Monday, December 21, 2009

The Labour Theory of Capitalism; or Rubes, Rednecks and Hicks: The Makers of the Modern World

Reading The Industrial Revolution, published this year, and written by Lee Wyatt. It seems like an advanced undergraduate text, but general histories of this momentous event are surprisingly hard to come by. 

My long-running thesis is that "industrialization" had little to do, at first, with inventions such as the steam engine. Instead, it was the division of labour which was key. Wyatt hews to the "consensus" that machinery was essential to the industrial revolution, but presents evidence that suggests otherwise. 

The classic example of early division of labour was found, of course, in Adam Smith's Wealth of Nations, from 1776, in which is described a pin factory where work is "divided into a number of branches, of which the greater part are likewise peculiar trades. One man draws out the wire, another straights it, a third cuts it, a fourth points it, a fifth grinds it at the top for receiving the head; to make the head requires two or three distinct operations; to put it on, is a peculiar business, to whiten the pins is another; it is even a trade by itself to put them into the paper; and the important business of making a pin is, in this manner, divided into about eighteen distinct operations, which, in some manufactories, are all performed by distinct hands, though in others the same man will sometimes perform two or three of them." (page 8 in pdf text at link above) 

What Smith described was essentially a process of manual labour — very tedious and even strenuous labour — that went largely or wholly unaided by water- or steam-power at all. The classic case of the division of labour, very familiar to modern society, is the McDonald's restaurant. Established as a single outlet in California in the 1950s, it was the McDonald brothers' themselves who established the production-line approach to service (the title of a 1972 Harvard Business Review article by Theodore Levitt) that became characteristic of the later worldwide chain, when they eliminated wait-staff (including all female employees, who were presumed to be magnets for amorous punks), radically simplified the menu (eliminating any dish that required the use of a fork and knife), and of course, divided up the responsibilities for the cooking and cashiering between several more people than would normally be employed at a hamburger joint — staffing levels made affordable by the very low wages paid for the work. 

This is, I think, "industrial revolution" in a nutshell. Like any instance of the division of labour, a McDonald's (or any fast-food) restaurant results in the de-skilling of work. McDonald's has long been the byword for low-paid, low-skill work (the "McJob") that doesn't require much talent or even brightness at all. Wages are evaluated so meagrely precisely because "any idiot" can do a McJob. It works out from the employer's point of view, because employees who quit or grow insubordinate can be quickly replaced by the next idiot. The key point is that McDonald's has never employed actual powered-machinery to achieve the "assembly-line" levels of productivity that made it the global success that it remains. Of course, the original McDonald's restaurant no doubt employed the most up-to-date appliances and other technology for fast-food production. However, in this respect, it was no different than hundreds, and even thousands, of competitors at the time. Where it was dissimilar was in the utilization of the manual labour of making hamburgers and french-fries. The McDonald's division of labour rapidly increased hamburger-productivity, and with it, the profits from selling fast-food. Eventually, of course, it was this method which resulted in billions and billions in profits, from "serving millions and millions" all around the world. 

It was the same with the pin factory and similar efforts at the division of labour in industrializing Britain. It allowed — unaided in large part by machinery — for a workforce of ten to "make among them upwards of forty-eight thousand pins in a day," as Smith described it. He went on: "Each person, therefore, making a tenth part of forty-eight thousand pins, might be considered as making four thousand eight hundred pins in a day. But if they had all wrought separately and independently, and without any of them having been educated to this peculiar business, they certainly could not each of them have made twenty, perhaps not one pin in a day; that is, certainly, not the two hundred and fortieth, perhaps not the four thousand eight hundredth part of what they are at present capable of performing, in consequence of a proper division and combination of their different operations." (Wealth of Nations, page 9 of above pdf text) 

The steam engine and other engineered machinery came to be employed for productive purposes, because of the division of labour, rather than the latter being a consequence of the former. The division of labour was made possible in turn, by the widespread acceptance of wage-labour. It is the chief reason why Britain became the first industrialized country. 

There, far more than on the Continent, the feudal system had given way to enclosure, and landowners cleared their possessions of wastelands and peasantry, to farm cash crops and raise livestock. The nobility converted themselves into agrarian capitalists (the word "firm" comes from "farm"), and the toiling masses were converted into wage-labourers. 

The rural proletariat of the early-modern period were doubtless no better off than the peasantry of the Middle Ages. However, the enclosure of farmlands vastly increased agricultural productivity, thereby causing a decrease in the price of basic staples. This is the reason, too, why wages in the agricultural sector remained so pitifully low. 

However, the capitalization of the agricultural industry was also the spur for innovation and improvement in farming techniques (such as those introduced in the early eighteenth century by the pioneer agronomist Jethro Tull). These innovations, in turn, boosted productivity all the more, thereby making food staples all the more cheaper. This had the effect of boosting population in Britain considerably (an increase of thirty-three percent to nine million between 1700 and 1790), while higher productivity and a larger workforce continued to depress wages. 

According to Wyatt, already by 1700, the proportion of the workforce involved in the agricultural sector was considerably smaller than in the major European nations: "... in 1600 the average farmer in Great Britain had produced enough food to support his family and half an additional one. By 1800 that same farmer could feed his own family and one and one-half more. By the mid-19th century, Great Britain had the lowest proportion of its workforce in agriculture than any other country in the entire world." 

At that time, according to Wyatt, only 22% of the British workforce was involved in farming. It was the "surplus" non-farming population which supplied the workforce for the early manufactories, in the textiles and other industries (such as pin-making) — not to mention the markets for the cheap (in price and quality) goods that were produced from this process. It is no coincidence that the factory system developed in the very areas (namely, the midlands and north of England) where enclosure was pursued most vigorously and successfully (Wyatt points out that not all, or even the vast majority of efforts at enclosure were carried out off). It shows how industrialization, at least in its early stages, represents not the colonization of the metropole by the hinterlands, but rather, the reverse: factory-industry developed initially far from the centres of power, culture and influence, eventually drawing metropolitan areas into its orbit. This is why, as Wyatt points out, the five largest cities after London in 1800 — Manchester, Liverpool, Birmingham, Leeds, and Sheffield — were small towns or mere villages in 1600. No coincidence again, that all of these were major manufacturing centres at the turn of the nineteenth century. 

This pattern held, too, for the United States, which in 1800 could be considered one vast hinterland, in relation to the economic might of its former colonial master, Great Britain. The American industrial revolution, though, took place largely away from the old centres of power — Boston, New York city, Philadelphia, Washington, Atlanta and so on — in backwater places that later became Pittsburgh, Detroit, Chicago (which grew from a population of 250 in 1833 to three quarters of a million at the time of the great fire in 1871), Indianapolis, and Los Angeles. Manufacturing that did take place in the states that were the original Thirteen Colonies, was concentrated away from larger centres: rural New Jersey, Connecticut or New York upstate instead of New York city, Lowell, Massachusetts instead of Boston, Pittsburgh instead of Philadelphia. 

I believe conventional historical understanding of the past is mistaken, as well, in respect to the the notion that machine-industrialization (in Britain) as elsewhere, developed under "laissez-faire" or "invisible-hand" conditions. Manufacturing under division-of-labour conditions was, in eighteenth-century Britain, largely accomplished without government intervention. 

However, as Wyatt himself notes, until the Revolutionary/Napoleonic wars near the close of the eighteenth century, British industrialization was not characterized by the sort of the heavy, steam- or coal-driven machinery that would characterize factory work in the nineteenth and into the twentieth centuries: "In reality, until the 19th century the large factory was not the common sight in industrial districts, as most mills were essentially just more sophisticated workshops of the past." 

The latter form of factory industry occurred in Britain, as elsewhere, due to deliberate government involvement in the economy — whether to fight war or a result of a dirigiste economic policy (ie., as in later nineteenth-century France, Germany, Japan and, much later, Soviet Russia). 

The idea that government subsidy and other forms of intervention were necessary for factory-industry to grow was one of the few areas of agreement between Thomas Jefferson, the third U.S. president and advocate of an agrarian-yeoman republic, and Alexander Hamilton, the Caribbean-born American revolutionary and later the first Secretary of the Treasury, who advocated an industrial policy

They simply disagreed as to how desirable such intervention was. Hamilton pursued industrial development both in and out of government. 

As a private citizen, though, Hamilton acted not merely as a venture investor, but as a lobbyist to federal and state government for subsidies and trade restrictions which would help industry develop. Eventually, he and others entered into partnership with the New Jersey government, encouraging industrial activity in a remote area that eventually became the city of Paterson. Hamilton's efforts were, as it turns out, largely desultory, and the United States remained an agrarian nation until another form of government intervention in the civilian economy — the American civil war — sparked a real machine-industrial revolution. 

The division of labour itself, while made practicable by the existence of wage-labour as the standard form of contract (to the exclusion also of slavery), is a by-product of analytical consciousness, given such potency in modern times by the printing press, optical technologies such as telescopes, abstract-icons such as graphs, maps and clocks — timepieces especially. 

The factory itself has been described as an extension of the clock, and even before the introduction of heavy-machinery into the factory workplace, the division of labour itself was dependent upon the iron rule of the clock. The factory system's dependence upon rationality is behind the split between bourgeois and proletariat. Lord Bertrand Russell once remarked that all work consists of rearranging matter at or near the surface of the earth, and telling others to do so. The division of labour demands that a portion of the workforce must carry out tasks which are repetitive, tedious, and even robotic in nature, requiring little in the way of skill and intelligence. 

But the variegated, particularized activities of the factory demand also highly cerebral and calculative oversight — that part of the workforce which is now referred to as "management." This is the bourgeoisie, a class that once consisted largely of the direct owners of capital, but which is now made up of professional delegates of those in ownership. This basic split between worker and management, is as inevitable under the division of labour as that between lord and peasant under feudalism. 

The distinction persists even where, as in the advanced capitalist countries, a unionized worker in heavy industry (such as an automobile plant) can expect to make as much (or often much more) than many belonging to management. The class division in industrial society arises, as Marx said, in how the proletariat and bourgeoisie approach work or labour. It persists even where ownership of capital, or machine-engineering, is in the hands of the state. Marx and Engels argued that the abolition of capital would eliminate the division of labour. 

