Saturday, August 23, 2008

What not to wear... drink, eat or say

Alongside the election and the credit crunch, the endless policing of personal behaviour should be a Big Story in America.

In the Michigan city of Flint, police chief David Dicks has outlawed wearing pants too low down - a practice that has colloquially come to be known as `sagging'. Dicks has ordered his officers to arrest anyone wearing trousers that sag below the butt, self-righteously declaring that fines and jail time are justified for this `immoral self-expression'.

Flint is a city that has severe social and economic problems; it features heavily in Michael Moore's films, including Roger and Me and Fahrenheit 9/11. Yet the police chief seems to be suggesting that tackling crime is best done in a What Not to Wear series of Stalinesque mandates.

Dicks is not alone. Lawmakers in Atlanta last year attempted to implement a similar ban, while two cities in Louisiana, Delcambre and Opelousas, have similar laws providing for fines up to $500 and up to six months in jail (no one has yet been charged under the laws). Atlanta city councilman, CT Martin, told NBC's Today programme: `I'm a firm believer in the First Amendment. it's not about putting anyone in jail. It's about trying to get some educational discussion about the future for young people.'

Arresting people for showing their underwear may seem like the quirky obsession of some small-town American bureaucrats. But the very fact that it is deemed possible for a public official to put this line of argument forward demonstrates how far we have come already in accepting legislation in areas where officials once feared to tread. The American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) is challenging Dicks on his `sagging' ban, but there are plenty of other examples of this moralistic interference in our lives to reveal a wider trend.

Nobody does it better than Mike Bloomberg. New York's `mayor of morality' has banned trans-fats in the city's restaurants, attempted to introduce a toll on drivers entering Manhattan and aimed his sights at strip clubs. Now, Bloomberg is joining forces with Microsoft magnate and philanthropist Bill Gates to launch a $500million campaign to persuade smokers in Asia, Africa and the rest of the globe to stop their nasty habit.

The presidential candidates, of course, won't be left behind. Not wanting to be eclipsed by Barack Obama's European pop-style tour, Republican nominee John McCain held a meeting with cycling superstar Lance Armstrong in Ohio where he also promised he would push to help smokers quit. Never mind the much more important but difficult debate about what it would take to provide a truly comprehensive universal healthcare system; instead, we are offered advice on how to behave.

What we say is also increasingly controlled. The Foundation for Individual Rights in Education (FIRE) has created a list of colleges where `speech codes' are enforced. The FIRE list includes the University of Connecticut, which has outlawed `inconsiderate jokes', `stereotyping' and even `inappropriately directed laughter', while West Virginia University has instructed incoming students and staff that they must `use language that is not gender specific.... Instead of referring to anyone's romantic partner as "girlfriend" or "boyfriend", use positive generic terms such as "friend", "lover", or "partner".'

Strikingly, many of the people who see themselves as being politically `liberal' and progressive often form the vanguard of the assault on our private choices and public freedoms these days. Thus, a recent New York Times editorial mocked David Gantt, the New York Democratic assemblyman from Rochester, for opposing an increase in CCTV cameras on New York City roads. The editorial lambasted him and mocked his reasoning for being opposed to the increase - that cameras in public places are `too big brother'. The editorial argued that after Gantt was finally forced to allow 100 such cameras, there were still 11,900 intersections without cameras. Presumably, the bastions of liberalism at the NYT will not be satisfied until New York is like London, where CCTV cameras are almost ubiquitous.

Much has been at written on spiked about censorious speech bans and pernicious behaviour codes. Increasingly, there is a climate in which lines are being drawn around acceptable pursuits and consumption - that are somehow `ethically minded' - and other conduct, which is considered unacceptable. Often, what underpins this new regulation is a snobbish, class bias.

