Monthly Archives: September 2014

MSM: Sweden vs. USA, plus Krugman on inequality

An anecdote has it that Noam Chomsky grinds his teeth when he reads the New York Times. But he also recognizes that there is some serious and professional reporting alongside the skillful but goofy propaganda stream. One can say the same about the Swedish Dagens Nyheter, save the level of professionalism. Thus I subscribe to the NYT web edition to get a broader outlook, apart from it being somewhat less pathetically “mainstreamed” than DN.

When it comes to the selection and presentation of the kind of world news that has to be aligned in accordance with the propaganda model, the similarities between DN and NYT are striking. The material is probably molded already in news agencies, and then DN seems to snitch from NYT and others. Often the wording is identical, and certainly the bias. But there are some differences. Especially interesting is what kind of “big news” in USA that becomes “no news” in Swedish media.

To name one example: Citizens United, a central concept in US debate which is carefully kept out of media in Sweden for reasons one can only speculate on. Is it the fact that the Supreme Court’s decision is incomprehensible for most people here, who probably would compare it with codifying unlimited corruption?

Another more random example is the Cliven Bundy case, which has passed almost unnoticed here. It’s not that violence or crimes as such are censored, on the contrary. Events like school shootings and other mass murders in the US are covered intensely by media, so the difference opens the field for speculations again. Is it that crimes committed by individuals have limited implications for the society, whilst the Bundy insubordination revealed a weak public authority that opened for mafia-like actions challenging law and order (thus degrading USA)? It’s anyone’s guess.

On the Ukraine issue Swedish MSM has a completely one-eyed view applied to both commentary and news reporting alike, a view postulating that Vladimir Putin is the master villain responsible for everything horrible that happens. Thus we are not shared any inclusive reports on for instance the shelling of innocent civilians or the hardship people in Luhansk suffers, or anything else outrageous that the Ukrainian government is responsible for. In this case NYT has a more professional attitude and once in a while sends a reporter to give readers a more complete picture. (I’ve mentioned earlier one reason for this difference, namely that Russophobia, through some kind of epigenetic mechanism, seem to have become inherent in Swedish genes.)

With the morning coffee I consequently browse quickly through the DN site, continue with NYT to stop for some reading and then spend more time with The Nation and other informative links. In my opinion the prime voice of reason in NYT is Paul Krugman, an economist differing from many of his colleagues by using his brain instead of reflexively rely on dogmas from a depleted science. His progressive views are so rare in NYT that he appears to be a kind of liberal alibi for the prestigious paper.

(A cute parenthesis: for subscribers NYT has a top-10-list labeled “Recommended for you”. In analogue cases most sites has a simple plug-in that keeps track on visitor’s preferences, so that recommendations really reflect the reader’s interests. Not so the NYT; here “recommended” obviously means what the editor think I should read; hence links on that list very rarely fit my liking. But to find a link to Paul Krugman I just have to click on “Most read” or “Most emailed” instead, where Krugman’s columns regularly appear among the top hits.)

In his column today (ranked No 1 in “Most emailed”) Krugman has some really intelligent and informative commentaries on “Our Invisible Rich”. Developments have gone to such an extreme the last decades that people just can’t grasp how grotesque the inequality has become. In a recent survey people in various countries were asked how much they thought top executives of major companies make relative to unskilled workers. In the United States the median respondent believed that chief executives make about 30 times as much as their employees (which was roughly true in the 1960s) compared to the real figure which is something like 300 times more, not to mention the really lucky, like the top hedge fund managers, who pick up some 10 000 times more than an ordinary employee.

To this one may remark that neither Aristotle nor James Madison thought that such an unbelievable development would ever be possible. Both took for granted that a majority in a democracy would vote to expel inequalities of that kind, but they chose different solutions to the problem. Aristotle concluded that society had to accept equality as a basic principle, while Madison preferred democracy to be limited. One way for Madison to achieve this was to establish a senate not elected directly by voters. It turned out that Madison was too cautious; he had no clue as to what modern propaganda would be capable of in the coming centuries. Today the super rich are safer than ever from any democratic threats, though the senate nowadays is appointed directly by voters.

