"In a time of universal deceit telling the truth is a revolutionary act." -George Orwell

Posts Tagged ‘Journalism’

“Apocalyptic Journalism” & Why We Need Journalists To Face the Reality Of Our Crumbling Society

In Uncategorized on May 21, 2013 at 6:31 pm

Oldspeak: “To speak apocalyptically…. is first and foremost about deepening our understanding of the world, seeing through the obfuscations of people in power. In our propaganda-saturated world (think about the amount of advertising, public relations, and marketing that we are bombarded with daily), coming to that kind of clarity about the nature of the empires of our day is always a struggle, and that notion of revelation is more crucial than ever. Thinking apocalyptically, coming to this clarity, will force us to confront crises that concentrated wealth and power create, and reflect on our role in these systems. Given the severity of the human assault on the ecosphere, compounded by the suffering and strife within the human family, honest apocalyptic thinking that is firmly grounded in a systematic evaluation of the state of the world is not only sensible but a moral obligation… Things are bad, systems are failing, and the status quo won’t last forever… The great party of the twentieth century is coming to an end, and unless we now start preparing our survival kit we will soon be just another species eking out an existence in the few remaining habitable regions. … We should be the heart and mind of the Earth, not its malady. So let us be brave and cease thinking of human needs and rights alone and see that we have harmed the living Earth and need to make our peace with Gaia….Thinking apocalyptically in this fashion demands of us considerable courage and commitment. This process will not produce definitive answers but rather help us identify new directions. Anything that blocks us from looking honestly at reality, no matter how harsh the reality, must be rejected. It’s a lot to ask, of people and of journalists, to not only think about this, but put it at the center of our lives. What choice do we have?” -Robert Jensen

“I’ve watched several hours of corporate news coverage of the mega tornado that struck in Oklahoma, U.S. Needless to say there’s has been little in the way of Apocalyptic Journalism. It’s been primarily disaster porn. Marveling at the “unfathomable destruction” (Despite decades of predictions that natural disasters would get more intense, more powerful, more frequent and unpredictable). Near constant loops of the tornado ripping through the country side, repeated live shots and “reports” from “ground zero”.  Constant death toll updates. Interviews with tearful, shell-shocked victims, recounting their experiences.  Stories of found pets. Snazzy colorful graphics tracking the storm’s path. Cut to commercials with sad music and still photos of the carnage and survivors/rescuers. About 5 minutes was devoted to talking to climate scientists, and contextualizing the disaster in relation to climate change and global warming, taking time to note that there’s no way to prove that this disaster was result of climate change. No critical examination of the systems and institutions we organize our civilization around that have created the conditions. Just endless disaster as “content”. By next week the content will be new. But the environmental disasters will continue unabated, bigger, faster and stronger. Apocalypse is not a bad word. It means to uncover, to reveal.  These are the things we need most from our journalists now.”

By Robert Jensen @ Alter Net:

For those who care about a robust human presence on the planet, the 21st century has been characterized by really bad news that keeps getting really, really worse.

Whatever one’s evaluation of high-energy/high-technology civilization (and I have been among its critics; more on that later), it’s now clear that we are hitting physical limits; we cannot expect to maintain contemporary levels of consumption that draw down the ecological capital of the planet at rates dramatically beyond replacement levels. It unrealistic to imagine that we can go on treating the planet as nothing more than a mine from which we extract and a landfill into which we dump.

We have no choice but to deal with the collapse of journalism, but we also should recognize the need for a journalism of collapse. Everyone understands that economic changes are forcing a refashioning of the journalism profession. It’s long past time for everyone to pay attention to how multiple, cascading ecological crises should be changing professional journalism’s mission in even more dramatic fashion.

It’s time for an apocalyptic journalism (that takes some explaining; a lot more on that later).

The Basics of Journalism: Ideals and Limitations

With the rapid expansion of journalistic-like material on the Internet, it’s especially crucial to define “real” journalism. In a democratic system, ideally journalism is a critical, independent source of information, analysis, and the varied opinions needed by citizens who want to play a meaningful role in the formation of public policy. The key terms are “critical” and “independent”—to fulfill the promise of a free press, journalists must be willing to critique not only specific people and policies, but the systems out of which they emerge, and they must be as free as possible from constraining influences, both overt and subtle. Also included in that definition of journalism is an understanding of democracy—“a meaningful role in the formation of public policy”—as more than just lining up to vote in elections that offer competing sets of elites who represent roughly similar programs. Meaningful democracy involves meaningful participation.

This discussion will focus on what is typically called mainstream journalism, the corporate-commercial news media. These are the journalists who work for daily newspapers, broadcast and cable television, and the corporately owned platforms on the Internet and other digital devices. Although there are many types of independent and alternative journalism of varying quality, the vast majority of Americans continue to receive the vast majority of their news from these mainstream sources, which are almost always organized as large corporations and funded primarily by advertising.

Right-wing politicians and commentators sometimes refer to the mainstream media as the “lamestream,” implying that journalists are comically incompetent and incapable of providing an accurate account of the world, likely due to a lack of understanding of conservative people and their ideas. While many elite journalists may be dismissive of the cultural values of conservatives, this critique ignores the key questions about journalism’s relationship to power. Focusing on the cultural politics of individual reporters and editors—pointing out that they tend to be less religious and more supportive of gay and women’s rights than the general public, for example—diverts attention from more crucial questions about how the institutional politics of corporate owners and managers shapes the news and keeps mainstream journalism within a centrist/right conventional wisdom.

The managers of commercial news organizations in the United States typically reject that claim by citing the unbreachable “firewall” between the journalistic and the business sides of the operation, which is supposed to allow journalists to pursue any story without interference from the corporate front office. This exchange I had with a newspaper editor captures the ideology: After listening to my summary of this critique of the U.S. commercial news media system, this editor (let’s call him Joe) told me proudly: “No one from corporate headquarters has ever called me to tell me what to run in my paper.” I asked Joe if it were possible that he simply had internalized the value system of the folks who run the corporation (and by extension, the folks who run most of the world), and therefore they never needed to give him direct instructions. He rejected that, reasserting his independence from any force outside his newsroom.

I countered: “Let’s say, for the purposes of discussion, that you and I were equally capable journalists in terms of professional skills, that we were both reasonable candidates for the job of editor-in-chief that you hold. If we had both applied for the job, do you think your corporate bosses would have ever considered me for the position, given my politics? Would I, for even a second, have been seen by them to be a viable candidate for the job?”

Joe’s politics are pretty conventional, well within the range of mainstream Republicans and Democrats—he supports big business and U.S. supremacy in global politics and economics. I’m a critic of capitalism and U.S. foreign policy. On some political issues, Joe and I would agree, but we diverge sharply on these core questions of the nature of the economy and the state.

Joe pondered my question and conceded that I was right, that his bosses would never hire someone with my politics, no matter how qualified, to run one of their newspapers. The conversation trailed off, and we parted without resolving our differences. I would like to think my critique at least got Joe to question his platitudes, but I never saw any evidence of that. In his subsequent writing and public comments that I read and heard, Joe continued to assert that a news media system dominated by for-profit corporations was the best way to produce the critical, independent journalism that citizens in a democracy needed. Because he was in a position of some privilege and status, nothing compelled Joe to respond to my challenge.

Partly as a result of many such unproductive conversations, I continue to search for new ways to present a critique of mainstream journalism that might break through that ideological wall. In addition to thinking about alternatives to this traditional business model, we should confront the limitations of the corresponding professional model, with its status-quo-supportive ideology of neutrality, balance, and objectivity. Can we create conditions under which journalism—deeply critical and truly independent—can flourish in these trying times?

In this essay I want to try out theological concepts of the royal, prophetic, and apocalyptic traditions. Though journalism is a secular institution, religion can provide a helpful vocabulary. The use of these terms is not meant to imply support for any particular religious tradition, or for religion more generally, but only recognizes that the fundamental struggles of human history play out in religious and secular settings, and we can learn from all of that history. With a focus on the United States, I’ll drawn on the concepts as they understood in the dominant U.S. tradition of Judaism and Christianity.

Royal Journalism

Most of today’s mainstream corporate-commercial journalism—the work done by people such as Joe—is royal journalism, using the term “royal” not to describe a specific form of executive power but as a description of a system that centralizes authority and marginalizes the needs of ordinary people. The royal tradition describes ancient Israel, the Roman empire, European monarchs, or contemporary America—societies in which those with concentrated wealth and power can ignore the needs of the bulk of the population, societies where the wealthy and powerful offer platitudes about their beneficence as they pursue policies to enrich themselves.

In his books The Prophetic Imagination and The Practice of Prophetic Imagination, theologian Walter Brueggemann points out that this royal consciousness took hold after ancient Israel sank into disarray, when Solomon overturned Moses—affluence, oppressive social policy, and static religion replaced a God of liberation with one used to serve an empire. This consciousness develops not only in top leaders but throughout the privileged sectors, often filtering down to a wider public that accepts royal power. Brueggemann labels this a false consciousness: “The royal consciousness leads people to numbness, especially to numbness about death.”

The inclusion of the United States in a list of royalist societies may seem odd, given the democratic traditions of the country, but consider a nation that has been at war for more than a decade, in which economic inequality and the resulting suffering has dramatically deepened for the past four decades, in which climate change denial has increased as the evidence of the threat becomes undeniable. Brueggemann describes such a culture as one that is “competent to implement almost anything and to imagine almost nothing.”

Almost all mainstream corporate-commercial journalism is, in this sense, royal journalism. It is journalism without the imagination needed to move outside the framework created by the dominant systems of power. CNN, MSNBC and FOX News all practice royal journalism. TheNew York Times is ground-zero for royal journalism. Marking these institutions as royalist doesn’t mean that no good journalism ever emerges from them, or that they employ no journalists who are capable of challenging royal arrangements. Instead, the term recognizes that these institutions lack the imagination necessary to step outside of the royal consciousness on a regular basis. Over time, they add to the numbness rather than jolt people out of it.

The royal consciousness of our day is defined by unchallengeable commitments to a high-energy/high-technology worldview, within a hierarchical economy, run by an imperial nation-state. These technological, economic, and national fundamentalisms produce a certain kind of story about ourselves, which encourages the belief that we can have anything we want without obligations to other peoples or other living things, and that we deserve this. Brueggemann argues that this bolsters notions of “US exceptionalism that gives warrant to the usurpatious pursuit of commodities in the name of freedom, at the expense of the neighbor.”

If one believes royal arrangements are just and sustainable, then royal journalism could be defended. If the royal tradition is illegitimate, than a different journalism is necessary.

Prophetic Journalism

Given the multiple crises that existing political, economic, and social systems have generated, the ideals of journalism call for a prophetic journalism. The first step in defending that claim is to remember what real prophets are not: They are not people who predict the future or demand that others follow them in lockstep. In the Hebrew Bible and Christian New Testament, prophets are the figures who remind the people of the best of the tradition and point out how the people have strayed. In those traditions, using our prophetic imagination and speaking in a prophetic voice requires no special status in society, and no sense of being special. Claiming the prophetic tradition requires only honesty and courage.

When we strip away supernatural claims and delusions of grandeur, we can understand the prophetic as the calling out of injustice, the willingness not only to confront the abuses of the powerful but to acknowledge our own complicity. To speak prophetically requires us first to see honestly—both how our world is structured by systems that create unjust and unsustainable conditions, and how we who live in the privileged parts of the world are implicated in those systems. To speak prophetically is to refuse to shrink from what we discover or from our own place in these systems. We must confront the powers that be, and ourselves.

The Hebrew Bible offers us many models. Amos and Hosea, Jeremiah and Isaiah—all rejected the pursuit of wealth or power and argued for the centrality of kindness and justice. The prophets condemned corrupt leaders but also called out all those privileged people in society who had turned from the demands of justice, which the faith makes central to human life. In his analysis of these prophets, the scholar and activist Rabbi Abraham Joshua Heschel concluded:

Above all, the prophets remind us of the moral state of a people: Few are guilty, but all are responsible. If we admit that the individual is in some measure conditioned or affected by the spirit of society, an individual’s crime discloses society’s corruption.

Critical of royal consciousness, Brueggemann argues that the task of those speaking prophetically is to “penetrate the numbness in order to face the body of death in which we are caught” and “penetrate despair so that new futures can be believed in and embraced by us.” He encourages preachers to think of themselves as “handler[s] of the prophetic tradition,” a job description that also applies to other intellectual professions, including journalism.

Brueggemann argues that this isn’t about intellectuals imposing their views and values on others, but about being willing to “connect the dots”:

Prophetic preaching does not put people in crisis. Rather it names and makes palpable the crisis already pulsing among us. When the dots are connected, it will require naming the defining sins among us of environmental abuse, neighborly disregard, long-term racism, self-indulgent consumerism, all the staples from those ancient truthtellers translated into our time and place.

None of this requires journalists to advocate for specific politicians, parties, or political programs; we don’t need journalists to become propagandists. Journalists should strive for real independence but not confuse that with an illusory neutrality that traps mainstream journalists within ideological boundaries defined by the powerful. Again, real independence means the ability to critique not just the worst abuses by the powerful within the systems, but to critique the systems themselves.

This prophetic calling is consistent with the aphorism many journalists claim as a shorthand mission statement: The purpose of journalism is to comfort the afflicted and afflict the comfortable. That phrase focuses on injustice within human societies, but what of the relationship of human beings to the larger living world? How should journalists understand their mission in that arena?

Ecological Realties

Let’s put analysis of journalism on hold and think about the larger world in which journalism operates. Journalistic ideals and norms should change as historical conditions change, and today that means facing tough questions about ecological sustainability.

