20 April 2008



Two ABC News reporters were criticized for the quality of the debate questions they posed to the two senators competing for the Democratic nomination for the US presidency. Some critics have said the questions were reminiscent of the kind of exaggerations and innuendo typical of "character-assassination" campaigns waged by Republican operatives in other election cycles.

Demonstrators outside ABC-parent Disney's Burbank headquarters carrying signs reading "restore the Fourth Estate" implied the performance was part of an ongoing "dumbing down" of the American press.

Sen. Barack Obama was asked about whether he has personal ties to an individual linked to the Weather Underground, a 1960s radical group that had at times planted bombs. Obama had made the acquaintance of Bill Ayers in the process of community organizing in Chicago, hardly a sign of political weakness or poor judgment, much less an issue for public debate. At best, this sort of inquiry is a "juicy tidbit" for a one on one interview, not fodder for a serious intellectual debate on national issues.

Greg Mitchell wrote for the Huffington Post:
In perhaps the most embarrassing performance by the media in a major presidential debate in years. ABC News hosts Charles Gibson and George Stephanopolous focused mainly on trivial issues as Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama faced off in Philadelphia. They, and their network, should hang their collective heads in shame.
Will Bunch, a blogger for the Philadelphia Daily News, wrote "I am still angry at what I just witnessed, so angry that it's hard to even type accurately because my hands are shaking",adding "that was no way to promote democracy".

In a shocking revelation about how ABC News "crafted" the debate now decried as one of the worst examples of yellow journalism in modern TV history, Bunch reports the network actually sought out one video questioner directly, after having learned of her obsession with the "issue" of whether candidates "believe in the American flag". The network planted her as a character interrogator, playing to perhaps a specific demographic, or obsessively keeping to James Carville's 24-year-old riff on the industrial state with "Alabama" in the middle.

Hence Bunch classing the debate as a "travesty of a mockery of a sham of a presidential debate". The story here is that one of America's major news networks has sacrificed its respectability in a comprehensive and deliberate way in exchange for the opportunity to use a presidential debate forum as a petty tabloid smear chamber.

22 March 2008


Sen. Barack Obama's Philadelphia speech continues to bring new faith to his message of hope and unity. The message has been called "historic" and "presidential", lauded even by conservative pundits as the most important address of the '08 campaign. Observers have speculated widely that his "A More Perfect Union" speech was a tipping point that led to New Mexico governor Bill Richardson's resounding surprise endorsement yesterday.

CNN has reported that as recently as Friday, both Clintons phoned Richardson to ask for his endorsement. He had been spoken of as a likely choice for running mate, should Hillary Clinton become the nominee. In his endorsement of Obama, Richardson called him "a once in a lifetime leader" and called on Democrats to stop fighting among themselves and come together to wage a national campaign under "a new generation of leadership".

The blow to the Clinton campaign is potential severe: Richardson was the rival candidate who was closest to the Clintons, and he made an impassioned case for handing the reins to the popular frontrunnner. He is a friend and watched the Super Bowl with them, but while acknowledging their friendship, he raved about the unique character of Sen. Obama and suggested he would be the most effective and judicious commander-in-chief.

He said in his endorsement address:

My great affection and admiration for Hillary Clinton and President Bill Clinton will never waver. It is time, however, for Democrats to stop fighting amongst ourselves and to prepare for the tough fight we will face against John McCain in the fall.

Meanwhile, the news media are full of reports about the other two candidates either losing ground, or slipping up. Polls show a volatile shift between the top candidates in public opinion, the sands shifting subtly with each new revelation or speech.

Sen. McCain, the "presumptive" Republican nominee, reportedly asserted three separate times this week that Iran (a Shi'a theocracy) was training the group known as 'al-Qaeda in Iraq' (some say a more accurate translation is 'al-Qaeda affiliate of Mesopotamia', a Sunni Arab militant group).

His campaign's defense was a disastrous assertion that the mistake was easy to make and that he has a long career of experience. One of two possibilities arise: he was not thinking clearly and spoke without precise reference to the facts, or he intellectually associates all insurgent groups with the term "al-Qaeda", a lack of nuance that worries policy analysts.

Needless to say, not only supporters of his opponents, but even prominent journalists have said the defense suggests the senator from Arizona is claiming age and fatigue as a defense, hoping that "experience" would be enough to override the fact that he would be the oldest president to begin a first term in the nation's history.

Meanwhile, Sen. Clinton has been feeling increasing pressure from the grassroots of her party as the nation marked the 5th anniversary of the invasion of Iraq, which she supported. Her increasing determination to end the war has led to accusations of switching positions, and her campaign has struggled to persuade that her views have been consistent or her declarations forthright.

Her candidacy has depended heavily on the demographic projections that suggest she will "carry" the Hispanic vote throughout the primaries. But that has not been the case in every state, and Gov. Richardson (the most prominent Hispanic-American politician at the national level) may have done a lot yesterday to warm Obama's candidacy to Hispanic voters.

