Just Jake

Jake Highton is a journalism professor at the Reynolds School of Journalism, University of Nevada, Reno. He teaches media law, history of journalism and advanced reporting. Highton is the author of numerous books, including "Nevada Newspaper Days." He writes a weekly column for the Daily Sparks Tribune.

Location: United States

Saturday, October 13, 2007

ACLU zeal misguided on UNR GPA

The American Civil Liberties Union may be the greatest organization in America. It fights for the civil rights of individuals and groups it detests as well as those it lauds. Conservatives are just as important to the ACLU as liberals when in comes to civil liberties.
It backed the right of the American Nazi Party to march in the heavily Jewish city of Skokie, Ill., in 1979. For defending that rancid group, the ACLU lost 60,000 members--many of them outraged Jews--and $500,000.
But sometimes the ACLU carries its noble civil liberties battles out the window, abandoning even a semblance of common sense. Example: its support for the Supreme Court doctrine that money is speech. Example: its support for commercial speech like tobacco advertising whose products kill 450,000 Americans annually.
The ACLU of Nevada also goes too far by urging a delay in the proposed increase in the admission standard for the University of Nevada, Reno. (The Board of Regents has mandated an increase from 2.75 to 3.0 [B] for admission next fall.)
The ACLU motives are pure. It is fearful that the higher standard would reduce black and Latino enrollment. Possibly true. But the ACLU forgets that a university is an elitist institution. It is based on meritocracy.
University education is not an entitlement. Nor is everyone qualified to be a university student. Standards must be kept high. The media may dumb down its content but universities never should. Higher education calls for intense study, concentration and disciple. Not everyone is capable of that.
The solution for any potential enrollment loss has been obvious for decades: Truckee Meadows Community College.
It is no disgrace to go there. Indeed, some of the brightest and best at UNR have gone to TMCC, bringing themselves up to university standards.
UNR President Milton Glick said earlier this year that if minority enrollment declines he would ask the Regents to rescind the higher standard. His great concern for diversity is heart-felt. But he of all people should realize that academia is not for everyone. High standards must be maintained.
Glick has established great rapport with UNR faculty, doing much to wipe away the stain of the horrible John Lilley era. But Glick needs to discard the royal we. He told an interviewer a year ago: “We haven’t stopped running since we arrived.”

Packing heat on campus
One of the zaniest ideas to surface in Nevada recently is a proposal by Regent Stavros Anthony, Las Vegas police captain, to allow college professors to carry guns in the classroom.
He is justifiedly concerned about mass killings on college campuses. But profs are concerned with student minds. They are not cops and never should be.
(Regents rejected the proposal, 8-5. It’s amazing that five cretins, including Anthony, backed the idea.)

Academic buzzword
Critical thinking has been the academic buzzword for more than a decade. A former journalism dean at UNR inserted 75 pages in a reaccreditation report dealing exclusively with critical thinking.
Overkill? Sure. Seventy pages of it. But that’s what reaccreditors wanted to hear.
A recent article on higher education in the New York Review of Books rightly called critical thinking the reigning banality of college education.
If college professors really believed in critical thinking all of them would be atheists and 90 percent socialists. But that is hardly the case.

Faculty meetings detestable
Faculty meetings are the one great drawback to Nirvana for university professors. They waste time. They go on too long. Some professors love to hear the sound of their voices. The talk is often aimless, endless and boring.
Which reminds me of a story. Justice Oliver Wendell Holmes, still on the Supreme Court at 90, frequently dozed during oral arguments. One day he woke up with a start to find the attorney still arguing his case. Holmes muttered: “Jesus Christ! Is he still speaking?”

A 900-pound bunny
The Barry Flanagan bronze sculpture, “Large, Left-handed Drummer,” is starring at the Nevada Museum of Art. It’s a wonderful adornment on the museum roof which offers such fine views of Rose, Slide and Peavine.
The drumming rabbit is alert, erect and pointy-eared. A museum wall board says Flanagan, British sculptor, “has crafted monumental bronzes of animals that exude dynamic energy and take on the traits of humans.” The work is magically human.
Email: jake@unr.edu

Thursday, October 11, 2007

Blackwater USA: trigger-happy mercenaries


The Rise of the World’s Most Powerful Mercenary Army

By Jeremy Scahill

Nation Books. 382 pages. $26.95

Few Americans had ever heard of Blackwater USA until it was thrust into the news recently. Like the U.S. Supreme Court, it is powerful but had been virtually unknown.

