Tuesday, 27 September 2016

Let them view cake - media normalizing of warmongers and the arms trade

How do warmongering politicians and the corporate arms industry they so readily promote manage to evade serious indictment? Largely, because our media grant them privileged status and effective protection.

David Cameron's 'legacy' has now been officially stained by a Foreign Affairs Select Report damning his actions on Libya. But he won't be going to The Hague any time soon for his leading part in that murderous calamity. Nor will you hear any of our major media campaigning for him to be made fully accountable.

557 MPs voted for the motion to attack Libya in March 2011. Only 13 voted against, among them Labour's Jeremy Corbyn and John McDonnell, alongside Caroline Lucas of the Green Party.

The Guardian ran a major story detailing the parliamentary report. Yet, as Media Lens remind them, it contained no reference to the paper's own backing of that 'intervention' at the time. A Guardian editorial has since pleaded in hand-wringing mitigation that the UK acted in 'good, if flawed', faith, failing to mention the illegality of regime change.

Likewise, the BBC's token reporting of the committee findings contained no mention of mass media support at the time for the bombing.

A wide array of political and media notables supported the assault on Libya. Among them, the Guardian's Jonathan Freedland now offers only cringing distance and consoling words for Cameron.

Even now, after the mass death and criminality inflicted on Iraq, Afghanistan, Libya, Syria and others on the 'R2P' list, our liberal media just can't bring itself to shine a real critical light on UK War Inc.

The UK is now the second largest arms provider in world. This should have been headline, even breaking, BBC news. Yet, it's a story barely acknowledged, never mind pursued, by our leading media.

For issue-placing editors, none of that has been deemed as much of a topical public story as 'major developments' in The Great British Bake Off. All of which brings a new propaganda twist to that infamous invocation, 'Let them eat cake'.

What kind of serious media can emote so many headlines about the 'loss' of a baking show, while virtually ignoring Britain's elevation as a top merchant of death?

In a world of relentless conflict, we all need a little light escapism. But when media-hyped bake-offs are deemed more newsworthy than state sanctioned arms trade-offs, we've really reached a point of entertainment as mass diversion and political dulling.

The dark truth of Britain's insatiable corporate arms dealing can be found in a fine piece of investigative journalism by Mark Curtis.  Here we see the real mercenary extent of Britain's arms and oil dealings with Egypt's el-Sissi regime, and how our most favoured dictators are given an easy ride by establishment media.

Britain has been 'in the news' recently over its supply of weaponry to Saudi Arabia. But, again, where is the really damning headline commentary? Why don't the BBC have, say, Campaign Against the Arms Trade or Stop the War on to explain and denounce the UK's vile trade? Why isn't this a leading media issue?

Instead, we must turn to alternative outlets such as Media Lens, lamenting the failure of key media to report on UK arms to the Saudi regime for the merciless bombing of Yemen, and the dark collusion of British intelligence.

Meanwhile, British state media continues to serve up more magazine features on the 'benign' nature of UK militarism, foreign bombing and weapons technology. Consider this fetishistic BBC appraisal of the Tornado fighter plane:
The cockpit of a supersonic Tornado attack bomber is a much more peaceful place than you might expect. "It's incredibly quiet," says Jas Hawker, a former RAF wing commander who flew the aircraft over Iraq and Kosovo. "The pilot and the navigator could drop their oxygen masks and talk to each other. It's not silent but it's a lot quieter than people think." It also has a rather retro feel, as befits a four-decade-old model approaching the end of its time in service.
Style and aesthetics, quiet performance, but no mention of the explosive purpose and brutal effect on humanity below.

While Britain acts as junior arms fixer to the world, it has as its parental model a US state obsessed with the business of war and killing, all duly assisted by the UK, including secret British complicity in Obama's drone wars.

Obama has overseen more arms sales than any post-WW2 administration, yet, as William D Hartung notes, there's virtual media silence over America's weapons industry:
When American firms dominate a global market worth more than $70 billion dollars a year, you'd expect to hear about it. Not so with the global arms trade. It's good for one or two stories a year in the mainstream media, usually when the annual state of the business come out. It’s not that no one writes about aspects of the arms trade. There are occasional pieces that, for example, take note of the impact of US weapons transfers, including cluster bombs, to Saudi Arabia, or of the disastrous dispensation of weaponry to US allies in Syria, or of foreign sales of the costly, controversial F-35 combat aircraft. And once in a while, if a foreign leader meets with the president, US arms sales to his or her country might generate an article or two. But the sheer size of the American arms trade, the politics that drive it, the companies that profit from it, and its devastating global impacts are rarely discussed, much less analyzed in any depth.
Nor will a corporate media make the connection here on why American society is also a gun-toting, police-rampaging War Zone.

In a parting gift from Obama, the US has just signed an 'aid' deal with Israel worth $38 billion over 10 years. That's $3.8 billion per year, up from $3.1 billion. While a slavish media gush over Hillary, turning a blind-eye to her hawk agenda and neo-con backers, how much attention has that obscene statistic received?

As 'Bibi' and Obama exchange their cringing homilies and farewells, where is the critical examination of that ugly incentive to mass killing and destabilisation?

Any sane and rational media would be asking how and why such major politicians remain effectively immune from prosecution over their executive wars and elimination of mass populations.

But it's the very media normalization of militarism, warmongering and its elite exponents that provides the most vital cover.

On Question Time recently, David Dimbleby goaded Labour's John McDonnell over being "a Marxist", followed by Tory MP Anna Soubry calling him a "nasty piece of work." Meanwhile, on the same panel sat Alastair Campbell, a political knave par excellence, deeply complicit in the likely loss of 1 million Iraqi lives. Even after Chilcot damned Blair, Campbell still defended him, and remains one of the key players in the whole Iraq deceit. What kind of moral media do he have when Campbell's presence on such shows is deemed more respectable than people like McDonnell?

Campbell has been doing many other studio rounds, such as the BBC Jeremy Vine Show - Vine was also a VIP guest at a major arms dealers dinner - promoting his book, Winners: And How They Succeed. For our power-fascinated media, the concept of 'successful' human endeavour, it seems, involves spinning, tricking a country into war, and then having the front to write a text on 'winning psychology'.