It was a bad week for Obama as well. The Philadelphia speech won chimes of historic redefining of race issue in America, and polls report overwhelming support for his message, polls projecting the November election outcome are still weakened for Obama in the wake of the firestorm over his former pastor's inflammatory rhetoric.

But perhaps most importantly, if we look at the text and the context of Obama's Philadelphia address, we find that he has effectively raised the bar for his rivals. He continues to campaign, even as both Clinton and McCain are taking the weekend off, and his stature has come more in line, in the public consciousness, with the responsibilities and vision expected of a serving president.

The speech is not merely a sign of leadership, it is a landmark that sets much of the vocabulary for discourse on the subject of race, not merely in the campaign, but in the future direction of American politics. It was a bold if risky move, and it now leaves both Clinton and McCain with little probability of being able to formulate better arguments on the subject.

Washington Post columnist David Broder has written:
What Obama showed in Philadelphia is the potential similarly to inform, educate and inspire people, if he is allowed to fill "the bully pulpit" of the presidency. If that is what people sense, this will indeed make the Philadelphia speech a historic occasion.

19 March 2008



Senator Barack Obama of Illinois, by the slimmest of margins the frontrunner for the Democratic party's nomination for president, yesterday delivered a major policy speech on race and tolerance in America. Major mainstream media were describing the speech, delivered at Philadelphia's National Constitution Center as "Lincolnesque" and reminiscent of Dr. Martin Luther King's "I have a dream" speech.

The comparisons were in part about eloquence, but mainly because the speech spanned American history, evoked Constitutional ideals, and augured a future in which we grapple ably with the burning sword of past injustices, and live as a nation of citizens and not of races. Obama invoked the foundational promise of working toward "a more perfect union", recognizing the "original sin" of slavery and the serious complexities of a society that still struggles to shake off that burden.

On cable news commentary panels, even Republican strategists said the speech was "towering" and "historic". And what Sen. Obama achieved, as a politician, is enviable: he transcended the moment, the race, his own personal situation, and spoke of timeless American aspirations and values.

Perhaps most importantly, he framed the debate in such a way that it will be hard for either John McCain or Hillary Clinton to say anything on the issue of race other than what Sen. Obama laid out in this speech. He left them little room to innovate on the subject, and he "unequivocally disavowed" the inflammatory comments of his former pastor, Rev. Jeremiah Wright.

But the senator from Illinois refused to "disown" his former pastor. He cited the need to understand human beings as human beings, and compared the act of disowning this man who was a leader in his community and who did good and brought hope to many, to disowning the entire community of African Americans who feel disadvantaged by still prominent tensions about race in society, or to disowning his own "white grandmother", who loves him and whom he loves, but who at times had uttered "racial stereotypes that made me cringe".

Sen. Obama also looked to frame the controversy about Wright's incendiary remarks as an issue of whether or not the American people are able to focus on issues of real political significance and work together to effect change:

The fact is that the comments that have been made and the issues that have surfaced over the last few weeks reflect the complexities of race in this country that we’ve never really worked through — a part of our Union that we have yet to perfect.

And if we walk away now, if we simply retreat into our respective corners, we will never be able to come together and solve challenges like health care, or education, or the need to find good jobs for every American.

Politicians and commentators alike recognized the surprising significance of the moment, which stems from the fact that he spoke of realities that may seem obvious and commonplace facts, but what was surprising was to hear a politician of national stature, in a global, televised forum, address such sensitive everyday realities so directly.

With unflinching common sense, the senator explored the real possibility that we as a nation could overcome the cruel realities of a racially divided past, but only if we are willing to face those realities, recognize them, and have the consequent discussion. He reiterated what he has said many times in recent weeks, that he is not "naïve" as some critics allege, that he does not expect absolute unity to stem from merely hoping for it, but that he believes people can come together and find common interest, if they accept one another's differences and diverging interests.

The tone of Obama's speech, at once daring, conciliatory, and empathetic, helped him make the case that while the Constitution was "stained" by its not prohibiting slavery, the virtue of the Constitution was clear in that it laid the framework for abolishing such an evil system, establishing if not in words then in principle the equality of all Americans before the law.

He cited his "unyielding faith in the decency and generosity of the American people" as the foundation of his belief that tensions regarding race and political division can be eased and a moderate coalition can be formed in order to dream that "more perfect union", which he reminds his audience is the perennial and necessary project of American democracy.

17 March 2008


HotSpring.fm :: We are on the verge of a major communications and global economic revolution, in which major media, technological advances, cloud computing and dispersed optimization, adapt to and take over new models for living and producing in human society. The New Scientist magazine reports in its March 15-21, 2008 edition that “web 3.0 will be about making information less free”.

We must, as end-users, content creators, innovators and even pioneers in media and technology, consider that for very serious and transcendent reasons, this cannot be permitted to become true. Web 3.0 must be liberating, and it must expand, not shrink the freedom of information that stems from the First Amendment to the US Constitution, free and open society in general, a free press specifically, and the Internet’s empowerment of the individual.

