Saturday, 31 December 2011

Samoa day - or just loving all the time we have

 A little whimsical suggestion for 2012.

When things seem just too much, when the thought of tomorrow brings feelings of dread or apprehension, why not simply skip it and take a 'Samoan day out'?

Well, if a country can just jump across the international dateline and lose a day from its existence, why not do the same?

Or maybe not. Better valuing every day, every minute of one's life, good times and bad.

A peaceful and precious New Year to one and all.


Thursday, 29 December 2011

North Korea and the BBC myth factory

Kim Jong-il dies, North Koreans weep and the Western media deride it all as contrived hysteria and crude propaganda, warning of a dangerous new threat to international security.

The BBC seek to establish the authenticity of the mass wailing. But its constant focus on the public emotion helps reinforce the image of a brainwashed people led by a mad and unpredictable regime.

In a typical exchange (News at One, 29 December), BBC newsreader Matthew Amroliwala presses senior correspondent John Simpson on the problems now for "the international community grappling with this rogue nation."

Simpson responds to this open bias with another rambling 'analysis' of the 'unstable, unknown intentions' of the regime. We learn little, other than 'we have to wait and see' and the implicit message that 'they are not to be trusted'.

In other reports, we hear of the Pyongyang regime's responsibility for mass starvation and see impoverished people eat grass to survive in a country isolated from the rest of the world. Meanwhile, many go hungry, poverty-stricken and without hope here in one of the richest nations on earth. Which economic system is worse?

A nuclear-laden North Korean military sucks the country dry as it guards itself, with some fair reason, against surrounding enemies. With no obvious Cold War or other 'external threat', an already nuclear-burdened Britain orders new multi-billion pound replacements while schools and hospitals are forced to close. Which military expenditure is worse?

North Korea issues token threats and tests an occasional conventional missile. Britain, in contrast, leads in mass wars of aggression, leaving over a million victims in its wake, in order to plunder countries' resources and maintain a perpetual arms economy. Which war-ready state is worse?

A youthful heir, Kim Jong-un, assumes the political leadership, with no notion of a democratic mandate, issuing the same autocratic edicts as before. Meanwhile, we in the West are offered a succession of youngish clone-type leaders, all smart suits, all beholden to the same corporate powers, all ready to hand-down brutal austerity measures that nobody wants, all leading us into more bloody wars we never voted for. Which political deceit is worse?

Kim Jong-il's eccentricities and indulgences are derided as unaccountable indifference to his 'adoring', suffering people. Yet, an 'accountable' Cameron, Clegg, Osborne and the rest of the 'we're-all-in-this-together coalition' have helped elite bankers continue their luxurious lifestyles, while people lose their homes and jobs in record numbers. Which hypocrisy is worse?

Writing from Seoul, BBC correspondent Lucy Williamson said of the North Korean state media:
"It is a myth-making factory that, for most of its audience, is their only source of news."
That can also be seriously said of the BBC, an institution so astute at preserving the myth of 'benign/sane us, menacing/disturbed them' that its audience see it as, if not the only source of news, the only source of 'impartial' news. Which media is worse?

Of North Korea's successor, Williamson asserts:
"Untried and untested, he will perhaps depend even more on the power of his lineage, and the personality cult created by his country's unique cultural machine."
Think, alternatively, of how the unique cultural machine that's the BBC has helped popularise the elite Oxbridge lineage of Cameron and Osborne. Think, also, how that cultural machine has given establishment cover to the "untried and untested" version of 'coalition politics' being used to impose the most brutal assault on the poor since the 1920s.

But this is not just about comparing/contrasting systems, societies and leaders. It's about the ways in which hegemonic legitimacy here is asserted through media vilification and derision of the 'strange and volatile' other.

While eager in its parody of North Korea's personality cult and state propaganda, liberal correspondents have very little to say about the illusions we live and internalise as a 'free and democratic West' - and certainly nothing about their own central part in that vital mythology.

Just try to imagine Amroliwala and Simpson on the BBC news labelling Britain a "rogue state" for the mass crimes it has committed around the world. The possibility is even more far-fetched than the odd claims of regime-supporting 'natural phenomena' coming out of North Korea these past days.

