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Archive for the ‘politics’ Category

A country splintering into angry shards

In behavior, business, cities, culture, domestic life, immigration, news, politics, urban life, US on February 20, 2014 at 12:37 am

By Caitlin Kelly

Americans know the expression, E pluribus unum.

(Here’s a definition)

american-flag-2a

The idea is that, with more than 300 million people sharing a sense of national identity, we’re all just American.

Not really.

Not any more.

Every day now seems to offer another horrific story of racial, economic and political division splintering the country into angry, gun-toting, vitriol-spewing shards.

Two men shot and killed two people who were behaving, they thought, disrespectfully — one, texting in a movie theater:

It started with a father sending text messages to his daughter during the previews of a movie.

It ended with the 43-year-old man shot dead amid the theater seats, and a 71-year-old retired police officer in custody.

The shooting Monday during a 1:20 p.m. showing of “Lone Survivor” at a Wesley Chapel, Florida, movie theater escalated from an objection to cell phone use, to a series of arguments, to the sudden and deadly shooting, according to police and witnesses.

the other, annoyed by music from a nearby vehicle:

It was November 23, 2012, when Michael Dunn pulled into a gas station in Jacksonville, parking next to a red Dodge Durango full of teenagers.

The teens had pulled in for gum and cigarettes; Dunn, meanwhile, had just left his son’s wedding with his fiancee, who’d gone inside the convenience store for wine and chips.

Dunn didn’t like the loud music — “rap crap,” as he called it — coming from the teens’ SUV. So he asked them to turn it down.

What followed next depends on whom you believe. Dunn claimed Davis threatened him, and he decided to take matter into his own hands upon seeing what he thought was the barrel of a gun sticking out of the Durango.

But prosecutors asserted that it was Dunn who lost control, firing three volleys of shots — 10 bullets total — at the SUV over music he didn’t like.

Here’s a recent New York Times piece on the ongoing battle to integrate poorer Americans into the wealthy precincts of Westchester County, which stretches from the Hudson River in the west to Long Island Sound.

I live in this county, in a town that has always been, and continues to be, economically and racially mixed: subsidized housing for the poor; rental apartments and houses; owned single-family houses, owned multiple-family houses, co-op apartments and condominiums.

In our town of 10,000, you can find a $10 loaf of bread at one food store while another shop sits between two projects — New York jargon for government-subsidized housing. Here’s a recent story I wrote about Tarrytown, explaining its diversity and appeal.

It’s one of several reasons I felt at home where when I arrived in 1989 and, even though the town has changed with the influx of much wealthier residents in recent years, (many fleeing Brooklyn and Manhattan’s real estate prices), I still like that diversity.

But the town of Chappaqua, a 15-minute drive north of us, is home to former President Bill Clinton and former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, with a median income of $163,201.

From the Times story:

Few places on the planet are as enviable as this Westchester County hamlet.

Stately houses are set on spacious, hilly lots shaded by old trees; its village center has gourmet restaurants and bakeries; its schools are top notch and its 9,400 residents have a median household income of $163,201, ranking the area roughly 40th among America’s wealthiest communities.

It is no surprise that Chappaqua is the home of a past president and perhaps a future one, Bill and Hillary Rodham Clinton, as well as a Hollywood star or two.

But the hamlet — like many other affluent, overwhelmingly white localities across the country such as Garden City on Long Island, Wellesley in Massachusetts, Marin County in California and several neighborhoods in New York City — has been churned up by plans to build new housing for people of much lower incomes, including black and Hispanic newcomers.

A developer is offering to build 28 units of affordable rental housing with caps on family earnings, though with no income floor; families of four earning no more than roughly $64,000 would qualify, as would poorer families, including those who receive federal vouchers.

It’s been said that Americans today have very few unifying experiences where rich and poor alike are subject to the same stresses and challenges — as they were in the Depression and WWII.

Today, with income inequality the highest since the Gilded Era, the nation feels as though it’s splintering into armed camps, whether the armaments are literal guns or a six or seven or eight-figure income.

Here’s a post from The Root:

Although economic downturns disproportionately affect black unemployment and home ownership, working-class and college-educated whites are now feeling the sting of restricted opportunity. In his book Angry White Men, sociologist Michael Kimmel describes how these men often blame the trifecta of feminism, affirmative action and immigration for their woes.

The relative devaluing of white privilege has been interpreted as racial oppression of whites and “reverse discrimination.” Opinion polls (pdf) suggest that half of all white Americans now see themselves as the targets of racism, and that number pushes past 60 percent among self-identified Republicans and among those who watch Fox News.

It’s a frightening and depressing trend, certainly for those of us who chose to come to the United States from another country with all the idealism and hope that every immigrant brings.

(And yet, watching terrible images of Syrians fleeing their homeland, and Venezuela erupting into protests and Ukraine killing protestors there…this is not [yet] that.)

How do you feel?

Do you see this sort of class warfare or random, ugly violence playing out where you live?

What, if anything, could address it?

Who do you (still) trust?

In behavior, business, Crime, culture, domestic life, education, life, love, Money, movies, news, politics on January 9, 2014 at 1:08 am

By Caitlin Kelly

trust-torn

If — bless you, my child! — you still actually trust any institution, charity, government, authority figure, public servant, media outlet or corporate entity, it’s been a remarkably shitty few weeks:

The NSA is spying on everyone.

Target’s database of customers got hacked.

Snapchat, too.

Retired New York City cops and firefighters — 106 of whom faked post 9/11 trauma — ripped off Social Security for $21.4 million.

A Bronx assemblyman is charged with accepting $20,000 worth of bribes to help four local businessmen.

