Friday, 4 September 2015

Hate America Month came early this year

Years it appears that once again I'm late to the party, the month long struggle against American imperialism party, I assume my invitation was lost in the post. The gala was once again graciuolsy hosted for the thirtieth time in Pyongyang by the Kim family. Still fortunately we have the Real News to give us some highlights, with a new guest commentator Brian Becker.

I'm a supporter of the Real News, but I have some criticisms, they seem internet illiterate, they don't really know how to use youtube, they frequently have a series of interviews and reports but no easy way to find individual parts. And they're over reliant on academics, and frequently don't have much to say to follow up or counter what these academics say even if its factually disputed or even contradictory. This interview with Becker is an excellent example of the latter problem.

Note: For some daft reason, the Real News has decided to disable video embedding on its youtube channel, effectively limiting its ability to reach a wider audience. Hence my uploading via blogger, to see the original video click here.

Minor note: The host and most people talking about inter Korean relations mentions that the Korean war `ended` with a temporary ceasefire.  The ceasefire has lasted over fifty years now can it really still be said to be temporary?

Well  that was certainly something. I'll give Becker credit for downplaying the significance of that naval dispute and for pointing out that sporadic outbreaks of tension and brief fire fights between Northern and Southern forces happen fairly often. Every other media outlet not focussed on the Korean Peninsula either ignores them or acts like World War III has just been declared. As happened recently in the last days of August. But it all goes downhill from there.

Becker shows his bias immediately by singling out the US for criticism even when he's acknowledged that other nations were culpable in the things he condemns. For starters its a myth that the US split Korea alone. The partition of Korea was decided at Potsdam between the US, UK and USSR, Becker admits this but apparently struggles to follow through. This means that Korea was split by three nation states not just mean old Uncle Sam. Just days after partition was agreed the Soviet Union  had troops in the Korean peninsula having smashed the Japanese army in Manchuria. So really they ample opportunity to continue south but didn't because Uncle Joe favoured good relations with the Western powers. And of course Britain wouldn't lose sleep over arbitrary drawing of lines all over oriental lands.  They were more occupied trying to keep control of the bits of the world map they coloured in.
Soviet and American military personnel meet in Seoul in 1945

So really the blame should be shared between the three. But that's just a starter, the main course starts at 05:03 when the host brings up the North Korea is a Dictatorship, allowing Becker to respond in a way that's all too familiar.

Well to be fair again he starts off well, bringing up the surprisingly obscure fact that South Korea was Dictatorship (and quite a brutal one at that) until the 1980's when the regime collapsed. But here's the problem though the regime did collapse despite heavy US backing, and the US had to accept it. That's not really a strong case for continued occupation, at least not after the collapse of the dictatorship in the 80's. Yes there are a large number of US military and intelligence officials in South Korea (approximately 30,000 plus troops in neighbouring nations like Japan) but that's true of many nations around the world including the UK. And yet we don't often see claims that Western Europe is occupied by America, except perhaps from the extreme fringe of the Anti-Nato crowd. The presence of foreign troops on national soil in peace time is not an indication of an occupation regardless of size. To occupy something means to maintain control of it via force, and is the United States currently doing this in South Korea? The answer is no, could the US start doing this? Yes it could, but that's speculation not fact.

Speaking of facts, yes the South Korean dictatorship was very reliant on the United States when it was founded, but the same was true of the North Korean dictatorship and its patron the Soviet Union. And yes the United States (with the backing of the UN including combat troops from many nations in large numbers) bombed and invaded North Korea... after North Korea bombed and invaded South Korea.  Why is one ok and not the other?

Then he blathers on about North Korea being a "socialist government" which is odd since that's impossible. Socialism is the working class controlling the means of production, how does that apply to governance? He doesn't explain but then he goes on about one party rule which is just hilarious, since A) That has no bearing on Socialism or the lack of socialism, B) Isn't officially true the Korean Workers Party works with two other parties the Social Democratic Party, and the Chondoist chongdu party a religious group. They also have representatives from the Korean residences in Japan. So he's going off message here.

But apparently that doesn't matter because North Korea has free education, free housing, free health care,  guaranteed employment and no income taxes! wait what? Actually to be fair the Becker this is technically true North Korea officially abolished income taxes in 1974. Unfortunately its not actually true in the sense that taxes were genuinely abolished. All that changed was the method of collection. Here's an account of how taxation works in North Korea (made be pay walled) by a former North Korean. Basically they replaced income deductions with an obligation for free labour and payment in kind. Now to really stick the needle in Becker, this is the point where even a sympathetic listener should wake up and ignore him. Not only is what he said not true, it doesn't even tally with what he just said microseconds before. If North Korea genuinely has no taxation system in any shape or form then how on earth does it pay for that free housing? how do the schools and hospitals run? Even if the staff work for free they'll still use resources which need replenishing. And how can the State guarantee employment when it apparently has no financial reserves?

How does it pay for the Japanese website that hosts the Korean Central News Agency? Does the association of Korean residents of Japan foot the bill? And what about those embassies in other countries?
Property in London isn't cheap you know

There are really only two options here, either the North Korean government was using semantics to make itself more popular and impressive looking, what we call spin and PR in the west, and does have a taxation system of some sort, and as an alleged expert on North Korea Becker should be aware of this.

Or North Korea has made the transition from a capitalist economy  into one based on needs, and everyone works to fulfil collective needs in the knowledge that the rest of the community will reciprocate with their own strengths and skills. But that can't be the case since North Korea has a currency system and a powerful state that employs everyone and is in charge of allocating resources for the benefit of the nation state, with little or no autonomy or decision making power available to the local populations. Oh and it allows private business to work and operate within its borders.

He then goes onto to bring up Saudi Arabia and Israel and other nations that the US quite likes that are quite horrible, to drum up the old charge of hypocrisy. But here's the problem is it not equally valid to call Becker a hypocrite too, since he also condemns some nations with terrible records but supports others? One thing I noticed was that he never really refuted the question about North Korea's darkside, he just shifted the conversation onto other topics, the US, South Korea, the US again, and only returned to the North so he could sing the praises of the regime.

This chat encapsulates an endemic problem with alternative media, the dependence on talking heads who can be very shady. Just because someone offers an opposing view to the mainstream narrative does not automatically give them credibility. What annoys me is that Becker had some valid points (about 40 seconds) but this was either buried in his ode to the leader, or undermined by his rhetorical tricks.

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