Friday, 31 December 2010

Prosecutions, persecutions - last thoughts

Another year closes with more political persecutions and the same high political villains still at large.

Binyamin Netanyahu and his coterie have continued to evade prosecution for outright war crimes, not least the murder this year of nine peace activists aboard the Mavi Marmara.

Meanwhile, the Israeli leftist Jonathan Pollak has been sentenced to three months in jail by a Tel Aviv court for daring to join a bike protest in support of the Palestinian cause.

Here's some of the noble words Jonathan offered to the judge in response:
"I find myself unable to express remorse in this case. 
If His Honor decides to go ahead and impose my suspended prison sentence, I will go to prison wholeheartedly and with my head held high. It will be the justice system itself, I believe, that ought to lower its eyes in the face of the suffering inflicted on Gaza's inhabitants, just like it lowers its eyes and averts its vision each and every day when faced with the realities of the occupation.

The State of Israel maintains an illegitimate, inhuman and illegal siege on the Gaza Strip, which still is occupied territory according to international law. This siege, carried out in my name and in yours as well, sir, in fact in all of our names, is a cruel collective punishment inflicted on ordinary citizens, residents of the Gaza strip, subjects-without-rights under Israeli occupation.

In the face of this reality, and as a stance against it, we chose on January 31st, 2008, to exercise the freedom of speech afforded to Jewish citizens of Israel. However, it appears that here in our one-of-many-faux-democracies in the Middle East, even this freedom is no longer freely granted, even to society's privileged sons."
Two years on from the carnage of Cast Lead, Gaza itself still remains imprisoned, notes Jody McIntyre, yet another peaceful 'irritant' hauled-off by the law.

The year also ends with a guilty verdict and looming imprisonment for Tommy Sheridan.

We can discuss forever-more whether Sheridan said this, did that, went to a swingers club, kept indecent company and should, more prudently, have recognised the powers of Murdoch, the police and other elite interests all-too-eager to see him broken and jailed. 

Some others purporting to be committed socialists will have to reconcile their own consciences in taking The Digger's filthy lucre and revelling in this tragic outcome.  Again, much of that will remain the stuff of bitter hindsight and sad reflection. Hubris, pride and a trail of toxic division: nothing politically useful will ever be built on hate and recrimination.

Yet, beyond the schisms, legal intrigues and this 'public interest' prosecution, here's a more sobering thought to ponder.

Whatever the grubby detail, a man who has stood up for ordinary people all his political life now faces years of painful incarceration over seeming personal indiscretions.  Meanwhile, another who has used his political career to help launch the genocidal killing of over 1 million Iraqis is still at large, feted by the establishment and made a Middle East peace envoy.  £5 million of public money spent on pursuing the victor of a libel case.  Not a penny on bringing to book the architect of this country's highest war crime. Where's the justice?

The capacity of the elite to protect their own while hounding radical others should never be underestimated.

Michael Moore rightly laughed out loud when Newsnight's Gavin Esler suggested that the 'sex charges' against Julian Assange should still be seen as unconnected to his Wikileaks activities.

But while Assange has been pursued by the US and its proxies through the international courts, a more appalling injustice goes virtually ignored by a subservient media and even human rights bodies like Amnesty International. 

Bradley Manning languishes in a US jail, contemplating an actual lifetime behind bars.  As noted:
"Manning expressed disillusionment with American foreign policy, opining that the diplomatic documents expose "almost criminal political back dealings" and expressed a wish that the release of the videos would cause large-scale scandals and lead to "worldwide discussion, debates, and reforms." "
The man who risked his liberty to alert us to the West's most wicked doings in Iraq, Afghanistan and elsewhere should be hailed around the world for his services to humanity.  Instead, while Bush's memoirs boast unsparingly of torture and killing, Manning is painted as a deviant crank, the proverbial threat to international security and deserving of the most reactionary sentence.  Again, where's the equivalent justice?

 I'd like, in my token capacity, to nominate Bradley Manning for bravery of the year award. 

Wishing everyone who has happened in on this humble blog a kind new year, and for those wrongfully and selectively imprisoned by the forces of repression, my compassionate regards.  


Monday, 27 December 2010

Media Lens challenge academic book on media's 'independent' coverage of Iraq

Media Lens have been involved in a most illuminating exchange with Piers Robinson from the University of Manchester.  In his co-authored book, Pockets of Resistance, Robinson claims to have identified significant  "variations" in the media's coverage of the Iraq war.  The ML Editors have challenged this assertion, raising related issues about academic 'objectivity' and the ways in which 'scholarly' output often comes to serve the interests of power.

The Alert, What Happened to Academia?, can be read here:
A letter to Piers Robinson on the issues:

Dear Piers

Thanks for engaging so earnestly with Media Lens over the content and claims of your book.

I suspect from the detailed defence offered that you are rather concerned about how its core message might be received by those, like the ML Editors, who closely observe and scrutinise such texts.

