Bill Humphrey

About Bill Humphrey

Bill Humphrey is the primary host of WVUD's Arsenal For Democracy talk radio show and is a Senior Editor for The Globalist. Follow him @BillHumphreyMA on twitter.

The Right-Wing Alternate Universe

I’m working on a longer post on the specific news story in question here, but I wanted to point out this segment by Jon Stewart that shows the alternate universe FOX News creates for its viewers:

The Daily Show With Jon Stewart Mon – Thurs 11p / 10c
Glenn Beck Airs Israeli Raid Footage
www.thedailyshow.com
Daily Show Full Episodes Political Humor Tea Party

Actually, it’s really true of all the right-wing media. They get people to watch/listen to their news exclusively because they create whole alternate universes that tell you can only get that news from them. Now, other networks will tell you CNN=Politics or whatever or that they’re the best source of coverage, and sometimes they’ll claim to have a story exclusively… but few non-conservative media outlets go to such lengths to tell you can literally not find the news anywhere else because of pervasive bias and conspiratorial propaganda flooding the other airwaves.

People who only listen to right-wing radio and only watch FOX News to get their information often seem to live in their own shared world. I’m betting this is probably strongly a function of the alternate universe presented by right-wing media that constantly reminds them that not only will they miss critical news by checking elsewhere but that they will hear only propaganda by listening to or watching anybody else.

What are the consequences? First, the audience begins to think the vast majority of Americans share their political views and policy aims, when that’s not the case, and then they begin to turn to deeply-rooted conspiracy theories to explain how forces of evil are keeping their (minority) agenda at bay for so long, and the right-wing media feeds it. It’s the only possible explanation when you get your politics from a source espousing the same view and never showing that others might disagree or why.

But there’s another bigger consequence, regarding the content itself, not just the frame constraining that content. Intellectual critics, including those on the right, accuse the right-wing media of feeding a closed information loop, which sometimes even feeds itself so directly that it’s hard to tell when the media personalities (Beck, Limbaugh, Hannity, etc.) eventually believe their own lies or still lie consciously. A recent example of a rigidly closed information loop is how the right-wing media, which loves to demonize the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) and has made it quite the boogeyman over the years, willfully ignored what the ACLU was actually doing so it could create an alternate reality where it was doing what their preconceived expectations said the mythical-demon ACLU would do…

Conservative blogger (and critic of the closed information loop) Conor Friedersdorf wrote up the details on Trueslant last week:

On May 5, aka Cinco de Mayo, five students at a high school in Morgan Hill, California wore American flag attire to class. “The vice principal asked two of the boys to remove American flag bandannas that they wearing on their heads and for the others to turn their American flag T-shirts inside out,” the local NBC affiliate reported. “When they refused, the boys were ordered to go to the principal’s office.” The story got picked up in the national media, bloggers debated whether the boys were being patriotic or deliberately insensitive, and almost everyone at least agreed that in this country they were well within their rights to wear the American flag.

I am very interested in one aspect of the discussion that followed this story. The conservative blog Stop the ACLU is a natural place to begin. “Cinco De Mayo Means Suspension of Free Speech and Patriotism,” their post began. “At least in Morgan Hill, California where they live by the rules of political correctness gone crazy.” The ultimate reaction: “Absolutely ridiculous! Where is the ACLU?”

From there, Friedersdorf next almost exhaustively examines (and you should read the post), big-name to small-name right-wing media personalities/op-ed writers/bloggers to their random commenters — all of whom access the same information loop — and finds the right wing uniformly echoed this view: Limbaugh, News Real Blog, Ralph Wenzinger, Speak Now America, Elijah Friedman, Pirate’s Cove, The Old Jarhead, etc. etc… They all demanded to know where the ACLU was on this or claimed the ACLU was defending the school. And as he conclusively showed further, the ACLU was not only already on the case and defending the boys’ right to wear the shirts, but they have historically already served as legal counsel in four separate cases on the exact same issue.

It being extremely rare for authorities to crackdown on American flag wearing in the United States, it says something that the ACLU has invested resources in four separate instances of this behavior.