There is considerable evidence to help us evaluate the health of the ecosphere on which our own lives depend, and an honest evaluation of that evidence leads to a disturbing conclusion: Life as we know it is almost over. That is, the high-energy/high-technology life that we in the affluent societies live is a dead-end. There is a growing realization that we have disrupted planetary forces in ways we cannot control and do not fully understand. We cannot predict the specific times and places where dramatic breakdowns will occur, but we can know that the living system on which we depend is breaking down.

Does that seem histrionic? Excessively alarmist? Look at any crucial measure of the health of the ecosphere in which we live—groundwater depletion, topsoil loss, chemical contamination, increased toxicity in our own bodies, the number and size of “dead zones” in the oceans, accelerating extinction of species and reduction of bio-diversity—and the news is bad. Add to that the mother of all ecological crises—global warming, climate change, climate disruption—and it’s clear that we are creating a planet that cannot indefinitely support a large-scale human presence living this culture’s idea of the good life.

We also live in an oil-based world that is rapidly depleting the cheap and easily accessible oil, which means we face a huge reconfiguration of the infrastructure that undergirds our lives. Meanwhile, the desperation to avoid that reconfiguration has brought us to the era of “extreme energy” using even more dangerous and destructive technologies (hydrofracturing, deep-water drilling, mountain-top removal, tar sands extraction) to get at the remaining hydrocarbons.

Where we are heading? Off the rails? Into the wall? Over the cliff? Pick your favorite metaphor. Scientists these days are talking about tipping points and planetary boundaries, about how human activity is pushing the planet beyond its limits. Recently 22 top scientists in the prestigious journal Nature warned that humans likely are forcing a planetary-scale critical transition “with the potential to transform Earth rapidly and irreversibly into a state unknown in human experience.” That means that “the biological resources we take for granted at present may be subject to rapid and unpredictable transformations within a few human generations.”

That means that we’re in trouble, not in some imaginary science-fiction future, but in our present reality. We can’t pretend all that’s needed is tinkering with existing systems to fix a few environmental problems; significant changes in how we live are required. No matter where any one of us sits in the social and economic hierarchies, there is no escape from the dislocations that will come with such changes. Money and power might insulate some from the most wrenching consequences of these shifts, but there is no permanent escape. We do not live in stable societies and no longer live on a stable planet. We may feel safe and secure in specific places at specific times, but it’s hard to believe in any safety and security in a collective sense.

In short, we live in apocalyptic times.

Apocalypse

To be clear: Speaking apocalyptically need not be limited to claims that the world will end on a guru’s timetable or according to some allegedly divine plan. Lots of apocalyptic visions—religious and secular—offer such certainty, imaging the replacement of a corrupt society by one structured on principles that will redeem humanity (or at least redeem those who sign onto the principles). But this need not be our only understanding of the term.

Most discussions of revelation and apocalypse in contemporary America focus on the Book of Revelation, also known as The Apocalypse of John, the final book of the Christian New Testament. The two terms are synonymous in their original meaning; “revelation” from Latin and “apocalypse” from Greek both mean a lifting of the veil, a disclosure of something hidden from most people, a coming to clarity. Many scholars interpret the Book of Revelation not as a set of predictions about the future but as a critique of the oppression of the empire of that day, Rome.

To speak apocalyptically, in this tradition, is first and foremost about deepening our understanding of the world, seeing through the obfuscations of people in power. In our propaganda-saturated world (think about the amount of advertising, public relations, and marketing that we are bombarded with daily), coming to that kind of clarity about the nature of the empires of our day is always a struggle, and that notion of revelation is more crucial than ever.

Thinking apocalyptically, coming to this clarity, will force us to confront crises that concentrated wealth and power create, and reflect on our role in these systems. Given the severity of the human assault on the ecosphere, compounded by the suffering and strife within the human family, honest apocalyptic thinking that is firmly grounded in a systematic evaluation of the state of the world is not only sensible but a moral obligation. Rather than thinking of revelation as divine delivery of a clear message about some fantastic future above, we can engage in an ongoing process of revelation that results from an honest struggle to understand, a process that requires a lot of effort.

Things are bad, systems are failing, and the status quo won’t last forever. Thinking apocalyptically in this fashion demands of us considerable courage and commitment. This process will not produce definitive answers but rather help us identify new directions.

Again, to be very clear: “Apocalypse” in this context does not mean lakes of fire, rivers of blood, or bodies lifted up to heaven. The shift from the prophetic to the apocalyptic can instead mark the point when hope in the viability of existing systems is no longer possible and we must think in dramatically new ways. Invoking the apocalyptic recognizes the end of something. It’s not about rapture but a rupture severe enough to change the nature of the whole game.

Apocalyptic Journalism

The prophetic imagination helps us analyze the historical moment we’re in, but it’s based on an implicit faith that the systems in which we live can be reshaped to stop the worst consequences of the royal consciousness, to shake off that numbness of death in time. What if that is no longer possible? Then it is time to think about what’s on the other side. “The arc of the moral universe is long, but it bends toward justice,” said Martin Luther King, Jr., one of the more well-known voices in the prophetic tradition. But if the arc is now bending toward a quite different future, a different approach is needed.

Because no one can predict the future, these two approaches are not mutually exclusive; people should not be afraid to think prophetically and apocalyptically at the same time. We can simultaneously explore immediate changes in the existing systems and think about new systems.

Invoking the prophetic in the face of royal consciousness does not promise quick change and a carefree future, but it implies that a disastrous course can be corrected. But what if the justification for such hope evaporates? When prophetic warnings have not been heeded, what comes next? This is the time when an apocalyptic sensibility is needed.

Fred Guterl, the executive editor of Scientific American, models that spirit in his book The Fate of the Species.Though he describes himself on the “techno-optimistic side of the spectrum,” he does not shy away from a blunt discussion of the challenges humans face:

There’s no going back on our reliance on computers and high-tech medicine, agriculture, power generation, and so forth without causing vast human suffering—unless you want to contemplate reducing the world population by many billions of people. We have climbed out on a technological limb, and turning back is a disturbing option. We are dependent on our technology, yet our technology now presents the seeds of our own destruction. It’s a dilemma. I don’t pretend to have a way out. We should start by being aware of the problem.

I don’t share Guterl’s techno-optimism, but it strikes me as different from a technological fundamentalism (the quasi-religious belief that the use of advanced technology is always a good thing and that any problems caused by the unintended consequences of such technology can be remedied by more technology) that assumes that humans can invent themselves out of any problem. Guterl doesn’t deny the magnitude of the problems and recognizes the real possibility, perhaps even the inevitability, of massive social dislocation:

[W]e’re going to need the spirit with which these ideas were hatched to solve the problems we have created. Tossing aside technological optimism is not a realistic option. This doesn’t mean technology is going to save us. We may still be doomed. But without it, we are surely doomed.

Closer to my own assessment is James Lovelock, a Fellow of the Royal Society, whose work led to the detection of the widespread presence CFCs in the atmosphere. Most famous for his “Gaia hypothesis” that understands both the living and non-living parts of the earth as a complex system that can be thought of as a single organism, he suggests that we face these stark realities immediately:

The great party of the twentieth century is coming to an end, and unless we now start preparing our survival kit we will soon be just another species eking out an existence in the few remaining habitable regions. … We should be the heart and mind of the Earth, not its malady. So let us be brave and cease thinking of human needs and rights alone and see that we have harmed the living Earth and need to make our peace with Gaia.

Anything that blocks us from looking honestly at reality, no matter how harsh the reality, must be rejected. It’s a lot to ask, of people and of journalists, to not only think about this, but put it at the center of our lives. What choice do we have? To borrow from one of 20th-century America’s most honest writers, James Baldwin, “Not everything that is faced can be changed; but nothing can be changed until it is faced.”

That line is from an essay titled “As Much Truth as One Can Bear,” about the struggles of artists to help a society, such as the white-supremacist America, face the depth of its pathology. Baldwin suggested that a great writer attempts “to tell as much of the truth as one can bear, and then a little more.” If we think of Baldwin as sounding a prophetic call, an apocalyptic invocation would be “to tell as much of the truth as one can bear, and then all the rest of the truth, whether we can bear it or not.”

That task is difficult enough when people are relatively free to pursue inquiry without external constraints. Are the dominant corporate-commercial/advertising-supported media outlets likely to encourage journalists to pursue the projects that might lead to such questions? If not, the apocalyptic journalism we need is more likely to emerge from the margins, where people are not trapped by illusions of neutrality or concerned about professional status.

[INSERT HOPEFUL ENDING HERE]

That subhead is not an editing oversight. I wish there were an easy solution, an upbeat conclusion. I don’t have one. I’ve never heard anyone else articulate one. To face the world honestly at this moment in human history likely means giving up on easy and upbeat.

The apocalyptic tradition reminds us that the absence of hope does not have to leave us completely hopeless, that life is always at the same time about death, and then rejuvenation. If we don’t have easy, upbeat solutions and conclusions, we have the ability to keep telling stories of struggle. Our stories do not change the physical world, but they have the potential to change us. In that sense, the poet Muriel Rukeyser was right when she said, “The universe is made of stories, not of atoms.”

To think apocalyptically is not to give up on ourselves, but only to give up on the arrogant stories that we modern humans have been telling about ourselves. The royal must give way to the prophetic and the apocalyptic. The central story that power likes to tell—that the domination/subordination dynamic that structures so much of modern life is natural and inevitable—must give way to stories of dignity, solidarity, equality. We must resist not only the cruelty of repression but the seduction of comfort.

The best journalists in our tradition have seen themselves as responsible for telling stories about the struggle for social justice. Today, we can add stories about the struggle for ecological sustainability to that mission. Our hope for a decent future—indeed, any hope for even the idea of a future—depends on our ability to tell stories not of how humans have ruled the world but how we can live in the world.

Whether or not we like it, we are all apocalyptic now.

The Treason Of The Intellectuals

In Uncategorized on April 3, 2013 at 3:10 pm

Oldspeak:”The power elite, especially the liberal elite, has always been willing to sacrifice integrity and truth for power, personal advancement, foundation grants, awards, tenured professorships, columns, book contracts, television appearances, generous lecture fees and social status. They know what they need to say. They know which ideology they have to serve. They know what lies must be told—the biggest being that they take moral stances on issues that aren’t safe and anodyne. They have been at this game a long time. And they will, should their careers require it, happily sell us out again… Those who doggedly challenge the orthodoxy of belief, who question the reigning political passions, who refuse to sacrifice their integrity to serve the cult of power, are pushed to the margins. They are denounced by the very people who, years later, will often claim these moral battles as their own. It is only the outcasts and the rebels who keep truth and intellectual inquiry alive. They alone name the crimes of the state. They alone give a voice to the victims of oppression. They alone ask the difficult questions. Most important, they expose the powerful, along with their liberal apologists, for what they are” -Chris Hedges. Nuff Said.

By Chris Hedges @ Truthdig:

The rewriting of history by the power elite was painfully evident as the nation marked the 10th anniversary of the start of the Iraq War. Some claimed they had opposed the war when they had not. Others among “Bush’s useful idiots” argued that they had merely acted in good faith on the information available; if they had known then what they know now, they assured us, they would have acted differently. This, of course, is false. The war boosters, especially the “liberal hawks”—who included Hillary Clinton, Chuck Schumer, Al Franken and John Kerry, along with academics, writers and journalists such as Bill Keller, Michael Ignatieff, Nicholas Kristof, David Remnick, Fareed Zakaria, Michael Walzer, Paul Berman, Thomas Friedman, George Packer, Anne-Marie Slaughter, Kanan Makiya and the late Christopher Hitchens—did what they always have done: engage in acts of self-preservation. To oppose the war would have been a career killer. And they knew it.

These apologists, however, acted not only as cheerleaders for war; in most cases they ridiculed and attempted to discredit anyone who questioned the call to invade Iraq. Kristof, in The New York Times, attacked the filmmaker Michael Moore as a conspiracy theorist and wrote that anti-war voices were only polarizing what he termed “the political cesspool.” Hitchens said that those who opposed the attack on Iraq “do not think that Saddam Hussein is a bad guy at all.” He called the typical anti-war protester a “blithering ex-flower child or ranting neo-Stalinist.” The halfhearted mea culpas by many of these courtiers a decade later always fail to mention the most pernicious and fundamental role they played in the buildup to the war—shutting down public debate. Those of us who spoke out against the war, faced with the onslaught of right-wing “patriots” and their liberal apologists, became pariahs. In my case it did not matter that I was an Arabic speaker. It did not matter that I had spent seven years in the Middle East, including months in Iraq, as a foreign correspondent. It did not matter that I knew the instrument of war. The critique that I and other opponents of war delivered, no matter how well grounded in fact and experience, turned us into objects of scorn by a liberal elite that cravenly wanted to demonstrate its own “patriotism” and “realism” about national security. The liberal class fueled a rabid, irrational hatred of all war critics. Many of us received death threats and lost our jobs, for me one at The New York Times. These liberal warmongers, 10 years later, remain both clueless about their moral bankruptcy and cloyingly sanctimonious. They have the blood of hundreds of thousands of innocents on their hands.

The power elite, especially the liberal elite, has always been willing to sacrifice integrity and truth for power, personal advancement, foundation grants, awards, tenured professorships, columns, book contracts, television appearances, generous lecture fees and social status. They know what they need to say. They know which ideology they have to serve. They know what lies must be told—the biggest being that they take moral stances on issues that aren’t safe and anodyne. They have been at this game a long time. And they will, should their careers require it, happily sell us out again.

Leslie Gelb, in the magazine Foreign Affairs, spelled it out after the invasion of Iraq.

“My initial support for the war was symptomatic of unfortunate tendencies within the foreign policy community, namely the disposition and incentives to support wars to retain political and professional credibility,” he wrote. “We ‘experts’ have a lot to fix about ourselves, even as we ‘perfect’ the media. We must redouble our commitment to independent thought, and embrace, rather than cast aside, opinions and facts that blow the common—often wrong—wisdom apart. Our democracy requires nothing less.”

