Links for the Week – May 20/06

image from jade at UToronto’s dynamic graphics project

Lots of politics this week:

Mega-Polluters and Government Corporatists Turn Up Propaganda Machine: The term Orwellian, and the neocon creed “tell people something often enough they’ll believe it” have been bandied around so much in recent years that I think we have become a bit blasÈ about propaganda. But I’ve noticed that recently, with the corporatists in somewhat disorganized retreat as their lies about imperialism and global warming have lost credibility, the propaganda machine has been ratcheted up considerably. Here in Canada we’re bombarded by outrageously deceptive ‘advertisements’ by Shell (“we’re working with the people to return the tar sands to nature” — describing Canada’s worst-ever ecological holocaust-in-progress) and a lobby group that calls itself ‘Canada’s Nuclear Industry’ (“nuclear energy is clean, clear, affordable and safe” — if you disregard the horrifically toxic waste products, massive cost overruns, frequent leaks and other security breaches, and vulnerability to terrorist attack). In the US the same thing seems to be happening (we get US stations with their ads here on cable): ExxonMobil, through the junk science right-wing ‘Competitive Enterprise Institute’, is blanketing the media with outrageous commercials about the benefits of CO2 and slandering Al Gore’s film An Inconvenient Truth, and the Bush regime has released a PR piece on Gitmo claiming that most of the injuries to inmates occur “on the basketball courts”. Most of us on the blogosphere know these faux-advertisements are nonsense, and we can use sources like the Center for Media and Democracy to decipher their Orwellian newspeak and discover which corporatists are spending their tax cuts and subsidies for these ads, but most viewers are not accustomed to such blatant propaganda. What is most distressing is that the mainstream media seem to have no hesitation about accepting money to broadcast these lies, and don’t even tell viewers who is really behind them. When political propaganda masquerades as public service announcements, and as objective information, the public needs to know. That is what Orwell was warning us about. Thanks to’s Andrew Leonard for the link to the Center for Media and Democracy, and for his ongoing thread on corporatist propaganda.

Meanwhile in the Real World, Guantanamo Prisoners Are Still Trying to Kill Themselves: The force-feeding and padded cells continue, but conditions at the Gitmo torture centre remain so dreadful that suicide attempts are reaching epidemic levels. Must be the agony of losing those basketball games.

And Maybe Nuclear Isn’t So Safe After All: Also via Common Dreams, Greenpeace reveals a leaked study from nuclear engineers Large & Associates that says vulnerability of new nukes to terrorist attack has been dangerously underestimated.

And Coalition Troops Aren’t Really Protecting a Stable and Democratic Afghanistan Either: A former Minister of the new Afghan government admits that foreign investment has gone almost exclusively to building a parallel foreign-owned and foreign-run political and economic infrastructure that is drawing all the talent, money and energy away from domestic institutions and programs. Since the ‘government’ of Afghanistan is in control only in the capital city, while warlords, pro- and anti-Taliban, control and ruthlessly govern the rest of the country, it is hard to blame foreigners for not wanting to build anything on a non-existent domestic foundation. This is why the Afghanistan campaign was such an utter failure — there is no domestic infrastructure, grossly inadequate investment in rebuilding, and a power vacuum outside the capital. The US-led coalition just bombed the hell out of the place, secured the capital for an elite ‘government’ of pro-American politicians, and left the rest of the country to fend for itself. Now the ‘peacekeeping’ troops have the impossible task of keeping a peace that never existed, in a country with none of the resources it needs to build a viable state, and hence hugely vulnerable to opportunistic militias seeking to exploit the chaos and desperation and fill the power vacuum.

Ernst & Young Admits 800 Billion Dollar Accounting Error in Estimating China’s Banks’ Bad Debts: A week after issuing a report estimating that China’s Big Four banks have close to a trillion dollars in “non-performing loans”, my former employer said it was wrong and retracted the report. Salon’s Andrew Leonard investigates, and suggests that the real reason for retracting the report might be something more sinister than incompetence.

Canada Rejects Harper’s Anti-Immigrant Appointment to Public Appointments Board: In a rebuff that had Canadian minority Prime Minister Harper foaming at the mouth, a parliamentary committee rejected his appointment of an oil industry buddy to a key post, calling the candidate, on record for xenophic statements, “unsuitable for the job”. Both the selection of the appointee and Harper’s intemperate response to it showed Harper’s true stripes.

Cutting Out the Bank Middleman: Peer-to-peer finance is now beginning to disintermediate another service where the middleman charges an unreasonable ‘agency fee’ — banking. Information Week’ Tom Claburn reports that two companies are now offering eBay-type services to connect lenders to borrowers. This is just one more step towards peer-to-peer everything, a world where buyers and sellers can contract with each other directly. We’ve already seen this in travel agencies and investment brokers, and it’s starting in real estate as well. These are just baby steps, however. The final destination is one where no intermediary is needed at all, even a ‘discount’ one. It’s a direct reaction to the usury ofoligopolies, and a true ‘free market’ victory. Thanks to Dale Asberry for the link.

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