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, March 22, 2008

America exports ugly union-busting

Union-busting, a lucrative business in America for three decades, is spreading its ugly tentacles around the world.
Britain is now feeling the “octopus.” The virulent tactics of union-busting are admittedly low key in the more sedate and reserved Britain. But the crass capitalistic money-making ways of America have a global reach.
British union busters, while secretive about their nefarious tactics, are being hired by some firms salivating over the $5 billion yearly anti-union industry in America.
The Guardian, Britain’s best newspaper, says some U.K. firms are using aggressive, U.S.-style union busters to persuade their employees not to join a union. It quoted John Logan of the London School of Economics: “The basic message is that unions are poison.”
“Employers are told that a union will result in conflict, confrontation and strikes with a consequent loss of earnings,” Logan said. “Unions are said to be interested only in raking in members’ dues so that a small number of fat-cat union bosses can live the high life.”
All of those arguments are blatant falsehoods. But employers use them successfully.
The Burke Group (TBG) of Malibu, Calif., is one of eight union-busting firms operating in Britain. Its Website brags of its anti-union expertise: “union avoidance consulting, counter-union campaigns, supervisory training, union vulnerability assessments and card-signing mitigation.”
The new British tactics follow the U.S. pattern. As labor specialist Logan points out: “Union busters work through company supervisors who use one-on-one meetings with employees, forced-attendance group meetings and anti-union leaflets and videos. Discrimination against union organizers and firings get the message across.”
If those baleful tactics don’t work union-destroyers in Britain resort to a trump card: unionism is communism!
Stewart Acuff, an American AFL-CIO official, has watched with anguish as tactics pioneered in the South have proliferated around the globe. He puts it unassailably:
“It’s become an American export, the most shameful American export. We talk about freedom all the time and yet our workers are deprived of the most basic freedom: the freedom to organize.”

Intervention in Russia
For many years I have yet to encounter a student at the University of Nevada, Reno, who had ever heard of the U.S. military intervention in Russia in 1918. The reason is partly that the teachers themselves don’t know. It’s also because high school texts seldom present the downsides of U.S. history.
Even the usually knowledgeable President Kennedy showed his ignorance, declaring of the Soviet Union: “Almost unique among the major world powers we have never been at war with each other.”
The Cold War actually began with that U.S. invasion, not the Churchill iron curtain speech at the end of World War II.

Great paranoia
Bobby Fischer, world chess champion and world class eccentric, may have been the greatest chess player of all time. But he spent a pathetic end game as a mentally sick man full of anti-American and anti-Semitic rants.
Fischer, who died recently, hailed the 9/11 killings as great news. Jews, he said, were “filthy, lying bastard people” who kill Christian children and use the blood for black magic rites.
He abounded in conspiracy theories. The communists were out to poison him. Worried that “secret signals” and “controlling forces” might be channeled through his jaw, he had his dental fillings removed.
Pal Benko, a grandmaster now living in Budapest, once told Fischer that he was paranoid. Fischer’s reply: “Paranoids can be right.”
Nevertheless, Fischer’s skill at the 64-squared chessboard remains his legacy. Personality shortcomings should never dim genius.

Genius dethroned
And speaking of genius. Mark Fox, University of Nevada, Reno, basketball coach, was a genius last year when he had pro-bound star Nick Fazekas. Without Fazekas Fox is a mere mortal.

Great lit line
One of the finest lines in literature is spoken by Mr. Bennett to his daughter Elizabeth in “Pride and Prejudice”: “Your mother will never see you again if you do not marry Mr. Collins and I will never see you again if you do.”

Profound music
Listening to Beethoven string quartets, opuses 59, 74 and 95, I thought, as I have for decades, that they are some of the most profound music ever written. If you want music even more profound, listen to Beethoven’s late string quartets, opuses 127, 130, 131, 132, 133 and 135.

