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

Posts Tagged ‘Nominal Democracy’

“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 Struggle To Save Our Planet Heats Up

In Uncategorized on April 25, 2013 at 1:46 pm

Adapting to Climate ChangeOldspeak: “To get to the root of the issue, it becomes necessary to analyze the whole economic system of production and exchange of goods and services—that is, capitalism. Only by doing this can we hope to formulate an effective strategy to combat climate change and thereby recognize that ecological and social justice are inseparably connected to each other, via an organized, grassroots and global challenge to the capitalist social order…

One doesn’t need to be an anti-capitalist to take part in this struggle, but one does need to recognize that unless the pendulum of social power swings back toward the working people in the U.S. and around the world, and that limits and regulations are placed on the activities of corporate power, we have no hope of saving our world. This struggle is not really about technology or which renewable energy models should be deployed or whether this or that politician or this corporation or that CEO is more or less evil than the other. It’s not about things or people at all—it’s about relationships. It’s about democracy, which is itself about social power, and the relationships it presumes.

The power of the oceans, the power of scientific rationality, the power of the tides and hurricane-force winds are self-evidently not enough to persuade capitalists to act. The only force strong enough to do that is the organized force of the people. We must take the place of gravity to pull the pendulum of contending class forces—wrenched rightward by 30 years of neoliberalism—back toward our side.” -Chris Williams.

YES! The root of the issue is capitalism. We have to stop nibbling around the edges. We have to recognize that capitalism in its current globalized and unrestrained form is fundamentally at odds with Democracy, human and natural rights. We have to have an honest critical discussion about global capital and how it’s destroying our planet. We must reassert our sacred commitment, as our ancestors did for millennia, to be custodians of our earth mother, not her rapists. We must recognize that infinite growth is impossible on a finite planet. The global capitalist enterprise is collapsing and blowing up all around us, one need only look to texas and Bangladesh and the explosion in unemployment and poverty, the collapse of ecosystems, to see what’s happening.  We cannot keep dumping wasteful trillions into failing, obsolete, toxic, fossil and nuclear fuel based infrastructure that is destroying and poisoning our planet. We have to fundamentally rethink how we organize our civilization and economy. The systems we have are not working.

By Chris Williams @ Z Magazine:

Capitalism stands as a death sentinel over planetary life. Recent reports from institutions, such as the World Bank, detail how, as a result of human activity, we are on track for a 4° Celsius increase in average global temperatures. Should this come to pass, the Earth would be hotter than at any time in the last 30 million years; an absolutely devastating prognosis that will wipe out countless species as ecosystems destabilize and climate becomes a vortex of erratic, wild weather events.

Despite this Americans, suffered through an election campaign in which climate change literally wasn’t mentioned—at least until the final weeks, when a hurricane forced the presidential candidates to acknowledge it.

Even as the World Bank published its report—with the conclusion that avoiding a 4° temperature increase was “vital for the health and welfare of communities around the world”—bank officials were nevertheless still handing out loans to construct more than two dozen coal-fired power plants to the tune of $5 billion.

In direct contrast to politicians and the media, fully 80 percent of Americans believe that climate change will be a serious problem for the United States unless the government does something about it—with 57 percent saying the government should do a “great deal” or “quite a bit.”

Even for the 1 in 3 Americans who say they are wary of science and distrust scientists, 61 percent now agree that temperatures have risen over the last 100 years. Commenting on the new poll, Stanford University social psychologist and pollster Jon Crosskick wrote, “They don’t believe what the scientists say, they believe what the thermometers say…. Events are helping these people see what scientists thought they had been seeing all along.”

This background of overwhelming public concern helped situate the national demonstration in Washington, DC on February 17, against the building of the Keystone XL tar sands pipeline from Canada to Texas. If built, the pipeline will carry 800,000 barrels a day of highly-polluting tar sands oil, effectively dealing a death blow to hopes of preventing rampant climate change. The demonstration added significance as activists attempted to draw a line in the sand and pose the first big litmus test for the second term of Barack Obama.

Given that an overwhelming majority of Americans, and even most people hostile to climate science, are in favor of action, why is it that the overwhelming majority of politicians—who presumably are subject to the same weather as the rest of us—can’t seem to see the need? Why aren’t our elected representatives proposing serious measures to prevent it from getting worse?

How one answers this question is not one of semantics. Rather, it is of decisive importance because it determines how one should fight and with whom one should forge alliances. Unfortunately, it is a question that Bill McKibben, cofounder of 350.org and a key organizer of the February 17 demonstration, has struggled with, but not conclusively resolved. His confusion is evidenced by the title of an article he wrote in January: “Our Protest Must Short-Circuit the Fossil Fuel Interests Blocking Barack Obama”—implying that Obama would do something if he could.

The momentum generated from this demonstration may serve as the launching pad for a sustained campaign that begins to stitch together the myriad forces fighting locally around the country, transforming previously isolated or single-issue initiatives and groups into a broad united front for climate justice that draws in other forces, such as unions.

This was the position of Big Green groups like the Sierra Club. Even as it pledged for the first time to take part in civil disobedience, its executive director, Michael Brune, declared that the new strategy was part of “a larger plan to support the president in realizing his vision and make sure his ambition meets the scale of the challenge.”

The first thing Obama and his new Secretary of State John Kerry could do is say no to the construction of the Keystone XL pipeline. That would be inordinately easy, as Obama has the final say and doesn’t require Congress’ support to shut it down. After 53 senators from both parties signed a letter urging him to green-light the pipeline, Obama is running out of ways to further delay his decision.

In spite of the rhetoric of his inaugural address, the pivotal question remains: Is Barack Obama—or any Democratic leader, for that matter—really on our side? Is it just a question of persuading a reluctant friend, hamstrung by a right-wing, dysfunctional Congress and stymied by powerful corporate interests, to act by demonstrating outside his house to let him know we’re there for him? Or should we be surrounding his house, knowing full well that he won’t give in to our demands without a social movement that acts independently of his wishes and control.

To understand the reasons for Obama’s “lack of desire” to address climate change—a microcosm of the larger inability of global leaders and institutions to do likewise amid two decades of futile climate negotiations—it’s necessary to go beneath the surface appearance of things; to examine the structure and ideology of the system of capitalism.

Systemic Causes

When their financial system was threatened by the crisis that began in 2008, political leaders didn’t sit around for 20 years arguing that they had to wait until all the facts were in and attempting to reach consensus on a solution. No, in a heartbeat, they threw trillions of dollars at the banks.

But when a far larger crisis, one that threatens the basic stability of the planetary biosphere, unfurls as a result of the same policies of reckless growth, waste and warfare, they spend their time trashing scientists and ignoring the unraveling weather outside their windows. Therefore, to get to the root of the issue, it becomes necessary to analyze the whole economic system of production and exchange of goods and services—that is, capitalism. Only by doing this can we hope to formulate an effective strategy to combat climate change and thereby recognize that ecological and social justice are inseparably connected to each other, via an organized, grassroots and global challenge to the capitalist social order.

One doesn’t need to be an anti-capitalist to take part in this struggle, but one does need to recognize that unless the pendulum of social power swings back toward the working people in the U.S. and around the world, and that limits and regulations are placed on the activities of corporate power, we have no hope of saving our world. This struggle is not really about technology or which renewable energy models should be deployed or whether this or that politician or this corporation or that CEO is more or less evil than the other. It’s not about things or people at all—it’s about relationships. It’s about democracy, which is itself about social power, and the relationships it presumes.

The power of the oceans, the power of scientific rationality, the power of the tides and hurricane-force winds are self-evidently not enough to persuade capitalists to act. The only force strong enough to do that is the organized force of the people. We must take the place of gravity to pull the pendulum of contending class forces—wrenched rightward by 30 years of neoliberalism—back toward our side.

Ultimately, as a socialist, I would argue that we need to live in a world where there are no classes with diametrically opposed interests, in perpetual conflict over social and political power. Only in such a socially just and ecologically sustainable world will there be any long-term hope for humanity to live in peace with itself, other species, and the planet on which we depend. The stepping-stones of the revolutionary road are the acts of struggle needed to create it.

In contrast to his inaugural speech, Obama’s first press conference after re-election gave a more accurate insight into the priorities of his second term. Unlike four out of five Americans who want the government to do something to address climate change, Obama made it clear that this wouldn’t be a priority for his administration: “Understandably, I think the American people right now have been so focused and will continue to be focused on our economy and jobs and growth that, you know, if the message is somehow we’re going to ignore jobs and growth simply to address climate change, I don’t think anybody’s going to go for that. I won’t go for that.”

With two mentions of the need for “growth” in a single sentence, Obama faithfully echoed the declaration of the Earth Summit, Rio+20, held in June 2012, where the representatives of 190 countries, while dismally avoiding any commitment to new targets or limits on greenhouse gas emissions, did commit—16 times in all—to “sustained growth,” a phrase taken to be synonymous, rather than in fundamental conflict, with another term: “sustainability.”

The obligation to promote growth underlines why the root of the climate problem is systemic. If capitalism is not growing, it is in crisis. Growth must occur continuously and in all sectors. If the sector in question is highly profitable, it will grow even faster, regardless of any social considerations.

Like, for example, the fossil-fuel sector. Oil production, rather than declining, as is desperately needed to stop climate change, is predicted to increase from the current 93 million barrels per day to 110 million by 2020—with some of the biggest increases worldwide occurring in the U.S. The Holy Grail of all administrations since Richard Nixon —energy independence—is being made possible by the policies of the Obama administration, as the New York Times reported in a special feature: “National oil production, which declined steadily to 4.95 million barrels a day in 2008 from 9.6 million in 1970, has risen over the last four years to nearly 5.7 million barrels a day. The Energy Department projects that daily output could reach nearly 7 million barrels by 2020. Some experts think it could eventually hit 10 million barrels—which would put the United States in the same league as Saudi Arabia.”