If we are to be a global society, or a “globalized” society, if we are to have a planetary consciousness, or benefit from the “village” dynamic inherent in global trade and telecommunications, then we must ensure that individual freedoms are not limited by global media powers or by governments who think there is something expedient about limiting media freedoms. When freedom of information is restricted, human beings suffer, in real terms, and economic vitality is slowed and economic resilience damaged. [Full Story]

26 January 2008


Radio Frequency ID chips (RFID) are an increasingly popular technology for commercial and security application. They are used to provide information to those who need to check the provenance of an object or the identity of a person or that person's belongings. "Supply chain efficiency" is the great cause they take on, but their real commercial potential lies in the way they can be used to aggregate information and identify tastes and market trends.

It is believed that RFID will soon be commonly used as a way of assisting marketers in providing "personalized" advertising to people, by matching —for instance— the constant presence of a cereal brand in a home, with that family's address, then sending related information via mail, e-mail or telemarketing. When we sit back to think of the implications, these "tags" could be emitting signals at all times, from quiet corners of our homes, providing invisible voyeurs with a dense fabric of information about our habits, tastes, even reading material.

Wired reports "RFID-enabled refrigerators could warn about expired milk, generate weekly shopping lists, even send signals to your interactive TV, so that you see 'personalized' commercials for foods you have a history of buying. Sniffers in your microwave might read a chip-equipped TV dinner and cook it without instruction." But such tags could combine with other tagged items to provide an all-too-intimate portrait of life in a given home.

For one, commercial items may be linked to credit cards or bank cards, jeopardizing the security of these vital accounts, and putting consumers at enhanced risk of identity theft. They might also facilitate the harvesting of time stamps, in which case information about one's movements and schedule would be scooped up along with other data (though in most cases, this information would be useless white noise).

Governments could use the technology as a way to gain access to information that would traditionally be subject to Constitutionally mandated judicial warrants and warranted searches. The slide away from evidence-based prosecution (in which evidence must be available before personal materials are seized), could jeopardize the basic liberties on which a free system is based.

Corporate-government collaboration in the area of in-home-spying is not fantasy: reference the NSA wiretapping program, which violated federal legal constraints by not using warrants, and the complicity of major telecoms in carrying out the illegal wiretapping, which allegedly affected millions of innocent citizens.

Also according to Wired, "With tags in so many objects, relaying information to databases that can be linked to credit and bank cards, almost no aspect of life may soon be safe from the prying eyes of corporations and governments, says Mark Rasch, former head of the computer-crime unit of the U.S. Justice Department."

There are many reassuring words put out by the institutions that want to implement these technologies, often major distribution networks or chain stores. For instance, the claim is often made that privacy is not under threat, because most RFID chips for commercial uses will carry only item-specific data, like a bar-code does, and would not be able to identify the consumer personally.

But, the US Government Accountability Office found in a 2005 report that "once a tagged item is associated with a particular individual, personally identifiable information can be obtained and then aggregated to develop a profile". So, while corporations may have a vested interest in keeping customer data private, the government may find the more intrusive applications of the technology a convenient way to circumvent important Constitutional procedures regarding personal documents, information and property.

25 January 2008



The potential for broad-scope "electronic agents" —preprogrammed service aggregators and self-organizing databases with proactive marketing capability—, aiding in everyday information-related activities, will require a new security standard to prevent identity theft, which could become one of the gravest threats to economic performance and individual liberty.

Digital IDs will have to be maintained through unbreakable private information management systems, entirely parallel to and separate from the information actually sent, which will behave as a single identifying set of characteristics for a given internet user, when ID is called for. [Full Story]

09 January 2008



AT&T is proposing the implementation of new filtering technologies "at the network level" that would essentially interrupt in a definitive way the public's freedom to access online content. The concept known as 'net neutrality' refers to consumers and netizens' ability to freely gain access to any site, paid or unpaid, without major telecommunications companies programming access as they do with cable television.

The movement against net neutrality has been spearheaded by giant internet service providers (ISPs) like AT&T and Verizon, who want to profit from permitting consumers access to specific sites. They already charge for end-user access and for content-providers' access, and they charge more if you want higher speeds (bandwidth). Now they seek to ensure that freedom of access be impeded, in order to allow them to manipulate access and information in order to further line their pockets with a medium they did not develop, did not fund, and have not produced. [Full Story]

08 November 2007


Pakistan's president, Gen. Pervez Musharraf, has signaled his willingness to resort to force to put a stop to protests against his exercise of power, suspending the constitution, rounding up opposition leaders, judiciary officials, human rights activists, and saying democracy will be restored upon his decree. Several days into a martial law decree, protests are mounting and police violence against demonstrators shows no signs of abating.

