Since there’s been a distinct lack of adoption content here, even though I’ve promised to eventually write on that subject, I thought I’d repost this. This is something that I had to write last night in an invitation-only venue. “OBC” refers to “original birth certificate.”

I am not here to promote adoption. I am not here to create events or other means that others coopt so they can continue strip mining pregnant women for product.

This is about getting information out of the state, without compromise. This is not about teaming up with the industry’s marketing efforts that are not about getting information out of the state, but about continuing and growing their business, and nothing else. They will compromise and bargain away unconditional access to OBC’s because they have no stake in those OBC’s, only their business of selling kids on their own terms independent of the state.

The contents of [an adoption agency's] websites are about the terms by which they move product, not about how bastards everywhere are going to gain their OBC’s.

Update (June 1/5:37pm ET), to include a bit of background:

This is an adoption agency collecting money through a website that makes reference to an “adoptee rights demonstration.” Note on the top of the page that “donations to the cause benefit ABRAZO ADOPTION ASSOCIATES,” the agency itself.

This is a person who is subscribed to an organizer’s mailing list for that same “adoptee rights demonstration,” a list that was set up by the primary organizer of the demonstration. Here she is encouraging donors to give money to that same adoption agency.

This is my partner’s resignation from an organizing role with that “adoptee rights demonstration.”

Update (June 2/12:37am ET): The formal announcement by Bastard Nation withdrawing from the event includes even more details on this matter.

There are times when the events of the day, and the public reaction to them, make clear that some clearly present, but not always visible, fabric of society has been changed out from under the average person – and few have noticed.

I refer of course to the Eliot Spitzer matter, and the reaction that has since appeared in various blogs, such as here and here and here. I would like to think that these writers have a clue as to what’s been developing in their country lately. Through their reflexive insistence that Spitzer is the victim of some kind of politically-motivated action, they clearly don’t.

Let me put it in simple terms for you: Spitzer was simply on the wrong end of the surveillance state, a system that has in some way been in the pipeline for decades, but in the past decade – and certainly since 9/11 – it has taken on the current form.

There are two main parts to this state. They have to do with law, offense detection thresholds, and technology.

Part one is the combination of creatively applied law, and the setting of law enforcement thresholds such that almost anyone can be considered a suspect. As paranoia and fear increase, these thresholds fall to nearly zero; that is, almost anything that’s merely unusual is suspect.

Have you done anything unusual in recent weeks, that someone with incomplete information about your activities might misconstrue as suspect?

Certainly it could be said that simply traveling under certain conditions renders one suspect. Having someone else pay for your one-way ticket, for instance. Drive back into the U.S. from Montreal in the dead of winter, after two weeks away, and truthfully explain you’re a tourist; ICE will assume you’ve been enjoying mojitos on a Cuban beach in the interim, and on the basis of that assumption, go digging for supporting evidence.

Now that surveillance cameras are all over, your actions under certain circumstances – simply being in the wrong place at the wrong time – may also place you in the ‘suspect’ bin.

Money transfers of certain types and sizes clearly automatically render one suspect. It’s stunning to watch the obvious naivete’ of Jane Hamsher, who right off the bat asks about Spitzer, “Why would the bank tell the IRS and not Spitzer himself if there was a suspicious transfer?”

Dear Jane: Where the hell y’been lately? You live in a state where an enormous portion of the populace is now automatically suspect to some degree. They aren’t going to go call you up and explain to you how and why you are suspect. Instead they will, themselves, determine what they will do with that information. That’s how law enforcement tends to work, you know what I mean?

According to an article in USA Today, over seventeen million transactions were routinely reported to the Treasury Department in 2006. That is, of course, the number that the federal government was willing to disclose. I think we can safely assume that the actual number – including transactions reported by other means – would be significantly higher. The reporting system, like many features of the surveillance state, was initiated as part of the colossal justification for police-state measures that is today called the “War on Drugs.”

In Spitzer’s case, what was done with the information collected by that particular surveillance system is now history. They followed the trail to see where it went, starting with Spitzer’s wire transfer to a suspicious shell company. Federal prosecution of various people followed under various laws including the Mann Act – a law which I would assume Spitzer is quite familiar with, since I hear it’s a topic in first-year law courses. It takes the matter of prostitution, usually only of concern at the local and state level, and elevates it to the status of a federal offense, if state lines are crossed for the commission of prostitution.

