Archive for the 'capitalism' Category

How ‘non-news’ news stories reinforce the status quo

untitledIn a classic episode of the popular television sitcom The Simpsons, the notoriously crooked and amoral attorney Lionel Hutz famously advised the Simpson family that facts were of secondary importance to their case since, according to him, there is a big difference between ‘the truth’ (said with a frown in a somber, serious voice) and “The Truth” (said in in a charismatic, happy way with a smile).

If it was not abundantly clear before, it is certainly the case that now more than ever before, we need to draw a distinction between ‘the news’ (said with a frown in a somber, serious voice) and “The News” (said in in a charismatic, happy way with a smile).

I would like to suggest that ‘the news’ ought to be a normative conception of the newsworthiness of an event (or lack thereof) based upon its objective impact to entire cities, nations and/or the globe.  Conversely, I posit that “The News” ought to be taken as a realist view of the news wherein the newsworthiness of an event (or lack thereof) is based solely on an observation of what is or is not reported in the mainstream press irrespective of normative, logical, moral or ethical considerations.

In other words, under the first conception of ‘the news’, while some events may be personally ‘significant’ (such as the death of a loved one), the newsworthiness of an event would be conditional on sociological or political significance.  Thus, for instance, the death of Jon Bennet Ramsey would not have been news, however charges of Boulder Police incompetence in handling the case or corruption would be considered news.  Conversely, “The News” does not encourage critical thinking about the news or the nature of the stories generated.  The news is the news is the news.  What is newsworthy is simply what makes the news.

While this is hardly a Socratic deduction to make, it is a crucially important one because far too much of the criticism of the mainstream media from both the left wing [1] [2] and the right wing [3] [4] today is based simply on exposing real or apparent lies, distortions and untruths.  This is not to say that exposing lies or distortions in media is not a worthwhile endeavour, but rather that it is limited.  It is limited because it ignores the far more omnipresent fact that a news story may be factual and accurate and correct but that it may nevertheless reinforce the status quo, dominant ideologies and systems of hierarchy and oppression.

An example of a factually correct, accurate and truthful “The News” story which I would like to suggest serves to reinforce the status quo is the story of Brandon Crisp.  Recently a Caucasian Ontario boy named Brandon Crisp was found dead after having run away from his home after his parents forbade him from playing his game console.  Since his body’s discovery, a media sensation has erupted.  The police have conducted autopsy reports and have postulated that he died falling from a tree while the media has spent inordinate resources speculating how long he would have survived after the fall.

A brief search reveals the extend of the media frenzy which has now reached the international press.

brandon-crisp-news

This, of course, is nothing new.  There is, in my opinion, substantial albeit as-of-yet only circumstantial evidence to support the thesis of a “Missing White Girl” phenomenon [5] [6].

With the realist conception of newsworthiness based on “The News“, not only do stories which have no impact on the city, country or globe become news, but since newsworthiness is predicated circularly on what is reported as news, the mere fact of a given “The News” story making news headlines is often itself enough to cause more news headlines in other publications.  Here, the problem arises in that there are only so many column inches available and only so many resources in terms of editorial and reporting staff for any given publication, that in selecting these factually correct non-news stories amidst the torrents of incoming factually correct global events, editors necessarily leave out genuine news stories.

0743284550The death of Brian Crisp, while undeniably a tragedy for his family and friends, does not impact the sociological or political existence of his city, country or the world.  But, in focusing on this one death or on the latest ‘missing white girl’ case or on the latest house fire — since doing so is necessarily done to the exclusion of other events — consumers of mainstream media are left with the false impression that the most pressing problems facing society are particular, parochial and individual rather than systemic, global and societal.  The public is, in short, instilled daily with the right wing neo-conservative thesis postulated by Francis Fukuyama that ‘history has ended’ [7] [8] [9] despite the fact that, strictly speaking, nothing factually incorrect has been reported.

In closing, to illustrate this point, consider for yourself whether people would have the same impression of the greatest problems facing society if any of following stories — all of which it is important to note were omitted by the media in part because of ‘insufficient space’ — were reported in place of the death of Brian Crisp.

