Archive for the ‘Media’ Category

The Power Of Suggestion

June 30, 2013

After the last Bull Raker post, a loyal reader wondered:

Can we assume that in your next blog that you will address the injustice the IRS did to Marina Peterson by auditing three years of her tax returns following the 2009 July 4th parade?

No. Given the overwhelming number of problems in the world, I’m not sure how “we” can confidently assume which topic will follow the preceding one. And, in practice, the Bull Raker Blog doesn’t take requests (well, actually, I don’t recall ever getting a request before), but since I was asked so nicely I will oblige. Fortunately, if I happen to make an “ass out of you and me”, then I can’t be entirely to blame this time.

The question above is a great example of the power of suggestion. In fact, it contains multiple suggestions, only one of which — the desire for an article on the IRS targeting of certain tax-exempt groups — may be obvious to the casual reader. A couple of underlying suggestions must also be addressed (and debunked) in order to fully grasp and effectively tackle the issue.

Underlying suggestion #1: The IRS only looked at right-wing or tea party organizations.

This was not the case, as newly surfaced documents show. The terms “progressive,” “Israel” and “Occupy” all appeared on so-called “be-on-the-lookout” lists used by IRS employees reviewing applications for tax-exempt status.

Underlying suggestion #2: The IRS had no reason to suspect any of these organizations of wrongdoing.

The IRS scandal made headlines for days. Far less attention, however, was given to the roots of the crisis. After the 2010 Citizens United decision, when the court ruled social welfare organizations could raise unlimited corporate money without disclosing donor information, there was a spike in tax-exempt status applications under tax code Section 501(c)(4). Several of these groups, like MoveOn and Crossroads GPS, have claimed to be social welfare organizations while spending 50% or more of their funding on political operations — which is against the law.

Were Marina and the East Bay Patriots unfairly targeted? Maybe, and they probably weren’t the only ones. The IRS was clearly wrong to focus on some groups based on perceived political affiliations. But an improper attempt to address the vast amounts of dark money being spent, tax-free, to illegally influence elections should not prevent a proper investigation into such criminal activity, especially since it could have an enormous impact on the future of our democracy.

You asked for it

Ever wonder why it’s so difficult to untangle ourselves from the various messes we’re in? Could it be, at least in part, that we constantly seek answers to questions that are simply not good enough (NGE)? I think so, which is why my next post, regardless of any reader requests to the contrary, will be about a type of NGE thinking that pervades society. I’ve dubbed it the paper bag philosophy, as in can’t-think-my-way-out-of-a-paper-bag philosophy. It’s not as harsh as it sounds, but it applies to just about everyone. Fortunately, I can offer a practical way out of the paper bags we’re trapped in… And I’m a firm believer in the power of suggestion.


Living In La La Land

April 25, 2013

If RI were a little bigger (okay, a lot bigger), it could be the crony capital capitol of the world. Because we got the crony part down cold. I mean, when it comes to sucking up to big money, we really suck.

You’re a former pro athlete who wants to start a company that’s bound to fail? Here, have 75 million dollars!

Or maybe you’re a film star who wants to promote parent trigger laws designed to destroy public schools and usher in the corporate takeover of education? Please, step up to the mic!

No? Perhaps you prefer to stay in the shadows and help run the whole racket? Oh, that’s great! See, we need someone to replace one of our cronies… Er,  this Corso fella. Don’t get me wrong, he’s fantastic at what he does. Convincing the state to give huge tax credits away to Hollywood producers so they can make their movies here was no easy task. I’m surprised he didn’t win an Oscar for pretending that it would be good for the local economy. It’s just, I don’t know, now that he’s been exposed, something doesn’t feel right. The whole crony capitalist gig seems kinda slimy all of a sudden. It was so much better when those of us “in the club” were the only ones who knew we were members.

The next thing you know, we’ll start getting invited to those living room conversations about how government and business are too chummy. Well, I sure as hell ain’t talking! Not without 75 million dollars and a film crew.

Making History

February 27, 2012

I promised my good friend Duncan Putney, co-writer of the screenplay that placed second in the Rhode Island International Film Festival’s Spotlight on RI contest, that I would pitch his latest project on the Bull Raker blog. I probably would have honored the request whether I liked his idea or not… But it helps that I do!

All too often we fail to recognize the efforts of older generations in shaping the world. And unfortunately, as time marches on, we lose more opportunities to connect with them, to learn from their failures, and to build upon their successes. Duncan hopes short films like Half Pint kickstart the conversations we ought to be having with our elders.

After all, what’s the point in making history if we can’t preserve it?

Get Motivated!: Join The Peaceful Revolution

October 5, 2011

On Monday, Providence public schools were delayed two hours in anticipation of the traffic caused by a Get Motivated! motivational seminar. When the horde failed to materialize, the cynic in me saw the overreaction to a bunch of pro-corporate speakers as simply an unsuccessful commercial made by politicians who have already shown their willingness to allow private interests to take control of public education. But, just two days later, the optimist in me now sees crowds all over the country with enough motivation to put an end to the plutocracy and restart our democracy.

