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Sunday, June 24, 2012

The privatization trap


From schools to prisons, outsourcing government's works typically ends with cronyism, waste and unaccountability

An employee of Immigration and Customs Enforcement's Stewart Detention Center in Lumpkin, Ga., waiting for the front gate to be opened.
An employee of Immigration and Customs Enforcement's Stewart Detention Center in Lumpkin, Ga., waiting for the front gate to be opened. The detention center is operated on contract by Nashville-based Corrections Corporation of America.  (Credit: AP)
The 99 Percent Plan is a joint Roosevelt Institute-Salon series that explores how progressives can shape a new vision for the economy. This is the first essay in the series.
Privatizing the government is one of the most active projects of the early 21st century.

Everything we once expected the government to do — from education to regulatory rule-writing to military operations to healthcare services to prison management — it now does less of, preferring to support markets in which these services are done through independent, profit-maximizing agents. Tools such as contracting out, vouchering and the selling-off of state assets have been used to remake the government during our market-worshipping era.

Privatization is one of the few political projects that enjoys bipartisan support: Conservatives cheer the rollback of the state, and liberals like to claim that the virtues of the free market are being used towards the egalitarian ends of public policy. The fraud and waste that often come with outsourcing these services has been well-documented. The private management in Iraq and the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina, and the lobbying efforts of corporate prisons have all provided horror stories of what happens when cronyism guides decision-making on behalf of the state. But privatization as standard government practice has problems that go far beyond the abuses of any single incident.

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Pixar’s ‘Brave’ shoots arrows in the princess ideal



PHOTOS: Princesses of the silver screen, through the years. (Clockwise from top left: Walt Disney Pictures; Paramount Pictures; Lucasfilm; DreamWorks Pictures; Walt Disney / Pixar)

A princess never lays her weapons on the table. A princess never raises her voice. A princess strives for perfection. A princess, in other words, is a royal bore.

At least that’s how it seems to Merida, the red-haired, bow-and-arrow-wielding teenager at the center of the new Pixar movie “Brave” upon hearing her mother’s precepts for ladylike behavior. Merida would prefer to live a more adventuresome life than the tightly scripted one into which she’s been born as the daughter of an ancient Scottish king, an inconvenient yearning that sparks a nasty quarrel with her mother and a crisis in the kingdom.

The animation studio’s first female protagonist after 12 features centered on male heroes, Merida is one of a growing band of pop culture princesses whose defiance, athleticism and pluck would shock their pie-baking, floor-scrubbing, dulcet-voiced Disney ancestresses.




Driven by cultural changes and marketplace forces, these new screen princesses mix equal parts fantasy and female empowerment. In the dark, PG-13 action film “Snow White and the Huntsman,” Kristen Stewart plays the classic fairy tale heroine as a Joan of Arc-like figure who commands a ragtag army in a suit of armor and with grimy fingernails; in “Mirror Mirror,” a more whimsical Snow White adaptation also in theaters this spring, Lily Collins trades her skirts for a pair of poufy pantaloons and learns to swashbuckle from the seven dwarfs.

Three recent iterations of Snow White, including “Mirror Mirror,” left, “Snow White and the Huntsman” and “Once Upon a Time.” (Relativity Media; Universal Pictures; ABC)
Small-screen princesses have evolved too. Ginnifer Goodwin’s Snow White on ABC’s family-friendly “Once Upon a Time” is a self-reliant elementary schoolteacher, while on HBO’s emphatically adult “Game of Thrones,” princess Daenerys Targaryen (Emilia Clarke) is the leader of a race of nomadic warriors who hatches baby dragons, walks through fire and eats the heart of a stallion.

At a time when male characters outnumber females 3 to 1 in family films, according to the Los Angeles-based Geena Davis Institute on Gender in Media, the emergence of these warrior princesses has been cause for celebration for some. But princesses carry cultural baggage too, and many modern audiences primarily associate them with the pink ghetto of the toy aisle.
“I’m pleased to see more females on-screen and more strong protagonists,” said Peggy Orenstein, author of “Cinderella Ate My Daughter,” a book about the pervasiveness of princess culture. “But I feel very mixed about it. There was a time when a princess was the only fantasy you could have as a female, the only way of getting out and getting power. But that was in the year 1100. You’d like to think there’s another option in today’s world.”