But productive wealth is based on this division. Rendering the factory system more "humane", eliminates the productivity that is the whole point of the division of labour. In the Soviet Union or any other industrialized Communist country, the division of labour was not abolished, of course, and inevitably, a managerial class emerged — the nomenclatura — which simply became the "new boss, the same as the old boss", or rather, much worse than the old boss. 

The abolition of command socialism has met with contrasting results in the two major Communist states of the twentieth century, China and Russia. Twenty years ago, the expectation might have been that Russia, which had already undergone full urbanization and industrialization, would quickly become a Westernized, developed liberal democracy after not too many years. 

China, on the other hand, was still very poor, with a vast population and Communist leadership that, while promoting economic liberalism, was ready to shoot down its own young people in the heart of the capital, Beijing, rather than submit to political reform. Instead, Chinese industrial growth zoomed far ahead not only of Russia or any other former Communist state, but also the Japanese "superstate", as well as every country in the world except for the United States, which in turn became the market for the export industries that sprang up in China during the 1990s and the new century. In the meantime, Russia went into near collapse. Not only its industrial base, but its birth rate and life expectancy went into free-fall during the ‘90s, the government unable to restore order or even to remain in office for very long, until the turn of the century when the state was taken over by a former KGB colonel. 

The conventional explanation for this divergence, is that in China, unlike Russia, the Communist party did not relinquish political control, instead abjuring political reform in favour of economic liberalization, while Russia did the opposite. 

In an article published by the Hoover Institute at Stanford university, Paul Gregory and Kate Zhou argue that the dissimilar paths taken by the two largest former Communist states, have different sources. In sum, the authors state that in China, unlike Russia, traditions of single-family ownership of farms were very ancient, an endured in spite of the period of collectivization of agriculture. 

Gregory and Zhou submit that, when privatization of land holdings came to Russia, the workforce was reluctant to depart from the security of the farm collective. But in China, the authors argue that it was the peasantry which led the way to economic reform, setting up illegal private farming operations following the lifting of totalitarian oppression after the death of Mao Tse-tung in 1976, and the removal of his radical allies the "gage of four" (including Mao's widow) thereafter. 

In contrast to China, Russia had by the time of Gorbachev's reforms experienced more than three decades of (relative) stability and (relative) liberality following the death of Stalin, Zhou and Gregory write that when reforms came in the late ‘70s, "a large percentage of the population was recovering from the catastrophes of the Mao years. Rural dwellers, in particular, had witnessed the chaos of the Great Leap and had seen their parents and children die from starvation during the 1958–61 famine. They learned they had to take care of themselves." 

In the 1980s, as Mikhail Gorbachev was offering 50-year leases of land to a resisting rural workforce, Chinese peasants "began to quietly distribute the land, with each family delivering production for the state quota. Gorbachev called for decollectivization from above; China's farmers decollectivized spontaneously from below. They created their own `contract responsibility system,' initially at risk of severe punishment. There were no leaders; there were no face-to-face confrontations. ... As agricultural production soared, Deng Xiaoping and his party realized they could not resist and could take advantage of something that was working." 

That economic reform originated in the Chinese countryside is not in dispute. There, as in Britain and the United States in the past, industrialization originated in the rural regions, before spreading to the major centres. 

Gregory and Zhou observe that in Russia in the Gorbachev era, "the farm population had shrunk to a quarter of its former size; only older workers remained, working perfunctorily on state land or tending their private plots. They had long been converted into wage workers and received pensions and socialized medical care, albeit of a low quality. In China, rural dwellers accounted for 80 percent of the population; compared to Russian farmers they were young and vibrant. They lived without the social guarantees of Russian farmers. In China, only the young had not experienced private agriculture. Small private plots had existed in China for 2,000 years." 

When, in the 1980s, both Russia and China began to privatize its non-agricultural sector, Russian entrepreneurs came largely from the city, but "China's first entrepreneurs hailed primarily from the countryside, and they got their start by marketing farm products in the cities. Private trade developed in China at the grassroots level, emerging from rural regions and prospering because it filled a vital need. The rural contract responsibility system created huge agricultural surpluses which had to be marketed outside the state system. Farm products had to be moved over long distances, either directly or through intermediaries — in violation of laws and without contracts that could be enforced in courts." 

Zhou and Gregory write, "China's early trader-entrepreneurs had to first overcome the problem of distance between producers and consumers. ... Throughout the early 1980s, farmers in north Jiangsu packed their bikes with chickens, ducks, and other fowl, crossed the Yangzi River, and shipped their products by rail to urban centers in the Yangzi basin. ... By 1983, the majority of consumers in major cities purchased their products in free markets rather than in government stores. Within one year (between 1979 and 1980), most state vegetable markets, except the highly subsidized Beijing and Shanghai markets, were out of business." 

By 2007, the authors note, the wealthiest Chinese citizen "was the daughter of a poor farmer from the southern province of Guangdong, whose family became wealthy after acquiring large tracts of land and distressed assets in the countryside, where there was no real estate business, in the early 1990s." Private firms, non-existent in 1978, numbered almost thirty million in 1997, with nearly one million corporate or joint ventures. Private capital consisted in that year two-thirds of GDP, again up from nothing almost thirty years earlier. 

Gregory and Zhou state, "Private business originated in agriculture, spread to the cities, and then returned to the countryside as rural-based industry. Many large private manufacturing firms developed in predominantly agricultural provinces (Zhejiang, Shandong, Guangdong, Hunan, and Sichuan). China's largest agribusiness, the Hoep Group, was founded by the Liu brothers, who left the city to found their company in a rural part of Sichuan province. Wang Guoduan, a rural entrepreneur from southern Guangdong province, built the largest refrigerator maker, Kelon Group; Huanyuan, China's largest air conditioner maker, is based in the agricultural province of Hunan. China's first automobile exports will likely come `from the agricultural hinterland of Anhui province...'." 

All this shows that the "capitalist" system is dependent upon the labour-factor of production, above all. Communist economics could productively organize both land and capital quite well — often better than capitalist economies (witness of the superiority of initial Soviet space technology or the MiG jet-fighter over its Western counterparts). Economic history has shown that the free market, or "invisible hand" is wont to invest in complex or engineered-machinery, i.e. productive capital, before its utility is proven by state investment in such machinery, either for war-making or as official economic policy. 

Communist economies, which have the workforce dictating the productive decisions, fail in their inability to properly organize the labour factor of production. As mentioned, Communism did not and could not abolish the division of labour. However, the organization of the workforce in this manner had desultory results, just because of the inability for command socialism to properly serve and service the vast capital infrastructure. A worker's wages could buy nothing beyond staples, and anyone was rewarded thereof regardless of how hard or little one worked (rewards came through other means, such as acting as an informant on others). As factory and industrial work generally has little inherent reward, most people chose not to work beyond what was necessary.

Wednesday, December 9, 2009

Deniers, Fraudsters, Hoaxers and Sceptics

Reading Crowded with Genius, about Edinburgh in the 1700s, by James Buchan, British novelist and historian, and the grandson of Lord Tweedsmuir, also a novelist and one of the last British governors-general of Canada. In the late seventeenth and early seventeenth centuries, Scotland had been one of the world centres of high Calvinism. According to Buchan, this left a dreary pall over Scotland's preeminent city, especially prominent on the Lord's Day, when it appeared that the entire town had died of bubonic plague.

However, by 1719, the population was already slacking, at least according to a pronouncement drafted that year by church elders, severely criticizing Edinburghians for the many sins committed on Sundays, including: gathering in groups on the street for conversation, receiving visitors to their homes, leaving the city for the countryside, eating during daylight hours, attending ale- and milk-houses, and worst of all apparently, sitting and staring out of windows.

Such zealotry seems to contemporary sensibilities as contrary to a truly free society. On the other hand, radical moral asceticism is the paradoxical background to the development of a tradition of independent scientific tradition. Just a few decades after the Presbyters' brimstone tract of 1719, Edinburgh became known as the "Paris of the north" for its contribution to the Enlightenment, in history, economics, the sciences, not to mention literature (Dr. Johnson, who held out little affection for Scotland, called Edinburgh "Britain's other eye"). It is similar to the way to how New England became a centre of science and learning during the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries (and even today, Boston has the most schools of higher education per capita than any other major city in the U.S.), after the zealotry of its earlier Puritan period had died down. It may even be the reason for the "Islamic enlightenment", the rise of the sciences among largely non-Arab Muslims in the Middle East and southern Europe around the turn of the second Christian millennium.

But isn't such ascetic religion the enemy of "value-free" empiricism? The very destruction of mysticism and Gnosticism through radical asceticism, lays the groundwork for the sort of reality-based perception necessary for scientific advance to take place. All this is to say that the line between science and religion is not very clear.

This is germane, of course, to the recent controversy over e-mails that were leaked from the Climate Research Unit at the University of East Anglia, in Norwich, U.K. The CRU is one of four institutes providing the official data compiled in reports issued by the United Nations agency overseeing global-warming treaties, and which in turn have concluded that the earth's climate is rapidly warming, and that human activity, namely through the burning of fossil fuels, is causing the atmosphere to heat up — with catastrophic consequences for the planet.

I've rarely commented on the whole global-warming issue. I did so for the first time three years ago. It was occasioned by the fact that, for the first time in my life, December had come to Ottawa without a snowfall. Not only that, it was not particularly cold, either. But, the next winter and the next after, saw snow coming very early, and staying on to March. This past summer was intemperately cool and wet, on the other hand.

For years, advocates of measures to counter global-warming had pointed to just the apparent shortening of winter, as well as the heating up of summer, as conclusive proof that "global warming is real." Did the cooler than expected summers, and much-colder than expected winters in the northern hemisphere in 2007-08, affect the climate-apocalypse rhetoric at all? No. The advocates simply de-emphasized the term "global warming", and substituted "climate change", arguing that while the "greenhouse effect" would make the earth hotter on average, in some areas, it might become much colder than before. Fair enough. Except, it became increasingly clear that, indeed, the earth was not getting hotter at all. The global mean temperature had, since 1998, been decreasing.

