Consumption Junction: Owning the Digital You

by lana lynne on 3.31.11

If we take social media networks as part of popular culture, and we believe that popular culture maintains power structures beneficial to consumer capitalism, then we can view these networks beyond what they appear to be on the surface. For participants, they are vehicles to "stay in touch," "share your own story," voyeuristically view others' stories, and so on. For businesses, they are vehicles for branding, for gaining customer loyalty, for gleaning insights from your competitors' practices, etc. For businesses, also, social networks are enormous vats of data -- very valuable, detailed outlines of consumer profiles. Many people realize networks are structured this way, yet willingly participate anyway, which is inherent to most aspects of popular culture.

A somewhat new approach to social networks appears to be in the works with, which claims to provide a safe place for the "Digital You" with their "online and mobile service." Still in its beta phase, the start-up has raised over $7 million as of January 2011. With a Personal account, you no longer will have to worry about the "multi-billion dollar marketplace [that] has emerged to buy and sell [your] data and target you with advertising." All of your data remains "private" until you consent to sell it. And therein lies one of the most interesting things about the site. In a blog post, the CEO breaks down the consumer/producer relationship, urging people to see themselves as owners of information valuable to producers:
"I’d like to propose a new word for the new media lexicon: Owners. Companies are very clear on who their 'owners' are, and they go to work to pursue their interests every day. When it comes to our data and time, we should start thinking of ourselves as a little enterprise organized for the express benefit of ourselves. We have tools never before imaginable to build a far more favorable model for ourselves."
At the end of the post, he states, "I hope you will consider using Owner when referring to yourself in the context of using services that require your data or time. Names matter."

What a brilliant display of wordplay! Simply by referring to ourselves as owners, and signing up for a new social network that inhabits the same consumer capitalist playing field, we evidently can break down the power structures of said playing field.

Fresh Air Fund Reach Out

The Fresh Air Fund is again looking for host families in the Northeast U.S. and Canada to provide "summer vacations" for disadvantaged children living in New York City.

The Fresh Air Fund is a non-profit organization that has developed a two-week summer vacation program for inner-city youth. To learn more about being a host family, click here. To learn more about signing up your child, click here.

School to Prison Pipeline

by Lana Lynne on 3.26.11

A report released this month sheds even more light on one of the alarming outcomes of the No Child Left Behind Act (NCLB): how it has contributed to the School-to-Prison Pipeline.

The School-to-Prison Pipeline is defined as the result of the zero-tolerance policy of NCLB, which criminalizes wide-ranging misbehavior and has resulted in an explosion of referrals and placements in the criminal justice system, rather than these cases staying within the schools' disciplinary system. Prioritizing punishment over a right to education, this tendency mostly affects students of color and students with disabilities. Clearly, this path has hard-to-reverse consequences.

The report lists clear ways NCLB has contributed to the school-to-prison pipeline. The focus on standardized tests has resulted in low-performing students being transferred to alternative schools or encouraged to drop out or enroll in a GED program. Evidently, the focus has also affected the curricula of schools, where more time is spent on test preparation. Oddly, but most significantly, the race to better test scores has resulted in more police presence in schools, and otherwise expected disciplinary problems have become matters of criminality.

If the threat of punishment is supposed to frighten students into performing better, thus boosting graduation rates, that too has failed. Graduation rates across the U.S. are at their lowest since 2000-01, the year NCLB was passed by Congress (although it wasn't enacted until 2003).

Along race lines, the statistics are downright appalling (but perhaps follow the increasingly prominent racist undercurrent in U.S. culture?). African-American students are three to three-and-half times more likely to be suspended or expelled than white students. With little support for reintegration, these punishments often become conduits to the pipeline.

To read more about the report and the steps the authors' find necessary to dismantle the School-to-Prison Pipeline, click here. To read a report released last year, also by the Advancement Project, that explores the same topic, click here.

To read the ACLU's fact page about the pipeline, click here.

And to learn about Dignity in Schools, an organization dedicated to challenging the educational system's policy of zero-tolerance, punishment and "push out," click here.

Image credit: Peer to Youth Enterprises, a website criticizing Baltimore's simultaneous cuts in education spending and the construction of three new juvenile detention centers.

Views from the ANThill: Is it Time for a More Serious Global Governance?