It is about time that the new elitist behaviour police were exposed for what they are: small-minded meddlers who seek to get into our hearts and minds by way of dubious fairytales of `good versus evil' lifestyle choices. No longer capable of motivating a discussion and appeal to the Good Life, they crouch behind a depressing outlook that seeks to divide society into the `deserving' or `undeserving'. In the nineteenth century, such moral distinctions were made between the well-off and the poor; today, it is all about behaviour.

We would do well to expose these self-appointed lifestyle guardians. The real nub of political debate today is around these issues, while the debates around the presidential election and the economic downturn have been vacuous and empty of content. If we are going to have a debate about public health, crime and its causes, education or the environment, then we should engage with these issues honestly. In order to do so today, we must expose fully how these issues have become hijacked by the new high priests of austere living.


U.S. doctors allowed to refuse to provide abortions

The Bush administration Thursday proposed stronger job protections for doctors and other health-care workers who refuse to participate in abortions because of religious or moral objections. Health and Human Services Secretary Michael Leavitt said that health-care professionals should not face retaliation from employers or from medical societies because they object to abortion. "Freedom of conscience is not to be surrendered upon issuance of a medical degree," said Mr. Leavitt. "This nation was built on a foundation of free speech. The first principle of free speech is protected conscience."

The proposed rule, which applies to institutions receiving government money, would require as many as 584,000 employers ranging from major hospitals to doctors' offices and nursing homes to certify in writing that they are complying with several federal laws that protect the conscience rights of health-care workers. Violations could lead to a loss of government funding and legal action to recoup federal money already paid.

Abortion rights supporters served notice that they intend to challenge the new rule. "Women's ability to manage their own health care is at risk of being compromised by politics and ideology," Cecile Richards, president of the Planned Parenthood Federation of America, said in a statement. The group, which had complained that earlier drafts of the regulation contained vague language that might block access to birth control, said it still has concerns about the latest version.

"Planned Parenthood continues to be concerned that the Bush administration's proposed regulation poses a serious threat to women's health care by limiting the rights of patients to receive complete and accurate health information and services," Ms. Richards added.

But Mr. Leavitt said the regulation was intended to protect practitioners who have moral objections to abortion and sterilization, and would not interfere with patients' ability to get birth control or any legal medical procedure. "Nothing in the new regulation in any way changes a patient's right to any legal procedure," he said, noting that a patient could go to another provider. "This regulation is not about contraception," Mr. Leavitt added. "It's about abortion and conscience. It is very closely focused on abortion and physician's conscience."

The 36-page rule seeks to set up a system for enforcing conscience protections in three separate federal laws, the earliest of which dates to the 1970s. In some cases, the laws aim to protect both providers who refuse to take part in abortions and those who do. The regulation is written to apply to a broad swath of the health care work force, not doctors alone. Accordingly, an employee whose task it is to clean the instruments used in a particular procedure would be covered. Also covered would be volunteers and trainees.

The underlying laws deal mainly with abortion and sterilization, but both the laws and the language of the rule seem to recognize that objections on conscience grounds could involve other types of services. "This regulation does not limit patient access to health care, but rather protects any individual health care provider or institution from being compelled to participate in, or from being punished for refusal to participate in, a service that, for example, violates their conscience," the rule said. The regulation would take effect after a 30-day comment period.


Starbucks and the socialism of fools

Commentators' glee at the closure of 700 coffee shops, and the loss of more than 12,000 jobs, exposes the inhumanity of anti-globalisation.

When is the loss of 12,600 jobs a cause for celebration? When those 12,600 workers are mere Starbucks baristas, young men and women in green aprons who use annoying words like `venti' and `wet' (what drink isn't wet?) while serving overpriced coffee to harried young professionals. Who cares if these workers - many of whom work at Starbucks to finance their studies - are stripped of their livelihoods and forced to peruse the ads in soulless Job Centres? Serves them right for getting a job with the Evil Corporate Coffee Empire in the first place.

