Capital Controlling Media To Keep Us Thirsty For Violence


Noam Chomsky once explained the driving force behind the war machine as one that won’t begin to slow down until corporate America realizes that the majority of its customers are against a particular conflict. For when advertisers adjust to the collective vibe of the people (in order to sell product), the message is brought home to politicians in ways they must take seriously in a state-capitalism system.

I can’t remember where I read that—probably in Understanding Power—but it reminded me of his synopsis of the Vietnam Syndrome:

[…] The bewildered herd never gets properly tamed, so this is a constant battle. In the 1930s they arose again and were put down. In the 1960s there was another wave of dissidence. There was a name for that. It was called by the specialized class “the crisis of democracy.” Democracy was regarded as entering into a crisis in the 1960s. The crisis was that large segments of the population were becoming organized and active and trying to participate in the political arena.

Here we come back to these two conceptions of democracy. By the dictionary definition, that’s an advance in democracy. By the prevailing conception that’s a problem, a crisis that has to be overcome. The population has to be driven back to the apathy, obedience and passivity that is their proper state. We therefore have to do something to overcome the crisis. Efforts were made to achieve that. It hasn’t worked. The crisis of democracy is still alive and well, fortunately, but not very effective in changing policy. But it is effective in changing opinion, contrary to what a lot of people believe.

Great efforts were made after the 1960s to try to reverse and overcome this malady. It was called the “Vietnam Syndrome.” The Vietnam Syndrome, a term that began to come up around 1970, has actually been defined on occasion. The Reaganite intellectual Norman Podhoretz defined it as “the sickly inhibitions against the use of military force.” There were these sickly inhibitions against violence on the part of a large part of the public. People just didn’t understand why we should go around torturing people and killing people and carpet bombing them. It’s very dangerous for a population to be overcome by these sickly inhibitions, as Goebbels understood, because then there’s a limit on foreign adventures.

It’s necessary, as the Washington Post put it the other day, rather proudly, to “instill in people respect for the martial virtues.” That’s important. If you want to have a violent society that uses force around the world to achieve the ends of its own domestic elite, it’s necessary to have a proper appreciation of the martial virtues and none of these sickly inhibitions about using violence. So that’s the Vietnam Syndrome. It’s necessary to overcome that one. […]

Enter into the conversation: The Dixie Chicks.

These three women made plain what they felt was true in the run up to war in Iraq and now—three and a half years into this unjust war, their message is shared by a majority of Americans (65% want out of Iraq and more than 60% disapprove President Bush’s job).

So if you buy into the analysis that it’s necessary for a state-capitalism system to overcome such “sickly inhibitions about using violence” in order to flex all foreign policy options, then the actions of one of the last defenses in the current corporate line—the über-conglomerate NBC Universal—shouldn’t surprise you.

Even though CBS moved forward with an ad buy, NBC has steeled up and decided to not run ads for the Dixie Chicks documentary entitled, Shut Up and Sing.

Here’s part of their rationale (with my emphasis):

[…] While the Weinstein Co. had shown NBC its ads, it had not inquired about buying commercial time, he said. Generally, when an ad is rejected, prospective advertisers return and work with the network on ways to make it acceptable—as was done with the Michael Moore film, ‘Fahrenheit 9/11,’ he said.

But NBC heard nothing more from makers of “Shut Up and Sing” until portions of what NBC executives thought were confidential business correspondence showed up in a news release, he said.

“There was no attempt to come back and have a conversation,” Wurtzel said. “There are times when some advertisers get more publicity for having their ad rejected.” […]

NBC’s positioning for making the trailer more acceptable is akin to the central theme of a documentary called Shut Up and Sing. Are they really surprised that the band walked away and went to the press? Ten years ago, such a tactical play by NBC could’ve crippled an independent film’s message due to lack of exposure, but not now, not in the information age. NBC can stick to their “standards” and play all the games they want, because as Chomsky so eloquently analyzed, the people are on it.

UPDATE: Lawrence Lessig speaks to a previous media denial encounter with NBC that fell into a similar “not very flattering to the president” category.

(via Baron over at TwangNation)

Ali G And Noam Chomsky: Perfect Harmony

Two master linguists, in an interview for the ages:

[…] AG: So when animals chat to each other, does them talk in language?

NC: Well, that’s more or less a matter of definition. I mean, every organism has some means of communication, including insects.

AG: How many words does you know?

NC: Well… the… normally humans, by maturity, have tens of thousands of words…

AG: For real?

NC: Yeah.

AG: What is some of them?

NC: Well, the ones we’re using.

AG: For real. Me know loads of words: parachute, photograph, anthems, spaghetti, camera…

NC: Well, if you count them up it’ll be in the tens of thousands. […]

Preventive War


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.

Chomsky: Media, Democracy and Indoctrination


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”


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.” […]


My Progressive Platform For 2006


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.