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Web and democracy - March 6

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Hillary Clinton: US Losing Information War to Alternative Media

RT (Russia) - via GRTV

The US is losing the global information war, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton declared while appearing before a congressional committee to ask for extra funds to spread US propaganda through new media.

Clinton said existing private channels are not good enough to handle the job, naming as rivals Al Jazeera, China's CCTV and RT -- which she watches, she added.

Clinton was defending her department's budget in front of the House's Committee on Foreign Affairs on Wednesday. She said the US should step up its propaganda effort and get back "in the game" of doing "what we do best."

"During the Cold War we did a great job in getting America's message out. After the Berlin Wall fell we said, 'Okay, fine, enough of that, we are done,' and unfortunately we are paying a big price for it," she said. "Our private media cannot fill that gap."

"We are in an information war and we are losing that war. Al Jazeera is winning, the Chinese have opened a global multi-language television network, the Russians have opened up an English-language network. I've seen it in a few countries, and it is quite instructive," she stated.

Things have changed a lot since the days when Western media outlets, including BBC and CNN, had a monopoly on the coverage of world news. More and more viewers across the world tune into various foreign media to get a fresh take on events.

It is all in the numbers. For instance, RT's presence on YouTube is a real hit: almost 300 million views, when CNN International is struggling to reach 3 million.

RT's constantly growing audience is an indication that the days of media monopoly are over and that people are demanding more multi-polar thinking.
(4 March 2011)



How WikiLeaks is democratizing journalism, redistributing power and increasing transparency

Kevin Zeese, CommonDreams.org
Julian Assange: At the Forefront of 21st Century Journalism

If there were ever a doubt about whether the editor-in-chief of WikiLeaks, Julian Assange, is a journalist, recent events erase all those doubts and put him at the forefront of a movement to democratize journalism and empower people.

The U.S. Department of Justice is still trying to find a way to prosecute Assange and others associated with WikiLeaks. A key to their prosecution is claiming he is not a journalist, but that weak premise has been made laughable by recent events.

The list of WikiLeaks revelations has become astounding. During the North African and Middle East revolts WikiLeaks published documents that provided people with critical information. The traditional media has relied on WikiLeaks publications and is now also emulating WikiLeaks.

WikiLeaks has been credited by many with helping to spark the Tunisian Revolution because they provided information about the widespread corruption of the 23 year rule of the Ben Ali regime.
(1 March 2011)




In the Age of WikiLeaks, the End of Secrecy?

Micah L. Sifry, The Nation
... the reason the recent confrontation between WikiLeaks and the US government is a pivotal event is that, unlike these other applications of technology to politics, this time the free flow of information is threatening the establishment with difficult questions. And not by embarrassing one politician or bureaucrat but by exposing systemic details of how America conducts its foreign and military policies. Or, as writer Bruce Sterling memorably put it, “Julian Assange has hacked a superpower.” The result is a series of deeply uncomfortable contradictions.

The idea that the wondrous “new nervous system” for the planet that Clinton saw being created by all this online freedom might want to turn its attention to the most powerful country on the planet shouldn’t be a shock to leaders like her. But when the State Department cables started to leak, she fell back on a much older way of seeing the world. “The United States strongly condemns the illegal disclosure of classified information,” she said in her prepared statement the day the news broke. “It puts people’s lives in danger, threatens our national security and undermines our efforts to work with other countries to solve shared problems.” She added later, “Disclosures like these tear at the fabric of the proper function of responsible government.” The notion that lying to the American public, or the world, about the conduct of foreign or military policy might be more damaging to the fabric of international relations or to the functioning of responsible government was not addressed.

‘You Can’t Handle the Truth’?

Here is Clinton’s problem: in the networked age, when the watched can also be the watchers, nothing less than the credibility of authority itself is at stake. Western governments presumably rest on the consent of the governed, but only if the governed trust the word of those who would govern them. In this changed environment, the people formerly known as the authorities can re-earn that trust only by being more transparent, and by eliminating the contradictions between what they say and what they do. Compounding this challenge, today when a crisis strikes, information moves faster than the “authorities” can know using their own, slower methods. WikiLeaks, and other channels for the unauthorized release and spread of information, are symptoms of this change, not its cause.

Unfortunately there is a large gap between what American officials have told the public about their actions and what they have actually done.

... the genie has escaped from the bottle. Whatever else you may say about Assange, his greatest contribution to global enlightenment is the idea of a viable “stateless news organization,” to use Jay Rosen’s phrase, beholden to no country’s laws and dedicated to bringing government information into public view. Even if Assange—who has just lost round one of his fight to avoid extradition to Sweden to face rape charges—goes to jail and WikiLeaks is somehow shut down, others are already following in his footsteps. Or as futurist Mark Pesce nicely put it, “The failures of WikiLeaks provide the blueprint for the systems which will follow it.”

Since Cablegate, several independent WikiLeaks-style projects have announced themselves, including: BrusselsLeaks.com (focused on the European Union); BalkanLeaks.eu (the Balkan countries); Indoleaks.org (Indonesia); Rospil.info (Russia); two competing environmental efforts, each claiming the name GreenLeaks; and the Al-Jazeera Transparency Unit, which in January began publishing (with the Guardian) a cache of documents from inside the Palestinian Authority that exposed the minutes of high-level PA negotiating sessions with Israel and the United States. Some recent graduates of the CUNY Journalism School launched a simple tool, Localeaks, for publishers interested in attracting whistleblowers. And even the New York Times announced it may create a special portal for would-be leakers.
(21 March 2011)



The Internet’s Unholy Marriage to Capitalism

John Bellamy Foster and Robert W. McChesney, Monthly Review
... The full impact of the Internet revolution will only become apparent in the future, as more technological change is on the horizon that can barely be imagined and hardly anticipated.2 But enough time has transpired, and institutions and practices have been developed, that an assessment of the digital era is possible, as well as a sense of its likely trajectory into the future.

