Archive for July 28th, 2014

Cognitive Casualties

by lizard

When James Conner denounced 4&20 Blackbirds, he included our propensity (JC and myself) for mistrusting mainstream news sources as a contributing factor to our anti-Americanism:

They don’t trust the mainstream media, such as the New York Times, the Washington Post, or the Guardian. They seem to see a conspiracy behind every sunflower. They hate the United States and its government with a black bile that corrodes their judgment.

For me, there absolutely has been a corrosion of trust in mainstream news sources. The complicity of the New York Times in the run up to the invasion of Iraq is the worst example of media manipulation, but there are lots of others, which I will get to in a second.

(On edit, the NYT decision to spike the Bush warrantless wiretapping story until AFTER the 2004 election is also way up there.)

First, though, I can’t help highlighting a little blurb from a post at Intelligent Discontent where the self-admitted media scold, Don Pogreba, laments about local political coverage from the Great Falls Tribune:

I got into blogging just over nine years ago as a bit of a media scold. I was troubled that the Montana press didn’t seem to cover stories that needed to be covered and that often the stories took a predictable approach of letting both sides (Democrat and Republican) speak with equal authority, even when one side was clearly not telling the truth. Voices outside of the two parties were largely marginalized.

What a perfect segue to the actual meat of this post: the marginalization of voices outside the mainstream media’s lock-step fealty to Israel (and whatever atrocity IDF soldiers are in the midst of committing).

First up, Max Blumenthal takes a look at how MSNBC responded to criticism from within the network:

MSNBC contributor Rula Jebreal’s on-air protest of the network’s slanted coverage of Israel’s ongoing assault on the Gaza Strip has brought media suppression of the Israel-Palestine debate into sharp focus. Punished for her act of dissent with the cancellation of all future appearances and the termination of her contract, Jebreal spoke to me about what prompted her to speak out and why MSNBC was presenting such a distorted view of the crisis.

“I couldn’t stay silent after seeing the amount of airtime given to Israeli politicians versus Palestinians,” Jebreal told me. “They say we are balanced but their idea of balance is 90 percent Israeli guests and 10 percent Palestinians. This kind of media is what leads to the failing policies that we see in Gaza.”

She continued, “We as journalists are there to afflict the comfortable and who is comfortable in this case? Who is really endangering both sides and harming American interests in the region? It’s those enforcing the status quo of the siege of Gaza and the occupation of the West Bank.”

NBC had another problem with a reporter actually in Gaza because he, you know, REPORTED what he saw, which was 4 kids on the beach playing soccer get blown up. NBC response? Get him out of there:

Ayman Mohyeldin, the NBC News correspondent who personally witnessed yesterday’s killing by Israel of four Palestinian boys on a Gazan beach and who has received widespread praise for his brave and innovative coverage of the conflict, has been told by NBC executives to leave Gaza immediately. According to an NBC source upset at his treatment, the executives claimed the decision was motivated by “security concerns” as Israel prepares a ground invasion, a claim repeated to me by an NBC executive. But late yesterday, NBC sent another correspondent, Richard Engel, along with an American producer who has never been to Gaza and speaks no Arabic, into Gaza to cover the ongoing Israeli assault (both Mohyeldin and Engel speak Arabic).

The good news here is that NBC reversed its decision after a healthy heaping of social media scorn for its clearly political move and subsequent deceit that it was for “security reasons”.

And how about more good news: mainstream media sources seem to be having more difficulties peddling propaganda, and that, I think, is because members of non-mainstream sources are getting more traction when they point out obvious bias and manipulation. Here is a post from writer Greg Mitchell, for example, calling out the New York Times:

NYT tonight finally changes headline on story it posted this morning– which declared, “Gazans and Israelis Tally Damage.” I pointed out here (see below) and via Twitter that the story did not, or could not, point to a single example of Israel damage (beyond it reputation and moral standing, perhaps). Instead, it had Israelis going to the beach (“It’s fun”), holding bar-b-qs and visiting soldiers. Perhaps feeling shame, the paper has finally changed the headline. It also added reference to 21 Gazans in one family killed by Israeli shelling last night–but as always reporter allows Israel flack to claim it must have been because of Hamas fire from nearby.

