Number 500 January 18, 2012




Normally I do the Year in Review at the end of the year I'm reviewing. But I wanted to finish the Iraq series, and that series seemed to have a mind of its own, which took it into the new year. I sometimes feel like I have little control over how these things get written. Even though I appear to be the one writing them. A mystery. I'm still trying to publish it for larger distribution. Let me know if you have any ideas.

In any case, I seem to have come down with some sort of flu or cold or something, so if this Year in Review is a bit incoherent, that's why. I hope to be fully recovered in a few days, as I can hardly wait to get going on the items that are on the agenda for the next Notes!

As far as the year 2011, here are some numbers: I published about 87,000 words in Nygaard Notes last year, taking up about 195 pages. That continues an upward trajectory that began the previous year, when I published 80,000 words, which in turn was more than the 70,000 words I published in 2009. In 2011 you received 30 issues of the Notes, most of them the "regular" size of about 2,000 words. The rest were what I call "Double Issues," which are not really double but at least 3,500 words, sometimes more.

What was in these 30 issues? Well, that's what the 2011 Nygaard Notes Year in Review is all about. So, grab a cup of coffee or tea and kick back to relive the glory that was the past year in the pages of the Notes.

In case you didn't notice, this issue is Nygaard Notes #500. I think it's quite remarkable that a radical and independent journal of news and analysis has published 500 issues. And it's still going strong, thanks to you!



The 2011 Nygaard Notes Year in Review

IN JANUARY I discussed the issue of "property." What it is, what it is not, and the huge disagreement about what it is and what it is not. This series—which I was calling the Social Wealth Series—careened all over the place, from a Guatemalan town called Chichicastenango to Papua New Guinea to the White Earth Anishinabe reservation in what is now Minnesota. I mentioned John Winthrop, the first Governor of the Massachusetts Bay Colony in 1630, and Carlos Slim, the richest man in the world in 2011. I quoted Lewis Hyde, Lawrence Lessig, and John Locke. I ended by discussing the huge current issue of Internet Neutrality, asking "Should everything—including the Internet—be the 'property' of someone, and its use dictated by 'the market'? Or is there another way, a way that most USAmericans have never considered?"

THEN CAME FEBRUARY, which I started out by discussing the oddly-connected issues of copyright law and taxation before resuming the Social Wealth Series. The only thing is, I decided to rename it The Commons Series. I said that "The Commons is the realm of non-owned things, both tangible and intangible." The idea of The Commons connects all kinds of issues, from taxation and copyright, to treaty rights and pollution, to the Arab Spring and the idea of "ownership" itself. I talked about all of that, then gave a million or so links to places that are acting to build a more commons-based society. Remarkably, as of this writing all the links are still functional!

Also in February I started talking about the little-known crisis that is the critical shortage in the U.S. of prescription drugs, including cancer drugs. I would return to this issue later in the year.

Most publications talk at the end of the year about The Year's Top News Stories. Nygaard Notes finally got around to it IN MARCH last year. But that's partly because I offered a completely different way to come up with the Top Stories. I said that we could define The Year's Top News Stories by considering how effectively they help us understand the history that we are in the process of making. I suggested that we could think of the history of the past year as a book with chapters that are based on some major themes that people in the future might want to know about. The Chapters might be based on themes like: Inequality and Resource Allocation; The Decline of the U.S. Empire; The State of U.S. Democracy; Climate Change/Humans and the Environment; The Evolving State of Capitalism; and Social Health. Then I explained how it might look if our media thought this way.

At the end of March I reflected on the ambiguous relationship of the United States with "democracy," in a piece called "The Kind of Democracy That We Want to See." That phrase was uttered, in a most ominous way, by Secretary of State Hilary Clinton. This led me to talk about the U.S. Empire, a theme I've been revisiting periodically for a couple of years now.

I kicked off THE MONTH OF APRIL with a typically-impossible-to-summarize Stroll Through the News With Nygaard. I'll just reprint the titles of the pieces for now: "Wonks, Nerds, and Corporate Media"; "Front-Page Big Lie in the War On Terror"; "Afghan War Extended, No One Notices"; and "A Kind of a Standard Routine."

At the end of April I took a look at military spending, looking at the mind-numbing waste and fraud associated with Pentagon contracts, but also just the sheer amount of resources we devote to killing, and how the media chronically mis-report the dynamic that keeps it all going.

In THE MERRY MONTH OF MAY I published four issues of the Notes, covering quite a variety of subjects. So many that I'll just basically list them here:

  • I explained what "progressive taxation" really means, and gave a bunch of resources to find out about how progressive or regressive are various states when it comes to taxes;
  • I reported on the fact that some high-ranking members of the Catholic Church have been spying for the United States. As the New York Times reported, some Wikileaks cables they got their hands on "show the Catholic Church to be deeply involved in local politics worldwide and a useful source of information for American diplomats."
  • I reported on the efforts by the drug giant Pfiser to blackmail the Attorney General of Nigeria, where Pfizer had conducted illegal drug trials on Nigerian children—with deadly results.
  • I took a look at the stirrings of democracy in Egypt, and why the New York Times seems to consider them "alarming."
  • I reported on some war atrocities committed by U.S. soldiers in Afghanistan, and the frantic public relations carried out by the Pentagon in response.
  • I offered an article about so-called "Voter ID" laws. Some 15 states already have such laws, and more are considering passing them. Better known as "voter suppression" laws, there is a movement afoot to put them in place in as many states as possible. This is about as naked a form of racism as we have in the post-Jim Crow United States. Maybe we should call it James Crow, since it seems so much more "respectable" than poll taxes. I plan to do a number of articles on this in 2012.
  • In the wake of the killing of Osama bin Laden in May, I analogized the War on Cancer to the War on Terror, saying that "Some people with cancer end up dying not from the cancer itself but as a result of the toxic treatments employed to fight the cancer. And many of the 'treatments' the U.S. has employed in the wake of the September 11th terror attacks are proving to be highly toxic as well."
  • In the very last issue on the last day of May I introduced "The Budget You've Never Heard Of," which is the so-called "People's Budget." Introduced by the Congressional Progressive Caucus, this proposal was, and continues to be, ignored by the agenda-setting media in the U.S. But it's still there, and I hope to report more on it in 2012.