It’s almost as if the conservative media complex is systematically misleading its audience about the nature of the ACLU, so much so that right-of-center commentators across the Internet spontaneously mocked the organization for failing to intervene on the right side of this case, despite it being precisely the kind of case where the ACLU reliably does exactly what the critics themselves would want.

Perhaps the confusion comes from listening to talk radio hosts and reading blogs that cast all of American politics as a grand struggle between the left and the right, liberals and conservatives, tyranny and liberty. The rank and file, rightly judging that the ACLU operates on the left, automatically concludes that they are the enemy in any case worth caring about.

His conclusion? When a blog called Stop the ACLU is leading the charge in creating an alternate reality of a specific incident and lying about or being unaware of what the real ACLU was actually doing, the information loop (or as I call it, an alternate universe) not only exists but exists as an imperviously closed system. And he sounds like he pities the people who are closed inside the system:

The right cannot adeptly navigate a political environment that it is systematically misled about.

As much as the adherents of Beck, Limbaugh, et al. make me want to tear my hair out most of the time, I do almost feel sorry for them. It’s so delusional.

Some people, of course, try to create false equivalences and say that this happens on the left as well. That’s simply not true. There’s a reason why FOX News is the “highest-rated” cable news network: the left fragments to multiple competing sources or goes to a variety of media for news. Yes, most of us could broaden our horizons, but our frame of reference is nowhere near as constrained, unified, or repetitive. (Even on this blog, with a bunch of writers from basically similar backgrounds, we often sharply disagree with each other and read different sources with different views on the same events or policies.) The American right sticks to a narrow range of sources that all feed on each other in a continuous loop of opinions and alternate realities of events, and that loop tells the audience not to go elsewhere so as not to corrupt their minds with propaganda. Thus that’s where the average listener and viewer is getting virtually 100% of his or her political information. Rush Limbaugh doesn’t call his loyal listeners “dittoheads” for nothing.

And, sadly, they’re busy trying to run all the rational/intellectual conservatives out of town, thereby purging their ranks of people who aren’t engulfed in the system, people who might moderate their excesses and find ways to compromise and still get conservative agenda items passed. They accuse these intellectual conservatives of being elitists or brainwashed by the mainstream “liberal” media. What’s left isn’t pretty.

It’s a struggle to have a rational conversation with a person who lives and breathes that information system because they walk into the discussion with a completely different set of “facts.” Why is there no common ground these days in both family political arguments and the broader American political scene? Because a large chunk of the participants working from a different planet altogether. If not a separate right-wing alternate universe.

Alabama GOP rejects Dem traitor

Rep. Parker Griffith (R-AL-05), who switched parties less than a year after he was elected as a Democrat, lost his Republican primary tonight to keep his seat. Republicans hated him to begin with, and he found little love from his district’s GOP once he switched after the Congressional GOP leaders recruited him, so they could get his vote on key bills in the House more easily. The Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee spent over one million dollars in 2008 to get him elected and were infuriated when he switched parties, requesting their money back in full. Likewise, his whole staff quit (down to the D.C. office intern!) and his campaign consultants abandoned him, to punish him for his betrayal of the party and his values.

Madison County Commissioner Mo Brooks (R) led the Republican field tonight and easily pounded the five-and-a-half-month-Republican congressman, avoiding a top-two runoff. Brooks will now go on to run against state legislative aide and businessman Steven Raby (D) in the general election for the seat. Raby was nominated in the Democratic primary tonight there, as well.

This post originally appeared on Starboard Broadside.

Niger Delta always slick with oil

Elisabeth Rosenthal reminds us that while it seems like a big deal to Americans when a giant oil disaster spreads a vast slick across our waters, we seem not to care much when the oil is spilled in somebody else’s waters by our companies supplying Nigerian oil for 40% our current consumption:

But it is important to remember that this mammoth polluting event, so extraordinary here, is not so unusual in some parts of the world. In an article published Sunday in The Guardian of London, John Vidal, the paper’s environment editor, movingly recalls a trip to the Niger Delta a few years ago, where he literally swam in “pools of light Nigerian crude.”

