The Haditha Massacre, Media and Patterns of Warfare

haditha map massacre

With the massacre of Haditha already drawing comparisons to the My Lai massacre — where up to 500 unarmed Vietnamese men, women and children were killed in cold blood by American forces — proponents of this war are holding fast against this incident becoming the tipping point of complete anti-war sentiment.

Local blogger, Joe Guarino:

[…] We cannot take these unfortunate events, and then somehow generalize and amplify the Big Message they convey to suggest that the overall war effort is unworthy. We cannot make general assessments of the war in Iraq (or in Vietnam, for that matter) on the basis of tragic events that do not reflect the overall pattern.

The media would be wrong to muster a drumbeat on these stories, but if they do in stereotypical fashion, the public should ignore it.

Unfortunately for Joe and his agenda, the American public will discuss the role this atrocity plays in the overall war effort.

Whether Haditha represents an accurate assessment of the US military’s tactical MO or not, it has marked a clear shift in our collective perception of modern warfare. No longer do we live in a fantasy world of surgically precise operations; we’ve all awoken to the reality that combat-stressed groups of men and women in a war zone are capable of murdering civilians on their own accord.

That 21st century, smart-bomb warfare meme is kaput; we’re now all aware that the US is knee-deep in a grudge match.

But in the end, it truly doesn’t matter if this one incident is indicative of the pattern to the entire war effort or not, because to the Iraqi people — the people on the other end of the gun barrel in any circumstance — it signifies a terrifying escalation of chaos, murder and occupation that cannot be erased with clarifying words.

The Overall Pattern In Iraq

From pg. 39 of the September 2004 Strategic Communication report, by the Defense Science Board—a federal advisory committee established to provide independent advice to the secretary of defense:

2.3 What is the Problem? Who Are We Dealing With?

The information campaign—or as some still would have it, “the war of ideas” or the struggle for “hearts and minds”—is important to every war effort. In this war it is an essential objective, because the larger goals of U.S. strategy depend on separating the vast majority of non-violent Muslims from the radical-militant Islamist-Jihadists. But American efforts have not only failed in this respect: they may also have achieved the opposite of what they intended.

American direct intervention in the Muslim World has paradoxically elevated the stature of and support for radical Islamists, while diminishing support for the United States to single-digits in some Arab societies.

  • Muslims do not “hate our freedom,” but rather, they hate our policies. The overwhelming majority voice their objections to what they see as one-sided support in favor of Israel and against Palestinian rights, and the longstanding, even increasing support for what Muslims collectively see as tyrannies, most notably Egypt, Saudi Arabia, Jordan, Pakistan, and the Gulf states.
  • Thus when American public diplomacy talks about bringing democracy to Islamic societies, this is seen as no more than self-serving hypocrisy. Moreover, saying that “freedom is the future of the Middle East” is seen as patronizing, suggesting that Arabs are like the enslaved peoples of the old Communist World—but Muslims do not feel this way: they feel oppressed, but not enslaved.
  • Furthermore, in the eyes of Muslims, American occupation of Afghanistan and Iraq has not led to democracy there, but only more chaos and suffering. U.S. actions appear in contrast to be motivated by ulterior motives, and deliberately controlled in order to best serve American national interests at the expense of truly Muslim self-determination.
  • Therefore, the dramatic narrative since 9/11 has essentially borne out the entire radical Islamist bill of particulars. American actions and the flow of events have elevated the authority of the Jihadi insurgents and tended to ratify their legitimacy among Muslims. Fighting groups portray themselves as the true defenders of an Ummah (the entire Muslim community) invaded and under attack to broad public support.
  • What was a marginal network is now an Ummah-wide movement of fighting groups. Not only has there been a proliferation of “terrorist” groups: the unifying context of a shared cause creates a sense of affiliation across the many cultural and sectarian boundaries that divide Islam.
  • Finally, Muslims see Americans as strangely narcissistic—namely, that the war is all about us. As the Muslims see it, everything about the war is for Americans—really no more than an extension of American domestic politics and its great game. This perception is of course necessarily heightened by election-year atmospherics, but nonetheless sustains their impression that when Americans talk to Muslims they are really just talking to themselves.

Thus the critical problem in American public diplomacy directed toward the Muslim World is not one of “dissemination of information,” or even one of crafting and delivering the message. Rather, it is a fundamental problem of credibility. Simply, there is none; the United States today is without a working channel of communication to the world of Muslims and of Islam. Inevitably therefore, whatever Americans do and say only serves the party that has both the message and the “loud and clear” channel: the enemy.

That last sentence (with my emphasis) represents the overall pattern that I see in the Iraq war. We’re a 100,000 strong force of monolinguistic, armed men and women on a foreign soil. Our soldiers have little to no training in the local customs of the Iraqi people, and practically no one can verbally communicate with either civilians or the enemy.

Essential building blocks of communication with the Iraqi people—humane, personal connections via idle chat during a convoy exercise, supportive conversation in local establishments, calming direction provided during a house raid—all become lost opportunities to gain a semblance of trust or credibility.

This simple inability to communicate waters the fields of insurgent seeds.

So when an atrocity such as Haditha occurs, the Iraqi people’s understanding of the act can’t be contextualized or messaged into obscurity by our military. Worse even, the sheer brutality of such an incident doesn’t need to be framed or spun by operatives of al Qaeda or the leaders of local insurgents to build a greater resistance to American forces.

The atrocity speaks for itself, with a clarity of message delivered via a deafening tone of dead relatives, neighbors and friends, all never to be seen again.

Iraqi citizens have lived with the fear of a potential Haditha massacre for years now. Their daily lives are filled with various degrees of similar experiences with American forces as we consistently sweep through house after house in the middle of the night, searching for insurgents. A Haditha massacre does only one thing: it confirms their worst fears, leading to more fear and more aggression towards our troops.

