Thursday, 29 April 2010

The three party, one media consensus politics

There now follows an 'election broadcast' by the Media Lens Editors - which may profoundly alter your understanding of politics and the way it gets reported:

The Art of Looking Prime Ministerial - the 2010 General Election

While the media pack scurry around reporting Brown's faux pas over Mrs Duffy
(unguarded words which - her own rant on immigration, aside - neatly illustrate how the elite really view 'ordinary' people - like ants) this timely article from ML illustrates the cosy, controlled consensus that exists between the high political class and mainstream media in framing the permissable agenda for discussion.

Thus, Brown can be vilified for a sneering gaffe while his primary part in the vast war crime of Iraq is totally ignored. Meanwhile, Clegg's rationalisation of the carnage in Afghanistan and his Orange Book neoliberalism are deftly disregarded by the liberal media as they gush over his role in 'forging a new politics'. And, like the other leaders, Cameron is allowed to wax noble about public spending cuts and the need for 'proper military equipment' without ever mentioning the Iraqi and Afghan victims of those wars or the countless billions spent prosecuting them.

The media who facilitate and report these debates see no apparent need, either, to pursue such matters.

As the ML Editors accurately remind us, there remains the need not just for a radical politics but, ultimately, an alternative, corporate-free media to help forge it.


Saturday, 24 April 2010

Election Glasgow South: Tom Harris and other party warmongers

Don't mention the wars. Yes, I know, it's another (pluralised) use of a tired cliché. But it seems the most apt way of referencing the dark issue being drowned out by the current election noise on Cam-Brown-Cleggability.

Somehow, beyond the 'great TV debate', we're expected to remain restrainingly mute over the mass loss of life and staggering costs of Iraq, Afghanistan and sundry other militarist adventures.

We're also expected to accept that ugly misnomer 'necessary nuclear defence' as a fact of life, as if such weaponry had some divine presence in our lochs. Sanctified by the main political parties - including the Lib Dems - it's little wonder that opposition to what lurks in Faslane - expressed by a consistent majority of Scots - is seen as a futile exercise. So much for democracy.

Look no further than the Con-Lab consensus on Trident. £100 billion will be spent replacing this cash-guzzling obscenity, while savage cuts are wielded to key public services. Beyond the leaders' TV spinfest, where's the serious, emergency debate on that shameful statistic?

Cleaners, home helps and community centre staff, all socially useful people who actually enhance the public good - unlike bankers and arms manufacturers - are now facing debilitating redundancies and wage cuts while staggering sums are secured for post-imperialist wars and a delusional nuclear status.

Was there ever a clearer case for a set of independent, progressive Scottish 'defence' and foreign policies?

Beyond Alex Salmond's pledge to remove Trident and his denunciatons of Westminster militarism, we're still stuck with the same UK war parties. And it's New Labour which has harboured some of the most villainous officers - think the coy posturings of ex-defence secretary Geoff Hoon, the verbal-fisted John Reid and current defence mouthpiece, Bob Ainsworth.

Whatever the outcome from the Chilcot inquiry - most likely another gentlemanly whitewash - there's no hiding place now for Tony Blair. But Gordon Brown is also clearly in the frame. The former fronted the grand lie over Iraq, the latter signed the cheques for it. Brown, as the Chilcot evidence revealed, clearly understood, and approved, the illegal case for war. In a sane polity, he would be in the international dock alongside his ex-boss.

But we don't live in a rational political world where public opposition to war and military proliferation count. That's largely because an obedient political class and servile media, encouraged by big military-corporate interests - BAE, Raytheon et al - prefer to keep those uncomfortable discussions from public attention. It's all about "jobs", they tell us, as though the economy of death is more important than the right to life and security from such wicked weaponry.

The same language of 'noble militarism' is being used to prosecute unjustifiable wars. The UK, we were assured, helped unleash "Shock and Awe" over Baghdad as part of its great 'ethical interventionism'.

Uncomfortably, international law keeps saying otherwise. It was illegal. Full stop. And those who executed that set of actions bear the heaviest responsibility. The principal was well-established at Nuremberg: the higher the ranking, the more complicit in war crimes.

Which brings us to the middle-ranking 'lieutenants', MPs like Tom Harris who, despite all the evidence of scheming and dissembling, continues to defend Blair and his role in the mass killing of Iraqi civilians.

A passionate advocate of Trident, there's also Mr Harris's unrelenting support for nuclear-laden Israel, despite defining evidence of its criminal actions against occupied and suffering Palestinians.

Readers and voters may be interested in my recent exchanges with Harris on these issues, including his refusal to support the internationally-acclaimed Goldstone report on Israel's war crimes against Gaza and the report's call for universal jurisdiction to be used in pursuit of prima facie war criminals.