A network of decades-old pipes and oil extraction equipment in the delta has been plagued by serious leaks and spills. “More oil is spilled from the delta’s network of terminals, pipes, pumping stations and oil platforms every year than has been lost in the Gulf of Mexico,” he writes.
[…]
Here in the United States, people express outrage at BP’s actions in the gulf and demand that the oil giant behave responsibly in our waters. But should they also insist that oil companies behave well in the developing countries where their oil comes from? After all, many people insist on “fair trade” coffee and non-sweatshop clothing.

One more excerpt from Mr. Vidal’s fascinating article: “If this gulf accident had happened in Nigeria, neither the government nor the company would have paid much attention,” said the writer Ben Ikari, a member of the Ogoni people. “This kind of spill happens all the time in the delta.”

 
Where eleven employees of British Petroleum were killed in the initial explosion on the Deepwater Horizon rig in April, frequent pipeline explosions in the Niger Delta region (sometimes caused by rebels) often kill a hundred or more people at a time, many simply too close at the time. As John Vidal explains in his article, the ensuing spills and leaks destroy crops, pollute drinking water, and kill vital fish stocks. Companies such as Shell and Exxon usually take their light sweet time about fixing the leaks, sometimes springing from ancient pipes that just rusted away. And until the relative recent democratization of the country, anyone who pointed this out faced the possibility of the death sentence from a government getting fat off American oil money. Even now, villagers report attacks from security guards if they get too vocal, while Shell claims villagers prevent them from making repairs to try to get more compensation money. Yeah right.

How much is being spilled or is leaking? Well, right now there are about 300 incidents a year, and that has added up over the decades.

One report, compiled by WWF UK, the World Conservation Union and representatives from the Nigerian federal government and the Nigerian Conservation Foundation, calculated in 2006 that up to 1.5m tons of oil – 50 times the pollution unleashed in the Exxon Valdez tanker disaster in Alaska – has been spilled in the delta over the past half century. Last year Amnesty calculated that the equivalent of at least 9m barrels of oil was spilled and accused the oil companies of a human rights outrage.

According to Nigerian federal government figures, there were more than 7,000 spills between 1970 and 2000, and there are 2,000 official major spillages sites, many going back decades, with thousands of smaller ones still waiting to be cleared up. More than 1,000 spill cases have been filed against Shell alone.

Last month Shell admitted to spilling 14,000 tonnes of oil in 2009. The majority, said the company, was lost through two incidents – one in which the company claims that thieves damaged a wellhead at its Odidi field and another where militants bombed the Trans Escravos pipeline.

 
As stated above, the United States gets 40% of its oil from the Niger Delta right now, and Nigeria is now the third-largest American supplier nation, beating out Saudi Arabia. You should care about this. (Further reading, with incredible photos, here.)

The Gulf of Mexico’s Deepwater Horizon catastrophe is definitely bad, but we need to stop drilling for oil everywhere and change the whole world to clean energy soon… not just the United States. So many reasons to do it, and this is just one more.

Caption: An oil spill from an abandoned Shell Petroleum Development Company well in Oloibiri, Niger Delta. Wellhead 14 was closed in 1977 but has been leaking for years, and in June of 2004 it finally released an oil spill of over 20,000 barrels of crude. Above: Workers subcontracted by Shell Oil Company clean it up.
photo & caption by Ed Kashi, via citisven

This post originally appeared on Starboard Broadside.

One Trillion Dollars

Bold rhetoric from Rep. Alan Grayson (D-FL-08), as the cost of the Wars in Afghanistan and Iraq crosses the one trillion dollar mark, with another $33 billion allocation coming up for a vote soon. Excerpt:

The war money could be used for schools, bridges, or paying everyone’s mortgage payments for a whole year. It could be used to end federal income taxes on every American’s first $35,000 of income, as my bill, the War Is Making You Poor Act, does. It could be used to close the yawning deficit, supply health care to the unemployed, or for any other human and humane purpose.

