Category: News

Fake news just got fakier: New Fox News’ flight deck on the aircraft carrier USS Disinformation

[video link]

Air traffic controller of the propagandasphere… flight deck of the USS Disinformation…

With “information specialists” commanding BATS–big area touchscreens–the new Fox News Deck invites the hilarity that comes with the mistaken belief that fancy media technology legitimates misinformation. But Boing Boing’s headline said it best, “Fox News hires tiny little humans to work on gigantic iPads,” which conjures images of Oompa-Loompas slaving away in Rupert Murdock’s wanker factory. The weirdest part of the video is when Vice President of the News says they’re doing this because “people aren’t so linear” anymore. Could have been Tim Leary himself saying that.

Fox news scandal downplayed by press

Why the US media ignored Murdoch's brazen bid to hijack the presidency | Carl Bernstein | Comment is free | The Guardian

Image source

With the upcoming decision on whether or not to let Murdoch buy the LA Times and Chicago Tribune, the FCC, press and mediactive citizens should pay attention to this story. If you don’t think Murdoch intended to replicate the level of corruption acieved in the UK, read on: Why the US media ignored Murdoch’s brazen bid to hijack the presidency | Carl Bernstein | Comment is free | The Guardian.

Murdoch’s empire is an invader species of the media ecosystem

Watch Murdoch’s Scandal on PBS. See more from FRONTLINE.

Frontline’s documentary, Murdoch’s Scandal [video link]

In case you missed it, the UK has been embroiled in an ongoing media scuttlebutt that was sparked by the News of the World scandal. The newspaper’s outrageous and unethical violation of people’s privacy and other alleged criminal activities led to a government inquiry by Lord Justice Leveson, whose report was released yesterday.

The Guardian, which was instrumental in uncovering many of the News of the World’s activities (see the Frontline documentary above), has this excellent overview of the report.

For those who don’t understand the nature and context of the problem, it should be noted that since the days of Thatcher and Reagan there has been an increasing normalization of neoliberal policies which eases government restrictions on media ownership. This has led to increased monopolization of media markets and, not surprisingly, to greater corruption. In the UK Rupert Murdoch’s media empire has been allowed to dominated the newspaper market, giving him the overwhelming power to influence and pervert the political process. In the US we have experienced such an extreme consolidation of media companies that now only a handful of multinationals dominate the majority of media.

The lesson should be clear: private media companies should not be allowed to consolidate and monopolize media markets, and hence the media ecosystem. They become a parasitic invader species that transforms the public sphere into to a monoculture incapable of a resilient response to climate change. It leads to less diversity of views and to a dominant worldview that favors corporate interests. In such an environment we get less news about environmental problems and more gossip and infotainment about celebrities like the Kardashians. Not surprisingly, it was a nonprofit newspaper, The Guardian, that broke the Murdoch scandal.

Of grave concern is Murdoch’s increasing influence in the US media market. Not only does his company News Inc. own one of the most atrocious and scandalous TV news networks in the world, Fox News, but he is gobbling up major newspapers like The Wall St. Journal. He now is making a bid to purchase the LA Times and Chicago Tribune and it looks like Obama’s FCC is ready to let him have at it. Thankfully FreePress.org is waging a campaign to stop this outrageous giveaway (click here to sign their petition).

It is increasingly clear that media monopolization leads to unethical media practices because these massive companies are more accountable to their commercial interests than the public good. We need to genuinely support nonprofit media ventures. One way to do that is to donate to public media, such as a local public media radio station, or to nonprofit activist organizations that are seeking to change the media system so that it is more just and diverse. FreePress.org has these handy guides for taking action.

PS For additional info, The Telegraph’s Leveson Report: the key points at a glance.

Bloomberg makes waves

In terms of the mainstream media finally acknowledging climate change, Bloomberg’s Sandy cover is:

A) A  sea change

B) A shift in tide

c) Making waves

D) All of the above (bad puns intended)

Read the editorial here (and then read the comments sections for how this is becoming a Rorschach test of people’s perceptions of climate change).