As the climate blogger and former Clinton administration official Joseph Romm put it, Obama is “basically pushing a moderate Republican agenda. It’s just that there aren’t any moderate Republicans left, much as we don’t have any ‘below average temperature’ years any more.”

Again, if we examine the roots of the issue, we find that the pathetic response of an administration purporting to be concerned with environmental questions has much less to do with individual personnel than with the dynamics of capitalism.

In 1992, when George H.W. Bush flew to Rio for the first Earth Summit, all things seemed possible. The “evil empire”—as Ronald Reagan liked to call the tyrannical dictatorships of the USSR and Eastern Europe, which operated falsely in the name of socialism—had collapsed under the weight of its own economic, social, and ecological contradictions. Politicians in the West were euphoric. They had seen off what they perceived to be an existential threat to their system.

In today’s world of enforced austerity, it’s difficult to recapture the sense of optimism that pervaded Western ruling class circles in the early 1990s. The atmosphere of triumphalism was so great even Republican presidents like Bush could make promises about protecting the environment. A few years later, when the 1997 Kyoto Protocol was written, Western governments were still willing to pledge that they would do the heavy lifting with regard to reducing emissions, while developing countries would be free from such limits.

Hence, the seeming “lack of will” at Rio+20 last year can be much better explained by the onset of a huge structural crisis of capitalism, rather than the “lack of vision” of individual politicians.

Instead of optimism about acting on climate change, the real optimism these days among capitalists is about the profits they can make from the oil and gas bonanza. Oil giant and planet-wrecker par excellence BP is predicting that by 2030, the entire Western Hemisphere will be energy independent, due to the expansion of new techniques for oil and gas exploration, such as fracking in shale deposits and horizontal and deep-water drilling. Fossil fuels are expected to remain at 81 percent of the energy mix in an energy economy that will be 39 percent larger than today.

Naturally, oil executives such as Scott D. Sheffield, chief executive of Texas-based Pioneer Natural Resources—headquartered in an area of the world that received only two inches of rain for the whole of 2011 and spent most of the year with large parts of the state on fire—are nevertheless overjoyed: “To not be concerned with where our oil is going to come from is probably the biggest home run for the country in a hundred years… It sort of reminds me of the industrial revolution in coal, which allowed us to have some of the cheapest energy in the world and drove our economy in the late 1800s and 1900s.”

Depending on who you are, the outlook for natural gas is even rosier. The International Energy Agency recently released a report that asked in its title “Are We Entering a Golden Age of Gas?” The answer was a resounding “yes,” due to the North American shale gas boom and a “strong post-crisis recovery.”

The other side to this “golden age,” as the report makes clear, is that future economic expansion based on natural gas “alone will not put the world on a carbon emissions path consistent with an average global temperature rise of no more than 2° Celsius,” but on a “trajectory consistent with stabilizing the concentration of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere at around 650 parts per million CO2 equivalent, suggesting a long-term temperature rise of over 3.5°  Celsius.”

Insane Logic

In the insane capitalist “logic” of the 21st century, short-term profit-taking must be maximized at all costs. In a little-reported phenomenon, the energy companies have figured out that they can find oil in shale deposits previously considered marginal in the same way that they “frack” for natural gas. With the price of oil over $80 a barrel, it’s profitable to seek oil in this way, regardless of the environmental cost.

Hence, not only is there a natural gas boom in the U.S., but there’s also an enormous, though much less publicized, oil boom. In fact, the oil boom from previously untapped shale deposits is so large that its effects can be seen from space. The Bakken Field in North Dakota, all 15,000 square miles of it, is one of the largest contiguous oil fields in the world, with output doubling every 18 months. In Texas, production from the Eagle Field increased 30-fold between 2010 and 2012. The reason that the remote and sparsely populated Bakken Field rivals Chicago in light pollution, making it visible to orbiting satellites, is because the natural gas that comes up with the oil, rather than being collected and sold, is set on fire in a process called “flaring.” This senseless act of vandalism and waste is the result of the fact that companies are in a rush to make money from oil that they can’t be bothered to develop the infrastructure necessary to cope with associated natural gas.

As Stanford University academic Adam Brandt, who analyzes greenhouse gas emissions from fossil fuels, explains: “Companies are in a race with their competitors to develop the resource, which means there is little incentive to delay production to reduce flaring.” In Texas, the natural gas flared in 2012 could have provided electricity to 400,000 homes.

So while one set of capitalists is fracking for natural gas on the East Coast—thanks to political leaders like Governor Andrew Cuomo in New York, who appears to be ready to open up the state to fracking—in other parts of the country, a different set of capitalists is setting fire to the exact same gas because it’s a nuisance that slows down production of the different fossil fuel they’re after.

Nothing could exemplify the utter waste and anarchic insanity of capitalism than this fact. One of the government regulatory bodies supposedly in charge of overseeing the oil corporations, North Dakota’s Industrial Commission, gave their logic for refusing to take action against this senselessness: “If we restricted oil production to reduce flaring, we would reduce the cash flow from oil wells fivefold…. As well as cutting waste, we are mandated to increase production, which we would not be doing.”

As for the third and dirtiest arm of the triumvirate of fossil fuels, the world is predicted to be burning 1.2 billion tons more coal per year in 2017. Coal has actually declined in use in the U.S. due to companies switching electricity production to cheaper natural gas, which has reduced U.S. carbon emissions.

One might think this is a good thing. However, capitalism is a global system, so any coal not sold here finds a market overseas. The Chinese population is literally choking to death on grotesque amounts of air pollution in cities such as Beijing. And who’s to blame? The U.S. government says China is building too many coal plants, but increasing amounts of the coal in Asia is coming from mines in the U.S. According to a report in ClimateWire: “Although Chinese coal is largely sourced from domestic mines, EIA figures show that U.S. coal shipments to China have dramatically risen in recent years, punctuated by a 107 percent jump from 2011 to 2012. Chinese imports of U.S. coal surged from 4 million tons in 2011 to 8.3 million tons last year.”

This brings us to the international dimension—and the economic and military competition between countries that makes it impossible for effective international agreements on climate change and emissions reduction to be negotiated. If Barack Obama really wanted to do something about reducing energy consumption in America—and killing a lot fewer people around the world—he could start with a massive reduction in military spending. The U.S. military is the single biggest user of energy in the United States, with the Department of Defense responsible for 80 percent of government energy requirements. Just the cost of the war in Iraq would have paid, from now until 2030, for all the investment in renewable energies necessary to stay below 2° Celsius of warming.

These examples illustrate two things. First, we are in a do-or-die battle with the economic system because capitalism is in fundamental conflict with the biosphere. And second, only a committed alliance of social and ecological justice activists that is clear about the nature of the enemy and prepared to confront the political and economic architects of the crisis stands a hope of winning.

This is why fighting the XL pipeline is about much more than stopping a single pipeline or the first test of Obama’s second term. It’s about building a movement for social and ecological justice and making it clear that we are going to organize to prevent any more infrastructure being built that will drive us over the ecological cliff.

As energy analyst Chris Nelder has put it, we face a choice between keeping the old fossil-fuel based infrastructure that is burning up the planet, and adding to it at an annual cost of $1.6 trillion just to keep it running—or transitioning, at much lower economic, let alone environmental, cost, to a new energy paradigm. His figures and argument are worthy of a lengthy quote: “Instead of incremental spending on an effectively dead transportation regime, we should be thinking about one that can survive the challenges ahead, and deliver more economic benefits than costs. We should be setting an ambitious target, like replacing all commercial passenger air flights with high speed rail for trips under 1,000 miles, replacing 90 percent of our city street traffic with light rail, and moving all long-haul freight traffic to rail. Even if the cost of all that rail infrastructure were in the range of $3 trillion, it would be a fantastic investment.

“Against $6 trillion (minimum) in sunk costs and $1.6 trillion per year in maintenance, the $1.2 trillion per year, plus building the high speed rail network at a generous estimate of $1 trillion, looks very reasonable.

“Put another way: Would you rather spend another $32 trillion over the next 20 years just to maintain a outmoded, unscaleable, aged, unhealthy system, plus another $2.8 trillion in lost productivity due to delays and gridlock, only to wind up out of gas? Or would you rather spend $25 trillion to repair our infrastructure, transition transportation to rail, transition the power grid to renewables, upgrade the entire grid, and solve the carbon problem, to have free fuel forever.”

Of course, whether we travel that road or not—and whether we leave a world to our descendants as beautiful as the one we were born into—will depend on our own independent, organized self-activity to wrench control away from a ruling elite that is quite happy to continue making money from a system that must be overturned.

Chris Williams is an environmental activist, professor of physics and chemistry at Pace University, and the author of Ecology and Socialism.

With Liberty & Justice for 1%: America’s Three-Tiered Justice System

In Uncategorized on March 26, 2013 at 7:08 pm

Attorney General Eric Holder speaks to reporters at the U.S. Capitol in Washington, June 19, 2012. On March 6, testifying before the Senate Judiciary Committee, Holder indicated that some banks may be too big to prosecute. (Photo: Jonathan Ernst / The New York Times) Oldspeak: “Big shots are above the law, the government now admits, but a three-tiered justice system has Congress churning out new bills to keep the prison industry booming. Our Congress, acting as an agent of Corporate America, is working assiduously to issue ever more novel and oppressive laws so as to keep the machinery of law enforcement operating.”- Mike Lofgren It’s no secret that inequality in the U.S. is at an all time high, surpassing the madness seen during the great depression. The top 1 percent of households by income captured 121 percent of all income gains between 2009 and 2011. This inequality concurrently permeates most every other system in our society. Education, employment, energy, social, environment, food production. And the justice system is no different.  We are living in a time where there are people for which “there is neither law nor redress. Where international treaties may apply, such as the Geneva Convention or treaties against torture, they are assumed not to exist for purposes of official US government conduct.” Where people disappear, indefinitely, based on secret charges made in secret courts. Where where Americans can be targeted for “disposition”, based on the judgment of one man. Where citizens can be constantly watched. All while the rich rape, pillage murder, and control. Above the law, free of empathy or conscience, with no fear of punishment. This status quo cannot continue to be so.

