Is the progressive blogosphere dead?

October 24, 2012 by Peter · Leave a Comment 

UPDATE (10/29/13): The progressive community is abuzz about a pair of posts from Ian Welsh and Jerome Armstrong about the “Failure of the Netroots.” My view is that Ian and Jerome are reflecting deep, often unspoken dismay among some progressives that the Obama presidency has been a disaster for their cause. Some of the most egregious national security practices and civil liberties violations of the Bush era have been expanded and enhanced under Obama, negating years of tireless, thankless activism by the netroots against the Bush-Cheney agenda.

Following is a post I wrote in response to a 2012 Daily Beast article about the decline of the liberal blogosphere which tracks some of the arguments made by Ian and Jerome. Note my (pre-Snowden) comments about Glenn Greenwald and my prediction that bloggers like Glenn would be among those who “help shape the national debate” in the years to come…

In 2005, I wrote “THE TRIANGLE: Limits of Blog Power,” about the power (and occasional powerlessness) of progressive blogs. Seven years later, the questions remain the same and the Daily Beast’s David Freedlander writes about the perceived decline of the liberal blogosphere, igniting a spirited debate among bloggers.

Jane Hamsher: “Pam has already touched on David Freedlander’s piece about the decline of independent blogs 10 years down the road.  There are many things that are true in his long piece, but he somehow doesn’t manage to ask the rather obvious question — where’s the money? …The reason increasing numbers of blogs can’t keep the lights on is simple –  Google.  As I wrote on Bytegeist recently, news advertising revenues (both online and off) have tanked since 2000, and that money is going straight to Google, who passes pennies on to news outlets for every dollar they receive.”

Susie Madrak: ” As Jane Hamsher points out, we lost revenue over Google ad practices. (Not to mention the Obama campaign’s refusal to buy ads directly from blogs. Guess they showed us, huh?) But I liked Pam Spaulding’s take best. Like me, Pam is just trying to stay afloat with her health problems…”

Pam Spaulding: “It’s not that independent political blogging is toast — after all the longevity of a blog post in the historical record far outweighs a short message on social media. A blog essay has more lasting influence; the problem is independent blogs don’t have sufficient value in today’s commercial space to sustain their existence —  save for the lucky few people who have been able to monetize (or fundraise) for theirs to continue to exist.”

Raven Brooks: “The dynamics of the Netroots may have changed since its beginnings in 2004, but the influence has grown. Freedlander’s premise that people of influence dismiss progressive bloggers is simply not true. Not a day goes by without a staffer, candidate or elected official asking for advice on how to reach bloggers–and get money and support from their readers.”

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Kill switch redux: British PM Cameron considers muzzling social media during riots

August 12, 2011 by Peter · Leave a Comment 

This is chilling:

The government is considering whether social media services should be shut off at times of disorder, the British prime minister, David Cameron, has told parliament.

Cameron’s comments were made in a speech to the House of Commons on Thursday. Parliament has been recalled from its summer recess to respond to the violent disorder that has affected London, Manchester, Birmingham and other UK cities.

“Mr Speaker, everyone watching these horrific actions will be stuck by how they were organised via social media,” Cameron said. “Free flow of information can be used for good. But it can also be used for ill.”

Well, true, things would be much easier without that pesky “free flow of information.” Read more

Consciousness Outfolding: The Philosophical Significance of Social Media

June 16, 2011 by Peter · Leave a Comment 

Note: this is a repost of a piece I wrote on June 16, 2009.

As with any new phenomenon, a wave of curiosity, criticism, mockery, and adulation follows. The Twitter meta wave is cresting.

Now, attention is focused on Twitter’s practical applications in the disputed Iranian election and its unique capacity to harness real-time events. In the larger picture, the most intriguing thing about Twitter is not how it is different from other online communication mechanisms, but how it is the same: one more technological innovation enabling the outfolding of consciousness — the collective turning-outward of human thought.

