an institution.

At the same time, I was also working for a small but growing online publication that managed to produce three original articles each week — a mix of commentary, news analysis, and original investigative reporting.  More than a decade into that gig, the Nation Institute’s is still going strong, still publishing three original articles per week, and syndicating that content out to dozens and dozens of online publications, reaching hundreds of thousands of potential readers.

Over that time, online outlets have come and gone, venerable newspapers have closed up shop, predictions of doom — of the death of print publications, the demise of investigative reporting (maybe even of journalism itself) — have been aired repeatedly. And it’s true that in this new era it hasn’t been easy to make a living as a journalist or keep a media outlet afloat.  Yet, as a reader, I notice something else: I can’t even hope to read every eye-catching article that flashes by on my Twitter feed or piles up in my inbox from one listserve or another. I end up with 25 open windows in my taskbar — top-quality journalism from legacy media outlets and new digital magazines that I hope I might be able to skim later that day or the next or sometime before my laptop slows to a crawl under the weight of so much groundbreaking reporting.

It turned out that, 10 years ago, I actually was witnessing the end of an era while living through the formative stages of another.  It’s been a moment in which stories published on a relatively tiny website like TomDispatch circle the globe in a flash and a writer like me, who never went to journalism school, can see his articles almost instantly translated into Spanish, Japanese, Italian, and languages I don’t even recognize, and then reposted on websites from South America to Africa to Asia. In other words, they sometimes reach the sort of global audience that once might have been a stretch even for a reporter at a prestigious mainstream media outlet.

Over these years, I’ve also watched others who have passed through the Nation Institute wade into a scary media market and find great success. TomDispatch’s own former intern Andy Kroll, for example, has gone on to break one important story after another at Mother Jones, a print publication that now thrives online, while former Nation Institute program associate Liliana Segura has taken a top post at First Look Media, one of the most dynamic and talked-about new media ventures in years. And they are hardly anomalies.

In her new book, Global Muckraking: 100 Years of Investigative Journalism from Around the World, Anya Schiffrin, the director of the media and communications program at Columbia University’s School of International and Public Affairs, chronicles the brave new world of global journalism in the age of the Internet (and how the stage was set for the new golden age of the reader we’re living in). In her inaugural article for TomDispatch, the longtime foreign correspondent reveals the investigative exposés by today’s top global muckrakers that you missed and explains why investigative journalism is on the rise, not the decline, worldwide.

From Asia to Central America, a new generation of Nellie Blys and Ida Tarbells, Seymour Hershes and Rachel Carsons, is breaking one big story after another with equal parts old-fashioned shoe leather and twenty-first-century knowhow. “The fact that journalists have been calling attention to some of the same problems for more than a hundred years might make one despondent, but it shouldn’t…” Schiffrin writes in her book. “That the battles are still going on should remind us that new abuses, new forms of corruption, are always emerging, providing new opportunities and new responsibilities for the media.” Luckily, there is a new generation of reporters around the world, she points out, rising to the challenge. Nick Turse

The Fall and Rise of Investigative Journalism
From Asia to Africa to Latin America, Muckrakers Have Corrupt Officials and Corporate Cronies on the Run
By Anya Schiffrin

In our world, the news about the news is often grim. Newspapers are shrinking, folding up, or being cut loose by their parent companies. Layoffs are up and staffs are down. That investigative reporter who covered the state capitol — she’s not there anymore. Newspapers like the Los Angeles Times, the Washington Post, and the Chicago Tribune have suffered from multiple rounds of layoffs over the years. You know the story and it would be easy enough to imagine that it was the world’s story as well. But despite a long run of journalistic tough times, the loss of advertising dollars, and the challenge of the Internet, there’s been a blossoming of investigative journalism across the globe from Honduras to Myanmar, New Zealand to Indonesia.


Truly Respecting A Woman’s Right To Choose

By: toriach
Richard Dawkins in a suit on a gray background

Dawkins stepped in it, again.