At least, that is the implicit message of much of the whooping and cheering that has greeted Starbucks' economic turmoil. Since the Seattle-based coffee-serving corporation announced that it was closing 600 stores in the US and 61 in Australia - with the disgraceful cutting of up to 12,000 jobs in America and 685 Down Under - commentators have been quaffing some no doubt ethically sourced champagne to celebrate. At last, the corporation - which, as one British journalist wrote yesterday, has `earned VIP status at the top table of brands that anti-globalisation activists love to hate' - is closing outlets rather than opening new ones.

And what of the workers who will lose their jobs, including the 685 people in Australia who were given just days to hang up their green aprons and fuck off? Screw them. In fact, suggested one writer at the end of last week, send them to `re-education camps', North Korea-style, because the skills they learned at cynical Starbucks `won't be transferable'. Behold the new socialism of fools, so obsessed by eyesore logos and sameyness on street corners, and so determined to preserve small, family-based, conservative businesses over `corporate behemoths', that it thinks thousands of job losses are a small price to pay if it means being able to walk one's labradoodle from Hampstead High Street to Hampstead Heath without having to see or smell a Starbucks.

Since it started spreading around the world in the 1990s, Starbucks has been the bete noire of posh boys with dreadlocks (who smashed them up during anti-globalisation protests in 1999 and 2000) and organic-patronising, barefoot commentators (who have championed `Keep Starbucks Away!' campaigns). So it isn't surprising that Starbucks' economic slowdown has been hailed as one of the positive side effects of the credit crunch/possible recession. In late March this year, Starbucks had 16,226 stores worldwide, including 11,434 in America. On 1 July, it announced that it was closing 600 stores in the US; on 29 July, it pulled the plug on 61 out of 84 stores in Australia. Some Australian workers were given a week's notice and a measly two weeks' severance pay.

But what is bad news for coffee-shop workers is brilliant news for well-to-do writers for whom Starbucks' once-unstoppable spread summed up everything that is Rotten about Greedy Capitalism. The 12,000-plus workers without jobs don't even get a mention in one British commentator's overexcited dance on the grave of Starbucks' shut-down stores: `Bad news for Starbucks shareholders, great news for those of us who resent the ubiquitous coffee chain's omnipresence in our towns and cities.' (1) Indeed, she thinks it would be a good thing if Starbucks' `US and Oz slump gets a grip here [in Britain]' (2).

In Australia, a self-confessed `horrible coffee snob' said he is sorry that 685 Starbucks employees will lose their jobs as 61 of Australia's 84 Starbucks outlets are shut down - but he still feels `pure joy': `My only regret is that the company hasn't decided to close all 84.' (3) In the US, the online magazine The Huffington Post, edited by the rich and perfectly coiffured liberal commentator Arianna Huffington, asked its readers what they thought of the campaigns launched by some Americans to save their Starbucks stores. One said: `Americans are so stupid, brainwashed and misguided. How can people possibly want to help out a multinational firm that saps away wealth from their local economies? Oh yeah, I forgot - the media told them to.' (4)

This glee at the closure of Starbucks stores shows just how shallow - even inhumane - is the new kneejerk anti-capitalism that has emerged over the past 10 years. As far as I'm concerned, Starbucks' casual closure of more than 600 stores and its slashing of 12,000 jobs is the worst thing the corporation has ever done. In an effort to protect its profits in a time of economic difficulty, it has chucked thousands of workers - from the migrant workers who serve the coffee to office workers in its Seattle HQ - on to the scrapheap. It has sacrificed the wages or livelihoods of thousands of people on the altar of Preserving the Profits for a few. It is capitalism at its most ruthless.

Yet for commentators of an anti-globalist or `anti-capitalist' bent, Starbucks' cutting back is the best thing the coffee corporation has ever done, eliciting `pure joy' in those who despise Starbucks' `omnipresence in our towns and cities' (5). That is because the new `anti-capitalists' have always been obsessed by the artifice of capitalism rather than being concerned with the exploitative relations that underpin it. They despise the logos, brands, `corporate talk', global spread, cynical sales techniques and invasive adverts of big corporations, while caring little about the exploitation of workers.

