Thursday, September 06, 2012

My Z Magazine article on the Loretta Capeheart case

Check out my new article on the Loretta Capeheart case, just published in Z Magazine:

Thursday, January 08, 2009

Here's an op-ed I co-authored about the coming digital TV switchover. It is shaping up to be a real disaster. Thankfully, people seem to be waking up to this fact:

America's DTV Transition Beset with Problems

By Steve Macek and Mitchell Szczepanczyk

On February 17, 2009, all full-power analog television broadcasts in the
United States will cease and existing TV stations will begin
broadcasting exclusively in a digital format. The switch to digital
television (DTV) will free up frequencies for emergency uses and allow
broadcasters to provide more programming for their viewers through

As a practical matter, people will need to subscribe to a cable or
satellite television service, use a digital-ready TV set, or hook up a
digital converter box to an analog TV set, in order to continue watching
broadcast television.

Unfortunately, the number of people who stand to lose their access to TV
programming in the coming DTV transition is considerable. Roughly 10 to
15 percent of all TV households (about 30 to 40 million people) still
rely on over-the-air television, most of whom are senior citizens, poor,
or non-English speakers. In a city like Chicago, with high poverty rates
and a large immigrant population, some 20 percent of residents still use
antenna-only TV and an estimated 230,000 households are completely
unready for the conversion.

The federal government has launched a coupon program that allows each
household to claim up to two $40 coupons to help offset the cost of
digital converter boxes for those that can't afford them otherwise. But
the coupons expire 90 days after issuance, and half of the more than 25
million people who have requested them have seen their coupons expire.

What's more, surveys show more than three-quarters of those who are
interested in getting converter boxes are not aware of the coupon

Preliminary testing of digital-only TV broadcasting in the US has been
all but non-existent. The sole switchover test, enacted in September in
Wilmington, NC, amounts to a false positive, since 92 percent of the
viewers impacted by the test already subscribe to cable. Across the
country, there have been sporadic tests -- perhaps a minute or a few
minutes at a time at various times and in various locales, but nothing

Outreach about the DTV conversion has been haphazard at best. For the
most part, the FCC is counting on public service announcements (PSAs)
voluntarily aired by broadcasters to inform viewers about the switch.

But only 13 percent of PSAs air during the most-watched hours of
primetime, and PSAs make up only one half of 1 percent of all TV

In recent months, the FCC has partnered with senior centers and
community groups to stage a series of "town hall" meetings about the DTV
transition in an effort to educate some of the most vulnerable
populations. But scheduling of these town hall gatherings has been ad
hoc and in many cities the meetings have been poorly attended.

The distribution of set-top converter boxes has also been fraught with
serious problems. Research has shown that the sort of stores that carry
converter boxes are typically located far from the low-income
neighborhoods which need them most. And many retailers have been caught
flat-footed -- not knowing about the transition and sometimes providing
incorrect information about the conversion or the coupon program.

Amid widespread confusion about the DTV conversion, there has been no
shortage of unscrupulous retailers taking advantage. Both fly-by-night
scam businesses and major satellite and cable TV providers have been
pushing unwitting TV viewers to buy equipment they don't need at
inflated prices. Worse still, earlier this year, the FCC fined several
large big box retailers a combined $3.9 million for failing to correctly
label analog-only TV sets that will be rendered useless come February

Just last week, government officials overseeing the transition told
Congress they may need an extra $330 million to keep up with the demand
for converter box coupons. They also admitted that there might not be
enough converter boxes available to fill anticipated needs -- and that
the shortfall could be as high as 2.5 million boxes.

The saddest thing about this entire situation is that America's
transition to DTV could've been handled much differently. The UK is
currently in the midst of its own switch to digital television. But
unlike here in the U.S., the British conversion is being rolled out
gradually over the course of four years, converting region-by-region,
practically neighborhood by neighborhood. What's more, the money the UK
has spent on outreach and infrastructure, per capita, puts American
efforts to shame. The British DTV conversion has had problems of its
own, but the problems have been far smaller in scale and easier to
address. Americans who watch TV and the regulators who shape our
communications policies would be wise to take notice.

