Saturday, July 12, 2008
Corporate media colludes with democracy’s demise
By Bill Moyers
I heard this story a long time ago, growing up in Choctaw County in Oklahoma before my family moved to Texas. A tribal elder was telling his grandson about the battle the old man was waging within himself. He said, “It is between two wolves, my son. One is an evil wolf: anger, envy, sorrow, greed, self-pity, guilt, resentment, lies, false pride, superiority and ego. The other is the good wolf: joy, peace, love, hope, serenity, humility, empathy, generosity, truth, compassion and faith.”
The boy took this in for a few minutes and then asked his grandfather, “Which wolf won?”
The old Cherokee replied simply, “The one I feed.”
Democracy is that way. The wolf that wins is the one we feed. And in our society, media provides the fodder.
Our media institutions, deeply embedded in the power structures of society, are not providing the information that we need to make our democracy work. To put it another way, corporate media consolidation is a corrosive social force. It robs people of their voice in public affairs and pollutes the political culture. And it turns the debates about profound issues into a shouting match of polarized views promulgated by partisan apologists who trivialize democracy while refusing to speak the truth about how our country is being plundered.
Our dominant media are ultimately accountable only to corporate boards whose mission is not life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness for the whole body of our republic, but the aggrandizement of corporate executives and shareholders.
These organizations’ self-styled mandate is not to hold public and private power accountable, but to aggregate their interlocking interests. Their reward is not to help fulfill the social compact embodied in the notion of “We, the people,” but to manufacture news and information as profitable consumer commodities.
Democracy without honest information creates the illusion of popular consent at the same time that it enhances the power of the state and the privileged interests that the state protects. And nothing characterizes corporate media today more than its disdain toward the fragile nature of modern life and its indifference toward the complex social debate required of a free and self-governing people.
Let’s look at what is happening with the Internet. This spring the cable giant Comcast tried to pack a Federal Communications Commission (FCC) hearing on network neutrality by hiring strangers off the street to ensure that advocates of net neutrality would not be able to get a seat in the hearing room.
SaveTheInternet.com — a bipartisan coalition — and its supporters helped expose the ruse. Soon after, there was a new hearing, this time without the gerrymandering seating by opponents of an open Internet.
Now Rep. Ed Markey (D-Mass.) has introduced a bill to advance network neutrality, and it has become an issue in the presidential campaign.
We must be vigilant. The fate of the cyber-commons — the future of the mobile Web and the benefits of the Internet as open architecture — is up for grabs. And the only antidote to the power of organized money in Washington is the power of organized people at the net roots.
When Verizon tried to censor NARAL’s (National Abortion Rights Action League) use of text messaging last year, it was quick action by Save the Internet that led the company to reverse its position. Those efforts also led to an FCC proceeding on this issue.
Wherever the Internet flows — on PCs, cell phones, mobile devices and, very soon, new digital television sets — we must ensure that it remains an open and nondiscriminatory medium of expression.
By 2011, the market analysts tell us, the Internet will surpass newspapers in advertising revenues. With MySpace and Dow Jones controlled by News Corporation’s Rupert Murdoch, Microsoft determined to acquire Yahoo!, and with advertisers already telling some bloggers, “Your content is unacceptable,” we could potentially lose what’s now considered an unstoppable long tail of content offering abundant, new, credible and sustainable sources of news and information.
So, what will happen to news in the future, as the already tattered boundaries between journalism and advertising is dispensed with entirely and as content programming, commerce and online communities are rolled into one profitably attractive package?
Last year, the investment firm of Piper Jaffray predicted that much of the business model for new media would be just that kind of hybrid. They called it “communitainment.” (Oh, George Orwell, where are you now that we need you?)
Across the media landscape, the health of our democracy is imperiled. Buffeted by gale force winds of technological, political and demographic forces, without a truly free and independent press, this 250-year-old experiment in self-government will not make it. As journalism goes, so goes democracy.
Mergers and buyouts change both old and new media. They bring a frenzied focus on cost-cutting, while fattening the pockets of the new owners and their investors. The result: journalism is degraded through the layoffs and buyouts of legions of reporters and editors.
Advertising Age reports that U.S. media employment has fallen to a 15-year low. The Los Angeles Times alone has experienced a withering series of resignations by editors who refused to turn a red pencil into an editorial scalpel.
