Overview- Communications

2013 could mark the end of the era of Internet openness….a court ruling against the FCC would usher in an age of online payola, and fundamentally alter the character of the Internet. Allowing paid prioritization would shift power away from the upstarts and visionaries—those who have sparked one of history’s greatest periods of economic and technological growth—toward established companies like AT&T, Comcast and Verizon, which want to rein in any online innovation that threatens their plans to control the new media economy. This is bad news for anyone who thinks the Internet marketplace should remain open to all comers… The openness principle, often referred to as Net Neutrality, is why the Internet has become a network for the truest expression of the free market. Regardless of the court’s decision, the FCC has the responsibility to ensure that ISPs don’t use their power over Internet access to seize control of content and destroy this marketplace. Stopping Internet payola now is vital to saving the Internet over the long term. The End of Free Internet as We Know It? By Timothy Karr, Save the Internet, posted on Alternet.org, December 12, 2013 

… coverage in 2012 was a particularly calamitous failure, almost entirely missing the single biggest story of the race: Namely, the radical right-wing, off-the-rails lurch of the Republican Party, both in terms of its agenda and its relationship to the truth… Democrats were hardly inno­cent but…the Republican campaign was just far more over the top.”… fabulists and liars can exploit the elite media’s fear of being seen as taking sides… if the story that you’re telling repeatedly is that they’re all…equally to blame — then you’re really doing a disservice to voters, and not doing what journalism is supposed to do…How the Mainstream Press Bungled the Single Biggest Story of the 2012 Campaign by Dan Froomkin

Your False-Equivalence Guide to the Days Ahead James Fallows Sep 27 2013

Fox’s Unbalanced Ethics Threatens Democracy by Wendell Potter

Republicans Lied To by ‘Conservative Entertainment Complex’

Social media

While the traditional media loves fights, the new and emerging social media loves connections. We can leverage the wisdom and creativity of crowds to find win-win solutions to our common problems. We can scale our efforts to tens of thousands of conversations, giving individuals the power to begin to reweave the social fabric of our communities… Reweaving the Fabric of our Society by Joan Blades, co-founder, MoveOn.org /

How You Will Change the World with Social Networking by Deanna Zandt

The NY Times Uncovers Conservative Attacks and Then Prints One; Both Are On The Front Page

By George Lakoff, http://georgelakoff.com, November 24, 2013

Excerpt

…For decades, Republican conservatives have constructed and carried out extensive, well-planned, long-term communication campaigns to change public discourse and the way the public thinks. It has been done very effectively and, for the most part, not secretly…deeper and systematic efforts by conservatives extending back four decades and the nature of the underlying general ideologypart of an attempt to change the idea of what America is about. The Times missed the think tanks, the framing professionals, the training institutes, the booking agencies, the Wednesday morning meetings on both national and state levels, and the role of ALEC in the states — all set out in the Lewis Powell memo more than four decades ago and carried out since then as part of seamless system directed at changing the brains of Americans.

I do mean changing brains. Because all thought is physical, carried out by neural circuitry, every change in how we understand anything is a brain change, and conservatives are effectively using the techniques that marketers have developed for changing brains, and they’ve been using them for decades…

we should begin by discussing some basic cognitive linguistics… all words are cognitively defined relative to conceptual “frames” — structures we all use to think all the time. Frames don’t float in the air; they are neural circuits in our brains. Frames in politics are not neutral; they reflect an underlying value system. That means that language in politics is not neutral. Political words do not just pick out something in the world. They reflect value-based frames. If you successfully frame public discourse, you win the debate.

A common neuroscience estimate is that about 98 percent of thought is unconscious and automatic, carried out by the neural system….Since frames carry value-based inferences with them, successfully framing public discourse means getting the public to adopt your values, and hence winning over the public by unconscious brain change, not by open discussion of the values inherent in the frames and the values that undergird the frames.

I have always suggested to progressives to know their values and state their real values clearly, using frames they really believe. Values trump mere facts presented without the values that make them meaningful. Honest values-based framing is the opposite of spin — the deceptive use of language to avoid embarrassment.

The reason that those of us in the cognitive and brain sciences write so passionately about framing issues is that unconscious thought and framing are not generally understood — especially in progressive circles. Most progressives who went to college studied what is called Enlightenment reason, a theory of reason coming from Descartes around 1650 — and which was historically important in 1650. The Cartesian theory of how reason works has since been largely disproved in the cognitive and brain sciences…

conservatives have successfully reframed economic terms to fit their values, and that the economic terms in public discourse no longer mean what they do in economics classes…By framing language to fit conservative values and by getting their framing of the language to dominate public debate, conservatives change the public’s brains by the following mechanism.

Liberals…will not be aware of their own unconscious values, will take then for granted, and will think that all they have to do is state the facts and the public will be convinced rationally. The facts are crucial, but they need to framed in moral terms to make moral sense and a moral impact…

The word at issue is “redistribution.” The subject matter is the flow of wealth in the society and what it should be. This is a fundamentally moral issue, and the major political framings reflect two different moral views of democracy itself.