I put this under the heading of “creatively applied law” since the little train trip “Kristen” made from New York to DC would easily fit inside many U.S. states. Cross an imaginary line or two on the ground, and a whole different cast of characters are now involved, along with a potential federal rap.

At the same time, there is Part Two: technology has made the collection of this kind of data economically feasible. The transition of financial transactions from paper to electronics – and the granting of access to those networks to government monitors – moves the collection of data from widely scattered caches to easily searchable databases and networks.

It’s kind of quaint to see the collection of digital cellphone calls still be called a “wiretap.” There is, of course, no “wire” and no “tap.” Not so many years ago, someone had to dig through a telephone central office, locate the subscriber’s pair of wires and do something special to enable recording by law enforcement – and all that effort was by necessity known to several people. Not today. Mobile networks have tapping capability built in. I would make an educated guess that someone with certain privileges in the system issues a few commands from a computer and sound files of phone calls start showing up in someone’s mailbox, or something equally simple. The knowledge of who is being tapped may now be closely held by a few people, eliminating the oversight of sorts that occurs when many people must be aware of such matters.

To contrast specifics of the Spitzer matter with past years, consider this: a wiretap on phone lines leading to the Governor’s office would be extraordinary, it would be noted by those involved, and each person with that knowledge increases the likelihood of a whistleblower or leaker. Today, it’s just another stream of bits in a huge system, with no physical point of interest. Machines sort through the electrical impulses and collect the bits of interest for later listening.

The great change in recent years is that the mass collection and storage of phone calls without the physical movement of wires and hardware has become practical. Vast databases enabled by cheap digital storage technology make the sifting through vast amounts of data of any kind, previously both impractical and prohibitively expensive, now a relatively trivial matter. There are still the costs of bureaucracy and hardware – but the advance of these technologies bring those costs down into the range that is now politically supportable and sustainable.

The disturbing truth about the Spitzer matter is that to some degree this is what the future looks like. There need not be any special motivation for such an action. Such things have simply become possible, if not trivially easy. The laws, often anachronistic, unenforced and unenforceable, are there. The motivation to make vast swaths of the American populace potential everyday suspects is there – that, in fact, is the ultimate product of the so-called “war on terror” and its predecessors. The ability to instantly locate and transfer records and recordings – formerly sifting through paper, and moving paper around by courier and mail – is now here.

I’ll turn the next question around, and ask it this way: is there any reason to expect that this combination, this surveillance state, will not be used for its intended purposes at each and every opportunity?

As I see it, the answer to that is clearly “no.” Each prosecution, or even public display of suspects later found innocent and forgotten, justifies the expense of building and maintaining the surveillance apparatus. There is no countervailing pressure to limit its reach, or its application. It will be the great equalizer, targeted on state governors, government officials as well as citizens of every stratum.

Even the enthusiastic supporters of surveillance – such as Spitzer himself – are not immune from its use. While some may claim that Spitzer was specifically targeted by Bush’s Justice Department, I think there’s a simpler explanation: the necessity of frequent, even sensational, public displays of the power of the surveillance system, to reinforce the idea that nobody can ever successfully hide. The take-down of a governor, through a clear display of both financial and telephone surveillance capability, further justifies the system by means of its success. Taking down an occasional crusader against prostitution who worked to further curtail civil liberties under the guise of “anti-terrorist” legislation – which, by the way, elevated mere money laundering to the category of “terrorism” – is just the occasional by-product of the existence of such a system. No one is somehow immune to getting caught in this web; although it’s possible Spitzer may yet avoid prosecution since he’s already served his purpose, his role in the display of capability to potential transgressors, the ultimate point of the exercise. This whole story becomes much like that shooting down of a satellite a few weeks ago, for no clearly obvious reason; display of the ability to puncture matters previously considered private, and not much more, is the objective, along with cluttering the Federal courts with another rather pedestrian prosecution of a prostitution ring.

What then, does the future look like? We are clearly at a point of transition, where the surveillance apparatus gains a foothold but the demonstration of its powers is not yet clearly understood. Beyond this transition are three paths.