In short, they hate that which is potentially positive about the capitalist system - its globalising tendencies and creation of new needs and desires - while turning a blind eye to the most dehumanising and destructive aspects of capitalism: its treatment of men and women as the disposable providers of labour and its tendency to lurch from one crisis to another.

Indeed, it was the very visibility of Starbucks that meant it became public enemy no.1 of the new `anti-capitalism'. Starbucks is minuscule compared with capitalist monoliths like Wal-Mart, BP, Microsoft and others. Yet because it seemed to be everywhere (one Guardian writer bizarrely calculated that his pillow in his bedroom is within five minutes of 158 Starbucks outlets, presumably meaning he could not sleep peacefully at night), it became a symbol of rampant, runaway, globe-trotting capitalism (6).

For many, a new Starbucks store was a super-physical, super-visible shiny new capitalist entity that apparently put small shops out of business and made my high street look like everyone else's! Not fair! That was the extent of the `anti-capitalist' critique of Starbucks. And as for their `anti-capitalist' protest against Starbucks, it amounted to the smashing up of coffee shops by posh kids wielding bars and bollards, possibly angry that Starbucks' coffee isn't a patch on the green tea their au pairs made for them. It was driven not by solidarity with Starbucks workers but by a small-minded, narcissistic desire to keep ugly American brands off our lovely, little, local streets, in order to protect people from US-imported obesity (`Starbucks likes to supersize everything, not quite such a commercial formula for more health-conscious, waistline-watching times', says one commentator) and from `American corporate language, [spoken] with a phoney Italian accent' (7). Such is the localist fury of the anti-Starbucks activist that he even welcomes the loss of thousands of jobs if it means he will no longer have - horror of horrors - a green Starbucks logo within five minutes of his bedroom pillow.

The anti-Starbucks frenzy shows that the new anti-capitalism is a million miles from yesterday's socialism. The two things that Starbucks-bashers hate most about Starbucks are a) its global spread and b) its continual creation of new coffees, cappuccinos, frappuccinos, macchiatos and different-flavoured drizzles, and its omnipresent advertising convincing us that we should want or possibly need these weird new concoctions (8). These are the two things - probably the only two things - that Marxists of old might have quite admired about Starbucks.

Karl Marx himself had a soft spot for the internationalising tendencies of the capitalist system, arguing that, `to the chagrin of reactionists', capitalism dislodges local and national industries and turns production into a global phenomenon. If you will forgive his and Engels' inappropriate and un-PC nineteenth-century language, he argued: `The bourgeoisie, by the rapid improvement of all instruments of production, by the immensely facilitated means of communication, draws all, even the most barbarian, nations into civilisation.' (9) Of course, coffee shops are not the drivers of the kind of dynamic international capitalism Marx was writing about. But it is striking that anti-Starbucks `reactionists' hate the globalism of Starbucks in particular, and campaign to protect `local industries' - like those old British cafes, perhaps, which frequently served yucky tea and paid their staff a couple of quid an hour (cash in hand) - from the uniform universality of the Starbucks brand.

Marx also quite admired the consumer society, believing it to be a `civilising moment' of capital. In the Grundrisse, he wrote: `In spite of all his "pious" speeches, [the capitalist] searches for means to spur [the workers] on to consumption, to give his wares new charms, to inspire them with new needs by constant chatter, etc. It is precisely this side of the relation of capital and labour which is an essential civilising moment.' (10) Of course it's true, as one commentator says, that no one really needs a `decaff, tall, low-fat, extra-whip, crŠme-de-menthe mocha with chai spice muffin' (11). But it is notable that what a bearded communist described as `civilising' 150 years ago - the attachment of new charms to old wares - is now written off by Starbucks-bashers as somehow dangerous and corrupting.