The new owner of the Tribune Company, real estate mogul Sam Zell, recently toured his new property Los Angeles Times, telling employees in the newsroom that the challenge is this: How do we get somebody 126 years old to get it up? “Well,” said Zell, “I’m your Viagra.”
He told his journalists that he didn’t have an editorial agenda or a perspective about newspapers’ roles as civic institutions. “I’m a businessman,” he said. “All what matters in the end is the bottom line.”
Zell then told Wall Street analysts that to save money he intends to eliminate 500 pages of news a week across all of the Tribune Company’s 12 papers. That can mean eliminating some 82 editorial pages every week just from the Los Angeles Times. What will he use to replace reporters and editors? He says to the Wall Street analysts, “I’ll use maps, graphics, lists, rankings and stats.” Sounds as if Zell has confused Viagra with Lunesta.
Former Baltimore Sun journalist and creator of HBO’s The Wire, David Simon, chronicled the effect that crosscutting and consolidation has had in media businesses and on the communities where those businesses have made so much money. He wrote in a Washington Post op-ed, “I did not encounter a sustained period in which anyone endeavored to spend what it would actually cost to make the Baltimore Sun the most essential and deep-thinking and well-written account of life in central Maryland. The people you needed to gather for that kind of storytelling were ushered out the door, buyout after buyout.”
Or as journalist Eric Alterman recently wrote in the New Yorker: “It is impossible not to wonder what will become of not just news but democracy itself, in a world in which we can no longer depend on newspapers to invest their unmatched resources and professional pride in helping the rest of us to learn, however imperfectly, what we need to know.”
For example, we needed to know the truth about Iraq. The truth could have spared that country from rack and ruin, saved thousands of American lives and hundreds of thousands of Iraqi lives, and freed hundreds of billions of dollars for investment in the American economy and infrastructure.
But as reporters at Knight Ridder — one of the few organizations that systematically and independently set out to challenge the claims of the administration — told us at the time, and as my colleagues and I reported in our PBS documentary Buying the War, and as Scott McClellan has now confessed, and as the Senate Intelligence Committee confirmed in June, the Bush administration deceived Americans into supporting an unprovoked war on another country. And it did so using erroneous and misleading intelligence — and with the complicity of the dominant media. It has led to a conflict that, instead of being over quickly and bloodlessly as predicted, continues to this day into its sixth year.
We now know that a neoconservative is an arsonist who sets a house on fire and six years later boasts that no one can put it out. You couldn’t find a more revealing measure of the state of the dominant media today than the continuing ubiquitous presence on the air and in print of the very pundits and experts, self-selected message multipliers of a disastrous foreign policy, who got it all wrong in the first place. It just goes to show, when the bar is low enough, you can never be too wrong.
The dominant media remains in denial about their role in passing on the government’s unverified claims as facts. That’s the great danger. It’s not simply that they dominate the story we tell ourselves publicly every day. It’s that they don’t allow other alternative competing narratives to emerge, against which the people could measure the veracity of all the claims.
Now the dominant media is saying, “Well, we did ask. We did do our job by asking tough questions during the run-up to the war.”
But I’ve been through the transcripts. And I’ll tell you, you will find very few tough questions. And if you come across them, you will discover that they were asked of the wrong people.
John Walcott, Washington bureau chief for McClatchy, formerly Knight Ridder, recently said of his colleagues in the dominant media, “They asked a lot of questions, but they asked even the right questions of the wrong people.” They were asked of the sources who had cooked the intelligence books in the first place or who had memorized the White House talking points and were prepared to answer every tough question with a soft evasion or an easy lie, swallowed by a gullible questioner.
Following the March 2003 invasion, Vice President Dick Cheney dropped into a media dinner to thank the guests for their all-the-war-all-the-time coverage of the contrived and manufactured war.
Sadly, in many respects, the Fourth Estate has become the fifth column of democracy, colluding with the powers that be in a culture of deception that subverts the thing most necessary to freedom, and that is the truth.
But we’re not alone and we know what we need to say. So let us all go tell it on the mountains and in the cities. From our websites and laptops, the street corners and coffeehouses, the delis and diners, the factory floors and the bookstores. On campus, at the mall, the synagogue, sanctuary and mosque, let’s tell it where we can, when we can and while we still can.
Democracy only works when ordinary people claim it as their own.
