Category Archives: capitalism

21st Century Boycott: Fox News, O’Reilly, retaliation and institutional protection for sexual harassment

I appreciate the strong reporting in the New York Times article: “Bill O’Reilly thrives at Fox News even as harassment settlements add up.”  Authors Emily Steel and Michael S. Schmidt cover the systematic protection of Bill O’Reilly who comes off as a serial predator.

The article looks at five settlements that have been paid to women who have alleged and often documented harassment from the Fox News star.  Two of the settlements were known, but three were uncovered by Steel and Schmidt.

The article is phenomenal journalism and highlights the pattern of toxic behavior and the costly efforts to retaliate against those who have complained.   This is a good opportunity to examine some of the patterns of retaliation that were visible in this article.

Most of the women who complained were threatened with professional harm when they didn’t comply with threats or when they came forward.  Andrea Mackris filed a sexual harassment suit against O’Reilly in 2004.  The New York Times article describes the retaliatory threats:

“Two years later, allegations about Mr. O’Reilly entered the public arena in lurid fashion when a producer on his show, Andrea Mackris, then 33, filed a sexual harassment lawsuit against him. In the suit, she said he had told her to buy a vibrator, called her at times when it sounded as if he was masturbating and described sexual fantasies involving her. Ms. Mackris had recorded some of the conversations, people familiar with the case said.

Ms. Mackris also said in the suit that Mr. O’Reilly, who was married at the time (he and his wife divorced in 2011), threatened her, saying he would make any woman who complained about his behavior “pay so dearly that she’ll wish she’d never been born.”

Fox News and Mr. O’Reilly adopted an aggressive strategy that served as a stark warning of what could happen to women if they came forward with complaints, current and former employees told The Times. Before Ms. Mackris even filed suit, Fox News and Mr. O’Reilly surprised her with a pre-emptive suit of their own, asserting she was seeking to extort $60 million in return for not going public with “scandalous and scurrilous” claims about Mr. O’Reilly.

“This is the single most evil thing I have ever experienced, and I have seen a lot,” he said on his show the day both suits were filed. “But these people picked the wrong guy.”

A public relations firm was hired to help shape the narrative in Mr. O’Reilly’s favor, and the private investigator Bo Dietl was retained to dig up information on Ms. Mackris. The goal was to depict her as a promiscuous woman, deeply in debt, who was trying to shake down Mr. O’Reilly, according to people briefed on the strategy. Several unflattering stories about her appeared in the tabloids.

After two weeks of sensational headlines, the two sides settled, and Mr. O’Reilly agreed to pay Ms. Mackris about $9 million, according to people briefed on the agreement. The parties agreed to issue a public statement that “no wrongdoing whatsoever” had occurred.”

Emily Steel and Michael S. Schmidt. “Bill O’Reilly thrives at Fox News even as harassment settlements add up.” April 1, 2017. New York Times.

It is worth noting the techniques used to attack the victim.  The perpetrator attacks the survivor personally, the company defends the perpetrator with a heavy-handed lawsuit, and the company hires a PR firm and private investigators to destroy the survivors reputation.

And then they settle.  That means that all the personal attacks and reputation smearing that ruin someone’s life were essentially pressure to beat someone down so they will take less money for their silence.  I can imagine the meeting where someone at 21st Century Fox has to run the numbers on how much they could save in destroying the lives of sexual harassment survivors.

The cost-benefit-analysis strategies of corporations who decide to try to ruin the reputations of employees who come forward to complain about sexual harassment may undervalue the public relations costs of being associated with a serial rapist or a serial harasser.

The Brock Turner survivor letter, Emma Sulkowicz and the performative mattress carry, an Obama/Biden administration with a robust advocacy for Title IX have changed public opinion about sexual harassment and rape.   The ascendance of a generation of young activists like Know your IX committed to fighting rape culture will not return to the cover-up and blame-the-victims days.

Which means that large corporations who are in the business of making money are going to have to factor in what explicit boycotts and affiliated bad PR will cost them when they defend a prominent figure like Bill O’Reilly and Roger Ailles.

