can’t see the forest

The Press Responds to the 2007 Nobel Peace Prize Decision

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To illustrate the width of the fault which separates political attitudes toward the issue of climate change, I collected several articles from various news sources demonstrating different receptions of the decision to award the 2007 Nobel Peace Prize to the United Nations Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change and to former U.S. Vice-President Al Gore, Jr.

Gore_Earth

From National Geographic, a glowing commendation:

Gore has been a leading voice among environmental campaigners who warn that Earth is under severe threat from climate change caused by rising levels of greenhouse gases produced by the burning of fossil fuels and other human activity.

Since leaving office in 2001, the former vice president has lectured around the world about the perils of global warming. Last year he also presented an Oscar-winning documentary on the subject, An Inconvenient Truth.

Gore “is probably the single individual who has done the most to create greater worldwide understanding of the measures that need to be adopted” to tackle global warming, the Norwegian Nobel Committee said.

The IPCC, based in Geneva, Switzerland, pools the research of 2,500 scientists in more than 130 countries who study the causes and impacts of climate change.

Earlier this year, the IPCC concluded that global warming is “unequivocal” and that human activity is almost certainly the cause.

The U.N. panel also warned that global warming could claim hundreds of millions of human lives due to increased risk of disease, starvation, and conflict triggered by drought, floods, storms, and other severe climate effects.

Al-Jazeera, while noting the accomplishments of Gore and the UN’s top panel of climate scientists, called into question the Nobel committee’s decision to award the Peace Prize in response to an issue that might seem to have little to do with human conflict and suffering:

However, Dr Alan Hunter, a lecturer in peace studies in the UK, said he felt “the link between climate change and peace is really very tenuously made”.

“I don’t think anyone has carefully demonstrated the link between climate change and war,” he said.

“There are long term predictions that it will lead to resource scarcity and resource scarcity could lead to conflict, such as fighting over water in parts of Africa, but I think that’s accepted as being a few decades away.”

He told Al Jazeera awarding Gore the peace prize was a “surprising decision”.

Jan Oberg, a former secretary-general of the Danish Peace Foundation, also questioned Gore’s suitability for receiving the award.

Oberg described giving the prize to the former vice president as “a great misjudgment”.

In an article on the Transnational Foundation for Peace and Future Research website, Oberg pointed to Gore’s roles as vice-president to Bill Clinton, the US leader between 1993 and 2001.

In that role, Gore was part of an administration that bombed Kosovo, in what was then Yugoslavia.

Later the same administration bombed Afghanistan and Sudan, in response to an attack on its embassies in Kenya and Tanzania in August 1998.

This line of questioning seems to me to be fairly reasonable, although I doubt that the association of Gore with the bombings in Kosovo, Afghanistan, and Sudan holds much water in the context of his work to educate the public about climate change. Moreover, there was no space in this article allotted for an answer by a representative of the Nobel committee.

An article from the New York Times gives a bit of insight into the committee’s decision-making:

The Nobel prizes are meant to be apolitical, and are awarded independently of one another. (The peace prize is awarded in Oslo, while the others are awarded by various academies in Sweden.) But a number of recent winners have expressed their opposition to Bush administration policies. . .

. . . In its citation on Friday, the Norwegian Nobel Committee said the United Nations panel and Mr. Gore had focused “on the processes and decisions that appear to be necessary to protect the world’s future climate, and thereby reduce the future threat to the security of mankind.”

It concluded, “Action is necessary now, before climate change moves beyond man’s control.”

According to the committee citation, then, there are real threats to human security other than guerrilla warfare, nuclear weapons, and the international arms trade. In recent years, it has broadened its interpretation of Alfred Nobel’s original criteria to include socioeconomic and environmental issues.

Constructive criticism aside, the most fiery debate comes from within the U.S. press. MSNBC’s coverage of the award was fairly circumspect. Note the sharp differences between perspectives from the right and left:

“He’s like the proverbial nut that grew into a giant oak by standing his ground,” Patrick Michaels, a scholar with the free market Cato Institute, said in a statement. “We can only hope that he can parlay his prize into a run for the U. S. presidency, where he will be unable to hide from debate on his extreme and one-sided view of global warming.” . . .

. . .FoxNews.com columnist Steve Milloy alleged that Gore “plays fast and loose with the facts to advance his personal agenda.”

British Prime Minister Gordon Brown called Gore ” inspirational in focusing attention across the globe on this key issue.”