This article was adapted from Bill Moyers’ keynote address at the National Conference for Media Reform Conference in Minneapolis on June 7. You can read and respond to the full speech at http://www.pbs.org/moyers.Bill Moyers is the president of the Schumann Center for Media and Democracy and the host of Bill Moyers Journal on PBS.
Thursday, July 10, 2008
Bush Triumphant! As Democrats give him exactly what he wants. Obama votes with Bush. Hillary votes against. Did we make a huge mistake?
July 9th, 2008 10:18 pm
Bush triumphant as Senate passes wiretap bill
The US Senate on Wednesday passed a bill expanding legal authority for electronic wiretaps by spy agencies, handing victory to President George W. Bush after a standoff over anti-terror strategy.
The measure includes retroactive immunity for telecommunications firms which aided warrantless government surveillance operations following the September 11 attacks in 2001 -- a key demand of the White House.
The bill sparked fierce debate between civil liberties advocates who argue it eroded checks on the power of government and intelligence officials who feared the row was compromising their power to thwart terror attacks.
Senators voted 69 to 28 to pass the measure, after blocking several attempts to water down the immunity for telecom firms.
Bush said the new law would help US intelligence agencies "learn who the terrorists are talking to, what they're saying, and what they're planning."
"This legislation is critical to America's safety. It is long overdue," the president said, in the White House Rose Garden, as he arrived home from the G8 summit in Japan.
After the September 11 attacks, Bush authorized the National Security Agency to eavesdrop on calls and email between the United States and abroad in cases that federal agents deemed may have a terror link.
The wiretaps went ahead without the permission of a special court set up to watch over government wiretapping operations inside the United States, provided for under the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA) of 1978.
The program, revealed in 2005, caused public outcry and opponents argued that US privacy guarantees meant the intelligence agencies should seek court warrants from the FISA court to conduct such spying inside the country.
The standoff between Democratic leaders in Congress and the White House took on extra political significance after presidential hopeful Barack Obama reversed his opposition to the measure, backing a compromise hammered out in the House of Representatives.
This led to claims he was ditching previous political positions in a bid to claim the crucial center ground ahead of the general election and Republicans said he would stop at nothing to get elected.
Even some of Obama's top supporters were dismayed, and started a discussion community on his own website in protest.
Obama addressed the controversy in a blog post on his website.
"This was not an easy call for me. I know that the FISA bill that passed the House is far from perfect," Obama wrote.
"I wouldn't have drafted the legislation like this, and it does not resolve all of the concerns that we have about President Bush's abuse of executive power.
"It grants retroactive immunity to telecommunications companies that may have violated the law by cooperating with the Bush Administration's program of warrantless wiretapping."
But Obama said the bill did provide legal safeguards to bring warrantless wiretaping into the auspices of the courts.
"In a dangerous world, government must have the authority to collect the intelligence we need to protect the American people," he said, but added an independent monitor must watch over that power to protect civil liberties.
"This compromise law assures that the FISA court has that responsibility."
New York Senator Hillary Clinton, who lost the Democratic nomination to Obama, voted to block the bill. Republican White House candidate John McCain did not vote as he was campaigning.
Privacy advocates were dismayed.
"It is an immeasurable tragedy," said Kevin Bankston, senior staff attorney of the Electronic Frontier Foundation.
The new law says that the FISA court mechanism is the only way the government can order electronic surveillance of terror suspects.
The 1978 law allowed the ultra-secretive National Security Agency to wiretap for 72 hours while waiting for the FISA court to approve the action.
The new law, however, gives the agency a week, and it also allows them to use any information they got even if the FISA court eventually rules that the wiretap is unlawful.
Congress Approval Rating falls to 9%, Well Done Democrats. Well Done.
Last month, 11% of voters gave the legislature good or excellent ratings. Congress has not received higher than a 15% approval rating since the beginning of 2008.
The percentage of Democrats who give Congress positive ratings fell from 17% last month to 13% this month. The number of Democrats who give Congress a poor rating remained unchanged. Among Republicans, 8% give Congress good or excellent ratings, up just a point from last month. Sixty-five percent (65%) of GOP voters say Congress is doing a poor job, down a single point from last month.
Voters not affiliated with either party are the most critical of Congressional performance. Just 3% of those voters give Congress positive ratings, down from 6% last month. Sixty-three percent (63%) believe Congress is doing a poor job, up from 57% last month.