The liberal view of democracy…was based on the idea that citizens care about other citizens and work responsibly (with both personal and social responsibility) through their government to provide public resources for all.Conservatives have a very different view of democracy. They believe that democracy gives them the “liberty” to pursue their own interests without the government standing in their way or helping them. Their moral principle is individual responsibility, not social responsibility. If you haven’t developed the discipline to make it on your own, then you should fail…This is the conservative frame for redistribution: it is taking away money that you hard-working Americans have earned and deserve, and “redistributing” it to those who haven’t earned it and don’t deserve it…most liberals…do not comprehend that the word “redistribution” has been redefined in terms of a conservative frame, and to use the word is to help conservatives in their moral crusade to undermine progressive values and the traditional view of liberal democracy…For liberals, democracy is defined by equality, and by the “self-evident” “inalienable rights of life, liberty, and pursuit of happiness,” where health is inherent to those values…The Republican brain change mechanism is not only worth a front-page discussion of its own, but deserves itself to brought into public discourse and reported on regularly.

Full text

The NY Times has many virtues and some important flaws. Both were evident on the paper’s front page this week and there is a lot to be learned by what did and did not appear there.

For decades, Republican conservatives have constructed and carried out extensive, well-planned, long-term communication campaigns to change public discourse and the way the public thinks. It has been done very effectively and, for the most part, not secretly. The NY Times finally began reporting on this effort on Thursday, November 21, 2013 in a fine piece by Jonathan Weisman and Sheryl Gay Stolberg.

The Times reported on the House Republicans’ memo on how to attack the Affordable Care Act through a “multilayered sequence assault,” gathering stories “through social media letters from constituents, or meeting back home” and a new GOP website. The Times also reported on the “closed door” strategy sessions, going back to last year.

It’s a start, and it’s about time. What the Times missed was the far deeper and systematic efforts by conservatives extending back four decades and the nature of the underlying general ideology covering dozens of issues that have been served by these efforts. The Times also missed the reason why the attack on the ACA is more than just anti-Obama politics, but rather part of an attempt to change the idea of what America is about. The Times missed the think tanks, the framing professionals, the training institutes, the booking agencies, the Wednesday morning meetings on both national and state levels, and the role of ALEC in the states — all set out in the Lewis Powell memo more than four decades ago and carried out since then as part of seamless system directed at changing the brains of Americans.

I do mean changing brains. Because all thought is physical, carried out by neural circuitry, every change in how we understand anything is a brain change, and conservatives are effectively using the techniques that marketers have developed for changing brains, and they’ve been using them for decades, at least since the notorious Lewis Powell Memo in 1971.

Full disclosure: I began writing about conservative framing in my 1996 book Moral Politics, and about the conservative brain changing machine in my 2004 book Don’t Think of an Elephant!, p. 15 (click to see the discussion at: http://www.chelseagreen.com/bookstore/item/dont_think_of_an_elephant:paperback/chapter_1). For the Powell memo, just google “Lewis Powell memo.”

At least, the Times did get an important part of it right on Thursday, and we should be grateful.

Then, on Sunday, November 24, 2013, the Times published on its front page what looked like a news story, but was a conservative column called “White House Memo” by John Harwood, who is CNBC’s Chief Washington Correspondent, and who previously worked as the Wall Street Journal’s political editor and chief political correspondent. It’s one thing to publish a blatant conservative attack on President Obama in a column on the op-ed page or in the Sunday Review, and another to publish it on the front page, as if it were a news story.

The Harwood column is illuminating in its attack mode, which is quite artful and an excellent example of conservative attacks. To appreciate it, we should begin by discussing some basic cognitive linguistics. As the great linguist Charles Fillmore discovered in 1975, all words are cognitively defined relative to conceptual “frames” — structures we all use to think all the time. Frames don’t float in the air; they are neural circuits in our brains. Frames in politics are not neutral; they reflect an underlying value system. That means that language in politics is not neutral. Political words do not just pick out something in the world. They reflect value-based frames. If you successfully frame public discourse, you win the debate.

A common neuroscience estimate is that about 98 percent of thought is unconscious and automatic, carried out by the neural system. Daniel Kahneman has since brought frame-based unconscious thought into the public arena in what he has called “System 1 thinking.” Since frames carry value-based inferences with them, successfully framing public discourse means getting the public to adopt your values, and hence winning over the public by unconscious brain change, not by open discussion of the values inherent in the frames and the values that undergird the frames.

I have always suggested to progressives to know their values and state their real values clearly, using frames they really believe. Values trump mere facts presented without the values that make them meaningful. Honest values-based framing is the opposite of spin — the deceptive use of language to avoid embarrassment.

The reason that those of us in the cognitive and brain sciences write so passionately about framing issues is that unconscious thought and framing are not generally understood — especially in progressive circles. Most progressives who went to college studied what is called Enlightenment reason, a theory of reason coming from Descartes around 1650 — and which was historically important in 1650. The Cartesian theory of how reason works has since been largely disproved in the cognitive and brain sciences.

The Cartesian theory assumes that all thought is conscious, that it is literal (that is, it fits the world directly and uses no frame-based or metaphorical thought), that reason uses a form of mathematical logic (not frame-based logic or metaphorical logic), and that words are neutral and fit the world directly. Many liberal economists have been trained in this mode of thought and assume that the language used in economic theory is neutral and just fits the world as it is. They are usually not trained in frame semantics, cognitive linguistics, and related fields. The same is often true of liberal journalists as well. Both often miss the fact that conservatives have successfully reframed economic terms to fit their values, and that the economic terms in public discourse no longer mean what they do in economics classes.