Another grovelling interview with Campbell can be heard on Radio New Zealand (hat tip to 'Morrissey' at the Media Lens message board, past).

The token extent of any 'critical' mainstream piece on Campbell and his media appearances can be summed up by the Telegraph headline, 'Spinner in chief now settles for an occasional turn'.

But those who executed, supported and still refuse to acknowledge the crimes of Iraq also enjoy a wider political reception. Campbell recently interviewed Nicola Sturgeon for Q8 Magazine. And George Galloway has hosted unrepentant Blair war apologist John McTernan on Sputnik. Despite Galloway's film, The Killings of Tony Blair, and other noble efforts to indict Blair's war circle, he retains a strong degree of 'political admiration' for McTernan.

It's just basic manners, some may say. Fair intellectual engagement. Open, adversarial debate. Yet, even where key political differences exist, as they plainly do in these cases, it seems that 'our' war cheerleaders are still to be granted respected status.

In another such nod to what counts as 'elite achievement', the recent BBC programme Sir Alex Ferguson - Secrets of Success invokes Blair's 'leadership qualities'. As tweeted in response:
A million plus souls lost to Blair's Iraq carnage, and he's treated as some honoured manager by #SirAlexFerguson and BBC #SecretsOfSuccess
And, of course, the Guardian just can't stop running to Blair for his lofty dispensations.

How did it come to pass? How did people directly responsible for mass killing come to enjoy such celebrity profiles? What is it with villains like Blair, Brown, Campbell and McTernan that they're all still so feted and embraced by politicians and journalists? Imagine real journalists like John Pilger conducting such interviews and failing to question their leading roles in great crimes.

Again, it's all part of a default media culture which just can't contemplate the dark actions of 'ours'. This needn't involve full exoneration. Rather, it's a process of easy acceptance and familiarity, whether it's the Guardian asking Tony for another opinion, or Alastair doing another 'turn' on Question Time. They may be deemed 'controversial' - and sought even more so for 'ratings appeal' - but never considered criminal or beyond the pale in the sense reserved for official foreign enemies.

As figures like Blair, Campbell and Cameron enjoy the financial rewards, patronage and sinecures of post-political office, the human devastation they've caused gets treated as some kind of 'past issue' - it's 'all just politics'.

It's not that such people should be personally hated, hounded or even denied compassion. It's a question of justice, of a media bearing true witness to elite criminality, of insisting that no one, however senior, however famous, can escape responsibility for their part in the taking of mass human life. The same must apply to corporate elites engaged in arms production and the economy of death.

When might the BBC pitch and defend that kind of programming? When might we see a Great British Media Off between channels and editors competing to reveal what's really being cooked up by warmongering profiteers in the kitchens of power?    

Thursday, 1 September 2016

'Critical liberal' media are only mitigating Obama's Syria crimes as 'regrettable mistakes'

As Barack Obama's term comes to a close, a faux 'critical-reflective' media has taken to pronouncing on his foreign policy 'successes' and 'mistakes'. While struggling to prove instances of the former, prominent within the latter is the repeated trope that Obama and the US have 'missed a vital opportunity to intervene in Syria'.

Across the political-media 'spectrum' - and in special reference to The Obama DoctrineJeffrey Goldberg's major interview-based piece on the president - a bombs-away commentariat have been lamenting 'Obama the ineffectual'. It includes familiar neo-con malcontents, now aligned with the Clintonites for an all-out assault on Assad. But there's also been much 'this happened on your watch, Mr Obama' recrimination from 'mainstream' cruise-missile 'humanitarians'. 

This more influential version of the lament finds 'moderate', Guardian-styled liberals perturbed by Obama's apparent 'passivity' when he really ought to be wielding 'legitimate Western violence' in the name of 'R2P', the all-moral-missile-guiding mantra 'responsibility to protect'. It's saying, in essence: 'a tad too much Mr Nice Guy, when you really just have to go smash The Bad Guy.' 

Thus, for the Observer, Obama has avoided the 'all-too-reasonable' case for liberal bombing:
Like the Chicago college professor he once was, Obama intellectualises his decision, making it seem a matter of principle and strategy. The problem with this mental exercise is that the “good reasons” that are its premise ignore the real story. Obama took fright over Syria because he realised there was little appetite in the US for an adventure akin to Iraq.
And the 'lamentable outcome' of this "real story" for the Observer:
the US national interest – and that of its allies – has been seriously affected by his Syrian equivocation...Obama’s shabby intellectual glasshouse is a bad place from which to throw stones.  
Likewise, for Ann Applebaum at the Washington Post, Obama's 'reticence' over Syria has been nothing less than a "disastrous nonintervention."  

One might be forgiven for thinking that many of Obama's 'natural liberal backers' have lost their own 'liberal compass'. But such 'criticism' helps illustrate the true, hawkish extent of our liberal war media, while misrepresenting, in their craving for intervention, Obama's own duplicitous 'case for restraint'.       

The proper framing of these tensions and truths are conveniently clouded because they sit within a broader liberal narrative which still understands Washington as the 'reluctant, but facilitating, outsider' - think, classically, Israel-Palestine - faithfully 'arbitrating for peace'. 

A constant media motif throughout the Syria conflict has been the 'tireless efforts' of John Kerry in seeking a 'diplomatic resolution'. And with this comes the embedded fiction that, even after its mass, murderous assault on an entire region, and relentless protection of Israel, the US has, instead, opted to play a 'relatively hands-off' game in Syria.    

