Wednesday, 28 July 2010

Cameron, Gaza and the BBC

So, what are we to make of David Cameron's statement describing Gaza as a "prison camp"?

Cameron's actual words were:
"Gaza cannot and must not be allowed to remain a prison camp."
He further said:
"People in Gaza are living under constant attacks and pressure in an open-air prison."
The first thing one should simply say is that, being entirely true, the wording is welcome.

Whatever Cameron's and his government's ongoing support for Israel, the issuing of such criticisms will only help erode its international support base.

The second thing to note is that these words, and many more, could have been said long before now. Should so many have been slaughtered and afflicted before these sentiments were uttered?

The third thing to remember here is Cameron's other words reaffirming his government's confidence in Israel's own 'inquiry' into the flotilla attack. Does any serious observer really believe that Israel has the will and integrity to investigate itself?

And the fourth thing involves a question to Cameron and other such politicians seemingly concerned about Gaza: beyond the verbal condemnations, what are you actually going to do to help bring an end to that prison camp - and the wider occupation?

The answer to that last, and most important, point is, as we should know from past enquiries, precious little.

So, again, why are we hearing such comments now? The answer would seem to be basic geo/political expedience.

There is, no doubt, much realpolitiking afoot here. The UK is keen to develop economic and military links with Turkey, from where Cameron made his remarks on Gaza. His promotion of Turkey - a key Nato member - for full EU membership came with an attack on the Euro club of states trying to keep Ankara out. The "prison camp" reference will have added weight to that alignment, given Turkey's prominent role in seeking to break the blockade.

But there's also a connecting issue of international legalities here. Increasingly, politicians like Cameron are beginning to put safe distance between themselves and the illegal actions of the Israeli state. As with South Africa, a day of reckoning is coming for Israel's apartheid system and even consistent Israel supporters like Cameron can see where that might ultimately put them: on the wrong side of history.

This realisation has taken on a quiet new momentum in the wake of the landmark Goldstone Report, and its key conclusion that Israel should be referred to an international war crimes court over its 23-day annihilation of Gaza. Despite the UK's best efforts to suppress the report at the UN, its legal authority now sits like an unmovable, weighted truth - a huge burden on Israel's shoulders.

Israel's recent attack on the aid flotilla and murder of nine Turkish peace activists has further sharpened many politicians' antennae over the international legal consequences. They are also, of course, increasingly attuned to the growing voice of public condemnation.

Again, though, it's useful to remember that Cameron's comments still suggest no action-based pressure on Israel. Indeed, his government are following their predecessors in trying to deny UK magistrates powers to grant arrest warrants for visiting Israeli politicians and military figures implicated in war crimes against Palestinians.

Thus, much of the same safe placation goes on.

As does the presentation of such stories from the BBC.

The BBC's 6 O'Clock News (27 July 2010) reported that Cameron had "controversially" called Gaza a prison camp.

Why, we might ask, should such a statement be deemed 'controversial'? Because it upsets Israeli 'sensitivities'?

Imagine the BBC now stating: "Netanyahu, controversially, disputes that Gaza is like a prison camp."

Or: "Obama, controversially, reaffirms his support for Israel despite its refusal to lift the blockade."

Gaza, as recognised by every major aid agency and on-the-ground UN official, is being subjected to very obvious prison-camp-like conditions. Why should confirmation of such brutal imprisonment, even from a British prime minister, be considered 'controversial'?

Something is only 'controversial' for the BBC when it involves language which deviates from the accepted establishment narrative - a language that's reliably structured around references to 'militants' and the usual 'Israel says' formats.

Even though such words come from Cameron, this shouldn't make them 'controversial'. Indeed, the BBC are breaking their own guidelines on 'impartiality' by using such subjectively-laden adjectives in their reports.

Perhaps, in time, the idea of criticising Israel's apartheid state won't be regarded so "controversially."

A World Cup has just show-cased not just South Africa's 'modernity', but also its apartheid history. Throughout the BBC's coverage, Mandela was lauded as a saintly liberator, with the oppression of black South Africans sympathetically addressed in many of the BBC's background film reports.

