Vanity Fair and Iran-Contra II

Most often of Saturdays, but today on Wednesday, I went to my favorite European Cafe on Halsted and Grand. Part of my post Tai-Chi class ritual is to go to the Blue Iguana for Nutella Crepes (served after 1:30pm) and to read magazine confections (namely W or Vogue).  Now, I do not subscribe to magazines. I read various newspapers/magazies online, NYTimes, Guardian, Salon, The New Yorker, etc. I used to read the Atlantic Monthly, but they did not have a web-only subscription and I don't like collecting paper magazines. Today, I read Vanity Fair. And I've come to the realization, that I really love, love, love, the writing in Vanity Fair.

The writing is smart, even witty, and at a level of investigative depth and clarity that one does not find anymore. I was most riveted by David Rose's story, The Gaza Bombshell,  on the attempted US-supported coup against Hamas in 2007. Rose does an excellent job documenting (with actual government documents) the Bush government's urging of Fatah President Abbas to dissolve the Hamas-led government if they do not recognize Israel's right to exist, various drafts of plans to provide Abbas with financial and military support to expel Hamas from power.

Rose details how the Bush administration attempted to hide the military costs by getting other Arab countries to front the weapons and training, while negotiating with the US Congress for non-military costs. He details the "surprise" of the State department about Hamas willing the election, the Fetah-Hamas short-lived agreement, and the defeat by Israel by Hamas. He quotes Condi's statements of "Who could guess that X would happen?" What Rose best documents is the human costs of US miscalculations due to its desire to use Palestine to create Bush and Rice's legacy in the Middle East.

The fact that this is referred to as Iran-Contra II makes me angry that none of the people who authored this failed coup will be held accountable for the instability that they have caused. 

So I appreciate the writing of Vanity Fair, which did have an awesome article on designer Calvin Klein. Of course, there seems to be the standard lack of diversity in terms of people of color and people under 45 years of age. The only person of color, and I mean any color, is Fashion and Style director (illustrator) Michael Roberts, who was hired in 2006. But they still make me want to make an exception to the no-paper-subscriptions rule.

Local News

Since Yahoo created a news block for local news, I've been reading a lot of stories from the Chicago Tribune online. Have you ever noticed that most of the stories in the local news are about (1) fires, (2) car crashes, and (3) local politics in that order? In Chicago, the fires tend to take place mostly on the South Side and feature the deaths of women and children. This is very sad and says a lot about Chicago's racial and class structures where fires are never caught in time. The inhabitants are rarely saved.  The car crashes often involve druck drivers. The local politics, this being Chicago, is often about corruption scandals. We have our share of murders, but I'm really surprised about the number of fire headlines.

I guess with international and national news it is only the scale of events that differs. House fires become natural disasters. Car crashes become wars. Local politics become the statements and corruption of State, Federal, and Transnational politic figures. I go to the Good News Network to find the positivity in the news, but often there seems to not be enough of that.

Wall Street's ownership over the public good

In today's NY Times, there is an insightful article, How Did Newspapers Land in This Mess?, by Richardf Siklos about the current challenges of newspapers owned by what he terms the "public market," or affectionately known as Wall Street, in aligning their shareholder's needs with that of the public good. At the heart of the article is an analysis of the three different ownership structures in current newspaper media: public market, private, and private equity.

His argument is that privately owned companies-- "Cox Communications (The Atlanta Journal-Constitution) to Mortimer B. Zuckerman (The Daily News in New York). A nonprofit group owns The St. Petersburg Times in Florida"-- experience less conflict with serving the public good. And  publically-owned newspapers companies like the Tribune (Chicago Tribune, Los Angeles Times), Gannet (USA Today, New York Times, Washington Post ), McClatchy Corporation (Sacramento Bee) are currently mired in conflicts between their shareholders and the public good, represented through their editorial boards. At the center of this conflict is the Tribune management and the editorial board of the Los Angeles Times. has a fascinating analysis of the conflict, which at its heart is about how do public institutions like the newspaper both remain financially sustainable and maintain their mission to keep the public informed about events and the meaning of events that affect their lives. 

The story ends where it began with a quote by Scott Flanders, CEO of Freedom Communications which owns the Orange County Register in California:

MR. FLANDERS was, not surprisingly, quite buoyant about private ownership. He noted, for example, that with business flat at The Orange County Register, his company opted not to revamp it but to start a breezy new tabloid called O.C. Report aimed at people who say they are too busy to read The Register. And he has some time to make it work. “We’re going to be $20 million in the hole before we’re even close to breaking even,” he said. (Note: I wonder if that strategy was the source of the Chicago Sun Times's Red Streak paper.)

More than just about the consolidation of media under corporate owners, this ties to my previous post about the reliance of corporations to serve the public good, but the answers are much more confusing. Ideally, public ownership should be the most democractic structure in journalism (i.e. the people vote with their readership, which effects circulation and advertising, which effects ROI for shareholders, who respond by making decisions that meet the public's demand). So the story goes. By extention, private ownership should lead to tyranny, as in the case of Hearst papers from the 1880s to the 1930s, but it also allows the paper to run unprofitably. Hearst supported the paper with his other wealth from mining, etc. But it does not seem to work that way.

Is it because the people who want to own newspapers are more benevolent? Is it because the corporation as controlled by market forces and the whims of shareholders, whose primary motive is the profit motive, is truely a sociopath, as laid out in the film the Corporation?

Simplistically, it seems that for democracy to function in an advanced capitalist country like the US, ordinary people need to be able to (1) vote for corporate board members and for corporate decisions at the level and depth of accountability that we do for our congressperson, or (2) return to our sense of government acting on the basis of the public good and be willing to fund through taxes and vote more directly on budget allocations, perhaps like we do for our 401K.  Are these the steps towards ensuring democracy? If I knew the answers, I'd run for President, but then again as in the immortal words of Wyclef Jean:

If I was President
I'd get elected on Friday
Assasinated on Saturday
Buried on Sunday
They'd go back to work on Monday
If I was President (if I was President)
If I was President (if I was President)

It does make me want to investigate more of how people are trying to solve these problems throughout the world. One of the most humbling experiences of the GMF is realizing the extent to which Europe has solved some problems that the US has not resolved and vice versa. It was even interesting to see Ranjan's presentation about the Indian voting machine and his joke about helping the US, because the humor is in the fact that India could actually help the US in this area rather than vice versa.

Sometimes I feel that the advantage of being an African American in discussions about American Democracy is that we don't believe the hype although we live for the hope.

I have been reading more closely Robin Einhorn's American Taxation, American Slavery. What I am finding interesting in her analysis is that more progressive American democracies thrived in contexts, like Massachussets, where there was a certain amount of intrusion by the local government in people's lives (like being able to go into people's homes to take accounts of property) but there were frequent and highly participatory structures of accountability (local elections were held annually). Did you know that Massachusset's ended slavery in that state when an African slave, Quork Walker, successfully sued that slavery was in violation of the State's Constitution's statement that all men are "born free and equal"? Source: