can’t see the forest

Glenn Beck, the “912 Project,” and US Human Rights Abuses since 9/11

Posted in 9/11, conservative, FoxNews, Glenn Beck, human rights, media, News, Politics, Propaganda, USA by Curtis on 3/18/09

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To those in the U.S. and elsewhere who have remained blissfully unaware of just how retarded certain segments of the American mainstream media have become in recent years, I proudly and yet regrettably present FOX News commentator Glenn Beck and his “912 Project.”

Beck’s power base is his nationally syndicated radio show, The Glenn Beck Program. He was also aired on CNN/Headline News between May 2006 and October 2008, billed as “an unconventional look at the news of the day,” to say the least. But Beck has risen to greater prominence through his prime-time FOX News program, which began airing in January, pretty much concurrently with the beginning of the Obama presidency. It is only from this new soapbox that Beck has begun pulling out all the stops. The headlining guests on Beck’s first FOX show were Karl Rove and Sarah Palin, for starters.

Glenn Beck describes himself as a recovering alcoholic, a man whose early life was liberally peppered with tragedies in the family. Beck says, essentially, that God “stalked” him and forced him to reform. For overcoming personal tragedy and hardship, I heartily salute and warmly empathize with Mr. Beck; but it seems apparent that this recovery has come at a considerable . . . err . . . mental cost. Here’s a small sample of his polemics:

Beck, who once asked America’s first Muslim congressman, on air, to prove that he wasn’t working for “America’s enemies,” who uses his platform to “crush” atheists and to debunk anthropogenic climate change as some sort of leftist hoax, and whose commentary most generally consists of tearful, emotionally charged laments on the deplorable state of American society—though probably not in the sense you or I would mean—is launching “The 912 Project.” We’ll let Beck speak for himself on this one. Here’s an excerpt from the project’s mission statement as displayed on theglennbeck912project.com:

This website is a place for you and other like-minded Americans looking for direction in taking back the control of our country. It is also a place to find information that will assist you in navigating the rough waters we face in the days, weeks and months ahead. . .

. . .This is a non-political movement. The 9-12 Project is designed to bring us all back to the place we were on September 12, 2001. The day after America was attacked we were not obsessed with Red States, Blue States or political parties. We were united as Americans, standing together to protect the greatest nation ever created.

That same feeling – that commitment to country is what we are hoping to foster with this idea. We want to get everyone thinking like it is September 12th, 2001 again.

Glenn Beck is proud to invoke a state of tightly unified, pseudo-patriotic ecstasy in the U.S., as long as it operates according to the “9 Principles” (including “I believe in God and He is the center of my life,” and “Government cannot force me to be charitable”) and “12 values” (such as “reverence,” “thrift,” and “gratitude”) of his project. Which is to say, as long as everyone wholeheartedly agrees with Glenn Beck.

But, wait a minute. The United States on September 12, 2001 was a nation in the grip of fear, hysteria, and uncertainty. The things which brought the country together during that time were compassion for the bereaved (good) and lust for revenge on the perpetrators (bad). Aren’t most of us taught as children that decisions made in confusion and anger tend to be . . . well . . . bad decisions? And isn’t an appeal to return to “9/12” at least in some sense a roundabout way of asking for another “9/11”?

Of course it is! Beck appeals to a certain segment of the conservative populace in the U.S., one which is undereducated, underinformed, and overzealous with respect to issues they don’t really even grasp. Such people can only operate meaningfully when there is a common enemy into which they can channel their frustrations, some of which are legitimate until they are so sorely mishandled.

Joanne Mariner, via Counterpunch, gives a full and insightful survey of human rights violations committed by the U.S. beginning on September 12. Is this the America to which Beck wishes to return?

Since September 2001, the U.S. government has been directly responsible for a broad array of serious human rights violations in fighting terrorism, including torture, enforced disappearance, arbitrary detention, and unfair trials. In many instances, US abuses were carried out in collaboration other governments.

To cite one example—albeit a particularly notable one—Pakistan’s intelligence agencies worked closely with the CIA to “disappear” terrorist suspects, hold them in secret detention, and subject them to torture and other abuses.