Part of what the Cartesian theory of reason misses is the real brain mechanism that allows the conservative communication theory to be effective. By framing language to fit conservative values and by getting their framing of the language to dominate public debate, conservatives change the public’s brains by the following mechanism. When a frame circuit is activated in the brain, its synapses are strengthened. This means that the probability of future activation is raised and probability of the frame becoming permanent in the brain is raised. Whenever a word defined by that frame is used, the frame is activated and strengthened. When conservatives successfully reframe a word in public discourse, that word activates conservative frames and with those frames, the conservative value system on which the frames are based. When progressives naively use conservatively reframed words, they help the conservative cause by strengthening the conservative value system in the brains of the public.

Liberals, in adhering to the old Cartesian theory of reason, will not be aware of their own unconscious values, will take then for granted, and will think that all they have to do is state the facts and the public will be convinced rationally. The facts are crucial, but they need to framed in moral terms to make moral sense and a moral impact.

To those who have a liberal Cartesian theory of reason, the attempt to warn the public and other liberals about the way language really works and to warn liberals not to use conservative framing will be seen as hiding the facts and misleading the public. That is what the Times columnist and CNBC Chief Washington correspondent, John Harwood used in his manipulative NY Times column.

The word at issue is “redistribution.” The subject matter is the flow of wealth in the society and what it should be. This is a fundamentally moral issue, and the major political framings reflect two different moral views of democracy itself.

The liberal view of democracy goes back to the founding of the nation, as historian Lynn Hunt of UCLA has shown in her book Inventing Human Rights. American democracy was based on the idea that citizens care about other citizens and work responsibly (with both personal and social responsibility) through their government to provide public resources for all. From the beginning, that meant roads and bridges, public education, hospitals, a patent office, a national bank, a justice system, controlling the flow of interstate commerce, and so on. Nowadays it includes much more — the development of the internet, satellite communications, the power grid, food safety monitoring, government research, and so on. Without those public resources, citizens cannot live reasonable lives, businesses cannot run, and a market economy would be impossible. Life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness require all this and health care. Unless you can get health care, your life is in jeopardy, as well as your freedom: if you have cancer and no health care, you are not free; if you break you leg and have no access to health care, you are not free, and so on. And if you are injured or sick and cannot maintain health, your life, liberty and happiness are all in jeopardy.

Under this view of democracy, the flow of wealth should guarantee the affordability of health care as a basic moral principle of democracy. If wealth has flowed in violation of this principle, that flow of wealth has been immoral, unpatriotic, and needs reform. So when liberals point out that productivity has risen greatly while salaries have not, they are talking about fairness in the flow of wealth: If you work for a living, you should earn a fair salary, that is, you should earn a living wage, which should be enough to guarantee adequate health care. Pensions are delayed payments of wages for work already done, and taking away pensions is theft. Employment is the purchase of labor by an employer with a negotiated price for the labor. Since corporations have more power in those negotiations than employees, unions are necessary to help make negotiations fair for the price of labor. When it is observed that most of the wealth in the past decade has flowed to the one percent, that means that fairness and the most fundamental of American principles have been violated and salaries and public resources have been inadequate and unfairly low.

The Affordable Care Act, from this perspective, is a move toward reform — toward a moral flow of wealth in line with the founding principles of the nation. I believe that President Obama, and most liberals, understand the intentions of Affordable Care Act in that way.

Conservatives have a very different view of democracy. They believe that democracy gives them the “liberty” to pursue their own interests without the government standing in their way or helping them. Their moral principle is individual responsibility, not social responsibility. If you haven’t developed the discipline to make it on your own, then you should fail — and if you can’t afford health care, so be it. Health care is seen as a “product” and citizens should not be paying for other citizens’ products. Rudy Giuliani, as a good conservative, likened health care to flat- screen TVs. Conservatives say that no one should be paying for anyone else (except their children and family members). Using public resources is seen as making you weak, taking away incentives for you to work for yourself. And they see it as making hard-working moral citizens pay for immoral slackers. This is the conservative frame for redistribution: it is taking away money that you hard-working Americans have earned and deserve, and “redistributing” it to those who haven’t earned it and don’t deserve it. For conservatives, this happens whenever there are public resources paid for by taxpayers. Therefore they believe that all public resources should be banned — and the affordable Care Act is a major special case and just the start.

That’s why John Boehner said, in explaining why the House has scheduled only 113 days to meet out of 365, said “We need to repeal old laws. Not pass new ones.” That is why the House conservatives saw it as moral to shut down the government and to let the sequester happen. They are ways to cut public resources.

Under this view of democracy, money previously made was made properly and using tax money for public resources is “redistribution.” “Using my money to pay for someone else” is inherently unfair in the conservative tradition. Conservatives over the past four decades have framed the word “redistribution” that way. Use of the word activates the conservative framing in general, not just the framing of the Affordable Care Act, but of the nature of democracy itself.

Because most liberals, including liberal economists, still believe in and use the inadequate Cartesian theory of reason, they do not comprehend that the word “redistribution” has been redefined in terms of a conservative frame, and to use the word is to help conservatives in their moral crusade to undermine progressive values and the traditional view of liberal democracy.

At this point we turn to the NY Times story, “Don’t Dare Call The Health Law ‘Redistribution’”on the front page, and inside “The economic policy that dare not speak its name.” John Harwood writes the following:

“These days the word is particularly toxic at the White House, where it has been hidden away to make the Affordable Care Act more palatable to the public and less a target for Republicans, who have long accused the Democrats of seeking “socialized medicine.” But the redistribution of wealth has always been a central feature of the law and lies at the heart of the insurance market disruptions driving political attacks this fall.”