I must say, I didn't become sceptical about global warming or climate change until a few years ago. After all, it is indeed established scientific fact that carbon dioxide in the atmosphere serves to trap heat the earth's surface. Doesn't it make sense that a greenhouse effect could occur? I began to doubt global-warming theories, not because of anything in particular I had read by climate-change "sceptics" (is the polite term), but from the response to these by global-warming scientists, and their advocates. The rule was that, instead of attempting to counter the sceptics' arguments by reference to their own supposedly unassailable theories, the sceptics were attacked in turn as "shills of the hydrocarbon industry", and given the label "deniers", as though to associate them with deniers of the Nazi Holocaust, and to imply that the sceptics knew their arguments were wrong, and yet argued in bad faith because they were being paid to do so by oil companies.

Basically, the sceptics' arguments were always ignored, and they were attacked personally, if not for having a self-serving agenda, then because they were (allegedly) unqualified. The mantra was that "the science is settled" about global-warming, and that anyone who contests this alleged settlement, is behaving in an "anti-science" manner.

Such personal attacks were my first indicator that something was very fishy about this whole thing. It was the assertion that the "science is settled" that really got me steamed. I'm sorry: no scientific theory or proposition is ever settled. Indeed, the whole point of science is to convey statements in a manner so that they can be falsifiable. If global warming theories cannot stand up to such scrutiny, then they are not theories at all (quite like the conspiracy fables or narratives propounded by Kennedy-assassination buffs, or 9/11 troofers). To simply assert and reassert that the "science is settled", is in itself an anti-scientific statement.

I've been similarly unimpressed with statements from global-warming researchers and politicos to the effect that human-made climate change represents the "consensus" of active researchers in the field, and thus there is no need to consider the arguments of the sceptics. Again, every empirically-backed theory is the consensus of active researchers, up to the moment it is upset by a rival or "revolutionary" theory. In 1905, it was the consensus of physicists that the universe existed in the way described in the theories of Isaac Newton. Thereafter, the relativity theory of Albert Einstein became the consensus view as to the operation of the universe, as it remains today. One day, relatively theory too could well be supplanted, but it is precisely this that the climate-change researchers and their advocates deny with respect to their own specialty, a stance that is thereby contrary to science.

Scientists were, before 1905, at least partially mistaken in their view of the physical universe. It is easy to identify other instances of scientific consensus which were rather more baleful, even catastrophic in their political and social implications. It was once the consensus among biologists, from the late nineteenth century into well into the 1930s, that human evolution occurred in the manner described by eugenic theory. Heeding the scientific consensus of the time, authorities put into place laws that sought to identify the "feeble-minded", sterilizing them to prevent their inherent stupidity from being multiplied through subsequent generations. Winston Churchill, as a rising young cabinet minister, was an active proponent of eugenic theory. The Social Democratic party of Sweden, upon coming to power in the 1930s, instituted a eugenics-based policy sterilizing the mentally retarded (a policy which persisted into the 1970s). Tommy Douglas, the socialist politician and later premier of Saskatchewan, also in the thirties wrote his doctoral thesis in support of eugenics. Feminist Margaret Sanger was driven to form Planned Parenthood, just with the intent of preventing the biologically inferior from breeding too much. A bastardized version of eugenic theory was, of course, used to justify not only the sterilization, but also the outright murder of the feeble-minded, along with six million others, under Nazi Germany.

After the Second World War, a different scientific consensus emerged, which treated homosexuality not as a sin, but a psychological perversion, one which required treatment by drugs or hospitalization. It led the association representing American psychologists to include homosexuality as a mental illness in the 1957 edition of its master-diagnostic handbook.

Even aside from all this, though, references to "the consensus" are anti-science and even anti-logical, in their appeal to authority. To say "the scientific consensus is that man-made global warming is real", or similar assertions like "ninety-one national science academies agree that climate change is a problem", is the same as saying, "To quote the Bible..." Incontrovertibly, the scientific consensus has been wrong in the past. There is no reason thereby to assume that ninety-nine or a thousand science academies are automatically correct if they hold something to be scientifically true. There is, too, the character of the consensus in regard to global warming. Climate-science became the major field that it is, just because governments and foundations have poured billions of dollars into the field over the last thirty years or so — tens or even hundreds of billions by now. The whole bias of the field has been to "prove" that human-caused global-warming is real. Is it any surprise thus that the "consensus" among the many scientists trained in climate science should be that climate change is real?

This isn't at all to question the good faith of climate scientists, who believe sincerely in what their theories say. The scientists who accepted Newtonian physics (without ever reenacting the experiments which led Newton to his conclusions) were acting in good faith, and I will say that, too, about the consensus view in the early twentieth century which held eugenics to be true. This is a courtesy that climate scientists themselves never extend to their critics, however. At best, the sceptical scientists are regarded as inexpert. Just a little less politely, as these things go, the "deniers" are deemed to be cranks. When this doesn't suffice, the old chestnut of conflict-of-interest is trundled out: "Scientist A has received funding from oil company B..." I've read through a great deal of articles making these claims. Never has a global-warming hysteric been able to convincingly show that a sceptical scientist has been on the payroll of any oil company.

The "evidence" seems to stop at some vague "corporate" funding, or even merely funds received from "right-wing foundations." A couple of years ago, the Canadian magazine Walrus ran a piece on the nefarious connections of global-warming sceptics to... the tobacco industry.

There is several curious things about this tack. It is, once again, contrary to science to refuse to engage a theory, simply because of how its theorist was financed. Science is, by definition, empirical. To be "scientific" is to falsify a theory by alternative facts. It is anti-scientific to ignore a theory because the theorist is judged unreliable. Newtonian physics was not refuted because it was discovered Isaac Newton believed in numerology; it was replaced by Einstein's physics because the latter had the better proofs. Similarly, whether a scientist's work is financed by the oil-wealth of Exxon Mobil or of Osama Bin Laden, is a matter of indifference as to whether it is scientifically viable (and once again, there is no evidence at all that any climate-change sceptic is acting at the behest of hydrocarbon-burning firms).

This is, quite aside from the fact that, in regard funding and financing, all the big bucks are on the side of the global-warming hysterics. Compared to very paltry sums given (usually indirectly) to climate-change sceptics, scientific advocates of human-caused climate change receive hundreds of millions and even billions in funding — very often from the very oil firms they themselves attack as being behind all the global-warming scepticism. Again, all of this leaves aside the fact that, now, the "green" market (including, but not restricted to trading in so-called "carbon-credits") is probably just as lucrative as the entire oil industry.

Are we to understand, using their own logic, that climate-change hysterics are on the payroll of vested "green" interests? The oil companies themselves have done everything they can to remake themselves as "green" firms (British Petroleum, for example, changed its name to "Beyond Petroleum"), and far from railing against the Kyoto accord, have lobbied actively in favour of it. It is, of course, entirely logical that carbon-belching firms would be in favour of Kyoto or any other international accord that artificially restricted the supply of oil, and thus made that commodity much more pricey, and thus more profitable, than before.

In recent years, attempts to discredit sceptical experts on climate science have become a lot more vicious — and irrelevant — than what is described above. Is it coincidental that this new phase of smear and innuendo has kicked in just as the weather is not cooperating in being too warm? In 2007, a group of impeccably-credentialed, not-associated-with-oil-companies experts on climate signed a letter to the U.N. agency which had just issued an alarmist report that, contrary to the actual findings, stated that there is no doubt whatsoever that human activity is causing global warming. A p.r. flack associated with the foundation belonging to former geneticist and current TV presenter David Suzuki (the public relations firm in question shares the same Vancouver office space with the David Suzuki Foundation) touched on the usual hysteric talking-points (the signatories are "not experts", we're uncertain of their funding, and so on), but then hit on a new low: bigotry.

The flack claimed that, of the sixty who signed the document, "most were Americans." This is a line of argument that I don't think has been seriously employed by anyone since the end of World War II, at the most: that someone's national origin is the key ingredient in their intellectual credibility. It says something as to how desperate the climate-change hysterics have become, that they have begun to employ logic familiar to early twentieth-century eugenics theorists, in order to buffet their argument. It was such an embarrassment that, when it was pointed out that, indeed, less than a third of the sixty were actually American, the p.r. flack himself didn't reappear to defend himself: instead he had one of his flunkies write a letter to the editor which acknowledged the error (but not, naturally, the irrelevancy of the assertion itself) by stating "Jim misspoke himself".

More recently, the web log of the Breakthrough Institute, ran a series on a phenomenon it called "Climate McCarthyism." The Breakthrough Institute advertises itself as a "small think-tank with big ideas", and says its mission is "committed to creating a new progressive politics, one that is large, aspirational, and asset-based. We believe that any effective politics must speak to core needs and values, not issues and interests, and we thus situate ourselves at the intersection of politics, policy, philosophy, and the social sciences." Hardly a manifesto of the New Right, and climate researchers who publish at its blog are not in fact sceptical as to whether human beings cause global warming, not at all.

They do differ from others, though, in arguing that climate change is a problem that will be overcome not through carbon-reducing schemes such as emissions-trading (or placing a tax on carbon-use), or not through these alone, but from investment in new technology, and the reinvestment in older, non-carbon emission technologies such as nuclear power.

Series authors Michael Shellenberger and Ted Nordhaus focus their ire upon Joe Romm, a member of a partisan Democratic party think-tank in Washington, and climate blogger at the web site of the New Republic. In part one, they detail how Romm went on a campaign against Keith Kloor, a former editor of Audubon magazine and no sceptic of climate-change. Kloor had criticized Romm for feeding quotes to a climate researcher who'd been quoted, inaccurately, in a recently published book exploring alternatives to the strict-carbon reduction plans of treaties such as Kyoto. Email exchanges between Romm and the scientist revealed that Romm had insisted the researcher be quoted as saying the authors "utterly misrepresented my work." In fact, the scientist had been given proofs of the book to read, and had (by his own admission) overlooked a relatively minor inaccuracy in the authors' characterization of his theories. Romm went with the "utterly inaccurate" quote in his blog post attacking the book's authors. When criticized by Kloor, Romm responded with a post entitled "Meet Trash Journalist Keith Kloor" (which according to Shellenberger and Nordhaus, Romm changed to "Meet Journalist Keith Kloor" following the publication of the first part of "Climate McCarthyism"). There, Romm conjured up some offence that he imagined Kloor had committed against Romm's small-time journalist father, all the while never linking to Kloor's actual Internet posting on the matter. Shellenberger and Nordhaus remark on the irony of Romm characterizing Kloor's journalism as "trash", when he himself had said in email exchanges with the climate scientist, that he was looking for material to "trash" the authors of the aforementioned book.

