Monday, 19 September 2011

A Restless Summer.

Over the summer there seemed to be an endless flow of stories for the media to prepare narratives for and spoon-feed to us. This will come as a shock to those of you who have spent the summer in a masturbation furnace or perhaps on Mars. With everything from neo-fascist killing sprees and economic crisis to phone hacking and celebrity deaths, it was a damn good summer for news and certainly no silly season. Here are a few looks at major events in the summer, which you won't find in the mainstream media.


The debt crisis in Greece has rocked the Eurozone for months as it looked like German and French banks might be sunk the IMF and the EU moved in to force austerity measures in Greece to secure the interests of bankers in Western Europe. So Greece slashed €700 million more than the IMF and EU demanded of them, even as the country was saddled with yet more debt and the Europeans banks were handed €110 billion. The media so kind to inform us that the crisis was the result of "out-of-control" spending which we shouldn't pick up the bill for. The irony of all this is that the European country that has defaulted more than any other in the last century is Germany. Germany was excused from reparations to the countries that it had invaded, nor did the Germans have to pay back the loans that the Third Reich squeezed out of the countries it occupied in the war and especially not to the Greeks. Germany didn't even pay back the US for the loans that were used to pay the reparations levied on Germany after the First World War.

Even though from 2001 to 2007 the total spending of the EU was equal to 50.7% of GDP, out of the 27 member-states Greece was outspent by 13 states. Over the same time period public spending in Greece amounted to 44.6% of GDP. As the crisis hit Greece there was a jump in spending to 50.4% of GDP in 2009 and that is still the average expenditure in Europe. The relatively high level of public debt in Greece, before the crisis, goes back to the 1980s when the country was still recovering from the military junta. The weakness of the Greek government is in fiscal policy, though not spending but in tax-revenues that have collapsed as a result of anti-government sentiment exacerbated by an explosion of unemployment since the recession began. Sweden has the highest expenditure in Europe and yet there is no debt crisis, the reason being that the Swedish tax system is a lot better. The crisis in Greece was down to a flawed tax system and widespread anti-government sentiments which amounted to widespread tax avoidance and evasion.

Then there is the suspicious line that the Greeks are a "venal" and "lazy" people who have enjoyed a lavish state-expenditure at the expense of the rest of Europe. In actuality Greeks work around 2,120 hours a year compared with about 1,712 hours a year worked in Britain and 1,473 hours by Germans. Out of the OECD countries Koreans are the only people who work longer hours than the Greeks. You may have read of the "Greek Gravy Train", the tales of railway workers paid £60,000 a year and the way that professionals retire at 50 - though the average retirement is 62. There isn't much ink on paper about the huge numbers of Greeks who have received no pay in months and the ever-rising unemployment rate. Rationally, the Germans should bailout Greece in the way that the US bailed out Germany for free after it defaulted just after the Second World War. Instead the EU have been led by Germany into bailing out the banks at the expense of Greek democracy. The Greek people are now facing around 10 to 15 years of economic stagnation complete with a huge decline in the standard of living and in the end the country will still default anyway.


The scandal at News International will probably be never fully said and done. It is much bigger than simply a scandal of hacking the phones of murdered children and soldiers killed in battle. We now know a lot more about the profoundly sordid relationship between the Murdoch media and the Establishment.  It has been common knowledge for a long time that the News International has a right-wing agenda. Out of the 247 editors who work for Rupert Murdoch not one came out in opposition to the Iraq war. The Murdoch media amounts to 40% of British media and has backed Margaret Thatcher, John Major, Tony Blair and David Cameron to electoral victory. We now know that soon after Cameron took office he first met with Rupert Murdoch before going on to meet with Rebekah Brooks when she edited The News of the World and then Dominic Mohan of The Sun for a "general discussion". Cameron attended the News International summer party where he gave an interview to James Harding of The Times and went onto give a speech at the CEO summit of that same newspaper.