New Jersey governor — and soon-to-be Republican presidential candidate Chris Christie — is now caught up in a new political scandal.

I moved to New York in 1989, my NYC-born mother’s advice ringing in my ears: “People lie.”

Why, yes, they do. In astonishing numbers.

I grew up in Toronto, hardly a hamlet, but in a country with 10 times fewer people than the United States, where you can commit a whole pile ‘o crimes, move states (even keeping your name!) and start all over again. In Canada, if you lie, cheat and steal, the odds are exponentially higher that people in your professional and/or social circles will realize you’re a lying sack of shit and your odds of repeating your felonies and misdemeanors — or mere lies — probably somewhat lower as a result.

Not here!

My first husband lied to me for months, then left. Later, as the lonely and insecure victim of a skilled con artist, back in 1998, I saw how effectively one’s buttons — (good looks! charm! intelligence! devoted attention!) can be pushed — by someone in the determined pursuit of a wholly different goal than one expects.

It amazes me, in a good way, how much trust is absolutely foundational to a functional world — whether your dog trusting you to walk him or her, even in -25 degree weather, or your boss relying on your skills to keep his or her company ethically profitable.

Every client who chooses to hire me freelance is placing their trust in me, an action I never take lightly. I think one of my USPs (keck — unique selling propositions) is that I almost never get it wrong; in 20 years writing for The New York Times, only three (damn them!) corrections.

Each time I apologized immediately and sincerely to my wronged source and editor. Luckily, all were gracious and forgiving.

I suspect we’re more forgiving of someone who is (briefly) fallible than falsely flawless.

Trust is not an endlessly renewable resource.

I recently re-watched the terrific film “An Education”, starring Carey Mulligan in her break-out role as a naive, bookish 16-year-old who falls hard for a charming liar, (is there any other kind?), and learns quite a bit as a result. So does her family, won over by David’s gorgeous car, smooth manners and apparently elitist connections.

Here’s American business guru Seth Godin on who we choose to read (deeply) and whose ideas we click past and dismiss:

TL;DR is internet talk for “too long; didn’t read”. It’s also a sad, dangerous symptom of the malfunctions caused by the internet tsunami…That mindset, of focusing merely on what’s fast, is now a common reaction to many online options.

There’s a checklist, punchline mentality that’s dangerous and easy to adopt. Enough with the build up, wrap this up, let me check it off, categorize it and quickly get to the next thing… c’mon, c’mon, too late, TL;DR…

Let’s agree on two things:

1. There are thousands of times as many things available to read as there were a decade ago. It’s possible that in fact there are millions as many.

2. Now that everyone can write, publish, email you stuff and generally make noise, everyone might and many people already are.

As a result, there’s too much noise, too much poorly written, overly written, defensively written and generally useless stuff cluttering your life.

When we had trusted curators it was easy. We read what we were supposed to read, we read what we trusted, regardless of how long it was, because the curator was taking a risk and promising us it was worth it. No longer. Now, it’s up to us.

We’re all susceptible to someone and their siren song: great sex, access to power, scintillating charm, a cool car, seductive flattery.

The comfort of feeling safe, even if we’re very much not…

How about you?

Who do you trust — fully, implicitly, cautiously — and why?

Have you ever had your trust  abused?

What happened after that?

Scrooge city! Employers hotly defend poverty-level wages

In business, life, Money, news, politics, urban life, US, work on December 17, 2013 at 3:22 pm

By Caitlin Kelly

‘Tis the season!

Check out the 300 comments — and climbing (including a long one from me) — at the Harvard Business Review blog where a Wharton professor, Peter Capelli, (gasp, competing B-school!) posted the following argument in favor of actually paying workers a living wage:

Jobs paying $15 per hour are not the concern, though. Those are routinely seen as good jobs now. The concern is those jobs paying at or around the minimum wage, $7.25 per hour or only $1160 per month for a
full-time job. About 1.6 million workers in the U.S. are paid at that level, and a surprising 2 million are actually paid less than that under various exemptions. If you are an employer paying the minimum wage or close to it, the Government has determined that your employees need help to pay for food, housing, and healthcare even if they have no family and no one to look after but themselves.  As we’ve been reminded this season, many of those workers also need help from families and coworkers to get by.

No doubt the reason low-wage companies continue to pay low wages is because there are plenty of workers willing to take jobs at those wages, and the need to pay more to avoid the risk of being unionized is
largely gone. But “can” and “ought” are not the same thing.  Nothing about the minimum wage implies that it is morally ok as long as you pay at least that much. It simply says that the government will prosecute you if try to pay less than that level.

A longstanding principle in all developed countries including the U.S. is that labor is not like a commodity where taking advantage of the market to squeeze down prices is a fact of life. Employees have human rights that do not disappear when they enter the workplace. Even in business law, principles like the “mechanic’s lien” say that employees should be paid before other creditors because they are more vulnerable than businesses and do not get profits to compensate them for risks.

We’re at an inflection point in the U.S., where some low-wage workers, unprecedented in decades, have actually begun to stage walk-outs, strikes and protests in recent weeks.

In Germany — where 9,000 workers are employed by Amazon — employees have just gone on strike.

Wage list

Wage list (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

I have — as we say here in sports-metaphor-obsessed-America — skin in this particular game.

I worked 2.5 years making $11/hour (the federal minimum is still $7.25/hour) selling costly outdoor clothing at an upscale mall, the subject of my book, “Malled: My Unintentional Career in Retail.”

No matter how insanely productive we were — one of us sold $16,000 worth of merch one holiday Saturday — we never got more hours or  serious raise (mine was 30 cents/hour) or a boost into a low-management position with a (barely) liveable salary.

