Tuesday, 25 June 2013

Five key reasons for Scottish independence

With over a year to the referendum on Scottish Independence, the issues around it still seem rather abstract, non-detailed and worrying to many, particularly those still undecided on how to vote.

With that key wavering sector in mind, here's five basic reasons to consider saying Yes to an independent Scotland.

Political control 
Independence offers much greater political influence over how we shape our society.

In a world now massively driven by globalised forces and imposing institutions, the need for true participatory democracy intensifies, requiring smaller and more accountable forms of parliamentary involvement and civil engagement.  

The prevailing Union and Westminster parliament is a deeply archaic, undemocratic and conservative structure, offering no serious prospect for meaningful participation, representation or political change.  

While independence is no panacea - all the same global issues still have to be engaged -  it does allow people in Scotland the opportunity to fashion a new political modernity unshackled from the same old party cartel and parliamentary interests. 

Though a devolved Scottish parliament has been able to legislate on important areas like education and healthcare, it still lacks real control over the big levers of power. 

With full political responsibility for the first time over tax-raising, public spending, foreign and defence policy, immigration, employment rights, social security and benefits, energy, state intelligence, intellectual property, data protection, media, and all constitutional matters, a Scottish electorate could be in a better tactical position to push for the kind of society suited to what people actually want.

This might include, at some future point, closer reflection on whether Scotland wishes to retain a non-elected and privileged monarchy.

Almost all main left and progressive-thinking parties in Scotland, including the Greens, are campaigning for a Yes vote. A gathering section of trade union members in Scotland also now endorse the potential gains of independence, many now deeply disenchanted with Labour's neoliberalism, austerity agenda and attacks on welfare.  

Independence is also a buffer to an increasingly right-drifting politics, and, as the main UK parties pander to UKIP-type policies, the prospects of being ruled by an even more authoritarian Westminster parliament.

Vitally, in appealing to Labour voters, a Yes vote is not a call to support the SNP or any other party. It's about the need for progressive independence irrespective of what party people might vote for, either before or after the referendum.

Following any successful Yes vote, the electorate will, in a first post-referendum election, be free to endorse any parties or individuals suited to their political inclinations or desires. Unlike Westminster, Holyrood's proportional-based parliament is more able to have those views represented.  

A fairer Scottish parliament with a working government and legislative system already exists. Why still be burdened with a more imposing one which impedes that potential development and retains control over what people can have and may really wish for?

Economic alternatives 
Independence offers the serious opportunity of choosing an economic system based on social well-being rather than market-serving neoliberal doctrine.

It's vital to recognise the emergency-type situation that rampant neoliberalism has created, the social destruction caused by free market demands. Just look at the calamitous banking crisis, which ordinary people are paying painfully for through an austerity programme likely to last for many more years, most likely beyond 2020.

Everything Miliband and Labour are saying about the 'need' for austerity and cuts is almost identical to that coming from Cameron and Clegg. Any incoming Labour government in 2015 will continue the same, or worse, harsh policies, helping to keep themselves in comfortable office.  

As Craig Murray neatly puts it, "why a nation should surrender its freedom just to make sure Ed Balls has a ministerial car and salary while he implements Tory policies, is not a question which to me has an obvious answer."

This is a very rare chance to move in a decisively different economic direction.   

Proposals are now emerging for a more progressive economic model based on the Nordic-styled Common Weal. As discussed:
"Scotland is buzzing with people thinking about a better, more equal future and there is lots of work being done in different places. Just as the concept of neoliberalism encompassed a wide range (from Thatcher’s ‘can’t buck the market’ to Blair’s ‘we can help with the worst impacts of the market’), so the concept of Common Weal is broad and can encompass different ideas and different approaches. However, it’s very basis is that it is not simply a different version of what we have now. The last five years in the UK were simply a story of repeating the same mistakes from before. Without a fundamental change in our behaviour, we are going to continue to repeat the same mistakes indefinitely. Scotland - independent or not - must make a decision. If we continue on the current path the inevitable destination is greater inequality and ever fewer public services on which to rely. If we want something different, we have to choose it."
Rather than the prevailing and deepening economic disaster, we now have a specific blueprint for fairer distribution, social care and a welfare system that can help protect public services, most notably the NHS, from the drastic slide to privatisation we're seeing in England.

Any such alternative will, assuredly, have to be fought for, post-independence. Though supported by large parts of the SNP, some of that party leadership, with Labour, are still more pro-corporate in their priorities. Yet, while, with wide party and civil support, a Common Weal agenda seems realisable in an independent Scotland, no such initiative seems even remotely possible via Westminster.

If Thatcherism was the catalyst for devolution, rejection of the ConDem/Labour consensus represents the next logical step to independence.     

Independence will also allow a fully-sovereign parliament to abolish despised legislation like the Westminster-imposed bedroom tax.