No matter what we want to tell ourselves, perception is reality.

The DoD knows we’ll never be able to control the perception of Iraqi’s, so this cry of the right to look at the big picture of the war is a nothing more than panicked attempt to control the perception and reactions of Americans that might question this war effort.

To suggest that the American public should “ignore” the “media mustering a drumbeat on these stories”—these atrocities—in order to protect the overall pattern of the war in Iraq is a failed intellectual position. This incident might only be one data point in the overall pattern of war, but it’s a glaring one; one that exposes more elements going wrong over there than going right.

The Role Of The Media

Iraqi war planners aren’t overly concerned with critical journalism, such as the March 2006 Time magazine exclusive on Haditha, affecting the average American’s take on the state of the war.

Sure, it’s a concern, but it’s only the tip of the iceberg.

If not managed, the mainstream media can become a major threat to war efforts because it is exists via the same capitalistic infrastructure as the government it supposes to watchdog.

In other words, when media institutions begin climbing onto editorial limbs, foregoing their inherent responsibility to the interests of corporate advertising, it clearly signals a shift in times to American corporations who become placed in a position to make certain decisions they’d rather not have to make:

  • They can remove themselves from media buys that are beginning to serve the reflected will of the consumer (poor PR) or
  • They can keep their advertising in place as a public relations strategy, while implicitly distancing themselves from our government’s effort to wage war

See, the real concern isn’t with the common people in as much as it is with the flow of money, for once the majority of corporations are off the bandwagon of a war effort, its future becomes rather short-lived.

An Example Of The Power Of Media

Lieutenant William Calley—the American officer in charge at the My Lai massacre—faced the scrutiny of the much more centralized, mainstream media of 1970. Advertising legend George Lois provides context to the media exposure of the atrocity at the time by describing the decision and experience of placing Calley on the November, 1970 cover of Esquire magazine:

LieutenantWilliamCalley

“Lieutenant, this picture will show that you’re not afraid as far as your guilt is concerned. The picture will say: ‘Here I am with these kids you’re accusing me of killing. Whether you believe I’m guilty or innocent, at least read about my background and motivations.'” Calley grinned on cue, and we completed the session.

When I sent the finished cover to (Esquire editor, Harold) Hayes he called to let me know that his office staff and Esquire’s masthead bureaucrats were plenty shook up.

“Some detest it and some love it,” he said. “You going to chicken out?” I asked. “Nope,” he said. “We’ll lose advertisers and we’ll lose subscribers. But I have no choice. I’ll never sleep again if I don’t muster the courage to run it.”

The notion that some editors might feel a sense of duty to a global community—and not just to a sovereign position or a bottom line—marks the potential for transforming the media into the greatest, political equalizer on the face of the earth.

In 1970, the attack on the “liberal” media—outlets that didn’t explicitly recognize corporate interests over human interests at every turn—was eerily similar to the conservative banter of today. From Into The Dark: The My Lai Massacre:

[…] On April 1, 1971, just two days after the verdict, Nixon ordered Calley to be placed under house arrest while his appeal worked its way through the courts. “The whole tragic episode was used by the media and the antiwar forces to chip away at our efforts to build public support for our Vietnam objectives,” he wrote.

Across the nation, there were many demonstrations of support for Lt. Calley. The American Legion announced plans that it would try to raise $100,000 for his appeal. Draft board personnel in several cities resigned in groups. Several politicians spoke out in public criticizing the government’s prosecution of the soldiers at My Lai. “I’ve had veterans tell me that if they were in Vietnam now, they would lay down their arms and come home,” Congressman John Rarick told the New York Times.

But prosecutor Aubrey Daniel also did not remain silent. He wrote a highly publicized letter to President Nixon criticizing him for releasing Calley to house arrest: “How shocking it is if so many people across this nation have failed to see the moral issue—that it is unlawful for an American soldier to summarily execute unarmed and unresisting men, women and babies.” […]

In the end, we have to recognize that an atrocity such as Haditha is a symptom of the behavioral patterns of all warfare. To brush it aside as a random act of violence would be to remove the complicit nature of war planners from the equation and lay it squarely on the shoulder of the souls that serve our country, no matter the call to duty.

Understanding Islam

understanding-islam
What Everyone Should Know About Islam and Muslims
by Suzanne Haneef
Islam And The Muslim World – (pg. 127)

In order to understand what is happening to Muslims, it is necessary to have a look at what is happening to the Muslim world. During the past century-and-a-half, the entire world has gone through tremendous upheavals, particularly in the realm of religion and values. While Europe and America were experiencing a profound loss of belief in religion, due in part to the irreconcilable conflict between science and what was supposed to be the “revealed World” and in part to the changes in people’s values and outlooks as a result of massive changes in technology and patterns of living, the Muslim world too was experiencing a great crisis in the realm of religion and values.

During this period, due to a complex interplay of forces, while the hold of Christianity was weakening in the West, the influence of Islam was also becoming attenuated in the East. As a result, many Muslims so far lost sight of the true reality of their faith that masses of them took the traditions of their societies, some of which were from Islam and others from sources other than Islam, to be Islam itself. Their understanding of Islam as a dynamic, revolutionary system of life shrank until all that remained to them of it was a set of confused, quasi-Islamic traditions, some faded remnants of Islamic values and behavior, and perhaps (but often not even that) praying and fasting in Ramadan, reading the Quran when someone died, and celebrating the Festivals. Others went to the opposite extreme, placing great emphasis on the worship aspects of Islam while ignoring all the rest of its teachings, especially in the area of striving, seeking knowledge, developing resources, political responsibility, cleanliness, etc. Muslim children living in areas outside the Arab world learned from pious but often ignorent teachers to pronounce the words of the Quran without understanding anything of their meaning, much less living by them, while in other places, youngsters grew up still more ignorant of Islam, believing it to be something related to the older generation which one is supposed to respect but which has no relevance or place in contemporary life.