IN JUNE I talked about opinion polls and how they help—or could help—us decide what to talk about in our discussions of public policy. I talked about the issue of budget deficits and what people seem to want to do about them. Surprising.

IN JULY I talked about urban planning in Zurich, Switzerland, in order to illustrate a point about how to spot Propaganda in the news. Also on the subject of Propaganda, I talked about Afghanistan quite a bit, emphasizing the yawning chasm between what we might call reality, and the self-serving hallucinations of U.S. officials.

I gave about a zillion of easily-accessible sources of information about taxes for people who want to know and do something about this ongoing issue. Again, I'm surprised to find that all of the links I provided are still working as of this writing. Go to the website and look up Nygaard Notes issue number 483 to see them.

I ran a little 5-part series in July called "Polls as Propaganda." I talked about how most opinion polls oversimplify complex issues, and how they steer respondents towards certain sets of answers. I suggested that most opinion polls promote the culturally-dominant way of thinking called "analytical," or "scientific" thinking. Then I suggested another way of polling that would be based on another way of thinking called Systems Thinking. I called it "Systems Polling." I concluded with a piece about "The Deepest Propaganda of All."

IN AUGUST I took a 5-day vacation. Then I came back to talk about something called "Strategic Communication," especially as it is defined by the Pentagon. And I took a look at how "Strategic Communication"—the polite term for Propaganda—is deployed by right-wing political activists via the media that gives them so much room to operate. It's like billiards, I said.

Also in August a squirrel chewed through my phone line—twice! Then my computer had a virus. So there was only one Nygaard Notes in August.

In that single August issue I spoke of some right-wing activists who were promoting, for propaganda purposes, the idea that "government" is "ever-expanding," "endlessly growing," etc. So...

THE FIRST ISSUE IN SEPTEMBER was devoted to answering the question: Is government really growing all that much? I was surprised to learn that this question is not so easy to answer. To illuminate the point I mentioned a little experiment I did at the Minnesota State Fair.

Later in September I continued on the theme of government growth with the oddly-titled "State Spending in Minnesota is Up... And Down." In the process I hope that I showed, as I claimed to show, how economic statistics can be used in very creative ways, some of them quite misleading.

In my earlier research on Polls as Propaganda I had run across a highly-unusual poll, one that asked people whether "Capitalism and the free market system are consistent with Christian values." Very interesting results on that one! At the end of September I reported again on the increasingly-urgent issue of the shortage of life-saving drugs, and gave a number of resources to help people take action to address the problem.

IN OCTOBER I commented on the Occupy Wall Street protests and how they had already succeeded in changing consciousness, in a piece called "Ideology, Imagination, and the Occupation of Wall Street." In a companion essay, "Unthinkable Solutions: Unlearning Our ABCs," I used a number of examples to illustrate how our internalized Propaganda (our Propaganda ABCs) prevents us from discussing some obvious but unthinkable solutions to some major social problems.

October was also the month of the 2011 Nygaard Notes Pledge Drive. Thanks to all of you who contributed and made it a very successful drive!

THE FEATURE IN NOVEMBER in Nygaard Notes was my series on Remote-Control War. I spoke in Part One about the Public Relations aspect of the move to drones and other robotic warmaking techniques. In Part Two I noted one of the official arguments in favor of the use of drones. In Part Three I noted that drone warfare is expected to "sweep the world" with the U.S. leading the way. In the conclusion I expressed my fear is that the waging of secret, remote-control war will become so "cheap" and "safe" that it will become even easier for our country to go to war than it already is. But I also noted the reluctance of the U.S. public to endorse wars of Empire. My point? That it's really up to us to pave the way to a different future than the one that the warmakers have in mind.

THE THREE ISSUES OF THE NOTES IN DECEMBER covered a lot of ground, indeed. I talked about the global climate conference, COP17, in Durban South Africa. Then I talked about the highly-questionable "Iran terror plot" that was in the news this fall. The mysterious and unsourced (or, rather, anonymously sourced) story of "death squads" in Afghanistan that appeared in the New York Times at the end of November caught my eye, and I analyzed it for its Propaganda content. (High.)

After a brief Stroll Through the News With Nygaard, I ENDED THE YEAR (AND BEGAN THE NEW YEAR) with a brief mini-series on what I called the Three Wars In Iraq. Those were: 1. The Mythical War; 2. The Propaganda War, and 3. The Real War, which is the ongoing Imperial War for control of the world's wealth. What a way to end the year!

Predictions for the coming year? Oh, really, what's the point? Long-time readers are well aware that nearly every time I make a prediction about what will be in the Notes it turns out to be wrong. If you have ideas for things I might look into, please let me know. And keep writing to me as we plow ahead in 2012. Your feedback really helps steer and inspire the work I do.

Finally, if you ignore this final paragraph that you are now reading, the number of words in this Year In Review (including the headline) comes to exactly 2011. Whoa!