October 12, 2009

The Bubble from Abroad

By David Cogswell

That's what moving about, this traveling is; it's this inexorable glimpse of existence as it is during those few lucid hours, so exceptional in the span of human time, when you are leaving the customs of the last country behind and the customs of the next one have not yet got their hold on you.

Louis Ferdinand Celine
Journey to the End of the Night

Travel pushes you toward a pan-cultural reality, a view that is not entirely encapsulated in a single national culture. Because of travel I'm never completely immersed in the American bubble. But it's only by getting out of the bubble that one can really see it. We are like a fish, which has no concept of water because water is the total medium of its life. It has never encountered not-water, so it has no idea of it. The corporate state has gained such ubiquitous control over the media in America and has so effectively co-opted it for its own purposes as a propaganda machine, that many Americans have no idea how powerful the corporate state's influence it is over their own vision of reality.

When you are outside of the bubble, its influence over you begins to loosen its hold and you begin to see the world a little more the way non-Americans see it. After being in Italy for a week, I boarded a plane from Florence to Munich and I picked up the International Herald Tribune, ("The Global Edition of the New York Times") and was smacked in the face with the blatant bias of corporate America in the top left story on the front page. It was headlined "Europe Still Sputtering as Crisis Cools in U.S." by Nelson D. Schwartz and Matthew Saltmarsh. The subhead says "Fears of 'Eurosclerosis' return as hopes for fundamental change fade." The same story appears in the New York Times as "Crisis Leaves Europe in Slow Lane"

Though this is a front page story, it's not a news story. It's a polemic, a harsh slap in the face to Europe for hesitating in its rush to follow America into free market fundamentalism. The free market fundamentalists, by the way, are not really for free markets and competition. They are for corporate controlled markets, corporate controlled governments, corporate controlled everything. They want no government intervention in anything they do. They are the corporatists.

The story poses "fundamental change" as a desirable thing versus "Eurosclerosis" as a deadly disease. But what is this change the authors are referring to? Europe, it says, "finally seemed prepared to tackle longstanding economic challenges like rigid labor markets, runaway government spending and a rapidly aging population." But now, "Leaders who once spoke optimistically of fundamental changes aimed at enhancing productivity have turned to more prosaic tasks of protecting jobs and avoiding painful political choices."

These "fundamental changes" are changes toward free market fundamentalism for the advantages of corporations over people. The authors portray the U.S. as happily "shaking off" the recession while Europe "sputters." But what is this productivity they talk about. Let's look at this language. To the layman, "productivity" sounds good. We work hard, we're efficient, we produce a lot. "Americans are the most productive workers in the world," the senators say. But "productivity" here is a technical term. It's economist's jargon for the amount of income produced for the corporation versus the cost of labor. High productivity means cheap labor. If you work for the company, your salary is seen as a cost, a negative on the balance sheet. This conversation is from the standpoint of the owners, the shareholders.

When used in a lay context, such as in the news, it becomes a kind of code. You can talk about productivity in a way that sounds good, and for the corporation it is. But unless you're a shareholder, more productivity means less money for you. This is the kind of thing that causes people to vote against their own best interests.

The article refers to "job protection" as "prosaic," as in "commonplace or dull; matter-of-fact or unimaginative." To these writers, job protection is an old, outdated value, like human rights, or the Geneva Conventions, which Bush's attorney general Alberto Gonzales called "quaint." Meanwhile, America is portrayed as doing much better, shaking off the recession, and, of course still avoiding any encumbering regulations that might prevent Wall Street speculators from driving the system to the brink of collapse again, and then picking the pocket of the public to bail them out again. No worries in the U.S. about anything so "prosaic" as job protection. Thousands are losing their jobs, their homes, but no matter. We are shaking off the recession, Wall Street is humming and all is well, except for people who have to work for a living. A year after the crash when the American people were told they would have to bail out the big banks and then a new regulatory structure could be put in place to reel in the speculators, the new regulations remain only promises.