Note that he uses the word “redistribution” without quotation marks, as if it were simply a fact and as if the Republican attacks were just true and the White house was trying to hide the truth. He later calls the Affordable Care Act a “semantic sidestep” on this issue.

Harwood goes on to cite the president’s misstatement that if you like your insurance you can keep it. I suspect that the president assumed that no one would like inadequate insurance if they could get much better, and adequate, insurance for the same price, which they might have been able to if the website had not failed. The president knew that no company was forced to cancel inadequate insurance, and incorrectly assumed that they wouldn’t. Yes, the president made those incorrect assumptions. But here is how Harwood comments:

Hiding in plain sight behind that pledge — visible to health policy experts but not the general public — was the redistribution required to extend health coverage to those who had been either locked out or priced out of the market.

Now some of that redistribution has come clearly into view.

The law, for example, banned rate discrimination against women, which insurance companies called “gender rating” to account for their higher health costs. But that raised the relative burden borne by men. The law also limited how much insurers can charge older Americans, who use more health care over all. But that raised the relative burden on younger people.

And the law required insurers to offer coverage to Americans with pre-existing conditions, which eased costs for less healthy people but raised prices for others who had been charged lower rates because of their good health.

“The A.C.A. is very much about redistribution, whether or not its advocates acknowledge that this is the case,” wrote Reihan Salam on the website of the conservative National Review.

Here again, the “redistribution” word is used in a conservative frame without quotation marks as if the frame were simply true, and the citation is from a major conservative publication, where the word is used with a conservative frame.

The issue is what democracy is about and what health care in a democracy is about. For liberals, democracy is defined by equality, and by the “self-evident” “inalienable rights of life, liberty, and pursuit of happiness,” where health is inherent to those values. Under such a conception of democracy, health should never be denied because one belongs to a demographic group that fate had given more ailments and injuries.

Conservatives are helped when “redistribution”, which they have successfully reframed their way, is used by certain liberal economists, who naïvely believe that the word is neutral because economists use it as a technical term.

Harwood begins framing his piece by discussing the case of Rebecca M. Blank.

Ms. Blank is a noted academic economist, having been one of three members of President Clinton’s Council of Economic Advisers. From 2009 to 2013 she served as Deputy Secretary of Commerce in the Obama Administration, and has since left for the grand opportunity to become chancellor of the University of Wisconsin.

In 2011, she was considered for Obama’s Council of Economic Advisers while serving in the Commerce Department. Harwood reports that she was passed over for the post because of something she had written in 1992:

“A commitment to economic justice necessarily implies a commitment to a redistribution of economic resources, so that the poor and the dispossessed are more fully included in the economic system.”

Harwood quotes William Daley, Obama’s chief of staff at the time, as saying, “Redistribution is a loaded word that conjures up all sorts of unfairness in people’s minds.” The Republicans wield it “as a hammer” against Democrats, he said, adding, “It’s a word that in the political world, you just don’t use.” Daley is right that it is a loaded word, in just the sense noted above, namely, that it has been framed by conservatives to fit their ideology and using it activates their frame and their ideology in people’s brains, thus helping conservatives. In 2011, Obama was up for re-election and Daley judged that having Republicans dig up that quote would help them launch an unfair attack against the president.

Harwood reports the affair as if Obama had something to hide, rather than not wanting a conservatively framed concept to be falsely attributed to him. Harwood is clever. First, he quotes another liberal economist, Jonathan Gruber, who uses the word naively as a neutral technical economic term. Then at the end of the article, he reports an Obama slip at a talk in Elyria, Ohio 18 months earlier. The slip involved Obama’s use of a negative. In Don’t Think of an Elephant!, I pointed out that negating a word, activates the meaning of the word. If I tell you not to think of an elephant, you will think of an elephant. Here is the Obama slip that Harwood cites, “Understand this is not a redistribution argument … This is not about taking from rich people to give to poor people.” That was the slip, and Harwood searched back 18 months to Elyria, Ohio to find it. But then the president caught himself and said positively what he meant. “This is about us together making investments in our country so everybody’s got a fair shot.”

Here’s the take-away from these two pieces in the Times this week. First, there was a tiny glimpse of the huge conservative Republican communication system, with no account of its history, it’s extent, or how it works to change people’s brains. I hope the Times will go on to do more and better in the future. Second, the Times printed on its front page a classic example of how the conservative system works, naively presenting it at face value without any serious framing analysis. The Times missed the conservative reframing of the word “redistribution,” missed the difference in the views of morality and democracy that lie behind the framing difference, missed the use of the conservatively reframed word as neutral by liberal economists, missed what it means for a word to be “loaded,” and succumbed like other journalists trained on Cartesian reason in helping conservatism keep its hold on public discourse.

Harwood is a smart political operative. His technique is a classic example of the Republican message machine reported on in Thursday’s Times, and is well worth serious study. The Republican brain change mechanism is not only worth a front-page discussion of its own, but deserves itself to brought into public discourse and reported on regularly.

http://georgelakoff.com/2013/11/24/the-ny-times-uncovers-conservative-attacks-and-then-prints-one-both-are-on-the-front-page/#more-2662

Kierkegaard at 200

by Gordon Marino, New York Times, May 3, 2013

Northfield, Minnesota

THE intellectual immortal Soren Kierkegaard turns 200 on Sunday. The lyrical Danish philosopher is widely regarded as the father of existentialism, a philosophical and literary movement that emphasizes the category of the individual and meditates on such gauzy questions as, Is there a meaning to life?

