May 082015
 


Jack Delano Long stairway in mill district of Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania 1940

We at the Automatic Earth always try to steer clear of elections as much as possible, because there are no functioning democracies left in the west -no more than there are functioning markets-, and no journalists reporting on them either. Interesting question, by the way: how can a journalist report on a democracy that isn’t there? And where in that setting does news turn to mere opinion, and where does opinion then become news ?

Still, of course we caught some bits of the UK elections along the way regardless. The decisive moment for us must have been when Jeremy Paxman interviewed David Cameron at the BBC, and asked him if he knew how many foodbanks had been added in Britain since he took office 5 years ago.

Cameron, well duh obviously, had no idea, and instead of answering the question he started a flowery discourse praising the many volunteers who work in the foodbanks he didn’t know existed. Paxman cut him short and said there were 66 when Cameron came to power, and 421 now. Apparently in Britain, volunteers are needed to take care of the needy, they’re not going to pay people to do that. You would think that takes care of Cameron’s candidacy, but you couldn’t be more wrong.

At least Paxman seemed to try, but interviews like his should take place on the eve of an election, not 6 weeks before them like this one. That leaves far too much time for spin doctors to repair damage done by their candidate’s ignorance and gullibility. It’s crazy enough that party leaders can refuse to discuss each other, let alone the public, in public. Then again, that too would only be significant if there would be an actual democracy in Britain.

As things are, they might as well have put the royal baby in charge as soon as she was born, or for that matter the newborn macaque in Japan that ‘stole’ her name (at least there was an honest public ballot for that). Or perhaps the adorable little monkey can take over polling in the UK, since we can’t imagine any British pollsters still being employed tomorrow morning, not with the degrees to which they missed any and all election outcomes today.

A whole bunch of ‘leaders’ will leave too, but there’s plenty of shades of dull grey humanoids waiting in the wings to replace them. Besides, though Nigel Farage has often been dead on in describing, in the European Parliament, the inherent failures of Brussels, at home he’s never been more than a sad lost clown. I had to think hard about LibDem Clegg’s first name, even needed to look it up -it’s Nick- , and that sort of says it all: he would do well to change his name to Bland.

And perhaps Ed Milibland should do the same. Can anyone ever really have believed that this lady’s underwear salesman could have won this election? Or did they all just fudge the numbers so they had material to print? Ed Milibland never stood a chance. And Russell Bland can now go lick his wounds from supporting the guy, and no, Russell, saying now that you’re just a comedian won’t do the trick. You’ve been tainted. If it’s any consolation, you screwed up the same way Springsteen did when he played Obama’s support act. No surrender, no excuses.

Milibland, by the way, had one last no-no to offer in stepping down. He tweeted: “I am grateful to the people who worked on our campaign and for the campaign they ran. The responsibility for the result is mine alone.” Sorry, boyo, but that just ain’t so. The responsibility lies at least as much with the people who put you in the leader’s chair that doesn’t fit you, and with those who kept you in that chair throughout the campaign.

All Brits should feel blessed that they’re not in America, where these campaigns, which are equally hollow and devoid of democratic principles, last ten times as long. If your blessings are few, do count them.

But then, we all get what we deserve. If the Brits want to be governed and gutted by the same people who raised the number of foodbanks the way they have, by a factor of seven in five years, and who fabricated the pretense of a functioning economy by blowing the biggest bubble in British history in selling off London town to monopoly money printing Chinese, Russian expat oligarchs and other such impeccable and blameless world citizens, if that’s what the Brits want, then let them have it.

One things’s for sure: Cameron and his ilk, now that they have a majority, will let them have it. And then some. In reality, though, even if they deserve what they get, there’s no vox populi here: the people have not spoken, the people have done what the press told them to do. Like in so many countries, there effectively is no press anymore in Britain, at least not in the sense that we used to knowl; the press no longer asks questions. Which begs yet another question: what is first to go, the media or the democratic values?

Peter Yukes wrote this for Politico just before the election:

The British Press Has Lost It

For months polls have put Conservatives and Labour close with about third of the vote each, and smaller parties destined to hold some balance of power. But there has been no balance in the papers. Tracked by Election Unspun, the coverage has been unremittingly hostile to Ed Miliband, the Labour challenger, with national newspapers backing the Conservative incumbent, David Cameron over Labour by a ratio of five to one.