Full tax-raising and spending powers could, instead, promote proper funding of environmentally sustainable energy resources like wind and wave power. And while the pumping of more North Sea oil will make Scotland, like Norway, one of the most revenue-rich countries in the world, it's a resource that could also be used to fund serious green initiatives that lead us away from destructive carbon dependency. 

While proposals on currency and central banking are to be detailed in a coming Scottish Government White Paper (November 2013), these are not, contrary to elevated fears, changes that will affect basic macro-economic arrangements.  

The Yes campaign have sought to allay fear-laden claims over a proposed currency union, monetary linkages and other transitional details.  

There is, alternatively, a valid case for a future single Scottish pound and clear detachment from the Bank of England. If independence is to mean anything it must, ultimately, involve real powers to determine a state's own financial policies and every political decision flowing from it.

That, of course, will also involve meaningful resistance to much higher forces of global financial orthodoxy.  

Debate over such options and challenges will go on, just as they do elsewhere. But, crucially, it's within the context of an independent parliament that people will have greater say and electoral influence on how those currency, monetary and other financial instruments evolve.    

In this regard, independence can also be a rejection of those anti-European forces whose core purpose is to protect elite interests in the City of London.

Cameron is pledging a referendum in 2015 that may lead to the UK's exit from Europe - a move which would not likely be supported by most voters in Scotland.

It's notable that while not a single newspaper in Scotland openly supports Scottish independence (the Sunday Herald seems more sympathetic, but the bias extends across the UK media and beyond - though the rise of social media may be countering that), many of those same externally-owned corporate outlets are eagerly talking-up Britain's exit from Europe. 

Contrary to Unionist and media fearmongering, Scotland would most likely remain part of the EU from the outset and could negotiate any post-independence place in Europe with relative ease.

Some in Scotland, many on the left, may, of course, oppose continued membership, just as differences of opinion prevail over any adopting of the euro. 

But, again, the key point is that, whatever those issues and feelings, independence would allow people in Scotland to make their own decisions on these matters.

Determining foreign and defence policy
Independence provides the chance to take full control of national defence and foreign policy.

This is crucial in two key regards. First and foremost, it serves an imperative moral duty not to pursue war policies devised to kill other people in foreign lands. 

Control of foreign policy means we don't have to follow illegal and aggressive wars waged against innocent civilians in places like Iraq and Afghanistan, nor see the need to raise mass armies and send soldiers to die for selfish corporate-political interests.

As a UN member, Scotland would also retain direct diplomatic powers to oppose states acting in imperialist and apartheid ways. 

Any ongoing and urgent opposition to a Scotland still tentatively tied into Nato would, likewise, be more effectively waged within a situation of independence.

The second key, related benefit of a non-aggressive foreign policy is that states usually positioned against warfare and high military expenditure are much more likely to prioritise social and health spending - putting the economy of life before the economy of death.

Why follow Westminster and continue paying astronomical sums for inhuman wars and useless militarism (over £37 billion in Afghanistan) when that money could be spent on hospitals, schools and social-serving jobs?

Removal of nuclear weapons
Independence offers the greatest ever opportunity to remove nuclear weapons of mass destruction from Faslane, while making it difficult to locate them anywhere else in the rest of the UK.

A consistent majority of Scots favour removing nuclear weapons. If the banning of such WMD was included in a new independent constitution, we would be doing ourselves and the wider world a huge service.

Contrary to the standard 'protect defence jobs' line, the money saved could be redirected into non-militarist retraining/jobs and public services. A detailed study from Scottish CND and the Scottish Trade Union Congress (STUC) on the 'risk' of cancelling Trident "showed that the number of jobs at risk was far less than often claimed and that more jobs would be created if the money was reallocated to other projects."

As Scottish CND also note:
"A legal opinion by Rabinder Singh QC and Professor Christine Chinkin, Matrix Chambers, on The Maintenance and Possible Replacement of the Trident Nuclear Missile System concluded that a replacement would constitute a breach of Article VI of the nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty and would be a material breach of the treaty itself."
If there was no other point in voting Yes, this, in itself, would be a vital single reason for approving independence. 

Peace and security without the immoral burden and enormous, wasteful costs.

A model state
In seeking to build a more equal, just and nuclear-free country, Scotland can act as a working, progressive model of development for others to follow. 

We help ourselves while showing a different way for fellow global citizens - politically, economically and even culturally. 

One needn't be a 'nationalist' - I'm not - to support independence. Nor do we need to covet or proclaim our 'Scottishness' in the various fields of achievement - it doesn't ultimately matter where an artist, philosopher, sportsperson or other noted individual hails from - though it's good to see Artists for Independence give thoughtful voice to what that 'identity' means and what better things independence could help achieve. 

In that vein, wouldn't it be a source of quiet pride to say that the place you live in is trying to do something alternative, something more egalitarian, something that others might also aspire to?  