Britain’s Prince William and his wife Kate, Duchess of Cambridge, after their royal wedding in London in 2011. (Martin Meissner / Associated Press)
The idea of princesses has been so contorted over time, “Snow White and the Huntsman’s” Stewart confessed in an interview. “Besides Kate Middleton, I don’t even know what a princess is.”
A few centuries past their peak political relevance, princesses remain a remarkably enduring attraction — about 300 million people tuned in around the world last year to watch Catherine Middleton marry Prince William in London’s Westminster Abbey.
‘Fairy tale aspect’

For “Brave” producer Katherine Sarafian, who followed the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge’s nuptials while mothering a newborn and supervising a film crew of hundreds, the appeal of princesses lies in their very elusiveness.

“I’m fascinated by the ritual, routine, the pomp and circumstance, the age of it all,” Sarafian said. “People are born into some seat of power that they didn’t really earn. It’s birthright. It’s so, so ancient. And so not relatable. Maybe that’s why I like it. The fairy tale aspect. This has nothing to do with me. This is not at all like my life in Oakland. But it’s like soap operas and melodrama. I can’t look away.”

“Brave’s” filmmakers, led by directors Mark Andrews and Brenda Chapman, sought to create a character who was more grounded, however. Chapman wrote the story, which was inspired by her relationship with her own spirited daughter, and additional screenplay credits go to Andrews, Steve Purcell and Irene Mecchi. Eighteen months before the film’s release, Pixar replaced Chapman at the helm with Andrews, due to “creative differences,” according to the studio’s chief creative officer, John Lasseter.

Despite the directorial handoff, one creative decision that remained constant was Merida’s strength. Rather than waiting to be kissed, she is waiting to run a kingdom, in a manner that will combine the diplomacy of her mother, Queen Elinor, with the boldness of her father, King Fergus. Merida’s gender, Sarafian said, was not at the forefront of the filmmakers’ minds.

Princess Merida in a scene from “Brave.” (Pixar)
“It wasn’t ‘How do we make this girl appealing?’” she said. “It was ‘How do we make this teenager appealing?’ We tried to treat her as a relatable teenager with a rebellious streak, but because she’s adventurous and athletic and outdoorsy, her gender is not the most important thing about her. That’s the goal, and I hope all genders and ages embrace it and find something in there.”

In an era of female fantasy blockbusters such as Tim Burton’s “Alice in Wonderland,” “Twilight” and “The Hunger Games,” princesses provide an appealing metaphor for power for filmmakers.

“A princess adds stakes to the story,” said Evan Daugherty, who wrote “Snow White and the Huntsman” from his dorm room at New York University. “It becomes more than just about any girl off the street and about leadership. Maybe being a princess isn’t so great after all. Let’s dig into the idea of what it really means to be a princess. There are real rights, responsibilities and challenges that go on with leading. It’s not just wearing fancy dresses and going to parties.”

Daugherty broadened Snow White by expanding the role of the huntsman, a minor character in the fairy tale who is played in the film by the meaty hero from “Thor,” Chris Hemsworth. “It has a female protagonist, so there’s a bit of an idea that it’s meant more for women than for men,” Daugherty said. “Was there a way to muscularize this fairy tale?”

Chris Hemsworth, left, and Kristen Stewart in “Snow White and the Huntsman.” (Alex Bailey / Universal Pictures)
One of the curious hallmarks of recent princess movies — including Disney’s $200-million-grossing 2010 Rapunzel update, “Tangled” — is that studios do their best to market them as something else in the belief that they will alienate boys. While the stories are modernizing, the sales pitches for the movies often hew more closely to conventional gender lines.

In the case of “Brave,” some ads have emphasized bawdy humor, like a Scottish lord who shows his backside and a bit of physical comedy involving a woman’s cleavage. “Snow White and the Huntsman” spots favored action involving gathering armies and exotic creatures.

“Having ‘Snow White’ in the title gets people’s attention, but then they have to determine whether they want to see it,” said Joe Roth, who is a kind of fairy godfather of the genre, having produced “Snow White and the Huntsman” and “Alice in Wonderland.” “It’s probably off-putting to a 14-year-old boy, and you have to earn your way back in.”

In the case of “Snow White and the Huntsman,” the action appeal seems to have worked — the film has grossed $123 million at the domestic box office, and its opening weekend audience included a broad demographic range estimated at 53% female and 52% over age 30.