At the same time, the Western influence emerged in the Muslim world and little by little grew stronger and stronger. In the past this trend was fueled by Western imperialism and the presence of Western officials, as well as by Christian missionaries and westernized, often Western-educated, natives who had returned home from a sojourn in Europe or America. Later industrial and commercial interests, finding a ready market for Western goods and expertise in Muslim countries, enthusiastically accelerated the process. Muslims became uneasily conscious of their own material backwardness and lack of modernity in comparison with the West, assisted by contact with Western goods and the lure of its life-styles, conveyed to every part of the globe by Western movies, media and propaganda. The West was seen as a glamorous utopia, and adoption of some of the trappings of its culture was looked upon as the instant way to modernization and progress.

Unfortunately, what was adopted were not the outstanding and excellent aspects of Western culture but only the most superficial and harmful ones, which were simultaneously applauded by many onlookers in the West as obvious signs that the Muslim world was now beginning to wake up and come of age: the old equation of bars, boogie and bikinis with progress and modernity. Under the impact of all this, many Muslims accepted Western society’s dictum that religion, moral values and the pursuit of meaning to be given no serious emphasis or importance in society. Its criteria of being civilized material advancement and the discarding of traditional values were accepted by them as the true measure of greatness of a society without their grasping the essential fact that genuine civilization must rest on a firm base of sound spiritual and moral principles, lacking which material progress simply becomes de-civilizing, de-humanizing and destructive.

Consequently, the present era has seen the emergence of three basic types of Muslims, who have their counterparts in other faiths as well. One is the individual for whom Islam is merely a vague tradition which more often than not he prefers to have nothing to do with, who subscribes himself “Muslim” on his passport simply because he is not a Christian or a Buddhist or anything else. He may either profess some outward tokens of respect for Islam or may reject it totally, but in any case it does not occur to him to guide his life by it or to try to practice it faithfully, and he regards those who do so as backwards and stupid.

This is understandable enough in view of the fact that almost invariably such individuals lack knowledge and understanding of Islam as a total world-view and system of life; moreover, they provide an example of real understanding and commitment to Islam. Such a “Muslim” may never have prayed in his life and may not even know how since he was not taught. For him Islam is simply a relic of ancient history. He may feel an occasional twinge of pride in his Islamic heritage when it is mentioned and may even come to the “defense” of Islam when it is attacked. Or he may think about it once in a while when someone dies (“Where am I going to go when this happens to me? Oh, well, God is merciful”), but he is too preoccupied with his daily activities and with his family and possessions and pleasures to follow up this train of thought. Many social problems and vices have by now crept into the lives of such Muslims, including an increasing incidence of divorce, sexual license, alcoholism, and total loss of values and direction. Basically, they are Muslims-by-name, no different either in their concepts or behavior from people who have no religion and no values, for in fact they hate neither, and they are often very hostile to Islam and to Muslims who adhere to it faithfully.

The second group are the traditional Muslims. They may understand the basic concepts of Islam, may have some degree of Islamic knowledge and may follow the Islamic teachings to some extent, but they do not understand it as a complete and dynamic system for all aspects of the human being’s life, nor do they adhere to its requirements in all aspects of their lives consistently and as a matter of principle and obligation. In their minds, Islam is often intermixed with many pseudo-Islamic practices common to their societies, many of which are completely contrary to the Islamic teachings although they have acquired some sort of an “Islamic” sanction or flavor, and with many westernized ways of thought and behavior as well. They definitely believe in God and Islam, but in a theoretical sort of way which does not carry enough conviction to move them steadily and consistently towards a totally Islamic orientation and way of life. Because they do not conceive of Islam as a complete system for all aspects of life, they are often critical or look down on those who do as having “gone too far” in the matter of religion.

The third group consists of those Muslims who understand the religion they profess as a total system and who have consciously decided to pattern their lives according to it. Their world-view and frame of reference is that of Islam, their obediance, loyalty and devotion are for God alone; their goal is the hereafter: and their community is the community of believers. Many among this group are highly educated individuals who have arrived at such a position as a reflection on what is happening in the world around them. They are a unique group, part of the small yet strong company of true believers in God who have been lining in submission to Him since the first prophet, Adam (peace be on him), walked on earth, in obedience to His guidance.

Without question, to reach such a level of Islamic commitment requires an understanding which, due to very faulty and inadequate approaches to Islamic education even in “Muslim” countries, few are able to attain. Moreover, the appeal of westernization and modernity is so strong that few people in the Muslim world have yet grasped the fact that material advancement is not necessarily the road to either true self-respect or satisfaction, and that it has not brought real happiness and well-being to the peoples of the West, but instead a staggering array of societal and environmental problems because it has been divorced from the spiritual and moral dimensions which are as integral and essential a part of the human being’s nature as is his material aspect.

