19 January 2008

The Poll of the Baskervilles

The Poll of the Baskervilles
John Maxwell
Sanguivorous –bloodsucking – leeches are an extremely low form of life, a kind of worm which is basically an animated alimentary canal. There is a mouth at one end provided with teeth used to perforate the skin of its prey and nothing but a gut until the other end of the animal where there is an anus.
Sanguivorous leeches can ingest several times their own weight in blood at one meal. After feeding the leech retires to a dark spot to digest its meal Some leeches will even take a meal from other sanguivorous leeches which may die after the attack.
I first came upon leeches – or rather they came upon me – about forty years ago in a water-meadow – a pasture – in Berkshire, England, where I had been admiring a herd of cattle of a kind I hadn’t seen before Afterwards, as I was cleaning my boots of the mud and cattle dung I realised that there were about half a dozen ugly little worms attached to my calves, just above my socks. They were leaches, sucking my blood. I persuaded them to cease and desist by bringing a lighted cigarette near to one end of each leech, when the other end let go falling to the ground to await another food supply.
I am reminded of leeches by the activities of some people who masquerade as journalists both here and abroad.
Their modus operandi is simple; they sink their teeth into people who they esteem as more important than they, hoping that the blood they may draw may bestow upon them some of the attributes of their hosts. Which is why people like Wolf Blitzer, Glenn Beck and others on CNN and Chris Matthews, Sean Hannity and many others on the Fox network in the US spend so much time putting the needle into people they fear or hold in awe In Britain the stimulus is more sex than power. In Jamaica, as in every other activity, leeches are not specialists. They are omnivorous. But whatever their prey, the idea is to draw attention to themselves. Talk show hosts, newspaper columnists and cartoonists can be found among the ranks of leeches. One of the most egregious gets his rocks off by an annual exercise in denigrating those he considers his superiors. The proprietor of this newspaper and I (a “Jurassic fossil”) are among his latest targets. I am delighted to be among his bêtes noir. I am specially gratified because this is at least my third or fourth time on one of his lists.
Even Tyrannosaurus Rex had his leeches – as I can personally attest. In any case, a man may be known by his enemies.
A public trust
Journalism is allegedly a public trust in which journalists and their employers are supposedly committed to the protection and defence of the public interest – acting as guides, counsellors, sentries and guards as we report, discuss, analyse and advise on the vents and developments in our environments.
These self-assigned duties and responsibilities mean that the successes and failures of our societies are intimately related to the performance of journalists. Many of us are quick to criticise our societies and governments as careless, corrupt, brutal and uncaring forgetting that if the societies and governments are so, we are part of the reason they got that way.
Journalists are now criticising the Jamaican police for brutality, having spent forty years conniving at and condoning police murder because they thought it was in their interest. In the United States journalists condemn racism while being in the forefront of the promotion of prejudice. American journalists still find it difficult to adopt stances against torture and other corruptions and breaches of the US constitution because they connived at and condoned the stealing of voters rights in the ‘election’ of their chosen hero, George Bush in 2000 and 2004.
And soon – wait for it – they will begin a wholesale official assault on the usurers and shysters who conned a substantial number of blacks, Hispanics and other poor people out of billions of dollars and cheated them out of hundreds of thousands of houses. They will probably not attack however, the banks and finance houses that enabled and financed the usurers and made (and have now lost) billions of dollars in the casino that is the free market. In the last few weeks some of these loses have been revealed: Citibank alone has written off 22 billion dollars in bad mortgages and bad loans, Merrill Lynch perhaps as much as 30 billion and other banks and assorted financial houses like Bear Stearns, Morgan Stanley, the American Insurance Group, Barclays and HSBC have written off or lost billions more, leading central banks and the financial establishment to try to finance a $75 billion bailout fund to avert a complete and universal meltdown in financial markets. These astronomical sums were the proceeds of funds sucked out of the poorest sectors of working class America. The total involved is more than the Gross National Products of Cuba, the Dominican Republic, Haiti and Jamaica combined.
And then, of course, there is New Orleans.
What happened is that the banks accepted IOUs from mortgage lenders and sold packages of IOUs/mortgages as new ‘ investment products’ that were traded as if they represented real assets, being sold at increasing discounts to other speculators who figured that eventually the investment products or ‘derivatives’ as they are called, would mature, as they say and everybody would get a piece of the action. These derivatives are are simply a way for the private sector to print their own money – the very sin against which they rail when governments do it. Governments of course, can’t go bankrupt and unlike the private sector have to pay their debtors one way or another. And when the private sector money printing machine crashes, it is governments – ordinary taxpayers – that must come to the rescue to prevent the total, catastrophic dislocation of their economies and societies.
The private sector are paid astronomical sums, win or lose. Stan O’Neil, head of Merrill Lynch took home a parting gift amounting to more than $200 million and the head of the disastrous Countrywide mortgage company took home more than $250 million for the last two years sterling work in digging his company and its clients into a multibillion dollar hole.