I haven't read the book, so can't offer an in-depth opinion. But it seems not unreasonably clear - as gleaned from the exchanges - that its central premise concerning the reporting of the Iraq war is deeply flawed.

As ML put it:
"Far from offering an "admirably wide range of coverage", the media facilitated an audacious government propaganda campaign while offering a strictly enfeebled version of dissent. Obvious facts and sources that had the power to derail the government case for war were essentially nowhere to be seen."
That lamentable truth is also repeated many times in John Pilger's film, The War You Don't See, where even key media figures were bound to acknowledge that if journalists were doing their job, the war might never have happened.

Parts of the media made the outright case for war. But there's also countless examples, archived at the ML site and elsewhere, of much more copy which offered only token and restrained 'questioning' of the invasion, occupation and US/UK war crimes - including The Guardian, Independent and Channel 4 News.

That, I presume, is what constitutes your "admirably wide range of coverage".

You note in your updated reply:
"At the same time, coverage of the war was not uniform. Understanding that there were important variations as well as establishing why that occurred is also part of developing the kind of knowledge that can lead to change. Even if CH4 and the Mirror were NOT doing enough, the fact that they were doing something different demands investigation in order to understand why, if only to explore ways of building upon that. We do this in the book."
I wonder whether the focus on these "important variations" is not just another scholarly acceptance of the prevailing narrative that there is supposedly real differentiation and plurality of thought within the corporate-run media. Where is the more fundamental assessment of the structural forces behind such media outlets and the ways in which those forces still constrain and temper these media "variations"?

You also discuss Chomsky, seeking, by inference to others' criticism of his "pejorative" "polemic," to problematise such output as "making an argument in a way which disregards the rules of scholarship".

Part of that objection seems to be saying that there's no room for 'subjective emotion' in 'scholarly' analysis. Or, where it occurs, it devalues the 'objective' impact of the analysis.

There's something about that kind of conditional 'defence' of Chomsky and reference to "the rules" of academic output which betrays, I think, the self-important claims of your study - and, perhaps, what purports to be 'social science' more generally.

The real problem here is that your book, claiming to identify significant variations in the reporting of war, will become textual truth for many of the media students who will come to read it. Of course, some may be aware of, or be made aware, of Chomsky/Herman, Pilger and Media Lens, but the tendency will be to place these as 'alternative', 'secondary' and 'subjective' 'polemics' to the kind of 'core', 'objective' 'scholarship' to be grasped in texts like your own.

Your own conditional 'recognition' of that 'polemical' output, as noted in the exchange with ML, is in itself a kind of subtle direction to the reader and prospective media student: 'yes, it's valid discourse, but only as a questionable, over-radicalised take on the issues, not one that should obstruct serious, objective enquiry.'

This is how academia encourages 'respectable scholarship' and the safe indulgence of seminar room 'dissent', a process which produces 'suitable' candidates for the 'profession' and reliably restrained views, resulting in the kind of safely-critical, self-satisfied journalism that allowed the barbaric assaults on Iraq, Afghanistan and elsewhere.

Thus, as ML note: "the scholar's obsession with objectivity tends to promote the interests of power.

Perhaps those reading this ML Alert and exchange will be encouraged towards their own subjective study of how academics come to profess on behalf of power. How, they might ask, do scholars manage to commend the media's "admirably wide range of coverage" while claiming 'regard' for Chomsky, Media Lens et al? Fittingly, such prevarication mirrors the kind of journalistic war coverage under discussion.

I wonder if you can see the paradox?

Kind regards

John Hilley

 Dear John,

Thanks for this. Some of the initial exchanges reflect matters surrounding the press release and there is not a clear picture of what we actually are arguing. I've attached the conclusion to the book. Best to read and then perhaps the rest of the book before finalizing your opinion.




My thanks to Piers for passing this on.  There's not enough space here for a full dissection, but it's worth citing this central message from the concluding chapter:
"On television, the coverage provided by Channel 4 News conformed largely
to the independent model. Among newspapers, a majority of coverage in
the Guardian, Independent and Mirror could be categorised as consistent
with both the independent and oppositional models, and each of these titles
adopted an anti- war, oppositional editorial stance. Indeed, the diversity of
newspaper coverage that we were able to identify represents one of our most
remarkable findings: the 2003 invasion of Iraq was certainly not reported
in a uniform fashion by Britain’s press. Overall findings for negotiated and
oppositional coverage suggest that news media performance is, at the very
least, more nuanced and varied than is argued in the major works..."
While it was the case that certain press and TV outlets took an anti-war position, does this really indicate crucial variations in how the media reacted to the invasion and occupation?  Were many of the Guardian editorials really independent or oppositional in their criticism of Blair and his co-warmongers?  Where was the Guardian's outright call for Blair to be arraigned for war crimes? 

Contrary to the underlying message of this book, there are no media outlets in the UK that can be said to be truly "independent" or "oppositional".

