Better-management.org brings you thought-provoking, and many very worrying, articles on finance, economics, geopolitics, the environment, government and much more.
- The Intolerable Scourge Of Fake CapitalismFrom Zerohedge, 18 November 2018
- The cultural world changed with Professor Jordan PetersonBy Judy Stove, Quadrant Online, 29 October 2018
- Mainstream media, journalism is dead By John Pilger, via ConsortiumNews.com. 22 September 2018
Scroll down to read the most recent articles; links to previous articles follow.
The Intolerable Scourge Of Fake Capitalism
The Intolerable Scourge Of Fake CapitalismFrom Zerohedge, 18 November 2018
All is now bustle and hubbub in the late months of the year. This goes for the stock market too. If you recall, on September 22nd the S&P 500 hit an all-time high of 2,940. This was nearly 100 points above the prior high of 2,847, which was notched on January 26th. For a brief moment, it appeared the stock market had resumed its near decade long upward trend.
We actually did not believe in the validity of the September breakout attempt: the extremely large divergence between the broad market and the narrow big cap leadership was one of many signs that an internal breakdown in the stock market was well underway. It is probably legitimate to refer to the January 2018 high as the “orthodox” stock market peak – the point at which most stocks topped out.
Chartists witnessed the take out of the January high and affirmed all was clear for the S&P 500 to continue its ascent. They called it a text book confirmation that the bull market was still intact. Now, just two months later, a great breakdown may be transpiring.
Obviously, this certain fate will be revealed in good time. Still, as we wait for confirmation, one very important fact is clear. The Federal Reserve is currently executing the rug yank phase of its monetary policy. As the Fed simultaneously raises the federal funds rate and reduces its balance sheet, credit markets are slipping and tripping all over themselves.
This week, for example, seven-year investment grade bonds issued by GE Capital International traded with a spread of 2.47 percent. For perspective, this is equivalent to the spread of BB rated junk bonds. In other words, the credit market doesn’t consider GE bonds to be investment grade, regardless of whether compromised credit rating agencies say they are.
Spread of 7-year GE bond over mid-swaps – this bond retains an investment grade rating for now. We have discussed the problem posed by the proliferation of bonds rated in the lowest investment grade category in detail previously – see: “Corporate Credit – A Chasm Between Risk Perceptions and Actual Risk” [PT]
But it’s not just GE debt that’s in question. Per a tweet by Scott Minerd, Global Chief Investment Officer at Guggenheim Partners: “The selloff in GE is not an isolated event. More investment grade credits to follow. The slide and collapse in investment grade debt has begun.”
The fact is, there’s now around $3 trillion of bonds rated BBB, the lowest rating bracket above junk. How much of this debt – like General Electric bonds – should be rated junk that isn’t? We suspect the next liquidity event will clarify the answer to this question.
The real question, however, is how did $3 trillion of questionable debt pile up to such a perilous level to begin with? What follows is an attempt at an answer…
How Fake Capitalism Works
One popular delusion is that America operates under an economic framework of capitalism. One where businesses, and their finances, are free to succeed and fail based on their economic merits. In reality, America hasn’t had a truly capitalist economy since the 19th century.
Moreover, the encroachment of government into the economy has increased over the last several decades. The ratio of federal government spending to GDP increased from 33 percent in 1973 to about 40 percent today. How can an economy that is composed of 40 percent federal government spending and extreme central bank intervention into credit markets be an economy of private enterprise? Naturally, it can’t.
In modern times government activity is taking up an ever larger share of the economy – but where will it end? Full-fledged communism? Note that the above does not count the indirect costs of federal regulations, which are estimated to amount to around $2.5 trillion per year.
The fake capitalism of the 21st century is, in essence, a destructive form of self-cannibalism. The economic model depends on three factors: big deficits, monetary policies of extreme intervention, and a central authority with a highly visible hand to direct the supply and demand of goods and services. Taken in concert, these factors consume tomorrow’s productivity with the gluttonous appetite of pigs devouring slop.