Opposition leader Benazir Bhutto has called on Musharraf to hold elections as scheduled in January, to step down as military chief and to restore the constitution and the judiciary. She has said she will stage mass demonstrations in Lahore, then march with thousands of supporters across the country to Islamabad to demand his resignation if the rule of law is not promptly restored. [Full Story]

07 October 2007


Flag on the lapel... the quality of debate in American political punditry has reached the near absurd, when months before any primary vote, nationally syndicated columnists and commentators on one of the most serious shows in political analysis attempt to assess whether or not a candidate is 'ready' based on the unserious question about wearing a flag on his suit lapel.

In examining the question of a 'flap' involving Senator Barack Obama and a television interview in Iowa, commentators on ABC's This Week with George Stephanopolous discussed whether the senator's response was adequately politicized. It was actually suggested that he was 'not ready' for the national stage because he did not craft a glitzy lie when asked about taking off the lapel flag he had added after 9/11.

Interestingly, his response was good political salesmanship: he detailed his belief that it was more patriotic to talk about the ideas he had for the nation than to cover up an unimaginative posture with a simple visual effect. He answered that for him the flag on the lapel was a kind of deceit at precisely a time when he felt it was tasteless to engage in such showmanship.

24 September 2007



Last week, a journalism student attending a speech by Sen. John Kerry (D-MA), at the University of Florida, was cuffed, electrocuted and detained by police while posing a series of hard questions to the senator. He asked the 2004 presidential candidate why he conceded the 2004 election "on the day" when there were reports from several states of voter suppression. He went on to ask why Kerry does not push to impeach Bush for the Iraq war, and to prevent war with Iran, then finishes with a third question about whether Sen. Kerry was "a member of the same secret society as the president".

Police abruptly surrounded the student, before he could finish and while Sen. Kerry was beginning to answer. Sen. Kerry was heard faintly saying "That's all right, let me answer his question", but police ignored his request. As the student cried out "what did I do?" and "please help me!", police wrestled him to the ground, handcuffed him, then while he was pinned down, unarmed, under several officers, electrocuted him multiple times with a "Taser" device, designed to incapacitate violent or dangerous armed aggressors. [Full Story]

09 August 2007



The concept of 'net neutrality' refers to the current state of affairs in the free democracies of the world, where those who control the physical infrastructure of the Internet are not allowed to police its content or to charge for provider-user access. It is a vital ingredient in the make-up of the Internet, because it guarantees the freedom of information that makes the web so useful to free society and so valuable to those who do well what works in that open environment.

But the US House of Representatives last year voted to end net neutrality with the COPE Act (Communications Opportunity Promotion and Enhancement). The language of COPE would permit major telecommunications companies to control what content their subscribers would be allowed to see. It would allow them to charge content-providers for 'visibility', or for speed of bandwidth, favoring not the most interesting material or the most thorough of reporters, but rather the wealthiest corporations in the media game.

The result would be: independent voices would be nearly stamped out by major players; bloggers would not be able to compete with major sites like Yahoo! or MSN, which would (one imagines) easily be able to pay the extra 'bandwidth access' fees the telecoms would assess; information would suffer from a 'mainstreaming' effect, whereby all prominent sites routinely feed the same language, taken from the sames sources, into the same type of news content, marginalizing more analytical or academic materials; the Internet would belong to the ISPs and not to its users, be they content-creators or end-users.

Sen. Joe Biden (D-DE) has pointed out in hearings on the Senate floor that the 'Bell companies' had "literally nothing to do with" creating the internet. AT&T even enjoy the unique distinction of refusing to participate in its creation. They already charge at both ends of the Internet experience: both end-users and content-providers have to pay access fees to have a connection to the world wide web, which, incidentally, has been the most profitable area of the telecom sector over recent years.

The direct effect of any legislation permitting the currently prohibited practice of stratifying bandwidth to direct pre-paid content to more users would be to 'bottleneck' the free press. The First Amendment to the US Constitution specifies that: "Congress shall make no law [...] abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press..." Any law permitting the constraint of the freedom of access of people connecting to the Internet to information available across its fibers would be a very direct abridging of the freedom of speech and of the press.

The Internet has allowed the 'press', i.e., all media whereby information is distributed from those in the know to the People, to expand its freedom to unprecedented levels. This has been good for all involved, has helped involve ordinary citizens in the political process, has helped create unimaginable profits for business, has created a new digital economy where freedom of information is a basic foundational component. To create an Internet bottleneck, where all traffic is partitioned into the (minority) high-priced high-speed service and the (vast majority) marginal, slower-access fibers, is to squeeze the vast new digital media culture into a space that cannot adequately serve its needs.

Net neutrality is the only way we can know that there are not more dirty tricks being played by political figures whose ideas we do not share, the only way we can ensure that research that is helpful to all people, but is poorly funded, be available to those in a position to use it for the good, the only way we can be sure that information which would not fit the predetermined 'official' chronicle of events be able to surface and play its necessary role in public life.

