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On the pretend left in the blogosphere

L’Hote in the The blindspot says what passes for the left in the US is merely tepid neoliberalism with no genuine radicalism much less socialism.

There are many myths within the political blogosphere, but none is so deeply troubling or so highly treasured by mainstream political bloggers than this: that the political blogosphere contains within it the whole range of respectable political opinion, and that once an issue has been thoroughly debated therein, it has had a full and fair hearing. The truth is that almost anything resembling an actual left wing has been systematically written out of the conversation within the political blogosphere, both intentionally and not, while those writing within it congratulate themselves for having answered all left-wing criticism.

That the blogosphere is a flagrantly anti-leftist space should be clear to anyone who has paid a remote amount of attention. Who, exactly, represents the left extreme in the establishment blogosphere? You’d likely hear names like Jane Hamsher or Glenn Greenwald. But these examples are instructive. Is Hamsher a socialist? A revolutionary anti-capitalist? In any historical or international context– in the context of a country that once had a robust socialist left, and in a world where there are straightforwardly socialist parties in almost every other democracy– is Hamsher particularly left-wing? Not at all. It’s only because her rhetoric is rather inflamed that she is seen as particularly far to the left. This is what makes this whole discourse/extremism conversation such a failure; there is a meticulous sorting of far right-wing rhetoric from far right-wing politics, but no similar sorting on the left. Hamsher says bad words and is mean in print, so she is a far leftist. That her politics are largely mainstream American liberalism that would have been considered moderate for much of the 20th century is immaterial.

Naked Capitalism agrees

Freddie deBoer’s post “the blindspot” (hat tip Richard Smith) seems to have created a bit of a frisson among political bloggers. It make a long-form argument that “the political discourse, in our punditry, lacks a left-wing.”

That should not be a controversial statement.

For instance, this blog has started to deal with political issues as they relate to the financial services industry, and now and again to the broader economy, largely as a result of the failure to implement meaningful reforms in the wake of the financial crisis. If you are not angry about the ongoing plutocratic land grab in this country, you are either not paying attention, deluded, or part of the problem. And I continue to be surprised that my views are deemed to be left-leaning. I’m middle of the road as of the Reagan era; the rest of the US has made a remarkably large shift to the right and seems to be continuing its move in that direction.

Oh, there is a far left blogosphere, and it’s often quite robust. But it gets no traction in the States.

Part of the problem on the far left is that too often such groups are primarily interested in recruiting for their little Marxoid cult not in the ostensible cause of their front groups. But you can’t have it both way. To build a truly mass organization, you need moderates. But they won’t allow that. This had very real ramifications in the anti-Iraq War protests with front groups like ANSWER who were controlled by Workers World (then PSL after the split from WW). They alienated the moderates because ANSWER was primarily a recruiting tool, the anti-war stuff was always secondary. (This is not speculation, I was there and also have it on impeccable authority from a decades-long organizer)

Also, on the far left, it is reasonable to assume that far left groups have been compromised and infiltrated by informers. In the 50’s, as it turned out, half the participants in Communist Party meetings were FBI. Anti-war organizers in the 1960’s who did FOIA requests decades later were stunned to find how much they were watched. So, there’s no doubt that such things still happen.

Sadly, the Iraq anti-war movement fell apart after Obama was elected. It appears the most of the protesters were really anti-Bush, not anti-war. Too many liberals and progressives now still think Obama will suddenly morph into Liberalman and continue to wait for that.

The US left, from liberals out to socialists, needs to determine what it actually believes in and to stop making self-destructive mistakes. We can’t change the right but we can change ourselves.

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Polizeros podcast. American exceptionalism. Afghanistan War

Large numbers of people say they believe in American Exceptionalism. But how does that help us solve any of our very real and growing problems? Plus it can lead to overconfidence and arrogance, such as the various wars we are not winning. Also, politicians on both parties often use this as a ploy to divert attention from real issues.

Listen to the BlogTalkRadio podcast with Steve Hynd of Newshoggers, and Josh Mull of Firedoglake & Rethink Afghanistan and myself.

Download the MP3

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A message to the students of Timberland High School

From the Team McCandless Facebook Page:

“[Because of censorship] Coach Mac has tendered her resignation and as far as we know, no effort was made to retain her in this position. The job has now been posted as open for the next school year. Several students on both the newspaper and the yearbook staff considered resigning as well in a show of support for Coach Mac and as a message to the principal and the school board. Coach Mac asked them not to.”

About ten years ago, I was Op/Ed Editor for my high school newspaper, and Cathy McCandless (Coach Mac) was my adviser. During my time on her staff, I also suffered the insidious humiliation of censorship. I won’t get too much into the specifics of what was censored (it’s never the subject that’s important in these cases) but suffice to say that my pro-LGBT equality values, which I for some reason thought would be shared by everyone in this rural Alabama town, were slightly ahead of their time, and a disparaging comment about an openly anti-gay organization, in my own opinion piece, was forcibly cut. But I also fought it. Hard.