In a highly-informed article, independent journalist Gareth Porter reveals the damning extent to which Obama's administration has, in fact, led, fed, fostered and encouraged a disastrous proxy war:
The Obama administration bears responsibility for this atrocity, because it could have prevented Turkey, Qatar and Saudi Arabia from launching their foolishly adventurous war in Syria.  None of them did so out of desperate need; it was a war of choice in every case.  And each of the three states is part of the US security system in the Middle East, providing military bases to NATO or to the United States and depending on US support for its security. But instead of insisting that those three Sunni allies reconsider their options, the Obama administration gave the green light at a conference in Riyadh at the end of March 2012 for proceeding with arming those who wanted to replace the regime, leaving the United States ostensibly free to be a peacemaker. As Hillary Clinton put it at the Riyadh conference: “Some will be able to do certain things, and others will do other things.”
Knowing, in particular, the deep sectarian history and volatile forces it would unleash. Porter asks:
Could senior Obama administration officials have been unaware that a war to overthrow Assad would inevitably become an enormous sectarian bloodbath? By August 2012 a US Defense Intelligence Agency report intelligence warned that “events are taking a clear sectarian direction,” and that the “the “Salafist[s], Muslim Brotherhood and AQI [al-Qaeda in Iraq]” were “the major forces driving the insurgency”. Furthermore, the Obama administration already knew by then that the external Sunni sponsors of the war against Assad were channeling their money and arms to the most sectarian groups in the field. But the administration did nothing to pressure its allies to stop it. In fact, it actually wove its own Syria policy around the externally fuelled war by overwhelmingly sectarian forces. And no one in the US political-media elite raised the issue.
In similar vein, a recent Media Lens alert article, again featuring some sharp analysis by Porter, exposes such media evasion and distortion, in this case taking apart the BBC's Radio 4 Today programme, 'Obama's battle against so-called Islamic State'. The very title is self-revealing.

Listen to the BBC's leading editors Nick Robinson and John Simpson, alongside former Senior State Department official Karin Von Hippel, lament Obama's apparent 'failure' to 'intervene decisively'.

Hear Obama and the US presented by the BBC and their sole-selected guest as an effectively 'neutral and benign', yet still 'reticent', force trying to 'resolve' conflict and 'break' Islamic State, rather than as a principal creator and promoter of the regional carnage which has allowed IS to emerge and grow.

And consider, in the course of this 'moderate' discussion, just what a vital role our 'liberal-probing' media play in the encouragement and mitigation of Western warmongering.   

As Obama readies the handover baton, there's also been a virtual media blackout on Hillary Clinton's dark and deadly part in the calamity of Syria and the region. Think of this as a voluble silence of liberal encouragement, another nodding green light to even more heinous acts of 'R2P' aggression. 

Nor will they be able to say they didn't know what was still to come. Clinton aide, former Pentagon chief of staff Jeremy Bas, has duly confirmed that, if elected, she will intensify Obama's war on Assad.

It's an inauguration that doesn't augur well for war-afflicted Syrians and others suffering the calamitous effects of America's perpetual 'mistakes', and the liberal media's unmistakable misrepresentation of them.

Monday, 8 August 2016

Owen Jones shows true Guardian colours in his attack on Corbyn


Owen Jones has been criticised by much of the Corbyn left after he published a deeply loaded blog piece entitled Questions all Jeremy Corbyn supporters need to answer.

Peddled as an 'emergency appeal' to "Labour and the left teeter[ing] on the brink of disaster", there can be little doubt that, in the middle of a coup-enforced leadership contest, Jones's article was a precisely calculated intervention intended to undermine and cast doubt on Corbyn.

Mark and remember, also, this similar 'confession' piece from Jones in which, while 'honestly' outlining the 'formidable obstacles' faced by Corbyn and Labour, he gives vital exposure to Corbyn's 'weaknesses' and sustenance to the would-be coup-makers.

Rather than take a firm campaigning position, Jones has hidden behind the evasive veil of 'all-enquiring journalist', giving ample interview slots to Owen Smith and his backers, such as Lisa Nandy and Jess Phillips, as well as Corbyn and allies like Clive Lewis (whom Jones admits he'd been seeking to install all along). This has allowed Jones a convenient façade, a 'neutral space' to 'question' and 'debate', while suggesting to his wide readership the 'deep flaws' and 'worrying implications' of a Corbyn leadership.

Note also, in this regard, how Jones re-tweeted the link to a rather smart hatchet piece on Corbyn and his supporters by LRB writer Tom Crewe.

My own prior twitter question to Jones asking for clarification of which candidate he actually backs in the contest went unheeded.

Before listing his 'nine key questions', Jones lays out a tortured account of his 'humble devotion' to radical causes, his 'left CV', and a listing of his left-liberal friends. In almost martyred tones, Jones says that he:
cannot even begin to put into words how much I’ve agonised over Labour’s terrible plight.
All this is offered as 'essential personal explanation' in preparation for the 'urgent' issues he wants Corbyn backers to reflect upon:
Because of this poisonous political atmosphere, the first chunk of this blog will be what many will consider rather self-indulgent (lots of ‘I’ and ‘me’, feel free to mock), but hopefully an explanation nonetheless of where I’m coming from. However long it is, it will be insufficient: I can guarantee the same charges will be levelled.
Jones's outpourings culminate in the hyperbolic plea that:
the questions below need answers. Not just for my own sanity, but for the future of the Labour party. 
For all the 'modest angst', the questions Jones subsequently asks are largely straw man, media-speak abstractions, pondering on, for example, Labour's 'lack of vision'. But the intent and indictment is clear enough: a charge sheet aimed at Corbyn and the 'perilous state' he's brought the party to. None of the questions are pointed at Owen Smith and the Parliamentary Labour Party coup-makers. In effect, believing that a snap Westminster election is probably on the cards, Jones gives 'crisis notice' that Labour are unelectable under Corbyn.

Jones talks about the leadership's 'failed media strategy', and his 'anxious concern' about the left not getting its message across. So, wouldn't he better serve the left's immediate cause by focusing directly on the mass media onslaught against Corbyn? Jones insists that he has repeatedly addressed such attacks, using this sleight of hand to deny criticisms of his own participation:
To criticise is to join in a chorus of media attacks, goes the argument. There’s a difference: the vehement media attacks on Corbyn come from those who do not want the left to succeed. But my starting point is exactly the opposite. I worry about the left failing, and even disappearing forever.
If so, where's the real exposure and challenging of that corporate-establishment campaign from this 'leading figure of the left'? With damning evidence at hand of widespread bias against Corbyn across all 'mainstream' outlets, notably the BBC, why hasn't Jones shone his sharpest spotlight on the media's dark proclivities, rather than Corbyn's media 'inabilities'? As blogger Kate Buffery notes:
The irony is that if Owen Jones were really driven about media strategy, he’s better placed than any of us to have an impact in redressing the current imbalance in the press. Instead he writes an article which has the PLP and their supporting media, singing from the rafters.
And where, more readily, is his denunciation of the Guardian's own relentless and leading assault on Corbyn? Convenient silence. In an astonishing piece of 'acceptance', the Guardian's Roy Greenslade even asks what harm is there in Corbyn getting such a negative press, including from the Guardian, as documented in a major LSE study. The response from Jones? As ever, none. Jones isn't, and doesn't need to be, gagged by the Guardian. He understands perfectly the self-enforcement expected.