Macek is an associate professor of speech communication at North Central
College and Szczepanczyk is an organizer with Chicago Media Action and a
frequent contributor to assorted Chicago-area independent media efforts
in print, web, radio and television.
Copyright (C) 2008 by the American Forum. 1/09

Saturday, October 04, 2008

Jonathan Rabin in the London Review of Books this week published the best darn thing I've ever read about Sarah Palin and her very dubious, very swift rise to power in the Republican Party. Among other things it includes an account of Palin's reign of terror as mayor of Wasilla and an explanation of how skyrocketing oil prices swelled the Alaska government's tax coffers, thus allowing her buy popularity by sending $2000 checks to every state citizen. Below is a nice snippet that nails perfectly her (very annoying yet populist) rhetorical style:
What is most striking about her is that she seems perfectly untroubled by either curiosity or the usual processes of thought. When answering questions, both Obama and Joe Biden have an unfortunate tendency to think on their feet and thereby tie themselves in knots: Palin never thinks. Instead, she relies on a limited stock of facts, bright generalities and pokerwork maxims, all as familiar and well-worn as old pennies. Given any question, she reaches into her bag for the readymade sentence that sounds most nearly proximate to an answer, and, rather than speaking it, recites it, in the upsy-downsy voice of a middle-schooler pronouncing the letters of a word in a spelling bee. She then fixes her lips in a terminal smile.

For the whole article go here:

Wednesday, August 13, 2008

Human Rights Crackdown in China

Reporters Without Borders/Reporters sans frontières

13 August 2008

Crackdown continues for Chinese human rights
activists, with no Olympic truce during games

The start of the Olympic Games has done nothing
to help Chinese human rights activists, who
continue to be arrested, watched or threatened.
At the same time, incidents involving foreign
journalists, including an attack today on a
British TV reporter working for ITN, shows that
the security services are still preventing the
foreign press from working freely.

To illustrate this, Reporters Without Borders
today offers the comments of a foreign reporter
about surveillance and harassment by the Chinese

"In view of the many incidents, we call on the
International Olympic Committee to intercede on
behalf of the Chinese citizens who are in danger
because of the position they have taken during
the Olympic Games," Reporters Without Borders

"It is the duty of the Olympic movement in its
entirety to ensure respect for the spirit of the
Olympic truce," the organisation added. "Since
the origins of the Olympics, tradition has
required that peace should prevail during the

The IOC website has this to say about the Olympic
truce in ancient Greece: "During the truce
period, the athletes, artists and their families,
as well as ordinary pilgrims, could travel in
total safety to participate in or attend the
Olympic Games and return afterwards to their
respective countries. (...) The International
Olympic Committee (IOC) decided to revive the
ancient concept of the Olympic Truce with the
view (...) to encourage searching for peaceful
and diplomatic solutions to the conflicts around
the world."

John Ray of the British television news service
ITN was today covering a protest by several
foreign activists who unfurled a pro-Tibet banner
near Beijing's main Olympic zone, when he was
arrested by police, dragged along the ground and
forcibly restrained for about 20 minutes although
he identified himself as a journalist. "This was
an assault in my mind, I am incredibly angry
about this," Ray told Agence France Presse.

The Foreign Correspondents Club of China (FCCC)
says there have been five incidents since 7
August. In one of these incidents, police
arrested two Associated Press reporters in the
northwestern province of Xinjiang and erased the
photos they had taken. One of them was arrested
while watching the opening ceremony on TV. Two
Scandinavian journalists were prevented from
interviewing peasants in Hebei province about the
impact of the games on their activities.

A European journalist who has been working in
Beijing for several years has given Reporters
Without Borders a gripping description of what it
is like for her and her colleagues in Beijing,
and the risks run by Chinese who dare to speak to
the foreign press.

"They don't stop following me, filming me and
photographing me," she said. "I think twice
before interviewing Chinese about sensitive
issues for fear that they could be arrested (...)
Last week several Chinese were arrested after
giving me interviews. Firstly, people living in
the Qianmen district that is in the process of
being renovated. They included a woman in charge
of an association of evicted residents who sued
the government for not paying them enough
compensation. The trial began in July but was
postponed because of the Olympics. I interviewed
her, as other journalists did. Since then she has
been detained.

"The same thing happened with the pastor of an
unrecognised church. Finally, a British woman of
Tibetan origin was arrested and expelled after
giving me an interview. Under these
circumstances, we are all forced to censor
ourselves and to refuse to interview certain
Chinese for fear of their being immediately
arrested. We are all in this situation of
intimidation, which makes it very hard for us to
work in China, despite the overall improvements.

"What's more, the official media have not stopped
attacking us since last March's events in Tibet.
In addition to the death threats received by
dozens of foreign journalists, the Chinese media
try to undermine our credibility. And all of this
gained pace in the run-up to the games."

She is right about Chinese being arrested for
talking to the foreign media. Zhang Wei, a former
resident of the Beijing district of Qianmen, was
arrested on 9 August after filing a request for
permission to protest about her family's eviction
two years ago to make way for Olympic
construction. The Associated Press quotes her son
as saying she is to be held for a month for
"disrupting the social order." The Public
Security Bureau said it was looking at her case
and had no other comment to make.