The endless argument in favor paying crap is that low-wage workers are all teens, seniors and/or have no skills.

False! A recent survey of 436 New York City retail workers found that two-thirds of them are supporting another family member on their wages. Their average age? 24.

I also pay my assistants $15/hour, albeit part-time, about 10 hours a month. This year I paid out $1,5000 in wages to one worker, a significant amount for a one-person shop — me — and a healthy sum to a person new to my line of work, in effect, someone essentially entry-level I was training and paying.

I am appalled, disgusted and fed up with corporate greed, corporate welfare and the right-wing outrage that all low-wage jobs are low-skilled. They’re not.

Every single job adds profit to an employer’s bottom line or — in union-free America — it’s swiftly cut, with no severance or warning.

Walmart and MacDonalds workers suck up my tax dollars in Medicaid and food stamps because their greedhead CEOs think this is moral, equitable and justifiable way to treat workers.

I disagree.

How about you?

“It takes all the running you can do, to keep in the same place”

In business, cities, family, journalism, life, Media, Money, news, politics, urban life, US, women, work on September 24, 2013 at 12:59 am

By Caitlin Kelly

The Red Queen's race

The Red Queen’s race (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

“If you want to get somewhere else, you must run at least twice as fast as that!”

The words are from Alice in Wonderland, spoken by the Red Queen.

Sadly, they still apply to millions of American workers, (and those in struggling economies worldwide), for whom the “economic recovery” means little. Their wages are stagnant, their costs rising.

From a recent edition of The New York Times:

For all but the most highly educated and affluent Americans, incomes have stagnated, or worse, for more than a decade. The census report found that median household income, adjusted for inflation, was $51,017 in 2012, down about 9 percent from an inflation-adjusted peak of $56,080 in 1999, mostly as a result of the longest and most damaging recession since the Depression. Most people have had no gains since the economy hit bottom in 2009.

The government’s authoritative annual report on incomes, poverty and health insurance, released Tuesday, underscores that the economic recovery has largely failed to reach the poor and the middle class, even as the unemployment rate continues to sink and growth has returned.

Government programs remain a lifeline for millions. Unemployment insurance, whose eligibility the federal government expanded in response to the downturn, kept 1.7 million people out of poverty last year. Food stamps, if counted as income, would have kept out four million.

Since the recession ended in 2009, income gains have accrued almost entirely to the top earners, the Census Bureau found. The top 5 percent of earners — households making more than about $191,000 a year — have recovered their losses and earned about as much in 2012 as they did before the recession. But those in the bottom 80 percent of the income distribution are generally making considerably less than they had been,hit by high rates of unemployment and nonexistent wage growth.

New York continues to be deeply inhospitable to anyone earning  low wages, like the women profiled here, who work multiple jobs and still cannot afford housing, sleeping instead in shelters:

More than one out of four families in shelters, 28 percent, include at least one employed adult, city figures show, and 16 percent of single adults in shelters hold jobs.

Mostly female, they are engaged in a variety of low-wage jobs as security guards, bank tellers, sales clerks, computer instructors, home health aides and office support staff members. At work they present an image of adult responsibility, while in the shelter they must obey curfews and show evidence that they are actively looking for housing and saving part of their paycheck.

Advocates of affordable housing say that the employed homeless are proof of the widening gap between wages and rents — which rose in the city even during the latest recession — and, given the shortage of subsidized housing, of just how difficult it is to escape the shelter system, even for people with jobs.

In 2011, I was asked to testify to New York’s City Council.

I’d never before been part of the political process, except for voting, as some news journalists are required by their employers to avoid any such signs of partiality.

The city was considering passing a “living wage” bill, which would have required employers accepting city subsidies for development to pay their staff $10/hour.

I assure you that $10/hr, even full-time, is no living — but mere survival in a city where it’s virtually impossible to find any apartment costing less than $1,000 a month.

It was an eye-opening and depressing day as I waited six hours to give my allotted two minutes of testimony. The only people left, wearily waiting, were the councilors listening to us — and the impassioned black pastors of low-income-area churches, fighting hard for social justice in the form of economic redress.

I had written a book about low-wage retail work, the third largest industry in the U.S. and one which employs millions in wearying, poorly-paid work, “Malled: My Unintentional Career in Retail.” I’d worked for 2.5 years, part-time, for a multinational outdoor clothing brand much beloved by customers, so I’d seen that life, even briefly.

I saw there, firsthand, the frustration of selling a $600 ski jacket to a banker whisking his family off to Aspen, (whose firm had likely helped to wreck the economy in 2008), while we were earning, at most, $11/hour with no commission. As members of the 99 percent serving the 1 percent, we were just another servant class.

It was chillingly instructive.

I also saw my coworkers, several with multiple young children, desperate to flee.

The living wage bill did pass here.

But for millions of workers, still, a hard-earned income — or several — doesn’t provide a life of any ease or comfort.

English: Photo of Jared Bernstein testifying t...

English: Photo of Jared Bernstein testifying to the US Senate on May 26, 2005. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

From the Times:

“The good news from today’s 2012 income and poverty results is that for the first year since the Great Recession hit, things aren’t getting worse,” Jared Bernstein of the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities, a former Obama economics official and a contributor to The New York Times’s Economix blog, wrote in his analysis of the numbers. “The bad news is that three years into an economic recovery, they’re not getting
better either.”

And, once more from the Times, from Robert Reich:

Put simply, most people are on a downward escalator. Although jobs are slowly returning, pay is not. Most jobs created since the start of the recovery, in 2009, pay less than the jobs that were lost during the Great Recession. This means many people are working harder than ever, but still getting nowhere. They’re increasingly pessimistic about their chances of ever doing better.