The way online stories are sometimes subtly changed can be hard to catch. But it happens. In the case of Mitchell helping to coerce the change of a headline, the change made the piece less biased. In this example, caught by b at Moon of Alabama, the change to the NBC article expunged the eyes of the reporter. I will re-quote the two versions with b’s bold emphasis included (using red instead of b’s bold). Oh, and I should mention the article is about strikes near Gaza’s Shifa hospital.

Take one:

Israeli strikes hit within yards of Gaza’s main hospital as well as at a refugee camp on Monday, leaving at least 30 dead and wounded.

The explosion near Shifa Hospital around 5 p.m. local time (10 a.m. ET) caused some damage to the outpatient clinic, according to witnesses including an NBC News crew on the ground in the area. There was no immediate confirmation of deaths or injuries.

Another strike occurred at the Al-Shati refugee camp in northern Gaza. At least 30 dead and wounded were brought to Shifa Hospital in ambulances, civilian cars and on motorcycles. A NBC News team in the area said the strikes were in “close succession.”

The Israel Defense Forces told Haaretz that a “preliminary investigation has found the Israeli army did not fire at the Shifa Hospital, and the fire is believed to have been Hamas.” The IDF could not immediately be reached to clarify that account on Monday. However, a NBC News journalist witnessed the attack on the hospital and said it had been fired by an Israeli drone.

Take two:

Missiles or rockets struck within yards of Gaza’s main hospital and a nearby refugee camp Monday, leaving at least 30 dead and wounded.

The Israeli military denied reports its forces were responsible for the strikes, saying they were the result of rockets misfired by Palestinian militants.

The explosion near Shifa Hospital around 5 p.m. local time (10 a.m. ET) caused some damage to the outpatient clinic, according to witnesses including an NBC News crew on the ground in the area. There was no immediate confirmation of deaths or injuries.

Another strike occurred at the Al-Shati refugee camp in northern Gaza. A Palestinian health official says at least 10 people, including children, were killed in Monday’s strikes. An NBC News team in the area said the strikes were in “close succession.”

The Israel Defense Forces said in a statement that failed rocket launches were to blame.

“A short while ago Al-Shifa hospital was struck by a failed rocket attack launched by Gaza terror organizations. A barrage of three rockets that were aimed towards Israel, struck the hospital. At the time of the incident there was no Israeli military activity in the area surrounding the hospital whatsoever. “

Early reports from the ground said an Israeli drone was responsible for the attack.

The wars and slaughters being waged are being told to us through a parallel war, the information war. The palpable disgust expressed by James Conner that JC and I have created some nefarious alternative reality shows me what a cognitive casualty looks like.

Don’t be a cognitive casualty of the information war. Think possibility, not blind patriotism.

by lizard

Ed Kemmick has a must read on the Billings homeless situation at Last Best News, titled Prairie Lights: Let’s not give up on downtown Billings. The perspective of the piece is incredibly important, considering the stabbing death of a photographer, Michael Sample, by a person who IS NOT HOMELESS has resulted in Billings scrambling to convene a summit on homelessness this October. From the article:

You want to talk about problems with transients on Montana Avenue? Talk to Mike Schaer.

When he moved his computer business to the avenue 33 years ago, there were vacant buildings all along Montana, and “the transients were really all over the place.”

They could buy cheap booze at the Empire Bar, the Rainbow Bar and Lobby Liquor, which was on First Avenue North and even had a walk-up window. And that’s not all.

“There were hookers up and down the street, flagging down cars,” Schaer said.