Not surprisingly, existentialism hit its zenith after humanity got a good look at itself in the mirror of the Holocaust, but then memories faded and economies boomed and existentialism began to seem a little overwrought.

Still, throughout the ups and downs of the scholarly market, the intellectual world has remained bullish on Kierkegaard, in part because the Dane, unlike other members of the Socrates guild, always addressed what human beings are really up against in themselves, namely, anxiety, depression, despair and the flow of time.

There are at least a dozen scholarly fests going on around the globe to celebrate Kierkegaard’s bicentennial, and here at the Hong Kierkegaard Library at St. Olaf College we are expecting over 100 international participants at our birthday bash.

In his youth, Kierkegaard earned the nickname “gaflen,” or “the fork,” for his ability to discern the weaknesses in other people and to stick it to them. All his writing life, Kierkegaard wielded his red-hot stylus to stick it to bourgeois Christendom. His life was a meditation on what it means to have faith.

Although Kierkegaard never used the exact phrase, “the leap of faith,” those words have become his shibboleth. A Lutheran raised in a pietistic environment, Kierkegaard insisted that there was no being born into the fold; no easy passage, no clattering up a series of syllogisms to faith. For Kierkegaard, faith involved a collision with the understanding and a radical choice, or to use the terms of his singular best seller, life and faith demands an “Either/Or.” Believe or don’t believe, but don’t imagine you can have it both ways. As the mostly empty pews attest, much of Europe has taken Kierkegaard up on his challenge.

But Kierkegaard was more than a Luther of his Lutheran tradition; his writings bristle with insights about culture and humanity that can be redeemed in the currency of secularism.

For instance, Kierkegaard flourished at the inception of mass media. Daily and weekly journals and newspapers were just beginning to circulate widely. As though he could feel Facebook and Twitter coming down the line, he anticipated a time when communication would become instantaneous, but no one would have anything to say; or again, a time when everyone was obsessed with finding their voice but without much substance or “inwardness” behind their eruptions and blogposts.

In one of his books Kierkegaard moans, “The present age is an age of publicity, the age of miscellaneous announcements: Nothing happens but still there is instant publicity.” In the end, Kierkegaard was concerned about the power of the press to foment and form public opinion and in the process relieve of us of the need to think matters through on our own.

Over a 17-year span, Kierkegaard published a score of books and compiled thousand of pages of journal entries. Like Nietzsche and other geniuses who were more than less immolated by the fiery force of their own ideas, Kierkegaard sacrificed his body to dance out the riches of his thoughts. Self-conscious of his own preternatural powers, he wrote, “Geniuses are like thunderstorms. They go against the wind, terrify people, cleanse the air.”

Of course, we have all known hours of inspiration, but to live with the Muse on one’s shoulders year after year is to be able to abide close to the borders of what must sometimes feel like madness. Not an easy task.

Just to pluck a couple of plums from the sprawling tree of Kierkegaard’s extraordinary oeuvre: He was not what we would term an ethicist. He did not devote his energies to trying to find a rational basis for ethics, nor was he occupied with teasing out moral puzzles. And yet, he has something very significant to say about ethics.

According to Kierkegaard, it is not more knowledge or skills of analysis that is required to lead dutiful lives. If knowledge were the issue, then ethics would be a kind of talent. Some people would be born moral geniuses and others moral dolts. And yet so far as he and Kant were concerned, when it comes to good and evil we are all on an equal footing.

Contrary to the ethics industry that is thrumming today, Kierkegaard believed that the prime task is to hold on to what we know, to refrain from pulling the wool over our own eyes because we aren’t keen on the sacrifices that doing the right thing is likely to require. As Kierkegaard put it, when we find ourselves in a moral pinch we don’t just take the easy way out. Instead, he writes, “Willing allows some time to elapse, an interim called: We shall look at it tomorrow.”

And by the day after tomorrow, we usually decide that the right way was, after all, the easy way. And so the gadfly of Copenhagen concludes, “And this is how perhaps the great majority of men live: They work gradually at eclipsing their ethical and ethical-religious comprehension, which would lead them out into decisions and conclusions that their lower nature does not much care for.”

There are epiphanies in every nook and cranny of Kierkegaard’s authorship, but paradoxically enough, from the beginning to the end, the man who seemed to know just about everything, was gently emphatic: “The majority of men … live and die under the impression that life is simply a matter of understanding more and more, and that if it were granted to them to live longer, that life would continue to be one long continuous growth in understanding. How many of them ever experience the maturity of discovering that there comes a critical moment where everything is reversed, after which the point becomes to understand more and more that there is something which cannot be understood.”

And what might it mean to understand that there is something of vital importance in life that cannot be understood? With the indirection of a Zen master, our Birthday Boy helps us unlock this and other koans that strike to the marrow of the question of what it means to be a human being.