As their wages and benefits shrink, though, they see corporate executives and Wall Street bankers doing far better than ever before. And they are keenly aware of bailouts and special subsidies for agribusinesses, pharma, oil and gas, military contractors, finance and every other well-connected industry.

Alice in Wonderland eventually awoke from her visions. It was just, all of it — the Red Queen, the Mad Hatter, Tweedledee and Tweedledum — a very odd dream.

Not for the rest of us.

How are you doing economically these days?

Better? Worse? The same?

Do you feel hopeful that things will improve for you — or others?

One woman’s life reporting on Syria — for $70 per story

In behavior, journalism, Media, news, photography, politics, travel, women, work on July 18, 2013 at 12:12 am

By Caitlin Kelly

English: Bastion of the Citadel of Aleppo, Syr...

English: Bastion of the Citadel of Aleppo, Syria Français : Bastion de la citadelle d’Alep, Syrie (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

This story, from the Columbia Journalism Review, is going viral among my journalist/writer/foreign correspondent friends.

It is written by Francesca Borri, an Italian woman who has been reporting from Syria as a freelancer:

People have this romantic image of the freelancer as a journalist who’s
exchanged the certainty of a regular salary for the freedom to cover the
stories she is most fascinated by. But we aren’t free at all; it’s just
the opposite. The truth is that the only job opportunity I have today
is staying in Syria, where nobody else wants to stay. And it’s not even
Aleppo, to be precise; it’s the frontline. Because the editors back in
Italy only ask us for the blood, the bang-bang. I write about the
Islamists and their network of social services, the roots of their
power—a piece that is definitely more complex to build than a frontline
piece. I strive to explain, not just to move, to touch, and I am
answered with: “What’s this? Six thousand words and nobody died?”

….

But whether you’re writing from Aleppo or Gaza or Rome, the editors
see no difference. You are paid the same: $70 per piece. Even in places
like Syria, where prices triple because of rampant speculation. So, for
example, sleeping in this rebel base, under mortar fire, on a mattress
on the ground, with yellow water that gave me typhoid, costs $50 per
night; a car costs $250 per day. So you end up maximizing, rather than
minimizing, the risks. Not only can you not afford insurance—it’s
almost $1,000 a month—but you cannot afford a fixer or a translator.
You find yourself alone in the unknown. The editors are well aware that
$70 a piece pushes you to save on everything…But they buy your
article anyway, even if they would never buy the Nike soccer ball
handmade by a Pakistani child.

With new communication technologies there is this temptation to
believe that speed is information. But it is based on a self-destructive
logic: The content is now standardized, and your newspaper, your
magazine, no longer has any distinctiveness, and so there is no reason
to pay for the reporter. I mean, for the news, I have the Internet—and
for free. The crisis today is of the media, not of the readership.
Readers are still there, and contrary to what many editors believe, they
are bright readers who ask for simplicity without simplification. They
want to understand, not simply to know. Every time I publish an
eyewitness account from the war, I get a dozen emails from people who
say, “Okay, great piece, great tableaux, but I want to understand what’s going on in Syria.”

Many kinds of reporting, especially war reporting, (and photography and video and audio) — must be done firsthand.

It can’t be done, contrary to the fantasies of some journalism students who have to be shoved out of their classrooms into the world to talk to real people face to face, by Googling everything!

It’s often terrifying and exhausting. It often leaves the journalists (and their fixers and translators) who do it with PTSD; the terrific Dart Center helps them heal after such work.

Great reporting, of the sort Borri is doing and describing, is damn dangerous. It killed legendary American reporter Marie Colvin. It killed legendary New York Times reporter Anthony Shadid, who died — of all things — of an asthma attack in reaction to the dander of the horses he needed to ride to get into Syria.

The photographer with him, Tyler Hicks, as soldiers expect to do and reporters do not, carried his dead body back to civilization.

We cannot, must not ever accept, only the official/sanitized/biased reports offered up by the military or rebels or the government or corporate flacks.

Everyone, everywhere has an agenda.

The reporter’s primary job is to witness, describe, analyze, explain. They/we are more essential than ever in a world of spin , sound bites and soi-disant journalists who “publish” their point of view without an ounce of training or ethics.

But risking your life for $70 a story? It’s a fucking obscenity. Her editors and publishers should be ashamed of their cheapness — I bet they blow that much money each week on their morning espressos.

I do admire her spirit and her dedication.

Would you do it?

What do you think of her choice?

Journalist or activist — who speaks (more) truth to power?

In behavior, blogging, books, journalism, Media, news, politics on July 4, 2013 at 3:18 am

By Caitlin Kelly

The ongoing firestorm surrounding the leaks by NSA contractor Edward Snowden to activist/journalist Glen Greenwald prompted New York Times media columnist David Carr this week to ask the question — who should we (most) believe?:

In a refracted media world where information comes from everywhere, the line between two “isms” — journalism and activism — is becoming difficult to discern. As American news media have pulled back from international coverage, nongovernmental organizations have filled in the gaps with on-the-scene reports and Web sites. State houses have lost reporters who used to provide accountability, so citizens have turned to digital enterprises, some of which have partisan agendas.

The question of who is a journalist and who is an activist and whether they can be one and the same continues to roar along, most recently in the instance of Glenn Greenwald’s reporting for The Guardian on the secrets revealed by Edward J. Snowden.

Sometimes, a writer’s motives or leanings emerge between the lines over time, but you need only to read a few sentences of Mr. Greenwald’s blog to know exactly where he stands. Mr. Greenwald is an activist who is deeply suspicious of government and the national security apparatus, and he is a zealous defender of privacy and civil rights.