There has recently been a sense of alarm over the number of transients on the streets of downtown Billings. Business owners vented their frustrations at a public forum and city officials met with the Mayor’s Committee on Homelessness to talk about some solutions.

All well and good, Schaer said, but “it’s a manageable problem. And compared to what it was, it’s no problem at all.”

Interesting historical context to consider from a business owner who has been around for 3 decades. Not only was the “transient problem” worse, so was the downtown infrastructure. And here lies the rub.

Revitalizing downtowns is a national trend. Here is Forbes looking into the demographics fueling investment in downtown business districts:

One of the main factors businesses consider when deciding on where to relocate or expand is the available pool of college-educated workers. And that has cities competing for college-educated young adults. “The American population, contrary to popular opinion, is not very mobile, but there is one very significant exception, what we call ‘the young and the restless,’” explains Lee Fisher, president of CEOs for Cities, a national not-for-profit organization that helps U.S. cities map out economic growth.

And there’s one place this desired demographic, college-educated professionals between the ages of 25 and 34, tends to want to live: tight-knit urban neighborhoods that are close to work and have lots of entertainment and shopping options within an easy walk. In fact this demographic’s population grew 26% from 2000 to 2010 in major cities’ downtowns, or twice as fast as it did in the those cities’ overall metro areas, according to a CEOs for Cities report based on U.S. Census data. That is one of the reasons city planners have been plowing money and resources into revitalizing their core business districts.

“The cities that capture the mobile, college-educated ‘young and restless’ are the ones who are most likely to revitalize their downtowns and accelerate economic progress in their cities,” says Fisher.

Take Denver. Civic and business leaders began work on the city’s Lower Downtown neighborhood in 1989 with the issuance of $240 million in bonds. Today LoDo is a trendy ‘hood of over 100 restored Victorian warehouses and buildings filled with art galleries, boutiques, local eateries and nightclubs. Now Denver is in the midst of a 20-year, seven-mega project plan to expand the revitalization efforts through the rest of the downtown district.

Apparently, like Missoula (which now has 3 planned micro-distilleries eyeing downtown), distillers are moving into reclaimed downtown spaces. From the same link:

Other cities are getting creative with their efforts. Over the past decade, Louisville, Ky., converted much of its subsidized housing downtown to market-rate real estate, and it expanded retail offerings. Now it’s adding a twist. In 2011, the mayor unveiled a public-private initiative to restore downtown Louisville’s Whiskey Row. Buildings were rescued from scheduled demolition by an investor group for promising, with the help of government aid, to preserve the facades of the area’s cast-iron buildings. Two years later renovations are under way, and the buildings are expected to house bourbon-themed restaurants and nightlife spots, adding to the success of nearby projects like the mixed-use Whiskey Row Lofts.

“Bourbon is an industry that is growing in Louisville, especially downtown,” says Alan DeLisle, executive director of the Louisville Downtown Development Corporation. “Distillers are reinvesting downtown where they were once located off the river and we are building visitor centers and a streetscape plan that tells the story of the industry.” Among the bourbon businesses coming back to the area: Mitcher’s Distillery, Heaven Hill and whiskey giant Jim Beam.

So what are some of the problems associated with revitalizing downtown spaces? In Birmingham, it’s the PERCEPTION of crime. Again, from the same link:

In Birmingham, Ala., the number of residents downtown has increased 32% since 2000, with 737 planned units in the construction pipeline. A stadium for the minor league baseball team the Birmingham Barons has been built at Railroad Park, a green space created on a former industrial site next to a rail corridor. Office space absorption was positive in 2012, with net 126,000 square feet leased out, and downtown employment density relative to the southern city’s size is comparable to Philadelphia’s business district, local economists are quick to point out.

Yet, the city is still struggling to overcome a reputation for crime. “Despite the positive there are still people who have a negative view about downtown, particularly around the perception of crime,” sighs David Fleming, chief executive of REV Birmingham, a local economic development organization. “But if you look at the statistics, the chance of being a victim of crime in the central business district is actually less likely than in the suburbs.”

