Tuesday, August 24, 2010

The Power of Brevity

My overly wordy rants about the hidden distortions and presuppositions in mainstream media have been put to shame by Jay Rosen's frugal summaries.

His recommendations for four segments on CNN during prime time better express what I have tried to convey over recent months.

Here are his mouth-watering descriptions:

7 pm: Leave Jon King in prime time and rename his show Politics is Broken. It should be an outside-in show. Make it entirely about bringing into the conversation ... people who are outsiders to Beltway culture and Big Media and who think the system is broken. No Bill Bennett, no Gloria Borger, no "Democratic strategists," no Tucker Carlson. Do it in the name of balance. But in this case voices from the sphere of deviance (to) balance the Washington consensus.

8 pm: Thunder on the Right. A news show hosted by an extremely well informed, free-thinking and rational liberal that mostly covers the conservative movement and Republican coalition… and where the majority of the guests (but not all) are right leaning. The television equivalent of the the reporting Dave Weigel does.

9 pm: Left Brained. Flip it. A news show hosted by an extremely well informed, free-thinking and rational conservative that mostly covers liberal thought and the tensions in the Democratic party…. and where the majority of the guests (but not all) are left leaning.

10 pm: Fact Check An accountability show with major crowdsourcing elements to find the dissemblers and cheaters. The week’s most outrageous lies, gimme-a-break distortions and significant misstatements with no requirement whatsoever to make it come out equal between the two parties on any given day, week, month, season, year or era. CNN’s answer to Jon Stewart.

11 pm.: Liberty or death: World’s first news program from a libertarian perspective, with all the unpredictablity and mix-it-up moxie that libertarians at their best provide. Co-produced with Reason Magazine.

Now that is a line-up that could rival Al Jazeera's equivalent, program's like Listening Post, People and Power, Riz Khan One-on-One and Rageh Omaar.

All that would be missing then would be an equivalent to AJE's Witness.

We would finally have an effective antidote to what Ashis Nandy calls "a world where the idiom of dissent is increasingly being defined at the centers of conformity."


Saturday, August 14, 2010

Knock Knock. Hugo's there?


Remember when Hugo Chavez wrinkled his nose from the podium of the United Nations General Assembly and claimed to detect a whiff of sulphur in the room? A sign of the recent presence of the imperial devil in the form of George Shrub (Bush Jr.)?

Three-quarters of the assembly giggled loudly, as was intended. They recognized the Michael Moore or Jon Stewart style of irony. The entire American delegation walked out, however, in what was obviously a rehearsed and planned move. They then launched a ferocious campaign depicting Chavez as some sort of unstable whacko. He must be bi-polar at least, right?

Can you imagine what hemispheric relations might be like if an American President had the presence of mind to join in the laughter and invite Hugo to Washington for some tough minded honest debate? Do you really think the likes of Cuba's Fidel Castro and Brazil's Lula da Silva could spend hours in conversation with an idiot, if Chavez were just that idiot? There must be something more to the fellow than we are led to believe by our mainstream media.

One possible source of additional information, Oliver Stone's new documentary "South of the Border", isn't showing anywhere near me yet. The DVD won't be out until October. Funny, I had no problem getting to see Michael Moore's "Sicko" when it was released. Care to speculate on the difference?

In the meantime, assuming neither Oliver Stone nor Michael Moore are scheduled to read this blog today, I will ask anyone who knows them both to make the following suggestion.

Take one part "Inconvenient Truth' using the format of a TED-like lecture with giant graphs showing the numbers, perhaps with Paul Krugman playing the part of Al Gore; add a zest of man-in-the-street or women talking around a kitchen table interviews to illustrate the realities of life, somewhat the way residents of France did in "Sicko"; now add a double shot of Oliver Stone doing the kind of intimate interview with Paul Volker that he did with Fidel Castro in "Comandante'; juxtapose that segment with Fareed Zakaria facing a panel of three: Michael Moore, Oliver Stone and Jesse Ventura, not as the host, but as the guest for a change, with Fareed on the hot seat to answer questions concerning his own proud capitalistic economic assumptions; and finally, perhaps as a special feature on the eventual DVD release, have Noam Chomsky lay down a voice-over audio track analyzing and restoring the deep structure underpinnings of a good number of the ambiguous statements likely to merge from all the preceding.

Oh, what is the theme for all this you ask?

I suggest the title be 'Confounded Interest' and that the task be to show the role and impact of compound interest on human behaviour. Whether on credit card debt, national and international debt, mortgage debt, or the crowbar wielding friendly neighborhood loan shark.

Oliver, Michael, I dare you. Nobody could do it the way you two could. Jesse is there to protect you.

Don't worry about distribution.

I'll pitch it to Tony Burman for you.


Why Fidel? Why not Lula instead?

