Posts Tagged ‘media’

Illustration: Edd Aragon

Cane toads of the air thrive on stupidity

Elizabeth Farrelly, Sydney Morning Herald

I’m always amazed by how readily we let our buttons be pushed. It’s almost as though we want them to manipulate us. As though we like it. “Them”, here, obviously includes politicians, advertisers and spin merchants, but the worst offenders, partly because they’re the least explicit, are “shock jocks”.

They are the cane toads of contemporary culture: ugly, ubiquitous, toxic to most other life forms and adept at using their peculiar behaviour to force change in ours.

It’s not so much that they’re rude, lowbrow or just plain wrong, although these, too, are often the case. The most destructive effect of the shock-jockariat is the poisoning of the logic-well itself; followed by the incremental death of the argument tree that is root and branch of intelligent civilisation.

Take Alan Jones. Though it pains me to say it, he is forcing me to change my mind. Not on climate change, or cycling, or the right to public protest, all of which he opposes, but on censorship.

Foucault argued that unreason died with the enlightenment. But the shock-jock phenomenon proves repeatedly that if you make an argument sufficiently idiotic, the sheer scale of stupidity makes it hard to defeat. It was highlighted for me this week by a letter that argued, as Jones does, that anything so small as 0.04 per cent – the proportion of CO2 in the atmosphere – couldn’t possibly matter. “Please let me know,” concluded my correspondent, “how anyone could believe that CO2 is responsible for climate change?”

It’s like arguing that a virus is too small to give you AIDS. Or that a lethal dose of heroin, at about 0.0007 per cent of your body weight, couldn’t possibly kill.

Never mind that applying the same logic to asylum seekers would make you wonder what all the fuss was about (our total asylum applications – 8150 last year, including dependants – being a mere 0.04 per cent of the population.)

These climate-change rants deliberately ignore everything about eco-balance, homeostasis, the greenhouse effect and tipping points we’ve all been taught since primary school and instead raucously promote a red herring.

Yet it’s neither stupidity nor ignorance on Jones’s part. Quite likely he’s read Robert Thouless’s list of dishonest tricks in argument, including caricature, anecdote and non sequitur. Or even Schopenhauer’s list. Bombast, hyperbole, personal insult; certainly he employs most of them.

No, Jones’s position is more cynical. It’s a deliberate appeal to (our) stupidity by (his) intelligence. And it’s not just Jones, or just Sydney, or just climate change.

What’s truly alarming is how accepted it has become that these popular voices deliberately flout the rules of argument. And that, in doing this, they so manipulate the vote that politicians move to appease.

The Adelaide author Ruth Starke has written of her encounter with a South Australian shock jock, Ray Fewings. At issue was a book – Nicki Gemmel’s Cleave. Written for adults, it contained sexuality and was selected by a 12-year-old from the school library. Mother appalled. Controversy ensued.

“Porn!” screamed the jocks. When Starke suggested the mother might have discussed the book with her daughter, Fewings cut her short for “attacking the mother” and accused her of wanting “open slather” so that “12-year-olds could read filth”.

Fewings then twisted this into “What gives Ruth Starke the right to dictate to parents what they should discuss with their children?” and “You heard from a writer who wants open slather to write whatever she wants”. Caricature, insult, emotive language; all core shock-jock stock.

Jones’s infamous carbon tax interview with Julia Gillard in February was scarily similar. First he repeatedly reprimanded the Prime Minister for being 10 minutes late. “I’ve got my job and you’ve got your job . . . 7.10 is 7.10 isn’t it? . . . We’re all busy.” This was followed by dozens of cuttings-in and talkings-over, plus an outright accusation of lying: “There are people now saying your name is not Julia but Ju-liar, and . . . we’ve got a liar running the country.”

Ditto with Clover Moore last May. As the lord mayor arrived Jones was already in a lather, voice raised, epithets at the ready, describing Sydney’s new cycleway as “the virtual destruction” of the city. “Thirty-four thousand votes,” he told her, “you virtually speak for nobody . . . Clover, you haven’t got a clue what you’re talking about . . . For godsake, Clover Moore, can’t you read?”

If all else fails, Schopenhauer recommends clouding the issue through bluff, confusion and induced anger. But beneath the barrage of emotion and insult, the technique here is to make scapegoats of cyclists as the cause of all that angers motorists (when in truth, every bike is a car taken off the road).

Why do politicians tolerate it? Why do we? My theory is this. Most shock jocks, and their audiences, are pretty long in the tooth. Perhaps there’s just a certain kind of person who, as the hormones start to recede, needs this pseudo-emotion to feel alive.

