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David Rosen

Social Philosopher
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David Rosen is a writer and business-development consultant.

He is the author of

  • Sin, Sex & Subversion: How What Was Taboo in 1950s New York Became America’s New Normal (Skyhorse/Carrel).
  • Sex Scandal America: Politics & the Ritual of Public Shaming (Key Publishing).
  • Off-Hollywood: The Making & Marketing of Independent Films (Grove Press), originally commissioned by the Sundance and the Independent Feature Project (IF).

He contributed, “Sexual Politics in the Age of Obama,” for Hopeless: Barack Obama and the Politics of Illusion, ed., Jeffrey St. Clair (AK Press) and was commissioned to write the entry, “Sexual Terrorism,” for the Wiley-Blackwell Encyclopedia on Gender and Sexuality (2016).

He regularly contributes articles on politics, sexuality and popular culture to AlterNet, Black Star News, Brooklyn Rail, CounterPunch, FourTwoNine, Salon and Truthout.

He also writes about media, technology and public policy for Cyber Defense, Filmmaker and IndieWire as well as contributed to AND-magazine, FilmInFocus, Hollywood Reporter, Huffington Post, Red Herring online, San Francisco Focus and Sexuality and Culture.

Professionally, he is a business-development consultant with thirty-plus years experience. He served on the management teams taking public two media-tech start-ups and oversaw the worldwide launch of the first CD-ROM system of players and titles. Consulting clients include Screentakes (led a successful Kickstarter campaign) as well as Consumers Union, Fujitsu, KQED/SF, WNET/NY and Smithsonian.

He was executive producer of “Digital Independents: the forum on creativity, technology & democracy,” supported by the Ford and Rockefeller Foundations. He served on the boards of directors of PBS’s Independent Television Service (treasurer) and Film Arts Foundation as well as been an advisor to MoMA’s Video Collection, the Ford and Rockefeller Foundations, and Rep. Richard Gephardt. For more information, see www.DavidRosenConsulants.com.

He lives in New York City.

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David Rosen, USA 02/08/2018 0

From Moral Outrage to Moral Panic: the Limits of Public Rage

Since its founding, the nation has witnessed numerous periods of social or political disturbance over a perceived “moral” or “values” issue, often involving sex.  During these periods, controversy reached a crisis level — and the nation shuddered.  Is this what’s emerging as the new feminist movement’s rage against male sexual abuse morphs from a personal issue to a public-policy concern?

Early Puritan settlers accused, shamed, tried and imprisoned over 200 people for witchcraft.  About 30 people, mostly elder women, were convicted of sexual congress with Satan — and executed.

Centuries later, during the WW-I era, evangelical moralists forced the closing of dozens of “red-light” districts, zones of iniquity, in cities throughout the country..  Religious moralist also had 30,000 women seized without warrants or due process as national security threats, alleged prostitutes who might infect the nation’s male fighting force.  These women were forced to endure a medically examination for a venereal disease and, if found to be infected, were imprisoned.  This period of moral panic culminated in the passage of the 19th Amendment establishing Prohibition; it’s the only Amendment to be repealed.

A century later, moral panic involves two issues, abortion and sex offenders.  The religious right has sought to not simply prohibit abortions by women for cause (e.g., rape, harm to them or their fetus), but also for choice (e.g., unwanted pregnancy).  A 2010 Rand report finds that between 1973 (following the Roe v. Wade decision) and 2003, abortion providers were the targets of more than 300 acts of extreme violence, including arson, bombings, acid attacks and murders.

The outing of Catholic priests for sexual abuse – often of minors, boys and girls – in the early-2000s focused public attention on a criminal practice long tolerated by the Church.  A 2011 report by John Jay College of Criminal Justice, an update of an earlier study, found that from 1950 to 2002 some 10,667 individuals had made allegations of sexual abuse and that Catholic dioceses identified 6,700 unique accusations against 4,392 U.S. clergy.  Recently, a Queens, NY, priest, Adam Prochaski – known as “Father Pervert,” “The Pig” and “Lurch” – was outed for alleged offenses against 34 females and one male who allegedly being sexually abused between 1970 and 1994.

