Monday, December 30, 2019

My Log 775: Dec 30 2019: Chronicles from my Tenth Decade: 210: The distortions of the 24-hour news channels; some reflections from a career not that much devoted to breaking news; hoping, as always that no one drops THE BOMB

I guess it becomes more or less second nature for a guy who, like me these days, is just sitting and waiting for something to happen, to reach the conclusion, in face of the bewilderment spread by the 24-hour news channels, that nothing of any importance is really going on.
Yesterday I was watching the BBC World News, which claims to be the world’s leading source of breaking news, only to be confronted right off the top of the newscast, with the information that one person had been stabbed in some kind of home-invasion in New York, and somewhere else two people had been stabbed to death by a crazed attacker. (I did not make these examples up: they were hammered at me repetitiously every half hour for the rest of the day.  I interpret their presence at the top of the newscast to mean that, in the opinion of the army of journalists serving these channels, nothing much was happening around the world.)
Hour after hour, day after day, week after week, these channels pour out information like this. They never miss an accident, no matter where it may have happened. In Chile, some truck has run off the road, killing three people when it overturned on to a car it has collided with; in Zimbabwe, or some such African nation,  a mob of people has killed four when they have raided some food shop in the hope of getting something to eat for Christmas; in Australia, the entire population seems to be engaged in fighting forest fires, or, if not actually forest fires ,at least scrub fires, already covering hundreds of square miles of territory, having consumed 140 houses, and forcing the evacuation of tens of thousands of people; while just outside of London an abandoned baby’s body has just been found in a dumpster, and a deranged couple had been arrested and are to be charged with causing bodily harm, with graver charges to follow.
(I hasten to say that I have made up all these examples from the above paragraph, a confession designed to forestall your beginning to think that I myself might be terminally deranged, sitting here with nothing better to do than collect examples of news-channel delinquencies.)
More important news does creep in from time to time: for example, someone might give a talk pointing out that the United States is en route to losing its hegemonic grip on the world’s affairs, while wallowing in a morass of muck and slime that they have themselves played the major part in creating (through the use, for the most part, of the gun and missile as their major weapons for pursuing peace, most of this precipitous decline in influence having come to notice by their having fallen into the grip of an immoral, narcissistic, lunatic with only a vague idea of what he should be doing in the eminent post to which he has  somehow --- no one is quite sure how --- he has been elected.)
One has only to try to summarize this global situation in a single sentence, as I have done above, to recognize that it is a situation virtually out of the control of ordinary people everywhere, among whose utilitarian ranks I am nestling in the hope of never being recognized as the fraud pretend commentator that I am.
I spent a good part of my working life as a reporter charged with bringing the news to the people. I realize, looking back with the benefit of hindsight, how fortunate I was that my career as a news-gatherer preceded the arrival of the 24-hour news channel, and the hand-held telephone by which a minion in some remote office could summon me, his acolyte out there on the ground of some front-line conflict, who would in these modern times have been irrevocably trapped by the need to respond to the minion’s every request and whim, no matter how irrelevant they might appear to me to be with my better local knowledge of the situation.
There are now endless studies that have proven the built-in bias with which almost every news-outlet in the world is guilty, just as a matter of course -- I am thinking here even of the most reputable papers --- The New York Times, The Times of London,  The Guardian, The Washington Post ---- most of which have run through drastic changes of ownership that have left them in the control of major corporations only peripherally interested in the business of news and information.
Many years ago I reviewed for Canadian Forum the ground-breaking book Manufacturing Consent, by .Edward S. Herman and Noam Chomsky, in which, with chapter and verse, all pretensions of the mainstream press to be objective, or even interested in  distributing a rough approximation of the truth, were exploded once and for all.  It wasn't the first such book to demolish the pretentions to objectivity of the mainstream press, but it was by far the most authoritative, to such a point that the book is still in print 32 years after its publication in 1988, and has been the subject of various follow-up, piggy-back illuminations on film and TV, but without, I have to admit, having yet forced any nation to give up its desire to have the ultimate weapon of self-destruction.
  During my tenure as a correspondent for a Canadian newspaper in London, England, I had reviewed a study by a midlands university (I believe it was Sheffield, or Leicester or thereabouts)  of the coverage given by the newspapers to a proposed visit of anti-nuclear activists to England for a huge international conference designed to pressure the British government into abandoning its ownership of the nuclear bomb, or its hosting of American nuclear-armed vessels.  That work showed, just as conclusively as Chomsky/Herman’s work did two decades later, that in advance of the event, the press erected a formula --- namely the expectation of violence during the event --- which they eventually used as the framework within which the whole event and its coverage was to be interpreted. Virtually nothing of the coverage dealt with the argument of the protesters that Britain should abandon its ownership or hosting of any nuclear weapons ---- the actual coverage dealt almost entirely with speculation (in advance) of the possibility of violence, the search for violent incidents as the protest marches became real events, and the triumphant discovery of a tiny number of the protesters who threw the occasional brick through the occasional window, thus proving the accuracy of the medias’ expectations.
Well, this has taken me quite far from my opening of this piece. If any readers have made it thus far, all I can add for them is Wot the hell wot the hell! toujours gai, toujours gai. No one has dropped the ultimate  bomb, post -Nagasaki, and all we ca do is hope that this continues. .even far beyond my lifetime.