Saturday, March 15, 2008

Alas, poor Nader, now at nadir

Every hero becomes a bore at last.
--Emerson, essay on “Uses of Great Men”

Ralph Nader has become a national joke like Harold Stassen. Stassen sought the Republican nomination for president nine times from 1948 to 1992. Nader, announcing his fifth try for president as an independent or a third party candidate, reveals his utter lack of class.
As Katha Pollitt of The Nation says: he will go down in history “as the world’s most irritating vanity candidate.” Or, as Scott Stantis, cartoonist for the Birmingham (Ala.) News, draws it: Nader is a bug perched on Democratic Party headquarters with a staffer shouting: “The four-year locust is back!!!”
Nader got 0.36 percent of the vote in 2004. He doubtless will get even less this year. Nader cost Al Gore the election in 2000, getting 97,488 votes in Florida, most of which would have gone to Gore.
Result: Nader changed the world for the worst and set the country back for decades. Yet Nader is unapologetic and even defiant about giving the nation the horror of George W. Bush.
Sure. If the November election were between John McCain, the GOP nominee-in-waiting, and Nader, there would be no question for liberal-left voters. The leading candidates of both major parties represent the status quo.
And, sure, Nader would use the White House as a bully pulpit, citing needed progressive measures. Such as: quick withdrawal from Iraq and Afghanistan, slashes in the bloated Pentagon budget and passage of universal health insurance. He would rightly denounce corporate welfare and restore the Constitution that Bush-eviscerated.
However, the race is not between McCain and Nader. It is between McCain and the Democratic nominee.
The saddest part of the Nader fall from grace is that he was a hero. He was one of the few great Americans of the 20th century. As a consumer crusader he was magnificent. He spearheaded so many reform drives.
Nader attacked the unsafe Corvair in 1965. He brought the nation seat belts and air bags. He attacked tainted meat, water and air pollution and dangerous food additives. He was behind creation of the Occupational Safety and Health Administration, the Consumer Product Safety Commission and the EPA. He pushed the Freedom of Information Act that is valuable to scholars and journalists. He founded and inspired institutions for social activism and research.
But now Nader is nothing more than a megalomaniacal bore.

Debasing American culture
Puritanical America has claimed another victim, destroying the political career of New York Gov. Eliot Spitzer. Spitzer resigned because of a sex scandal involving high-class prostitutes.
But so what? Sex lives of political figures are no more important than the sex lives of ordinary citizens. Sex is not the public’s business. The only outrage is the hypocrisy of politicians who indulge in what they denounce or fervently prosecute like former prosecutor Spitzer.
This sexual obsession is one more example of the degradation of American mass culture. The real obscenity is the violence pervading society, not sex.
Movies and TV are full of gratuitous violence. Senseless killings on campuses or at work places occur with dismaying frequency. President Bush vetoes a bill banning the violence of
torture. Even worse: this outrageous warfare state will spend trillions of dollars in Iraq alone.
Bush remains in office despite his fraudulent wars and constant violation of laws. Most people don’t care. Spitzer is forced from office because of harmless sex. Everyone howled.

Media ignorance
One of the myriad problems of the media is ignorance of even recent events. USA Today reports that the high-profile caseload of the Supreme Court this term is “certain to help reveal the direction of the Roberts Court.” That direction was clearly established last term by the court’s reactionary rulings.
The Associated Press reports that 470 seats in Congress are “up for grabs” in November. Not so. Of the 435 House seats, most are “safe” because incumbents usually win. In the Senate, one-third of its seats are at stake but most are safe.
More incumbents may lose this fall because of anti-war fervor. But a congressional landslide is most unlikely.

Tribute to Pete Seeger
PBS presented a moving documentary on Pete Seeger last Sunday. This viewer reflected that Seeger, 88, has more soul in his little finger than Bush has in his whole body. Bush exemplifies the sick soul of America.