In advancing a tolerant, outward internationalism, rather than inward nationalism and other old sectarian fears, we have the opportunity to develop a more mature, inclusive and imaginative cultural landscape, one that doesn't depend on narrow jingoism, but, in the spirit of Robert Burns, a compassionate and generous celebration of humanity at home and abroad. 

That man to man, the world o'er,
Shall brithers be for a' that.

Feel a little confidence. 
Use a little sense.
Show a little vision. 
Have a little courage.

Friday, 21 June 2013

Gross miscalculation of Iraq deaths - graphically shown

Check out this brilliantly-produced infographic detailing the appalling lack of public knowledge over the extent of Iraq war fatalities. Click here to enlarge.

My complaint enquiry to the BBC over this issue has now been raised to a 'stage 2' level.

As part of that request, I have noted this key poll research in my letter to BBC complaints assessor Fran Unsworth:

Since my original request, the results of a significant poll have been published showing that the general public have been very poorly informed as to the extent of war-related fatalities in Iraq: http://www.comres.co.uk/poll/937/iraqi-death-toll-survey.htm
A key reason for this must surely be the media's failure to present that core information to the public. As a leading news organisation, supposedly dedicated to the provision of wide and balanced information, the BBC must take a considerable level of responsibility for that failure.

I wish to offer this poll evidence in support of my above-noted request for an explanation as to why the BBC has favoured the IBC data and how that decision was arrived at.

I look forward to hearing your considered thoughts.

Kind regards
John Hilley
The BBC are as likely to uphold my complaint as going headline with these damning poll findings or starting to detail the true level of war-related deaths in Iraq.

But it's vital that their compliance in this great deceit continues to be exposed and challenged.

Following Media Lens's fine efforts, see, in this respect, Joe Emersberger's valiant attempts to debate a BBC correspondent over the ComRes poll findings.


Tuesday, 18 June 2013

It's a heartache - Obama's 'gun pragmatism' on Syria

"This was a tale of two President Barack Obamas, the one with
high dreams and the one who must deal with grubby realities."
Mark Mardell, BBC
As President Obama performs his political 'rock star' role at the G8 in Belfast, swooning the assembled schoolchildren with appeals for peace and reconciliation, it might seem almost heretical to question either his 'good heart' in proclaiming social harmony or the 'heavy heart' with which he confronts the world's wider troubles.
Obama's 'high-dreaming' side, as BBC North America correspondent Mark Mardell divines it, is 'loaded-down' with the heaviness of having to deal with "grubby realities" like the conflict in Syria.
So much for understated crises around the globe and America's own grubby dealings in those realities. 
Yet, quite how, we may ask, is Mardell able to 'intuit' such understandings of Obama's 'conflicted psychology'? The answer, we may suppose, lies less in Mardell's abilities as a psychologist than his role as a safely-conditioned establishment journalist.
When it comes to Western leaders, particularly media-adulated ones like Obama, the presumption is always of benign and thoughtful motive, even if ultimately proven to be 'mistaken'.
But, as with those who led the slaughters of Iraq and Afghanistan, Obama's actions over Syria suggests little room for doubt or error: beyond the hype and 'psychology', his decision to send substantive weaponry to opposition forces in Syria is a straight act of calculated warmongering.
The White House statement in defence of this line is, predictably, long on interventionist rhetoric and brazenly short on convincing evidence.

As noted by News Unspun:
"This points to no conclusive evidence but is rather a re-hash of previous claims, only this time the claims seen in the news over the last few weeks are prefixed with 'our intelligence community has high confidence in'."
Besides various sceptical observers and chemical weapons experts, Anthony Cordesman, a leading security analyst at the Center for Strategic and International Studies in Washington, has declared that: "the ‘discovery’ that Syria used chemical weapons might be a political ploy." 

In hawkish mode, Cordesman still insists on America being free to advance its own interests through such aggressive engagements. Yet, his frankness on the surreptitious means of doing so tells us much about the falsity of Obama's 'heartfelt' persona.

It should take little serious scrutiny to realise Washington's tortured pretext for this most dangerous escalation; it's a device of the flimsiest kind, almost entirely endorsed or passively accepted by a quiescent, rationalising media.

Again, here's Mardell with the 'heavy-heart' reading:
"He wants to avoid getting embroiled in another Middle East war and to avoid the US dictating outcomes in the region, but he doesn't want Syria to spiral further into chaos or President Bashar al-Assad to continue in power."
Though reluctant to be "embroiled" or seen to be "dictating outcomes", Obama, we're to believe, is being forced to act through concern over Assad's 'power and chaos'. There's no discussion of how Obama, Nato and the Saudi/Gulf states have wantonly fed such chaos through their determined removal of Assad, all in advancement of their own geopolitical and sectarian interests.  