Well now. Richard Dawkins has sure kicked up a pretty little hornets nest hasn’t he. The man, well known for his outspoken Atheism, and more recently for his rather tasteless remarks about different “types” of rape, has managed to arouse international ire by proclaiming that the only moral thing for someone carrying a fetus that tests positive for Downs Syndrome, to do, is to abort the child. This has led to him being denounced by many people, most of them using all manner of fairly predictable hyperbole. And to be sure Dawkins is absolutely wrong.

Every bit as wrong as most of those who oppose him.

What both Dr. Dawkins, and most of those who vehemently disagree with him, have lost sight of, is a very important core truth. Unless they are pregnant with a potential Downs child, the decision is not, and should not, be the purview of anyone, except the woman carrying said child.

Everything else is extraneous moralizing, and well beside the point.

The simple, ugly, truth, is that raising any special needs child, whether they have a physical condition, or a mental/developmental one, is at best, a major challenge for most people. Both materially, and mentally/emotionally. There are many people who feel that it is well worth it. Good for them. I fully support the right of a woman to bring such a child into the world even knowing full well the potential challenges both child and parents may face. But, it is long past time, that we put a stop to the mythologizing of the challenged, and their care givers. For a great many people, children who are typical can be more than a bit of a handful, and for some, even on a good day, they may feel that they are in over their heads. This can be multiplied exponentially when dealing with a child with a challenge, whether physical, mental, or both in combination. We need to stop demonizing those women, who upon being informed that their child may be challenged, take an honest look at themselves and their situation and decide that they, for whatever reason, are not up to the lifelong challenge that raising such a child can bring. We need to stop acting as if these are special magical fairy children, and as if the mere fact of their existence will alleviate all the very serious difficulties that both they and their care givers may face over the course of their lives. Some challenged individuals end up being comparatively fortunate. Their level of affectedness may be minimal. They may be born to parents either with excellent resources, or living in a place where helping people care for such children is a priority.

For many people however, this is not the case. The child could be born severely affected. Or if the potential mother is poor, or working class, she may live in an area where there is simply little to no resources available to help her. To force any woman to bear a child using social coercion is quite frankly disgusting and it needs to end.

Sadly, there is little hope of making the so called “pro-life” crowd understand this reasoning, let alone accept and embrace it. But far too many people on the Left, who proclaim their support for a woman’s right to exercise total sovereignty over her person, suddenly turn into the worst kind of anti-choice zealot where the issue of aborting a fetus diagnosed with a congenital condition is concerned. It is high time that we accept that a woman’s right to choose is sacrosanct at all times and in all circumstances. Even at those times that one might personally disagree with her choice or her reason for it. Perhaps especially at those times.

Keep The Faith My Brothers And Sisters!
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Oil-By-Train Or Grain-By-Train?

By: KateCA Tuesday August 26, 2014 5:26 pm
A BNSF Oil Train en route

It’s not carrying grain anymore.

Farmers are experiencing great crops in the midwest this year, but are having difficulty getting their products shipped by train since the trains are hauling oil.  According to the NYTimes that’s what’s happening, “leading to millions of dollars in agricultural losses and slower production for breakfast cereal giants like General Mills.” And farmers expect things to go even further downhill as they achieve “a record crop of wheat and soybeans.”

Some farmers may have ordered more rail cars than they really need as Canadian Pacific Railroad claims, but if that were the case you’d think we’d be hearing about empty railcars sitting around waiting to be loaded up with something other than grain or soybeans or sugar beets. Warren Buffett’s BNSF’s executive chairman related the more likely scenario, “Of course, the big difference is what we are shipping these days is oil.” Then he added, “But we aren’t favoring one type of product over another.” No, of course not, they’re just shipping oil, that’s all.