The results are an endless collection of gross distortions, misallocations, debt pileups and vulnerabilities. Stocks, corporate bonds, residential real estate, General Electric, Washington lobbyists, student loan debt, defense contractors, digital gizmo producers, Ford Motor Company, per capita healthcare costs, Anheuser-Busch, Bryce Harper’s imminent $400 million contract, unfunded state pension liabilities, federal debt, and on and on…
This is how fake capitalism works. And what you may not know is that under fake capitalism someone, most likely you, will be left holding the bag for these liabilities – and many more. You may not want to pay for them. You may not be prepared to pay for them. But you will pay for them, nonetheless. In fact, you already are…
The Intolerable Scourge of Fake Capitalism
You see, if you own residential property in America today you really don’t own it. You are merely leasing it from your local governments. Try skipping your property tax payment, if you don’t believe us.
One implication is that your city holds an option on your house. And when push comes to shove, they’ll exercise it. The city government will raise your property taxes to cover its pension obligations. Then it will raise it some more. Many cities already are.
And if your kids are in public schools, it is likely their classrooms are more crowded than they were when you were a kid. Why? Is there a shortage of teachers? On the contrary, there is a glut of retired teachers – some of whom haven’t taught a class for over 20 years – who have a claim on today’s taxes.
On top of that, your state wants to stick you with a progressive wealth exit tax if you try to sell your house and leave the state. After a lifetime of paying down your mortgage you can no longer flee to a tax friendlier state without being taken to the cleaners. Remember, you no longer own your property. Your local and state government owns your property.
A little Illinois data and cartoon collage: this is the quasi-bankrupt state in which the political class now ponders restricting the basic human right of free movement by blackmail in the form of an “exit tax”. Your property does not belong to you. You and all you own belong to them.
So, too, under a fiat money system, you don’t own your own money. You may think you do. You can see the balance in your savings account. But at all hours of the day, including holidays, the value is being extracted from your savings through deficit spending and policies of mass money debasement. This is why working and saving money has become an unending run on a treadmill. You can never get ahead. But you can run faster and faster.
Run as fast as you like – you will never catch up with this…
Of course, the taxpayer – that’s you – will also be responsible for picking up the tab on the next round of too big to fail corporate bailouts. You can count on it. The Treasury Secretary, through smiling teeth, will even tell you it’s for your own good… that they must destroy capitalism to save it.
Yet capitalism was destroyed long ago. And we find the fake capitalism that remains to be an intolerable scourge to a just society.
The cultural world changed with Professor Jordan Peterson
The cultural world changed with Professor Jordan PetersonBy Judy Stove, Quadrant Online, 29 October 2018
The Canadian professor’s entire moral enterprise arose from his horror at the ease with which murderous ideologies came to possess ordinary people. Most of us look only briefly at that matter and others, unsettling as they are, but Peterson explores the very bases of such thought and being
The cultural world changed after the UK Channel 4 interview which took place on January 16 this year, in which Cathy Newman “interviewed” the Canadian psychology professor Jordan B. Peterson.
The interview, or rather attempted harangue by Newman, became an instant phenomenon, mainly because Peterson’s demeanour, intelligence and patience with Newman’s rudeness, and real or assumed stupidity, were so impressive. The interview, contrary no doubt to the plan of Newman and Channel 4, greatly raised Peterson’s already high public profile, ensured best-seller status for his second book (12 Rules for Life: An Antidote to Chaos), and consigned Newman and Channel 4 to the ridicule of millions of viewers around the world. Whether either will recover is yet to be seen. (online editor: that video is embedded below)
While numerous profiles and interviews of Peterson have, over the last year, appeared in news and opinion outlets, most have been along the lines of: “Look at this wacky Canadian professor who seems to have millions of fans for some reason.” Few have attempted to come to grips with what are arguably his most important and original contributions to the ideas of the day. (A notable exception is the excellent hour-long interview by Dutch commentator Timon Dias, on the Geenstijl website and YouTube.) For me, writing as I have done for ten years about the importance of personal morality, in particular a return to a virtue framework, the most exciting thing about Peterson is that he is bringing talk about virtue and morality back to thousands of people in a West which has shunned and indeed ridiculed those ideas for fifty years.
I hope not to caricature Peterson in saying that in several talks and interviews, and also in his 1999 book Maps of Meaning, he has given an account of the development of morality which is based on evolutionary and psychological theory. According to Peterson, a moral way of life is that kind of life which maximises long-term good for both the individual and for the group. Humans are, after all, social animals.