We do, of course, refer to, and often rely upon, academic-based studies to help illustrate media bias and service to power - the Glasgow University Media Group work on Palestine- Israel, for example, or the Lancet study on deaths in Iraq. 'Social science' does have a key role in addressing, quantifying, collating and interpreting vital social phenomena.  The Chomsky/Herman Propaganda Model provides yet another set of qualitative-based criteria for understanding media subservience to power and how that facilitates corporate control over society.

Yet, Chomsky and other critical academics have also spent much of their scholarly lives identifying corporate-establishment constraints on academia itself, notably the ways in which it promotes, supports and cultivates conformity, including the belief that academia is an autonomous place for free investigation. 

The Pockets of Resistance thesis, in contrast, claims to identify a picture of serious media autonomy, editorial plurality and differentiated reportage.  The effect of this is to plant and encourage a basic acceptance of this liberal claim,  nullifying, in many students' and other readers' minds, the bigger context of how the corporate order still drives and informs all such media output, even that of the Trust-owned Guardian.  

The book's claims of 'greater nuance' in the reporting of Iraq also promotes the view that "the major works" are overly-polemical and monolithic.  It's offering a kind of headline statement on 'media freedom', concluding that due to certain variations in the reporting of the Iraq war, these media outlets are acting as "independent" or/and "oppositional" bodies.

The result is this social science 'tick-a-box' exercise, awarding labels to given media outlets based on what liberal media itself would regard as "independent" or "oppositional". It's similar to the ways in which the US-friendly political/electoral 'monitor' Freedom House offer ratings on whether a country can be called 'democratic', 'semi-democratic' or 'non-democratic'. 

Robinson and his co-authors may reject the conclusion that this study comprises any blatant service to power, but such close attention to scholarly 'evidence' of liberal 'media independence' in the coverage of Iraq lends itself precisely to this establishment-serving end.


Thursday, 9 December 2010

Defending Assange - real and feigned

The empire is surely striking back.  Julian Assange, leading figure behind Wikileaks and the current US cable releases, has been arrested and refused bail despite reasonable surety pledges from John Pilger and notable others.

"It stinks", says Pilger.  Despite a prior decision by the head Swedish prosecutor not to proceed with sex-based allegations against Assange, fresh efforts have seemingly been initiated by another more politically-motivated prosecutor to have him extradited to Sweden.  It's likely that the US, relying on friendly Sweden, will seek his further extradition on espionage charges.   

But while mainstream journalists and editors pore over the detail and significance of the cables, where is their serious defence of Wikileaks and Assange?  Where is the outright, campaigning support for a figure and organisation ready, unlike them, to challenge Western warmongers and expose their grubby 'diplomatic' secrets?

In one of his fine interviews on the matter, Pilger not only exposes the slurs and collusion behind the Assange arrest, but gives a model tutorial to would-be journalists - including his ABC interviewer - on how serious reporters should be conducting themselves.  

As he says, if journalists are not at the centre of such hostility from the establishment, they need to think about their own roles and output:  "If you don't incur the wrath, you're not doing your job, are you?" 

There should, as Pilger describes Assange's motives, always be an "ethical dimension, a moral dimension" to journalism.

For most journalists, the 'ethical' issue has been dutifully fitted around the default question of whether Assange and Wkileaks have been "endangering national security."  Unlike Pilger, rarely do they see the releases as a moral effort to expose acts of state barbarism and the machiavellian manoevrings behind policies directed towards the mass taking of lives.  

The Guardian has readily-dispensed most of the cable information, to date.  But where, beyond the carefully-tempered words of editorial 'support', is their crusading defence of Wikileaks and Assange?
"Under technological, legal, financial, corporate and governmental attack from all sides, Assange has managed to keep his subversive website, WikiLeaks, staggering on, spilling classified secrets around the globe. Will WikiLeaks be floored by the arrest of its driving inspiration? Or will its actions, ethos and notoriety prove it to be indestructible and thereby demonstrate that there are new forces in the world which can effectively challenge established patterns of power and control of information? Is it the end or the beginning?
So coy, so middling, so Guardian.  

Editor Alan Rusbridger basks in the Wiki limelight, enjoying the 'radical' kudos - and boosting circulation - of being a designated publisher of the cables, while maintaining a safe distance from Assange and "his subversive website".   

Is this the kind of unreserved, moral journalism Pilger speaks of? 

On which related theme, here's an illuminating circular from David Peterson on the stark hypocrisy of the US when it comes to the upholding of 'press freedom':
"Friends: How can one not feel stomach-punched when one reads in yesterday's press release from the U.S. Department of State that "The United States is pleased to announce that it will host UNESCO’s World Press Freedom Day event in 2011, from May 1 - May 3 in Washington," and that the "theme for next year’s commemoration will be 21st Century Media: New Frontiers, New Barriers"?

"In its December 7 press release, the State Department added:[1]

"At the same time, we are concerned about the determination of some governments to censor and silence individuals, and to restrict the free flow of information. We mark events such as World Press Freedom Day in the context of our enduring commitment to support and expand press freedom and the free flow of information in this digital age."
Where, one wonders, is the Guardian's serious deconstruction of that shameless release?


