zaterdag 28 april 2018

Edward R. Murrow

On October 15, 1958, veteran broadcaster Edward R. Murrow delivered his famous "wires and lights in a box" speech before attendees of the RTDNA (then RTNDA) convention.
 

 
This just might do nobody any good. At the end of this discourse a few people may accuse this reporter of fouling his own comfortable nest, and your organization may be accused of having given hospitality to heretical and even dangerous thoughts. But I am persuaded that the elaborate structure of networks, advertising agencies and sponsors will not be shaken or altered. It is my desire, if not my duty, to try to talk to you journeymen with some candor about what is happening to radio and television in this generous and capacious land. I have no technical advice or counsel to offer those of you who labor in this vineyard the one that produces words and pictures. You will, I am sure, forgive me for not telling you that the instruments with which you work are miraculous, that your responsibility is unprecedented or that your aspirations are frequently frustrated. It is not necessary to remind you of the fact that your voice, amplified to the degree where it reaches from one end of the country to the other, does not confer upon you greater wisdom than when your voice reached only from one end of the bar to the other. All of these things you know.

You should also know at the outset that, in the manner of witnesses before Congressional committees, I appear here voluntarily-by invitation-that I am an employee of the Columbia Broadcasting System, that I am neither an officer nor any longer a director of that corporation and that these remarks are strictly of a "do-it-yourself" nature. If what I have to say is responsible, then I alone am responsible for the saying of it. Seeking neither approbation from my employers, nor new sponsors, nor acclaim from the critics of radio and television, I cannot very well be disappointed. Believing that potentially the commercial system of broadcasting as practiced in this country is the best and freest yet devised, I have decided to express my concern about what I believe to be happening to radio and television. These instruments have been good to me beyond my due. There exists in mind no reasonable grounds for any kind of personal complaint. I have no feud, either with my employers, any sponsors, or with the professional critics of radio and television. But I am seized with an abiding fear regarding what these two instruments are doing to our society, our culture and our heritage.

Our history will be what we make it. And if there are any historians about fifty or a hundred years from now, and there should be preserved the kinescopes for one week of all three networks, they will there find recorded in black and white, or perhaps in color, evidence of decadence, escapism and insulation from the realities of the world in which we live. I invite your attention to the television schedules of all networks between the hours of 8 and 11 p.m., Eastern Time. Here you will find only fleeting and spasmodic reference to the fact that this nation is in mortal danger. There are, it is true, occasional informative programs presented in that intellectual ghetto on Sunday afternoons. But during the daily peak viewing periods, television in the main insulates us from the realities of the world in which we live. If this state of affairs continues, we may alter an advertising slogan to read: LOOK NOW, AND PAY LATER.

For surely we shall pay for using this most powerful instrument of communication to insulate the citizenry from the hard and demanding realities which must indeed be faced if we are to survive. And I mean the word survive, quite literally. If there were to be a competition in indifference, or perhaps in insulation from reality, then Nero and his fiddle, Chamberlain and his umbrella, could not find a place on an early afternoon sustaining show. If Hollywood were to run out of Indians, the program schedules would be mangled beyond all recognition. Then perhaps, some young and courageous soul with a small budget might do a documentary telling what, in fact, we have done--and are still doing--to the Indians in this country. But that would be unpleasant. And we must at all costs shield the sensitive citizen from anything that is unpleasant.

I am entirely persuaded that the American public is more reasonable, restrained and more mature than most of our industry's program planners believe. Their fear of controversy is not warranted by the evidence. I have reason to know, as do many of you, that when the evidence on a controversial subject is fairly and calmly presented, the public recognizes it for what it is--an effort to illuminate rather than to agitate.

Several years ago, when we undertook to do a program on Egypt and Israel, well-meaning, experienced and intelligent friends in the business said, "This you cannot do. This time you will be handed your head. It is an emotion-packed controversy, and there is no room for reason in it." We did the program. Zionists, anti-Zionists, the friends of the Middle East, Egyptian and Israeli officials said, I must confess with a faint tone of surprise, "It was a fair account. The information was there. We have no complaints."

Our experience was similar with two half-hour programs dealing with cigarette smoking and lung cancer. Both the medical profession and the tobacco industry cooperated, but in a rather wary fashion. But in the end of the day they were both reasonably content. The subject of radioactive fallout and the banning of nuclear tests was, and is, highly controversial. But according to what little evidence there is, viewers were prepared to listen to both sides with reason and restraint. This is not said to claim any special or unusual competence in the presentation of controversial subjects, but rather to indicate that timidity in these areas is not warranted by the evidence.

Recently, network spokesmen have been disposed to complain that the professional critics of television in print have been rather beastly. There have been ill-disguised hints that somehow competition for the advertising dollar has caused the critics in print to gang up on television and radio. This reporter has no desire to defend the critics. They have space in which to do that on their own behalf. But it remains a fact that the newspapers and magazines are the only instruments of mass communication which remain free from sustained and regular critical comment. I would suggest that if the network spokesmen are so anguished about what appears in print, then let them come forth and engage in a little sustained and regular comment regarding newspapers and magazines. It is an ancient and sad fact that most people in network television, and radio, have an exaggerated regard for what appears in print. And there have been cases where executives have refused to make even private comment on a program for which they are responsible until they had read the reviews in print. This is hardly an exhibition of confidence in their own judgment.