The current public rage regarding sexual abuse – and worse — of women and girls (and some men/boys) by leading males of the entertainment, political and other sectors involves both sex and power. Dubbed by some the “Weinstein Effect,” a growing number of people (mostly women) have come forward to accuse famous or powerful men of sexual misconduct.  It is a forceful break from the culture of silence that has long protected such men from being held accountable for their misdeeds.

Some progressive feminists have raised concerns that this movement may slip into a conservative, neo-puritan anti-sex campaign.  Two episodes of sex-policy reaction are easily recalled: (i) the Antipornography Civil Rights Ordinance proposed by Andrea Dworkin and Catharine MacKinnon that argued that pornography was a violation of women’s civil rights (it was adopted by the Indianapolis city council in 1984 and found unconstitutional) and (ii) Tipper Gore’s 1985 campaign, the Parents Music Resource Center (PMRC), to label music lyrics for profanity and other objectionable content.  Whether the #MeToo movement will spawn a moral panic remains to be seen.

***

Larry Nassar, MD, USA Gymnastics doctor and Michigan State University, was convicted on charges of molested 150-plus girls and women, including Olympic gymnasts Simone Biles, Gabby Douglas, Aly Raisman and McKayla Maroney.  Judge Rosemarie Aquilina sentenced him to 40 to 175 years in prison, declaring, “I just signed your death warrant.”  Adding, “It is my honor and privilege to sentence you. You do not deserve to walk outside a prison ever again. You have done nothing to control those urges and anywhere you walk, destruction will occur to those most vulnerable.” This sentence followed a 60-year sentence for violating federal child pornography charges.

Perhaps most remarkable about the Nassar case is that it did not turn into a moral panic.  Two earlier pedophile scandals — the McMartin Day School and Jerry Sandusky — led to moral panics in which the purported offenders were arrested, tried and convicted.  These panics were based on over-aggressive prosecutors, alleged “recovered memories” and disturbing media reports.

The McMartin Preschool of Manhattan Beach, CA, was the site of in 1983 of the gravest recovered-memory charade in the contemporary period.  The school was closed and five of its staff prosecuted based on the students’ recovered memories of sexual abuse.  After more rigorous investigation, little to nothing of the sexual abuses that were originally claimed actually occurred, yet many peoples’ lives were ruined.

The trial, conviction and imprisonment of Jerry Sandusky is an illuminating example of how moral outrage can turn into a moral panic when a perfect target captures public attention.  He was a Penn State football coach who served for thirty years (1969-1999) as an assistant its legendary head-coach, Joe Paterno.  He also founded The Second Mile, a charity for at-risk youths.

However, on November 4, 2011, a Pennsylvania grand jury released a report initially accusing him of sexually abusing eight young boys over a period of at least 15 years.  A month later, two additional boys came forward claiming they had been abused, raising the total of accusers to ten. He was charged with 48 counts of sexual abuse including “involuntary deviant sexual intercourse, indecent assault, unlawful contact with a minor, corruption of minors and endangering the welfare of children.”  But did he commit the acts he was convicted of perpetrating?

Mark Pendergrast, a science writer and author of more than a dozen books, provides an invaluable case study into how questionable accusations and outrage could rapidly snowball into a moral panic.  In his recently-published book, The Most Hated Man in America: Jerry Sandusky and the Rush to Judgment (Sunbury Press), he argues that Sandusky’s arrest, prosecution, trial and final imprisonment was a miscarriage of judgement and believes he should receive a new – and fair – trial.