When we survey the Muslim world today, you see a confused and troubled picture in which political instability plays a major role. In spite of the Islamic requirement of a leader elected from among the people who consults with them in the conduct of affairs, in very few countries of the Muslim world today are the governments elected by the people and responsive to their needs, or capable of providing leadership and stability to their countries: rahter they are, by and large, the rulers and the ruled. And although in most cases the professed Islam and often made a public show of piety, among the rulers of the Muslim world in recent years have been many who were dictators and oppressors of the most vicous sort. They stifled all criticism and dissent in their societies, whether by individuals, groups or the press, by sadistically oppressive means, making ruthless use of highly-trained secret police and intelligence services to supress anyone they considered a threat to their unbridled power; they filled the prisons of their “Muslim” countries to overflowing with tens of thousands of sincere and committed Muslims, many belonging to the intelligensia, who were trying to call for a revival of Islam in their societies or to question the policies or actions of the ruler. Hair-raising nazi-style tortures were applied to countless numbers of them under which many died, and some of the best among them were executed for fabricating “crimes” in order to silence the voice of faith so the ruler might continue unimpeded in his relentless drive for absolute power.

County after country in the Muslim world has seen rulers of this kind during the past half century or more, men who, although often Muslims themselves, hated and feared the very name of Islam because it constituted the only real challenge to their unchecked power and ambition, and who threw all their energies into trying to suppress it by opressing Muslims.

[…]

Preventive War

chomsky

Imperial Grand Strategy – Elite Concerns (pg. 39)

Within establishment circles, there has been considerable concerns that “America’s imperial ambition” is a serious threat even to its own population. Their alarm reached new heights as the Bush administration declared itself to be a “revisionist state” that intends to rule the world permanently, becoming, some felt, “a menace to itself and to mankind” under the leadership of “radical nationalists” aiming for “unilateral world domination through absolute military superiority.” Many others within the mainstream spectrum have been appalled by the adventurism and arrogance of the radical nationalists who have regained the power they wielded through the 1980s, but now operate with fewer external constraints.

The concerns are not entirely new. During the Clinton years, the prominent political analyst Samuel Huntington observed that for much of the world the US is “becoming the rogue superpower, [considered] the single greatest external threat to their societies.” Robert Jervis, then president of the American Political Science Association, warned that “in the eyes of much of the world, in fact, the prime rogue state today is the United States.” Like others, they anticipated that coalitions might arise to counterbalance the rogue superpower, with threatening implications.

Several leading figures of the foreign policy elite have pointed out that the potential targets of America’s imperial ambition are not likely to simply await destruction. They “know that the United States can be held at bay only by deterrence,” Kenneth Waltz has written, and that “weapons of mass destruction are the only means to deter the United States.” Washington’s policies are therefore leading to the proliferation of WMD, Waltz concludes, tendencies accelerated by its commitment to dismantle international mechanisms to control the resort to violence. These warnings were reiterated as Bush prepared to attack Iraq: one consequence, according to Steven Miller, is that others “are likely to draw the conclusion that weapons of mass destruction are necessary to deter American intervention.” Another well-known specialist warned that the “general strategy of preventive war” is likely to provide others with “overwhelming incentives to wield weapons of terror and mass destruction” as a deterrent to “the unbrideled use of American power.” Many have noted the likely impetus to Iranian nuclear weapons programs. And “there is no question that the lesson that the North Koreans have learned from Iraq is that it needs a nuclear deterrent,” Selig Harrison commented.

As the year 2002 drew to a close, Washington was teaching an ugly lesson to the world: if you want to defend yourself from us, you had better mimic North Korea and pose a credible military threat, in this case, conventional: artillary aimed at Seoul and at US troops near DMZ. We will enthusiastically march on to attack Iraq, because we know that it is devistated and defenseless; but North Korea, though an even worse tyranny and vastly more dangerous, is not an appropriate target as long as it can cause plenty of harm. The lesson could hardly be more vivid.

Still another concern is the “second superpower,” public opinion. Not only was the “revisionism” of the political leadership without precident; so too was the opposition to it. Comparisons are often drawn to Vietnam. The common query “What happened to the tradition of protest and dissent?” makes clear how effectively the historical record has been cleansed and how little sense there is, in many circles, of the changes in public consciousness over the past four decades. An accurate comparison is revealing: In 1962, public protest was nonexistent, despite the announcement that year that the Kennedy administration was sending the US Air Force to bomb South Vietnam, as well as initiating plans to drive millions of people into what ammounted to concentration camps and launching chemical warfare programs to destroy food crops and ground cover. Protest did not reach any meaningful level until years later, after hundreds of thousands of US troops had been dispatched, densely populated areas had been demolished by saturation bombing, and the aggression had spread to the rest of Indochina. By the time protest became significant, the bitterly anticommunist military historian and Indochina specialist Bernard Fall had warned that “Vietnam as a cultural and historic entity… is threatened with extinction” as “the countryside literally dies under the blows of the largest military machine ever unleashed on an area of this size.”

In 2002, fourty years later, in striking contrast, there was largescale, committed, and principled popular protest before the war had been officially launched. Absent the fear and illusion about Iraq that were unique to the US, prewar opposition would probably have reached much the same levels as elsewhere. That reflects a steady increase over these years in unwillingness to tolerate aggression and atrocities, one of many such changes.

The leadership is well aware of these developments. By 1968, fear of the public was so serious that the Joint Chiefs of Staff had to consider whether “sufficient forces would be available for civil disorder control” if more troops were sent to Vietnam. The Department of Defense feared that further troop deployments ran the risk of “provoking a domestic crisis of unprecedented proportions.” The Reagan administration at first tried to follow Kennedy’s South Vietnam model in Central America but backed down in the face of an unanticipated public reaction that threatened to undermine more important components of the policy agenda, turning instead to clandestine terror — clandestine in the sense that it could be more or less concealed from the general public. When Bush I took office in 1989, public reaction was again very much on the agenda. Incoming administrations typically commission a review of the world situation from the intelligence agencies. These reviews are secret, but in 1989 a passage was leaked concerning “cases where the US confronts much weaker enemies.” The analysts advised that the US must “defeat them decisively and rapidly.” Any other outcome would be “embarrassing” and might “undercut political support,” understood to be thin.