For humans, who live in families and villages and suburbs and workplaces, morally right behaviour is that which benefits, indeed maximises long-term benefit, for the individual and for the group. It is unfortunate that this formulation sounds a little too much like utilitarianism, as widely understood, that is in “seeking the greatest good for the greatest number”. In Peterson’s presentation, however, the emphasis is heavily on the individual’s ability, and responsibility, to act in a morally constructive way. His view is therefore, in my opinion, closer to a “virtue ethics” position than to a utilitarian one.
For humans, this will involve sacrifices, restraints on personal desires, and trust in others to act similarly. It will involve, and indeed require, behaviour which conforms to a set of rules and expectations.
Note that this account of morality does not have anything to say about divine injunction or direction. There may, or may not, be a god or gods who supervise proceedings, and prescribe rewards or punishments, but the human systems can develop and proceed without them. The outcomes from infractions of the human systems generally include punishments and rewards in any event. The ancient question, posed earliest and best by Plato in the Euthyphro, as to whether an action is good because the gods direct it, or in itself, is here beside the point.
As it happens, Peterson himself has developed a religious (or quasi-religious) structure deriving from, rather than integral to, his view of the development of morality. This I shall discuss later.
For centuries, readers would have recognised the naturalistic framework from a similar formulation set out in the first century BC by the Roman philosopher, lawyer and politician Cicero, in his ethical work De Officiis. Clearly, Cicero had no conception of the evolutionary background which we now take for granted. Yet it was clear enough to ancient thinkers that human societies were already of great antiquity, and were based ultimately on the family. Cicero set out a naturalistic account of the origins of human virtue which is remarkably similar to Peterson’s, and, like his, started from the idea that humans are members of the animal world.
Cicero begins with the premise that every animal has both a sense of self-preservation and a reproductive drive. However, only the human animal reasons about cause and effect, the present and the future: only a human surveys his life and plans his behaviour accordingly. Humans by nature gather in groups, “form public assemblies”, and provide for family both immediate and extended. Family and social groupings thus develop. These natural tendencies promote the virtues—prudence, generosity, courage—which best preserve and improve the circumstances of the group.
In addition, the human mind hungers after knowledge: it desires to know what is true. It also resists submitting to others except in accordance with the rules of justice and law. These natural tendencies, again, promote the cultivation of those virtues, wisdom and justice. “From this attitude come greatness of soul and a sense of superiority to worldly conditions.”
Cicero’s philosophical works had a profound influence on early modern and Enlightenment thinking about morality. But who nowadays is familiar with De Officiis? Only specialists, usually on ancient philosophy, and they are not normally people who would give Jordan Peterson any consideration (alas, largely because they would probably believe media caricatures of him as “alt-right”).
It undoubtedly took someone who was not a philosopher, not an historian, not a student of ancient languages, to bring these strands of culture all together as Peterson has done. Specialists are too reluctant to step outside their field, and too cautious. Having been an undergraduate in the 1980s, I am old enough to remember the final echoes of a time when classical literary studies were last infused, to some extent, with “mythologism” and the deployment of “archetypes”: the faint vestiges of Sir James Frazer and The Golden Bough; Jane Ellen Harrison and Greek religion; Gilbert Murray, in 1914, finding Oedipal echoes in Hamlet. Then there was Levi-Strauss, and Jung, and finally Northrop Frye, promoting the mythical interpretation of literature. I remember puzzling over Frye’s “seasons” interpretations (winter = satire), wondering how it added to the literature under review, and thinking that it must be my fault that I failed to see its value.
The death knell of that kind of interpretation had been sounded in 1956, by Douglas Bush in an article in the Sewanee Review, “Mrs Bennet and the Dark Gods: The Truth about Jane Austen”, which satirically applied the mythological treatment to Pride and Prejudice. His piece, which is hilarious if you know both the novel and the mythology, demonstrated, as it apparently needed to do, that great literature is not rendered any greater by being read through the lens of mythological symbols. (One of my favourites from the paper is that Mr Bingley, because of his mysterious comings and goings with a train of followers, must be some sort of Dionysus figure.) Ovid, say, and Jane Austen, both have profound things to say about human life and psychology, but the one is not improved with a sprinkling of the other.
That Douglas Bush and his jeu d’esprit have entirely faded from public consciousness is a sign of the disappearance of mythological treatments of literature. In his idiosyncratic way, Peterson is bringing them back: he finds the Oedipal mother in the fairy tale of the Sleeping Beauty, and he finds suggestive archetypes in the Harry Potter stories. This is perhaps a compliment unearned by J.K. Rowling, whose books are more generally, and justly, considered an unstructured grab-bag of mostly Greek mythological elements.
