Just fauxing


Interesting article (“Martha Raddatz and the Faux Objectivity of Journalists“) by Glenn Greenwald following the Biden-Ryan VP Debate. “The highly questionable assumptions tacitly embedded in the questions Raddatz asked illustrate how this works, as does the questions she pointedly and predictably did not ask.” “That is what this faux journalistic neutrality, whether by design or otherwise, always achieves. It glorifies highly ideological claims that benefit a narrow elite class (the one that happens to own the largest media outlets which employ these journalists) by allowing that ideology to masquerade as journalistic fact.” Greenwald gives examples of the “Medicare going broke” and “Iran is the greatest national security threat to America” questions to illustrate his point.

I just saw a discussion on one of our tv networks about the effects of the “carbon tax” in Australia after “100 days” that is a slightly different example of the same thing. As these things go it wasn’t so bad. They had actually got an expert to talk about it instead of a politician or shock jock as they normally would. The questions were based on the “sky is falling in” scare campaign of the Liberals, and his answers were calm and measured. So what am I complaining about (never satisfied am I, even when they do the right thing, whinge whinge whinge?)?

Three things. The segment was advertised for an hour preceding with the words “Carbon Tax”, the term used throughout the segment except occasionally by the guest. Now “Carbon Tax” is the term the conservative politicians and shock jocks have been using for two years (alternating with “Great Big New Tax”) for two reasons. First to continue the lie that the Prime Minister had lied in saying she would not introduce a “Carbon Tax”, and second so they can scare the living bejeebus out of all the punters out there by pretending that they were going to be paying so much tax that the Apocalypse would be a walk in the park.

In fact the PM had gone on to say words to the effect “but I intend to put a price on carbon” and that’s exactly what she did. A carbon price isn’t a “carbon tax”. No one is paying extra tax. In fact because of the package of compensation measures almost everyone is better off. Instead of introducing a punitive tax to stop people using so much carbon-generated power, the government used the carrot of compensation so that if you began producing less CO2 you would do even better. To keep on using the term “carbon tax” is to keep selling the conservative meme.

Second, all of the questions, as I said above, were based on the dire warnings the conservatives have been running for two years – businesses ruined, towns wiped off map, pensioners dying in unheated rooms, lamb roasts costing $100 and so on. But still presenting them as questions on 14 October 2012 implies that they were indeed valid points to raise. Proved by the last 100 days to be wrong (although one of the hosts, whose politics are always worn on her sleeve, muttered that meat prices might have gone down but that was because of good seasons – still fighting the battle to the last), but who could have known that?

Well, you could have. You were told plenty of times. There was endless modelling to show the effects, but even without that a moment’s thought about the way the scheme was set up would have told you that all the conservative publicity stunts and deceptive parliamentary questions were as fake as the ones involving an antique shop and a pensioner’s electricity bill. That is “100 days” tells us nothing we couldn’t have known in advance if you hadn’t constantly legitimised the conservative campaign by merely reporting it as fact for the last two years.

And finally the Polar Bear in the room was never mentioned. The Arctic is melting at a frighteningly rapid rate, America has been frying, Barrier Reef in big trouble, and yet reducing greenhouse gases, the whole reason for putting a price on carbon was never mentioned. Nor has it been very often during the last couple of years in this context. So for the public the government has inexplicably introduced a “great big new tax”, apparently for no other reason than to ruin antique shops, wipe towns off map, and kill pensioners, because they are such nasty people. And still, today, the carbon price was discussed without this frightening context.

Australian journalism, like American journalism has a history in recent years of this kind of acceptance of what Lakoff calls conservative “framing”. Perhaps, to give them the benefit of the doubt, unknowingly, but I suspect often in full awareness of what they are doing.

Watch out for it.