After careful coaching from aggressive law-enforcement officials, therapists discovered repressed memories and opportunistic civil-litigation attorneys, the alleged victims fundamentally changed their stories, their memories.  The author takes particular aim at those promoting recovered-memories theories, specifically many of the psycho-therapist who assisted the victims to recall long-suppressed memories of sexual abuse.  During the Sandusky scandal, this form of psychotherapy captured much media attention and became a short-lived self-help fad, with numerous scholarly/academic studies and popular books published about the topic.  Stories about recovered memories regularly appeared in the local media and spread to the New York Times and The Washington Post as well as CNN and NBC, ensuring that the Sandusky case became a national story.

***

One of the unexpected outcomes Donald Trump’s presidency is that it helped fuel a growing moral outrage among an increasing number of Americans, women and men, about immoral sexual conduct.  His victory in the face of unquestionable immoral – if not illegal – engagements with nearly two-dozen women who publicly accused him of abuse fostered an unexpected result.

If immoral conduct can be celebrated by the macho-man president, why should not the truth about an ever-growing list of men accused of engaging in inappropriate sexual conduct be similarly outed?  In the world of Trump’s moral order, a man should own the immoral, if not illegal, sexual activities he engaged in.

Public shaming did not work during the ’16 election but is beginning to during Trump’s presidency.  Three factors have been critical: (i) the male figure had power, wealth or standing, (ii) there were more than one female victim and they were willing to go public with their stories, and (iii) public exposure through credible media outlets gave the accusations legitimacy.

Unexpectedly, Trump’s arrogance likely contributed to the outing of movie-mogul Harvey Weinstein.  His victory has fostered a deeply-felt sense of outrage among many women, especially – initially — well-educated, white professionals who felt “entitled” to be treated as someone more than a sex object.  They were shamed — outraged! – and, with time, fought back.

In the past, the Weinstein exposé would have been dismissed as just one more sensational sex scandal: guys will be guys.  As suggested by the initial hands-off policy of New York’s DA Cyrus Vance – a policy extended to Dominique Strauss-Kahn, Ivanka Trump and Donald Trump, Jr. – Weinstein walked.  But something deeper was simmering.

In 2006, Tarana Burke launched the #MeToo movement to, in her words, “support survivors of sexual violence, in particular black and brown girls ….”  In 2017, the hashtag went viral, personal experiences of debasement morphed into a social movement.  The recently-launched #TimesUp campaign may succeed where earlier efforts — like those following Anita Hill’s 1991 Senate testimony — faltered.

Popular reaction to increased outing of male sexual abuse makes clear that a perpetrator’s wealth, power or mea culpa – “I’ll seek counseling” — is not enough.  A growing number of women insist that personal sexual abuse is not isolated or private, but an endemic feature of most social relations and all-too-common in male-dominated sectors, whether Hollywood/entertainment, Wall Street/finance or Silicon Valley/high-tech. The ongoing outing of upper-crust male notables and executives suggests that something more long-term is at play.

For centuries, macho-male patriarchy defined U.S. military culture, but things have slowly changed with more women in uniform.  In 2015, there were 1,340,533 active-duty troops, including those serving in the U.S. Coast Guard — and 15 percent of active-duty military personnel (approximately 200,000) were women – up from 11 percent in 1990.  Equally significant, 14,900 service members were officially reported to have been sexually assaulted in 2015, 5,400 fewer than the 20,300 sexual assault victim reports estimated in 2014.  The Defense Department reported that in 2015, one in three service members reported their assaults an increase from one in four people in 2014; a decade earlier only one in 14 service members reported the crime.

Some more-progressive feminists worry that the campaign against male sexual abuse may contribute to a conservative backlash, a moral panic reminiscent of those symbolized by Dworkin and Gore in the 1980s.  In a Le Monde Op-Ed on January 9th, 100 French women called for a rejection of the “puritanism” that they believed to be at the core of the #MeToo movement, a “hatred of men.”  Among the signatures were Catherine Deneuve, Catherine Millet, Joëlle Losfeld and Ingrid Caven.  The story was picked up by the Hollywood Reporter, but sufficiently mangled as to make the underlying critique unintelligible.