Sunday, March 09, 2008

Secular Turkey roiled by head scarves

Kemal Atatürk as a reform-minded Young Turk saw clearly that the enemy was Islam.
It oppressed the Turkish people and stunted their growth, “shutting them off from the more advanced and enlightened ways.” Islam held back democracy. It “stood for authority, not discussion, for submission, not freedom of thought.” It was superstition of a primitive kind. Islam and civilization were a contradiction in terms.
In contrast, Kemal touted Western civilization as liberating, freeing an enslaved people.
Yes, Kemal was a dictator. But it was the only way to establish modernity. So in 1923, after leading a successful nationalist revolution, he created the Republic of Turkey from the ruins of the Ottoman Empire.
Kemal would bring tears to the eyes of women listening to his speeches by declaring that they must enter a new age, abandoning customs of yesteryear and becoming emancipated. Women would have the same education as men. He ended segregation of women and men. He got the vote for Turkish women in 1934 and allowed them to serve in parliament.
Atatürk abolished the fez for the hat. He declared that Turkish must be written in the Latin alphabet and replaced sharia law with the Swiss civil code. In 1927 he erased from the constitution the requirement that Islam be the state religion. He abolished the Islamic caliphate.
So no wonder posters of him are ubiquitous in Turkey. Kemal Atatürk is the Father of modern Turkey.
But the secular country he founded is in for wrenching change. The Turkish parliament passed a bill allowing women to wear head scarves at universities. President Abdullah Gul signed the measure. Gul, a devout Muslim whose wife and daughter wear the scarf, said the change does not violate Turkish secularism.
But it does, enraging many secular Turks. They fear religious creep--into government and into private lives where it does not belong.
Their concerns are real. Islam is still the enemy of freedom. It dictates rules for daily life, including restraints on women appearing in public. It says that women are inferior. It allows limited inheritance for women while permitting multiple wives for men.
The head scarf measure undermines the strict separation of church and state.
Science also suffers when religion encroaches on government. It is already happening in Turkey. One eighth grade science book no longer elaborates on Darwinism. Instead, creationism now gets equal time. But that unscientific view is like U.S. fundamentalists who insist on burying their heads in the sand.
The woman at the center of the political storm, lawyer Fatma Benli, says of the head scarf she proudly wears: “This is related to my personal life. It’s my personality. My wholeness.”
People like Ms. Benli see the scarf-ban as coercive secularism, relegating religious Turks to second-class citizenship. Another religious Turk declares: “I am an enlightened woman and I wear the head scarf.”
But is the wearing of the head scarf wholeness? Is it enlightened? No. It is the brainwashing of a society that Kemal sought to stop.
To secularists, wearing head scarves is nothing more than wearing a sign of superstition. Indeed, it even might be considered a remnant of women’s enslavement.
Still, if Ms. Benli wants to parade her superstition she should be allowed to. Under the First Amendment of the U.S. Constitution, allowing freedom of even symbolic speech, people have a right to be silly. Ergun Ozbudun, a law professor in Ankara, call it “an issue of human rights, not secularism.”
So it is.
Ozbudun added that while teaching in America he had orthodox and conservative Jewish students wearing the yarmulke--and nobody cared.
True. But then America is not really a secular country. Prayer opens sessions of Congress and state legislatures, much to the chagrin of Justice William Brennan in vigorous dissent to a Supreme Court decision upholding legislative prayer.
Nevertheless, religion is deeply engrained in the souls of so many people worldwide. A 2006 study by the Turkish Economic and Social Studies Foundation bears this out. It found that 59 percent of Turks described themselves as “very religious” or “extremely religious.”
The communists made atheism the state “religion” of the USSR. A sound policy intellectually but wrong politically, spiritually and psychologically. Today religion is rampant in Russia.
So too it is likely to happen in once strictly secular Turkey after approval of the hijab amendment. Religion cannot be suppressed. People need it and will always cling to it. Alas.

