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Agenda Setters and Gatekeepers: How Mainstream Media Controls Information

In media on April 28, 2010 at 11:39 pm

“Information is the currency of democracy.”

The quote is attributed to both founding father Thomas Jefferson and political activist Ralph Nader. Regardless of who said it, the statement is a profound one.

In a America, citizens are assured the news offers differing viewpoints. From FOX News to MSNBC, most viewers are convinced they are getting both “sides” to a story. But are they really?

The truth is, mainstream media is controlled by a tightly knit group of corporations. The “big six,” as they are sometimes described, consist of General Electric, Time Warner, Walt Disney, News Corp, Viacom and CBS. Together, these mega-corporations make up and control virtually all mainstream news.

Notice how, when switching between “conservative” and “liberal” mainstream networks, topics covered and facts reported are almost always the same. The perceived difference in bias convinces viewers their source of choice is somehow independent.

Not only does the mainstream media serve as gatekeepers of public information, it also sets the agenda for other news sources. Foreign and local media find themselves marching to the beat set by the “big six.” As a result, massive amounts of information go unreported to the public. Mainstream decides for all what, how much, and the manner in which the news is reported.

But a powerful weapon has emerged in recent years able to counteract big media. The internet has provided the individual with a plethora of opinions and an explosion of information. Free Press accurately describes the World Wide Web as offering “hope” to the public:

“The internet is radically changing the way most everyone experiences media. It could become the central nervous system of a healthy democracy — the greatest engine for free speech, civic engagement, and economic growth ever known. It may be our last, best hope to make an end-run around the traditional media gatekeepers.”

Also see The Nation’s interactive list of “The Big Ten.”

A Tragic Foreign Policy: How the U.S. Ignored and Aided Genocide in East Timor

In foreign policy, sovereignty on April 28, 2010 at 1:44 am

“There is no Western concern for issues of aggression, atrocities, human rights abuses and so on if there’s a profit to be made from them.” — Noam Chomsky talking about the genocide in East Timor.

Sometimes inspiration for a post comes from an unlikely source. Today while wasting valuable study time watching videos on YouTube, I came across the song “Timor” by Colombian singer/songwriter Shakira.

“It’s alright, it’s alright. As long as we can vote. We live in a democracy and that’s what we promote.” 

I had listened to the song many times before but was never really sure of it’s meaning. Obviously, the song was political in nature — but what was Timor? I decided to Google the term.

The nation of East Timor lies just north of Australia and shares a small island with the Indonesian province of West Timor. The CIA’s World Factbook briefly references the small nation’s recent bloody history: 

“East Timor declared itself independent from Portugal on 28 November 1975 and was invaded and occupied by Indonesian forces nine days later. It was incorporated into Indonesia in July 1976 as the province of Timor Timur (East Timor). An unsuccessful campaign of pacification followed over the next two decades, during which an estimated 100,000 to 250,000 individuals lost their lives.” 

What the website fails to mention is the large role the U.S. government played in the murder of hundreds of thousands of Timorese.  

The National Security Archive’s Indonesia and East Timor Documentation Project details U.S. involvement in the invasion, citing previously classified documents obtained through the Freedom of Information Act. According to its website, the Archive reveals a “consistent pattern” by U.S. administrations “of subordinating East Timor’s right to self-determination to its relations with Indonesia.”

One of the supporting documents, a former top secret memo addressed to Henry Kissinger, admits U.S. knowledge of Indonesia’s intent to invade or, “Incorporate Portuguese Timor by force.” It also reports U.S. Ambassador to Indonesia David Newsom’s recommendation for “a policy of silence”: 

“The State Department has been uncertain about the best policy to follow. Ambassador Newsom has recommended a general policy of silence. He has argued that we have considerable interests in Indonesia and none in Timor. If we try to dissuade Indonesia from what Suharto may regard as a necessary use of force, major difficulties in our relationship could result.” 

As the memo forecasted, both the U.S. government and mainstream media were silent on the invasion and resulting genocide for more than 25 years. An Australian parliamentary report described the situation in East Timor as “indiscriminate killing on a scale unprecedented in post-World War II history.”  

But more unsettling than the United States’ pretend ignorance of the genocide, was its active participation in it. Prior to the invasion, the U.S. supplied the Indonesia government with large amounts of military support and weapons — a business that did not cease after the assault on Timor. According to The National Security Archive’s research, “virtually all of the military equipment used in the invasion was U.S. supplied.”

Fairness and Accuracy in Reporting writer Matthew Jardine concurs. In his article, East Timor: Media Turned Their Backs on Genocide, he says not only did the U.S. give Indonesia the green light, it also provided millions in aid.  