Remember that back in July 2013, the Canadian ambassador to the US, Gary Doer, warned President Obama “if he does not approve the controversial Keystone XL pipeline, then he can expect similar oil trains [referring to the ones involved in the Lac-Megantic disaster] and even trucks to enter the U.S.”

Well, that’s one promise kept.

What choice is there at the moment since conversion to safer rail cars is not mandated by either the US or Canadian governments for another couple or so years (here and here)? Moreover, the companies raking in the oil bucks in ND’s Bakken are resisting using stabilizers to make the oil less volatile, although “industry experts and energy executives” reportedly are reluctant to make this point in public “for fear of antagonizing the companies that do business in North Dakota.” Stabilizers, now commonly used in TX to make the highly flammable oil more stable for shipment,  “could cut potential revenue by perhaps 2%” in ND. Heavens to Betsy, where are my smelling salts?

No doubt there’s more to this story,  and many explanations and excuses to be made. Mainly, though, there’s the perceived arrogance of pushing the oil through to market by train—and leaving us to pay even higher prices for bread and cereal at the local grocery store.

Adding insult to injury, we learn that Warren Buffett, who owns BNSF, is helping finance Burger King’s move to avoid paying US taxes by buying Tim Hortons Inc and creating a new company in Canada, which has lower corporate tax rates.

Studies Confirm Huge Wealth Loss of Middle Class

By: masaccio Monday March 7, 2011 12:58 pm

Chart from Saez and Zucman, link in post. Remember, total wealth of bottom 50% is effectively zero, so this chart is the middle class as Piketty defines it.

Three recent studies using different data sets and methodology show the horrendous losses inflicted on what used to be the middle class by the Great Crash. In March, Emmanuel Saez and Gabriel Zucman presented a preliminary report on net worth showing a loss among the bottom 90% from about 36% of total house wealth to about 25% between the peak in 1984 and 2013. The Russell Sage Foundation estimates that the median net worth was worth about 20% less in 2013 than in 1984. A report From the Census Bureau says that the median household net worth fell nearly 7% between 2000 and 2011. These findings confirm the work of Edward Wolff in a 2012 study.

Median wealth hardly tells the whole story. It would be helpful if these researchers would provide data by decile, but most data is by quintile. So, take a look at the bottom two quintiles, the bottom 40%, as reported by the Census Bureau. The lowest quintile has a negative median net worth: the median person’s debt is $6,029 more than the value of that person’s assets. In 2000, the median was also negative, at -905 dollars. The second quintile saw its median drop in half, from $14,319 to $7,263. The median of the third quintile also dropped, from $73,911 to $68,839, a 7% drop. Only the fourth and fifth quintiles saw a rise in the median. (P. 12)

The report of the Russell Sage Foundation confirms the drop in the bottom half. It also shows that net worth declined at the 75th percentile. In 2003, the net worth was $302,221. It rose to $367, 959 in 2007, and fell back to $310,412 in 2009 and then continued dropping to $260,405 in 2013. Even at the 90th percentile, there was only a $26,246 increase between 2003 and 2013, from $736,853 to $763,099. (Table 1).

The Saez-Zucman results are even more extreme. The chart above (click to make it bigger) reflects the changes in middle class wealth. They call it the bottom 90%, but they say that the bottom 50% has a total net worth effectively equal to zero, as the other studies more or less confirm. Thus, this chart reflects essentially the net worth of the 50th to the 90th percentiles. This is the group Thomas Piketty calls the Middle Class, as I discuss in more detail here. As you can see in the chart, the share of net worth of this group has fallen dramatically since its peak in the mid-80s, when Reagan was in office. Business assets have fallen dramatically as this group is no longer a significant part of the business life in this country. The percentage ownership of equities and bonds has fallen below net non-mortgage debt, and disappears. Pensions are down, and housing is down. Debt has risen.

Saez and Zucman report that the people in the bottom .9% of the top 1% have seen no significant increase in wealth. The gains in wealth have only gone to the top .1%, and most of those gains have gone to the top .01% of US households. The top .1% have net worths in excess of $20 million. The top .01% share of national wealth has risen 400% in the last 35 years, and now exceeds its peak in 1929.