The moral cowardice of the power elite is especially evident when it comes to the plight of the Palestinians. The liberal class, in fact, is used to marginalize and discredit those, such as Noam Chomsky and Norman Finkelstein, who have the honesty, integrity and courage to denounce Israeli war crimes. And the liberal class is compensated for its dirty role in squelching debate.

Nothing in my view is more reprehensible than those habits of mind in the intellectual that induce avoidance, that characteristic turning away from a difficult and principled position, which you know to be the right one, but which you decide not to take,” wrote the late Edward Said. “You do not want to appear too political; you are afraid of seeming controversial; you want to keep a reputation for being balanced, objective, moderate; your hope is to be asked back, to consult, to be on a board or prestigious committee, and so to remain within the responsible mainstream; someday you hope to get an honorary degree, a big prize, perhaps even an ambassadorship.”

“For an intellectual these habits of mind are corrupting par excellence,” Said went on. “If anything can denature, neutralize, and finally kill a passionate intellectual life it is the internalization of such habits. Personally I have encountered them in one of the toughest of all contemporary issues, Palestine, where fear of speaking out about one of the greatest injustices in modern history has hobbled, blinkered, muzzled many who know the truth and are in a position to serve it. For despite the abuse and vilification that any outspoken supporter of Palestinian rights and self-determination earns for him or herself, the truth deserves to be spoken, represented by an unafraid and compassionate intellectual.”

Julien Benda argued in his 1927 book “The Treason of Intellectuals”—“La Trahison des Clercs”—that it is only when we are not in pursuit of practical aims or material advantages that we can serve as a conscience and a corrective. Those who transfer their allegiance to the practical aims of power and material advantage emasculate themselves intellectually and morally. Benda wrote that intellectuals were once supposed to be indifferent to popular passions. They “set an example of attachment to the purely disinterested activity of the mind and created a belief in the supreme value of this form of existence.” They looked “as moralists upon the conflict of human egotisms.” They “preached, in the name of humanity or justice, the adoption of an abstract principle superior to and directly opposed to these passions.” These intellectuals were not, Benda conceded, very often able to prevent the powerful from “filling all history with the noise of their hatred and their slaughters.” But they did, at least, “prevent the laymen from setting up their actions as a religion, they did prevent them from thinking themselves great men as they carried out these activities.” In short, Benda asserted, “humanity did evil for two thousand years, but honored good. This contradiction was an honor to the human species, and formed the rift whereby civilization slipped into the world.” But once the intellectuals began to “play the game of political passions,” those who had “acted as a check on the realism of the people began to act as its stimulators.” And this is why Michael Moore is correct when he blames The New York Times and the liberal establishment, even more than George W. Bush and Dick Cheney, for the Iraq War.

“The desire to tell the truth,” wrote Paul Baran, the brilliant Marxist economist and author of “The Political Economy of Growth,” is “only one condition for being an intellectual. The other is courage, readiness to carry on rational inquiry to wherever it may lead … to withstand … comfortable and lucrative conformity.”

Those who doggedly challenge the orthodoxy of belief, who question the reigning political passions, who refuse to sacrifice their integrity to serve the cult of power, are pushed to the margins. They are denounced by the very people who, years later, will often claim these moral battles as their own. It is only the outcasts and the rebels who keep truth and intellectual inquiry alive. They alone name the crimes of the state. They alone give a voice to the victims of oppression. They alone ask the difficult questions. Most important, they expose the powerful, along with their liberal apologists, for what they are.

 

U.S. Judge Stikes Down Indefinite Detention Provision In National Defense Authorization Act; Obama Administration Appeals Decision

In Uncategorized on September 14, 2012 at 1:00 pm

Oldspeak:The NDAA included a clause which afforded the military the power to detain civilians — even Americans — indefinitely, without charge or trial, if they are accused of certain ‘anti-state crimes’ or are accused of “substantially supporting” those accused of said crimes or forces associated therewith.    If that sounds tortuous and nebulous it’s because it is:” -David Segal. This is great victory for journalists, political activists, dissidents, and scholars. No longer will Americans and civilians around the world be allowed to be “disappeared” for speaking out against the woefully anti-democratic U.S. Government and its cohorts worldwide. “

 

 

 

Related Story:

Obama To Authorize Indefinite Detention Of U.S. Citizens For First Time Since McCarthy Era

By Alexander Reed Kelly @ Truthdig:

A temporary stop on the U.S. military’s power to imprison anyone deemed to have “substantially supported” terrorist groups was made permanent on Wednesday when U.S. District Judge Katherine Forrest ruled that journalists could be snatched up under the law.

The ruling against a provision in the 2012 National Defense Authorization Act frustrates the government’s attempts to grant itself the ability to indefinitely detain anyone it could associate with terrorist activity, including domestic protesters.

Truthdig columnist Chris Hedges had sued the Obama administration over the provision, along with journalists, scholars and political activists Noam Chomsky, Daniel Ellsberg and Naomi Wolf. Judge Forrest placed a temporary injunction on the provision in Section 1021 of the law in May.

“This court does not disagree with the principle that the president has primacy in foreign affairs,” Forrest said in Wednesday’s ruling. But government arguments in favor of the provision were not convincing, she said.

“The government has not stated that such conduct—which, by analogy, covers any writing, journalistic and associational activities that involve al Qaeda, the Taliban or whomever is deemed “associated forces”—does not fall within § 1021(b)(2).”

U.S. Judge’s Rule Protects Reporters, Activists In Their Middle East Work

By  Basil Katz @ Reuters:

A federal judge made permanent on Wednesday her order blocking enforcement of a U.S. law’s provision that authorizes military detention for people deemed to have “substantially supported” al Qaeda, the Taliban or “associated forces.”

U.S. District Judge Katherine Forrest in Manhattan had ruled in May in favor of non-profit groups and reporters whose work relates to conflicts in the Middle East and who said they feared being detained under a section of the law, signed by President Barack Obama in December.

Wednesday’s 112-page opinion turns the temporary injunction of May into a permanent injunction. The United States appealed on August 6.

The permanent injunction prevents the U.S. government from enforcing a portion of Section 1021 of the National Defense Authorization Act’s “Homeland Battlefield” provisions.

The opinion stems from a January lawsuit filed by former New York Times war correspondent and Pulitzer Prize winner Chris Hedges and others. The plaintiffs said they had no assurance that their writing and advocacy activities would not fall under the scope of the provision.

Government attorneys argued that the executive branch is entitled to latitude when it comes to cases of national security and that the law is neither too broad nor overly vague.

“This court does not disagree with the principle that the president has primacy in foreign affairs,” the judge said, but that she was not convinced by government arguments.

“The government has not stated that such conduct – which, by analogy, covers any writing, journalistic and associational activities that involve al Qaeda, the Taliban or whomever is deemed “associated forces” – does not fall within § 1021(b)(2).”

A spokeswoman for the Manhattan U.S. Attorney’s office, which represents the government in this case, declined to comment on the ruling.

The case is Hedges et al v. Obama et al, U.S. District Court for the Southern District of New York, No. 12-cv-331.

Judge Strikes Down Indefinite Detention: Tell Obama To Stop Supporting This Wretched Law

By David Segal @ The Daily Kos:

We just won the lawsuit against Obama et al over the indefinite detention provisions of the fiscal 2012 National Defense Authorization Act. These provisions represented a blatant violation of due process and First Amendment rights, and plaintiffs argued that they were already having a chilling effect on journalists and activists.

The NDAA included a clause which afforded the military the power to detain civilians — even Americans — indefinitely, without charge or trial, if they are accused of certain anti-state crimes or are accused of “substantially supporting” those accused of said crimes or forces associated therewith.    If that sounds tortuous and nebulous it’s because it is: What the heck does “substantially support” or “associated force” even mean?

You can urge Obama not to appeal the ruling by clicking here.

In a sweeping 112-page ruling (which I’ve not yet read in full) Judge Katherine Forrest issued a permanent injunction against the use of such powers.  Here’s Reuters:

A federal judge made permanent on Wednesday her order blocking enforcement of a U.S. law’s provision that authorizes military detention for people deemed to have “substantially supported” al Qaeda, the Taliban or “associated forces.”

U.S. District Judge Katherine Forrest in Manhattan had ruled in May in favor of non-profit groups and reporters whose work relates to conflicts in the Middle East and who said they feared being detained under a section of the law, signed by President Barack Obama in December.

Plaintiffs include Chris Hedges, Noam Chomsky, Daniel Ellsberg, Tangerine Bolen, and others; Demand Progress and RevolutionTruth members have raised more than $20,000 to support the lawsuit and used it to pressure lawmakers to revoke the provions in question.  We lost a relatively narrow vote in the House a few months ago, and the Senate will take up amendments to end indefinite detention in coming weeks.

We’re hoping the Senate will actually take this finding of unconstitutionality to heart and explicitly revoke the codification of the indefinite detention authority when the NDAA gets a vote in coming weeks.

This ruling required great fortitude on the part of Judge Forrest: She was appointed by Obama just last year.  After initially expressing concerns about the provisions in question — because they infringed on certain executive power, not because of all of the reasons above — Obama has consistently supported and defended them.  He signed them into law under cloak of darkness on New Year’s Eve and has aggressively defended them in court.

This’ll probably get appealed all the way up to the Supreme Court — but you can click here to urge Obama to stop protecting this awful law.

Wikileaks: Internal Report Indicates U.S. Department Of Homeland Security Monitoring Occupy Wall Street Protests

In Uncategorized on March 1, 2012 at 8:16 pm

Oldspeak:” ‘The internal DHS report emphasizes the need to “control protesters”, They talk about threats to ‘critical infrastructure’ and this fear that these protests are going to…make commerce difficult and people are going to start losing money. There is a kind of bottom line in analysis to what they’re talking about. There isn’t an emphasis on public safety in a way one would expect from a department that’s supposed to protect the homeland. It’s this sort of sense that they’re protecting somebody’s homeland, and they’re the folks who generally make all the money.Michael Hastings COINTELPRO lives on. New Department, same ole shit. Still more evidence that your government does not represent you. It represents those folks who ‘generally make all the money.’ The financial services, and myriad of other anational corporations who gamble with other people’s money, homes and livelihoods; they profit  handsomely as billions of others struggle with debt, poverty, hunger, sickness, homelessness and joblessness. The vast majority of Americans are de-politicized, minimally informed & apathetic, with has paved the way for replacement of often heralded democratic ideals with inverted totalitarianism. Democracy has been subverted by men with million-dollar smiles, and the unwitting masses clamoring for more divestment from their liberties. “

Related Stories:

Obama Administration Coordinated Local Police Crackdowns On Occupy Encampments Nationwide

Occupy Wall Street “Counterinsurgency” Has Infiltrated Protests; Seeks To Diffuse Message

FBI To Expand Domestic Surveillance Powers As Details Emerge Of Its Spy Campaign Targeting American Activists

By Allison Kilkenny @ In These Times:

Rolling Stone’s Michael Hastings last night posted a story on an internal DHS report entitled “SPECIAL COVERAGE: Occupy Wall Street,” dated October of last year. The five-page report, part of five million newly leaked documents obtained by Wikileaks, sums up the history of the movement and assesses its “impact” on the financial services and government facilities.

In an interview on Citizen Radio, Hastings talked about the monitoring by DHS and also the leaked emails from Stratfor, a leading private intelligence firm Hastings describes as the “shadow CIA.”

The process of combing through the huge amount of leaked documents has only just begun, but Hastings considers the revelation that the government was keeping tabs on OWS to be the biggest news so far to come out of the latest dump.

The monitoring, or spying (depending on how generous one is feeling), process included DHS scouring OWS-related Twitter feeds.

“[DHS] was following all of the social networking activity that was going on among Occupy Wall Street,” says Hastings. “Now, I’m sure this is going to be spun tomorrow as this continues to grow that, oh, it’s just benign, DHS just used open source material to do this, and that’s true, but the question is: why is a large government bureaucracy who’s mandated to protect the homeland…monitoring very closely a peaceful political protest movement? They’re not monitoring the Democratic National Committee, they’re not monitoring Young Republican meetings. They’re monitoring Occupy Wall Street.”

The report emphasizes the need to “control protesters,” terminology Hastings finds troubling, along with DHS’s assertion that OWS will likely become more violent. Hastings calls that prediction “quite a leap,” as there is no evidence so far that the overwhelmingly peaceful movement is prone to become violent.

“[The report] names all the sort of groups [DHS is] worried about, one being Anonymous, this hacktivist group, but it also names the other people in Occupy Wall Street: labor unions, student groups,” Hastings says.

One might expect to read some hand-wringing over public safety concerns in a government document, and yet the DHS document appears to be more concerned with protecting the mechanisms of the financial sector than in ensuring the safety of citizens who are exercising their First Amendment rights.

“They talk about threats to ‘critical infrastructure’ and this fear that these protests are going to…make commerce difficult and people are going to start losing money. There is a kind of bottom line in analysis to what they’re talking about. There isn’t an emphasis on public safety in a way one would expect from a department that’s supposed to protect the homeland. It’s this sort of sense that they’re protecting somebody’s homeland, and they’re the folks who generally make all the money.”

This same business-over-people bias is present in the second major leak involving the Stratfor emails. “When you go look at the back-and-forth, it’s all about, well, we have to protect lower Manhattan so the bankers can get to work on time.”

Hastings talks about two troubling tracks: In the DHS case, the U.S. government monitoring activist groups, and in the Stratfor case, large corporations paying a private intelligence firm to monitor other activist groups.