Instead, it will be used for war. Because, as Orwell predicted in 1984, we’ve reached the point where everyone thinks that we’ve always been at war with Eastasia. Why?

Not because Al Qaeda was sheltered in Iraq. It wasn’t. And not because Al Qaeda is in Afghanistan. It isn’t. Bush could never explain why we went to war in Iraq, and Obama can’t explain why we are ‘escalating’ in Afghanistan.

So, why? Why spend $1 trillion on a long, bloody nine-year campaign with no justifiable purpose?

Remember 9/11, the day that changed everything? That was almost a decade ago. Bush’s response was to mire us in two bloody wars, wars in which we are still stuck today. Why?

I can’t answer that question. But I do have an alternative vision of how the last 10 years could have played out.

Imagine if we had decided after 9/11 to wean ourselves off oil and other carbon-based fuels. We’d be almost ten years into that project by now.

Imagine if George W. Bush had somehow been able to summon the moral strength of Mahatma Gandhi, Helen Keller, or Martin Luther King Jr, and committed the American people to the pursuit of a common goal of a transformed society, a society which meets our own human needs rather than declaring “war” on an emotion, or, as John Quincy Adams put it, going “abroad, in search of monsters to destroy”.

Imagine.

Imagine that we chose not to enslave ourselves to a massive military state whose stated goal is “stability” in countries that never have been “stable”, and never will be.

Imagine.

“Imagine all the people, living life in peace.”

 
I post this here not to say I agree with everything he says, as this is a political statement and not necessarily sound policy, in my view… but I do feel it’s important to acknowledge another awful milestone in the interminable wars. His Nineteen Eighty-Four reference is brilliant, and one I use often myself.

And while I would disagree with the assertion that we are enslaved to a massive military state, it is troubling that it’s so easy to summon endless funded and unfunded allocations for military endeavors, while it is difficult to get the votes to increase spending by anywhere near the same amounts for social programs and societal improvement projects, such as those he mentions. In other words, had we not gone into these wars, we never would have spent all that money on anything. It’s ok to spend heaps on wars but not on things that make America stronger at home in the long-term, such as improved education or a clean-energy revolution.

I make this criticism as someone who actually does advocate an active military stabilizer/intervention force that can halt humanitarian crises and genocides, and as someone who supported the original Afghan invasion and opposed the Iraq War. We need to re-prioritize. Of that, I am sure.

This post originally appeared on Starboard Broadside.

Icelandic joke party wins capital election

Normally few people outside Iceland would care about the election results from the capital, Reykjavik, but today’s outcome was worth a glance. Best Party (Besti flokkurinn), a “joke party” that is only six months old, captured a plurality of the vote and won 6 of the 15 city council seats, leaving the rest of city council to more mainstream parties. The BBC writes:

The Best Party, founded by comedian Jon Gnarr, secured 34.7% of the vote, ahead of the Independence Party’s 33.6%.

Its campaign video featured candidates singing to the tune of Tina Turner’s “Simply The Best”.

Key pledges included “sustainable transparency”, free towels at all swimming pools and a new polar bear for the city zoo.

The party also called for a Disneyland at the airport and a “drug-free parliament” by 2020.

As well as specific pledges, its video promised change, a “bright future” and suggested that it was time for a “clean out”.

 
It’s not too surprising when you remember how screwed up Icelandic politics got during the past couple years after the financial meltdown sent it to hell. This is a protest vote, it’s clear, and possibly a resounding desire for a polar bear at the capital’s zoo. Or a Disneyland at the airport, because why the hell not?

The incumbent mayor’s Independence Party came in second, and Jon Gnarr (BF) is insisting that he become the new mayor now. Here’s the party’s official music video, with subtitles, as referenced above:

If you’re not too up on past and present joke parties elsewhere, the best joke party in history is probably the now-disbanded “Rhinoceros Party of Canada”, which has had some amazingly brilliant platforms. Some of their past pledges include:

– Repealing the law of gravity
– Tearing down the Rocky Mountains so that Albertans could see the Pacific sunset
– Making Montreal the Venice of North America by damming the St. Lawrence River
– Abolishing the environment because it’s too hard to keep clean and it takes up so much space
– Annexing the United States, which would take its place as the third territory in Canada’s backyard (after the Yukon and the Northwest Territories — Nunavut did not yet exist), in order to eliminate foreign control of Canada’s natural resources
– Ending crime by abolishing all laws
– Adopting the British system of driving on the left; this was to be gradually phased in over five years with large trucks and tractors first, then buses, eventually including small cars and bicycles last.