The earth and our future really is in our hands.
by douglas reeser on 3.21.11

We hear more and more these days about how we live in a global era, or how the world is increasingly affected by globalization. However, it’s not often clear exactly what is meant by this language and terminology. The recent disasters in Japan may be just what it takes to clear things up. The earthquake, tsunami, nuclear meltdown trifecta is perhaps the first major event that will have a crystal clear effect on the entire world. It can already be seen in the stock markets, and there is talk about shortages and rising costs of the many products that come out of Japan. The country is “among world's largest and technologically advanced producers of motor vehicles, electronic equipment, machine tools, steel and nonferrous metals, ships, chemicals, textiles, processed foods” (CIA Factbook 2011).

With the global reach of this disaster in Japan, the question must be raised of whether the current system of autonomous state governments is adequate in such an interconnected world. Is it now the time in which we must consider how a world that relies so much each others all over the globe can more effectively - and more fairly - serve the needs of everyone? In searching for a discussion on the topic, I was pointed toward a talk given by Manuel Castells in 2004 (available here). Castells uses the results of two worldwide Gallup polls conducted in 1999 and 2002 to show that throughout the world, popular trust in politics, government and democracy is declining. He argues that people the world over are looking for alternatives outside of the traditional political establishment.

According to the polls, “The least trusted institutions were multinational companies, parliaments, political parties and governments. The most trusted institutions were the armed forces, NGOs, and the United Nations” (Castells 05:9). Contributing to this “crisis” of distrust that “threatens to undo the democratic system, and with it, the ability to manage problems and issues of a world in turmoil” (Castells 05:9) are the following: the rising influence of special interest groups, rising costs of media-driven political campaigns, and “scandal politics”, based on attacking political opponents character.

Castells also points out a more structural problem contributing to this crisis: “the increasing inability of the political system anchored in the nation state to represent citizens in the effective practice of global governance and the ascendance of global governance as an increasingly essential component of national and local governance” (Castells 05:10). He proposes the stance that the world now finds itself in a globally interdependent reality, and that the everyday life of people around the globe are now shaped by these interdependent processes, including the economy, media, environmental issues, human rights, and global security. These issues, increasingly defined on the global level, remain largely managed by the nation-state. This is contributing to four distinct political crises for the State: efficiency, legitimacy, identity, and equity.

There are many proposals about how to address these crises, but in the meantime, States are changing themselves, resulting in the slow development of a new type of State: “the network state” (Castells 05:11). The model of the network state is akin to the European Union in that sovereignty and responsibility are shared between international actors, the procedures of governance are more flexible, and the diversity of relationships between governments and citizens increases. Still, there remain problems with the network state, namely the lack of a culture of cooperation between States, the difficulty in framing an acceptable common policy, and the practical matter of coordinating such changes on the local, national and international levels.

Castells explains that the difficulties in addressing global problems on a global scale have resulted in the rise of global civil society. Civil society consists of locally-based grassroots organizations, NGOs with a more global base and global reach, social movements (the movement for global justice), and “the movement of public opinion” (largely based on the new global media, like the internet) (Castells 05:13-14). Further, the idea of civil society can be traced to three distinct theoretical threads – civil society in opposition to the state, civil society as autonomous from the state, and civil society as the organized intermediary between the state and the people.

In short, Castells argues that the problems facing the world are now global, while governments remain national, and find it increasingly difficult to deal with and manage these global problems. From the Gramscian point of view of civil society as an organized intermediary, civil society represents the best possible means through which to make the concerns of society part of a reformed state that is able to better address global issues. “The global state does not exist, because there is no global citizenship” (Castells 05:15).

Castells, Manuel (2005) Global Governance and Global Politics. PS: Political Science and Politics 38:9-16.
CIA Factbook (2011)   The World Factbook: Japan. Available at Accessed 3-21-11.

Saving Planned Parenthood

by douglas reeser on 3.17.11

It's becoming common knowledge that the U.S. government debt is at, or close to, its highest in the history of the nation. In response to this "debt crisis" (it's an argument whether or not this is really a crisis), there are numerous proposals to cut programs that provide social services (neoliberalism is rearing its ugly head yet again). Many right-leaning politicians are especially cut-happy, and are proposing to cut federal funding to Planned Parenthood, the country's foremost provider of family planning and health services to the entire spectrum of American citizens - from the most poor to the upper-middle class. They charge for services on a sliding scale based on income.