Meanwhile, Romm has gone after other climate scientists — not even those who question man-made global warming, but who simply believe other measures than strict carbon rationing are necessary in order to stem climate change. Scientists that published an article in Nature magazine, advocating rapid investment in technology by governments, were branded by Romm as "global-warming delayers." Romm absurdly characterized them as being part of some cabal to which also absurdly belong George Bush the younger, Newt Gingrich and Danish statistician Bjorn Lomberg (author of the Sceptical Environmentalist). They are instead apparently Democratic partisans as well, and open supporters of U.S. president Barack Obama.

In part two of "Climate McCarthyism", Shellenberger and Nordhaus show how these scientists were wrongly associated with the American Enterprise Institute, also a partisan think-tank, but to the right, just because their Nature analysis superficially resembles one published by the Institute some years ago. They write: "The character assassination, the bullying, the psychological projection — it all adds up to Climate McCarthyism, and Joe Romm is Climate McCarthyite-in-chief. Joe Romm's `Global Warming Deniers and Delayers' play the same role as Joe McCarthy's "Communists and Communist sympathizers." While Romm built a loyal liberal and environmentalist following for attacking right-wing `global warming deniers' — a designation meant to invoke `Holocaust denier' — he spends much of his time attacking well-meaning journalists, academics, and activists, who take the issue of global warming seriously, accept climate science, and support immediate action to address it."

The sort of yellow cyber-journalism that Joe Romm engages in, is the rule throughout the hyper-partisan Internet. What makes it significant is his apparent influence on mainstream news-media columnists and commentators, who apparently pick up on Romm's blogging without bothering to verifying his attacks with a cursory check of the work of those being attacked.

Shellenberger and Nordhaus observe, "Joe McCarthy, like Romm, was compulsive in projecting his own dark side onto others." But isn't this the case with global-warming hysterics as a community? Isn't it the global warming alarmists who are enslaved to vested interests — that is, the billions upon billions in taxpayer and corporate funds that support the effort to bring carbon emissions under a regime of global control? Isn't it they too behave in an anti-scientific manner, when they absolutely refuse to engage the sceptics' arguments and instead attack them ad hominem for their alleged financing, their mental health, even their nationality? Climate-change theories of sceptics that I've read spend virtually no time going after the proponents of global-warming catastrophism personally, instead focussing on the actual theories at hand. These theories may be wrong. But this is science: the proposal of hypotheses that in most instances have no experimental or empirical bases at all. To attack the good faith of scientists who don't hue to the "consensus" is, to emphasize, not science at all, but the practice of religious zealots throughout the ages.

And, as the "hacked" e-mails from the East Anglia Climate Research Unit show, isn't it the global-warming scientific alarmists, not their critics, who are engaging in fraud and conspiracy, or at least of pursuing research in bad faith. Indeed, the leaked exchanges do reveal this in spades. One needn't bother with the extreme lack of professionalism that is encountered in the climate researchers' messages to one another, when referring to global-warming sceptics (or even those who, in Romm's terminology, wish to "delay" action against climate change). What is consequential is the scientists' frank admissions as to their efforts not only to jerry-rig temperature figures to show that warming has been more dramatic than it otherwise would be without (in the words of one e-mail) a certain statistical "trick".

The CRU climate scientists also worked assiduously to prevent independent agencies and researchers access to their raw data, pressured research journals to reject submissions from scientists believed to be "delayers and deniers", and lobbied these same publications to "get rid of" board members and staff-members likewise identified as "deniers." Earlier this year, a Toronto statistician associated with the Web site Climate Audit (not to my knowledge a climate sceptic at all), revealed that the East Anglia climate research facility had "accidentally" destroyed the raw figures by which it was able to calculate the warming trend in the twentieth century. The leak revealed e-mail exchanges on this very subject, involving the Climate Research Unit head (now been suspended from his job pending investigation of the leak), who said that, if British Freedom of Information statute forces him to reveal this data to Climate Audit, he will instead have to destroy it. Under the FOI, it is illegal to destroy information subject to an access of information request. This is a frank admission of intent to commit a crime. The e-mails are damaging enough, but also leaked were data files containing the underlying codes by which global warming calculations were carried out. These proved to be such a mess that a CRU software engineer spent months or even years trying to make sense of them — but finally gave up trying.

This is simply scandalous. Naturally, the climate-change alarmists tried to minimize the whole thing. But even George Monbiot, a British leftist known as a global-warming extremist, admitted that the leak was a great blow to the atmosphere of hysteria that he and the many others like him have managed to create over the last few years. Nevertheless, one can judge how titanic the whole thing is, by how assiduously the mainstream news media has been in ignoring the controversy. An early story, posted on the "right-wing" Fox cable-news site, simply stated "Climate sceptics see `smoking gun' in researchers leaked e-mails" (November 20, 2009). The controversy was covered in the New York Times, which in turn refused to publish the e-mails, on the grounds that they were "stolen communications."

Nearly forty years ago, the editors of the New York Times, along with Benji Bradlee of the Washington Post, went to the Supreme Court to request permission to publish other stolen communications, the top-secret analyses of the justification and strategy for U.S. involvement in Vietnam, which became known as the "Pentagon papers." The high court ruled that, while the purloining of the Pentagon papers was indeed illegal, the "public interest" imperative in making them public, overwhelmed any national-security considerations. A precedent was established wherein third-party recipients of illegally obtain information, were not bound by any contract or promise between parties to keep information secret. With a major international conference about to convene in a matter of days in Copenhagen, with the aim of imposing restrictions on carbon even more severely than under the Kyoto treaty, surely the public interest in learning about criminal fraud from a facility responsible for much of the research justifying these restrictions, outweighs any alleged right to privacy among researchers who are, after receiving millions in public funding. But at least, initially, such reasoning did not prevail among the editorial board of the New York Times. For its part, the Washington Post's first stories on the matter focussed almost entirely on the "rivalry" between researchers, as revealed in the leaked e-mails. Fraud? What fraud?

The leak has given succour to those in the "denier" community who are the counterparts of the McCarthyite Joe Romm among the alarmists: those who believe global warming is a "scam", a "fraud", even a "conspiracy". But, as I said, I don't question the good faith even of those scientists who are indeed implicated in fraud, any more than I question the good faith of Maynard Keynes, who pursued compulsory sterilization as head of the British Eugenics Society in the 1930s and ‘40, for his genuine belief in biological quackery — any more than I question the good faith even of police and prosecutors who have been shown to have either withheld or planted evidence that convicted those later proven innocent. The latter genuinely believe (like Orson Welles' duplicitous sheriff in Touch of Evil) that they've "framed no one who isn't guilty."

Friday, November 27, 2009

Outlaws, Thugs, Dictators... and Ticky-Tacky Boxes

Sporadically, I've been thinking about the "outlaw." Not so much any particular outlaw, but rather, the Outlaw as a product of cultural mythology. The term "outlaw" itself, I have learned, derives from a legal manoeuvre undertaken by medieval authorities, wherein a particular lawbreaker was declared "out of the law." The law, in other words, no longer offered the outlaw any protection: he could be manhandled, assaulted, murdered, mutilated even, all without his assailants being held accountable under the appropriate statute. What fascinates me is the great reverence and respect accorded to many outlaws by common people. Part and parcel of this is the "mythologising", ie. lying, about outlaw figures. No better example of this is found in the lyrics of Woody Guthrie's Pretty Boy Floyd, about the Depression-era outlaw of that name. Guthrie sings of how Charles Floyd, known as "Pretty Boy", was approached by a deputy sheriff in Oklahoma city, who used "vulgar words of language" in front of Floyd's wife. In reaction, "Pretty Boy grabbed a log-chain/The deputy grabbed his gun/And in the fight that followed/He laid that deputy down." I was able to find no reference to such an incident in a cursory research of Pretty Boy Floyd's life, but I highly doubt the cause of contention between himself and the lawman had to do with the latter's use of vulgar language. It seems rather that Guthrie was attempting to justify the real crime here, the murder of a deputy sheriff by a wanted criminal. In this sense, it is probably not lying, but half-truth being portrayed here: namely, that the deputy did indeed use vulgar words of language, while Pretty Boy Floyd's reaction had little to do with this. Instead, he killed the deputy no doubt to escape being arrested.

The romanticizing of outlaws in this fashion, extends back long before Pretty Boy Floyd and his contemporaries, such as George "Machine Gun" Kelley, Alvin "Creepy" Karpis, George "Baby-Face" Nelson, not to mention the psychopathic weirdos Bonnie Parker and Clyde Barrow, who seem to be the only Depression-time bank-robbers never to be given nicknames. Indeed not, as the mythological treatment of outlaws was commonplace in the American Old West, and in the Old World, too. "Robin Hood" does not seem to have been actual person living the Sherwood Forest of Nottingham in the thirteen century. Rather, the word appears to be a conflation of a Middle English term to "rob under a hood", evolving to become a placeholder referring to any robber whatsoever. Nevertheless, it is revealing that in the centuries hence, various writers found it productive and profitable to cobble the various tales of the "Robin Hoods", into the band-of-merry-men stories we are familiar with today. Another English outlaw immortalized in poesy actually did exist: Dick Turban, the eighteenth-century highway robber whose exploits were romanticized by Wadsworth Longfellow in The Highwayman.

A century later, in the American West, Frank James and his younger brother, Jesse, came to be known as the "Robin Hoods" of the post-Civil War era. What's revealing is that none of the outlaws so esteemed by the common folk in their time and afterward, ever actually engaged in the practice of "taking from the rich to give to the poor" as the Robin Hood of legend was supposed to have done. There is no way to fairly describe Frank and Jesse James as other than cold-blooded killers. The pair had been Confederate irregular guerilla fighters during the Civil War in the passionately-divided Missouri federal territory. In this capacity, they engaged in several ambushes and massacres of federal troops, mercilessly gunning down soldiers even after they had surrendered. After the war, the James brothers' quickly dropped these activities and turned full-time to the bank- and train-robbing that had been the Missouri guerillas' lifeblood during the conflict itself. Again, there is nothing to suggest that the James' brothers and their partners in crime did this for any higher cause, let alone to "give to the poor." Yet, Robert Ford, the man who shot Jesse James to death in 1882 for a thousand-dollar award, is known in the folk-song Jesse James as "the coward who shot Mr. Howard/And laid poor Jesse in his grave" (James had been going by the name of Thomas Howard when he was killed in St. Joseph, Missouri). Indeed, a recent film biography — starring Brad Pitt as James — was even titled, The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford. Ford (who was shot to death himself, a decade later), may well have been a coward for gaining the trust of James, and then killing him with a sucker-shot. But how does James escape from the same designation when he was known to have killed unarmed men?