Julia Marton-Lefèvre, head of the World Conservation Union, said that, “as Mr. Gore and the IPCC have clearly demonstrated, we can solve the grave dangers posed by climate change if we have the will. Let the Nobel Peace Prize become the embodiment of that will.” . . .

. . .

Jan Egeland, a Norwegian peace mediator and former U.N. undersecretary for humanitarian affairs, called climate change more than an environmental issue.

“It is a question of war and peace,” said Egeland, now director of the Norwegian Institute of International Affairs in Oslo. “We’re already seeing the first climate wars, in the Sahel belt of Africa.” He said nomads and herders are in conflict with farmers because the changing climate has brought drought and a shortage of fertile lands.

Far-right polemic HumanEvents.com‘s Dennis Byrne seemed intent on putting his eggs in one basket:

Clearly, the prize falls outside the standards set in the 1895 will of the engineer Dr. Alfred Bernhard Nobel, which ordered that his “remaining realizable estate” shall be awarded in five equal parts to people who have “conferred the greatest benefit to mankind.” The standard for the Peace Prize portion requires that the recipient “shall have done the most or the best work for fraternity between nations, for the abolition or reduction of standing armies and for the holding and promotion of peace congresses.”
Oh, yeah? Gore’s nominating papers supposedly should do the impossible: show how he campaigned against standing armies, global fraternalism or peace congresses. But those details are closed to public inspection for 50 years, according to Nobel rules.

Such fudging didn’t bother Bryan Walsh, Time Magazine’s chief global warming propagandist, who linked global warming to all sorts of global conflicts by making a global-sized stretch in logic:

Gore’s win was widely expected, but there may still be those who wonder how an environmentalist could be, as the Peace Prize’s description goes, the person who has “done the most or the best work for fraternity between nations.” They shouldn’t. Climate change is already a key instigator of conflict in areas like Darfur, where drought likely worsened by global warming helped trigger a civil war that has claimed over 200,000 lives.
As the IPCC’s [U.N.’s Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change] own reports this year show, unabated global warming will likely lead to competition for increasingly scarce resources and create waves of climate refugees in the hottest and poorest nations. A warmer world will almost certainly be a more violent one, so it’s fitting that those who’ve done the most on climate change should be celebrated as warriors for peace.

How appropriate that such “progressive” (i.e., flexible) reasoning is used to justify a clear violation of the rules. Rules are meant to be broken; the end justifies the means. The end here, of course, is to shove a sharp stick in the eye of America and President George W. Bush.

To get its licks in at America, the committee reportedly bypassed real peace activists and nominees such as Irene Sendler of Poland, who saved 2,500 Jewish children from the Holocaust.

There’s also Thich Quang Do. In case you never heard of him, here’s a glimpse:

Thich Quang Do is an intellectual leader and a unifying force in his home country [Vietnam]. A monk, researcher and author, he has devoted his life to the advancement of justice and the Buddhist tradition of non-violence, tolerance and compassion. Through political petitions Thich Quang Do has challenged the authorities to engage in dialogue on democratic reforms, pluralism, freedom of religion, human rights and national reconciliation. This has provided force and direction to the democracy movement. But he has paid a high price for his activism. Thich Quang Do has spent a total of 25 years in prison and today, at 77, he is still under house arrest. From here, he continues the struggle. As deputy leader of the banned Unified Buddhist Church of Vietnam, Thich Quang Do is strongly supported by Vietnam’s numerous Buddhists. He also receives broad support from other religious communities as well as from veterans of the Communist Party. Thich Quang Do plays a key role in the work of reconciling dissidents from North and South Vietnam.

In comparison, Gore is a merely a huckster with a Power Point presentation. When you see who the politically inspired Nobel committee by-passed, it makes you want to cry. It’s just a shame that an internationally respected honor has been dirtied by the parochial and small minds in Norway for such ugly political reasons.

Regardless of his disjointed rhetorical examples, one distinctly gets the feeling the “parochial and small minds in Norway” could only have truly gained Mr. Byrne’s favor by awarding the Peace Prize to a back-to-the-Bible Republican. Any other decision would have meant the Nobel Committee was aiming to “get its licks in at America.”

Greg Gutfield of Fox News also felt the need to resort to ad hominem criticism and witticism:

The Nobel Peace Prize was awarded Friday morning and I’d like to congratulate Irena Sendler.

Sendler was a former history teacher who rescued 2,500 children during the Holocaust and was a top contender for the wondrous prize. It was in the early 1940s that Sendler, a Catholic social worker, had gone into the Warsaw ghetto to rescue Jewish kids destined either to starve there or die in death camps.

