Tree-huggers, Trees and Forests

Navigating the current world of torrential actual news – never mind the copious “fake” stuff – is becoming increasingly difficult. With traditional common sense under constant attack by sensory overload, sidestepping the numerous trees placed before us in order to perceive the larger forest remains the big challenge.

A short salutary omnibus of key news as reported in the last day or so might illustrate the point. One of the latest headlines crossing NPR feeds stated bluntly: “Massive Government Report Says Climate is Warming And Humans Are the Cause”. Ignoring for the moment  intricate arcana of American “checks and balances”, it is hard to square that with the US government’s dominant denialist narrative, dismissive of any tree-huggers blocking economic growth. Perplexed, we might then turn to the next worthy government-related headline on promoting growth: the tax reform proposal. This is the one where, in the words of Sen. Sanders, “Donald Trump and the Republican leadership in Congress are […] trying to push through one of the most horrific and destructive budget and tax proposals in the history of our country“.  So, we might reasonably and naively conclude that such twin calamities, stated in no uncertain terms, would mobilize Sanders’ progressive allies to the max. Until we flip the channel again…

Instead, there we find the ongoing saga of alleged Russian interference into the sacrosanct US electoral process, with the those (mostly Democratic) senatorial allies engaged in it with apodictic, magisterial certainty – this time ostensibly directed at the complicit/lax behavior by the social media trio of giant darlings of both The Valley and The Street.  Never short of his SNL-style comic flare, Sen. Al Franken amusingly proceeds to “grill” the Facebook corporate counsel – although it’s not quite clear whether the inconvenient fact that these “sophisticated foreign operatives’” paid for their foul ads with dead-giveaway Russian roubles and/or N. Korean wons (instead of some crypto-currency or honest-to-God greenbacks) is part of the skit, or some even more sinister Ruskie strategy…  But the combination of the witness’ salubrious, patriotic prepared remarks (slightly self-flagellating, very self-regulating) and bumbling evasive answers – would still indicate that we might be on to something and looking at the right tree. Until we notice the next news piece…

Here, CBS news anchor Elaine Quijano focuses on the horrendous Manhattan massacre, and the question of how the perpetrator might have been radicalized. From her conversation with a bona fide expert (Haroon Ullah), we learn of massive Twitter traffic by radical terror-preachers, that “ISIS and people affiliated with ISIS use social media to find outsize influence beyond any borders”, and that therefore “many believe the group is actually winning”.  These are serious words. Also, they suggest that the supposed senatorial tree-huggers that are about to rein in the unpatriotic corporate giants are really barking up the wrong tree – or at least missing the much bigger one behind it. To verify, we might flip the channel once more…

There, the massive shadow of an even bigger tree suggests that Sens. Franken, Feinstein et al. may have created a fake Frankenstein monster after all: the next headline reports on new evidence (from former DNC interim chair Donna Brazile) that eseentially the DNC rigged the system to steal the primary from Sen. Sanders. Translated to even plainer English, this means the real corruption of a fair US election – the one that robbed the electorate of a cogent debate on substantive issues raised by Sanders during primaries – is hiding in plain sight, on US soil, paid by USD. Still, one might ask, what’s the deal then with the Google-Facebook-Twitter trio, with all that foreign platform abuse (Russian, N. Korean, Islamist, whatever)?

The final channel flip is again to CBS news, with the anchor this time engaging a financial analyst on the just released phenomenal results by Facebook, its consequent stock surge and any possible dampening effects of the ongoing Senate hearings. The guest quickly dispels any doubts and calms the investor audience by plainly reminding us that these companies did not get to their coveted leadership positions by subjecting themselves to much regulation, by limiting the tremendous traffic that their worldwide platforms generate, or ultimately – by neglecting the primacy of profits.

Which brings us full circle to the real forest.  Saving these (and much more) that seems threatened in our opening news piece indeed requires seeing the forest through the noise of individual trees. To borrow some of the ominous words and ideas of Naomi Klein’s recent book, “This Changes Everything – Capitalism vs. the Climate”, the forest in the big picture is the profit motive of capital. Effecting that change will require the observer(s) to read through the lines, spot the elephants in the room and discern the truths hiding in plain sight. No amount of crash courses on fake news, “big data crunching” or quasi-artificial intelligence will help here – only human intelligence aiding our capacity for independent thinking and decision-making.

Dr. Radmilo Bozinovic is a computer professional who has worked in the Silicon Valley since 1988. During that time, he has also been involved in numerous public interest projects, ranging from serving on two non-profit boards, to improving language access in state courts and public education. A native of ex-Yugoslavia, he has actively worked to uncover the truth about its civil war and the foreign role played in its breakup, and other conflicts.

Read other articles by Radmilo.