Tuesday, May 22, 2007

Various stuff (and lots of it)

There are a bunch of items in the news and around the net that I'd like to comment on so I'm going to group some of them into a single post or else I'm going to fall behind and lose track of all of them.

1) Eric Boehlert, author of the invaluable Lapdogs: How the Press Rolled Over for Bush, has a column up today at Media Matters about how Murdoch's proposed purchase of the Wall Street Journal has raised discussion about Murdoch's habit of using his media outlets to disseminate his own views and/or promote his political agenda. Boehlert also notes that what isn't being discussed is that although the Journal does have a high standard for journalistic reporting, its Op-Ed page has for years now been the vehicle for conservative movement propaganda. It's a good read ... the only thing missing is Boehlert did not take the opportunity to raise the issue of how increased media consolidation has led to systemic flaws and failures of the press to fulfill their first amendment civic duty. Which leads into item ...

2) More on Noam Chomsky and the propaganda model. Danny Schecter at Media Channel reflects on the 20th anniversay of Manufacturing Consent. Schecter observes that the model is generally true, but that it doesn't quite capture what is going on with our press, suggesting pointing out that at a recent conference it was suggested that a more appropriate title might now be "manufacturing compliance" (a theme one finds in the aforementioned book by Boehlert) But then Schecter goes further and (echoing the point I made when I brought up Aldous Huxley's essay about the propaganda of the irrelevent) states

Even more distressing is the tend towards the depoliticalization of politics through the merger of showbiz and newsbiz to assure that much of the media agenda is noisy and negative, stripped of all meaning, superficial, often celebrity-dominated with little in-depth explanatory or investigative journalism. They would rather market American Idol as the American Ideology. To them, the only “hegemony” in Canada is its beer and hockey.

The people who run our media are, after all, in the end, promoting a culture of consumption, not of engaged citizenship. They want eyeballs for advertisers, not activists to promote change. The sound-bytes presented as substance are there for entertainment, not illumination. It’s heat, not light, all the way.

So truth be told, the real propaganda in an era with more pundits than journalists, is less real coverage. It is pervasive and invisible at the same time — omission more than commission. They want to dumb us down, not smarten us up. They foster passivity, skepticism and resignation. Forget beliefs of any kind — just buy, buy, buy. Why even use deception when distraction works just as well?

Yes, the lack of coverage of East Timor that Noam Chomsky railed against was atrocious, as is today’s war coverage, but so is the absence of reporting on the devolution of democracy and much of the suffering in our own country.

Perhaps the more appropriate title in what Detroit calls a “new model year,” is “Manufacturing Indifference.”

3) More on Chomsky. This time, from Sheldon Rampton of the Center for Media and Democracy, a site which does invaluable work in documenting the ways in which propaganda undermine democracy. Rampton's essay "Has the Internet Changed the Propaganda Model" I would call the definitive analysis of this subject. Rampton concludes that propaganda is very much a dominant force in media today and that much of the propaganda model still applies, except where the 5th Filter has changed from anti-communism to anti-terrorism. Rampton also notes disturbing trends in corporate media's encroaching efforts to inject propaganda onto the internet. Read the whole thing.

4) More incompetence and corruption from the Bush administration. From Alternet, an article about how FEMA trailers used in the wake of Hurricane Katrina containing high levels of formaldehyde are still trying to be used by FEMA.

5) If you missed it, this Sunday 60 Minutes did a report on how even after spending 24 billion dollars on a modernization program known as "Deepwater" the Coast Guard is actually less prepared to deal with Homeland Security than it was before 9/11. Surprise, surprise, the problem seems to have arised from outsourcing the project to a private contractor that got paid lots of money but didn't get the job done. Let's call this reason #23423423423 that the Bush administration is the worst in US history.

6) A Democratic leaning think-tank has concluded that the way to win for Democrats is to increase the number of US troops and to increase the amount of government propaganda. Which leads me to ...

7) I said a few days ago that my tone would be harsher because I sincerely believe that democracy is in danger ... that it is dying. My feelings on that have been heavily informed by the writings of Chalmers Johnson and Kevin Phillips. Both authors have been detailing how America seems to be on a course for collapse that has been paralleled time and again in history by other republics that developed overstretched empires. Johnson's latest book, Nemesis: The Last Days of the American Republic I feel is the best of his so far and the most important (and I believe it will be more accesible to the reader than the work of Phillips.)