In a prior servile piece, Mardell gave eager amplification to Obama's 'clarity' on chemical weapons:
"The basic news from the White House is pretty clear - they are now sure Syrian President Bashar al-Assad's regime has used chemical weapons against the rebels. That crosses President Obama's red line, and changes his calculus."

"This is a very hard call for Mr Obama. He knows his country doesn't want to get caught up in another war. However, many in the West see this as a simple contest of right and wrong. It also has aspects of a regional Sunni/Shia civil war that could spiral out of control.

He almost certainly feels that such involvement would in the end not enhance the name of the US in the region.

But there are pressing humanitarian arguments to stop this now and to make sure those the West sees as the good guys win, before Islamic militants claim victory.

Mr Obama is at the helm of the country to which the liberal interventionists look to provide a lead. It is worth noting that you don't hear the same cries of "something must be done" from Brazil, China or Sweden.

But many politicians in Britain and France still feel a heavy imperial burden to use their well-honed militaries to re-make the world." [My italics.]
Even Kipling, unsurpassed in such burdensome mission, would no-doubt have approved of Mardell's 'heart-rending', liberal words.

What Mardell routinely avoids saying is simply that more arms to the conflict will kill more people and prolong the misery. Alert to this reality, the UN have urged that no more weapons be entered into the conflict.

Yet, dutifully, Mardell can only reiterate Obama's 'heavy heart' in doing so. Writing on Twitter, he asks:
@BBCMarkMardell via Twitter
USA will give military assistance to Syrian rebels. But is Obama's heart really in it ? http://t.co/XlaCdMJZ45
Further evidence of such craven apologetics can be seen in this revealing exchange between Media Lens Editor David Cromwell and Mardell (ML message board, 17 June 2013):
Hello Mark,

I hope things are good with you, and thanks for your latest blog at http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/world-us-canada-22900710

You write:

'The basic news from the White House is pretty clear - they are now sure Syrian President Bashar al-Assad's regime has used chemical weapons against the rebels.'

Especially post-Iraq, no responsible journalist should write, 'they are now sure'. How can you possibly tell without mind-reading powers? By all means, report that the White House 'asserts' or 'says' or 'claims'. This is not a trivial matter of semantics. Wouldn't you agree?

Best wishes

David Cromwell

Dear David, all good here and hope you are well. I accept you have a point - i dont know for certain what is in their minds, only what they say. But I think we see Obama in a different way - (and may be i am attempting a mind reading trick again !) - I think he wanted to make sure the evidence was rock solid before publishing it because of the faulty iraq intelligence and the huge damage it did. Which is why the USA lagged far behind other countries in saying this. I dont think he is looking for an excuse to act - i think he is very cautious about the evidence on its own merit, but also because he doesn't want to get sucked in. Although in the end the US might act i really think Obama is different - pragmatic in the national interest but not a liberal interventionist in the classic sense - why i think that is, you may see from the last paragraph of the blog. I think merely portraying Obama as weak because he wants to avoid the military option is misunderstanding his world view - he's not a hammer and has some understanding of what it is like to be a nail.

But I accept there is a world of difference from what i suspect, or think, and what i know and take you point about the bare assertion.
Mark Mardell .."say they are sure" would have been better.

Hello Mark,

Glad things are good with you – I’m fine too, thanks. Thanks for kindly responding and providing further comment. It’s good that you see and accept my point: ‘ “say they are sure” would have been better.’

You also say in your email:

‘But I accept there is a world of difference from what I suspect, or think, and what i know and take you point about the bare assertion.’

It’s not so much the difference between what you suspect and know. The point is surely not to take at face value what governments say; especially given the deceptions that paved the way to the Iraq war. It’s common on BBC News – as elsewhere – to see journalists tell the public: ‘The White House is sure’, ‘Washington believes’, ‘Obama thinks’ and so on. History shows that often ‘there is a world of difference’ between what governments say they ‘believe’ or are ‘sure’ about, and what is true. Maybe you can take a journalistic lead in pushing back against this propaganda line of ‘what Washington believes’. Don’t be the middleman dishing it up to the public, garnishing it with BBC gravitas. Why not use your influential position as the BBC’s North America editor to challenge and scrutinise more thoroughly?

‘I think we see Obama in a different way...’

Who is the ‘we’ here? You may choose to see Obama in a different way from past US leaders. But then, that is your personal opinion and surely not the stance of an impartial journalist with an objective understanding of history and realpolitik.