Gordon Marino is a professor of philosophy and the director of the Hong Kierkegaard Library at St. Olaf College. His most recent book  “The Quotable Kierkegaard” will be published in the fall.

http://www.nytimes.com/2013/05/04/opinion/global/Kierkegaard-at-200.html?pagewanted=all&_r=0

Progressive Building Blocks

American Values Project

A concise, coherent and compelling progressive vision for America rests on three, fundamental building blocks, which are explored in detail in Progressive Thinking. They are:

  • Our Values
  • Our Beliefs
  • Our Issues

Our values, beliefs and issues build on and support our vision for America, with values occupying the bottom and most important tier, philosophical beliefs the middle tier and issues the top tier. The pyramid points, ultimately, to our vision of the society we are trying to create – steadily improving living standards and opportunities for everyone; safe, clean and healthy communities; a government that works for all people; and economic growth with widely shared prosperity. The entire pyramid then becomes an outline of our central progressive message: “Everyone gets a fair shot, everyone does his or her fair share, and everyone plays by the same rules.”

Some progressives tend to be overly analytical in their communications, favoring discussions of issues and policy rather than venturing into the sometimes murky territory of morals, values and core beliefs. But if we want more people to connect with a progressive view of the world, we need to reach their hearts and their heads. As the architecture of this pyramid highlights, core progressive values form the most important level of our communications, with political beliefs and issue positions building on this values foundation. Implied is the need to articulate our values and beliefs as much, if not more than, we discuss our positions on the issues – as a way to highlight our broad, common ground.

http://americanvaluesproject.com/progressive-building-blocks/

The Day That TV News Died

by Chris Hedges, TruthDig.com, March 25, 2013

Excerpt

I am not sure exactly when the death of television news took place. The descent was gradual—a slide into the tawdry, the trivial and the inane, into the charade on cable news channels such as Fox and MSNBC in which hosts hold up corporate political puppets to laud or ridicule, and treat celebrity foibles as legitimate news. But if I had to pick a date when commercial television decided amassing corporate money and providing entertainment were its central mission, when it consciously chose to become a carnival act, it would probably be Feb. 25, 2003, when MSNBC took Phil Donahue off the air because of his opposition to the calls for war in Iraq.

Donahue and Bill Moyers, the last honest men on national television, were the only two major TV news personalities who presented the viewpoints of those of us who challenged the rush to war in Iraq. General Electric and Microsoft—MSNBC’s founders and defense contractors that went on to make tremendous profits from the war—were not about to tolerate a dissenting voice. Donahue was fired, and at PBS Moyers was subjected to tremendous pressure…

The celebrity trolls who currently reign on commercial television, who bill themselves as liberal or conservative, read from the same corporate script…Their role is to funnel viewer energy back into our dead political system—to make us believe that Democrats or Republicans are not corporate pawns…

What mattered then and what matters now is likability—known in television and advertising as the Q score—not honesty and truth. Television news celebrities are in the business of sales, not journalism. They peddle the ideology of the corporate state. And too many of us are buying.

The lie of omission is still a lie. It is what these news celebrities do not mention that exposes their complicity with corporate power….They are paid to discredit or ignore the nation’s most astute critics of corporatism, among them Cornel West, Medea Benjamin, Ralph Nader and Noam Chomsky. They are paid to chatter mindlessly, hour after hour, filling our heads with the theater of the absurd…Elite media features elite power. No other voices are heard.”

Donahue spent four years after leaving MSNBC making the movie documentary “Body of War” …about the paralyzed Iraq War veteran Tomas Young… Donahue noted that only a very small percentage of Americans have a close relative who fought in Iraq or Afghanistan and an even smaller number make the personal sacrifice of a Tomas Young. “Nobody sees the pain,” he said. “The war is sanitized.”… Donahue was told that the film, although it had received great critical acclaim, was too depressing and not uplifting….I am stunned at how many Americans stand mute.”

Full text

I am not sure exactly when the death of television news took place.

The descent was gradual—a slide into the tawdry, the trivial and the inane, into the charade on cable news channels such as Fox and MSNBC in which hosts hold up corporate political puppets to laud or ridicule, and treat celebrity foibles as legitimate news. But if I had to pick a date when commercial television decided amassing corporate money and providing entertainment were its central mission, when it consciously chose to become a carnival act, it would probably be Feb. 25, 2003, when MSNBC took Phil Donahue off the air because of his opposition to the calls for war in Iraq.

Donahue and Bill Moyers, the last honest men on national television, were the only two major TV news personalities who presented the viewpoints of those of us who challenged the rush to war in Iraq. General Electric and Microsoft—MSNBC’s founders and defense contractors that went on to make tremendous profits from the war—were not about to tolerate a dissenting voice. Donahue was fired, and at PBS Moyers was subjected to tremendous pressure. An internal MSNBC memo leaked to the press stated that Donahue was hurting the image of the network. He would be a “difficult public face for NBC in a time of war,” the memo read. Donahue never returned to the airwaves.

The celebrity trolls who currently reign on commercial television, who bill themselves as liberal or conservative, read from the same corporate script. They spin the same court gossip. They ignore what the corporate state wants ignored. They champion what the corporate state wants championed. They do not challenge or acknowledge the structures of corporate power. Their role is to funnel viewer energy back into our dead political system—to make us believe that Democrats or Republicans are not corporate pawns. The cable shows, whose hyperbolic hosts work to make us afraid self-identified liberals or self-identified conservatives, are part of a rigged political system, one in which it is impossible to vote against the interests of Goldman Sachs, Bank of America, General Electric or ExxonMobil. These corporations, in return for the fear-based propaganda, pay the lavish salaries of celebrity news people, usually in the millions of dollars. They make their shows profitable. And when there is war these news personalities assume their “patriotic” roles as cheerleaders, as Chris Matthews—who makes an estimated $5 million a year—did, along with the other MSNBC and Fox hosts.

