Thursday, July 12, 2007

What is Thinking?

Thinking is not instant labeling, but we get a lot of that in the United States. For example, the BBC has a story this morning called "NY Firefighters Attack Giuliani." The gist is that a firefighters union released a 13 minute video about Giuliani's deadly mistakes during and after 9/11.
It says Mr Giuliani pushed for a faster clean-up at Ground Zero before all the remains had been recovered, and placed an emergency centre in a building that later collapsed.

It also accuses the former mayor of failing to provide working radios for firefighters, saying it made it impossible for them to learn that the Twin Towers were about to collapse.

"Virtually the whole thing goes back to him with the radios," Jim Riches, a fireman whose son was killed on 9/11, says in the footage.

"He's the guy on the top, and he's the guy you yell at. He takes the hit. And my son is dead because of it."

That's probably mostly true. But who can tell? The video's language is that of the tabloid melodrama that has become standard in the US media. It's even worse on the other side. Giuliani's campaign "denounced the footage, saying the union behind it was known to support Democratic candidates." Great, thanks for the non-refutation. Why offer actual evidence or critique why you can just label? They're majority Democrat, that proves they're wrong. Tomaytoes, tomaatoes, end of story, on to the next one on the list, like "Ecuadorian doctors 'stole twin.'"

France is not utopia, but it's still possible to use its news coverage to think. That's in part because you can get a range of opinion that doesn't have crap smeared all over most of it so you can't see what's underneath. For example, the issue of Le Monde dated July 10th had a story about a conference in Aix-en-Provence called (all translations mine) Which Capitalisms for the 21st Century?

The speakers included Nicolas Sarkozy's finance minister, Christine Lagarde, who is at least as conservatively "pro-market" as her boss the new president of France. But she attacked her British counterpart Alistair Darling for accusing the Sarkozy government of "Colbertism" - statism - saying that her government wants a "pragmatic" capitalism freed of contraints and yet reconciled with the French people. This is not a progressive or even a coherent position, but at least its basic nuances were reported. "Colbertism"? Pro-market folks are using the rhetoric of heresy more than ever. And the categories are stuck in the 18th century.

The same article, by Frédéric Lemaitre, also gives lots of space to Pascal Lamy, the head of the World Trade Organization. The WTO is covered in the US like the obvious pillar of neoliberal market orthodoxy we assume it is. Here we find Lamy, an elite French businessman, graduate of not just one (ENA) but all the grandes ecoles relevant to commerce, saying this: Capitalism is very efficient and intrinsically unjust because it rests on the exploitation of labor by capital."

Hello. Exploitation of labor? The injustice of capitalism? Can we talk?

Can we? Can we have a discussion of this in the United States of America? intrinsic injustice? exploitation of labor?

Not in the US media. And even the little magazines like the Nation will only dip their toe. The left goes out of its way to avoid saying exploitation or injustice as a sign that it is "serious" and "modern" and to be taken seriously by the mainstream, which means being taken seriously by the Right.

But back to the article. The conference discussion continues, and the author reports on the outcome, one of those consensus documents that says well capitalism is the only game on earth but there are many forms of it. It is important, it says, to orchestrate a cohabitation of many capitalisms?

Capitalism - more than just the iPhone, bad public services, crap air travel, the rule of hedge funds, job loss as central economic policy, $3,000,000, $30,000,000, or $300,000,000 executive salaries, global warming, and a 15% tax rate for investors? There's a thought.

The stakes are simple: a country can't be a force for good rather than for evil unless it can think.

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