Blackwater’s power lies in its ability to get away with murder and its status of being above the law. It is one of nearly 200,000 private military contractors serving in Iraq. It epitomizes what the Bush administration is doing: outsourcing and privatizing as many government functions as possible.

Outsourcing is not just an economic gambit to make huge profits for corporations. It is government outsourcing intelligence-gathering and the use of deadly force.

In fact, the military is so privatized that America has more civilian contractors in Iraq than it has a uniformed fighting force. It is not a “coalition of the willing” but a coalition of the billing.

Bernard Weiner writes Online in The Crisis Papers: “Cheney/Bush have created what amounts to their own private legions--soldiers, intelligence analysts, security guards, construction experts and supply specialists--a mercenary force bought and paid for by the American taxpayer.”

Outsourcing is the administration’s cagey way of avoiding a draft, which alienated so many Americans during the Vietnam War.

As columnist Robert Scheer writes: “All of this (outsourcing) was designed by neoconservative hawks in the Pentagon to pursue their dreams of empire while avoiding a conscripted army, which would have millions howling in the street in protest. We have checkbook imperialism.”

“Blackwater” author Scahill writes that the mercenaries are able “to affix a permanent sieve to the most lucrative feeding trough in the world,” the U.S. budget.

Blackwater, founded in 1996 in North Carolina, has quickly become the fifth branch of the the U.S. military. Robert Fisk, excellent British war correspondent, wrote from Baghdad three years ago: “Blackwater’s thugs with guns now push and punch Iraqis who get in their way.”

Today U.S. soldiers take umbrage at Blackwater. Its contractors make $600 to $800 a day, dwarfing the pay of GIs in the war zone. No wonder Blackwater soldiers have been called “the whores of war.”

Another thing annoying U.S. soldiers in Iraq: Blackwater can roam the country with impunity. At the same time it is not liable for family lawsuits for its personnel killed in Iraq.

Still another thing angering U.S. soldiers is paying with GI lives to clean up Blackwater messes. In an effort to find the killers of four Blackwaterites in Fallujah in 2004, U.S. forces carried out 700 airstrikes and damaged or destroyed 18,000 buildings in Fallujah. The vengeful sweep cost 150 U.S. soldiers’ lives.

The State Department noted that Blackwater has been involved in 56 shootings while guarding U.S. diplomats in Iraq. Overall, Blackwater has been involved in nearly 200 shootings in two years. Hired gunslingers and soldiers of fortune run amok.

Michael Ratner, president of the Center for Constitutional Rights, declares: “These kind of paramilitary groups bring to mind Nazi Party brownshirts, functioning as an extrajudicial enforcement mechanism that can and does operate outside the law.”

Matt Taibbi wrote bluntly in Rolling Stone recently: “In Iraq the lines between essential government services and for-profit enterprises have been blurred to the point of absurdity...wounded soldiers have to pay retail prices for fresh underwear while modern day chattel are imported from the Third World at slave wages to peel the potatoes we once assigned to grunts in KP.”

The Blackwater Praetorian Guard, with its black uniforms and automatic weapons, operates in America too. It got on the gravy train in New Orleans after Katrina, branching out its lucrative business into domestic disasters.

As for the Iraqis, their hatred of the occupying U.S. troops and the Blackwater mercenaries fuels the insurgency. They would like to expel Blackwater but the Iraqi government is powerless to do so.

Scahill, a Polk-award winning investigative reporter, wrote an Online piece in the Indypendent last summer in which he quoted Joe Wilson, former U.S. ambassador to Iraq: “I think it is extraordinarily dangerous when a nation begins to outsource its monopoly on the use of force and the use of violence in support of its foreign policy.”

Blackwater has its own military base, a private air force of 20 planes and 25,000 troops. Yet it is accountable to no one, not the Iraqis, not the U.S. government and not the American people.