The mythological view of literature was replaced, in the 1960s and thereafter, with something much worse, and in most cases far less justifiable: the Marxisant obsession with economic class; then post-Marxist and postmodernist gender focus; and finally race and colonialism, and now as appears, transgenderism, to the exclusion of any other considerations. This has been reinforced by the relentless practice of ad hominem condemnation of any writer whose works might be seen to be insufficiently attentive to gender and race; these people are invariably called white supremacists, and are hounded into abject apology, or unemployment. Naturally, on this kind of basis, Peterson himself has been called a Nazi.
As Peterson has said in a number of his talks, this has appalled him, particularly because his entire moral enterprise arose out of his existential despair and horror about the history of the twentieth century. Who, if he or she honestly considers the events of 1914 to 2001, or indeed to 2018, cannot be horrified? Who cannot dread the possession of ordinary people by murderous ideologies? Most of us look only briefly at the matter, because it is too terrible and too intractable, but Peterson has been moved to explore into the very bases of such ways of thought and being.
Peterson concludes that any and every person is capable of extreme evil. The answer to evil, in the end, he claims, is that each individual takes a decision which is not evil, rather than evil; that tends to the good, or at least does not tend to the bad. Social and national evils are compounded of individual evils, magnified exponentially.
On this basis, Peterson has practised what he has preached. He is best known for making two videos, in 2016, in which he said that he would not use the strange new pronouns devised for a range of gender variants, which were then proposed for inclusion in Canadian law; Bill C-16 was subsequently passed in 2017, and those variants are now established in law. Among other things, as Peterson and others have pointed out, the law, in being predicated on the view that gender, sexual expression and sexual identity vary independently of one another, instantiates a radical constructionist view of gender which is very much at odds with the facts of biology.
The “transgender pronoun issue”, then, was his line in the sand: his resistance to an attempt by extremist Left radicals, both outside and inside the Canadian government, to reinstate the old Soviet idea that human nature was not at all determined by biology, but only by environment and external manipulation. (The transgender activists do not put it like that; as they put it, transgender people “prefer” to be called by these pronouns, or have suffered harm because people haven’t used them, therefore everyone should use them. Of course, not even the first of these two propositions is true; a significant number of transgender people have told Peterson that the activists do not speak for them.) The riposte of the radicals is to call Peterson and others (including liberals such as Bret Weinstein) “biological essentialists”, which is meant to be a derogatory term.
The kind of people who consciously disregard biology are not likely to be influenced by weaker considerations such as reason or consistency. If, indeed, gender is a matter only of choice, why shouldn’t governments require people to choose a gender and stick to it? If nobody is “born this way”, but simply chooses it, then there is no requirement for the rest of us to observe anyone else’s whim about which gender they are. If a person has chosen his or her gender for the day or the week, I would take no more notice of it than I do of the shirt they have chosen to put on.
If it’s similar to changing your name by marriage or by deed poll, then what does it matter? I would not be breaking the law if I called Mrs Brown by her former name, Ms Black. Why would such nonsense have to be instantiated in law?
The answer, of course, is that everybody knows that biology is the heart of the matter, so the legal obligation to say the opposite is the point. The legal pressure which can be brought to bear is the point. The point is to force people, on pain of punishment, to avow what they know to be false. The point is to make people say that 2 + 2 = 5. They are also to say it as if they mean it, and if they do not, they risk losing their job, having their business deregistered, or ultimately going to jail.
But the question of whether or not gender is a matter of choice is very much alive. I note that very recently, some well-meaning scientists have endeavoured to return the transgender debate to a biological one, by claiming that a panel of genes may be involved in the causation of gender dysphoria. Geneticist Ricky Lewis has said, “It lends legitimacy, if that needs to be added, that transgender is not a choice but a way of being.” No doubt this is in part because of the ridicule which has been invited by the transgender activists’ recent contempt for biology. It remains to be seen whether they can have it both ways, so to speak.
Peterson’s approach, then, is characterised by utter seriousness and consistency about moral matters, and by a commitment to facts and truth. This is in contrast with those who consider themselves his ideological opponents, who can give no better reason for their stance in attempting to compel others to use certain words, than that we “must respect” transgender “preferences”, or people will be “harmed”. To which, and to all similar claims, I insist upon saying, with Shylock, “On what compulsion must I? Tell me that!” These same people are relativists about morality; they consider that there are no absolute moral values: yet, for some reason, they are full of “musts” and “shoulds” and “need tos”. This is the essence of insincerity.