Over 100 years ago, the German socialist August Bebel exposed the hollowness of one-sided criticisms of the market. Back then, some so-called radicals singled out the Jews as `predatory' capitalists who were destroying society; Bebel labelled their arguments the `socialism of fools' (12). Today, the `predatory capitalists' are not Jews (contemporary anti-globalists are no anti-Semites), but rather coffee shops like Starbucks or fast-food chains like McDonald's - and the foolish socialists criticise only their logos, products, encouragement of obesity and general not-very-niceness rather than their role in maintaining inequality in the capitalist system more broadly. Starbucks has inhumanely and unceremoniously sacked thousands of people - and the `radical' critics have cheered it on and asked it to send more staff to the dole queue or `re-education camps'.

A socialism that is even more reactionary than capitalism is not one I want anything to do with.


Who's afraid of corporate shills?

A new book on scary shills whitewashes the intellectual failures of the left, and shirks the task of putting forward a political alternative

A couple of generations ago, the Western political establishment worried about Communist propaganda seducing the masses and subverting democracy. Today, in the absence of a significant threat to capitalism, it is anti-capitalists who are more likely to talk about the menace of propaganda emanating from corporations and subtly entrenching their power to the detriment of democracy.

"Thinker, Faker, Spinner, Spy: Corporate PR and the Assault on Democracy" is a collection of essays on the pernicious influence of corporate spin and lobbying, edited by William Dinan and David Miller. They are also authors of A Century of Spin: How Public Relations Became the Cutting Edge of Corporate Power. Their books neatly embody a significant and ultimately conservative strain running through contemporary left-wing thought. Talking up the alleged ascendancy of `neoliberalism' is a common but unconvincing way of spinning the collapse of the left at the end of the last century, and the consequently diminished significance of ideology across the political spectrum. Similarly, their preoccupation with corporate propaganda and spin conveniently obscures the left's failure to develop an engaging critique that can mobilise a substantial movement in today's political circumstances. There is no shame in that failure, but blaming it on Svengali-like corporate mind control doesn't help.

In their introduction to Thinker, Faker, Spinner, Spy, Dinan and Miller suggest the success of recent films like The Constant Gardener, Syriana and Thank You For Smoking, all of which feature villainous corporate lobbyists, is `a welcome sign that the ideas in this book are penetrating the mainstream'. In fact, despite being an archetype of big business itself, Hollywood has always shown a certain disdain for capitalism and its functionaries. And there is little in Dinan and Miller's book that would shock anyone who reads and watches mainstream media, and is familiar with scares about genetically modified food, stories about the machinations of Big Tobacco and Big Oil companies, and the general idea that PR types are pretty sleazy. The question perhaps is whether a book like this can go beyond popular cynicism about big business, and at least point the way towards an analysis of the relationship between capitalism and how it is represented, endorsed and critiqued.

Rather than analysis, though, most of the chapters comprise seemingly endless lists of the names of PR firms, lobbyists and their clients, and especially the manifold interconnections and associations between them. The prevailing attitude is one of exposure rather than critique, as if simply joining the dots to connect the various players constitutes a searing indictment of contemporary capitalism. In fact, these passages are often reminiscent of the boring bit in Book 1 of Paradise Lost, where Milton catalogues the demons holed up in Hell with Satan, and we wonder when the action is going to kick in.

Eveline Lubbers' more entertaining chapter, `Fighting Dirty Wars: Spying for the Arms Trade', introduces us to the truly demonic Evelyn Le Chˆne, a private intelligence agent who spied on anti-arms trade campaigners on behalf of British Aerospace. Certainly this is pretty sordid stuff, and will quite rightly have embarrassed BAe when it was first revealed in The Sunday Times (a paper owned by arch-capitalist Rupert Murdoch, we might note with a shrug), but it's not at all clear that this kind of skullduggery is even to the advantage of the firms involved - apparently BAe often ignored Le Chˆne's advice - let alone that this, along with more conventional lobbying, is what damages democracy, a constant refrain in the book.