By Mike Lofgren @ Truthout:

Equal Justice under Law,” is the motto inscribed on the frieze of the United States Supreme Court building.

Sticklers for semantics say that the modifiers “equal” and “under law” in the Supreme Court’s motto are redundant, because justice by definition is equal treatment under a system of written and publicly accessible rules. Whether that is the case is precisely what is at issue in America today.

Tier I: The Great and the Good

Events since the collapse of Lehman Brothers in September 2008 have provided plenty of fodder for the belief that there is one law for the rich and another for the common clay. Practical as opposed to explicit inequality before the law is common in societies all over the world; it usually boils down to how legal procedures are applied as opposed to what the letter of the law is on the statute books. Officials who are pledged to uphold the law will invariably protest that they are neutral and unimpeachable executors of justice and that it is unthinkable to suggest they are administering a rigged system. Honi soit qui mal y pense! (“Shamed be he who thinks evil of it.”) is their usual indignant attitude when the rabble becomes pushy.

It is unclear if there was a rare outbreak of candor among officials in Washington during the past two weeks, or whether they simply calculated that the system has so completely slipped from public control that it doesn’t matter if forbidden truths are spoken. On March 6, testifying before the Senate Judiciary Committee, Attorney General Eric Holder stated the following: “I am concerned that the size of some of these institutions becomes so large that it does become difficult for us to prosecute them when we are hit with indications that if you do prosecute, if you do bring a criminal charge, it will have a negative impact on the national economy, perhaps even the world economy.” Yes, well, that could explain it. When the banks hold a gun to the head of the economy, it is no longer the relationship between regulator and regulated, but a hostage relationship. A relationship made even more complex, no doubt, by the fact that the hostage-taker is also the principal corporate funder of the bosses of the putative hostage negotiators.

Apparently none of his senatorial interrogators had the wit to ask the following of the attorney general: Why would criminally prosecuting a handful of senior executives at a financial institution be more economically damaging than levying a civil fine? HSBC’s $1.9-billion settlement with the Justice Department for money-laundering is almost derisory in view of its $21.9 billion in global profits during the past year, but if anyone is going to suffer from that small subtraction from the bank’s revenues, it is likely to be shareholders and depositors who had nothing to do with the crime rather than the management who committed it. And even in an extreme situation, where most or all of a bank’s management were criminally involved, the government could seize the bank and operate it as a conservator in the manner of the Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation. Innocent stakeholders would be protected, thus nullifying Holder’s fear-mongering about endangering the world economy.

Thus it requires only a moment’s thought to conclude that it is not the size, complexity or fragility of the financial system that stays the hand of criminal prosecution, but the status of the persons within those institutions. Apparently, robbing a bank is a criminal activity depending which side of the teller’s window you are on and whether you are upper management or a $12-an-hour cashier. The Senate has given no indication of being overly concerned: After a perfunctory hearing, the Banking Committee favorably reported the Wall Street-connected Mary Jo White to the full Senate for confirmation as chairman of the Securities and Exchange Commission. The dead giveaway that the fix was in was the fact that committee Republicans, who ordinarily obstruct nominees purely out of habit, did not raise a peep of objection. White, like Holder, is not a fan of prosecuting the executives of big banks.

Tier II: The Great Unwashed

Perhaps the big shots are above the law. This does not mean, however, that the mighty wheel of justice does not turn in this country. Somebody must be getting prosecuted, given that the United States has more incarcerated people in its jurisdiction than any other country, including China, which has four times our population. The incarceration rate is no accident: The vast accretion of harsh punishments for essentially victimless crimes like drug possession, mandatory minimum sentences and “three strikes” provisions in many state laws virtually guarantee the highest rate of imprisonment since the days of Stalin’s gulags.

Our Congress, acting as an agent of Corporate America, is working assiduously to issue ever more novel and oppressive laws so as to keep the machinery of law enforcement operating. Even the right of possession and free use of an article legally obtained by legitimate purchase, a right celebrated by libertarian economists, can be nullified when corporations deem it necessary to extract rents. Pursuant to the Millennium Digital Copyright Act, it is now illegal to alter a cell phone that you bought and paid for if you are dissatisfied with the service provider that the phone manufacturer has an exclusive agreement with. How illegal? – a $500,000 fine and five years in prison (double for repeat offenders). Apparently citizens no longer have a freehold in this country; they are instead serfs dwelling on a feudal demesne at the sufferance of their corporate landlords.

State legislatures have kept up with Congress in this endeavor. One might think the exposure of animal cruelty and unsanitary conditions in the corporatized farming and food processing industries would cause lawmakers to be indignant against the perpetrators and desirous of protecting the safety of the food supply. But no, state legislatures have directed their fury against the citizen-activists who exposed the wrongdoing by levying heavy penalties against surreptitious photographing of the outrages.

With draconian sentences looming over defendants, it is no wonder that most criminal processes end in plea bargains rather than jury trials: Even an accused person believing himself innocent may plead guilty to lesser charges (charges that still land him in prison, albeit for a shorter term) rather than face either bankrupting legal fees or suffer an incompetent appointed counsel and the possibility of a sentence lasting decades.

Incompetent or not, even the constitutional right of counsel is not always provided, as the attorney general himself has admitted. The big banks, with their extensive in-house legal departments and endless reserves of cash, have no such worries. Their attorneys are skillful enough, and have sufficient resources, to file change-of-venue motions so as to escape the wrath either of unfriendly judges or – one of the worst engines of injustice since the Inquisition – demagogic district attorneys itching for higher office and lusting for juries to inflame. As a practical matter, ordinary citizens have no such protection.

Some officials have conceded the infeasibility of locking up more and more people, perhaps less because of the ethical issues involved than because of the fiscal drain attendant with incarcerating so many bodies. Traditionally a function of the state, prisons represent a large input of taxpayer dollars whose only output, other than license plates, is a social sense of safety and security (an intangible and hard-to-prove value). But Corporate America has come up with an answer to that as well: the private prison industry. In addition to promising security, the growing private prison lobby can offer a much more tangible benefit to politicians: campaign donations. We can be sure that consultants for this industry will invent more and more ingenious felony statutes for state legislatures to pass into law so as to keep their prisons full and profits flowing, as we have already seen happen in Arizona.

Tier III: The Untouchables

Thus far we have dealt with the law: law that is perhaps hatched with malign intent, corruptly enforced and unequally applied, but at any rate law that exists openly in the US Code or the state statutes. But justice for foreigners and discrete categories of American citizens enters the realm of the Wild West, where there is neither law nor redress. Where international treaties may apply, such as the Geneva Convention or treaties against torture, they are assumed not to exist for purposes of official US government conduct.

Should the plaintiff, a group like Amnesty International, say, argue on behalf of injured parties before a United State court, the plaintiff lacks standing because he is not an injured party. Should the injured party himself seek redress, he lacks standing because of his status at the time of the alleged crime. Should all else fail, and the court needs to avail itself of some excuse not to hear the case, it employs the state secrets privilege, a completely fictitious, made-up doctrine deriving from an incident whereby the executive branch, in asserting that classified information would be revealed, committed perjury. There was no classified information, but the rabbinical automatons of the federal judiciary have pretended for the past 50 years that the government’s having lied about whether a fatal plane crash involved classified information must henceforth and forever be twisted into a reason why the government’s assertions about classified information must always be taken as true, definitive and legally binding.

One suspects a similar morass of dishonesty lies behind the present administration’s policy on the use of drones for the purposes of assassination. For instance, in deciding to carry out assassinations, did President Obama or his predecessor go to the trouble of revoking Executive Order 11905, Executive Order 12036, or Executive Order 12333, all of which prohibit assassinations? Or were they merely reinterpreted to mean that a ban on assassination means “not unless you really want to?” Unquestionably the latter, because someone deemed it useful to keep the old executive orders on the books as sacred artifacts one could point to as examples of how virtuous we are – much in the same manner as the Roman curia, ever rife with corruption and intrigue, is charged with regulating the veneration of holy relics.

As for when the policy is to be implemented, the administration has done its best to keep that secret. It has maintained a close hold on the alleged documents describing the policy in detail, but has purposely leaked a white paper that supposedly summarizes the policy. Here one gets a sense of ad hoc improvisation: Since John Brennan and other administration officials had already publicly stated that drone strikes were only used to disrupt “imminent” threats of attack, the white paper appears to have been engineered ex post facto to prevent the administration from being constrained by Brennan’s words. In the paper itself “imminent” is gradually redefined over the course of several paragraphs so that it no longer means a criminal action is temporally nigh, but rather inheres in the status of the individual so targeted. Thus are certain persons beneath the law: Their status assumes their intended action, so they are fair game for assassination.

The white paper qualifies this startling legal theory (which is rather similar to the Commissar Order, albeit the shooting occurs at greater distance) by helpfully stating that such operations would not be conducted if civilian casualties would be “excessive.” One supposes the definition of the term “excessive” is as elastic as that of “imminent;” in any case unofficial estimates suggest civilian casualties in the thousands, including several hundred children.

One is tempted to conclude that there really is no administration-level drone policy, let alone one constrained by law, except a sham one, which is cobbled together after the fact to construct a plausible justification whenever complaints arise. At the lower level, drone employment is constrained neither by the military code, nor the laws of war nor by any other applicable treaty. It is probably just an intelligence-driven target set applied to a checklist: Does target X-ray fit “terrorist signatures” alpha, bravo, charlie and delta? If the boxes can be checked, the government operative (or contractor) hits the switch.