It’s not that people’s preferences are unknown. If they estimate the high boss’s salaries to be 30 times higher, they would prefer the difference to be considerably less. The tool to achieve that is called democratic struggle, and that is something bound to come – trough collective action.

Ukrainian “claim” beyond stupidity

Not a word in my morning paper today about Ukraine, as far as I could detect. That could be a good sign since the journalists so far have seemed to cherish every symptom of the conflict worsening. Are we approaching a lasting peace, perhaps?

An odd phenomenon media since long has highlighted is the recurring statements from Ukrainian leaders about Russia’s evil intentions. Recently Prime Minister Yatsenjuk claimed that Putin intended to conquer the whole of Ukraine. This was presented here as some kind of news, with the statement headlined (identical in New York Times, incidentally). The only thing a critical reader would have liked to know was absent, namely what kind of factual support Yatsenjuk had for his allegation.

Was he a mind reader, or what (thus perhaps a scientologist after all)? There were not even any speculations by any reporter, let alone any questions put to Yatsenjuk about the foundations for his rather sensational utterance.

This habit of presenting unsubstantiated assertions by Ukrainian politicians as “news” has gone on since the war started. Perhaps it is thought to have some propagandistic effect, who knows. But it could as well have the opposite effect since the claims sometimes have been more naïve than credible. But the sources have obviously rest assured that whatever they say, it would be published in western media.

Some days ago one allegation by a Ukrainian official reached a level of ridicule that obviously was too much even for our media (thus it was reported by rt.com). On a trip to Poland the Defense minister, Valery Geletey, told a reporter that the loss of the Luhansk airport was due to the Russians using tactical nuclear weapons.

Geletey’s colleague, Interior Minister Arsen Avakov, commented this blackout on his Facebook page: “Why would anyone make such statements that can be easily checked and proven false?”, continuing: “In the end Russia and the whole world will now ridicule us. Too bad, it’s nothing new to us.”

If this latest debacle hampers the flow of more or less fabricated announcements by Ukrainian officials, obviously intended to increase tensions between parties, it’s a good thing. Now it should be peace and nothing else on the agenda, the keys to which aren’t far-fetched but rather obvious.

A third Russian aid convoy to suffering Ukrainians. Time for the West to join in?

I read today about a third Russian aid shipment to Luhansk in eastern Ukraine, wondering when the second one took place, since that one obviously escaped media in Sweden. It’s comforting anyway that our propaganda has become more civilized over time.

We remember the outrage caused by the first aid convoy. It was a Trojan horse; the Russians just intended to deliver arms under Red Cross cover. Or it was a propaganda stunt by Putin, pretending to be some kind of saint. And, anyway, many of the trucks were empty, etc. The convoy was denied entrance to Ukraine, a permit the Russians politely awaited while the Ukrainian leaders tried to make the most of the media frenzy. When the convoy finally just entered and delivered their goods in Luhansk it was described as an unlawful intrusion by a hostile power. And so on.

The dire situation in Luhansk, where electricity and water had been cut off due to artillery and rocket fire supposedly from the Ukrainian military, appeared to be of no concern to the Ukrainian leaders. The fate of their suffering countrymen seemed much less interesting than the propagandistic charades played out to the world’s media. I think it’s proper to say in hindsight that the Ukrainian tactics in this case was a fiasco and that western media’s complicity will be filed in the archive for disgraceful memories.

A New York Times reporter – Carlotta Gall – issued yesterday an informative report from the hard-hit city of Luhansk. She interviewed a hotel manager, Nikolai Pesotskii, and wrote:

“The first sign of help, he said, came from a Russian convoy of aid, which entered Luhansk against the wishes of the Ukrainian government. ‘Without that, there would have been hunger,’ Mr. Pesotskii said. A wealthy businessman, even he made use of a Russian food parcel, distributed from the local school, that contained canned meat, sugar and rice – enough for one person for 10 days, he said.”

Where are the superior humanitarian values of the democratic world, which constitute the core of our self adulation? How come we always prefer to bomb suffering people with grenades instead of aid, and even demonize those who do the opposite?