The oldest excuse of the networks for their timidity is their youth. Their spokesmen say, "We are young. We have not developed the traditions. nor acquired the experience of the older media." If they but knew it, they are building those traditions and creating those precedents every day. Each time they yield to a voice from Washington or any political pressure, each time they eliminate something that might offend some section of the community, they are creating their own body of precedent and tradition, and it will continue to pursue them. They are, in fact, not content to be half safe.

Nowhere is this better illustrated than by the fact that the chairman of the Federal Communications Commission publicly prods broadcasters to engage in their legal right to editorialize. Of course, to undertake an editorial policy; overt, clearly labeled, and obviously unsponsored; requires a station or a network to be responsible. Most stations today probably do not have the manpower to assume this responsibility, but the manpower could be recruited. Editorials, of course, would not be profitable. If they had a cutting edge, they might even offend. It is much easier, much less troublesome, to use this money-making machine of television and radio merely as a conduit through which to channel anything that will be paid for that is not libelous, obscene or defamatory. In that way one has the illusion of power without responsibility.

So far as radio--that most satisfying, ancient but rewarding instrument--is concerned, the diagnosis of the difficulties is not too difficult. And obviously I speak only of news and information. In order to progress, it need only go backward. Back to the time when singing commercials were not allowed on news reports, when there was no middle commercial in a 15-minute news report, when radio was rather proud, and alert, and fast. I recently asked a network official, "Why this great rash of five-minute news reports (including three commercials) on weekends?" And he replied, "Because that seems to be the only thing we can sell."

Well, in this kind of complex and confusing world, you can't tell very much about the "why" of the news in a broadcast where only three minutes is available for news. The only man who could do that was Elmer Davis, and his kind aren't around any more. If radio news is to be regarded as a commodity, only acceptable when saleable, and only when packaged to fit the advertising appropriate of a sponsor, then I don't care what you call it--I say it isn't news.

My memory -- and I have not yet reached the point where my memories fascinate me -- but my memory also goes back to the time when the fear of a slight reduction in business did not result in an immediate cutback in bodies in the news and public affairs department, at a time when network profits had just reached an all-time high. We would all agree, I think, that whether on a station or a network, the stapling machine is a very poor substitute for a newsroom typewriter, and somebody to beat it properly.

One of the minor tragedies of television news and information is that the networks will not even defend their vital interests. When my employer, CBS, through a combination of enterprise and good luck, did an interview with Nikita Khrushchev, the President uttered a few ill-chosen, uninformed words on the subject, and the network thereupon practically apologized. This produced something of a rarity: Many newspapers defended the CBS right to produce the program and commended it for its initiative. The other networks remained silent.

Likewise, when John Foster Dulles, by personal decree, banned American journalists from going to Communist China, and subsequently offered seven contradictory explanations, for his fiat the networks entered only a mild protest. Then they apparently forgot the unpleasantness. Can it be that this national industry is content to serve the public interest only with the trickle of news that comes out of Hong Kong, to leave its viewers in ignorance of the cataclysmic changes that are occurring in a nation of six hundred million people? I have no illusions about the difficulties of reporting from a dictatorship, but our British and French allies have been better served--in their public interest--with some very useful information from their reporters in Communist China.

One of the basic troubles with radio and television news is that both instruments have grown up as an incompatible combination of show business, advertising and news. Each of the three is a rather bizarre and, at times, demanding profession. And when you get all three under one roof, the dust never settles. The top management of the networks with a few notable exceptions, has been trained in advertising, research, sales or show business. But by the nature of the corporate structure, they also make the final and crucial decisions having to do with news and public affairs. Frequently they have neither the time nor the competence to do this. It is, after all, not easy for the same small group of men to decide whether to buy a new station for millions of dollars, build a new building, alter the rate card, buy a new Western, sell a soap opera, decide what defensive line to take in connection with the latest Congressional inquiry, how much money to spend on promoting a new program, what additions or deletions should be made in the existing covey or clutch of vice-presidents, and at the same time-- frequently on the long, same long day--to give mature, thoughtful consideration to the manifold problems that confront those who are charged with the responsibility for news and public affairs.

Sometimes there is a clash between the public interest and the corporate interest. A telephone call or a letter from a proper quarter in Washington is treated rather more seriously than a communication from an irate but not politically potent viewer. It is tempting enough to give away a little air time for frequently irresponsible and unwarranted utterances in an effort to temper the wind of political criticism. But this could well be the subject of a separate and even lengthier and drearier dissertation.

Upon occasion, economics and editorial judgment are in conflict. And there is no law which says that dollars will be defeated by duty. Not so long ago the President of the United States delivered a television address to the nation. He was discoursing on the possibility or the probability of war between this nation and the Soviet Union and Communist China. It would seem to have been a reasonably compelling subject, with a degree of urgency attached. Two networks, CBS and NBC, delayed that broadcast for an hour and fifteen minutes. If this decision was dictated by anything other than financial reasons, the networks didn't deign to explain those reasons. That hour-and-fifteen-minute delay, by the way, is a little more than twice the time required for an ICBM to travel from the Soviet Union to major targets in the United States. It is difficult to believe that this decision was made by men who love, respect and understand news.