Yet it’s dangerous. We’re used to arguments about civilisation but seldom do we notice just how deeply argument itself underpins civilised life. In the classical tradition, this – rhetoric – was taught in schools. As a basic thinking skill, it came to govern public discussion and debate.

We could do the same. The rules of logic are not difficult. As taught to philosophy sophomores, they cover deductive and inductive reasoning, true and false syllogisms, building arguments with consistency, validity and soundness and – crucially – how to spot a fallacy. Pretty basic.

Without them, however, parliamentary democracy would be impossible. We’d never have risen from the yah-boo of the playground or the might-is-right jungle of silverback tribalism.

You don’t have to look far to see what happens without logic’s civilising structures; it’s the cultural equivalent of those Indonesian abattoirs. Yet this is where shock jocks are coming from and where, if they had their way, they would take us, forcing me to wonder whether censorship mightn’t be reasonable after all.

But there is hope.

Last week, after my cane toads column, several Queenslanders wrote in to say they hadn’t actually seen serious toad numbers for some time. Something, they inferred, is killing them off.

Maybe it’s the same with shock-jockery. We can only hope it happens before it irreparably harms our civilisation, as well as our climate.

Sydney Morning Herald columnist, author and architect
More Elizabeth Farrelly articles

The following article is  a bit imbalanced – for example by focusing on that one individual and not highlighting the role of the major parties in creating the media billionaires in the first place, even long before that incompetent media tart Fielding appeared on the scene.

Nevertheless, his conservative presence was part of pushing further the process of demolishing freedom the press and the production of balanced information – in the same way he supported anti-gay, law and order, and zero-tolerance drug policies as well as christian indoctrination at schools.

On the other hand: he and the billionaires are just another expression of the system overall, which is not a people’s democracy, doesn’t stand for social and economic justice, doesn’t promote by example ethics of peace, harmony, equality, respect and tolerance, ravages the environment, and so on.

Having said all that: despite the article’s narrow focus it gives a good overview of how the media in Australia are concentrated in whose few hands.

By Stephen Mayne for Crikey

Steve Fielding retires from the Senate on June 30, but one of his lasting legacies will be the continuing flow of media deals triggered by John Howard’s liberalisation of foreign and cross-media ownership laws in 2005.

With Austar set to be swallowed by Foxtel, WA News now merged with Seven and Southern Cross Media consuming Austereo, it is worth reflecting on just how far the media landscape has changed since Fielding provided that key vote.

Former Fairfax Media chairman Ron Walker lead that company on a debt-funded takeover binge as it bought Rural Press and Southern Cross Broadcasting’s radio assets, wiping out two independent players. Today Fairfax is capitalised at $3 billion, although it somehow claims to have net assets worth $5.3 billion, suggesting new CEO Greg Hywood needs to ‘do a Leighton’ and take some write-downs.

WA News also joined the “no longer independent” club and foreign private equity firms enriched James Packer and Kerry Stokes beyond their wildest dreams, although both partially squandered their windfalls.

The media industry globally retains unusually high levels of family ownership and this is especially so in Australia, where billionaires remain as dominant as ever, even after considering the influx of private equity.

After factoring in Monday’s WA News vote approving the $4 billion Seven Media Group purchase and Southern Cross Media’s fully committed $471 million capital raising to fund the Austereo acquisition, this is how the 12 most valuable Australian media companies stack up in terms of market capitalisation and billionaire influence:

  1. News Corp:$44 billion; Murdoch family controls through a gerrymander which allows a $6 billion stake to translate into four family members on the 17-person board because 70% of the shares can’t vote.
  2. Telstra: $35 billion; Future Fund now under 5% and no billionaires with influence.
  3. Fairfax Media: $3 billion; Fairfax family has second largest shareholder with 10% and one board seat.
  4. Seven Group Holdings: $2.86 billion; Kerry Stokes owns 67.8% and Westrac is now a dominant asset although pay-TV investment remains.
  5. Seven West Media: $2.4 billion; Seven Group Holdings owns 29.6% which equates to a direct stake for Kerry Stokes of 20%. Kohlberg Kravis Roberts is the second largest shareholder with 13%.
  6. Seek: $2.25 billion; founding Bassat brothers’ share is down below 5% and James Packer sold out so register is wide open.
  7. REA Group: $1.78 billion; value of News Ltd’s 61% stake has just gone past $1 billion for first time.
  8. Austar: $1.7 billion; John Malone’s Liberty Media owns 55% (worth $935 million), most of which is profit.
  9. Consolidated Media Holdings: $1.6 billion; James Packer privately controls 47% and Kerry Stokes has 23% through Seven Group Holdings.
  10. Ten Network: $1.45 billion; three billionaires plus Lachlan Murdoch are sharing control with 40%.
  11. $1.21 billion; CVC just sold controlling interest so register now wide open.
  12. Southern Cross Media: $1.2 billion; Macquarie Group is largest shareholder with 25% worth $350 million. They are a seller in time so control is open for any billionaire who wishes to step in.
  13. APN News & Media: $977 million; embattled Irish player Independent Newspapers still hanging on with controlling 30% stake but O’Reilly family influence has waned.