Saturday, March 01, 2008

Scourge of Bush leaves lasting stain

At the height of the newspaper wars between the Jeffersonian republicans and the Federalists, the Philadelphia Aurora excoriated Federalist President Washington. It wrote:
“If ever a nation was debased by a man, the American nation has been debased by Washington. If ever a nation has suffered the improper influence of a man, the American nation has suffered from the influence of Washington. If ever a nation was deceived by a man, the American nation has been deceived by Washington.”
That scathing attack appeared Dec. 23, 1796 in the waning days of Washington’s administration. When he left office shortly thereafter, the Aurora breathed a metaphorical sigh of relief. It wrote:
“The man who is the source of all the misfortune of our country is this day reduced to a level with his fellow citizens and is no longer possessed of the power to multiply evils on the United States.”
The excoriation was vile--and utterly groundless. But, substitute the name Bush for Washington, and you have terrible truths.
President Bush has been an unmitigated disaster. He has debased the nation. He has squandered the nation’s influence abroad. He has deceived the nation into a 100-year war in Iraq. He is the source of daily outrages. He has no credibility about anything.
Mercifully, his power to multiply evils will end Jan. 20.
Here is a partial list of the “evils” of the calamitous Bush administration:
• He invades Iraq in violation of the Nuremberg principle against aggressive war and the U.N. Charter barring preemptive attacks. The war is unethical and immoral, a pile of excrement on the Bush escutcheon.
• He refuses to admit the real reason for the war is stealing Iraqi oil. He builds superbases with gigantic airplane runways and suburban comforts to ensure endless U.S. occupation.
• He tears up the Constitution with intolerable spying and surveillance while approving unconstitutional military show trials at Guantánamo. He mandates unfair and inadequate defenses for terrorism suspects.
• He gives tax cuts to people making $1 million a year while causing federal budgets to soar to astronomical levels. He deepens inequality by slashing regulations and oversight of business.
• He ruins America’s moral standing worldwide.
• He calls everything national security which is just a cloak for keeping secrets and avoiding embarrassment.
• He demands extension of the unconstitutional Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act which protects telecom giants from lawsuits for cooperating with spying.
• He uses 9/11 for fearmongering and scare tactics to win support of his reactionary policies.
• He censors, suppresses and falsifies scientific facts that do not match his ideology. He constantly misconstrues the truth and manipulates the facts.
• He issues signing statements to congressional acts declaring the law is as he determines it.
• He churns out executive orders to solidify a monarchial “unitary executive” while declaring executive privilege. His presidency is imperil.
• He orders destruction of CIA tapes of torture at Guantánamo while defending waterboarding, outsourcing and degrading the office of attorney general by political firings.
• He vetoes a children’s health insurance program passed overwhelming by the House.
• He batters the environment, encouraging the EPA to flout laws, allowing snowmobiles in the sacred precincts of Yellowstone, seeking to drill in the Arctic wilderness, undermining the Endangered Species Act and allowing mass killing of gray wolves in Yellowstone.
• He maintains a global gag rule against providing counseling for abortions at U.S-funded clinics in developing nations, causing unsafe abortions.
• He insists on abstinence-only sex education, which is as foolish as the legend of King Canute commanding the waves to stand still. His administration is sexually repressed, its FCC fining CBS $550,000 for showing a breast for a nanosecond.
• He wants schools to teach intelligent design along with Darwinism, mixing unscientific religion with science.
• He eschews global warming despite the overwhelming evidence of scientists. He constantly rejects science that does not conform to his retrograde ideology. He suppresses government reports counter to that ideology.
• He is contemptuous of international treaties--except when other nations violate them.
• He picks antediluvian judges, packing federal courts to rule long after he leaves office.
• He issues an executive order unilaterally repealing access to presidential papers mandated by the Presidential Records Act of 1978.
Bush, a sub-submediocrity unfit to be president, stains the nation.