For example, the majority of Americans:

Isn’t democracy a great idea? So, while the mainstream media too often covers the fake news, join a global movement called Occupy Together that is growing exponentially. Find the nearest occupation site (in my case, it’s Burnside Park in Providence’s Kennedy Plaza) and help change the world!

Stripped Down

December 23, 2010

This blog is way too serious most of the time. So, for my New Year’s Resolution, I’ve decided to lighten things up a bit. Here is the first-ever Bull Raker comic strip. It was created at and is entitled:

Yupik To Pick Topic

Don’t be surprised to see more Bull Raker comics in the future. Expressing political thought through humor can be very disarming, which explains why The Daily Show and The Colbert Report are better at reporting the news than the “real” media. Maybe the Bull Raker strips will have similar success at the local level.

Happy Holidays!

Shooting The Messengers

December 10, 2010

I had such high hopes for Patch, the new media rival of the local-newspaper-turned-tabloid called The Bristol Phoenix. Unfortunately, so far, it’s just been more of the same from the upstarts at AOL. Take yesterday’s article entitled Truth in Advertising, which slams the anonymous postings of flyers throughout town that warn of various violations at a pair of nearby restaurants — without bothering to investigate the claims or even the identities of the people involved… um, just in case some diners enjoy the thrill of possibly eating rat poop?

The author was apparently satisfied in writing an article that, despite having potentially damaging effects to its readers, is devoid of practical meaning. Even the names of the targets were redacted, presumably for the restaurant owners’ (and Patch’s) peace of mind rather than ours. Sadly, this type of journalism has become common in mainstream media: Irrelevelant data, scrubbed clean of content harmful to company interests, that ultimately detract from the real stories, which often go unreported.

How else could one explain the reaction to WikiLeaks? Instead of following up on countless revelations of illegal actions on the part of the U.S. government, journalists have evidently preferred to cover the “manhunt” of Julian Assange, the head of the whistleblowing website, even though he never evaded capture. Why would he? Other than trumped up allegations of sexual misconduct, Assange hasn’t done anything wrong. If he did, editors at the NY Times, the Guardian, and the rest of the international papers that also published the information contained in the thousands of leaked documents would be guilty too. Yet no one is calling them terrorists, trying to shut down their organizations or threatening to kill them.

So, what’s the difference? Is it because, like Patch and the Phoenix at the local level, the global mainstream media is driven more by profit than truth? Could it be that, no matter how bad things look now, the rich and powerful know they can later spin their PR fairytales through media outlets eager to pass lies off as reality when the price is right? If only there were more independent news organizations like WikiLeaks, maybe we’d have more definitive answers to these questions.

Sore Losers

October 9, 2010

I’m not shocked Doug Gablinske, the soon-to-be-former RI State Representative, is running a write-in campaign for the District 68 seat after losing the Democratic primary to Richard Morrison on Sept. 14. It’s his last chance to hold onto power — something he evidently craves so much that he’s willing to sacrifice his own town’s future for it. (More on that in a bit.)

But what’s suprising is how much positive attention Gablinske is drawing from the Bristol Phoenix for this petty, quixotic attempt at personal redemption, in contrast to the brief but overwhelmingly negative focus the paper has given to another ludicrous wannabe politician named Greg Raposa. Indeed, few rational minds would argue that a bitterly arrogant candidate who couldn’t even capture his own party’s nomination would fare better in a general election than a newcomer whose views on gender date back to the Stone Age. So, why the disparity in coverage?

Could it be that Gablinske is more apt to pay for advertising space? After all, with the thousands of dollars he receives from the likes of college-dropout-turned-millionaire-turned-education-reformer Angus Davis, he’s got more than enough money to buy himself some good press. Unfortunately, what improves Gablisnke’s image and the Phoenix’s bottom line hurts everyone else. Puff pieces and gotcha journalism keep us uninformed about the important issues that should be determining the outcomes of elections.

For example, if the fourth estate was really doing its job, Bristolians would know the education reform movement in RI is merely an attempt by wealthy individuals to privatize schools and make a quick buck off the backs of taxpayers, which is what’s already happened in post-Katrina New Orleans. But, instead of using a natural disaster to set things in motion, political hacks were brought in to create a man-made one. Gablinske and Education Commissioner Deborah Gist (who, not coincidentally, was hired by Davis and the Board of Regents) helped push through a state funding formula that cuts millions of dollars over the next ten years to several districts, including Bristol-Warren.

Thankfully, Gablinske won’t be around to do more damage to the community, but the problems he’s unleashed are bigger than anything we’ve ever faced. A group of concerened parents and teachers are now rallying together to fend off the powerful special interests seeking to destroy public schools because they know it’s a fight Bristol can’t afford to lose. But will these civic champions get as much media play as the villains and sore losers? Don’t bet on it, as long as the Phoenix is the only game in town. Of course, there is a Patch of hope on the horizon.