Unlike the think-tank above, Johnson suggests that the only way to save the America republic is for us to give up our military empire - which is bankrupting the nation and uniting/militarizing the world against us and eroding our liberties - and instead divert that money back into the infrastucture of our economy and into education and gov't programs that help the American public. In his Harper's magazine article "Republic or Empire" (I would classify this as a MUST READ article) Johnson outlines his thesis and introduces the concept of military keynesianism, which roughly means that ever since WWII the American economy has been sustained by perpetually growing the military-industrial complex, and how an ever growing military establishment has led to the expansion of Executive power to the point today where we have a president claiming for himself the powers of a dictator and engaging in virtually unchecked lawlessness. The outlook, according to Johnson, is bleak.

In his most recent article for TomDispatch, Johnson dileneates what he thinks would be neccesary to prevent the collapse of the American republic (from bankruptcy or worse.) I've already alluded above to what Johnson thinks is necessary to be done, but this article lays it out in full. Again, I would highly recommend reading this article, as well.

8) The revolving door continues. This is standard operating procedure for the Bush administration. Its a con, and US citizens are the mark. What the Bush does is run for office getting lots of campaign donations from corporation and special interest groups. While campaigning he says he's for the people. In office, he's for the corporations and special interests that gave him money. So someone who lobbied for relaxed regulations against a particular industry (usually one that donated to the campaign) gets appointed to a position overseeing the regulation of said industry, and lo and behold, the regulations get relaxed from lack of oversight.

It's a great scam. The company profits from its investment from the increased revenue it generates from the relaxed regulations and the President profits by becoming president. The only one who loses is the citizen who has bear the burden and costs of - in this instance - decreased consumer safety.

9) In my previous discussion of Dinesh D'Souza I noted how his criticism of the American "cultural left" was reminiscent of Qutb's critique of American culture. Over at Reason, Cathy Young points out that in D'Souza's book he actually is flat out sympathetic to Qutb. Young also observes that the book has not been well received by the conservative movement, primarily because they view it as a right-wing variant of "blame America first" mentality. Young is correct in this, but she also goes on to state that "some American social conservatives have long expressed guarded sympathy with the radical Muslim critique of Western 'decadence.”'" I think this gets at something significat, and something that will make sense when framed in terms of The Authoritarians.

Authoritarians find it very difficult to see double-standards and hypocrisy when viewing themselves. They can quite clearly see Islamic fundamentalists as anti-democratic and authoritarian, but they can not see similar (yet less extreme) authoritarian and anti-democratic behavior on their part. Which is where the backlash against D'Souza comes in ... it's not that he's critical of "the left" so much that they have a problem with, its that he would in anyway excuse the actions of a group that has been designated an enemy by their authority figures (e.g. Bush, Cheney, Limbaugh, etc).

10) Al Gore's new book, The Assault on Reason, is set to come out Thursday. The Center for American Progress has written an advance review of the book and its importance. I've got to say, I'm glad Gore left politics, because he has been doing invaluable work in defending science and reason from the forces of anti-intellectualism that are now surrounding us and eating away at democracy. First, with An Inconvenient Truth which helped raise awareness of the issue of global warming, and now with his latest book which is fiercely critical of the Bush administration's lawlessness and wreckless contempt for critical and empirical thinking. An excerpt of the book can be read here. Gore is sounding the alarm louder and clearer than most everyone else that democracy is in danger, as evidenced by the following passage

American democracy is now in danger—not from any one set of ideas, but from unprecedented changes in the environment within which ideas either live and spread, or wither and die. I do not mean the physical environment; I mean what is called the public sphere, or the marketplace of ideas.

It is simply no longer possible to ignore the strangeness of our public discourse. I know I am not alone in feeling that something has gone fundamentally wrong. In 2001, I had hoped it was an aberration when polls showed that three-quarters of Americans believed that Saddam Hussein was responsible for attacking us on Sept. 11. More than five years later, however, nearly half of the American public still believes Saddam was connected to the attack.
That in itself shows us that half of the American public has been cut off from reality. Indeed, something has gone terribly wrong, and reason is under assault. I'm somewhat pleased to note that I've myself been working on an essay I've tentatively titled "Truth Under Siege: The Assault on Democracy" that I may or not get around to finally posting. But do take advantage of the online excerpt of Gore's book, it really is lucid and Gore has on-point ideas about what we can do to save democracy.

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