The only big player missing from all this is PBL Media, although private equity firm CVC is still hoping it can float the Nine Network and ACP later this year. Bermuda-based billionaire Bruce Gordon also has a big business in his privately owned WIN Group which owns Channel Nine in Perth and Adelaide, plus several regional affiliates. He also happens to be the largest shareholder in Ten Network Holdings, with a representative on the board despite the conflict.

Interestingly, there aren’t too many mid-cap media companies once you move beyond the 12 companies listed above.

You could try investing in Macquarie Radio (market cap $89 million) if you fancy some exposure to Alan Jones or Seven regional affiliate Prime Media, which is worth $286 million and controlled by healthcare billionaire Paul Ramsay. After that, you are looking at smaller advertising and marketing plays such as Photon, Hyro, Facilitate and STW Holdings.

Billionaires are clearly more attracted to media assets with political influence, which might explain why Carsales and Seek have wide open registers.

Online classified advertising has been hugely lucrative for those cutting the lunch of the old newspaper companies but it is neither s-xy, prestigious or powerful for those wanting influence. That said, News Ltd is now enjoying paper profits of about $900 million on its 61% stake in REA Group which more than offsets all the losses from its disastrous MySpace internet adventure.

The Murdochs remain the most powerful media family in the Australian market because News Corp owns more than 60% of Australia’s newspapers, the third biggest magazine business and has management control of Foxtel. Then you have Lachlan Murdoch who personally owns 50% of radio operator DMG and almost 10% of Ten Network Holdings, where he is making a hash of things as acting CEO.

Look no further than the resignation this morning of former Ten CEO Paul Viner, who has clearly had enough of the “buy 10% and get a board seat” billionaires club who now control Australia’s third biggest television network.

Sifting through some of my mail after what seems to be quite a long holiday, I found this amusing image. While it first conjured up images of Riders On The Storm, the journey into the apocalypse proved to be the same dead-end like notions of a holy rod of peace.

While Friede Sei Mit Dir translates to May Peace Be With You, Friede is unfortunately also the first name of Friede Springer, publisher of Germany’s biggest and right-wing tabloid Die Bildzeitung. And the relief above  decorates the eastern wall of the Rudi-Dutschke-Haus, which happens to be the main office of Germany’s largest left-leaning newspaper Die Tageszeitung.

The artwork by sculptor Peter Lenk is a satirical statement on the trashy headlines and content the tabloid produces to sell its irrelevant news to the masses (like “First goal kicked with penis”, “Emasculated by mother in law’s dachshund” or “Now everyone can use the word ‘dick'”). The guy with the dick is Kai Diekmann, chief editor of Die Bildzeitung, while the reference to his male organ does not only relate to the trash he produces but also provides a link to a Bildzeitung’s-style satire in Die Tageszeitung, which imputed to Diekmann that he was subject a penis extension gone wrong ;).

There’s much more to this story, including court procedures and internal fights in Die Tageszeitung over the artwork’s installation – quite funny really, especially considering how seriously many Germans took the whole issue of installing the artwork. For those understanding German, here’s a link for further informative amusement.

Rupert Murdoch geography

Crooks and Liars

There is no such thing as objectivity in the media, and especially not when it comes to Israel’s role in Middle-East conflicts. Probably nowhere in the Western world is political interference in this context as systemic as in the US.  And it’s the US press that helps shaping the American soul and that floods the globe with the empire’s culture and ideology. No wonder we live in such a troubled world.

On June 16, Pak Alert Press reported of having done some digging on the Iran Twitter campaign after having felt suspicious about its sudden explosive occurrence on June 13. The result of the research strongly indicates that at least some of the major Twitter accounts were set up by the same source. And even more interesting, there seems to be link to the right wing Israeli newspaper, the Jerusalem Post.

Proof: Israeli Effort to Destabilize Iran Via Twitter

Right-wing Israeli interests are engaged in an all out Twitter attack with hopes of delegitimizing the Iranian election and causing political instability within Iran.