Combine the fear of crime with another national trend—that of criminalizing homelessness—and you can see where perceptions are being bolstered by the passing of more laws in more American cities criminalizing homelessness. This month a report came out tracking this trend (read the actual report here). From the first link:

A new report from the National Law Center on Homelessness & Poverty (“Law Center”), No Safe Place: The Criminalization of Homelessness in U.S. Cities, details a startling rise in laws criminalizing homelessness across America – more and more U.S. cities are criminally punishing homeless people for engaging in necessary, life-sustaining activity in public places, even when they have no other options. “There is a severe shortage of affordable housing and a lack of emergency shelter options in our communities, leaving homeless people with no choice but to perform basic acts of survival in public spaces,” stated Maria Foscarinis, Executive Director of the Law Center. “Despite a lack of any available alternatives, more cities are choosing to turn the necessary conduct of homeless people into criminal activity. Such laws threaten the human and constitutional rights of homeless people, impose unnecessary costs on cities, and do nothing to solve the problems they purport to address.”

The number of laws restricting or prohibiting the basic human activities of homeless people has significantly increased since 2011, according to the Law Center’s survey of 187 cities across the country. Over half of the surveyed cities have laws restricting or prohibiting sitting or lying down in public, representing a 43% increase since 2011. Other criminalization laws have become even more prevalent. Laws prohibiting living in vehicles have increased by a dramatic 119% since 2011.

Now, let’s go back to Kemmick’s piece for an alternative approach to criminalizing homelessness. Here is another downtown Billings business talking about their experience running a business downtown, echoing the sentiment that it’s not the crisis some people think it is:

I heard similar sentiments from Clark and Rachel Marten and their son Rudi. They moved their business — Clark Marten Photography — from Columbus to Montana Avenue last summer.

Clark and Rachel had plans to turn the successful business over to their son. He was interested, but he wanted to move the business to Billings.

“That’s where I wanted to live and where most of my clients live,” Rudi said. He also pushed for the downtown location. They are at 2606 Montana Ave., next door to the St. Vincent de Paul charity office, one of the biggest downtown gathering spots for transients, homeless people and poor families.

The Martens have gotten to know many of the street people by name, and they’ve never had a problem. Their beautifully renovated photography business, 10,000 square feet of ground-level and basement space, has never been damaged or vandalized.

They do have a couple of large planters full of flowers out front. Some people thought they were crazy to imagine they wouldn’t be vandalized or stolen. One planter was pushed over one night, but the Martens suspect it was someone leaving a neighborhood bar, not the local transients.

In an odd way, many of the street people seem to respect what they’re doing on the avenue, Clark said, and they’ll sleep in front of St. Vincent de Paul or the building next door, but not in front of his business.

The reason Ed Kemmick’s piece is so important is because, in the battle of perceptions, the noise of those who depict homelessness as a dangerous impediment to downtown gentrification usually drowns out the sounds of fact and reason. Newspapers like the Missoulian offer sensationalist reporting of anything bad that happens while ignoring or downplaying solutions, like the housing first model. This opens the space for further fear-mongering, like what we saw from “progressive” city councilor, Caitlin Copple, who offered the example of a pregnant woman being chased down a sidewalk as justification for her attempt to introduce a ban on sitting downtown between 6am-11pm.

The targets of this fear-mongering aren’t a problem for us to solve, they are people that we should be striving to better understand.

Toward that end, a local film maker, Jon Baker, is embarking on a journey to find his homeless father. He has already begun filming, and his kickstarter campaign is trying to raise 5,000 dollars to cover his costs. With 13 days left, he’s only raised $130 dollars so far.

Jon’s perspective is important. The lens of a son searching for his homeless father is not one traditional media is interested in telling. Please donate to his kickstarter campaign if you can.

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