A number of my friends work as applied anthropologists and public health researchers in the realm of reproductive health. They work on federally funded research projects that examine a wide range of issues that revolve around sex; from oral health and sexuality, to the hpv vaccine, and from college student sexual practices to sexually transmitted disease, these friends and colleagues are the newest experts in the field of sexual and reproductive health. Across the board, these colleagues are appalled at the proposed cut of funding for Planned Parenthood. They see Planned Parenthood as essential to the well-being of young adults across the country, especially in terms of their sexual and reproductive health.

They are not alone in their view on the importance of Planned Parenthood. Students from Wesleyan University have just produced a video in support of the organization - calling for the "Protection of their Freedom to Choose their Future". They also call for an end to corporate welfare, citing the $2.5 billion dollar tax breaks given to profit-earning oil companies. Check out the video below, and consider taking a stand in support of the vital services provided by your local Planned Parenthood.

A Call for the Rights of the Earth

by douglas reeser on 3.13.11

Following is a description of origins, making, and results of this video from the youtube page of Conversations With the Earth>>>
Los Derechos de la Pachamama' is an emotional and inspiring video that was created as a joint project between five indigenous communities in Peru with the message: 'We wish from our hearts that these rights we are proposing will be added to and that people across the world recover their harmony with our Mother Earth.'
This video was made through a participatory process, with the following communities:
Perka, Puno, facilitated by Sabino Cutipa
Karhui and Queromarca, Cusco, facilitated by Rosio Achahui
Chaka, Ayacucho, facilitated by Pelayo Carrillo
Perccapampa, Huancavelica, facilitated by Balvino Zavallos
Cochas Grande, Junín, facilitated by Irma Poma

In April 2010 InsightShare's Latin America Director Maja, and community video facilitators Balvino, Primitivo, Irma and Rosio participated in the exciting People's Forum on Climate Change and Mother Earth Rights, in Cochabamba, Bolivia that was attended by 35,000 people. This video was especially created for this special meeting and was screened at the side event of the official forum.

The project was facilitated by Maja Tillmann as part of 'Conversations with the Earth'. Launched in April 2009, Conversations with the Earth is a collective opportunity to build a global movement for an indigenous-controlled community media network. CWE works with a growing network of indigenous groups and communities living in critical ecosystems around the world, from the Atlantic Rainforest to Central Asia, from the Philippines to the Andes, from the Arctic to Ethiopia. Through CWE, these indigenous communities are able to share their story of climate change. Through the creation of sustainable autonomous indigenous media hubs in these regions, CWE fosters a long-term relationship with these communities, based on principles of local control and supporting indigenous media capacity.

- After the production of this video, the Peru hub has been expanding its network of communities in Peru and even across the border in Bolivia. At the beginning of July 2010 Maja and Irma facilitated a PV training at the 'mother hub' Cuyay Wasi in Vilcacoto. This training brought together representatives of communities in Cusco, Ayacucho, Chaski (Peru) and Bolivia to learn PV and develop their own video action plans. Through the Food Sovereignty Programme 3 Aymara communities near Lake Titicaca are now also involved in the Conversations with the Earth project.
- Watching this video inspired the participatory video team in the Philippines to start interviewing elders in their own communities to create a similar film about their visions on the rights of Mother Earth. This video will be uploaded to this website soon.

Edited by Maja Tillmann and Rodrigo Otero
Cuyay Wasi, April 2010

For more information:

Hunger, Seeds and Neoliberalism

by douglas reeser on 3.10.11

We received the following press release today, and having written about the importance of seed saving as well as some of the controversy surrounding the corporate seed producer, Monsanto, we felt we should share it with our readers. The press release comes from La Via Campesina - "an international movement of peasants, small- and medium-sized producers, landless, rural women, indigenous people, rural youth and agricultural workers. [They] are an autonomous, pluralist and multicultural movement, independent of any political, economic, or other type of affiliation. Born in 1993, La Via Campesina now gathers about 150 organisations in 70 countries in Asia, Africa, Europe, and the Americas."

In short, the release calls out the upcoming meeting concerning the International Treaty on Plant Genetic Resources for Food and Agriculture, or the Seed Treaty - the meeting will not include any representatives from small scale food producers, indigenous communities, or any other similar groups that rely on seeds and seed saving. It goes on to explain the likely reasons behind these groups' exclusion, and why their inclusion is vital to not only their own livelihood, but also the livelihood of the rest of the planet.