He is also a journalist.

In some countries, the question is less pressing, perhaps, but in the United States, “objectivity” is professionally expected, and demanded, of anyone who purports to be a news journalist.

English: Globe and Mail newspaper staff wait f...

English: Globe and Mail newspaper staff wait for news of the D-Day invasion. Toronto, Canada. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

I’ve been writing freelance for The New York Times since 1990 — an organization ferociously guarding its reputation. Every freelancer who writes for the Times is sent a long and detailed ethics code we’re all expected to abide by; this includes not accepting free trips, writing about people we know personally or covering a firm or product in which we have a financial interest.

The word “journalist” is, though has many different variations, sort of like the word “antique” — someone who rewrites press releases and hits “publish” or who trills about mascara and shoes is, in some eyes, as much a journalist  as someone with the respect and stature of Pulitzer Prize winners, like Katherine Boo or the late David Halberstam.

One of the reasons this matters more now is that many younger readers don’t look to standard media outlets, like newspapers, radio or television, to find out what’s happening in the world.

They only want to know what’s happening in their world, or to their friends or political allies.

Now some bloggers are doing what journalists traditionally have done — bearing witness firsthand – like this one, whose powerful account of the violence against women in Tahrir Square in Cairo is deeply depressing, but essential to know.

English: Tahrir Square, with the Egyptian Muse...

English: Tahrir Square, with the Egyptian Museum on left, circa 1940s Cairo (over 70 years ago). (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

She’s both a journalist, (by reporting this) and an activist; Opantish is a group fighting sexual assault on women:

Yesterday, June 30th, some friends and I joined a march
from Saray el Kobba to the presidential palace calling for Morsy’s
departure and also rejecting military rule. The atmosphere was largely
festive, with singing, chanting, banners and flags. After we joined
other marches congregating at the palace we stood around drinking iced
coffee in the shade, disoriented by the safe, upbeat atmosphere after
days of anxiety and with the knowledge that things would surely be
violent elsewhere in the country. I left to go to Tahrir and work with
Opantish, which was operating that evening.

Like many, I was stunned by how Tahrir and the surrounding streets
were carpeted by people protesting, mostly chanting against Morsy. I had
not seen so many people out around Tahrir before, not in the 18 days
that unseated Mubarak in 2011 or at any other time. Military helicopters
frequently circled the square, at one point bizarrely dropping Egyptian
flags onto the crowd in a blatant gesture of political partiality.

The atmosphere felt more threatening to me immediately after getting
out of the taxi near Tahrir, at which point it was still daylight. I
don’t understand what kind of subliminal group psychology contributes to
this, but it seems like there is some consensus that Tahrir and
downtown are areas where it is particularly ok to harass women. I don’t
know if geographic locations develop  certain reputations, and therefore
bring this behavior out in people.

I started my shift with Opantish at around 7 30 last night. We did
not wrap up until after 3 in the morning. We received 46 reports of
cases of mob sexual assault in and around Tahrir.

I’ve been making my living as a journalist since university, and have been a reporter for three major dailies, The Globe and Mail and Montreal Gazette, in Canada and the New York Daily News, the U.S.’s sixth-largest daily. In those jobs, I was expected to be fair to both sides, giving, whenever possible, both versions of whatever story I was covering. Although some stories — like this one about mobs of men attacking and raping women — really don’t have a defensible or rational “other side” to seek and share.

A Dutch female journalist was raped by five men, in return for trying to do her job. Should she, as some comments suggest here at Jezebel, an American feminist website, not have gone to Tahrir Square at all?

New York Daily News front page on August 9

New York Daily News front page on August 9 (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

The one place I can take the gloves off, intellectually speaking, is in my books — and I have. In them, I’m able to ferociously and unapologetically state my personal opinion, and advocate for or against anything I want.

My first book, “Blown Away: American Women and Guns” includes interviews with 104 men, women and teens, some who love guns and others traumatized by their use. A few critics cringed at my graphic descriptions of what a bullet does when it hits flesh.

My second book — published this month in China — describes my experience, and that of many others nationwide, working for low wages in a store, “Malled: My Unintentional Career in Retail.” I took my employer to the woodshed in its final chapter, fed up with terrible pay and escalating demands, rude customers and an ongoing lack of corporate support for front-line workers everywhere, not just our suburban New York mall.

I later received dozens of private emails, from retail workers past and present, thanking me for speaking out, telling the ugly truths behind the bright lights and costly ad campaigns. I was glad to be able to tell their stories.

Someone has to.

Where are you getting your information about the world?

Are you out there actively fighting for or against a cause — and writing about it?

Who — if anyone — do you believe?

Michael Hastings, 33, killed in car crash — we’ve lost a member of the tribe

In blogging, books, culture, journalism, life, Media, men, news, politics, the military, US, war on June 19, 2013 at 3:23 pm

By Caitlin Kelly

File this one under — really?

Michael Hastings, a 33-year-old reporter for Buzzfeed whose Rolling Stone report on comments made by aides to Army Gen. Stanley McChrystal ended McChrystal’s career, died early Tuesday in an explosive one-car crash in the Hancock Park neighborhood of Los Angeles.

Video of the crash scene posted to YouTube shows an extremely fiery aftermath of the fatal wreck, with Hastings’ car burning furiously at 625 N. Highland Ave. The car burns on the median strip outside the office of psychic Madam Mazale.

I knew Michael a little because we were both, in 2009, blogging for True/Slant, a paid site with some 300 members. He was smart, generous, a good guy with a promising career.
When a terrific journalist, especially one so young, is killed, the tribe mourns. For all the cynicism about “the media” and how crappy we can be in our work, when it is good, we salute it and celebrate it, at least amongst ourselves. We are all hungry, all the time, for inspiration to be our best selves, to produce our best work.
English: Commander of International Security A...