Care of the North Pole


When you were young did you send letters to Santa care of the North Pole? Do your children? Your grandchildren? Grand old tradition isn’t it, a bit of our cultural history, but it is going to be hard to keep it going more than a few years. “How can Santa live at the North Pole when there is no ice there in the Summer? He would drown.” Heading that way inexorably and fast. About to break another record for least Summer ice, even lower than 2007, down and down it goes. An alien watching from one of those new planets we keep discovering would be stunned that a massive ice cap could be disappearing in a few decades, might wipe the lens of his telescope thinking there was something mucky on it.

This is crazy stuff. We have been behaving like a bunch of workmen holding spades. “Wanna start Fred?” “After you Tom” “Nah, Bob first” “I’m not starting until Jim does” and so on. Eventually Charlie sighs, leans forward and digs the first spadeful of dirt out. “Oh, that’s how you do it” “Well, if he’s digging I’ll join in” “Ok, many hands make light work”. That’s really what putting a price on carbon in Australia is about – one small spadeful for a man, one giant leap for mankind. And it is a small step, couldn’t be smaller. Painless too. A few big companies will pay a price on the CO2 they produce. Will look for ways to decrease the price they pay and increase their profits – their competitors will be. If they pass on the cost you might have to pay a tiny amount more on some goods – you’ll get more back in compensation. If you reduce your use of high CO2 goods you’ll make even more profit. That’s it. In spite of what you might have heard you won’t be paying “carbon tax”, you will be making money through the various compensation mechanisms, sort of like Santa Claus bringing little presents. No tax. So what that small group of protesters was on about the other day I don’t know, got me beat. Or were they holding signs up saying “No thanks, don’t want money”? “Go away Santa Claus”? Might have missed them.

Look there are people with a vested interest in this. We have to reduce fossil fuel use over the coming years. No question about it. If you are a fossil fuel producer this is certainly not a case of all your christmases coming at once. On the contrary, you don’t have too many christmases left. Time you diversified your business interests. Stop frightening people into thinking they’re going to be taxed. Stop getting Tony Abbott to do your dirty work for you in trying to block this tiny first move – you live on this planet too.

And I bet your grandchildren will want to write to Santa at the North Pole. What are you going to tell them? “Oh that’s just history”? or “Yes, we had to give Santa a bit of a hand there, his feet were getting wet, fixed now though. Have you got an envelope?”

Many hands


At last a price on carbon. A lot of last minute flurry from the coal industry predicting the end of the world (no, not as a result of greenhouse gases, but of an attempt to slightly reduce the amount of coal being burned. I sometimes wonder what planet these people come from, and then I remember it is Earth, just like the rest of us). And a final word from Richard Branson about to launch commercial spaceflights (powered by eucalyptus trees I think but I may have misheard) who was of the opinion, an opinion treated like gold by the media, that no country should ever have a price on carbon until they all did.

The interview almost coincided with the 6 month “anniversary” (anno does mean year, doesn’t it?) of the Queensland floods. Much reminiscing about how people had just turned up, spade in hand and begun helping the people whose homes had been flooded. Later it was organised, but that initial activity was just spontaneous. Occurred to me to wonder what Branson’s role would have been had he found himself in Brisbane at the time. Logically he would have said “Well, I’m not going to help until I know everyone is helping” and encouraged all his neighbours to think the same.

In Branson World no community action could ever take place because everyone would be waiting to be sure everyone else was going to take part otherwise it wouldn’t be fair. But we don’t live in that world. We see something that needs doing and get on with it. I am sure that every single one of the volunteers in Brisbane got a spade and went out that day with no thought as to what others were doing, would have done what they could even if they had found themselves working alone tackling a big black mountain of mud.

Same with reducing greenhouse gases. Each country has to examine its own collective conscience and get down to work without waiting for others. It is already perilously late in the day to be starting. But we are doing it very gradually, plenty of smokos, meal breaks, pauses for chats. Clear a bit here, a bit there, and before you know where you are, mountain cleared. Other countries seeing us all at work will hopefully start to work on their own black mountains.