There is the possibility of elimination – farfetched and nearly impossible, but I will throw it out there; there is always the possibility that enough people will view the surveillance state as such an obvious threat to those quaint notions of “freedom” and “democracy” that its capabilities, through mass action or defiance, will be dulled or eliminated. Of course, the possibility of this happening is near zero; that’s even clearer when such an obvious demonstration of what the consequences of the vacuum-cleanering of personal transactions is not even understood for what it is!

There is the possibility of, basically, bankruptcy – where the apparatus cannot be maintained due to financial crisis. As has been historically true in other attempts to create totalistic, surveillance states, I think it likely that these elements of the state will be maintained above all else.

The third path is perhaps the one with the outcome that is the least comprehensible today. Let us suppose that the knowledge that people are being watched in every detail, through demonstrations of capability such as this one, actually changes people’s behavior. “Crime,” as detected by the “system,” decreases. But this is not allowable. The system is self-justifying: it must produce a flow of suspects, investigations, charges and prosecutions, all announced by the system, repeated by the media, and picked up by politicians of all persuasions to support the continued expense, overhead, and corrosive but hard to describe side-effects of constant surveillance and its expectation that anything ‘unusual’ is suspect.

Thus the definition of “crime” as we know it today may shift, reflecting the fear of the ‘unexpected’ and ‘unusual.’ Minor transgressions are elevated to major infractions. The system adapts to take advantage of the technology that supposedly identifies suspicious individuals, and acts on those suspicions. Perhaps the act of simply being considered suspicious by someone else – wearing the wrong colors, being in the wrong place at the wrong hour, carrying a camera in certain places – become actionable crimes, driven by the need to use the surveillance apparatus to produce some kind of measurable result.

As for Eliot Spitzer, the individual, himself, and his circumstances, I’ll defer to Arthur Silber, who sums it up in this one meaty paragraph:

Prostitution involving consenting adults cannot defensibly be regarded as a crime. In that sense, Spitzer should never have been targeted at all for that alleged offense. But it is currently illegal, as all basically functioning adults are fully aware. [And whatever else might be said about him, Spitzer appears to be basically functioning. I'll be here all week.] Given Spitzer’s unfathomable stupidity — and in light of the fact that he is now the victim of the kinds of overreaching police state tactics that he himself has endlessly championed and utilized — this can only be regarded as an instance of an especially objectionable, arrogant, overweening, power-mad, vicious son of a bitch himself getting exactly what he has been delightedly happy to dish out to others.

The Palladium-Times, January 19, 1985
The Palladium-Times, January 19, 1985

It’s a new blog, a new beginning of sorts. I thought I would, in a sense, wind the clock back to a point in time where some of my personal experiences that I’ve never before written about were in some way relevant to current events, particularly with respect to the media as we know and experience it today.

It was the fall of 1984, and along with a few other young people, I became involved in owning and managing a small radio station in a small town in upstate New York. A company that had bought a pair of stations, AM and FM, had moved the FM station to Syracuse and sought to spin off the AM to a buyer. We bought the station in December of 1984, moved from the Baltimore-Washington area to the town of Fulton, and tried to make a go of it.

Thus began a period of about a year and a half of learning all about running a small business for the first time, the hard way.

We thought with a few improvements to the programming, beginning by running the station with air talent who were at least listenable, and a consistent “middle of the road” music format geared toward adults, we would make the station viable. We brought on an extra person to do frequent newscasts in the morning, and tried to serve the entire area with a quality product, not just the small town where the station was located.

How to sum up the result of all that effort?

Almost nobody noticed.

Example of a John Birch Society column in the Oswego Valley News, April 1981.
Example of a John Birch Society column in the Oswego Valley News, April 1981. This newspaper published other JBS columns during 1985. (

We’d arrived in Fulton at the end of a period that started in the early seventies, when most radio listening moved from AM to FM. As listeners became accustomed to listening to FM, by means of other changes such as the FM radio becoming standard in new cars, the number of stations in the area effectively doubled. This left many AM stations in a threatened position, with increased competition. We also learned that, for a myriad of reasons, some specific to the town, there was considerable bias against the notion of radio advertising in the area; in fact, historically, this radio station was never really a viable business. Business owners seemed to prefer newspapers, where they could justify their spending on advertising with a clipping out of the paper that they could paste to the side of their cash register. They preferred a physical object; it seemed that the idea of paying for something that couldn’t quite be held in the hand hadn’t yet caught on there.