Just 12% of voters think Congress has passed any legislation to improve life in this country over the past six months. That number has ranged from 11% to 13% throughout 2008. The majority of voters (62%) say Congress has not passed any legislation to improve life in America.
Voters hold little positive sentiment about the future. Just 41% find it at least somewhat likely that Congress will address important problems facing our nation in the near future, while 55% find this unlikely.
Despite these negative attitudes towards Congress, Democrats continue to enjoy a double digit lead on the Generic Congressional Ballot. Also, Barack Obama holds a modest lead over John McCain in the Rasmussen Reports daily Presidential Tracking Poll. Other key stats on Election 2008 can be found at Obama-McCain: By the Numbers.
Most voters (72%) think most members of Congress are more interested in furthering their own political careers. Just 14% believe members are genuinely interested in helping people.
A separate Rasmussen survey found that half of all voters believe America’s best days are in the past. However, another survey found that 64% of voters also believe that the world would be a better place if more countries were similar to the United States.
Democratic Pussies Who Granted Immunity to Bush's Criminals Who Spied on Americans are Facing Strong Backlash.
A group of high-profile progressive bloggers and libertarian Republicans are rolling out a new political action committee called Accountability Now to channel widespread anger over pending legislation that would legalize much of the president's warrantless electronic surveillance of Americans, and grant retroactive legal immunity to telephone companies that cooperated with the spying when it was still illegal.
Progressive author and lawyer Glenn Greenwald, who writes for Salon.com, and blogger Jane Hamsher of Firedoglake, are spearheading the effort. They've hired the political media consultants behind a historic Ron Paul online fundraising drive to organize a similar "moneybomb," set to go off Aug. 8.
"That is the day Richard Nixon resigned, and the idea is that 35 years ago when you did this kind of stuff, you were forced out of office, and now congress drops everything to make your crimes legal," says Hamsher in an interview.
The campaign marks a milestone in the evolution of online grassroots organizing. The PAC is cherry-picking the tactics and tools that proved most successful in the presidential primary campaigns, and is using them to corral online support for the single issue of domestic spying. The PAC's money pay for advertisements in the districts of the House Democrats who voted for the spy bill -- potentially causing problems for those capitulating on the Bush wiretapping program.
"The fact is, we're all entering completely new territory here," writes Micah Sifry on the TechPresident blog in a post on other, similar efforts to rally support to influence Barack Obama's vote on the pending legislation this Wednesday in the Senate. "There have always been efforts to influence political candidates to take or change positions during a campaign (or afterward), but we've never before had a national campaign create an open platform for mobilizing supporters and then seen a salient chunk of those supporters openly use that platform to challenge the candidate on a policy position."
Key to the new effort are consultants Trevor Lyman and Rick Williams, whose successful online money-raising effort for Ron Paul, the libertarian-leaning Texas congressman, broke records last year. The pair masterminded a "moneybomb" drive called "This November 5th" that brought in an unprecedented $4.2 million in contributions in a single day. A repeat effort in December raised another $6 million for Paul.
Now the pair have built a web page for Accountability Now where opponents of the spy bill can commit in advance to donating money to the PAC. Similar to the Ron Paul drives, netizens can grab Accountability Now badges to place on their blogs, which link back to the fundraising pledge page.
The moneybomb is only one of several techniques, both online and off, that Hamsher's Firedoglake is experimenting with to make offending members of congress feel the anger of their constituents.
Blue America PAC, of which Firedoglake is a part, has already hired Advomatic and Advomatic Laboratories in New York City, to create a VOIP widget that lets voters call their senators ask them what their stance is on the spy legislation, and to urge them to vote for an amendment that would remove the telecom immunity provision.
So far, 1,600 calls have been made using the tool, which launched Wednesday, says Matt Browner Hamlin, Advomatic Laboratories' founder.
Blue America PAC also launched a robocall campaign in late June against House Majority Leader and Maryland Representative Steny Hoyer, who organized the vote for the legislation. And it's run television ads against Reps. John Barrow, D-Ga., and Chris Carney, D-Pa -- the so-called Blue Dog Democrats who pushed for the legislation.
Hamsher says the effort is aimed at Democrats, because that's the party in control of Congress. "They will have the power," she says. "From our perspective, Chris Carney, or a Republican, it doesn't make any difference -- they're both voting bad on a variety of issues. But Republicans have no power, and Chris Carney in the center will.