Friends are asking why I follow Fidel Castro's blog so faithfully and why people like Oliver Stone are giving the likes of Hugo Chavez any benefit of doubt. Why not Lula da Silva instead, the remarkable President of Brazil?

That is a legitimate question, more subtle than we think.

Is my harping on Fidel naïve or ignorant of reality under that controversial regime?

I certainly hope not. For those who might not know, I speak Spanish fluently and the perspective of Cuba in this blog is based on pretty close interest since 1962.

I am not oblivious to the fact that a significant minority, perhaps even a majority of Cubans are keen for domestic change. The same old faces and political leadership can seem pretty dreary to us after as little as eight or ten years, let alone after 51 years, which is the case in Cuba.

What I still find fascinating in the midst of this disquiet, however, is how insightful old people can become when they no longer need to embellish the truth for tactical effect. They begin to tell it as it is. That is what I am hearing from friends in Cuba who are old enough to remember life before the revolution, some who have supported the revolution, grown fed up with it at times, but still see powerful and truthful elements in its rationale.

Now even Fidel has begun to comment more philosophically on foreign policy at least. Few of us ever expected him to soften because he has been so stridently defensive about his domestic record over the years, but he is surprising us recently with some pretty pithy cracks about his own political naïveté, especially as a proxy during the Cold War.

I think his speech to the National Assembly on August 7th should be taken in that context, as one more in a sequence of recent blogs he's written that differ substantively from anything prior.

The speech was framed as a direct plea to President Obama to deviate from standard military dogma on nuclear confrontation, especially when married to the Bush-Cheney approach to pre-emptive intervention. Fidel pleaded with Obama to explore alternative scenarios that include more third-world and southern hemispheric perspectives.

What seems sincere in Castro these days is his placing such pleas in a context of environmental and historical concern typical of someone who is now looking beyond the immediate, someone considering longer term human and planetary considerations. He is indeed sounding more like an old warrior digging deeper into even his own motives and earlier justifications for the preemptiove use of force.

In a somewhat ironic twist, I think he has been influenced as much by the likes of Lula da Silva and other modern southern leaders as he might have once inspired them.

A whole new generation of leaders has emerged in the southern hemisphere and in parts of Asia that the industrial empire and media have yet to understand and that emerging alternate information channels such as Al Jazeera English and Internet social media are now by-passing.

Yes, Obama recognizes the inherent danger of so many nuclear weapons and he has made efforts to reduce that arsenal. But his most ardent supporters are concerned by the apparent impact on him of the remorseless daily briefings from a Defence establishment permeated by precedent, wealthy vested interests and, most of all, deep secrecy camouflaged from civilian oversight.

Hence the drama over the recent WikiLeaks documents.

The reason WikiLeaks so easily fought off ferocious accusations of betrayal and troop endangerment last week is the sinister and cynical disregard for the truth to which the world grew accustomed during the Nixon and Cheney dynasties in foreign policy. Truth be known, the deception has been pervasive in all imperial regimes and we goof badly by dismissing such allegations as mere neo-con ranting or off-beat whacko conspiracy theory. A case could be made that only Eisenhower and Carter were honest American brokers in the last century

Careful semantic, syntactic and logical analysis of the utterances of our current crop of leaders and their legions of lobbyist sponsors would expose an immense subconscious maze of pre-supposition and deception to which we, the consumers of that propaganda seem oblivious.

That stupor is the cause of my increasignly strident diatribe against our press and commercial massmedia. If this blog has any dominant obsession, it is that our paid language professionals are failing utterly in their duty to expose the underlying presumptions and breaches of logic in the public and democratic dialogue.

The challenge for me in this blog, now that I've identified that as a scope and theme even when I no longer have such an easy target as Lou Dobbs to pick on, is to gradually morph from merely saying the media are perverting democratic dialogue to explicitely demonstrating how they do it.

That is what I aspire to over the next two to three years, drawing examples from local, national and international reportage.

In the interim, placing the contemporary speeches of Fidel Castro side-by-side with those of other world leaders is not a bad place to start given the themes Fidel has decided to highlight in his 'legacy' years.

Monday, August 2, 2010

21st Century Treason - Sins of Omission

It's getting harder and harder to turn back to CBC/ABC/NBC/CBS, CNN, or even BBC after watching the English version of Al Jazeera for a few weeks.

It's not so much the news casts at the top of each hour, although they are a breath of fresh air too. It's the in-depth follow-through documentaries that run from the bottom of each hour that remind us of what journalism used to be like when the news could be bad, yet the reports reassuring in their honesty. Fault Lines, Witness, The Vault, Inside Story, Empire, People and Power, The Rageh Omaar Report, 101 East, Riz Khan's One-on-One.