“Since that time, the U.S. has provided Indonesia with hundreds of millions of dollars in economic and military assistance, greatly facilitating the colonization of East Timor. On the diplomatic front, the U.S. has helped to block any effective action on the issue. Former U.N. Ambassador Daniel Patrick Moynihan openly bragged, in his book A Dangerous Place, about how he carried out with ‘no inconsiderable success U.S. policy to render the U.N. ‘utterly ineffective’ on East Timor.”

I was saddened to learn of the recent tragic history of East Timor and my own government’s responsibility. Unfortunately, the United State’s involvement and interventions in the region are not out of character. Timor is just one of many U.S.-backed tragedies.

Iran’s fearless female revolution

In protest, women's rights on April 26, 2010 at 3:26 am

When Americans hear the words “Iran” and “women” used the same sentence, images of long black veils and public floggings are probably what come to mind. But what western media does a poor job portraying is the quiet, but bold, feminist movement that is taking place in Iran.

For example, Americans would probably be surprised to learn automobile racing is a popular sport in Iran. They’d be even more shocked to discover one of the nation’s top competitors is a women.

Meet Iran’s Dana Kirkpatrick, Zohreh Zatankhah. Ms. Zatankhah is a nationally ranked racecar driver who has taken first in races against her male competitors. In all 40 of her last races, she has placed in the top three.

“When I started this job, the men would laugh at me, Zatankhah  said. “They aren’t laughing anymore.”

But sports isn’t the only male-dominated field Iranian women are making headway in. Tahmineh Milāni has been testing the limits of the her nation’s film industry for years. In 2001, she was arrested and jailed for her controversial film, “The Hidden Half.” Her most recent film, “Payback,” tells the story of a group of women who pose and prostitutes and then seek their vengeance on accepting men.

“A society that reduces women to mere sexual objects, would have to pay a very high price for it,”  Milāni said.

While Milāni’s and Zatankhah courage and accomplishments are more than impressive, it’s the activism of the granddaughter of the Islamic Revolutions’ leader that is most shocking. Zahra Eshraghi’s grandfather was none other than Ayatollah Khomeini. Khomeini is still revered by Iranians as the father of the 1979 Iranian revolution. His strict interpretation of Sharia law imposed on women is something his granddaughter is trying to reverse. And although she wears the traditional chador, Eshraghi has become famous for her recent campaign against requiring women to wear headscarves.

”I’m sorry to say that the chador was forced on women,” Eshraghi said of the long black garment. ”Forced — in government buildings, in the school my daughter attends. This garment that was traditional Iranian dress was turned into a symbol of revolution. People have lost their respect for it. I only wear it because of my family status.”

It’s been almost 100 years since the United States gave females the right to vote. Should American women ever grow complacent or forgetful of their revolutionary past, perhaps their sisters in Iran can offer inspiration.


Watch Iranian filmmaker Tahmineh Milāni talk about her latest controversial film, “Payback.”

Watch Matt Lauer’s report on Iranian female racecar driver, Zohreh Zatankhah.

In the game of politics what really matters?

In politics on April 26, 2010 at 12:49 am

Democrat, Republican, progressive, libertarian, conservative, communist — so many labels that only serve to divide. Yet people cling to these categories as if their very identities depended on them. For some, it does.

Politics becomes more than just a necessary evil their sense of civil duty requires them to take part in. It is a game, a lust for political banter, partisanship and identity.

But do politics really matter and, if so, why?

Political junkies can regurgitate the latest national news or recite the who’s who in Washington, yet most can’t recall the reason they became involved in politics to begin with. Was it a concern for free markets? A desire to protect family values? The environment perhaps?

The truth is, these “junkies” have lost sight of what really matters — namely, people. If human beings do not matter than no issue, whether it be marriage, energy, or the economy, is of any importance.

Hearing political pundits refer to the “tea baggers” or discuss Nancy Pelosi’s Botox injection is wearisome. Such matters are trivial when compared to real, human issues such as the effects of the “war on drugs” or the genocide in Darfur. It’s an embarrassment we even discuss them.

All of us, whatever our political identity, need to remember what truly matters in this game called politics. Otherwise we have no business playing.

Veils, headscarves and religious intolerance

In Individual Sovereignty, liberty and rights, women's rights on April 23, 2010 at 12:40 am

“The level of hypocrisy in this debate beggars belief – while we criticize countries who force women to put clothes on, we can force them to take them off for the sake of ‘liberation.’ ” — Intissar Kherigi

Belgium is looking to be the first European country to ban the niqab — a traditional head scarf-veil combo worn by Muslim women that covers the entire face except for the eyes. Lawmakers say the niqab hides the identity of women and creates a barrier between them and society.

Parliamentary member Daniel Bacquelaine introduced the bill. He says such a garment isn’t acceptable in a “tolerant society.”

“We cannot allow someone to claim the right to look at others without being seen,” Bacquelaine said. “It is necessary that the law forbids the wearing of clothes that totally mask and enclose an individual.”