18 million die annually due simply to poverty [10] [11] [12].  As a corollary, it could also be noted that the vast majority of these 18 million are non-Caucasians living in Afria despite the fact that Africa is perhaps the richest continent on the planet.  It could also be reported that the poverty of Africans amidst the wealth of Africa is due largely to conscious and deliberate policies instituted by the West during the colonial period and which have been continued into the neo-liberal era.

18-million-dead-due-to-poverty-news

While 18 million people — predominantly Africans — die annually due to poverty, the European Union subsidizes every cow in the EU by $2.50/day which is more money than 75% of all Africans live on [see: Williams, Jessica.  50 Facts that Should Change the World.  Cambridge: Icon Books Ltd., 2004.  p. 46-51].

The largest humanitarian crisis in the world today is not Iraq, nor Afghanistan nor Darfur in the Sudan, but rather Somalia [13].  There are now more refugees and more displaced people in Somalia than in Iraq, yet the West is positively uninterested in fixing the situation.  But, despite this, capitalists and their apologists regularly praise the ‘economic miracle of Somalia’ as a glorious experiment in Anarcho-capitalism [14] [15] [16].

Yet another wignut pundit claims Bush is a “socialist”

Yet another right-wing pundit last week claimed that Bush’ fascistic move to preserve the power and wealth of capitalists was actually “socialist.”

I can see that some people are having a difficult time understanding this, so let’s spell this out as clearly as I can:

Since we socialists can’t seem to agree on even the colour of shit, there are about as many different interpretations of socialism as there are socialists.  But the one thing that we have in common (along with some anarchists such as Noam Chomsky) is that we believe that the state can (and should) be used for a time to curtail the power of capitalists, to remove them from their position of ridiculous power and to redress the gross imbalance in wealth that they have accumulated for themselves while 18 million people (3 times 9/11) die globally every year due to poverty.

Fascists on the other hand believe in using the power of the state to preserve and enhance the power of capitalists (see, for instance, the collusion between Nazi Germany and the infamous Krupp family or Mussolini’s Corporatist régime) at the expense of workers.

I know, I know, it’s hard.  They both deal with the state AND capitalists!  It’s so confusing.  But here’s an easy mnemonic device to help remember the difference between the two for next time.

Saying that Bush’s fascist move this week is actually the same thing as “socialism” just because it involves the state and capitalists is a bit like saying that cancer-causing cigarettes are the same thing as chemotherapy because they both involve cancer and its spread.

~

See Also:

More proof that liberal economics is a radical right-wing ideology

Marx on religion: Dispelling more myths about socialism

Never has there ever been a worldview, never has there ever been an idea, and never has there ever been a word so misrepresented and so misunderstood as ‘socialism’… except possibly for ‘Marxism’. Because of this, it has been an ongoing feature here at Paulitics, to dispel some of the myths surrounding socialism (see here and here).

For some time now, I have been wanting to do a short featurette on Marx’s views on religion to dispel them once and for all, and today, having read the same blatantly mis-quoted phrase claiming to be written by Marx for the hundredth time, I finally decided that it was time to dispel this myth once and for all.

The first myth to dispel is that of the famous quote supposedly from Marx which is his opponents use to paint him as a dangerous elitist who scorned the masses. The quote which everybody seems to think Marx wrote is:

Religion is the opiate/opium of the masses”

The only problem with this is that nowhere in any of Marx’s writings, did he ever write these words.

Even the very few instances where this ‘quotation’ is given a citation, the citation is often not entirely correct thus making verification of this quotation even more difficult. The most common citation for this quotation is that it was written in 1843 and occurs in Marx’s essay “Contribution to the Critique of Hegel’s Philosophy of Right”. In actuality, this quotation occurs in the Introduction to Marx’s Contribution to the Critique of Hegel’s Philosophy of Right and was actually written right at the cusp between 1843 and 1844, many months after the main portion of the Critique was written. Indeed, because of this, many ‘collected works’ editions of Marx’s writings do not even feature the Critique as a part of the same text as the Introduction because Marx had written and published other material, most notably On the Jewish Question between his completion of the two parts.