We are no longer in the 1960s, when the population would tolerate a murderous and destructive war for years without visible protest. The activist movements of the past forty years have had a significant civilizing effect in many domains. By now, the only way to attack a much weaker enemy is to construct a propaganda offensive depicting it as an imminent threat or perhaps engaged in genocide, with confidence that the military campaign will scarcely resemble an actual war.

Take a look around. People see the world as they experience it.

2005: A Year For Change

fireworks

The funny thing about running into the posting wall, is that it almost always comes out of the blue, often at the most random of times. Well, unlike past years, in 2005 I hit the wall at the most appropriate time of the year.

So in order to get back up on the blogging horse, I’m now going to confront what annoyed me the most over the past week or so by presenting you a better late than never (maybe), hodge-podge list of the best stuff I personally experienced in 2005:

Going freelance
Yeah, I know you can’t buy this or go see it, but it was somewhat of a life-changing moment for me. And while I’ve gone back and forth between full-time and freelance gigs over the years, unless the perfect full-time opportunity to build smart experiences and flex skills with like-minded people arises, this time I just might not go back.

Beginning to blog full-time
While I’m still a bit of a beat-down blogger, I’m pretty amped that I’ve been writing consistently since last April. Because my last job consumed so much of my time and energy, my posts were few and far between in 2004 and without writing, sketching, or being creative on some level for me and me alone, I begin to lose it. Maybe I won’t post as much this year, but when I do, they’ll be accompanied by original creative output (illustrations, music, podcasts, etc.).

Working with Media Matters
Admittedly, before I took the gig to collaborate on the redesign of the Media Matters site, I had never heard of David Brock. So as I researched Brock and Media Matters the week prior to starting the job, I became fascinated with his story, especially how the concept of his book literally became a functional venture (the Media Matters for America non-profit) to clean up the media. Does the released information architecture of the site exactly reflect my vision for a forward-thinking domain? Not quite, but it’s getting there, and man, does our media need a real-time ecosystem of accountability.

Picking up my father’s habit of watching the 11 o’clock news
My father is religous in catching the local 11 o’clock news. Aside from catching the weather for the following day (ever notice how the weather is placed at the end of the newscast?), it provides him daily insight into the local news that he feels he needs. Well, I’m now picking up his tradition by religiously catching The Daily Show. Yes, with the amount of in-depth news I catch on my aggregator, I need Jon Stewart’s take on our twisted planet to close out my day-to-day.

Returning to The Chuck Nevitt Invitational
In 1999, the innaugural CNI season, my handicapped parkin’ squad ended up tying for first place. Thanks to Carver High, an invite was extended to me six years after I released my entire fantasy baseball squad due to the real-life threat of a strike (I thought they’d never get over that one). I’m only a few healed players away from having the trophy living in my den for the next year, so Bonzi, Emeka, hurry up and get healthy!

Becoming active by donating to causes I believe in
Historically, I’ve backed organiations by talking them up and defending their practices within mixed crowds. Similar to how I viewed my ability to become a Big Brother (not responsible enough), I also thought that one needed to be rich to financially support an organization. Well, after giving a few hundred dollars to EFF and TerraPass, I’ve come to realize that one doesn’t have to be wealthy to contribute. This year, I’m looking to expand my philanthropic range, so I guess I’ll just have to kill a few magazine subscriptions and keep my heat down at night.

Really Simple Syndication: For real
I’ve been using feeds for years, but not to the degree I used them this past year. Bloglines has become my primary source of information and news from around the world. Out of my 130+ subscriptions, less than ten would be considered mainstream media, so for the first time in my life my perspective is being primarily influenced by people like me. This is a post all in it’s own.

Moving to Greensboro, North Carolina
As I posted before I left JC to come to Greensboro, I’ve a bunch of mixed feelings. On one hand, going from a long-distance relationship to living with Angela has been great. Just as cool has been seeing my brother much more than once every six months. Greensboro is a laid back town, larger in scale than my one-time home of Williamstown, but similar in vibe; small enough to get away from the hustle and bustle, but large enough to ensure that your girlfriend isn’t one degree away from your doctor, dentist, shrink, yoga instructor, etc. On the other hand, it’s not New York City.

Well, that’s that. This post isn’t chock full of top movies or albums, but hey, those types of posts probably annoy you just as much as they annoy me. If 2005 was my year of change, then I’m thinking that 2006 will be the year of transparency across the board. The internet has far too many dedicated, passionate people and easily accessible, open hooks to not dig into rich domains (such as government) to create open, honest conversations.

Transparency and accountability in 2006.

Chomsky: Media, Democracy and Indoctrination

noam-radio

I stumbled across the no one’s listening podcast site and their interview with Noam Chomsky yesterday. The interview was entitled, Fake News; a title fitting his perspective on the American media. I have to admit though, after reading most of Noam’s work from the 80’s and 90’s, it was good to hear that he’s optimistic about the future.

The following is a transcript of part of the interview:

Noam: The effect [of the media] on the public isn’t very much studied, but to the extent as it has been, it seems that among the more educated sectors, the indoctrination works more effectively. Among the less educated sectors, the people are more skeptical and cynical.

Irene: Right… so what can we do because now I’m depressed. [nervous laughter]

Noam: I think it’s a very optimistic future, frankly.

Irene: Really? You wrote 90 books…

Noam: Look, very much so. There’s something we know about this country more than any other: we know a lot about public opinion. It’s studied very intensively.

Irene: That it’s fickle?