It does not matter that these celebrities and their guests, usually retired generals or government officials, got the war terribly wrong. Just as it does not matter that Francis Fukuyama and Thomas Friedman were wrong on the wonders of unfettered corporate capitalism and globalization. What mattered then and what matters now is likability—known in television and advertising as the Q score—not honesty and truth. Television news celebrities are in the business of sales, not journalism. They peddle the ideology of the corporate state. And too many of us are buying.

The lie of omission is still a lie. It is what these news celebrities do not mention that exposes their complicity with corporate power. They do not speak about Section 1021 of the National Defense Authorization Act, a provision that allows the government to use the military to hold U.S. citizens and strip them of due process. They do not decry the trashing of our most basic civil liberties, allowing acts such as warrantless wiretapping and executive orders for the assassination of U.S. citizens. They do not devote significant time to climate scientists to explain the crisis that is enveloping our planet. They do not confront the reckless assault of the fossil fuel industry on the ecosystem. They very rarely produce long-form documentaries or news reports on our urban and rural poor, who have been rendered invisible, or on the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan or on corporate corruption on Wall Street. That is not why they are paid. They are paid to stymie meaningful debate. They are paid to discredit or ignore the nation’s most astute critics of corporatism, among them Cornel West, Medea Benjamin, Ralph Nader and Noam Chomsky. They are paid to chatter mindlessly, hour after hour, filling our heads with the theater of the absurd. They play clips of their television rivals ridiculing them and ridicule their rivals in return. Television news looks as if it was lifted from Rudyard Kipling’s portrait of the Bandar-log monkeys in “The Jungle Book.” The Bandar-log, considered insane by the other animals in the jungle because of their complete self-absorption, lack of discipline and outsized vanity, chant in unison: “We are great. We are free. We are wonderful. We are the most wonderful people in all the jungle! We all say so, and so it must be true.”

When I reached him by phone recently in New York, Donahue said of the pressure the network put on him near the end, “It evolved into an absurdity.” He continued: “We were told we had to have two conservatives for every liberal on the show. I was considered a liberal. I could have Richard Perle on alone but not Dennis Kucinich. You felt the tremendous fear corporate media had for being on an unpopular side during the ramp-up for a war. And let’s not forget that General Electric’s biggest customer at the time was Donald Rumsfeld [then the secretary of defense]. Elite media features elite power. No other voices are heard.”

Donahue spent four years after leaving MSNBC making the movie documentary “Body of War” with fellow director/producer Ellen Spiro, about the paralyzed Iraq War veteran Tomas Young. The film, which Donahue funded himself, began when he accompanied Nader to visit Young in the Walter Reed National Military Medical Center in Washington, D.C.

“Here is this kid lying there whacked on morphine,” Donahue said. “His mother, as we are standing by the bed looking down, explained his injuries. ‘He is a T-4. The bullet came through the collarbone and exited between the shoulder blades. He is paralyzed from the nipples down.’ He was emaciated. His cheekbones were sticking out. He was as white as the sheets he was lying on. He was 24 years old. … I thought, ‘People should see this. This is awful.’ ”

Donahue noted that only a very small percentage of Americans have a close relative who fought in Iraq or Afghanistan and an even smaller number make the personal sacrifice of a Tomas Young. “Nobody sees the pain,” he said. “The war is sanitized.”

“I said, ‘Tomas, I want to make a movie that shows the pain, I want to make a movie that shows up close what war really means, but I can’t do it without your permission,’ ” Donahue remembered. “Tomas said, ‘I do too.’ ”

But once again Donahue ran into the corporate monolith: Commercial distributors proved reluctant to pick up the film. Donahue was told that the film, although it had received great critical acclaim, was too depressing and not uplifting. Distributors asked him who would go to see a film about someone in a wheelchair. Donahue managed to get openings in Chicago, Seattle, Palm Springs, New York, Washington and Boston, but the runs were painfully brief.

“I didn’t have the money to run full-page ads,” he said. “Hollywood often spends more on promotion than it does on the movie. And so we died. What happens now is that peace groups are showing it. We opened the Veterans for Peace convention in Miami. Failure is not unfamiliar to me. And yet, I am stunned at how many Americans stand mute.

Copyright © 2013 Truthdig, L.L.C.

Chris Hedges writes a regular column for Truthdig.com. Hedges graduated from Harvard Divinity School and was for nearly two decades a foreign correspondent for The New York Times. He is the author of many books, including: War Is A Force That Gives Us Meaning, What Every Person Should Know About War, and American Fascists: The Christian Right and the War on America.  His most recent book is Empire of Illusion: The End of Literacy and the Triumph of Spectacle.

Source URL: http://www.commondreams.org/view/2013/03/25-0

Communications

15 things everyone would know if there were a liberal media

Your False-Equivalence Guide to the Days Ahead James Fallows Sep 27 2013  –A kind of politics we have not seen for more than 150 years…As a matter of journalism, any story that presents the disagreements as a “standoff,” a “showdown,” a “failure of leadership,” a sign of “partisan gridlock,” or any of the other usual terms for political disagreement, represents a failure of journalism and an inability to see or describe what is going on…This isn’t “gridlock.” It is a ferocious struggle within one party, between its traditionalists and its radical factions, with results that unfortunately can harm all the rest of us — and, should there be a debt default, could harm the rest of the world too.