If an accumulation of individual wrong acts can result in a societal, national or global disaster, the converse, according to Peterson, is that each person, making his or her heroic journey by taking responsibility and acting rightly, may do far more good than they expect. In Maps of Meaning,Peterson dwelt at length on the ancient Sumerian and Egyptian hero tales of Marduk and Osiris. Following Mircea Eliade, Peterson has identified the hero, in the mists of antiquity, as a performer of virtuous deeds, and an exemplar of those deeds to others, magnified and mythologised through time. Other humans felt motivated to imitate heroic actions, forming a virtuous cycle. Peterson quotes Eliade with approval:
Osiris becomes the model for all those who hope to conquer death … Following Osiris’s example, and with his help, the dead are able to transform themselves into “souls,” that is, into perfectly integrated and hence indestructible spiritual beings …
In suggesting this, Peterson (I suspect unconsciously) echoes the ancient Greek thesis of euhemerism, named after a late-fourth-century BC thinker called Euhemerus, who postulated that the heroes of Greek mythology were based on humans who had engaged in famous exploits. (The early Christian polemicists levelled euhemerism as a charge at their pagan opponents—“Your gods are nothing but men after all!”)
How long ago were these “mists of time” in which such heroic or archetypal events might have taken place? Not the least of Peterson’s achievements is to place, and keep, before his audience’s minds the immense length, against varying environmental backgrounds, of human and animal history. For a generation which has been taught no history, only grievances, this is an inestimable gift. In essence, the humanities courses being taught to high school and undergraduate students are, as near as possible, ahistorical. The postmodernists refuse to see any patterns except iterations of the exercise of power and exploitation, and certainly no progress. The lack of scrutiny on such matters as dates and sources which Foucault’s ostensibly historical works have officially received—as opposed to the regular deployment of his name as a token of authority—is evidence of this.
To emphasise how unlike Christianity Peterson’s position actually is, it is worth recalling that while he, consistently with Christian doctrine, emphasises the suffering of life, the solution he offers is entirely anchored in the world, and in human society. To reiterate, humans are social animals, subject to a large degree to the same hormonal chemical influences, rewards and punishments as other animals.
The Christian consolation, by contrast, has been to offer a better world after death, which is, to put it mildly, a far less believable scenario. (We have always been able to imagine, with sufficient force, what hell might be like; speculating what heaven might be like has led intelligent people into the most embarrassing avenues.) Augustine, the man whose (along with St Paul’s) fingerprints are most visibly all over orthodox Christian doctrine, said that the afterlife was the key reason for being a Christian. The old Roman religion, Augustine argued, said nothing about any god who could provide “Eternal life … the one object for which we are Christians”.
To be sure, some Christian commentators have recognised that whatever Peterson is promoting, it’s not Christianity. One David Robertson, on the Christian Today website, offered this, with characteristic tin-ear condescension: “[Peterson] is not the Messiah. He is not even a follower of the Messiah. He just needs the Messiah.” Another blustering American pastor deplores what he regards as Peterson’s tendency to Gnosticism; but then, he is writing a book about what he sees as the unfortunate revival of Gnosticism, and to a man with a hammer everything looks like a nail. A local reverend here in Sydney is troubled by the very thing which I find so valuable in Peterson’s moral approach: that it is works-based, not grace- or faith-based. By contrast, non-religious critic James Lindsay, in Areo magazine, condemns Peterson for being like a cult leader: but then Lindsay thinks nobody but himself gets religion right.
This brings us to another great, perhaps the greatest, merit of Jordan Peterson: that he is nearly always clear and intelligible. He is not trying to sound impressive or obscure. If he were, he would not have the high ground against the postmodernists, which he has. He is trying to write important truths in terms which people who may or may not have read any books to speak of (these days this includes journalists, university students, and other people with a “tertiary education”) will understand.
To some extent, this lays him open to the “Wacky Self-Help Professor” charge. This cannot be helped. The ancient program of virtue was the original self-help. Virtue, after all, literally means that kind of good activity which is proper to men, or humans, viri. It’s for humans and by humans: it’s essentially, painfully, human.