Dow Chemicals had Stratfor analyze the activities of Bhopal activists such as the Yes Men, who famously pranked the company by impersonating a Dow Chemical executive and publicly apologizing on the BBC for the Bhopal disaster that killed 8,000 people.

The list of Stratfor’s corporate clients is an impressive one, including Dow Chemicals and Coca-Cola. Clients are willing to pay the firm $40,000 for a subscription to Stratfor’s services (and additional huge sums of money for more services,) because the company bills itself as a private CIA, privy to high-level intelligence access.

“You have the DOW Chemicals situation, you have Coca-Cola hiring Stratfor to go after animal rights activists, to sort of keep tabs on them, and then also the question is: why would Stratfor have this Department of Homeland Security document, right? And the answer to that is Stratfor’s clients, or clearly Stratfor saw a business opportunity in keeping track, and figuring out how to handle protesters. In fact, in the email record…they’re talking about different tactics in lower Manhattan about, well, the streets are narrow down there, so if they push the protesters this way, or that way, that’s a better way to catch them. They’re drilling down into the best ways to kind of protect the financial services who are some of their clients.”

On Jan. 26, 2011, Fred Burton, the vice president of Stratfor, fired off an excited email to his colleagues: “Text Not for Pub. We have a sealed indictment on Assange. Pls protect.”

The question was: who did Burton mean by “we”?

“It’s like the Big Lebowski, right? The royal We,” says Hastings.

What Burton meant by “we” was the U.S. government.

“We know that the Department of Justice had been investigating Assange, and playing this game of oftentimes not explicitly saying what they were doing, but sort of threatening they would be doing this espionage investigation. We know that they’ve interviewed people in a grand jury, and then a few weeks ago with the Bradley Manning pre-trial that they were actually trying to make this espionage case against Assange,” says Hastings. “Burton claims that there in fact a secret U.S. indictment against Assange related, essentially, to espionage. That’s pretty big news.”

Hastings is braced for all of the typically condescending and dismissive remarks to come rolling in from the beltway in the wake of these latest leaks. In fact, the derision has already begun. One editor at The Atlantic called Wikileaks “a joke,” and dismissed the Stratfor emails out of hand.

Hastings expects others to say there’s no difference between a private intelligence firm and a newspaper or news bureau.

“I think that’s totally wrong. Journalists have sources and informants, but also our mission is to share that information with the public so the citizenry can make more informed decisions. Stratfor’s mission is to gather information so it can sell it to the highest bidder so corporations can essentially make more profit and get a competitive edge on their opponents,” he says.

That kind of knee-jerk dismissiveness strikes of bad journalism, according to Hastings. While no cheerleader for Wikileaks – during the interview, Hastings admitted there’s a lot of stuff one can criticize Wikileaks about, particularly the practice of releasing large amounts of data that hasn’t been reviewed very carefully – he still finds the overall work done by the group extremely newsworthy.

“What news organization has had a bigger impact than Wikileaks? Iraq war logs, Afghan war logs, the Cablegate. These are important stories. This is news. DHS was monitoring Occupy Wall Street. That’s a story, and it’s a significant story. We’re talking about Occupy Wall Street: one of the biggest grassroots, political movements that we’ve seen in a generation and the government’s response to that.”

One of the most worrying aspects to the Stratfor story is the privatizing of yet another typically goverment-only function. Like Blackwater, here is another shadowy private agency doing the work usually done by the U.S. government, a recipe, as we’ve learned time and time again, for unaccountability and disaster.

Also, Stratfor is ripe for the revolving door effect.

“It’s a chance for people who worked in government in these various intelligence agencies to, once they leave, to have lucrative positions where they’re able to — in the same way some politicians become lobbyists to ply off their old contacts — to have these great, well-paying positions where they can use their former intelligence contacts and sell their services in the corporate world,” says Hastings.

To naysayers claiming there’s nothing wrong with former government officials capitalizing on their particular skill sets, Hastings responds, “Once you start spying on activists, and peaceful protesters, then I would say that’s very troubling.”

How Can The US Solve Its Problems When The Corporate Media Has Turned Into The National Enquirer?

In Uncategorized on June 9, 2011 at 2:05 pm

Oldspeak:”I call it “The Real World Effect”. Since the advent of the ‘reality’ show it seems that slowly people have become more concerned about scripted reality than actual reality. Obsession with celebrities’ and politicians’ sexual proclivities and “fabulous lives”. Poor and obese peoples path to redemption through hard work and beneficent rich persons. Anonymous persons rising to fame and fortune via televised dance and singing popularity contests. TV ready marriage minded singles finding “love” via an outlandish and demeaning relationship vetting process when the contestants ply their sexual and whatever other wares to vie for the attention of the desired man/woman.  Meanwhile, in actual reality civil liberties are eroded. Worldwide war is authorized. Access to information is censored and you’re surveiled. Your environment is being destroyed. Your children and food are being contaminated with toxins and poisons. And corporate media has very little if anything to say about these life altering realities. We can expect to continue to witness the downward spiral of the U.S. economically, morally, and socially until reality is focused on and dealt with in a meaningful & substantive way.

By Mark Karlin @ Truthout:

There is no escaping the salacious Anthony Weiner Internet scandal. Since the mainstream corporate media – for the most part – merged politics, news, entertainment, celebrity personalities and sensationalism, it’s been almost impossible to have an informed national discussion on public policy.

One Weiner “confessional” news conference is worth more in advertising revenue than a year of covering our wars that have spanned a decade.

A sizeable percentage of Americans are out of work and without a safety net, Medicare and Social Security are under siege, wars are being fought that receive only sporadic coverage and the disparity in income in America is at its widest point in memory. Yet, these and other pressing issues play a distant second fiddle to a Congressman engaged in sexual titillation over the web and on the phone – however creepy and inappropriate that may be.

The Weiner affair is just the latest example of what Chris Hedges calls “spectacle” coverage superseding the dissemination of news that informs and enlightens.

Weiner – as he noted in his news conference on June 6 – will have to answer to his wife, his constituents and Congress.

The news media that is increasingly evolving into a combination of the National Enquirer, People magazine and “American Idol” has to answer to history, as America descends into a tabloid future in which only the very rich will control the mass media “news” prism.

What ESPN’s Bill Simmons Superdeluxe Media Empire Means For… Uh … Facts, Fans and Sports.

In Uncategorized on July 8, 2010 at 12:31 pm

Oldspeak: “What’s scary is how much our politics resemble sports as the audience divides into smaller and more irreconcilable niches, like opposing teams, rather than parts of a larger entity with shared purpose. Between data points—elections in politics, championships in sports—there’s no capacity to agree on anything. Perception is shaped by the available numbers, even if they’re only snapshots in time with arguable long-term significance—polls in politics, regular-season games in sports.”

From Mark Heisler @ Truthdig:

Kobe Bryant sits astride his world, just as he envisioned it like any boy growing up in a land where dreams come true, wanting only to be remembered as the best there ever was, fictional (Roy Hobbs) or real (Ted Williams).

Williams played in the middle of the last century when Bernard Malamud wrote “The Natural,” his book about the craziness one so gifted inspires.

Fifty years later, Bryant lives Malamud’s book every day. The NBA title he and his Lakers just won is his shot into the light standard setting off the fireworks in the movie version, proving his greatness forever, or until Nov. 1, whichever comes first.

Kobe Bryant sits astride his world, just as he envisioned it like any boy growing up in a land where dreams come true, wanting only to be remembered as the best there ever was, fictional (Roy Hobbs) or real (Ted Williams).

Williams played in the middle of the last century when Bernard Malamud wrote “The Natural,” his book about the craziness one so gifted inspires.

Fifty years later, Bryant lives Malamud’s book every day. The NBA title he and his Lakers just won is his shot into the light standard setting off the fireworks in the movie version, proving his greatness forever, or until Nov. 1, whichever comes first.

Their world runs on its own calendar. A season feels like a lifetime, a four-year World Cup cycle like a generation.

It’s not about perspective, but, like all drama, suspension thereof. When the Dallas Cowboys’ Duane Thomas was impertinent enough to ask, “If it’s the ultimate, how come they’re playing it again next year?” before the 1972 Super Bowl, he was dismissed as a poor soul who couldn’t recognize the good thing he had.

(Indeed, Thomas was out of the NFL within three years after becoming the game’s MVP, but was lucid enough to wind up living quietly as an avocado farmer in Southern California.)

Going bonkers, lionizing winners and dumping on losers is fun, even if the cycle is accelerating to absurdity and beyond with modern 24/7 reportage.

Eclipsed by young LeBron James, Bryant was ignored during the season, when he wasn’t being written off as “a degenerate three-faced narcissist” by Rolling Stone’s Matt Taibbi, who noted Kevin Durant also had passed Kobe, or was about to.

The playoffs brought outright denunciations in the local press with Los Angeles Times columnists Bill Plaschke and T.J. Simers accusing Bryant of “pouting” in a first-round loss in Oklahoma City.

If Bryant was playing with a broken finger on his shooting hand and a sore knee, which would both require surgery, little was made of it until he emerged as champion of champions.

Bryant’s accomplishments have always been discounted after eight seasons in Shaquille O’Neal’s giant shadow, three more in eclipse after Shaq left, and a persona as prickly as Shaq’s was fun.

Titles Nos. 1-3 from 2000 to 2002—He played with Shaq.

No. 4, 2009—Maybe Kobe and LeBron can meet in the Finals next spring!

No. 5—How could we have doubted you, Kobester?

For the maraschino cherry atop the sundae of his career, Bryant’s fifth title of the decade broke his tie with O’Neal and Tim Duncan, stamping it as the Age of Kobe … making it the first age named after a player who was shunned for most of it.

That’s today’s price of fame. Privileged as they are, today’s starry-eyed boys pursue their dream through a driving shitstorm.

In what would have been ironic but is now common, James received his second MVP trophy in a row before Game 1 of the Cavaliers’ second-round series against Boston.

Unfortunately, he then turned mortal, averaging just 27 points, 9.3 rebounds and 7.2 assists as the presumed Dead Celtics Walking arose to stun James’ Cavaliers in six games.

The world announced a new consensus:

James was beneath contempt.

Ignoring James’ injured right elbow, Fox Sports’ psychologically attuned Charlie Rosen, a former Phil Jackson assistant coach, listed three possibilities for LeBron’s fall:

  • He himself doesn’t believe the overwhelming hype about his own game, and there’s an undercurrent of self-doubt working in his subconscious.
  • Or, he’s simply the king of chokers.
  • Or, his bags are already packed and he’s headed out of town.

Or maybe it was the elbow the stoic James acknowledged sometimes “locked up,” which would explain why he started going predominantly to his left and, on the few occasions he got to the basket righthanded, never made a strong move like his old runaway-train self.

If James’ seven-year career as a dogged competitor entitled him to any benefit of doubt, little was forthcoming.

Yahoo’s Adrian Wojnarowski called him a “narcissist” who “quit on his teammates in Game 5 [which] made it easy for the rest of them—and James—to quit in the final minutes of Game 6 … a young Alex Rodriguez, so insecure with himself and his MVP awards, so desperate to find validation in the courtship of free agency.”

Esquire’s Scott Raab, noting his Cleveland roots, said he expected James to abandon the city, and “if so, good riddance.”

ESPN2’s Skip Bayless gave James a “D as in Dog-minus” for his 27 points, 19 rebounds and 10 assists in Game 6, insisting, as Bayless had in his inimitable veins-bulging style, it again showed “he’s Robin more than Batman, Pippen more than Jordan.”

Energizing the process, or turning it upside-down, fans now participate, writing blogs and posting comments and videos. If it’s more democratic, the old marketplace of ideas is now more like a withering crossfire of ideas, or emotions, however primal. With the ability to contribute anonymously, the dialogue is to discourse what road rage is to driving.

If nothing has changed—fans always ranged from mere chauvinists to those reverting to some evolutionary forerunner—everything is illuminated.

It’s no longer journalism, however overheated or comic. It’s the entire process of thought, resembling Freud’s id, ego and superego.

The signed material is the socialized ego. The anonymous material is the naked id. The superego is the reader/viewer, trying to reconcile the two.

Happily, it’s still just a sports debate.

Anyone who can’t tell that Bryant and James are two of the best ever isn’t worth arguing with, but, as they say of government work and rock ’n’ roll, “It’s close enough for sports writing.”

What’s scary is how much our politics resemble sports as the audience divides into smaller and more irreconcilable niches, like opposing teams, rather than parts of a larger entity with shared purpose.

Between data points—elections in politics, championships in sports—there’s no capacity to agree on anything. Perception is shaped by the available numbers, even if they’re only snapshots in time with arguable long-term significance—polls in politics, regular-season games in sports.

Compromise, the goal in politics, is the open ground in a crossfire, featuring entertainers/commentators like Glenn Beck, the former “Wacky Morning Zoo DJ,” and Keith Olbermann, the former ESPN anchor.

As George Will noted of Beck, “It’s the hour of the entertainer.” Unfortunately, with structural changes in media as well as disagreement on issues turning the conversation into a howling din, it may last longer than an hour.

As in sports, the mistake is taking the process seriously, even as traditional commentary faults leaders for “losing control of the message” or “breaking promises,” as if the message wasn’t DOA and it’s no harder to assemble a coalition than it ever was.

The sports blogging revolution suggests how breathtaking the pace of change is.

If bloggers have overrun the palace, one of the landmarks was ESPN’s 2002 hiring of Bill Simmons, an underground icon in the Dodge-City-on-a-Saturday-night world of Boston sports blogs.

Mainstream writers hated the word blog from the moment they learned it stood for “web log”—whatever that meant—before they were told they too would have to do it.