None of this should be surprising. Since the Moro uprising in the Philippines, American exceptionalism as it operates abroad has been built on hecatombs of corpses. That it doesn’t bother the American public should not be surprising given the human capacity for moral compartmentalization. But lawlessness abroad cannot be walled off from domestic life: impunity for oligarchs, draconian sentences and bulging prisons for those lacking privileged status, and casual death for those beneath the law and even innocent people in the vicinity, are at bottom inevitable and inseparable once the rule of law is compromised. Apocryphal perhaps, but the following exchange describes the present American dilemma:

William Roper: So, now you give the Devil the benefit of law!
Sir Thomas More: Yes! What would you do? Cut a great road through the law to get after the Devil?
Roper: Yes, I’d cut down every law in England to do that!
More: Oh? And when the last law was down, and the Devil turned ’round on you, where would you hide, Roper, the laws all being flat? This country is planted thick with laws, from coast to coast, Man’s laws, not God’s! And if you cut them down, and you’re just the man to do it, do you really think you could stand upright in the winds that would blow then? Yes, I’d give the Devil benefit of law, for my own safety’s sake!

Mike Lofgren

Mike Lofgren retired on June 17 after 28 years as a Congressional staffer. He served 16 years as a professional staff member on the Republican side of both the House and Senate Budget Committees.

 

The New Propaganda Is Liberal; The New Slavery Is Digital

In Uncategorized on March 22, 2013 at 3:38 pm

Oldspeak:Today, we prefer to believe…..”Choice” is ubiquitous. Phones are “platforms” that launch every half-thought. There is Google from outer space if you need it. Caressed like rosary beads, the precious devices are borne heads-down, relentlessly monitored and prioritized. Their dominant theme is the self. Me. My needs….today’s digital slavery. Edward Said described this wired state in his book Culture and Imperialism as taking imperialism where navies could never reach. It is the ultimate means of social control because it is voluntary, addictive and shrouded in illusions of personal freedom.”  -John Pilger 
“In a would-be free and open society and especially in a society that aspires to be a democracy, propaganda and thought-control are crucial to the formation of public attitudes. In a nominal democracy, such as exists today in the United States, shaping the opinions of the masses is crucial to the appearance of legitimacy for the ruling elite. The public must be guided and persuaded to ratify the policies favored by the wealthy and well-connected, while insuring that the general public does not actually interfere with the policies and profits of the corporate rulers.” -Dr. Gary Allen Scott
Ever notice how all transactions, commerce, social interaction, work, play, research, learning, entertainment are being driven to digital networks and devices? Constantly encouraged to “Like us on Facebook” or “Tell us what you think on Facebook” or “Follow us on Twitter”Soliciting opinion via text message or internet . To share everything, all the time is seen as perfect, unlimited. Digitally reporting every piece of information about yourself is seen as cool. Face to face contact is devalued and constantly interrupted by beloved devices. Social atomization is self-directed and digital. Convenience, customization, personalization are all attributes we’re told will improve our lives increasing our personal freedom. These seductive appeals to our narcissism are  all part of “ultimate means of social control because it is voluntary, addictive and shrouded in illusions of personal freedom“.  All activity can and is effortlessly monitored in secret.  We are gleeful and willing slaves to beloved devices that watch and listen to us. The range of acceptable opinion is further shaped & narrowed in a subtle but insidious way. Concision.  Concision of thought via instagram/facebook & twitter. Concision does not lend itself to critical thought or analysis.  And it is a highly desirable trait in a thought controlled society. “Propaganda always wins if you allow it” -Leni Riefenstahl Don’t let it win. Take steps to liberate yourselves from the propaganda.  Take an intellectual self-defense course.

By John Pilger @ Truthout:

What is modern propaganda? For many, it is the lies of a totalitarian state. In the 1970s, I met Leni Riefenstahl and asked her about her epic films that glorified the Nazis. Using revolutionary camera and lighting techniques, she produced a documentary form that mesmerized Germans; her Triumph of the Will cast Hitler’s spell.

She told me that the “messages” of her films were dependent not on “orders from above” but on the “submissive void” of the German public. Did that include the liberal, educated bourgeoisie? “Everyone,” she said.

Today, we prefer to believe that there is no submissive void. “Choice” is ubiquitous. Phones are “platforms” that launch every half-thought. There is Google from outer space if you need it. Caressed like rosary beads, the precious devices are borne heads-down, relentlessly monitored and prioritized. Their dominant theme is the self. Me. My needs. Riefenstahl’s submissive void is today’s digital slavery.

Edward Said described this wired state in his book Culture and Imperialism as taking imperialism where navies could never reach. It is the ultimate means of social control because it is voluntary, addictive and shrouded in illusions of personal freedom.

Today’s “message” of grotesque inequality, social injustice and war is the propaganda of liberal democracies. By any measure of human behavior, this is extremism. When Hugo Chavez challenged it, he was abused in bad faith; and his successor will be subverted by the same zealots of the American Enterprise Institute, Harvard’s Kennedy School and the “human rights” organizations that have appropriated American liberalism and underpin its propaganda. Historian Norman Pollack calls this “liberal fascism.” He wrote, “All is normality on display. For [Nazi] goose-steppers, substitute the seemingly more innocuous militarization of the total culture. And for the bombastic leader, we have the reformer manque, blithely at work [in the White House], planning and executing assassination, smiling all the while.”

Whereas a generation ago, dissent and biting satire were allowed in the “mainstream,” today their counterfeits are acceptable and a fake moral zeitgeist rules. “Identity” is all, mutating feminism and declaring class obsolete. Just as collateral damage covers for mass murder, “austerity” has become an acceptable lie. Beneath the veneer of consumerism, a quarter of Greater Manchester is reported to be living in “extreme poverty.”

The militarist violence perpetrated against hundreds of thousands of nameless men, women and children by “our” governments is never a crime against humanity. Interviewing Tony Blair ten years on from his criminal invasion of Iraq, the BBC’s Kirsty Wark gifted him a moment he could only dream of. She allowed Blair to agonize over his “difficult” decision rather than call him to account for the monumental lies and bloodbath he launched. One is reminded of Albert Speer.

Hollywood has returned to its Cold War role, led by liberals. Ben Affleck’s Oscar-winning Argo is the first feature film so integrated into the propaganda system that its subliminal warning of Iran’s “threat” is offered as Obama is preparing, yet again, to attack Iran. That Affleck’s “true story” of good-guys-vs-bad-Muslims is as much a fabrication as Obama’s justification for his war plans is lost in PR-managed plaudits. As the independent critic Andrew O’Hehir points out, Argo is “a propaganda movie in the truest sense, one that claims to be innocent of all ideology.” That is, it debases the art of film-making to reflect an image of the power it serves.

The true story is that, for 34 years, the US foreign policy elite have seethed with revenge for the loss of the Shah of Iran, their beloved tyrant, and his CIA-designed state of torture. When Iranian students occupied the US embassy in Tehran in 1979, they found a trove of incriminating documents, which revealed that an Israeli spy network was operating inside the US, stealing top scientific and military secrets. Today, the duplicitous Zionist ally – not Iran – is the one and only nuclear threat in the Middle East.

In 1977, Carl Bernstein, famed for his Watergate reporting, disclosed that more than 400 journalists and executives of mostly liberal US media organizations had worked for the CIA in the past 25 years. They included journalists from The New York Times, Time, and the big TV broadcasters. These days, such a formal nefarious workforce is quite unnecessary. In 2010, The New York Times made no secret of its collusion with the White House in censoring the WikiLeaks war logs. The CIA has an “entertainment industry liaison office” that helps producers and directors remake its image from that of a lawless gang that assassinates, overthrows governments and runs drugs. As Obama’s CIA commits multiple murders by drone, Affleck lauds the “clandestine service … that is making sacrifices on behalf of Americans every day … I want to thank them very much.” The 2010 Oscar-winner Kathryn Bigelow’s Zero Dark Thirty, a torture-apology, was all but licensed by the Pentagon.

The US market share of cinema box-office takings in Britain often reaches 80 percent, and the small UK share is mainly for US co-productions. Films from Europe and the rest of the world account for a tiny fraction of those we are allowed to see. In my own film-making career, I have never known a time when dissenting voices in the visual arts are so few and so silent.

For all the hand-wringing induced by the Leveson inquiry, the “Murdoch mold” remains intact. Phone-hacking was always a distraction, a misdemeanor compared to the media-wide drumbeat for criminal wars. According to Gallup, 99 percent of Americans believe Iran is a threat to them, just as the majority believed Iraq was responsible for the 9/11 attacks. “Propaganda always wins,” said Leni Riefenstahl, “if you allow it.”

John Pilger

John Pilger, Australian-born, London-based journalist, film-maker and author. For his foreign and war reporting, ranging from Vietnam and Cambodia to the Middle East, he has twice won Britain’s highest award for journalism. For his documentary films, he won a British Academy Award and an American Emmy. In 2009, he was awarded Australia’s human rights prize, the Sydney Peace Prize. His latest film is “The War on Democracy.”

The 1% Doctrine: Will Capitalism Destroy Civilization?

In Uncategorized on March 7, 2013 at 4:45 pm

Dollar burn through EarthOldspeak:” The official doctrines suffer from a number of familiar “market inefficiencies,” among them the failure to take into account the effects on others in market transactions. The consequences of these “externalities” can be substantial. The current financial crisis is an illustration. It is partly traceable to the major banks and investment firms’ ignoring “systemic risk” – the possibility that the whole system would collapse – when they undertook risky transactions.

Environmental catastrophe is far more serious: The externality that is being ignored is the fate of the species. And there is nowhere to run, cap in hand, for a bailout.