Which of course is why Christianity has always had a love-hate relationship with it. Why Luke claimed that there was more rejoicing in heaven over a reclaimed sinner than over ninety-nine righteous persons (dikaiois, which is to say the just: Luke 15:7). Why St Paul oscillated between flattering his Greek audiences by taking virtue seriously, focusing on “sin” as a virtual force of its own (Romans 7:17, 20), and claiming that the Holy Spirit was requisite for achieving the key virtue of self-control (egkrateia: Galatians 5:22–23). Why the climax of Augustine’s long polemical career was outgunning the Pelagian heresy (which had preserved features of pagan virtue), by insisting on the vital agency of divine grace. And, finally, why John Calvin maintained that human good deeds were neither here nor there.
Peterson’s focus on the naturalistic, on the parallels between human and animal chemistry, has drawn a great deal of ignorant derision from the Cathy Newmans in both traditional and social media. In her face-saving tweets after the notorious interview, she added: “though I don’t think I’ll ever come to terms with the lobster”. Similarly, here in Australia Leigh Sales and Annabel Crabb, two ubiquitous public broadcasters, had some fun with the lobsters. Peterson’s point, both in the interview and in the first chapter of his book, is that the chemical and social interactions between lobsters are remarkably, amazingly, similar to those among humans. People who are prepared to think about the result are moved to marvel at the antiquity of such structures, and what this might mean for thinking about human behaviour and human societies.
But not the Left: Newman’s response (not that she allowed him to elaborate on the point) was incredulity. Instead of concluding that the parallels between animal and human hierarchies are fascinating and meaningful, the response of the Left is rather like that of just about everyone in 1860 to the theory of evolution: “So, Mr Darwin, do you really think we could be descended from the apes? How very quaint!” The subsequent, endless series of memes of Peterson in one or another crustacean form (mainly created by his supporters) is only the natural echo of those crude mid-nineteenth-century newspaper cartoons of Darwin as an ape. We are indeed in strange times when the default position of the mainstream media—which in theory, and on occasion in practice, treats science with almost undue reverence—is to ridicule a scholar who insists upon the evolutionary origins of much of human life.
Judy Stove is a Visiting Fellow in the Faculty of Science at the University of New South Wales.
Mainstream media: journalism is dead
Mainstream media, journalism is dead By John Pilger, via ConsortiumNews.com. 22 September 2018
So much of mainstream journalism has descended to the level of a cult-like formula of bias, hearsay and omission. Subjectivism is all; slogans and outrage are proof enough. What matters is ‘perception’…
The death of Robert Parry earlier this year felt like a farewell to the age of the reporter. Parry was “a trailblazer for independent journalism”, wrote Seymour Hersh, with whom he shared much in common.
Hersh revealed the My Lai massacre in Vietnam and the secret bombing of Cambodia, Parry exposed Iran-Contra, a drugs and gun-running conspiracy that led to the White House. In 2016, they separately produced compelling evidence that the Assad government in Syria had not used chemical weapons. They were not forgiven.
Driven from the “mainstream”, Hersh must publish his work outside the United States. Parry set up his own independent news website Consortium News, where, in a final piece following a stroke, he referred to journalism’s veneration of “approved opinions” while “unapproved evidence is brushed aside or disparaged regardless of its quality.”
Although journalism was always a loose extension of establishment power, something has changed in recent years. Dissent tolerated when I joined a national newspaper in Britain in the 1960s has regressed to a metaphoric underground as liberal capitalism moves towards a form of corporate dictatorship.
This is a seismic shift, with journalists policing the new “groupthink”, as Parry called it, dispensing its myths and distractions, pursuing its enemies.
Witness the witch-hunts against refugees and immigrants, the willful abandonment by the “MeToo” zealots of our oldest freedom, presumption of innocence, the anti-Russia racism and anti-Brexit hysteria, the growing anti-China campaign and the suppression of a warning of world war.
With many if not most independent journalists barred or ejected from the “mainstream”, a corner of the Internet has become a vital source of disclosure and evidence-based analysis: true journalism sites such as wikileaks.org, consortiumnews.com, wsws.org, truthdig.com, globalresearch.org, counterpunch.org and informationclearinghouse.com are required reading for those trying to make sense of a world in which science and technology advance wondrously while political and economic life in the fearful “democracies” regress behind a media facade of narcissistic spectacle.