With Barack Obama’s term as U.S. president, the U.S. approach to fighting terrorism has changed. The scope of the Obama administration’s reforms is not yet clear, but it is obvious that the new administration wants to rethink many of the policies that were instituted over the past eight years.

This change in the U.S. approach is long overdue. What is called for, however, is not only for the United States to reform its own abusive policies, but also for U.S. officials to try to counteract the negative influence of past policies worldwide. As a brief review of US counterterrorism efforts will suggest, the human rights impact of the US-led “war on terror” has been felt across the globe.

There is great cause to be anxious and even outraged in the realm of current events. Why does the United States support rogue states such as Israel and befriend human rights behemoths like Saudi Arabia, while making bellicose overtures to Iran for brandishing its own rhetoric and pursuing a peaceful nuclear energy program? Why does it stand idly by through the Ossetias and Darfurs of the world, while plunging hundreds of billions of dollars and countless lives into Iraq and Afghanistan? But the moment we stop thinking critically, asking and researching questions, and start vegging out in front of the TV with twinkies and soda, we enter the fruitless province of Beckistan. Within those too clearly-defined borders, the important things to be concerned about are illegal immigrants, God in the classroom, and the Satanic bane of homosexuality.

Even Shephard Smith, FOX News anchor and veritable conservative posterboy, found time to ridicule Project 912:

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The Chutzpah of Intelligent Design

Posted in evolution, faith, intelligent design, Propaganda, Religion, Science by Curtis on 11/22/07

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From the lively Jewcy comes mathematics professor Jason Rosenhouse’s response to an exchange between writer Neal Pollak and Discovery Institute senior fellow David Klinghoffer:

I do not know what you do for a living, but I suspect you are pretty good at it. You probably trained for years to learn the basic elements of your craft, and then honed those skills through more years of on-the-job experience. Now imagine that someone without that training and experience presumes to discourse on your profession. Worse, they make assertions and arguments that are obvious nonsense to anyone versed in the subject. Not an altogether uncommon experience for you, I suspect, but one that is no less annoying for that. . .

. . .

Creationists of all stripes, be they the old-school Bible thumpers or the slightly more sophisticated ID proponents, do very well in public debates and scripted presentations. Any venue, in fact, in which flash and performance art are the main features. But place them in an environment where evidence and logic reign, such as a scientific conference or a courtroom trial, and suddenly they are far less impressive. Why do you suppose that is?

Let us be blunt. The specific scientific claims of ID proponents have been decisively refuted over and over again. Their sleazy use of rhetoric and propaganda has shown they have little interest in open and honest debate. They take quotations out of context, distort evidence, misrepresent whole scientific disciplines, oversimplify difficult ideas, and impugn the integrity of scientists. All the while they claim God’s blessing for their project and invoke conspiracy theories against those who disagree. And when they are done with all that, then they turn around and accuse scientists of being arrogant.

Where I come from we call that chutzpah.

Yes, that certainly just about sums it up.

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. . .

 

Start Spreading the News . . .

Posted in 9/11, academia, Ahmadinejad, foreign policy, Iran, New York, News, Politics, Propaganda, UN, USA by Curtis on 9/23/07

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Yon telescreen informs me that Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad has landed in New York City, where he will speak at the upcoming United Nations General Assembly and will participate in a political forum at the city’s esteemed Columbia University.

Like any sensible American with a brain not yet riddled by the neuro-mange of ideologically enforced hypocrisy, I welcome President Ahmadinejad to my country and gladly await what he has to say about . . . whatever he’s going to talk about.

I’m telling you, though—glancing through the U.S. national and even some of the international media, you’d think that Adolf Hitler himself were going to be parading down Fifth.

Richard Bernstein at the International Herald Tribune writes:

“Necessarily, on occasion, this will bring us into contact with beliefs many, most, or even all of us will find offensive and even odious,” the university’s president, Lee Bollinger, declared of Ajmadinejad’s impending visit. “We trust our community, including our students, to be fully capable of dealing with these occasions, through the power of dialogue and reason.”

There is of course a difference between a grandiose gesture and a dialogue, so it isn’t inconsistent for the New York police to have said “no” on Ground Zero while Columbia said “yes” to a speech.

