Saturday, December 13, 2014

Two Ways to Own the World

In a recent interview on RT’s ‘Breaking the Set’ Chris Hedges excoriated mainstream journalism while lamenting that jour-nalists can’t make a living from alternative media. The real problem is that many people don’t know the alternative exists, or don’t know the names of the serious journals, or don’t have access to a computer or a sophisticated phone. An Opednews writer recently suggested that we need to change the way journalism is taught in order to change the MSM, but that’s like trying to change the way newspapers are owned, or a constitution that allows money in elections.
 Perhaps we should consider instead the two ways of ‘owning’ the world. Governments seek to ‘own’ the world by taking over companies and countries. In order to be able to counter the actions of governments beyond their borders, citizens have to own not just their neighborhood or the town they live in, but the rest of the world, insofar as possible. I’m talking about becoming familiar with the domestic face of other countries, insofar as possible. When our government seeks to 'possess' the world, we must identify with it, becoming familiar with the domestic face of other countries, so that they become as real to us as our own.
My first media boss, the head of Agence France Presse’s Rome bureau, taught me a fundamental rule of journalism that translates as ‘death/miles’: the relative importance of a news item is largely determined by the number of deaths involved and how far away it is from the location of its readership. Very soon, however, I realized that there is a better way to judge journalism: how well does it take its readers inside foreign lands, as opposed to reporting on government policies vis a vis toward them (which we could call reverse death/miles)?
As someone who has done ‘immersion’ in half a dozen countries, I got an early start on being able to identify with other zeitgeists, thus when living in the U.S., as I’ve been doing for the last fifteen years, I see the world through a series of foreign eyes. And it’s precisely because everyone can’t do immersion that the media has to do a better job of taking people into foreign lands. France 24 and RT do just that.  From France’s ‘Reporters’, where stories are sent in by people on the ground in other countries, to its focus on Africa, it’s obvious that the government-supported outreach channel that broadcasts in several languages is world oriented. (Today you can catch a round table in which Mediterranean Arab artists and intellectuals discuss whether they are freer following the Arab Spring and what the Mediterranean means to them. Russia’s so-called ‘bullhorn’, RT, airs documentaries and news stories both Russian and foreign, while interviewers like razor-sharp Oxana Boyko fearlessly joust with international figures. Meanwhile the US media exclusively serves up sound bites with beltway insiders Washington’s about worlds which never actually revealed
Because the media fails to bring the world to life, Americans cannot imagine what their government’s actions mean to those on the receiving end, believing Bush Jr.’s ‘They hate us because we’re free’.  
Not only is Americans’ knowledge of other countries limited to the geography they notice when they travel, or the food, they haven’t a clue about the history of each country as it is transmitted from generation to generation. When it was announced this week that France’s most unpopular president ever had stopped off in Moscow from what was referred to as ‘a visit to Kazakhstan’, I wondered what on earth Francois Hollande could have been doing in that Central Asian country. Googling the news item, I discovered that he had not just ‘happened’ to go there after attending the conference of Francophone nations in Africa, but that he is the third French President to do so, France being Kazakstan’s fifth largest trading partner. And that’s because half of France’s electricity comes from nuclear power and Kazakstan is the world’s largest uranium exporter. According to Fox News Latino (sic) Hollande was accompanied by more than 50 corporate executives..…
Now back to the significance of his ‘improvised’ meeting with Putin at the Moscow airport. The first thing that came to mind on the basis of my long years of living in France was that maybe, just maybe, this could mark the start of Europe’s emancipation from the United States. (I tweeted ‘Hollande use of diplomacy in Ukraine crisis may be sign Europe ready to cut US umbilical cord’, and ‘Hoping de-escalation of Ukraine crisis could pave the way for delivery of warships’.) I might not have seen things that way had I not known that Hollande’s historically low approval rating was due to his handling of domestic policy, as Europe struggles to contain the fallout from the 2008 Wall St instigated financial crisis that has forced country after European country (including Merkel’s Germany), to adopt austerity measures (austerity in the welfare state!). And also, that until his election to the highest office, Hollande had been a socialist party ‘apparatchik’ (as he would be described by the US media were he not the president of a ‘friendly’ country). And finally, however much Hollande may have betrayed socialist egalitarian principles, he is likely to cling to the socialist principal that problems should be solved through negotiations, not war. And finally, that however much they currently hate Hollande, in the decade or so following the end of World War II, the US was seen very negatively by a large swathe of the French population that is still alive today.
As the cherry on the cake, I would not have seen Hollande’s initiative in quite the same way had I not been aware of France’s pride in its diplomatic tradition, and to a lesser but nonetheless real extent, its renewed conviction, dating from the De Gaulle era, of its enduring importance on the world scene.
Francois Hollande appears to be shooting for a two-fer: rescuing his disastrous standing in the polls by a) saving the jobs of shipbuilding workers (the second Mistral ship still to be built), and b) participating - and even appearing to lead! - what may be an initial attempt by European leaders to cut the umbilical leash that has made them the US’s poodle for decades.
During the Cold War, Germany, which had maintained close ties with the satellite nations of Eastern Europe, ultimately refused US demands to station Pershing missiles aimed at the Soviet Union on its territory.  Today, ‘Ossie’ (the familiar term for residents of the former East Germany) Angela Merkel has to work her way through the series of knots that tied Germany to the United States first through occupation, then through the continued existence of American bases, in order to disassociate her country from the neo-conservative plan to ‘finish the job’ of dismantling Russia that was interrupted with the fight against Nazi Germany.
Perhaps one reason why Hollande’s stopover in Moscow’s airport was given so little attention by the Western media is the fact that Kazakstan, whence he came, is a member of the Russian led customs union that the US doesn’t want Ukraine to join, reason for which it ousted its democratically elected President during the Maidan campaign energized by neo-Nazi battalions whose leaders are now part of the US-engineered Kiev government. For Americans, fascism is just a word, but it is a dirty word among most - if not all - Europeans, because their parents or grandparents lived under it. Beyond that, the struggle over Ukraine may just possibly be the watershed that cures Europe of its Atlantic tendencies. Just as Ukrainians (and Russians) are not really Europeans, Europeans are not Americans; both are Eurasians. And while Washington alternately derides and condemns Vladimir Putin’s claim that Eurasia is a really existing entity that represents the future, Europeans are increasingly attracted to his project, which is not about consumption but about values.

But since the US media is not about to start reporting on these and other on-going trends, I’m suggesting that readers of Opednews, whose offerings are renewed every twenty-four hours, post copies in supermarkets and on telephone poles, so that more people will know what their government is really doing abroad and how its actions are being perceived.

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