There were ridiculous, arm-waving shouting matches in the middle of class, teeth-grinding debates with the editorial staff, and even the much-dreaded, tersely-worded editorial memorandum! But eventually, under the somewhat dubious threat of everyone remotely associated with the paper being sued, I was forced to relent. The line was banished to oblivion, and I was left with a pedestrian op/ed piece, and all the shame and indignity of censorship.

Now you’re thinking, here’s where I give my little song-and-dance about how I stand behind Coach Mac, and we should all fight mean old censorship, blah blah blah. Wrong. That’s not the lesson I got out of this, and it shouldn’t be the one you get either.

The principal of Timberland is clearly so ignorant, bored, and vindictive that he has nothing better to do than damage the careers of his subordinates. The students are hopped up on prescription drugs and state subsidized sugar water and spend their nights being force fed poison and garbage by the television, but hey, a couple of random photos in the paper is apparently just downright dangerous to the learning environment! Obviously, the guy is either a lunatic, or more likely just a hack. But he wields a bureaucratic system designed to crush you and your adviser, and you are never going to be able to beat that.

That’s OK though, you don’t have to beat it. Let’s be absolutely clear: The purpose of the school newspaper is to promote the school. Got that? Put it another way: The principal needs you to promote the school. Beyond the obvious point that promotion of the school is stupid and useless because both attendance and funding are mandated by law, what this really does is beg the question of whether or not that’s actually what you signed up for. Are you on the newspaper because you want to promote this school, with its idiot administrator who’ll censor you on a whim? Or maybe you wanted to actually do a little journalism.

You already have plentiful access to the tools you need to engage in quality, timely, and interesting journalism, entirely outside of the outdated school newspaper system. You’re organizing Team McCandless on Facebook, raising legal fees with online t-shirt sales, and hell, you’re reading this right now on a blog. That means you have some kind of internet access, on your home PC, a laptop, or your mobile device.

Start your own blog or Facebook group or whatever you want, spread the word to all the students online. Make it good, practicing the same, if not more stringent, editorial and ethical standards as you did in the journalism program. Expose the old school newspaper as tired propaganda by making your own online projects the premiere source for student news and information. Deprive a major source of the school’s communication with students of the credibility and legitimacy it needs by showing everyone exactly what good media looks like.

These are the basics of Citizen Journalism. The old media has failed you so consistently that you must take it upon yourself to replace it with something better, free of censorship and the intellectual constraints of what you have now, state-controlled print media.

This might seem intimidating, even impossible, but a quick glance around the web will show you countless examples of regular people, those without even the primary journalism training you have, using the tools they already have to spread quality citizen journalism around the entire planet. In Gaza, citizen journalists, or CJ’s, gave reports on the Israeli aggression over Skype, an inexpensive internet-telephone service. In Iran, images of brutal crackdowns by state authorities are sent out over cell-phones and Facebook. And in Afghanistan, citizens from around the country reported instances of election fraud with only text messages and camera-phones. Surely you, with your expertise and wealth of technology can, at the very least, create a thriving, quality source of news and information for one single high school in the United States.

So, walk away. Resign immediately.

McCandless told you otherwise because she wants to protect your academic career even as hers is ruthlessly savaged by the administration. She is above all a damn good teacher, and she cares deeply about ensuring the very best education she can. For some of you, that is enough, and you will stay on in service of a system that resents your very sense of personal free speech. But there are some of you who care about good, independent, and uncensored journalism.

This is your opportunity to fight censorship in a highly effective and meaningful way, entirely outside of the system that is designed to defeat you. Forsake the school’s sham of a newspaper, and get involved in your own citizen journalism project that delivers the quality content these students deserve. It is not only an option available to you, but your responsibility as a journalist, the only profession specifically protected by the US Constitution.

For more on Citizen Journalism:

Good luck, I look forward to linking your efforts.


Josh Mull

Josh Mull is Community Director for Small World News, and a contributor to Polizeros and Enduring America. He has been active in citizen journalism since 2007, specializing in community-based media for conflict or disaster-affected states. You can follow him on Twitter or befriend him on Facebook.

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Part 2: Interview with European Union VP Wallstrom

This is the second and final part of the interview. Also present is Joe Hennon, her Spokesman. Part one is here

Part 2 Interview with Commissioner Wallstrom (31.05, 28.4mb, mp3)

Criticism, the citizens’ right to have a voice, how to tell if a Commissioner is doing a good job, getting rid of jargon, what frustrates her, advice for the next commissioner, the difference between old and new media, making the pro-Europe case, why we need referenda, the workload of a commissioner, the difficulties of public life, the need for doubt, and starting writing.

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