Noam: But it’s very rarely reported. You can find them, it’s an open society, you can find them. What they show is very remarkable. What they show first of all is that both political parties and the media are far to the right of the general population, on a whole host of issues. And the population is just, you know, disorganized, atomized, and so on. This country ought to be an organizers paradise. And the, that’s why the media and the campaigns keep away from issues. They know that on issues they’re going to lose people.

So therefore you have to portray George Bush as a, look he’s a pampered kid who came from a rich family, went to prep school, an elite university and you have to present him as an ordinary guy, you know, who makes grammatical errors, which I’m sure he’s trained to make, he didn’t talk that way at Yale and a fake Texas twang and he’s off to his ranch to cut brush or something.

That’s like a toothpaste ad. And I think a lot of people know it.

Given the facts about public opinion it means what’s needed is something, you know, not very radical. Let’s become as democratic as say the second largest country in the hemisphere: Brazil. I mean their last election was not between two rich kids who went to the same elite university and joined the same secret society where they’re trained to be members of the upper class and can get into politics cause they have rich families with a lot of connections. I mean people were actually able to vote and elect a president from their own ranks. A man who was a peasant union leader never had a higher education and comes from the population.

They could do it because it’s a functioning democratic society. Tremendous obstacles, you know: repressive state, huge concentration of wealth, much worse obstacles than we have, but they have mass popular movements, they have actual political parties which we don’t have. There’s nothing to stop us from doing that. We have a legacy of freedom which is unparalleled, its been won by struggle over centuries, it was never given, you can use it or you can abandon it.

It’s a choice.

So… I guess the question is who’s ready to begin sacrificing to elicit change?

Review: Chomsky “What Uncle Sam Really Wants”

sam

Why I started my Chomsky indulgence with Understanding Power and not this digestible gem I’ll never know.

Uncle Sam is a brilliant pocket reference of Noam Chomsky’s world view, specifically his unflinching criticism of US foreign policy. His genius with linguistics provides him the means to absolutely tear apart the propaganda surrounding isms, bringing the conversation and arguments back to the table of reality. By comparing declassified government files, public policy and geopolitical events occurring between the early 1940’s to 1992, Chomsky cuts directly through the posturing of the US to frame cause and effect in the struggle for global power.

The man is fearless. He critically deconstructs policy from within the sovereign US to expose the post-WWII new world order policies of US planners—clearly describing how the Third World has been shaped to remain the peasant working class via neo-Nazi techniques of torture and intimidation, satisfying the needs of the US investor class.

His arguments are completely lucid and relevant in today’s world, even though it was published in the early nineties. Want an example? Keep an eye on the US propaganda regarding the “left-wing rhetoric” of Hugo Chavez. The BBC is already picking up the US talking points of Venezuela elections being rigged. Chomsky describes these US tactics in detail.

Chomsky’s take on US indoctrination of its citizens to contributing productively to pure capitalism is classic, as he tackles complicit participants from the mainstream media to academia. Just as stinging is his perspective on the marginalization of 80% of our population, which reminded me a bit of the 5% Nation, but without the optimism.

Here’s a section about the US in a Rent-A-Thug role (remember, this was written during the original Gulf War conflict with George H.W. Bush in charge):

[…] In any confrontation, each participant tries to shift the battle to a domain in which it’s most likely to succeed. You want to lead with your strength, play your strong card. The strong card of the United States is force, so if we can establish the principle that force rules the world, that’s a victory for us. If, on the other hand, a conflict is settled through peaceful means, that benefits us less, because our rivals are just as good or better in that domain.

Diplomacy is a particularly unwelcome option, unless it’s pursued under the gun. The US has very little popular support for its goals in the Third World. This isn’t surprising, since it’s trying to impose structures of domination and exploitation. A diplomatic settlement is bound to respond, at least to some degree, to the interests of the other participants in the negotiation, and that’s a problem when your positions aren’t very popular.

As a result, negotiations are something the US commonly tries to avoid. Contrary to much propaganda, that has been true in Southeast Asia, the Middle East and Central America for many years.

Against this background, it’s natural that the Bush administration should regard military force as a major policy instrument, preferring it to sanctions and diplomacy (as in the Gulf crisis). But since the US now lacks the economic base to impose “order and stability” in the Third World, it must rely on others to pay for the exercise—a necessary one, it’s widely assumed, since someone must ensure a proper respect for the masters. The flow of profits from Gulf oil production helps, but Japan and German-led continental Europe must also pay their share as the US adopts the “mercenary role,” following the advice of the international business press.

The financial editor of the conservative Chicago Tribune has been stressing these themes with particular clarity (William Neikirk, “We are the World’s Guardian Angels” 9/9/90) We must be “willing mercenaries,” paid for our ample services by our rivals, using our “monopoly power” in the “security market” to maintain “our control over the world economic system.” We should run a global protection racket, he advises, selling “protection” to other wealthy powers who will pay us a “war premium.”

This is Chicago, where the words are understood: if someone bothers you, you call on the Mafia to break their bones. And if you fall behind in your premium, your health may suffer too.

To be sure, the use of force to control the Third World is only a last resort. The IMF is a more cost-effective instrument than the Marines and the CIA if it can do the job. But the “iron fist” must be poised in the background, available when needed.

Our rent-a-thug role also causes suffering at home. All of the successful industrial powers have relied on the state to protect and enhance powerful domestic economic interests, to direct public resources to the needs of investors, and so on—one reason why they are successful. Since 1950, the US has pursued these ends largely through the Pentagon System (including NASA and the Department of Energy, which produces nuclear weapons). By now we are locked into these devices for maintaining electronics, computers and high-tech industry generally.

Reaganite military Keynesian excesses added further problems. The transfer of resources to wealthy minorities and other government policies led to a vast wave of financial manipulations and a consumption binge. But there was little in the way of productive investment, and the country was saddled with huge debts: government, corporate, household and the calculable debt of unmet social needs as the society drifts towards a Third World pattern, with islands of great wealth and privilege in a sea of misery and suffering.