Jones also laments Corbyn's national poll ratings, bewails his 'lack of leadership', and claims he's been "entirely missing in action" in response to Theresa May's ascendancy and other Tory actions. Yet, doesn't Jones see that people are routinely sick of such dreary soundbite politics? The very appeal of Corbyn to so many, notably young, voters is that he doesn't conduct himself in the same mechanical ways. Which other figure can draw thousands to street meetings, all eager to hear a sincere and authentic voice? Jones, of course, recognises this populist appeal, but chooses to ignore it's electoral potential. 

Rather than agonise over the electorate's "first impressions" of Corbyn, why doesn't Jones highlight his integrity and talk-up his refreshing political persona? Why not give his fullest energy and substantial platform to promoting Corbyn's new economic agenda, rather than denigrating his political style?

Instead, we see Jones and the Guardian fall back on 'liberal reality' politics: even if he's popular with party members, they cry, this won't play well with the wider electorate. In effect, let's pander to cautious conservatism rather than lead with radical programmes. Jones has already 'gifted' much of his 'all-seeing advice' to Corbyn on how to moderate his policies and placate the 'national mood', and seems stung that the Corbyn camp has effectively ignored it.

The Guardian is similarly displeased. Following every editorial, op-ed and 'news report' it could muster to stop Corbyn becoming leader, another desperate appeal to 'liberal reason' is now being waged by the Guardian select. Typically, the paper's liberal house matron Polly Toynbee 'commends' Corbyn for his efforts, but urges that he now stand aside for the more 'realistic' leadership of Owen Smith. It says much that Toynbee and arch-Blairite John McTernan both tweeted Jones's blog article with glowing approval.

Smith is being hailed as the latest white-shirt-rolled-up-sleeves-let's-get-things-done-politician. The problem for the Guardian and Jones is how to re-invent this corporate-groomed, Trident-supporting neo-Blairite as a bona fide 'leftist' and saviour candidate. He may be a bit "wobbly", a gushing Guardian editorial concedes, and has to lose a bit of the smooth PR polish to reach the masses, but he's getting there. How reassuring. 

It's not just that the Guardian and PLP coup circle are ideologically terrified of the Corbyn project. It's that they can't even see anything other than the Guardian template of what a 'serious' politics and leader should look like. Their own 'vision' of politics, and journalistic careers, have been shaped by the safe, myopic view that only 'respectable', business-attuned people like Smith are credible figures able to deliver 'realistic change'.

The Guardian class have been in a similar state of high anxiety over the prospect of a Trump presidency. In common voice, Jones berates anyone 'stupid enough' not to endorse Clinton. We must be realistic and back Clinton, he cries: she may have her 'faults', but Trump must be stopped.

The Guardian's nauseating promotion of Clinton tells us all we need to know about liberal-establishment conformity to power. No focus here on Clinton's voracious warmongering, her support for war in Iraq, her promotion of the carnage in Syria, her key part in the annihilation of Libya, her unstinting devotion to a murderous, apartheid Israeli regime. It's all about glitzy conventions, celeb endorsements, Obama handing over to another 'benign leader.'

Yet, the proclaimed antidote to Trump, the 'needs-must' Clinton, is widely reviled, particularly among young Americans. And just as Sanders had hopefully filled that gap, so do people see in Corbyn a welcome and realisable alternative, even to the Guardian's 'needs-must' Smith.

Something meaningful is unravelling beneath the assumed body politic. People are not only rejecting neoliberal doctrines, but turning their backs on the 'sensible liberal-left' which sustains that dominant order. And Guardian boundary police like Jones and Toynbee are finding themselves uncomfortably exposed as they try to mitigate and temper such feeling.

Union leader Manuel Cortes has criticised Jones's "back-stabbing" and behind-the-scenes efforts to undo Corbyn, noting:
I would not like to be in a trench alongside Owen under heavy shelling.
It's a charge Indy left progressives in Scotland will remember only too well. When the entire establishment machine, including the Guardian, was mobilised to stop the Yes movement, Owen Jones, again using the cover of 'balanced observer', showed his real colours in declaring for No.

Alas, Jones still hasn't come to terms with the actual Yes reality. Among his nine questions, he agonises over Labour's 'problem' task in Scotland. But, as with many respondents to his question, he offers no imaginative answer other than to attack the SNP as a way of 'rebuilding' Labour in Scotland.

It's almost tragi-comic to observe this line of argument. Following generations of betrayal, Scottish Labour is now on the verge of extinction after siding with the Tories over independence. Its leader, Kezia Dugdale, is part of the coup against Corbyn, clinging desperately to her unionist line. And still Jones shows no inclination to support the case for radical independence.   

Voters in Scotland have been stuffed three time over: a stolen opportunity for independence in 2014; as a consequence, a Tory government inflicted against its will in 2015; and now in 2016 - after Cameron's calamitous efforts to quell conflict in his own party - forced into a referendum and taken out of the EU against majority wishes.

The real question for EU referendum voters in Scotland wasn't whether to remain or leave. It was, and is, at its core, about having the right to make such decisions unencumbered by Westminster. All through this process, that more pivotal issue has lay unresolved: the ability of people in Scotland to determine their own political will. Little wonder the penny has now finally dropped for so many No voters.  Little wonder so many are now converts to the case for independence.

There is a strong strand of support for Corbyn across the Yes left. Even Alex Salmond defended|Corbyn and denounced the "disgusting, organised coup". Yet, for all that empathy, there can be no true uplift for the Labour left in Scotland until it embraces the resilient demand for independence.

Hopefully, we are at a new and more productive point of political engagement. As the coup daggers are wielded, all people of a progressive persuasion, including SNP supporters, should be backing Corbyn. In turn, Corbyn Labour, particularly in Scotland, must now acknowledge and work with Yes Indy. This has to be a movement politics, rather than party politics, a major accommodation of left political forces.