For those who have little, it will be taken away. This is free market fundamentalism. This is the change they seek. This is what "old Europe", as Donald Rumsfeld called it, is dragging its feet on. This is the New World Order. Government of the corporations, by the corporations and for the corporations. And just what does the IHT mean when it refers to "tough political choices" about an "aging population"? What does the corporate state plan to do about all those people?

It's not really that Old Europe is any more old-fashioned than the U.S., it's just that there is only so far down you can push the people before you meet resistance. In the U.S. power is more consolidated, and so is communications, which makes the propaganda system more effective because all the corporate news channels speak with a unified voice. They all speak the language of the corporate New World Order. In Europe there is more diversity based on the fact that there are many nations with their own languages, and their own traditions going back centuries. And governments that still exhibit some concern for their people.

The article says that Europe is being left behind by the US and China, which will in effect become the G2, according to C. Fred Bergsten, director of the Peterson Institute for International Economics, leaving Europe behind. Now get this: Bergsten is quoted as saying: "Ideally, it would be the G-3, but Europe doesn't speak with a single voice and they can't coordinate and function the same way the U.S. and China can," Mr. Bergsten said. It says explicitly that while Europe is diverse, the U.S. is like China in that it can speak with one voice.

The free market fundamentalists often speak with praise about China, which is called a communist country but is really an authoritarian capitalist state, the ideal model for the corporatists. As Mussolini said, fascism might be called corporatism because it is the merger of corporate and state power. The corporatists oppose actual free markets and they oppose democracy, because it tends to inhibit their profit making efforts.

Over and over again you will see that the neoconservatives prefer China, an authoritarian state, to Europe, a confederation of democratic states, because it is more in tune with the corporate world order. Corporations have no national allegiances. They are multinational. Their only allegiance is to profit and to the maintenance of a world system which promotes profit, and a democratic system is not the right fit for them. That's why they are tearing down democratic structures and replacing them with authoritarian ones, such as the Patriot Act, indefinite detention without trial and so on.

The article portrays the US and China as leaving Europe in the dust because its countries are concerned with matters such as job protection. From the free market ideological point of view, the function of government is to serve business, the corporations, and that means keeping unions down, labor costs low, and keeping people out of the way of profit. It's easy to recover economically if all you are concerned with is Wall Street and the profitability of corporations. And when they fail, you just take the money from the public to prop them up again. That's so-called free market ideology.

The Times' embrace of this ideology, its blatant trumpeting of these values in a front page article is why I shed no tears when I hear of the Times' declining fortunes. The Times should take responsibility for its own troubles and not just cry that it is the rise of the Internet that has crippled its ability to function. No one had any advantage over the Times in making use of the Internet. It had the brand, the tradition, the reputation, the momentum. It should have led the way in the Internet. It was not the technology that killed the Times it was because it did not do its job.

When the Bush administration was leading the charge toward war with false claims, the Times should have been the first to investigate and question those allegations. Instead they put their reporter Judith Miller on the front lines of leading the cheers for war, using bogus information from Ahmad Chalabi, the crook and conman that the administration was setting up to be their source of false information to justify their attack on Iraq. (See the Times own telling of what went wrong here.)

In comparison with the Judith Miller fiasco, the Jayson Blair scandal was minor, though he got away with inventing all kinds of stories out of nothing, because there were relatively few consequences.

But the lead-up to the war in Iraq was one of the most important moments in recent history, when the country lingered on the edge of war. The public was reluctant, as always to go to war, but had been effectively scared shitless by the Bushies. And instead of exposing the false information for what it was, the Times became a major contributor to the effort by transmitting false information and putting its stamp of approval on it without really verifying it. Now nearly seven years later we are still tangled up in that war, still being drained of blood and money over it, out national morale still undermined.

The only way the Internet hurt the Times is that it put alternative sources of information within the reach of everyman. And since the Times had abdicated its role of reporting, betrayed its readers and put its credibility on the line in favor of those false claims, people turned to other sources that were doing the real reporting. And the Times became an accessory to mass murder. It relegated itself to being a secondary news source.

-- David Cogswell

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