The Op Ed takes issue with a number of assumptions that underscore some of the campaign against sexual abuser.  First, they worry that the campaign is an overreach.  They are concerned about an accused whose “only wrong was to have touched a knee, tried to steal a kiss, spoken of ‘intimate’ things at a business dinner, or to have sent sexually explicit messages to a woman who was not attracted to them.”  They are also concerned from a basic civil-liberties perspective that the campaign’s targeting of up-market males is taking place in public, through the media, and with the accused not “being given the opportunity to respond or defend themselves, [and] are put on the same level as sex offenders.”

However, their gravest concern warns, “This fever to send ‘pigs’ to the slaughterhouse, far from helping to empower women, in reality serves the interests of the enemies of sexual freedom, religious extremists, the worst reactionaries, and those who, in the name of a weighty notion of the good and of the Victorian morality that goes with it, view women as ‘special’ beings, as children with adult faces, demanding to be protected.”  In conclusion, they insist: “We think that the freedom to say no to a sexual proposal does not deny the freedom to solicit. And we consider that it is necessary to know how to respond to this freedom to solicit differently than by locking oneself into the role of prey.”

Surprisingly, for all the civil liberties and humanistic sexuality defended by those who backed the Le Monde Op-Ed, the issue of power was not addressed.  One can only wonder if they’d ever read Simone de Beauvoir, let alone Michel Foucault?  Sex is both natural and social, the pleasure of the living body and the mores determining power, practices and pleasures.  In a public domain like the workplace, power is the glue that holds social relations together.

The almost-daily revelations about sex-related scandals involving Trump, Nasser or other men accused of abuse or worse are a moral time-bomb, one in which outrage can easy turn-into – or be manipulated into – a panic.  Public rage needs to be guided by caution or it could collapse into mass hysteria like that inflicted on Puritan-era witches and Sandusky.

Top photo: Photo by Rob Kall | CC BY 2.0

By Counter Punch

David Rosen, USA 01/17/2018 0

The New Gilded Age: First Time Arrogance, the Second Time Vengeance

Marx adds, “He forgot to add: the first time as tragedy, the second time as farce.”

Often forgotten, Marx follows with an equally telling observation: “Men make their own history, but they do not make it as they please; they do not make it under self-selected circumstances, but under circumstances existing already, given and transmitted from the past.”  He warns, “The tradition of all dead generations weighs like a nightmare on the brains of the living.”  That nightmare defines 21stcentury U.S. politics.

In 1873, Mark Twain and Charles Dudley Warner published The Gilded Age: A Tale of Today, a popular work that satirized the greed and political corruption of the modern era.  The term “gilded age” stuck, signifying a period lasting from the 1870s to 1910s.  It epitomized the rise of a new class of capitalists, the “robber barons,” who promoted innovation with shady business scams that fostered corporate tyranny.

Working with other corporate buccaneers and backed by unscrupulous speculators, these tycoons of old formed giant trusts that monopolized the production and distribution of essential goods.  Economic power fostered political influence.  The robber barons controlled Washington, D.C, politics as well as many state and local governments.  While they engaged in private gluttony, they imposed social and moral tyranny on the poor, workers and new immigrants.

During the 1884 election campaign, a telling political dinner-party took place at New York’s legendary Delmonico’s Steakhouse.  A couple hundred of the nation’s economic elite attended this lavish fundraising gathering for James G. Blaine, the Republican presidential candidate.  One of those in attendance was Jason “Jay” Gould, the financier who controlled the Union Pacific Railroad, Western Union and other companies.  He is remembered today, nearly a century-and-a-half later, for famously proclaiming, “I can hire one half of the working class to kill the other half.”