Anyone using Twitter over the past few days knows that the topic of the Iranian election has been the most popular. Thousands of tweets and retweets alleging that the election was a fraud, calling for protests in Iran, and even urging followers hack various Iranian news websites (which they did successfully). The Twitter popularity caught the eye of various blogs such as Mashable and TechCrunch and even made its way to mainstream news media sites.

BBC Caught In Mass Public Deception With Iran Propaganda

Were these legitimate Iranian people or the works of a propaganda machine? I became curious and decided to investigate the origins of the information. In doing so, I narrowed it down to a handful of people who have accounted for 30,000 Iran related  tweets in the past few days. Each of them had some striking similarities –

1.  They each created their twitter accounts on Saturday June 13th.
2.  Each had extremely high number of Tweets since creating their profiles.
3. “IranElection” was each of their most popular keyword
4.  With some very small exceptions, each were posting in ENGLISH.
5.  Half of them had the exact same profile photo
6.  Each had thousands of followers, with only a few friends. Most of their friends were EACH OTHER.

Why were these tweets in English? Why were all of these profiles OBSESSED with Iran? It became obvious that this was the work of a team of people with an interest in destabilizing Iran. The profiles are phonies and were created with the sole intention of destabilizing Iran and effecting public opinion as to the legitimacy of Iran’s election.

I narrowed the spammers down to three of the most persistent – @StopAhmadi @IranRiggedElect @Change_For_Iran

I decided to do a google search for 2 of the 3 – @StopAhmadi and @IranRiggedElect. The first page to come up was JPost (Jerusalem Post) which is a right wing newspaper pro-Israeli newspaper.

JPost actually ran a story about 3 people “who joined the social network mere hours ago have already amassed thousands of followers.” Why would a news organization post a story about 3 people who JUST JOINED TWITTER hours earlier? Is that newsworthy? Jpost was the first (and only to my knowledge) major news source that mentioned these 3 spammers.

The fact that JPost promoted these three Twitterers who went on the be the source of the IranElection Twitter bombardment is, unfortunately, evidence that this was an Israeli propaganda campaign against Iran. I must admit that I had my suspiscions. After all, Que Bono?  (latin for “Who Benefits). There’s no question that Israel perceives Iran as an enemy, more so than any other nation. Destabilizing the country would benefit them.

Further proof below



I’m not comfortable with Western media reports on Iran for a number of reasons. First: I don’t know anything about the country, its culture or history, and I’m sure neither do most of the Western journalists and bloggers who provide us with their opinions. Second: we can’t claim that our governance institutions are the shining example for democracy that countries like Iran should follow: our politicians are corrupt and don’t do what the people want them to, our governments treat human rights often with disrespect, we wage war for selfish reasons on other countries who have not attacked us, we have no social justice within our own boundaries, and so on. Third: with the Guardian Council having seemingly acknowledged serious irregularities, it might be true that Ahmadinejad might not have had the overwhelming majority of votes he claimed. But: does that mean he lost the elections? Most likely not. Pre-election polls, including one conducted by a US pollster, had him leading by a long shot. There is no evidence for a stolen election (there was evidence for an election stolen by G.W. Bush from Al Gore, but the US media didn’t make much fuss over that theft).

So, maybe the West and the Iranian progressives with a Western bent just have to learn to accept two things: the basic democratic principle that if a majority has spoken the reaction needs to be acceptance, and the fact that Iran might just be a very conservative country. Maybe the latter is what the progressives should really focus on changing – that certainly would take take a much deeper commitment to democracy and change than superficial desires for Western lifestyles.

The following article comes from VDARE and was written a week ago by Paul Craig Roberts, former Assistant Secretary of the Treasury during President Reagan’s first term. He was Associate Editor of the Wall Street Journal. He has held numerous academic appointments, including the William E. Simon Chair, Center for Strategic and International Studies, Georgetown University, and Senior Research Fellow, Hoover Institution, Stanford University. He was awarded the Legion of Honor by French President Francois Mitterrand.  With such track record I would not take Robert’s opinion lightly in which he argues for a more informed view on what is happening in Iran right now. He also ponders whether the current Western media propaganda is a precursor to a US involvement in military action against Iran. Its purpose would be to overthrow the political rulers that replaced the US puppet dictator in the 1970’s, a man who brutally ruled the country for more than two decades after coming to power in the 1950s with the help of the CIA. America is known to harbour resentment for a long time when its interests were defeated.



Anti-Empire Report

Bill Blum’s ZSpace Page / ZSpace

Some thoughts about socialism

“History is littered with post-crisis regulations. If there are undue restrictions on the operations of businesses, they may view it to be their job to get around them, and you sow the seeds of the next crisis.”