I have been dealing largely with the deficit side of the ledger, and the items could be expanded. But I have said, and I believe, that potentially we have in this country a free enterprise system of radio and television which is superior to any other. But to achieve its promise, it must be both free and enterprising. There is no suggestion here that networks or individual stations should operate as philanthropies. But I can find nothing in the Bill of Rights or in the Communications Act which says that they must increase their net profits each year, lest the republic collapse. I do not suggest that news and information should be subsidized by foundations or private subscriptions. I am aware that the networks have expended, and are expending, very considerable sums of money on public affairs programs from which they cannot receive any financial reward. I have had the privilege at CBS of presiding over a considerable number of such programs. And I am able to stand here and say, that I have never had a program turned down by my superiors just because of the money it would cost.

But we all know that you cannot reach the potential maximum audience in marginal time with a sustaining program. This is so because so many stations on the network--any network--will decline to carry it. Every licensee who applies for a grant to operate in the public interest, convenience and necessity makes certain promises as to what he will do in terms of program content. Many recipients of licenses have, in blunt language, just plain welshed on those promises. The money-making machine somehow blunts their memories. The only remedy for this is closer inspection and punitive action by the F.C.C. But in the view of many, this would come perilously close to supervision of program content by a federal agency.

So it seems that we cannot rely on philanthropic support or foundation subsidies. We cannot follow the sustaining route. The networks cannot pay all the freight. And the F.C.C. cannot, will not, or should not discipline those who abuse the facilities that belong to the public. What, then, is the answer? Do we merely stay in our comfortable nests, concluding that the obligation of these instruments has been discharged when we work at the job of informing the public for a minimum of time? Or do we believe that the preservation of the republic is a seven-day-a-week job, demanding more awareness, better skills and more perseverance than we have yet contemplated.

I am frightened by the imbalance, the constant striving to reach the largest possible audience for everything; by the absence of a sustained study of the state of the nation. Heywood Broun once said, "No body politic is healthy until it begins to itch." I would like television to produce some itching pills rather than this endless outpouring of tranquilizers. It can be done. Maybe it won't be, but it could. But let us not shoot the wrong piano player. Do not be deluded into believing that the titular heads of the networks control what appears on their networks. They all have better taste. All are responsible to stockholders, and in my experience all are honorable men. But they must schedule what they can sell in the public market.

And this brings us to the nub of the question. In one sense it rather revolves around the phrase heard frequently along Madison Avenue: "The Corporate Image." I am not precisely sure what this phrase means, but I would imagine that it reflects a desire on the part of the corporations who pay the advertising bills to have a public image, or believe that they are not merely bodies with no souls, panting in pursuit of elusive dollars. They would like us to believe that they can distinguish between the public good and the private or corporate gain. So the question is this: Are the big corporations who pay who pay the freight for radio and television programs to use that time exclusively for the sale of goods and services? Is it in their own interest and that of the stockholders so to do? The sponsor of an hour's television program is not buying merely the six minutes devoted to his commercial message. He is determining, within broad limits, the sum total of the impact of the entire hour. If he always, invariably, reaches for the largest possible audience, then this process of insulation, of escape from reality, will continue to be massively financed, and its apologists will continue to make winsome speeches about giving the public what it wants, or letting the public decide.

I refuse to believe that the presidents and chairmen of the boards of these big corporations want their corporate image to consist exclusively of a solemn voice in an echo chamber, or a pretty girl opening the door of a refrigerator, or a horse that talks. They want something better, and on occasion some of them have demonstrated it. But most of the men whose legal and moral responsibility it is to spend the stockholders' money for advertising are, in fact, removed from the realities of the mass media by five, six, or a dozen contraceptive layers of vice-presidents, public relations counsel and advertising agencies. Their business is to sell goods, and the competition is pretty tough.

But this nation is now in competition with malignant forces of evil who are using every instrument at their command to empty the minds of their subjects and fill those minds with slogans, determination and faith in the future. If we go on as we are, we are protecting the mind of the American public from any real contact with the menacing world that squeezes in upon us. We are engaged in a great experiment to discover whether a free public opinion can devise and direct methods of managing the affairs of the nation. We may fail. But in terms of information, we are handicapping ourselves needlessly.

Let us have a little competition not only in selling soap, cigarettes and automobiles, but in informing a troubled, apprehensive but receptive public. Why should not each of the 20 or 30 big corporations--and they dominate radio and television--decide that they will give up one or two of their regularly scheduled programs each year, turn the time over to the networks and say in effect: "This is a tiny tithe, just a little bit of our profits. On this particular night we aren't going to try to sell cigarettes or automobiles; this is merely a gesture to indicate our belief in the importance of ideas." The networks should, and I think they would, pay for the cost of producing the program. The advertiser, the sponsor, would get name credit but would have nothing to do with the content of the program. Would this blemish the corporate image? Would the stockholders rise up and object? I think not. For if the premise upon which our pluralistic society rests, which as I understand it is that if the people are given sufficient undiluted information, they will then somehow, even after long, sober second thoughts, reach the right conclusion. If that premise is wrong, then not only the corporate image but the corporations and the rest of us are done for.