English: Commander of International Security Assistance Force Gen. Stanley A. McChrystal, U.S. Army near the International Security Assistance Force headquarters, in Afghanistan. Deutsch: General Stanley A. McChrystal, US Army, Kommandeur der International Security Assistance Force nahe dem ISAF-Hauptquartier in Afghanistan. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

In late August, 2009, I ran this post here, which includes an interview with Michael about his first book. An excerpt from that post:
Tell us a little about how and why you chose journalism.


I’ll start with a cliché—from about the age of 12 I knew I wanted to write. (Or join the Marines, win a congressional medal of honor, and run for president.) As a teenager, I discovered guys like Hunter S. Thompson and Tom Wolfe, and had a serious Beat literature phase. I brilliantly deduced that to be a great writer, you had to ingest great amounts of illegal substances. That didn’t work out so well. I wrote a column at my school paper, called “Fear and Loathing at LCC.” (Lower Canada College, the name of the high school I attended in Montreal.) Then I moved to Burlington, Vermont, where I went to a Catholic school. I was promptly banned from writing for the school newspaper there. The principal was a rather large man named Brother Roger. He didn’t take kindly to an essay where I compared him, perhaps unfavorably, to Jabba the Hutt.

Anyway, after bouncing around at a few colleges, I ended up at New York University. During my last semester, I got an unpaid internship at Newsweek International. I probably was the only one who applied, as the work at first was primarily on Friday and Saturday nights. But I’d been chastened enough by life at that point to realize that I’d managed to get my foot in the door, so to speak, and I wasn’t going take it out. So I more or less lived at the Newsweek offices, and the internship turned to a full time position. I guess I was 22 at the time. I loved it, and I learned how to write an edit there…. I never refused an assignment or anything an editor asked me to do, which helped my cause.. But after about three years, I started asking to be sent to Iraq. By that time, America was already suffering from its first bout of Iraq fatigue—circa 2005. It wasn’t a hot story. Not many people were banging down the door to go. So my bosses finally sent me in August 2005. Six months or so later, the civil war broke out, and all of sudden, Iraq was a really big story again.. I was named the magazine’s Baghdad correspondent a few months after that. That meant I was now going to move to Baghdad permanently…

Here, he talks about writing his first book. about the death of his girlfriend Andi, in Iraq:

What was the hardest part of living through it? And then, of writing it — commodifying something painful and personal into a book.

I’d never experienced violent or sudden loss. It’s something one can’t prepare for, and it’s difficult for those who haven’t experienced it to really understand how life-changing it can be. So losing Andi was the hardest part, the most horrible thing that has ever happened in my life. And I get into this in the book, but I of course felt my own guilt for being over there, for Andi being over there. Writing it was the only relief. The book is what kept me going.

I didn’t really consider the questions of commodification until after the fact. I tried to focus on the positives. The proceeds of the book could start the Andi Foundation, which they have, and we’ve been able to already do great things there, another way to keep Andi’s memory alive. We’ve even made amends with NDI, and have established an annual fellowship with them in her name. They’ve still never admitted their massive failure, but no point in holding a grudge. My goal was also to make Andi a part of the history of the war and, I’m quite proud of the fact that the book has been published around the world; it has been excerpted in many more countries, so Andi’s story really has reached hundreds of thousands of more people. I felt fortunate that a publisher was giving me the chance to share her story, and my story. Most war dead are lucky if they get a writeup in the local paper.

There are negatives, of course. But they’re nothing compared to the actual positive things that publishing the book accomplish. But it’s not like this is some uplifting story. A thousand books aren’t going to get her back, nothing is. It it’s a horrible situation, mind-numbingly horrible, but you try to do what you can. You desperately search for silver linings, lemonade from lemons, whatever you can grasp onto to help deal with the pain, to give her death meaning.

There’s a great quote by Wallace Stegner, talking to students in a writing workshop: “If you spill your guts on the floor,” he told his students, “Don’t be surprised if people step on them.” The bread and butter of journalism is the pain and misery of others. So I find it funny that when a person writes about their own pain and misery, others in the media are quick to level the charge of exploitation. Sort of ridiculous, really.

The New York Times ran a short item today about Michael’s death as well:

Hastings, who was 33, was described by many of his colleagues as an unfailingly bright and hard-charging reporter who wrote stories that mattered. Most recently, he wrote about politics for the news website BuzzFeed, where the top editor said colleagues were devastated by the loss.

“Michael was a great, fearless journalist with an incredible instinct for the story, and a gift for finding ways to make his readers care about anything he covered from wars to politicians,” said Ben Smith, BuzzFeed’s editor-in-chief.

Smith said he learned of the death from a family member.

Authorities said there was a car crash early Tuesday in the Hancock Park neighborhood of Los Angeles that killed a man, but coroner’s officials could not confirm whether Hastings was the victim.

Hastings won a 2010 George Polk Award for magazine reporting for his Rolling Stone cover story “The Runaway General.”

His story was credited with ending Gen. Stanley McChrystal’s career after it revealed the military’s candid criticisms of the Obama administration.

One wise friend, with decades of media experience at the highest levels, in D.C. and elsewhere, asked me the question — was this really an accident?

A bright, tough, ambitious journalist dies alone in a fiery one-car crash?

Plan B — the morning-after pill — soon available over the counter

In behavior, culture, domestic life, Health, life, love, politics, women on June 11, 2013 at 2:53 pm

By Caitlin Kelly

English: A woman swats away the stork which ha...