Nevertheless, the full quotation of Marx’s ideas on religion expressed in this essay are actually, when read in context, rather anti-elitist. In fact, Marx’s ideas in his Critique are rather sympathetic to the religious masses whilst simultaneously being highly critical of the institution of religion itself.

The full quotation reads as follows:

“The struggle against religion is, therefore, indirectly a struggle against that world whose spiritual aroma is religion.

Religious suffering is at the same time an expression of real suffering and a protest against real suffering. Religion is the sign of the oppressed creature, the sentiment of a heartless world, and the soul of soulless conditions. It is the opium of the people.

The abolition of religion as the illusory happiness of men, is a demand for their real happiness. The call to abandon their illusions about their conditions is a call to abandon a condition which requires illusions. The criticism of religion is, therefore, the embryonic criticism of this vale of tears of which religion is the halo.”

-Karl Marx.
Quoted in “Contribution to the Critique of Hegel’s Philosophy of Right: Introduction.”
Robert C. Tucker, ed. The Marx-Engels Reader. 2nd ed. New York: W.W. Norton & Company, 1978. p. 54.

When reading the full quotation, the necessity of the ruling class never quoting the entire passage in its entirety becomes clear. Reading the incomplete non-quotation supposedly from Marx, one has the impression of a Christopher Hitchens or H.L. Mencken-like figure who looks down upon and scorns the masses for their religiosity.

Another important, oft-forgotten aspect related to this famous quotation is that Marx was not even the only person to say something along these lines. Four years after Marx wrote this quotation, Charles Kingsley, a Canon of the Church of England — a man who more likely than not had never read the then obscure and unknown Karl Marx — wrote that the Bible was used as an “opium dose for keeping beasts of burden patient while they were being overloaded.” (Howard Selsam & Harry Martel. Reader in Marxist Philosophy. New York: International Publishers, 1963. p. 224). Keep in mind this is a man of the church saying this independently of Marx.

So, it is really little wonder that the vast majority of the population takes Marxism and socialism to be synonymous with all that is evil.

The goal of this post and the series on dispelling the myths about socialism is not designed so much to convince people that Marxism and socialism are not evil (although I obviously think they’re the opposite of evil).  The goal of this series is to provide irrefutable proof that much of the popular conceptions about Marxism and socialism are either caricatures, half-truths or downright fictions.

The public can do with this knowledge what they like.  But it is clear to me that if a truly fair hearing of Marxism or socialism ever were to become possible, the ruling classes would not know what hit them.

A *Really* Inconvenient Truth: ‘Green capitalism’ is an oxymoron

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oxymoron-eco-capitalism-2.pngI recently came across an interview with Joel Kovel, the man behind A Really Inconvenient Truth and Enemy of Nature.

Joel Kovel is an eco-socialist who critiques Al Gore’s An Inconvenient Truth not from an environmental skeptic position, but rather on the contrary, he critiques it from the left.

The interview is well worth the listen to if you get the chance. However, I do suggest that if you’re going to listen to it, do it soon because I’m not sure how long the radio program will be hosting the file.

You can access it here:

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or you can access it here.

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Government to Canadians: Struggling only makes it harder for you

This past Wednesday, I was hosting my cousin who was up visiting Ottawa from Toronto.  As a part of the sites he wanted to see, I took him to Parliament to watch Question Period since he’d never been.

Usually, the press only covers the first few questions that Dion, Duceppe, Layton and also usually Ignatieff ask, and then uncerimoniously catch up on the fine art of sleeping with one’s eyes open.  Thus, had I not actually been in the gallery, I’d likely have missed this gem of a question from Conservative MP Patrick Brown (Barrie) directed to the Minister of Labour since it was the last question of the day. 

From Hansard:

Question:

Patrick Brown (Barrie, CPC):  
    Mr. Speaker, some members of this House may be aware that a recent study found that in 2005, Canada lost more days of work due to labour disruptions, both lockouts and strikes, than any other G-7 country. The big picture is that these numbers represent $700 million in lost annual gross domestic product.