The media picked up on the lavish fête.  Joseph Pulitzer’s New York World carried a front-page cartoon titled, “Royal Feast of Belshazzar Blaine and the Money Kings.”  It depicted Blaine and the tycoons dining on such dishes as “lobby pudding,” “navy contract,” “monopoly soup” and “patronage cake.”  The New York Times offered a more telling assessment.  “Blaine’s political sagacity is impeached by his willingness to be seen in the company of these people and to take their money openly at Delmonico’s,” it observed.  Some say that popular disgust over the banquet may have cost Blaine the election to Grover Cleveland.

The term “robber knights” was apparently first applied to Middle Ages noblemen, feudal warlords.  The Times re-coined the term “robber barons” on February 9, 1859, referring to the unethical business practices of Cornelius “Commodore” Vanderbilt, a railroad magnet and one of the nation’s richest men.

J.P. Morgan was another robber baron.  He was a banker and financial speculator who was central to the formation of General Electric and the consolidation of US Steel.  More critical, in 1895 he “saved” the U.S. gold standard by facilitating the sale of $65 million worth of Treasury bonds.

John D. Rockefeller, nicknamed “The Octopus,” was another baron; he founded the Standard Oil Company in 1870 and, by the ‘80s, controlled about 90 percent of U.S. refineries and pipelines.  The Supreme Court broke up the company in 1911 for violation of antitrust laws.

Andrew Carnegie was still another robber baron.  He built the Carnegie Steel Company that transformed steel production through vertical integration and, by 1889, was the largest manufacturer in the world.  In 1889, workers at one of his plants, in Homestead, PA, struck; led by the Amalgamated Association of Iron and Steel Workers, they won a favorable three-year contract.  In 1892, Carnegie tore up the contract, sought to impose lower wages and to break the union.  His actions precipitating one of the major confrontation of the Gilded Age, a bitter strike in which 10 men were killed and 60 were wounded.

Class war was the ghost that haunted the Gilded Age.  It was a period of rapid industrialization and urbanization, marked by a large influx of immigrants from eastern Europe and Asia along with African-Americans migrating from the South to the North.  It was a period in which political corruption was rampant, with businessmen bribing public officials at all levels of government and political machines, like Gotham’s legendary Tweed Ring, turning elections into winner-take-all scams.

The robber-baron elite, and their well-paid accolades, whether political, theological or media puffers, proclaimed an ideology of self-reliance and primitive individualism.  Sadly, deepening despair was intensifying among those most squeezed by the new economic order.  For men, factories, mines and farms were slave pits; for women and children, many worked under torturous conditions, including laboring to 12 to 16 hours per day for pennies. In 1886, the American Federation of Labor was formed to fight for skilled laborers.

The ’92 Homestead strike was but one outbreak of the ever-deepening class war that characterized the early-modern era; during the strike, the anarchist Alexander Berkman attempted to assassinate Henry Clay Frick, the plant’s manager.

In 1886, a strike by the Knights of Labor in Chicago led to what is known as the Haymarket Riot when an unknown person threw a dynamite bomb into a group of police officers; eight officers were killed in the explosion and the ensuing gunfight.  Eight anarchists were framed for the incident, tried for murder and four were sentenced to death, one committed suicide.  In 1894, approximately 125,000 American Railway Union (ARU) members struck the Pullman Company and Pres. Cleveland sent federal troops to Chicago to break up the strike; he claimed the strike prevented the delivery of the mail and was a threat to public safety.  In 1901, Leon Czolgosz, a self-proclaimed anarchist, assassinated Pres. William McKinley.

The first Gilded Age was driven by the arrogance of a new economic order, one based on the opportunities of industrialization and the vast millions to be garnered.  It spawned a new buccaneer class of capitalists like none-other that preceded them.  While warnings were raised by muckrakers like Ida Tarbell and Lincoln Steffens, the robber barons of the first Gilded Age could claim ignorance as to the consequences of their arrogance, their personal greed and political connivances.