There were approximately 121 million households in the US in 2012. That means that substantially all of the gains in net worth in the country went to just 121,000 households. Among them, these families control at least 22% of the total wealth of the country according to Saez and Zucman. These households are our new Oligopoly.

The trend lines are clear. The Oligopoly will get richer. The middle class will disappear in a few years.

Politicians don’t care. The Republicans are ecstatic: it shows that markets are working and heavily rewarding the most moral and superior among us. The Democrats don’t care. They’re happy to talk about income inequality, but they can’t bring themselves to mention the growing Oligarchy, the vanishing middle class, or the sickening poverty of the bottom 24 million households.

The country we grew up in is dying.

Over Easy: Public Schools in New Orleans 1958-1959

By: Crane-Station Wednesday August 27, 2014 3:25 am

By Z28scrambler (Own work) [CC-BY-SA-3.0 (], via Wikimedia Commons

Letty Owings, age 89 and the author of this post, recalls moving to New Orleans and teaching in a public elementary school in 1958.

New Orleans, 1958

Cultural experiences abound in this land of ours, but none can surpass living in New Orleans for just one year. The mockingbirds singing in the magnolias were left behind in Atlanta, along with red dirt and Stone Mountain. Ray went ahead of the six of us to begin his year of duty in the New Orleans Public Health Service Hospital. He got established and rented a house before the kids and I loaded the car and followed to what we found to be a strange locale.

As we drew up the drive to the hospital, moisture dripped from the huge vine-covered trees. A big crab inched his way across the street. Ray was sweating bullets because his “room” had no air conditioning to tame the heat and humidity. I remember his coming to the car and saying, “I don’t think you should have come here.”

Our rented house proved to be nicer than we expected. It did have its moments, however. An alligator came to the carport to lounge around, and the neighbors whose house practically touched ours fought half the night. That could be entertaining in the days before TV if they had only known when to shut it off. Our house, built on a concrete slab, sweated the floors sopping wet at night. Walking around could be precarious. Clothes that touched the floor or shoes left in the closet turned green with mold.

The quarreling neighbors told me to stay out of the yard during the day for fear of heat stroke. I blew off that advice since a veteran of the Midwest dust bowl could not possibly have a heat stroke. I did not have the stroke, but I did get mighty sick when I gardened in midday—only once. That once was all it took to pay attention to the natives. I never made my peace with the heat and humidity, but we did build immunity to mosquitoes.

School in Jefferson Parish where we lived came as an impressive challenge. One day right before enrollment time, the neighbor lady—not the battling one—asked me where the kids were going to school. Considering that a question with an obvious answer, I told her they would go wherever the local school was located. She was quick to inform me that nobody that was anybody sent kids to public school, and, in fact, it was unthinkable. Without either money for private school, which meant Catholic in New Orleans, or a desire to try to change plans in a strange location, we forged ahead with public education. Our oldest was ready for high school. When enrollment day came, we found the high school, if it could be dignified by that name.

The school building, completely buried in a summer’s growth of tall weeds, appeared as though it had been a long time condemned and given over to hopelessness and rot. The principal, a hefty Italian sweating profusely and flailing his arms around, trying to impose order on the chaos, hardly seemed to notice our inquiry about enrolling a student. In fact, students appeared to be the least of his worries. The attendees chiefly consisted of those who had been disciplinary cases thrown out of Catholic school or sons and daughters of the dock and levy crews. The kids that slept on the levy were called “levy kids.”

Tuesday Watercooler

By: Kit OConnell Tuesday August 26, 2014 8:09 pm


Tonight’s video is “What can Schrödinger’s Cat teach us about quantum mechanics?”

