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Sunday, September 09, 2007

Class is still the issue by John Pilger

In his latest column for the New Statesman, John Pilger describes the parallel worlds of the great 'unmentionable', class, in modern Britain: in the streets and in the media.

A state of parallel worlds determines almost everything we do and how we do it, everything we know and how we know it. The word that once described it, class, is unmentionable, just as imperialism used to be. Thanks to George W Bush, the latter is back in the lexicon in Britain, if not at the BBC.

Class is different. It runs too deep; it allows us to connect the present with the past and to understand the malignancies of a modern economic system based on inequity and fear. So it is seldom spoken about publicly, lest a Goldman Sachs chief executive on multimillions in pay or bonuses, or whatever they call their legalised heists, be asked how it feels to walk past office cleaners struggling on the minimum wage.

Just as elite power seeks to order other countries according to the demands of its privilege, so class remains at the root of our own society’s mutations and sorrows. In recent weeks, the killing of an 11-year-old Liverpool boy and other tragedies involving children have been thoroughly tabloided. Interviewing Keith Vaz, chairman of the House of Commons home affairs select committee, one journalist wondered if “we” should go out and deal personally with our vile, mugging, stabbing, shooting youth. To this, the nodding Vaz replied that the problem was “values”.

The main “value” is ruthless exclusion, such as the exile of millions of young people on vast human landfills (rubbish dumps) called housing estates, where they are forearmed with the knowledge that they are different and schools are not for them. A rigid curriculum, a system devoted to testing child-ren beyond all reason, ensures their alienation. “From the age of seven,” says Shirley Franklin of the Institute of Education, “20 per cent of the nation’s children are seen, and see themselves, as failures . . . Violence is an expression of hatred towards oneself and others.” With the all-digital world of promise and rewards denied them, let alone a sense of belonging and esteem, they move logically to the streets and crime.

And yet, since 1995, actual crime in England and Wales has fallen by 42 per cent and violent crime by 41 per cent. No matter. The “violence of youth” is the accredited hysteria. A government led for a decade by a man whose lawless deceit helped cause the violent deaths of perhaps a million people in Iraq invented an acronym – Asbo – for a campaign against British youth, whose prospects and energy and hope were replaced by the “values” expressed by Keith Vaz and exemplified by Goldman Sachs and the current imperial adventures in Iraq and Afghanistan.

Take Afghanistan, where the irony is searing. In less than seven years, the Anglo-American slaughter of countless “Taliban” (people) has succeeded in spectacularly reviving an almost extinct poppy trade, so that it now supplies the demand for heroin on Britain’s poorest streets, where enlightened drug rehabilitation is not considered a government “value”.
Parallel worlds require other elite forms of exclusion. At the Edinburgh Television Festival on 24 August, the famous BBC presenter Jeremy Paxman made a much-hyped speech “attacking” television for “betray[ing] the people we ought to be serving”. What was revealing about the speech was the attitude towards ordinary viewers it betrayed. According to Paxman, “while the media and politicians feel free to criticise each other, neither has the guts to criticise the public, who are presumed never to be wrong”.

In fact, ordinary people are treated in much of the media as invisible or with contempt, or they are patronised. Two honourable exceptions were the GMTV presenters cited and mocked by Paxman for their humanity in standing up for an ex-soldier denied proper treatment by the National Health Service. Paxman called for a more “sophisticated” and “honest” approach that accepted the public’s approval of low taxes -- taxes that are not rationed when it comes to propping up hugely profitable private finance initiatives in the Health Service or squandered on waging war, regardless of the public’s objections.

Not once in his speech did Paxman refer to Iraq, nor did he tell us why Blair was never seriously challenged on that bloodbath in a broadcast interview. That the BBC had played a critical role in amplifying and echoing Blair’s and Bush’s lies was apparently unmentionable. The coming attack on Iran, led again by propaganda filtered through broadcasting, is from the same parallel world, also unmentionable.

Thursday, September 06, 2007

Naomi Klein’s New Book a Lightning Rod by Vit Wagner

Her new book, The Shock Doctrine, details the rise of disaster capitalism with painstaking care, showing how big business often steps in after global misery.

The Shock Doctrine: The Rise of Disaster Capitalism, a painstakingly detailed analysis of how corporations manipulate natural and manmade disasters to line their pockets and further their privatizing agenda, is not a marginal, academic treatise by a lefty think tank targeted at a small, like-minded audience.

It is a book by a bestselling writer and activist who also happens to be one of the anti-globalization movement’s most recognizable faces. It’s also a book that comes with its own promotional documentary, a short directed by Alfonso Cuarón (Children of Men) premiering at the Toronto International Film Festival.

In other words, instead of being consigned to pointy-headed discussion in unread academic journals, it is a book that has the potential to become a lightning rod of controversy and debate.
The distinction is not lost on the writer, Naomi Klein, the 37-year-old Toronto author of the momentous 2000 manifesto No Logo, an influential book that produced its share of detractors and converts. On the one hand, No Logo provoked a backlash from the editors of The Economist magazine, who devoted a 2002 cover story to refuting its Nike-bashing thesis. On the other, it inspired the popular rock band Radiohead to ban corporate signage from its shows.
“The usual response of the economic establishment is to ignore people like me and hope we go away,” says Klein, during a recent interview in the Toronto offices of her Canadian publisher, Random House.

“That was the initial response to No Logo. It was either patronizing pats on the head or it was, `Ignore her. Don’t encourage her.’ It was only after No Logo sold a million copies that The Economist took it on.”

The Shock Doctrine, published worldwide today in seven languages, will be an even tougher pill for Klein’s detractors to choke down. In it, Klein assails the legacy of Milton Friedman, the late, Nobel Prize-winning Chicago economist beloved by conservatives for his unequivocal belief in the supremacy of the private sector, even as a means of delivering traditionally public services such as health care, education and drinking water. The book argues that since the public doesn’t necessarily share the Friedmanite faith, corporations seize on the disorientation caused by situations of turmoil and upheaval to inflict their privatizing agendas.

Examples range from the way in which the Friedman doctrine was implemented in Chile after the 1973 coup that brought dictator Augusto Pinochet to power, to the more recent displacement of Sri Lankan fishers who were prevented by resort developers from returning to their villages in the aftermath of the 2003 tsunami.

Klein began connecting the dots in her own mind at the start of the Iraq War in 2003. At the time she and her husband, filmmaker and former TV host Avi Lewis, were living in Argentina, a country then emerging from its own period of economic shock therapy. She was struck by how closely the original reconstruction plans for Iraq conformed to the shock formula.

The 560-page argument, which also deals with the privatization of post-communist economies in Poland, Russia and China, the reliance of the Israeli private sector on security-related entrepreneurship and other subjects, is bolstered by nearly 70 pages of footnotes, citing more than 1,000 sources.

“I expect the release of the book to be a battle. And the endnotes are my body armor,” says Klein, who will further defend her thesis during a public interview Thursday at the UofT’s MacMillan Theater.

“When you are introducing ideas that are new and in some cases quite radical, you need major backup if you want to reach beyond a small section of the population. Hopefully, the people who don’t need as much convincing will bear with me because if the book were more anecdotal and less carefully sourced it would make it that much easier for the people who want to get me.”

Published on Tuesday, September 4, 2007 by the Toronto Star