There used to be an old phrase in this country, employed when someone talked too much. I am grateful to all of you for not having employed it earlier. The phrase was: "Go hire a hall." Under this proposal, the sponsor would have hired the hall; he has bought the time. The local station operator, no matter how indifferent, is going to carry the program--he has to--he's getting paid for it. Then it's up to the networks to fill the hall. I am not here talking about editorializing but about straightaway exposition as direct, unadorned and impartial as fallible human beings can make it. Just once in a while let us exalt the importance of ideas and information. Let us dream to the extent of saying that on a given Sunday night the time normally occupied by Ed Sullivan is given over to a clinical survey of the state of American education, and a week or two later the time normally used by Steve Allen is devoted to a thoroughgoing study of American policy in the Middle East. Would the corporate image of their respective sponsors be damaged? Would the stockholders rise up and complain? Would anything happen other than that a few million people would have received a little illumination on subjects that may well determine the future of this country, and therefore also the future of the corporations? This method would also provide real competition between the networks as to which could outdo the others in the palatable presentation of information. It would provide an outlet for the young men of skill, and there are many, even of dedication, who would like to do something other than devise methods of insulating while selling.

There may be other and simpler methods of utilizing these instruments of radio and television in the interest of a free society. But I know of none that could be so easily accomplished inside the framework of the existing commercial system. I don't know how you would measure the success or failure of a given program. And it would be very hard to prove the magnitude of the benefit accruing to the corporation which gave up one night of a variety or quiz show in order that the network might marshal its skills to do a thorough-going job on the present status of NATO, or plans for controlling nuclear tests. But I would reckon that the president, and indeed the stockholders of the corporation who sponsored such a venture, would feel just a little bit better about both the corporation and the country.

It may be that this present system, with no modifications and no experiments, can survive. Perhaps the money-making machine has some kind of built-in perpetual motion, but I do not think so. To a very considerable extent, the media of mass communications in a given country reflects the political, economic and social climate in which it grows and flourishes. That is the reason our system differs from the British and the French, and also from the Russian and the Chinese. We are currently wealthy, fat, comfortable and complacent. We have currently a built-in allergy to unpleasant or disturbing information. And our mass media reflect this. But unless we get up off our fat surpluses and recognize that television in the main is being used to distract, delude, amuse and insulate us, then television and those who finance it, those who look at it and those who work at it, may see a totally different picture too late.

I do not advocate that we turn television into a 27-inch wailing wall, where longhairs constantly moan about the state of our culture and our defense. But I would just like to see it reflect occasionally the hard, unyielding realities of the world in which we live. I would like to see it done inside the existing framework, and I would like to see the doing of it redound to the credit of those who finance and program it. Measure the results by Nielsen, Trendex or Silex-it doesn't matter. The main thing is to try. The responsibility can be easily placed, in spite of all the mouthings about giving the public what it wants. It rests on big business, and on big television, and it rests on the top. Responsibility is not something that can be assigned or delegated. And it promises its own reward: both good business and good television.

Perhaps no one will do anything about it. I have ventured to outline it against a background of criticism that may have been too harsh only because I could think of nothing better. Someone once said--and I think it was Max Eastman--that "that publisher serves his advertiser best who best serves his readers." I cannot believe that radio and television, or the corporations that finance the programs, are serving well or truly their viewers or their listeners, or themselves.

I began by saying that our history will be what we make it. If we go on as we are, then history will take its revenge, and retribution will not limp in catching up with us.

We are to a large extent an imitative society. If one or two or three corporations would undertake to devote just a small fraction of their advertising appropriation along the lines that I have suggested, the procedure might well grow by contagion; the economic burden would be bearable, and there might ensue a most exciting adventure--exposure to ideas and the bringing of reality into the homes of the nation.

To those who say people wouldn't look; they wouldn't be interested; they're too complacent, indifferent and insulated, I can only reply: There is, in one reporter's opinion, considerable evidence against that contention. But even if they are right, what have they got to lose? Because if they are right, and this instrument is good for nothing but to entertain, amuse and insulate, then the tube is flickering now and we will soon see that the whole struggle is lost.

This instrument can teach, it can illuminate; yes, and even it can inspire. But it can do so only to the extent that humans are determined to use it to those ends. Otherwise, it's nothing but wires and lights in a box. There is a great and perhaps decisive battle to be fought against ignorance, intolerance and indifference. This weapon of television could be useful.

Stonewall Jackson, who is generally believed to have known something about weapons, is reported to have said, "When war comes, you must draw the sword and throw away the scabbard." The trouble with television is that it is rusting in the scabbard during a battle for survival. Thank you for your patience.

http://www.rtdna.org/content/edward_r_murrow_s_1958_wires_lights_in_a_box_speech#.VCl4tmddVWI



Henry Giroux: A Must Read!



