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The Fourth Age of Political Communication: Democratic decay or the rise of phronetic political communication?

Introduction

In the fourth season of the television-drama “House of Cards” digitization plays a vital role for the political communication with the public as well as the struggle between the political opponents involved in the presidential election campaign. “House of Cards” presents a rather dystopic scenario, where policy professionals help resourceful political actors to hijack and manipulate the public debate.

The role of policy professionals (lobbyist, public affairs consultants, communication and media advisers etc.) has become vital, in what have been called the fourth age of political communications (Blumer, 2013) (See table 2). An explosion of different digital media platforms, an overload of information, and communication in networks as a supplement to hierarchies characterize the fourth age. Both traditional mass media and social media are subjected to mediatization, and thereby become dominated by the logic of news media (Blach-Ørsten, 2016).

In the public sphere medialized political communication has become vital to the power play among different actors, and the agenda setting of policy professionals have transformed the public sphere into an arena for influence in itself. The result has been the emergence of a system of privileged pluralism among organized interests (Binderkrantz, Christiansen, & Pedersen, 2015). Today we have a mediatized form of democracy, where the state, organized interests and the fragmented public sphere interact and create channels of influence that mainly the privileged few among political actors benefits from.

Today the public sphere is highly fragmented in different, interconnected spheres of public awareness, media platforms, audiences, and agendas. It is an ecosystem, with niches inhabited by a broad range of more or less professionalized political organizations (Mazzoleni & Schulz, 1999). The ability to nurse your niche – or to create niche legitimacy, through social and mass media – is increasingly a challenge for political organization. Only the elite among political actors can be expected to have the resources to participate in the emerging data-driven form of political communication we see today. That may very well limit the amount of voices and views in the public debate to the professionalized and well-organized.

In general we know very little about the effects of the newest media development (Bennett & Iyengar, 2008: 716). There is a huge need to study how the mix of mediatization and digitization affect public debate and democracy. The purpose of the paper is partly to explore and discuss how mediatization and digitization becomes vital to and transforms the praxis of political communication – and partly to discuss how the stance of policy professionals is vital for creating an informed and democratic public debate. So the paper asks the following research question: How does the role of policy professionals become essential in the fourth age of political communication? And how can policy professionals play a constructive role in the creation of an informed public debate?

In the next section I will frame digitization, (policy) profession and mediatization as institutional logics (Friedland & Alford R., 1991; Thornton, Ocasio, & Lounsbury, 2012). Institutional logics is defined as “the socially constructed, historical patterns of cultural symbols and material practices, including assumptions, values, and beliefs” (See also Meyer & Hammerschmid, 2006; Reay & Hinings, 2009; Thornton et al., 2012: 2). Logics have a symbolic or ideational side as well as a material side, concerning praxis (Thornton et al., 2012). After the theory section I will present and critically discuss the characteristics of mediatization and digitization. Then I will discuss the role of policy professionals in the creation of a new form of political communication, which is shaped by practical wisdom and ethical orientation. A final section concludes.

Theory: Institutional logics

Contemporary, pluralistic societies can be described as consisting of “dependent but partly autonomous institutional spheres of thought and action” (Olsen, 2006: 16). These spheres are “partly supplementing and partly competing” (ibid: 17). These institutional spheres can also be described as different institutional logics operating at the macro level of society (Friedland & Alford R., 1991). But the logics can also be found at the meso and micro level of society. Here institutional logics focus the attention of actors “on particular features of the organizations” as well as the environment (Thornton et al., 2012: 18). In this way, institutional logics constitute the social identities and behavior of actors.

When macro-institutional settings transform due to the supplementation or competition between institutional logics, the change directly affects the performance of the actors inside organizations. Macro-logics are transformed to the meso- and micro-levels of organizations through new requests for accountability, shifts in market conditions, increased innovation pressure, or new demands for political control, new legislation, or new normative environments.

Institutional logics contain enough contradictions to conflict. In the field of political communication policy professional may oppose data driven campaigns to the extent data specialist would recommend. Especially praxis-oriented policy professionals would usually distrust algorithms and be skeptical towards formal method (Kahneman & Klein, 2009: 523). Data specialist may oppose mediatization, because more significant features like long time economic development much better predict voter behavior than the media hype created around current events and scandals.

These contradictions exist, but according to the institutional logics perspective contradictions is not the same as insuperable dichotomies. This means that the contradicting logics can also be combined or mixed in praxis (Pache & Santos, 2010). They can supplement each other.

Three different institutional logics are relevant in this paper (See table 1): The logic of mediatization, the logic of digitization and the logic of profession.

Table 1: Three institutional logics that shapes political communication

  Logic of mediatization Logic of digitization Logic of profession
Material praxis Communication – mass, network, mobile, online/offline Collecting data, surveillance, auditing, processing data through digital technology Interaction with leaders, citizens, peers, stakeholders
Symbolic praxis Aesthetics in drama, performance, framing. Futuristic, progress, upscaling Expertise, qualifications
Actor identities Journalists, editors, media advisors Data specialist, engineers, statistic specialist Professionals of praxis, experts, advisers, consultants
Source of identity Publish or perish, communication skills Natural science Association with quality of craft. Personal reputation
Type of system Communication system Digital, sensoric system Professional association, guild

While profession has a long history in Western countries (Friedland and Alford 1991), digitization and mediatization can be seen as rather new macro-institutional logics that constitutes the public sphere in modern society, due to historical and technological development.

Previously, in the premodern phase (1900-1960), the public sphere was dominated by a centralized party press (See table 2). Political elites communicated directly to a class-divided audience, who were seen as passive participants in the debate of the elites. Later on, in the modern phase (1960-1990) electronical mass media had their breakthrough to the broad national, but still passive audience. Organized interest groups gained more influence by direct participation in governmental decision making. In the post-modern phase (1990- ) party press has declined and increased competition among self-owned media enterprises and media organizations has emerged. A broad range of different political organizations participate in mediated communication: Private enterprises, local based interest groups, public organizations, unions, new political parties, think tanks etc. They are all inclined to engage in a mediatized form of political communication.

As an institutional logic mediatization evolves around personified politics, scandals, conflicts, dramatic events and infotainment (Strömbäck, 2008: 18). Mediatization not only influence politics, but also other forms of institutional macro-logics of modern society, like family, education, religion, etc. (Hjarvad 2016: 18). Mediatization can be viewed as as a partly independent institution of modern society, but also a distinct way of relating and communicating in highly modern societies (Hjarvad, 2016: 45). As such mediatization constitutes the public arena of interaction among different societal domains.

Today we may be standing on the brink of a new fourth age of political communication (Blumler 2013). An age still characterized by increased mediatization and professionalization, increased competition for attention and fragmentation of the public sphere (Bennett & Iyengar, 2008: 707). Furthermore, the fourth age is characterized by an explosion of different digital media platforms, an overload of information, and communication in networks as a supplement to hierarchies. Media platforms converge and become interconnected. Traditional mass media and social media are both expected to be subjected to mediatization (Ørsten 2016). But digitization also unfolds its own specific symbolic and materials forms of praxis. Symbolic praxis involves a rhetoric framing of digitization as progressive and as the road into a prosperous and upscaled future. Material praxis involved task like collecting data, surveillance and auditing.

In the next two sections the logics of mediatization and digitization will be outlined more thoroughly.

Table 2: Overview of the different phases of political communication development

Phase The public sphere Recipients Media Political actors State form
The premodern phase Centralized, party press Passive Newspapers, party press The elite, old political parties The nation state
The modern Phase two-step models emerge Passive Breakthrough of mass media, Still party press, state monopoly on electronic media Political parties, organized interests  groups The welfare state
The late modern phase Increased fragmentation, mediatization Passive, seen as an individualized citizen. Privatization of media, dying party press, increased professionalization Elites isolated in ‘Bermuda triangles’ increased professionalization The competition state
A fourth phase? Interactivity, continued fragmentation, mediatization, algorithms shape public awareness Increasingly active, but still individualized Stagnation of mass media, emergence of digital media. Everyone collects data The digital state

Mediatization and the distorted public debate

We live in a mediatized world. No part of society escape mediatization: politics, religion, private business, art, family life etc. When it comes to politics mediatization means that media and political actors have a tendency to favor huge events, polarized drama and personal conflicts. Events like political or administrative scandals would have a tendency to dominate political communication. Complicated stories are neglected, and in general attempts to create rational-critical debate suffer (Strömbäck 2008).

Mediatization means that media has become present everywhere in the administrative and political awareness of the modern state. Some bureaucrats see themselves as chased by the media from case to case or scandal to scandal. Civil servants are pressed to become whistleblowers and unwillingly sources for media stories (Smith, 2015: 71-72).

A range of scholars share this belief and argues that mediatization leads to less autonomy of political actors. Mediatization simply crowd out the logics of political debate and decision making. Strömback (2008) see mediatization as a logic that shapes politics on behalf of the power of politicians and the institutional logic of the state. According to Mazzoleni and Schulz (1999) mediatized politics is politics that has lost its autonomy and has become dependent on the mass media and are shaped by the mass media.

Seen from an institutional logics perspective, the outcome is somewhat different: Instead of crowding out state logic and political decision making, media logic and the political logic integrates – or become mixed. Different logics can very well conflict and crowd out each other, but they can also be combined and mixed. Hjarvad (2016:33) argues that mediatization contains two tendencies: First the independence of the media and creation of media as an institution – and secondly, the integration of the media in other spheres of society. Mediatization is both a macro- structure in the larger society, but also part of the internal structures of organizations. That means that the relations between media and other societal spheres are altered, while the conditions for communication and interaction in late modern societies are changed (ibid: 39). On the other hand mediatization not just changes other societal spheres. Media also adapts to the surrounding world, and other spheres become integrated in the media organizations (ibid: 49).

Actually, politicians can gain influence, if they adopt mediatization. Scandals are reported to be a driving force in the increased bureaucratization and centralization of the state. Scandals are used as a kind of change event, where politicians can decide and implement new bureaucratic standards and rules to prevent new scandals (J. S. Pedersen & Aagaard, 2015). Likewise, a limited amount of resourceful politicians are reported to be able to influence the public agenda with a limited set of subjects (Ørsten 2016: 211). The result is a centralized or rather elite form of public debate.

Not only bureaucrats and politicians use mediatization.  A range of huge, resourceful interest organizations does the same. Resourceful interest organizations are able to trade bits of news-worthy information with attention from the media. This means that the public sphere has become a distinct arena for caretaking of interest, side by side with the neo-cooperative decision making systems in modern governance, where interest organization participate in formal commissions and councils (Nielsen & Pedersen, 1989; O. K. Pedersen, 2006). In other words, mediatization has led to a state of privileged pluralism (Binderkrantz et al 2015).

Mediatization may not crowd-out political decision-making, but it may distort what we believe to be a democratic and informed public debate. Mediatization is often criticized for bringing along a trivialized form of public debate. Professionalized political communication can very well be approached as political marketing or branding (Marsh & Fawcett, 2011), where political actors engage in “permanent campaigns” in their attempt to conquer the public agenda (Bennett & Manheim, 2006: 228). But if political communication is just like selling soap powder, a mediatized form of public debate are deprived important value-orientation and information.

Furthermore, as mentioned above, mediatization tends to centralize the public debate on a smaller set of subjects, suppressing a broader and perhaps more vital public debate in the mass media as well as the social media. Getting attention becomes the hard currency among political actors. This means that mediatization changes the rules of the game, so to speak. Consequently, politicians and political actors must learn these new rules, it they want to obtain and maintain political influence. Those who do not have the resources to learn the rules – or even play the new game, can be expected to lose influence. So, political actors must at least be able to professionalize their political communication, if they what to be taken serious as players of the power game.

Also, as mentioned above, mediatization of social media seems to constitute the general belief that online political communication need to be structured along the lines of network. The networked form of mediatization is interactive. If you are online you are (in theory) able to communicate directly with even central decision makers. That means that political communication relations no longer consist of active communicators on the one side and passive audiences on the other side. The belief is that the audience becomes active communicators as well. That conceptualization may give us the impression that political communication also follows other structural features of network, like horizontal relations and power symmetry. Public affairs people often preach a similar kind of dialogue based relation to the broader society. They often do so to nurse a societal legitimacy of their organization (Merkelsen, 2007: 271). Public affairs consultants – and political actors in general – may preach interconnectedness, dialogue and interdependency with their constituencies through social media, but highly asymmetrical communication and power play will continuously be the correct characteristic of the political communication we see emerging. Power has always been and can still expect to be present everywhere in political communication. So, though the symbolic praxis of online mediatization draws on metaphors that may rime on increased democratization, the material praxis maintain asymmetrical power relations.

Digitization and the blindness to politics

Data specialist and statistic specialist constitute and are constituted by digitization as an institutional logic. Datasets, performance scoring, algorithms, evidence based analysis, and intelligent feedback systems materialize the logic in the field of political communication.