–    Liz Ann Sonders, chief investment analyst, CharlesSchwab & Co., a leading US provider of investment services. [1]

And so it goes. Corporations, whether financial or not, strive to maximize profit as inevitably as water seeks its own level. We’ve been trying to “regulate” them since the 19th century. Or is it the 18th? Nothing helps for long. You close one loophole and the slime oozes out of another hole. Wall Street has not only an army of lawyers and accountants, but a horde of mathematicians with advanced degrees searching for the perfect equations to separate people from their money. After all the stimulus money has come and gone, after all the speeches by our leaders condemning greed and swearing to reforms, after the last congressional hearing deploring the corporate executives to their faces, the boys of Wall Street, shrugging off a few bruises, will resume churning out their assortment of financial entities, documents, and packages that go by names like hedge funds, derivatives, collateralized debt obligations, index funds, credit default swaps, structured investment vehicles, subprime mortgages, and many other pieces of paper with exotic names, for which, it must be kept in mind, there had been no public need or strident demand. Speculation, bonuses, and scotch will flow again, and the boys will be all the wiser, perhaps shaken a bit that they’re so reviled, but knowing better now what to flaunt and what to disguise.

This is another reminder that communism or socialism have almost always been given just one chance to work, if that much, while capitalism has been given numerous chances to do so following its perennial fiascos. Ralph Nader has observed: “Capitalism will never fail because socialism will always be there to bail it out.”

In the West, one of the most unfortunate results of the Cold War was that 70 years of anti-communist education and media stamped in people’s minds a lasting association between socialism and what the Soviet Union called communism. Socialism meant a dictatorship, it meant Stalinist repression, a suffocating “command economy”, no freedom of enterprise, no freedom to change jobs, few avenues for personal expression, and other similar truths and untruths. This is a set of beliefs clung to even amongst many Americans opposed to US foreign policy. No matter how bad the economy is, Americans think, the only alternative available is something called “communism”, and they know how awful that is.


Invisible: On Left Non-Existence and Corporate-Managed Democracy

By Street, Paul
Paul Street’s ZSpace Page
Join ZSpace

One of the many ways in which the United States’ incipiently totalitarian corporate-managed democracy (see Sheldon Wolin, Democracy Incorporated: Managed Democracy and the Specter of Inverted Totalitarianism [Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 2008])marginalizes popular American resistance to the rule of the rich and powerful few is by making protest and dissent invisible.  Like the many crimes of the American Empire past and present, that resistance is “disappeared” in the humming mists of the reigning business-run political and culture.  It gets sent down George Orwell’s “memory hole” almost the minute it happens.

Large American popular majorities tell pollsters in anonymous privacy that they support egalitarian social and political values.  They back a broad range of progressive, social-democratic programs consistent with those values – universal national health care mandated by the federal government, a rollback of the military budget to meet social needs, a significant reduction of corporate influence over politics, and much more.

But dominant (so-called “mainstream”) U.S. corporate media rarely if ever report any significant part of this progressive public opinion. In my experience, individual Americans are often astonished to learn that their left-leaning policy views are widely held in the U.S

corporate-newsMajority progressive issue and policy beliefs are shockingly unrepresented in the nation’s heavily corporate-crafted and candidate-centered election spectacles.  Political campaigns focus heavily on superficial questions related to business-vetted politicians’ imagery and personal “qualities” rather than on substantive policy issues. Candidates who align themselves with progressive majority sentiments (e.g. Dennis Kucinich, Ralph Nader, and Cynthia McKinney) are pushed to the “unviable” and barely discernible margins by dominant political institutions – the corporate media above all. Thanks to his ill-advised habit of speaking passionately against economic inequality, poverty and corporate rule and for union rights, even the semi-progressive John Edwards was deemed too left for respectful media attention during the last “quadrennial electoral extravaganza” (Noam Chomsky’s evocative term).

Mass protests, marches, and street demonstrations do not fare any better.  They do not receive much attention from a media that floods the people’s ubiquitous Telescreens with such fine, populace-shaming cultural fare as “Deal or No Deal.”

On February 15, 2003, I scanned the nation’s leading major network and cable news stations looking for remotely serious coverage of historic mass demonstrations against George W. Bush’s planned criminal invasion of Iraq.  The remarkable pre-war resistance was invisible on my Telescreen as I heard reporters speaking breathlessly about giant crowds of protestors winding through the streets of Manhattan on an alternative radio station I could barely hear through my personal computer. I was reminded of an anecdote the esteemed Left media analyst Robert W. censorshipMcChesney had related during a recent lecture at Northern Illinois University.  McChesney recalled watching CNN in November of 1999, on a day when tens of thousands of people faced off against police batons, horses, and tear gas while marching against corporate globalization and the World Trade organization in Seattle. An activist friend of his was on the phone describing the remarkable events unfolding outside the window of a downtown Seattle hotel room. McChesney turned on his television, hoping to get live images of the historic events only to see that his television had been “turned into a fishbowl” as CNN showed images of the underwater Atlantic in connection with the networks’ continuing obsession with the tragic plane crash (months earlier) of John Kennedy, Jr.