Probably every society in history has had folk-stories and folksongs that romanticized past and present outlaws. What is paradoxical is that the treatment of the outlaw as a hero has occurred where public or "folk" sentiment was clearly on the side of law-and-order. This is especially true of the United States, which today and for all of its history been very unforgiving toward lawbreakers. It is why the reputations of Jesse James, Henry "Butch Cassidy" Longworth and his Hole-in-the-Wall Gang (or Wild Bunch), as well as Bonnie and Clyde, must undergo whitewashing, so as to make their crimes "mean something bigger" than mere self-interest. It is entirely perverse, but the fact that the widespread mythologising of outlaws occurs during periods when legitimate government has come under disrepute (as during the Depression, or in the areas of the U.S. Mid-West where widespread sympathy toward the Confederacy was seen, or even during the early-modern period in England, when the Robin Hood tales first took shape), shows that in some way, the outlaw is held up as a paragon before the supposed bumbling and corruption of legitimate political figures such as princes, presidents and sheriffs. The fact that the most famous outlaws are those who are able to escape justice over long periods, further demonstrates the incompetence of constituted authority. I wonder if something like this is not in play with the romanticization of guerillas and strongmen dictators, as has occurred throughout the twentieth century, into the present day. Guerillas are, by definition, outlaws whose crimes are committed but for a higher purpose, ie. Liberation or Revolution. Yet, if one traces the career of the most famous guerilla of our time, Ernesto Lynch, or "Che Guevara" as he is known to the world, the Argentinian doctor who, who under the leadership of the Castro brothers, Raul and Fidel, helped overthrow the Batista regime in Cuba in 1959, it is impossible not to view him as a psychopathic killer. Guevara was ruthless not only in his efforts to overthrow Batista; upon coming to power, Guevara, as the minister of security under the Castro regime, was equally quick to place before a firing squad those who, labelled "bandits", engaged in the same guerilla tactics that Guevara used to get to where he got to, as well as others not willing to to kowtow to the new government. It is telling that Lynch left Cuba in the mid-1960s, after his reign of terror had either killed off any native opposition, or saw it flee to the United States, and there were only matters of administration to occupy himself with. Famously, of course, Guevara was killed in 1967, while ineptly attempting to foment revolution in Bolivia. Nevertheless, the famous image of Lynch, rendered to appear like Jesus Chris, is one of the most recognizable in the world even today.

It is entirely necessary, given the stark reality of Ernesto Lynch (publicly available to anyone who wishes to look), for Che Guevara to emerge, in popular culture, as a myth. It is a mythological Guevara that is portrayed in recent movie biographies the Motorcycle Diaries and Che, both of which were little-seen when in general release. They may not affect the popular image of their subject the way the names "Bonnie and Clyde" conjure not gimpy near-dwarf Barrow or homely Parker, but Warren Beatty in his hunky prime, and Faye Dunaway, the most glamorous actress of her time. In any case, the guerilla doesn't necessarily relinquish his outlaw image, merely by taking power in government. Fidel Castro was (until a couple of years ago), the president of Cuba, and recognized as such by diplomatic corps of the globe, with the lone exception of the U.S. State department. Castro has been the toast of the intelligentsia and literati of the Western democracies for that same period, precisely because he is viewed as an "outlaw" by the U.S. (which, de facto, recognized the Castro regime long ago). This is in spite of the fact that Castro's government has been blatantly and viciously anti-democratic and illiberal, without regard for any value which the same artists and intellects that toast his success purport to hold so high.

Or really, just because Castro and other strongmen are such outlaws. The ardour with which Western leftists hold toward "outlaw" regimes such as Castro's, is strongly correlated with how flagrantly tyrannical and dictatorial they are. The Soviet Union's strongest support in Western countries came during the time of Stalin the Terrible. Its influence among Marxists in the capitalist Occident waned as the Soviet leadership passed on to ever more duller, greyer apparatchiks, such as Leonid Brezhnev. The USSR under Brezhnev was far less dictatorial than under Stalin. It was hardly liberal in any sense, but opponents of the regime were not summarily executed, as under Djugashvili, nor put on show-trial en masse (as occurred often in the 1930s, and frequently thereafter, in the Soviet Union). Instead, they were jailed, or sent into internal exile, and only seldom made to suffer greatly, as was common under Stalin. Moreover, Brezhnev's KGB, unlike the NKVD, did not persecute ordinary people who merely seemed to be opponents of the New Order. Western Marxists could reasonably point to the Brezhnev-era Soviet Union as an advance upon the Stalinism that existed previously, a state that while not supporting "luxuries" such as freedom of the press, speech or assembly, nevertheless fed, clothed and housed people to a very adequate degree, where no one need go hungry or be without a job (at least, if the entirely bogus state statistics were to be believed, and most did believe them). Yet, rarely did the USSR after Kruschev and before Gorbachev evoke any passion whatsoever in the Western radical and academic left. Instead, this is when Western Marxists began to portray the USSR as a "state capitalist" economy. The fact that Brezhnev entered into detente with the U.S., thus ending any lingering vestige of the Soviet Union as an "outlaw" regime, seems to have permanently ended the romance of Western leftists with the USSR.

Following the ascension of Brezhnev in 1964, Western Marxists rapidly switched their "outlaw" allegiance to Communist China. Just as the USSR was about to enter what was later called "stagnation", Mao Tse-tung was initiating his insurgency against the established leadership of the Chinese state, who had banished Mao from power (if not from office) over the catastrophic Great Leap Forward (an attempt to implement heavy-industry on a village scale), which caused millions to starve to death. Mao used his position as general-secretary of the Communist party to foment rebellion among young high-school and university students against their teachers, professors, administrators, and constituted authority generally, for the refusal of government officials to follow the ideology of Communism, instead becoming "bourgeois pigs" and "capitalist roaders." This eventually resulted in the chaos known as the Cultural Revolution, the real goal of which was to restore Mao Tse-tung to dictatorial authority. This is precisely what happened by 1966, when enraged students were able to storm the compound of the Chinese President, holding him prisoner to their taunts and minor assaults (having won back power, Mao then viciously crushed any of the rebels who persisted in the delusion that they would still be able to wreak havoc, as they had been doing for months and years). On university campuses in Western democracies, the Cultural Revolution was looked upon with envy by the burgeoning New Left movement. Almost overnight, a new strand of Marxism, called Maoism, sprang up, rapidly supplanting Trotskyism as the "alternative" (ie., not aligned with any official Communist line) form of socialist radicalism. Mao's so-called Little Red booklet, a short compendium of the Great Helmsmen's trite, bizarre and ridiculous pronouncements, was resurrected from its deserved obscurity and subject to near-biblical exegesis by the newfound Maoists. The radical pedagogue Paolo Freire, a Brazilian whose theories on the education of the "oppressed" were highly influential at teachers' schools in the years thereafter, lengthily toasted the Cultural Revolution as a new hope for China and the world. The fact that millions of Chinese were oppressed and killed as a result of this movement, was of no consequence to leftists such as Friere. Tellingly, Maoism disappeared as quickly as it arrived, after Mao formalized relations with the United States in 1973, under the Left's and the New Left's old nemesis, president Richard Nixon.

The demise of Maoism after 1973 coincided with the dormancy of leftist politics in the Western academy. Things picked up, though, after 1979, when another guerilla movement, the Sandinista Liberation Front, came to power in Nicaragua. As with Cuba, the United States refused to extend diplomatic recognition to an avowedly-Marxist government. As the Marxists within the Sandinista government consolidated power, deposing their more liberal former allies, refusing to hold free elections, shutting down opposition press, the U.S. began to lend financial and material support to Nicaraguan "contras", guerillas against the Sandinista regime led by remnants of the former Somoza regime, but also former Sandinistas who had been run out of power by the Marxists. This, in turn, became so controversial that a Congress led by the Democrats, outlawed support to the contra rebels (efforts to finance the contras in spite of the law, led to the infamous "Iran-contra scandal", wherein White House operative Lt-Col. Oliver North oversaw the shipping of arms to Iran, the profits of which were to be funnelled to the Nicaraguan rebels). The Sandinistas, needless to say, were quite popular within the left in the United States and Europe, as an outlaw regime allied against the U.S. The Sandinista president, Daniel Ortega (who regained the presidency some years ago), was a bespectacled, unassuming little fellow, even in the military fatigues that he seemed to wear all the time. Reality never prevented to the formation of outlaw myth, but Ortega was too insignificant a personage to mythologize properly. Nicaragua nevertheless became the site of Western-leftist pilgrimage, as earnest people from the United States and elsewhere (dubbed "Sandalistas"), arrived to help build the new rural utopia. I remember the news footage of some of these Western well-wishers, on the evening in 1990 when, under an agreement brokered between the U.S. and Nicaragua, the latter held internationally-monitored, free and fair elections for the first time since the installation of the Sandinistas eleven years earlier. The Sandinista government lost, decisively. The Sandalistas had gathered somewhere in Managua, anticipating victory (as indeed, public-opinion showed the government in the lead), but instead ended up wailing and clutching each other like small children unready for bedtime, apparently indifferent to the spectacle they no doubt produced of themselves.

They and others so dearly affected by the fall of another outlaw before Uncle Sam, soon had cause to dry their eyes, and gaze afar with hope. For, in August 1990, Saddam Hussein of Iraq invaded Kuwait, a tiny emirate to the south. This was, of course, a very flagrant violation of international law. The U.S. government, presided over by the elder George Bush, began immediately to rally international support to force the Iraqi military out of Kuwait. In spite of most Western countries either signing up for direct military engagement, or lending materiel support to the effort, the Hussein regime stoutly refused to vacate the emirate, calling it "Iraq's new province." Hussein's seemingly formidable military (more than 700,000 men at arms), proved to be a virtual mirage, as the U.S. and allied militaries simply mowed the Iraqis over in the re-conquering of Kuwait during January and February of 1991. Saddam Hussein didn't become an antihero to Western leftists, however, immediately during the runup and course of the Gulf War of ‘91. It was simply too discombobulating. After all, U.S. president Ronald Reagan, along with his vice-president Bush the elder, were criticized for having Hussein as an ally, in the years before the latter invaded Kuwait.