Digitization impact political communication in two ways: 1) In the growing use of data-mining the strategic planning of political communication – and 2) in the growing use of digital media in political communication.

Digitization provides ranking systems, based on score systems and self-reported data, data on quality, costs, effects, and user-satisfaction.  Digital media makes it possible to generate huge sets of data, especially when it comes to the habits and routines, likes and dislikes of the users of digital media. ‘Big data’ sets gathered through digital media can create almost online data on every part of the media production, on the quality of media content as well as the apparent efficiency of the communication. Digitization has made it possible to gather data on how political actors, like voters correlate with reactions to events like political statements, new laws etc.

This development opens up a whole range of opportunities for the strategic planning of political communication. Not only does the ‘permanent campaigns’ (Bennett & Manheim, 2006. 228) of political organizations increasingly become data-driven (Nickerson & Rogers, 2014). Since data makes it possible to compare the detailed preferences of very narrow targeted groups, or even individuals directly, digitization proponents believes that political communication can also become a lot more accountable and efficient. In other words, the big-data hype brings a promise of improved predictability. For example, the huge political parties in the United States bring in skillful analytics to predict voters behavior based on huge data sets (ibid). If political organization in general becomes able to store and data mine huge sets of data on habits, likes and dislikes, policy professionals may also be able to make trustworthy forecast on citizen’s attitudes towards policy ideas and future legislation. This improved predictability has the potential to restore the belief in linear effects in political communications.

But the gains cannot just be harvested by political organizations. Digitization creates a need for new capabilities. According to digitization proponent the technology is changing the framework conditions for policy professionals significantly. Policy professionals must now also be good at gathering data on media effects among target groups or purchase specified sets of data from media agencies. Policy professionals must also be good at using digitization strategically. The overall purpose is to improve media management and niche nursing.

Not only can the resourceful political organizations benefit. According to the digitization opponents the prize on algorithm-tools and dataset are expected to drop. So, if citizens embrace digitization, it can significantly subvert societal hierarchies; empower local based interests or even the single citizen. Every skilled and creative citizen can tap data, gain new insight and influence political communication (Whelan, 2012), through the interactivity of social media. Social media has significantly created new ways to communicate. The individual citizen is no longer dependent on strong ties to groups or collectives, like family or corporation, but is able to communicate more flexible and to exploit the weak ties that digital media gives access to (Hjarvad 2016: 53).

 

The benefits and promises of digitization are probably over-hyped. Though the prize on hardware, software and data-sets can be expected to drop over time, it may still be a very costly affair to actively pursue a digitization strategy in political communication. Adding to this, data-sets not always come in a neat and appropriate form, but are often messy. But the challenges and limits of digitization are even more profound.

Digitization makes it possible for political organizations to put numbers on their own activities. Those numbers can also be communicated externally to gain legitimacy in the eyes of the public. In the public sector this mean that digitization becomes part of a mediatized game of distribution of resources. We already see this as a consequence of the Program for International Student Assessment (PISA) among public schools. The PISA test-results can be read as a ranking system among public schools based on the pupils performance. In a mediatized world organizations in extreme statistical position are always good news, though a complicated and not very news-worthy social situation may lie behind the numbers.

When it comes to digital media, digitization not only enables but also disables individuals in their communication. Digital media is built on and structured by pre-programmed algorithms that sets specific preferences and sustain digital interaction. Algorithms – rather than social awareness guide our choices, likes and dislikes on social media. Algorithms increasingly determine what we become aware of on the Internet. Algorithms sustain a networked type of mediatization, based on popularity, ranking, personal recommendations etc. (Hjarvad 2016: 53).

The limitation of numbers and algorithms can also be found in data-driven political campaigns. Though there may be clear advantages of using data in campaigns, data is also clearly limited: “Big data analytics may receive media attention, but its effectiveness is entirely reliant on the strength of more traditional aspect of the campaign. If a campaign does not have effective outreach to voters, then predictive analytics cannot solve that problem” (Nickerson & Rogers 2014:67).

There is a path dependency attached to digitization, based on the quest for an ideal world through quantifiable measures, formal methods and tangible elements. In consequence knowledge is seen as something that can be collected, stored and moved around in a database. This concept of knowledge bring along a belief and quest for causal predictability. It is a concept that thrives in the natural sciences, and it is familiar to the Aristotelian idea of episteme, where knowledge is seen as universal and generalized instead of context-bound and specific.

Because of these features there is a form of scientification attached to digitization, where the outcome of digitized organizations and societies is seen as hard based facts and evidence, which can hardly be debated in political terms. Similar, interpretations of big data correlations are often presented as scientific evidence for strong causality, though correlations aren’t the same as causality (Mayer-Schönberger & Cukier, 2013). This scientification tends to eradicate political and ethical questions from public debate. Digitization may create consistency in counting, in surveillance, in auditing, in categorizing, but it is blind to simple, obvious questions like: Why count? Why surveil? Why popularize? Why categorize?

Discussion: Can policy professionals be the drivers of phronetic political communication?

Today, it is difficult to comprehend the public sphere as an integrated distinct societal sphere. The public sphere in the age of late modernity is highly fragmented in different, interconnected spheres of public awareness, media platforms, audiences, and agendas. As mentioned in the introduction, the public sphere is best described as an ecosystem, with niches inhabited by a broad range of more or less professionalized political organizations (Mazzoleni and Schulz 1999). The ability to nurse your niche – or to create niche legitimacy, through social and mass media – is increasingly a challenge for political organizations.

Political organizations become populated by policy professionals (Esmark, 2012: 162) in the attempt to handle niche nursing. Policy professionals are often highly educated persons with university degrees and/or yearlong expertise from national government administration or media organization. They are typically employed as communication or media advisors, ‘spin doctors’, editors, public relations or public affairs consultants, lobbyists, etc. – all recognized for their expertise in agenda setting and ‘niche nursing’. They know how to influence policy and decision makers and how to ‘sell’ policy solutions at the right time and place. They are expected to be able to deliver trustworthy facts to decision makers, and to create and nurse networks (Hegelund & Mose, 2014).

They may still not be recognized at the top level of their political organizations as a profession on their own terms, but mediatization clearly elevates awareness of policy professionals in the eyes of the top management of political organizations (Moss, McGrath, Tonge, & Harris, 2012: 58). In general, a profession is characterized by trust in expertise and the quality of crafts in skilled persons (See table 1). Trust is based on reputation maintained in a relational network of peers, associations, guilds or likewise (Thornton et al 2012). So, the judging of true skilled expertise is based on the history of successful outcomes as well as peer judgment. Experts are the ones that are recognized as experts in their profession as skilled at the highest level (Kahneman & Klein 2009: 519). That is also the case, when it comes to policy professionals in political communication.

Often we connect the work of policy professionals with the caretaking of the power interest of elites. Policy professionalism tends to be excluding and preserve political communication for the elite and detach it from the broader public. Likewise professionalized ‘niche nursing’ may have a tendency to fragment the public sphere. Policy professionals do not nurse the interest of the public, but of political organizations. As the ‘hired guns’ of elites policy professional may very well make compromises on behalf of a higher ethics that in the long run may undermine an informed and democratic public debate (See for example Tynell, 2014: 321).

Power will always be part of political communication, and policy professionals will always serve the interests of political organizations. But this is not necessarily bad for an informed, democratic public debate. Different political organizations have different – and in general legitimate interest in influencing the public agenda. To put it short: morally speaking – policy professionals can make news, but they cannot fake news.

But policy professionals can play a much more profound and important role. Inherent with the position of a genuine profession also come a more ethical orientation as well as a quest for value based wisdom. To take care of their role in legitimate ways policy professionals must obtain and display practical wisdom (phronesis). Practical wisdom takes account of the contextual circumstances, hereunder the distribution of power. As such it is not objective, but rather a value based form of knowledge, which comes to life as ad a habitual disposition, when actor tries “to do the right thing, at the right time and for the right reason” (Küpers & Pauleen, 2015 (online version): 494). Practical wisdom thus places the experiences of professionals at the centre of attention, and puts practical knowledge and practical ethics into focus (Flyvbjerg, 2006: 371; Nonaka & Takeuchi, 2011: 59). This is clearly an ideal. Professionals may have a tendency to put practical knowledge and ethics into focus. But there is of course no guarantee that such a tendency qualifies to be wisdom.

But the need for professional judgment based on practical wisdom may be rising. When the technological possibilities for data-driven communication are growing, data is no longer what is missing. Numbers and categories do not make much sense in themselves. What instead becomes a challenge is the ability to ask clever questions of how to create public and political value. Only human narratives can make data meaningful and are able to expose the data to human justification. In other words: political, governmental and professional mindsets and values become a challenge and a key-asset. So, professional judgment may be even more important than before, and here policy professionals have a key-role to play.

Of course this is easier said than done. McGrath et al (2010: 338) argue that policy professionals are subjected to a double legitimacy-relationship, called window-in/window out. This means that policy professionals must both obtain legitimacy in the eyes of their organizational leadership. On the other hand they must also gain legitimacy in the eyes of external stakeholders. Such legitimacy may not be public or address the common good, but it can very well be so, if citizens, clients or media organizations are among the stakeholders.

There may not always be a conflict between window in and window out legitimacy, but often there is, and it is the task of policy professionals to navigate and handle this. Ideally, their navigation will be based on a phronetic form of political communication. Phronetic political communication should be based on simple questions, such us: Who benefits from your actions? And who loses? How do your actions affect the common good? What are the democratic consequences of your actions?

Though policy professionals should take the driver seat to impose a more ethical form of political communication, they may still benefit a lot from digitization. Proponents of professionalism often argue that professionals can make intuitive judgments during uncertain conditions and time-pressure. Based on their training, often yearlong experience and an increase of tacit knowledge many policy professionals believe that they are able to extract cues from the political environment and make skilled, intuitive judgments.

Sometimes professionals may be right, and in complex situation predictions made by experienced professionals can clearly be better than predictions made by inexperienced professionals. But most often professional judgement is flawed and based on simple heuristics. Also policy professional’s assessments, prognoses, feedback mechanisms and learning abilities are often weak and based on heuristics. Lack of systematic approach and consistency are the spoilers of their ability to make intuitive expert judgment.  History and politics is simply too complex to predict (Kahnemann & Klein 2009: 520). So the problem for policy professionals is that high-validity environments – and consequently opportunities to learn – almost never exists in politics.

Furthermore, professionals, even skilled ones, have a tendency to stick to what they already know. In other words:  professionals are often path-dependent.  Actors tend to stick what they already know would work in one context, until they are no longer successful (Thornton et al 2012). Any form of intuitive judgment will likewise tend to be biased, since professionals will be guided by logic of appropriateness (March, 1991).  In environments loaded with low validity, algorithms will perform better than humans. In such situations algorithms are more likely to find the weakly valid cues that judgment can be made upon. Furthermore, algorithms will be more consistent that humans. Humans get distracted; algorithms don’t (Kahneman and Klein 2009: 523). The point made here is that digitization cannot replace humans in political communication, but it can very well help policy professionals to become wiser.

Conclusion

How does the role of policy professionals become essential in the fourth age of political communication? And how can policy professionals play a constructive role in the creation of an informed public debate?

Political communication is not just a front stage exercise in the form of marketing, framing and branding.  Politics has not disappeared from the public arenas or have been crowded out by mediatization and digitization. Instead, as institutional logics digitization and mediatization are mixed and combined with other and more mature institutional logics – such as the market, the state and the profession. Policy professionals are the key actors in this development. Policy professionals have the potential to enact the role of institutional entrepreneurs and mix the different logics. While such a mix may very well lead us into democratic decay, based on elitism and a more centralized public debate, it may also hold fruitful potentials for a more democratic and ethical type of political communication.

Digitization may very likely alter the role of policy professionals, from hallway lobbyist, spin doctor or communication adviser towards a form of screen professional that uses sophisticated data systems in their intuitive judgment.  Digitization can surely improve professional political communication, when it comes to a long range of standard procedures, such as oversight, surveillance and data collection. Policy professionals broadly recognize this. On the other hand digitization systems cannot be compassionate, dream or understand common sense. They cannot exercise practical wisdom or create political outreach in campaigns. That is why digitization can make mindsets and the awareness of human and cultural values a key-asset, and that is why policy professionals cannot replace direct dialogue with citizens, media and stakeholders with data-driven campaigning. The belief in data-driven political communication, where algorithms substitute humans runs the risk of “automation bias”. People tend to be passive and less vigilant when algorithms are in charge (Klein and Kahnemann 2009:524).

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Pedersen, J. S., & Aagaard, P. (2015). Er du dirigent eller dukke? leder i en reformtid. København: Gyldendal.

Pedersen, O. K. (2006). Corporatisme and beyond: The negotiated economy. In J. Campbell, J. Hall & O. K. Pedersen (Eds.), National identity and the varieties of capitalisme: The danish experience ()

Reay, T., & Hinings, C. R. (2009). Managing the rivalry of competing institutional logics. Organization Studies, 30(06), 629.