Yet, Desmond Tutu, that other venerable South African statesman, has said that the situation in Palestine is "worse than apartheid."

That's probably too 'controversial' a line for the BBC to pursue. It may now be safe for BBC presenters to reflect emotionally on the evils of South African apartheid, but not, apparently, Israel's mass-murderous version.

Again, keeping an expedient eye on history, the gathering international response to Israel's catalogue of cruelty may now be exercising the minds of figures like Cameron. It simply gets harder and harder trying to defend the indefensible. Gaza is a prison camp. The world sees that truth. Better, so Cameron seems to be calculating, just saying so.

It's all part of the 'new open politics', where glaring evils come to be denounced by 'clean-sheet' politicians - even ones like Cameron who supported the murder of Iraq. What they're prepared to do about the killing and incarceration of Gaza is another matter. Maybe the BBC will get around to making that more pertinent point. They might even put that question directly to Cameron.

Or would that just be too 'controversial' a thing to ask?


Friday, 23 July 2010

Urban with the Green Howards

In the course of Mark Urban's hour-long film (BBC 2, 19 July 2010) following the Yorkshire Regiment (Green Howards), we hear not a single reflective thought on the problematic point of the UK-US presence in Afghanistan.

As with his other recent embed reports, there's no caveat questioning the UK's stated war objectives. Nor is the purpose of the regiment's patrols ever contested. Instead, Urban asserts:
"It's meant to bring security to the people."
The sentence is delivered as a simple matter-of-fact, a given, a straight repetition of UK-Nato claims. The geopolitical reasons behind the occupation are never mentioned. Britain's role as America's dutiful ally in an illegally-launched war is never considered. The troops are just there, so we're assured, "to bring security."

The film also lacks any serious examination of Afghan resistance, a quite considerable omission if we're being asked to understand why the troops are there fighting and the type of forces they're fighting against.

Instead, the Taliban are merely spoken of as "an elusive, resilient foe" by Urban, a set of labels which lacks not just illumination of their military abilities and objectives, but helps pitch the UK 'mission', in contrast, as one driven, purely, by open, humanitarian priorities.

Nor do we find the slightest exploration of how such young soldiers, many economically adrift, are being used and sacrificed in a war now massively opposed by the public.

Throughout the film, we witness the fear and difficulties of families split apart, waiting for the dreaded knock on the door. But Urban consciously refrains from asking whether those soldiers should ever be where they are.

Instead, he concludes:

"They'll be ready to do it all again."

Kirsty Wark's follow-up Newsnight studio discussion with some of the troops and families involved in the film was, similarly, vacant in its failure to question the war and needless deaths of so many, Afghans and British, soldiers and civilians.

Mark Urban would, no doubt, have us believe that his film is simply a human-based account of the daily difficulties faced by soldiers and their families. But its real effect is to legitimise Britain's presence in Afghanistan. We can, of course, share humane sympathy for those who suffer in conflict. Soldiers are victims, as are their families. But so are all Afghans.

It's enormously significant that, while Nato fatalities are carefully counted and publicised, there's no official count of the thousands of Afghans killed by the same forces. The absence of such statistics and the media's failure to highlight this discrimination over death counts tells us all we need to know about how Afghanistan and other occupied places are really regarded by the UK and its stenographer journalists.

Urban's film fits dutifully into that power-serving exercise. It's a selective chronicle of British losses and hardship, offering no explanatory context or probing comment. And, by drawing a veil over the strategic, imperialist reasons for Britain's presence in Afghanistan, it merely helps prolong the suffering of all involved.


Wednesday, 21 July 2010

Pride and edginess: the self-belief and contempt of liberal journalists

Journalists and editors at the Guardian, Independent, BBC and other flagship liberal media take great pride in the self-certain belief that they provide a vital check on the powerful.

Yet, on countless occasions, the actual questions, assertions and interpretations contained in such interviews have been shown to excuse, cover and legitimise, rather than expose, such elites.