Only later, under the sanctions imposed through the United Nations because of Iraq's non-cooperation with the Gulf War truce's weapons provisions, did the country and its leader become a cause celebre of the Western left. Then, a portrait of Saddam Hussein emerged, which characterized him as a "creature of the CIA", who was "best friends" with the United States until he "went rogue", after which he became an enemy of America. Ergo, the enemy of my enemy is my friend. It was precisely his status as an outlaw of the international community, which so endeared Hussein to the Western left. It was therefore necessary to lie about him and his regime. A mythology grew up wherein Hussein's many crimes as head of the Iraqi state were either "exaggerated", resulting from "demonization" by the U.S., or else (given their well-documented character) occurred "only when Saddam Hussein was a U.S. ally", and not thereafter, as though to say that Hussein was some kind of liberal who only took to torture and murder at the direction of the U.S. And, of course, these same Western pilgrims (such as actor Sean Penn) to Iraq uncritically accepted government propaganda to the effect that half a million children had died as a result of U.N. sanctions on the country. These figures were shown to be fraudulent, after Iraq was finally liberated of Saddam in 2003; and the criticism ignored the reality of the regime's complicity in the admitted scarcities that afflicted Iraqi society in the period between the two Gulf Wars, during which Hussein had more than enough funds at hand to finance the construction of dozens of presidential palaces and other elaborate buildings. I'm sure Saddam Hussein must have marvelled at how an ugly son of a bitch like himself could live in such endearing repute among the beautiful people of the world.

But, even before the U.S. government, recovering from the shock of the Sept. 11, 2001terrorist attacks, decided to take out Hussein and his nuisance regime for good, a new strongman was stealing hearts among the Western left: Hugo Chavez, the teddy-bear thug of Venezuela. Now, the fact that Chavez was duly elected to power must have staunched the heartthrobs of Marxists in the democratic West, at least somewhat. But, long before Chavez received a plurality of votes in a legitimate election in 1998, he and other "Bolivarian"-socialist officers in the Venezuelan military, had in 1992 launched an unsuccessful military coup. This fact surely redeemed him to the outlaw-loving Marxists of the West. And, of course, Chavez wasted little time in shredding democracy and the rule of law in his country. As he did so, his stock among the Western left only went higher.

Thus, when Chavez moved to shut down the main opposition television station, a group of leftist artists and writers (including the loudmouth British playwright Harold Pinter) signed a statement in support of the Venezuelan strongman, denouncing the international associations of journalists, and others concerned about human rights, who had criticized Chavez on this matter. As I recall, their argument revolved around the technicality that, in fact, Hugo Chavez was not shutting down the television station. It would still remain in operation. However, Chavez did in fact revoke the broadcast rights of the station's owners, and grant them to another faction far more sympathetic to his "Bolivarian" revolution. His justification for doing so was that the station had lent support to the coup plotters of 2002. That is, Chavez was condemning the TV station for supporting (assuming that these charges were truthful) the same actions which he also unsuccessfully tried to carry through ten years before that. It shows that committed leftists will cheer for the same actions that they would denounce, if the actions were taken by a strongman or outlaw dictator whom they believed was against their goals. Any South American strongman that attempted to shut down a leftist-sympathizing broadcaster would be immediately be condemned as a "thug" or a "fascist", just for that fact. But because a South American dictator named Hugo Chavez, the advocate of socialism, undertake this action, he is to be hailed. Or, to cite a more concrete example of such blatancy, let us return to Saddam Hussein for a moment. George Galloway, the far-left Scottish member of the Westminster parliament, was known in the runup to the Iraqi war, and afterward, as the most prominent apologist for Hussein. What is less known is that, years earlier, Galloway had been a trenchant critic of the Hussein regime, simply because it was "allied" with Britain and the U.S., against the Iranian regime. His switch was not gradual: instead, he became a Hussein apologist almost from the moment that the Iraqi dictator invaded Kuwait in 1990, and thereby became the enemy of his enemy, the United States.

In regard to Chavez's shutting down the opposition broadcaster, some expressed amazement at the "contradiction" that artists and writers, who presumably value freedom of speech and democratic rights above all, should come out in support of an act that was clearly in violation of these values. Artists and writers may well value these freedoms. However, literati and intellects who are leftists, in common with others on the left, simply do not value democracy and liberal rights at all. Socialism is, even in theory, authoritarian. It is no accident, no "error", no corruption of doctrine, which means that in practice, socialism is always totalitarian.

George Galloway himself has been a leader among at least a faction of the Western left which has embraced those international outlaws who no longer even profess to Marxist or socialist doctrine; it is enough for Galloway, and many other leftists, for an outlaw to be an opponent of the United States in order for much of the left to find a place in their hearts for them. This explains the attraction that leftists had for Saddam Hussein, but even more so for their newfound love of Islamic fascists. And, contrary to what is generally believed, this affair didn't begin the weeks and months after Sept. 11, 2001. It was budding long before that, during the 1990s, but it took the terrorist attacks of that day for the full consumption to take place, such that we now have a faction that some call the "Islamo-Left." It explains why, in the immediate aftermath of 9/11, leftists were so ready to impugn their own grievances against Western society onto the motives of the terrorists that day: the attacks were a reaction against "the growing imbalances between the global rich and poor", or "the illegal occupation of the West Bank by Israel for the last thirty-five years" (although all the suicide-attackers on Sept. 11 were at least middle class in background, several more wealthy than most in the Occident, and no Palestinians were involved in the operation).

From there, the alliance of the left with Islamist and crypto-Islamists only got more intimate. Thus, in December of 2001, when it was revealed that a chapter of the Muslims Students Association at McGill university was involved in fundraising for terrorist causes, a representative of the McGill student was quoted by the Gazette newspaper as being "more worried about the effect that this news will have on our Muslim students than about any allegations of terrorist fundraising..." Of course not. Later that year, on the anniversary or a day or two before or after the Sept. 11 attacks, a mob of leftists and Islamists at another Montreal university, Concordia, blocked access by the public to a speech to be given by former Israeli prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu (who recently regained that office) on the grounds that the latter was a "war criminal." In the course of this "protest", an elderly Holocaust survivor was assaulted by the blockading students. And, in spite of this outlaw behaviour, few if any of the "protestors" faced prosecution or even punishment as students at Concordia. In spite of it all, to leftists, the Islam Lobby and even the mainstream media persist in the assertion that Muslims are always potential victims of violence, never its instigators (except, of course, in "reaction" to what others have done to them).

From then, this unholy alliance has only solidified. In 2006, representatives of Canadian and other Western "peace" and "anti-imperialism" groups met with Islamists at a conference in Cairo, Egypt, essentially formalizing the partnership. That year, too, it was falsely reported by the National Post and other newspapers owned by the Canwest chain (whose proprietors, the Islamo-left is always reminding the world, are — ahem — "Zionists") that Iran was to impose regulations on its Jewish population, requiring them to wear a gold Star of David on their clothing, as was the case in Nazi Germany and its conquered territories before and during the Holocaust. In fact, the proposal was part of a draft law before the national legislature, a section that was excised from the bill before it came up for debate. It wasn't, in other words, made up by those nefarious "Zionists."

The Post ran, soon after, a front-page retraction of the story, but the whole controversy had the left-Islamists crowing. The next issue of one of those giveaway arts/culture weeklies that end up littering the floors of buses and other places not swept regularly — the editorial line of which, it goes without saying, is resolutely leftist in orientation — had a commentary feature on the Iranian Star-of-David gaffe. The criticisms were completely unremarkable, but the accompanying cartoon both enraged and nauseated me. It depicted the president of Iran with his head on a chopping block, an black-clad and -masked, axe-wielding executioner standing nearby, with a name-tag: "Canwest." It is hard to convey how hideous this is. In Iran, homosexuals are put to death — the fortunate receive long prison sentences — for the crime of being homosexual. The death penalty is otherwise used quite frequently by the regime of the "victim" being portrayed in this cartoon. In no way, however, does a news organization, whether it is owned by "Zionists" or anyone else, have the power to bring down the death penalty anyone in Iran, let alone its president. In any case, I believe it was the very last time I've ever touched that same periodical.

It is long past the point where any reasonable observer can conclude that Western-leftist love of outlaw regimes or dictators is any "contradiction" to or "aberration" from their central credo. It is the psychology identical to the common-folk's reverence for gangster-criminals just as Jesse James or Bonnie and Clyde. Except, of course, instead of being the province of just plain folk, so uncomprehending of and frustrated about a society based on law, that they cast their sentimental lot (and sometimes more) with wanted outlaws, leftist outlaw-worship is a manifestation of an elitist disdain for Mass Culture and Mass Society, and the "Babbitry" that supports it. Such snobbery cannot be articulated openly of course. It is conveyed instead with a perverse "identification" with the impoverished masses of the non-Western world, in general, and particularly with the guerillas and strongman that supposedly represent or promote their "aspirations": Lenin, Stalin, Mao, Ho Chi Minh, Castro, Guevara, Chavez, and so on.

An article published by Time online last year, honestly conveyed the mentality of these thug-loving leftists, with reference to the Nicaraguan Sandalistas (Tim Rogers, "Twilight of the Sandal-istas", Mar. 6, 2008): "When the Sandinista National Liberation Front (FSLN) was voted out of power in 1990 after a decade of battling U.S.-backed contra insurgents, many of its supporters from the United States and Europe packed up their bandanas and Birkenstocks and went home with a good story. The Nicaraguan revolution was over, and most of the `Sandalistas' (the nickname that combined their preferences in politics and footwear) saw no point in staying on: There was nothing sexy about helping out a centrist transition government led by a grandmotherly widow when you'd been drawn here by the allure of a regime of guerrilla poets."