In later years we can all look back and say “there, that wasn’t so bad, many hands really do make light work”.

Mr Branson needs a bit of a rethink about how we deal with greenhouse gases. And about his plans for commercial space flights powered by eucalyptus oil. Sometimes I think he might be living on a different planet. The interview also coincided with those images of vicious winds blowing down 100 year old trees in the Blue Mountains, yet another taste of how weather patterns are changing and becoming more destructive. Plenty of clean-up there too.

Motherless child


The Gillard government’s carbon price scheme is like a tiny new-born infant. Carefully delivered, wrapped up in swaddling clothes, rushed into an incubator, carefully protected. It is tiny, hardly of any impact whatsoever, a barely noticeable blip on the day-to-day fluctuations of economy, prices, jobs. But if it can survive it has potential, and therefore it is already the subject of a massive campaign by the media (including the ABC) on their own behalf and on behalf of the ideology and financial interests of their corporate friends.

To see why let us step back a moment, to the scurrilous campaign by the tobacco industry against plain packaging of cigarettes. May not impact much on their global profits when there is a reduction in consumption in Australia. Small change really. But it is the example that has to be smashed. If Australia succeeds in doing this the other countries will take notice, follow suit, and suddenly we are talking big money. When the Right complains about Australia “taking the lead” they are not concerned that we might find ourselves in the front of the pack developing a renewable energy economy because of worries about the battlers, but because we would become an example of what could be done.

So the carbon price approach has to be smashed, and the media (as well as the political representatives of the corporations) were on the job immediately the announcement was finalised (had been on the job even earlier in fact). We watched on the first full day after the announcement as Oz media set about destroying carbon tax, with constant repeat of the “PM is a liar” refrain so well put in place beforehand. Watched as interview after interview finds “battlers” who “don’t believe” they will be better off. Read phony polls. Marvelled as “industry leaders” are given endless interviews in which to repeat, unchallenged, the “Australia is rooned” refrain. Enjoyed the hypocrisy as the talking heads said government had to “sell the tax” while unleashing a total media war to prevent them doing so.

Listened in shock and awe to the misleading introductory “headlines”, the push poll type questions in an abrasive style for government members, the soft and helpful questions for opposition members. The vested interests interviewed as experts, their interests undeclared, their statements unchallenged (one for example suggesting that a $3.50 increase in airfares would ruin the aviation industry!). The average joe off the street asked for a view given the same weight as any number of expert enquiries and cabinet considerations.

Finally listened in amazed disgust as first Tony Abbott, after visiting an open cut coal mine in a devastated landscape said that he “didn’t see anyone” among the miners who was into damaging the environment; then Joe Hockey, asked a question at a public meeting about whether the Liberal Party was going to stop the public “taking up arms against the government” merely said he “understood” the questioner’s anger.

Trouble is, I don’t think either Gillard’s advisers, or the Greens think tank, have got any idea of what they are up against here. They both seem to think that by setting out facts calmly and rationally the people will be won over in the end. They have no idea of the campaign being waged against this move on greenhouse gases. The foundations have been carefully laid by the likes of Alan Jones and Andrew Bolt with the help of Christopher Monckton and Ian Plimer, and now full coal-fired steam ahead with every media outlet building on those foundations.

We are only a day onto this, but my gut tells me the battle, and the war, are already lost. The baby won’t be coming out of the incubator.

PS I was going to end this with some helpful ideas. For example it seems to me that in areas like the Latrobe and Hunter Valleys you could set in motion the development of major renewable energy facilities for every mine facing closure or reduced output, and training schemes for miners to get into renewables. Could undertake land reclamation, revegetation and soil carbon building measures, maybe plantation timber projects. And perhaps a scheme to encourage tourism development of such regions. But I don’t think anything is going to be able to overcome this media campaign (one talking head Monday morning for example said the compensation scheme was “so generous it was suspicious”). With that media mindset nothing is going to matter.