In future, historians (if there are any) will look back on this curious spectacle taking shape in the early 21st century. For the first time in human history, humans are facing the significant prospect of severe calamity as a result of their actions – actions that are battering our prospects of decent survival. ” -Noam Chomsky
When this man speaks, we should all listen. While the real economy, crumbles and disintegrates, 1 in 6 people go hungry. 1 in 2 people live at or near the poverty line. High unemployment persists and the number homeless people is at the last depression era levels. The Dow Jones is as it was before the last global economic crash – at a record high. Corporate profits are through the roof, while most people’s wages have been cut. Most profits are being funneled to the controllers of our political systems who’ve demonstrated contempt for the planet and every living thing on it who wont rest until every resource is exploited and maximum profit is derived from them. This powerful vampire capitalist system is, unsustainable; accelerating our progression toward environmental catastrophe. It constitutes an existential threat to the planet and by extension, all life on it. On can only wonder what madness will be wrought after the next global economic crash, but our civilizations first global ecological crash will render economics, politics and power as we know it irrelevant. Our corporate controllers do not want us to recognize this essential reality, even though most of us do. It is the reason “the United States has not adopted any consistent and stable set of policies at the national level to foster the use of renewable energy”. None of the manufactured crises we’re encouraged to focus on matter when there’s no clean water, air or soil. Greed has infected our controllers so thoroughly that this horrifying fact is lost on them. “Profit Is Paramount”

By Noam Chomsky @ Truthout:

There is “capitalism” and then there is “really existing capitalism.”

The term “capitalism” is commonly used to refer to the U.S. economic system, with substantial state intervention ranging from subsidies for creative innovation to the “too-big-to-fail” government insurance policy for banks.

The system is highly monopolized, further limiting reliance on the market, and increasingly so: In the past 20 years the share of profits of the 200 largest enterprises has risen sharply, reports scholar Robert W. McChesney in his new book “Digital Disconnect.”

“Capitalism” is a term now commonly used to describe systems in which there are no capitalists: for example, the worker-owned Mondragon conglomerate in the Basque region of Spain, or the worker-owned enterprises expanding in northern Ohio, often with conservative support – both are discussed in important work by the scholar Gar Alperovitz.

Some might even use the term “capitalism” to refer to the industrial democracy advocated by John Dewey, America’s leading social philosopher, in the late 19th century and early 20th century.

Dewey called for workers to be “masters of their own industrial fate” and for all institutions to be brought under public control, including the means of production, exchange, publicity, transportation and communication. Short of this, Dewey argued, politics will remain “the shadow cast on society by big business.”

The truncated democracy that Dewey condemned has been left in tatters in recent years. Now control of government is narrowly concentrated at the peak of the income scale, while the large majority “down below” has been virtually disenfranchised. The current political-economic system is a form of plutocracy, diverging sharply from democracy, if by that concept we mean political arrangements in which policy is significantly influenced by the public will.

There have been serious debates over the years about whether capitalism is compatible with democracy. If we keep to really existing capitalist democracy – RECD for short – the question is effectively answered: They are radically incompatible.

It seems to me unlikely that civilization can survive RECD and the sharply attenuated democracy that goes along with it. But could functioning democracy make a difference?

Let’s keep to the most critical immediate problem that civilization faces: environmental catastrophe. Policies and public attitudes diverge sharply, as is often the case under RECD. The nature of the gap is examined in several articles in the current issue of Daedalus, the journal of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences.

Researcher Kelly Sims Gallagher finds that “One hundred and nine countries have enacted some form of policy regarding renewable power, and 118 countries have set targets for renewable energy. In contrast, the United States has not adopted any consistent and stable set of policies at the national level to foster the use of renewable energy.”

It is not public opinion that drives American policy off the international spectrum. Quite the opposite. Opinion is much closer to the global norm than the U.S. government’s policies reflect, and much more supportive of actions needed to confront the likely environmental disaster predicted by an overwhelming scientific consensus – and one that’s not too far off; affecting the lives of our grandchildren, very likely.

As Jon A. Krosnick and Bo MacInnis report in Daedalus: “Huge majorities have favored steps by the federal government to reduce the amount of greenhouse gas emissions generated when utilities produce electricity. In 2006, 86 percent of respondents favored requiring utilities, or encouraging them with tax breaks, to reduce the amount of greenhouse gases they emit. Also in that year, 87 percent favored tax breaks for utilities that produce more electricity from water, wind or sunlight. These majorities were maintained between 2006 and 2010 and shrank somewhat after that.

The fact that the public is influenced by science is deeply troubling to those who dominate the economy and state policy.

One current illustration of their concern is the “Environmental Literacy Improvement Act” proposed to state legislatures by ALEC, the American Legislative Exchange Council, a corporate-funded lobby that designs legislation to serve the needs of the corporate sector and extreme wealth.

The ALEC Act mandates “balanced teaching” of climate science in K-12 classrooms. “Balanced teaching” is a code phrase that refers to teaching climate-change denial, to “balance” mainstream climate science. It is analogous to the “balanced teaching” advocated by creationists to enable the teaching of “creation science” in public schools. Legislation based on ALEC models has already been introduced in several states.

Of course, all of this is dressed up in rhetoric about teaching critical thinking – a fine idea, no doubt, but it’s easy to think up far better examples than an issue that threatens our survival and has been selected because of its importance in terms of corporate profits.

Media reports commonly present a controversy between two sides on climate change.

One side consists of the overwhelming majority of scientists, the world’s major national academies of science, the professional science journals and the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change.

They agree that global warming is taking place, that there is a substantial human component, that the situation is serious and perhaps dire, and that very soon, maybe within decades, the world might reach a tipping point where the process will escalate sharply and will be irreversible, with severe social and economic effects. It is rare to find such consensus on complex scientific issues.

The other side consists of skeptics, including a few respected scientists who caution that much is unknown – which means that things might not be as bad as thought, or they might be worse.

Omitted from the contrived debate is a much larger group of skeptics: highly regarded climate scientists who see the IPCC’s regular reports as much too conservative. And these scientists have repeatedly been proven correct, unfortunately.

The propaganda campaign has apparently had some effect on U.S. public opinion, which is more skeptical than the global norm. But the effect is not significant enough to satisfy the masters. That is presumably why sectors of the corporate world are launching their attack on the educational system, in an effort to counter the public’s dangerous tendency to pay attention to the conclusions of scientific research.

At the Republican National Committee’s Winter Meeting a few weeks ago, Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal warned the leadership that “We must stop being the stupid party. We must stop insulting the intelligence of voters.”

Within the RECD system it is of extreme importance that we become the stupid nation, not misled by science and rationality, in the interests of the short-term gains of the masters of the economy and political system, and damn the consequences.

These commitments are deeply rooted in the fundamentalist market doctrines that are preached within RECD, though observed in a highly selective manner, so as to sustain a powerful state that serves wealth and power.

The official doctrines suffer from a number of familiar “market inefficiencies,” among them the failure to take into account the effects on others in market transactions. The consequences of these “externalities” can be substantial. The current financial crisis is an illustration. It is partly traceable to the major banks and investment firms’ ignoring “systemic risk” – the possibility that the whole system would collapse – when they undertook risky transactions.

Environmental catastrophe is far more serious: The externality that is being ignored is the fate of the species. And there is nowhere to run, cap in hand, for a bailout.

In future, historians (if there are any) will look back on this curious spectacle taking shape in the early 21st century. For the first time in human history, humans are facing the significant prospect of severe calamity as a result of their actions – actions that are battering our prospects of decent survival.

Those historians will observe that the richest and most powerful country in history, which enjoys incomparable advantages, is leading the effort to intensify the likely disaster. Leading the effort to preserve conditions in which our immediate descendants might have a decent life are the so-called “primitive” societies: First Nations, tribal, indigenous, aboriginal.

The countries with large and influential indigenous populations are well in the lead in seeking to preserve the planet. The countries that have driven indigenous populations to extinction or extreme marginalization are racing toward destruction.

Thus Ecuador, with its large indigenous population, is seeking aid from the rich countries to allow it to keep its substantial oil reserves underground, where they should be.

Meanwhile the U.S. and Canada are seeking to burn fossil fuels, including the extremely dangerous Canadian tar sands, and to do so as quickly and fully as possible, while they hail the wonders of a century of (largely meaningless) energy independence without a side glance at what the world might look like after this extravagant commitment to self-destruction.

This observation generalizes: Throughout the world, indigenous societies are struggling to protect what they sometimes call “the rights of nature,” while the civilized and sophisticated scoff at this silliness.

This is all exactly the opposite of what rationality would predict – unless it is the skewed form of reason that passes through the filter of RECD.

© 2012 Noam Chomsky
(Noam Chomsky’s new book is “Power Systems: Conversations on Global Democratic Uprisings and the New Challenges to U.S. Empire. Conversations with David Barsamian.” Chomsky is emeritus professor of linguistics and philosophy at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology in Cambridge, Mass.)

As Obama, Romney Hold First Debate, Behind The Secret GOP-Dem Effort To Shut Out Third Parties

In Uncategorized on October 3, 2012 at 7:18 pm

Oldspeak: “The Obama and Romney campaigns have secretly negotiated a detailed contract that dictates many of the terms of the 2012 presidential debates. This includes who gets to participate, as well as the topics raised during the debates.” This pact ensures that no difficult questions will be asked, and candidates will be able to recite their talking points with no fear of having to talk about issues they don’t want to talk about.  “The Commission on Presidential Debates gets the vast majority of its money from major businesses that support it. Anheuser-Busch is far and away the biggest contributor to the commission. So, by and large, our presidential debates are brought to you by Bud Light. And if you actually go to some of these debate sites — I don’t know how it is this year, but in the past there have been Anheuser-Busch tents where scantily clad women are passing out pamphlets denouncing beer taxes. The CEOs of these companies get access to the debates, they sit in the audience, they’re invited to receptions to meet with campaign staff. They get a wonderful benefit because they are able to simultaneously demonstrate their support for both major parties, hit two birds with one stone and get a tax deduction to boot. -George Farah The U.S. Presidential Debates, brought to you by the Transnational Corporate Network. “Ignorance Is Strength”

By Amy Goodman @ Democracy Now:

Guest:

George Farah, Founder and Executive Director of Open Debates. He is also author of the book, “No Debate: How the Republican and Democratic Parties Secretly Control the Presidential Debates.”