The classical physics that we encounter in our everyday, macroscopic world is very different from the quantum physics that governs systems on a much smaller scale (like atoms). One great example of quantum physics’ weirdness can be shown in the Schrödinger’s cat thought experiment. Josh Samani walks us through this experiment in quantum entanglement.

Lesson by Josh Samani, animation by Dan Pinto.

Hitchbot, a simple, friendly robot, just completed a journey across Canada with the help of strangers. From the Toronto Star:

HitchBOT’s 6,000-kilometre journey began in Halifax on July 27 and ended in Victoria on Saturday, and while the robot is pretty exhausted from the expedition, it made a ton of new friends along the way. The talking, GPS-tracking machine relied solely on the generosity of strangers to get where it was going, and co-creator David Smith was delighted to report that the robot’s journey went off without a hitch.

‘We’re elated,’ said Smith, a university professor at McMaster University. ‘It’s been really great fun and to me it seems like it [has] brought people together in a really interesting way.’

HitchBOT was initially left on the side of the road near the Halifax airport and was offered a ride minutes later.

‘It was literally less than two minutes from the time we set the ’bot on the road and the first vehicle pulled over,’ said Smith. The first people to give a ride to the robot were a couple on their way to camp in New Brunswick, he said.

HitchBOT’s done a lot since then. It’s crashed a wedding in British Columbia, made a guest appearance at a powwow in Northern Ontario, and even showed off its dance moves when it did the Harlem Shake in Saskatchewan.

The collaborative research project, which was designed to explore topics in human-robot interaction and test technologies in artificial intelligence, also demonstrated to [project member Professor Frauke] Zeller that ‘robots can trust human beings.’

Check out some more great photos of Hitchbot’s adventures on its Twitter account.

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Losing Losers and the Pentagon That Hires Them

By: David Swanson Sunday June 19, 2011 4:53 pm


At the 200th anniversary of the jackasses of 1812 getting the U.S. capital burned by the British in 1814, I found myself watching a new film by Rory Kennedy called Last Days in Vietnam. This film covers the moment of loss, of defeat, of the U.S. military at long last receiving its final ass kicking by the Vietnamese, for whom these were not the last days of Vietnam but the last days of the American War and of Western military occupation.

As in the Middle East these days, where the United States has been busy losing wars in Afghanistan and Iraq, and wrecking Libya and Pakistan and Yemen and Palestine on the side, Vietnam was a disaster by the time the movie begins. As the U.S. news media blames ISIS for the state of Iraq, Last Days in Vietnam blames the North Vietnamese. This is the story of the loss in Vietnam, but it is told primarily by the losers.

A Pentagon-funded online celebration of the U.S. war on Vietnam describes the incidents shown in this film thus:

The American evacuation ends. Saigon falls to the North Vietnamese troops, and organized South Vietnamese resistance to the communist forces ends. President Duong Van Minh announces the unconditional surrender of the Republic of Vietnam.

I recommend Veterans For Peace for a counter to the Pentagon’s current $65 million campaign to glorify the U.S. war on Vietnam. And I recommend watching Last Days in Vietnam for an understanding of how wars end. In particular, this film should be watched by anyone who has managed to continue after all these decades to falsely associate war with victory or winning or success or accomplishment.

The final months of U.S. presence in Vietnam were a time of denial, by the U.S. ambassador and others, that the North Vietnamese were coming to kick them out. Every American and every one of their Vietnamese allies and collaborators, and all of the family members of both groups, could have been safely evacuated. Instead, there was a last-minute mad rush with helicopters dumped into the ocean after they unloaded passengers onto ships, and many left behind to be killed.

The film blames Congress for rejecting President Ford’s request to fund an evacuation. But the Pentagon could quite easily have simply done it, and President Ford apparently never instructed the ambassador to do so. So, the spooky music plays, and the color of blood flows down the map from North to South as the barbaric communist aggressors who go so far as to use violence, something Americans would never do, approach Saigon. And they only come because President Nixon was driven out by the peaceniks. Never mind that that was several months earlier, they never would have come had Nixon been in the White House.

