|Number 522||December 17, 2012|
This Week: The 2012 Nygaard Notes Year in Review (and the 2013 Year In Preview)
Happy New Year!
It's time for a look back at the just-completed year in Nygaard Notes. I do this every year, for three reasons. The first is that long-time readers may have forgotten, or failed to read, some pieces that they might find interesting and, once reminded, they can go visit the website and read them now. Secondly, new readers of the Notes will get a sense of what they missed, and what to expect. Finally, these reviews are helpful to me, as they help me to notice the patterns of coverage, to note what things I have neglected, and to generally evaluate my past year's work.
Here are The Numbers for Nygaard Notes 2012: I published about 63,000 words in Nygaard Notes last year, taking up about 144 pages. This is somewhat less than the past few years, since I spent more time doing other things, like teaching a class, writing more for this book I keep promising, and working at my other jobs. I kind of expect the pace of publication to pick up again in 2013, but I really don't know. There were 23 issues in 2012, about one every two weeks. About one-third of them were "double" issues, more than usual. (A "regular-sized" issue of Nygaard Notes fills 4 pages in the paper edition that I mail out. An issue of six or more pages gets called a "double" issue.)
This year, for the first time, I'm also including a sort-of Preview of the coming year. I'd love to hear your feedback on that, if any of the subjects strike you as particularly useful-sounding.
The Years in Review and Preview are pretty light reading, good for the holiday season. I hope you enjoy these trips down Memory Lane and down... whatever you call a trip that hasn't happened yet. The next Nygaard Notes will come your way later in January, as I'll be out of the office for 10 days during the month.
May you have a happy and engaged 2013, and may you be part of the ongoing effort to help us all to make ourselves better people, and to make our world a better place to live.
In solidarity with people and the planet,
It's ridiculous to pick a "Quote" of the Week—which I do in every issue of Nygaard Notes—since every week there are thousands of things said that are worth noting, either due to their absurdity, their profundity, or their entertainity. How to pick just one? It's even more absurd to pick a "Quote" of the Year, as I'm about to do now. But back in July, in Nygaard Notes Number 510, I quoted Chip Berlet saying something that seems to sum up very neatly the reason why I keep putting out Nygaard Notes. So neatly that I have decided to repeat it here. And what better excuse to repeat it than to arbitrarily and ridiculously declare it the "Quote" of the Year? Berlet's words weren't even spoken this year! This was the year I read them, that's all. But what the heck, here it is...
Berlet, an investigative journalist and scholar of right-wing movements, was interviewed by David Barsamian in 2010 on the rise of the Tea Party movement, and the role of ideas in building a movement. He said:
"We live in a propaganda society. It's not possible to have a reasoned debate on immigration with someone who believes that Obama is a native of Kenya or is part of some secret cabal led by the Jews, or the Muslims, or the Rockefeller family, or whomever. The Tea Partiers honestly believe they are not merely arguing with fellow citizens but defending America from alien people and ideas.
"The situation is getting worse as journalism loses the money or the incentive to fact-check and send reporters out into the field to gather information. Investigative journalism has been eroded by a focus on the bottom line. After the Watergate scandal in the early 1970s there was a burst of funding for investigative reporting, but at the same time the print-media industry was collapsing—and the pace of its collapse has only quickened. It's now easy to build a viable movement on false information, propaganda, and malicious demagoguery, which is how you create totalitarianism. This is what George Orwell wrote about in his novel 1984. Any totalitarian movement, on the Left or Right, must create a controlled, biased information system that convinces people to act in certain ways, either because they perceive it to be in their best interest or because they believe they will be punished if they do otherwise."
Nygaard Notes started out the year by looking at "a story with huge implications for the role of the United States in the 21st Century." What is happening in recent years is that the dominance of the United States in the world is declining. The media will never talk about this, since powerful people don't like to talk about this, so what we end up seeing is articles like the one I discussed here. The NY Times story reported on how "cheap but potent weapons" are being developed in smaller nations around the world to defend themselves against the United States. Somehow, this produced the headline "U.S. Focuses on Growing Threat as Rivals Deploy Cheap but Potent Weapons." Hence my headline: "War is Peace. Self-Defense is a Threat." It all sounds very weird, and it is, but I guess this is how declining super-powers behave.