She would sneak the kids past Nazi guards, sometimes hiding them in body bags or would provide them with false documents. She’d get them to Polish families for adoption or hide them in convents or orphanages. She made a list of the children’s real names, put them in a jar and buried them, so that some day she could dig them up, then find the kids to tell them their true names.

The Nazis captured her and beat the crap out of her, but she later escaped. She’s now in her late 90s, living in a nursing home in Poland.

I want to congratulate her, because she didn’t win the Nobel Peace Prize. Instead it went to Al Gore, the guy who invented the Internet.

And, from CNSNews.com, an organization dedicated to combating “liberal bias” in the media, comes this veritable elegy for all that is integrity and accountability in the Nobel name:

While supporters of Al Gore and his stance on global warming celebrated the former vice president’s win of the 2007 Nobel Peace Prize on Friday, skeptics of man-made climate change dismissed the award as another example of the Nobel committee naming someone “Liberal of the Year.”
“Al Gore should probably get a prize for most travel in a private jet, but not the Peace Prize,” said Myron Ebell, director of global warming policy at the Competitive Enterprise Institute (CEI). He also called the award, which was shared with the United Nations Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), “a sad day for the Nobel legacy.”

Giving Gore the annual prize was “an unfortunate and misguided move by the Nobel committee,” Ebell said, because “the energy-rationing policies he espouses would perpetuate the poverty and human misery associated with political instability and conflict.”

Timothy Ball, a retired climatologist who leads the National Resources Stewardship Project, told Cybercast News Service that Friday’s award “just makes a travesty of the whole concept of Nobel Prizes.”

“This tells me everything I need to know about Nobel Prize winners,” he said. “I notice they just gave one to the guy who discovered holes in the ozone layer – but there are no holes in the ozone.”

The titular quotation, you might have noticed, is from a representative of the Competitive Enterprise Institute, a thinktank notorious for its support of big business and its categorical opposition to environmental causes.

The recent controversy over the UK government’s decision to provide copies of Gore’s documentary film, An Inconvenient Truth, to English and Welsh public schools has figured prominently in the U.S. media discussion of the Nobel Prize. Most conservative news sources focus on the ‘nine errors’ found by the London judge of the High Court, mentioning only in passing (or not at all) his ruling that the film is “broadly accurate” and mostly reflective of scientific consensus. The end result of the case was a green light for the government’s plan, with the addition of measures to ensure that students are aware that the issue of climate change is subject to political debate.

polblogs2004smThat the issue of climate change is broken more-or-less cleanly along political lines in the U.S. press is easy to understand when one realizes that presentation of the issue here is, almost without exception, entirely political. Exacerbating this problem is the fact that, for many right wing-friendly Americans, the association of Al Gore with the issue of climate change means automatically that progressive environmental policy can have no place in their political realities, whatever it might mean to the rest of the world.

But most of the polarity lies in the tenets of competing political ideologies themselves. Conservatism is very much an appeal to the status quo or the status quo ante, based upon the premise that reason should be subordinate to tradition in determining matters of policy. At least in the United States, conservatives tend to favor the legislation of morality to reflect “time-honored tradition,” but oppose the regulation of economy to make it more responsive to change; they cling to the perennially discredited notion of “trickle-down economics,” favoring business-friendly policy at the expense of common welfare. Because the problem of climate change demands real concessions from businesses and from consumers, conservatives and many libertarians vilify it as a violation of liberty in much the same way that many liberals have attacked the Patriot Act.

Likewise, because American liberalism is oriented towards a certain degree of socialization to the ends of empowering the working class, and because it holds in one fashion or the other that economic regulation is key to economic equality, it finds affinity with environmental issues both as causes in themselves and as means to achieving other political and economic ends.

Polling usually indicates that, with regards to many specific issues, the American public is seldom as cleanly divided as one might guess from channel surfing across the major news programs. Most Americans are political moderates when the going gets tough. But the extreme politicization of the climate change issue seems to force a schoolyard-style choosing of sides, eliminating the possibilities for more subtle and meaningful debate.

So it is that we should not forget that Mr. Gore shares this prize with more than two thousand UN-sponsored researchers—hardly the “small cabal of politically motivated quacks” it is made out to be throughout much of the conservative press. Nor should we dismiss the fact that Gore is a politician with an image to sell, as is evident in some of the more sentimental scenes of his otherwise compelling film.