 

Four more years of roughly the same – election anti-climax

There was a parliamentary election in Sweden last Sunday with an almost undecided outcome.

Eight years of center-right, neoliberal governance have lead to deterioration of living standards, not just for unemployed, sick and retired, but also for low-income and half-time workers. Poor relief, intended as the last resort, is increasingly being paid to working people not able to survive on their wages, something never heard of in the welfare country we used to have. On the other hand the well-offs have gained substantially, as in most of the world.

The fabricated motive for the austerity measures was to “create jobs” (the real one to create greater profits), so unemployment consequently is higher today than in 2006 when this government took office. The neoliberal fingerprints were spread all over the place: more schools being owned by private equity firms making quick and large profits while PISA-results plummeted in record speed; scandals in private nursing homes with grave maltreatment of the elderly; municipalities giving away daycare centers and hospitals for pennies, making a few lucky people millionaires; neglected railway maintenance resulting in numerous disturbances in railway traffic – all the usual neoliberal failures familiar in other countries blessed with the same market dogmatism.

This government was close to the exit door in the last election in 2010. Their harsh and very un-Swedish new rules for sick and unemployed had made people furious. The sentiments were symbolized by a highlighted case in which a woman dying from cancer had to report for work at the State employment office in order to get her allowances, so that she could get some food for the time she had left. Less than two years prior to the elections the opposition had a lead by almost 20 percent units ahead of the government, a record difference in Swedish politics. Still the government survived the elections.

One simple explanation to this seemingly odd outcome is that the bourgeoisie parties have almost monopoly support by private media. The Social Democrats have a lesser number of minor newspapers, most of them published in small towns away from Stockholm. Public service radio and television have instructions to be neutral, but in a forest where all but a few small trees are deeply leaning the same way, “neutral” means leaning quite a bit too. Anyway, the opposition didn’t respond to the widespread discontent among a majority, perhaps in fear of being killed by the media.

The situation was somewhat similar this time. Swedish schools have continued to deteriorate considerably; senior citizens are appalled by their tax rates, which are higher than those paid by working people; unemployment among the young is record high, and they cannot afford to acquire own apartments; in short: many people are not content at all (though people with good jobs get along pretty well, and the rich still prosper enormously). Thus the opposition this time had a lead by 10 percentage points for a long time prior to the elections. And like the last time the difference shrunk to almost nil, though the opposition finally got a slight upper hand. There will thus be a change of government, but its prospects of survival are not hilarious.

One key issue in these elections was about profits earned by private welfare companies. Two opinion polls have shown that only 10 percent of Swedes accept the present state of affairs in which those companies can pay arbitrary dividends to their owners (apart from manipulating the tax system, moving to tax havens etc.). The 90 percent want either dividends prohibited or profits completely banned. Among those voting for the Social Democrats only one (1) percent is comfortable with the present situation. In complete defiance of 99 percent of his own voters the party’s chairman, Stefan Lofven, when he took office, openly declared that he had no intention to change any of the conditions for the school and welfare businesses. Again: maybe he was afraid of being killed by the media. Only a short time before the elections, when time restricted media’s ability to act, he did make vague promises to somewhat revise the system. That’s “democracy” western style!

When people are dissatisfied for reasons concerning their important living conditions and no party stands up to offer solutions – then there is room for parties of discontent who give simple answers, genuinely beside the point for certain, but attracting people since nobody provides the right answers. Here that party is Sweden Democrats, with its roots in fascist circles, but nowadays housebroken and dressed up in suites and ties. Their answer is: if we stop immigration then all important problems will be solved. This party is kingmaker until the next election.

The Sweden Democrats doubled its share of the votes to become the third largest party in the parliament. It’s true that Sweden has one of the most liberal asylum and immigration policies, certainly in Europe. It’s also true that no other party has immigration restrictions on their programs. But those parties had every possibility to stop the neoliberal austerity measures that are the real underlying reasons for the discontent, in Sweden as well as in other countries. One has to be completely void of even the shallowest knowledge in history, not to see this obvious correlation. The most crying example is of course the birth of German Nazism in the aftermath of the economic breakdown in the Weimar Republic.