Fox occupies insanity

[article and video link]

I know that I’m preaching to the converted, but it’s always good to have case studies. In light of FAIR‘s research concerning the dearth of Occupy Wall Street coverage, it appears the corporate media backlash (and hence denial about the economic crisis) is firmly entrenched. The above clip from Fox New’s The Five smugly dismisses OWS based on the poor performance of an OWS participant, Harrison Schultz, who was hammered by the flak master and neuro-linguistic programmer, Sean Hannity (follow this link to an amazing breakdown of how it’s done). In the Hannity segment titled, “Occupy Insanity,” first try watching the interview with Schultz without sound (the background shots were quite selective, focusing on the acts of a very small minority of violent protestors). Then listen to how Hannity skillfully redirects any serious critique of the system to focus on abhorrent behavior.

The Republicans’ recycled one-liner response to anyone exercising free speech–Get a job–will continue to substitute for any genuine commitment to democratic discourse. It’s not by accident that Fox News producers go out of their way to find the least experienced, inarticulate examples from the movement in order to create a straw man that can be easily torched. By contrast, consider this thoughtful discussion on Democracy Now! that presented diverse views about the movement. Can you imagine any of these panalists being interviewed on Fox? Chances are no, not only because Fox would never allow anyone so articulate to air his or her views, but these guests are wise enough to avoid letting themselves get cannibalized by Fox in order to become fodder for future propaganda. I ultimately don’t know Schultz’ motive, but I think it was a mistake (and perhaps a big temptation to be on TV) to give Hannity a forum to exercise his magician’s skills.

As evidence for how little Fox and friends comprehend what is happening outside the walled studio, they refer to Schultz as a leader of the movement. Strange, I didn’t know OWS has leaders or spokespeople. Regardless, it’s clear that this kind of media coverage is a diversion to avoid talking about real issues. It is to Fox’s detriment that they are unwilling to grasp the truly unsustainable nature of the situation and to patronize young people by yelling at them to get a job.

This kind of playbook response is well anticipated. As is the case with any activism that challenges the status quo going back to the 1960s, corporate media typically marginalize the protestor’s claims through flak. They discredit these claims through association with the counter culture (“they’re not like us,” “they are not reasonable people,” “they are lunatics”) and radicals (“anarchists,” “socialists,” “communists,” “Hamas” affiliates, “anti-Semites,” “Nazis,” etc.). They impose a narrative that portrays them as childlike (“petulant,” “spoiled”), naive (“they don’t know what they want”), aiding the enemy (Chavez, Hamas and the Ayatollah “love them”), and destructive (“they want our stuff,” “they will destroy capitalism”). This is not to say that sympathizers in the corporate media don’t exist. Nonetheless, those seeking serious discourse about the world’s problems won’t find much of it in a media environment dominated by conflict-driven infotainment spectacles that consider shouting matches democratic discussions.

I believe it is pointless to expect a reasonable discussion or debate in the corporate media. I think it is far better to continue creating alternative media that works towards building the new paradigm of participatory democracy and media. If you need a good example, go no further than this documentaryy, which offers fantastic insight into the Aikido move that we need to make around mainstream media.

On this note, consider the wise words of Bertrand Russell:

Perhaps the essence of the Liberal outlook could be summed up in a new decalogue, not intended to replace the old one but only to supplement it. The Ten Commandments that, as a teacher, I should wish to promulgate, might be set forth as follows:

Do not feel absolutely certain of anything.

Do not think it worth while to proceed by concealing evidence, for the evidence is sure to come to light.

Never try to discourage thinking for you are sure to succeed.

When you meet with opposition, even if it should be from your husband or your children, endeavor to overcome it by argument and not by authority, for a victory dependent upon authority is unreal and illusory.

Have no respect for the authority of others, for there are always contrary authorities to be found.

Do not use power to suppress opinions you think pernicious, for if you do the opinions will suppress you.

Do not fear to be eccentric in opinion, for every opinion now accepted was once eccentric.

Find more pleasure in intelligent dissent than in passive agreement, for, if you value intelligence as you should, the former implies a deeper agreement than the latter.

Be scrupulously truthful, even if the truth is inconvenient, for it is more inconvenient when you try to conceal it.

Do not feel envious of the happiness of those who live in a fool’s paradise, for only a fool will think that it is happiness.