Best wishes

David Cromwell
In another damning indictment, Media Lens co-editor David Edwards exposes the Guardian's repeated complicity and preferred viewing of Obama:
"Despite all of this, a Guardian editorial offered a strikingly different judgement. Noting that Obama had decided to authorise military aid on the basis 'that Bashar al-Assad had used chemical weapons against the opposition', the editors commented:
'That use is an outrage and is against international agreements. It adds to the charge sheet against the Assad regime.'
These are among the most shocking comments we have ever seen in the Guardian. Despite the indisputable fraudulence of US-UK claims regarding Iraqi WMD, an equally staggering litany of lies on Libya, and despite the existence of gaps and doubts so reminiscent of Iraq 2002-2003, the Guardian is willing to quietly endorse the latest claims on Syria – 'Assad' clearly has used chemical weapons and that use should be added to the charge sheet against him. Once again, when it really matters, the Guardian editors are on-message, on-side and boosting war propaganda."
Obama's arms pledge, alongside ending of the EU arms embargo, takes us yet another alarming step towards an all-out Western attack on Syria, now most likely facilitated by an impending no-fly zone and ultimate Libya-style aerial bombardment.

Besides provoking Russia, it now draws every other regional state into a direct war crisis.  Thus we see the compliance of Egypt and Jordan, now in effective coalition with the US/Nato and Saudi/Gulf axis.

Alongside Lebanon and Hezbollah's increasing involvement, we also see Iran's responsive decision to send 4000 troops to aid the Syrian government, providing a further Western excuse to continue hostilities against Tehran.

Nor is the election of 'moderate' Iranian president Hassan Rouhani likely to lessen the threatening actions of the West, either in relation to Syria or sanctions-battered Iran itself. And how predictable to hear Obama, Cameron and Hague now requesting Rouhani to 'prove' his 'liberalised credentials' through diplomacy while the West pile weaponry into Syria.

Likewise, Israel's tactical desire is for ongoing warfare, greater destabilisation of Syria, and eventual humbling of Iran.

Contrary to the 'reluctant missionary' message from the BBC and other power-serving media, Obama is deeply and energetically mired in all these dark manoeuvrings.    

While Mardell waxes lyrical about Obama's 'pragmatic' considerations, the mass shifting of arms to the Syrian opposition and, inevitably, jihadist, forces - "because guns are currency" - has created terrifying new prospects for more mass civilian deaths.

Already responsible for criminal drone strike killings and prolonging the agony of Afghanistan, Obama is also now directly to blame for promoting intensified murder and suffering in Syria. 

But, then, Mardell, the Guardian and so much of our 'heart-searching' liberal media "see Obama in a different way".

Saturday, 8 June 2013

Drone killers - diplomas in death

Admirable denunciation of drones
at Lush company store front, Glasgow
Imagine the fear of letting your children out to play knowing they might be murdered by an anonymous person sitting in a control room thousands of miles away.

Welcome to the drone age. Or, more immediately, the most unwelcome terror for those at the receiving end of US drone missiles.   

As a new study reveals, "for every high-level suspect in Pakistan, the U.S. military kills 49 other people who we know little to nothing about and at least three of those 49 are children."

Although support in the US for drone killing has decreased by 18 per cent this past year, around two thirds of Americans still approve of their use. In Pakistan, only 5 per cent approve.

Perhaps those figures in the US would look the same as Pakistan's if their children were being blown to pieces in the streets.

How easily approval is given when far away others are being bombed, particularly when told that it's all for the 'higher cause' of 'defeating terrorism'.

One is reminded here of the famous Milgram experiment which encouraged participants to inflict electric shock torture on another person:
If at any time the subject indicated his desire to halt the experiment, he was given a succession of verbal prods by the experimenter, in this order:
1. Please continue.
2. The experiment requires that you continue.
3. It is absolutely essential that you continue.
4. You have no other choice, you must go on.
So it seems for the American and wider public. For drone killers or citizens at large, the administering of violence on others rests on the psychological security of authoritative promptings and assurances.  

And what of the psychological impact on those carrying out drone killings? One 'operative', Brandon Bryant, now says that he is haunted by his actions:
"After participating in hundreds of missions over the years, Bryant said he “lost respect for life” and began to feel like a sociopath. He remembers coming into work in 2010, seeing pictures of targeted individuals on the wall – Anwar al-Awlaki and other al Qaeda and Taliban leaders -- and musing, “Which one of these f_____s is going to die today?"

In 2011, as Bryant’s career as a drone operator neared its end, he said his commander presented him with what amounted to a scorecard. It showed that he had participated in missions that contributed to the deaths of 1,626 people.

“I would’ve been happy if they never even showed me the piece of paper,” he said. “I've seen American soldiers die, innocent people die, and insurgents die. And it's not pretty. It's not something that I want to have -- this diploma.”

Now that he’s out of the Air Force and back home in Montana, Bryant said he doesn’t want to think about how many people on that list might’ve been innocent: “It’s too heartbreaking.”
Reflective and revealing words. But what greater loss and heartbreak for the families of the many victims. As Alex Thomson reminds us:
"The real victims of the ever-expanding US drone operations are, of course, the innocents killed and recently disclosed classified CIA evidence underlines their number is large."
Should we feel compassion for Bryant? Yes. He is a paid killer, but one who, at least, has shown painful awareness of his dark deeds, crimes that will likely cause him mental suffering for the rest of his life.