AMY GOODMAN: We are broadcasting in Denver, Colorado. We are on the road, here, just miles from the University of Denver, the site of tonight’s presidential debate between Mitt Romney and President Obama. It is the first of three presidential debates before the November 6th election. Tonight’s debate will focus on domestic policy, but one issue that will not be covered is the actual structure of the debate itself. The Obama and Romney campaigns have secretly negotiated a detailed contract that dictates many of the terms of the 2012 presidential debates. This includes who gets to participate, as well as the topics raised during the debates. Now 18 pro-democracy groups are calling on the commission of presidential debates, a private corporation that runs the debates, to review the details of the negotiated agreement. Meanwhile, Libertarian nominee Gary Johnson, the former governor of New Mexico, has filed an antitrust lawsuit for entry into the debates against the Commission on Presidential debates. In addition, supporters of Green Party nominee Jill Stein plan to protest outside of the debate under the banner of Occupy the CPD. While Obama and Romney debate in Denver, Stein and Justice Party Candidate Rocky Anderson will appear on Democracy Now!‘s expanding the debate exclusive tonight. We will air the Obama-Romney debate, pausing after questions to include equal time responses from Dr. Stein and Rocky Anderson. We invited Gary Johnson, but his campaign said he had other plans for the night. Our special begins at 8:30 p.m. Eastern time. If it’s not being broadcast on your station as it’s being broadcast throughout the country, you can also go to our website at Democracynow.org. To talk more about the debates, we are joined now, in New York, by the George Farah. He’s the founder and Executive Director of Open Debates, the author of “No Debate: How the Republican and Democratic Parties Secretly Control the Presidential Debates.” George, welcome to Democracy Now!. You are there in our studios in New York, and we are here just outside Denver where the debates are taking place tonight, so we can bring folks and expanded version of the debates. George, how did it come to be that the commission of presidential debates came in to being? What is this commission?

GEORGE FARAH: The Commission on Presidential debates sounds like a government agency, it sounds like a nonpartisan entity, which is by design, is intended to deceive the American people. But, in reality, it is a private corporation financed by Anheuser-Busch and other major companies, that was created by the Republican and Democratic parties to seize control of the presidential debates from The League of Women Voters in 1987. Precisely as you said, Amy, every four years, this commission allows the major party campaigns to meet behind closed doors and draft a secret contract, a memorandum of understanding that dictates many of the terms. The reason for the commission’s creation is that the previous sponsor, The League of Women voters, was a genuine non-partisan entity, our voice, the voice of the American people in the negotiation room, and time and time again, The League had the courage to stand up to the Republican and Democratic campaigns to insist on challenging creative formats, to insist on the inclusion of independent candidates that the vast majority of American people wanted to see, and most importantly, to insist on transparency, so that any attempts by the Republican and Democratic parties to manipulate the presidential debates would result in and of enormous political price. And it’s precisely because the League…

AMY GOODMAN: George, you have a lot of time here, so I really want you to lay out how this happened. Explain the moment when this was taken out of the hands of The League of Women Voters and this commission was formed. How was this justified?

GEORGE FARAH: The best part of the history starts in 1980. In 1980, John B. Anderson, an independent candidate for president, runs against Jimmy Carter and Ronald Reagan. President Jimmy Carter absolutely opposed independent candidate John Anderson’s participation in the presidential debates, and The League had a choice; do they support the independent candidate’s participation and defy the wishes of the President of the United States or do they capitulate to the demands of President Jimmy Carter? The league did the right thing, it stood to the President of the United States, invited John B. Anderson. The President refused to show up. The League went forward anyway and had a presidential debate that was watched by 55 million Americans. You fast forward four years later, Amy, and the Walter Mondale and Ronald Reagan campaigns vetoed 80 of the moderators that The League of Women Voters had proposed for the debates. The were simply trying to get rid of…

AMY GOODMAN: Eighty?

GEORGE FARAH: Eighty. They were trying to get rid of difficult questions.

AMY GOODMAN: Eight-zero?

GEORGE FARAH: Eight-zero. Eighty. And The League didn’t just say, OK that’s fine we’ll allow you to select a moderator that’s going to ask softball questions, The League held a press conference and lambasted the campaigns for trying to get rid of the difficult questions. Of course there was a public outcry. So The League marshaled public support to criticize when they attempted to defy our democratic process and the result was fantastic. For the next debate, the campaigns were required to accept The League’s proposed moderators for fear of an additional public outcry. And you fast forward four more years later and you have the Michael Dukakis and the George Bush campaign’s drafting the first ever 12-page secret debate contract. They gave it to The League of Women Voters and said please implement this. The League said, are you kidding me? We are not going to implement a secret contract that dictates the terms of the format. Instead, they release the contract to the public and they held a press conference accusing the candidates of “perpetrating a fraud on the American people” and refusing to be “an accessory to the hoodwinking of the American people.”

Well, Amy, conveniently, just a year earlier, the Republican and Democratic parties had ratified an agreement “to take over the presidential debates, and they created this artifice, this commission, and the commission was waiting in the wings and stepped right in and implemented the very same 12-page contract that The League had so effectively denounced, and ever since we’ve had a contract.

AMY GOODMAN: Since The League did release it — The League of Women Voters at the time — what was in this 12-page contract, at least then?

GEORGE FARAH: The 12-page contract then said very specific provisions that the candidates cannot actually ask each other any questions during the debates, that no third party candidates would be permitted to participate in those events, that there would be a certain number of audience members that would be supportive of the various candidates. Actually, it is quite tame compared to the contracts we have seen in recent years. That contract was 12 pages. The 2004 contract that we’ve managed to obtain a a copy of, was 32 pages. So, over time, the candidates have made even greater efforts to control various components of the debates to eliminate both third party candidates, unpredictable questions, and any threat to their dominance in our political process.

AMY GOODMAN: So, this Commission, talk about the heads of the commission and who they are, who they were when it started, Frank Fahrenkopf and Paul Kirk, and who they are today, and who they represent?

GEORGE FARAH: Frank Fahrenkopf and Paul Kirk were the original co-chairs on the Commission on Presidential Debates. Frank Fahrenkopf is the former hair of the Republican party, and Paul Kirk is the former chair of the Democratic party. When they created the commission, for 15 months, they simultaneously served as co-chairs of their respective parties and the commission, so, it was of course by definition an entity that was absolutely loyal to the two parties. Well, guess what, Frank Fahrenkopf still is co-chair of the Commission on Presidential Debates, decades later. And he has one other job, his day job; he is the director of the American Gaming Association. In other words, he is the nation’s leading gambling lobbyist. When I asked Frank, do you feel comfortable having a beer and tobacco companies paying for our most important election events, our presidential debates? He said, boy, you’re talking to the wrong guy, I represent the gambling industry. The other co-chair of the Commission on Presidential Debates now is Mike McCurry, former Press Secretary to Bill Clinton and also a lobbyist. He’s lobbied aggressively on behalf of the telecommunications industry. So, you have two people in charge of these presidential debates that, number one, are loyal to their parties, they’re political operatives, and number two, have demonstrated time and time again a willingness to sacrifice the interests of the American people for private, political, and financial interests. These are not exactly people who hesitate to subjugate the democratic process to the private interests that benefit from these actual debates.

AMY GOODMAN: Can you talk about what happened this past week, George Farah? The advertising agency BBH, the YWCA, Phillips North America, terminating their sponsorship of the debates. First of all, what are corporations doing sponsoring these presidential debates and why have these organizations pulled out?

GEORGE FARAH: Well, the Commission on Presidential Debates gets the vast majority of its money from major businesses that support it. Anheuser-Busch is far and away the biggest contributor to the commission. So, by and large, our presidential debates are brought to you by Bud Light. And if you actually go to some of these debate sites — I don’t know how it is this year, but in the past there have been Anheuser-Busch tents where scantily clad women are passing out pamphlets denouncing beer taxes. The CEOs of these companies get access to the debates, they sit in the audience, they’re invited to receptions to meet with campaign staff. They get a wonderful benefit because they are able to simultaneously demonstrate their support for both major parties, hit two birds with one stone and get a tax deduction to boot. Back when the League of Women voters used to sponsor these events, they struggled to raise $5,000 contributions from companies, it was very difficult. But, because they are now perceived as a sort of soft money donation, this is yet another avenue for businesses with regulatory interests before Congress to influence our political process.

We have launched a campaign since the inception of my organization in 2004 to pushing our supporters, which number in the tens of thousands, to write letters and e-mails to the very sponsors demanding that they withdraw their support of the commission. This year, with the support of other organizations, one called Help the Commission, an infusion of enthusiasm from third parties, including the Libertarian party and the Green party, for the first time ever we actually have succeeded in achieving some tangible goals. Not just one sponsor, but three of the ten sponsors have withdrawn support. BBH, a British advertising agency, YWCA, a nonprofit, and most importantly, Philips Electronics, a tech giant. Due to the extraordinary public pressure that we have exerted on them, they have said they will no longer be affiliated with an entity that is perceived, correctly, as being partisan and fundamentally anti-democratic. This is a triumph for the debate reform movement and I hope the beginning of unveiling the commission for what it truly is, and displacing it.

AMY GOODMAN: George Farah, say again the companies that continue to support the Commission on Presidential Debates?

GEORGE FARAH: There are seven remaining sponsors. There are three companies; Anheuser-Busch, again the poster child for contributing to the commission, you have Southwest Airlines, you have the International Bottled Water Association, then you have two foundations, The Howard Buffett Foundation, Howard Buffett happens to be a board member of the commission, something called the Marjorie Kovler Fund that’s affiliated with the Kennedy Library. And then you have two law firms, Korman, a specific law firm that focuses on specific issues in Washington, and Sheldon Cohen, a national security lawyer. These are the seven entities that are backing our Commission on Presidential Debates. This is not the way these ought to be run. These should be supported by civic groups, non-partisan organizations with a real focus on the democratic process, and instead they’re subcontracting out our presidential debate process to Anheuser-Busch.

AMY GOODMAN: It will be interesting to see if there is bottled water on their podiums, or if there is Bud Light. I wanted to go to one of the third party candidates shut out of tonight’s debate, Libertarian candidate Gary Johnson the former governor of New Mexico. He appeared recently on Neil Cavuto’s show on Fox Business.