Quote source: Brain Pickings

Multimedia journalism: The true cost of gas

Yet another example of systems-oriented storytelling combining the power of investigative reporting with animation. This comes from the Center of Investigative Reporting, a fantastic cauldron of muckraking. Back in the old days when print was king, I interned there while I was in college. They work hard trying to protect the public interest, so your support is greatly needed.

Media jujitsu: Fracking around with new journalism


If you can’t view the video, click here. Video details: “My Water’s On Fire Tonight” is a product of Studio 20 NYU in collaboration with ProPublica.org. The song is based on ProPublica’s investigation on hydraulic fractured gas drilling (read the full investigation here).

I’m not going to suggest this is the future of journalism, but this recent “explainer” project, “My Water’s On Fire Tonight,” combines the best of worlds: investigative journalism, oral cultural expression and visual storytelling. It represents a good example of media jujitsu that can simplify complex issues for our intellectually challenged world. Typically well-financed energy companies deploy their black magic media spin and PR to divide and conquer the American public sphere. So while extreme weather rips through the United States, people experience cognitive dissonance as if there is no connection between drought, fire, tornados and crazy temperature fluctuations with our energy consumption. We have to do a better job of “social marketing,” by doing an end-around the normal machinations of thought control. I hope explainers represent the best uses of new media to counter traditional forms of mental inoculation. (Check out the “explainer awards” for more examples.)

Some thoughts about the Twitter revolution debate

201103241825

Image source

The following are notes from a presentation I recently gave during a panel discussion entitled, “Twittering the Revolution: Causes and Prospects of the North African Upheaval” at John Cabot University. These thoughts are largely sketches to fit into a ten-minute frame.

The problem is that everything I have to say comes from the media: media have become very self-referential and often reports on themselves. The important point is that what I say comes from inside a very complex media ecology that combines twitter, Facebook, blogs, Al Jazeera, hybrid print media, live blogs and email. As an indication, most of what follows came from following various discussions via Twitter.

Competing narratives:

1) Digital Utopians with implicit ethnocentrism that it’s West’s technological tools that enabled revolution and a hint of technological determinism, i.e. Tim Conner (writing in incomplete sentences like ad copy):

“Facebook and Twitter are great apps for inciting a riot to start a revolution. We need the next app. The app that lets the People gather together to quickly establish government of the people, by the people, for the people. The app that prevents extremists from taking advantage of a power vacuum. The app that enables quick restoration of the rule of law. And allows folks to quickly get back to work.”

In response David Smith writes:

“If the digital punters out there are to be believed, it is the power of some corporates in California that is setting the Arab world free. It is the venture capitalists, the CEOs, the boardroom visionaries of Palo Alto that are to be thanked for the groundswell we are seeing in Tunisia, Egypt, Yemen and Jordan. According to the social-media posse, we must bow our heads and give praise to Mr Mark Zuckerberg and Mr Jack Dorsey for sponsoring the Middle-East revolution.

Yup, Twitter and Facebook. They have both been pronounced as the cornerstones that one builds a revolution on. Got a regime you need to overthrow? Hashtag it, bag it, and throw it on the scrapheap, job done.”

Then there’s the tempered but optimistic view:

Jeff Jarvis (author of What Would Google Do?): “Today, it occurs to me that Facebook, Twitter, and YouTube may be the Gutenberg press of the Middle East, tools like his that enable people to speak, share, and gather. Without those tools, could revolutions occur? Of course, curmudgeons, they could. Without people and their passion, could revolutions occur? Of course not, curmudgeons. But why are these revolutions occurring now? No, curmudgeons, we’ll never be able to answer that question.”

On the other hand, from those who were there:

Wael Ghonim, a Google executive, calls it Revolution 2.0 and likens it to Wikipedia where you have no clear structure or leaders and it is done collectively.

2) Digital dystopians and the “debunking cycle” (Malcolm Gladwell and Evgeny Morozov, author of The Net Delusion: The Dark Side of Internet Freedom) who argue a) revolutions happened without Twitter and Facebook, so we can’t attribute social networks as causes (Gladwell: “People protested and brought down governments before Facebook was invented. They did it before the Internet came along.”); b) clicktivism is false sense of empowerment with weak ties, and is without deep organizing that builds strong ties; c) social networks are also tools of repression that help authorities crackdown and find who the rebells are (as was the case in Iran).