Smith, B. (2015). Embedsmanden i det moderne folkestyre. Denmark: Jurist- og Økonomforbundets forlag.

Strömbäck, J. (2008). Four phases of mediatization: An analysis of the mediatization of politics. The International Journal of Press/Politics, 13, 228.

Thornton, P. H., Ocasio, W., & Lounsbury, M. (2012). The institutional logics perspective. Oxford: Oxford University Press.

Tynell, J. (2014). Mørkelygten. embedsmænd fortæller om politisk tilskæring af tal, jura og fakta. Frederiksberg: Samfundslitteratur.

Whelan, C. (2012). Big data and the democratisation of decisions. The Economist.

 

What is True? What is False?

Mikael M. Karlsson made the above reference to Pinter in his lecture entitled “Free Speech, Freedom of the Press, and the Tapestry of Lies” delivered at the international conference Freedom of Expression and Social Responsibility: Theory and Practice, that was and organised by the Media Studies Programme and Faculty of Social Sciences at the University of Akureyri in Iceland on the 29th of September 2014.

Continue reading What is True? What is False?

Free Speech, Freedom of the Press, and the Tapestry of Lies

Those who know his work will recognize here my debt to John Pilger, journalist and documentary film-maker, who has both informed and inspired me.[1] 

 

 

On December 7, 2005, sixty-four years to the day after the Japanese attack on the American at Pearl Harbor, Harold Pinter, recipient of the Nobel Prize for Literature, gave his Nobel Lecture, ” Art, Truth & Politics”. Here is an excerpt from that speech. “In 1958,” Pinter said, “I wrote the following:”

 

‘There are no hard distinctions between what is real and what is unreal, nor between what is true and what is false. A thing is not necessarily either true or false; it can be both true and false.’

 

“I believe that these assertions still make sense,” Pinter continued, “and do still apply to the exploration of reality through art. So as a writer I stand by them but as a citizen I cannot. As a citizen I must ask: What is true? What is false?

 

Pinter went on to say this:

 

… language in art remains a highly ambiguous transaction, a quicksand, a trampoline, a frozen pool which might give way under you, the author, at any time.

 

But … the search for the truth can never stop. It cannot be adjourned, it cannot be postponed. It has to be faced, right there, on the spot.

.

Political language, as used by politicians, does not venture into any of this territory since the majority of politicians, on the evidence available to us, are interested not in truth but in power and in the maintenance of that power. To maintain that power it is essential that people remain in ignorance, that they live in ignorance of the truth, even the truth of their own lives. What surrounds us therefore is a vast tapestry of lies, upon which we feed.[2]

 

As every single person here knows, the justification for the invasion of Iraq was that Saddam Hussein possessed a highly dangerous body of weapons of mass destruction, some of which could be fired in 45 minutes, bringing about appalling devastation. We were assured that was true. It was not true. We were told that Iraq had a relationship with Al Quaeda and shared responsibility for the atrocity in New York of September 11th 2001. We were assured that this was true. It was not true. We were told that Iraq threatened the security of the world. We were assured it was true. It was not true.

 

The truth is something entirely different. The truth is to do with how the United States understands its role in the world and how it chooses to embody it.

.

I spoke earlier about ‘a tapestry of lies’ which surrounds us. President Reagan commonly described Nicaragua as a ‘totalitarian dungeon’. This was taken generally by the media, and certainly by the British government, as accurate and fair comment. But there was in fact no record of death squads under the Sandinista government. There was no record of torture. There was no record of systematic or official military brutality. No priests were ever murdered in Nicaragua. There were in fact three priests in the government, two Jesuits and a Maryknoll missionary. The totalitarian dungeons were actually next door, in El Salvador and Guatemala. The United States had brought down the democratically elected government of Guatemala in 1954 and it is estimated that over 200,000 people had been victims of successive military dictatorships.

 

Six of the most distinguished Jesuits in the world were viciously murdered at the Central American University in San Salvador in 1989 by a battalion of the Alcatl regiment trained at Fort Benning, Georgia, USA. That extremely brave man Archbishop Romero was assassinated while saying mass. It is estimated that 75,000 people died. Why were they killed? They were killed because they believed a better life was possible and should be achieved. That belief immediately qualified them as communists. They died because they dared to question the status quo, the endless plateau of poverty, disease, degradation and oppression, which had been their birthright.

 

The United States finally brought down the Sandinista government. It took some years and considerable resistance but relentless economic persecution and 30,000 dead finally undermined the spirit of the Nicaraguan people. They were exhausted and poverty stricken once again. The casinos moved back into the country. Free health and free education were over. Big business returned with a vengeance. ‘Democracy’ had prevailed.

 

But this ‘policy’ was by no means restricted to Central America. It was conducted throughout the world. It was never-ending. And it is as if it never happened.

 

The United States supported and in many cases engendered every right wing military dictatorship in the world after the end of the Second World War. I refer to Indonesia, Greece, Uruguay, Brazil, Paraguay, Haiti, Turkey, the Philippines, Guatemala, El Salvador, and, of course, Chile. The horror the United States inflicted upon Chile in 1973 can never be purged and can never be forgiven.

 

Hundreds of thousands of deaths took place throughout these countries. Did they take place? And are they in all cases attributable to US foreign policy? The answer is yes they did take place and they are attributable to American foreign policy. But you wouldn’t know it.

 

It never happened. Nothing ever happened. Even while it was happening it wasn’t happening. It didn’t matter. It was of no interest.[3] The crimes of the United States have been systematic, constant, vicious, remorseless, but very few people have actually talked about them. You have to hand it to America. It has exercised a quite clinical manipulation of power worldwide while masquerading as a force for universal good. It’s a brilliant, even witty, highly successful act of hypnosis.[4]

 

What Pinter was talking about is nothing new. In December, 1917, between David Lloyd George, Britain’s prime minister during much of the first world war said to C. P. Scott, editor of the Manchester Guardian, “If people really knew the truth,” the prime minister said, “the war would be stopped tomorrow. But of course they don’t know, and can’t know.” And if you investigate war reporting, at least from the nineteenth century to the present, you will find that insofar as any country engaged in war has a public that can be reached by what we now refer to as “mass media”, that public has been lied to about war: cynically, deliberately, and over and over again.[5]

 

In weaving this tapestry of lies, the mass media—from Pravda, to the New York Times, to London’s Mirror to Þjóðviljinn (now deceased) and Morgunblaðið—have, over time and considering different examples, variously complicit. (I mention only newspapers here; but radio and television have been equally complicit. A major vector for complicity is the so-called “news services”, such as the Associated Press and Reuters, upon which other mass media largely rely for content.) Each new war provides politicians and managers with new lessons about how potential embarrassment (i.e. the revelation of truth to the public) in the media can be avoided and the media rendered complicit in weaving the tapestry of lies. In some places, as we know, the media are simply controlled by governments. But, in general, the Western media, treasuring their “press freedom” or “freedom of information”, largely control themselves and may easily be granted their freedom as they present little danger. The public is equally complicit being for the most part thoroughly uncritical insofar as it can rise above its boredom with the news: Pinter speaks of the “vast tapestry of lies, upon which we feed.” For this purpose, the public, by various devices, must be kept moronized, and this effort seems to have thoroughly succeeded in the United States. It has succeeded less well in Europe, and less effort has been directed to it, politicians being aware that there are limits to how far you can moronize an educated population a significant part of which consist of the still-living remnants of nations that were all-too-recently decimated by war.[6] Yet, it goes surprisingly well, and politicians can afford to wait until enough of those for whom the destruction of their nations is still a living memory to die off and let the powers that be get on with their business.

 

My audience here might ask, “OK, but what does this have to do with us? Our politicians have kept us out of wars, not pushed us into them. We do not live in a police state. We have freedom of speech here, and no one is hounded, persecuted or punished for saying whatever they want. Some of our news is censored, or self-censored, by our government or by our media themselves, but this is only light censorship, done for reasons that most of us agree with, and there are no signs that this is eroding press freedom. We don’t swallow American propaganda—or Russian, or British or Qatari—whole, as you can see from the widespread opposition here to the latest murderous suppression in Palestine and the widespread support here for a ‘yes’ vote in Scotland. Our public is pretty well educated and not entirely uncritical.”

 

All of this is true, dear friends; and it is to be hoped that we Icelanders sincerely appreciate the fact that, as far as these matters go, we live in a paradise as compared with most of the world. Yet we have not kept ourselves far enough distanced from the tapestry of lies and are vulnerable—and complicit. For we unfortunately have a weak Fourth Estate. Our media are docile, politically subservient and thus manipulated—perhaps most of all self-manipulated—and are not dedicated to what is required, at least in a supposedly democratic nation, in the way of getting truth to the public of the sort that is needed in order for the electorate to exercise rationally the power that is supposedly vested in it.

 

Although technological developments are rapidly changing things, mass media—ours and others—are, broadly speaking, conduits for four different kinds of things: news, opinion (including especially editorial opinion), entertainment, and advertising. Upon entertainment I will not comment here, although such comment would be relevant.

 

Advertising is mainly for the purpose of selling goods and services, although politicians and policies are also “sold” through advertising—witness the recent Scottish independence election. In this case, if we are to have a vigilant and independent Fourth Estate, two things must be secured: first, that advertising must not be allowed to be false, misleading or disingenuous, and second, those who advertise—and thus support the media financially, the new generation of “free” newspapers surviving entirely upon this—must not be allowed to influence news reporting. If we want a free press, or free media, these two things must be policed by the media themselves, but self-policing and self-regulation are notoriously weak in most areas where it is spoken of.[7] In any case, Icelandic media have in no way come close to meeting their responsibilities in these matters. Most of them serve particular political parties and particular lobbies and are therefore compromised in advance with regard to the policing of advertising; but in fact party-independent media do not do much better. To the extent that these two requirements are not met, media are complicit in weaving the tapestry of lies spoken of by Pinter.

 

Opinion is the area in which media are entitled to be partial to some particular set of views or mouthpieces for party politics. Yet, again, there are two things that are necessary if we are to have the kind of responsible Fourth Estate needed to serve a democracy. First, such opinion as is channeled to the public by the media may not be built upon falsehoods, misrepresentations or even upon deliberate omissions. There are many matters, even in the sciences, that are controversial or uncertain; and where opinion builds upon it, it will take on the uncertainty or controversial nature of the foundation upon which it is built. Opinion that has no foundation should not be transmitted by the media, and I do not see that freedom of opinion or freedom of expression extend inherently to it[8] although we may choose to grant them. But more pertinently, opinion whose foundation is uncertain or controversial should not be transmitted by the media under the pretense that its foundation is firm and may be taken for granted. For example, if an editor or politician speaks in favor of certain political actions or policies on the basis of the idea that “markets are self-regulating”, it should at least be made clear that this idea is not established. And if someone supports imposing sanctions on the Russian Federation in response to the shooting down of Malaysian flight MH 17, it should be made clear that has not been established that the Russians had anything to do with that tragic incident. Otherwise, the opinions transmitted are fraudulent, and the media become again complicit in weaving the tapestry of lies. In this connection, we should keep in mind that Iceland’s descent into financial crisis was in large part a media failure; and its possibility of being drawn, one way or another, into the American-NATO agenda for a European war is not negligible (a matter of which most Icelanders seem blissfully unaware.) The responsibility for not transmitting fraudulent opinion rests with the media themselves, and if they cannot control it—noting that such fraudulent opinion may come from their advertisers, political associates, editors or owners—then that invites external control. The freedom of opinion or of expression that I am sure we all support may extend to false or stupid opinion, as John Stuart Mill argued, but I cannot see that it inherently extends to fraudulent opinion.[9]

 

The second demand is that despite the fact that the media are entitled to be partial as regards opinion, there must—if we are to have a Fourth Estate that serves a democracy as it should—be a forum in the mass media for a suitable variety of opinions in controversial matters. The mass media are the vehicle through which various relevant opinions reach the public, and the publication of opinion is meant to be influential upon policymakers, legislators and the electorate. This is perfectly legitimate—indeed, required in a democracy—insofar as the influence comes from the content of the opinion laid before the public for consideration. But if the influence simply comes from the exclusion of serious contrary opinion, or from the public’s being barraged by one kind of view while opposing views are, or by using other tricks of “public relations”—terrorizing the public is currently a popular one—then this is not legitimate. It is perhaps all right for one medium to be thoroughly one-sided, but it is not all right if the national media, taken together, are thoroughly one-sided. Otherwise, national media become complicit in weaving the tapestry of lies. They certainly were in the recent Scottish independence referendum, where the views and arguments of the “yes” group were given little media presence, while the “no” group enjoyed a media barrage and a studied, anti-“yes” terror campaign conducted by leading politicians.[10] In my judgment, the Icelandic media do practically nothing to meet the first of these two demands, while the second demand is served haphazardly and superficially—the “alternatives” are generally restricted to the rather simplistic positions advanced by the political parties. Certainly, there is no systematic effort made by the Icelandic media to secure collectively what is known as “balance”, never mind intelligent balance.