Veteran US campaign manager David Axelrod finds this politicization of the print media one of the most salient differences with the US. “I’ve worked in aggressive media environments before,” he told POLITICO, “but not this partisan.” Axelrod may have ax to grind as he advises the Labour Party, but even a conservative commentator and long-serving lieutenant of Rupert Murdoch has been shocked. “Tomorrow’s front pages show British press at partisan worst,” Andrew Neil, former editor of the Sunday Times rued. “All pretense of separation between news and opinion gone, even in ‘qualities.’”

Excuse me, but how is ‘this politicization of the print media one of the most salient differences with the US’? Which US paper has not long been grossly politicized? It’s a shame Yukes devalues his article with such statements.

And that’s the difference. The whole newspaper industry seems to be affected by the tabloid tendentiousness trade-marked by Murdoch’s best-selling the Sun when it roared, in 1992, “It’s the Sun Wot Won It.” The Daily Mail specializes in political character assassination and the ‘Red Ed’ tag was predictable. But when the paper went on from attacking Miliband’s dead father to a hit-job on his wife’s appearance, the politics of personal destruction sank from gutter to sewer.

In this precipitous race to the bottom, perhaps the Daily Telegraph had the steepest fall. Known as a bastion of the Tory thinking, it had long been respected for separating fact from comment. During this election cycle is was caught sourcing its front pages direct from Conservative Campaign HQ, seeming to confirm the parting words of its senior political commentator, Peter Oborne, that it was intent on committing “a fraud on its readership.”

Well, at least it’s no surprise that the Telegraph does what it’s always done. Nobody expects them to be impartial.

The paper of record, The Times, fared a little better, in that there has been two vaguely positive front pages about Miliband — compared to 18 for Cameron.Meanwhile, the publication that arose in rebellion to Murdoch’s acquisition of the Times in the 80s, The Independent, shocked most its staff and readership by backing a continued Lib Dem/Tory Coalition. Reports said the endorsement was a ‘diktat’ from the wealthy Russian-born owner, Evgeny Lebedev, causing many to mock its original ad slogan “The Independent: It’s Not. Are You?” or renaming it ‘The Dependent’.

Even the sober, tight-lipped Financial Times, which once supported Blair and endorsed Obama, lost credibility. The paper said it backed another Conservative-led coalition because Ed Miliband was too “preoccupied with inequality.” But that magisterial tone was undermined when it emerged the leader writer, Jonathan Ford, was pictured in the notorious 1987 photo of Oxford’s elite hard drinking Bullingdon Club next to the Tory mayor Boris Johnson and just below David Cameron.

A bigger problem would seem to be that Milibland can’t have been far from that club; he attended much of the same educational institutions the other ‘leader elites’ did. Yukes is on to something, but he’s missing the point.

Therein lies the problem, and an indication the newspaper world is a microcosm of a wider malaise. The Conservative politician John Biffen once said “whenever you find a senior politician and a powerful media owner in private conclave, you can be certain that the aims of healthy, plural democracy are not being well-served.” This election that conclave looks like an exclusive club.

Rarely have the economic interests of the handful of wealthy men who own most the press (nine men own 90% of all national and regional titles) appeared so brutally transparent. Most of the conservatives among them don’t like Cameron’s modernizing project, or the fact he looks set to fail to get a majority for a second time. But they fear Miliband with a passion because he threatens their power in several ways.

They fear(ed) Milibland? I don’t believe that for a second. I think it’s much more likely that they’ve all intentionally exaggerated Milibland’s poll numbers to make it look like there was an actual race going on. That they were only too happy to have a guy run against theirs that everybody could see from miles away would never be a contender (maybe if his first name would have been Marlon? or Stanley?)

Plus they have the outdated and somewhat inane electoral system, in which for instance the Green Party got – roughly – one million votes and 1 seat, while the Conservatives accumulated 10 million votes and 331 seats. If you can work that system in your favor, you’re half way home. Moreover, if and when you hire the cream of the crop American spin doctors, as the Cons have certainly done, who love purchasing media, you’re way past halfway.

The system can certainly be given some sort of name, but a functioning democracy it’s not. If anything, a democracy is “A system of government in which power is vested in the people”. Makes us wonder how many clients of the 421 foodbanks and counting have voted Con. and figured they were proudly doing their democratic duty.

Jan 212015
 
 January 21, 2015  Posted by at 11:16 pm Finance Tagged with: , , , , , , , ,  17 Responses »


Harris&Ewing Goodyear Blimp at Washington Air Post ,DC 1938

In yesterday’s State of the Union, Obama said The ‘Shadow Of Crisis Has Passed’, and the one and the only thing I thought was: ‘Good, so now we can tackle the crisis itself?!’. If speeches like the SOTU last night, and the reactions to it, make anything clear, it’s that the PR guys won the fight against critical thinking. Sure, there are people for whom that shadow has passed, but a president is supposed to be there for all Americans, not just for those who finance his campaigns and those of his successors.