Keep in mind that the Prime Minister also met with Paul Dacre, the editor of The Daily Mail, Lord Burns of Channel 4 and Deborah Turness of ITV News in the first month he was in office. Cameron later met with the editor of The Evening Standard for another "general discussion", the Prime Minister also attended the summer parties of The Financial Times and The Spectator. Unfortunately, the level of ingratiation that the political class has met with Murdoch does not end at a Christmas dinner with Rebekah Brooks and James Murdoch. We know that Tony Blair is the Godfather of Murdoch's daughter. We find that the Conservative Party and the police were entangled in the conspiracy ran out of a Murdoch red-top. No surprise here, it was the Thatcherites and the Met who colluded with Murdoch in 1986 to crush the print unions in Wapping. A favour for when The Sun led the media campaign against the Miners Strike of '84. Perhaps an extended favour for the campaign the Murdoch press led against Tony Benn - which went as far as actually fabricating psychiatric reports in order to question Benn's mental health - to prevent him from becoming leader of the Labour Party.

The problem with the dominant narrative in the mainstream media is that it assumes what went on at The News of the World was an aberration. As in All the President's Men we're told that the little guy can uncover a scandal which reaches the very top of power and then can bring down the President in the name of justice. So corruption can reach the very top but because of the democratic features of our society we can find it, root it out and restore greatness in our society. Once again it turns out we want the thing itself without the harsh element of it, just as so many of us want coffee without coffee (decaffeinated coffee), war without war (no casualties on our side) or even a revolution without revolution (no real change). In this case it is as if we want sleaze without sleaze, we need to get back to proper journalism which run without corruption and unscrupulous methods such as phone-hacking. It's the classic feel good story which is used to prevent a serious attempt to ask fundamental questions about the nature of the mass-media and the provision of news through corporate structures to the public.

NORWAY'S 9/11?

The massacre in Norway came out of nowhere seemingly, it took the pundits by surprise and prompted an embarrassing attempt to resurrect the "War on Terror" narrative. The Sun jumped on the opportunity to spin the headline 'Al-Qaeda Massacre: Norway's 9/11'. Clearly the Murdoch press were desperate to lead the public away from the stench of criminality around the papers and lead them by the nose against Muslims once again. It was almost as bad as when the American press looked up Edward Said for an "insight" into international terrorism in the wake of the Oklahoma City Bombing. Even though Said is a Christian, he is a Palestinian and therefore must be an expert on terrorism. After it turned out to be just another angry white man we could still read about the "failure" of multiculturalism that led to the attacks in The New York Times. We might choose to read in The Atlantic about how the massacre was a "mutation of jihad" whereby a white man goes ape as a Muslim fanatic would in order to prevent the coming "Islamization" of Europe. The leader of the English Defence League, a former BNP member, appeared on Newsnight to spin the same line.

In many instances the press came out no better than Robert Brasillach when he conjured up the notion of "reasonable anti-Semitism" during the Nazi occupation of France. Brasillach insisted he had no beef with Charlie Chaplin, Yehudi Menuhin and Marcel Proust, but the rest of Jewry could go hang as far as he was concerned. Similarly Breivik a distinguishes between "loyal" and "disloyal" Jews, who are a threat to the European civilisation, the state of Israel and global capitalism. For Breivik, Hitler was only wrong to exterminate the "loyal" Jews who deserved a homeland. In the same vein of thought we find Jack Straw who attacks Nick Griffin on Question Time as a Fascist before wheeling out Griffin's line that the Pakistani men see our women as "white meat". So there is a "reasonable racism" to be deployed for the protection of women against Pakistani rape gangs and to maintain "Britishness" with a ban on veils. There is nothing more suspect than the insistence that the actions of Anders Behring Breivik represent a current of working-class opinion in Europe which must be acknowledged in order to prevent such violent outbursts. 