After EU Project Fear, peddled as both 'Immigration Nightmare' and 'Economic Armageddon' (recall Osborne's invented threat to slash £30 billion from public services, and the banks' threat to exit the City), we can see that fear and negativity only breed more fear and reactionary responses. A cycle of bad political karma. If nothing else, as in 2014, this has been another learning curve in cynical manipulations. And for the main establishment network, it's the sorest of all lessons, as, despite the City elite's market 'intelligence' and private polling, the brooding alienated of Sunderland, Hartlepool and other austerity-battered locales defied their condescending warnings.

Owen Jones doesn't specify the Brexit issue in any of his blog questions. But you can be sure that Corbyn and McDonnell have a much healthier and more progressive view of what the EU really stands for, and the positive potential of the vote, than the kind of shrill, apocalyptic language ("terrifying" and "weep for your country") used by Jones, the Guardian and other establishment voices.

As Jonathan Cook puts it:
This is where we on the progressive left are, and the Brexit vote is a huge challenge to us to face facts. We want to believe we are free but the truth is that we have long been in a prison called neoliberalism. The Conservative and Labour parties are tied umbilically to this neoliberal order. The EU is one key institution in a transnational neoliberal club. Our economy is structured to enforce neoliberalism whoever ostensibly runs the country.
Ultimately, we can keep hoping for the delivery of people and planet through enduring neoliberalism, or try to make decisive breaks from those repressive rules and institutions. Scottish or British, young or old, EU or non-EU, we're all controlled and exploited by this brutal doctrine.

Little of this crucial reality was up for discussion as the coup cabal used the Brexit moment to purge Corbyn. Jones issued no such indictment sheet against Alan Johnson (the Iraq war-supporting Blairite he once courted as a replacement for Miliband), Angela Eagle or the other plotters. Rather, it was Corbyn's 'failings' over the EU that became the pretext for 'necessary action'. The Guardian's Jonathan Freedland even castigated Corbyn for 'betraying the young', and for avoiding a Remain event part-lead by war criminal Tony Blair. Again, Jones had precisely nothing to say about this virulent assault by his Guardian peers. His silence is all part of the contrived Guardian recrimination against Corbyn and those who dare cross the establishment line.

Corbyn's leadership is perhaps the last chance to make his party a serious force for change. The coup against Corbyn offers an historical moment to push back and finally break Blairism and the neoliberal stranglehold. The BBC, Guardian and other service media have done all they can to present Corbyn as a 'crisis' for Labour and 'the country'. Lamentably, Owen Jones has given ready amplification to that jingo-ridden narrative. Beyond all the personal 'soul-searching' and 'desire to save the left', Jones has used his considerable platform to undermine and break Corbyn. And what an unedifying spectacle to watch him placate and pal along with the PLP while trying to maintain his 'popular-man-of-the-left' credentials. A pretentious liberal positioning, very much the Guardian man. 

Wednesday, 22 June 2016

Whatever the EU vote, the same power elites and institutions need to be resisted

I'm oddly thankful that this EU referendum is coming to a close - even if the aftermath is likely to be much uglier. Unlike the vibrant people engagement and progressive optimism around Scottish independence, this contest has been underwritten by a virulent, dismal and racist politics.   

As previously outlined, my own inclinations have been towards Lexit, not Brexit. The distinction is important. It's about contextualising the issues in left, progressive ways, unlike the overwhelming EU 'debate' which has been framed, discussed, reported and analysed almost exclusively on the establishment's terms.

Cameron and Gove got prominent turns on Question Time specials. Osborne's warning of economic calamity was pitched against Farage's dark rhetoric over immigration, the essential message here being that only their versions, their narratives, are up for 'serious debate'. Where have we seen the same attention given to any left case, for in or out? Such is the 'choice' of perspectives allowed by our 'all-informing' media.

Battered by this mass propaganda, it's been difficult keeping focused on the central issues. Like many on the left, I have pondered and wavered. Yet core objections to the EU won't go away. Whatever its origins, the EU stands as a rapacious neoliberal institution, controlled by a self-serving banking class, and managed by a conservative political vanguard. Under the secretly-negotiated TTIP, driven evangelically by the EU and US, corporate sovereignty will be total, allowing big business unmatched legal rights to sue anyone obstructing their interests, from national governments to local councils. And even besides TTIP, a whole range of corporate-serving EU legislation already exists, requiring privatisation and deregulation of public services like railways and healthcare. Consider how this would seriously constrain any incoming left-aspiring Corbyn government. As one leftist observer notes in Lexit the Movie, a useful antidote to the mainstream framing, the EU is not some social democratic project, it's an aggressive trading bloc underpinned by corporate demands.   

Beyond all the hype about 'reclaiming power', this is the real issue of sovereignty. The Remain case has been supported and funded by City sovereigns like Goldman Sachs, JP Morgan and Morgan Stanley. It's been commended by other champions of capitalist sovereignty like the IMF, WTO, OECD, World Bank and George Soros. Even the speculated outcome of the referendum has been boom time for City casino capitalism. As one City bond trader gloated: "You look forward to days like this...There's money to be made and lost". And in whose interests do mass warmongers Blair and Mandelson, Nato and Obama speak as 'principled' Remainers?  

Nor is there convincing evidence that the 'workers' rights', supposedly originating from the EU, represent anything more than token crumbs from the same boss class. What serious social democracy, never mind actual socialism, can we expect from an institution run by elite commissioners and bankers? The UK may not be part of the Eurozone, but the momentous crushing of Greece tells us all we need to know about its ruthless neoliberal essence. We should be equally disturbed by the EU's expansionist agenda and bonded ties to Nato, as witnessed most alarmingly in their dual promotion of a fascist coup in Ukraine.   

And yet, like much of the left, I've still had conflicted feelings on how to vote, particularly on a question pitched and fought over by two sides of the establishment.