In Embryos, Galaxies, and Sentient Beings: How the Universe Makes Life, an exquisitely written and astonishingly insightful book, Richard Grossinger writes about ‘infoldedeness’, stating that “the universe is comprehensible only as a thing that has been folded many times upon itself.” Reversing Grossinger’s idea: the outfolding of the human mind, the collective sharing of our thoughts, myriad thoughts from the inane to the mundane to the profound, enabled by technology, is changing our perception of reality and thus changing reality itself.

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On Egypt, Twitter missteps from the White House to Kenneth Cole

February 3, 2011 by Peter · Leave a Comment 

In the cacophony of Egypt-related commentary on Twitter, a couple of incidents illustrate the pitfalls of communicating publicly on social networks.

On January 29th, while the entire world was watching the historic events in Egypt, this Twitter exchange took place:

WH Communications Director Dan Pfeiffer (official account): @dcfooter on the road is tough, but Nova is very beatable

Pfeiffer: Tough game on the road, but Nova is very beatable if the guards shoot well RT@pfeiffer44 gtown-nova. What’s your confidence level?

Nic Lott: @pfeiffer44 How about more tweets on issues of the nation and world since this is a WH twitter account. Turmoil in Middle East. Not sports.

Pfeiffer: @niclott fair point. We are carefully monitoring. Pls see this video of POTUS talking about egypt last night http://bit.ly/ecz1Xo 9:25 AM Jan 29th via web in reply to niclott

After reading the back and forth, I gave credit to Pfeiffer for responding in real time and quickly pivoting to Egypt.

Similarly, on the White House Twitter account (@WhiteHouse), three wildly incongruous tweets appeared on February 2 as Egypt exploded:

Gibbs: “US deplores and condemns the violence that is taking place in Egypt… repeat our strong call for restraint” http://wh.gov/cJu 12:15 PM Feb 2nd via web

Congrats to the winners of Cabinet meeting jeopardy: @LauraKMM @gravitas28 @Only4RM @Diament_OU, others we missed 12:13 PM Feb 2nd via web

Photo of the Day contest: Name 4 Cabinet members pictured here. Bonus for 5. Prize: not much. (credit: @petesouza) http://twitpic.com/3vsscd 11:28 AM Feb 2nd via Twitpic

Far from politics, Kenneth Cole waded into a firestorm with a tweet that made light of the events in Egypt. Cole posted this apology on Facebook:

I apologize to everyone who was offended by my insensitive tweet about the situation in Egypt. I’ve dedicated my life to raising awareness about serious social issues, and in hindsight my attempt at humor regarding a nation liberating themselves against oppression was poorly timed and absolutely inappropriate.

Kenneth Cole, Chairman and Chief Creative Officer

I asked fellow Twitter users how they felt about the fluffy White House tweets. Some said it was meaningless and critics should lighten up, others disagreed:

jentwats it’s disgusting

eclexia Utter callous stupidity

jbuford Light-hearted tweets coming from the WH are jarring and incongruous

This raises a much larger question – one of the most profound and intractable problems we face as humans, namely, how to balance pleasure with sensitivity to others’ pain, how to enjoy life in the midst of unfathomable sadness. There is no easy answer. It’s the perennial problem of how much to give of ourselves and how often. Should we plunk down $100 on a nice meal when kids are starving around the world? How about having a $20 meal and donating the rest to feed several families? Should we laugh and joke and smile at the exact moment that little girls are being raped with broken bottles? Is it fair? Is it right?

Our general impulse is to say that it’s a matter of degree, that there is infinite anguish on this planet and we can’t survive if we internalize all of it, nor can we spend all our time suffering over the suffering of others. If we sacrifice and help to a reasonable extent it’s the most we can do. Perhaps. Perhaps not.

As I said, there’s no answer. We each find our own equilibrium. Some do nothing, some dedicate their entire lives to the cause of helping others in need.

In the end, at the very least, we should appreciate the pain that’s all around us. Even if we don’t devote every waking moment to alleviating it, let’s not exacerbate it by turning a blind eye.