Reinforcing this view:

* Remember how quickly Wikleaks was shut down by corporations on the Internet.

* Facebook deactivated an Egypt group because it used pseudonyms. Gawker’s Adrian Chen argued that Facebook was timid and cowardly by not actively helping Egyptians protestors.

3) The Third Way. This sees the situation as a “media ecology” that has all these elements. Missing is the role of Al Jazeera, which has spurned a pan-Arab neo-nationalism, and its English version which has inspired those in the West to solidarity. You can’t argue “what if” because it is impossible to speculate what would happen without the current media ecology. For example, Jay Rosen’s “Twitter Can’t Topple Dictators” polemic argues, “factors are not causes.”

I’m interested in the reversal of roles of the traditional media model. For us in Europe and the US, Africa is normally the “periphery” and we depend on our own technicians and experts to report back to us. During these events, we became the periphery. News was “crowd sourced”— Al Jazeera depended upon people on the ground with cell phones and Twitter. Live news blogging, like the Guardian UK mixed its reporting with sources from all over the world. Twitter was an amazing way to track what was happening on the ground. Al Jazeera does not exist in isolation of social media. It is a hybrid.

Israel and the neocons could not control the narrative on the ground. This is the biggest change. 85% of Americans said they sympathized with Egyptian revolution. Now there is increased transparency, and those who did biz with dictators are being discredited. Artists like Boyance, Usher and 50 Cent who performed for the Gaddafi clan were called out and embarrassed by their actions. You can be sure people will think twice about enabling dictators.

There is a far more heightened morality in the global public sphere.

Other thoughts:

* Can you believe this slight against US media from the US State Dept.? This is a pole shift. Sec. State Hillary Clinton: “Like it or hate it, it is really effective. In fact, viewership of Al-Jazeera is going up in the United States because it is real news. You may not agree with it, but you feel like you’re getting real news around the clock instead of a million commercials and, you know, arguments between talking heads and the kind of stuff that we do on our news that is not providing information to us, let alone foreigners.”

* Did American media fail because of its celebrity/parachute journalism, so we have the spectacle of Anderson Cooper’s attack or the unfortunate assault on Lara Logan?

* Was Wikileaks the catalyst that the started the whole process? Impossible to answer, but it seemed to have had the effect of the Emperor’s New Clothes fable.

Again, there is too much complexity for simple answers. Fear factor broken. The field of action changed.

Ghonim: “the power of the people is much stronger than the people in power.”

Will Arabs save Western civilization again? Recall that it was the Islamic universities in Spain that translated the Greeks. Without them our philosophical tradition would be long gone. And now, for the revolution that seems to inspire so many.

First, Google’s Wael Ghonim on “Revolution 2.0,” discovering that you are not alone and the power of thinking together: “the power of the people is much stronger than the people in power.” Next, Al Jazeer’s Wadah Khanfar talks about the network’s role in the Arab revolts. Al Jazeera shows loads of integrity difficult to find in US media, shoring up Hillary Clinton’s claim that Al Jazeera is real news.

Incidentally, you might enjoy the comments on the TED page that features this video. One commenter, hamd hamid, had this choice quote:

“They refine the crude oil but not their faith,purify even the blood but not thier intention,transplant hearts and kidneys but not love and health… They have made wine purer than water,have send many things to space but not even a few good deeds to heaven,have lighted the world but darkened thier souls.”

This writer is an Internet Rumi.

Beck’s Mickey Mao problem

Glenn Beck doesn’t deserve more media coverage, but I couldn’t resist. Sorry Glenn, naturally Disney will make a doll honoring Chinese communists. Where would good ol’ American capitalism be without the strong arm of the Red Guard enforcing unfair labor conditions so that we can buy cheap Disney crap at Wal-Mart? Frankly, a single party state with unregulated capitalism is a Tea Party wet dream. Man up Glenn, the Chinese Communist Party has you beat at your own game.