Tuesday, 30 November 2010

Ireland should default on the bankers

Support in Ireland for a debt default is gathering pace:
"[T]he demand for default has become a growing theme on radio talk shows and public commentary. The Sunday Independent nationwide telephone poll of 500 people found that 57% were in favour of default on debts to bondholders within Irish banks with 43% opposed.
This reflects an emergent belief among opinion formers that the state simply cannot support the debt burden it has asked to shoulder."
The word "default" is in itself something of a misnomer.  It assumes that the debt is, or should be, the state's - or, more specifically, the public's - responsibility in the first place, something which it is seemingly obliged to 'honour.'

In truth, the crisis is a consequence of the banks' reckless activity and bondholders' own speculations, gambles and losses. So, why should the Irish public be saddled with that debt 'obligation'?

It's a bit like someone going to a casino, gambling away all their money and expecting you to cover their losses.

Indeed, as Michael Burke shows, the banks and speculators have been demanding rather than expecting public bailouts:
"The response of financial markets was both swift and brutal, leading to a buyers' strike of government debt and the inevitable bailout. But it is important to be absolutely clear who is being bailed out. In the case of Greece the total amounted to €110bn, while there are fears that in the Irish case the rumoured sum of less than €100bn will not be enough to repay all the creditors. It is these creditors who are being bailed out. There is not a cent in either package that will be used to stop school or hospital closures or to prevent a single lost job." 
Harry Browne notes how the casual speculations and political indulgence of Anglo Irish Bank was symptomatic of the wider financial hedonism:
 "Anglo was a nouveau riche institution that had essentially become a casino for the country’s property developers as the bubble inflated. The more established banks, AIB and Bank of Ireland, followed its example; but they at least also had functioned as conduits of credit for other parts of the economy. Anglo was more like a private club with no systemic importance. Nonetheless, Lenihan guaranteed it, at a cost to the Irish state that we now expect will top €30 billion.  We now know too that Anglo’s list of bondholders is a who’s who of European capital." 
Mike Whitney echoes the point in his Memo to Ireland:
"Ireland is being asked to cut to social services, slash wages, renegotiate contracts, and dismantle the welfare state so that undercapitalized banks in France and Germany can get their pound of flesh. But, why? They're the ones who bought the bonds. No one put a gun to their head. They knew they could lose money if Irish banks went south. That's the risk they took. "You pays your money, and you takes your chances." Right? That's how capitalism works.

Not any more, it doesn't. Not while Cowen's in charge, at least. The Irish PM has decided to bail them out; make all the bondholders "whole again." But who made Cowen God? Who gave Cowen the right to hand over his country to the IMF?"
 But the case for going bust is also being echoed by elements of the business media, as in this Bloomberg piece from Matthew Lynn:
"It might sound like madness for a drowning man to refuse a lifebelt. But the decision the Irish make in the next few days will shape the future of their nation for a generation. Ireland would be better off going bust than taking a loan. The conditions attached to a rescue aren’t worth it: Once it takes EU money, it will never get off the hook. And the Irish banks aren’t worth saving anyway. Defaulting on your debts is a far less scary prospect than usually portrayed. The real question is whether Ireland’s politicians have the courage to take that step."
That looks increasingly unlikely.  In fact, the pain is compounded by news that Ireland's National Pension Reserve Fund (NPRF) will be used towards the €85 billion bailout package - while the major bondholders share none of the losses.

Again, though, there are other ways of dealing with the crisis.  Whitney again on "Ireland's hammering":
"This is nothing but extortion. If Ireland wants to put its banks on solid footing, there's a way to do it that doesn't involve years of debt-slavery for its people. The government can underwrite the banks with a €10 billion loan from the Pension Reserve Fund that will guarantee deposits while the banks are nationalized and restructured. It is an excruciating process, but it's been done many times before. Ireland does not have to accept indentured servitude if it chooses not to.  And why would the government even consider paying an interest rate of 5.8% per annum? Interest rates should be the same as they are for the banks; 1 percent. Should a sovereign nation get a worse interest rate than a crooked banker who ripped off millions of investors?"
 "Default" isn't the apocalyptic or humiliating process we're encouraged by the financial masters to believe.  It's the viable financial, political and social defence of a country's economy and the people it's supposed to serve.

Let the bankers and bondholders go bust rather than the society and its citizens.


Friday, 26 November 2010

Key article from Jonathan Cook

Please take the time to read this fine, landmark article from Jonathan Cook detailing the long-standing array of media and official constraints imposed on journalists attempting to report Israel-Palestine:

Publish It Not


Tuesday, 23 November 2010

Staying happy and well in a world of turbulence

A contributor at the Media Lens message board asks: "How does one avoid becoming politically 'burnt out' and totally disillusioned?"

And among the kind offers of advice comes this simple and brilliant piece of illumination from David Edwards, one of the ML Editors:
"Don't focus too much on the results: the key is to do something that you really enjoy that also helps others. If you're doing something that feels like drudgery, you're doing the wrong thing - you're not making a better world, you're making a world full of drudgery. It may sound paradoxical, but the concern should be with the quality and enjoyment of the work you're doing, not on what it's achieving. Concern about results is of the ego; authentically progressive work comes from a liberated, excited feeling in your chest.