In Britain, just one website offers consistently independent media criticism. This is the remarkable Media Lens — remarkable partly because its founders and editors as well as its only writers, David Edwards and David Cromwell, since 2001 have concentrated their gaze not on the usual suspects, the Tory press, but the paragons of reputable liberal journalism: the BBC, The Guardian, Channel 4 News.
Their method is simple. Meticulous in their research, they are respectful and polite when they ask why a journalist why he or she produced such a one-sided report, or failed to disclose essential facts or promoted discredited myths.
The replies they receive are often defensive, at times abusive; some are hysterical, as if they have pushed back a screen on a protected species.
I would say Media Lens has shattered a silence about corporate journalism. Like Noam Chomsky and Edward Herman in Manufacturing Consent, they represent a Fifth Estate that deconstructs and demystifies the media’s power.
What is especially interesting about them is that neither is a journalist. David Edwards is a former teacher, David Cromwell is an oceanographer. Yet, their understanding of the morality of journalism — a term rarely used; let’s call it true objectivity — is a bracing quality of their online Media Lens dispatches.
I think their work is heroic and I would place a copy of their just published book, Propaganda Blitz, in every journalism school that services the corporate system, as they all do.
Take the chapter, Dismantling the National Health Service, in which Edwards and Cromwell describe the critical part played by journalists in the crisis facing Britain’s pioneering health service.
The NHS crisis is the product of a political and media construct known as “austerity”, with its deceitful, weasel language of “efficiency savings” (the BBC term for slashing public expenditure) and “hard choices” (the wilful destruction of the premises of civilized life in modern Britain).
“Austerity” is an invention. Britain is a rich country with a debt owed by its crooked banks, not its people. The resources that would comfortably fund the National Health Service have been stolen in broad daylight by the few allowed to avoid and evade billions in taxes.
Using a vocabulary of corporate euphemisms, the publicly-funded Health Service is being deliberately run down by free market fanatics, to justify its selling-off. The Labour Party of Jeremy Corbyn may appear to oppose this, but is it? The answer is very likely no. Little of any of this is alluded to in the media, let alone explained.
Edwards and Cromwell have dissected the 2012 Health and Social Care Act, whose innocuous title belies its dire consequences. Unknown to most of the population, the Act ends the legal obligation of British governments to provide universal free health care: the bedrock on which the NHS was set up following the Second World War. Private companies can now insinuate themselves into the NHS, piece by piece.
Where, asks Edwards and Cromwell, was the BBC while this momentous Bill was making its way through Parliament? With a statutory commitment to “providing a breadth of view” and to properly inform the public of “matters of public policy,” the BBC never spelt out the threat posed to one of the nation’s most cherished institutions. A BBC headline said: “Bill which gives power to GPs passes.” This was pure state propaganda.
Media and Iraq Invasion
There is a striking similarity with the BBC’s coverage of Prime Minister Tony Blair’s lawless invasion of Iraq in 2003, which left a million dead and many more dispossessed. A study by the University of Wales, Cardiff, found that the BBC reflected the government line “overwhelmingly” while relegating reports of civilian suffering. A Media Tenor study placed the BBC at the bottom of a league of western broadcasters in the time they gave to opponents of the invasion. The corporation’s much-vaunted “principle” of impartiality was never a consideration.
One of the most telling chapters in Propaganda Blitzdescribes the smear campaigns mounted by journalists against dissenters, political mavericks and whistleblowers.
The Guardian’s campaign against the WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange is the most disturbing. Assange, whose epic WikiLeaks disclosures brought fame, journalism prizes and largesse to The Guardian, was abandoned when he was no longer useful. He was then subjected to a vituperative – and cowardly — onslaught of a kind I have rarely known.
With not a penny going to WikiLeaks, a hyped Guardian book led to a lucrative Hollywood movie deal. The book’s authors, Luke Harding and David Leigh, gratuitously described Assange as a “damaged personality” and “callous.” They also disclosed the secret password he had given the paper in confidence, which was designed to protect a digital file containing the U.S. embassy cables.
With Assange now trapped in the Ecuadorean embassy, Harding, standing among the police outside, gloated on his blog that “Scotland Yard may get the last laugh.”
The Guardian columnist Suzanne Moore wrote, “I bet Assange is stuffing himself full of flattened guinea pigs. He really is the most massive turd.”