    Could the Minister of Labour inform this House how he is addressing this very serious issue?

Answer:
Hon. Jean-Pierre Blackburn (Minister of Labour and Minister of the Economic Development Agency of Canada for the Regions of Quebec, CPC):  

    Mr. Speaker, I am concerned about those numbers. Work stoppages hurt workers, their families and their communities and they are also bad for businesses.

    As Minister of Labour it is my responsibility to look for new ideas to keep the talk going on between unions and employers. I have launched a study on the causes and impacts of work stoppages. The study will provide an opportunity for stakeholders to reflect on ways to improve labour relations in our country.

    An expert, Mr. Peter Annis, will consult with unions and employers and will submit a report to me with recommendations.

unions.pngSo, memo to unions:  The Minister of Labour doesn’t understand what causes strikes nor does he understand the impacts of work stoppages.  I’ll give the minister a hint:  in 1905, before any massive strikes began and struggles against capitalism began, the average worker’s wage was pennies per hour and there was no minimum wage, no safety standards and no government assistance for the poor.
But, as for the other point about “struggling only makes it harder for you”, that sent a shiver down my spine.  Is this going to be the Conservatives’ new campaign slogan?
conservative-election-platform.png

New poll of Canadian corporate elites shows interesting results

In the year 2000, Canada taxed corporations at a rate of 44.6%.  Despite Jean Chrétien and Brian Mulroney, we had been able to maintain this relatively good rate of taxation which we first achieved during the Liberal-NDP minority governments in the 1960s and 1970s.  Since then, however, Canada’s corporate tax rates have dropped precipitously by over a quarter to only 30.9% in 2007

During this time, the only public opinion polls conducted that I am aware of were conducted on Canadian corporate elite opinion alone.    This, quite simply, is because elites understand that the public’s opinion on such ‘frivolous’ matters would be inappropriate to solicit.  The public’s opinion is not of any consequence to the determining of public policy in this area, thus why get their hopes up by asking them?  Why remind them that their opinion will simply be disregarded shortly after it is documented?

Nevertheless, it is still worth taking a look at what Canada’s corporate elites would like to see reformed in Canada’s government spending and taxation policy because, on these issues, their opinion is more equal than others and thus is far more likely to be an indicator of what changes will come.

The most recent example of such a poll of corporate elites was conducted recently by Conrad Winn, the president of Compass Polling (and possibly the most infuriating man I’ve ever had the misfortune of meeting).  Despite Winn’s delusions that the CBC actually has a whole cadre of communists working for them, that universities are only designed to indoctrinate children with Marxist propaganda and that CNN is nothing more than the propaganda arm of the U.S. Democratic Party (believe it or not he’s actually said all of these things), Winn is smart enough to know that it is elite opinion on this issue which matters and thus is worth soliciting.

The results of Winn’s poll are thus, very revealing. 

canadian-corporate-elite.png

The margin of error for this poll is +/- 8.7%, so I have highlighted the most popular response for each question in yellow (questions where two responses are highlighted are statistically tied in first place). 

The first thing that should leap out at Canadians is that this poll destroys the myth that the Canadian bourgeois does not want a large government or an activist state.  Indeed on the contrary, Canada’s bourgeois (much like America’s bourgeois) wants government intervention into the private sector in certain limited regards.  Contrary to what is published in the mainstream media, this is nothing all too surprising.  Ever since the end of the Second World War, economists of all stripes have noted that without heavy government support and intervention in the economy, capitalism would collapse.   In 1944, economist Paul Samuelson predicted the 1948 economic employment crisis when he wrote that “the present prosperity is ‘artificial,” and that many of the central sectors of the economy “cannot possibly maintain their present level of employment, or one-half, or one-third of it.”  Thus, ever since, virtually all industrialized governments (including the Canadian and U.S. governments) have been actively subsidizing corporations through ‘corporate welfare’ and ‘military keynesianism’ in order to sustain the capitalist mode of production.