Don't wear anger and despair as badges of commitment - they're not, they're badges of ego. The ego wants to be 'special' - specially rich, specially famous, specially powerful. But also, alas, specially virtuous, specially dedicated and committed to saving the world. People are very impressed by the claim that someone is "nauseated" by injustice - 'Wow! He's
really committed!' Often it's the ego advertising for admirers.

Don't believe the ego's tall tales about you coming here to save the world - we are all of us tiny specks and the world will be packed full of suffering 100, 200, 1,000 years after we're gone. But you can still work for the benefit of others because it's far more fulfiling than self-interested, ego-based work. And it's good to help even one sentient being to be free from suffering - it matters to them! And who knows? there
could be a major change for the better (but that shouldn't be a major focus).

Don't think that politics is enough. Do physical exercise every couple of days and find ways to escape from compulsive thinking (through music, meditation, yoga, whatever...) every day. Keep the emotional side of yourself alive - joke, be childish and non-serious; don't become a hard-boiled political rock."
I might well be tempted to say that I wish I'd written those fine words, but that would be to court and indulge my own ego. Instead, I'm just very pleased to have had them imparted to me and others as a confirmation and helpful reminder of how to maintain a balanced, harmonious and life-affirming disposition while engaged in such activity.


Saturday, 20 November 2010

Banking crisis and cuts - rich keep their wealth, poor take their lives

Here's something that an austerity-afflicted public might just becoming a little more aware of. There is an alternative to the cuts.

A study by Greg Philo and the Glasgow University Media Group shows that a staggering 74% of the public sampled support a one-off tax on the richest, an exercise - formulated by economists, tax experts and others at the behest of Philo's group - that would erase the bulk of the current national debt.

As Philo and others point out, there has been almost nothing of this very rational option in the mainstream media.

The figures have, at least, been duly considered in this rare feature by the online Daily Finance:
"A one-off 20% tax on the wealth of the richest 10% in the UK has been backed by 74% of a sample of 2,200 people in a YouGov poll commissioned by the Glasgow Media Group. The proposal would raise £800 billion pounds and wipe out the national debt at a stroke.

The level of support, says GMG's Greg Philo, "is an extraordinary result given that there has been no public discussion of this proposal and that the very negative consequences of the alternatives are only just beginning to emerge." Some 44% of the sample 'strongly approved' of the measure."
The author of the piece, Martin Cloake, goes on:
"The level of support for the measure revealed by the poll really is extraordinary – it's not hyperbole to say so. It's backed by 75% of ABC1s and 73% of C2Des, by young and old, men and women, working and unemployed. The level of support is virtually unchanged across all demographics.

And yet there has been almost no discussion of the proposal in the media. Instead, that media feeds us a constant diet of stories backing the lie that there is no alternative to cuts, and taking the lie that 'we are all in this together' at face value.

Why could it be that the very rich people who run the media and claim to have their finger on the public pulse do not want to discuss a proposal which would benefit the public while reducing their own wealth? And what is the Labour Party's excuse for being so silent on the issue?"
In a follow-up interview at Daily Finance, Philo responds to the question of whether it's right for the richest to pay most of the debt:
"Some think the rich should pay more because they have such a high proportion of the wealth and have used their position in the 'free market' to maximize their share of social assets.

There is nothing democratic or especially fair about such a process. Nobody asks the population as a whole whether the man who makes Cillit Bang should earn £92 million a year or if Sir Philip Green should have a £1.2 billion dividend, let alone whether he should avoid £285 million tax on it because of his domestic relationship with Switzerland.

So the short answer is, yes of course the rich should pay more because they have the bulk of the money. The second point is about whether people have 'earned' their money.

"In the past people have asked whether the distribution of £21 billion in city bonuses in a single year was really to people who were working so much harder than a nurse or a teacher and was their work more valuable? As it turned out the answer was no as they were wrecking the world's financial system."
It's a highly-relevant point of blame, entirely ignored or marginalised by the media. As is the actual context of the crisis.

The current crisis is the inevitable product of neoliberal orthodoxy which, having promoted flagrant deregulation of the banking/financial sectors, allowed a spate of predatory dealing in the US housing market, notably the sub-prime mortgage sector, a bonanza which began to unravel in spectacular fashion with the collapse of the US housing bubble, a consequent liquidity crisis and the rush for state bailouts.

The story of how highly-aggressive mortgage selling to poor and financially insecure people in America became the catalyst for the banking crisis might be seen as comic-farcical where it not so grave. But the myriad chain of packaged debt, casino-type speculation on that debt and the chaotic fallout that ensued shows what happens when 'brilliant-minded' market-makers and vastly-salaried banking executives are allowed free-rein to pursue their relentless drive for profit.