The spectrum of this journalistic 'enquiry' typically ranges from outright fawning to liberal-lite 'probing'. On some occasions we might witness a stronger performance - say, from Jon Snow or Alex Thomson 'taking-on' the noted Israeli propagandist Mark Regev.

All of which tends to reinforce the 'vanguard' vanity of such journalists and media. Yet, these are the very figures most hostile to critical examination of their own performance. Why might that be?

Three points seem apparent here in trying to evaluate the sincerity, selectivity and effectiveness of such interviews.

Firstly, there's the basic 'professional' pride that might motivate a senior journalist to 'do his/her job' - or 'the job' as they see it. This, quite naturally, will be influenced by the peer-led status that comes with 'doing the job' and the plaudits that follow within the media industry for holding this or that elite 'to account'.

We might reasonably assume that a liberal feather will, thus, be gained in taking someone like Regev 'to task' over the various atrocities inflicted on Palestinians, particularly when, as with the recent attack on the Mavi Marmara-led aid flotilla, the breaking of international law can be cited.

Yet, not only are such 'hard-hitting' interviews rare, they present little real problem for the establishment, given that they almost never touch on the key, fundamental issues of the Occupation, Israel's apartheid system or the structure of international military aid/political support reserved for Israel. Such factors are generally deemed 'off-limits', either too contentious or part of the 'bigger conflict' to engage.

Thus, applauded by their peers, presenters like Snow and Paxman can be seen to conduct a 'critical' interview without ever getting to the critical heart of the issues.

When did we ever hear any of them ask a Washington elite whether, in the face of gross Israeli war crimes, the US will now consider stopping the $3.5 billion it gives annually to Israel? Or, in contrast with the demonisation of Iran, when have such presenters ever put the direct case for international sanctions against Israel?

Regev can be 'challenged', sometimes insistently. But the studio joust we see is a deeply-curtailed version of any real critical interview.

Still, the impression is good enough for a public constantly reminded about our 'free and fearless' media. Thus, with another 'strong performance' notched-up, the 'prestigious' value of the liberal media and its 'incisive' journalists are reaffirmed.

The second, shorter, point to note here is that any kind of tough questioning and vilification will, more routinely, be reserved for those deemed external enemies of the West. We know the main 'culprits' by now - headed by A-listers like Chavez, Ahmadinejad and anyone connected to Hamas/Hezbollah etc. The list will also include celebrity domestic 'troublesomes' like Galloway. This discriminatory treatment should be pretty obvious to any serious observer of media output.

Thirdly, and most significantly, where 'our' elites are interviewed, the questions and discussion points will rarely, if ever, include 'disrespectful' allegations of high crimes and complicty to murder.

Thus, people like Tony Blair enjoy effective immunity from serious media scrutiny.

A notable example of this standard liberal selectivity was the passive treatment shown by the Independent's Donald Macintyre to Tony Blair over his interpretations of the Gaza blockade, Hamas, private investment into Gaza and Israeli 'security'.

As the ML Editors note in their responsive Alert to Macintyre's piece:
"Blair, [Macintyre] told us, "stressed more than once that the world needed to understand Israel's deep-seated security concerns and the fact that [Israeli soldier] Gilad Shalit, who has been held for almost four years by Gaza militants, was a 'huge issue' for the Israeli public. Mr Blair again called for Sgt Shalit's release."

Blair's sympathy for Israel's security concerns was clear, and dutifully reflected in Macintyre's piece:

"Mr Blair said the captivity of Sgt Shalit and the fact that 'Hamas as an entity is hostile' would be a 'very difficult situation for any country'."
The Editors' conclusions on Macintyre's performance:
"The whole tone of the Independent interview was uncritical and respectful; a bland and meek summation of the sincere and well-intentioned thoughts of a man with the blood of untold numbers of victims on his hands: men, women and children in Iraq, Afghanistan, the former Yugoslavia and, indeed, in Palestine itself."
In their first effort to elicit a response, the ML editors wrote to Macintyre:
"It is not clear to what extent you performed the journalist's role of holding power to account; if at all. For example, you note:

"'Gilad Shalit, who has been held for almost four years by Gaza militants, was a "huge issue" for the Israeli public. Mr Blair again called for Sgt Shalit's release.'