The move toward banning traditional Muslim veils and headscarves is a trend spreading across Europe. In 2004, France cited the principle of “secularism” as reason to outlaw headscarves in its schools.

The argument that such laws are necessary is a weak one. The argument that such laws promote “secularism” and “tolerance” is downright ridiculous. How can a law promote tolerance by being intolerant of individuals’ beliefs and choices?

Forcing Muslim women to remove the niqab is like forcing orthodox Jewish men to shave their beards. Both are worn because of deep, religious convictions.

To be sure, some Muslim women have no choice and are forced to cover themselves. As a feminist woman, I could not be more opposed to the wearing of garments such as the hijab, niqab and burka. To me, they are symbols of religious and patriarchal oppression. But my convictions do not give me the right to force Muslim women, or men, to forsake theirs.

As researcher for Human Rights Watch Judith Sunderland points out, the debate about whether or not to ban the niqab is really one about individual liberty:

“It’s really fundamentally about the proper role of the state in matters relating to religion and personal autonomy.”

Liberals ‘Losing Hope’

In protest, war and peace on April 20, 2010 at 9:04 pm

“Obamas message of hope and change, so exciting a year ago, now rings hollow for those of us hoping he would usher in an era of peace.” — Medea Benjamin, Cofounder, CODEPINK

I was beginning to lose faith in the anti-war left and those that pride themselves progressive. But just as conservatives and libertarians became abhorred with George W. Bush’s and the neo-cons’ unique brand of conservatism, so it seems many on the left are beginning to see through Obama’s liberal facade.

Liberals are losing hope — and gaining insight.

In fact, is a website entirely dedicated to reviewing and criticizing the Obama administrations’ empty promise for “change” and pressuring the president to make good. It was created by the women of CODEPINK and boasts a list of liberal supporters.

The website’s homepage meets visitors with a letter addressed to the president titled Losing Hope, Taking Action. The letter asks Obama to “stand up to corporate interests” and bemoans the failed foreign policies of the previous administration being continued by the current:

“In 2008, I was one of millions united for hope and change. As 2010 dawns, change looks to me like more of the same.  Instead of peace, we got more war.  Instead of healthcare reform, we have an industry win that requires Americans to buy health insurance without any real cost controls.”

It’s encouraging to see those on the left waking up to the failed promise that is Barack Obama. Hopefully, they will not repeat the mistake of their conservative counterparts and forget the painful truth their own party has revealed to them.

Lady of liberty: Allison Gibbs

In women's rights on April 20, 2010 at 2:07 am
“As free women, we demand and will exercise the right of self defense, freedom of movement and the entirety of the fruits of our labor which cannot be abridged by any man, collective or state.” — Ladies of Liberty Alliance
Meet Allison Gibbs: director of outreach for Ron Paul’s Campaign for Liberty and founder and executive director the Ladies of Liberty Alliance (LOLA). Gibbs is a microbiologist who worked on AIDS/HIV research and Antibiotic Resistance/Bioterror for the Department of Defense. Although she is a fervent libertarian now, Gibbs admits to her former “inclination toward socialism.”
It was her time spent simultaneously working for the Department of Defense and Ron Paul’s 2008 presidential campaign that led to her conversion.
“I found that there where a lot of problems within the system of government,” Gibbs said. “I decided to drop what I was doing because of all the atrocities I saw with the FDA, DOD, things I was doing … So I decided I would jump in with Campaign for Liberty.”
Gibbs is still serving as Campaign for Liberty’s director of outreach. However, it’s her most recent venture, LOLA, that is truly revolutionary. 
“LOLA’s main mission is to be able to help women feel like they can get into these leadership roles as well as bring more women into the fold,” said Gibbs. “The underpinning of our organization is that each individual is autonomous up unto the point where they inflict force or violence against another person”
LOLA’s website reflects Gibb’s libertarian rhetoric:

“We, the women of Ladies of Liberty Alliance, recognize the natural right of all women to ownership of their property — their bodies, minds and justly acquired possessions. As free women, we demand and will exercise the right of self defense, freedom of movement and the entirety of the fruits of our labor which cannot be abridged by any man, collective or state. As such, we recognize and respect the same negative rights of others and advocate consensual rather than coercive interactions.”

It’s exciting to see such impassioned young women joining the liberty movement. Thanks to Gibbs and others like her, the revolution is gaining a distinctly feminine voice.

The rights of terrorists Part I

In liberty and rights on April 19, 2010 at 3:04 am

It’s no surprise Attorney General Eric Holder and the Obama administration are caving to pressure by leading Republicans to try terror suspects in military tribunals. What is surprising is the lack of outrage from the American people who actually appear in favor of such kangaroo courts.