... What is striking, as one returns to the late 1980s and early 1990s and reads about the Internet and its future, is that these accounts were almost uniformly optimistic. With all information available to everyone at the speed of light and impervious to censorship, all existing institutions were going to be changed for the better. There was going to be a worldwide two-way flow, or multi-flow, a democratization of communication unthinkable before then. Corporations could no longer bamboozle consumers and crush upstart competitors; governments could no longer operate in secrecy with a kept-press spouting propaganda; students from the poorest and most remote areas would have access to educational resources once restricted to the elite. In short, people would have unprecedented tools and power. For the first time in human history, there would not only be information equality and uninhibited instant communication access between all people everywhere, but there would also be access to a treasure trove of uncensored knowledge that only years earlier would have been unthinkable, even for the world’s most powerful ruler or richest billionaire. Inequality and exploitation were soon to be dealt their mightiest blow.

The Internet, or more broadly, the digital revolution is truly changing the world at multiple levels. But it has also failed to deliver on much of the promise that was once seen as implicit in its technology. If the Internet was expected to provide more competitive markets and accountable businesses, open government, an end to corruption, and decreasing inequality—or, to put it baldly, increased human happiness—it has been a disappointment.

... In particular, we argue that applying the “Lauderdale Paradox” (or the contradiction between public wealth and private riches) of classical political economy makes a strong case that the most prudent course for any society is to start from the assumption that the Internet should be fundamentally outside the domain of capital. We hope to provide a necessary alternative way to imagine how best to develop the Internet in contrast to the commodified, privatized world of capital accumulation. This does not mean that there can be no commerce, even extensive commerce, in the digital realm, but merely that the system’s overriding logic—and the starting point for all policy discussions—must be as an institution operated on public interest values, at bare minimum as a public utility.

It is true that in any capitalist society there is going to be strong, even at times overwhelming, pressure to open up areas that can be profitably exploited by capital, regardless of the social costs, or “negative externalities,” as economists put it. After all, capitalists—by definition, given their economic power—exercise inordinate political power. But it is not a given that all areas will be subjected to the market. Indeed, many areas in nature and human existence cannot be so subjected without destroying the fabric of life itself—and large portions of capitalist societies have historically been and remain largely outside of the capital accumulation process. One could think of community, family, religion, education, romance, elections, research, and national defense as partial examples, although capital is pressing to colonize those where it can. Many important political debates in a capitalist society are concerned with determining the areas where the pursuit of profit will be allowed to rule, and where it will not. At their most rational, and most humane, capitalist societies tend to preserve large noncommercial sectors, including areas such as health care and old-age pensions, that might be highly profitable if turned over to commercial interests. At the very least, the more democratic a capitalist society is, the more likely it is for there to be credible public debates on these matters.

However—and this is a point dripping in irony—such a fundamental debate never took place in relation to the Internet. The entire realm of digital communication was developed through government-subsidized-and-directed research and during the postwar decades, primarily through the military and leading research universities. Had the matter been left to the private sector, to the “free market,” the Internet never would have come into existence. The total amount of the federal subsidy of the Internet is impossible to determine with precision.

... Remarkably, the United States, which created and first developed the Internet, and which ranked, throughout the 1990s, close to first in world Internet connectivity, now ranks between fifteen and twenty in most global measures of broadband access, quality of service, and cost per megabit.10 There is no incentive to terminate the “digital divide,” whereby poor and rural Americans remain unconnected to broadband far beyond the rates in other advanced nations; a digital underclass encourages people to pay what it takes to avoid being unconnected.

... This, too, runs directly counter to the notion of the Internet as a generator of competition and consumer empowerment, and as a place for an alternative to the top-down corporate system to prosper. Writers like Clay Shirky and Yochai Benkler wax eloquent about the revolutionary potential for collaborative and cooperative work online. Some of this has carved out an important niche on the Internet, which stands as a tangible reminder of how different the Internet could look. They point to peer-to-peer activities, the Open Source movement, Mozilla Firefox, WikiLeaks, and the Wikipedia experience. We find this work illuminating and encouraging, and it points to the great potential of the Internet that we have only begun to tap.15

But this collaborative potential, arguably the democratic genius of the Internet, runs up against the pressure of capital to consolidate monopoly power, create artificial scarcity, and erect fences wherever possible. At nearly every turn, industries connected to the Internet have transitioned from competitive to oligopolistic in short order. To a large extent, this is a familiar story: any sane capitalist wants to have as much market power and as little competition as possible. By conventional economic theory, concentration in markets in general is bad for the efficient allocation of resources in an economy. Monopoly is the enemy of competition, and competition is what keeps the system honest.

It is supremely ironic that the Internet, the long-ballyhooed champion of increased consumer power and cutthroat competition, seems, in the end, to be more a force for monopoly. To be clear, the Internet is still crystallizing as an area of capitalist development, and historically speaking, appears quite dynamic, so it is premature to act as if the dust has settled.
(March 2011 issue)
Long article with deep implications. Even though the writers are socialists, the arguments could resonate with libertarians, liberals and social democrats. -BA

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