Consumerism by other means: #UKriots, burning Babylon and #neoliberalism

August 14, 2011

Guest post by Dr Wayne Hope

Identifying the “causes” of major civil disturbances is always difficult, there are so many to choose from. Even the mundane vagaries of the weather have to be taken into account. Nearly all urban riots of recent vintage happen in the summer, hot sultry evenings are ideal, and it  seems that rain has, of late, dampened the spirits of enthusiastic rioters in the Midlands and northern cities.

In fact one might plausibly argue that without the typically dreadful English weather, riots would be more serious and happen more often. The underlying and proximate cause of urban rioting have been festering quite nicely in Old Blightly and I for one am not the least bit surprised over recent developments .

If we start with Tottenham, police racism, police brutality and a police culture disconnected from local communities is a perfect Molotov cocktail to set things going. Such was evident in the Afro-American race riots of the 1960s and the Parisian riots of 2005.

There are many other examples; a spark to set off the cocktail is all that is needed.

Now, it also true as the Tory press and politicians have tirelessly pointed out that thugs and “yobbos” have joined in the action. These outgrowths of Cameron`s “broken society” belong to postcode gangs who have formed alliances of convenience to loot, take on the police and cause mayhem.

This has echoes of the “Babylon’s burning” era of the late 70s and early 80s, since then 20 years of neo liberalism have embittered a new generation of  white and non white gangs. No suprises there. Out of this general milieu there were also, without doubt, disturbed individuals who gained immediate pleasure from burning out cars, smashing plate glass windows and torching buildings.

And then we had the pilferers, “illegal shoppers” who just wanted to grab stuff because, well, it was cheap and armfuls of trainers and iPads are are tidy little earner, covertly on Facebook or down  at the markets. This was the spirit of self reliance and entrepeneuralism that politicians from Margeret Thatcher to Tony Blair have been trying to promote. To put it another way this was consumerism by other means.

As far as I could see the illegal shoppers and their accomplices covered quite a wide demographic, some were black dispossessed youth, others were  low to middle income people of both genders who were relieving the frustration of not being able to afford the relentlessly advertised fashion items and electronic goods. Still others ,of more comfortable means enjoyed the thrill of it all. I agree somewhat with the conservatives on this matter, there has indeed been a breakdown in social ethics in British society.

However, I must point out in the strongest possible terms that ethical breakdown is endemic at ALL levels of society from the bonus swilling tax avoider and financial speculator propped up by powerless taxpayers to the political classes of in the Commons and Whitehall lining their pockets with the baubles of office; to the media elites who hire professional privacy invaders to hack the communications of anybody they choose in order peddle defamatory lies and half truths for a tidy profit.

With these shining examples of cynical self interest  why not join in?

It’s bloody obvious innit, everybody’s out for what they can get. And then there is the nihilism ,the purposelessness of bored youth. I saw them during my last visit to London, in Camden Town, hundreds of them just hanging about after 1am, waiting for nothing to happen. So then, what has been the establishment’s response?

I think we saw it in a newsphoto from Clapham of a young blonde woman standing among a group of angry gentrified Clapham residents,they were out to clean up the mess with their brooms, the young woman wore a teeshirt which said “rioters are scum”.

So here we have the preconditions for the next riot, “them and us”, class war, batten up the hatches and let’s continue with our strategy of systematic social exclusion and seclusion of the better off.  More police, more security guards more electronic surveillance and lots of finger pointing. Cameron`s “broken society” thesis is not far off the mark.

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What’s wrong with this picture: One plucky demonstrator, two an anarchist criminal

March 27, 2011

Protesters against the government of Syria set fire to offices of the ruling party today while hundreds of political prisoners were released in a bid to appease the rioters.

Syrian protestors torch officesThe Independent, 26 March 2011

Commander Bob Broadhurst, who led the police operation, said: “I wouldn’t call them protesters. They are engaging in criminal activities for their own ends.”

Activists attempt to hijack anti-cuts demoThe Independent, 26 March 2011

An interesting contrast in the way that anti-government protests are reported in the news media. Half a million demonstrate in London and the media focus is on a small group of anarchists (as identified by the media, btw); but in the Middle East the same small groups of militants are cheered and championed in the British press.

The top example here relates to those plucky, angry and totally-justified protestors who set fire to a building in Damascus – surely a criminal action

The second is how the UK’s top riot police officer describes British protestors who vent their anger by occupying an upmarket dairy (Fortnum and Mason) and smashing a few windows.