New York Times have by chance an article in today’s issue about the differences in immigration and asylum policies between Sweden on one side and Norway/Denmark on the other (they could have added Finland to the latter). Both Denmark and Norway have, or have had, openly xenophobic parties in their governments. In Sweden it’s most improper in the mainstream to even mention restrictions on immigration. But since Swedes aren’t more altruistic by nature than their neighbors the problems with relatively large-scale and increasing immigration was bound to surface sooner or later. For that moment to arrive when no party seem to do anything at all to address people’s real interests, problems or grievances is in no way surprising.

It’s true that the Swedish economy came through the 2008 financial crisis in a fairly good shape (on average that is; distribution as mentioned much skewed). Austerity measures and an attractive product catalog for strong markets like China played their parts, but the question is which role a gigantic private loan bubble has had. Demand has been doped with 200 billion SEK each year in private loans for a decade, mostly fictitious money with no foundation in the real economy,  and money which still has to be paid back in real life (1 USD = 7 SEK). No one knows which effect this enormous stimulus package with imaginary money really has had since economists doesn’t deal with the question, as least not as noticed by accessible media.

Our politicians got the Parliament they deserve, and people were fooled to vote for a government they don’t want; a government not interested in solving people’s really important problems.

Stupid losses of invaluable lives in meaningless wars.

Who’s killing whom in Ukraine? The secessionists in the southeast obviously declared independence from a government which they considered illegal, hostile and even dangerous to them and their Russian language, culture and religion. Thus they occupied buildings, obtained arms and built barricades. But they didn’t kill anyone.

“We” (US and EU) had no objections to the violent street coup in Kiev spearheaded by neo-Nazis, who then got important seats in the resulting new government (with a Prime Minister picked by US diplomats). Nor did we react towards blatant anti-Russian statements and decisions made by that government and directed towards their own citizens living in the southeastern part of the country.

During this phase we could easily have calmed down the situation, since the Ukrainian leaders were completely in our hands. We did the opposite. After each visit by characters like the US Vice President, the head of CIA, the notorious John McCain and others, the Ukrainian military made new attacks, though in the beginning rather futile. But we helped instigate the atrocities to come.

The regular Ukrainian army had qualms against killing their own fellow countrymen. It was not until the ruthless neo-Nazi elements in the so called militia were engaged that the indiscriminate murdering of civilians took off. Shelling and bombing hit the population (a war crime, by the way) leading to what must be called ethnic cleansing, forcing by now probably one million Ukrainians to leave their homes; many of them their country. Still we had no objections to this tragic part of the conflict and its perpetrators.

We see only one villain, whom we harass with defamation and sanctions: Vladimir Putin. His administration had from the beginning a reluctant attitude towards the rebels, making them disappointed by denying them open support. In our Goebbels-like propaganda, though, it’s Russia and Putin who are waging the war in Ukraine. Russian hawks naturally prevent Putin from denying the rebels at least some real help, but still probably no decisive backup that could be pictured as waging a war.

To evaluate the moral content of the Russian behavior we have to compare with our own actions in similar situations. There happens to be a case as close to equivalent as history can provide, namely Kosovo, where an Albanian minority wanted the enclave seceded from Serbia. They got western support for this action and to implement the secession US bombed Belgrade and other parts of the country for 78 days, without UN authorization, killing an estimated 3,000 people. One pretext for the bombing was Serbia’s ethnic cleansing of Kosovo Albanians, although these really started as a response to the US attacks.

Not only are we morally prevented from criticizing Russia for the secession of Crimea, since we have done exactly the same thing (at that expecting praise for it), we would neither possibly be in a position to morally condemn Putin if he got the bizarre idea to order bombing of Kiev for 78 days, as punishment for the obvious and lethal atrocities against civilians performed by Ukraine. But moral has no place in power games performed by militarily superior states. Putin cannot do the same things we have done; he has to do what we tell him.

This lack of moral principles is something that makes normal people sick, and we really don’t have to endure it. We just have to organize and overrule our governments. The problem is that power not only has the means of violence, but also has the propaganda tools that create our world view, unless we enlighten ourselves – together with others.