Unfashionable Fascism: Mainstream Politicians Switching Sides Under Trump’s Regime of Barbarism

 
Photo by Commonwealth Club | CC BY 2.0
Madeleine Albright, without irony, has written a book on resisting Fascism. She has also published an op-ed in the New York Times pushing the same argument. Albright is alarmed and wants to warn the public to stop the fascism emerging under the Trump regime before it is too late.[1]  Unfortunately, moralism on the part of the infamous and notorious is often the enemy of both historical memory and the truth, in spite of their newly discovered opposition to tyranny.   It is hard to believe that a woman who defended the killing of 500,00 children as a result of the imposed US sanctions on Iraq can take up the cause of fighting Fascism while positioning herself (or being positioned by the mainstream media) as being on the forefront of resistance to US authoritarianism. Here is what David Rieff writing in the New York Times says about the sanctions Albright justified: “For many people, the sanctions on Iraq were one of the decade’s great crimes, as appalling as Bosnia or Rwanda. Anger at the United States and Britain, the two principal architects of the policy, often ran white hot. Denis J. Halliday, the United Nations humanitarian coordinator in Iraq for part of the sanctions era, expressed a widely held belief when he said in 1998: ‘We are in the process of destroying an entire society.’ It is as simple and terrifying as that.”[2]Is any policy worth the death of 500,000 children?  She is not alone.
Hilary Clinton, known more politically as a former war monger and an unabashed ally of the financial elite, has also resurrected herself as a crusader in fighting the creeping fascism that now marks the Trump regime. Speaking with Ngozi Adichie at the PEN World Voices Festival, Clinton appears to have completely removed herself from her notorious past as a supporter of the Iraqi war and the military-industrial-financial complex in order to sound the alarm “that freedom of speech and expression is under attack here in our own country” while further calling for numerous voices to make visible the creeping authoritarianism in America.[3] This is an odd flight from memory into the sphere of moral outrage given her own role in supporting domestic and foreign policies both as a former first lady and as Secretary of State that refused to punish CIA torturers, lavished funds on the military war machine, shredded the federal safety net for poor people, and endorsed neoliberal policies that offered no hope and prosperity “for neighborhoods devastated by deindustrialization, globalization, and the disappearance of work.”[4] No irony here. Just the opposite. Her critique of Trump’s fascism does more than alert the public to the obvious about the current government, it also legitimizes a  form of historical amnesia and a long and suppressed legacy of cruelty and human misery. She is not alone.
The U.S. and its Vichy Republican Party has drifted so far to the fascist right that people such as Albright and Clinton come across as the heroic vanguard of a political and ethical resistance to fascism. Under such circumstances, even some outspoken Republicans, again without irony, such as Flake, Corker and McCain are viewed in the mainstream press as principled heroes in spite of the fact that they have supported Trump’s domestic and foreign policies, including his tax reform bill and his cruel and obscene budget, which not only offers $700 billion to the military but condemns millions of people to a life of misery and suffering. While the call to resist fascism is to be welcomed, it has to be interrogated and not aligned with individuals and ideological forces that helped put in place the racist, economic, religious, and educational forces that helped produce it.
I am not simply condemning the hypocrisy of mainstream politicians who are now criticizing the emerging fascism in the United States. Nor am I proposing that only selective condemnations should be welcomed. What I am suggesting is that the seductions of power in high places often work to impose a silence upon people that allows them to not only benefit from and become complicit with authoritarian tendencies and anti-democratic policies and modes of governance, but also once such people are out of power their own histories of complicity are too often easily erased, especially in the mainstream media. Regardless of such a newly found stance against fascism, such actions do nothing to help explain where we are and what we might do next to resist the fascism that has now engulfed American society and its economic, cultural, and political institutions.
What is often unrecognized in the celebrated denunciations of fascism by celebrity politicians is that neoliberalism is the new fascism. And what becomes invisible in the fog of such celebration is neoliberalism’s legacy and deadly mix of market fundamentalism, anti-intellectualism, rabid individualism, white supremacy, toxic masculinity, and all embracing quest for profits. The new and more racist, violent and brutalizing form of neoliberalism under Trump, has produced both a savage politics in the US and a corrupt financial elite that now controls all the commanding institutions of American society including the state. In other words, what disappears are the very conditions that have made possible a new and more feral American-style fascism.   Systemic corruption, crassness, overt racism, a view of misfortune as a weakness, unapologetic bigotry, and a disdain of the public and common good has been normalized under Trump after gaining strength over the last 50 years in American politics. Trump is merely the blunt instrument at the heart of a fascistic neoliberal ideology. We need to be wary, to say the least, about those mainstream politicians now denouncing Trump’s fascism who while in power submitted, as Stanley Aronowitz puts it, “to neoliberal degradations of health care, jobs, public housing, and income guarantees for the long-term unemployed (let alone the rest of us).”[5]
What is often ignored in the emerging critiques of fascism is the history of neoliberalism’s legacy coupled with the mainstream media’s attempts to foreground many if its architects and supporters as celebrated opponents of Trump’s fascist government. Trump is the extreme point of a long series of attacks on democracy and former politicians such as Albright and Clinton cannot be removed from that history. None of these politicians have denounced state violence, nationalism, the myth of American exceptionalism, and the forces that produce obscene inequality in wealth and power in the US, or the oppressive regime of law and order that has ruled America ruthlessly and without apology since the 1980s.