So much for the online revolution (The triumph of Fox, Drudge, Limbaugh and the rightwing noise machine)

November 2, 2010 by Peter · 1 Comment 

The story of the 2008 election was the coming of age of online politics. Hundreds of millions of dollars raised. Unprecedented macro and micro-organizing. Citizen empowerment. Humongous email lists that we were told would deluge politicians who stood in the way of the Obama Internet juggernaut.

Of course, it hasn’t turned out that way.

The story of the 2010 elections is the triumph of the rightwing noise machine, a lumbering, well-greased behemoth created and honed over the course of three decades. Anchored by Fox News and talk radio, amplified by blogs and chain emails and juiced by the Drudge Report, this machine cranks out think-tank crafted soundbites that dominate the national discourse. Perennial terms like “big government,” “socialized medicine,” “judicial activism,” and “tax and spend,” are imbibed, regurgitated, magnified and proliferated, shaping perceptions and inflaming passions.

A million reasons have been put forth about how and why Democrats squandered their singular moment in 2008, everything from the economy to badly timed health insurance reform, but one thing is indisputable: the 2010 midterms are a clear victory for the right’s old-school messaging operation.

No one can argue that there weren’t warnings about putting too much faith in the Internet. A year into the Obama presidency, Zephyr Teachout predicted that Organizing for America Will, and Should, Fail:

Organizing for America sent out a request for house parties today, asking people to watch a video about Obama’s economic recovery plan, talk about it with their friends, and build support for it. While there will be tweaks, this is the kind of action we can anticipate from OFA. I predict that there will be perhaps a thousand of such parties, then hundreds, then dozens. I think OFA will fail in its mission to directly engage Obama supporters in supporting Obama’s executive actions. And I think this is a very good thing.

It will fail because Obama–suiting a President–is not oppositional, conflict-driven, and not likely to pick out particular targets to be won over–all things that are likely to engage people. It will fail because it is from OFA, not from Obama. And it will fail because OFA cannot be a new democratic party, but will have a hard time defining what it is, and what kind of real power ought exist at every level of the organization.

During the health care debate, I posted The Health Reform Fiasco Is an ‘Old’ Media Triumph — and a Red Flag for Democrats:

Political and policy battles are primarily about messaging, about shaping public perceptions; despite widespread Internet triumphalism in the wake of the 2008 campaign, ‘old’ media mechanisms are not only relevant, but potent; Obama’s victory was predominantly the result of a well-conceived and executed traditional campaign strategy (i.e. creating effective positive and negative message frames and adhering to them).

A striking fact about the current political environment is that despite the ground-breaking Democratic victory in November, the new administration is dealing with an oddly familiar political brew: the “liberal media” mantra is rekindled, conservative talk radio (i.e. anti-liberal radio) is resurgent, Rush Limbaugh is more relevant than ever, Ann Coulter is once again doing the network rounds, and if online commentary over the past month is any indication, many progressives still feel disconnected from the levers of power. The dynamics and tensions of the past decade remain firmly in play: rightwing noise machine (albeit denuded) versus progressive activists, old-school pundits and politicians versus online powerhouses, netroots versus DLC, frustrated outsiders versus back-scratching insiders, partisanship versus bi/post-partisanship, media versus bloggers, and so on. Democrats would do well to note how unpredictably the Conventional Wisdom Machine has operated (or how predictably for those who are less sanguine about the fungibility of a web-fueled grassroots campaign).

Setting aside strategic errors by the Democrats (and there have been several in this fight), just look at how reform opponents have outgunned the White House using town halls, cable news, newspaper editorials, Freepers, Drudge, talk radio and chain emails. If I close my eyes, I’m transported back to my days on the Kerry campaign and the summer of Swift Boats, Purple Heart Band-Aids and rightwing attack machine antics. It’s as though a half decade of technological advances disappeared in the blink of an eye. Forget Facebook and Twitter, it’s all about Fox and MSNBC and CNN replaying images of angry protesters at town hall meetings railing against ‘government takeovers.’ It’s about Glenn Beck and Rush Limbaugh spreading fear and fury. It’s about anonymous emails zipping across the country, distorting the facts and sowing confusion. It’s about rightwing pundits setting the terms of the debate by foisting radical ideas on the public.