Should he be brought to account for his actions? Again, surely, yes, but in conjunction with the much more urgent prosecution of those who order and oversee such crimes. As established at Nuremberg, those highest up the chain of command are the most responsible.

As with gradations of responsibility, one of the questions that might one day be posed in that high crimes court is why death by drone is seen as a more 'palatable' form of military murder than any other. 

It takes a certain kind of dehumanised mind to proclaim that eliminating others with drones is fine, but murdering them with a chemical weapon is 'red line' reprehensible. Aided by a media fascinated, rather than repelled, by weapons technology and capability, this bestows upon Obama and his Nato friends a 'moral militarism' which, while notionally questioned, is never condemned as criminal and barbaric. 

Besides the outright wickedness of drone killing, and the moral hypocrisy of those advocating it in their spurious 'war on terror', it's not difficult to see its sheer futility.  

What makes anyone think that killing people in terrifying drone strikes, or military killing in general, will temper or eradicate hatred of the West?

What view of America will the parents of a child cut to bits by a drone rocket harbour towards that country and its allies?

Doesn't killing a Taliban leader only make his replacement inevitably more hateful and bent on violent revenge?

Of course, alienation, division, fear, insecurity and the perpetuation of conflict is precisely the kind of world that arms profiteers and their political representatives must continually cultivate.  

As we've been seeing in the West's 'concern for Syria', the only 'solution' they understand and advocate is more guns and violence. And the only outcome of all that can be more drone terror, more wars, more human heartbreak.

Thursday, 6 June 2013

Iran and Syria - putting the liberals right

As fearmongering over Iran and appeals for 'decisive intervention' in Syria intensify, it's illuminating to come across journalists usually associated with right-wing outlets offering substantive facts and comment to the contrary.

It also 'raises the bar' for what most of the liberal media could and should be saying on Iran, Syria and other 'problem' states - though there may be no such 'hope' for our state media, the BBC, which seems fixed on its daily diet of demonisation and war promotion.   

In that comparative vein, here's two articles well worth consulting. 

The first, in particular, is from the Telegraph's chief political commentator Peter Oborne who, with co-author David Morrison, provides an astonishing demolition of the 'Iranian nuclear threat' and other sundry falsehoods over Iran. 

The opening sequence of this piece (taken from their book A Dangerous Delusion) is a fine 'pocketised' rebuttal in itself of the multiple lies and mythologies attributed to Iran:
"At this point it may be helpful to state the basic facts about Iran’s nuclear activities:
• Iran has no nuclear weapons.
• Since 2007, US intelligence has held the opinion that Iran hasn’t got a programme to develop nuclear weapons and has regularly stated this opinion in public to the US Congress.
• The IAEA does not assert that Iran has an ongoing nuclear weapons programme.
• Iran does have uranium-enrichment facilities. But as a party to the NPT, Iran has a right to engage in uranium enrichment for peaceful purposes. Other parties to the NPT, for example, Argentina and Brazil, do so. Iran is not in breach of any of its obligations under the NPT.
• As required by the NPT, Iran’s enrichment facilities are open to inspection by the IAEA, as are its other nuclear facilities. Over many years, the IAEA has verified that no nuclear material has been diverted from these facilities for possible military purposes. Iran is enriching uranium up to 5% U-235, which is appropriate for fuelling nuclear power reactors for generating electricity, and up to 20% U-235, which is required for fuelling the Tehran Research Reactor.
• While Iran’s nuclear facilities are open to IAEA inspection, those of Israel and India (allies of the United States) are almost entirely closed to the IAEA. Yet Iran, which has no nuclear weapons, is the object of ferocious economic sanctions and threats of military action. By contrast, Israel (with perhaps as many as 400 nuclear bombs, and the capacity to deliver them anywhere in the Middle East) is the object of more than $3 billion a year of US military aid.
These are basic facts about Iran’s nuclear activities, facts that are (if you search for them) in the public domain. Yet the mainstream media in Britain rarely mentions any of them. As a result, almost all of its reporting is misleading, and some of it completely false."
Oborne and Morrison go on to expose the many pernicious misrepresentations of Iran, noting how the BBC can speak of "its nuclear weapons programme", while others like the Economist routinely write about "Iran's nukes".

Detailing the many IAEA reports refuting Western claims of 'nuclear weapons intent', the authors remind us that "the Supreme Leader of Iran, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, has declared the possession of such weapons a ‘grave sin’."

They go on to dispel many other long-promoted myths, notably the standard falsehood of Ahmadinejad 's 'threat' to 'wipe Israel off the map'. 