In short, without net neutrality, the Internet is just cable television with a very limited visual landscape and a slower pace. And cable television suffers from one fatal flaw: everything is bought and paid for, leaving nearly zero room for any content of a strictly humanitarian or civic nature. A free society needs that information to exist, and ours has not only created the platform to allow for it inexpensively and on a vast scale, but we have adjusted to the digital realm in such a way that we now require the Internet to maintain that type of information flow. [s]

02 August 2007



Controversial media tycoon Rupert Murdoch, through his company Newscorp, has reportedly persuaded the Bancroft family, which holds a controlling interest in the financial company Dow Jones, to sell the firm for $5.6 billion, giving him control of the Wall Street Journal newspaper. Until now, there had been opposition from within the Bancroft family, based on concerns Murdoch would distort the editorial culture and diminish the Journal's reputation for journalistic independence.

Murdoch has reportedly employed a no-pressure method of persuasion, raising the offer, and giving time for the editorial environment of the Journal to express and debate all competing views on the matter. He has reportedly assured the current ownership and board of Dow Jones that he will not interfere with the editorial choices of the Wall Street Journal. [Full Story]

29 July 2007



I was amazed to see an article entitled "Strong U.S. economy helps slow drop in world markets", knowing that the dollar is falling, people are struggling to make ends meet, we're constantly hearing about bankruptcies on the rise, and the housing market is, well, in free-fall, with major lenders under investigation for lending-to-loot. The story was based on figures reported by the US Commerce Department, which had just reported (Friday) that the "US economy" (ostensibly, GDP) had grown by 3.4 % in the 2nd quarter of 2007, even as world markets looked down a steep slope due to fears of a global credit crisis.

I had just spoken to a friend whose husband and father work in real estate, who complained of the poor state of things, and the impossibility of selling anything that had increased in value in recent years. Just after seeing the story, I spoke to a financial professional who expressed surprise, telling me his assessment was that GDP could not have been far above 1.5 %, if taken as an annual measure. We discussed the tendency of federal agencies, over the past several years, to issue such reports, then some weeks later to (much less visibly) publish "revisions", normally cutting positive figures in half. [Full Story]

09 October 2006



1. The problem as such

The foundation of a free society is a press with the freedom to criticize instruments of power and influence and to reveal wrongdoing as it actually takes place. War is not a sufficient reason to institute a system of broad censorship criteria or to rein in the news media, as if they posed a direct threat to the wellbeing of the nation. But increasingly, it appears that American news media are intolerant of facts as such, waiting for members of the government themselves to come forward with complaints.

The film 'Iraq for Sale', a documentary by director Robert Greenwald, "tells a depressingly familiar tale of corporate corruption and war-profiteering in Iraq", according to the Guardian newspaper. Greenwald has made a career speaking out against corruption, and war profiteering is simply the ugliest face of a problem that seems at times too widespread to even begin to address in the normal news media.

Greenwald's films have won awards and acclaim but have had a significantly difficult time getting distribution in the United States, where he has taken on criminal or unscrupulous behavior by Fox News, Wal-Mart, Enron and disgraced former House majority leader Tom DeLay, as well as manipulation and fraud in relation to the 2000 election. The problem with Greenwald's films is that they tackle a specific group of interests, and the facts they relay to the viewing public are all-too-inconvenient for those interests.

In this case, Greenwald shows a system of corrupt management of contracts for military and reconstruction projects in Iraq, apparent theft of huge sums, running into the billions of dollars, and what appears to be a system set up precisely to facilitate this kind of behavior.

It is controversial only because there has been no full and transparent official investigation of the allegations; the evidence presented is all available through major news media, and Greenwald's work has been to gather the information in one document, which in this case happens to be a film. The result has been that, lacking an official allegation of widespread corruption, there appears to be little interest in major distribution across the US, even though recent years have shown a clear trend toward commercial viability of critical documentaries.

So, Greenwald gets shut out. In principle, it is not important that we know how or why. What can be said by those who have seen his work is that it is an effort to convey fact, as such, and then to frame those facts within the larger story of endemic corruption. This does not mean they are films with a political slant, nor does it mean the United States should become a country where only a slant toward the official story should be considered objective.

The conservative movement has been creeping toward an overwhelming hold on the official media story in American politics, using talk radio, vicious attack ads, often irrelevant in nearly every way to the individual they attack, and disinformation in the national news media, to alter the public discourse.

There is still an unresolved accusation that evangelist Pat Robertson used conflict diamonds trafficked to terrorist organizations to help fund his media empire, known first of all for its fundraising, as well as for prayer vigils calling for the death of Supreme Court justices, commentaries fomenting racial paranoia and claims the 9/11 attacks were divine punishment for a degenerate society.

The effect of this intense distortion on US news media has been a departure from the core work of locating and relaying the truth. As the Guardian puts it, this campaign against objectivity "won the war against reality a long time ago in the United States — and reality may no longer be in any condition to stage a comeback".

