Wednesday, May 12, 2004

An uncensorsed, free press, here and overseas, is the key to a sunnier future

Dear Free World,

nice chatting with you earlier today via cellphone.

as i mentioned, i've had some interesting experiences to relate that may
illuminate current world events here and overseas.

when discussing these things, it's difficult sometimes getting through to the
right people who can influence policy. You thought a 'blog was the way to go.

We've both more or less been hawks following 911. As former President Bill Clinton
pointed out in a speech shortly following the attacks, "it takes two [sides]
to make peace." As the Book of Ecclesiastes says, there is a time for all
things under heaven: A time for war, and a time for peace.

911 was a time for war --- failure to respond to such a cataclysmic event would have
interpreted by our enemies as a sign of weakness, guaranteeing future attacks.

A military response was the only rational response available to 911. But, as foreign
policy experts have repeatedly warned, military options are always the last and worst
option, when no other good options exist.

911 cannot continue to be used to justify all policies, no matter how self-serving or
unrealistic. Eventually, a time must come to apply our many other tools of foreign policy
to attack the root causes of terrorism around the world.

It is clear we the people cannot rely on governments alone to solve the world's problems.
Governments, especially undemocratic ones, typically pander to the interests of a small
ruling elite at the expense of the rest of society.

This is why democracy is so important. After all, what is democracy? Many definitions
of democracy have been given.

Legislatures, independent judiciaries, free elections, and rule of law
are often cited as defining democratic government.
These are merely outward signs of a healthy democracy --- neither sufficient,
nor required.

Fundamentally, however, a working democracy is simply a system for
processing information. Consequently, we could think of democratic concepts
in terms of the arcane field of Information Theory, developed by the late,
celebrated MIT Prof. Shannon.

Democracy is superior to other forms of government simply because it is
superior tool for making important decisions.

In any society --- including so-called "Communist" --- biological, genetic, and social
(i.e., evolutionary psychology) realities dictate a division of society into
"haves" and "have nots." In better societies, social stratification will be continuous,
and this division will be but a fuzzy concept.

In others societies, this division will be sharp,
deeply rooted in social reality, such as a the division between high-ranking Party
members and ordinary folks in certain "Communist" societies, this division will be
sharp.

In general, the "haves" in society (in the U.S., often the Republican Party's main
supporters) will have very different interests and opinions than the "have nots" (in U.S.,
the base of the Democratic party).

For example, a very wealthy person in the U.S. today could
afford to send his or her children entirely to private schools. Such a person would
far less need for a public school system than the ordinary American, who typically
cannot afford private education.

Consequently, a very wealthy American, having seeing little direct value in
public education might believe it in their best interests to
substantially cut education spending.

But the things is --- they don't know. The wealthy American is, by definition, not
the same person as the poor American, and they often have little understanding of
each others' worlds.

So, although very wealthy Americans may not be able to benefit directly from a
public school system, they usually do recognize at least the possibility that there
might be some indirect benefit from having their poor neighbor's children properly
educated.

How much should be spent on public education? The point is, no one knows for sure.
The wealthy American, seeing little direct benefit, will usually be suspicious argue for
less spending on public education. The poor American, more directly impacted, will
usually argue for more spending. The decision will ultimately be made at the
ballot box, often indirectly as a choice between two candidates arguing for two
different policies.

This is what democracy is, and this is why it works better than other systems of
government --- it is, simply put, a better way for societies to make difficult decisions.

All of this assumes, of course, that the average citizen is sufficiently
well educated and that the elections are held in such a way that the average
citizen has time to understand the crux of the choices before him or her. But once
these conditions are met --- well-educated citizens voting on major issues in
appropriately infrequent, well-organized elections, democracy is the best way of making
these decisions.

In real democracies, there is usually another layer --- the legislature, whose members
are tasked with understanding the nuances in complex issues on behalf of represented
constituents.

All government officials are accountable to the legislature, which is, in turn,
accountable to the people.

The greatest sin, then, in any democracy, is not lack of effectiveness, or lack of
efficiency, but, rather, lack of accountability. It is accountability that ensures
that government officials are not selfishly acting to further the interests of
some ruling clique, as in a dictatorship, but instead are working for the good of
the whole society.

This is why a free press is so important to a democracy. A free press is the "nervous
system" of the democracy, delivering information to the society's decision makers.

A free press guarantees accountability. A tyrant, seeking to enrich some tiny ruling
clique at the expense of the rest of the rest of society, might well seek to interfere
with free expression in the media.

In the U.S. today, there is growing talk of media censorship.