Probably because most Americans are under the delusion that the U.S. Constitution, Bill of Rights and Miranda Warning only apply to U.S. citizens. They need to do their homework.

The entire case for military tribunals rests on the assumption that A) terrorists are not American citizens and B) they are therefore not entitled to the “rights of the accused.” But the notion that only citizens are privilege to the first 10 amendments of the U.S. Constitution is completely unfounded.

Nowhere in the Bill of Rights do the words “American” or “citizen” appear. Instead, the language simply refers to persons and the accused as in “The accused shall enjoy the right to a speedy and public trial.”

Likewise the 14th amendment, which made the Bill of Rights applicable to state law, makes a strong distinction between U.S. citizens and persons in general:

“No State shall make or enforce any law which shall abridge the privileges or immunities of citizens of the United States; nor shall any State deprive any person of life, liberty, or property, without due process of law; nor deny to any person within its jurisdiction the equal protection of the laws.”

So the 14th amendment prohibits states from abridging the privileges or immunities of citizens while at the same time prohibiting them from depriving any person of due process and equal protection under the law.

See The rights of terrorists Part II

The rights of terrorists Part II

In liberty and rights on April 19, 2010 at 2:59 am

While many Republicans and even Democrats are crying foul over the Obama administrations’ proposal to read terror suspects the Miranda Warning, it appears the Bush administration has already done so. According to a February 2008 article by The Washington Post, FBI agents were reading suspected terrorists their rights long before Obama stepped foot in the Oval Office.

In an attempt to bring six of the men allegedly connected to the Sept. 11 attacks to justice, including mastermind Khalid Sheikh Mohammed, the Bush administration assigned FBI agents to obtain information that could be admissible in court. According to the article:

“The men were read rights similar to a standard U.S. Miranda warning, and officials designed the program to get to the information the CIA already had gleaned by using waterboarding, which simulates drowning, and other techniques such as sleep deprivation, forced standing and the use of extreme temperatures.

Prosecutors and top administration officials essentially wanted to cleanse the information so that it could be used in court, a process that federal prosecutors typically follow in U.S. criminal cases with investigative problems or botched interrogations.”

They argument that the Miranda Warning applies only to U.S. citizens is equally an uneducated one. The fact is all criminal suspects, as ruled by the U.S. Supreme Court in Miranda vs. Arizona, are entitled to be informed of their rights. This means all persons detained, including immigrants and foreigners, are read their Miranda rights. The obvious purpose of Miranda is to assure information obtained is admissible in a court of law as required by the Bill of Rights.

Miranda aside, the underlying assumption driving the motives of those advocating military tribunals is that the crime of terrorism is so horrible precedent and law do not apply and/or that terror suspects are already guilty. For example, it’s not uncommon to hear conservative pundits referring to Guantanamo Bay detainees as terrorists rather than suspected terrorists. It’s as if they’ve already made up their minds — no evidence or trial necessary.

As Americans, we must remember why we have protections in place such as those in the U.S. Constitution and Bill of Rights. The rights enumerated in these documents were not bestowed on us by our enlightened and all-wise founders. They could not be given, as they already belonged to us by the mere fact of our humanity. Just as each and every American has the inherent right to justice, so to do such detested figures as Khalid Sheikh Mohammed and Osama bin Laden.

Detested, but still human.

See The Rights of Terrorists Part I

Leading socialist says Obama is not one of them

In politics on April 16, 2010 at 1:40 am

Tea partiers never seem to get tired of calling  Barack Obama a socialist. But Billy Wharton, co-chair of the Socialist Party USA and editor of the party’s magazine, The Socialist, thinks they’re mistaken.

According to him, Obama is anything but a socialist.

“We didn’t see a great victory with the election of Barack Obama,” he said in an interview with CNN. “And we certainly didn’t see our agenda move from the streets to the White House.”

But tea partiers love to point to “Obamacare” as ultimate proof the president must be a card-carrying member of the Socialist Party. However, Wharton isn’t so thrilled about the healthcare takeover. He says it actually strengthens private healthcare industry.

“Most of it was authored by the health care industry,” he said. “I call it the corporate restructuring of health care.”

Libertarian-leaning Republican Ron Paul, agrees with Wharton. He says Obama is not a socialist, but actually a corporatist.

“In the technical sense, in the economic definition of what a socialist [is], no he’s not a socialist,” Paul said at the recent Southern Republican Leadership Conference in New Orleans. “What he is, is a corporatist. And that means you take care of corporations and corporations take over and run the country.”

Paul and Wharton are absolutely right: Obama is anything but a socialist. Like Bush before him, he is a political puppet — a tool put in place to bow to the whims of the corporate elites.

I wish Obama were a socialist, even a communist. I would rather have a sincere, honest, independent communist in the White House representing the American people than a front man representing the interests of the rich and powerful.