When a state is committed to such policies, it must somehow find a way to divert the population, to keep them from seeing what’s happening around them. There are not many ways to do this. The standard ones are to inspire fear of terrible enemies about to overwhelm us, and awe for our grand leaders who rescue us from disaster in the nick of time.

That has been the pattern right through the 1980’s, requiring no little ingenuity as the standard device, the Soviet threat, became harder to take seriously. So the threat to our existence has been Qaddafi and his hordes of international terrorists, Grenada and its ominous air base, Sandinistas marching on Texas, Hispanic narcotraffickers led by the arch-maniac Noriega, and crazed Arabs generally. Most recently it’s Saddam Hussein, after he committed his sole crime; the crime of disobedience in August 1990. It has become more necessary to recognize what has always been true: that the prime enemy is the Third World, which threatens to get “out of control.”

These are not laws of nature. The processes, and the institutions that engender them, could be changed. But that will require cultural, social and institutional changes of no little movement, including democratic structures that go far beyond periodic selection of representatives of the business world to manage domestic and international affairs.” […]

Exactly.

Tag! We’re It! Part III

I tag like a 15 year-old kid in the South Bronx with a box full of Krylons and a yard full of freshly sandblasted cars.

I tag like I just got jumped by a handful of punks who made the mistake of letting me follow them to their trailer park homes adorned with freshly cleaned aluminum siding.

I tag like I get told who I am, what I’m supposed to believe and how I’m supposed to act on a daily basis.

I go all city, hoping that one day, the vehicles I’ve touched get stitched together to form a complete sentence.

con-men

I tag because I saw you leave your mark and it was dope.

I tag because I know how to freeze, watch TV and (kinda) avoid the kissing bugs.

I tag because the words I drop in time will find a way to form a cohesive rhyme.

I tag because the world may be getting smaller, but it’s damn sure not coming together.

grafitti-truck

I tag your name, your spot, your position, your mood, your frame of mind when it’s too hard for you to see it for yourself.

I tag the expected terms of modern constructs.

I tag the post-modern undercurrents of miscellaneous descriptors.

I tag my tags so that when structure is forged out of chaos, you’ll know how to find me.

I tag so that it’s me you won’t be looking for.

life-is-art

When I tag, I’m regurgitating the meal I’ve caught for the chicks in my roost.

When I tag, I feel one with the universe of the collective unconscious.

When I tag, I can see the pillars of control quaking in their foundation.

When I tag, I experience therefore I understand.

When we tag, anything is possible.

————

Tag! We’re It! Part II
Tag! We’re It!

My Progressive Platform For 2006

progressive-platform

Terrance, over at The Republic of T, asks a simple, yet provocative question in preparation of the 2006 elections: What’s Your Platform?

Okay, I’m game. Here are my most imperative policy reforms, in no particular order:

1) 2.0 the hell out of government
Congress was only able to see “finished” intelligence before voting to give the Bush administration power to go to war (as a last resort). In my world, anything that the Executive branch sees, the Legislative branch sees. My voice is represented by my state officials, not the president. This one example of a non-transparent government directly led to the deaths of more than 30,000 human beings.

The most applicable 2.0 philosophy for reforming government is the philosophy of openness. From open source to open content, imagine the possibilities of employing a government that makes all de-classified government documents, congressional voting records, appointee resumes, etc. instantly available in a relational database with open APIs for public use. All of this information is available now, but it’s not prepped for accessibility and reuse. This is the future of accountability. Up communication and transparency, reduce the “Fuck You!” noise of the left vs. the right blogosphere to constructive collaboration… that is until government tries to pull something, and then we get back on them like white on rice.

2) Create a nominal tax to directly supplement teacher salaries
Great teachers are few and far between nowadays. Why? Well, you try dealing with kids, administrators and parents all day, adhere to and circumvent the red-tape and legalities of this age with the grace of a seasoned politician and pull in ~$45k per year.

I’m talking about, say, a .1% tax that goes directly towards teacher salaries. I gotta admit, I got the idea from Mini-Me when he appeared as a genius teacher on an episode of Boston Public a few years back. His thesis was that the degree to which students are prepared by their public school years directly impacts their earning potential, so reward their hometown education system with a nominal, flat tax return to impact teacher salaries. Tell ’em. Verne!

3) Rip up the Patriot Act
As alluded to in the first part of my platform, transparency of government will lead to politicians being held accountable to create humane national and global policies. It’ll also foster the innovation of extremely real-time and smart communication user experiences, which can then be applied by government in the authenticated realm of classified material.

This edict of transparency cannot be applied to individuals. Our individual right of privacy is what has distinguished us from the rest of the world for centuries. The Patriot Act is legislation with language that allows for the control, intimidation and investigation of Americans through the guise of terrorism. It’s like the old censorship debate; who defines what is terrorism? The abuse of American rights have already begun.

4) Election reforms
First, all television campaigns are free. Each major candidate (there would have to be some way to determine “major,” possibly something akin to the BSC polls/stats via past political progress made) is provided a set amount of credits to apply to the “purchase” of air time. This opens up the playing field to a diverse class of politicians who can focus on the issues, not their fund raising. I bet Tom Delay would even go for this.

Second, ensure that voting is both easy to access and secure. All voting systems could easily be tied together into one database, while creating alternative voting options, such as over the internet and by phone. We’ve been to the moon people…

5) National health care for everyone… Yes, you too
Riddle me this: Large corporations get major discounts on health care coverage due to the amount of employees they staff, right? Okay, then why not treat congressional districts as semantic equivalents of large pools of employees (citizen residents) by submitting them as huge groups into the bidding process? C’mon, try to tell me why that doesn’t make any sense.