Truthiness in advertising

201010101545

201010101545-1

Wooster Collective posted these images from CNN’s ad campaign in Turkey, “Stories with the full background.” Aesthetically this is by far one of my favorite marketing stunts (see my book cover to understand why). The thing is, why don’t they run ads like this in the US? I think the answer is self-evident. The US press is generally chckenshit to be too honest at home, but will present a different face abroad in order to appease the generally oppositional view of the US overseas. This kind of two-faced approach is a disservice to the American public and also points to the ethically crippled state of corporate media.

Dis-illusioned Beck

201009110918

Girolamo Savonarola: Beck’s Old World counterpart (Image source: Wikicommons)

Without intending to do so, this is my belated response to the 9/11 anniversary. Even though what follows doesn’t address the event explicitly, no doubt it is the background of the current rise in rightwing fanaticism. Anyhow…

Alternet has a great thought piece about the Glenn Beck phenomena. In particular the author does an excellent job of comparing Beck’s popularity with the shenanigans of the film Network‘s Howard Beale (based on Beck’s own claim that his role model is indeed Beale). Granted, I’m far more sympathetic to Beale’s character than I am with Beck. But the parallels between Network‘s uncanny prediction of the future of news (it was made in 1976), in particular its prescient vision of what would become Fox News, makes the comparison necessary and appropriate. It has certainly become on odd time when the fake news is real (Daily Show, Colbert Report) and the real news is fake (Fox and other cable news).

Admittedly, it has been hard for me to grasp how a completely nonsensical character like Beck could come across to his fans as a serious journalist. In a way, he’s a perfect empty signifier for television. He can use the professorial signs of serious research through his deployment of a blackboard and sophisticated-looking diagrams, and he commands all the tricks that TV offers as a medium of emotional engagement. Whereas in the past you’d find such rants in conspiracy laden books, like Gary Allen’s None Dare Call It Conspiracy, or on radio (which remains a popular medium for right wing anger), TV is a “cool” medium (to put it in McLuhan’s terms) that engages more senses and therefor has a far more powerful effect. What Fox is doing is mainstreaming John Birch Society antics for its own cynical business interests, but might find itself in trouble when their clown-lead movement takes over government and starts outlawing the kind of liberal lifestyle enjoyed by the rich New Yorkers who staff and operate conservative corporate media. For a hint of what this kind of world might look like, I suggest reading Margaret Atwood’s The Handmaid’s Tale.
Continue reading

CNN’s lesson in branding history

CNN’s recent re-branding effort, “Go Beyond Borders,” presents a bit of a conundrum for me. On the one hand this is a brilliant marketing campaign that is also educational and interactive. On the other hand, it really bleeds the line between marketing, history and interpassivity–designing carefully controlled parameters of interactive media that are “free” in aesthetic only.

Here CNN re-brands itself as “borderless,” yet it’s not just any border. It carefully chooses an event whose symbolism as the triumph of capitalism cannot be ignored. At a time when capitalist ideology should be challenged by media, CNN intrenches itself as the premiere network of capitalist dogma, incorporating the various signs and trademarks of the system’s triumphs– the fall of communism, art, marketing and networked technology–to bundle them into their own nifty little neoliberal package.

Is this something to be concerned about? Commercialism has penetrated every aspect of public life. I know I’m old school when I argue for a clear line between the public good and corporate interests, whereas others would say, what’s the big deal? Maybe it shows that corporations are responsive to the public good. Yet, as is the case with BP, it’s one thing to brand yourself and side with a particular outlook, it’s another thing to practice it. Given a choice between CNN and Fox, I would certainly prefer CNN, but I would hardly call the network virtuous. It certainly remains a primary propaganda arm of global capital. This is not a conspiracy, just business. After all, which “side” do you think Time Warner Inc. is on? Wall Street’s or yours?

I suppose the world is more nuanced than my cartoon, punk rock version of it, yet it’s still hard for me stomach this marketing ploy couched as a history lesson.

A whale of a video clip

This news clip and video of the Sea Shepherd Conservation Society’s Ady Gil being struck by Japanese whalers will be of interest to anyone who has read Kevin Michael DeLuca’s Image Politics: The New Rhetoric of Environmental Activism. In it he reflects on the success of Greenpeace’s anti-whaling image war in the 1970s in which the organization was able to successfully reframe Russian factory ships as agressors against powerless whales. Their guerrilla media played well in the Cold War rhetoric of the time, their images being provocative enough to transcend the dominant discourse of the evening news. DeLuca argues that through such media environmental groups have the ability to raise awareness of issues otherwise ignored by mainstream press. He wrote the book before “viral video” became a mainstream concept.