Unfortunately, the traditionalists, represented by Buzz Bissinger, who won a Pulitzer for his painstakingly researched “Friday Night Lights,” tipped off the possibility there was more on their minds than trampled standards—like encroaching age and irrelevance—in a 2008 panel discussion.

Showing who had the bad manners, Bissinger toldDeadspin editor Will Leitch, “I really think you’re full of shit,” then, preparing to read a post by “Big Daddy Balls,” sputtered, “Here’s insight in blogging—because it really pisses the shit out of me.”

If the traditionalists missed it, there is no battle going on for pre-eminence.

It’s strictly generational, with the young seeking spokesmen of their own with standards of their own, or no standards.

Not that it’s a new phenomenon. In the decades since my youth faded as Jefferson Airplane broke up and tattoos became fashion accessories, I’ve thought of it as Payback for Elvis.

In a sign of the times, Rick Reilly, the most gifted sports writer of his generation, whom ESPN hired away from Sports Illustrated with a $17 million five-year deal, now bobs in the wake of Simmons, who sits in the stands and rarely meets the people he writes about, much less interview any of them.

Suggesting Simmons’ hard-dollar value to ESPN is in the millions, Deadspin noted that his column averaged 1.4 million page views and 460,000 unique visitors monthly with 2 million downloads for his podcast and 1.2 million Twitter followers.

If Simmons is actually an essayist writing about sports, it doesn’t disqualify him from being taken seriously, like Roger Angell.

Simmons can’t be taken seriously because he isn’t serious, only occasionally acknowledging his bold pronouncements that turn out wrong or, as is often the case, embarrassing, in a stream-of-consciousness chronicle of his mood swings from trash-talking jubilation to nothing-to-live-for despair.

With stardom comes the added inconvenience of becoming what he made his reputation savaging. A hero to the editors of Deadspin, once similarly locked out of shrinking, hiring-frozen traditional journalism, Simmons is now part of the ESPN empire, the site covered with BS-style irreverence.

When Simmons indulges himself in what editor A.J. Daulerio, Leitch’s successor, calls “his incessant whining about ESPN’s management of him,” down he goes.

“He was mind-blowing for a lot of people who were not accustomed to being able to write that way on such a large platform,” says Daulerio. “I think he really gave a voice to a lot of people who never could have been a columnist for a daily newspaper if they played by the traditional rules. …

“We’ve busted on him a lot. That’s the perspective he’s trying to come to terms with, that he’s no longer the underdog. He’s arguably the most popular sports columnist in America. …

“Will [Leitch] kind of suffered through the same thing. It’s almost like you feel you’re going to kill your idols a lot of the time when you criticize him, but he’s just like anybody else. …

“There are going to be certain things we criticize but there’s always a level of respect there because most of us who do this know that our jobs wouldn’t be possible without him [Simmons].”

The NBA Finals featured a rare interface with Simmons coming out of the stands and joining the press corps for the matchup between his beloved Celtics and the hated Lakers.

Despite his protestations of devotion, Simmons could never bring himself to believe in this Celtic renaissance, lampooning Coach Doc Rivers in the 2008 second-round series against Cleveland (“DOC: All right, guys, listen up. I want to go over the game plan so we’re clear on everything. RAY ALLEN: We have a game plan tonight?”)

Cooling down “thanks to four shots of whiskey and a couple of Vicodin,” Simmons apologized (“I never wanted to become the proverbial turd in the punch bowl for a successful Boston team. After all, that’s Dan Shaughnessy’s job”), submitting it showed the outlook had been so bleak that “one of the team’s most avid fans briefly lost his mind before regrouping and continuing to support the team for the rest of the playoffs.”

Actually, the series was tied, 2-2, the Celtics still had home-court advantage and the Boston Globe’s Shaughnessy is deservedly respected for his determinedly anti-jingo approach that exposes him to heavy fire from the yahoos in the local blogs.

Meanwhile, “one of the team’s most avid fans” was off the bandwagon again by the Finals, predicting a Laker victory.

The Celtics won, resoundingly, 4-2.

By this spring, Simmons had given up hope for his battered team. Severing ties, he wrote, “I know the Celtics are going to lose in Round 1,” calling them “a decrepit, non-rebounding, poorly coached, dispirited, excuse-making, washed-up sham of a contender.”

The Celtics beat Miami, 4-1.

When they then surprised everyone, winning Game 2 in Cleveland to tie the series, 1-1, Simmons returned with no mention of his miscalculation.

He lasted one game, which the Cavaliers won in Boston, noting his father had been so dismayed he sold his Game 4 tickets back to the team for face value.

As if mood swings run in the family, the son was back for the Game 6 finale, after the Celtics won Games 4 and 5—at least in spirit, orchestrating anti-James chants in the TD Garden (“New York Knicks! New York Knicks!”) … from his couch in Los Angeles, via Twitter.

By the Finals, Simmons was a born-again die-hard, and hardly an apologetic one, demanding a courtside seat—with the rest of the press in the stands behind the baseline—saying he needed it to do his job.

He got it, too, a row behind the Celtic bench in Boston, after ESPN’s people went to the NBA’s people, who overruled their PR staff.

Actually, Simmons’ job didn’t even require him to write stories, just to conduct in-game chats on his handheld.

So, anyone who believes in karma now knows why the Celtics fell short.

Breaking Simmons’ oft-stabbed heart yet again, the Celtics went back to Los Angeles leading, 3-2, and were up by 13 points in the third quarter of Game 7.

[Pregame]

Andy B: What song best encapsulizes your feelings right now?

sportsguy33: Eminence Front by The Who— the video more than the song….

[First half]

sportsguy33: Timbaland sitting corner courtside with a producer Polow DaDon (sp?) … my NBA.com buddy doing their Twitter sitting next to me just tried to spell his name and we both started laughing….

[Second half]

sportsguy33: Rondo floater… Celts by 11. Timeout Lakers. Crowd in complete and utter shock. I just silently high-fived myself while doing 4 imaginary fist pumps….

sportsguy33: Pretty lefty hook by Gasol. crowd now alive. Bos by 8….

sportsguy33: BTW, I lost my sense of humor about 30 mins ago. This diary has as many laughs as “My Sister’s Keeper.”…

sportsguy33: The posts are about to dwindle… I am devastated. What a giveaway. Blow a 13-point lead in a Game 7??? When the other team’s best player is crapping the bed? They can’t let this happen….

sportsguy33: Text from my Dad: “This could be the night that I have the big one.”

sportsguy33: I no longer want to be here. Is this what hell is like?

It’s exactly what hell is like forever, or until the next morning, whichever comes first.

There Is a War on Journalism

In Uncategorized on July 6, 2010 at 9:18 am

Oldspeak: “There’s a war goin on outside, no man is safe from… Media consolidation=death of independent journalism. Historically a vital check on the devastating possibility of a very few rich white men controlling everything you see hear and read, comodified as “news”.

From Amy Goodman/John Pilger @ Democracy Now:

It’s been a week since Rolling Stone published its article on General Stanley McChrystal that eventually led to him being fired by President Obama. Since the article came out, Rolling Stone and the reporter who broke the story, Michael Hastings, have come under attack in the mainstream media for violating the so-called “ground rules” of journalism. But the investigative journalist and documentary filmmaker John Pilger says Hastings was simply doing what all true journalists need to do.

See the video at: http://www.democracynow.org/2010/6/29/john_pilger_there_is_a_war

AMY GOODMAN: It’s been a week since Rolling Stone published its article on General Stanley McChrystal that eventually led to him being fired by President Obama. In a piece called “The Runaway General,” McChrystal and his top aides openly criticized the President and mocked several top officials. Joe Biden is nicknamed “Bite me.” National Security Adviser General James Jones is described as a “clown.” Ambassador Richard Holbrooke is called a “wounded animal.”

Since the article came out, Rolling Stone and the reporter who broke the story, Michael Hastings, have come under attack in the mainstream media for violating the so-called “ground rules” of journalism. New York Times columnist David Brooks penned a column attacking Hastings for being a, quote, “product of the culture of exposure.” Brooks wrote, quote, “The reporter essentially took run-of-the-mill complaining and turned it into a direct challenge to presidential authority.” He goes on to write, “The exposure ethos, with its relentless emphasis on destroying privacy and exposing impurities, has chased good people from public life, undermined public faith in institutions and elevated the trivial over the important,” he said.

On Fox News, Geraldo Rivera attacked Rolling Stone reporter Michael Hastings for publishing quotes McChrystal and his aides made at a bar.

    GERALDO RIVERA: This is a situation where you have to put it in the context of war and warriors and honor and the penumbra of privacy that is presumed when it’s not on the record specifically. When you’re hanging out at a bar waiting for a plane or a train or an automobile and you’re stuck together hours and hours, and you’re drinking in a bar, or you’re at an airport lounge, this is not an interview context. These guys, particularly the staffers who gave the most damning statements about the civilians in office, including the Vice President of the United States, these guys had no idea that they were being interviewed by this guy.

    BILL O’REILLY: I’m not sure about that, Geraldo.

    GERALDO RIVERA: This reporter—wait, hold on, Bill.

    BILL O’REILLY: I’m not sure about that.

    GERALDO RIVERA: This reporter from Rolling Stone, he was a rat in an eagle’s nest.

AMY GOODMAN: So, that’s Fox News. But other mainstream media outlets have also attacked Michael Hastings for writing the story. This is Lara Logan, the chief foreign affairs correspondent for CBS News, being interviewed by Howard Kurtz on CNN.

    HOWARD KURTZ: If you had been traveling with General McChrystal and heard these comments about Barack Obama, Joe Biden, Jim Jones, Richard Holbrooke, would you have reported them?

    LARA LOGAN: Well, it really depends on the circumstances. It’s hard to know here. Michael Hastings, if you believe him, says that there were no ground rules laid out. And, I mean, that just doesn’t really make a lot of sense to me, because if you look at the people around General McChrystal, if you look at his history, he was the Joint Special Operations commander. He has a history of not interacting with the media at all. And his chief of intelligence, Mike Flynn, is the same. I mean, I know these people. They never let their guard down like that. To me, something doesn’t add up here. I just—I don’t believe it.

    HOWARD KURTZ: Washington Post quoted an unnamed senior military official as saying that Michael Hastings broke the off-the-record ground rules. But the person who said this was on background and wouldn’t allow his name to be used. Is that fair?

    LARA LOGAN: Well, it’s Kryptonite right now. I mean, do you blame him? The commanding general in Afghanistan just lost his job. Who else is going to lose his job? Believe me, all the senior leadership in Afghanistan are waiting for the ax to fall. I’ve been speaking to some of them. They don’t know who’s going to stay and who’s going to go. I mean, just the question is, really, is what General McChrystal and his aides are doing so egregious that they deserved to—I mean, to end a career like McChrystal’s? I mean, Michael Hastings has never served his country the way McChrystal has.

AMY GOODMAN: That’s Lara Logan, the chief foreign affairs correspondent for CBS News, being interviewed on CNN. Meanwhile, both the Washington Post and ABC have published articles quoting anonymous military sources attacking Hastings’s Rolling Stone article.

For more on the story, we’re joined by the award-winning investigative journalist, documentary filmmaker John Pilger, began his career in journalism, oh, nearly half a century ago and has written close to a dozen books and made over fifty documentaries. He lives in London but is in the United States working on a forthcoming documentary about what he calls “the war on the media.” It’s called The War You Don’t See.

We welcome John Pilger to Democracy Now! John, welcome. Talk about the war you don’t see.

JOHN PILGER: Well, the war you don’t see is expressed eloquently by the New York Times, that range of extraordinary media apologists that we’ve just seen. The reason we don’t see the war on civilians, the war that has caused the most extraordinary devastation, human and cultural and structural devastation in both Iraq and Afghanistan, is because of what is almost laughingly called the mainstream media. The one apology, not these apologies that we’ve seen this morning from Fox to CBS, right across the spectrum, to the New York Times this morning, the real apology that counted was the New York Times when it apologized to its readers for not showing us the war in—or the reasons that led up, rather, to the invasion of Iraq that produced this horrific war. I mean, these people now have become so embedded with the establishment, so embedded with authority, they’re what Brecht called the spokesmen of the spokesmen. They’re not journalists.

Brooks writes about a “culture of exposure.” Excuse me, isn’t that journalism? Are we so distant from what journalism ought to be, not simply an echo chamber for authority, that somebody in the New York Times can attack a journalist who’s done his job? Hastings did a wonderful job. He caught out McChrystal, as he should have done. That’s his job. In a country where the media is constitutionally freer, nominally, than any other country on earth, the disgrace of the recent carnage in the Middle East and in Afghanistan is largely down to the fact that the media didn’t alert us. It didn’t report it. It didn’t question. It simply amplified and echoed authority. Hastings has proved—God bless him—that journalists still exist.

AMY GOODMAN: You know, it’s interesting to read the first paragraph of Hastings’s piece. He talks about, yes, this group in a French bar—and, by the way, Rolling Stone said, you should see what we didn’t print, because in fact there were things they said that were off the record. But to say that Hastings violated the off-the-record rule, they said, was not the case. There was many things we didn’t print. But right after they talked about the French—he talked about the French bar and McChrystal and his high officials in the bar, his aides, you know, dancing and singing the words “Afghanistan, Afghanistan,” Hastings writes, “opposition to the war has already toppled the Dutch government, forced the resignation of Germany’s president [and] sparked both Canada and the Netherlands to announce the withdrawal of their 4,500 troops. McChrystal is in Paris to keep the French, who have lost more than 40 soldiers in Afghanistan, from going all wobbly on him.” But this is something most people in this country don’t know, that the US, despite the US-led coalition, the NATO troops, is very much almost going this alone.

