The Real Dolchstoss

May 24, 2007

Ah irony of ironies, it’s not coming from the feckless Dem Congress (redundancy?), which doesn’t even have the gumption to stab the military juggernaut in the back, but from a country which owes its very existence to recent US military intervention. Kuwait’s act of decoupling its currency from the dollar also has a certain resonance for those who are familiar with the Vietnam War’s effect on the dollar and the financial factors involved in the US’s withdrawal from the previous quagmire in American overseas military history. If one of the only countries in the world which should have a genuine interest a continuing US occupation of Iraq–at least if conventional wisdom is to be believed–finds it can’t even be inconvenienced any more to support the petrodollar, then one really has to wonder just where the questioning of our premises should begin. Incidentally, all this brings to mind the following masterpiece of political theatre:

Rob Newman’s History of Oil

Set aside a solid 45 mins to watch this, because it’s really impossible to stop once you get into it.

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One of the very few I’ve heard who really put it all together. All except the energy/environmental situation, which would only add urgency to his message, but then, no one person can be a universal scholar anymore. The reason it would have fit well into this interview is that, according to much of what I’ve read, intelligence professionals within the US, looking back on the Soviet collapse in hindsight, connected it to falling levels of petroleum production. If you don’t believe that was a possible factor, see the pictures of Baku in Crude Awakening.

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Covering Sen. Mike Gravel’s announcement of a legislative plan to end the Iraq war, Dana Milbank of the Washington Post* wrote:

The notion of Clinton or Barack Obama demanding passage of the Gravel plan was amusing, but no more than Gravel’s other foreign policy views. He asserted that Russian President Vladimir Putin is “much smarter than our president” and said Iran is “not a threat to us.” The United States, he said, should tell Iran “we’re sorry for what we did in 1952. . . . It’ll work like magic.”

Until the SC debate and this announcement, the Gravel campaign was being ignored by the MSM, and now is being cited as comic relief, so I guess we’re right on Mohandas K. Gandhi’s schedule:

First, they ignore you.
Then they laugh at you.
Then they fight you.
Then you win.

Just think about the point the system has reached, when proposition as obvious as the following are considered too hilarious to take seriously within “polite society”: that a) the ostensibly anti-war party (D’s) ought to be using its Constitutional powers to end the war it “opposes” and b) that the leader of a country (Putin of Russia) who, since 2000, has unquestionably improved the strategic and economic position of his nation against all odds is more astute than the leader of a country (Bush of the US) who squandered all his initial advantages and irreparably damaged his country’s previously high standing. Such a system is like a hollow husk, ripe for the first gust of wind to disintegrate it.

I feel a warm breeze coming from the Gulf….

*no link, because I no longer promote malignant tumors within the body politic.

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This development is of immediate relevance for the “media elites”, but may end up being a deeper change than that discussed in Part I. I will begin by briefly reviewing the Gravel story:

1) In spite of having announced his candidacy almost one year before the front-runners, Sen. Gravel remained a complete unkonwn. Sen. Gravel was invited to only the first debate in South Carolina hosted by MSNBC, and none of the subsequent ones run and televised by CNN, and was scarcely mentioned by any of the media prior to the April 26 S.C. debate.

2) After his powerful performance in the first debate, the media covering the event purported to see him as a clown offering comic relief, and one who wouldn’t be seen or heard from again. But thousands of people who had never heard of him before that night went to the ‘net and began promoting him via numerous individual blogs, but also social networking and internet sites where users, instead of proprieters rate and promote content, such as digg. These particularly promoted the videos posted on YouTube by users. The videos then seen and re-promoted, by links, to many more people than would have ordinarily seen any of the debate at all.

3) Some of the more inspired among those among the internet crowd signed a petition to CNN and the organizers of the June 3 debate in New Hampshire to relent and invite Gravel. Eventually, after the petition garnered more than 5 thousand signatures and his website received as much traffic (for a few days at least) as the fully funded candidates, CNN did invite Gravel to the next debate.

And this is not an isolated sequence of events: it seemed that something similar happened with libertarian dissident candidate Ron Paul on the GOP side. What these events portend is a loosening of the grip of the big centralized media, and its replacement by a more distributed, but in some cases, self-directing mass of users. This phenomenon is related to, but distinct from the “netroots”, which are usually thought of as being based on such sites as Moveon.org, Dailykos, and Talking Points Memo. Although such sites in their own way take a chunk of power away from established media conglomerates such as The Times/Washington Post “liberal” axis and the Wall Street Journal/Fox News “conservative” axis (strong caveats are understood about using such labels–but they can’t be helped if one wants to refer to such things succintly), they also are open to the charge, quite justifiably so in some cases, of carrying water for a more established group or ideology–in the cases I have mentioned, the Democratic Party–at the expense of accuracy and broad representation of viewpoints. The social media, being (apprently) the result of a self-organizing “mob” seems to circumvent that problem.