This clip, which comes from CBS News’ YoutTube channel, was also viewed on the evening news in Italy. I don’t know if it has managed any real TV coverage in the US other than the Web, but the clip is already spreading through the blogosphere.

There are two curious things about this video. First, it is from the perspective of the Japanese whaling ship, so it’s a bit odd that the video is distributed at all–considering the potential liability of the whalers. Either there’s more to the story that the Japanese intend to tell, or there was a covert videographer onboard who uploaded it via satellite. Either scenarios is intriguing.

The other strange twist is something that begs a snarky comment, but I’ll resist. The the Sea Shepherd Conservation Society’s other vessel that rescued the Ady Gil’s crew is called Bob Barker, the namesake, no less, of the famous game show host who paid for the boat. Goes to show that media do have a peculiar way of circulating reality.

Losing Hopenhagen?

Copenhegan-Msnbc-Screengrab

Former Vikings, contemporary Danish are better known now for windmills, bicycles and excellent rain gear. Like many of the social democracies of Europe’s northern frontier, to some the Danes are actually Europe’s modern hippies, which they hoped to leverage with the “Hopenhagen” brand. History, it was hoped, would show that Copenhagen and its COP-15 UN Climate Change conference had saved Earth. But just as the witch is the shadow of our abandoned body, the transnational police state that now follows global leaders around the planet is the shadow of our abandoned democracy. When it comes to the global family, would we tolerate thugs at the Thanksgiving table clobbering the kids whenever they protest eating factory farmed turkey? Even a feel good slogan like Hopenhagen can’t shake off the reality of global climate negotiators and their roving police state, because a real solution ultimately means the dismantling of the current imperial system of carbon-based economics.

Ostensibly led by the United States, it appears that “Hopenhegan“– like Obama’s “hope” campaign–was a smiley-faced rouse to rebrand neoliberalism. For the conference organizers it’s apparent that the initial plan would be photo ops outside, while inside the only legally binding climate agreement in existence– Kyoto– would be dismantled, and the air would be subdivided into commodities that can be bought and sold on a global cap and trade market exchange. Whoever dreamed up the idea that pollution should be commodified was on the same genius page as those who thought up private prisons and subcontracted war, thereby creating new business opportunities that can only be fueled by more pollution, criminalization and violent conflict. You have to hand it to these guys for the brilliant ways they have figured out how to capitalize on misery.

Case in point. One of Hopenhegan’s “partners” is DuPont, who claims on the Hopenhegan official Website that they have always been good ecologists (“DuPont has long been a leader in the area of climate change, calling for policies to reduce greenhouse gas emissions in a way that’s both environmentally effective and economically sustainable.”). Of course they have, in particular the kind of sustainability of the Agent Orange and napalm variety. And then there is “water neutral” CocaCola, whose Indian production facilities have fouled and devastated community water sources all over the subcontinent. Or take the branding of climate change news by Chevron (see screen grab above) through its strategic ad placement on Website news linking economic development with carbon reduction. I could go on.

I’ve never been a fan of hope anyways. In my spiritual work I learned long ago that visualizing change and a brighter future is not facilitated by hope. Hope is a desire that can never be fulfilled; it is a kind of cosmic panhandling. It is far better to intend, to place a specific goal into the future and to work for it, rather than expect a handout from the overlords of destiny. You can be sure that Goldman Sachs and the military industrial complex do not hope for anything. They strategize, organize and seize opportunities. How is it that, for example, the hidden agenda of the Copenhagen talks is that 20% of the global population gets to control 60% of the atmosphere, as Lumumba Di-Aping Chair of G-77 has pointed out? This is what global capital is planning for. As Kumi Naidoo, Executive Director of Greenpeace International, stated, “The bottom line is we have global economic apartheid and essentially what we are seeing here is a sort of climate apartheid.”