Unchecked and systemic power, a take no prisoners politics, and an unapologetic cruelty are the currency of fascism because they are the wedge that makes fear visceral and violence more than an abstraction. This lethal combination is also a pathological condition endemic to brutal demagogues such as Trump. They demand loyalty not to an ideal that expands the meaning of justice and democracy but loyalty to themselves, one that stands above the truth and rule of law. As The Economist points out, “Trump demands loyalty to himself and to the prejudice and rage which consume the voter base that, on occasion, even he struggles to control. In America that is unprecedented and it is dangerous.”[6] This combination of a demand to an insular notion of loyalty and their penchant for cruelty offers such demagogues not only a terrifying symbol of their unchecked power but also the emotional rush that may provide one of the few options for them to feel any emotion at all.  Cruelty also feeds on irony and cleanses the past of the conditions that allow the mobilizing passions of fascism to bloom. The call to resist fascism is welcome but also complicated and cannot be separated from acts of bad faith that cleanse the historical record of the forces that helped produce it. The public imagination withers under the assault on historical consciousness and the institutions that nurture it.
The fight against fascism is part of a struggle over memory and those critical narratives that refuse to be couched in a form of historical and social amnesia. It is also a fight over the public spheres and institutions that make civic literacy, the public imagination, and critical consciousness possible.  This suggests both a struggle to reclaim historical consciousness and to expose the forces that are and have been complicit with the long standing attack on democratic institutions, values, and social relations, especially those that now hide their past and ideological convictions in the purifying discourse of outrage, disingenuousness, and resistance.
Any resistance to fascism has to be rooted in the call to make education central to politics with a strong emphasis on the teaching of historical consciousness and civic literacy as crucial weapons in the fight against fascism. At the same time, such a fight must take an unwavering standpoint in its refusal to equate capitalism and democracy. Such a battle has to be waged in diverse struggles that can be aligned through a common thread willing to recognize that we are at war over not just the right of economic equality and social justice but also against the powerful and privileged positions of whiteness, a toxic masculinity, and the elimination of the very notion of the social, solidarity, and compassion.
This is a war waged over the possibility of a radical democracy while acknowledging that the rich and powerful will not give up their power without a fight. Instead of listening to politicians and others deeply embedded in a system of exploitation, disposability, austerity, and a criminogenic culture, we need to listen to the voices of the striking teachers, the Parkland students, the women driving the me too movement, the Black Lives Matter movement, and others willing to make resistance visible, collective, and widespread. But we also need to connect these voices as part of a more comprehensive struggle against fascism and the diverse forms of repression that it produces.
A radical and progressive struggle against fascism needs a comprehensive vision, a struggle against economic inequality, and strategies that privilege direct action such as the wildcat strikes we have seen among public school teachers in West Virginia.  There is also a need for wide-ranging educational struggle willing to use both established and alternative institutions of schooling, digital spaces, and diverse forms of social media in order to challenge the propaganda produced by the powerful cultural apparatuses of the right such as Sinclair broadcasting, Fox News, and other establishment sources. There is also a crucial necessity to take up the challenge to educate the young and old in the new technologies and how to use them in the service of economic and social justice. At the same time, there is challenge of the left to produce its own public intellectuals who can write and speak in ways that are rigorous, accessible, and attractive to a broader public. A new politics of education is a precondition for creating a new political formation that refuses to be coopted by the liberal center and is rooted in a vision that endorses fundamental social changes in the fight against American style fascism. Such a challenge will not come from establishment politicians and pundits parading as the new heroes of the resistance to Trump’s fascism.
Notes.
[1] Madeleine Albright, “Will We Stop Trump Before It’s Too Late?” New York Times (April 6, 2018). Online: https://www.nytimes.com/2018/04/06/opinion/sunday/trump-fascism-madeleine-albright.html
[2]David Rieff, “Were Sanctions Right?” New York Times (July 27, 2003). Online: https://www.nytimes.com/2003/07/27/magazine/were-sanctions-right.html
[3] Nina Pearlman, “Creeping Authoritarianism in America: The former secretary of state spoke with author Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie at the PEN World Voices Festival,” The Village Voice (April 24, 2018). Online: https://www.thenation.com/article/hillary-clinton-does-not-deserve-black-peoples-votes
[4] Michelle Alexander, Why Hillary Clinton Doesn’t Deserve the Black Vote
From the crime bill to welfare reform, policies Bill Clinton enacted—and Hillary Clinton supported—decimated black America,” The Nation(February 29, 2016). Online: https://www.thenation.com/article/hillary-clinton-does-not-deserve-black-peoples-votes/
[5] Stanley Aronowitz, “What Kind of Left Does America Need?,” Tikkun, April 14, 2014
[6]Editorial, “What Has become of the Republican Party?,”The Economist (April 21, 2018), p. 9.
More articles by:
Henry A. Giroux currently holds the McMaster University Chair for Scholarship in the Public Interest in the English and Cultural Studies Department and is the Paulo Freire Distinguished Scholar in Critical Pedagogy. His most recent books are America’s Education Deficit and the War on Youth (Monthly Review Press, 2013), Neoliberalism’s War on Higher Education (Haymarket Press, 2014), The Public in Peril: Trump and the Menace of American Authoritarianism (Routledge, 2018), and the American Nightmare: Facing the Challenge of Fascism (City Lights, 2018). His website is www. henryagiroux.com.