Nor is Mr Harris pressing for any end to the British military components that helped bomb Gaza. He also supported the use of Scottish airports to transport US bunker-busting bombs to Israel during its 2006 assault on Lebanon.

All of which may seem 'far from home' for voters in this election. But, fundamental compassion for others aside, it should, at least, raise profound questions about the moral calibre of our select elect.

There's something approaching the astonishing that voters in Glasgow South can contemplate Tom Harris as their MP. This is a critically aware man who surely understands the lies and deceit that have been peddled, yet continues to voice unwavering support for the Iraq disaster. He even put his name to a petition championing Blair as he prepared to reprise his snake-oil charm at the Chilcot hearing.

It's all rather perplexing. Or perhaps not. The generational habit of voting blind Labour still, apparently, holds.

Or maybe I'm wrong and Glasgow South is really some kind of moody redneck backwater, quietly revelling in its zealously right wing MP.

The more reasonable conclusion here is that many, probably most, constituents don't know who Tom Harris is and what he stands for. Nor, alongside his warmongering views, might they share his reactionary 'remedies' towards asylum seekers, single parent mums and unruly teenagers.

I'm reliably informed by an ex-Labour party insider that even many arch-Blairites consider Mr Harris creepily extreme.

None of which should be deemed as personal attack. I have an aversion to that kind of mendacious diatribe - as, pitifully, rather than pithily, exhibited at Mr Harris's own political blog.

The primary point here is that recourse to war is the most serious action a politician will ever undertake. And those who actively support such decisions have to be held accountable for them alongside their leaders and peers.

Mr Harris may be 'expenses clean', but what respectable standing does that suggest beside the dirty business of promoting and defending an illegal, murderous war? By what moral standard can an exponent of bombing Iraqi civilians and wasting their cities lament neighbourhood decline and anti-social behaviour? The words "galling hypocrisy" and "unfit for office" come to mind.

The over 1 million lost lives in Iraq (see the Lancet studies), the calamity of Afghanistan, the bombed and homeless of Gaza and the corporate beneficiaries of that entire military/nuclear network may all seem inconsequential to who gets returned on May 6. But it should disturb reasonable minds in Glasgow South to think that an unapologetic warmonger has been speaking 'on their behalf'.

I usually maintain a suspicious distance from mainstream parties and machine politics. But we should make serious use of any opportunity to replace bomb-'solution' people like Tom Harris with humanitarian advocates for international justice, peace and a Trident-free country.

There is a credible, electable alternative in Glasgow South.

Go, figure.


Monday, 12 April 2010

Israel: nothing left but more draconian force

The spectrum of Israeli repression seems to be expanding as its claim to being a 'civilised democracy' diminishes ever further.

While the OECD considers Tel Aviv's membership application, Israel's own shock doctrine of neoliberal militarism permits no room for peaceful development. As one analyst puts it, "the business model of the Israeli economy... is constant conflict."

And, with it, more brutal crackdowns by military, judicial and intelligence forces on Palestinians and their moral witnesses.

Provisions shortly to be introduced will allow the army sweeping new powers to deport and incarcerate West Bank Palestinians suspected of being there without a permit. This latest draconian act will give military officers, rather than the courts, permission to send "infiltrators", as Israel terms them, back to Gaza or impose punitive prison sentences.

The edict has been widely condemned by international human rights groups as a clear violation of the Fourth Geneva Convention, which prohibits the expulsion of civilians from occupied land.

Many families are already being broken up through such measures, but the new enactment will put tens of thousands more Palestinians at immediate risk.

Meanwhile, Anat Kam, a courageous ex-army whistleblower, is facing trial and a lengthy prison sentence for exposing the IDF's gross abuses. The information she passed to Haaretz journalist Uri Blau has forced the latter into hiding in London. Pursued by Mossad, he, like nuclear whistleblower Mordechai Vanunu, also faces the full wrath of the Israeli state if located and returned.

Encouragingly, international condemnation of such acts is growing.

Scotland's First Minister Alex Salmond has called on the UK government to "rethink trade relations with Israel". His statement comes in response to damning evidence that Israel cloned UK passports as part of a Mossad plot to assassinate a leading Hamas figure in Dubai.

Urging David Miliband to initiate legal action against Israel, Salmond said on BBC's Question Time:
"You can't have normal relationships if you believe another country has been involved in what Israel has been involved in."
Salmond's comments come on top of an intensive campaign to stop an Israeli medical trade exhibition at the Holyrood parliament.