Moore, who describes herself as a feminist, later complained that, after attacking Assange, she had suffered “vile abuse.” Edwards and Cromwell wrote to her: “That’s a real shame, sorry to hear that. But how would you describe calling someone ‘the most massive turd’? Vile abuse?”
Moore replied that no, she would not, adding, “I would advise you to stop being so bloody patronizing.” Her former Guardian colleague James Ball wrote, “It’s difficult to imagine what Ecuador’s London embassy smells like more than five and a half years after Julian Assange moved in.”
Such slow-witted viciousness appeared in a newspaper described by its editor, Katharine Viner, as “thoughtful and progressive.” What is the root of this vindictiveness? Is it jealousy, a perverse recognition that Assange has achieved more journalistic firsts than his snipers can claim in a lifetime? Is it that he refuses to be “one of us” and shames those who have long sold out the independence of journalism?
Journalism students should study this to understand that the source of “fake news” is not only trollism, or the likes of Fox News, or Donald Trump, but a journalism self-anointed with a false respectability: a liberal journalism that claims to challenge corrupt state power but, in reality, courts and protects it, and colludes with it. The amorality of the years of Tony Blair, whom The Guardian has failed to rehabilitate, is its echo.
“[It is] an age in which people yearn for new ideas and fresh alternatives,” wrote Katharine Viner. Her political writer Jonathan Freedland dismissed the yearning of young people who supported the modest policies of Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn as “a form of narcissism.”
“How did this man ….,” brayed the Guardian‘s Zoe Williams, “get on the ballot in the first place?” A choir of the paper’s precocious windbags joined in, thereafter queuing to fall on their blunt swords when Corbyn came close to winning the 2017 general election in spite of the media.
Complex stories are reported to a cult-like formula of bias, hearsay and omission: Brexit, Venezuela, Russia, Syria. On Syria, only the investigations of a group of independent journalists have countered this, revealing the network of Anglo-American backing of jihadists in Syria, including those related to ISIS.
Supported by a “psyops” campaign funded by the British Foreign Office and the U.S. Agency for International Development, the aim is to hoodwink the Western public and speed the overthrow of the government in Damascus, regardless of the medieval alternative and the risk of war with Russia.
The Syria Campaign, set up by a New York PR agency called Purpose, funds a group known as the White Helmets, who claim falsely to be “Syria Civil Defense” and are seen uncritically on TV news and social media, apparently rescuing the victims of bombing, which they film and edit themselves, though viewers are unlikely to be told this. George Clooney is a fan.
The White Helmets are appendages to the jihadists with whom they share addresses. Their media-smart uniforms and equipment are supplied by their Western paymasters. That their exploits are not questioned by major news organizations is an indication of how deep the influence of state-backed PR now runs in the media. As Robert Fisk noted recently, no “mainstream” reporter reports Syria.
In what is known as a hatchet job, a Guardian reporter based in San Francisco, Olivia Solon, who has never visited Syria, was allowed to smear the substantiated investigative work of journalists Vanessa Beeley and Eva Bartlett on the White Helmets as “propagated online by a network of anti-imperialist activists, conspiracy theorists and trolls with the support of the Russian government.”
This abuse was published without permitting a single correction, let alone a right-of-reply. The Guardian Comment page was blocked, as Edwards and Cromwell document. I saw the list of questions Solon sent to Beeley, which reads like a McCarthyite charge sheet — “Have you ever been invited to North Korea?”
So much of the mainstream has descended to this level. Subjectivism is all; slogans and outrage are proof enough. What matters is the “perception.”
When he was U.S. commander in Afghanistan, General David Petraeus declared what he called “a war of perception… conducted continuously using the news media.” What really mattered was not the facts but the way the story played in the United States. The undeclared enemy was, as always, an informed and critical public at home.
Nothing has changed. In the 1970s, I met Leni Riefenstahl, Hitler’s film-maker, whose propaganda mesmerized the German public.
She told me the “messages” of her films were dependent not on “orders from above”, but on the “submissive void” of an uninformed public.
“Did that include the liberal, educated bourgeoisie?” I asked.
“Everyone,” she said. “Propaganda always wins, if you allow it.”
Propaganda Blitz by David Edwards and David Cromwell is published by Pluto Press.
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- Predicting a bear or bull market for 2015 ….By Vern Gowdie, Daily Reckoning, 5 January 2015.
- The EU’s Keynesian fallacies ….By Patrick Barron via Mises Canada, 4 January 2015.
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