JOHN PILGER: Yes, it’s going it alone in terms of the American people. And what journalism, like Hastings, does is represent the American people. A majority of the American people are now opposed to this colonial debacle in Afghanistan. I mean, I was very interested to read what President Obama said about Afghanistan, if I can find it. Yes, here it is. On February the 10th, 2007, quote, “It’s time to admit that no amount of American lives can resolve the political disagreement [that lies] at the heart of someone else’s civil war,” unquote. That’s what President Obama said before he became president. And unless the people of the United States, like the people of Europe, like most peoples in the world, understand that, that this is a long-running civil war, that it needs the kind of sympathy, if you like, for the people of Afghanistan—it certainly doesn’t need this brutal imposition of a colonial force there.

Now, that happens to be a truth that the likes of Michael Hastings and others are expressing. But it’s also a forbidden truth. And the moment you even glimpse that truth in the United States, the kind of barrage that—the grotesque sort of cartoon barrage of Fox, right up to the rather sneering barrage that comes from the New York Times, through to CBS and so on, the barrage against truth tellers becomes—Amy, we’re dependent now on the few Hastings, but also on whistleblowers. The most important exposé was the Wikileaks exposé of the Apache attack on those journalists and children in Iraq. And here they are prosecuting the whistleblower, when in fact those responsible should be prosecuted. But that’s verboten now.

AMY GOODMAN: I just want to encourage people to go to our website at democracynow.org. We interviewed Julian Assange, who’s on the run now, afraid that he will be picked, that he will be arrested. He’s the founder of Wikileaks, and we played that 2007 video that someone within the military gave to Wikileaks, to Assange, to show the killing of civilians on the ground in Iraq. Astounding.

I wanted to go back to this comment of the CBS correspondent, of Lara Logan, who says, “Michael Hastings has never served his country the way McChrystal has.” This is the reporter. You say that the media is not covering the war; it’s promoting the war.

JOHN PILGER: Michael Hastings is serving his country. This country tells the rest of the world about its magnificent beginning, about its magnificent Constitution, about its magnificent freedoms. At the heart of those freedoms is the freedom of speech and the freedom of journalism. That is serving your country. That is serving humanity. The idea that you only serve your country by being part of a rapacious colonial force—and, you know, I’m not speaking rhetorically here. That’s what is happening in Afghanistan. This is a civil war in which European and American forces have intervened. And we get a glimpse of that through the likes of the Hastings article. I really call on journalists, young journalists, to be inspired, if you like, by this Rolling Stone article, not to be put off by the apologists, not to be put off by those who serve their country embedded in the Green Zone in Baghdad, but to see journalism as something that is about truth telling and represents people and does serve one’s country.

AMY GOODMAN: It’s interesting you say this, as up in Toronto—we just came from Toronto yesterday—well, hundreds of people and a number of journalists have been beaten and arrested—

JOHN PILGER: Yeah.

AMY GOODMAN: —as they try to cover what’s happening on the streets, the protests around the G8/G20 meetings, as they talk about protecting banks and promoting war—

JOHN PILGER: Yeah.

AMY GOODMAN: —in the summits.

JOHN PILGER: Yeah. Well, there is a war on journalism. There’s long been a war on journalism. Journalism has always been—I mean, if you read, let’s say, General Petraeus’s counterinsurgency manual, which he put his name to in 2006, he makes it very clear. He said we’re fighting wars of perception—and I paraphrase him—in which the news media is a major component. So, unless the news media is part of those wars of perception—that is, that not so much the enemy that is our objective; it’s the people at home—then, you know, they’re out. They’re part of—they can easily become part of the enemy. And as we’ve seen in the numbers of journalists who have been killed in Iraq—more journalists have been killed in Iraq, mostly Iraqi journalists, than in any other war in the modern era—there is a war on this kind of truth telling. And we’re seeing this—another form of this attack on truth telling by the likes of Fox and CBS and New York Times this morning. It embarrasses them. What Hastings has done deeply embarrasses these apologists.

AMY GOODMAN: Well, interestingly, it was Hastings himself that exposed the mainstream media. Just quoting from Glenn Greenwald atSalon.com, as Barrett Brown notes in Vanity Fair, “Hastings in 2008 did to the establishment media what he did to Gen. McChrystal—[he] exposed what they do and how they think by writing the truth—after he quite Newsweek (where he was the Baghdad correspondent) and wrote a damning exposé about how the media distorts war coverage. As Brown put it: ‘Hastings ensured that he would never be trusted by the establishment media ever again.'”

JOHN PILGER: What a wonderful accolade! My goodness! That’s a tremendous honor for him to bear.

AMY GOODMAN: Before we wrap up, I want to ask you about the coverage of the Gaza aid flotilla that was attacked by the Israeli commandos. You’ve come in from Britain to the United States—

JOHN PILGER: Yes.

AMY GOODMAN: —to do this piece on the media.

JOHN PILGER: Yes.

AMY GOODMAN: Your assessment of the media’s coverage?

JOHN PILGER: Well, it’s very different. I mean, there was—I think things—I think the perception of Israel and Palestine has changed quite significantly in Europe, and there was horror at the murder of these people on the Turkish ship. And there was quick understanding, I felt, that how the Israelis manipulated the footage in order to suggest that the victims were actually assaulting those who attacked the flotilla.

The coverage here has been bathed in the usual euphemisms about Israel. It’s always put into the passive voice. Israel really—the Israeli commandos never really killed anybody; it was a tragic event in which people died, and so on and so forth.

Having said that, I must say, Amy, since I’ve been in the United States, I see a—there’s a shift that is in—both politically, but certainly in the media. Since Lebanon, since Israel’s attack on Lebanon in 2006, since the attack on Gaza, Christmas 2008 and early 2009, and now this assault on the flotilla, Israel can’t be covered up. It can’t be apologized for as effectively anymore. And even in the New York Times, which has always been a stalwart in supporting the Israeli regime, the language is changing. And I think this again reflects a popular understanding and a popular disenchantment with the Middle East and the United States role in the Middle East, the apologies for one atrocity after the other, the lack of justice for the people in Palestine. So, I don’t know whether I’m being optimistic or not, but there is a change. And where that change is going to, I don’t know.

AMY GOODMAN: Are there any other key stories that you feel the media is missing or distorting?

JOHN PILGER: Well, I mean, one of the key stories is the devastation, the economic devastation, in people’s lives, that it seems to me extraordinary. And this is true in Britain, as it is in the United States, that ordinary people have suffered since the collapse in September 2008 of significant parts of Wall Street, since the bubble burst. The idea that a president was elected as a man of the people—at least that’s the way he presented himself—is still, I think, promoted by the media, whereas Obama has made clear that he has very much reinforced Wall Street, he has helped to rebuild Wall Street, his whole team is from Wall Street. He’s reached into Goldman Sachs for his senior people. I think that that anger that I’ve felt in the United States over the last few years, that anger at a popular level, is still not expressed in the so-called mainstream media. I remember in the last year of George W. Bush, someone said that in one day 26,000 emails bombarded the White House, and almost all of them were hostile. That suggests to me a popular anger in this country that is often deflected into—down into cul-de-sacs, like the Tea Party movement. But the root of that anger—and that is a social injustice in people’s lives, in the repossession of houses, the loss of jobs, a rather weak reform, if it is a reform, of the scandalous healthcare arrangements, none of these—this popular disenchantment, disaffection, is not expressed in the media.

AMY GOODMAN: John Pilger, I want to thank you very much for being with us. John Pilger here in the United States doing a film, The War You Don’t See, as he covers the media’s coverage of war. He’s an award-winning investigative journalist and filmmaker. Thank you so much.


Did The “Gray Lady” Get Played? Was The New York Times’ Story On Minerals In Afghanistan Smart Or The Result Of Pentagon PR?

In Uncategorized on June 17, 2010 at 9:46 am

Oldspeak: “I was wondering why the Times made such a big fuss about something that’s been basically known for at least 30 years. The Ministry Of Peace never sleeps. War is Big Business.”

From Jean MacKenzie @ Global Post:

KABUL, Afghanistan — The New York Times’ lead story Monday [2] about “nearly $1 trillion in untapped mineral deposits in Afghaistan” was the kind of journalism that seemed at first glance to be a game changer.

Suddenly, there was something worth fighting for in Afghanistan beyond an ill-defined counterinsurgency campaign: the lithium batteries that power our cell phones. The story even quoted an internal Pentagon memo that Afghanistan could become the “Saudi Arabia of lithium.” And the article went further, trumpeting United States officials’ belief that Afghanistan could eventually be “transformed into one of the most important mining centers in the world.”

It seems the Times’ reporter, James Risen, a Pulitzer Prize-winner, did what a lot of great reporters do: He picked up on a story that had been floating around for weeks, months, years, or maybe even back to the Soviet era, depending on which geological surveys you choose to reference, and he made it relevant in the current context.

A question that many media watchers, military analysts and pundits are now wondering is whether The New York Times gave that story shape or whether it was somehow played by the U.S. military to see the value of the mineral deposits at a moment in time when Washington appears to be increasingly concerned about the public losing confidence in the war in Afghanistan.

Was it part of a concerted media campaign to make certain Pentagon memos available and have CENTCOM commander Gen. David Petraeus weigh in with quotes for the New York Times? Risen has been defending his story, and not always in the most attractive manner.

In an interview with Yahoo’s Newsroom blog, Risen got a bit testy [3], saying, “Bloggers should do their own reporting instead of sitting around in their pajamas.”

Here in Kabul, I must confess that I guess I’ve been sitting on this major story for several years now.  The truth is that those of us who have been here a while knew about Afghanistan’s untapped mineral wealth.

To find out, I did not go under cover or hack into secret Pentagon files — I just happened to bump into a very nice man in the Kabul line at the Dubai airport, sometime in 2008. He proudly told me (in what I frankly thought was a bit too much detail) about the marble mines his organization was helping to open in western Afghanistan.

“This is the wave of the future,” he said enthusiastically. “The U.S. Geological Survey has determined that Afghanistan has more non-fuel mineral deposits than almost anyplace else on earth.”

I was actually motivated to look up the survey, which is readily available online [4].

The report did not exactly make for fascinating reading — unless section designators such as “Proterozoic Ultramafic Rock Area of Interest” or “Deposits related to felsic phanerocrystalline intrusive rocks” spark one’s interest. Minerals, I decided, were not my thing. I filed it away at the back of my mind as a story to follow up on some day, when Afghanistan’s political morass and security nightmare eased, giving geologists space to explore and journalists time to report.

But The New York Times beat me to it: It “revealed” that Afghanistan was sitting on, for want of a better term, a veritable gold mine. Once the Pentagon packaged the data by tacking on a speculative price tag — $1 trillion — and adding a snappy sound bite here and there, a three-year-old report based partially on decades-old data collected by the Soviets became the biggest story on the planet.

<!–pagebreak–>

I am far from the only veteran Afghan correspondent or “Afghan hand” — NGO types, diplomats and contractors alike — surprised by the prominent play that the venerable paper of record gave to the story.

There has been quite a bit of heated online discussion of the topic over the past two days. The question that is driving us all mad is: Why on earth did the world’s most authoritative news source decide to make this its lead story?

The Pentagon, of course, could have many reasons for wanting to plant the piece. The news out of Afghanistan has been unremittingly grim for the past weeks, if not months: troop casualties are skyrocketing, the all-important Kandahar offensive has had to be at least temporarily scrapped, more and more experts are saying that it’s time to cut our losses and run.

At a recent conference on Afghanistan, attended by several of the most respected research centers, the topic that drew the most heated response was the relative positions of the foreign troops and the Taliban.

No one among the august group argued that victory was on the horizon; instead, they spent more than two hours debating the difference between “stalemate” and “defeat.”

“I told them they had already lost,” said one conference participant, speaking on condition of anonymity. The conference was trying to sail “under the radar” and was not open to the media.

“If you have 46 countries and the world’s most developed economies unable to defeat a bunch of insurgents, then you are just finished,” the attendee added.

This view was echoed at another super-secret gathering last week, where a prominent Afghanistan expert told high-level officials that it was time to get out of the country.

“You cannot win,” said the authority. “Make a deal and leave.”

This advice met with a stony silence, according to one of the attendees.

So the “news” that Afghanistan could suddenly bump up its GDP by a factor of 100 or so by harvesting its vast mineral deposits was a breath of fresh air for those still trying to drum up support for the increasingly unpopular war.

Afghans, of course, immediately began dividing up the spoils from this trillion-dollar treasure chest. If history is any gauge, then the same problems that have kept them mired in war and misery for so long — poor governance, corruption and the less-than-tender attention of the world community in general and their close neighbors in particular — will more than likely plague them again and the people will just shrug and add the theft of their national treasure to their endless list of grievances.

Isn’t there some room for Helen Thomas?

In Uncategorized on June 9, 2010 at 3:38 pm

Oldspeak “A trailblazer and truthsayer goes a bridge too far, and gets the Guillotine. The only voice in the White House Press Corps that challenged the Corporatocracy; silenced.  Isn’t there room for someone who made a mistake, apologized for it and wants to continue speaking truth to power and asking tough questions?”

From Katrina vanden Heuvel @ The Washington Post:

Columnist Helen Thomas, a trailblazer for women journalists and one of the few in the White House press corps who courageously questioned President Bush and other officials in his administration on war, torture and U.S. policy toward Israel, announced her retirementMonday. It comes in the wake of a controversy triggered by offensive comments she made about Jews and Israel last week.

It is a sad ending to a legendary career. Thomas was the dean of the White House press corps and served for 57 67 years as a UPI correspondent and White House Bureau Chief, covering every president since John F. Kennedy. During the run-up to the Iraq war, Thomas was the only accredited White House correspondent with the guts to ask Bush the tough questions that define a free press.