Still, the funny thing is that the Columbia invitation may actually play more into Ahmadinejad’s hand than the 9/11 gesture would have.

And this, from the AP:

After Columbia said it would not call off the Monday forum, somel local officials, including City Council speaker Christine Quinn, said the Iranian leader did not belong at an academic institution.

“Anyone who supports terror, pledges to destroy a sovereign nation (Israel), punishes by death anyone who ‘insults’ religion … denies the Holocaust and thumbs his nose at the international community, has no legitimate role to play at a university,” Bill Donohue, president of the Catholic League, said in a statement.

Is Ahmadinejad a nutty guy? I believe so. Has he said some outlandish things and made a career of being resistant to change? Definitely. Do his opinions and actions equivocally represent the majority of his people? Not hardly. Could all of these statements equally apply to our own President? Abso-frickin’-lutely, with a fork in it for good measure.

His request to lay a wreath at the 9/11 memorial has been thunderously booed by Hillary Clinton (running for President, are we?) and denied by the city of New York. You see, Dear Leader has already clearly explained that Ahmadinejad is a Grand Wizard of the Axis of Evil. Therefore, at all costs, we must make his actions fit this preconception—so as a world citizen and a human being, Ahmadinejad will not be allowed to make a gesture of sympathy and respect.

While I recognize that welcoming an authoritarian Muslim leader to the Big Apple with a ticker-tape parade is unrealistic, nonetheless I am appalled at the venomous spittle issuing forth from the glands of the U.S. press. Push the little daisies and make them come up, as the song says.

Praise be to Columbia U. for its bold move to open its doors to dialog and reason. What will Ahmadinejad discuss there and at the U.N.? I have no way of knowing. Here, though, are a few high points I’m hoping he’ll touch:

  1. He should explain that at no point did he ever call for ‘Israel to be wiped off the map.’ Long ago I posted about this despicably well-propagated mistransliteration here.
  2. He should reiterate Iran’s right to peaceful nuclear energy under its own auspices and within its own sovereignty.
  3. He should reaffirm Iran’s commitment to Middle East peace and to Palestinian sovereignty and should express disappointment with U.S. mudslinging and double standards.

Just some ideas.

 

 

Ten Steps to a Fascist America

Posted in 9/11, activism, Fascism, government, Politics, Propaganda, Terrorism, USA, war by Curtis on 9/23/07

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The contemporary historian David Hackett Fischer cautions, in his infamous Historians’ Fallacies (1970), against something he calls the ‘didactic fallacy.’ Fischer says that it is generally unwise to consider historical circumstances from the past as a kind of instruction manual for the present. This is a caveat against the logic of Santayana’s well known admonition that those who cannot learn from the past are condemned to repeat it.

Whatever Fischer’s original intent, this caution is sometimes construed to downplay relationships between circumstances which are indeed quite pertinent to one another. While it is true that there is such a thing as reading too much between the lines, and while we are all guilty of drawing faulty inferences from time to time, Fischer should have known that the didactic fallacy could itself be used as a form of the ‘aesthetic fallacy’ which he delineates as a tendency to present facts selectively in support of a given viewpoint or cause. More often than not, there are inferences and instructions to be drawn from history which are directly applicable to contemporary issues. Author Naomi Wolf would like to bring to your attention a few of them now.

Courtesy of PG, here, from The Guardian, is Wolf’s ‘Fascist America in 10 Easy Steps.’ Please follow the links for more details.

1.) Invoke a terrifying internal and external enemy.

2.) Create a gulag (penal system outside the bounds of the constitutional judiciary).

3.) Develop a thug caste.

4.) Set up an internal surveillance system.

5.) Harass citizens’ groups.

6.) Engage in arbitrary detention and release.

7.) Target key individuals (academics, intellectuals, activists, artists).

8.) Control the press.

9.) Equate dissent with treason (or, at least, lack of patriotism).

10.) Suspend the rule of law (e.g., “national emergency”).

What Wolf is emphasizing is that, while not all of these events have unfolded or necessarily will unfold in the United States of today, the career of the Bush administration has definitely tended in this direction—and that these proceedings, as outlined by the author, are common to the construction and implementation of authoritarian governments in once-democratic societies.