As Harry Shutt's latest book, detailing the anatomy of the crisis, notes, the deepening range of speculative investments and resort to fraudulent activity were encouraged by the new environment of liberalisation on Wall Street and the City of London, which included the removal of cross-border capital movements, the 'levering-up' of bank lending ratios, expansion of their securities assets and the riskier practices of trading and underwriting different securities, all combining towards an increased conflict of interest and the potential for ever-riskier exposure.

But the darkest paradox of this unfettered, 'free market' activity and lack of control was the assumption that those engaged in it could always fall back on the state. As Shutt explains:
"Underpinning this ever more freewheeling structure of finance was the implicit understanding that the state (in it's historic role as 'lender of last resort') could be called upon to bail out any institutions that got into serious difficulties, at least if it was large enough for its collapse to threaten the stability of the entire financial system. Hence despite the official claim that the rewards of highly paid bankers, fund managers and speculators were appropriate compensation for the risks they were taking, in reality most of the institutions they worked for enjoyed the ultimate protection of the taxpayer. The obvious temptation to take excessive risks provided by this implicit indemnity against their own failings is commonly referred to as a state of 'moral hazard'." (Harry Shutt, Beyond the Profits System (Zed, 2010), pp 16-17)
The inexorable growth of collateralised debt obligations (CDOs) - the end-product of all that sub-prime mortgage debt - introduced a new level of anarchy to market instruments, one that over-zealous banks had rushed to be part of, contrary to past and more prudent banking practices.

The result has been massive over-exposure, the acquisition of 'toxic assets', the spectre of banking foreclosures and the last recourse to 'corporate welfare' through state/public-funded bailouts.

And, as Shutt relates, political administrations in the US, UK and elsewhere have responded dutifully with a resolve to:
"spend as much taxpayers' money as necessary to prevent those major banks and other financial institutions which have been rendered insolvent - by their own imprudent and and often fraudulent investments in various forms of 'toxic assets' - from collapsing totally, in line with what market forces would have dictated. The official justification given for this approach is that it is an urgent public priority that the banks' balance sheets be strengthened or recapitalised so as to permit them to resume lending to businesses or individuals whose activities would otherwise be paralysed for want of continued access to credit." (Ibid, p 34)
Shutt further notes how:
"Critics of the authorities' approach - such as Nobel prize-winning economist Joseph Stiglitz - argued convincingly that the public purpose would have been better served by allowing insolvent financial institutions to go bankrupt while protecting the depositors, but at the same time creating new banks (initially under state ownership) - unencumbered by the toxic assets that have turned so many of the existing major banks into 'zombies' and therefore better able to provide new credit to those businesses in genuine need of it. This would, moreover, have been more consistent with the state's lender-of-last-resort role.

Hence the only solution compatible with both the public interest and financial stability would have been the outright nationalisation of all the major insolvent institutions."
Which might have had the desired effect were it not for the power and influence of the banking aristocracy and their political servants:
"The reason neither the Stiglitz solution nor anything more drastic was allowed to happen is that the enormously powerful vested interests of Wall Street and the City of London successfully lobbied to prevent it. For they recognised that the tiny clique of the very wealthy that they represent stood to lose vast fortunes if the markets had been allowed to take their course free of intervention - while equally wholesale nationalisation of of insolvent banks would have posed and existential threat to their power, or even to the capitalist profits system in its entirety. Rather than accept such a fate, therefore, they tried to contrive that their bad assets be largely transferred to the state, thereby adding unimaginable sums - officially estimated as $18 trillion world-wide - to already excessive public debt." (Ibid, pp 35-36)"
Despite the selective and limited narrative promoted by politicians and the media of 'unavoidable austerity' and 'necessary cuts', Philo's study reveals quite the opposite view when the public is actually informed about real alternatives.

And, as Shutt suggests, that mood of realisation is growing:
"There are indeed already signs of strong resistance to such brazenly unjust impositions in countries where an attempt is being made to ensure that the reckless greed of a tiny minority of bankers and politicians will be paid for by imposing years of austerity and privation on the mass of the population who bear no responsibility for this folly." (Ibid, pp 36-37)
Meanwhile, the rate of suicide and depression is rising alarmingly amongst those most exposed to the austerity and insecurity caused by that folly.

While many are now coming on to the streets in serious protest, others have resigned or given up. Lost lives and human despair.

Bankers, profit and greed. Might the crisis and the misery it's causing help create, as in Shutt's book subtitle,"new possibilities for a post-capitalist era"?


Thursday, 18 November 2010

Israel's plans to put Palestinians on a diet

Sent today to Jon Donnison, the BBC's Middle East Correspondent.

Dear Jon

I trust you're managing well in Gaza.

As you are probably aware, Gisha, an active human rights organisation, has managed to obtain damning documents revealing the Israeli state's systematic plans to keep the entire population of Gaza, all children included, on a near-starvation diet.

As the current Media Lens Alert shows, it completely undermines Israel's insistent claims that the siege of Gaza, Operation Cast Lead and other attacks on Gaza have been motivated by "security" concerns.