Consistent with the usual pattern, popular demonstrations for peace and justice at the 2008 Democratic and Republican national conventions received no serious coverage.  This absence of attention made it all the much easier for state authorities to repress the demonstrators activists with savage impunity.  (The ruling class communications masters learned well from the “Whole World is Watching” events in Chicago in the summer of 1968: they have not given significant coverage to major party political convention protestors and the police-state attack on  those protestors ever since).

Serious left intellectuals are mostly non-existent in the nation’s official political and media culture. They are beyond the pale of serious attention.  The United States is home to some very serious and strong left thinkers, including McChesney, John Bellamy Foster, Howard Zinn, David Harvey, Giovanni Arrighi, Immanuel Wallerstein, Edward S. Herman, and, last but not at all least, Noam Chomsky, widely understood (around the world) to be the planet’s top thinker. These people are astonishingly absent from the “mainstream” media’s roster of acceptable “expert” commentators on current events. That roster is loaded with a surplus of reactionary mediocrities and hacks like Charles Krauthammer, William Kristol, William Bennett, George Will, Patrick Buchanan, Karl Rove, David Brooks, and…the list goes on and on. The nation’s top, actually left intellectuals are essentially banned from even or especially from the national media’s “leftmost” (not saying much) outposts – The New York Times, “public” television and radio, and (according to liberals I know), MSNBC – because they tend to make serious moral criticisms of ruling domestic and imperial institutions, policies, and doctrines.

freespeechI myself (toiling at a far less elevated level than a Chomsky) recently published a heavily researched, carefully argued, and highly readable (and respectful) account of the Barack Obama phenomenon.  The book’s purposefully non-volatile title is simply “Barack Obama and the Future of American Politics” (my initial choices: “Obama Nation” and “The Audacity of Deception”).  While I would expect it to be surpassed in coming months or years, it has for some time been by far and away the best single volume published when it comes to understanding the rise of Obama and his place within U.S. political history and culture.  Still, the notion of this book being taken seriously and treated respectfully in dominant U.S. media is close to absurd for the simple reason that is explicitly framed from well to the officially unthinkable and impossible left of Obama.

Things are different on the other side of the ideological spectrum. While a critical but respectful left author on Obama  cannot be granted media visibility (critical for significant sales), the loony right-wing crackpot Jerome Corsi (who actually ads “Ph.D” after name on his book covers) ran the corporate media table (CNN, FOX “News,” MSNBC, etc.) promoting his ridiculous neo-McCarthyite hit-volume “The Obama Nation: Leftist Politics and the Cult of Personality,” a book that preposterously portrayed Obama as a “far left radical” and “anti-American,” enemy of white people, capitalism, Christianity, and the U.S. military.

The bizarre ranting of Corsi on Obama’s right is granted visibility. Serious book-length criticism from Obama’s left is not. As the sadistic right-wing corporate media thug Bernard Goldberg explained to the right-wing talk show host Milton Rosenburg on Chicago’s WGN radio last weekend (I am writing on Monday, February 23rd), “all of the nation’s left wingers have lined up behind Obama and won’t tolerate any serious criticism of the new administration.” The statement is totally false, of course, but the people, ideas, essays, journals, and Web sites/zines (including Z Magazine, ZNet, CounterPunch, and Black Agenda Report) and books that might disprove it must not be mentioned.  The reality of their presence and being cannot be acknowledged. The notion of Rosenburg (a native Chicagoan) having me on to discuss the reality of the Obama phenomenon (as seen from a radical perspective) and presidency is unimaginable given the reigning totalitarian parameters and the doctrinal requirement of Left non-existence.

combsRecently I’ve been reading John Bellamy Foster and Fred Magdoff’s important book The Great Financial Crisis: Causes and Consequences (New York: Monthly Review, 2009).  This volume is comprised of essays Foster and Magdoff published on the emerging crisis of U.S. capitalism between May 2006 and December of last year. Reviewing these essays during the current epic economic collapse (a finance-triggered breakdown for which renowned global investor George Soros sees “no sign that we are anywhere near the bottom”), it becomes clear that Foster and Magdoff were in possession of knowledge and a paradigm that enabled them to predict not just a cyclical credit crunch but “a major financial meltdown of a kind that the system can much less easily absorb” (as they put it in November of 2006).   Their warnings and analysis were invisible and unheard in the broader political and intellectual culture for a starkly simple reason: their analysis is derived from the radical anti-capitalist Kark Marx and from subsequent Marxist and other radical economists Paul Sweezy, Paul Baran, Michael Kalecki, Alvin Hansen, and Hyman Minsky.