Our Dumb Democracy: Why the Untied States of Stupid Still Reins Supreem by John Atcheson, January 22, 2013 by Common Dreams – …Want to know how our political discourse got so mind-numbingly stupid? Well, we can start with this little fact:  The press is so enamored with “balance” that they’ll treat even the most ignorant, shallow, fatuous movement – a [Tea Party] movement composed of the selfish, the self-obsessed, the angry, the bigoted, and the blissfully ignorant – as if it were a serious movement.…At one time this kind of foolishness would have been laughed off the national stage. Now it dominates one of our major political parties, thanks to the media’s embrace of balance and false equivalence and the Democrats’ silent complicity…today’s political discourse is so thoroughly littered with “conventional wisdom” without an iota of wisdom...our media has replaced truth, accuracy and reality with balance, false equivalency, and stenography and Democrats have been silent co-conspirators. Why?  Because the press is a wholly owned subsidiary of corporations, and too many Democrats feed at the corporate trough. And that’s not funny, but it is stupid.

A Great Debate By GARY GUTTING, New York Times blogs, Feb­ru­ary 19, 2013…our polit­i­cal “debates” sel­dom deserve the name…Is there any way to make gen­uine debates — sus­tained back-and-forth exchanges, meet­ing high intel­lec­tual stan­dards but still widely acces­si­ble — part of our polit­i­cal cul­ture?..Such debates will not end our polit­i­cal dis­agree­ments, but they will set much higher stan­dards of dis­cus­sion, requir­ing fuller expla­na­tions of posi­tions and even mod­i­fi­ca­tions to make them more defen­si­ble. It’s unlikely that either side would ever sim­ply give up its view, but, polit­i­cally, they would have to react to a strong pub­lic con­sen­sus if they had not made a respectable case…The only major obsta­cle to imple­ment­ing this pro­posal would be get­ting the par­ties to par­tic­i­pate. Here, I sug­gest, shame would be a prime moti­va­tor…Of course, many peo­ple will not have the time, inter­est, or the abil­ity to fol­low debates of this sort. But those who do — includ­ing the lead­ing com­men­ta­tors and opinion-makers — will be among the most con­cerned and artic­u­late, and their views will have a sig­nif­i­cant effect on the terms and tone of the gen­eral discussion. Facts and rea­son­ing will never set­tle polit­i­cal issues. All of us have fun­da­men­tal com­mit­ments that are imper­vi­ous to argu­ment. If an argu­ment seems to refute them, we take this as a refu­ta­tion of the argu­ment. And, of course, many of us are too igno­rant, self-interested or prej­u­diced on cer­tain issues to be moved by ratio­nal con­sid­er­a­tions. But ratio­nal­ity almost always has some role in our deci­sions, and more ratio­nal­ity in our polit­i­cal dis­cus­sion will at a min­i­mum help many to bet­ter under­stand what is at stake in our dis­putes and why their oppo­nents think as they do. So why not give rea­son a chance?…

How the Mainstream Press Bungled the Single Biggest Story of the 2012 Campaign

What Watchdog? How the Financial Press Has Failed the American Public

Are Conservatives Rethinking Fox News’ Endless Outrage Model?

Republicans Lied To by ‘Conservative Entertainment Complex’

How Conservative Radio Creates an Echo Chamber of Hate

The real media bias is for the horse race by John Rash

Why the Mainstream Media Are Clueless About the Religious Right by Adele M. Stan, AlterNet, August 18, 2011

The Virus of GOP Ignorance: Why Don’t Media Protect Us From the Lies Spewed in the Republican Primary? By Eric Alterman, The Nation, November 23, 2011 – It is a symbol of our current political predicament that anytime anyone tells the truth about anything in the contest for the Republican nomination, a new scandal erupts…The respectful response of the media to the batshit-crazy statements one hears from the second-tier Republican candidates…is doing definite damage to this country…Gingrich…Cain and Bachmann…Pretending that these people might be president, and hence deserve to be treated as if what they say is true, is not merely unjustified—given that the nominee is almost certain to be Romney—but akin to playing accessory to a kind of ongoing intellectually criminal activity.In their new book, The Anointed: Evangelical Truth in a Secular Age, Randall Stephens and Karl Giberson explain the nature of intellectual insularity of so many in this world, in which “the teachings of dubiously credentialed leaders are favored over the word of secular experts in the arts and sciences.”…
The authors describe “what amounts to a ‘parallel culture,’” where people like alleged “historian” David Barton… abd psychologist James Dobson…proffer phony-baloney history lessons that distort almost everything professional historians know to be true about America’s founders. Reporters representing reliable media outlets are supposed to defend the discourse from the virus of this ignorance. But for a variety of reasons they no longer do so. Part of the explanation can be found in the foolish willingness of so many reporters to treat Fox News, Drudge and various talk-radio hosts as respectable voices in the debate without regard to their motives or qualifications. A second, no less significant problem is the tendency of even the most sophisticated political reporters to treat the entire process as a contest between rival teams and ignore the substance of their arguments and policies, as if politics were simply a spectator sport

The End of Newspapers and the Decline of Democracy, By Eric Alterman, Center for American Progress, Think Again – March 22, 2012

How You Will Change the World with Social Networking by Deanna Zandt, AlterNet.org, July 24, 2010