Of course, the views of the losers tend to obscure as much as to reveal. The war had to end. The people fighting for their homes had to prevail, sooner or later, over the people fighting for the fact that they’d already been fighting and couldn’t face the shame of stopping. But Last Days in Vietnam shows the Americans watching the rushed evacuation from home, the Americans who had earlier “served” in Vietnam. And they believed all their efforts had “come to nothing.”

Nothing? Nothing? Four million men, women, and children slaughtered. The U.S. society calls that nothing. The Germans are expected to know how many millions their government killed. The Japanese are required to study the past sins of Japan. But the United States is supposed to gaze at its navel, glorify its sinners, and pretend that its defeats are neutral, indifferent, nothingness. Try telling that story about Afghanistan or Iraq or Gaza, I dare you.

When We Look Into Their Eyes . . .

By: Isaiah 88 Tuesday August 26, 2014 1:17 pm

Charles Pierce, “The Body In the Street” . . .

I keep coming back to what seems to me to be the most inhumane thing of all, the inhumane thing that happened before the rage began to rise, and before the backlash began to build, and before the cameras and television lights, and before the tear gas and the stun grenades and the chants and the prayers. I keep coming back to one simple moment, one ghastly fact. One image, from which all the other images have flowed.

They left the body in the street.

Dictators leave bodies in the street.

Petty local satraps leave bodies in the street.

Warlords leave bodies in the street.

A police officer shot Michael Brown to death. And they left his body in the street.

It’s a brutal message, it’s always been a brutal message—your life has no value, it means nothing. Obey. Submit. Don’t even think about challenging the power authority has over you.

G8 / G20 Toronto 2010 Riot Police on Yonge St.

What happens after the eulogies have been said and the latest victim of police violence has been buried? What happens after the cameras and television lights have been turned off and another grieving community has been left behind to pick up the pieces? What happens after the witnesses have all been slandered? After the protesters have all been demonized as a rioting mob? After the conservative backlash has been sanctified by the corporate media as a righteous response to “lawlessness” and “outside agitators”?

What happens next?

The killer cop is not held accountable, and this death march of young Blacks through “post-racial” America goes on.

That’s what always happens next.

Then the police talk to us, the pundits talk to us, the politicians talk to us, we’re told we should trust them, they always tell us that. But when we look into their eyes . . . there’s just devils and dust.

I don’t know whose young life will be taken next, I don’t know how much money the killer will be sent by other racists, I don’t know how many militarized police will invade that community to “restore law and order,” I don’t know which is worse–this police state, this war machine economy, this travesty of a two-party system, or the suicidal inaction of our “leaders” on the global warming crisis. But I know this much — protest is the only effective option left to us, nothing else will have any effect at all.

It doesn’t matter if it’s a political issue, an economic issue, a foreign policy issue or a law enforcement issue, it doesn’t matter if it’s inequality or racism or gun control, you can expect the same response . . .

The truth will be smashed to pieces with a corporate media hammer.

So don’t talk to me about elections, don’t talk to me about working within the political system, don’t talk to me about Obama or Congress or the courts. Talk to me about PROTEST. Talk to me about the only way out of this godawful mess. Protest is power incarnate. Protest is the storm, protest is the rolling thunder, protest is the lightning illuminating entrenched systems of oppression, with all of their corruption and all of their lethal secrets and all of their relentless, systemic deceit.

The amber waves of grain are gone. Our freedom, our civil liberties, our human rights have been buried in a field of blood and stone. There’s no accountability in the corridors of power, no justice at all, there’s just devils and dust.

We’re a long, long way from home . . . home’s a long, long way from us. We have to find our way back. Through the tear gas if we have to, through the ranks of riot police if we have to, through the bigots and the bullets and the backlash. We will bleed if we must, we will show the police, we will show the politicians, we will show the whole world that scars speak louder than the weapons that inflict them.