English: A woman swats away the stork which has brought her her child. Caption: “And the villain still pursues her”. (a turn-of-the-20th-century postcard). Русский: Женщина отбивается от аиста, который принес ей ее ребенка. Надпись: «Злодей по-прежнему преследует ее». (открытка на рубеже ХХ века). (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

I was debating whether or not to blog this major news, but decided to do so anyway:

The Obama administration has decided to stop trying to block
over-the-counter availability of the best-known morning-after
contraceptive pill for all women and girls, a move fraught with
political repercussions for President Obama.

The government’s decision means that any woman or girl will soon be able
to walk into a drugstore and buy the pill, Plan B One-Step, without a
prescription.

The essential issue, which never changes for women, is control of our bodies and their reproductive ability.

Our lives, in short.

The most fortunate of women have a few choices, many of them culturally pre-determined:

Never have sex unless or until you want to become pregnant

Never have sex unless or until you are married and have a partner to help you raise a child

Never have sex

Have an abortion

Put your unwanted child(ren) up for adoption

Many of us have, or will have, a sexual life beyond the boundaries of marriage or the explicit, specific desire to become someone’s parent. For some of us, it may result in an unplanned pregnancy — or pregnancy scare.

Ready access to Plan B means any woman who fears she might face an unplanned pregnancy has the option to forestall that terrifyingly, permanently life-changing event.

It is not an abortion. Plan B’s exact method is unclear — except that it does what it promises. It makes sure you will not become pregnant.

Those of us who delay marriage — or may never even choose it — and wish to have a sexual life without the result of children must have access to safe, affordable, accessible choices beyond the Religious Right’s favorite method — snapping our knees safely shut from puberty to menopause.

Managing one’s sexual impulses and desires, let alone those of our male partners/husbands, is sometimes challenge enough. STDs are rampant and add another layer of worry or concern, as they should.

Then there is the matter of one’s fertility, for some a coveted gift, for others a burden. Shit happens. Condoms slide off, or break or, yes, sometimes never get used at all.

And I am speaking only of consensual sex, not the many women suffering rape and its aftermath, emotional and physical.

Plan B is a much simpler choice — on ever level — than abortion for many women.

This is huge step for American women’s reproductive rights, and one that’s only — really — about 40 years later than what Canadian women took for granted when I was in college and needed access to Plan B. There, it was an easy, quick, non-political issue.

I moved to the U.S. when I was 30, still unmarried. I have been nauseated, enraged and wearied ever since by the relentless, ferocious, get-the-the-fuck-away-from-my-uterus political battles in this country over when, where, or even if a woman should have ready, safe, affordable access to birth control information, birth control and/or abortion.

It’s my body.

I do with it — tats, piercings, hair color, shape and size, clothing (or lack of it) — as I wish.

Those who  remain utterly determined to control and manage women’s sexuality, by trying to demonize and/or politicize our most personal and private decisions, are anathema to me.

Meeting the other

In behavior, blogging, cities, culture, domestic life, family, journalism, life, politics, religion, US, women on May 11, 2013 at 12:54 am

By Caitlin Kelly

Here’s a recent blog post by American author and business guru Seth Godin:

It might be someone in a different state, religious, atheist, straight, gay, in a developing country, a lawyer, a politician, struggling to pay the bills, ill, recovered, in recovery, a dedicated athlete, a computer programmer, angry at the system, an insider, an inventor, from a very different political stance, a pilot, unemployed, a millionaire, an inventor, a tax cheat, a gun owner, a rabble rowser oran adult without a driver’s license.

Can you see them? Understand them? Ask them about what it’s like to be them? Would you miss them if they were gone?

I grew up in Toronto, a city known for being diverse multi-culturally. I knew few people beyond my own circle but my life since then has exposed me to many more sorts of people.

Moving to the U.S. and living in three other countries — Mexico, France and England — has put me in situations and around others with some very different behaviors and attitudes, toward government’s role in our lives, toward women, toward the importance of work or education or family.

At 25, I spent eight months living in Paris and traveling across Europe on a journalism fellowship with 28 others from 19 countries, from Togo to New Zealand to Ireland to Brazil. It was a fascinating year, fraught with cultural misunderstanding. The four Canadians, one Irishwoman, two Britons, one New Zealander and four Americans all had quite different notions of proper spoken and written English!

The man from Togo — who worked for his government, (i.e. not even a journalist in our North American definition), was deeply offended that we did not always shake his hand hello or spend 10 minutes chatting with him. In his culture, this was very rude. In ours, haste = efficiency. Lessons learned, for both of us.

When I moved to Montreal in the mid-1980s, I found that being Anglophone was enough to make some people hate me. That was weird. Instructive, certainly. At press conferences, everything was done in French and only at the very end were Anglo journo’s allowed to ask our questions in English, (which everyone else spoke.)

Growth-in-Social-Networking-in-developing-coun...

Growth-in-Social-Networking-in-developing-countries (Photo credit: Analectic.org)

I read Seth’s list and thought, yes, I do know people in 21 of his categories — but not a millionaire, inventor or politician.

Queen of United Kingdom (as well as Canada, Au...

Queen of United Kingdom (as well as Canada, Australia, and other Commonwealth realms) (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

One of the things I enjoy most about being a journalist is how it forces you into meeting people, on almost every assignment, who are very different from you. For me, that’s included Queen Elizabeth, a female admiral, convicted felons, two Prime Ministers, scientists, computer programmers, Olympic athletes, an Inuit village, an Italian construction worker, a French truck driver and a Dutch politician.

If you’re not insatiably curious about the world, and open to hearing other points of view, journalism is not for you! You can’t just cover your ears and go lalalalalalalalalalalala.