Reeling from increased exposure of its aggressions, the exhibition is an attempt to promote Israel's 'humanitarian' and 'technological' profile. As one of its key sponsors, Labour MSP Ken MacIntosh, claims:
"We have a lot of negative views on Israel that are not helpful, many are poisonous and damaging. Rather than responding to the rhetoric, I thought it would be better to show positive side of Israel and acknowledge the huge contribution it has made."
Rejecting MacIntosh's spin, the event has been strongly condemned by a group of leading Scottish doctors:
"An open letter by a dozen doctors says celebrating Israeli technology is a "shameless PR exercise" coming so soon after its bombardment of Gaza last January, in which an estimated 1,400 Palestinian civilians were killed. Thirteen Israelis died."
Boosting the Boycott Divestment Sanctions (BDS) campaign, a sheriff has thrown out charges against five SPSC activists accused of racist conduct following their disruption of a concert in Edinburgh by the Jerusalem Quartet. In his judgement:
"Sheriff Scott added that if persons on a public march designed to protest against and publicise alleged crimes committed by a state and its army were afraid to name that state for fear of being charged with racially aggravated behaviour it would render their rights under the Convention worthless. Their placards, he said, would have to read "Genocide in an unspecified part of the Middle East", "Boycott an unspecified state in the Middle East"."
The ruling makes a mockery of the Crown's claim that the action was racially motivated or anti-semitic in purpose:
"The campaigners had been accused of making “comments about Jews, Israelis, and the State of Israel”, but during a three-day legal debate at Edinburgh Sheriff Court, a BBC audio recording of the event revealed that there had been no reference made to “Jews”. Comments included “They are Israeli Army musicians”, “End the Siege of Gaza”, “Genocide in Gaza”, and “Boycott Israel”.
Sheriff James Scott ruled that “the comments were clearly directed at the State of Israel, the Israeli Army, and Israeli Army musicians”, and not targeted at “citizens of Israel” per se. “The procurator fiscal’s attempts to squeeze malice and ill will out of the agreed facts were rather strained”, he said."
Such rulings, actions and condemnations help illustrate the gathering political, legal and civil rejection of Israel's aggressive conduct, all part of the growing momentum for a just prosecution of its human rights violations and racist crimes.

Which only seems to intensify Israel's lust for violent oppression.


Monday, 5 April 2010

US public support waning for Israel

Just like its predecessors, the Obama administration remains in practical service to Israel. Yet, the gathering fears being expressed by US military elites over the 'security' of US troops in the Middle East is serving to undercut the 'special relationship'. By inflaming Arab hatred and sensitivities, they say, Israel's continuing intransigence over the so-called 'peace process' is compromising US military lives.

Avi Shlaim makes the point:
"General David Petraeus, the head of Central Command, told the Senate armed services committee last week that the Israeli-Palestinian conflict was a root cause of instability in the Middle East and Asia, and that it "foments anti-American sentiment due to a perception of US favouritism for Israel". In private, Joe Biden told the Israelis that their intransigence was undermining America's credibility with Arab and Muslim nations and endangering American lives in Iraq and Afghanistan.

Small wonder that the announcement of 1,600 new homes in East Jerusalem provoked such intense anger at all levels of the Obama administration. Israeli prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu's apology related only to the timing and not to the substance of the announcement. Hillary Clinton, the Secretary of State, demanded the cancellation of the housing project, a substantial confidence-building measure towards the Palestinians, and a pledge to negotiate on all the core issues of the dispute, including the borders of a Palestinian state. Senator George Mitchell's visit to Israel was postponed."

The statement from Petraeus, in practice, affords a certain political cover for Obama/Clinton. It also ratchets-up the concern that uncritical US support for Israel is becoming a too-costly expense, requiring fresh analysis of immediate US interests.

Jeffrey Blankfort amplifies the point:
"In other words, in the view of Gen. Petraeus, resolving the Israel-Palestine conflict is critical to the US national interest and that, plus his reference to the “perception” of Washington’s pro-Israel bias, is what may have been what, for the moment, occasioned President Obama through Secretary of State Hillary Clinton to ratchet up the criticism and publicly brand Israel’s treatment of Biden as “insulting.”"
Under constant scrutiny from AIPAC, Obama/Clinton have no serious intentions of taking their 'rebuke' of Netanyahu much further. It's a tiff, a jockeying for position within the still-understood boundaries defining Washington's alliance with Israel. The military-flagged fear of gathering US body-bags allows a little added latitude for the White House to 'chide and guide'.

But this in itself is less significant than the message being sent out by such declarations to Main Street America, serving to diminish public support for Israel.