Friday, December 20, 2019

My Log 774: Feb 20 2019: Chronicles from myTenth Decade: 209: Government ministers, listen! Time to bring our two Michaels home by sending Meng Wanzhou back where she belongs, to China

One of my sons is a lawyer. He is in criminal law, a very different animal from the corporate law that most of his fellow-students five or six years ago were intending to pursue. He is not skilled in that aspect of law, and I know absolutely nothing about any branch of law, so on the question of Canada’s sensitive relationships with China, it is perhaps not surprising that we have one of our infrequent disagreements. He adopts the standard legal argument; I argue, on the contrary that it is time for commnsense to be applied to this idiotic clash of values.
The whole thing began with Canada’s arrest of Meng Wanzhou, a high executive in the huge Chinese company Huawei, that has penetrated to virtually the whole world with its various technological implements.
Prime Minister Justin Trudeau knew in advance that she was to be arrested, at the request of the United States, and since that moment on December 1 of 2018, we (meaning Canada) have been acting like a chicken caught in a car’s headlights, immobile, responsive only to the extradition request, and unwilling to make any compromise, even when there is obviously no other way of obtaining the release of the two Michaels, Canadian citizens who were arbitrarily arrested by China as a retaliatory measure not long after Meng’s arrest.
Our mantra has been, we are a country governed by rule of law; we have been sitting on this high horse for more than a year. Several important Liberal politicians, including former Prime Minister Jean Chretien, who, during his time at the top put a lot of effort into  maintaining good relations with China, John Manley and John McCallum, former ministers, have urged the government to deal with what seem to me to be facts just as important as those the government is standing steadfast on. During these 12 months the CBC has continued to parade a variety of former Canadian ambassadors to China who have urged that we should stand firm and try to mobilize support from the international community for our position, advice that has so far literally brought us not a step nearer to the solution of the problem. In addition, Canada’s agricultural exports to China have dropped drastically, bringing worrying times for Canadian farmers.
My argument, which I expressed not long after Ms. Meng's arrest, is that extradition is a political issue not simply a legal one. An extradition can be ordered only by the Minister of Justice, and a further aspect is that an extradition can only be based on a law that is an offence in Canada.
Since the law Ms. Meng is accused of violating has something to do with American sanctions against Iran, it is not a Canadian law extant in this country, so the solution could hardy be simpler: our responsible minister could announce that, having considered the matter carefully, the proposed extradition does not fall within Canadian law and is therefore refused.
Of course, Donald Trump could be expected to rant and rave and threaten to impose tariffs or sanctions on Canadian goods; but he is a bully, and a bully can always be faced down, more especially in a situation in which the two contesting sides are the closest of friends.
This seems to be the only way that Canada can achieve what our ministers keep saying are the irreducible and essential  aspects of this case: namely, that the two Michaels should be released from detention by the Chinese, following the release by Canada of Ms. Meng, and the resumption of normal relations between our two countries.
I don’t know if this simple solution has occurred to the dunderheads in our government, but I offer it to them as an idea that can hardly fail. The only argument against it is that we might be offering a hostage to fortune: but my sense is that we should allow the future to take care of itself. If our problem is to get our two Michaels home, let’s get on about it.
To all of which I can only add: wot the hell, wot the hell, toujours gai, toujours gai!