Angelina Jolie in the title role of upcoming film “Maleficent,” the villain from the 1959 classic, “Sleeping Beauty.” (Disney Enterprises)
Future film projects signal a continuing evolution of the princess archetype. An action-driven sequel to “Snow White and the Huntsman” is in the works; Reese Witherspoon’s production company is adapting the forthcoming children’s series “Pennyroyal’s Princess Boot Camp,” about a school that trains warrior princesses; and Disney began shooting “Maleficent” this month in England, a reworking of the Sleeping Beauty tale from the point of view of the evil queen sorceress (Angelina Jolie).

Once upon a time, no one worried whether princess movies would appeal to males: The 1937 “Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs,” which has been re-released in theaters several times, is the 10th highest-grossing movie of all time after adjusting for inflation, putting it above crowd-pleasers such as “Avatar” and “Return of the Jedi.”

But in the last decade, princesses have narrowed in their appeal, thanks in part to a merchandizing bonanza. In 2000, Disney’s consumer products division grouped Snow White, Cinderella, Rapunzel and its other princesses under one brand, Disney Princess, which generates some $4 billion annually in sales of toys, clothes and such products as the “Tangled” vanity play set complete with mirror and three tiaras.
A child looks at a doll based on the Disney film “The Princess and the Frog” at a Toys R Us store in Los Angeles. (Mel Melcon / Los Angeles Times
Disney Princess created a long-term problem for a company built upon fairy tales, driving nearly everyone but tutu-clad little girls to either disdain or ignore princesses.

“Disney has been very successful at helping young girls to identify with its princesses,” said Karen Wohlwend, an assistant professor in literacy, culture and language education at Indiana University, Bloomington. “Now, what do you do if you want other people to identify with them? To so strongly mark something has a double edge to it.”

The new $16.50 Merida doll associated with “Brave” is a dramatic break from the mold, however. She’s not wearing a pink ball gown or a tiara, but a teal “adventure dress,” complete with archery glove and bow and arrow. Other toys associated with the film include a plastic sword with “dueling sound effects” and a plush stuffed bear.

– Rebecca Keegan

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Year of the arrow: Katniss, Hawkeye, ‘Brave’
‘Secret World of Arrietty’ director on Studio Ghibli
‘Wall-E’: Andrew Stanton’s Pixar family photos
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Symbolic Interactionism


  • Symbolic Interactionism

    Humans act toward people, things, and events on the basis of the meanings they assign to them. Once people define a situation as real, it has very real consequences. Without language there would be no thought, no sense of self, and no socializing presence of society within the individual. (Socio-cultural tradition)


  • Symbolic Interaction
    • Communication through symbols; people talking to each other.
  • Minding
    • An inner dialogue used to test alternatives, rehearse action, and anticipate reactions before responding; self-talk.
  • Taking the role of the other
    • The process of mentally imagining that you are someone else who is viewing you.
  • Looking-Glass Self
    • The mental image that results from taking the role of the other; the objective self; me.
  • I
    • The spontaneous driving force that fosters all that is novel, unpredictable, and unorganized in the self.
  • Me
    • The objective self; the image of self seen when one takes the role of the other.
  • Generalized other
    • The composite mental image a person has of his or her self based on community expectations and responses.
  • Participant observation
    • A method of adopting the stance of an ignorant yet interested visitor who carefully notes what people say and do in order to discover how they interpret their world.
  • Self-fulfilling prophecy
    • The tendency for our expectations to evoke responses that confirm what we originally anticipated. 

Register to Vote on-line (or change registration)



Yesterday Nevada Secretary of State Ross Miller made an important announcement for voters in Clark County:

You can now register to vote completely online! 

No waiting in a long line at the DMV. No going to a website, printing out a registration form, and remembering to mail it in.

If you have a Nevada driver’s license or ID card you can now register to vote using a completely online process. The whole process takes less than 5 minutes.

Voting is the cornerstone of our democracy. It is a major part of what makes America the envy of the world. This development in technology is just another reason why every citizen should do their civic duty and vote whenever possible.

If you are not registered to vote yet and you live in Clark County please click here to register to vote:

Here is the link: http://nvsos.gov/index.aspx?page=703

Sunday Morning News and Views


Your credit card may have been hijacked by a gas station theft ring.A California man has been convicted in Texas for participating in a multi-state theft ring that used illegal skimmers at gas stations to steal 38,000 debit and credit card numbers -- then siphon $100,000 from bank accounts. Aleksandr Goukasian, of Los Angeles, faces up to life in prison when he's sentenced at a later date. He was convicted Friday of  four counts of unlawful possession of an electronic intercept device. He also was convicted of one count each of unlawful use of electronic communications, engaging in organized criminal activity and fraudulently possessing or using identifying information. Prosecutors in Fort Worth showed evidence that Goukasian's theft ring planted skimmers -- homemade electronic devices intercepting credit card information -- inside gas pumps in California, Las Vegas, Dallas, Fort Worth and Houston.