It seems grotesque that an institution would protect a serial predator because they make the business a lot of money.  Steel and Schmidt’s expose does a good job documenting how much advertising revenue O’Reilly’s show pulls in ($446 million from 2014-2016).  So what would a boycott have to cost the parent company to dump O’Reilly?   A couple of hundred million dollars?

More importantly, I wonder how little effort it would take for people on social media to destroy the 21st Century brand.  A dozen volunteers could watch O’Reilly’s show, note advertisers and then illustrate businesses which give money to support victim-blaming.  Simply posting the New York Times article in the publicity threads for each new 20th Century Fox blockbuster movie would convince me to spend my movie money elsewhere.   Artists who might record soundtrack music for Fox Music can be gently reminded through fan pages or tweets about the retaliatory behavior of the parent company.

Steel and Schmidt’s article is a good piece of investigative journalism that makes visible the retaliatory behavior of one of the largest companies in the world.  It also exposes how much the company has to lose if they mishandle the public relations associated with their brand being tainted by O’Reilly’s harassment lawsuits.

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Filed under capitalism, communication, gender, media, protest, representation, resistance, sexism, sexual assault

Synthesizers in motion: Bastl instruments documentary

This is a very enjoyable trip to Bastl instruments in the Czech Republic. Host Cuckoo is a charming interviewer and Bastl instruments showcase a people-oriented business.

My anticipation is that we’ll meet a lonely Eastern European modular maker, but what unfolds is a robust community has grown dramatically. Includes the boss describing how to avoid “poop face,” a woman modulating with a baby strapped on, Bastl’s boutique coffee plans, and a business where everyone is a musician. No really, it seems like *everyone* is a musician at Bastl.

Best part of the video is a chance to get some perspective from Peter Edwards (Casper Electronics) a circuit-bending scientist whose website has inspired a lot of people, including myself.

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Filed under art, capitalism, do-it-yourself, documentary, humor, music, synthesizers, technology

Life of refinement endorses Bernie Sanders

Life of refinement endorses Bernie Sanders for President of the United States in 2016.  I agree with most of his politics, I think he will listen to constituents if elected and he hasn’t taken big money from large corporations.

As I follow the campaign I can see opinions about my home state of Vermont reflected in the political analysis of Sanders.  Take this quote from Edward Mccelland in Salon:

Also, he’s from Vermont, which vies with Utah for Least Typical State. Vermont is America’s version of The Shire, the Hobbit-populated land in “The Lord of the Rings”: a green liberal Zion with no cities, no minorities and no urban problems.

Source: My day with Bernie Sanders and Hillary Clinton: Two Iowa rallies explain why Hillary may be about to blow a sure thing – Salon.com

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Martin Luther King: Bernie Sanders, Killer Mike, Nina Turner and Cornel West

Today is Martin Luther King Jr. Day and it is a good day to think about the work necessary to bring about justice.

I believe that Bernie Sanders is sincere. His campaign releases this video on the eve of Martin Luther King day.   A few quick observations:

  1.  The lack of editing is a signal of this video’s credibility.  Note that this is a single take . . . no edits, no cuts to remove something that would hurt a political campaign.  This starts with microphone checks and becomes a rigorous conversation between four intellectuals.   After they are done, Dr. Cornel West yells: “Whooo hoo . . . that was rich!”  I agree.
  2.  Shortly after the 20 minute mark Killer Mike begins to pitch the Bernie Sanders campaign to black nationalists.  Malcolm X gets a shout out by Senator Turner!  A minute later Mike points out that Sanders is comfortable in tough conversations with people of color.  Sanders brushes off the compliment and returns to the message.
  3. “Titles are good, purpose is better.” Senator Nina Turner makes the argument to use your access. (6:30)
  4. West’s anger toward Obama is palpable.   And Senator Turner’s experience with Hillary Clinton is interesting at the 42 minute mark.
  5. At the 17 minute mark Bernie Sanders talks about his early civil rights organizing experience in Chicago.  Particularly he notes that the northern liberal university (University of Chicago) ran segregated student housing — which necessitated a sit in.  He talks about his experience organizing with CORE and mentions fighting segregated schools.
  6. I also like the sincere emotion that comes through.  Senator Turner who says that Sanders made her heart leap.  The compliments, the gentle physical contact . . .all point to a great series of relationships.