North Korea's myth-making factory may be in full-scale creative production right now, but it can't compete with the BBC's smarter range of state-approved Orwellian lines. That many would consider the comparison facile rests, of course, on the BBC's own mythical branding of itself as a free and neutral product. Crucially, while Pyongyang depend on industrial-scale output of its reinforcing myths, the BBC need only keep turning out that simple and more effective conceit.


Thursday, 22 December 2011

Wednesday, 21 December 2011

Military Wives, selective lives

'Tis the season to be wary.

Wary, that is, of festive militarism.

As if crass commercialism of the season wasn't enough, the naked media promotion of the Military Wives single this Christmas shows just how effective cultural propaganda can be in sanitising 'our' warmongering abroad.  

The militarisation of Christmas is not new, but it's intensifying as entertainment shows fall into uniform line in support of the 'war effort'.

Besides the craven promotion of their song by BBC reporters and assorted celebrities, Military Wives have had multiple media outings, including  an appearance on Strictly Come Dancing.

In similar vein, ITV's Michael Buble Christmas show featured a wounded serviceman returned from Afghanistan, with a gushing Buble praising 'our selfless soldiers' and dedicating a song to him and his partner.

Just try to imagine the BBC or ITV openly promoting an anti-war Christmas song.

Who would deny the personal difficulties faced by these women and their partners? But did they or their media sponsors ever stop to think of the suffering experienced by invaded Iraqis or Afghans? As ever, it seems that only 'our' pain and separation is to be chorused.

Jonathan Freedland has tried to rationalise his support for the song by comparing it favourably to the formulaic X Factor output that usually makes Number 1. He also regards it as an uplifting statement of good in our stricken, austere times.  If only Freedland were to shine a little comparative compassion on the victims and families at the receiving end of Britain's foreign endeavours.

Indeed, it's a sign of the times that the apparent choice is between contrived commercial product or contrived militarist product.

Ah, well.

It'll all be over by Christmas.

Joyeux Noël


Monday, 19 December 2011

Inside Job, outside job

There's a neat moment in the film Inside Job where, confronted about his interchangeable roles as select assistant to the US government and multiple consultancies to elite financial institutions, Glenn Hubbard, Chief Economic Adviser and Bush Administration Dean of Columbia Business School, turns irritable and angry, giving his interviewer sharp notice that the exchange is about to be terminated.

It's a seminal scene in Charles Ferguson's highly-revealing film, showing just how grandiose and reactive such people can be when their coveted world is challenged.

As part of his 'academic' services, Hubbard had co-authored a paper with Goldman Sachs' chief economic adviser, praising credit derivatives and other volatile instruments that led to the banking meltdown of 2008 - being handsomely rewarded for his efforts.

Another Harvard neoliberal guru, economics professor Martin Feldstein - adviser to Ronald Reagan and key architect of US financial deregulation - simply blanks the questions of financial impropriety with sly smiles and dismissals. 

Yet another, Chairman of Harvard Economics Department, John Campbell, looks similarly sheepish, calling all such evident conflicts of interest "basically irrelevant."

How awkward and irascible even the most confident 'intellects' can seem when their claims to 'academic integrity' have been rumbled. 

As Peter Bradshaw notes in his review of the film:
"Perhaps the most sensational aspect of this film is Ferguson's contention that the crash corrupted the discipline of economics itself. Distinguished economists from America's Ivy League universities were drafted in by banks to compose reports sycophantically supporting reckless deregulation. They were massively paid for these consultancies. The banks bought the prestige of the academics, and their universities' prestige, too. Ferguson speaks to many of these economists, who clearly thought they were going to be interviewed as wry, dispassionate observers. It is really something to see the expression of shock, outrage and fear on their faces as they realise they're in the dock."

However, contrary to Bradshaw, there's nothing actually "sensational" at all about the discipline's 'compromises' - how very Guardian to think so. The truth is that America's academic system, alongside its political system, was already long-corrupted - as one of the film's contributor's puts it - by America's "Wall Street government".