More Israeli Propaganda In RI

June 15, 2010

The conflation of the defacement of a Warwick synagogue and a peace protest held in Providence against the deadly Israeli raid of a Gaza-bound aid flotilla continues. Nancy Kirsch, in the latest edition of the Jewish Voice and Herald of RI (JVHRI), attempts to merge the stories with a single headline. In addition, although the synagogue vandals had nothing to do with the protestors, her final paragraph in the second article refers back to the first. It’s a shame that some journalists would rather create their own narrative rather than just report on the truth.

In April, the East Bay Citizens For Peace hosted a talk by Jora Ehrlich entitled “Report from Dheisheh Refugee Camp, Palestine: A Jewish American Woman’s Eye-Opening Journey”. Prior to the event, JVHRI was asked to place the event on their on-line calendar and they refused. Apparently, Ms. Kirsch and her colleagues would prefer to keep their readers’ eyes closed when it comes to the questionable practices of the Israeli government.

There is a world of difference between graffiti-scrawling punks and peace activists who are genuinely concerned for the safety and well-being of all people (i.e. Jews and non-Jews alike). Standing up against violence and injustice in the Occupied Territories does not make one anti-Semetic. It makes one heroic… And no amount of Israeli propaganda will ever change that.

Join your local peace group and become a hero today.

RI Antiwar Group Issues Statement On Recent Press Coverage

June 11, 2010

This is part of a statement made by fellow peace activists, the RI Mobilization Committee to Stop War and Occupation, on recent press coverage.

While the RI Mobilization Committee to Stop War and Occupation (RIMC) appreciates the coverage in the Providence Journal last week of our protest action regarding the Israeli attack against a Gaza aid flotilla, we strongly object to the reference to the protest in a June 3 article by Journal staffer Eugene Emery, about the anti-Semitic defacing of a synagogue in Warwick.

The Israeli massacre aboard a ship in international waters attempting to deliver humanitarian aid to the people of Gaza, has received worldwide condemnation, including a statement by the new Conservative Prime Minister of Great Britain.  To link in any way our peaceful protest of this massacre on the high seas with the defacing of a local synagogue, was unfair and an instance of poor journalism.

We have every right to engage in protests against an unwarranted and vicious action by a foreign government without being gratuitously linked with a local instance of anti-Semitism.  This is unfair and insulting to our members, many of whom have made lifelong commitments to work for peace, freedom and social justice.  We request that the Journal issue a retraction and an apology for conflating two stories that were totally unrelated.

RI Mobilization Committee to Stop War and Occupation

Stereotypical Radioactivity: Shock Jocks And The Armey Of Dick’s

October 4, 2009

D.C. Teabagged

Last month, I had a chance to hear Matt Allen interview RI teabag spokesperson, Doreen Costa, just prior to her group’s September 12th rally in Washington DC. I listened carefully, waiting in vain for the WPRO radio personality (and fellow Bristol native) to ask some penetrating questions of his guest:

  • Like how a group led by such a politically-connected right-winger as former House Majority Leader Dick Armey can be considered anything but “Astroturf” (i.e. fake grassroots) activists?
  • Or how they can complain about big government and out-of-control spending as if they were fiscally conservative, while remaining noticeably silent on the trillion dollar wars in the Middle East, handing out literature from the neo-liberal Heritage Foundation, and otherwise supporting the ideas of free-market capitalism – the radical theory most responsible for the global economic collapse?
  • Or why they have chosen to spread lies about public healthcare options, including death panels, rationed services, and government takeovers, without proposing a single (let alone single payer) solution to the nation’s healthcare crisis?
  • Or why they’ve showed up at rallies and town hall meetings throughout the country with guns and violent rhetoric?

Alas, these tough questions were never asked. In fact, the interview was little more than an info-commercial for the teabag movement, giving further credence to those who add zero to political debate besides anger and divisiveness. Of course, we shouldn’t be too surprised about all this. Over the past few years, our airwaves have essentially been hijacked by huge corporations with biased agendas.

In 2007, the Center for American Progress released a report on the structural imbalance of political talk radio in the US, revealing that over 90% of the news coverage of the top 5 station owners (CBS, Clear Channel, Citadel, Cumulus, and Salem) is conservative. The study’s authors mainly attributed their findings to the passage of the Telecommunications Act of 1996, which removed the national limit on the num­ber of radio stations a company could own. This resulted in a wave of consolidation with many conglomerates going from a few dozen stations to several hundred apiece. For example, WPRO’s parent company, Citadel Broadcasting, runs a total of six radio outlets in RI alone, while rival Clear Channel boasts four, including the equally narrow-minded news/talk station WHJJ.

Indeed, the removal of radio ownership limits has practically monopolized free speech. As more and more stations do the bidding of large corporations and cater to the lowest common denominator, it’s becoming increasingly rare to hear diverse voices on the air. All we seem to have nowadays are shock jocks serving as mouthpieces for wealthy political elites and their army of extremist allies. But you can help change that…

In an attempt to make RI residents more aware of the issues and provide them with consistent, quality journalism, the East Bay Citizens for Peace hope to get local TV and radio stations to carry the news program Democracy Now!

Please help them by contacting WRNI and RI PBS to request that they add Democracy Now! to their lineups.