Meanwhile, the rest of us can either just hope that the Empire decides deescalate, as Copenhagen police finally did during one protest, or to organize as many are now doing. Small island nations, indebted countries and citizen groups have disrupted and stopped what would have been a global disaster of an agreement (what was announced yesterday is not bindiing). We have to hand it to civil society for frustrating the World System’s bogus consensus– for now. I suspect it is a bit of what Paul Hawken talks about in Blessed Unrest: How the Largest Movement in the World Came into Being and Why No One Saw It Coming— disparate and diverse groups working locally, but collectively form the greatest movement in human history. It may be getting its sea legs now, as the contradictions of Copenhagen are too stark to bear.

The US media, unfortunately, continues to provide a disservice to the public by not covering the issue from an egalitarian point of view. But that is to be expected. Any student of political economy would predict this kind of coverage. Not surprisingly, in my international culture and media courses, it is only the Americans who are clueless about climate change. PR has certainly earned its top dollar for confusing the issue. So it is a legitimate concern that Obama’s hands are tied back at home. No doubt, if Congress can’t pass a decent, even totally watered down, health care bill, it will surely fail at supporting any meaningful climate treaty.

Paying for carbon reduction is not charity. It’s a moral obligation. We (that is, those of us born in the global economic “core”) have produced 60% of the historical CO2 in the air right now. Whatever treaty the rich countries of the world want to push is going to kill millions of people because by settling on a 2 degree increase in global temperatures it is surely signing a death warrant for the colonized world. The word from African activists is that $10 billion a year is only enough to buy coffins. Never before have the contradictions of the system been so open and transparent. Whereas in the past we could justify the abstraction of land ownership and property because it was fixed and concrete, air is ephemeral and obviously belongs to all equally. The concept of owning and selling it should be too absurd to past muster. But then again, we also take a lot of absurdities for granted.

This is our endgame. Either we are a global family with real democracy, or illegitimate Empire that will continue to treat the world as a chess set. We already know the agenda of one set of players, what is ours?

* * *

There are many great posts out there processing the situation. I suggest starting with Adrian J. Ivakhiv’s blog post at Indications. It will lead you do many other excellent links, too many for my tattered mind to grapple with right now.

Madness, civilization and media

Like most mediated Americans, I’m fascinated by the Jaycee Dugard story. To recap briefly, at 11 years old she was abducted by a drug-crazed rapist/pedephile who claims to be a messenger from God. He’s deluded to the point that he believes he has invented a machine which can channel the voice of God. Meanwhile he confines his victim in a compound while fathering two children with her. He has shielded her from the reality beyond the fence, but teaches her how to become a computer graphics expert. We have yet to learn the further horrors perpetrated by the abductor, Phillip Garrido.

Now, I don’t mean to be flip or to denigrate the great tragedy of this incident. But I see in media coverage some persistent tropes and larger issues that warrant investigation. First, Americans are particularly fascinated with abductions. My Italian partner was horrified and fascinated by the number of abduction posters around the US, in particular when you enter Wal-Mart. Obviously it’s a huge and significant phenomena, and a sign of our collective madness.

Beyond the countless sad stories of ruined life, abductions are also part of a larger cultural mythology. From the earliest days of cinema to the X-Files, it has been a constant theme. For example, the myth of the baby stealing gypsies repeats itself throughout the history of film. But even before that there was the 19th century genre of Native abduction tales in which young white women were taken from civilization, but safely return after an ordeal with “savages.” Yet the homecoming is always tainted with a bonding and changement resulting from the time of capture. Recent alien abduction stories update and maintain a continuum from the Industrial Age to the Information Age. Somehow through out the pantheon of abductors, civilization remains the stabilizing and normal reference point to cope with the horror of removal and displacement.

Yet, Western civilization is a removal and displacement machine. To quote Andy Warhol, “Being born is like being kidnapped. And then sold into slavery.” This is the story of the past 5,000 years. We have been kidnapped from Earth, but fail to recognize the aberration. Is it fair to say that as hostages to abstract principles that we suffer from collective Stockholm Syndrome, in which we have bonded with an abusing overlord?