Creating Illusions

 
 April 23, 2018  Posted by  at 12:46 pm Finance Tagged with: 
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René Magritte La trahison des images 1929 

“[Price discovery] is the process of determining the price of an asset in the marketplace through the interactions of buyers and sellers”, says Wikipedia. Perhaps not a perfect definition, but it’ll do. They add: “The futures and options market serve all important functions of price discovery.”
What follows from this is that markets need price discovery as much as price discovery needs markets. They are two sides of the same coin. Markets are the mechanism that makes price discovery possible, and vice versa. Functioning markets, that is. 
Given the interdependence between the two, we must conclude that when there is no price discovery, there are no functioning markets. And a market that doesn’t function is not a market at all. Also, if you don’t have functioning markets, you have no investors. Who’s going to spend money purchasing things they can’t determine the value of? (I know: oh, wait..)

Ergo: we must wonder why everyone in the financial world, and the media, is still talking about ‘the markets’ (stocks, bonds et al) as if they still existed. Is it because they think there still is price discovery? Or do they think that even without price discovery, you can still have functioning markets? Or is their idea that a market is still a market even if it doesn’t function? 
Or is it because they once started out as ‘investors’ or finance journalists, bankers or politicians, and wouldn’t know what to call themselves now, or simply can’t be bothered to think about such trivial matters? 
Doesn’t a little warning voice pop up, somewhere in the back of their minds, in the middle of a sweaty sleepless night, that says perhaps they shouldn’t get this one wrong? Because if you think about, and treat, a ‘thing’, as something that it’s not at all, don’t you run the risk of getting it awfully wrong? 
A cow is not a dinner table; but both have four legs. And “Art is Art, isn’t it? Still, on the other hand, water is water. And east is east and west is west and if you take cranberries and stew them like applesauce they taste much more like prunes than rhubarb does. Now you tell me what you know”. And when you base million, billion, trillion dollar decisions, often involving other people’s money, on such misconceptions, don’t you play with fire -or worse?

This may seem like pure semantics without much practical value, but I don’t think it is. I think it’s essential. What comes to mind is René Magritte’s painting “La Trahison des Images”, better known as “Ceci n’est pas une pipe”, (The Treachery of Images – this is not a pipe). People now understand -better- what he meant, but they were plenty confused in the late 1920s when he painted it. 
An image of a pipe is not a pipe. In Magritte’s words: “The famous pipe! How people reproached me for it! And yet, could you stuff my pipe? No, it’s just a representation, is it not? So if I had written on my picture ‘This is a pipe’, I’d have been lying!”
But isn’t that what the entire financial community is doing today? Sure, they’re making money right now, but that doesn’t mean there are actual markets. They don’t have to go through “the process of determining the price of an asset in the marketplace..” I.e. they don’t have to check if the pipe is a real pipe, or just a picture of one. 


What killed price discovery, and thereby markets? Central banks did. What they did post-2008 is two-fold: they bought many, many trillions in ‘assets’, mortgage-backed securities, sovereign bonds, corporate bonds, etc., often at elevated prices. It’s hard to gauge how much exactly, but it’s in the $20+ trillion range. Just so all these things wouldn’t be sold at prices markets might value them at after going through that terrible process of ‘price discovery’. 
Secondly, of course, central banks yanked down interest rates. Until they arrived at ultra low interest rates (even negative ones), which have led to ultra low yields and the perception of ultra low volatility, ultra low risk, ultra low fear, which in turn contributed to ultra low savings (in which increasing household debt also plays a major role). As a consequence of which we have ultra high prices for stocks, housing, crypto(?), and I’m sure I still forget a number of causes and effects.
People wanting to buy a home are under the impression they can get “more home for their buck” because rates are so low, which in turn drives up home prices, which means the next buyers pay a lot more than they would have otherwise, and get “less home for their buck”. In the same vein, ultra-low rates allow for companies to borrow on the cheap to buy back their own stock, which leads to surging stock prices, which means ‘investors’ pay more per share.