I've had a useful exchange with you in the past and wonder whether you'd be willing, in the same constructive vein, to address the following questions.

1. Do you consider this document a significant piece of evidence confirming the Israeli state's true intentions towards Gaza?

2. Are you concerned that almost the entire international media has failed to cover this story?

3. Could you tell me whether the BBC:
a) thought the story too unimportant to report
b) didn't know about it
c) had other reasons for not reporting it

Again, please note that I'm asking these questions in a non-adversarial way. I think it would be helpful and in the public interest to have your considered, on-the-ground thoughts on why this crucial document and its highly-revealing content has never been noted by the BBC.

I do hope you can help shed some light on these matters.

Best wishes

John Hilley


No reply, as yet. Besides the stark absence of any media reporting of this key missive, one must also note the conspicuous lack of any BBC response to the Media Lens Alert.

The ML Editors have noted at their site:

"It'll be interesting to see whether these challenges are being passed up the BBC chain of command, a self-serving corporate response discussed, drafted and agreed, and then identikit replies churned out by the BBC "complaints" unit."

The independent Nazareth-based journalist Jonathan Cook has also posted these useful points at the ML board:

"great alert. i think you might be creating a very useful research project here. each time an important piece of evidence emerges that proves israeli bad faith, and / or US complicity, it will interesting to test how consistently the media fails to cover it.

previously you highlighted the obama letter, and i think the same could be said for the netanyahu video in which he's caught on camera admitting that he avoided implementing the oslo accords and then pulled the wool over the americans' eyes. i suspect it's also true of israel's recent secret training exercise to transfer the country's arab citizens.

journalists and their news organisations can always refer to the failure to report a single episode as an oversight (even if they ALL fail to report it!). but if they all consistently fail to report these kinds of incidents every time they occur, then that defence becomes much harder to maintain, even for self-deceiving journalists.

all best, jonathan"



The 're-conversion' of IDS

Bob Holman is a sort of saintly man, living beside the poorest and most deprived of Easterhouse in Glasgow.

He knows poverty at first hand. He's chosen to be amongst it. And he's given his life to championing those at the harshest end of society.

He's also, we might assume, able to spot a sham 'caring Tory' at a hundred yards.

For eight years, Bob Holman thought Iain Duncan Smith was a real, caring Tory, converted to the cause of the poor. Now he thinks otherwise:

"The IDS I knew was a politician who almost wept at the plight of the poor. My guess is that, in order to reach his costly goal of a universal credit scheme, he has had to mollify the chancellor, George Osborne – and that can only be done by being like those Tories who take pleasure in punishing the poor."

Has IDS been 're-converted'? Or, was he ever converted in the first place?

Contrary to the blanket vilification of such Tories, it's not unreasonable to suggest that IDS does actually care as a human being about those in poverty; that he has a compassionate core.

The more pertinent question, however, is how he actions that supposed concern; how he puts those compassionate thoughts into practice.

As Holman acknowledges, the real impact of the policies IDS has initiated on coming to office will mean financial and emotional devastation for many of the poorest in society - those living in Easterhouse and other privation-ridden places that IDS claims to care for.

But, beyond even the obvious suspicion of staged pre-election visits and contrived empathy for those struggling residents, a more fundamental question might be asked: can even the apparently genuine articulation of politicians' shock and concern for such people hold any real compassionate value?

As suggested, the essence of compassion lies not, essentially, in what one feels, but in what one does about those feelings - again assuming, of course, that those feelings are sincere.

Compassion, in other words, has to be proactive. It has to demonstrate a genuine effort or real evident desire to correct an injustice or abuse. Otherwise, it remains self-indulgent emotion, void words.

One might reasonably argue that such people were never even partially interested in helping the poor. But that, again, would negate the kind of instinctive feeling Bob Holman felt towards IDS.

Holman sees a saving-grace choice for IDS:

"There is an alternative. I have observed his rare gift of being able to listen to and communicate with people crushed by social deprivation. I believe he should leave the cabinet and devote himself to the cause of those at the hard end. He cannot create compassionate Conservatism alongside Osborne and Cameron; the danger is that they will change him instead."
But does Holman's faith in IDS and the 'corruption' by his peers really stack-up as an explanation?

Proactive compassion can, in one sense, be passive, as in taking the form of not acting in a harmful way towards those one purports to care for.

In this regard, were IDS to refuse serving in an administration that imposed such cuts, he would have behaved in a proactive-compassionate way. Indeed, he would, through the high-level publicity of such a refusal, have sent out the strongest, most proactive statement of compassion possible.

That was never remotely likely. Not just because IDS is, at heart, a Tory, even a 'caring Tory'. It's that the very system of power acts as a massive deterrent to such action.

This requires us to recognise the kind of extreme system-serving culture which causes such people to jettison what little baggage of compassion they might have once carried.

Thus, when we castigate IDS, Nick Clegg and others who have eagerly sought to impose these punitive measures on the poor, it's worth considering the psychology of incorporation and vanity politics that draws even potentially well-meaning people into the fold.