In March 2006, Thomas wrote a piece for The Nation, “Lap Dogs of the Press” — a scathing indictment of the country’s leading print and broadcast media. She argued that the media could have saved lives if it had questioned the Bush administration’s pronouncements. Instead, the media became, with a very few exceptions, an echo chamber for the White House. “Two of the nation’s most prestigious newspapers,” Thomas wrote, “The New York Times and The Washington Post, kept up a drumbeat for war with Iraq…. They accepted almost unquestioningly the bogus evidence of weapons of mass destruction, the dubious White House rationale that proved to be so costly on a human scale, not to mention a drain on the Treasury…. [And] both newspapers played into the hands of the administration.”

Thomas opened many doors for women journalists; she was the first woman officer of the National Press Club after it opened its doors to women members, the first woman member and president of the White House Correspondents Association and the first woman member of the Gridiron club. In 1998, Thomas was honored by President Clinton as the first recipient of the Helen Thomas Lifetime Achievement Award. She will mark her 90th birthday on Aug. 4.

None of these prestigious firsts or awards protected Thomas from the firestorm that followed her remarks. Time columnist Joe Klein wrote that Thomas should be stripped of her privileged seat in the White House briefing room. Her remarks were offensive, but considering her journalistic moxie and courage over many decades — in sharp contrast to the despicable deeds committed by so many littering the Washington political scene — isn’t there room for someone who made a mistake, apologized for it and wants to continue speaking truth to power and asking tough questions?

From The UK Telegraph:

Ms Thomas was the longest-serving reporter in the White House. She has spent most of her career working for United Press International wire service, but had been working as a columnist for Hearst newspapers since 2000. She has also written five books.

In an interview on 27 May, she said that Israelis should get “the hell out of Palestine” and suggested they went to Germany, Poland or the US.

White House press secretary Robert Gibbs said her comments were “offensive and reprehensible”. She has since apologised.

Thomas started working for United Press International in 1943, rising to become their White House bureau chief.

She was the only member of the White House press corps to have her own chair in the White House press room. All other chairs are assigned to media outlets.

She covered every presidency since the later years of President Eisenhower’s administration, and became the first female officer of the National Press Club.

Ms Thomas, a daughter of Lebanese immigrants, began covering the White House for the wire service in 1960. Fiercely competitive, she became the first female White House bureau chief for a news service in 1974. She was also the first female officer at the National Press Club, where women had once been barred as members.

“Helen was just a vacuum cleaner about information,” said author Kay Mills, who took dictation from Ms Thomas as a young UPI staffer and wrote A Place In The News: From The Women’s Pages To The Front Page.

“She made sure she had everything. She may have been covering Jackie Kennedy and a birthday party for one of the children, but I’ll tell you, the desk had every bit of information it ever needed.”

When the Watergate scandal began consuming Richard Nixon’s presidency, Martha Mitchell, the notoriously unguarded wife of the attorney general, would call Ms Thomas late at night to unload her frustrations at what she saw as the betrayal of her husband, John, by the president’s men.

Ms Thomas retained her place on the front row of the White House briefing room after joining Hearst in 2000 and remained persistent to the point of badgering.

She aggressively questioned George Bush junior and his press secretaries about the war in Iraq, which many of his supporters said would make Israel safer by ridding the Middle East of Saddam Hussein.

She gave Barack Obama similar handling about Afghanistan just two weeks ago: “Mr President, when are you going to get out of Afghanistan? Why are you continuing to kill and die there? What is the real excuse? And don’t give us this Bushism, ‘If we don’t go there, they’ll all come here’,” she said.

Writing on her website, Ms Thomas said, “I deeply regret my comments I made last week regarding the Israelis and the Palestinians. They do not reflect my heartfelt belief that peace will come to the Middle East only when all parties recognise the need for mutual respect and tolerance. May that day come soon.”

Bill Moyers TV Farewell with Hightower — The Fight of Our Lives: The Populist Battle with Corporate Power

In Uncategorized on May 3, 2010 at 5:58 pm

Oldspeak: The end of an era. Mr Moyers’ fiercely democratic voice will be sorely missed.

From Bill Moyers JournalBy Bill Moyers andJim Hightower

The following is a transcript of Bill Moyers’ interview with Jim Hightower from the final broadcast of Bill Moyers Journal. It has been edited for length.

BILL MOYERS: Once upon a time, a whole lot of just plain Americans woke up to realize the economic system was working against them. They had believed in it; they worked hard to make it work for them. They knew its shortcomings but saw in it the way to a decent return for their labor and a better future for their families.

Then, one day, calamity struck: The system turned on them. And they discovered that they had been betrayed, bamboozled, by the people at the top.

But they didn’t hang their heads and turn tail, like a dog whipped by its master. They organized and fought back — millions of them in a grass roots movement for democracy. What they did became known as the Populist Moment, an extraordinary time in our country’s history.

But, the flimflam gang returned with a vengeance in our time — the monied interests and political mercenaries who connived to bring on a calamity that lost eleven million Americans their jobs, robbed people of their homes and pensions, and brought the world’s economy crashing down.

But once again, people are organizing and fighting back; as they did in that early Populist Moment that took on the monopolies and financial trusts. The stirrings of a popular insurgency could be seen late this week as thousands marched on Wall Street. These people are angry at the banks that have cost them so dearly and they want reforms to prevent similar disasters in the future. They want to break up the Wall Street oligarchy and require the banks to use their capital to build and revitalize and innovate, to create jobs and security.

Similar protests occurred this week in San Francisco, North Carolina and Kansas City, where people rallied to demand an accounting from the giant Bank of America.

Among their ranks was a contingent from Iowa, proud and vocal inheritors of America’s populist spirit. We first met them at a rally last fall.

BILL MOYERS: In October, some five thousand people came to Chicago to rally outside the convention of the American Bankers Association.

CROWD: ABA, you’re the worst! Time to put the people first!

BILL MOYERS: This is not the Tea Party crowd, chanting against “government takeovers” and “creeping socialism.”

CROWD: We’re fired up! Can’t take it no more!

BILL MOYERS: They are populists of the old school. They want the government on their side battling against predatory monopolies, trusts, and corporations.

MIKE MCCARTHY: We’re losing jobs. We’re losing state employees. We’re losing industry and businesses. We’re losing farms and homes. And meanwhile, these people across the street are trying to divvy up their record profits, in tens of millions of dollars worth of bonuses. And that’s not fair, it’s not fair. …

BILL MOYERS: Mike McCarthy and a busload of his Iowa neighbors rode almost six hours to get here. … They belong to an organization called Iowa Citizens for Community Improvement. Or CCI. They take their fighting spirit, everywhere they go.

LARRY GINTER: If you’ve seen your pensions or retirement take a hit, stand up. Dissent is apple pie and ice cream. If you think it’s time to put people first and hold banks accountable, stand up. Our founding fathers spoke out against the injustice. I mean, they were great populist, great radicals. … You just can’t sit back and let the big boys walk all over you. You have to stand up and fight. Give yourselves a hand!

BILL MOYERS: Larry Ginter still lives on the Iowa farm where he was born. He spent two years in the army, and more than fifty on the prairie scratching out a living from the land.

LARRY GINTER: I seen a lot of heartache out here on the farms family farmers not getting the fair prices. And then you see workers not getting a fair wage. And things like this always got to me. I always felt I had to get involved in that. There’s a saying, “Revolution begins in a peasant hut.” You got to fight for the justice. You got to fight for the fair wage. You got to fight for housing. You got to fight for healthcare. Fight for the elderly, fight for family farmers and workers. Fight for the environment. And that’s what Iowa CCI does.

BILL MOYERS: For more than thirty years, they have marched their Midwest brand of outrage through city streets, rural towns, and bank lobbies. … I don’t know anyone who embodies that old-time, populist gospel, the high spirits and fierce commitment to justice that you just witnessed among the good people of Iowa more than my longtime friend, Jim Hightower.

With a down home wit and a finely honed outrage, Hightower pins the tail on the plutocrats.

A recovering politician, one time commissioner of agriculture in Texas, he now broadcasts daily radio commentaries and publishes this indispensable monthly newsletter, “The Hightower Lowdown.” I admire the journalism in “The Lowdown” so much I helped raise money to raise its profile some years ago. In the spirit of fair trade, Jim has allowed me to borrow some of his best lines, including that rousing populist cry from deep in our native East Texas, “the water won’t clear up until we get the hogs out of the creek.”

He’s been at it so long that this weekend, Jim is being honored at Texas State University in San Marcos with an exhibition celebrating his life’s work as a populist journalist, historian and advocate.

They’re calling the event “Swim Against the Current” because that’s what he does, and in fact, that’s the title of his most recent book. … What do you think about those people from Iowa?

JIM HIGHTOWER: Well, the thing that struck me most is, it’s a coalition of farmers, of environmentalists, workers, young people, old people, working for the community. And it’s not just about me, me, me all the time. They’re exactly in the tradition of people who, you know, are mad as hell but do something about it. You know, it’s one thing to be mad. But it’s another thing to get organized, and find your way around it. You know, my mama told me that two wrongs don’t make a right, but three left turns do.

And that’s what we have to do. We have to figure a way around these blockages of Wall Street today. Of the corporate interests that are squeezing out small business. Of the blockages in the marketplaces. The drug companies, for example, that are gouging consumers. Have to figure out a way around that. It’s not enough to whine. Even in the media.

You know? Because the populists faced that same thing of the media of the day, being primarily newspapers and magazines. Wouldn’t cover this populist movement. In fact, when I worked for Ralph Yarborough, years ago, a Senator from Texas, “The Dallas Morning News” just ignored the progressives of that day. And Yarborough could have a meeting in Dallas and there’d be 5,000 people there. And not a word in “The Dallas Morning News.” So, we had a new name, a new subtitle for the Dallas News. If it happens in Dallas it’s news to us.

BILL MOYERS: Populism began in Texas, didn’t it?

JIM HIGHTOWER: It did. In 1877, out near Lampasas. A group of farmers sitting around a table much like this. And getting run over by the banks and by the railroad monopolies, not unlike what’s happening today. People were being knocked down by corporate power. And that power was initially the banks that just gouged them. Usurious rates of lending. Cause farmers live on credit. You know, they were getting stuck with, you know, 20 percent, 25-30 percent interest rates. And realizing they were going to go broke. And said, “We’ve got to do something.” And out of that, you know, that question has come up so much throughout history. We got to do something.

And people figure it out. And it became an incredible, they, the most extensive and most successful mass grassroots movement ever in this country around economic issues. It didn’t begin as political movement. They found ways to get credit, establish their own credit system. Bypassing the banks.

Their own supply system. Seed, fertilizer and that sort of thing. And then their own marketing system. And then they began to build a cultural movement around it, as well. They educated people. They had a speaker’s bureau. They had 40,000 members in it. So–

BILL MOYERS: They had quite a network of intellectual power, didn’t they?

JIM HIGHTOWER: Yes. And it was an intellectual movement. It was an education movement, cultural movement, economic movement. Then it became political. They, and they elected all across the country, by the way, New York to California.

BILL MOYERS: Yeah, it spread from Texas to Kansas and–

JIM HIGHTOWER: Up to the Plains States. And over into the Upper Midwest. And then east and then west and then down through the South. So, it was everywhere. And a very powerful movement.

BILL MOYERS: They were the first party to call for a woman’s right to vote. To call for the direct election of Senators. To oppose all subsidies to corporations. They called for pensions for veterans. They wanted to corral the power of lobbyists. What do we owe them?

JIM HIGHTOWER: We owe them imitation. We owe them the continuation of that spirit that we do not have to just accept what is handed to us. We can battle back against the powers. But it’s not just going to a rally and shouting. It’s organizing and it’s thinking. And reaching out to others. And building a real people’s movement.

BILL MOYERS: How does the Tea Party differ from the people you’re talking about? We have two groups of Americans, both angry and defiant, and both calling themselves populists. What don’t they have in common?

JIM HIGHTOWER: Here’s what populism is not. It is not just an incoherent outburst of anger. And certainly it is not anger that is funded and organized by corporate front groups, as the initial Tea Party effort is, and as most of it is still today. Though there is legitimate anger within it, in terms of the people who are there. But what populism is at its essence is a, a just determined focus on helping people be able to get out of the iron grip of the corporate power that is overwhelming our economy, our environment, energy, the media, government. And I guess that’s one big difference between real populism and what the Tea Party thing is, is that real populists understand that government has become a subsidiary of corporations. So you can’t say, let’s get rid of government. You need to be saying let’s take over government.

BILL MOYERS: Why don’t you call yourself a liberal?

JIM HIGHTOWER: The difference between a liberal and a progressive is that liberals want to assuage the problems that we have from corporate power. Populists want to get rid of corporate power. An example is what’s happening, right now, with the Wall Street reform that’s in Washington.

BILL MOYERS: I heard quotation marks around that word reform.

JIM HIGHTOWER: Here come the Democrats, again, you know, just weaker than Canadian hot sauce. You know? Offering a little reform. I saw one of the Senators, Democrats, saying, we’re going to have a robust disclosure program. Oh, good. They’re going to tell us they’re stealing from us. But at least we’re going to know. So, instead, liberals like–

BILL MOYERS: We need to regulate the corporation.

JIM HIGHTOWER: Yes, yes. Rather than break it down.

BILL MOYERS: What do you mean break it down?

JIM HIGHTOWER: If you’re too big to fail, you’re too big period. And now they’ve become not only too big to fail, but too big to care.

BILL MOYERS: So when you identify yourself as a populist, what are you saying?

JIM HIGHTOWER: I’m saying pretty clearly that I see the central issue in politics to be the rise of corporate power. Overwhelming, overweening corporate power that is running roughshod over the workaday people of the country. They think they’re the top dogs, and we’re a bunch of fire hydrants, you know? Out here in the countryside. And they can do what they want to with us. What’s been missing is what can we do about it? And those people in Iowa, by the way, are not alone. There are people in Minnesota doing that, people in Oregon that I know. People in Texas. All across the country.