Numbers of the S&P 500 and its peers across the world are still being reported, but what do they really represent? Other than what central banks and financial institutions have bought and sold? There’s no way of knowing. If you buy a stock, or a bond, or a home, you no longer have a means of finding out what they are truly worth. 
Their value is determined by central banks printing debt out of thin air, not by what it has cost to build a home, or by what a company has added to its value through hard work or investment in labor, knowledge or infrastructure. These things have been rendered meaningless. 
Central banks determine what anything is worth. The problem is, that is a trap. And your money risks being stuck in that trap. Because you’re not getting any return on your savings, you want to ‘invest’ in something, anything, that will get you that return. And the only guidance you have left is what central banks purchase. That is a much poorer guidance than an actual market place. The one thing you can be sure of is that you’re paying more for ‘assets’ -probably much more- than you would have had central banks remained on the sidelines.
The Fed may (officially?) have quit purchasing ‘assets’, but the Bank of Japan and ECB took over with a vengeance (oh, to be a fly on the wall at the BIS); in Q1 2017 the latter two bought over $1 trillion in paper. The Bank of Japan has effectively become its nation’s bondmarket. The European Central Bank is not far behind that role in Europe.
And the ‘market’, or rather the 2-dimensional picture of a market, depends only on what they do. The one remaining question then is when will this end? Some say it can go on forever, or, you know, till these policies have restored growth and confidence. But can, will, anyone have confidence in a market that doesn’t function? Martin Armstrong recently addressed the issue: 

While the majority keep bashing the Federal Reserve, other central banks seem to escape any criticism. The European Central Bank under Mario Draghi has engaged in what history will call the Great Monetary Experiment of the 21st Century – the daring experiment of negative interest rates. A look behind the scenes reveals that this experiment has been not just a failure, it has undermined the entire global economic structure. 
We are looking at pension funds being driven into insolvency as the traditional asset allocation model of 60% equity 40% bonds has failed to secure the future with negative interest rates. Then, the ECB has exceeded 40% ownership of Eurozone government debt. The ECB realizes it can not only sell any of its holdings ever again, it cannot even refuse to reinvest what it has already bought when those bonds expire. The Fed has announced it will not reinvest anything. 
Draghi is trapped. He cannot stop buying government debt for if he does, interest rates will soar. He cannot escape this crisis and it is not going to end nicely. When this policy collapses, forced by the free markets (no bid), CONFIDENCE will collapse rapidly. Once people no longer believe the central banks can control anything, the end has arrived. We will be looking at the time at the WEC. We will be answering the question – Can a central bank actually fail?

So where do you go from here? Everything you -think you- know about markets is potentially useless and doesn’t apply to what you see before you today. There are many voices who talk about similarities and comparisons with what happened to markets for instance in 1987, but what’s the value of that? 
Back then, to all intents, constructions, and purposes, markets were functioning. There was price discovery. There were some ‘novel’ instruments, such as portfolio insurance, that you could argue influenced markets, but nothing on the scale or depth of what we see today with high-frequency trading, robots, Kurodas and Draghis. 
The temptation is obvious, and large, to compare today’s financial world with that of any point in the past that seems to fit, even if not perfectly. But the lack of price discovery means any such comparisons must of necessity be way off the mark; you cannot stuff that 2-D pipe.
The BIS-designed unity in central bank policies is under threat, as Armstrong indicates. The Fed has moved towards quantitative tightening, not investing or even re-investing, and raising rates, but it doesn’t look like the ECB will be able to follow that change of direction. It can’t stop ‘investing’ because it has become too big a player. The Bank of Japan appears to be in that same bind.
Central bankers jumped into the markets to save them (or so goes the narrative), but they will instead end up killing them. In fact, they killed them the minute they entered the fray. Markets can’t survive without price discovery, and vice versa. The moment it becomes clear that Draghi MUST keep buying sovereign debt from countries with failing economies, the game is up. 

All those trillions created by central banks, and the even much bigger amounts conjured up by the creation of loans by commercial banks, will have to be eradicated from the system before markets and price discovery can return. And return they will. There are lots of things wrong with our economic and financial machinery, but functioning markets are not wrong. 
Things run off the rails when governments and central banks start interfering, not when markets are allowed to function. But it’s long turned into a giant game of whack-a-mole, in which economists and other know-it-betters are forced to plug one hole by digging another, and so forth.
The best we can hope for is some sort of controlled demolition, but the knowledge and intelligence required to make that happen don’t appear to be available. The political climate certainly isn’t either. A politician who campaigns on “let’s take this sucker down slowly” will always lose out to one who claims to know not only how to save it, but to let it bloat even more. 
The Draghis of the world will continue to believe they are in control until they are not. At first, some people will start taking out their money while it’s still there, and then after that the rest will trample over each other in a bloody stampede on the way to the exits trying to save what’s left. After the first $100 trillion is gone, we’ll be able to survey the terrain, but by then we won’t, because we’ll be too busy trying to save ourselves. 
And I know you’ve heard this before, and I know central banks bought us 10 years of respite. But it was all fake, it was all just a picture of a pipe. They had to pile on insane amounts of debt on your heads, kill off your pension systems and make markets a meaningless term, to achieve that respite. 
They had to kill the markets to create the illusion that there still were markets. With the implied promise that they would be able to get out when they had ‘restored growth’. 
But you can’t buy growth. And yet that is the only trick they have up their sleeves, and the only thing the emperor is wearing. Next up: a rabbit and a hat. And a pipe. And then the lights go out and someone shouts “FIRE!”.

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