In the manifesto Breivik churned out there are references and quotes to columnists Jeremy Clarkson and Melanie Phillips as well as Bernard Lewis, Bat Ye'or, Pamela Geller, Geert Wilders, Daniel Pipes, Ayaan Hirsi Ali and the Unabomber. The thought process behind the slaughter in Norway begins the mainstream right-wing discourse on Muslims and immigration in general, but then radiates outwards to the farthest reaches of jingo-lunacy. In one such instance Breivik used extracts of the Unabomber's manifesto and replaced words such as 'blacks' and 'leftists' with 'Muslims' and 'cultural Marxists'. You don't have to look too far to find hysterical noise in the gutter press about political correctness, multiculturalism, secularism, European integration and the "leftist" bias of the media. Interestingly Breivik didn't attack foreigners and turned his gun on his fellow Norwegians who were too tolerant towards the foreigners. As if the problem is not immigrants as such, but the political class that has been "corrupted" by the Left in a bid to subdue the unremitting greatness of the white man.

The riots seen in the UK seemingly came out of nowhere, inexplicable and indiscriminate violence tore through the capital before hurtling across the country. It was a peaceful protest in Tottenham over the death of Mark Duggan at the hands of police officers that descended into violence first. Then came a tidal wave of violence and looting that rushed through the streets of London, Birmingham, Manchester and a lot of other places. The commentariat was soon flailing wildly out of control for a useful narrative with Max Hastings wondering "How do you inculcate values in a child whose only role model is footballer Wayne Rooney - a man who is bereft of the most meagre human graces?" The Evening Standard pinned the blame on the GTA series whilst Melanie Phillips blamed the "liberal intelligentsia", oh and the rise of single-motherhood. As the Left called for a recognition of "legitimate grievances" the Right called for cuts to benefits and the repossession of property to punish the rioters. Then the decadent Starkey emerged to tell us all that it is down to the encroachment of "black culture" into a halcyon vanilla Britannia.

The conservatives were eager to shoot down any liberal nonsense about "legitimate grievances" and "social deprivation". At the same time the only permissible view was outright condemnation of the violence, which is a platitude to say the least as no one condones what happened. Even though the Right wanted to stress that these were the decisions undertaken by free individuals they could not bring itself to admit the exact nature of the riots. In the midst of the riots Kelvin MacKenzie was asked "Should we try to understand this?" and he responded "No, I don't think we should..." As if that wasn't bad enough then Michael Gove popped up to let us know that he's on "the side of order" and there are no excuses for violence. A strange position for Michael Gove to take given that he thinks the Iraq war is justified by the GDP of Iraq at the moment. Incidentally there are 5 million orphans in Iraq with over 1 million people dead as a direct consequence of war, with millions more displaced, deformed and dispossessed.

The violence of the student demonstrations came with a political message whereas the riots had no message at all. The rioters were not a revolutionary subject, in the Marxist sense, but more of a Hegelian 'rabble' who are outside of the organised social space and can only express their discontent through irrational outbursts - a 'lumpen-insurrection' of sorts. The rage and despair of the 'rabble' was expressed in the most impotent forms, the torching of random buildings and pointless thievery for example. Slavoj Žižek was right to call for a rejection of the demand to take a side, either that of a 'disenfranchised youth' or a 'small business owner'. In the riots we saw society attack society, a lot like watching a man slash away aimlessly at his own limbs, as Hunter S Thompson noted of much worse riots in the 60s "the American dream was clubbing itself to death". It was a conflict between people with a stake in community, who had managed to function within the system, and the people with no such stake and nothing to lose.

Zygmunt Bauman was correct to designate the riots as "defective and disqualified consumers" and it is easy to see the mass-looting as consumerism turned violent as it could not be realised in the proper way of shopping. Even the ignominious David Starkey acknowledged this point when he called the riots "shopping with violence". That was before he opted to wheel in the words of Enoch Powell to insulate the prevailing ideology from any damaging self-reflection. In the riots we find that at best "legitimate grievances" are secondary to impotent expression of anger, despair and envy. Ultimately the riots were a clear demonstration of the material force of ideology, it was the barbarous underbelly of consumerism rising to the surface and overflowing for all to see on Sky News. As for the people peddling vengeful answers to the riots, these are the same people who claimed there is no such thing as society. It was they who called for the "liberation" of the individual to pursue their own self-interest at the expense of others.