It is, of course, never about the people the Sandalistas were supposedly trying to help — be it in Nicaragua, or elsewhere. It is all about the leftists, their own vainglory as well as their own perverse attraction to "regimes of guerilla poets." My own journey from left to "right" (as adherence to traditional liberal principles is now considered) began when I smelled this rat: the disdain held out by leftists for everyday people and their culture. I don't think there's anything more emblematic of this contempt, than the song Little Boxes, which was popularized by Pete Seeger and appeared on his 1967 Greatest Hits collection. The lyrics run, in part:

Little boxes on the hillside,
Little boxes made of ticky-tacky,
Little boxes, little boxes,
Little boxes, all the same.


And the people in the houses
All go to the university,
And they all get put in boxes,
Little boxes, all the same.
And there's doctors and there's lawyers
And business executives,
And they're all made out of ticky-tacky
And they all look just the same.

I hated this song from the moment I first heard it. It is, obviously, a swipe at suburban tract-style housing. What justification, though, does the song have in describing the people who live in such housing as "being all the same", or even that the structures are "ticky-tacky", that is, poorly-made? My assumption had been that Seeger wrote this song. In my own judgement, the lyrics are an example of sour grapes. After all, Seeger and other folk-singing apologists for Stalin, had long condemned the lack of adequate housing in the U.S. and elsewhere in the Western world, as proof as to how capitalism "immiserated" the common folk. But tract housing pretty much resolved the problem of slum housing at a stroke: it was not only doctors and lawyers, as alleged in Little Boxes, but also factory workers and other members of the working class, were able to afford a single-family residence because of suburban development.

As for the lack of aesthetic values in suburban tract-development, it is remarkable that so many intellects and artists were able to condemn them so easily, when this same group of people did, during the post-war, not only reject considerations of "beauty" and "ugliness" in regard to the visual and plastic arts, as some much "bourgeois decadence"; they also hailed the advent of the brutalism in architecture (pioneered by Le Corbusier and Ludwig Mies van der Rohe) that very few today argue has any aesthetic worth whatsoever. As for the left's hatred of suburbia in general, I cannot help to think about the dialogue in the opening few minutes of the 1997 Brazilian film, Four Days in September, about the 1969 kidnapping of the U.S. ambassador to that country by a group of left-wing urban guerillas. Shortly before kidnapping, in response to the mocking by one of the guerillas of American moon-landing triumph in August, his apolitical friend says, "if the Soviets did it, you'd be dancing on the ceiling." So it is, if the Soviets or any other Communist regime had managed to build tracts of little boxes for their workforces, Pete Seeger and any other apologist for Stalin, would be singing the praises of these "workers' houses" to the end of the calendar.

Investigating Little Boxes further, I found that my original assessment of the song was mistaken in only one regard: it was not authored by Pete Seeger at all, but by a far less well-known American folk-singer, Malvina Reynolds. The song is regarded as a folk "classic", and is in fact used as the theme song for an American cable-television drama, Weeds (which is about a middle-aged mother living in suburbia who, facing job-loss, turns to marijuana trafficking in order to support her family). On a web-site associated with that programme, Nancy Reynolds, daughter of Malvina and also a folk-singer (the latter died in 1978) described how her mother came to write the song: "My mother and father were driving South from San Francisco through Daly City when my mom got the idea for the song. She asked my dad to take the wheel, and she wrote it on the way to the gathering in La Honda where she was going to sing for the Friends Committee on Legislation".

I think what is being described here is the literal definition of "drive-by smear." Malvina Reynolds wrote a song about people that she literally never had contact with: she came to very negative judgements about them, based on her seeing from afar the housing that they lived in. These facts are not in dispute, but rather than treating the songs as an example of bigotry and prejudice, folk-revival fans have embraced it as a classic.

Wednesday, October 21, 2009

Fox News, the Obama White House and Spiro Agnew

Back in January, I was none-too-pleased to hear from my daughter that her school let pupils watch the coronation of U.S. president Barack Obama.

After all, they don’t broadcast the swearing-in ceremony of the prime minister of Canada; why is the leader of foreign country accorded such treatment? In the runup to Obama’s election, last November, and on to the presidential swearing-in, it was common to see people wearing t-shirts and other clothing emblazoned with Obama’s name and image.

It’s funny: you don’t see these much anymore. Obama may remain popular among Canadians, just because he is not a Republican or George W. Bush. However, his support among Americans, the people who actually elected him, continues to ebb. I am not often roused to write critically about politicians, especially foreign politicians, with whom I am not in agreement. Such criticism can simply appear to be sour grapes; more than that, however, I think it is essentially for the politically-engaged to submit to the will of the majority, both when their side wins, and when their side loses. Especially when their side loses, for the continuance of democracy depends upon it. If politically active people decide that their side losing an election means that the system is no longer legitimate, there is no enduring democratic political system. I also don’t like snap judgements: my preference is to wait and review everything being said about some issue or controversy, and then make up my mind only after that.

Moreover, I don’t really have anything to say in particular about the policy agenda pursued by the Obama government: right now, for example, it is in negotiations with lawmakers in regard to its plan to impose universal health-care on the United States. This is what the American people voted for last year. Just how you can have a universal health care system, run by the federal government, for a country of 300 and more million people, is beyond me. However, Obama and his team, as well as the U.S. Congress, seem determined to bring it in. Again, they were democratically elected to do so.

That said, however, I believe also that democratically elected politicians must play by the democracy play-book. In this regard, the conduct of Obama and his government has been absolutely disgraceful. I’m referring in particular to White House officials’ recent targeting of the Fox cable-news channel. I’ve never seen the notorious Fox news, as it is not available to me, and I wouldn’t watch it anyway, because I think all TV news — let alone twenty-four cable-news — is a bunch of crap. Obama official Anita Dunn, however, said that Fox cable-news is like "the research arm or the communications arm of the Republican Party" (according to an Associated Press report from the web site of the MS-NBC news channel, Oct. 19, 2009). Rahm Emmanuel, Barack Obama’s chief of staff, stated in the same piece that Fox "is not a news organization so much as it has a perspective."

There’s something to ponder over: is a news organization not to have a "perspective", a "point of view", even a "bias"? No one seriously argues any longer than news organizations are unbiassed; certainly, MS-NBC has a bias, as does Newsweek magazine, as well as the New York Times. These, as well as the news divisions of the CBS, NBC and ABC networks, have "point of view", a "perspective", and a "bias": it is one that accords with the worldview of Anita Dunn, Rahm Emmanuel and, presumably, Barack Obama himself.

Fox cable-news decidedly does not share in these biases: on the contrary, its perspective, its bias, its point of view is one friendly to the right-of-centre and to the Republican party. It is precisely this which drives Obama and his officials to distraction. The other networks are not a problem for them: they have behaved, at least until very recently, more like Obama’s publicists than "objective" reporters. Thus, during the presidential campaign last year, when it appeared that Sarah Palin, the former Alaskan governor appointed the vice-presidential nominee, would pose a challenge to an Obama cakewalk, the major news media homed in on Palin like a group of African honey-bees.

Suddenly, and although Palin would be only be the vice-president (if Republican candidate John McCain had won), reporters with the major news media became very interested in how well Palin could answer questions about foreign policy ("What is the Bush doctrine?", asked one interviewer with a major news service), about then just-erupting financial crisis ("Just how would you solve this crisis", Palin was asked, as though anyone knew what to do at the time — or thereafter), even about her personal life. Very quickly, the left-wing "blogosphere" began publishing really nasty stories about Palin, her husband, and the rest of her family. Andrew Sullivan, the former toady of Bush the younger who became a slavish apologist for the Democratic party when it better served his career, went on a months’-long crusade to prove that the Downs’ Syndrome baby that Palin delivered in 2008 (in her early forties), was actually Palin’s daughter’s baby, and that Palin claimed to be pregnant in order to defend her teenager’s "honour" (Sullivan was undaunted in this crusade by the fact that Palin’s daughter actually did have a baby out-of-wedlock in 2008). There were stories that Palin had been a supporter of the Alaskan Independence party, that while mayor of a small Alaskan city before she was elected governor, she made up a list of books she wanted banned at the local library, that she demanded (after becoming governor) that "creationist" beliefs be included in the state school curriculum. All of this, and much else, was proven to be false, or at least, without foundation.

Of course, news media will get things wrong sometimes; and usually, unsubstantiated rumours were not themselves reported by the major, liberal-leaning media. It isn’t, either, any violation of journalist ethics to aggressively go after a candidate for high public office, as was the case with Palin. What is outrageous is how such treatment was reserved for Palin only. In particular, the attacks on her "lack of experience" as an executive was laughable in light of the fact that, as a mayor of a small city, and governor of a small state, she had greatly more such experience than Barack Obama, who had none at all (Obama, or his people, argued that his experience in running an election campaign was sufficient for holding the "most powerful office in the world").

As for Palin’s various verbal gaffes, can they really compare to Obama’s statements about their being "57" U.S. states, or that the U.S. president serves in office "eight to ten years", or that white rural and small-town Americans, having lost so much of their prosperity by the hallowing out of heavy industry in the heartland, "cling to guns and religion" as compensation? Just to restate the obvious: Palin was running for the vice-presidency, the do-nothing office; Obama of course was the presidential candidate. Obama’s actual vice-presidential candidate, Joe Biden, was if anything even more Spiro Angewish in its verbal statements: such as that "president Roosevelt went on TV in 1929 to calm the nation after the stock market crash", or requesting that a wheelchair-bound man to stand for an ovation. (But, according the front cover of this week’s Newsweek, a publication without a "perspective" apparently, "Joe Biden is no joke.").

Palin was condemned for the company she kept (ie., allegedly supporting the crypto-fascist Pat Buchanan during the latter’s previous presidential bid), while Obama received very little criticism at all for attending a church for twenty years presided over by a bizarre conspiracy-fabulist who claimed again and again that whites were trying to kill blacks, the Bush government is attempting to impose a dictatorship, that Jews are really in control of everything (Obama claimed he never heard any of these things in the reverend’s sermons).