After awhile, I began to notice other unexpected things. One of the local newspapers, the Valley News, occasionally would run columns furnished by the John Birch Society. I’d previously thought that publications like that were something you had to seek out, maybe find in an obscure bookstore or send away for by mail. Here, all one had to do was open the local newspaper. It was just like any other column, wedged in between plenty of ads for local businesses.

Obviously, some things that I’d probably never see back home were to some degree socially acceptable here.

Portion of USGS map, Fulton, NY, 1960.
Portion of USGS map, Fulton, NY, 1960. From the Maptech historical archive

Another example was probably related to the fact that, in 1980, in a county of 113,000 people, only 445 were counted by the U.S. census as ‘black.’ We learned that the road the station was situated on was once named “Niggerville Road” – it led to a nearby little crossroads that was so named because of the skin color of a landowner who settled there in 1828. The name of the road wasn’t changed to the generic “Lakeshore Road” until sometime in the early to mid-1960′s.

There were many other contrasts with my past experiences, having grown up and lived in an urban area. Basic expectations, that people expected and supported change and “progress,” and that Americans were mobile, were challenged. Some people in this town hadn’t even once visited Syracuse, a city less than thirty miles away.

More generally it seemed that, along with much of that part of the Northeast, many who had mobility had already left town with the jobs and industry long departed. What was left were the brewery, the chocolate factory, and a smattering of other businesses.

One part of the population that was mobile, highly skilled, and employed were the workers who were building the nuclear power plant on Lake Ontario. Our apartment complex was packed full of these residents, so much so that we were on a waiting list for an apartment for some time before moving there.

A year after our arrival, plant construction came to an end, and people began to depart. A rash of business failures followed, including, inevitably, our own. I turned the station off and handed the keys to the seller, since they’d financed our purchase. I headed back to Washington DC and eventually found a job there.

Here this story came close to ending. This “dark” radio station almost disappeared permanently; the company I’d handed it back to was in the odd position of having already bought another AM station in the area. Back in those days, before deregulation, they couldn’t operate two overlapping AM stations – so they couldn’t put the station back on the air. They’d have to find another buyer for it, or hand the license back to the FCC, likely silencing the station permanently.

But some years later – by now, it’s 1988 – another fellow and his wife finally bought the station and put it back on the air. This time, though, the station would sound a bit different: large parts of its broadcast day would be filled with talk programming, delivered by satellite.

In the intervening years, there’d been some advancements in the technology of radio, an ongoing evolutionary process that, in fact, I’d been a part of. Broadcast networks had been gradually moving from landlines to satellites for distribution. At first, the technology was relatively primitive, expensive, and really only available to the major networks at the time: ABC, CBS, NBC, Mutual, along with the AP and UPI wire services. Previously, I’d worked for Mutual – then a subsidiary of Amway – in a multi-million dollar uplink facility specially built for that purpose. But the financial and regulatory boundaries to entry into this kind of business were coming down, largely driven by advancements in technology.

By the late 1980′s, other entrepreneurs were looking to get into the business of network radio. One of these people was a guy by the name of Chuck Harder, a former disk jockey turned radio talk-show host. He started the “Sun Radio Network” from the garage of his home.

From the perspective of an owner of a small radio station just getting by, networks like Harder’s offered a viable option. For the one-time cost of a satellite downlink – which could even be leased – an inexpensive, if not free way of filling airtime became available. One person, or a couple, could operate a radio station all day and do other tasks, since they need not be on the air all that time. After a few hours of “live” programming on weekday mornings, the rest of the day’s schedule could be filled by programs off the satellite, with only the addition of local commercials for a few minutes an hour.

Viewed most cynically, commercial broadcast programming is just a matter of filling in the spaces between commercials, providing ears and eyes for those commercials. Filling those spaces with some guy sitting in his garage in Tampa, saying whatever comes to mind, is a lot cheaper than paying a number of people to play music. In particular, it’s a lot less expensive than a subscription to the Associated Press newswire, which cost hundreds of dollars a month for even a small station.