Using money it has already raised, the group ran a full-page advertisement in The Washington Post on Tuesday with bullet points explaining what's wrong with the pending legislation.
The Senate is expected to follow the House in approving the new spy legislation Wednesday.
Wednesday, July 09, 2008
Hooray for High Gas Prices! 5 Dollar a Gallon Gas fueling rapid switch to electric and hybrid cars. Say Farewell to Big Oil.
Minoru Shinohara, senior Vice President of Nissan Motor Corp., ponders during an interview with the Associated Press at Nissan headoffice in Tokyo, Wednesday, July 9, 2008. Nissan is rapidly forging deals with cities and governments on electric vehicles as soaring gas prices and worries about global warming make the green technology surprisingly appealing, Shinohara said.
TOKYO — Automakers Nissan and Renault will sell electric vehicles in Portugal in 2011 and the allied companies have partnered with the government in an attempt to create a national network of charging stations.
Nissan has said it will sell electric cars globally in 2012, but the technology is still being developed. On Wednesday, Carlos Ghosn, chief executive of the French and Japanese automakers, and Portuguese Prime Minister Jose Socrates said they would work together to raise awareness about the vehicles and try to make them easier to fuel.
Nissan has aggressively pursued deals with cities and governments on electric vehicles, as soaring gas prices and worries about global warming make the green technology more appealing.
Tokyo-based Nissan Motor Co. and partner Renault SA have previously announced deals with Project Better Place, based in Palo Alto, Calif., which promotes electric vehicles, to mass market electric vehicles in Israel and Denmark in 2011.
While other car manufacturers concentrate on fuel cells and hybrids, Nissan is going all out on electric vehicles, promising to sell them globally in 2012, with the first models arriving in Japan and the U.S. in 2010.
"We are feeling more strongly than ever that we must speed up our development of electric vehicles," said Nissan Senior Vice President Minoru Shinohara.
Nissan is also in talks with parking lot and railway companies to set up recharging stations, he told The Associated Press at the company's Tokyo headquarters Wednesday.
The lack of charging stations has made electric cars impractical in the broader market. Skeptics say electric vehicles will stay niche for some time.
Combined with high costs and other technological hurdles, electric vehicles for the broader public are still experimental.
Proponents say tax breaks, preferential highways lanes and other incentives would boost the appeal.
"It's still a very new technology and so much remains to be seen," said Yasuaki Iwamoto, auto analyst with Okasan Securities Co. "It's unlikely people are suddenly going to switch in big numbers from gas-engine vehicles."
Portugal is a global leader in promoting renewable energy, including wind and solar power.
"This agreement with Renault-Nissan will place Portugal also on the front line in terms of sustainable mobility with zero-emission vehicles," Socrates said. "Promoting electric cars in Portugal will reduce our dependence on imported oil and will contribute to a cleaner environment."
Shinohara said Japanese urbanites drive about 12 miles a day _ so the limited range of electric vehicles isn't a problem for daily grocery shopping and other errands.
Nissan has not yet given details of the electric vehicle it has in the works.
Fuji Heavy Industries, which makes Subaru cars, and Mitsubishi Motors Corp. plan to offer electric vehicles in Japan next year. Mitsubishi's electric vehicle travels 99 miles on a single charge, while Subaru's goes 50 miles.
Mitsubishi plans to sell its electric vehicle in Europe in 2010, while tests are planned for the U.S. for 2009. Subaru has not decided on overseas sales plans for its electric vehicle.
Masahiko Otsuka, president of Automotive Energy Supply Corp., a joint venture between Nissan and Japanese electronics maker NEC Corp. to produce batteries for electric vehicles, said Nissan has a history dating back to 1992 of testing lithium-ion batteries for cars.
Lithium-ion batteries are now more common in laptops and other gadgets but can pack more power than the kind of batteries in the gas-electric hybrids made by Toyota Motor Corp.
All major automakers are pushing new technology.
Honda Motor Co. is leasing a fuel-cell vehicle in California which emits only water.
U.S. automaker General Motors Corp. is developing an electric vehicle called the Chevrolet Volt, which it hopes to launch in 2010. Ford Motor Co. has a demonstration fleet of 20 plug-ins.