No doubt there is a crisis of democracy in the West today. The public is disengaged from politics, and the political class lacks legitimacy. But the attempt to blame this on the malfeasance of corporations and their cronies is never convincing. In their own chapter on PR, Dinan and Miller even credit the neoliberals with having conducted a `counter-revolution' through the Thatcher and Reagan administrations in the 1980s. Counter-revolution? Aren't we missing a step? The peculiar implication that Britain and the US were enjoying a revolution of some kind in the 1970s is a logical consequence of the authors' demonisation of the right and unwillingness to consider the failure of the left. Revolutions apparently are just what happen when the right isn't having counter-revolutions. Political agency - and the very need to make arguments and conduct campaigns - is attributed exclusively to the bad guys. Dinan and Miller write:

`It is crucial to recognise that the neoliberal victory was not put in place by abstract forces but had to be won by argument and action and that it proceeded by means of vastly increased investment in the machinery of information management. This helps explain the emergence and global spread of the public relations industry. In the United Kingdom, the PR industry expanded rapidly in the 1980s, facilitating the process of privatisation and buoyed up by its rich pickings and consequences.'

The rise of PR in the 1980s is an interesting and important phenomenon, but it can't be isolated from the wider historical context. Can we think of anything else that happened in Britain in the 1980s? Thatcher's thoroughgoing campaign against the trades unions, perhaps? The crushing defeat of the miners' strike? The left didn't just lose the argument; they lost an historic struggle. The collapse of the Soviet Union then added to the sense that there is no alternative to capitalism. It is perverse to present the rise of PR as the decisive factor in this period, and profoundly unhelpful. Ulrich Mueller's chapter on the spinning of pro-market reforms in Germany is similarly oblivious to the fact that the right was pushing at an open door because the left didn't have a credible alternative. Blaming dastardly PR men is a terrible cop-out.

Arguably, this is the continuation of a long-standing weakness of the left: its complacency. Many left-wingers believed the working class would always rally to their cause simply by virtue of being the working class: all they had to do was keep printing the placards with the same old slogans. Far more significant than the rise of PR or the allure of neoliberalism, then, was the left's neglect of the importance of ideas as an integral part of political struggle. In that sense, the focus in these books on the battle of ideas is welcome, but unfortunately their authors' interest is overwhelmingly in the mechanics of how ideas are communicated, rather than their content.

In a chapter on think tanks, and in particular Demos (an early influence on New Labour) and others sharing the same London offices, William Clark explicitly refutes any suggestion that he is trading in conspiracy theories. It would indeed be lazy to label any of the contributors to the book with that tag: as Clark notes, little if any of what he and the other contributors discuss is even secret. Yet perhaps Clark protests too much? Many of today's left-wing writers and activists who are obsessed with corporate PR do use some of the tactics of conspiracy theorists. They tie various groups and individuals together in a way that is reminiscent of what one academic describes as the `spider-web fallacy': the tendency for conspiracy theorists to link even tenuously associated people into a larger `web of purpose' (1). And in their concern with who is funding PR operations, they echo conspiracy theorists who imagine that dark forces control everything from behind the scenes. They may not be anything like the mad 9/11 Truthers, but anti-corporate writers and activists very often interpret opportunism and everyday one-upmanship amongst the capitalist class as something super well-organised and sinister.

William Clark argues that `a nexus of interests and organisations' centres around Demos, and that they are mixed up in various ways with the same right-wing networks that promoted Thatcherism. The problem is that this is a very roundabout way of approaching a critique of New Labour's Third Way politics. If Clark didn't see a problem with it before discovering these connections, does he actually have substantive objections now? Why does the provenance of ideas matter so much if they can be refuted in their own terms?

In fact, as the name suggests, the Third Way was meant to fill a vacuum left by the demise of the left and the post-Thatcher exhaustion of the right, a crucial factor missed by Clark. Why would ascendant and all-conquering neoliberals feel the need to work with Demos, a think tank established by former members of the Communist Party of Great Britain? The rise of think tanks is indeed an important development, reflecting the diminished importance of political parties of left and right as vehicles for ideas, and the increasing reliance on the rhetoric of `expertise' and `research' rather than the interests and desires of the public.