The US has a long and fabled tradition of modern journalism, creating many of the standards used the world over for measuring integrity and objectivity. It has the First Amendment to the Constitution, which empowers the press to challenge government at the highest levels at any time and on any issue, without any sort of official interference permitted, according to the choices of the editors and the reporters, regardless of how inconvenient it may be for those in power.

It is, then, urgent that the American people be able to see reporting that is acclaimed not for its political value, but for the weight of its reporting, and the truths it brings to light. A lack of access to such reporting, whether that trend is intentional or not, creates a distortion of lived experience and a common perception that there is more truth in the words of those in power than in the words of those who actually study the meaning of their acts. That sort of situation erodes the very ability of a democracy to function.

2. The Fallujah story

In November 2004, CNN viewers were treated to a colorful, spliced array of video from the 'Battle for Falluja', where in place of desperate screams, human agony and rapid automatic fire into private homes, viewers heard military theme music, designed to give the idea of a produced re-enactment of World War II heroism. It marked an incredible departure from CNN's traditional self-styled image of fact-gathering, and instant relay of vital, even when shocking, "real-time" information.

The screen was blanketed with colorful, even glitzy graphics, shimmering three-dimensional letters, a visual feast promised, in a sense, and the footage edited to show American soldiers behaving responsibly and heroically, as if that were the whole truth. This, despite Fallujah being one of the most confusing, brutal and bloody conflicts of the war. CNN brought the battle right to viewers' living rooms, but refrained from showing bodies torn apart, children on stretchers, or landmarks bombarded.

The effort to control the image of the war was evident, whatever the motive. Also evident is the fact that the Pentagon's increasingly well-known and well-established system of censoring reports on the war would have no problems showing what CNN produced for that landmark report.

CNN rejected in that purported documentary footage the very concept of objective reporting, and it is not a stretch to say that the theme music, which actually played while shots were being fired on screen, was a real insult to the soldiers themselves, who live and suffer the horrors of war first-hand.

CNN's online reporting, however, is more formal and more objective. For instance, in reporting on the level of success or strategy, CNN reported "American forces have pounded Falluja for months in an attempt to root out insurgents. U.S. warplanes, including AC-130 gunships, bombarded targets in recent days to weaken insurgent positions".

Their online gallery of scenes from the field also includes an image captioned as "U.S. Army doctors in Baghdad work to stabilize a 4-year-old with shrapnel injuries evacuated from Falluja", during the same period where the suspiciously over-produced battle footage was running on TV.

And, in the first days of the most intense combat in Fallujah, CNN did report that an "Iraqi official" deserted US forces after being given access to the battle strategy, but the report is dampened by military assertions that being a Kurd, he likely deserted in order to return home, having no known ties to the city or its insurgent leaders.

3. Politkovskaya: a crisis situation

In Russia, on Saturday, the 54th birthday of Vladimir Putin, the nation's increasingly authoritarian president and former spy director, the most acclaimed investigative journalist in the country, and Putin's most vocal critic, was shot dead inside an elevator in the building where she lived.

Anna Politkovskaya had just announced two days earlier that she was planning to reveal in an article, due to print on Sunday, proof that Chechen PM and Putin protegé Ramzan Kadyrov was involved in a kidnap and torture case. Kadyrov is controversial and has long been considered responsible for abuses in Chechnya, and had just turned 30, the age required to be appointed as Chechen president.

The Scotsman reports Politkovskaya "has repeatedly accused [Kadyrov] of running the province like a gangster fiefdom with systematic abuses ignored by Moscow in return for him keeping Islamic fighters on the back foot." The same report also suggests she had enemies throughout the "Russian security apparatus", having to flea to Austria in 2001, after learning that "a police commander she had written about was planning to assassinate her".

In 2004, on her way to cover the tragedy in Beslan, where hundreds of civilians died, she was drugged, putting her into a coma; she woke up later in a hospital, and eventually recovered. Mr. Putin's Russia has never been entirely safe for journalists, but attacks and killings are mounting. The murder of Anna Politkovskaya is only the most high-profile and flagrant example of a contract killing to silence a prominent and critical voice.

The result is that supporters, including journalists, human rights activists and ordinary citizens are reportedly massing in Pushkin Square, organizing a vigil and holding up signs calling for the prosecution of any official involved, accusing the Kremlin of undermining democracy and "destroying the press".

Politkovskaya had written in her recent book that Vladimir Putin, who has filled his government with current and former KGB operatives (an estimated 12 times as many as in the 1980s Soviet Union), has turned Russia's fledgling democracy into a dictatorship. The Sydney Morning Herald reports today that "Politkovskaya was the 12th journalist to die in a contract-style killing since Vladimir Putin came to power in 2000, said the US-based Committee to Protect Journalists".

The newspaper for which she worked, Novaya Gazeta, is mounting its own investigation, and one of its chief investors has offered a $1.25 million reward for her killers' capture. Poltikovskaya was known for her depth of investigation and for providing evidence of the abuses and corruption she reported. As such, the official state investigation, according to police, will also focus on her "professional activities", presumably meaning it would examine targets of her reporting as possible suspects.