Paradoxically, the attempts by Democrats to counter all this by sending emails to Obama’s list and creating campaign-style fact-checking websites seem almost quaint by comparison. When a woman at a town hall spoke about “awakening a sleeping giant,” she may as well have been alluding to the old media tools and techniques that have been dismissed by pundits and tech evangelists as anachronistic in the Internet age. Simply put, despite volumes of cyber-ink about the left’s online prowess, and despite Democrats controlling the White House and Congress, the right can apparently dominate the national conversation using the same outlets they relied on five and ten years ago.

That was a year and a half ago. The midterms further cement my view.

The beliefs that have shaped the 2010 midterms can be traced directly to the likes of Limbaugh, Glenn Beck and Sean Hannity. In a post titled The unbearable lightness of being a Tea Partier, I outlined the process by which rightwing soundbites transform conventional wisdom:

Anecdotal evidence continues to mount that the Tea Party is another manifestation of a rightwing phenomenon whereby carefully crafted talking points are force-fed to the public through Fox, talk radio, chain emails and other communication mechanisms, then regurgitated in the form of deeply-held convictions.

I say “force-fed” because if you tune in to these outlets, it’s a relentless stream of indoctrination:

Liberals are worse than terrorists — Global warming is a hoax — Obama is a Kenyan socialist — Gays are trying to corrupt our children — “Big government” is oppressing us — All Muslims are bent on our destruction — “Activist judges” are trying to undermine the Constitution The Constitution’s two main tenets are that everyone should have the right to carry assault weapons and that America is a Christian nation.

A fundamental characteristic of Tea Partiers’ views is the vehement embrace of ideas with little or no grounding in knowledge or comprehension and the parroting of Fox-style soundbites as though they were carefully considered positions.

On Climate:

At a candidate forum here last week, Representative Baron P. Hill, a threatened Democratic incumbent in a largely conservative southern Indiana district, was endeavoring to explain his unpopular vote for the House cap-and-trade energy bill. It will create jobs in Indiana, reduce foreign oil imports and address global warming, Mr. Hill said at a debate with Todd Young, a novice Republican candidate who is supported by an array of Indiana Tea Party groups and is a climate change skeptic. “Climate change is real, and man is causing it,” Mr. Hill said, echoing most climate scientists. “That is indisputable. And we have to do something about it.”

A rain of boos showered Mr. Hill, including a hearty growl from Norman Dennison, a 50-year-old electrician and founder of the Corydon Tea Party. “It’s a flat-out lie,” Mr. Dennison said in an interview after the debate, adding that he had based his view on the preaching of Rush Limbaugh and the teaching of Scripture. “I read my Bible,” Mr. Dennison said. “He made this earth for us to utilize.”

Skepticism and outright denial of global warming are among the articles of faith of the Tea Party movement, here in Indiana and across the country. For some, it is a matter of religious conviction; for others, it is driven by distrust of those they call the elites. And for others still, efforts to address climate change are seen as a conspiracy to impose world government and a sweeping redistribution of wealth. But all are wary of the Obama administration’s plans to regulate carbon dioxide, a ubiquitous gas, which will require the expansion of government authority into nearly every corner of the economy.

“This so-called climate science is just ridiculous,” said Kelly Khuri, founder of the Clark County Tea Party Patriots. “I think it’s all cyclical.” “Carbon regulation, cap and trade, it’s all just a money-control avenue,” Ms. Khuri added. “Some people say I’m extreme, but they said the John Birch Society was extreme, too.”

On Government:

A new study by The Washington Post, the Henry J. Kaiser Family Foundation and Harvard University shows that most Americans who say they want more limited government also call Social Security and Medicare “very important.” They want Washington to be involved in schools and to help reduce poverty. Nearly half want the government to maintain a role in regulating health care.

The study suggests that come January, politicians in both parties will confront a challenging and sometimes contradictory reality about what Americans really think about their government. Although Republicans, and many Democrats, have tried to demonize Washington, they must contend with the fact that most major government programs remain enormously popular, including some that politicians have singled out for stiff criticism.