Clearly the experience of Jaycee Dugard’s family is quite real, so I don’t want to relegate it to the status of myth. However, is not the story also a model for the history of Western civilization? According to ecopsychologists, and particular Paul Shepard’s book Nature and Madness, we took a turn from a sustainable neolithic culture that did well for hundreds of thousands of years to one dominated by a murdering, misogynistic God. Shepard’s claim is that as a civilization we have been essentially abducted from a nurturing “ontogenesis” with nature– a coming into being through bonding with Mother Earth. Meanwhile the abductor(s)–priests, scientists, teachers, politicians– claim their right to do so because of commands from a monotheistic (and literate!) Lord talking through boxes (books, TVs, radios, computers).

Perhaps the Dugard story has such resonance because deep down inside we all feel like her: our culture, dominated by an abstract forcefield called God/Capitalism, forces us into schools and institutions that separate us from a profound and loving connection with the world. It breeds us to become robotic slaves to an international, abstract monetary system and demands that we never leave the compound, lest the world “out there” derange and make us insane. We’re kept locked up and domesticated through punishment and rewards, entangling us in a violent domestic partnership based on the rule of an abusive patriarch and the threat of human sacrifice.

Don’t believe me? If you are male, recall how as a child that in school if you ever left the black box of acceptable male behavior (patriarcal culture) you were beaten back into the box by your fellow classmates. The culture literally uses violence to keep you from being a whole person. And when violence doesn’t work, then a shitty diet, deformed curriculum and dehumanizing life of corporate enslavement finishes the job, all the while you are promised that at the end of the line is Heaven. Meanwhile we perform human sacrifice through rituals of war that send the future to die in the trenches for the Lords of Freedom, Democracy and the Market. Criminals are electrocuted or injected with poison to reaffirm the authority of our abstract, disembodied Lord of Justice.

So, lifting a page from Orwell’s 1984, we engage in a collective ritual of hate aimed at Phillip Garrido who is called an abhorrent deviant, yet our media system and culture turns a blind eye to the very reality in front of us: that the globalized economy is raping and pillaging the earth in the name of our ever punishing deity and its free market, creating a world that has more slavery than when it was legal. We are pressured to serve the system as serfs at the command of disembodied voices coming from a box, and take as normal the rants of insane men who claim to be authorities of these abstractions.

Again, just to be clear, Garrido is a sick, dangerous man who has destroyed many lives. He deserves his future confinement and punishment. My goal is to simply to look at this case as a teachable moment to reflect upon madness, civilization and media.

Apologies for feeling a bit cynical today. I still love the world.

Toxic attack

I’m sure Fox is not being ironic when they criticize The Story of Stuff for fear mongering. What is sure is that Fox is a bit of weathervane informing us of our good work. In other words, if it feels like attacking the use of The Story of Stuff in classrooms (I use it for teaching as well), then it must be working. The knee-jerk reaction to the video’s valid claim that externalities are both the source of Western wealth and the destruction of the environment is dismissed as “ponytail” Marxism, a funny pejorative, but hardly substantiative, which is par for the Fox course. Another irony in the Fox attack is how it decries the video for being “anti-government” when it is Fox’s neoliberal philosophy to attack government whenever possible.

Anyhow, know they enemy.

Thanks to the Immanence blog for posting this.

MSNBC caves to the Right– again!

It remains to be seen if Sarah Palin will get a free ride from the press, but judging on the latest shenanigans at MSNBC, I’m guessing she will get little scrutiny, despite her clearly extremist views.

Glenn Greenwald has an incredible succinct breakdown of my Olbermann and Matthews were removed from the anchor desk of future election coverage.

The right dictates MSNBC’s programming decisions – Glenn Greenwald – Salon.com:

The single dumbest claim in our political culture is that the huge corporations which own our establishment media outlets promote a “liberal” ideology. Why would General Electric ever use NBC and its other media assets to promote political liberalism? They lavishly benefit from the whole panoply of right-wing policies — from endlessly expanding defense spending to deregulation. Their multiple businesses depend upon maintaining good relations with the right-wing ideologues who run our Government. Even ignoring all of the above-documented empirical facts, the very idea that a corporation like GE — or Viacom (CBS), Disney (ABC) and Time Warner (CNN) — would actively promote a left-wing agenda in its news divisions and undermine the very Government power centers on which they rely has been the most self-evidently moronic premise one can imagine.