Las Vegas is about to mark the opening of a $2.4 billion airport terminal that officials are hoping will help lift the southern Nevada economy from the depths of the Great Recession. McCarran International Airport chief Randall Walker calls Terminal 3 crucial to serving tourists from the U.S. and Britain, plus places like South Korea, the Philippines, Amsterdam and Berlin. Opening day is Wednesday, and the second overseas arrival will be an inaugural Copa Airlines nonstop from Panama City. The first full day of operations will be Thursday. Gleaming and glassy T3 adds 14 gates and an eight-story parking structure to an airport currently ranked as the eighth-busiest in the U.S. and 23nd busiest worldwide by passenger volume. Walker says the project came in on time and on budget.


Arizona has put an end to a controversial  high school Mexican American studies program it considered divisive. Advocates claim it gave students a valuable and more clear eyed perspective on traditional subjects of study. Traditional studies of heritage countries and cultures have been mounted in ethnic communities across the country, including German and Italian in those immigrant communities.


Has America become the best country money can buy? Governor Romney leads Obama in campaign fundraising, not counting his five to one advantage in Superfund PAC funds.Romney held a high level private fundraiser in Utah last night.


On Tuesday, Utah Senator Orrin Hatch, a six-term Republican, faces the first primary contest of his Senate career. His challenger, former state Senator Dan Liljenquist , was just two years old when Hatch was elected to the Senate in 1976. Liljenquist hopes to capitalize on an anti-incumbent climate that led to the defeat of Indiana Senator Richard Lugar in a primary last month.



According to the latest financial disclosure forms, Rep. Joe Heck's wife collected unemployment benefits in 2011 after she lost her job with her husband's company when he was elected to Congress. Democrats told the Las Vegas Review-Journal that Lisa Heck should not have applied for benefits at a time when thousands of Nevadans are financially struggling and her husband draws a $174,000 congressional salary. But the Nevada Republican says his wife was no different from others who lost their job and qualified for payments. Lisa Heck was a nurse who worked for Specialized Medical Operations, a medical and training and consulting firm where her husband served as president. But the company was dissolved after Heck was elected to Congress in 2010. The benefits were first reported by Politico.



Authorities say that parts of northern Nevada have been shaken by a small earthquake.A preliminary report from the U.S. Geological Survey says the magnitude-4.2 quake struck at 8:51 p.m. Friday at a depth of about seven miles. The temblor was centered about 16 miles southwest of Reno, and was felt by residents in a wide area around Reno and Carson City. The quake was followed by a series of aftershocks later Friday night and early Saturday morning, including one that was magnitude 2.



Tropical Storm Debby is causing some trouble with oil and gas production in the Gulf of Mexico as it inches north. Forecasters say it could be near hurricane strength in about 48 hours. Debby has forced the suspension of 8 percent of the region's oil and gas production, amounting to about 2 percent of U.S. output.

A fire that quickly spread to about 2,000 acres in hot, dry and windy conditions has prompted evacuation orders for thousands of people in the Colorado Springs area. The Colorado Springs Gazette reported early Sunday that 5,000 residents of Manitou Springs are among those ordered out. It's one of Colorado's most severe wildfire seasons in recent memory.

Egyptian police have been ordered to confront any attempt to break the law with decisive force today. The order comes ahead of the announcement of a new president. The results of last weekend's presidential runoff have been delayed for several days, giving way to rumors and anxiety about back room deals and suspected interference by the ruling military council in determining the outcome. Thousands have gathered in Cairo's Tahrir Square for the announcement.



Egypt's election commission has declared Mohammed Morsi of the Muslim Brotherhood the winner of Egypt's first free elections by a narrow margin over Ahmed Shafiq, the last prime minister under deposed leader Hosni Mubarak.
It was a close and divisive election. The commission said Morsi won with 51.7 percent of the vote versus 48.3 for Shafiq. The  huge crowd of Morsi supporters in Cairo's Tahrir Square erupted in cheers and dancing when the result was read out on live television.



Turkey's foreign minister says a Turkish jet shot down by Syria was not spying. The official says the plane was downed in international airspace after it mistakenly entered Syria but quickly left after a warning from Turkey. Turkey has requested a NATO meeting on the matter. That could happen Tuesday. The wreckage has been found in about 1,000 feet of water.