The piece culminates in a neatly-imagined re-write of what David Cameron should, in truth, be saying in his speeches about Iran: 
"Despite the impression given by our media, I don’t think Iran’s nuclear activities are a threat to the UK. Nobody, not even Israel, believes that Iran has already developed a nuclear weapon. And I would remind you that, since 2007, US intelligence has judged that Iran hasn’t even got a programme to develop nuclear weapons."
So, from Oborne and Morrison, a sober negation of the daily deceptions propagated by those seeking to vilify and attack Iran. 

Read and use it as reference next time you need something to counter such biased and ill-informed claims. (Readers may also refer to Oborne's brave exposure of the UK's Israeli lobby and his recent piece on the apparent cover-up at the Chilcot inquiry.)

The second revealing article comes from the Daily Mail's leading columnist Peter Hitchens writing on Syria.

Beyond even the Telegraph, it's unusual for this blog to be airing opinion from a virulent organ like the Mail. Yet, are we seeing much better opinion on Syria or Iran from the coy, contorted editorials at the Guardian

With that in mind, consider this key extract from what Hitchens has to say about Syria, Saudi Arabia, Iran, William Hague and the BBC:
"I do not like the Syrian government. Why should I? It is not much different from most Middle-Eastern nations, in that it stays in power by fear. The same is true of countries we support, such as Saudi Arabia, recently honoured with a lengthy visit by Prince Charles. In fact Saudi Arabia is so repressive that it makes Assad’s Syria look like Switzerland. And don’t forget the places we liberated earlier, which are now sinks of violence and chaos – Iraq, Libya.

So many high ideals, so much misery and destruction. My old foe Mehdi Hasan (who understands the Muslim world better than most British journalists) rightly pointed out on ‘Question Time’ on Thursday that our policy of backing the Syrian rebels is clinically mad.

These are the very same Islamists against whom – if they are on British soil - government ministers posture and froth, demanding that they are deported, silenced, put under surveillance and the rest. But when we meet the same people in Syria, we want to give them advanced weapons. One of these ‘activists’, a gentleman called Abu Sakkar, recently publicly sank his teeth into the bleeding heart of a freshly-slain government soldier.

I confess that I used to think highly of William Hague. I now freely admit that I was hopelessly wrong. The man has no judgement, no common sense, and is one of the worst Foreign Secretaries we have ever had, which is saying something.  His policies –disgracefully egged on by a BBC that has lost all sense of impartiality - are crazily creating war where there was peace.

Syria for all its faults was the last place in the region where Arab Christians were safe. Now it never will be again. Who benefits from this? Not Britain, for certain.

Now, his strange zeal for lifting the EU arms embargo has caused Moscow to promise a delivery of advanced anti-aircraft missiles to Syria. Israel has threatened to destroy them if deployed. Syria has said it will respond with force.  This is exactly how major wars start. Mr Hague is not just pouring petrol into a blazing house full of screaming people. He is hurling high explosives in as well.

It may even be that some people actually want such a war, with Iran as its true target. They know that ‘weapons of mass destruction’ will not work again as propaganda. So they claim to be fighting for ‘democracy’ in Syria." [My emphasis.]
Hitchens may not seem a figure to be cited in matters of left/anti-war discourse. His primary concern seems to be for 'this country', rather than for war-ravaged others. Think also of his various rants on immigration, 'benefit cheats' and other 'social miscreants'.  

Yet, most of his words here are acutely right about the war proponents and their specious 'diplomacy'. Indeed, they might not seem out of place on the pages of the Socialist Worker

Again, by the same standard, what does such comment from a generalised conservative like Hitchens say about the poverty of Guardian, Independent and other 'critical liberal' media writing on Iran and Syria? 

And isn't it also significant that the BBC is being so readily-savaged by people like Oborne and Hitchens over its bias and war-promoting output?   

As the BBC's Jonathan Marcus eagerly writes, France's latest claims over the 'use of sarin gas by Assad forces' are "potentially a game changer".

It's another intimation of the West's 'crossed red line', faithfully repeated by the BBC, another spurious claim duly highlighted in the 'case for war'. 

Meanwhile, the BBC continues its usual demonisation of Iran with a 'curtain call' for Ahmadinejad, "one of the world's most divisive leaders".

Can we trust either Britain's state media or its liberal press to hold Cameron, Hague and their fearmongering associates to account? People like Oborne and Hitchens might not seem palatable critics to many on the left, but, unlike much of our quivering liberal media, they surely understand, and are prepared to denounce, the dark mendacity of those seeking more intervention and war.     

Monday, 3 June 2013

Iraq fatalities poll - key questions for the media

If, as the saying goes, the first casualty of war is truth, the extent of death and casualties in Iraq is a truth so vastly hidden from the general public it might be regarded as an outright victory for the war-making establishment.

But the first casualty of war isn't just truth. It's more specific. As John Pilger, taking us beyond the safe liberal version of that easy maxim, reminds us:
The oldest cliché is that truth is the first casualty of war. I disagree. Journalism is the first casualty. Not only that: it has become a weapon of war, a virulent censorship that goes unrecognised in the United States, Britain and other democracies; censorship by omission, whose power is such that, in war, it can mean the difference between life and death for people in faraway countries, such as Iraq.
All of which indicates a damning level of assistance from the mass media in that greatest of crimes and deceptions.