Other Chinese are being hounded by the
authorities, who fear they could protest during
the games. There has been no news since 7 August
of Zeng Jinyan, the wife of imprisoned activist
Hu Jia, and their seven-month-old daughter. Her
mother in law said to several Chinese-language
news outlets say she may has been forced her to
leave the capital. She had been under permanent
police surveillance for several years in the
"Freedom" residential area where she lives.

Some Beijing intellectuals such as Liu Xiaobo and
Yu Jie have not been detained, but are under
police surveillance. Wan Yanhai, the head of an
NGO that cares for AIDS sufferers, chose to leave
Beijing during the games to avoid being harassed
by the police.

Hua Huiqi, the head of an unrecognised protestant
church, was arrested in Beijing on 9 August while
on his way to a church service that was attended
by US President George W. Bush. His brother -
arrested at the same time but freed a few hours
later - says he has had no news of Hua since
then. The police deny ever arresting Hua and
claim they had no role in his disappearance.
Human Rights in China meanwhile says it got a
short letter in which Hua apparently recounts his
arrest and subsequent escape.

Ji Sizun, a human rights activist form Fujian
province, was arrested on 11 August for filing a
request several days earlier for permission to
demonstrate in one for the areas designated by
the Beijing authorities for protests. Human
Rights Watch says Ji wanted to organise a rally
to protest against corruption and to call for
more citizen participation in government

According to HRW, several other Chinese have been
arrested or threatened for filing demonstration
requests. They include relatives of children
killed in the collapse of "tofu" (shoddily-built)
schools in the May earthquake in Sichuan. The
Washington Post reports that families were
prevent from boarding flights in the Sichuan
capital of Chengdu.

Several members of the outlawed China Democracy
Party were arrested in the days preceding the
games opening ceremony. According to Chinese
Human Rights Defenders, Xie Changfa of Hunan
province was arrested on 2 August, while Wang
Rongqing, 65, of Zhejiang province was arrested
on 31 July. They have been charged with inciting
subversion of state authority.

Friday, August 08, 2008

International Liaison Committee of Workers and Peoples (ILC)
Emergency Press Release
(August 5th, 2008)

The ILC -- responding to the appeal for solidarity launched by the Korean Trade Union Confederation (KCTU) -- calls on all trade unionists, all working class activists, all the organisations, and all men and women committed to democracy and freedom around the world to respond to this emergency call.

In its press release the KCTU wrote:

* * * * *
"In the midst of mass candlelight protests calling for renegotiations of the April 18th Protocol on importation of US beef, KCTU decided to go into general strike on July 2 to reflect food safety concerns. KCTU general strike on July 2nd was aimed at renegotiation of April 18 protocol on US beef import, stopping privatization and marketization of public services, opposition to the plan of building Korea Grand Canal, and taking appropriate measures to solve the soaring consumer prices.

"The Korean Metal Workers' Union (KMWU) played a leading role in the general strike. The Ministry of Justice and the prosecutor concluded that KMWU's strike on July 2nd was illegal.

"The prosecutor filed for arrest warrants against and has pursued the arrest of the leadership of KCTU, KMWU and Hyundai Motor Branch on the grounds of 'obstruction of business’ provision in section 314 of the Penal Code.'

"We are calling for sending protest letters to the President Lee Myung-bak
By fax: President Lee Myung-bak +82-2-770-4735(Fax)

Or internet:

Copies should be sent to the Police authorities (Mr. Eo Cheong-soo

List of detaineees or with arrest warrants
Mr. Lee Suk-haeng, President, KCTU
Mr. Lee Yong-shik, General Secretary, KCTU
Mr. Jung Gab-deuk, President, KMWU
Mr. Nam Taek-gyu, First Vice-president, KMWU
Mr. Yoon Hae-mo, President, Hyundai Motor Branch
Mr. Kim Tae-gon, First Vice-president, Hyundai Motor Branch
Mr. Kim Jong-il, Vice-president, Hyundai Motor Branch
Mr. Jung Chang-bong, Vice-president, Hyundai Motor Branch
Mr. Joo In-koo, Vice-president, Hyundai Motor Branch
Mr. Jo Chang-min, Secretary,Hyundai Motor Branch
Ms. Jin Yeong-ok, First Vice-president, KCTU
2. Activists