It’s OK for the British press to champion the cause of the Syrians because that doesn’t threaten privilege at home. But, of course, any action that does challenge the comfortable lives of the British ruling class is instantly dismissed as criminal behaviour.

Even the Guardian takes up this trope:

The generally good-natured mood was soured by violent and destructive attacks on symbols of wealth including the Ritz, banks and a luxury car dealer, and an occupation of the upmarket food store Fortnum & Mason.

Anti-cuts march  draws hundreds of thousansds as police battle rioters, The Guardian, 26 March 2011

Contrast this with the coverage of similar violent riots in Yemen and Bahrain which have left hundreds dead. The Independent and The Guardian can afford to be on the side of the Arab protestors and condemn the violent way that police handled those demonstrations.

Serried ranks of riot police advancing behind a cloud of tear gas and backed by armoured vehicles and helicopters cleared protesters from Pearl Square, which has been the gathering point for protesters.

Bahrain and Yemen declare war on protestors, The Independent, 20 March 2011

Wow, “serried ranks of riot police advancing behind a cloud of tear gas”, isn’t that exactly what’s just today happened in London too?

One Guardian columnist does make the explicit link between London and Cairo, and this is the real point that the news media can’t grasp.

Western elites are, instead, stressing the differences between east and west as they scramble to morph their longstanding support of north African dictatorships into sudden solidarity with rebels. This revisionist view holds that the uprisings are mainly about the desire of young people in the Middle East to live in western-style democracies.

Priyamvada Gopal, Trafalgar has much in common with Tahir, The Guardian, 25 March, 2011

Not only are ruling elites scrabbling to cover their burning arses on this one, they are also having to struggle with locals making the same connection between Trafalgar Square and Tahir Square. The news media – often a faithful mouthpiece for elite opinion – is also struggling with the complexity and contradictions in their position.

On one hand, supporting the dangerous, violent and often bloody protests in the souk and the Arab street is good for business, ‘we’ want these dictators to fall:

In eerie succession, one after another, autocrats and despots across the region are coming down with freedom flu.

Simon Tisdall, Syria’s Bashar al-Assad has been struck by freedom flu, The Guardian, 25 March, 2011

But they can’t help the knee-jerk reaction that condemns angry protestors who take matters into their own hands – at home; while simultaneously cheering the exact same actions in foreign lands.

Hey, guys, wake up and smell the revolution – this is global capitalism after all.

It’s not that hard to think clearly about this dialectic of the front-page,  as Priyamvada Gopal shows us:

It is simplistic to assume that protests in the west and the Middle East are fundamentally different because “they” are fighting “blood-soaked” despots while “we”, after all, live in liberal democracies…

Both capitalist democracies and dictatorships use political means to concentrate wealth, power and privilege. In Britain and the US, the right to fight corporate power collectively – and effectively – through unions is under ongoing attack. In Britain, the state uses demonisation, brute force and disproportionate punishment to contain mass demonstrations and talks of making some peaceful means illegal. In the US, Democratic legislators resisting anti-union measures, which were then forced through anyway, were threatened with arrest. Britain has seen policies destroying public services hastily enacted without a clear mandate while civil liberties are constantly eroded and inequalities expand. If Gaddafi screams “imperialism” when things get sticky, our politicians find it convenient to denounce “multiculturalism”. What unites the interdependent ruling elites of Britain and Bahrain is the priority they give to the entitlement of the few at the expense of the many, often embodied by dodgy business deals.

Thanks Priya, you show these numbnucks how it is done. Dodgy business deals are universal and the occupation of Fortnum and Mason is because the business owner, Lord Green, is a tax criminal. No, he’s not Mubarak, but I bet they exchange cards at Christmas, and that dear Hosni likes F&M tea very very much.

 

 

 

 

 


You’ve got to change your thinking #capitalism

July 21, 2010

I love this clip and comrade David Harvey is on the money.

It’s a short guide to why capitalism is a system prone to crisis, with some very clever animations.

These other RSAnimations are also pretty cool.

(Thanks to Rob S for this link)


What would you do?

February 2, 2010

Imagine, reader, that your city is shattered by a disaster. Your home no longer exists, and you spent what cash was in your pockets days ago. Your credit cards are meaningless because there is no longer any power to run credit-card charges. Actually, there are no longer any storekeepers, any banks, any commerce, or much of anything to buy. The economy has ceased to exist.

When the media is the disaster [hat tip, Mr T]

What would you do?

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Irish protest – sign of things to come? Hopefully

February 22, 2009

A large protest march in Dublin this weekend is a hopeful sign of how we need to deal with the global crisis.