Following is the press release, and be sure to visit La Via Campesina here>>>
A ministerial meeting on Food, Biodiversity and Climate Change will be held in Nusa Dua, Bali, on 11 March 2011 before the Fourth Regular Session of the Governing Body of the International Treaty on Plant Genetic Resources for Food and Agriculture, also known as the Seed Treaty (14-18 March 2011). The ministerial meeting aims to solve the crises of food, biodiversity and climate change. The FAO reported earlier this year that these multiple crises now cause 925 million people to suffer from hunger.,Most of the hungry live in rural areas which are the centre of agriculture. Therefore, we the delegates of La Via Campesina, an international peasant movement that is participating in the Seed Treaty, regret that peasants and small farmers are not being taken into account in the ministerial meeting. 
The experience of small peasants around the world proves that agro-ecological farming and local food markets are the most powerful answer to the current multiple crises. Agro-ecological farming has proven to be very adaptive to the impact of climate change. It captures greenhouse gases in the soil and consumes far less fossil fuel than industrial agriculture, which uses fuel not only for food production but also for transportation and for the production of chemical fertilizer. This makes industrial agriculture a large contributor to climate change. On the other hand, agro-ecological farming guarantees the food production for peasant families and can produce for both local and urban markets. It also increases and conserves biodiversity which leads to food diversification. 
La Via Campesina has for a long time declared that large-scale industrial agriculture and monoculture production are the root causes of today’s biodiversity, food and climate crises. We will continue to struggle against them and to defend peasant agriculture. La Via Campesina also protects local seeds against the control of industrial agriculture under the neoliberal seed system. Small peasants have the capacity to develop new varieties that are more pest resistant and better adapted to the changing climate. 
For La Via Campesina, the planning and implementation of food estates, and of agrofuel and carbon market projects are false solutions to the current multiple crises. Henry Saragih, General Coordinator of La Via Campesina said that these false solutions replicate the colonial land grabbing model and will only increase agrarian conflict and the criminalization of peasants. 
Regarding the ministerial meeting and the FAO Seed Treaty, Francisca Rodriquez from CLOC-La Via Campesina says that under this neoliberal model many peasants and small farmers around the world still face criminalization for breeding and exchanging local seeds. They are also losing their right to access and control their seeds. Furthermore, their plant genetic resources and biodiversity are disappearing due to the development of transgenic and hybrid seeds. In this way, food and animal feed production have been taken away from peasants. Furthermore, they are being displaced from their land and they are losing our seeds. 
Alberto Gomez of La Via Campesina says that this is a time for us to broaden and strengthen our struggle on seeds. It is very important to raise the issue of our right to grow our own seeds and decide about our own seeds. 
La Via Campesina delegates demand that the peasants’ rights on seeds that have already been acknowledged in the treaty be respected and realized in the national legislation of all signatory countries.

Chevron's $9.5 Billion in Environmental Damage

by Lana Lynne on 3.2.1(1)

Although the case of Ecuador v. Chevron/Texaco, begun in 1993, has yet to come to a definitive close, the Lago Agrio court recently ordered the oil giant to pay $9.5 billion in what people are saying is a landmark ruling for international environmental issues. The case has been ongoing for 18 years, during which a sordid story came to light of Texaco's destructive and exploitative actions in the oil fields in the Amazon rain forest.

Not only have the indigenous communities in the affected area suffered from some of the highest rates in the country of cancer, but also from high rates of child leukemia. Some 80% of the crops in the area were lost, and over 20% of the people were forcibly displaced. Many developed health conditions from land and water pollution, and cases of sexual violence from the corporation's workers were reported. The trial also exposed Texaco's creation of a fake lab in Ecuador to come up with favorable environmental reports. The psychological, physical, social, and environmental effects of Texaco's long occupation of the region have been so deleterious that the plaintiffs have decided to appeal the court's decision and demand the $27 billion they feel adequately compensates for Texaco's actions.

Chevron, not surprisingly, is less than thrilled with the ruling, and has sought the interference of a New York judge who has blocked for 28 days any pay-out from the case, citing the importance of Chevron to the economy.

Tangentially related: If it's still unclear how much power corporations are amassing both in the U.S. and abroad, check out this short video, "The Story of Citizens United v. FEC," which traces the history of the corporation and what it means that they have now been given the 1st Amendment right of Free Speech.