Just to restate: there was nothing wrong in going after Palin. It is the difference in treatment that is outrageous. It seems, however, that the Obama government is not satisfied to have all news organizations except for one in their corner. Instead, in the face of the president’s falling popularity, Obama officials have chosen to target this one, right-leaning news medium: Fox cable. It is simply because the news service has been as critical of the Obama government, and the left movement in general, as all the other news media were to the previous administration, and to Republicans generally. Fox news revealed, for example, that the so-called "green jobs" so-called "czar" (basically, the term for the chief policy maker and administrator of environmentally-friendly technologies and procedures), Van Jones, was actually a Leninist who preached revolutionary socialism as recently as a few years ago. I don’t even think that this fact alone is what forced Jones’ resignation: instead, it was a petition he signed a few years ago on behalf of a 9/11 "truth" organization, although Jones claimed that he was largely ignorant of the aims and motives of the petitioners.

More recently, Fox news aired hidden-camera footage of two young conservative activists, posing as a prostitute and her pimp, who visited branch offices in several U.S. cities of the activist group ACORN. Several of the ACORN community activists were shown advising the dress-up prostitute and pimp how to run a bawdy house in order to avoid detection by authorities, how to launder their earnings, and how to successfully smuggle underage illegal migrants to get them into prostitution. Fox cable cagily aired each video over several days: after the first airing, ACORN representatives were quick to announce the firing of the "rogue" activist or activists involved in such activity, reassuring the public that this was "just an isolated incident." Then the second and third hidden-camera incidents were shown, leading to more firings, more denials, more reassurances as to how atypical this was.

Yet more footage came, and the story — heretofore ignored by the balance of the fourth estate — simply could not be resisted any longer. Law-enforcement officials opened investigations at the state and federal levels, the U.S. census department quickly cancelled contracts it had with the organization (the full name of which is some formulation that is intended to be the acronym "ACORN"), and several large private-sector sponsors (such as the Bank of America, which is a private financial institution and not the U.S. central bank), also cancelled their donations. Naturally, as ACORN officials were involved in several felonies.

ACORN fought back as best it could. One official, it was claimed, knew that the "pimp" and "prostitute" were a ruse, and simply "played along" with them. Again, it was stated that another ACORN worker had contacted the police, as indeed she did: that is, her brother-in-law, a local detective, the day following the visit. It was also confirmed that the conservative undercover activists had visited other ACORN offices, and were quickly shown the door after revealing their plans. But the consistency of the advice given to the would-be prostitute and pimp, involving ACORN offices hundreds or thousands of miles apart, seems to show that, to some degree, the organization has involved itself in criminal law-breaking, including apparently money-laundering, furthering the aims of prostitution, and people-smuggling. The best was yet to come, though. A few weeks after the revelations, ACORN’s lawyers filed suit against the two conservative activists, as well as their own sponsor, the proprietor of the web site Big Hollywood, for alleged "invasion of privacy." It turns out that in the state of Maryland, it is against the law for a person to record another while in conversation, be it over a telephone line or in person with an audio or video tape-recorder. This arose from a visit the couple made to an ACORN office in Baltimore. The organization is looking for a million dollars.

It is clear that this is a nuisance lawsuit, designed to dissuade other freelancers from doing their own investigations of ACORN activities. From my understanding of the legal issues, the defendants have a perfectly sound defence from the charges, in that ACORN is public-service organization and the conversations were conducted in an office open and accessible to all. As for the non-Fox media, there was some noises initially as to the "lack of ethics" of such hidden-camera recording, which is perfectly laughable given that hidden-camera investigations have been a staple of local and network news since it became technologically feasible to hide cameras away. The Dateline programme on NBC, for example, had a long-running feature called To Catch a Predator. Adults posing as pre-adolescent girls and boys would go on Internet chat-rooms and the like, "meeting" adult men online, who would agree to meet the "girl" at a particular location. Instead, the Dateline reporter and camera-crew were there. They would thence harangue the predator at length for his deed. This is very close to entrapment. It is in any case far more ethically-challenged than what the ACORN pair did — and it must be said, quite a bit less ballsy.

Here’s another irony: one of Sarah Palin’s network Inquisitors (he asked her to define the "Bush doctrine") was queried about the ACORN story after it became public. He professed ignorance of the whole thing. When the details were revealed to him, he suggested that "it better be left to the cable networks."

What’s this have to do with Barack Obama? Years ago, the president got his own start as a community organizer with ACORN. Thereafter, he seems to have remained involved with the group in one capacity or another. ACORN, in turn, employed its organizational muscle to register voters for the Obama campaign, both in the Democratic primaries and in the general election last year. It was part of a campaign which, beating the odds (a first-term Senator versus the former First Lady of the United States), was one of the most successful ever conducted in American politics. ACORN was rewarded in return. After the election, the U.S. census was brought within the direct aegis, apparently for the first time, of the White House. ACORN was given some or much control (depending on the account) of the census-taking, the first time an independent non-governmental organization has been given such responsibility (apparently). As mentioned, this contract has now been cancelled. But is it really so advisable permit a private organization with an implicit or avowed ideological intent (ie., "social change") to be responsible for the enumeration of all the people and things in the United States? There had been accusations of malfeasance, chiefly in regard to voter-registration fraud, directed at ACORN earlier. These were or are under investigation by authorities in at least one U.S. state. However, it seems that the chief witnesses in these cases were former ACORN officials who were themselves fired for their own malfeasance (including one woman who used an organization credit-card for personal items). The hidden-camera stuff really blew the lid off things, though.

Did the attempt at "quarantining" Fox news on the part of the Obama White House, come in reaction to the ACORN revelations? It is, in any case, very reminiscent of the crusade on the part of Nixon vice-president Spiro Agnew against the "nattering nabobs of negativism" in the network news and major dailies. Except, it is even more outrageous than that. Agnew condemned the press corps generally, and never a reporter or newscaster by name. Obama’s team is going after one single media source, the one that happens to be playing the role of loyal opposition at this time. Some commentators have remarked as to the "lack of wisdom" in attacking the news media, but it is of course only one news organization. It is a news service whose very existence is roundly despised by very influential people academia, the rest of the news media, the U.S. government, and it seems, within the executive branch itself. Attacking Fox cable-news for its "lies" and "bias" will energize the braying, hateful, elitist base of the Democratic party. Right now, the Obama government needs that shot in the arm.

Update, Oct. 23, 2009:

Other information I came across after writing my previous entry, demonstrates that the Obama government’s conduct toward Fox cable-news is even more outrageous than I thought.

One of the Obama officials attacking Fox news I didn’t quote was David Axelrod, the president’s legal advisor. Axelrod not only echoed the government’s talking-points in reiterating (according to the Politico web site, Oct. 18, 2009), "that they’re not really a news station if you watch even — it’s not just their commentators, but a lot of their news programming", he also went to say as a guest of an ABC-TV political programme — this is the real heart of Obama’s contempt for democracy and freedom of the press — "the bigger thing is that other news organizations like yours ought not to treat them that way, and we’re not going to treat them that way." In essence, Alexrod is saying that other news organizations should join the Obama White House in blacklisting Fox cable.

What’s more, it’s quite clear that Obama and his officials are attacking Fox not because of any factual errors the latter has allegedly committed — the critics would be detailing these errors — but because, as Fox news host Chris Wallace (son of the legendary 60 Minutes reporter Mike Wallace) stated, it was just because its researchers had the temerity to fact-check a statement made by one of its deputy cabinet secretaries. According to the New York Times (Oct. 23, 2009), the "spur" for declaring war on Fox cable was when "Executives at other news organizations, including The New York Times, had publicly said that their newsrooms had not been fast enough in following stories that Fox News, to the administration’s chagrin, had been heavily covering through the summer and early fall — namely, past statements and affiliations of the White House adviser Van Jones that ultimately led to his resignation and questions surrounding the community activist group Acorn."

So, it seems my presumptions were correct: the Obama government did start its blacklist campaign against Fox news following the news of the ACORN hidden-camera revelations, and the damage it apparently did to this group, steadfast allies of Barack Obama throughout his career. It gets even worse, though, according to the Times: "Fox’s television news competitors refused to go along with a Treasury Department effort on Tuesday to exclude Fox from a round of interviews with the executive-pay czar Kenneth R. Feinberg that was to be conducted with a `pool’ camera crew shared by all the networks. That followed a pointed question at a White House briefing this week by Jake Tapper, an ABC News correspondent, about the administration’s treatment of `one of our sister organizations.’"

It is evident that, among other U.S. news organizations, there is as much love for Fox news as there is within the Obama government. Perhaps it is enlightened self-interest, but it is hardly universal. In Newsweek magazine (on-line, Oct. 17, 2009, newsstand date, Oct. 26, 2009), a periodical that is advertising the fact on this week’s issue, that they are the only new organization that doesn’t view vice-president Joe Biden as a fool, columnist Jacob Weisberg stated that not only is Fox cable "garbage", this is standard fare among the left-wing elite, but it is "un-American."

Weisberg even "accuses" the Fox news-stories on this matter, of denying " the accusation with a straight face while proceeding to confirm it with its coverage." The columnist criticizes Fox for "citing no one" to "confirm the truth" of the White House attack, or to admit "that it could make sense for Obama to challenge the network’s power." This, while Weisberg himself fails to cite any critic of his own views, nor yet to challenge the notion that the executive branch ought to be using its power to challenge Fox news. He then goes on, with a straight face apparently (from the attached image at the Newsweek web site, it’s hard to image Harold Weisberg ever actually smiling, though), that "What's most distinctive about the American press is not its freedom but its century-old tradition of independence—that it serves the public interest rather than those of parties, persuasions, or pressure groups." Just to restate, this comes from a publication that has been — in common with all news services but Fox cable-news — a cheerleader for Barack Obama and "progressive" causes in general.

Weisberg, in fact, doesn’t seem to be representative of colleagues in the left-wing mainstream media. On the other hand, the remaining news services have demonstrated a quietude about this attempt to demonize Fox news, where they would be screaming "Dictator!" and "Un-American", if it were a Republican president who was attempting to demonize one single outlet that did its best to demonize his government (not mentioning any names here). Susan Estrich, a long-time Democratic party operative, is also a Fox cable-news analyst. In an interview transmitted Oct. 21, 2009, Estrich said that what " don't get is why the mainstream media, which, frankly, would go absolutely nuts if George Bush had singled out MSNBC and said, you know, Nobody follow them, they're not really a news organization, and we're going to boycott — I mean, all my friends in the 1st Amendment crowd would be up in arms, saying, you know, the government shouldn't be dictating to news organizations. And I've been a little stunned, frankly, by the silence from the press."