I went on to explain what is being called "The New American Way of War." The "new" part involves the strategizing about how to continue to "project American military power" around the globe, as we have for past century or so, in an era of declining budgets and growing war-weariness on the part of the U.S. population. I'll be talking more about this in 2013, I'm sure.
When February rolled around I talked about the U.S. military presence on the Japanese island of Okinawa, and how the nature and degree of Okinawan resistance to it is obscured in U.S. media coverage.
Also in February I wrote my first words of the year about the U.S. Presidential campaign. I did not imagine at the time how utterly bizarre the spectacle would become. As I pointed out, it's important to pay some attention to these campaigns, as they tell us many things, "not so much about the candidates, but about the political and intellectual culture in which we live."
Voter suppression became a focus in March, and remained so for the rest of the year. This first piece I called "An Assault on Voting Rights That Is Historic," and in it I tried to do my part to sound the alarm by laying out the pattern of the assault, and the varied ways in which it has been carried out—in the past couple of years, especially.
I took the opportunity to point out that the attack on voting rights "falls most heavily on young, minority, and low-income voters, as well as on voters with disabilities." And I pointed out that, whether or not that is the intention (I think it is), the effect is outrageously racist, classist, ageist, and ableist. Once we know this, we don't need to know the intent of the people putting forth these initiatives. We just need to oppose them.
Also in March I used an Associated Press article to illustrate how the fundamental relationship between Afghanistan and the United States—that is, occupier and occupied—gets transformed in the corporate media into a relationship between a benevolent "helper" and the grateful recipient of the "help." The fact that the well-known and widely-reported drone program in Pakistan is "classified" was the subject of another short piece.
I also offered a whole bunch of resources for education and action on voter suppression. Many of the things on that list are still worth reading, as the disfranchisement efforts are ongoing. Have a look at Nygaard Notes #504.
Since so many people have a hard time making sense of the federal budget (in part due to dangerously scanty and misleading media coverage), I embarked in April on an effort to provide some specifics on two budget proposals from the "left" and the "right." On the right we had Rep. Paul Ryan (soon to become Vice-Presidential candidate Paul Ryan) and his budget, which he hilariously called the "Path to Prosperity." From the left we had a budget proposal that was not-so-hilariously called the "Budget for All." The Ryan plan was in the media all the time, but rarely with specific numbers. So I provided some numbers. The Budget for All was completely ignored by most people, so I just gave a basic summary. I also gave some resources for general information on how the federal budget works.
Later in April I explored "the idea of individuals and institutions 'playing by the rules' when it is the rules themselves that are the problem." I talked about Apple computers, workers in China, and other examples to shine a light on those "rules" in the context of the modern global economy, suggesting that many challenges to the rules are already occurring, with more to come. && This was more or less the economic sequel to the January focus on the military aspects of the U.S. empire.
My first issue in May was devoted entirely to the issue of climate change. I pointed to the seeming miracle of a public that is increasingly aware of and concerned about climate change despite a massive climate change denial propaganda campaign that is ongoing. Good for us!
There was more on Afghanistan in May, with particular attention to the Propaganda in the U.S. in regard to the Empire's intentions in that country. Is the U.S. really becoming a "supportive ally" of Afghanistan? Apparently so, if you read the New York Times. Are the Afghan people worried about the U.S. "abandoning" them? I looked at the nature of U.S. "aid" to that country, and found some evidence to the contrary.
After spending some time complaining about the attack on voting rights, the month of June found Nygaard Notes pointing to a positive alternative. I noted that "The problems that we do have with voting in this country have nothing to do with people voting who should not vote. The real problem we have in this country is that many people who should vote are not voting." The federal "Voter Empowerment Act" was introduced in May to address the problem of low voter turnout in this country. The media will continue to ignore this bill, I imagine, so you'll have to look it up online, or call you elected representatives. It's H.R.5799 in the US House and S.3608 in the Senate.