"The day before the capture of Shalit on the front lines of the Israeli forces attacking Gaza, Israeli soldiers entered Gaza City and kidnapped two civilians, the Muamar brothers, taking them to Israel (in violation of the Geneva Conventions), where they disappeared into Israel's prison population. Are you aware of these facts? Did you put them to Mr Blair? The kidnapping of two civilians is a far more serious crime than the capture of Shalit. But the media, including you and your paper, have given it far less attention. Why is that?

"And what about the [thousands of] Palestinians held without charge in Israeli prisons, often for long periods? Why no mention of them in your interview with a major politician who shares some responsibility for this?

"All of this is 'a "huge issue" for the Palestinian public'; indeed, for most of the world.

"You also ignored the consistent and massive military, financial and diplomatic support given to Israel during its increasing strangulation of Gaza - the US, the UK and its allies are deeply complicit in this terrible crime. But it elicits no comment from you here.

"Why is that?"
Now, contrast Macintyre's deference to Blair with his dismissive, belated reply to ML's rational, polite enquiry:
"Actually, your email is so full of misleading assumptions about journalism in general and mine in particular, that it is quite hard to know where to start. But since in common with Media Lens policy I assume you intend to publish my response and since I am extremely busy you will have to wait. Because you are right; I am not incapable of replying to your points, though no doubt not to your satisfaction."
The 'questioning' of Blair by Macintyre comes with an assumed reverence for someone deemed beyond 'impolite' interrogation. Despite his well-documented crimes, Blair is now enjoying the role of roving global statesman, and, whatever his 'offences' - usually transcribed as 'mistakes' by the liberal media - there seems a consensual understanding within that media that he should receive nothing more uncomfortable than a simple request for his opinions.

In their critique and request for a response, ML offer a series of highly salient questions, all of strong public interest, that Macintyre could have put to Blair. Macintyre's curt and evasive reaction indicates not only his unwillingness to speak critically to power, but his own intellectual insecurities as a journalist.

This raises two related possibilities: that Macintyre realises he's on very shaky ground in seeking to defend his presentation; and that he fears the dent to his 'professional' status in having his reputation as a 'hard-hitting' journalist exposed.

Rather than engage in rational exchange over the points, the response is, thus, one of contemptuous dismissal.

As with the past reactions of other liberal media figures - including Jon Snow - it's a default position which also fears giving serious credence to alternative outlets like Media Lens.

Yet, it's that very internet-driven community, now chipping seriously away at the Guardian/Indy/BBC/Ch 4 News cartel, which is so threatening to a liberal media in thrall to power.

Sites like Media Lens are now not just an alternative medium for news and information, challenging power directly, but also an 'observational window' through which journalists can - and, as we increasingly know, do - (re)evaluate their peers' and, hopefully, their own, shortcomings.

As with the recent Media Lens exposure of Lyse Doucet and her gushing interview-based report on General McChrystal, the highlighting of Macintyre's dutiful regurgitation of Blair's - and Israel's - white-washed words, may be serving to educate other journalists on the poverty and subservience behind such reportage, thus raising the bar of real, radical journalism.

It's the lens - or Lens - through which the more serious and reflective can view the cosy world of elite interviews and, in honest realisation, think about their own appointed places and roles within that power-placating system.

Though dismissed and derided by reporters, editors and proprietors, a nascent alternative media is, as they already fear, now subverting the liberal mainstream by encouraging a truly questioning and independent - rather than Independent - journalism.

Some will, of course, citing Robert Fisk, argue that it's possible to be an independent Independent journalist. Yet, it's worth bearing in mind not only Fisk's past defence of his paper and misgivings about radical internet media, but, more structurally, the very obvious dearth of Fisk-like writers within his own field.

So, while Fisk is still saying more damning things than Macintyre et al about Blair, Israel and other such villains, he's still helping to sustain the very media that's so protective of power.

