Tuesday, August 12, 2014
"In recent days the case of Leonid Mikhailov has taken an unexpected and incomprehensible turn.
On August 11 the Russian consul in Kharkov informed Leonid's mother that the case against her son had been closed and that he should be released. He did not explain why the case had been closed. The investigator Babenko confirmed that the case had been closed on August 8 and stated that Mikhailov had been released from the investigative isolation facility (IIF) on August 9 after being handed his passport as a citizen of the Russian Federation and a document registering his release. The same information was confirmed by the IIF. According to these statements, Mikhailov had already been free for over 48 hours. However, he had not called home and this worried his relatives.
On August 12 Mikhailov's mother visited the Special Department of the IIF in the town of Volnyansk. [Volnyansk is situated in Zaporozhye Province in Eastern Ukraine; evidently Mikhailov's mother is in Ukraine looking for her son -- Stephen Shenfield]. There she was told that 'as she had not come to pick up her son' (she could not have done this because she learned of his 'release' only two days later) 'he has been taken away by people from the Security Service of Ukraine' (SSU). Then she went to the directorate of the SSU for Zaporozhye Province, where she was assured that since leaving the IIF Leonid had not been detained again by them. At the end of the working day she was informed at the Special Department of the IIF that her son had been taken by the SSU for interrogation. It turns out that the case has not been closed and Leonid has not been released. The administration of the IIF has refused to say who exactly took Leonid 'for interrogation,' for how long, or where he is.
Leonid's mother is now going to Kiev to inquire at the main reception office of the SSU. If they do not tell her where her son is, it will be necessary to initiate a nationwide search (through the Russian consul, for example).
If you have any ideas about how to find our comrade, please share them with us! Thank you for your involvement, support, and any advice!"
In another development, a colleague has located on the internet a denunciation of Leonid Mikhailov as a "terrorist" (a term used to refer to anyone fighting on the anti-government side) together with a reproduction of a document apparently found on him at the time of his arrest -- an identity card issued by the so-called "Donetsk People's Republic" (DPR). This document does not of course prove the charge that he participated in the militia of the DPR. Presumably he needed it in order to carry out his humanitarian work in relative safety in territory controlled by the DPR, but when he encountered Ukrainian government forces the same document immediately became "incriminating."
Thursday, August 7, 2014
Wednesday, February 22, 2012
Money and power bring privileges of many kinds. Not just command over goods and services, labor and other resources, but also social deference and very often immunity to legal penalties. As they say, there is one law for the rich and another for the poor.
Let’s look at a few examples. Fraud is a good place to start.
Rewarding business acumen
Before going into politics in 2010, Rick Scott was CEO of the Hospital Corporation of America. In this capacity, he masterminded schemes to defraud Medicare of an estimated $7 billion. Without admitting guilt, he settled all claims against him by coughing up $1.7 billion, leaving him completely in the clear with over $5 billion in loot stashed safely away.
The voters of Florida rewarded Scott for his business acumen by electing him governor. He now has the power to decide whether to pardon any of the relatively small-time thieves languishing in the state’s jails. Under Florida’s Grand Theft Statute, unarmed robbery of just $301 (under one 20-millionth part of what Scott stole) is a felony punishable by five years in prison.
For years the big U.S. banks have expedited, with full cooperation from the courts, innumerable fraudulent home foreclosures based on fabricated documents. The Obama administration does not intend to launch criminal investigations. That would be “backward-looking”. In fact, it would now be difficult to bring criminal charges because Congress has retroactively legalised many of the deceptive practices used. Negotiations are underway to set up a national compensation fund to avert legal actions at minimum cost.
Hit and run
This case also happens to involve a banker. I take it from Glenn Greenwald’s excellent book With Liberty and Justice for Some (Henry Holt & Co., 2011), pp. 101-103.
In July 2010, hedge fund manager Martin Erzinger was driving in Colorado when he swerved, hit a bicyclist from behind and sped away. The victim received serious injuries to the brain, spine and knee. Later Erzinger phoned to arrange repairs for his car, but did nothing for the bicyclist.
Hit and run is a felony in Colorado, but the district attorney charged Erzinger with a mere misdemeanor, which carries no jail time. He explained that he didn’t want to disrupt the banker’s professional work – namely, “overseeing over $1 billion in assets for ultra high net worth individuals” (Worth magazine).
Rape: a bipartisan pursuit
In a just published memoir (Once Upon a Secret: My Affair with President John F. Kennedy and Its Aftermath) Mimi Alford recounts how as a 19-year-old intern she was invited by JFK on a personal tour of the White House, during which he fucked her under circumstances that at least bordered on rape (though she does not call it that).