If you’re not working in journalism, travel helps — especially international — if you actually talk to people beyond the hotel staff and cab drivers and make a point of meeting people there beyond your conference or classrooms.

Volunteer work helps.

Jose and I negotiate multiple differences in our marriage: he’s American and I’m Canadian; he grew up the son of a Baptist minister and my family did not attend church; he is Hispanic and I’m a WASP.

It makes for some interesting moments — but we’re also alike, both workaholic career journalists who love to eat and travel and read and listen to music and laugh. So for all our differences, (which I initially thought made us unworkable as a couple), we share essential values.

As technology and growing income inequality help us tribally sub-divide into ever-narrower niches — only consuming media that echoes our political point of view, for example — we often have no idea how others think and feel, or how essential some issues are to them that we find silly or unimportant. It’s too easy to hang out in echo chambers of people who sound and look just like us.

Then what do we do about it?

Godin points out in that blog post that blogging is a great way to “meet” the other, whether that’s someone much richer or poorer materially, someone whose political views are not your own or simply someone for whom $10 is a day’s — or week’s — wage, not the price of a (cheap!) Manhattan cocktail.

When I traveled the U.S. to write my first book, about American women and guns, I ended up being a guest on NRA radio, (asked to explain those lefty-liberals in the Northeast) and on NPR (asked to explain gun-owners to the horrified lefty liberals.)

A funny position for a non-gun-owning Canadian!

I’d rather hear another viewpoint (politely!) and debate it intelligently from data (not red-faced emotion) than live in unopposed, cocooned silence. That’s easy, and has become comfortingly normal for many of us.

How about you?

The price of cheap clothing — 377 die in Bangladesh factory collapse

In behavior, business, Crime, Fashion, news, politics, urban life, women, work on April 30, 2013 at 12:17 am

By Caitlin Kelly

As many of you know by now, more than 377 men and women making clothing for companies like Primark, JC Penney, Benetton and others, were killed two days ago in the collapse of a factory in Dhaka, Bangladesh.

JC Penney is one of the three department store...

JC Penney is one of the three department stores at the mall. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Here’s part of the story from The New York Times:

Thousands of people surrounded the site on Sunday, watching the huge rescue operation, even as hopes faded that many more victims would be found alive. For nearly 12 hours, rescuers tried to save a trapped woman, lowering dry food and juice to her as they carefully cut through the wreckage trying to reach her. But then a fire broke out, apparently killing the woman, leaving many firefighters in tears.

With national outrage boiling over, Bangladeshi paramilitary officers tracked down and arrested Sohel Rana, the owner of the building, who was hiding near the Indian border, and returned him by helicopter to Dhaka. When loudspeakers at the rescue site announced his capture earlier in
the day, local news reports said, the crowd broke out in cheers.

The collapse of the building, the Rana Plaza, is considered the deadliest accident in the history of the garment industry. It is known to have claimed at least 377 lives, and hundreds more workers are
thought to be missing still, buried in the rubble.

The Rana Plaza building contained five garment factories, employing more than 3,000 workers, who were making clothing for European and American consumers.

It is worth reading the story because the accompanying photo is so heartbreaking, and one is horribly familiar to  any New Yorker — it is a wall with posters and photos of missing workers, posted by their loved ones, seeking them. After the collapse of the Twin Towers on 9/11, struck down by two jet airliners, there was an equally feverish, often insane, hope that the thousands of workers trapped in those buildings might have escaped alive.

Some did. Many did not.

But their posters were plastered all over the city. They were truly “Wanted” posters, but too often in vain. You could not look at them, even if you knew no one affected, and not want to weep.

Karwan Bazar, one of the most important busine...

Karwan Bazar, one of the most important business centres in Dhaka (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

It is hard to know what, if anything, one can usefully say about this Dhaka disaster, the largest (so far) such industry accident in history:

— That the workers were very far away from the people who buy and wear the clothes they make

— That they earn, on average, $37 a month

— That they are completely without political and economic power since this industry is essential to the nation’s economy

— That many of the owners of these factories are also politicians, further weakening any oversight or regulation of the workers so endangered

— That we, as people who buy the cheap clothes they make, are all complicit

Three very powerful recent books are well worth reading, if this topic also disturbs and interests you:

Where Am I Wearing, by a young American freelance journalist who traveled to these countries and factories to meet and speak to the workers there.

Cheap, by Boston University professor Ellen Ruppel Shell,  a scathing condemnation of what it really costs to produce some items we enjoy at low prices but hidden high costs, from frozen Thai shrimp to cultured pearls.

Overdressed: The Shockingly High Cost of Cheap Fashion, by Elizabeth Cline.

As I write this post, I’m wearing a cotton Gap dress and cashmere Ralph Lauren cardigan; the dress was made in Indonesia and the sweater in China.

So, I too, am complicit in the use of overseas, sub-contracted, poorly-supervised labor. I know it. I hate it. I am not at all clear what (else) to do.

My clothes, probably like many of yours as well, no matter where you live, are made cheaply by people we will never meet or know or feel, possibly, much responsibility to.

Bangladeshi woman

Bangladeshi woman (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Until they are killed making it.

What are our choices?

— Make all our own shoes and clothing, (not practical for most of us)

— Wear only clothing made by American workers, (if you are American)

— Look for the ILGWU label, if so

– Find out which manufacturers, (if possible), were sub-contracting work to Rana, and Tazreen, site of another major Bangladeshi garment factory fire that killed 112 workers and boycott all their products

— And spread the word through social media

Here’s a story about Aminul Islam, who tried to organize Bangladeshi garment factory workers.

He was killed.

Ideas?

Solutions?

Outrage?

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