The march through the heart of Dublin – organized by the Irish Congress of Trade Unions – was meant as a warning shot to the government, which wants to cut public sector pay even as it pumps billions of euros into its troubled banks.

The government has argued that wage reductions are needed to keep Ireland’s ballooning deficits under control and reassure international markets that Ireland isn’t spiralling toward a default.

But the plan – which effectively docks 7 per cent from the paycheques of 350,000 Irish workers – comes amid revelations of shady dealings and irresponsible lending at the banks now getting the taxpayers’ help.

Anglo Irish Bank, which was nationalized last month after collapsing under the weight of its bad debts, said Friday it expected to lose about 300 million ($385 million) on loans made to favoured investors. Anglo’s former chairman, Sean FitzPatrick, was forced out last year after it emerged that he secretly took out 87 million in personal loans from the bank. [AP, NZH]

There is no way we should agree to take a pay cut while the obscenity of the system goes uncorrected. I thought we might see some similar issues arise here and so it’s come to pass. According to a piece in the Herald, a number of New Zealand’s top executives are still lapping up the cream.


The obscenity of capitalism and doing something about it

February 21, 2009

I continue to be revolted by the scale of mendacity, hand-wringing, crocodile tears and ideological acrobatics coming from politicians, economists, billionaires and sections of the media about the economic crisis and the need for “bailouts”.

Lining up for food and water, Louisville, Kentucky, 1937. By Margaret Bourke-White/Time & Life Pictures/Getty Images.

Lining up for food and water, Louisville, Kentucky, 1937. By Margaret Bourke-White/Time & Life Pictures/Getty Images.

Who really needs a bailout? Well, according to the most recent Vanity Fair, it seems anyone one Wall Street forced to limp along on a base salary of less than $4 million a year. [VF has a great track-record on reporting the crisis – check it out]

There’s a certain obscene symmetry to capitalism. Those floating across the top like so much soapy scum often clean up while those sinking under debt and unemployment usually get cleaned out. It’s prompted me to do some creative accounting.

I think I have found a way to save the victims of the toxic debt fall out and get some moral justice karma happening for those who we should be holding accountable.

I have been thinking about this for a while and I think it’s time I offered some free (gratuitous) advice to Presidents, Prime Ministers and b(w)ankers, before things get out of hand.

So far the major banks on Wall Street, such as Merrill Lynch, have been given $125 billion dollars in tax-payer funded bailouts. That’s a lot of money and it’s not the only bag of cash on offer.

But $125 billion is a staggeringly big number. Let’s start with some smaller numbers.

When John Thain became CEO of investment bank Merrill Lynch in 2007 he got a $15 million signing-on fee. He’s since left the bank, which has been taken over by Bank of America.

At the other end of the social scale there’s Kathy Lovelace of Zephyrhills, Fla. She’s recently lost her job, now her bank wants to foreclose on her mortgage and repossess her $200,000 home.

Here’s an idea, why doesn’t John Thain pay off Ms Lovelace’s mortgage out of his signing on bonus. Let’s assume that Ms Lovelace owes her bank $175,000. If Mr Thain paid this he’d still have $14,825,000 of his sign-on fee. In fact, if Mr Thain had left his $15 million in a bank account for one year at 2% he would have earned around $300,000 in interest. So he’d still be in front of where he started and way out in front of Ms Lovelace.

I think we can apply this principle on a massive scale and save the houses of the poor working folk who are being kicked out of their homes because of the actions of men like Mr Thain.  Here’s how it might work…

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Epic 2015 – what’s beyond the horizon?

September 13, 2008

I was fortunate today to meet and interview Matt Thompson. He’s a journalist, blogger and thinker. He’s also the guy behind the wildly successful viral flash videos Epic 2014 and Epic 2015.

The premise of these 8.5 minute creations is to predict the future of the media in our digital world. They were both created a few years ago now and they tried to look ahead 10 years from when they were produced.

Epic 2014 was made in 2004, but a year later Matt decided it needed updating.

While I was in Columbia, Missouri at the Missouri School of Journalism 100th anniversary celebrations I met Matt and heard him talk about a new project. He calls it “Wikipedia-ing the news”, but admits the name doesn’t really capture what he’s doing.

Matt is a visiting fellow this year at the Reynolds Journalism Institute at MU that was also launched today.

I was able to grab a few minutes with Matt between his break-out session and the official launch where he and the other RJI fellows were announced.

I asked Matt why he had changed some of the content from Epic 2014 in the second version, a year later.

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