Alongside Boris Johnson's vile rants, we've seen the wicked discourse on immigration from Farage, including a racist 'Breaking Point' poster that will live in infamy. Amid this febrile atmosphere, a decent-minded MP has been murdered in an act of political terrorism (two words barely uttered by a media that would have leapt on them had the attacker been a Muslim) underwritten by that same essential 'we ourselves' mindset and hatred towards the 'intruding other'. And yet, consider also the pernicious language and inferences Cameron, Osborne and other Remain Tories have directed towards 'swarming' migrants, 'benefit-grasping' Romanians and 'still undeserving' Turks. Isn't it depressing how we've been urged to think and calculate so selfishly around 'what's good for me' rather than how do we best challenge destructive power institutions and elites in compassionate consideration of wider humanity and planet? 

In this faux binary contest we've seen the great Battle of the Thames, with Farage and Sir Bob Geldof, a farce that hasn't the slightest life relevance to immigrants, refugees or poor people relying on foodbanks. While observing the mass media attention given to this 'conflict on the water', a much more significant maritime-related event happened, all but ignored by the media. The key aid agency Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF) took the momentous decision not to accept any more money from the EU, given its shameless treatment of refugees and its concocting of the Greece/Turkey deal to ship them back. The sham of a 'civilized EU' decisively sunk. Whatever the lamentable treatment of poor migrants and desperate refugees struggling to reach British shores, there's little or nothing to commend the racist record of fortress Europe.

Unlike the 'looming crisis' of immigration, there's been no such discussion over the real emergency threat of climate change. Some Remainers make the valid argument that environmental progress like the recent Paris Agreement could only have been reached through large EU bloc-type negotiations. Yet any serious advancement of environmental action still comes down to the meaningful policies and pledges of nation states. And all of that involves decisive exposure of the key corporate forces behind climate destruction, forces that neither Brussels or Westminster has the remotest intention of crossing.  

For those of us in Scotland, the other more pragmatic case for voting to remain is the pursuit of Scottish independence. If Scotland votes to remain and the rest of the UK to leave, this would most likely trigger popular demand for a second independence referendum. For any Yes leftist, with little regard for the EU or Westminster, that's a strategic option well worth considering. Neoliberal Brussels with a growing right-wing politics is not a protective shield from Westminster. And a neoliberal, Tory and undemocratic Westminster system provides little assurance from that same EU.   

Ultimately, in or out of Europe, in or out of the UK, the same much more crucial challenges for progressives remain: resisting neoliberalism; the breaking of loaded political systems; the realisation of true socialist movements, parties, policies and governments.

On that note, and as jaded and confused voters make late evaluations on such matters, I'd like to commend this fine, elegiac lament from the writer Steve Topple on the state of the UK in 2016.

Friday, 6 May 2016

New green shoots - promising outcome of Holyrood 2016

SNP 63, Greens 6.

It's a good, encouraging outcome. No SNP majority, just two seats short. But, arguably, a better overall result, with greater potential for progressive politics and wider promotion of the Yes case.

Six Green MSPs now hold the effective balance of power, and, in principle, could be well placed to push the SNP leftwards on climate change, fracking, land reform, progressive taxation, welfare powers, poverty, inequality and other vital issues.

This new Green presence should be seen by left-minded SNP members as constructive support for a more radical SNP agenda, a conditional backing for Nicola Sturgeon and the party respectfully articulated by Elaine C. Smith:
I’m also a friend, ally and supporter of Nicola Sturgeon and have been happy to vote SNP for the last 20 years or more. I still did this time – but my second vote went to the Greens. The #BothVotesSNP strategy left me and many others – on the left in particular – a bit uncomfortable. It felt greedy, with a whiff of entitlement – and that sat uneasily with us. I’m sure that the intention was a purely political and strategic one – but it played into the hands of a currently resonant narrative about unchallenged power, both on the right and the left. The release of The Sun endorsement last weekend didn’t help either.
The Green arrival gives potential impetus to a new Yes alignment politics, rather than the case for Indy2 resting too closely with the SNP, vital as it still is in leading that process. Patrick Harvie and his colleagues also sit closely with the SNP in repeating that it's the Scottish people, not any party, who will determine the case for a second referendum, and that they would back any such significant display of public feeling.  

The new Green intake can also help concentrate SNP minds on taking real progressive positions. Andy Wightman, the leading voice of radical land reform in Scotland, is a welcome addition in this regard, as is John Finnie, who left the SNP over its pro-Nato decision.

The aftermath for Labour in Scotland is all too obvious. They could now take this historical low as the defining moment to initiate a truly radical reformulation, notably serious acceptance of the case for independence. Otherwise, it will drift entirely into oblivion. The return of people like Anas Sarwar suggests little chance of any such realisation. It's do or die, and probably too late to do.   

The media have, predictably, focused on the 'great Tory revival'. It is, of course dispiriting to see their increased vote, explicable, in large part, as consolidation of the Unionist 2014 No vote, a right-hardening of class politics over the constitution. Yet, in practice, Davidson will have no effective power in the parliament. They also owe most of their seats to the vagaries of the regional list.

Hopefully, this coming parliament will legislate for a fairer, less speculative system than AMS. One only need look at the SNP's clean-sweep of constituencies in Glasgow, while its massive 111,101 list votes in that regional list gained the party not a single additional seat - and saw the Greens just miss out on a second. Acrimonious debate will, no doubt, continue amongst parts of the SNP and wider Yes community over how the SNP 'minority' government could have been averted. It was always the case that voters couldn't 'game' this AMS system, given the unknowns of constituency seats likely to be won, the unreliability of opinion polls and other human variables. But, while, as proven in Glasgow, Rise and Solidarity always looked unlikely to reach the bar, there was the credible chance of a Green advance. (I voted SNP and Green on that basis, to see Harvie returned on the list, and in moral support of a wider Yes/radical politics.)

Beyond all the 'casino' politics, the case for Indy2 and any more progressive politics will have to encompass much more than the SNP. And the new Greens, just like the SNP, will be judged on just how assertively they strive to make all that a reality. We should take heart from the vibrancy of political engagement still evident post-2014. This election outcome has revealed key new questions for the SNP, and challenges for the Yes left, but there shouldn't be any need for despondency. And, as the election dust settles, it's still good to remember that a majority of Holyrood MSPs still stand for independence.   