Then the Libyan Civil War resurfaced in the news as the rebels seized the capital to the surprise of Orientalist commentators everywhere, to whom the Arabs are still either incapable of winning a fight or are bloodthirsty animals. It looks as though this is the autumn of the Colonel, for Gaddafi soon disappeared. The great irony of the situation is that the Gaddafi regime was interventionist in foreign policy and had been for a very long time. The regime backed Idi Amin in Uganda, Slobodan Milošević in Serbia and Charles Taylor in Liberia as well as the IRA, the Sandinista movement and the ANC. Gaddafi sought to mediate disputes in African countries such as Mali, specifically between the government and rebels. He has even sent peace keeping missions to countries like Somalia. It has even been suggested that the Libyan government provided millions in investments to support governments in Liberia, Niger, Chad and the Central African Republic. Under Gaddafi the country had been led into armed conflict with Egypt and Chad on multiple occasions.

For years Muammar al-Gaddafi stood as the mirror-image of an American neoconservative as he saw a moral obligation to intervene where necessary on the side of the victim against the oppressors of the world. Of course, the side of the victim can be chosen selectively in accordance with the geopolitical value of fending off a particular oppressor. The same is true of the neoconservatives who wanted to fight the Communists in Afghanistan in the name of "freedom", but quietly supported Ceaușescu in Romania at the same time. We find similar contradictions in Libyan foreign policy, Colonel Gaddafi was on board for war crimes in Sierra Leone but backed the ANC at a time when Nelson Mandela was smeared as a "terrorist" in the US and Britain. The same reasoning was deployed to justify sending Libyan agents across into Egypt with the stated purpose of "subversion", even though Gaddafi was an admirer of General Nasser and wanted to emulate him as a "strong man".

Back in 1971 the CIA and MI6 put together a plot to bring down Gaddafi as part of an all-out-invasion of Libya, which would culminate in the release of political prisoners and the restoration of the monarchy. The plot fell apart as the CIA concluded that the Colonel sufficed as a bulwark to Communism in North Africa. The regime in Tripoli was opposed to Israel and Western imperialism, but  it was also opposed to the Soviet Union and Russian influence in the region. This was good enough for the time being. There has even been the suggestion (which has yet to be verified) that the coup which Gaddafi orchestrated in 1969 had been supported by the US. The regime modeled itself on the example set by Egypt, which had become a worrying example of independence by then. It is plausible that the coup was seen as a way to "buy-off" socialism and create a bulwark to the Soviet Union at the same time. So when tensions in the new regime led to a conspiracy to overthrow Gaddafi in 1975 the CIA immediately warned the Colonel who then steam-rolled over all internal opposition and continued to pursue an interventionist foreign policy.

As Gaddafi's regime became increasingly repressive and began to turn to the Soviet Union for greater support, so it was clear that Libya was going to become a "pariah state". Today commentators like to make reference to the way Gaddafi sponsored terrorism. When the US bombed Libya in 1986 the "reason" was that Gaddafi had sent arms and advisers to the Sandinista government of Nicaragua. Gaddafi mirrored the American support for the Contras, who were at the forefront of a terrorist campaign against the Sandinistas. The US continued to lean on Libya into the 1990s, this went as far as economic sanctions and backing an attempt to assassinate Gaddafi in 1996. A few years later the US made peace with Libya as Gaddafi made a bid to secure a comfortable place in a world that had changed greatly since the Berlin Wall fell. The support lent to Gaddafi was extreme, it went as far as selling him weapons which were later used against his own people. The British and the American governments even saw to it that the attempt to indict Gaddafi for his responsibility for the deaths of 1.2 million people in Sierra Leone.

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