There is also considerable testimony of Bill Clinton committing rapes at various stages of his political career. The best supported accusation seems to be that of Juanita Broaddrick, a volunteer in Clinton’s campaign for governor when he was attorney general of Arkansas in 1978. Her account is corroborated by Norma Kelsey, a fellow volunteer who treated her swollen lip – a result, we are told, of Clinton’s bites. Broaddrick adds that Hillary not only knew about the rape, but intimidated her into keeping silent.
As for rape, it appears to be a bipartisan pursuit. The actress Selene Walter has stated that Ronald Reagan raped her in 1952.
Conspiracy of silence
In spring 1994 Yorkshire Television sent a team of investigators to Nebraska. The result was a documentary entitled Conspiracy of Silence, which was scheduled to be shown on BBC and in the U.S. on the Discovery Channel (it was announced in TV Guide Magazine). However, high-level pressure on the television producers culminated in “unknown persons” purchasing all rights to the program and ordering all copies destroyed. Somehow one copy survived, and the documentary can be viewed on YouTube (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ggxiBWv4xYE).
What were the revelations that the powers that be were so determined to suppress?
According to the documentary and other sources (such as John W. DeCamp, The Franklin Cover-up, 2nd ed., AWT Inc., 2011), in the 1980s Lawrence King and other Republican Party officials had kidnapped teenage boys and girls, some aged 15 or younger, or else bought them from orphanages – in particular, Boys Town, the brainchild of a Catholic priest. They were allegedly pressed into sexual service at private parties attended by prominent businessmen, government bureaucrats, senators, congressmen and even (some say) President George H.W. Bush himself.
According to Conspiracy of Silence, when lawyers started collecting testimony from victims, they were persuaded to hand all their evidence over to the FBI. But the FBI did not pursue the case against the alleged perpetrators. Instead, they turned it into a case against the victims, who were browbeat into withdrawing their accusations and remaining silent. Otherwise they would be charged with perjury and end up in jail themselves.
Some victims stuck to their stories and were indeed jailed. According to the site www.franklincase.org, in 1991 Alisha Owen, then 21, was convicted of perjury and sentenced to a prison term of 9—15 years after describing past abuse at the hands of prominent local figures (including a District Court judge) as well as her experience as a drug courier for local businessmen. She spent two years in solitary confinement.
Due caution obliges me to emphasize that there are two very different interpretations of these allegations. One interpretation is that Alisha and the other youngsters really were victimized, and then victimized again for speaking up. The other, official interpretation is that the whole story is “a carefully crafted hoax” aimed at maligning prominent, upstanding and respectable citizens. It is up to each of us to decide which interpretation we find the more plausible.
It is not easy to distinguish between truth and falsehood in these matters. As one of the investigators interviewed in Conspiracy of Silence observes, “if you can control the media, the justice department and the police, you can turn truth into falsehood and falsehood into truth.”
We are certainly fortunate to enjoy the “rule of law”, “freedom of information” and so many other civic rights in our “democratic” society.
Saturday, January 28, 2012
Note. This is an open letter addressed to Russian President Dmitry Medvedev by Elena Odnovarchenko, an artist and sculptor who became homeless as a result of the abuses of local government officials. -- Stephen
Dear Mr. President
Since my letter had no effect on you, I decided to appeal to the public. I’d like to remind you about my horrible story, which deserves your attention because it concerns the entire state system of which you are head.
At the beginning of 2011 I should have received an apartment of adequate quality under the federal program for resettlement from run-down accommodation. I remind you that the building containing my old apartment, where my family was living on the basis of a public rental contract, had been declared “unfit for habitation” as early as 2007.
I won’t describe again the awful conditions in the place where we lived. When we realized that we couldn’t stand such conditions any more, we took with us some necessary things and temporarily moved to another region.
In 2010 the local authorities at last started to build a new building in which we could have an apartment. That was a really happy time, which unfortunately didn’t last very long. While I was staying in another town, I kept in touch with the local authorities about the progress of construction. They had always told me that I would have to pay extra in order to get an apartment. I was warned that if I refused I would get a smaller apartment than I was supposed to or even no apartment at all. Anticipating events, I will say that the local authorities carried out their threats. They justified their actions by reference to certain regulations that say that a person must pay extra. But I wasn’t provided with the documents concerned. I had to consider the issue from a legal point of view for myself. And I found out that demands for any extra payment are illegal. That is why I refused to pay extra. In February 2011 I asked your help, hoping that you would sort out this creepy situation.
But what happened next?