The poll above illustrates that, contrary to the majority of the populace, the bourgeois is well aware of the importance of the activist role of the state.  Canada’s bourgeoisie wants increases in government subsidies to the private sector for infrastructure funding and military funding (military keynesianism) in addition to increased government activism in paying down the national debt and increasing health care payments (which, after all, relieves employers from having to offer private heath insurance unlike their American counterparts).

But, on the other hand, there is one other final item which is interesting and worthy of consideration in this poll of Canada’s bourgeoisie.  While the poll illustrates that capitalists recognize the value to them of these various forms of corporate welfare, the last two questions (highlighted in red), also conclusively show that they just don’t want to have to be the ones to pay for it.

Don’t you love that we’re teaching the Afghans to be ‘free’ just like us?

“On the contrary, the citizen, always active, sweats, agitates himself,
torments himself incessantly in order to seek still more labourious
occupations; he works to death, he even rushes to it in order to get
in condition to live, or renounces life in order to acquire immortality.
He pays court to the great whom he hates, and to the rich whom he
scorns. He spares nothing in order to obtain the honour of serving
them; he proudly boasts of his baseness and their protection; and
proud of his slavery, he speaks with disdain of those
who do not have the honour of sharing it.”
-Rousseau, Second Discourse

See also:

Propaganda in Action: Ontario’s election “priorities”?

Poll: Do you support the conservatives or oppose helping children? WTF!

Our entire existence summed up in one cartoon

Just when you think capitalism can’t sink any lower…

“The need of a constantly expanding market for its products chases the bourgeoisie over the entire surface of the globe. It must nestle everywhere, settle everywhere, establish connections everywhere.”

Despite the fact that Marx first wrote about the concept of “commodification” one and a half centuries ago, it is only in the last 25 years or so that the term has come into popularity (leave it to liberals to ‘borrow’ one of Marx’s ideas 125 years after the fact and then call it their own and praise themselves for their magnificent brilliance).

But, given that new items are being commodified at alarming rates, maybe liberals can be forgiven for coming slightly late to the party.

There are countless examples of items which have become, as of late, owned and thus commodified by corporations.  Two examples include: Human and animal genomes which are now owned by corporations every time a new discovery is made; Fox News successfully countered a court case challenging their right to own the phrase “Fair and Balanced”; and the song ‘happy birthday’, to which every sung performance must be met with royalties to the song’s owners, as Girl Scouts of America learned the hard way.

There is nothing particularly new or secretive about this development.  However, when I learned of this new development in commodification, I was at a loss for words:

believe-in-god.png

Marketing a product that claims to connect one to God is nothing new.  The Catholic Church practiced something more or less similar to this for hundreds of years under their practice of the ‘buying of indulgences‘.

But actually copyrighting the phrase “Believe in God”?  Chutzpah, pure chutzpah.

Communist Party of Canada leader to speak in Ottawa tomorrow

While I am not now, nor have I ever been a member of the Communist Party, I did nevertheless have an opportunity two years ago to hear Miguel Figueroa, leader of the Communist Party of Canada, speak at an event and I was thoroughly impressed. Thus, I was very pleased to learn that Figueroa (and possibly some others) will be talking and taking questions at Carleton University in Ottawa tomorrow, Monday January 28.

The event starts at 7pm in room 134 Unicentre at Carleton University. I’m going to be in attendance, so if any Ottawa comrades, bloggers or people who are quasi-left wing, even if not officially identifying as Marxist or Communist, wish to hear a very affable and likable speaker talk and/or would like to meet with me in person, please feel free to come on out.

My (limited) impression of Figueroa and Stu Ryan (perennial Communist Party candidate in Ottawa Centre who I imagine will also be attending) is that they are definitely not anything like those who used to run the CPC which everyone on the far left used to love to hate.

Hope to see some of you there!

Video: The War on Democracy [by John Pilger]

I recently came across this inspiring and fantastically-directed video is by the progressive Australian filmmaker John Pilger.  This documentary about Chavez and Venezuela features both impressive cinematography and depth of analysis which truly exceeded my expectations.

Enjoy.


Video curtosy of the good comrades at Venezuela Analysis.

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