How to create a State Truth

Developments in Ukraine have driven media and majority opinion in Sweden quite nuts. Not even the traces of reason sometimes visible in New York Times can be detected here (except for dissident media outlets that no one has heard of). The Editor in Chief of our most important paper Dagens Nyheter – Peter Wolodarski – has turned into a paranoid buffoon conducting a limitless and hateful campaign against Russia and Putin.

Wolodarski and his colleagues in thought are acting as if their intention is to fire up conflicts and enhance the risk of a global war. Their simple truth is that Putin is an imperialist dictator; nothing that puts perspective on the whole Ukrainian problem is allowed to appear in print. That is: one of DN’s columnists, Johan Croneman, had the guts to curse in the church the other day, namely about the shoot-down of MH17.

Croneman had studied some of the works by Robert Parry and the Malaysian paper New Straits Times. Parry is a prize-winning reporter known for his role in revealing the Iran-Contra affair, and his webpage contains interesting information. There he describes a number of convincing indications that the shoot-down of the airliner couldn’t have been performed by the pro-Russian rebels. Foremost of those is the lack of pictures or other evidence for Russian Buk missiles transported into and out of Ukraine.

The Buk missiles are 5.5 meters long and the launch vehicles are more than double that length. Parts of the radar equipment are some 20 meters high. The whole battery demand support facilities carried by a number of large vehicles. Thus the units are easily detectable by US surveillance techniques. For the Buk system to be operative in the shoot-down it had to be transported quite some distance from Russia into Ukraine territory. And more than that: after the shoot-down, when the advanced US supervision machinery must have been intensely focused on the area, this caravan had to drive back to Russia. If US had pictures of this operation, is it conceivable that they had been kept secret to this day, Perry asks.

Other important indications are leaked testimony by independent arms experts, saying that the plane wreckage showed signs of being hit by a missile fired from an aircraft, plus bullet holes indicating machine-gun fire. The black boxes implicate another question. If they had contained evidence for the Ukrainian standpoint, wouldn’t that have been disclosed already? Now the whole question is remarkably muted.

Croneman’s observation and outrage concerns the absolute silence about these matters in Swedish media. I would add that conformity of this kind would hardly be possible even in a dictatorship. But here the political truth, declared by Carl Bildt two hours after the shoot-down, is prescribed as a state fact. Croneman sums this up as “unspeakably sad, and dangerous, and terrible”. (We have of course freedom of expression here, so Croneman isn’t fired, but he’s back writing about his ordinary topics: sports and movies.)

To recommend Wolodarski and all the other Swedes of his faith to read about the Ukraine problem in “one of the most prestigious periodicals of its kind in the world” – Foreign Affairs – would of course be presumptuous. In its Oct/Nov issue that rag publishes a comprehensive and analyzing article by John J. Mearsheimer under the rubric: “Why the Ukrainian Crisis Is the West’s Fault”.

From 1989 and on Russia was considered by the West as a defeated enemy which should accept total submission. The country itself soon became devastated and the population decimated after the capitalist remaking, and not much of a threat to anyone. Still it had to be contained, just as in the old Communist days. In violation of verbal pledges to Gorbachev NATO thus started to expand eastwards, by now having added twelve new states to its ranks. And this giant military machine has only one obvious enemy: Russia.

Mearsheimer reviews this history and its consequences, and concludes that the US and EU have one simple way to avoid every risk of an all-out war: declare (on paper this time) that Ukraine never will be a member of NATO. This trivial and rather natural solution has obviously been proposed also by people like Henry Kissinger, Zbigniew Brzezinski, former German Chancellors and others. But this is all too benevolent for Wolodarski et.al. who rather rub Putin’s face even harder into the mud.

And now for the most horrendous phase: Putin has achieved a cease fire which so far seems to work passably. He’s acting to bring some peace to the place – the son-of-a-bitch. He’s giving himself away, that imperialist dictator who’s supposed to restore the Soviet Union by violence. But just relax; Wolodarski will soon explain to us in what way Putin only tries to fool us into dangerous passivity.