The only program I can't bear to watch is "Inside Iraq". The host is irritating, obnoxious and shrill to the point of blocking out any meaningful content from the invited guests. (Note: the female anchor of the last two weeks seems an improvement, perhaps even an over correction. She's a little too bland. Not sure whether she is permanent or merely convering for an absence.)

Either way, a week's exposure to AJE will leave you in a state of shock on discovering all the stuff our broadcasters leave out. It's as if a veil were lifted (pardon the horrible pun) to reveal the lies and misinformation we are routinely fed.

I could illustrate the point with examples from each of the above programs covering issues from Iran to East Timor, from Myanmar to Afghanistan, climate, energy, finance, food and pharmaceuticals, from Beijing to Mumbai, then London and finally back to Washington again. Like a fish who remains oblivious to water until it lands on the angler's hook, you would feel like you'd been pulled out into air and then released back into the water again, wondering, "What the hell was that?!"

The most revealing of all is AJE's coverage of the press itself. That is my passion. That is what, in our western media, keeps me burning inside.

It isn't any one incident. It isn't the embroidery. It isn't just the suface assertions we get from our own broadcasters. The shock of a week waching AJE is the devastating contrast between it and the all pervasive fabric of lies about the rest of the world that our own northern media sell us on behalf of their political and commercial sponsors.

How much time have you spent over the last week listening to accounts of Shirley Sherrod being fired? Endless streams about what the NAACP said, what the USDA said, what Barrack Obama is imagined to have said.

None, I repeat, none examined in detail what Ms. Sherrod had actually said or compared it to what the neocon attack dogs said she had said. Not a single mainstream press outlet in all of North America transcribed the two versions, mounted them side by side on the same page, added bright clear highlighting to show the differences, and demonstrated exactly where the liars had altered Ms. Sherrod's speech.

Instead, the very programs that are supposed to critique the media and hold them to a higher standard proceeded to commit the same treason of ommision themselves. With insufferably self-exculpatory tones of tut-tut and oh-my-gosh, they castigated the USDA, the NAACP and the White House for not going to the source, for not exposing the deceivers.

In other words, these mainstream media critics did exactly the same thing themselves!

Neither Howard Kurtz with his clique of like-minded word merchants on CNN's 'Reliable Sources' nor Noel Sheppard billing himself as a 'News Buster' in his 'Media Research Center' bothered to detail the actual crime. Not even the usually reliable Huffington Post. They were too preoccupied with reposting ad nauseam the likes of Naim Saban's vitriol against Oliver Stone.

No, Euro-America's vaunted media critics did nothing but repeat the sin of ommission they decried in everyone else.

They diverted our attention onto derivative incidents, onto circus performers and talking heads, and completely avoided the root cause. The details of what Shirley Sherrod had actually said and the treasonous agenda of the GOP and neocon warriors who edited her into saying something else, were neither emphasized nor explicitly examined.

And in that omission, you have the sine qua non of No We Can't, Never Under Obama, and Siempre Nada, the dreary anthems of the GOP armies and their barely arms length Rush-to-the-Tea-Party-Limbaugh logic vandals.

And why, you might ask, would all these media dilittentes so determinedly avoid covering this root cause?

Because it is the very basis of the entire Euro-American and northern hemispheric media cabal that they do it every day on behalf of their stakeholding business sponsors and they are terrified that we, the great unwashed electorate and consuming public might wake up to how deeply we have been betrayed.

Pick your topic of choice. Any one will do. Public option health insurance, the role of nuclear technology in electricity production, our disappearing aquifers (water tables), the looming water-related violence coming soon to a city near you and, above all, compound interest gathering on debt that is keeping the world's working and middle class people in a state of perpetual employment anxiety in order to perpetuate macro-economic deception.

The mainstream democratic public square in which we are supposed to be able to talk to each other honestly is now broken at its core, poisoned with the bias of its criminally self-centered corporate stakeholders. Howard Kurtz and his carefully chosen little clique of pretend analysts are only rhetorical whores hired to divert our attention away from the underlying deceit into the circus of talking heads and soap suds.

There was a time when I might have expected more of Frank Sesno.

Now I can only recommend AJE's "The Listening Post", hosted by Richard Gizbert, as a partial antidote and urge you to supplement your reading with social media rooted in alternate points of view.

AJE is available in North America over the Internet through Livestation. You can safely download the free Livestation Desktop Player as there is zero garbage attached. Then simply add AJE to your carousel of available channels. There is also a free Wifi App on the Apple iPod and iPad. Finally, if you are lucky, AJE might be available through your cable TV provider, such as Ch 516 on Bell Expressvu in Canada.

If you have any residual doubts about the legitimacy of AJE or wonder about the integrity of those who try to dissuade you from it, I strongly recommend listening to this discussion with its Managing Editor, Tony Burman.