On the Constitution:

The Tea Party movement has further sought to spruce up its historical bona fides by laying claim to the United States Constitution. Many Tea Party members subscribe to a literal reading of the national charter as a way of bolstering their opposition to deficit spending, bank bailouts and President Obama’s health care plan. A Tea Party manifesto, called the Contract From America, even contains a rigid provision stipulating that all legislation passed by Congress should specify the precise clause in the Constitution giving Congress the power to pass such a law — an idea touted Thursday by the House Republican leadership.

But any movement that regularly summons the ghosts of the founders as a like-minded group of theorists ends up promoting an uncomfortably one-sided reading of history.

The truth is that the disputatious founders — who were revolutionaries, not choir boys — seldom agreed about anything. Never has the country produced a more brilliantly argumentative, individualistic or opinionated group of politicians. Far from being a soft-spoken epoch of genteel sages, the founding period was noisy and clamorous, rife with vitriolic polemics and partisan backbiting. Instead of bequeathing to posterity a set of universally shared opinions, engraved in marble, the founders shaped a series of fiercely fought debates that reverberate down to the present day. Right along with the rest of America, the Tea Party has inherited these open-ended feuds, which are profoundly embedded in our political culture.

No single group should ever presume to claim special ownership of the founding fathers or the Constitution they wrought with such skill and ingenuity. Those lofty figures, along with the seminal document they brought forth, form a sacred part of our common heritage as Americans. They should be used for the richness and diversity of their arguments, not tampered with for partisan purposes. The Dutch historian Pieter Geyl once famously asserted that history was an argument without an end. Our contentious founders, who could agree on little else, would certainly have agreed on that.

The point is not to denigrate or minimize people’s views, but to demonstrate that the views are often based on erroneous information, misinformation or outright lies delivered by cynical millionaires like Rupert Murdoch, Rush Limbaugh and Glenn Beck.

If you’re going to ‘defend’ the Constitution or deny global warming or reject “big government”, you might want to do your own research before taking the word of Constitutional scholars and climatologists like Sarah Palin, Glenn Beck, Sean Hannity, Rush Limbaugh and Christine O’Donnell.

Or as I put it recently: Only in the Tea Party can you defend a Constitution you haven’t read, deny climate change you’re causing and slam government programs you support.

UPDATE: Further evidence of the disconnect between beliefs and facts:

A Bloomberg National Poll finds that by a two-to-one margin, likely voters in the midterm elections think taxes have gone up, the economy has shrunk, and the billions lent to banks as part of the Troubled Asset Relief Program won’t be recovered.

The facts: The Obama administration cut taxes for middle-class Americans, has overseen an economy that has grown for the past four quarters and expects to make a profit on the hundreds of billions of dollars spent to rescue Wall Street banks.

Said pollster Ann Selzer: “The public view of the economy is at odds with the facts, and the blame has to go to the Democrats. It does not matter much if you make change, if you do not communicate change.”

Conflict minerals: the deadly serious outcome of our addiction to electronics

August 25, 2010 by Peter · 1 Comment 

Anyone using a cell phone or laptop should be required to watch this:

More on Congo’s sexual violence plague:

Predictive Policing – fighting crime before it happens

August 21, 2010 by Peter · 1 Comment 

No, this is not Minority Report, but it’s a step in that direction:

At universities and technology companies, scientists are working to develop computer programs that, in the most optimistic scenarios, could enable police to anticipate, and possibly prevent, many types of crime. Some of the most ambitious work is being done at UCLA, where researchers are studying the ways criminals behave in urban settings. One is trying to forecast the time and place of crimes using the same formulas that seismologists use to predict the distribution of aftershocks from an earthquake. Another builds computer simulations of criminals roving through neighborhoods to understand why they tend to cluster in certain areas and how they disperse when police go looking for them. “The naysayers want you to believe that humans are too complex and too random — that this sort of math can’t be done,” said Jeff Brantingham, a UCLA anthropologist. “But humans are not nearly as random as we think. In a sense, crime is just a physical process, and if you can explain how offenders move and how they mix with their victims, you can understand an incredible amount.”