Mounting reaction to robber-baron capitalism led to the passage of major antitrust laws including the Sherman Antitrust Act (1890), the Clayton Act (1914) and Federal Trade Commission Act (1914).  However, in the wake of 1929 stock market crash, the Great Depression and New Deal, ignorance is no longer an excuse. Today’s robber barons know what they are doing – whether in terms of labor relations, environment impact or social consequences, especially growing inequality.

The U.S. is now living through a second Gilded Age.  Where once the robber barons were millionaires, today they’ve added a few zeros to their wealth and became billionaires.  However, they act with no-less impunity, but a greater sense of entitlement.  The Trump administration, together with the Republican-controlled Congress, are functional shills for the current generation of robber barons.  As evident from the recently-passed tax bill, legislators jump when their big-money donors order them to deliver the goods — and they did.

The U.S. economy has rebounded from the 2007-2009 “great recession,” with the stock market hitting new highs, unemployment the lowest in a generation and home prices recovering.  But Americans still haven’t regained the wealth they lost, with incomes remaining stagnant and, on the whole, working Americans worse off than since the late-1990s.  The Federal Reserve’s most recent Survey of Consumer Finances finds that median net worth for all families (measured in 2016 dollars) dropped 8 percent since 1998.

Most sobering, the poorer you are, the worst your fate – and this is compounded by race, education level, gender and age factors.  America’s poorest, the bottom fifth, saw their net worth fall 22 percent; the broad working class, the second-lowest income tier, were the hardest hit with their net worth shrinking by more than a third (34%); and those dubbed “middle class,” with incomes from $43,501 to $69,500, were barely treading water, with their worth gaining a whopping 3.5 percent.

Since 1998, the top 10 percent saw their worth rise 146 percent.  The share of the nation’s wealth held by the top 1 percent rose to 38.6 percent while that portion controlled by the bottom 90 percent fell 22.8 percent (from 33.2 percent in ’89).  Looking at the nation’s income for the period of 2013 to 2016, the same phenomenon is evident: income going to the top 1 percent climbed to 23.8 percent (from 20.3 percent) while the share going to the bottom 90 percent slipped to about 50 percent (from 54 percent).

And then there is debt, the lubricant of the U.S. post-WW-II “consumer revolution.” During the 2013 to 2016 period, those with the lowest income (below $25,300), saw their debt rise by 57 percent; for the lower-middle class (incomes between $25,301 and $43,500), debt increased 58 percent; and for the middle class (incomes from $43,501 to $69,500), debt rose by a modest 12.5 percent.

The robber barons the first Gilded Age could easily lie to themselves and falsely claim that they did not fully grasp the consequences of their self-serving and exploitative practices; after the Homestead and Pullman strikes, even this lie must have been hard to swallow.

Surely, the robber barons of the current Gilded Age can’t really lie to themselves.  While many champion short-sighted gluttony, or play the fool like the president, the 1 percent know too much to claim ignorance, especially the consequences of their decisions regarding the state of America’s social-economy.  Digital entrepreneurs like Jobs and Gates, Bezos and Zuckerberg, Brin/Page and Musk, together with old-style hucksters like Adelson, Buffett, Bloomberg and even the Koch Brothers, must have studied the 1929 stock market crash, let alone lived through the 2007 housing-mortgage bubble.  One can only wonder what they learned?

Today’s robber barons surely must know that finance-driven capitalism is a shameless hustler’s game.  No matter how much they are celebrated by the ever-adoring media, like their forbearers a century, today’s 1 percent can’t claim ignorance.  Something else must be at play.  Are they acting out of a private vengeance that only makes the U.S., let alone the rest of the world, an increasingly worse place to call home?  Perhaps it’s time for a 21st century version of the Homestead and Pullman strikes to wake them from their self-serving slumber.

Top photo: Photo by Anirvan | CC BY 2.0

By Counterpunch