It’s a good and interesting video.  Also an artifact worth consideration in the field of presidential rhetoric.  Contrast this to most pandering politicians.

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Filed under capitalism, communication, human rights, intersectionality, memorial, protest, race, representation

Cannibal Capitalism: performance enhancing drugs

Cannibal capitalism is easy to spot in modern sports.   Contests are broadcast and we are encouraged to consume of the bodies of athletes and comment on their suffering.  To succeed and get paid at the highest levels, many athletes use illegal and dangerous drugs.  It seems transparent to call them ‘performance enhancing drugs’.   The performance is enhanced, often at the health and safety of the athlete.

Al Jazeera has released a potent documentary following the trail of a few illicit pharmacists and doctors who provide illegal sports drug cocktails. It is a tell-all of many recent sports heroes who it is suggested used performance enhancing drugs.

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Filed under capitalism, documentary, drugs, forbidden fruit, health, sport

Best arguments from the supreme court hip hop brief

I grew up with the notion that hip hop was opposition to mainstream culture.  Regardless of lyrical content, hip hop (and hip hop fans) were deeply mocked and policed for years.  Rappers might have been saying mundane things but if you rhymed over beats, you carried the weight of the genre.

You could get in trouble for playing hip hop lyrics.  Radio stations would proudly broadcast that they played everything “except rap.”  There was a kind of stigma that stuck with hip hop artists and fans.   Hip hop concerts weren’t booked at Madison Square Garden until Jay-Z broke through with the Black Album.

It seems so clearly racist from my current perspective.

We might add in capitalism.  The nineties saw a rush to absorb, market and exploit hip hop culture by advertisers.  The stereotypes and old discourse lingered as hip hop became mainstream culture.

It doesn’t surprise me that the choice of hip hop as a medium stigmatizes the participant.  (It saddens me).

Taylor Bell, a thoughtful high school senior was informed that two PE coaches were commenting and touching female students, Bell wrote a rap song.  Instead of praising this whistle blower, Bell was kicked out of school and had to go to an alternative school for his senior year.

His eventual lawsuit hinges on the ability of a high school student to express their political views outside of school.  This seems like a first amendment no-brainer to me . . . so of course it is before the Supreme Court.

Killer Mike (Michael Render), Erik Nielson, Travis Gosa and Charis E. Kubrin submitted an supporting brief to the court.  Here are my favorite parts:

  1.  It is actually the bad words that disturb administrators, not the report of sexual harassment.

Following a lengthy decision-making process, Bell was suspended and sent to an “alternative school” by the school’s Disciplinary Committee. A Committee member suggested that Bell’s use of profanity in the song was the reason for his suspension: “Censor that stuff. Don’t put all those bad words in it . . . The bad words ain’t making it better.”

Source: Microsoft Word – 151206 Taylor Bell amicus 12-17-15.docx – Taylor-Bell-Amicus.pdf

2.  Hip hop is an alternative to fighting.

Hip hop—a cultural movement comprised of performance arts such as MCing (“rapping”), DJing (“spinning”), breakdancing (“b-boying”), and graffiti (“writing”)—began as a response to these dire conditions. Pioneers like Afrika Bambaataa (once a gang leader himself) used spiritual and political consciousness (“knowledge of self”) to develop hip hop as a tool for ending gang violence by providing an outlet that transformed the inherent competitiveness and territoriality of gang life into something artistic and productive. Dance competitions, rap battles, and other competitive performances replaced actual fighting , and rap in particular eventually became an alternative, legal source of income for blacks and Latinos otherwise cut off from labor market opportunities. Travis L. Gosa, The Fifth Element: Knowledge , in T HE CAMBRIDGE COMPANION TO H IP -H OP 56, 58-61 (Justin A. Williams ed., 2015).