The letter that I addressed to you was redirected to the local authorities. Instead of sorting out the "misunderstanding" and giving me an apartment, the local authorities literally started to go crazy. First, they responded by letter, accusing me of not being a good householder. For example, I "did not pay for public utilities” (even though I paid for them in full). In fact, the law allows a person not to pay rent for such a house if he or she is living somewhere else, so I was paying more than legally required. Especially shocking in its cynicism was the accusation that I had violated the rights of my neighbors by not heating the apartment (since I wasn’t living there). It was supposedly disrupting the thermal circuit and damaging the house -- which had been declared unfit for habitation! I was literally accused of not living in my apartment.
Is our country a maximum security prison where everyone must stay within a specified zone???
Then at the beginning of May 2011 I got another letter from local officials, informing me that the new building had not been commissioned. However, people had already been settled in apartments in the new building in April. There was even an official article in the newspaper about it. But I was not notified in any way. Was this letter an attempt to mislead me? It really looks like that because at the end of May, instead of a notification about resettlement, I received a judicial notification that the local authorities had evicted us to “nowhere” (making us homeless) on the basis of "resettlement to other accommodation"! The petition to evict us had already been filed in March and been considered by the court in my absence.
Mr. President, I wrote to you in February and told you that my family has no alternative accommodation. The local authorities received the same letter.
How should we describe the petition of the local authorities to evict us? Banal revenge, or what?
By the way, in Western countries criminal charges are usually brought against people who take others to court on fraudulent grounds. I don’t even mention moral satisfaction. The local authorities are dropping the case against me, three months after I hired a lawyer.
But the greatest shock came when my petition to provide us with the promised apartment was granted by the court. From the court ruling I learned that no apartment had been allocated to us in the new building. I also learned that the old building where I used to live had already been demolished together with my belongings!
Dear Mr. President, put yourself in my place. Can you imagine the shock I felt? All the belongings that we have acquired over the years are now destroyed!
For me as an artist and sculptor, it was a double tragedy. The whole of my life work was lost in a single moment! Even then we did not get an apartment, because there is none. The court even rejected my claim for financial compensation in lieu of an apartment.
Never before in present-day Russia, so far as I know, have the authorities destroyed buildings containing the private belongings of residents without notifying them in advance. It is a violation not only of the human right to sanctity of the home but also of property rights, subverting the constitutional foundations of the state.
I really have no confidence in the objectivity of the investigation being conducted by the local procuracy. They will just treat it as a case of ordinary theft and close their eyes to everything. What is there to talk about when they write as follows? “Allocation of the apartments in the new building was based on family composition and also on the opinions expressed by tenants at meetings and in direct conversation with each tenant.” Not a word about the law! So, it seems, they allocate apartments not in accordance with law but on the basis of "opinions." And this was in an official communication of the procuracy. Can we really expect an objective investigation by such people?
Dear Mr. President, I do not ask you for an apartment or for compensation. Not because I don’t need them, but because it would be too fantastic. As a voter and a citizen, I ask you to bring an action against the local officials concerned. I know that this will happen only if you take a personal interest in the matter. Take note that we have here a singular criminal offence!
Mr. President, I’m sure you realize that my story reveals the attitude of the local authorities not to me personally, but to the authority of the law and to you as the president. You cannot just do nothing!
I’ll be glad to get your response!
Wednesday, December 7, 2011
Monday, November 21, 2011
At the beginning of his book, Fishman touches on the practical mode of social reproduction by quoting from W. I. Thomas, The Child in America (1928): "Our picture of how the world works is integrally tied to how we work in the world. By acting in accordance with our conception of the way things are, we concertedly make them the way they are, whether we are treating pieces of paper as money, conducting a routine conversation, or electing a president" (p. 3).
The research setting
"At the time of the study (1973-74), the Purissima Record held a virtual monopoly over news consumption in both the city of Purissima (population 75,000) and its metropolitan environs (population 150,000). The paper's daily circulation of 45,000 approximated the number of households in the metropolitan area... Its news department consisted of 57 full-time reporters, editors, and photographers--at least four times the news gathering resources of any other media in the area... The Record, as well as the smaller news organizations, covered the community by following activities in city hall, county government, and the police department. Only the Record extended its coverage beyond these agencies into the court system, educational institutions, suburban governmental units, environmental protection agencies, and the financial, small business, and real estate communities" (pp. 18-19).
Fishman notes that there are many conceivable ways by which a group of individuals could be organized to report the news--the happenings of the world. But since the 1890s American newspapers have settled on one predominant mode of coverage, known as "the beat." The beat is a journalistic concept grounded in the actual working world of the reporter. The beat provides places to go and people to see (by making "rounds" of the beat) that will provide a stable supply of "news" on specific topics of public importance through written accounts and interviews. The beat is defined territorially as an entity with stable locations, stable actors, and stable actions.