NEIL CAVUTO: Governor, half the battle is getting on those ballots and polling well to get in those debates. So, it’s sort of like a tough…

GARY JOHNSON: Very catch-22. Right now I’m 5% nationally. Fact is I’m not being recognized though at 5% nationally and if people recognized that I was at 5% nationally, Neil, the overwhelming reaction would be well who the hell is Gary Johnson.

NEIL CAVUTO: What does it take to get into the debates?

GARY JOHNSON: Well, you got to get in the polls first to determine who’s in the debates.

AMY GOODMAN: And earlier this summer the Green Party wrapped up its convention with the nomination of its presidential candidate the physician Dr. Jill Stein and her running mate the anti-poverty activist Cheri Honkala. Stein called her ticket a viable third-party challenge too corporate-beholden Republicans and Democrats.

CHERI HONKALA: I strongly agree that grass-roots democracy grows from the local community up, but at the same time, we have a state of emergency, I think, at the national level. And to silence the only hope of an opposition voice in this election when so much is at stake, I think, would be just a terrible loss for the American people. There is no reason why Americans should have to walk into the voting booth in November and only effectively two Wall Street-sponsored choices.

AMY GOODMAN: That was Green Party presidential nominee Jill Stein. Democracy Now! spoke to Justice Party nominee Rocky Anderson during the Republican National Convention in Tampa, Florida last month.

ROCKY ANDERSON: These two parties, Republicans and Democrats, have a stranglehold on our democracy. They are depriving people around this country of not only being able to get on the ballot. They are denying all us of our freedom of choice. We are seeing it in the most aggressive ways.

AMY GOODMAN: Again, we are going to have this presidential debate, including Rocky Anderson, the presidential candidate from the Justice Party, Dr. Jill Stein, the presidential candidate from the Green Party, we will be doing that tonight, expanding the debates. Just having them, not comments afterwards, but actually they will participate in the debate. We’ll just hit pause on the presidential debate, they will be given the same amount of time in the same format as the main presidential candidates, so that TV and radio and Internet audiences at Democracynow.org can hear what democracy sounds like. George Farah, there was a third-party candidate outside of Anderson, of course, Ross Perot. So, George, how did he get into the debates? Why was it agreed to then?

GEORGE FARAH: Amy, the Ross Perot story is absolutely fascinating, and I’d love to talk briefly. About 1992 and 1996, Ross Perot managed to get into the 1992 presidential debates. One of the great public misconceptions is that the Commission invited him. The commission loves to take credit as well. They say we are not as bi-partisan or as partisan as people accuse us of being. We included Ross Perot in 1992. That is not what happened. President George H.W. Bush believed strategically that Ross Perot was taking votes from then challenger Bill Clinton. So Bush’s campaign insisted on Ross Perot’s inclusion. The commission actually opposed Perot’s inclusion, first pushing to keep out of all three debates, then lobbying for allowing him to participate in just a single debate. It was only because President George H.W. Bush and Bill Clinton pushed for Perot’s inclusion that he was included. If you fast forward four years later, Ross Perot ran for president again. He had $29 million in taxpayer funds. Seventy-six percent of the American people wanted to see him in the debates. He was widely deemed the winner of two of the three debates in 1992, yet, he was excluded. Why, because this time, the candidates wanted to keep him out.

Bob Dole was desperate to keep Perot out of the presidential debates because he thought Perot would take more votes away from him. Bill Clinton did not want anyone to watch the debates. He wanted what George Stephanopoulos told me was a non event because he was comfortably leading in the polls. So they reached an outrageous agreement; Bill Clinton agreed to exclude Perot on the condition that one of three debates was canceled, and the remaining two debates were scheduled opposite the World Series of baseball, and no follow-up questions were asked. So, this is what viewers at home got. They got not Perot, they got two debates at the same time as baseball and they had no follow up questions, and that’s exactly what President Bill Clinton wanted, by design, the lowest debate audience in the history of presidential debates. Who took the heat? Not the candidates. The candidates never paid a political price. The polls after the debate showed 50% of the public blamed the commission. Only 13% blamed President Clinton, and only 5% blamed the Bob Dole. In other words, the critical role that the commission plays is allowing the candidates to engage in anti-democratic manipulations behind closed doors without having to pay a political price. If Bob Dole and Bill Clinton had to look in the camera and tell the American people, we’re going to keep out a candidate out you’re paying for, that you’re supporting and that you want to see, they would have never have had the courage to do so. It would have been perceived as cowardly and they would have been forced to allow Ross Perot up on that stage.

AMY GOODMAN: What about this comment, that Gary Johnson made, the former governor of New Mexico who’s running for president on the Libertarian line, this point about what you poll and this catch-22 of how you increase your standing in the polls if you are not in the debates?

GEORGE FARAH: Due to explicit criticism of the commission in 1992 and 1996 and an investigation by the Federal Election Commission, the commission was forced to adopting a numerical figure as a kind of decision making, at what point third-party candidates could participate in the presidential debates. So, they have announced that if a third party candidate, or any candidate gets 15% of the polls, that they will invite them to a presidential debate. Fifteen percent of the polls? Amy, that is crazy. There has not been a third-party candidate in the last 100 years that’s gotten close to 15% in the polls prior to any sort of presidential debate, it’s ridiculously high. Congress gives candidates millions of dollars of taxpayer funds if they win 5% of the popular vote. How is it that we actually can we subsidize a candidate, yet they need three times that level of support just to get into these presidential debates? Third-party candidates faced extraordinary structural barriers, discriminatory ballot access, scant media coverage, loyalties of the political class in the voting public, enormous campaign finance disparities. So, if they managed to convince a majority of Americans that they ought to be included in the presidential debates, it is outrageous that a private corporation backed by Anheuser-Busch, controlled by the two parties is telling them no. It absolutely is a catch-22. The presidential debates are the gatekeepers to credibility. If third party candidate gets in, he is instantly deemed credible, viable worthy of voter attention and worth of media attention, but if he is excluded, he is dismissed as marginal unworthy of voter attention of media attention, and his campaign is relegated in many ways to the dustbins of history. These is outrageous that the gatekeepers to our election process are not non-partisan entities like The League [of Women Voters], but partisan individuals with loyalties to the Republican and Democratic parties. It stifles debate, by design.

AMY GOODMAN: How do you see this changing right now, George Farah? You are the founder and executive director of Open Debates. You have been watching this over the years. The League of Women Voters, are they organizing? How are groups actually organizing? How do you see this playing out?

GEORGE FARAH: We created something in 2004 called The Citizen’s Debate Commission in. It was comprised of 17 civic leaders from across the political spectrum, from Tony Perkins of the Family Research Council on the right, to Randall Robertson, founder of Transafrica on the left. It was backed by 60 civic groups on its advisory board, 23 newspapers around country from The L.A. Times to The Seattle Times editorialized in support of the Citizen’s Debate Commission. And its specific purpose was clear; we were going to break the monopoly that the commission exerts over our presidential debate process. Unfortunately, Amy, we failed for the simple reason that there wasn’t sufficient public pressure. But, this is not reason to throw up your arms in defeat and say, oh my gosh, we can’t break this, that was just planting the seeds. This was the beginning of a broad based movement. The only way to truly break the monopoly of The Commission on Presidential Debates is to create a viable alternative that has so much grass roots support that it becomes politically costly for the major party nominees to avoid those debates. Once upon a time, the major party candidates could avoid debates altogether. There were no presidential debates in 1964, ’68 and ’72 because it wasn’t expected. Now any major party candidate seen avoiding the debates looks cowardly. It’s impossible, they must debate, whether they like it or not. We just want to take that expectation the public has and elevate it, so that not only will a candidate pay a price if they avoid the debates, but they will pay a political price if they avoid real debates that they aren’t controlling. So this is a matter of evolving and pushing the public expectation and step by step, I think we’re going to succeed. It is just a matter of time. The fact that three of the ten sponsors this election cycle withdrew their support is testimony to the fact that it is now becoming expensive to be too politically associated with the commission. If we can broaden that attack to not just include corporations but actually the individual candidates, we’re going to start to see some headway, we’re going to start to break the commission’s monopoly.

AMY GOODMAN: George Farah, I want to thank you for being with us. Founder and Executive Director of Open Debates, also author of “No Debate: How the Republican and Democratic Parties Secretly Control the Presidential Debates.” He’ll be joining us tonight. We will be starting a half hour before the actual presidential debate at 8:30 Eastern Standard time. Vincent Harding will also be with us, close ally of Dr. Martin Luther King. He is based here in Denver. He helped to write the speech that Dr. King gave in Riverside Church in New York, why he opposed the war in Vietnam a year to the day before Dr. King was assassinated. Then we start the debate exactly at 9:00 Eastern time, just as the debate begins here in Denver. We will broadcast the debate, it is moderated by Jim Lehrer of the PBS News Hour. He will put the questions to the major party candidates, Mitt Romney and President Barack Obama, and then we will hit pause, we will expand the debate. The candidates will be here with us in the studio also in Denver; Dr. Jill Stein and Rocky Anderson, both presidential candidates, third parties. Gary Johnson was invited but he won’t be in the city. We will expand the debate just as if they were standing right there at the University of Denver.

Propaganda and the Fear Factor(y)

In Uncategorized on December 29, 2011 at 12:26 pm

Oldspeak:In a would-be free and open society and especially in a society that aspires to be a democracy, propaganda and thought-control are crucial to the formation of public attitudes. In a nominal democracy, such as exists today in the United States, shaping the opinions of the masses is crucial to the appearance of legitimacy for the ruling elite. The public must be guided and persuaded to ratify the policies favored by the wealthy and well-connected, while insuring that the general public does not actually interfere with the policies and profits of the corporate rulers.” -Dr. Gary Allen Scott “Ignorance Is Strength”

Related Video:

Noam Chomsky: Necessary Illusions – Thought Control in a Democratic Society Part 1 (1989)

 

By Dr. Gary Allen Scott @ Common Dreams:

Fearful people are more dependent, more easily manipulated and controlled, more susceptible to deceptively simple, strong, tough measures and hard-line postures . . . they may accept and even welcome repression if it promises to relieve their insecurities.
George Gerbner (Former Dean of the Annenberg School of Communications at the University of Pennsylvania)

It is the merest truism that thought-control is unnecessary in totalitarian societies. A one-party rule and the repression of freedoms render irrelevant what people think. But in a would-be free and open society and especially in a society that aspires to be a democracy, propaganda and thought-control are crucial to the formation of public attitudes. In a nominal democracy, such as exists today in the United States, shaping the opinions of the masses is crucial to the appearance of legitimacy for the ruling elite. The public must be guided and persuaded to ratify the policies favored by the wealthy and well connected, while insuring that the general public does not actually interfere with the policies and profits of the corporate rulers.