This is never to excuse the individual actions of politicians - especially those like Clegg who have 'so-obviously', for so many people, 'sold-out'. (I don't include myself here, as I never believed his 'compassionate' claims in the first place.) Rather, it's to better understand the kind of systemic enticements, expectations, obligations and remunerations that will almost always cause aspirant politicians and others (in all walks of life) to rationalise what they do in the name of the cause they supposedly support.

Hence, Clegg talks of acting in the 'national interest', Cable of the 'necessary pain', Cameron that 'we're all in this together' and IDS that it's a "sin" for the unemployed to refuse a job, any job.

Thus, does the language of 'compassion' and 'concern' become one of 'dutiful' imperative, even, in IDS's case, divine judgement.

Holman's appeal to the IDS he 'once knew' looks like a last, proactive effort to reach-out and help restore those 'compassionate tendencies'. It seems like an honourable initiative in itself.

But, Holman's invitation and reasoning behind IDS's 'abandonment of the poor' might look a lot more persuasive - indeed, compassionate - were it indicting the system rather than just the corrupting individuals within it.

There's little point in blaming Cameron and Osborne for IDS's 're-conversion' and 'return' to Tory doctrine. The real fault lies with the structure of power that all these people are beholden to; an economic, political and social model concerned with profit and greed rather than poverty and injustice.

IDS, in that regard, is in his appropriate, predictable place, Whitehall rather than Easterhouse, doing the job he was always intent on doing.


Thursday, 11 November 2010

Millbank moment - applauding the students

The admirable student-led protest and invasion of Tory HQ at Millbank yesterday marks a decisive point in the rising campaign of resistance to the Con-Dem purges.

Rejecting the predictable condemnations - obediently emphasised, as ever, by the BBC - Nina Power captures the growing mood for radical street action, making the accurate link between the Cameron-Clegg attack on university education for all and the wider assault on social provision:

"Direct action this most certainly was, the kind writers such as John Pilger have recently been calling for. It is hard to see the violence as simply the wilfulness of a small minority – it is a genuine expression of frustration against the few who seem determined to make the future a miserable, small-minded and debt-filled place for the many.

The protest as a whole was extremely important, not just because of the large numbers it attracted, and shouldn't be understood simply in economic terms as a complaint against fees. It also represented the serious anger many feel about cuts to universities as they currently stand, and the ideological devastation of the education system if the coalition gets its way. It was a protest against the narrowing of horizons; a protest against Lib Dem hypocrisy; a protest against the increasingly utilitarian approach to human life that sees degrees as nothing but "investments" by individuals, and denies any link between education and the broader social good."

Urging support for the students, Coalition of Resitance also:

"reject any attempt to characterise the Millbank protest as small, “extremist” or unrepresentative of our movement.

We celebrate the fact that thousands of students were willing to send a message to the Tories that we will fight to win. Occupations are a long established tradition in the student movement that should be defended. It is this kind of action in France and Greece that has been an inspiration to many workers and students in Britain faced with such a huge assault on jobs, benefits, housing and the public sector."

As Patrick Smith notes, the action in London, building on other campus dissent, is also reflective of the disenchantment felt towards a timid and ineffective NUS:

"This kind of radical action shows that some students are disillusioned with the National Union of Students protest and lobby model. With the Lib Dems doing a U-turn on their pledge to vote against an increase in fees, and Labour discredited as a champion of students, students have been left feeling that there is no one left to lobby.

There has been a significant segment of the student movement that has been pushing for more drastic action for a while. What has changed is that that segment has swelled to include a much wider section of the student community.

Several commentators and indeed the NUS have said that the Millbank occupation was not a student-led action and that anarchist agitators are behind it. Images of black-hooded youths have added to this belief. Speaking to the people inside the building, however, revealed a different story."

Taking inspiration from the wave of protests across Europe, Smith argues that such mobilisation will give impetus to greater civil dissent:

"There is a very real possibility that this could motivate people looking to fight the cuts to other public services to look beyond just protesting and lobbying. Across the country there have been meetings and protests already, with speakers at rallies calling for poll tax style revolts."

Smith also includes a neat rebuke to those anxious Guardian liberals afraid that any special government treatment of students will squeeze other, more deserving, social claims:

"No doubt Polly Toynbee will be looking on disapprovingly – she has argued that students are low on the pecking order of pain inflicted by the coalition government. And she is right that students are largely from middle class backgrounds and so won't be as hard hit by austerity as many others. But her argument assumes that there is only a certain amount of space in society for protest. If the students are successful, her argument goes, then others will face more severe cuts. Quite the opposite: if the students make some headway, others will be spurred on to push their agendas more forcefully."

Hopefully, that more forceful agenda will involve further marches on the privileged buildings of those intent on imposing and rationalising these draconian cuts.

Sanctimonious politicians, NUS wannabees and our ever-unctuous media will continue to demonise such action.

In truth it's an understandable, unifying and impressively human reaction to the political vandalism being inflicted on the poor, the vulnerable and the wider social infrastructure.