Beneath all the marketing there is an issue which will test the ability of common people to sort fact from fiction and hype from hypothesis. Unfortunately, one unpleasant effect of the convenience of mass-media culture has been to dull just this type of skill, since a great many media consumers appear to blindly trust that such determinations are made at the supply end.

In my personal experience, self-education on environmental issues and the history of economics and industry has shown me that there is ample cause to be proactively concerned about the human tendency towards self-destruction through thoughtless consumption as a measure of economic vitality, especially given a scientific foundation for assessing the long-term consequences of such behavior. My education has taught me that people are ecologically-bound organisms first and economic entities second. This is a lesson that numerous civilizations failed to learn. Will ours be added to the list?

Several members of the Nobel Peace Prize Committee have come forward to make it clear that the decision to award Gore and the IPCC with the 2007 prize was not politically motivated, was not some sort of mean-spirited stab at the current occupants of the White House. What the decision does represent, according to some of these officials, is the hope that it will inspire more reasonable discourse on the issue of climate change, and the need for the arena of debate to move from a haphazard assault on science to a discussion of real solutions. Until this happens, many citizens in the developed world are likely to keep their claws drawn.

From the Christian Science Monitor:

The Nobel Peace Prize is often bestowed for a job well done but unfinished. It heartens the winner against the odds. Al Gore is such a recipient. His holy war against global warming needs help, especially to nudge a US Congress still immune to the Nobel Committee’s big hint.

Mr. Gore’s well-rewarded insight is in knowing that leaders will not force costly changes in lifestyle unless people are first convinced of the need to curb carbon use. Even he, in a well-organized crusade, has been low-key about the exact level of taxes and other burdens to impose on industry and consumers. It’s easier to sound the alarm about a disaster than to show how to prevent it . . .

. . .People want dollar signs assigned to the causes they’re asked to support. To set both the goal of carbon reduction and the price for it, Gore needs to provide even more leadership by joining the battle in Congress. Should Detroit automakers, for instance, be required to produce cars, pickups, and sport utility vehicles with an average 35 miles per gallon by 2020? Or by 2030?

This peace prize comes with a price. The winner must help make peace between competing interests in a nation that’s the world’s biggest carbon polluter in history.

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The Power of Decentralized Information

Posted in democracy, information, Internet, Journalism, media, Orwell, Propaganda, Web by Curtis on 9/28/07

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It is often in my thoughts that, in the U.S. and elsewhere in the world (but particularly in the so-called “First World” nations), the Internet is taken for granted.

My sister, a primary school teacher, was explaining to me tonight that most of her students have computers with Internet connections in their rooms at home. “We spend a lot of time going over the dangers of online predators, and how to navigate safely around dubious sites,” she remarked. “You know, most of their parents have no idea how easy it is for the kids to access pornography or to be preyed upon online.”

Then I think of Myanmar, where the régime in power—in addition to committing other horrendous atrocities—has recently flipped the switch on the Internet (and telephony in general, as it happens). I doubt the citizens of Myanmar took a blasé attitude toward the Web even before such an action. To much of the West and its sphere, the Internet is hardly more than an interesting plaything, another superfluous luxury.

Which is to say that, if you’re reading this, you’re probably part of a minority in the sense that you are utilizing the Internet for more than passive entertainment purposes. It is no accident that this is the case. Many of us remember the heyday of the BBS, and I remember when the first graphical online services were made available to the public.

They were centered, mostly, on shopping. And weather reports, maybe.

People’s Geography has, in her press picks, a remarkable piece by Greg Fulton from Information Clearing House called “War as Freedom, and Fraud as Fact: The media anesthetizes our minds.” Fulton discusses Orwell’s Politics and the English Language and 1984. Exaggeration is always part of satire—while Orwell’s scenarios seem extreme, it is readily apparent that his fears were justified and not solely applicable to Stalin’s CCCP. Fulton discusses the origin and evolution of a number of catchphrases which pervade in the news reporting of our own day, demonstrating how terms that seem harmless enough to the casual observer actually convey hidden premises and meanings. Here are a couple:

Anti-Semitism
This all-purpose epithet of opprobrium is designed to conflate Israel with World Jewry, thereby implying that to attack one means to attack the other. In truth, the term is meaningless, as I wrote in an earlier essay: “Strictly speaking, ‘semitic’ is a linguistic term denoting a family of Afro-Asiatic languages, of which we have today Arabic, Hebrew, Maltese, and the South Arabic languages of northern Ethiopia. Ancient semitic languages included Akkadian, Canaanite, Amorite, Ugaritic, Phoenician, Punic, Aramaic, as well as ancient Hebrew and Syriac.”