It broke my heart in June to publish the piece called "Kill List Logic," which talked about a New York Times report that the Obama administration now "counts all military-age males in a strike zone as combatants, according to several administration officials, unless there is explicit intelligence posthumously proving them innocent." That is, it is now official policy that any males older than toddlers who happen to be in the wrong place can be summarily executed. If a Republican president did such a thing, the howls of protest would, I think, be impossible to ignore. But Obama is a Democrat, and this "kill list" story came out during a campaign, so this major human rights tragedy doesn't seem to be much of an issue. I'll be writing more about this in 2013. I hope lots of people write about it.
In "Health Care and Public Relations," in July, I discussed the vehemence of the opposition to "ObamaCare," and talked a bit about where it might be coming from. I brought in Public Relations theory, the Shame Dynamic, Vietnam, and the kitchen sink. Reading back on what I said at the time about the arguments about the Affordable Care Act, it sounds like a warning. I said, "When one side focuses their energy on defending a policy, and the other side focuses their energy on changing the way that power is distributed within the entire culture, then the power equation of the future tilts in favor of the people who are focused on the big picture. This is how we can 'win' a battle, but lose our power, making future battles all the harder to win."
I was talking about health care, but it applies across the board.
Also in July appeared my favorite Nygaard Notes headline of the year: "The Treasonous Pro-Polio Patriot?" It had to do with the killing of Osama bin Laden and its effect on public health in Pakistan. The effect was not good, and the connection between U.S. Special Forces and public health is important and poorly understood.
Also in July I revisited a phrase that I first highlighted back in January: "The new American way of war." I continue to be startled at the matter-of-fact way that the media talks about how the U.S. military plans to "project power" around the world even in an era of declining budgets and increasing opposition from the public. The article I dissected this month included one of my favorite mass media sentences of 2012: "Allies and friends are important, but they can veto American missions initiated from bases on their territory." Yes, how much better it would be if one could have allies and friends who simply do what they are told.
In the Media World of my dreams, the general public would be very familiar with the language of military dominance, like the ones I highlighted in July, like Joint Operational Access Concept and antiaccess and area-denial. I'll keep writing about them as the Empire adapts to declining U.S. power.
We hear a lot in this country about "job-killing regulations." That's the idea—or, rather, the Propaganda concept—which says that something called "regulations" take jobs away from people. They do, actually, take away some jobs. But, as it turns out, they also create jobs, and may actually create more than they take away. That's what I talked about in August.
As the campaign season heated up, I published a couple of presumptuously-titled pieces: "The Presidential Campaign in a Nutshell" and "The Real Campaign Corruption." The first was about how the consequential news concerning the candidates gets sold to "lobbyists and Capitol Hill offices for thousands of dollars a year," while the superficial and less-significant "news" of the campaign—gaffes, hair-dos, wardrobes—gets placed on the airwaves to entertain the general public.
In the second piece, I re-stated what I often say about corruption, which is that money corrupts politics in a way that is pretty much the opposite of what most people think. Most people think that people get money, then they do what the money-provider wants. People understand such basic graft. While this certainly happens, I argue that it's the lesser of the two main forms of corruption. The second, and more important form, is when Big Money watches and evaluates institutions and individuals (including politicians), to find the ones who are doing—or are most likely to do—what Big Money wants. When they find them, they make sure that they receive enough money to succeed. That is, they don't "buy" people who have power, but rather "invest" in right-thinking people to make sure that they get into power, people who already want to do the things that Big Money wants done. In a nutshell (I'm into nutshells these days), the equation is not "Behavior follows money." Instead, it's "Money follows behavior." How much better for Big Money to support people who share their agenda than to attempt to make people follow their agenda. And thus are some candidates rendered "viable" or "major," while others are labeled "fringe" or "quixotic." This all happens before any voting happens.
Later in September I returned to the subject of drones, a subject that I've discussed on many occasions, most recently in "Kill List Logic" in June. This time I did a little study of the media's failure to accurately report the human toll of the Obama drone program. Following that I explained "The Most Fundamental Misunderstanding About Social Security," which is that Social Security is not a program of INDIVIDUAL INVESTMENT, in which people try to "get back" as much as they can. Instead, it is a program of SOCIAL INSURANCE. So, for the umpteenth time I explained the difference between "social" and "individual," and between "investment" and "insurance." It's quite simple, yet remains a fundamental misunderstanding. And that is not just a random error, but is largely due to decades of Propaganda. This piece was also published on the website Common Dreams.