It’s about the long haul. And the target is not government, it’s those who are pulling the strings of government, which are those corporate lobbyists and the money that the corporate executives and now corporations directly can put into our campaigns.

BILL MOYERS: Because of the recent Supreme Court decision.

JIM HIGHTOWER: Yes. Citizens United, which is a, really a black robed coup by five men on the Supreme Court. And Bill, there’s another fraud. Is these people on the Supreme Court call themselves conservatives. And the media goes along with it. The conservative majority in the Supreme– but there’s nothing conservative at all about that decision to allow corporations to be people. And to contribute all the money that they want out of their corporate treasuries into our campaigns. That is a usurpation of democratic power.

BILL MOYERS: You wouldn’t call them conservative, what would you call them?

JIM HIGHTOWER: I would call those five really traitors to the democratic ideal that was put forward of self government of people, not of corporations.

BILL MOYERS: I was taken recently by something you said in– about all this. You said in the last 30 to 40 years, our landscape has been radically altered.

JIM HIGHTOWER: And both political parties have been a part of this. Have basically gotten away with it. But the altering has been done by the corporate interests. And they have changed the way our economy works. And beat up on labor unions. So that they can now fire at will. They can offshore. They can downsize. They can do what they want with the workers.

BILL MOYERS: You quote a Wall Street honcho who says quote, “American business is about maximizing shareholder value…You basically don’t want workers.”

JIM HIGHTOWER: Exactly. And that’s what’s happening. And so, they’ve changed the whole dynamic in the way our– in where power is in our economy. It is now concentrated in these corporate– suites. They have the lobbying power. And the financial contributions to our members of Congress. That enormous power. Already corporations have amassed almost half a billion dollars for the 2010 elections.

And that doesn’t count the– what’s going to come with the Supreme Court decision. When all that, the money from the corporate treasuries themselves can be unleashed on candidates. Already the U.S. Chamber of Commerce is spending more money than either the Democratic National Party or the Republican National Party in our politics.

Now, it’ll become a major front group for these kind of– and all sorts of other front groups exist for this. And rather than, let’s pass an amendment that says, no, a corporation cannot contribute its money to politics. And in fact, originally most of the state charters in the country prohibited any corporate involvement in politics whatsoever.

They not only regulated corporations the founders, Jefferson and Madison, they feared corporate power. Because they knew it could amass unlimited amounts of money that would overwhelm the government.

They put strict standards for performance, because this was a selfish entity that had really no public responsibility. And so, it was a dangerous threat and it has to be, not only strictly regulated but structured in such a way that serves us rather than vice versa.

BILL MOYERS: And yet, isn’t part of the problem the fact that so many people in high places are afraid of populism? I mean, they see it–as a menace to their position. Let me show a little montage we have here.

SENATOR JUDD GREGG: Well the problem we have is that there’s populist fervor, sort of this Huey Long attitude out there that says that all banks are bad and that the financial system is evil and that as a result we must do things which will basically end up reducing our competitiveness as a nation…

MAYOR MIKE BLOOMBERG: And the real danger here is that we write a bill based on populist reaction, “I’m going to get those S.O.B.’s,” because of a financial crisis which incidentally they may or, they had something to do with but were not the only ones responsible for.

SENATOR BOB CORKER: Look, we, this is important stuff. This isn’t about populist ideas and this isn’t about a political issue. We’re going to have to live with this. It’s going to affect our competitiveness around the world in big ways.

BILL MOYERS: They’re afraid of you.

JIM HIGHTOWER: Absolutely. I mean, if ignorance is bliss, these people must be ecstatic, because they don’t have a clue about what’s going on in the countryside. It is not just populist anger. It’s information. It’s education. People are informed, they do know what’s going on. And in fact, despite Senator Judd’s comments there, people do not hate all banks.

They know the difference between Goldman Sachs and the local community bank. They know the difference between JPMorgan Chase and their credit union. They know who’s serving the community and who is not. And who’s offering financial products that actually serve our society and those that are just gimmicks to further enrich the rich.

BILL MOYERS: You were very influenced, I know, in this, by your father. What was it he said? Everyone–

JIM HIGHTOWER: Everybody does better when everybody does better.

BILL MOYERS: Which means?

JIM HIGHTOWER: That means that instead of tinkle down economics, which we’ve been trying for the last 30 years in this country. Let’s just help the rich and then the rest of us will– we’ll all enjoy a seven course dinner. Well ours turns out to be a possum and a six pack. You know?

BILL MOYERS: He was a small business owner.

JIM HIGHTOWER: He was a small business guy.

BILL MOYERS: Where?

JIM HIGHTOWER: The Main Street newsstand in Denison, Texas. And had a wholesale magazine business. And he and my mother did. And, but he never thought that he did that by himself, you know? He knew there was something called the New Deal that offered a lot of opportunities. And, but he was always having to battle the banks. And then ultimately battle Wal-Mart and the chain stores.

He knew about the power of the oil lobby down in Austin and the legislature. So, he thought he was a conservative. But when you talk to him about these issues, then he was a William Jennings Bryan radical. He wanted to go get them. And that’s the kind of politics, I think, the Democratic Party has to have. Because that’s why the Democratic Party exists. Not to be friends of the corporate interests. The Goldman Sachs and et cetera, but to challenge those corporate interests on behalf of everybody else.

BILL MOYERS: There’s someone we both know said to me just this morning, the Republicans work for Wall Street and the Democrats are afraid to work against them.

JIM HIGHTOWER: Isn’t that strange? You know, the– it’s odd to me that we’ve got a President who ran from the outside and won. And now is trying to govern from the inside. You can’t do progressive government from the inside. You have to rally those outsiders and make them a force to come inside.

I grew up in Denison, Texas, I said. A small town. I was a small guy. So, I learned early on, you should never hit a man with glasses. You should use something much heavier. And our heavy weight is the people themselves. They’ve got the fat cats, but we’ve got the alley cats. And we need to organize them and bring them inside. But I’ll tell you right now, the Democrats, not Obama, not Nancy Pelosi, not Harry Reid, none of them, really organize the grassroots. They’ll say, “Well, write your Congressman or send an email or make a call.”

BILL MOYERS: Send us five dollars on the internet.

JIM HIGHTOWER: Yeah, exactly. But rather than seeing that this is our strength. And we have to organize that strength in strategic ways. And in tactical ways. To come to bear on these issues. You know, Jesse Jackson said something strong. He said, we might not all come over on the same boat, but we’re in the same boat now. That’s a powerful political reality. When people grasp that, they can see the possibility of getting together and doing something.

BILL MOYERS: So, what is a good populist to do in this regard? I mean, corporations are here to stay. They do employ millions of people. And many of them do good things in the country like supporting this broadcast. … What do we do?

JIM HIGHTOWER: Well, you support those that support us. And there are corporations that do that. But you also do something else. And that is devise alternatives. There’s a huge cooperative movement in America that you almost never hear about. There are some 72,000 co-ops operating today. Most of them are consumer co-ops. There are insurance co-ops. There are health care co-ops. There are food co-ops, of course. There are banking co-ops. There are all kinds of cooperatives out across the country. And those entities have 120 million people participating in them. Members.

You never hear about this movement. I’ve worked with a number of them. There’s a great one, Madison Cab Company. Union Cab Company, Madison, Wisconsin. A bunch of cabbies going broke back in the ’70s. Getting treated like Kleenex by the manager. And so, they formed a union. And the owner said, well, hell with that. I’m not dealing with any union. You know, I’ll just sell the thing.

So, they said, well, what the hell. We do the work here. You know, we do the dispatching and the driving and mechanical work. We could run it. So, they created a co-op. And they had a lot of ups and downs. But over the next 30 years, they were able to make it. And it’s the most successful cab company in all of Madison, Wisconsin. They get a high consumer approval rating.

And I learned about this, because I rode a cab to the airport there in Madison once. And the guy turned around, full body, by the way, to look at me in the back. And you know, you’re in a union cab. And I said, well, no, I didn’t. And then he told me the story. But he said, he was one of the original founders. And he had been able to put his two kids through college driving a cab. Because the owners were the workers themselves. And doing a great service to the public.

BILL MOYERS: You know, I have to say it’s been interesting to watch you over these 30 years. Because you’ve suffered a lot of defeat. You got defeated in your last race by the man who’s now been Governor of Texas longer than anyone in history, whose campaign mentor was Karl Rove.

JIM HIGHTOWER: Karl Rove.

JIM HIGHTOWER: A guy who puts the goober in gubernatorial.

BILL MOYERS: But I mean you got beat there. You– a lot of what you want hasn’t happened. And yet, every time I see you or hear you, you haven’t– you don’t give up.

JIM HIGHTOWER: Yeah. Well it could be stupidity. But what it really is, is that I’m a lucky duck. And that I travel a whole lot. I give a lot of speeches. And that takes me all across the country on a regular basis. I’ve been just about every place that’s got a zip code, I think. And what I find in every one of those places is someone or some group of someones who is in rebellion.

And again, not just ranting about it, but actually organizing others and taking on some aspect of this corporate power. And winning. So, I see victories just every week across the country in my travels. You can go anywhere and you see victories. Some of them political. But most of them in terms of just civic action. People engaged in, and making a difference in their communities. So, you want to see the populist movement where it actually is today, it’s at the zip code level. It’s in the communities.

BILL MOYERS: Like those people in Iowa.

JIM HIGHTOWER: Yes, exactly. I go all the way back to Thomas Paine, of course. I mean, that was kind of the ultimate rebellion. And then when the media tool was a pamphlet. You know, a pamphleteer or a broadside that you put on the community bulletin board. So the whole American Revolution itself, but not the great men. They didn’t– they wrote the Bill of Rights and the Constitution and the Declaration of Independence. But that didn’t create democracy. It made democracy possible.

What created democracy was Thomas Paine and the Shays Rebellion the suffragists and the abolitionists and on down through the populists, the labor movement. Including the Wobblies. Tough in their face people. The– Mother Jones, Woody Guthrie, you know, the cultural aspect of it, as well. Of course, Martin Luther King and Caesar Chavez. And now it’s down to us.

You know, the– these are agitators. They extended democracy decade after decade. You know, sometimes we get in the midst of these fights. We think we’re making no progress. But, you know, you look back. We’ve made a lot of progress. And you’ve seen it. And I have, as well. You know, that agitator after all is the center post in the washing machine that gets the dirt out. So, we need a lot more agitation. And that’s the only thing that succeeds from a progressive side in changing politics in America.

BILL MOYERS: So, is that what you mean when you say the water won’t clear up until we get the hogs out of the creek?

JIM HIGHTOWER: That’s it. That’s right. They are in the creek. And they’re fouling our environmental, political and economic waters. And you don’t get a hog out of the creek, Bill, by saying, here hog, here hog. You know? You got to put your shoulder to it and shove it out of the creek.

BILL MOYERS: You’ve no doubt figured out my bias by now. I’ve hardly kept it a secret. In this regard, I take my cue from the late Edward R. Murrow, the Moses of broadcast news.

Ed Murrow told his generation of journalists bias is okay as long as you don’t try to hide it. So here, one more time, is mine: plutocracy and democracy don’t mix. Plutocracy, the rule of the rich, political power controlled by the wealthy. Plutocracy is not an American word but it’s become an American phenomenon. Back in the fall of 2005, the Wall Street giant Citigroup even coined a variation on it, plutonomy, an economic system where the privileged few make sure the rich get richer with government on their side.

By the next spring, Citigroup decided the time had come to publicly “bang the drum on plutonomy.” And bang they did, with an “equity strategy” for their investors, entitled, “Revisiting Plutonomy: The Rich Getting Richer.” Here are some excerpts: “Asset booms, a rising profit share and favorable treatment by market-friendly governments have allowed the rich to prosper…[and] take an increasing share of income and wealth over the last 20 years…” “…the top 10%, particularly the top 1% of the US– the plutonomists in our parlance– have benefited disproportionately from the recent productivity surge in the US…[and] from globalization and the productivity boom, at the relative expense of labor.” “…[and they] are likely to get even wealthier in the coming years. [Because] the dynamics of plutonomy are still intact.” And so they were, before the great collapse of 2008. And so they are, today, after the fall.

While millions of people have lost their jobs, their homes, and their savings, the plutonomists are doing just fine. In some cases, even better, thanks to our bailout of the big banks which meant record profits and record bonuses for Wall Street. Now why is this? Because over the past 30 years the plutocrats, or plutonomists — choose your poison — have used their vastly increased wealth to capture the flag and assure the government does their bidding.

Remember that Citigroup reference to “market-friendly governments” on their side? It hasn’t mattered which party has been in power — government has done Wall Street’s bidding. Don’t blame the lobbyists, by the way; they are simply the mules of politics, delivering the drug of choice to a political class addicted to cash — what polite circles call “campaign contributions” and Tony Soprano would call “protection.”

This marriage of money and politics has produced an America of gross inequality at the top and low social mobility at the bottom, with little but anxiety and dread in between, as middle class Americans feel the ground falling out from under their feet. According to a study from the Pew Research Center last month, nine out of ten Americans give our national economy a negative rating. Eight out of ten report difficulty finding jobs in their communities, and seven out of ten say they experienced job-related or financial problems over the past year. So it is that like those populists of that earlier era, millions of Americans have awakened to a sobering reality: they live in a plutocracy, where they are disposable. Then, the remedy was a popular insurgency that ignited the spark of democracy.

Now we have come to another parting of the ways, and once again the fate and character of our country are up for grabs. So along with Jim Hightower and Iowa’s concerned citizens, and many of you, I am biased: democracy only works when we claim it as our own.

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