Dinan and Miller note in their own chapter: `The focus on public opinion has - if anything - grown comparatively less in the recent past, as the ability of ordinary people to make a difference in politics has declined.' They also include interesting chapters by Aeron Davis and Olivier Hoedeman on `elite-to-elite spin' - which has nothing to do with influencing public opinion - with reference to the London Stock Exchange and the Brussels `Lobbycracy' respectively. This is a crucial observation, but the fact that `corporate power' is premised on the emptying out of politics and the public sphere suggests that simple exposure of how lobbyists operate won't solve the problem. What's needed instead is a serious and critical public engagement with ideas.

The `follow the money' line of argument actually contributes to the diminishment of public debate. Dismissing political opponents' ideas on the basis of `guilt by association' means adopting a less critical approach than if one actually sets out to argue against them. So why not give everyone the benefit of the doubt and engage in open debate? Dinan and Miller argue that there is an important distinction between engaging in democratic debate and `subverting' it in clients' interests. No doubt there is a difference between arguments made in good faith and those based on deception, but it is naive to imagine there is a rigid distinction between `interested' and `disinterested' positions. Politics is all about interests, after all. Identifying that a speaker is arguing in the interests of Big Oil, for example, is not a counter-argument, though it might raise questions worth pursuing.

The preoccupation with who is making a case rather than what they are arguing reveals a complacent belief that politics is about goodies and baddies, and also assumes the public will credulously imbibe corporate spin unless it is unmasked. In fact, people don't respond homogenously to messages in the media, but interpret what they read and hear depending on their own experience, and the influence of those around them - that's why some ideas are more influential than others among particular groups of people. This raises the question of whom the authors of Thinker, Faker, Spinner, Spy are addressing. Dinan and Miller say in their conclusion that the book and related websites like Sourcewatch and Spinwatch are meant as means of `popularising the truth about corporate spin and corporate power', but one wonders how popular the mentality of such websites can ever be.

The problem is that `the truth about corporate spin and corporate power' is understandably met by most people with a cynical shrug rather than political engagement. Telling people they're dupes is hardly inspiring, and the posture of `exposing corporate lies' quickly gets boring. Dinan and Miller mention in passing the desirability of `direct representation of popular interests', and they're quite right that this is what's needed to bring democracy to life. But it can't be achieved by simply exposing or even removing the negative influence of corporate spin. What's needed is a positive assertion of those putative popular interests. Moreover, the character of any new popular politics cannot be taken for granted, and it is particularly unlikely to resemble the imaginary, pre-neoliberal `revolution' fondly if hazily evoked in Thinker, Faker, Spinner, Spy.

By whitewashing the failure of the left in the twentieth century, and obscuring the need for a thorough reinvention of politics, the book propagates a delusion far more misleading than anything put out by corporate shills.



Political correctness is most pervasive in universities and colleges but I rarely report the incidents concerned here as I have a separate blog for educational matters.

American "liberals" often deny being Leftists and say that they are very different from the Communist rulers of other countries. The only real difference, however, is how much power they have. In America, their power is limited by democracy. To see what they WOULD be like with more power, look at where they ARE already very powerful: in America's educational system -- particularly in the universities and colleges. They show there the same respect for free-speech and political diversity that Stalin did: None. So look to the colleges to see what the whole country would be like if "liberals" had their way. It would be a dictatorship.

For more postings from me, see TONGUE-TIED, GREENIE WATCH, EDUCATION WATCH INTERNATIONAL, FOOD & HEALTH SKEPTIC, GUN WATCH, SOCIALIZED MEDICINE, AUSTRALIAN POLITICS, DISSECTING LEFTISM, IMMIGRATION WATCH INTERNATIONAL and EYE ON BRITAIN. My Home Pages are here or here or here. Email me (John Ray) here. For times when is playing up, there are mirrors of this site here and here.


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