Her reports were dangerous precisely because they were well-documented and pointed to the facts that demonstrate the accusation. Reporters Without Borders (RSF) has called for the staging of a rally outside the Russian embassy in Paris, where RSF is based, condemning the journalist's murder. A statement from the press freedom organization said "Her condemnation of state terror in Chechnya and her unwavering commitment to press freedom made her a beacon of independent journalism in Russia".

Anna Politkovskaya's death is a sign of the precarious position of serious journalists in many parts of the world, and part of a disturbing trend in recent years in which violence against journalists has steadily risen on a global scale. The Iraq war has seen a disturbingly high number of journalists seriously injured or killed, even while in their hotel rooms and/or fired upon by coalition forces. In the Philippines, the kidnap and disappearance of local journalists in remote areas has escalated amid a trend apparently tied to politicians seeking to silence corruption allegations.

On 3 October, just 4 days before Ms. Politkovskaya was killed, Reporters Without Borders expressed "concern about the health of Permsky Obozrevatel photographer Vladimir Korolyov, who was arrested on 13 September just after being treated for a heart attack, and was questioned without his lawyer being present. The charge against him was 'illegally gathering and publishing information about the local police.'"

Ultimately, any society must make a deliberate choice as to whether it supports the freedom of the press that reveals and records the truth of what is lived in that country. A free society requires that the press have this freedom, for the sake of a free market of ideas and for the sake of the liberty of the individual to protect the human sphere from the arbitrary rule of the state. [s]

18 September 2006



Until 12 days ago, the Bush administration maintained that there were no secret CIA-run "black-sites", extralegal prison camps where accused terror suspects were held incommunicado and beyond any judicial process. On 6 September, Pres. Bush admitted to constructing and managing the prison system through the CIA, and now his government is demanding that Congress sanction a system which circumvents Constitutional law and permits "alternative" methods of coercive interrogation, presently banned under international law.

If the US Senate is persuaded to permit this re-interpretation of Article 3 of the Geneva Conventions, to permit the administration to impose methods tantamount to torture in order to obtain confessions and evidence from terror suspects, not only will US military personnel face a vastly more grave danger of such treatment themselves, but a fundamental element of American democracy will be eroded: that principle by which the rule of law and due process, not executive fiat, governs the treatment of prisoners of war and determines their guilt or innocence.

It cannot be overstated that a departure from the legal principle that only through open and fair judicial proceedings —where no prosecutorial abuse has been imposed on the accused or on the process for adjudication— can we faithfully know the final truth of an alleged criminal act, is to in fact oppose, in principle, in law and in practice, the democratic ideals on which the United States Constitution is founded. [Full Story]

18 August 2006



A federal judge in Detroit ruled early yesterday that Pres. Bush's NSA surveillance program, which uses wiretaps implemented with no judicial oversight, is unconstitutional. The ruling strongly enforced the point that there are "no powers not created by the Constitution" rejecting the AG's claim that the Congressional Authorization for the Use of Military Force (in Afghanistan) as a legal platform for sweeping new domestic powers.

Judge Anna Diggs Taylor specified that because there are "no powers not created by the Constitution" available to the president, "all 'inherent powers' must derive from that Constitution". This specifically takes issue with the attorney general's much criticized counsel suggesting the president can derive expansive new prosecutorial powers from laws specifically enacting Constitutional processes designed to permit overseas military action. [Full Story]

18 June 2006


Rep. Brad Miller (D-NC) is to introduce an amendment to legislation currently under debate, which would restrict the executive branch's ability to gag scientists, manipulate their findings or demote those who disagree with official policy. The legislation would also require that scientists appointed to investigatory panels be selected for their credentials, not their political views. Similar legislation is pending before the Senate.

The new legislation is an effort to prevent the executive branch from covering up or re-shaping scientific findings that do not match its preconceived political strategies. It also seeks to protect scientists who blow the whistle on government missteps or past scientific misconceptions. [Full Story]

25 May 2006



The human space is fluid, adaptable, sensitive to evolving circumstance. This is why democracy is the only legitimate form of government. The identity of groups, or for that matter of individuals is not implacable, nor is it absolutely relative. It follows the vicissitudes of the human health and mind, and requires sincere dialogue with the other in order to reach its fullest potential.

The push to establish a single national language can only be sustained on the basis of a number of false premises. We will explore seven such lies and misperceptions here, all of a particular sort, having to do with a way of rationalizing one's aversion to difference or to change. And, in each case, it is fairly easy to illustrate how the lie works against the interests of both a democratic society and American tradition itself.

1. The first key false premise is that there is an irrevocable danger to one's identity, one's security, one's community and the integrity of one's culture, if confronted with difference, if —to use the logic of the open market— one is forced to compete in the realm of ideas.

