Saturday, April 12, 2014

Chasin' News

Most Christians agree that we need to understand things more than superficially. In our own idiom, we call this discernment. Even those of us who are of an anti-constantinian bent tend to agree that rejection of violence and political power carried out "at the end of a gun" doesn't mean we oughtn't have an idea about what is going on in the world. This is even more urgent now, because the scale of dominant institutions that run the world has become truly transnational, and because macro-trends have profound consequences at the local level where many of us like to concentrate our practices. Moreover, Christians -- at least in my view -- need to overcome the stumbling blocks of public perception that we are all anti-intellectual and authoritarian (read: carrying around ossified rule-books for everyone).

On the other hand, American Christians face the same problem with this kind of discernment that Americans generally face. American "news" media is run by rich perception managers; it is consistently narrow and implicitly American-exceptionalist; and it is consistently shallow. American journalism (almost an oxymoron now) is, frankly, crap.

Back when I was on the antiwar protest circuit, when the Republicans held the White House and Democrats pretended they were against war, any time we would present in-depth analysis of global affairs that were inflected by and upon the Bush wars, people in audiences would ask, "How do people get access to this kind of information?" An implicit realization dawned on them that when more is understood about any situation, it is tougher for political con artists and their stenographer cousins in the fourth estate to stupefy and bewilder the public.

Many American media outlets actually have better international news versions, like CNN and Time, and they intentionally dumb-down and right-shift their American versions. Not to say that their "analysis" is not still thoroughly neoliberal... they just can't get away with what they do in the US elsewhere (like pretending there was never such a place as Palestine, or never admitting that the Venezuelan and Bolivian governments had fairer elections than we have).

I've evolved a kind of method for following current events that I'll share designed to overcome exactly this problem, and I'll invite others who have dealt with the same problem to share their own sources and techniques.

A first step is knowing what you are missing... stuff that gets left out, and stuff that is part of misdirection. A good starting point for this is FAIR, or Fairness and Accuracy in Reporting, a media watchdog outfit.

You'll note that they call themselves "progressive," which has become a euphemism for "left of center" on the popular conception of a political continuum, as are several other sites I will recommend. It's not that the left is any less prone to employ manipulative speech -- some of them are the worst fear-mongers and name-callers I know. But the left has a vested interest in presenting what is concealed in the "analysis" of the so-called right, which is hegemonic among both American political parties; and in the US, most current events people are also political people, and most political people have chugged the Koolaid that tells them the way to change is through public office and public policy (even though the evidence supports a contrary conclusion).

As a few people have noted of the great "leftist" Karl Marx, who I studied intensely for several years, Marx was in many ways very accurate in his deconstruction of capitalism, as far as it went, even if his prognosis about socialism was chewed up and spit out by the unfathomable complexity of history. I'm more of a Karl Polanyi fella these days, analysis-wise, with a strong dose of feminist standpoint thrown in. And my politics are more ecofeminist/relocalization/subsistence perspective (combine Vandana Shiva with Ivan Illich and you're close.) My citizenship is Peaceable Kingdom.

I have been inoculated against the some of the silliness among "progressives" and even against the whole notion of "progress" by thinkers as diverse as Maria Mies, Alf Hornborg, Carolyn Merchant, Stanley Hauerwas, Vandana Shiva, Ivan Illich, Amy Laura Hall, and Alasdair MacIntyre. So I can take out the germ and toss the chaff.  Two forms of chaff I just ignore as well as I can are (1) appeals implicit or explicit to seizing political power and (2) highly centralized, large-scale, Promethean technocratic ideas for solving problems that were created by technocratic Prometheanism.

That said, two sites I visit every day to mine for nuggets are Counterpunch and Commondreams. Counterpunch is a kind of left-and/or-libertarian online modern Iskra, a clearinghouse for stuff the mainstream media refuses to publish. I used to write for them myself. Commondreams is also a kind of clearinghouse online journal, similar in much content, with a few almost daily staff writers who do issue summaries. The nice thing about Commondreams is they include links to primary sources; and they don't have quite the macho edge that Counterpunch has from time to time.

Some people like Truthout and DailyKos, but I got fed up with Truthout's articles about sex that remind me of a college sophomore who is still rebelling against Daddy and Mommy; and DailyKos is such an unabashed organ of the Democratic Party that it gave me digestive problems. Same for Huffington Post, which I also used to write for.

For in-depth articles from this same counter-perspective, Truthdig (another one I contributed to back in my lefty days) offers some very good writing and some original stories.

So much for a kind of counterfoil survey each day.

The US constitutes around five percent of the world's population, so to get perspectives from other places, I drop in every couple of days at Asia Times online. It has three annoyances I have to overlook -- pop-ups, ads to joint the State Department and CIA, and a writer called Spengler who I "just say no" to. Otherwise, it has a lot of analysis from several national and political perspectives about... well, Asia, from the Middle East to the South China Sea.

Another very good international source is Inter Press Service.

Because they consistently do some stories others avoid, even if the quality is uneven, I check by Salon, the Atlantic, The Nation, and the Brit newspaper The Guardian every couple of days.

To avoid the incredible whiteness of being that can characterize many journals even of the leftish persuasion,I also always check in with my friends at Black Agenda Report.

I go through Google News everyday, which offers up the stories that are featured in the flagship papers of the West, and if there is something that doesn't get the coverage it ought to, you can sort through news there. If you put in "climate change" or "deflation" or "neoliberalism" or "topsoil loss," you will get stories that do not appear on the generic list.

After reading all this other stuff, and to avoid the urge to drink hemlock, I plug in terms like "permaculture," "community garden," and "bioremediation" to Google News, so I can find stories about people doing smart things that are good for themselves and others.

I also go through several Christian sites/blogs that I have come to appreciate for their perspectives and to re-ground. These include, but are not limited to, Profligate Grace, American Jesus, Ekklesia Project, Intersections, Political Theology, Political Jesus, ReKnew, Running Heads, Rachel Held Evans, Jesus Radicals, Patheos, and a few others I can't think of right now with writer's tunnel vision.

Ever so often, it occurs to me that there is something going on in current events that can't be apprehended without a great deal more depth, so I will look up scholarly work on it that is free online. Another strategy that works sometimes is to match up trusted authors with each other. For example, if I put in Carolyn Merchant with Jacques Ellul as a Google search, I come up with a list of interesting books and articles.

I'm sure lots of folks do similar things, but now I have a ready-made line to answer the question, "Where do we learn about these other things?"  The final recommendation is to turn off all televised current events/news shows. They are designed to mix you up and make you buy things. Go to the Real News Network, Democracy Now, and GRITtv instead.


  1. I think whats more important than specific sources (though yours look similar to what my daily rounds) is to discern how the system works financially and in terms of financial economy. A good place to start is reading Chomsky and the propaganda model of the media.

    As for useful tools check out shows multiple sources for the same news event

  2. RealNews is my fave these days. Paul Jay is just the kind of incisive-personality-slash-hellraiser that is needed. Have been fond of the Wilkerson Report, and corresponded a bit with him.

    Am attempting to read Polyani's book. Seems like the early stages are a bit strange, talking about the 19th century as the "100 Years' Peace", which sounds like a lie to me, but I'll give him the benefit of a doubt until I finish.

    I used to listen to NPR, but so much money has been bled out of Public Radio since the Ronnie -Ray-gun era (spelled N-E-W-T) that most of the stations have to accept the drivel produced nationally, which makes it talk radio for yupsters who read Foreign Policy magazine and take it seriously. KLCC here in Eugene has the OLD nighttime music programming that I love, but daytime is a snarky wasteland.

    Forwarded this widely...