 

Finally, but most importantly, nothing that is not conscientiously verified should be transmitted as news—or at least the sources and degree of verification must always be made clear. Furthermore, it is the responsibility of news media to obtain and transmit the information that “the public needs to know” in order to exercise the power that is said to reside in it in a democratic polity. Freedom of the press is not the freedom to misrepresent or distort what is reported as fact, whether by falsification, irresponsibility as to verification, by selectivity or by omission.[11] In many jurisdictions, witnesses in cases before a court are made to swear to tell “the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth”, and news reporting that is not dedicated to exactly that is the principle loom on which the tapestry of lies is woven, even when the lies themselves originate from outside of the media.[12] The American President Obama gave a speech to the United Nations General Assembly the other day that as far as I can see consisted of little more than a mass of egregious lies and misrepresentations.[13] I think personally that politicians and officials should be forbidden by law to lie to the public. For serious lies, including lies of omission and misrepresentation, they should be driven, by law, from office and perhaps even imprisoned, for it is through such lies that the greatest harms to individuals, nations, and mankind come about.

 

There is of course no chance at all that legislators—our dear politicians—will ever make laws that take politicians to task for lying, but one can dream. If anyone asks whether this would be a violation of the principle of free speech, my answer is no. Let us consider for a moment some of the more important limitations on the freedom of speech. It does not license perjury. It does not license libel or slander. It does not license academic misconduct, that is, the falsification or fabrication of data or results in a scientific or scholarly report. It does not license false advertising. It does not license falsification of a tax return, application for insurance, or mortgage application; indeed it does not license any sort of fraudulent misrepresentation. It does not license identity theft. It does not license expert testimony that is purposely false or misleading or in reckless disregard of the truth (as for example the infamous report of Frederick Mishkin and Icelandic collaborators on the stability of Icelandic banks[14]). And so I maintain that it does not license political lying. Thus, in terms of “rights”, the way is open, I believe, to insist that politicians not lie (and to do something about it if they do).

 

As things stand, however, our mass media are our only protection from the lies, concealments and distortions peddled by our politicians, and the media can only protect us by exposing those lies for what they are, not by transmitting them as news. It is perfectly straightforward news to report Obama’s speech—he did give that speech—and even to reproduce it verbatim. But this is only part of that news; it needs also to be reported, and explicitly documented, that the speech consisted of lies, if it did. Politicians should not be able to transmit lies to the public—sometimes the global public—through the laziness, gullibility, incompetence or complicity of either newsmen or the media that employ them. This has to do with the ethics not only of newsmen but of the mass media as such. And it, too, could be, in principle, rightly backed up by law (as it is partially by the laws of libel). Freedom of the press does not extent to fraudulent news reporting any more than the freedom of speech extends to political lying.

 

The Icelandic media do not come out well on this score. Since most of them are in cahoots with, or manipulated by, one or another political party, they are uncritical of political lies, at least of their crony politicians. And they devote little effort to insuring non-fraudulent news reporting in any case. They are not assiduous at providing the public with the truths that it needs to know in order for Icelandic democracy to function as any kind of genuine democracy, and they are complacent in the face of all of the tricks that are pulled on the public in order to keep it in ignorance. For instance, when some “scandal” erupts in the news, as happens with upsetting frequency, the first thing that a critical reader should ask herself is, “What is going on that they don’t want me to pay attention to?” Scandal-mongering is one of the standard ways in which the reporting of news is rendered fraudulent, a diversion. Our politicians, and many of our economists, declare that “they didn’t see our financial crisis coming”, and sometimes add that no one could have done so. But even if we believe that they didn’t see it coming (which I don’t), we would all have seen it coming if the news media had done the job that they must be expected to do in a democracy. Does anyone remember the legislation that was passed from 1985 onward in order to allow the “asset stripping” of our savings banks (a project that succeeded, by the way)? Did anyone ever know about it in the first place? Was it reported? Was it discussed? Do you think that it was too complex for the average person to understand? Do you think that this kind of omission supports the democratic control of policy or is in the public interest?[15] Thus are our news media complicit in the weaving of the tapestry of lies.

 

Most of the media exist as private corporations, engaged in news reporting, opinion, advertising and entertainment with the aim of turning a profit. There are of course also state media, but they are run in much the same way as private media, not least because they draw upon the same pool of personnel. This situation may be as it should be, but the way in which the media have come to function in society and politics needs to be squarely faced and better taken into account. Like hospitals, insurance companies and courts, there are certain standards that the media must be made to meet, despite (and not least on account of) temptations that may lead them in other directions.

 

The institutional framework of the media must also be regulated so as not to undermine the demands of their meeting those standards. For instance, the media corporations should not wind up in too few hands. In Italy, Silvio Berlusconi is the controlling owner of most of the major Italian media corporations and is doubtless for that reason Italy’s most powerful politician. The U.S. media have concentrated in very few hands, and international media moguls, like Rupert Murdoch, own a large number of large media corporations globally. The few controlling owners of mass media all have their own personal and political agendas and become the non-elected controllers of national policies. The idea of a media-controlled democracy doesn’t pass the laugh test, especially when the media are themselves controlled by parties whose interests do not run with those of the public (although they can perhaps cozen the public into thinking otherwise in the short run). What I am saying here must be familiar to everyone in my audience and almost banal. Yet, nothing is done about this and the concentration of the media into an ever-smaller number of hands continues. This may seem to be less of a problem in Iceland than in some other places, but we must consider the utter dependence of the Icelandic media on a small number of outlets for all foreign news; and there is nothing in place that would prevent Rupert Murdoch from buying up all of the Icelandic private media before the end of this week.

 

In particular in Iceland, news reporting must be made to conform to the standards of truth, rather than to the interests of party politicians or to any other interests than those of supplying the public in a democratic society with the truths it needs to know in order to make up its mind and exert its influence in our struggle with the present and our course through the future. For, as George Orwell pronounced: “Who controls the past controls the future. Who controls the present controls the past.”[16] It would be nice to think that our media will autonomously with these standards, through a respect for democracy and an ambition for professionalism. But at any rate, we, the public, should demand this, whatever our particular political persuasions may be.

 

As far as budding journalists are concerned, I’ll close with a quotation from the famous American news anchorman, Dan Rather, when explaining in an interview taken by John Pilger why he had failed in his role as a journalist in the case of the Iraq war (the last one, now there’s a new one):

 

. . . I have said, whether those of us in journalism want to admit it or not, then, at least in some small way, fear is present in every news room in the country. A fear of losing your job, a fear of your institution – the company you work for – going out of business, the fear of being stuck with some label, “unpatriotic” or otherwise that you will have with you to your grave and beyond, the fear that there’s so much at stake for the country, that by doing what you deeply feel is your job will sometime be interference; all these things go into the mix.  But it’s very important for me to say, because I firmly believe it: I’m not the Vice-President in Charge of Excuses, and we shouldn’t have excuses. What we should do is take a really good look at that period and learn from it. And, you know, suck up our courage.[17]



[1] Invited lecture presented at the international conference, “Tjáningarfrelsi og félagsleg ábyrgð – Kenningar og útfærsla” (Freedom of Expression and Social Responsibility – Theory and Practice), held at the University of Akureyri on 29 September 2014 and arranged by the Media Studies program and the Faculty of Social Sciences. Those who know his work will recognize here my debt to John Pilger, journalist and documentary film-maker, who has both informed and inspired me.

[2] Emphasis added.

[3] These are the most powerful lines in Pinter’s speech and have been frequently quoted, not least by John Pilger.

[5] For this history, see the film by John Pilger mentioned in footnote 17, below.

[6] Some of these people, particularly the Germans, actually learned something from the Second World War, but, as I go on to indicate, the now-up-coming generations seem to be as clueless as their pre-war ancestors.

[7] Some instances in which the media have “policed” themselves have been as abusive and repressive as any government would be. See, for example, Paula Cruickshank, “42 Seconds That Sullied Helen Thomas—and New Media”, that can be found at:

http://www.realclearpolitics.com/articles/2013/07/31/42_seconds_that_sullied_helen_thomas_–_and_new_media_119431.html

This article, incidentally, quotes several interesting clauses from the (U.S.) Society of Professional Journalists’ Code of Ethics, the content of which I believe it would be wise for our own journalists to incorporate into their ethical code. Birgir Guðmundsson informs me that some such has been proposed but that Icelandic journalists have not been willing to adopt.

[8] In the sequel, I call this “fraudulent opinion”.

[9] There is a difference between what is false and what is falsified, or what is unsubstantiated but pretends to be substantiated.

[10] The use of media terror campaigns is well known and a standard device of politicians, as Hermann Göring famously pointed out. In an interview in his cell in Nuremberg on January 3rd, 1946, Göring said “. . . the common people don’t want war; neither in Russia nor in England nor in America, nor for that matter in Germany. That is understood. But, after all, it is the leaders of the country who determine the policy and it is always a simple matter to drag the people along, whether it is a democracy or a fascist dictatorship or a Parliament or a Communist dictatorship. . . .?[T]he people can always be brought to the bidding of the leaders. That is easy. All you have to do is tell them they are being attacked and denounce the pacifists for lack of patriotism and exposing the country to danger. It works the same way in any country.” (emphasis added). In Scotland recently, the threat was that of financial ruin; in the Cold War, the threat was the awful, lurking Russian hordes. Today, people in California are apparently terrified of being beheaded by militant Muslims. In short, Göring knew what he was talking about. Of course, as I indicate below, the media should warn the public of genuine threats, as they often do not (as for example, the obvious and verifiable threat of the collapse of the Icelandic banks in 2008, or, earlier, the riskiness of buying DeCode stock); but they should not uncritically communicate the threats manufactured for mass consumption by politicians and demagogues.

[11] In this paper, as the reader should easily understand, I use the term “lie” as an abbreviation for all of these sorts of misrepresentation.

[12] It is perhaps important to emphasize that it is often not possible to discern the truth; and in certain cases there may be no truth to discern, although I draw the reader’s attention to the opening passages of Pinter’s Nobel speech. Obviously, the media cannot be expected to arrive at the truth in such cases. But what it can do is to inform its audience either that the truth cannot be discerned or that there may be no truth to discern. The important thing is not to represent things to be more or less evident than they are and to educate the public.

[13] Speech of 24 September 2014; full text available here: http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/worldnews/barackobama/11119048/Full-text-of-Barack-Obamas-speech-to-the-UN-General-Assembly.html

The then-Secretary-of-State, Colin Powell, delivered an even more egregious fabrication to a plenary session of the UN Security Council on February 5, 2003, concerning Saddam Hussein’s supposed collection of “weapons of mass destruction”. The media did not do their job—it would have been easy enough to expose this fraud for what it was—and Powell’s ploy worked so well that it was doubtless an inspiration to Obama. The fraudulence of Powell’s performance has been richly documented. As for Obama’s speech, one has to assess the few kernels of information about current events that may be considered reliable, or tentatively reliable, in a morass of propaganda, channeled by the media, the like of which has been rarely seen. These few items reveal Obama’s speech to be thoroughly fraudulent.

[14] Frederic S. Mishkin and Tryggvi T. Herbertsson, “Financial Stability in Iceland” (Reykjavík: Icelandic Chamber of Commerce, 2006). The report is available at: http://www.vi.is/files/555877819Financial%20Stability%20in%20Iceland%20Screen%20Version.pdf

Warnings from competent sources—including Fitch, Merrill Lynch (rather ironically) and the Danske Bank—were coming from all directions at the time. But without having to understand any technicalities, it was clear that the banks were so highly leveraged (i.e. had issued loans that far surpassed their assets) that any small contraction in the interbank credit market (practically inevitable) would cause them instantly to collapse.

[15] The first real analysis of this process that I know of appeared not in the media but in an MA thesis in sociology by Þorvaldur Logason, Valdselítur og spilling: um spillingarorsakir hrunsins á Íslandi 2008 (University of Iceland, 2011). The Icelandic National Broadcast (RÚV) ran a short program in 2013 about the projected publication of a book (yet to be published) based upon the thesis, which is how I learned about the matter. Þorvaldur says that there was some minor media coverage around 2001-2002, which certainly passed me by. But this dangerous attempt to appropriate the assets of the savings banks should have received intensive, analytical coverage. Suppose someone thinks that Þorvaldur’s analysis and critique was mistaken. The point remains: there should have been detailed coverage and a public discussion. By 2008, it was far too late.

[16] George Orwell, Nineteen Eighty-four, Part 3, Chapter 2. This book, originally published in 1949, is available in many editions and is in the process of entering the public domain.

[17] Transcribed from the sound track of John Pilger’s documentary film, “The War You Don’t See” (2011). The film (along with most of Pilger’s other films) can be viewed at http://johnpilger.com/videos and is highly recommended for anyone interested in the responsibility that attaches to the freedom of the media.