Two weeks ago, the leading weekly U.S. magazine Newsweek actually published a cover story titled “We are All Socialists Now.”  By “socialism,” the corporate magazine appeared to mean any sort of escalated government intervention in the U.S. economy. There were two things missing from this remarkable Newsweek story:

  1. Any remotely accurate understanding of socialism as it is grasped and advanced by its modern-day adherents: democratic workers’ and peoples’ control of economic and political life in the interests of social use, equality, and the common good instead of private gain and social hierarchy. As Lance Selfa, a Marxist author, notes at the end of his recent and officially invisible (in the broader political culture) historical analysis of the Democratic Party, “in a socialist society, workers would take control of the factories and offices.  The repressive apparatuses of the state – from prisons to the military would be brought under democratic control and then abolished.”
  2. Discussion with a single solitary living U.S socialist to get his or her take on whether or not the U.S. has now suddenly and miraculously embraced a socialist world view and program.  Such a person could easily be found but actual living socialists must remain offstage since they are and their ideals – shared to no small degree (as only a tiny percentage of Americans are permitted to know) by great historical personalities like Albert Einstein (author of a brilliant essay titled “Why Socialism” in the first issue of the Marxist journal Monthly Review), Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., and Helen Keller – are officially invisible under the reigning corporate-Orwellian rules.

corpliesI will return in a future commentary to a closer examination of Newsweek’s fascinating “We Are All Socialists Now” claim.  In the meantime, I, an officially invisible American, leave you, dear reader, with the definition of capitalism in the second (1979) and unabridged edition of Webster’s New Twentieth Century Dictionary.  Please note that it contains ample room for significant government intervention and that it contains no reference to the “democracy” and “freedom” with which is routinely and falsely conflated in “mainstream” U.S. media and political discourse: “the economic system in which all or most of the means of production and distribution, as land, factories, railroads, etc., are privately owned and operated for profit, originally under fully competitive conditions: it has been generally characterized by a tendency toward concentration of wealth and, its latter phase, by the growth of great corporations, increased government controls, etc.”

Paul Street ( is a veteran radical historian in Iowa City, IA.  Street’s books include Empire and Inequality: America and the World Since 9/11 (Boulder, CO: Paradigm, 2004); Racial Oppression in the Global Metropolis (New York: Rowman & Littlefield, 2007); Segregated Schools: Educational Apartheid in the Post-Civil Rights Era (New York: Routledge, 2005); and Barack Obama and the Future of American Politics (Boulder, CO: Paradigm, September 2008), which can be ordered here.

Our media aren’t always known for unprejudiced reporting, or let’s say a little bit less prejudiced. Piracy of the Somali coast is as much an example as using the unquestioned  the image of the 17 century and peddling half truths. The following Huffington Post article looks a bit deeper at the piracy phenomenon – past and present. “pirate” to cover up for lazy journalism

You Are Being Lied to About Pirates
Johann Hari
Huffington Post

Who imagined that in 2009, the world’s governments would be declaring a new War on Pirates? As you read this, the British Royal Navy – backed by the ships of more than two dozen nations, from the US to China – is sailing into Somalian waters to take on men we still picture as parrot-on-the-shoulder pantomime villains. They will soon be fighting Somalian ships and even chasing the pirates onto land, into one of the most broken countries on earth. But behind the arrr-me-hearties oddness of this tale, there is an untold scandal. The people our governments are labeling as “one of the great menace of our times” have an extraordinary story to tell — and some justice on their side.

pistol-pirate-bustPirates have never been quite who we think they are. In the “golden age of piracy” – from 1650 to 1730 – the idea of the pirate as the senseless, savage thief that lingers today was created by the British government in a great propaganda-heave. Many ordinary people believed it was false: pirates were often rescued from the gallows by supportive crowds. Why? What did they see that we can’t? In his book Villains of All nations, the historian Marcus Rediker pores through the evidence to find out. If you became a merchant or navy sailor then – plucked from the docks of London’s East End, young and hungry – you ended up in a floating wooden Hell. You worked all hours on a cramped, half-starved ship, and if you slacked off for a second, the all-powerful captain would whip you with the Cat O’ Nine Tails. If you slacked consistently, you could be thrown overboard. And at the end of months or years of this, you were often cheated of your wages.