That worries Israel and AIPAC potentially more than Netanyahu's and the lobby's ability to influence and direct Obama. The problem for AIPAC is that it finds itself increasingly on the wrong side of US popular opinion, appearing evermore doctrinaire, overtly hostile to Obama and, seemingly, indifferent to US interests.

As Philip Weiss discusses,"a large shift in American policy and opinion has left the lead institution of the lobby exposed, and worse, mocked." Weiss also cites a significant email opinion from John Mearsheimer on AIPAC's troubles and divergence:
“Listening to the speeches at the AIPAC conference—especially Alan Dershowitz’s—I had the sense that the hardliners in the lobby are getting desperate because they recognize that more and more Americans are coming to understand that Israel is a strategic liability for the United States. Plus there is the not so small matter that Israel is turning itself into an apartheid state, and more and more people are seeing that, too.”
It's all part of Israel's gathering image deficit, the serious erosion of its international legitimacy.

Richard Falk writes that, while Israel is still enjoying political-judicial protection over war crimes, it is fast losing the legitimacy war:
"It is my view that this surfacing of criminal charges against Israel during and after its attacks on Gaza resulted in major gains on the legitimacy front for the Palestinians. The widespread popular perceptions of Israeli criminality, especially the sense of waging war against a defenceless population with modern weaponry, has prompted people around the world to propose boycotts, divestments and sanctions. This mobilisation exerts pressure on governments and corporations to desist from relations with Israel, and is reminiscent of the worldwide anti-apartheid campaign that did so much to alter the political landscape in South Africa. Winning the legitimacy war is no guarantee that Palestinian self-determination will be achieved in the coming years. But it does change the political equation in ways that are not fully discernable at this time.

The global setup provides a legal framework capable of imposing international criminal law, but it will not be implemented unless the political will is present. Israel is likely to be insulated from formal judicial initiatives addressing war crimes charges, but will face the fallout arising from the credibility that these charges possess for world public opinion. This fallout is reshaping the underlying Israel/Palestine struggle, and giving far greater salience to the legitimacy war (fought on a global political battlefield) than was previously the case."

US military fears about Israeli belligerence and its effects have not, of course, prevented ongoing military procurements to Tel Aviv. The Pentagon has just, for example, approved a $250 million deal to supply Israel with C-130J transport aircraft. So, while sections of the military top brass are voicing concerns about the political fallout from US combat deaths in the region, the corporate-military contracts are still being dutifully signed-off.

Why, one may ask, are the American public so slow to see Israel's aid-demanding aggressions and America's complicit part in that economy of death? And how is Israel so able to defy its primary paymaster?

As Ramzy Baroud puts it:
"Where does a feeble politician like Netanyahu find the courage to defy the president of the very country that supplied his own with many billions of taxpayer dollars? Of course, we know that much of the fund was used to occupy, torment and wage war on Palestinians for many years. This is the atrocious fact that Americans need to understand fully: Israeli war crimes were made possible because of American funds, weapons and political cover. America is not an outside party to the conflict. It has done more than its fair share in the ongoing Palestinian tragedy."
It's a moral outrage which may register with many American liberals. But not enough, in itself, to threaten the 'special arrangement'. That will involve slow-release calculations of base self-interest. With ongoing recessionary woes, more troubled realisations over Israeli arrogance and US supplication to it will have to register in the minds of tax-dollar paying Americans.

An important encouragement to such reflection may be coming from many American Jews themselves. As Slate editor Jacob Weisberg calculates, the level of support and attachment to Israel is on the wane:
"If you want numbers, various polls document the disenchantment. Shmuel Rosner, an astute Israeli journalist who blogs for the Jerusalem Post and writes for Slate pays a lot of attention to the partisan gap in support for Israel. It has jumped dramatically of late, with 80 percent of Republicans expressing favorable view of Israel, according to Gallup, as compared with only 53 percent of Democrats. One recent study found that only 54 percent of Jews under 35 who aren't Orthodox are "comfortable with the idea of a Jewish state" (as compared to more than 80 percent of those over 65). Among younger Jews, only 20 percent rated as "highly attached" to Israel in another poll. If you want examples of the shift in sentiment, read just about any Jewish columnist for a major newspaper. Thomas Friedman of the New York Times spent last week arguing that Biden under-reacted to Israel's announcement about the new housing units in East Jerusalem, comparing Israel's policies to drunken driving. Richard Cohen of the Washington Post is writing a book arguing that the founding of Israel was a well-intentioned mistake. "
This may well be the expression of tortured liberal Zionism. But it also illustrates the decisive shift taking place in the thoughts of many American Jews, a level of disillusion with Israel and its aggressions which may, in turn, become part of a wider public sentiment in America.