Monika Djerf-Pierre & Mats Ekström, A history of Swedish Broadcasting – Communicative ethos, genres and institutional change (Göteborg: Nordicom, 2013)

 

As explained in the book´s foreword, it draws on a large scale research programme that has been underway since 1993 and is the basis of a large body of empirical studies that have been published in the last decade or two. This book builds on selected parts of these extensive studies and is supposed to give insight into the development of this form of media through description and analysis of some formative features and trajectories of Swedish broadcasting.

 

Although one might think by glancing over the titles and the subject matter of the 16 chapters of the book that its content was a somewhat disjointed collection of essays by different authors, such an assumption would be a serious mistake. In fact the book is carefully structured and each chapter fits like a piece in a puzzle into the overall picture that the book draws up. In that respect the introductory chapter by the editors, Ekström and Djerf-Pierre, is extremely important, drawing up the framework and creating the connections needed to tie the different chapters together into a coherent whole. Similarly the “Reflections” at the end of the book by Paddy Scannel draw together the different threads and create a focus on the role of Swedish broadcasting in broadening, deepening and in fact creating the shared experiences of a general public. “Pea soup, pancakes and The Children´s Letter Box on Thursdays, Ingemar Stenmark and Bjorn Borg at the height of their powers, the Nobel Prize ceremony, a royal wedding, New Year´s Eve and Dinner for One – these and much more besides are trace-marks of the shared and sharable experience og what being Swedish has meant and continues to mean in the output of national radio and television” (Scannel, p. 365). Thus the structure of the book is solid and the editors succeed in creating a comprehensive work with an inner logic.

 

The main part of the book, in between the Introduction and the Reflections at the end, is divided into five distinct parts or themes. Each theme is important for the analysis and description of the Swedish broadcasting history. The first part is labelled “Innovations: Technologies for Broadcast Communication”. Here the topic concerns early introduction of radio and television and different stages in the historical development all the way up to the distribution technology of the satellite.   The second theme is focused on the audience perspective and is titled “Audience Orientation and the Communicative Ethos of Public Broadcasting”. Here the subject matter relates to technologies of audience-making, on the one hand, and children’s public service programmes on the other. The third theme deals with the people that work in the broadcasting field and is entitled “Media professionals: occupational strategies, norms and practices”. In this section the focus is on the recruitment of media professionals and the different patterns that emerge in different periods. Furthermore, important changes in the conception of the role of journalists in Sweden are discussed. This includes the advent of independent and more adversarial journalism as well as the transformation and shaping of the broadcast media of the field of political communication. The fourth major theme dealt with in the book is called “Development of broadcast genres”. In particular chapters in this section deal with sports reporting, documentaries, entertainment and the creation of a new genre, environmental reporting. All these occupy an important post in the development of broadcasting and the relationship between broadcasting and the audiences. The fifth and final theme discussed in a section of the book is “Institutional changes: the example of news and current affairs”. Here an institutional approach is suggested to examine the “mezzo-level in between the individual media organizations and the society at large”. In both chapters under this theme the spotlight is put on the development of news and current affairs. Four definite stages of “journalistic regimes” are identified in Sweden up to 2005, where the determining factor is the conceived role of journalism. The first being the role of the “public educator” that develops into an “information purveyor”, who in turn became the “watchdog and pedagogue” in the mid-1960s and ends up as the “interpreting ombudsman” around 1985 and up to the first decade of this century. Also this section looks at the impact of deregulation and increased market competition on the concept and idea of Public Service Broadcasting (PBS) in Sweden and suggests that the PBS has indeed been more influential on commercial broadcasting than vice versa.

 

All in all the book gives and interesting and enlightening overview of Swedish broadcast history and answers many important questions. Some of these questions deal with details and even technical matters that are important at some stage of broadcasting history. Other questions deal with bigger issues of continuity and change and the links to other media and institutions as well as society in general. It can be difficult to pick and choose what to include in a comprehensive work like the history of Swedish broadcasting, but the mixture provided in the book works well and meets its overall purpose. This is a volume of about 379 pages and the publishers and editors probably faced the question whether they had not reached the optimal size limit. Therefore it might not be realistic to suggest that one theme or chapter could have been added that might have made this contribution even more interesting for present-day discussion. The impact of digitalization – with social media and online viewing habits – on all spheres of Swedish broadcasting and indeed broadcasting everywhere is an interesting question that is left practically unaddressed. To be sure, this is a historical work, not necessarily dealing with the problems of the present. Still, it is through history that lessons can be learned about the present and the future and in the book extensive analyses are presented on the impact of technological change on broadcasting and the forms of public communication. Even a short elaborative chapter under the last “Reflections” on the lessons of history and the future of broadcast might, in this reviewer’s opinion, have been an “icing on the cake”.

 

The book as an artefact is flawless. The font is well readable and so is the layout in general. The appendix on the history of the Swedish Foundation of Broadcast Media is interesting and so is the nice cover picture of a man and a woman listening to the radio, from an oil painting by Axel Sjöberg in 1935.

 

Beyond the Cold-War Reprise of the Arctic Super-Powers. Decoding the Structural Meaning of the Ukrainian Crisis

 

 

In fact, one more US-directed violent overthrow of an elected government has carved off the biggest country of Europe from next-door Russia. Yet Russia gets all the blame for “brute force” in reclaiming Crimea – although 96% of a voluntary turnout of 82% voted to rejoin its traditional mother country. While denounced as “violation of international law”, the Crimea referendum choice expresses the “self-determination” of a society guaranteed under Article 2 of the United Nations Charter. Ukraine’s coup government, in contrast, has prohibited any referendum on its rule – especially the Eastern regions where popular uprisings with no mass deaths or beatings (as in the Kiev coup) call for self-determination against illegal rule from Kiev.  

 

The uprising cities of East Ukraine – beginning with Donetsk, then Kharkiv, Luhansk, Slavyansk (the Slav has been removed from the Westernized Sloviansk),  Kramatorsk and other centers and villages – all demand a democratic referendum for their future status as equal citizens in a Ukraine federation. Integration with Russia is not favoured by Russia, but the dominant popular feeling unreported in the media is peaceful and pragmatic. Ukraine’s government has been broken by the US-led coup and cannot provide what people need in jobs, healthcare, income security and pensions. Certainly “the Greek model” planned for Ukraine is not in its people’s common life interests. Under the coup government of prime minister Arseniuy Yatsenyuk, a banker who is already prescribing mass dispossession by austerity programs, what will happen to Ukraine is foretold by has happened in Greece.   

 

The EU’s financial rule by banker mechanisms has already been almost as great a failure as the oligarch-marketization of Russia after 1990. It is a complex system of one-way powers of life deprivation and social ruin which I define in The Cancer Stage of Capitalism: From Crisis to Cure (1999, 2013). Elected governments lose all control to the new absolute and overriding imperative of European rule – to grow and multiply private transnational money sequences. In accord with the ruling formulae, the Greek economy has been slashed by 25 per cent, unemployment is an official 28 per cent excluding the unpaid, the public health system is dismantled to pay foreign banks, wages are cut by a quarter, the public sector is sacked and privatized, and jobless youth rises to 60 per cent even with mass emigration. These outcomes now await Ukraine.

 

Those in Ukraine who are not under the spell of its father cult, oligarch riches, and post-1991 dispossession know better. Outside of Kiev they have had enough, and that is why the election and presidency of the Party of Regions and its allies whose popular support lies outside Kiev have been repeatedly overturned. It is also why their decentralized federal alternative has been removed from the table. The murderous insurrection in Kiev and violent coup of elected government reveals how far the Kiev oligarchy and plotters are prepared to go backed by the US. Yet this time Russia has drawn a red line. With near-unanimous support of the Crimean people and the uprising of the Eastern cities and villages as I write, Russia has stopped the US-led transnational corporate-machine and NATO from further expansion for the first time in 25 years.

 

It is true that Ukraine – the biggest country and bread basket of Europe – has now been pried wide open for transnational Western banks, agribusiness, Big Oil and NATO to feed on. And it is true that all talk of “land grab” has been projected onto Russia even as US Greystone  and Blackwater mercenaries – now called “Academi” in the Big Lie lexicon – move on the ground in Ukraine as the US and NATO propagate ever more threats of force and embargo against “Russia’s aggression”.  Reverse blame is always the US geostrategic game. “Russia’s designs to take the whole of Ukraine” is again US projection of its own objective, as in the old days when “world rule plot” was attributed to the former USSR. Yet a line has been drawn at Crimea, and drawn again in Eastern Ukraine, and it is backed by a country that cannot be arm-twisted, propaganda invaded, or air-bombed with impunity. That is why the one-way threats never stop. It is the first line yet drawn by an historical power outside of China against the exponentially multiplying US-led private transnational money sequences devouring the world.  

 

People now have a chance to reflect on who is the aggressor and who stands for democratic choice as events unfold. They can observe the patterns of Orwellian distortion day to day. Never is the other side presented. The US and NATO alone continuously denounce, lie and threaten. Financial contracts and assets are violated by one side alone. Hate campaigns without evidence go one way. Uprisings have been mass murderous from the US-coup side and without harm from the resisting side. Russia is behind its own borders, and the US deploys threats, covert operations and mercenaries from thousands of miles away. But this time US-NATO-led corporate globalization cannot destroy nations at will. Sometimes history can happen as it should.

 

 

The Mechanisms of Reverse Blame to Justify Destroying Societies

 

Reversal of blame is always the US method of pretext and justification. This is why Russia is pervasively vilified in the mass media, and another significant Arctic actor, Canada’s big-oil regime, joins in along with the UK.   As always, denunciation rules without reasoned understanding. As always, the US-led financial and military forces of private money-power expansion move behind the abomination of designated enemies. Any nation or leader not serving transnational corporate control of resources and markets across borders is always the villain. This is the ruling meta program.

 

Thus too in Ukraine. When Europe tried to broker a peace deal between the opposition and elected government of Ukraine, the US Assistant Secretary of State Victoria Nuland continued to  court the neo-Nazi coup leaders to overthrow the state, instructing  “Yats” (appointed PM Yatsenyuk) to consult with the main putsch leader Oleh Tyahnybok “at least four times a week”.  When she is reminded of the EU peace talks and agreement to stop the bloodshed, her response is telling, “Fuck the EU”. The coup peaked after three days of murder by the neo-Nazi faction. When former “Orange revolutionary” and gas oligarch leader of the Fatherland Party, Yulia Tymoshenko, then got out of jail for criminal embezzlement of state property, she expressed the logic of power shared with the US regarding Russia. She says without denial of the words: “take up arms and go and wipe out these damn katsaps” [Russian minority] – – – so that not even scorched earth would be left of Russia.” Yet in every Western media of record, it is Russia who remains “the aggressor”, “the growing threat”, “the source of the rising crisis”, and “the out-of-control power that must be stopped”. 

 

There are exact thought governors at work throughout. I have analysed these structures of delusion in learned journals as ‘the ruling group-mind’ (collectively regulating assumptions that are false but taken for granted) and, sustaining it, the ‘argumentum ad adversarium’ (the diversion of all issues to a common adversary). The “escalating crisis in Ukraine” expresses these fallacious operations in paradigm form. So does the false claim of “Syrian use of chemical weapons” which almost led to US bombing of Syria’s civilian infrastructures a few months earlier. The mind mechanics at work form the inner logic of the lies which never stop. The grossest operations go back to the Reagan regime naming Nicaragua as “a clear and present danger to the United States” to justify US war crimes against it which in turn fed the ever- growing corporate-military complex and murderous covert operations. Always the mind-stopping mendacity and criminal aggressions are justified through the ruling group-mind and enemy-hate switch which form the deep grammar of this thought system.

 

At the most general level, the “Russian threat to Ukraine” diverts public attention from the really fatal problems of the world and their global causal mechanism – transnational money sequencing – which is metastasising further in Ukraine. The air, soil and water cumulatively degrade from its transnational corporate looting and polluting. The climates and oceans destabilize from the same cause at the same time. Species too become extinct at a spasm rate, and the world’s forests, meadows and fisheries are cumulatively destroyed. The global food system produces more and more disabling junk as commodity diseases multiply. The vocational future of the next generations is eliminated for a growing majority of people. All these trends and more are one-way, degenerate, and undeniable. All are driven by US-led private and transnational money-sequence multiplication which now moves into and through Ukraine. Without Russia’s past financial and energy assistance worth tens of billions of dollars and completely destabilized by the US-led violent coup, Ukraine verges towards collapse. That is where the Greek model comes in – the stripping of Ukraine to pay for what it has lost from Russia by the US-led coup which further enables military advance to Russia’s borders.

 

 

As usual, such geostrategic intervention is life destructive at every level of its consequences, but the underlying causal mechanism is unspeakable in official culture. From Africa to Europe to the Middle East to Latin America, the unspoken master trend is systematic society destruction. Look, for example, forward and backward from the last manufactured crises geared to enable US-led destabilization to bombing – the “weapons of mass destruction of Iraq”, the “genocidal plans of the dictator Gadaffi”, “Assad’s chemical weapons used on his own people”, or, across the ocean, Venezuela’s “despotism” which prioritizes the elimination of public education, healthcare and poverty elimination. Always the victim society has more developed social programs than its neighbours.  The ultimate enemy is social life bases themselves. 