The unique association of Jews with Semites serves to reinforce the cult of Jewish victimhood and shut down condemnation of Israel.

Faith-based
This expression dates to the Reagan era and is a euphemism for “Christian.” Because religion has both positive and negative connotations and is often an instrument of repression, radical Christians cannot openly advocate their religion against the secular law or other religions. Also, the U.S. officially has no religion, and the separation of church and state is integral to U.S. democracy.

But “faith” affords the illusion of inclusiveness and absolute virtue. Even science has a faith component, albeit a rational one. Thus, expressions like “faith-based schools,” and “faith-based entertainment” covertly and innocuously serve the agenda of anti-democratic Christian religious exclusivity.

Terrorist
This term no longer has any objective meaning. It no longer refers to people or groups who use violence to bring about political change. It now is used to label any person, group or government that opposes U.S. and Israeli conduct in the Middle East. The idea that “terrorists” could be resistance fighters or people trying to defend themselves is not admitted. Because one cannot defend a terrorist, the term precludes rational debate. Therefore, the word is invariably preceded by “Muslim,” Islamic” or “Arab” to ensure that the orthodox, Zionist connotation comes across.

Moreover, this term has given rise to the nonsensical epithet “Islamofascism,” based on the fatuous assertion that Arab regimes are akin to Nazi Germany. From here, the term “war on terrorism” is repeatedly invoked to justify repression and mass murder against Isramerica’s enemies.

Taking an historical perspective, it seems to me that this kind of pettifoggery (thanks, PG—sweet goodness, I love that word!) is not as well understood as a malady specific to the present as it is a function of the organization and distribution of information from a centralized source, which has been the modus operandi for time out of mind—in the context of Western civilization, for instance, one can trace this machinery at least as far back as the Roman Empire.

But let’s begin with the printing press, for instance: here you have a capital-intensive piece of equipment that required wealth to own and operate. So, even in the 16th Century, there was the architecture of a centralized, high cost source of information which was produced in one place and disseminated outwards from there in an omnidirectional fashion.

How is it exactly, then, that radio was so different? And television? In all cases, the production of information—for that is what it is in this sense, a product—requires huge sums of capital, such that it invariably is associated with centers of wealth and power. To underestimate the anti-democratic, inegalitarian effects of such an association, is, in my view, quite inexcusably naïve.

This is why the Internet is such an exciting medium, and why it most certainly should not be taken for granted. Through the Internet, the decentralization of information is made possible and flourishes. For the first time in human history, it is feasible for people the globe over to share and discuss ideas in just the same way we imagine it happening in the Academy of classical Athens.

It is now technically possible to build awareness from the ground up. This is, one could say, the sociological equivalent of the development of the nervous system in biological evolution. It is no small matter, however one conceptualizes it.

Of course, in the comfortably numb world of the industrial superpowers, considerations of lifestyle get in the way for most. On the go! Got to grab dinner! Flip on the news! My show comes on at 4 o’clock! Time for soccer practice! You get the picture.

Affluence fosters apathy. There is a world at stake. The least any of us can do is communicate.

Juan Cole on the Demonization of Ahmadinejad

Posted in hegemony, Iran, Journalism, media, New York, Politics, press, Propaganda, UN, USA by Curtis on 9/25/07

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Thanks to Dandelion Salad for posting this piece from Salon.com in which the always intelligent and incisive Juan Cole discusses the rather xenophobic fanfare with which the U.S. press greeted Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad during his recent visit to New York City. Ahmadinejad spoke to the U.N. General Assembly and also to students and faculty at Columbia University.

Even if you feel that you’re inclined to disagree, I would strongly recommend visiting Salon and reading up. Like me, you’ll probably learn some things you didn’t know. Cole is always excellent in this regard.

Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad‘s visit to New York to address the United Nations General Assembly has become a media circus. But the controversy does not stem from the reasons usually cited.

The media has focused on debating whether he should be allowed to speak at Columbia University on Monday, or whether his request to visit Ground Zero, the site of the Sept. 11 attack in lower Manhattan, should have been honored. His request was rejected, even though Iran expressed sympathy with the United States in the aftermath of those attacks and Iranians held candlelight vigils for the victims. Iran felt that it and other Shiite populations had also suffered at the hands of al-Qaida, and that there might now be an opportunity for a new opening to the U.S. . .