Michael Moore, for example, recently complained that the Disney sought to block
distribution of a film critical of President Bush. Moore claimed that Disney was
worried that the President's brother, Governor Jeb Bush of Florida, might take away
multi-million dollar tax breaks to Disney properties in Florida. Disney denied this
allegation, accusing Moore of a publicity stunt to promote his film ahead of the Cannes
Film Festival.

Moore's film, incidentally, points out the historically links between the Bush family
and certain prominent Saudi families implicated in terrorism-financing, such as the
bin Laden family. As the site www.spinsanity.com points out, Moore often gets his
facts and statistics wrong --- but these links between prominent Saudi families and
the Bush family are well known. The Bush family is one of America's most prestigious
families; it is not surprising wealthy Saudi financiers, some obviously involved in
very shady dealings, would try to bring the Bush family into their social circle.
These links are interesting not because of what they say about the Bush family, but
because of what they say about certain prominent Saudi families, including the bin
Laden family. Nevertheless the Bush family would understandably be embarrassed by
revelations of these links. Would they try to block Moore's film? Probably not ---
it was most likely, as Disney claimed, a promotional stunt by Moore.

Nevertheless, Moore cried censorship, and the New York Times published an
editorial sympathetic to him. (Earlier today, Moore, Miramax, and
Disney reached a settlement to allow distribution of the film in the U.S.)

There have been other recent complaints of growing media
censorship in the U.S. Dan Rather had been asked, to delay
publication of the controversial Iraq prison abuse photographs by General Myers of
the Pentagon Joint Chiefs of Staff on grounds it would harm U.S. interests. Dan Rather
agreed, but there was growing concern over censorship.

Journalist Bill Moyers pointed out last week in his PBS program "Now" that there is
an "old boy network" between certain media companies and the government. The FCC
overlooks the fact that these media companies own more broadcast stations in
certain markets that is allowed under FCC rules; these companies, in turn, have a
pro-government bias in their reporting. Other concerns exist --- some have argued
that newspapers should not be allowed to own television stations. Newspapers today make
most of their profits from their affiliated television stations, and these, in turn,
greatly fear losing their FCC license due to an arbitrary government decision, or
receiving an arbitrary, politically-motivated FCC fine for "indecency" if,
say, a politician utters a indecency during a live press conference.

Are these concerns founded? Perhaps.

Historically, White House administration have needed a sophisticated public relations
apparatus ("spin machine") to government. There is perhaps a fine line between
"media spin" and "media manipulation", and, in turn, a fine line between the latter
and what has been claimed to be "media censorship", especially in this Presidential
election year.

Of course, the worst crime by any government official is a failure to be accountable to
the "controlling legal authority" --- typically, the legislature.

Is there subtle but growing media censorship in the U.S.? The charges --- perhaps
politically motivated --- have been made but the jury is still out.

I've had my own experiences. Not with "media censorship", but with appears to have been
a sophisticated, very high-tech campaign of grass-roots, electronic
disinformation from a U.S. government contractor
working for the Pentagon (shades of the
prison abuse scandal again --- no evidence he was or wasn't involved
in that, although he lives in the same community that had contractors
involved in scandal, and has other superficial resemblances. My guess is, unlike
the contractors implicated in the scandal, this particular contractor spent
most of his time working in the U.S.)

Was this very highly-paid contractor engaged in this sophisticated
grass roots disinformation campaign out of hiw own accord for partisan political
reasons, or was he working on behalf of the government?

I don't know for sure, but I will point out (in great detail) the parallels between my
own experiences and certain programs being run during Vietnam.

I can promise that my accounts will provide an entertaining and lighter account of my
interactions with spook-world and --- more importantly --- my many other,
unrelated, but interesting, insightful, and equally
entertaining thoughts on the state of our country today.

Hopefully, we'll get some interesting comments from readers along the way. It's been
reported in mainstream media (aha --- shades of "media censorship" and
"disinformation" charges again) that the government intelligence community routinely
monitors 'blogs, so no doubt we have a very informed readership.

Polls suggest that a majority of Americans believe our country is on the wrong track.
It is an opinion I share.

I think I know the answer, however, to getting back on the right track. Greater
illumination by the world's media and our elected officials of how our policies are
shaping world events.

Only by understanding how well or poorly our policies are working can we make
rational decisions about the future. It is this rational decision making process,
driven by accurate information that have made us the most envied society on Earth.

It is only through the inspired airing of free ideas here and overseas,
that the hearts and minds of the free world will again come together and
lead all nations to a sunnier future.