Netroots Survivor

The Netroots Nation conference drew more than 2,000 liberal/progressive bloggers and activists to Austin in July. Many of the participants brought laptop computers as well as iPhones, Blackberries and other devices to the sessions so they could “liveblog,” surf the Web, send email or otherwise multitask during lulls in the action (or even during speeches).

All I had was a reporter’s notebook, a pen and a backpack with a few samples of our tabloid newspaper.

When I introduced myself to some of these netizens, as they style themselves, I felt like a representative of an archaic profession. Bloggers do great work providing a sounding board for progressive politicians and organizations and truth-squadding neocon scalawags. But I came away with the stubborn conviction that there is still a role for dead trees in journalism.

Chris Hedges recently noted at Truthdig.com that the average time a reader of the New York Times spends with the printed paper is about 45 minutes. The average time a viewer spends on the Times’ Web site is about seven minutes. “There is a difference between browsing and reading. And the Web is built for browsing rather than for reading,” Hedges wrote.

Newspapers and magazines are under the gun because advertising is down. Many are absorbing double-digit drops. Mergers and hard economic times have cut down on the number of department stores and supermarkets that used to be the bread and butter of retail advertising. Craigslist and other online services do the job that classified ads used to do, taking another large chunk of newspaper revenue. Web advertising is still a relative drop in the bucket. Many media companies have responded by cutting their newsroom staffs. Newspapers cut their capitol bureaus and investigative reporters. Eventually progressive readers in the town and country wonder why they are paying good money to get a daily newspaper that is not only shrinking but edited for Republicans in the suburbs.

That presents an opportunity not only for bloggers but also for newspapers like us and the alternative weeklies that offer independent progressive voices across the country. Unlike the free weeklies that operate on advertising revenue, we operate almost entirely on subscription revenue, as you can see from our pages that are largely unsullied by advertising. So far we’ve found enough readers to keep our enterprise going. But we need a few thousand more and we can use your help in getting the word out.

Despite our preference for old-fashioned “hard copy,” we recognize that it is vitally important to defend open access to the Internet. The big media companies control radio and TV and they’d like to control the Internet. The Federal Communications Commission upheld the concept of an open Internet Aug. 1 when it voted 3-2 to punish Comcast for blocking access. In a landmark decision, FCC Chairman Kevin Martin (R) joined Commissioners Michael Copps (D) and Jonathan Adelstein (D) in approving an enforcement order that would require Comcast to stop blocking and publicly disclose its methods for interfering with Internet traffic.

Free Press (freepress.net), one of the public-interest groups whose complaints prompted the FCC action, noted that the big phone and cable companies, which most Americans depend upon for Internet service, want to get rid of “Net Neutrality,” the rule that prevents Internet service providers from discriminating against online content. They want to decide which sites go fast or slow and which won’t load at all—based on who pays them the most.

We also need a national broadband policy, to improve access to the one-half of the nation’s households that are not yet wired for broadband. A national broadband plan would protect Internet freedom and foster competition by bringing new providers into the marketplace, driving economic growth and bringing universal, affordable broadband access to all Americans.

The bipartisan “Internet Freedom Preservation Act 2008” (HR 5353) by Reps. Ed Markey (D-Mass.) and Chip Pickering (R-Miss.) would enshrine Net Neutrality in the Communications Act. It also requires the FCC to convene at least eight “broadband summits” to collect public input on policies to “promote openness, competition, innovation, and affordable, ubiquitous broadband service for all individuals in the United States.”

Barack Obama has committed to protect the openness of the Internet and encourage diversity in media ownership while safeguarding our right to privacy. John McCain believes Net Neutrality and other technology issues should be left up to the market.

For more on the fight for a free, open and accessible Internet, see SaveTheInternet.com.

McCain Matches Bush’s Bellicose Rhetoric

John McCain showed why he should not become president on Aug. 11 when he urged NATO to begin discussions on “the deployment of an international peacekeeping force to South Ossetia,” apparently to confront Russian military forces who were routing the outgunned Georgian troops there. McCain also said NATO should reconsider its previous decision and put Georgia on the path to becoming a member. (Barack Obama offered a more measured criticism of Russia’s intervention.)

Gregory Djerejian, a New York-based lawyer with experience in the former Soviet Union and the United Nations, in BelgraviaDispatch.com (Aug. 11), called McCain’s statement “incredibly poor reasoning by McCain, jaw-dropping even by the standards of the mammoth policy ineptitude we’ve become accustomed to during the reign of Bush 43 and his motley crew of national security miscreants.”

George Kennan, best known as the “father of containment” of the Soviet Union in the late 1940s, wrote in 1997 that the Clinton administration’s move to bring NATO to the borders of Russia was a terrible mistake. He wrote that “expanding NATO would be the most fateful error of American policy in the entire post-cold war era. Such a decision may be expected to inflame the nationalistic, anti-Western and militaristic tendencies in Russian opinion; to have an adverse effect on the development of Russian democracy; to restore the atmosphere of the cold war to East-West relations, and to impel Russian foreign policy in directions decidedly not to our liking.”

Georgia President Mikheil Saakashvili came to power in 2004, after leading mass protests against a fraudulent election with a Moscow-backed candidate. Saakashvili is a democrat and strident critic of the Kremlin, which had been protecting separatists in the Georgian regions of South Ossetia and Abkhazia. But Saakashvili’s embrace of the West and pursuit of NATO membership stirred Russian suspicions about American intentions in the Kremlin’s old empire. President Bush visited Tbilisi, Georgia’s capital, in 2005 and called it a “beacon of liberty.” He added, “The path of freedom you have chosen is not easy, but you will not travel it alone. ... The American people will stand with you.”

Saakashvili accepted US help in overhauling its army, re-equipping it with Israeli and American weapons. He volunteered 2,000 troops to participate in the occupation of Iraq. And, believing Bush’s rhetoric, he baited the Russians until the bear attacked, only to find that the best he could hope for was that we would fly his 2,000 troops home.

William Kristol, surely one of the most discredited miscreants in D.C., asked in the New York Times (Aug. 11), “Will Russia Get Away With It?” Yes, Russia will. NATO is occupied in Afghanistan. The balance of the US military is bogged down in Iraq, in a war Kristol predicted would be quick and easy. Georgia is screwed, unless diplomats can talk the Russians into letting go. Paraphrasing the old line about Mexico, Georgia is “so far from God, so close to Russia.” — JMC

From The Progressive Populist, Sept. 1, 2008

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