The respect in which the elite is to blame for its own gradual loss of control over the flow of information is obvious, the main source being the systematic shutting out of viewpoints with wide constuencies among the public–or at least, of wide interest to the public–but not in line with the corporate agenda. This has gone hand in hand with the corporate consolidation of the old media, continuing to this moment with Murdoch’s bid to buy the Wall Street Journal. A topical, but clearly related source, is the extent to which they allowed themselves to become shills for government insiders pushing all sorts of dubious claims–now revealed to be false–about the extent and nature of Iraqi weapons programs in 2002. Being revealed now through work such as the Bill Moyers’ series “Buying the War” these flagrant derelictions of duty are having an impact on credibility.

The downsides of this trend are a little less evident than in the Case of I, the Rise of Opposition to the Military-Industrial Complex, but are discernable nonetheless. The first is that people will mistake the sort of modest preliminary victory that can be won by the social media–such as getting a hitherto ignored candidate a little TV exposure–for a substantive victory. Thus, the initial victory will not be followed up by the real-world organizing and in-depth persuasion needed to sway people and change their thought-patterns, and any gain will simply fizzle. In this way, the time spent on promoting ideas via social media may prove to be wasted. The second is that the various well-funded actors with their own agendas will learn how to use and manipulate the social media under the disguise of ordinary users or grass-roots groups. To some extent, this seems to be what occured in some of the “Color Revolutions” that occured in 2004-5 in Russia’s near abroad: Western financed groups and local groups with particular economic interests and agendas posed as citizens’ movements by using the organizing and social networking tools associated with the anti-Communist and anti-Authoritarian revolutions of the early ’90s. I doubt that Americans are any more savvy at avoiding these sorts of feints, but as yet the social media is still not powerful enough in comparison to the established media to make it worthwhile for American corporations to invest the resources needed to manipulate it to their own ends. This is something to watch out for, though.

To follow soon: “Part III: Re-examining the Constitution of 1787”
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The recent events surrounding the presidential campaign of Mike Gravel, though not of earth-shattering importance in and of themselves, encapsulate three trends that, though at the moment still subterranean, promise to burst out into the open in the next few years. All three involve in various ways the diminishing ability of the elite and elite opinion to steer the course of the political process. The elite has primarily its own neglectful or malign actions to blame for each of these trends, for reasons I will point out specifically in each case. On the surface one might expect, because each of these trends are to a large extent initiated by the young and the open-minded, that the leading edge of the Left should have no reason to do anything but rejoice. However, each of these trends also opens up a “Pandora’s Box” that could cut any of several ways in the end, especially if its significance is not appreciated early on.

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Newsboycott has just published my short essay “What makes the cut: two actual examples of media suppression”. Have a click over there and check out their new but rapidly developing site.

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Blogging, Liberian Style

April 29, 2007

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Daily_Talk

Every time I hear of “journalistic courage” in the U.S., I can’t help comparing it to this guy. When you’ve found someone who, without any formal support structure or means of extracting income from it, set up his own chalkboard publishing whatever bulletins he believes to be accurate, even when they offend a local tyrant known for atrocities involving child soldiers, a local tyrant who once ran on the slogan “He killed my ma, he killed my pa, but I will vote for him”–when you’ve found the equivalent of that, then get back to me.

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UPDATE: Apparently CNN has decided to invite Gravel to the June 3 debate after all. Congrats to the blogosphere for bringing this about.

UPDATE II: A much more sympathetic interviewer and a more even-toned performance from Gravel:

Also, one piece of trivia, it’s pronounced “GraVEL” since he is of French-Canadian ancestry.

Rumsfeld Bio

April 25, 2007

Rumsfeld and Saddam, 1983 Rumsfeld book jacket

Two-part interview of Andrew Cockburn (pronounced “Coburn”), author of new Rumsfeld bio, here and here.

Listening to this, I have to wonder what is the difference between people like the VA Tech shooter and the types who have been ruling us for the past 6 years? One is a psychopath and the other a sociopath, I guess–if you like throwing around that sort of terminology.

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Virginia Tech Massacre No Basic Commonsense
News Boycott blog chastising news media organizations for repeatedly airing Cho Seung-hui’s photos and videos

There is an associated petition:

http://www.petitiononline.com/nbcnews7/petition.html

If you are agreement with it, sign and promote!

UPDATED: Link to opinion of an expert on the copycat effect.  The post from the 19th of April is the most relevant.

UPDATED 2: Video created by the people at Newsboycott.