 

Observe the common pattern of social destruction. It begins with US covert forces sponsoring opposition forces in the society featuring fascist and jihadist terrorists, mounting global media campaigns against the targeted leader, murders committed by snipers pretending to be state agents, growing civil division and hate towards civil war, and absolutely one-sided reporting of the US point of view, and reverse-moral justifications for what ends as society destruction.  The US bombing stage has not yet been reached in Syria because Russia led the alternative of UN chemical-weapons destruction, even though Syria had never used the weapon. Not long after destroying Iraq and Libya on known false pretexts, the US proclaimed again and again the mass-murderous gas used in Syria was by “Assad the war criminal” although the evidence kept disconfirming the big lie mega-phoned by John Kerry. It went all the way to a White House plan to bomb civilian infrastructures as in Iraq and Libya. In revealing contrast, Russia “the world bully” has never bombed a city. Yet US reverse projection rules. As for Assad’s “war crime”, the truth found by multiple analysis was that “kitchen sarin” manufactured in Turkey and crude-missile lobbed by the al Nusra jihadists allied with the US and funded by Saudi Arabia and Qatar was the source of the gas massacre (as Seymour Hersh has finally made public). 

 

Much the same generic script of engineered civil conflict and war combined with false threat and crimes of the constructed foreign enemy has been used over and over again against Iran and its “nuclear threat” with no evidence, while Israel has an illegal stockpile of them threatening to use them to stop Iran’s “nuclear threat”. In all, the reverse-projection tactic has become the signature of everything the US and its allies allege of others to ruin them. 

 

 

Ukraine in Motion as Another Paradigm Example of US-led Society Destruction

 

Serial false allegations and pretexts thus unfold again against Russia in regard to Ukraine. The US-led mayhem and violence varies widely, but the dots have not yet been joined on what is always achieved beneath the political-ideological shows – the tearing apart and dispossession of one society after another by US-led financial and armed means.  Here it is Ukraine and the set-up of Russia at once. Not only is the society decapitated, as in Ukraine or Libya or Iraq or as demanded in Syria. That is the official script. Much more deeply the society’s civil bonds are rent asunder, its productive base is sabotaged, its social life supports are stripped, its environment and resources looted and its future despoiled. Always. There is no objective fulfilled except social life-system destruction. But the connections still go unmade. As General Rick Hillier, commander of Canada’s forces helping to bomb Libya said afterwards: “We did it because we could”. As CIA executive director Buzzy Krongard acknowledges about the permanent US war, but still without the consequence named: “It will be won by forces you do not know about, in actions you will not see, and in ways you may not want to know about”. 

 

The supremely evil truth becomes testable by its continuous repetition. Dismantling or destroying society’s very life bases is the innermost meaning of US-led “freedom” and “globalization”.  It includes even US society itself by ever more monstrous misallocation of public resources away from what serves life bases to what deprives them. If one reviews the post-1980 trajectory of ruin of nations, the objectively evil pattern becomes clear. No other actually working goal has been achieved since the Reagan-Thatcher turn. It is the DNA of the global cancer system. Try to think of exception. Since the war-criminal destruction of poverty-ridden Nicaragua’s new schools and clinics by the signature method of covertly US funded and armed forces within, the society-destruction method has only grown and multiplied by terrorist as well as financial means. When Obama says “every society must chart its own course”, he follows the reverse moral syntax at work. The deliberate mass-diseasing of 500,000 children in the first manufactured crisis of Iraq as the nearby Soviet Union collapsed revealed what we could expect from the US without another superpower to contain it. In all cases, there has been one underlying principle of outcome – US-led civil disintegration of societies across the world. That is how a cancer works at the transnational level of life organization.

 

Engineering civil war is the favored method with effective genocide the long consequence. This is true not only in Afghanistan, Iraq, Libya, Lebanon, and Syria, but Somalia, Sudan and the Congo. Direct US invasion may lose the war from Vietnam to Afghanistan, but its defeat is, more deeply, another US-led success at destroying another society. The Wall Street metastasis to EU banker-run Europe has worked without invasion or even proxy uprising, but society destruction is still achieved by the small print of corporate treaties and bank powers people never see. Greece, Spain and Italy are effectively ruined, and behind the dismantling of these and all victim societies is the same transnational corporate system multiplying itself through societies. Big Banks, Oil, Military Contracting, Big Agri-Food and Pharma are themselves only vehicles of the one underlying economic disease of transnational money sequences self-multiplying across all borders without life limits or functions. They feed on ruined societies as their carrion.  

 

Ukraine follows this macro pattern. It comes into the fold of the EU through a US-led fascist coup posing as “freedom” and “revolution”, but in fact hollowing out the society’s lifeblood and bases as the US-led coup and EU financial straitjacket suck it dry. This is the unseen law of transnational money-demand multiplication to the top. In Ukraine the method features similar tools – increasingly armed and destructive oppositional forces on the ground, US bankrolling and direction of the opposition’s factions in orchestrated destruction ($5 billion under aid guises, $20 million for the street reported by Secretary Nuland in a speech to business), and pervasive transnational corporate propaganda about the constructed civil war as a “struggle for Ukraine’s  freedom” – decoded, transnational corporate and bank freedom to loot and pollute. As always, inside allies include  fascist and terrorist forces – the Svoboda and Pravy Sektor factions in Ukraine which now have key executive posts in the coup government and trace their history back to the Ukraine Insurgent Army (UPA) led by their hero Stephen Bandera who allied with the Nazi invasion of Ukraine in 1941 and helped to round up Jews.

 

The worst is yet to come. Never is there any US building of the victim society’s economy and life support systems, and so too Ukraine. Again we might compare Russia here to the US in Afghanistan over 14 years. The self-multiplying corporate money sequences which reap all gains have no committed life function or obligation including to the imperial state itself. They pay ever fewer taxes to it, and bleed ever more public money and resources from it. There is only one pattern of consequence and Ukraine too is now almost occupied by its ruling mechanism to impoverish the people further to feed the rich. As always, society’s common life capital bases will be further defunded, privatized for profit, and saddled by unpayable transnational bank debts. The real economy will be flooded with more junk foods, media products and social-dumping commodities, and bred to a violence culture already hatched by the coup. Collective life capital bases will be further laid waste for multiplying private money fortunes across borders.

 

 

The Life-Blind Thought System Behind Global Society Destruction 

 

Since using the spectacular 9-11 event as pretext for the new PNAC plan of “full-spectrum domination”, falling on the anniversary of the destruction of Chile’s society in 1973, the U.S. has been on a non-stop crusade of destroying societies across the world. The hollowing out of social bonds and bases includes the US itself. Its impoverishment grows as non-productive riches multiply at the top, middle classes fall to ever new levels of debt, the growing majority of youth is without a future, public squalor spreads across the land, and over 2000 million dollars a day is spent on armed force threat and operations with no real enemy to justify them.

 

It all goes back to first principles. “There is no such thing as society” declared the fanatic Friedrich von Hayek who was mouth-pieced by his disciple Margaret Thatcher. “We owe our very lives to capitalism”. But deeper than words, the principle of no-society is built into the ruling economic paradigm. Without notice, every life coordinate is erased from account. There are no life needs, no environment, no society, no children, no relations with others, and no history in this life model. All unpriced life goods from water and sewer infrastructures and services to universal public education, culture and healthcare to social security support in age, unemployment, and disability are blinkered out except as “cost burdens”. The very terrestrial biosphere on which everything depends is ruled out of this moronic frame of reference. Demand itself is never people’s needs or necessity. It is private money demand minted by private banks without the legal tender to back it to indebt the great majority and to gamble on their future means of life. ‘Supply’ is not the life means people require. It is ever more priced commodities for profit promoting more human and ecological ill-being as far as corporate globalization extends.  Ukraine can look forward to this US-led thought system ruling over it from within the financialized European Union which is now as banker-run as America.

 

The ruling value mechanism can be crystallized into natural language equations:  Freedom = freedom for private money demand = in proportion to the amount controlled = ever less freedom for those with less of it = no right to life for those without it.  Even more generally, the underlying master equations of the globalizing system now moving to rule Ukraine into Russia can be defined as follows: Rationality = Self-Maximizing Choice = Always More Money-Value for Self is Good = Self-Multiplying Sequences of Ever More Money to the Top = All Else is Disposable Means to this Pathogenic Growth. This is the innermost value logic of the US-led global system and it has no limit of dispossession and ruin if not stopped. It is perhaps emblematic irony that the favorite for Ukraine’s post-coup President is a billionaire sugar-commodity maker producing no food value, but more and more obesity and diabetes.

 

 

World Empire or Globalizing Disease?

 

Left critics coalesce around “US imperialism” as the common cause of the global meltdown on organic, social and ecological levels. Yet it is strange to call a system an “empire” whose imperial center is increasingly hollowed out on every plane; whose interventions and wars destroy productive forces at every level; and whose outcome is not more amenities for the poor, as apologists like Leo Strauss claim, but ever more societies as black holes with life support systems cumulatively devoured.  “Sometimes I think they feel like they’re in a lab and they’re running experiments on rats and not understanding the consequences of what they are doing,” Vladimir Putin wonders in partial sense of the derangement at work.

 

More clearly, the states which the US planned to destroy in 2001 (as reported by General Wesley Clark in his memoirs) – Iraq, Lebanon, Libya, Somalia, Sudan, Iran and Syria – are now in fact destroyed societies.  All but Iran are left with civil war and majority destitution where once they had been relatively prosperous and life secure. For example, before Western bombing of Iraq under the usual blame-the-enemy diversion to its leader (a paid CIA agent implanted in office by the US), Iraq led the Middle East in free public healthcare and higher education, and Libya provided free downpayments for young couples’ housing as well prior to its bombing. U.S.-led interventions and aerial bombing have destroyed the social life-organization of both nations without even the electricity and water back on. Syria was also a middle-income quasi-socialist nation, but was independent, friendly with Russia, and capable of fighting an expanding Israel. So Syria too was marked for destabilization. Its internal protests received US-Israel covert support, and turned quickly into civil war with US special operation forces and orchestrated funding of rival camps including jihadists still incinerating the country. As usual the national leader is blamed for everything. All the while, Iran is periodically threatened with annihilation while Venezuela across the ocean is subjected to US-led destabilization too as in Ukraine, Syria, and Libya.

 

While gas bombs have been thrown freely in Venezuela and Ukraine with US support against democratically elected states, Venezuela’s government serves the poor while Ukraine’s has been  oligarchic on both sides. Putin thus understands Ukraine’s protestors as “tired of seeing one set of crooks replacing another”. In contrast, no common life interest at all exists for the US. When bribes of officials, street gangs and press slander are not enough, US-led destabilization by financial system levers, covert operatives and civil war follow behind reverse-projection cover stories.  One can imagine if Molotov cocktails were thrown during the Wall Street uprising as in US-financed protests in Ukraine and Venezuela. “Violence-threatening protestors” is all they can say about peaceful demonstrations at home however just the cause. Concern about people’s lives, in short, never arises except as a media mask. This is why the US-led coup in Ukraine murdered people and usurped democratic process and legal warrant without a pause. It is also why it demanded the sieg-heiling violent thug Oleh Tyanybok of the Svoboda Party to be a chief advisor to the coup government although he blamed a “Muscovite/Jew mafia” for Ukraine’s problems and “Germans, Kikes and other scum” who want to “take away our Ukrainian state”. He is a symptom of the deep-structural derangement of US rule. In all cases – from Honduras to Paraguay, Egypt to Mali – covert funding, forces of destabilization and chaos are the modus operandi with US special operations leading the repertoire of financial destabilization, demonization of resistance, and armed civil-war training. Unlike classic imperialism, the system spreads by greed and fear, never by productive force development and universalizing rights and laws.   

 

Invasive war in 2014 is not so acceptable to the world after the obliteration of the societies and life infrastructures of Iraq and Libya. So drones, suitcases of money, special operations, propaganda campaigns and whatever else can sabotage resistance are deployed to pry societies open for competitively self-multiplying transnational corporations to exploit foreign resources, labor and forced markets. This is known as “the free movement of private capital and commodities”. Until 1991, the former Union of Soviet Socialist Republics was still the biggest block and resource treasure of all to US-led global financialization. Thus military encirclement, pervasive international slander, ruinous armaments races and illegal embargoes followed for 50 years. It eventually worked to cause the intended collapse of the Soviet Union by spending it bankrupt on the armaments race, and forcing repression by perpetual war threats from richer societies. But US market magic and miracles for the world’s biggest country and its neighbours did not work at all. So the GDP’s of the Soviet republics fell by 60%, and polls today show that 56% of Ukrainians would prefer to be governed as before. Social priorities and universal life necessities matter more to them than majority dispossession and glitz for the rich. But no Western journalist dares say it. And so the spectacularly failed global capitalist experiment has passed without a word of notice from “the free world”.  It remains unspeakable to name.