As a recent campaign-funded ComRes poll suggests, public recognition of the numbers killed in the Iraq war has been massively manipulated and media-massaged.

As detailed by Joe Emersberger, two questions were put to a representative sample of 2021 British adults (24-27 May 2013).

The first asks:
How many Iraqis, both combatants and civilians, do you think have died as a consequence of the war that began in Iraq in 2003? Please just give your best estimate.
The responses are summarized below:
Up to 5,000………………44%
5,001 - 10,000…………..15%
10,001 - 20,000…………..7%
20,001 - 50,000…………..8%
50,001 - 100,000………..11%
100,001 - 500,000………10%
500,001 - 1,000,000……...4%
Don't know/Not stated…….0.3%

The second question asks:
What percentage of Iraqi deaths as a result of the war do you think were civilian ie non combatants? Please give a percentage from 1-100. Please just give your best estimate.

The results were widely dispersed. Fifty percent thought that less than half Iraqi deaths were civilians.
Astonished by the findings, Channel 4 News chief correspondent Alex Thomson believes the poll "shows [a] public perception wildly at odds with reality."

As his own summary of the data notes:
  • Two-thirds (66 per cent) of the public estimate that 20,000 or fewer civilians and combatants have died as a consequence of the war in Iraq since 2003.
  • One in 10 (10 per cent) think that between 100,000 and 500,000 have died and one in 20 (6 per cent) think that more than 500,000 have died.
  • According to public estimates, the mean number of deaths in Iraq since the invasion is 189,530.

  • Women in Britain are more likely to underestimate the number of deaths in Iraq since the invasion than men. Half (53 per cent) of women think 5,000 or fewer deaths have occurred since the invasion compared to one-third (35 per cent) of men.
  • Thomson comments:
    Perhaps that last figure is the most startling – a majority of women and more than a third of men polled say fewer than 5,000 deaths have occurred. That figure is so staggeringly, mind-blowingly at odds with reality as to leave a journalist who worked long and hard to bring home the reality of war, speechless. If we believe the results, then war-makers in government will take great comfort, as will the generals who work so hard to peddle the lie of bloodless warfare, with all the cockpit video propaganda video news releases and talk of “collateral damage” instead of “dead children”. Equally – questions for us on the media that after so much time, effort and money, the public perception of bloodshed remains stubbornly, wildly, wrong. [My emphasis.] 
    Commendable words, indeed, from Thomson. How many other leading journalists are likely to follow his remarks in such an open, concerned way?

    And yet, besides the mass level of public unawareness, what does this really say about our media's own disgraceful performance?

    As Thomson states, "equally - questions for us in the media". Yet, shouldn't that be so much more than just "equally"? Shouldn't it be "predominantly"?

    It's expected that those so geared-up for such mass killing are equally up for the propagandist presentation of it. But where that kind of blanket screening of death and suffering is happening, shouldn't it be the primary and urgent task of an honest, vigilant media not only to check the lies and mendacity of the politicians and military, but also the complicit role of their own media organisations and associates in facilitating all that distortion?

    Thomson writes as a journalist genuinely outraged and not a little perplexed by the media's 'failures' here. Yet, while approving of his humanitarian sentiments, why the "speechless" astonishment?

    Someone of Thomson's ability to see through so much other establishment criminality and subterfuge can surely recognise the kind of powerful forces and pressures serving to keep media presentation of such issues safely policed and moderated.

    That includes not just obvious state-supportive media, the BBC, but also Channel 4 News, whose lead presenter Jon Snow recently commented:
    "it is eternally controversial..from my own experience reporting in Iraq the IBC count has always seemed very low..I try not to use it....The Lancet figure may be more truthful...I doubt we can be more accurate in reality than say that credible sources believe more than half a million died and at least four million were displaced."
    If Jon Snow and Alex Thomson have key doubts about the veracity of 'accepted' figures, why have Channel 4 News been continuously running the government-favoured Iraq Body Count number?

    Shouldn't that be a crucial question in its own right?

    Again, we (or, at least, some of us) can see the dark motives of a political-military machine that, expediently, 'doesn't do body counts' - an outrageous crime in itself. But what does it say about our 'vanguard' media that it also hasn't made the body count, and official negation of it, a pressing, vital issue?

    And always remember, we're not talking here about some standard piece of political shenanigans. We're talking about the deaths, the lives, the memories, the historical witnessing of hundreds of thousands of human beings.

    How could such a staggering crime and cover-up be so routinely admonished and ignored?

    Besides starting to amplify the much higher death figures, hitherto suppressed, that's the key, self-examining question the media itself should be posing in the wake of this invaluable poll.