As Robert Dahl has shown in his book How Democratic is the American Constitution?, our Constitution provides several mechanisms for insuring rule by a minority. One is the great disparity in the value of the suffrage. Voters in sparsely populated states, such as Wyoming, elect two senators that represent about 500,000 people. In California, the two senators represent some 35,000,000 people. This means that the weight of one’s vote in Wyoming is far greater (by 70 times!) than the weight of one’s vote in California. And in a Senate vote, the two Senators from Wyoming can negate the votes of California’s two Senators. Another such mechanism is the electoral college, which is another way in which losers can still win. The electoral college came into play most recently and most decisively in the 2000 presidential election. A third mechanism is the “first past the post”, or “winner take all” systems that afford no proportional share of votes to the second, third, or fourth place finisher in an election.

Notwithstanding these three mechanisms, the appearance of popular democracy must be preserved. So the rich and well connected must also still find ways to maintain the appearance of real democracy, even while they are greatly outnumbered by a factor of 50-60 to 1. Therefore, the ruling elite must find other ways of making up for being vastly outnumbered at the polls. This is why it is so important for such elites to shape the public mind. A recent example of this phenomenon occurred when the wealthiest Americans succeeded in repealing an “estate” or “inheritance tax” levied only on several thousand of the richest families in America by dubbing it a “death tax”, whose repeal generated popular support, in the wake of millions of dollars spent to shape public opinion. (This amazing feat is largely a result of the belief that every American has a chance to become rich, despite all the evidence to the contrary. As Bill Moyers said recently, “the surest way to become rich is to choose your parents well“. So even poor people supported the repeal in the fanciful belief that they might one day need this “tax relief”.)

Huge public opinion and marketing machines, along with the advertising industry provide commercial forms of propaganda. Their success flows from their ability to keep people self-indulgent, to keep people consuming, to keep them on the debt treadmill, and to keep them complacent, self-absorbed, and hedonistic.

If you haven’t read George Orwell’s 1984 or Aldous Huxley’sBrave New World  for a while, now is a good time to pick them up and re-read them. I submit that American society today seamlessly blends the self-satisfaction of Huxley’s Soma with Orwell’s ubiquitous telescreens and the thought-control they engender. When people are afraid, they need the Soma all the more: fear produces anxiety and hysteria; Soma provides the escapism. It is a powerful 1-2 punch. In the remainder of this essay, I shall attempt to offer some antidotes to what is ailing American society today.

Here are a few steps people might take to liberate themselves from fear and propaganda:

1. Turn off the television! 
Never forget this simple principle: The more television one watches, the more dangerous the world will seem to be. The author of the quote at the top of this article taught at the University of Pennsylvania’s Annenberg School of Communications for more than 30 years, and he believed that fearful people may even be lured to television precisely on account of their fear. Frightening images of house break-ins, car-jackings, murders, rapes, terrorists, viruses, natural disasters, and all manner of hysteria-producing hobgoblins have a seductive power to keep people watching and to keep people afraid, even paranoid.I remember when Fox launched its network with programs with titles like “When Good Dogs Go Bad” and “When Animals Attack”. Now they’ve refined their “fair and balanced” programs to feature human animals attacking, from Bill O’Reilly, to Chris Matthews to the steady stream of screamers who do not really engage in discussion or debate, but simply shout at one another and call each other names. Turn it off. There are other ways of keeping informed and the medium, to quote Marshall McLuhan, really is the message. In contrast to television, which McLuhan termed a “hot” medium, reading engages a different part of oneself, allowing critical thinking and analytic reasoning. We all know that a picture is worth a thousand words, but that is exactly why images are able to continue to scare us, long after the initial impression has been made. Turn off the television and pick up a book, such as Gavin de Becker’s “Fear Less” or Ropeik and Gray’s book “Risk: A Practical Guide for Determining What’s Really Safe and What’s Really Dangerous in the World Around You”. Radio, too, supplies news and analysis without the frightening images. Listen to National Public Radio, Pacifica (especially “Democracy Now!”) and the BBC and the CBC online or on the radio.

2. Once one has taken this giant step, one may want to continue reading by digging into American history. I do not have in mind here the typical, sanitized history of the indoctrinating textbooks that present America as the shining city on a hill and its people as perpetually honorable innocents. I recommend instead some alternative histories that examine the underbelly of both our remote and recent past. I would recommend beginning with three books: WWII pilot and longtime Boston University professor, Howard Zinn’s “A Peoples History of the United States”; then go on to William S. Greider’s “Who Will Tell the People?”; and finally, read M.I.T. professor Noam Chomsky’s “Hegemony or Survival?”. It may be interesting to explore a particular question, such as: How does a country’s rulers mobilize people (over and over again) to lay down their lives for some cause or other, while the rich and powerful are asked to make little or no sacrifice at all. Heck, George W. Bush started a war in Iraq and then pushed through not one but two sets of tax cuts for the wealthiest Americans. Such tax cuts when “the country is at war “(as he loves to say) is unprecedented in U.S. history. Indeed, one may come to learn that this same rich and powerful elite are making huge profits while poor, ‘average’ people are dying in droves. Think for a moment about the corporate mission of a Lockheed-Martin or any other manufacturer of weapons and weapons systems: Is it not clear that they make money on other people’s deaths? And is it not such powerful lobbies for the largest arms sellers in the world (the United States) who promote policies that would keep the country in perpetual war precisely because it is so good for their business?

3. Take a course in self-defense. 
I’m not talking about physical self-defense; I’m talking about intellectual self-defense, a self-defense course for the mind! Intellectual self-defense involves learning to think critically, to keep your eyes and ears open, and to flush those eyes and ears with a healthy dose of skepticism. If 100% or nearly 100% of media outlets are parroting the same line, saying the same thing about any issue, it is well to remember that even a small group of friends is likely to experience some disagreement on just about any issue, so why are all the pundits saying the same thing? Chances are, what you’re hearing is propaganda and spin.

4. Look beneath the surface.
Try to evaluate claims that people make. Learn to distinguish an assertion from an argument, a claim from proof, and learn to identify logical fallacies in what people say; then ask, Who benefits and who may be harmed? Dig into the matter and look for a reason, a warrant, a justification, and if you can’t find a convincing one, be skeptical. Don’t believe everything you hear. It will take much longer to be worn down by the constant repetition of the spin-meisters half-truths and outright falsehoods once one has turned off the television and cultivated a healthy skepticism. Most people are simply too trusting, and this stems from two main deficiencies: not knowing history (as Howard Zinn has recently argued) and failing to think critically or to be doggedly skeptical. (I note with great disappointment that neither of these qualities are possessed by the mainstream media in the U.S. today, as Tom Engelhardt has shown convincingly.) Let me offer a prime example to illustrate the point.

In the run-up to the invasion of Iraq, the American people were told over and over again (both explicitly and obliquely) that Iraq possessed chemical, biological, and even nuclear weapons. It was asserted that Saddam Hussein possessed not only the chemical weapons with which the U.S. supplied him during the 1980′s Iran-Iraq War (the same ones he used on the Kurds in 1991), but that he had also developed a nuclear program under ten years of sanctions and under a rigorous inspection regime that had found no evidence of such weapons. The American people were told that such a nuclear weapons program was “not an assertion” but a fact. The water was carried here principally by Dick Cheney, Donald Rumsfeld, Condoleezza Rice, and Colin Powell. Rice speculated about a ‘mushroom cloud’, a statement George W. Bush repeated publicly. Colin Powell helped out by putting on a dog-and-pony show at the U.N. Based on this hype, Iraq was deemed a ‘imminent threat’ to U.S. security.

Now, if one were skeptical, one might have pulled out a map and noticed that Iraq shares a border with six countries. One might then have deferred judgment to the people closest to this dangerous and imminent threat. So now one might have done a little digging on the Internet and found polls that showed that none of the populations of these six neighboring countries (who would be the closest targets if the allegations of WMD possession had been true) were in favor of the U.S. starting a war with Iraq. Nor were the European countries in favor of the U.S. attack, even though they were all much closer to Iraq than is the U.S. In fact, most countries (including Mexico and Canada) believed that the U.S. presented a greater threat to world security than either al-Qaeda or Saddam Hussein. Only America and the United Kingdom were able to thoroughly dupe their citizenry.

That’s quite a feat, and it is an embarrassing testament to our collective irrationality and, therefore, our gullibility. But this is the way propaganda works. It relies upon simple slogans, however illogical they may be (such as, “We are fighting the terrorists in Iraq so that we don’t have to fight them at home.” Obviously, these two alternatives are not mutually exclusive! One may in fact have noticed that there seem now to be a whole lot more ‘terrorists’ than there were before the invasion of Iraq! Propaganda also relies on hatred and racism to promote its group-think. And there is little doubt that propaganda is a largely stealth weapon; it flies under the radar of reason and is usually not even identified as propaganda. Above all, it plays on our fears, because the more frightened people are, the more illogical their reasoning becomes.

Dr. Gary Alan Scott is an associate professor of philosophy at Loyola College in Maryland and he is currently the Director of Loyola’s International Study Abroad Program in Leuven, Belgium. He welcomes your comments or questions atgaryalanscott@yahoo.com.

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