Wednesday, December 18, 2019

My Log 773 Dec 18 2019: Chronicles from my Tenth Decade 208: Instead of a rant, I borrow from a Labour insider for the lessons to be learned from Labour’s defeat; along with a warning of a massive Republican dirty trick under way in the U.S.

 Shocked as I was by the total rejection of the Labour Party in the British elections by its hitherto loyal working class supporters, I have felt it better to wait for a week or so before commenting, rather that to engage in a tiresome anti-establishment rant. My mind was full of the publicly acknowledged ferocious campaign of character assassination conducted against Jeremy Corbyn since he was elected to lead the Labour Party in 2015, and by the fact that the mainstream media of information had acted as if this had never happened.

I had even begun to doubt that I had ever seen the AlJazeera show produced a couple of years ago in which they proved conclusively that for a year or more, until he was unmasked,  the Israeli embassy actually had a man on their staff --- his name was Shai Masot, a senior political officer ---whose full-time job was to undermine Corbyn so that he would never  become Prime Minister of a leading western nation, him being a lifelong supporter of the Palestinians. This job he carried out with spectacular success.
Still, I realized that the successful character assassination of Corbyn could not be put down to that reason alone, and that if I wrote anything suggesting its importance it would appear to be no more than special pleading, I decided to hang fire, waiting for commonsense to rescue me from my disappointment.
To take the edge off my anti-establishment fury, I am able to point to a similarly egregious, equally disgusting,  campaign, directed at interfering in the last, and the coming,  U.S. elections, that has been exposed by the dogged investigative American reporter Greg Palast, who calls what he has revealed “the nationwide Jim Crow Interstate Crosscheck purge operation that cost more than 1.1 million voters of colour their registrations and elected Donald Trump.”
Palast has worked on this for six years during which he exposed Kris Kobach, the Republican secretary of state in Kansas, as the point man in a campaign that has, by what Palast concedes are legal although democratically disreputable means,  cancelled the registration to vote from millions of properly qualified American voters, a campaign  that, although since publicly exposed and cancelled by some states, is still continuing in at least a dozen states with Kobach boasting of his intention to spread it into all 50 states of the union. Indeed, only in the last few days I have reads of some huge number, 200,000 or more, voters having been newly scrubbed by these means from the voter rolls in another American state.
The means to this is simple: Kobach compared voter lists from states which shared their lists with him. Here is Palast’s explanation:
When he at last gained access to these voter lists from insiders he discovered that the supposed “cross-checking” had resulted in the Republican investigators, led by Kobach,making some incredible leaps of faith. As Palast writes:

