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  1. Fighting Again for the Right to Vote

    February 15, 2012 by Holly Thomas


    The first African-American president is in the White House, yet in this election year people may not realize that this country is still combating disenfranchisement, which most would assume ended with the Voting Rights Act of 1965. The Act prohibits states from denying “the right of any citizen of the United States to vote on account of race or color,” and was passed by Congress to put an end to the literacy tests many states implemented as a means of disenfranchising blacks during Jim Crow and after Reconstruction. President Lyndon B. Johnson signed the Voting Rights Act into law.

    Literacy tests are no longer the issue, but another one has arisen to take their place, and that is voter identification. According to an article published in The Economist magazine, “Supporters [of state legislation requiring voter i.d.] contend these laws are simply meant to ensure the integrity of the voting process. If Americans must show a photo ID to board a plane or buy a beer, they can easily show one to vote.

    “But,” the article continues, “the sort of deception that showing a government-issued photo ID would prevent—voter-impersonation fraud, in which one person on the voter rolls tries to vote as someone else—is very rare. Too rare, say some opponents, to justify erecting barriers that will disproportionately disenfranchise poor, young and minority voters, who tend to support Democrats.”

    And according to another article, “Since the 2010 mid-terms, states have introduced and passed laws requiring proof of citizenship, ending election day voter registration, restricting voter registration efforts, limiting early voting, and making it harder for the formerly incarcerated to regain their voting rights post-release. The most common of the new restrictions, however, are photo ID laws that require voters to show particular forms of government ID in order to cast a ballot. According to the Brennan Center report, nearly 11 percent of Americans, or 21 million people, lack a government issued photo ID.”

    The vastly wealthy and increasingly visible Koch brothers are allegedly behind the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC), the “silent” group which has been pushing the voter i.d. legislation by both writing the legislation, and introducing it into statehouses across the country. Seven states-Alabama, Kansas, Rhode Island, South Carolina, Tennessee, Texas, and Wisconsin-have passed laws requiring voter i.d.. since 2010.

    This is really crucial, and it is crucial for two related but different reasons: one concerns enfranchisement, the other, the use of corporate money in our political system in all its insidiousness. Regarding enfranchisement and the need for voter i.d., it’s clear that adults without i.d. are already living on the margins of society, or without full citizenship, as it were, and that is an issue on its own, one of class, and, inevitably in the United States, of race. Further excluding them on the basis of voter impersonation fraud amounts to going backwards forty-five years. (Unlike during Reconstruction or Jim Crow, however, I’d wager the people behind these laws are no longer afraid of “black domination” when whites were a minority in states like Louisiana, but instead corporate interests blocking voters likely to vote Democrat.)

    Just as important as enfranchisement, therefore, is the issue of corporate power and money in the American political system. This affects all of us, including those with passports who vacation in Cancun and believe our vote counts. Will this election be democratic?

    Read The War on Voting

    The Voting Rights Act






  2. Propaganda at Japan’s Nuclear “P.R. Buildings”

    July 1, 2011 by Holly Thomas

    Takashi Murakami "Putipanda

    "Culture of cute": Pop artist Takashi Murakami's "Putipanda"

    The thing to remember about corporate history is that it tells its own story. This may seem obvious, after all doesn’t everyone? What version of events is true? Normally, your own, right? (Witness today’s news about the sexual assault case against Dominique Strauss-Kahn, the former French head of the International Monetary Fund and contender for the French presidency, said to be “on the verge of collapse as investigators have uncovered major holes in the credibility of the housekeeper” who accused him of assaulting her.) The fact that corporate history tells its own story may also seem benign.

    Yet when you visit an exhibit created for a company or industry, you need to be on your toes. Ask yourself, Why are businesses and industry interested in history? What is the role of the historian in the corporate context? And both, Whose stories are corporate historians usually telling, and whose stories are not being told?

    I normally would not want to comment on an “exhibit” that I had not seen. However, I was fascinated when it was reported this week that in Japan, the only country in the world to have suffered through a nuclear holocaust, the nuclear industry there has:

    “…devoted vast resources to persuade the Japanese public of the safety and necessity of nuclear power. Plant operators built lavish, fantasy-filled public relations buildings that became tourist attractions. Bureaucrats spun elaborate advertising campaigns through a multitude of organizations established solely to advertise the safety of nuclear plants. Politicians pushed through the adoption of government-mandated school textbooks with friendly views of nuclear power.”

    Putting aside the debate about whether nuclear power is actually safe, let’s take a closer look at the propaganda – the “fantasy-filled public relations buildings.” It turns out that after Chernobyl, the nuclear energy industry (and Japanese utilities and the government worked together) created nuclear-energy-promoting theme parks, playgrounds, and exhibits, even holding events with anime characters to attract children and young adults, at their nuclear plants in order to create a sense of safety and security with regard to nuclear power in resource-poor Japan.

    The exhibits in fact do not concern themselves with history (again, an astonishing omission anywhere but particularly resonant in Japan). Instead they show models of the control rooms, and models that promote the idea of cleanliness and efficiency. They also provide virtual tours of the facilities, and encourage children to play outside on playgrounds, and in on video games. Perhaps the most surreal examples (from the article in any case) are the ones in which characters from Allison in Wonderland and a forest of dwarfs are used to explain the safety and benefits of nuclear energy. Throughout, one can see the bright, colorful, smiling bubble characters for which Japanese pop culture and art are known, Japan’s culture of cute.

    It’s pretty clear whose stories are not being told in this environment, and ironic that Japanese anime, which is often full of apocalyptic imagery and toxic wastelands, has been used to further the ends of the nuclear establishment. More than that, it seems the whole of the culture of cute has been co-opted for corporate ends, in this case quite damaging ones, clear now in the wake of the March 11 tsunami and the disaster at the Fukushima Daiichi plant. Remember, Little Boy was the name of the atomic bomb dropped on Hiroshima in 1945.

    For a slide show of the P.R. buildings click here.