Pirates were the first people to rebel against this world. They mutinied against their tyrannical captains – and created a different way of working on the seas. Once they had a ship, the pirates elected their captains, and made all their decisions collectively. They shared their bounty out in what Rediker calls “one of the most egalitarian plans for the disposition of resources to be found anywhere in the eighteenth century.” They even took in escaped African slaves and lived with them as equals. The pirates showed “quite clearly – and subversively – that ships did not have to be run in the brutal and oppressive ways of the merchant service and the Royal navy.” This is why they were popular, despite being unproductive thieves.

The words of one pirate from that lost age – a young British man called William Scott – should echo into this new age of piracy. Just before he was hanged in Charleston, South Carolina, he said: “What I did was to keep me from perishing. I was forced to go a-pirating to live.” In 1991, the government of Somalia – in the Horn of Africa – collapsed. Its nine million people have been teetering on starvation ever since – and many of the ugliest forces in the Western world have seen this as a great opportunity to steal the country’s food supply and dump our nuclear waste in their seas.

Yes: nuclear waste. As soon as the government was gone, mysterious European ships started appearing off the coast of Somalia, dumping vast barrels into the ocean. The coastal population began to sicken. At first they suffered strange rashes, nausea and malformed babies. Then, after the 2005 tsunami, hundreds of the dumped and leaking barrels washed up on shore. People began to suffer from radiation sickness, and more than 300 died. Ahmedou Ould-Abdallah, the UN envoy to Somalia, tells me: “Somebody is dumping nuclear material here. There is also lead, and heavy metals such as cadmium and mercury – you name it.” Much of it can be traced back to European hospitals and factories, who seem to be passing it on to the Italian mafia to “dispose” of cheaply. When I asked Ould-Abdallah what European governments were doing about it, he said with a sigh: “Nothing. There has been no clean-up, no compensation, and no prevention.”

At the same time, other European ships have been looting Somalia’s seas of their greatest resource: seafood. We have destroyed our own fish-stocks by over-exploitation – and now we have moved on to theirs. More than $300m worth of tuna, shrimp, lobster and other sea-life is being stolen every year by vast trawlers illegally sailing into Somalia’s unprotected seas. The local fishermen have suddenly lost their livelihoods, and they are starving. Mohammed Hussein, a fisherman in the town of Marka 100km south of Mogadishu, told Reuters: “If nothing is done, there soon won’t be much fish left in our coastal waters.”

piratesThis is the context in which the men we are calling “pirates” have emerged. Everyone agrees they were ordinary Somalian fishermen who at first took speedboats to try to dissuade the dumpers and trawlers, or at least wage a ‘tax’ on them. They call themselves the Volunteer Coastguard of Somalia – and it’s not hard to see why. In a surreal telephone interview, one of the pirate leaders, Sugule Ali, said their motive was “to stop illegal fishing and dumping in our waters… We don’t consider ourselves sea bandits. We consider sea bandits [to be] those who illegally fish and dump in our seas and dump waste in our seas and carry weapons in our seas.” William Scott would understand those words.

No, this doesn’t make hostage-taking justifiable, and yes, some are clearly just gangsters – especially those who have held up World Food Programme supplies. But the “pirates” have the overwhelming support of the local population for a reason. The independent Somalian news-site WardherNews conducted the best research we have into what ordinary Somalis are thinking – and it found 70 percent “strongly supported the piracy as a form of national defence of the country’s territorial waters.” During the revolutionary war in America, George Washington and America’s founding fathers paid pirates to protect America’s territorial waters, because they had no navy or coastguard of their own. Most Americans supported them. Is this so different?

Did we expect starving Somalians to stand passively on their beaches, paddling in our nuclear waste, and watch us snatch their fish to eat in restaurants in London and Paris and Rome? We didn’t act on those crimes – but when some of the fishermen responded by disrupting the transit-corridor for 20 percent of the world’s oil supply, we begin to shriek about “evil.” If we really want to deal with piracy, we need to stop its root cause – our crimes – before we send in the gun-boats to root out Somalia’s criminals.

The story of the 2009 war on piracy was best summarised by another pirate, who lived and died in the fourth century BC. He was captured and brought to Alexander the Great, who demanded to know “what he meant by keeping possession of the sea.” The pirate smiled, and responded: “What you mean by seizing the whole earth; but because I do it with a petty ship, I am called a robber, while you, who do it with a great fleet, are called emperor.” Once again, our great imperial fleets sail in today – but who is the robber?