OCTOBER and NOVEMBER
I offered a followup in October on the drone story, highlighting a major report that had come out in September called "Living Under Drones: Death, Injury, and Trauma to Civilians From US Drone Practices in Pakistan." This is a huge story, and I'll continue to report on it, whether or not the mass media picks it up.
October also marked the beginning of a series about Just World Theory, which continued through November. At the end of the series I published a couple of pieces showing how Just World Theory helps to explain why "the mass media works against activism by constantly encouraging all of us to either justify the unjustifiable, or to close our eyes in the face of it."
Thanks to all of you who sent in your Pledge of support for Nygaard Notes in October, when the annual Nygaard Notes Pledge Drive took place!
Earlier in this month I wrote about the U.S.-led campaign of sanctions against Iran. I discussed "The Human Cost of Iran Sanctions, following which I dissected a recent article in the Washington Post, showing how the discussion of sanctions in the mass media serves a Propaganda function, twisting the facts and omitting or misinterpreting key details. This piece got picked up by the website CounterPunch, and generated some interesting feedback.
Most recently I've published a couple of issues devoted to the absurdly-propagandistic "Fiscal Cliff" that has dominated the headlines in this country since the day after the recent elections. I'm glad to say that it begins to look like a "Grand Bargain" between Obama and the Republicans may be averted, and something less "grand," and hopefully more of a "bargain" (for the non-rich, that is) may be struck after the new Congress is sworn in on January 2nd and we've all had a chance to calm down a little bit.
This isn't really a "preview" as much as it is a brief list of things I will be thinking about, and hoping to learn about, in the coming year. Since I usually write about things as I'm learning about them, this feels to me like a kind of preview. I'm not promising that all of the following ideas will appear in these pages in the next 12 months. But a number of them will. If you have thoughts on any of the things on this list—or thoughts about what should be on the list—write and tell me what you're thinking.
* There's lots of evidence floating around showing that government does many things much more efficiently, with higher quality, and cheaper than the private sector. Since this idea seems surprising to many people, I plan to write about it in the coming year.
* For a variety of reasons this past election campaign season was perhaps the most racialized one I can remember. (Not that race doesn't play a crucial role in every election in this country. It does.) Despite the fact that the election campaign seems like it happened a really long time ago—doesn't it?—I hope to be able to write something useful about race and the election campaign before it recedes too far in the rear-view mirror.
* Speaking of racism, I've been reading and thinking a lot about the amazing indifference in this country in regard to the innocent lives that are lost or torn asunder in our various wars: the War on Drugs, the War on Terror, the War on Crime, not to mention Iraq, Afghanistan, Yemen, Somalia, Iran, and several others. I hope to have some interesting things to say in the coming year about that indifference and what gives rise to it.
* There's an amazing amount of resistance going on in this new century to the workings of the predatory Market Economy. There's also a huge amount of very exciting and creative building of alternatives underway, on the local, national, and international levels. Another world is not only possible, but it's being created even as I type these words! I'll be writing about some of this in the coming year.
* Something else being created I have mentioned in these pages already. A "New American Way of War" is being planned at the highest levels. Few know anything about this, so I plan to do my part to raise awareness on this aspect of the workings of our declining Superpower.
* One of the chapters in this book I'm working on is going to be about Individualism, which is near the core of what might be called the American Ideology. I'm working on that chapter, and you'll likely see a draft of it in the pages of Nygaard Notes before long. A related, but different, piece would have to do with the complex relationship of the individual to the various groups of which s/he is a part. The U.S. obsession with the "rugged individual" makes it really hard to see the structures and institutions that shape so much of what an individual does.
* Lurking in the back of my mind is an article on the issue of Morality. Specifically, public morality. Why does our public discussion acknowledge that some things—like abortion and marriage—are "moral" issues, while we rarely see news reports on the moral dimensions of things like budgets or health care? I'd like to think this through and toss some ideas your way in 2013.