And for most Americans, the shadow hasn’t passed at all, and the crisis certainly hasn’t. And hollow promises to help the middle class are not going to change anything about that. It’s an elite game, and all others are left to fend for themselves. For now that remains hidden behind the veil of over 50% of Americans receiving some kind of government benefit, but that won’t last. We may have some idea of how much richer the rich are getting, and even that is a stretch, but we have much less idea of how much the poor got poorer.

And the President, of all Americans, won’t tell us, he’d rather hail his ‘achievements’ as prepared and blown out of all proportions by his spin team. His political ‘adversaries’, who play their role of ‘hating’ him only halfway convincingly, won’t call him on the spin, because they have nothing to gain from trying to blow up the newfangled American Dream.

Their message looking forward to the 2016 elections is that they would do even better, but that doesn’t sound credible with the 5% GDP growth and 5.2% unemployment numbers the White House pulls out of its top hat. They’re just as dependent on spin as Obama is, and he trumped them on it. What are they going to do? Promise 10% GDP growth?

The GOP will look to drastically cut those benefits, and they know full well that that would cut growth numbers, not raise them. 5% growth is already so far out of left field that Obama’s spin doctors have the other side cornered on US economy. They have on international politics, too.

The White House’s ludicrous stance on Russia’s involvement in Ukraine, ludicrous because none of its accusations have ever been proven over an entire year, and the sanctions that were instated because of the hollow accusations, are a hard act to follow even for John McCain and his dementing octogenarian rabble rousers who crave nothing more than for that final grand scale deadly battle in their lifetime. Can we make in nuclear plese? After them the flood.

All they could do to better Obama from here is send in American boots on the ground in the Donbass, and they know that would be the least popular decision in many decades. But domestically, economically, and internationally, it’s back to the drawing board for the Grand Old Elephants all the time, they’re always a step behind. Must be frustrating. The Obama people have played them as much as they have played the American people.

Who, as should be obvious by now, have nothing to expect from either side, since both owe allegiance not to the flag or the Founding Fathers, but to the rich getting richer who fund them, without whom they’d have to give up their power plays and -dreams. Something a certain kind of people will resist at any price. The kind that floats to the top of this kind of cesspool.

Allow money into politics and the former will end up owning the latter, no exceptions. Money won’t support candidates with a conscience, only those who’ll do anything to advance their careers, who are as pliable as and spineless as a stick of wet gum, and those are all that will be left. If anything typifies American politics, it’s moral bankruptcy. One dollar one vote. 100 million dollars, 100 million votes. And then they insist on calling that democracy, a concept promoted by the media purchased the same way the politicians are.

All you need to do is get people to believe whatever it is you got for sale. And 99.9% of people are easily fooled. That’s how you define democracy in 2015: how many people can you fool? Which is the most convincing sleight of hand?

The Europeans are well down that same road. Mario Draghi is set to announce over $1 trillion in QE tomorrow, and none of it will ever reach the alleged target, the real economy. He set up his QE in a ‘proportional’ way, meaning most of that trillion will go to Germany and France, not the Greeks and Italians who need it most.

Draghi will buy government bonds, but that doesn’t help Europe’s businesses. And not just because they are far more dependent on bank loans than American companies are, who issue more bonds, but because demand, and spending, is way down. That’s what it means that Europe is in deflation. It’s not falling prices, it’s that people don’t spend, and they certainly don’t borrow.

Draghi is engaging in the classic central banker’s ‘pushing on a string’, and Goldman’s former banker and present day acolyte knows it. He’s created a situation in which another $1 trillion looks acceptable, necessary even, to the majority of the eurozone politicians. Who mostly are clueless about the effects of such expenditures. But who look at the US and think it must have worked over there; who fall for Obama’s spin doctor narratives as much as the America people do.

Draghi’s $1 trillion has long been priced in, it won’t do anything for EU economies but gut them even further, and it may be completely irrelevant as soon as this Sunday when Greece may well elect a government that has vouched to blow up the deals the Troika made with the technocrats the EU itself installed in Athens.

Not a pretty picture, is it, either in Washington or in Brussels?! Well, I can guarantee you it’ll get a lot worse before it gets any better. We’ve let the clowns come too far. Way too far.