Fishman's investigation into the news gathering practices of the Record revealed that 70% of the reporting staff were assigned to covering beats. The rest of the reporting staff worked on "general assignment" out of the newsroom, where assignments were given by editors, or to specific reporters at their specific request. From neighborhood associations all the way up to federal agencies, the beat reporter encountered an already formed and systematically organized structure of activities and information. "Without exception, only formally constituted organizations and groups were the routine subjects of information gathering on beats" (p. 49). "When it turns out that even rocks, trees, and squirrels are made available to the newspaper through official agencies such as the Forestry Service, it is no exaggeration to say that the world is bureaucratically organized for journalists" (italics in original, p. 51).
Fishman found several analytically separate stages in news production and listed the associated tasks sequentially as: detecting occurrences; interpreting them as meaningful events; and investigating their factual character. He goes on to explain that these tasks are in practice performed for the reporter with little input from him or her, because "the structure of the reporter's news gathering work (the round) is shaped by the bureaucratic organization of the activities within the beat territory. The substance of what reporters gather (bureaucratically packaged activities) is produced within the agencies they cover. Whatever the sphere of human activity or natural occurrences, as long as it is systematically covered through the beat, the news worker sees it from a round and knows it through officials and authorities, their files, and their meetings. Quite literally, the domain of coverage is produced for the news worker in formally organized settings by clerks, forest rangers, police officers, stockbrokers, councilmen, morticians, and judges--all certified status incumbents in structural positions of knowledge" (p. 52). "For reporters, the most creditable information or the hardest data are accounts that come from the most competent news sources, who are bureaucrats and officials recognized as having jurisdiction over the events in question" (p. 94).
So we see that the methods (work practices) by which journalists detect events and determine facts are integrally tied to bureaucratic idealizations of the world. Such practices lead reporters to present an ideological view of the existing social and political order, because news work is predicated on the assumption that bureaucracies function "properly" (for example, that officially declared goals, criteria, and guidelines are those actually followed).
Bureaucratic case histories (an accumulation of "accounts of the accounts which agents produce and through which they produce the meaning of the world"*), when treated by reporters as plain fact, help the bureaucratic agency make the reality it wants and needs to make in order to justify itself. Not only does routine news provide ideological accounts (constructs of constructs) of real people and real happenings; it ends up by legitimating institutions of social control by disseminating institutional rationales to the public as though they were facts.
It is not so much that the media persuade news consumers that all is well with the present social and political order. Rather, news consumers are led to see the world outside their first-hand experience through the eyes of the existing authority structure. Alternative ways of knowing the world are simply not made available. One result is a sharp disconnect in people's perception of social reality between the restricted sphere within which personal experience provides a counterweight or corrective to the official frame of vision and the wider sphere within which the absence of personal experience leaves the individual wholly dependent on official accounts. The disconnect is experienced most clearly on those rare occasions when official news reports deal with events in which we were personally involved, enabling us to compare official with personal accounts.
Ultimately, routine news places bounds on political consciousness. The public is led to assume that the world outside their direct purview is the proper sphere for official (bureaucratic) control, that everything falls within the jurisdiction of some official agency, that policy makers do indeed make the important decisions while administrators merely implement those decisions, and that with the exception of a few corrupt or incompetent officials governmental institutions function in accordance with rational legal standards.
Fishman's research suggests that reporters do not really do much "from scratch" when producing routine news stories. The detection, interpretation, investigation, and even much of the formulation of the written story have already been done for them by police officers, city clerks, insurance adjusters, morticians, etc. The work that remains to be done by the journalist amounts to little more than compilation.
Naturally, the work of these "outsiders" is on their agencies' dime. Imagine the labor costs that a news organization would have to bear if it did not have such bureaucracies to rely on for this essential work! In effect, an enormous network of governmental agencies, corporate bureaucracies, and community organizations underwrite the cost of news production. The modern news organization is utterly dependent on this invisible subsidy. Even if a news organization were able to afford the cost of a more independent investigation of events, it would be to a large extent hamstrung by institutional barriers erected to impede unofficial communication (the penalties that both governmental and private employers impose to deter potential whistle-blowers, the threat of libel suits, commercial secrecy, etc.).
Many media critiques, from Sinclair Lewis' The Brass Check (1919) to Robert W. McChesney's Political Economy of Media (2008), have focused on the distortion of news, especially in selection and emphasis, exerted by advertisers. Fishman shows that even with no direct interference from private enterprise the news production process shapes the news in support of the status quo "in the natural course of events." Conspiracy in the narrow sense may not play a significant role, but the broader structures of domination are at least as effective in producing the same outcome. To paraphrase a REM song:
You've got your feet on the ground,
But it's your head that leads you around.
Essay written mainly by Joe R. Hopkins, edited with additional observations by Stephen D. Shenfield
* H. Garfinkel, Studies in Ethnomethodology (Eaglewood Cliffs, NJ: Prentice-Hall, 1967).