Still, how telling of market life that so many well-educated professors have discarded academia for trading floor consultancies, with mathematician 'wizards' creating mind-boggling instruments even they don't understand. As the resultant collapses show, speculation in these Frankenstein products isn't genius science or 'wealth-creating' enterprise, it's parasitical selfishness, creating nothing for society at large.  

It's a study in itself to observe these groomed figures squirm in discomfort as Ferguson lists, in meticulous detail, their revolving-door positions as key political advisers and directorships in profit-obsessed banks.

As his penetrating movie suggests, the capacity of elites to swindle and lie is as vast and excessive as the astronomical figures involved. In the immediate aftermath, the US Treasury approved more than $700 billion in lifelines, most of it now spirited away by the same crooks.

Despite the collapse of giants like Lehman Brothers, the exposure of serial malpractice within iconic banks like Goldman Sachs and the complicity of super-trusted rating agents such as Moody's, guilty directors have all exited with vast payoffs, bonuses and other untaxed remunerations, while those evicted from their sub-prime homes are cast aside to live on the street.

The scale of America's banking heist, the corporate villainy and the ensuing protection of those responsible is simply staggering. And so is the consistency of the financial cabal's defence against any regulatory adjustments. As the film notes, Wall Street is more consolidated and, through intensified lobbying, politically stronger than ever.         

Inside Job is not, however, without its more analytical flaws, among them the honorary assessments of 'philanthropist financier' George Soros as an advocate for 'fair reform' of a promiscuous system he himself has played a considerable part in creating.

More centrally, it has nothing at all to say about the corporate-run media which plays such a crucial role in legitimising the overall system of profit and greed. Where's the critique of the business press in all of this discussion, in particular the liberal business media? It's a vital omission.

The Wall Street Journal and its stable-mates may revel in exposing this or that instance of financial corruption. But is this not part of the bigger deceitful prop of a 'decent-but-flawed' system?

The elite financial towers don't stand apart from the rest of the corporate jungle, of which the corporate media is a central structure. 

Whether ultra-conservative or reformist liberal, daily appraisal, dissection and approval of the business world keeps the 'integrity' of the business culture intact. Alas, perhaps betraying his own liberal constraints, Ferguson offers no investigation of this key ideological cover or the propaganda role of the financial commentariat.       

Thankfully, the film spares us any romantic narrative on Obama the 'saviour president'. As we see, all the same guilty people have been retained as advisers, the promised prosecutions never happened, the gigantic sums Obama oversaw in his part of the bailout will never be returned.

All of which has been a great new learning curve for the American and wider global public. The belated mass disillusion over Mr Hopey Changey has generated a more acute understanding that all the political class are in the expansive pocket of big business.   

The ensuing Occupy Wall Street movement has also drawn-in new inside reformist elements such as the Alternative Banking Group, comprising many already working in high finance.   

Yet, as Occupy Wall Street, like Occupy LSX, seek to engage 'repentant' bankers, such notions of reform carries with it the risk of believing that the system is fundamentally sound, merely in need of adjustment and better regulation.

The 'far-reaching reforms' of the UK banking sector, just announced, is evidence of the elite's latest attempt to protect and maintain; another damage limitation exercise to sweeten the toxic austerity pill.

Again, our corporate-liberal media indulge this charade with dutiful gravitas, the cited objections to Vickers confined to possible 'adverse impacts' on small business and token concerns from the public. Nowhere is there the merest mention of capitalism in crisis or the case for radical alternatives.

The stark, bottom-dollar truth is that the entire structure is beyond redemption. Wall Street and its satellite bastions don't need reforming. They need dismantling.  And, while films like Inside Job partly educate us on the deep, challenging nature of the problem, that task will only progress, however slowly, as part of an outside job of mass, non-incorporated resistance.


Monday, 5 December 2011

Guardian again in its true colours

Whatever its boast as a 'radical space', however celebrated its 'dissident' writers, the Guardian's truest function remains its chameleon-like support for state power.

Consider this Guardian 'interview' with Lieutenant General James Bucknall, Britain's most senior commander in Afghanistan.