Bak Won-suk, Joint Director of the Field Office of the Coalition
Han Yong-jin, Joint Director of the Field Office of the Coalition
Kim Dong-kyu, Director of the Organizational Team
Kim Kwang-il, Director of the March Team, All Together Steer Committee member
Baek Eun-jong, Vice-Representative, Anti-Lee Myung-bak Internet Café
Baek Seong-gyun, Representative,
Kwon Hae-jin, Director of Education Movement Headquarters of the Young Korean Academy
3. Detained

Ahn Jin-geol,
Yoon Hui-suk,
Hwang Sun-won,
* * * * *

The ILC calls upon the international labour movement to respond immediately to this appeal:

The KCTU and the Metal Workers Union (KMWU) have done nothing other than to carry our their mandate as trade union organisations within the framework and in application of ILO conventions 87 and 98 providing for the right to organise, the right to represent workers and the right to strike.

The ILC demands the immediate release of all those detained, the immediate lifting of all charges and the immediate withdrawal of all the arrest warrants against the trade unionists concerned.

* Respect the right to strike!

* Respect the right to organise !

* Respect ILO conventions 87 and 98!

* Free all the trade unionists detained !

* Lift all charges !

* Withdraw all arrest warrants !


Daniel Gluckstein,
International Liaison Committee of Workers and Peoples
Paris, France
Aug. 5, 2008

Tuesday, August 05, 2008


As anyone who reads this blog knows, since 9/11, the right has ramped up its attack on academics who dare to dissent from the U.S. occupation of Iraq and its policy in the Middle East more generally. Neo-McCarthyite groups like the American Council of Trustees and Alumni, Students for Academic Freedom and the David Project have published lists of “disloyal” faculty and scurrilous reports on allegedly "anti-American" courses dealing with U.S. imperialism, Islam and the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. Respected scholars who study and write about such subjects —such as Norman Finkelstein-- have been denied tenure solely on the basis of their politics. In similar instances, applications for tenure have been seriously threatened (Nadia Abu El-Haj: Joseph Massad) and books and their publishers have been targeted for censorship (i.e. Joel Kovel’s book “Overcoming Zionism” and University of Michigan Press). Now, the assault on academic freedom has effected yet another critical scholar: Terri Ginsberg, a Ph.D. in Cinema Studies from NYU and an authority on Israeli and Palestinian film.

Last fall, Terri was hired to a one year, non-tenure track position in Film Studies at North Carolina State University (with the possibility of renewal). As part of her teaching responsibilities, she offered advanced courses on film and media treatment of the Palestinian-Israeli conflict, and on the political aesthetics of Holocaust film (the subject of her recent book) ; she was also charged with helping to program a Middle Eastern film series.

Unfortunately, as Terri detailed in a grievance she filed with the NCSU Faculty in March 2008, the director of the film studies program and the director of the Middle East studies program at NCSU made a number of administrative decisions in the course of the past year that flagrantly violated Terri’s academic freedom.

To begin with, they limited her involvement in the film series which she had been hired to curate, and criticized the introduction she gave at a screening of the Palestinian film “Ticket to Jerusalem” as biased and overly political. Moreover, the director of the film studies program refused to purchase many of the materials Terri had requested for her Palestine/Israel film and media course and submitted her evaluation of Terri’s teaching prematurely. All of this culminate in her contract not being renewed for the upcoming academic year.

The grievance Terri filed with the NCSU Faculty alleged violations of her First Amendment and equal opportunity rights under the University Code. Despite a recommendation from the NCSU Faculty Chair that her case be given a full hearing, NCSU Chancellor James L. Oblinger summarily dismissed her petition on the grounds that it was filed “too late” and that Terri was no longer a university employee. To make matters worse, the AAUP—who had been helping Terri with her case— informed her in the wake of Oblinger’s decision that they would no longer provide her with assistance. (For more information about the facts of Terri’s case, read the following article:


In response to this outrage, people from around the world have beeninundating NCSU with letters demanding that the Chancellor and the Board of Trustees allow Terri’s grievance to go forward. An online petition has been started that requests that NCSU consider Terri’s case and asks the AAUP to give her the support she deserves.

Please take a few minutes to help support Terri in this fight. First, add your name to the petition
of support drafted by Academics for Justice (

Second, send e-mails and make phone calls to D. McQueen Campbell, chair of the Board of Trustees, and Larry Nielsen, its convener, urging that Terri’s case be heard:

D. McQueen Campbell, Chair

NCSU Board of Trustees

tele: 919-515-2195

fax: 919-831-3545

Dr. Larry A. Nielsen, NCSU Provost &

Executive Vice Chancellor

tele: 919-515-2195

fax: 919-515-5921