“James Randolph Johnson of Virginia is supposed to be the same voter as James Bidie Johnson of Kansas. James Hunter Johnson of Virginia is supposed to be the same voter as James Cody Johnson of Kansas. Note that in this example, not a single middle name matches.
But don’t laugh, these so-called ‘matches’ were critical to Trump’s supposed victory. Altogether, we calculated that 1.1 million voters, overwhelmingly voters of colour, lost their vote in key states.
In 2016, Micah Kubic, head of the ACLU (American Civil Liberties Union)  Kansas, joined me for the launch of our film, The Best Democracy Money Can Buy, in which I confront Kobach with the secret lists he never thought I would see. Flustered, he lied to me on camera, then lied again and again, though he called me later to try to walk back his fabrications. I wasn’t fooled, Micah wasn’t fooled, nor was the Women's League for Kansas which sponsored showings of our film all over the state.
“But here’s (another)  problem: Crosscheck is just one of 11 Jim Crow tricks we’ve uncovered. Defeat one, and Jim Crow returns with two.”
Well, so much for democracy in America. “Voter suppression”, as it is now called, is regarded by dissenting people as a possible major factor in the forthcoming U.S election. No joke, this.
In Britain I have discovered an interesting posting, on an obscure website called Will to Truth,  by a Labour Party canvasser who went  door-to-door in eight constituencies in the English north-west, all safe Labour seats, all but one substantially Leave voters in the infamous 2016 referendum, and all lost to the Tories in this election. This contributor, who prefers to work under an alias EYAL,  has worked out four main reasons for the labour defeat. His insights are revealing, and I am stealing the major conclusions of his piece for the edification of my small band of readers:
 “Having knocked on tens of thousands of doors, and met with a wide range of targeted voters, I was not very surprised by last night’s results. Anyone who has been listening openly to the repeating narratives and emotions at the doorsteps of these traditional Labour voters, could not have expected a different result.
“While totally broken politically this morning, I do feel a great sense of gratitude for the opportunity I had to visit and converse with the people of Leigh, Crew, Bolton, Calder Valley, Altrincham, Blackpool, Bury, Newcastle, etc. Indeed, we lost all these seats, but this fieldwork was an invaluable experience of getting familiar with, listening to, and touring in person mainly working class and poverty areas, outside of the big metropolises, that I have never visited before. I saw their towns, homes, communities and lives. I walked for many hours up and down their streets and estates and front gardens or front doors. I saw the different
ways of living, smelt the smells, heard the sounds and voices, saw their neighbourhoods and sometimes neglect or distress, and sensed the places in which they experience. I listened to their stories, saw their faces and bodies and clothes, shook their hands, and felt their frustrations…. But, in all honesty, it wasn’t all that difficult to know. Many voters were very open outright about not giving us their vote this time, while emphasising that they have never voted Tory before, and many still preferred not to vote altogether over having to vote Tory now, because they knew what that would mean to their rights and condition, yet they would
still not vote for us.”
As for his conclusions, they are:
the most common frustration among them was, without a doubt, Brexit…For Leave voters, Brexit now symbolises the way in which their voices were being ignored, repeatedly and undemocratically, by the losing Remainers, who are also associated with other classes and more privileged social groups. The way they see it is
this: before the referendum, all the parties pledged to respect its results, but then didn’t. ….As far as they are concerned, Labour (and others) did not fully respect the will of the working class, and a democratic result. They feel betrayed….I suspect that had Labour advocated Leave in these elections, thus respecting the vote of the working class and the results of a democratic referendum, things would have looked different for Labour today.
Corbyn’s image. Surprisingly, Only a relative few, in my experience, resonated the vilifications that they were
fed through the media, (like that he is a terrorist sympathiser, an extremist or an anti-Semite). It was more common to encounter a vague emotional negative hunch, a discomfort from the way they ‘felt’ about him. For whatever reasons that they struggled to verbalise when asked, many explicitly ‘didn’t like him,’ regardless of their strong rational agreement with his social policies. The media contributed to this image, sure, but if I may guess, I think that the voters did not want a ‘nice old man,’ who ‘never did any wrong’ almost inhumanely, who always engages in calm discussions, but would favour a more relatable and animated person, who gets angry sometimes (after all, we have much to be angry about), and who is perhaps more dominant in conversations and offers simple messages, like Johnson. Remember that people vote more emotionally than rationally, as an expression of their identities and wishes, and, sadly, our leader, whose policies and personality were my own reasons for joining the canvassing, wasn’t screen popular with the masses.
A third topic was the breadth of Labour’s manifesto, especially when compared to the oversimplified non-manifesto of the Tories, which they hammered repeatedly in soundbites over and over again. Simply put, our broad scope has backfired. It felt to many like too much, causing the plan and its funding to feel unrealistic and risky. ‘How are you going to pay for all that?’ and ‘You will never be able to achieve so much’ were common responses. Of course, we had our answers to such statements, and some canvassers did turn many people around, yet overall, we only met with small parts of the general population, and for a very short time, so the main benefit of these conversations was allowing us to listen, sense and make sense of these interactions, rather than, again, to ‘educate’ the voters about all the things that “we” can teach “them.”.
Finally, a fourth frustration was seeing us only before elections. Here, we should have had an advantage, because nobody would ever volunteer to canvass for the Tories, whereas we brought large numbers. Still, the timing and our plea for votes inevitably casts doubt on the purity of our intentions, although, understandably, it is difficult to mobilise volunteers – who usually have their own work, study and family commitments – outside of election times. Nevertheless, it is important to surface this dominant issue and think about it further.
My biggest lesson from the intense canvassing was one of humility, to which I can only hope others on the Left in middle class and big cities would be willing to listen to, too. I truly learnt a lot from these two weeks, about being there, seeing and listening, and about the task ahead for the British Left, if we are to overcome their alienation and justified sense of being left, forgotten and not listened to. While last night brought us horrible news, which will affect ‘them’ worse than me, and the scope of which we can only dread, this outcome is not necessarily the end of the Left in Britain, but can be, if we dare listen more openly, a new beginning.

To all of which I can only add my mantra: wot the hell, wot the hell, toujours gai, toujours gai!