 
The Rhino Party never won any seats sadly, and unlike the Best Party of Iceland, they had pledged to call fresh elections if they ever won an overall parliamentary or provincial election.

We eagerly await the delivery of campaign promises to the people of Reykjavik by the Best Party, now that they have so many seats on the city council. Unfortunately, having pledged not to honor a single campaign promise, don’t expect a new polar bear any time soon.

This post originally appeared on Starboard Broadside.

A Rwandan Genocide legacy (continued)

Recently, I wrote a lengthy post on the repressive legacy of the post-genocide government of Rwanda. The New York Times has continued their investigation (which prompted my original post), and there’s a new article today: “For Rwandan Students, Ethnic Tensions Lurk.” Much of my earlier post discussed how the Rwandan Patriotic Front (the Tutsi rebels who replaced the radical Hutu government) has been shielded from many criticisms of their actions during, preceding, and following the genocide by the simple fact that they were the only armed force in the world that acted to stop the genocide. Victors write the history, and liberators get even better treatment because of their heroic actions. But the RPF-led government of Rwanda continues to use that as an excuse to cover up their own abuses, as the article explains:

According to the law, once a student is convicted of genocide ideology, the student can face jail time and will not be readmitted to school, a policy that has students keeping their opinions to themselves.

The ban on genocide ideology also encompasses accusations that the Tutsi rebels killed civilians in 1994, despite the finding by a United Nations research team that the rebels killed up to 45,000 people. A mention of those killings can land a jail term. The genocide, the law says, was committed only against the Tutsis.

The official narrative, students say, amounts to a kind of denial of history. Or as Denise Kajeniri, a 21-year-old Tutsi economics student, describes it, “pretend and move on.”

 
I raise this not to minimize the horrors committed by their Hutu genocidaire opponents (see my other post for more on that), but because it is important that we confront all the facts — not just those that make one side play the pure villains and the other side the untainted heroes. The world does not divide evenly like that. Just as the United States has been slow to confront the abuses and crimes it committed during the liberation of Europe and the Pacific in World War II, this process will take time in Rwanda. But it is a necessary step if they are to have real reconciliation and healing.

This article originally appeared on Starboard Broadside.

Nigeria’s president is dead

This is not altogether unexpected, as he had been in very poor health for some time now, but Nigeria’s President Umaru Yar’adua has passed away, an aide confirmed to the BBC. President Yar’adua had returned two months ago after a lengthy and mysterious health trip to Saudi Arabia, but Acting President Goodluck Jonathan (the Vice President) remained at the helm, as he has been since February. Yar’adua’s death should help resolve the lingering constitutional questions that threatened to destabilize the political scene in the oil-rich west African nation that contains about 15% of the continent’s entire population. President Yar’adua had been in Saudi Arabia for about 90 days, refusing to meet with or speak to officials, before the Nigerian government agreed to transfer power formally to Vice President Jonathan. By the time he returned to Nigeria to live out his final days, he had been out of the country and unaccounted for, for approximately three months.

Yar’adua’s death also seals the amazing storybook rise of Mr. Jonathan, which I summarized in February, when he was made Acting President:

He’s a zoologist and a hydrobiologist, who was an environmental minister briefly and fortuitously became governor after being chosen as a lieutenant governor in his state under a corrupt governor who resigned; then he was unexpectedly chosen as running mate by the outgoing president orchestrating the 2007 PDP ticket that won, and now he’s suddenly President.

 
UPDATE @ 10:27 PM: The NY Times has posted their summary of the Yar’adua presidency. Mixed reviews but some positive (small) steps toward governmental reform, basically.

This post originally appeared on Starboard Broadside.