There are many aspects of contemporary lifestyle and society that would present problems with the imposition of an authoritarian government with the enthusiastic, forceful pomp so characteristic of the regimes of yesterday. The traditional coup d’état is no longer fashionable, it seems—like hand-cranked ice cream makers. In considering these differences, perhaps we would be wise to keep Fischer in one ear. But while the rules of the game may have changed, the basic idea is still the same. There is little difference in the rhetoric; it is only the delivery which is à la mode.

Propaganda and You

Posted in government, mass media, media, philosophy, Politics, Propaganda, sociology, USA by Curtis on 9/22/07

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Do you know who invented the electric light bulb?

Did you know it wasn’t Thomas Edison?

It was an Englishman named Sir Joseph Swan (1828-1914), a physicist who received a British patent for a working lamp and publicly demonstrated it several months before Edison’s bulb first glowed.

Edison had been working with copies of Swan’s patent to make them more efficient, but Swan had already achieved this in some of his early prototypes and had begun installing lamps in private homes by 1881. If, like me, you never had an inkling that the light bulb was as thoroughly British an export as the Beatles, you’ve one man to thank—Edward Bernays.

Edward Bernays

Bernays, widely considered the father of modern public relations, was the Viennese-born nephew of Sigmund Freud. He opened for business in New York City in 1919, and became widely known—and lauded—for his innovative use of aspects of his famous uncle’s theories of the subconscious to manipulate mass opinion through the media. It was Bernays, more than any other individual, who defined the playing field and rules of propaganda in mass media culture. The book Propaganda (1928) is a straightforward instruction manual for selling everything from deodorant to political candidates, and goes so far as to elucidate the necessity of such manipulation in a democratic society:

The conscious and intelligent manipulation of the organized habits and opinions of the masses is an important element in democratic society. Those who manipulate this unseen mechanism of society constitute an invisible government which is the true ruling power of our country.

We are governed, our minds are molded, our tastes formed, our ideas suggested, largely by men we have never heard of. This is a logical result of the way in which our democratic society is organized. Vast numbers of human beings must cooperate in this manner if they are to live together as a smoothly functioning society . . .

. . .In theory, every citizen may vote for whom he pleases . . .invisible government, in the shape of rudimentary political parties, arose almost overnight. Ever since then we have agreed, for the sake of simplicity and practicality, that party machines should narrow down the field of choice . . .

. . .In theory, every citizen makes up his mind on public questions and matters of private conduct. In practice, if all men had to study for themselves the abstruse economic, political, and ethical data involved in every question, they would find it impossible to come to a conclusion about anything.

So, then, according to the sensible and kindly-hearted Mr. Bernays—whom, Noam Chomsky has pointed out, was considered a perfectly fine Rooseveltian liberal—it would have been too demoralizing and confusing for Americans to have had to consider that the light bulb was not an American invention. Thomas Edison, as it so happened, agreed. A beautiful partnership was born. Later, Bernays was to express “shock” that his writings on the manipulation and distortion of information were found to be cornerstones of the library of Dr. Josef Goebbels.

We can point to any number of Bernays’ specific shenanigans—his diplomatically disastrous campaign with the United Fruit Company, or his show-biz drive to turn smoking into a feminist issue—and recognize the marks of both genius and sociopathy. Some of the techniques he pioneered, such as the multi-advertisement tie-in and bringing celebrities in to promote products, have clearly persisted into the present.

But the most significant aspect of Bernays’ work and legacy is his given raison d’être, this rancid idea that propagandizing a population into submission is somehow necessary to the fundamental order of society. It is all very well to say that propaganda is an “important element of a democratic society,” but let’s not attempt to claim that it is necessary to democracy. It is only necessary to the subjugation of democracy to the interests of the wealthy and powerful, but not to a “smoothly functioning” society as a sine qua non, which is Bernays’ express sentiment. In the United States of America, and elsewhere as well, propaganda is the tool of a smoothly functioning plutarchist aristocracy.

The Last Supper Revisited

Quite naïve are they who still would cling to the belief that centralized mass media outlets are not as much tools of oppression and coercion as of information; and it is upon this belief that any remiss insistence that the ballot box is adequate as the true venue of democracy must be predicated.