Source: Microsoft Word – 151206 Taylor Bell amicus 12-17-15.docx – Taylor-Bell-Amicus.pdf

3.  Bell was intending to spread the word via hop hop.

Like Tupac Shakur, Taylor Bell was using his music to effect changes . In the final portion of the video for his song PSK da Truth , Bell says that in rapping about sexual misconduct at his high school, he is trying to raise awareness about similar injustices around the world: “It’s something that’s been going on, you know, worldwide for a long time that I just felt like, you kn ow, I needed to address.”

Source: Microsoft Word – 151206 Taylor Bell amicus 12-17-15.docx – Taylor-Bell-Amicus.pdf

4.  Threatening gun metaphors are widely used in hip hop.

When Bell raps, “fucking with the wrong one gon’ get a pistol down your mouth (Boww!),” he is channeling well-worn phrases used by popular and established artists like Lil Wayne (“Pistol in your mouth, I can not make out what you tryin’ to say”), Gucci Mane (“Put the pistol in ya mouth like dentures”), Waka Flocka Flame (“Niggas know I got a pistol in his mouth”), E-40 (“Put the pistol in his mouth and make it hurt, ooh”), and Scarface (“Put a pistol in his mouth, and blow his fucking brains out”). L IL WAYNE , Bill Gates, on I A M  NOT A HUMAN BEING (Young Money, Cash Money & Universal Motown 2010); GUCCI MANE , Texas Margarita, on BRICK FACTORY : VOLUME I (available for download from http://www.livemixtapes.com 2014); WAKA FLOCKA FLAME , Where It At, on DU FLOCKA RANT : HALF -TIME S HOW (available for download on http://www.livemixtapes.com 2013); SCARFACE , Diary of a Madman, on M R . SCARFACE IS BACK (Rap-A-Lot Records 1991); E-40, It’s On, On Sight, on T HE ELEMENT OF SURPRISE (Jive & Sick Wid It Records 1998).

Source: Microsoft Word – 151206 Taylor Bell amicus 12-17-15.docx – Taylor-Bell-Amicus.pdf

5.  Discourse influences stereotypes about hip hop: experimental studies

A handful of studies have examined the direct impact of these stereotypes. In these studies, people who are given identical sets of lyrics—but who are told these lyrics come from different musical genres—are asked about their perceptions of the lyrics. One study, for example, presented respondents with sexually explicit rap lyrics or sexually explicit non-rap lyrics. Importantly, the researchers discovered that the sexually explicit music was considered more offensive and less artistic when it was rap compared to when it was non-rap. Dixon & Linz, supra , at 234-35.

In a related study, participants read a set of lyrics from folk group Kingston Trio’s 1960 song, Bad Man’s Blunder , and were told that the lyrics were either from a rap or country music song. After reading the lyrics, participants evaluated them and responded to questions about the offensiveness of the song, the threatening nature of the song, the need for regulation of the song, and if the song would incite violence. The responses were significantly more negative when the lyrics were represented as 24 rap, revealing that the same lyrical passage viewed as acceptable in a country song is considered dangerous and offensive when identified as a rap song. Carrie B. Fried, Who’s Afraid of Rap: Differential Reactions to Music Lyrics , 29 J. A PPLIED SOC . PSYCH . 705, 711 (1999).

All of this research reveals that stereotypical assumptions play a far greater role in our decision- making than we may realize. And some of this stereotyping may account for what happened in this case. If we don’t work to acknowledge and, when necessary, combat these stereotypes, the consequences can be serious and life altering— particularly for a young man like Taylor Bell.

Source: Microsoft Word – 151206 Taylor Bell amicus 12-17-15.docx – Taylor-Bell-Amicus.pdf

***

I think this brief is a strong set of arguments.  It also makes several key arguments about hip hop and metaphoric violence that need further discussion.  Good opportunity for amplification and discussion.

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Obama pardons Valerie Bozeman: drug war reflections

Kyle Swenson has an excellent write up on Valerie Bozeman in the Broward Palm Beach New Times.  Bozeman was convicted of drug charges and received federal mandatory minimum penalties.  She was pardoned from her life sentence by President Obama after 23 years in prison.  This is an excellent read complete with a sympathetic protagonist, grimy drug kingpins, incompetent defense attorneys and a guilty judge.