6) Incentivize industry to reduce our dependency on oil and clean up the environment
I know, the oil industry has major power claws dug deep into our political system, but this is my platform, so I’ll risk the blunt gas nozzle to the back of my head. This current administration gave tax breaks to manufacturers who create hybrid vehicles, but capped the production of cars to 60,000 that qualify for the break. Yeah.

First, we create California-like emmission standards and apply it nationally. Second, we apply money to develop alternative forms of fuel instead of planning a trip to Mars or building that damn bridge to nowhere in Alaska. Third… well, I’m not that smart, but these people are.

Well, that’s my platform. God knows there are other extremely important issues (like getting out of Iraq, impeaching Bush, etc.), but that’s all the brainpower I have for tonight. I’m sure many of you want to label me as a liberal communist or some other disparaging nomenclature, and if I just described your take on me, my message to you is grow the fuck up. These are serious times, calling for serious people. The longer you avoid engaging in honest discussions along these lines, the easier it becomes to spot your agenda.

To the rest of you, let’s work together to get these bozos out of office in 2006.

All News Is Good News

they-live

A few years ago I ranted about my fear of a society where the media is absolutely controlled by corporate interests.

My head wasn’t in the sand; I obviously realized that we were already living in such a world, as money drives practically everything in this country. I was more concerned with the audacity of the FCC to even consider the type of deregulation it ended up approving. Sure, it happens every day; legislation lobbyed for by those in power increases the empowerment of those same people. I mean, this is how the free market works. But this legislation goes beyond just making money for the upper class.

The fact is that Americans are glued to the tube and this type of conglomerate legislation—spanning all media (television, print, radio and the internet)—has now allowed for a greater possiblity to create a lasting, singular, corporate perspective in the psychology of the moment and beyond. Consume messaging has been given even more proximity to our children’s brains.

They Live shades are looking pretty good right about now.

So without the prospect of landing a pair of alien sunglasses, what exactly can be done to defend ourselves from this destructive approach to creating a consumer culture at all costs? As a contributor to public discourse, I’ve always believed that the ‘net (in 1997), and specifically, blogs (over the last five years) were a key development in the fight to present a perspective to battle corporate marketing and/or government disinformation.

  • With blogging, there’s no managing editor around with advertising pressures to censor (or generate) a particular perspective. (well, that is until the corporate structure jacks blogging to apply its usefulness to its bottom line, thereby reducing its effectiveness in the wild)
  • Blogs are also a time permitting endeavor; you can publish many times a day or once a year. There isn’t a revenue figure to drive towards, which allows for individual perspectives to be expressed at will

This break from the days of publishing via the standard print revenue generation model is something akin to the advent of the printing press, yet with the merchant nation-state taking the place of the previously empowered Church. Okay, maybe that’s a little pre-mature, but the possibilities are there. And what are the possibilities?

Over the past few years, the blogging revolution has become more and more accessible and mainstream with the advent of RSS and aggregate readers. With Yahoo! adding access to RSS feeds to their My Yahoo! content modules, blogs are one step closer to being mainstream. But this last step is a big one, steeped in moral conviction.

Until blogs are automatically indexed as viable, alternative feeds when running, say, a news query at Google or Yahoo!, they are going to, at best, sit on the periphery of the conscious of the world’s inhabitants. The average person does not have the time, nor the patience, to sift through the pedagogy of managing RSS. Bookmarks are about as much as they can handle. Blogs do return in general search queries, but this “general return only” pre-supposes a value level to the quality of the information being retrieved. You know, a perspective or opinion or even investigative research presented by a blogger has less value than a feed from the New York Times, The Washington Post, etc.

That’s why this information retrieval concept would have to be one generated out of moral conviction. By keeping news sources limited strictly to incorporated, staffed and vested (in the economic structure of) newspapers, Google (or any other news search engine) is basically saying that only these sources can report and editorialize news. Even though Google has gone a long way in presenting perspectives from small and foreign sources, providing the chance opportunity for conflicting perspective, it’s still not enough.

It seems to me that with a search capability, news aggregator and a blogging tool, Google and Yahoo! are best poised to create convergence between the “professional” news organizations and blogging communities, within the boundaries of their individual interfaces. How accessible blogs become in the presentation, will be a litmus test of their commitment to providing contextual channels within the information age, while creating usable interfaces for digesting a world of information overload and disinformation.

It’s completely doable and an ongoing commitment to data mining and information presentation doesn’t seem to indicate that such domains will shy away from heading in this direction. Well, as long as blogs don’t impact their institutional investors or advertisers in a negative light.

fuck cnn

embedded reporting

*click*

embedded eyes for the world to see
aggression
repression
straight up atrocities
the coalition of two
with the paid help of thirty eight
the move to baghdad’s gate…
a soldier’s eyes dilate…
garbled orders seal their fate

iraq didn’t hit new york
the pentagon
or even pennsylvania
they sure as hell didn’t fund the aggression
but they’re gonna catch hell like tony pena
you see america is a game of power and repression
the residue of 75 years of administration masturbation
so what can a private do?
now that he’s been ordered to commit pow! pow!
walk in the direction of home?
fire one shot off into his dome?
no.
no way.
not now.
he now does what he’s been told
because he’s now a (brainwashed) soldier
even as voices rush through his mind screaming
“murderer!”
and “i told ya!”…
everlasting memories
anti-social
distant
colder…

the night is quietly turning into day
blood red sky creeping out of gray
embedded eyes for the world to see
time to turn in for bed
time to turn off the tv.

*click*