Monday, 2 May 2016

Dark motivations behind 'Labour's anti-Semitism problem'

As the political cries and media echoes of 'Labour's anti-Semitism crisis' continue, what rational 'measurement' of those allegations and responses to them might we make?

The real determining factor here, one can argue, is motivational intent. That, of course, is a matter of varying interpretation in itself, all such evaluation being subjective. Yet, it's still an intuitively valuable way to comprehend human actions.

Caveat made, let's consider the likely motivations of the main figures accused here of anti-Semitism, of those making the accusations, and the positioning of varying leftists over such charges.

Firstly, what serious indication is there that Naz Shah or Ken Livingstone are in any way driven by a sense of hatred or animosity towards Jews? The fundamental question here is not just the use of language but the emotional feeling behind it. What really matters is whether a person's words and expressions are motivated by actual hatred or animosity towards another person or people due to their religious, racial or other beliefs.

What evidence of such is there against Livingstone and Shah? Precisely none. What they are clearly compelled by is a sense of grievance and opposition to the unjust treatment of Palestinians. Nothing of what either of them said can, on close scrutiny, be regarded as speech or expression specifically hateful of, or antagonistic towards, Jews as people, or disrespectful of Jewish identity. In short, neither are anti-Semitic, and none of their comments seem remotely intended as such.

Nor is there any real evidence to suggest particular hatred or animosity towards Jewish people from within Labour or the broad left. Indeed, beyond generalised forms of racist and religious prejudice, and contrary to the claims of 'vanguard' groups like the CST, there's nothing to indicate any deep, specific hatred or substantive public enmity in Britain towards Jewish people at large. So, too, can most people distinguish between anti-Semitism and criticising Israel.

In the course of much street engagement, I've heard people make occasional clumsy remarks or crass formulations - such as 'Jews run the world' - often buoyed by a sense of anger at what Israel is doing to the Palestinian people. Such comments are obviously facile and counter-productive to the Palestinian cause. But they are relatively scarce and dwarfed by the casual utterances and media-spread impressions we hear of the 'Muslim threat', or that 'Muslims are all terrorists'.

Questionable memes and images float around online, inviting easy repetition by the unwary. Well before her election, Naz Shah appears to have indulged in such. Of course, it's worth noting the origin of Shah's actual tweets in 2014 and how one was grossly misrepresented.

Behind the 'move Israel to the US' graphic lies an actual, crucial point about the shameful collaborations between America and Israel. There was always a better way of stating that message - one, we can be sure, Shah now belatedly recognises. But that doesn't make Shah's conduct, in itself, anti-Semitic. Again, we have to see it in the context of motivation: a moral response, a conscientious feeling, most probably as reactive anger over Israel murderous attack that year on Gaza.

But why, many have asked, in supporting Shah, did Livingstone 'invoke Hitler' in this discussion? Livingstone himself has expressed regrets about raising the point, given the 'disruption' it caused. But what about the essence of his point? Again, let's apply the motivation test.

If Livingstone was using an historical reference to castigate Jewish people, or call into question their suffering, that would most certainly be a slanderous and anti-Semitic act. What, in fact, he was referencing was an actual historical event, the Haavara Agreement, denoting the engagement between Nazi officials and Zionist figures. Nor, for the record, did Livingstone state, as has been consistently misreported by much of the media, that 'Hitler was a Zionist'. His central point was that after Hitler was elected in 1932, the Nazis saw the expedient possibility of removing Jews from Europe to Palestine, and that Zionist forces saw mutual advantage in this. That's a recorded fact, not mendacious conjecture. What motivated Livingstone's critics to present it in any other way?

It's also important to recall that Livingstone was being questioned about the ugly term "transportation" of people. Is it really credible to suggest that he raised this point in order to offend Jewish people? Or was he relating factual background about the history of Jewish people being moved? Again, some argue it was 'politically unwise' to do so over such a sensitive issue. But if we are to talk honestly about Israel-Palestine, all such historical context is important, so long as it's discussed with diligent respect for its victims. Why should such discussion be deemed 'off-limits'? Is it valid subject matter for historians and researchers, but not politicians? What does it say about the paucity of our intellectual life that such comments are only to be scrutinised and judged by tabloid notions of whether they are 'fit' for 'real politics'? What motivates such denigration of qualitative, respectable expression?

Israel defender John Mann's verbal assault on Livingstone saw him claim that there's no place for such comment in relation to Jewish suffering at the hands of the Nazis. And there wouldn't be if Livingstone was guilty of ugly revisionism or any questioning of that suffering. He's plainly not. Amid such condemnations of Livingstone sat the inconvenient fact that he had told an unvarnished truth. Unable to dispute the authenticity of what he had referred to, his critics could only resort to the illogical charge that by merely mentioning this historical event, Livingstone was somehow guilty of anti-Semitism by calculated inference. All of which amplified message serves to divert from the real issues such forces want hidden. 

So what might we say about the motivations of those critics? Most of it is lamentably obvious. After right-wing blogger Guido Fawkes had drilled down looking for dirt on Naz Shah, the Israel lobby, alongside an opportunist Blairite faction still seething over Corbyn's ascent, seized the moment to advance their common causes. Key Israel-supporting figures like Stephen Pollard weighed-in, issuing increased fears about the "left's hatred of Jews".

Here we see the coalescing interests and motivations of those alleging anti-Semitism, notably the rearguard attempts to defend and whitewash Israel, to break Jeremy Corbyn, and to counter the rise of BDS.

What many of those converging critics really fear is any historical reference to, or public discussion of, the mass expelling and transportation of 800,000 Palestinians in the course of the Nakba. They don't want any discussion of the Palestinian Right of Return, of the illegal Occupation, of Israel's apartheid state, of the murderous bombing, imprisonment and siege of Gaza, of the children killed and locked up in Israeli jails.

With perverse timing, the despotic Mark Regev, Israel's new ambassador to the UK, has stepped into the fray, using the same malevolent spin propagated over the mass killing of Palestinians to now ratchet-up the 'leftist threat to Jews'.     

So, what, in turn, might we say about the responses and motivations of Labour leftists to such spurious charges, particularly those professing Palestine solidarity? Predictably, the default line for so many was that Livingstone is a 'liability' and had to go.