The winners do even better, with rank and file employees of Goldman Sachs, for instance, sharing nearly $20 billion, almost a million dollars each for their part as winning bookmakers in the capitalist bucket shop.
As they say – the invisible hand is faster than the eye and the financial sector is nothing more than the world’s largest floating crap game.
In all of this the journalists of the world are too intimidated to emulate the little boy who noticed that the Emperor's new clothes did not exist. Instead the press are the Judas Goats of capitalist speculation, leading their fellows to slaughter or forced labour for the greater profit of their employers and patrons.
Why the dog did not bark
In the mystery of “the Hound of the Baskervilles” as Sherlock Holmes noted, the most important piece of evidence, the major ‘clue’ was the curious fact that the dog did not bark when the intruder entered the house to commit his foul crimes. . To Holmes this fact pointed to the perpetrator; dogs don’t bark at intruders they know and love. It was an ‘inside job’.
Last week Hilary Clinton won a spectacular ‘victory’ in the New Hampshire Primary against all expectations and to the great consternation and astonishment of almost everybody. “How did the polls get it so wrong” was the typical question asked by newspaper and television pundits.
It was an odd question, because apart from this rogue result, the polls got everything thing else spot on.
What was so odd about Clinton’s ‘victory’ as I pointed out last week was the fact that people questioned after they’d voted said Obama was more likely to be elected president than Clinton. This conformed with what the voters said they had done in the voting booths but not what the election results said. What was strange was that Clinton got the votes predicted for Obama and Obama got the votes predicted for Clinton. In every other respect the exit polls were accurate
Even John Zogby – the most accurate pollster – seemed to feel constrained to agree with his sometimes statistically illiterate critics: “Going into the New Hampshire primary, we certainly did see Clinton holding on to a significant lead among women and older voters. But we were focusing on Obama's massive lead among younger and independent voters. We seem to have missed the huge turnout of older women that apparently [sic] put Clinton over the top.” and
“We expected that Obama would receive the lion's share of independents and drain the Republican primary of these voters. It now appears that, perhaps with a sense that Obama had a lock on the Democratic side, independents felt free to vote on the Republican side and reward their hero, John McCain.” This, as it later transpired, was not true either.
Zogby’s grudging ‘admission’ that something may have been overlooked by his polls is an argument that hasn’t been bought by many serious bloggers.
Brad Friedman of Bradblog says “a few folks in the world are finally beginning to open their eyes, and realize that not counting ballots, and trusting instead, in error-prone, hackable machines for "faith-based results" doesn't make a lot of sense. Particularly in an election for which nobody --- and I mean nobody --- has come up with a legitimate explanation for the surprising results.”
The candidates’ own polls contradicted the electoral “result”. According to Bradblog: “… [On MSNBC] Olbermann repeated what Russert had said earlier, that Obama's internal polls showed him winning by 14%, Clinton's internal polls had Obama winning by 11%.”
Brad and others dedicated and skilled at this sort of analysis have uncovered what appears to account for the curious circumstance of the dog that did not bark.
In New Hampshire 80 percent of the precincts (polling divisions) had their votes counted by Diebold scanning machines, a process which has been thoroughly discredited in the United States. In the one fifth of precincts where votes were counted by hand, the actual results matched the poll predictions. In the Diebold-counted precincts there was a 7 point swing for Clinton. One unreconstructed troublemaker, Dennis Kucinich, also a candidate for the Democratic nomination, is not content to let sleeping Diebolds lie.
In a letter to the Secretary of State for New Hampshire, Kucinich points out that the integrity of the electoral system is at the heart of the democratic process.
Kucinich wrote:”“Ever since the 2000 election – and even before – the American people have been losing faith in the belief that their votes were actually counted. This … isn’t about who won 39% of 36% or even 1%. It’s about establishing whether 100% of the voters had 100% of their votes counted exactly the way they cast them.”
“This is not about my candidacy or any other individual candidacy. It is about the integrity of the election process.”
“New Hampshire is in the unique position to address – and, if so determined, rectify – these issues before they escalate into a massive, nation-wide suspicion of the process by which Americans elect their President. Based on the controversies surrounding the Presidential elections in 2004 and 2000, New Hampshire is in a prime position to investigate possible irregularities and to issue findings for the benefit of the entire nation.”
Kucinich is alarmed, as are many other Americans, that the Republican party and its military industrial complex of support is well on the way to turning American democracy into the qualitative equivalent of a nineteen thirties Banana republic. In those places democracy was rather like Henry Ford’s cars: “You can have any colour you want, as long as it’s black.” And, as Henry Ford foresaw, the media saluted, and the band played on.
Copyright 2007 © John Maxwell


Bill_B said...

I'm always happy to see a Sherlock Holmes reference but would like to correct your "dog did not bark" pointer. This comes from not "The Hound of the Baskervilles" but "The Adventure of Silver Blaze", where a champion racehorse was taken from its stable shortly before a big race. The fact that a dog which sleeps in the stable did not bark pointed to the horse being taken by someone known to the dog.

FSJL said...

You're absolutely correct, and I've passed on your comment to the writer.