One might have expected our 'leading critical' daily to place Bucknall under serious journalistic inspection over this country's occupation of another, its subservience to the US in that illegal invasion and the catastrophic loss of life it has helped cause.

Instead, much like BBC copy, the General is quoted extensively without question or challenge from Nick Hopkins and permitted to propagandise the war agenda.

A sample:
"The Taliban had been reduced to a terrorist group, adopting terrorist tactics, said Bucknall.

'I have not seen any insurgents who have assassinated their way to power. One hundred and forty [Afghans] have been assassinated this year. In the press that is painted as the government cannot survive this. But we are taking out 130-140 mid-level Taliban leaders every month. Sometimes it is worth turning the egg-timer on its head. They have been driven to this much vaunted tactic of assassinations.' 
He said that the idea the Taliban would sit and wait until western forces had left suited Nato well because it would allow Afghan police and army more time to get up to strength."
Nothing from Hopkins on the terrible suffering and blood of the Afghan people. Nothing, in the way of balance, on how the Taliban view the occupation and development of the war.

Hopkins's article is further evidence of the Guardian's vital fig-leaf role. But the myth still prevails, particularly amongst much of the liberal left, that it functions as a champion arena for independent thought - with the now-added task of exposing and weeding-out a 'bad tabloid media'.

The dual pretence is eagerly crafted by Editor-in-Chief Alan Rusbridger in his now-regular deliberations on how we might best 'clean-up' the industry.

Likewise, in his recent evidence to the Leveson Inquiry, leading Guardian investigative reporter Nick Davies spoke in detail about the ethical intricacies of Guardian reporting/sourcing, contrasting it to "the culture of bullying" within Fleet Street.

Admirers of Davies's impressive exposures would have little reason to think about the culture of editorial expectation he himself adheres to at the Guardian.

The Guardian's "internal culture", Davies insisted in his testimony, is different from the more corporate-competing press due to its Trust-based status. The Guardian, he argues, has a relatively higher reliance on advertising revenue than the tabloids, which, he claims, depends more on  high-volume sale of papers. Hence, Davies concludes, the Guardian is "less intense in its commercial pressure" and, effectively, more independent in its reportage.

The distinction is in itself spurious. All press media, tabloid and broadsheet, rely extensively on advertising profit. Moreover, carefully avoiding note of its 'green credentials', Davies failed to mention the fossil fuel-related advertising carried by the Guardian and how, despite its Trust 'independence', it bows unashamedly to big corporate demands.

This is the real "internal culture" at the Guardian, a culture of unspoken compliance.

It's also a culture with a wide co-optive net.

Caught-up in its persuasive mesh, some activists appear to believe that 'Occupying' the Guardian's Comment is Free site helps galvanise their cause.  How mistaken. Again, it merely reinforces the system-serving myth of the Guardian is a radical-facilitating space.

Consider the stark absence at Occupy CiF of any critical charges against the Guardian itself. Where are all the Occupy questions about the Guardian's own corporate leanings, Rusbridger's own corporate-scale salary or, more disgracefully, the Guardian's protection of war criminals like Blair?

The Guardian's complicit pretentiousness here can be likened to that of Blair propagandist Alastair Campbell who disguises himself within the same liberal media, even appearing 'dutifully' at Leveson to excoriate the 'wicked redtops'.

Anyone doubting the true establishment credentials of Rusbridger et al should recall how the Guardian kept its editorial faith with Blair and Campbell.  Note also how Rusbridger, Davies and other Guardian notables have now turned on and vilified Julian Assange while its editors keep safe distance from stories on how Fox, Gould and Werritty plotted to undermine Iran. As Craig Murray reminds us:
"It should not be forgotten that the Guardian never stopped supporting Blair and New Labour, even when he was presiding over illegal wars and the massive widening of the gap between rich and poor. My point about Assange is that he has done a great deal to undermine the neo-con war agenda – and the Guardian is subjecting him to a campaign of denigration. On the other hand Gould/Fox/Werritty were pushing a neo-con project for war – and the Guardian is actively complicit in the cover-up of their activities.

The Guardian. Whom does it serve?"