 

Yet reality catches up. The US-led empire was itself unravelling in historical time without recognition. Its most gigantic failure has come back to haunt it – running the once relatively well-off societies of the USSR into productive and cultural ruin. “Well and good”, one is taught to think. “The Soviet Union repressed free speech”. But like Cuba today, a state which is continuously threatened with war, plague, assassination and hate by richer states reverts to tight control. But if one considers all the universal sciences, arts, pensions, education, and health-care provision of the Union of Socialist Republics which have been systematically destroyed, the meaning takes on a different complexion. It remains unspeakable but lies at the heart of the Ukraine-Russia crisis today. Nothing is better but only worse in collective life capital evolution.  

 

Many prefer the language of the imperial past. In this way reality is categorized as familiar, not mutant, backward and chaotic. The repetitions are not from “tragedy” to “farce”, as Karl Marx memorably observed in the case of Louis Bonaparte III of France. Today there is nothing but tragedy. It may all seem to be about oil and imperialism, what opponents focus on. Yet possessing others’ oil and territory are comparatively rational objectives compared to the actual performance of metastasising destruction. Far more is spent on unproductive technologies of killing and terror than has been won in new oil and territory. Both land and energy sources have been largely despoiled and wasted. The oil produced in Iraq, for example, is not close to pre-1990 levels and the oil in Libya is the site of unending civil war. The pattern is destroying not producing through generational time.  Corruption and insecurity are universalized, not life as human. Ukraine’s coup now binds it in the pathological direction – more civil strife towards war, more mountains of bank debt, more lack of affordable energy, more ethnic hatred, more mass homicidal weapons, and more rot of dysfunctional wealth inequality.

 

Can this be an advance of empire? Or is it the next sign of morbid overreach, corruption and fall? An empire has a unified center, a state in control of its subjects and private enterprises, a productive capacity that leads the societies within its imperial reach, an historical civilization of architecture, art, and culture, and most of all enduring public infrastructures and great works across its domains of command. The US global system has ever less of any of these. Its imperial center is divided into gridlock, its productive powers have been increasingly exported or surpassed elsewhere, its architecture, arts and culture are increasingly mindless and violence-ridden, its capacities of civilization and public infrastructures are defunded and collapse at every turn. The US now leads only in monopoly of world currency issue, capacities to destroy life and life conditions, and mass propaganda methods. Its transnational corporations are no longer subservient to any imperial center or purpose but multiply their private money sequences on the back of monopolies of force and money-issue paid for by increasingly impoverished citizens.  

 

The collapsing US civilization cannot comprehend its derangement. Its money-party leaders can only see more opportunity for transnational corporate profits – the moral DNA of the cancer system. This is why the destruction of Russia has been long planned by the geostrategist Zbigniew Brzezinski – first in Afghanistan where he rallied the original jihadists to fight the Soviet Union along with tens of billions in US cash and weapons which developed into 9-11 and the 9-11 wars. In Ukraine the US continues the strategy. In Afghanistan the route to the ex-Soviet oilfields, the US funding was the beginning of the Taliban and al Qaeda forces whose US-manipulated function was and remains destroying societies by armed civil war to complement financial bleeding. This same method bled Yugoslavia and then the USSR dry and has worked from Afghanistan through Iraq and Serbian-Kosovo wars to Syria to Somalia, Mali and Nigeria under many names, but almost always it turns out the terror is manipulated by US money, arms and connections. Today Brzezinski has former Harvard graduate students who strategically game for the Obama administration to smash Russia into ungovernable pieces – the long game.

 

This is not an exaggerated sense of danger, but a long track record. Wrecking the society in crisis is the testable generalization of all US interventions. More exactly, the unseen law of the ruling system across borders including those of the US is: Ever more public money is hemorrhaged into private money sequences with ever more ruined societies the result.

 

Consider Ukraine with this diagnostic principle in mind. We can predict from this system law that only more disintegration of society and mutual life support systems will occur in Ukraine with more US-EU bank and corporate feeding on the post-coup remains. US and EU countries themselves will come apart more in the process, and the US will bleed vastly more public resources to keep metastasising the unrecognized fatal disorder while 90% of its own people and the world grow poorer, more malnourished and life insecure.  

 

 

US Script of Democracy and Freedom versus Facts of Violence and Society Destruction

 

To put the matter in one sentence, the collapse and overthrow of Ukraine’s elected government has been financed and directed by the U.S, cored in violence by the Nazi roots of the uprising linked with the US-selected coup leaders now in power, and after the swift take-back of Crimea by Russia fanned into hysteria by the corporate media. Revealingly, the Bandera-loving Nazis on the street leading the chaotic terror of Feb 22-24 caused the overthrow of the legitimate government exactly when the civil battle had already been won.   The elected President Yanukovych made concessions on everything – his PM was fired, the new protest laws against helmets, metal shields, and masks were revoked (even although banned everywhere else), with legitimate democratic turnover of government plainly in sight and further brokered by the EU in presidential succession. But there was no assurance of electoral victory of the US-allied Kiev forces. They had already lost two elections to the federalist Party of Regions and its alliance governments. It was then the US-led violent overthrow happened in bloodshed return of the Nazi past proclaimed as “freedom” and “revolution”. The violent coup was instantly validated by the US state, but the EU paused for days before diverting blame to Russia too.  No media of record appeared to notice that the US had criminally led the coup, and selected and instructed the new coup-government leaders with no vote, no election, and no public discussion. All the while the democratic referendum so abused in Crimea was never imagined for Ukraine by “the free press” and “leaders of the democratic world” even when eastern Ukraine popular uprisings demanded it.

 

The coup was precisely rushed ahead to avoid any election. The US-backed forces had already lost two in a row. No reports mentioned this in the Free World.  The track-switch of attention was instead to Russia. How could the strategy fail? If Putin draws the line at Crimea, he forwards the plan of blaming Russia. If he does not, the long game to dismantle Russia moves faster. If Putin calls a sudden referendum in Crimea to show its citizens’ overwhelming support, he can be ridiculed for “the farce”, “the region under military occupation”, “the gun to the head”. If almost all the people of Crimea want in fact to join the historic mother country in a peaceful vote, just keep repeating “Russia’s annexation of Crimea”, “brute force”, “Russian aggression”. The violent putsch in Ukraine is thus erased from view. It disappears into reverse projection. The most basic reality test is always blocked – Does the society rise or fall in life means available and produced, social life infrastructures and services, employment levels, youth life purpose, and ecological integrity after US-induced “regime change”. It always falls. Is there any exception?  

 

Crimea joining historic Russia again after it was won from the Ottoman Empire centuries ago revealingly goes the opposite way.  Bridges, roads and tunnels are promised and planned in immediately in the wake of the Olympic building spree. Pensions, minimum wages and healthcare are invested in to “raise life standards”. Exposure of the world to Crimea’s historical treasure begins. In contrast, the opposing US-led forces silence the EU agreement for presidential succession in Ukraine, lead coup of the elected government with neo-Nazi snipers and violent chaos, direct IMF austerity and social dispossession for the people’s collapsing life support systems, set the main languages, cultures and identifications of citizens into irreparable division and civil war footing, and proclaim virulently against Russia taking an opposite path.  

 

Dividing society from within with no common or productive goal but only more tearing apart is the generic meaning – as in Yugoslavia before it, Libya and Syria in between, Honduras, Paraguay, where does it stop?  Direct the destabilizing in the street with billions for the purpose, play on real and invented problems, insert special forces to lead the mounting violence, bribe the people with dollars and bananas, divide classes and cultures to the death, proclaim freedom and prosperity, and run the country into the ground with no life construction undertaken nor any life base any longer secure for 90% of the people. The special forces at work here incredibly included Israelis trained in Gaza allying with the legacy of Ukraine Nazism. But the stakes are large and undiscussed. Ukraine is the biggest land mass of Europe, a leading global grain producer, and home to newly found gas-reserves of possibly trillions of cubic feet. The US-led lockdown on all of it is clear in the new coup state.  A neo-liberal banker is Prime Minister, a violence script-writer and chief aide to the Fatherland Party is President, and various neo-fascists are in cabinet positions with none elected. To complete the destruction of democratic legitimacy of Ukraine took only a few hours. But public panic and appointing banker presidents has already been managed in Italy and Greece, why not here too? With no mass media noticing the growing reversal of democracy and freedom in their name, Putin-bashing is the corporate-press game.  

 

 

Media Censorship and the Violation of International Law

 

Crimea joining Russia was the lightning rod for the defining US operation of reverse projection, always blaming the other side for what one is doing oneself as the reason for attacking it. Since the Reagan regime made this the signature operation of US propaganda which is always repeated by the media as fact , an Orwellian rule of big lies has been normalized. Reverse projection combines with the earlier defined ad adversarium fallacy and ruling group-mind to overwhelm all reasoned understanding with cartoon-like masks of good (US) and evil (Them) where fact never interferes. Media-conditioned publics are in this way stampeded through one US-led war and civil war after another with official oppositions rationalizing the same belligerent stupefaction. With only the point of view of the US or its allies reported, only the US story line and point of view can be seen or heard by the great majority.

 

So too in “the Ukraine crisis”. That Russia “invaded Crimea and annexed it against international law” has been the basic story for global denunciation of Russia.  In fact over 80% of Crimeans voted, over three times the electorate participation in the US, and almost all of them for integration with Russia not “annexation by it”.  The striking fact is that given the accuracy of these figures which is not denied, it is far more than could enable Quebec to legally secede from Canada even with universal language rights lacking in Ukraine. By mathematical deduction, the referendum also included the great majority of the nearly 40% identified as Ukrainians and Tatars. How is it that all you ever heard or saw in the mass media were selected opposing voices from Ukrainian and Tatar minorities? This is the ruling censorship by unseen means – selecting out of public view all facts that are not consistent with the ruling script. More exactly, the corporate media select for public showing only what sells the transnational money-sequence system. This is why we never hear of the US placing itself above all international laws as it enforces this ruling program. Its entire record here is blinkered out a-priori. So blame of others easily enters the ruling group-mind internalized by mass media audiences

 

This point is worth pausing on because the US is the very “rogue state”, “international outlaw”, “criminal violator of human rights” and, above all, perpetrator of “war crimes” and “crimes against humanity” which it is always projecting onto other states. It has refused to ratify the International Criminal Court to uphold the law against war crimes and crimes against humanity, and publicly repudiated the Court’s right to investigate US criminal violations including the “supreme crime” of a war of aggression. While it is always invoking international laws to falsely blame others of violating them (e.g., Syria’s use of chemical weapons), the US has systematically undermined virtually all international laws to protect human life – treaties and conventions against landmines, against biological weapons, against international ballistic missiles, against small arms, against torture, against racism, against arbitrary seizure and imprisonment, against military weather distortions, against biodiversity loss, and against climate destabilization. Even international agreements on the rights of children and of women have been sabotaged. Yet this unrelenting profile of lawless US right to terror and destruction is nowhere published. This is how censorship by selection works without people knowing it.

 

What then are we to say about “Russia’s brutal invasion and seizure of Crimea”?  In fact the number of Russian soldiers in Crimea were fewer than agreed by contract with Ukraine long prior to the referendum.  Crimea is and was also an historic Russian port and strategic peninsula even under Ukraine’s interregnum, and its place in Ukraine occurred only by a 1954 decree of the now-defunct Soviet Union. All of these facts are selected out by corporate media and states which only repeat “Russian brute force”, “illegal seizure of territory”, “war of invasion”, and even “what Hitler did back in the 1930’s” (Hilary Clinton). There is no limit to the absurd hypocrisy of accusation. Thus attention is diverted again and again onto the latest enemy as lawless and the US as law-abiding in contradiction to the facts.

 

In reality, no injury occurred in the peaceful and overwhelmingly popular integration of Crimea with Russia. Ukrainian troops yielded in peaceful transition and were extended offers to stay. There was no bloodshed with one exception – a soldier in Sebastopol murdered by two men at night in masks and a getaway car tied back to the Ukraine coup leaders. They called it “the entry into the stage of military conflict” and the corporate media reported it without evidence or question. But the sniper murders of 21 people in the Kiev uprising by US-led coup agent was already diplomatically registered by March 4. Predictably, every detail was gagged in ‘the free press’ and the official ‘Free World’. Even the EU’s Foreign Minister Catherine Ashton to whom the facts of the mass murder were communicated by a fellow Foreign Minister, Urmas Paet of Estonia, remained silent. He reported that in fact the medical and forensic evidence proved all 21 murders were by “the same type of bullets” and from “the same handwriting” which could only be from “the new coalition” [of the coup government]. “The new coalition”, concluded Foreign Minister Paet in English, “don’t want to investigate what exactly happened. So that there is now stronger and stronger understanding that behind the snipers, it was not Yanukovich, but it was somebody from the new coalition.”