Swenson does a good job explaining how low-level offenders were getting astounding sentences.

But as anxiety over crack grew, the statute was hijacked. The use of “851 enhancements,” as they came to be called, became a huge prosecutorial hammer. The marching orders for federal prosecutors were for no mercy.

In 1989, then-Attorney General Richard Thornburgh ordered U.S. attorneys to “charge the most serious, readily provable offense.” Victory in the courtroom was “measured by the length of sentence you could get if you secured that prosecution,” explains Price. So 851 enhancements — which could trigger a life sentence if an individual had two prior felony convictions — became an easy way for the government to notch a heavy win.

“It was a time when we turned our backs on rehabilitation and support, and our criminal justice system and sentencing law became much more punitive,” Price says. “We were locking up people who we didn’t like and were afraid of. But we were also locking up a lot of people who really didn’t deserve the lengthy sentences we were doling out.”

Source: Valerie Bozeman Is Pardoned by Obama as America Wrestles With Fallout From the War on Drugs | New Times Broward-Palm Beach

Bozeman got a life sentence and learned about the 851 (mandatory minimum) penalties that sent her to prison only years later.  Note that the ‘old timers’ — the prisoners who are sentenced to life became a legal research unit under the direction of Bozeman.

In between chores, Bozeman shot off urgent letters to court-appointed lawyers, like SOS messages stuffed in bottles and pitched into the ocean. Most were ignored. Eventually, she received a letter from Judge Ungaro patiently explaining that Bozeman had been sentenced to life because of a statute known at “851 enhancement.”

With that phrase in her mind, she began visiting the prison law library, where she finally began to unlock what exactly had happened to her.

Soon, Bozeman called together the old-timers. Bozeman had a one-question pop quiz. “Do you know why you got a life sentence?”

Blank looks bounced back at her. One by one, Bozeman sent the women to their cells for their sentencing paperwork. Together they bushwhacked through the legalese until they found it: 851. “The ladies didn’t understand why they were sitting there with a life sentence,” she says today. “They just didn’t know.”

Source: Valerie Bozeman Is Pardoned by Obama as America Wrestles With Fallout From the War on Drugs | New Times Broward-Palm Beach

The essay is also ripe with some terrifying statistics about the drug war and incarceration.  In particular the use of the federal 851 statute (mandatory minimums) to coerce suspects to admit guilt.

Between 1980 and 2013, the number of drug defendants incarcerated in federal custody had exploded from 4,749 to 100,026 — a 2,006 percent uptick. Fifty percent of all federal inmates were serving time on drug charges.

Not only did mandatory minimums put small-time dealers in prison for long periods but 851 enhancements also had another harsh effect. Because the decision to file rested solely with the prosecution, it could be used as a threat: If you go to trial, we’ll file an enhancement.

A study by Human Rights Watch showed that in 2012, “the average sentence of federal drug offenders convicted after trial was three times higher (16 years) than that received after a guilty plea (5 years and 4 months).” When sentencing enhancements were in play for defendants with prior convictions, defendants “who went to trial were 8.4 times more likely to have the enhancement applied” than those who pleaded guilty.

New York Federal District Judge John Gleeson noted that use of 851s had gotten out of control. He wrote in an October 2013 decision that they brought on “the sentencing equivalent of a two-by-four to the forehead.” As a result, so many people chose to plead guilty rather than take chances at trial that a federal criminal trial was “on the endangered species list,” he said. “The government’s use of [851 enhancements] coerces guilty pleas and produces sentences so excessively severe they take your breath away.”

Proof was in the data: In 1980, only 69 percent of defendants in federal drug cases pleaded guilty and took plea deals; by 2010, 97 percent did.

Source: Valerie Bozeman Is Pardoned by Obama as America Wrestles With Fallout From the War on Drugs | New Times Broward-Palm Beach

This essay is a worthwhile read and a thoughtful reflection on the drug war.  Thanks to Longreads for the suggestion.

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