This is not only patently untrue, as will be shown in the enumeration of the other misperceptions that provoke xenophobia, it requires that we reject both American history and the values of a democratic society. American society has never been uniform, has always had to find ways to bring harmony among disparate groups and from the Constitution forward has sought to defend the rights and the role of minorities in society.

During the Second World War, the most decorated division was comprised largely of Japanese Americans from the Pacific Northwest and Native American tribes have lent soldiers, code-readers and specialists to all the wars since then.

E pluribus unum, the national motto, meaning 'of the many: one', has long been interpreted not as a call to flatten and evacuate the richness of an immigrant and pioneer culture, but to harness it, to make a more vibrant and adaptable continent-wide market, rich in ideas, abilities, distinctive methods and innovations.

2. The second basic untruth to examine is that government sanction of a national language leads to greater unity and a stronger uniform sense of national identity. First, it's worth referencing the brief glimpse of American history above and the words of great leaders who defended the idea of a potent national character, stemming from the global origins of the US population, to see that this is not even the goal of American society.

But more importantly, there are clear examples that show that imposed uniformity does not bring a healthy sense of national identity. France has a national one-culture policy that proclaims French the national language and requires that immigrants assimilate seamlessly into that one culture, leaving behind the trappings and traditions of their homelands.

Children are forbidden from wearing culturally specific clothing in schools and the 31 other languages indigenous to France are simply ignored by the government as a matter of cultural policy. Foreign langauges spoken widely in people's homes, like Arabic, Berber, Lao and Vietnamese, are relegated to non-French status and communities that maintain close ties to their family culture often find themselves bunched into ethnic ghettoes.

The result of this one-language policy has been constant and oppressive tension leading to the near total isolation of communities lacking the resources or the opportunity to integrate into the larger officially French culture, despite being French-born for one, two or three generations.

The explosive tensions promoted by this policy, and reinforced by the tacit discrimination it appeared to permit, led eventually to last November's riots, which began in largely multigenerational immigrant ghettoes in the northern Paris suburbs and spread quickly to 20 such suburbs and eventually 70 cities across the country and into neighboring countries.

The French interior minister further inflamed tensions by suggesting that the young men involved were by nature "scum" and that he would deport everyone who was accused of participation, ignoring the proportion of French citizens involved, his view obviously obscured by racial considerations. He further pledged a comprehensive purge of immigrants; the one-culture policy fueled this irrational xenophobia, directed at communities invited into French society during the post-WWII period of rebuilding.

So, two evident problems with this lie of a sole unifying language: the declaration of a single culture does not erase cultural diversity —for this reason Europe pressured Turkey to eventually recognize its Kurdish minority, which it had officially labeled an historical fiction—, and in the case of Paris, most of the "immigrant" youths were French born.

It is not the difference in culture that creates cross-cultural tension, but the refusal of the majority to accept that their nationality is not diminished or degraded by the presence of people who think and behave differently, but who also identify with that larger national identity.

3. A third major false premise of the English-only movement is the belief in some sort of past golden age in which English was the sole unifying language, spoken by all and to the exclusion of all others. This is not only untrue —the gold rush of 1849 brought not only easterners to northern California, but also communities of adventurous emigrants from China and east Asia—, it is utterly ridiculous in its denial of historial reality.

Of the more than 300 languages currently spoken in the United States, at least 154 are indigenous languages, which predate the arrival of European colonists five centuries ago. Of those native languages still spoken inside the territory of the United States, about half are endangered, 7 have only 1 fluent speaker, and 42 have 10 or fewer speakers. [Full Story]

17 May 2006



Historian and expert NSA researcher Matthew Aid has told Salon.com that he believes it will be revealed in time that Internet service providers and cellphone companies also cooperated with the NSA spying and data mining programs. He offered no proof, but cited past examples of NSA overreaching and the key fact that the article exposing the collaboration of 3 major telecoms failed to explore the complicity or innocence of cable, cellular and Internet companies.

Aid is writing a comprehensive history of the NSA and has sources inside the agency, past and present. He noted that 30 years ago, as the nation was marking its bicentennial celebrations, the NSA scandal of the day was Project Shamrock, investigation of which had revealed that Western Union and other telephone and telegram companies had been passing information and content of communications to the agency, every day, for more than 3 decades. [Full Story]

02 January 2006



A contract is legally binding only when: all signatories freely and voluntarily agree to its provisions; all provisions are themselves legal; none of the provisions is inherently unreasonable or deceptively worded. Neither contracts nor "terms and conditions" including indemnities disclaimers, can be classified as legislation. They do not make or construct legal limits by themselves.

Obvious as this may seem, it is a necessary introduction to the problem of the trade in personal information and "soft surveillance". Another vital piece of information is the Fourth Amendment to the US Constitution, which ensures "The right of the people to be secure in their persons, houses, papers and effects" and that such barriers cannot be breached except by judicial warrant, brought after providing evidence of "probable cause". [Full Story]

The Global Intercept

Project for Excellence in Journalism (PEJ) - Understanding News in the Information Age