Key Corbyn allies like Dianne Abbott and Len McCluskey correctly rejected the claim of serious anti-Semitism within Labour, pointing to the internal Blairite plotting. But few were prepared to defend Livingstone or Shah. 

And this is where notable left voices like Owen Jones have more seriously erred, as Ali Abunimah so convincingly reminded him in an illuminating twitter exchange: "To watch @OwenJones84 throw Ken Livingstone under the bus to appease a bunch of hard-right racists is a truly pitiful sight." Jones counters that he has been a consistent advocate of Palestinian rights, and that his supporting of Livingstone's suspension is intended to help 'stamp out anti-Semitism' within Labour. Yet, hasn't Jones's overstated claims, and righteous repetition, of 'pervasive' anti-Semitism within the party only added to the hysteria? What, one wonders, motivates such a positioning? 

Contrary to Jones's mitigations, any earnest defence of the Palestinian cause would more usefully involve resisting the false narrative and pernicious assault being waged by Israel and the Blairite lobby. That's the primary task here. The most destructive inner element of the Labour party is not a handful of misguided 'leftists'. It's Labour Friends of Israel. 

There's no use trying to placate those forces - which, as Abunimah reminds us, will never be satisfied - through party purges and synthetic appeasements. They will always drive for more. Indeed, even while Corbyn and McDonnell, understandably, resort to 'damage limitation' and party management, it's still incumbent upon leftists to resist the narratives forcing such reactions. In short, the priority task of left public figures is not to join the chorus. It's about exposing the motivations of the Israel lobby, those seeking to oust Corbyn, and the establishment media's role in peddling such discourse.

On that note, here's a complaint letter I sent to the BBC (in the hours prior to Livingstone's involvement) regarding Newsnight's coverage of 'anti-Semitism within Labour':
28 April 2016

Re 27 April 2016 edition of Newsnight.

Please can you explain the gross imbalance in this discussion of alleged anti-Semitism within the Labour Party?

In particular, can you account for the absence of any countervailing voices to the two principal guests, Lord Levy and Baroness Neuberger, as well as the supporting opinions of Richard Angell (Director of the Blairite Progress group), Danny Cohen (BBC Director of Television, 2013 - 2015), David Winnick (Labour MP) and other comments repeated by reporter Hannah Barnes?

Presenter Evan Davis introduced his guests as reflecting a "debate within the Jewish community" about growing anti-Semitism. Why was no alternative opinion sought from any other figure within the Jewish community?

Also, why did Davis passively accept the generic claims made by Julia Neuberger regarding "the conflation of Zionist to mean Jew" and "this praise of Hitler"? Why didn't he ask for specific evidence of where such views exist within the Labour Party, and the nature of their alleged extent? Instead, Davis merely responded: "That's clearly over the line."

Davis also failed to question Lord Levy over his equating of 'Zionism' with 'anti-Semitism', or his political background, notably his close links with Tony Blair and how that financial backing informed New Labour's friendly positioning on Israel.

In all these regards, the BBC has clearly violated its basic remit to provide impartial coverage and balanced opinion.
I await a response.

One might note here that while it was seemingly acceptable for Julia Neuberger to raise claims of leftists 'conflating Jews with Hitler', without any solid evidence, Livingstone was to be hounded over a much less incendiary comment the next day. Which all proves the kind of stark double standards deployed by the establishment media.

We might also consider here the supporting motivations of the Guardian in this affair, such as liberal notables Jonathan Freedland, Gaby Hinsliff and Marina Hyde.

Not for the first time, Freedland's response to such an issue has been to ask why Israel and Jewish people at large are being 'subjected' to such 'special scrutiny'. Ali Abunimah calls this piece: "Surely the most disingenuous article ever by @Freedland in defense of a brutal apartheid settler colony". Here, we might ask, what motivated Freedland to pen such a "wretched article", rather than ask people to imagine for a moment just what it must be like to suffer for so many decades under the brutal fist of the Israeli state?

Hinsliff, likewise, trotted-out the same 'why Israel?' line, and tortured angst over 'Labour's calamity', piling on even more lurid accusations of the left's anti-Semitic motivations:
But calling for its people to be swept into the sea, or forcibly transplanted somewhere else, or in any other way denying Israel’s right to exist, is crossing a line because that simply doesn’t happen to other countries no matter how oppressive their regime. No other nation state on the planet is constantly asked to prove itself morally worthy merely of being allowed to exist.
Hyde also resorted to the usual Guardian snide-speak, conflating Livingstone with Boris Johnson, while offering an 'embarrassed apology' "for the conduct of my nation." Imagine Hyde having the dutiful conscience to ask what this same British state has ever done for suffering Palestinians, or whether a nation that has invaded so many others and taken the lives of so many souls even has the moral claim to such standing.

The Murdoch press may rightly be seen as beyond the pale in this country, but is there a more sanctimonious, deceitful and vitally power-serving outlet in the land than the Guardian?

As befits its relentless efforts to undermine Corbyn, there's no shortage of space, either, at this despicable paper for Labour favourites like Jess Phillips, who, from her Guardian platform said: "There are very strong feelings in the party about recognising the state of Palestine, as well as strong feelings about the protection of the state of Israel. Most people fall sensibly in both camps." Here, complementing Freedland et al, we see the same, safe liberal obfuscation of a core issue, pronounced as some kind of two-sided conflict in which we must remain respectfully vigilant about protecting the oppressor.

Rather than appease the Israel lobby or play to this liberal media narrative, those truly set on defending Palestinian rights, and justice at large, have been motivated to expose it all. Excellent examples include:

Jamie Stern-Weiner: Jeremy Corbyn hasn’t got an ‘antisemitism problem’. His opponents do.

Jamie Stern-Weiner: Fact-checking Newsnight on Labour’s ‘antisemitism problem’

Jewish Socialists' Group: Statement on “Labour’s problem with anti-Semitism”

Ben White: Shifty anti-Semitism wars

John Wight: Antisemitism and the new McCarthyism in our midst

Asa Winstanley: How Israel lobby manufactured UK Labour Party’s anti-Semitism crisis

Please read and share widely. Hopefully, these kind of motivated responses will help motivate others to resist the power-serving distortions being peddled by people like Freedland and the loaded narratives being legitimised by figures like Jones.