 

Such mass murder is grounds for prosecution of war crimes and crimes against humanity under international law and prosecution by the International Court. But due process of law and criminal prosecution are repressed at the same time as the known diplomatic evidence is silenced in the public sphere. Group-mind, reverse projection and blame-the-enemy operations have become so automatic that the most important historical facts and heinous crimes do no register through their prism. Thus Russia goes on being accused of the “violations of law” and “international law” with John Kerry bawling loudest against the evidence. That the violent coup itself was propelled by mass murder of protestors perpetrated by the US-led insurrection to blame on the elected government has thus never made the news. The murderous logic was again evident in microcosm when troops of the coup state opened fire on unarmed citizens approaching their barracks to talk on the Easter eve of the Geneva agreement to repudiate armed violence. The day after the Geneva accord a worse attack exploded in Slavyansk with gunmen (named as Right Sector, the fascist armed group behind the coup whose activities the accord banned)  racing up in jeeps to a checkpoint killing at least three people including a bus-driver before disappearing. As always the US-orchestrated government in Kiev projected all attacks onto Russia with no evidence.

 

All the while heavy Ukraine armed forces moved into eastern Ukraine blocked by citizens while Kiev’s own central street still remains occupied by coup forces. “Putin’s threats” continue to be manufactured along with “Russia’s forcible annexation of Crimea” despite the inhabitants voting peacefully and overwhelmingly for re-unification with Russia in affirmation of a relationship over two centuries old. Altogether erased from reports are the facts that the Supreme Council of Crimea referred to the United Nations Charter and “the right of nations to self-determination” (Article 2, Chapter 1), the very right Ukraine invoked in seceding from the USSR in 1991, and the same right invoked for the separation of Kosovo from Serbia. Also erased is the UN International Court ruling in July 2010 that “general international law contains no prohibition on declarations of independence” Once again we find on closer inspection that what is proclaimed as fact and law by US leaders and allied states is yet another level of a big lie system.

 

 

Conclusion

 

The Ukraine crisis is another variation on the great crisis of the world – the undeclared global war of transnational corporate money sequences to multiply themselves through human societies and life on earth in the diagnosable form of an invasive cancer. Yet what is different in Ukraine is that eastern Ukrainian citizens and the world’s largest nation have stood against the new metastasis across traditional borders and cultural regions. Activists with weapons and massive local support across Donetsk region hoist their own flag and demand referendum for constitutional independence from the fascist-led coup state. The elected Federal Assembly of the Russian Federation, the equivalent of the US Congress, has given unanimous approval for defense of eastern Ukraine protestors against armed assault from the coup government, already underway with NATO flexing armed power all around. Yet this time the resistance cannot be just overrun or bombed. And this time the system DNA begins to be recognized – US-led destruction of societies to ensure their servile dependency and open borders for hollowing out.

 

The very words “Russia” and “Putin” may provoke ruling group-mind reactions pro or con, so analysis here sticks to track records, trends and policy directions – the defining past, present and future lines of system decision on both sides. What is clear now are set-point differences and shifts towards recognition of the society-destroying forces. The most visible shift has been set into motion by the overthrow of Ukraine’s elected government, big-lie pretexts and serial murders in another US-made civil chaos. But Russia has moved decisively to stop it in the historical process still unfolding. The never-named enemy behind the coup and behind the collapse of evolved social and natural life systems across the planet has been blocked on the ground. Neither Putin nor Russia are a model, but like Venezuela and much of Latin America, they now stand against the invasive disorder overrunning life bases and needs in every region. The deepest issue is the US money-cancer system. In murderously destabilizing and overthrowing Ukraine’s elected government and advancing towards Russia’s borders in the latest metastasis, the pathogenic forces are now confronted by the world’s largest country, the longest-tested army and once socialist superpower. All the lies in the world cannot overwhelm this resistance. Everywhere the US-led collapse of world life security is being decoded outside corporate states and media. The Ukraine crisis, perhaps linked to Russia-China movement from the US oil-dollar, could be a new turning point against the Great Sickness of our world.

 

 

N.B. This contribution is based largely on an essay by John McMurtry published previously on GlobalResearch.ca.

Jan Philipp Sternberg, Auswanderungsland Bundesrepublik. Denkmuster und Debatten in Politik und Medien 1945 – 2010 (Studien zur Historischen Migrationsforschung, Bd. 26, Paderborn: Ferdinand Schöningh Verlag, 2012)

Even for me, a migrant from Germany: when I saw the title, I have to admit, I misread it and assumed that immigration would be the topic of the book. German emigrants do not play a big role in the public perception compared to other European countries like Italy or Ireland. Moreover, in Germany, if one does speak of emigrants, then it refers mainly to Germans fleeing from Nazi Germany – as symbolised through Thomas Mann and Berthold Brecht – or, to a far lesser extent, the 19th-century adventurer leaving for the new World.

The nearly 800,000 Germans leaving the Federal Republic of Germany in the years between 1949 and 1961 do not belong to either of these categories. Sternberg, in his well-researched study, looks at the changing public image of emigrants in Germany and the political discourse around their emigration. He covers the year from 1949 until 2010, but his main focus are the years until 1961. After 1961, the numbers of emigrants drop significantly, since in 1961 full employment had been reached in Germany and only after Germany’s reunification in 1989 the numbers rise again.

Sternberg observes that in many respects immigration and emigration are treated in Germany as the two sides of the same medal. For a longer time both emigration and immigration were ignored or even denied as a political reality and, if spoken in the public discourse, treated as a fearful threat to Germany.

Sternberg contributes with his work to a cultural history of West Germany. The changing public discourse on emigration reflects the changes within society. The debate in the 1940s and 1950s was dominated by the notion of loss of human capital. In the new century, we speak instead of the “brain drain”, whereby the “most valuable members” of the German people are turned by the media into a sort of soap opera, since a documentary on emigration has all the dramatic ingredients that a program director could dream of. As Sternberg quotes the woman in charge for “Deutschland ade”: “Where else you find so much interest in adventure, daring and longing for happiness? What else provides stories like this, which carry a risk of failure in itself, tell of sorrow, hope, fear and happiness? All reasons why the SWR [the television channel] is enthusiastic about emigration as a subject. It is material for a serial par excellence.” (p.222)

One just wishes that historians and social scientists may realise this as well and start doing more research on it.

Kristina Kappelin, Berlusconi – Italienaren (Stockholm: Brombergs, 2010)

Kappelin knows, and loves, Italy: there is no trace, in her work, of a superiority complex towards Italians – such folkloristic people! ? which is on the contrary a common feature of some foreign media when dealing with Italy. Rather, Kappelin tries to understand how came that a country with a unique cultural and historical heritage has let itself be bluffed by a man who has – perhaps irreparably – compromised Italy’s reputation in the world.

And the book is indeed not only about the founder of “Forza Italia”, but instead, as it is made clear by the meaningful title (Berlusconi. The Italian), about Berlusconi as embodiment of some national peculiarities, so to say.

Italy in the whole have not yet been able to reflect about Berlusconi’s almost twenty-year dominance over the country’s political and economic life, pressed as it is just now (February 2012) by a never-ending emergency – the risk of a financial collapse – which caused, in November 2011, the appointment of a “technical government” (i.e. voted by the Parliament but not resulting from the last general election) being charged with the task of crisis management. Furthermore, although “style” is significant – professor Mario Monti does not “peekaboo” the German chancellor (Kappelin reminds Berlusconi’s blunders in chapter seven, Tittut i världen) and seems not to be used to spend his nights with twenty- to thirty young girls at the same time – the common feeling is that there has not occurred any shift in economic and social policies, which remain unfair and not effective (at least in the view of re-launching the economy and not only balancing public finances). This sense of continuity prevents to look at “Berlusconism” as a close (?) period in Italian history.

What does Berlusconi’s success reveal of Italy, according to Kappelin’s book? Basically, three aspects: the power of organised crime; the Catholic Church’s influence upon domestic politics and culture; the well-grounded male chauvinism.

The first two points (which particularly chapter sex, Maffian, and eight, Klockorna i Peterskyrkan, focuse on, although they are recurring issues all over the book) are frequently cause of embarrassments to Italians when talking with foreigners.

And indeed it would be unthinkable in Sweden – Kappelin is not so explicit, but the starting sentence of her book is: how come that Italians vote for Berlusconi? ? to pervert justice in the way Berlusconi did in Italy (by the notorious ad hoc laws, described in their origin and content in the chapter five, Konflikten med rättväsandet), and to witness powerless to the connivance between politics and criminality. This is due probably to a political tradition in Nordic countries which Henrik Berggren and Lars Trägårdh have described as a high degree of social trust, meant both as trust in other people, including strangers, and confidence in common institutions due to their transparency[1].

However, Kappelin’s thesis is that what explains why  a politician, who from a Swedish point of view is completely incomprehensible, has been so successful is, besides his relationship with organised crime on one hand and with the Catholic Church on the other hand (at least until the last sex affaires), male chauvinism: a key factor, the Swedish journalist stresses already in the Introduction, in understanding Italy’s decline, from the economic stagnation (now recession) to the lack of trust in the future. And in chapter one (Italien och Italienarna. En introduktion) Kappelin points out indeed that the country is like a journey back in time, in a masculine and sensual world, where “l’apparenza” (look)[2] means all and where a downward compromise has been achieved between the individual and the State: as you (State) do not accomplish your duties towards me (citizen), I am not bound to accomplish mine towards you. It is the triumph of the “furbo” (cunning fellow)[3].

With such a background, it is quite obvious that women have no chance, with few exceptions, to establish themselves as political and economic independent actors. Their unhappy fortune in Berlusconi’s Italy is the subject of chapter three (Madonnan, horan och Silvio Berlusconi): those that are good looking are reduced to nothing more than ornamental elements in a society ruled by old and unappeasable men and therefore appointed as parliamentary members and even ministers exactly because of their “apparenza”; the others, the common women, who are not mistresses of some sultan, are mostly doomed to insignificance in the economy and in politics.

Berlusconi, Kappelin insists on this point, has not invented male chauvinism, which on the contrary is well-grounded in the country’s culture; his sin with no redemption is to have turned this national inclination into a rule and the “velina”[4] (young girls almost naked whose only task in Berlusconi’s TV programs is to shake their body in alluring ways) into the ideal model of womanhood.

And thus we come to another valuable contribution of Kappelin’s book, after the effective part on women’s role as mirror of Italy’s decadence (and again here we could remind that on the contrary Nordic countries are on the top in the world’s gender equality ratios): to the huge concentration of media power achieved by Berlusconi much attention is drawn upon (see particularly chapter four, Makten over medierna), but this problem is not presented at all as an Italian peculiarity. Rather, Kappelin warns that also countries which have repeatedly condemned Berlusconi for his conflict of interest have no safe defence against such a risk.

The final part of the book focuses on how Berlusconi has changed Italian political style, turning electoral campaigns into sales where even the promise of one million – and not half a million, as Kappelin writes – new jobs can be sold to people in search of an encouraging fairy-tale, with immigrants welcomed as scapegoats (chapter nine, Dragkampen i Italien – resultat och misslyckanden), and on the dangerous meeting between authoritarian democracy and media populism (chapter ten, Auktoritär demokrati och medial populism). No one before Berlusconi, Kappelin points out, had dared to draw a comparison between Mussolini and himself with a kind of self-congratulation. But what the author argues is not that the founder of “Forza Italia” is the new Mussolini: the difference is that the latter aimed at building a new Italian,  whilst the former is satisfied with the existing one. The point is rather that the centre-right parties, with Berlusconi in the forefront, have taken over and reverted the “cultural hegemony” based since 1945 on antifascism as the key-source of national identity, and have systematically put down liberal institutions (starting from parliamentary and judicial powers) – and politics itself.

In this perspective, Berlusconi’s Italy appears as a political laboratory for the whole Europe. This is the somehow not expected conclusion from a non-Italian author, which enables the book to be not only a commented review of stereotypes about Italians (and about differences between Northern and Southern Europe), but a more demanding reflection about possible future developments of democracy at an international level. Out of Italy many have laughed when seeing Berlusconi’s blunders and listening to his hymn (“Meno male che Silvio c’è”), but – Kappelin warns – his “style” has become a model for a new generation of right-wing politicians, starting from David Cameron in the UK.

Thus it is not easy to get rid of Berlusconism as though it were a mere interlude in Italian history, perhaps cherishing the always comfortable thesis that it has been a further demonstration of the Gattopardo’s core idea: in Italy everything is to be changed so that nothing changes. On the contrary, Berlusconi, this is Kappelin’s conclusion, has substantially changed the way Italians look at themselves – and at the the others – as well as the ways of contemporary politics. And it will take time to go back to previous ones – or to find something new.


[1] See H. Berggren, L. Trägårdh, Social Trust and Radical Individualism. The Paradox at the Heart of Nordic Capitalism, in The Nordic Way, Stockholm, Global Utmaning, 2010, pp. 18-19.

[2] In Italian in the book, see p. 18.

[3] In Italian in the book, see p. 29.

[4] The book has been written before the “Ruby affaire”.