But as the nature of the players changed, as the programming sources moved from the traditional to the new, so did the content.

Here was one marker of that contrast: the product of a news organization – produced by trained journalists who are paid, ideally, to separate fact from fiction, and who uncover things that are often disturbing, unexpected, and not what the audience cares to hear – costs real money.

Some guy sitting in his garage telling his audience what they want to hear – remember, this is about attracting ears for those commercials – costs nothing.

In this case, it follows that one of the frequent topics of Chuck Harder’s radio show back then was the “black helicopter” myth. Completely fictitious stories, like the allegation that armed federal agents in black helicopters were enforcing the Endangered Species Act, took on a life of their own. Stories like these having little connection if any to reality, propagated by talkshow hosts, were then picked up by politicians who ride the wave of the underlying attitudes embodied in these stories – paranoia, pointless anti-governmentalism, and distraction from more important concerns.

On a visit to the area in the early 1990′s, I heard Harder on the Fulton station I’d briefly owned, babbling with callers about these same mythical helicopters.

Thus began massive changes in the radio business. AM radio became dominated by talk hosts including Rush Limbaugh, whose national show also started in 1988. Talk radio fills up space on the dial – cheaply – and it need not fulfill any traditional expectation of being somehow connected to reality, even while it’s not clearly perceived to be simply “for entertainment purposes only.”

Fast-forward ahead almost twenty years to the present day. Now, it’s not just the little rural radio stations that are undergoing a similar transition.

Today, you have the schedule of CNN Headline News migrating to something filled with things other than news, with trash talkers like Glenn Beck and Nancy Grace.

There was once a time when if you had a half hour and you wanted to find out what was going on the world, you could turn on CNN Headline News and get a summary of current events. Now, I can’t remember when I last watched that channel.

In some ways similar to the transition of AM radio twenty years ago, a similar change is in progress. CNN, faced with more competition as the number of TV channels available by cable and satellite has exploded, along with the Internet, has changed the programming of what was a full-time news channel, replacing large blocks of time with the similar rantings of talk show hosts.

Again, this time in the search for eyeballs, the distinction between fact and fiction becomes blurred in the quest to provide an audience with what it wants to hear.

So I find it kind of quaint, when John and Joe at Americablog call for Glenn Beck’s firing, and then later notice that CNN president Jonathan Klein would rather fire qualified hard news reporters instead. And while Beck is a homophobe, and Grace is – well, out of her mind – they speak to the same background “hum” that all such personalities work to address.

That is where the eyeballs, ears and, consequently, advertising revenue come from. Endlessly repeating a narrative – a portion of the background “hum” – full of retribution against evildoers and violence, direct or implied, against outsiders and transgressors is where the money is. Facts, or the corrosive effect of this kind of narrative on society and governance, are simply irrelevant.

Which brings me to the odd little postscript of this story, which is that one of the sea changes over the past twenty years in American media, and in the broadest sense, culture, is the “mainstreaming” of certain views across media; that elements of articulation of that background “hum” that were always there have moved from relatively obscure to predominant. Rather than having to seek out the back pages of small rural papers, or tiny little radio stations that can barely be heard, to hear certain views that used to be championed by what some mistakenly called “the fringe” like the Birchers, all one need do today is turn on CNN or open The Washington Post.

And as for that little radio station in Fulton? It later went through a succession of owners, one who apparently coupled it to a free local newspaper with some success, and another who attempted to drop the talk format for “traditional country.” Ultimately the station failed again, and went dark for a while last year. Now it’s just a relay of a Syracuse radio station, which in turn runs “Radio Disney.” As broadcast media wholesale adopted the talk radio model, this station was in some ways obsolete, and likewise, Chuck Harder’s program and network have, relatively speaking, declined in recent years. Harder’s website still lists the long-gone Fulton station as his only New York State affiliate.

Photos from my time in Upstate New York can be found at my gallery site,

The man who put the station back on the air in 1988 went on to teach communications and write books about vintage outboard motors.

Next Entries »