Meanwhile, Macintyre's expedient reticence in refusing any debate with Media Lens strongly suggests that he, more likely, values his status as an Independent journalist - with all the expected compliance and accommodations to power that entails.


Friday, 16 July 2010

Urban's latest tour of duty

Another seriously unbalanced report from Newsnight's Mark Urban, using his penchant for militaristic diagrams and obvious empathies for British forces, to portray the UK's role in Afghanistan as principally benign.

Gavin Esler introduces the piece:
"Mohammed suffers horrific injuries and ends up losing all his limbs. As we mourn the British dead and try to repair those damaged and embattled, do we also have a responsibility to care for allied troops?"
We then have Urban's film report on the 2nd Battalion Yorkshire Regiment's mission in Sangin. Provided with small cameras by the BBC - an interesting extension to its embed practices - British soldiers, accompanied by allied Afghan army forces, are asked to film an operation targeting a significant Taliban position.

Urban sets-out the BBC's accepted context of this and other such operations:

"It's typical of dozens established to try and bring security to Sangin's district centre."

The word "security", of course, is used, here and elsewhere, as safely 'neutral' BBC coda, thus avoiding any analysis of Britain's true, dark involvement in such wars.

He continues in similar, selective mode:

"What happened that day is worth dissecting in some detail, because it tells us a lot about the course of the Afghan war in one of it's darkest corners."

Deconstructed, Urban is telling the public what he and the BBC thinks it should hear and see, again, all from the same 'security-purpose' perspective.

Urban proceeds with an extensive examination of the operation, interviewing the soldiers involved. In the course of the film, we see an IED explode, with Mohammed, the Afghan soldier, severely wounded. He's taken to Camp Bastion and, thereafter, Kabul for medical treatment by Afghan doctors.

Mohammed expresses his thanks to the British soldiers, reaffirming his desire to fight for his country. Hopeful speculation from the soldiers involved follows as to whether Mohammed might be treated in the UK.

Although a poignant moment, in which we rightly feel compassion for Mohammed, there's no comment from Urban on Britain's and the West's ultimate culpability for his suffering.

Instead, his concluding comments leave no room for doubt as to the purpose and difficulty of Britain's presence in the country:

"The fate of that mission shows just how hard it is to succeed in Afghanistan. The soldiers showed extraordinary bravery and professionalism in recovering all of those casualties."

And, for good measure, a last reminder of the main obstacles to that 'success':

"This incident was exceptional because of Mohammed's survival, but IEDs are planted by the thousands, wounding or killing people every day. That is the grisly reality of conflict in Afghanistan."

Or the selective part of the "grisly reality" we're encouraged to focus on.

It's remarkable to think that Urban's piece can be defended by the BBC as balanced reporting.

The counter-argument, no doubt, will be that the BBC have, elsewhere, showed other facets of the war, including the killing of Afghan civilians by NATO forces.

But neither these token offerings nor the genuine concern showed by the soldiers in the film for Mohammed's fate tell us anything about the colonial, aggressive nature of the UK's presence in Afghanistan. With its emphasis on military minutiae and standard acceptance of Britain's stated military objectives, the core issue of the UK's own brutal involvement is a constant omission in all of Urban's output.

This Newsnight feature is, essentially, liberal propaganda posing as compassionate concern. The following studio panel discussion to Urban's film went on to consider what might be done for Mohammed. There's even the concerned suggestion from Gavin Esler that Mohammed might just be discarded as a forgotten victim if and when the troops pull out. Which all seems a worthy exploration and statement of concern. But, the true point, purpose and effect of such reporting and discussion is to humanise Britain's illicit involvement in what remains an illegally-enforced and unwinnable war.

Urban's careful dissection of the operation and its fallout puts the viewer right behind the BBC's distorted camera, concentrated on the selectively-solicited impressions and words of the participating British soldiers. Almost naturally, we're 'with them', absorbed by their job, getting a fascinating glimpse into their 'mission objectives' and the UK's 'primary task' - the 'bringing of security', as Urban, without any balancing caveat, is so keen to tell us.

In stark violation of the BBC's own guidelines on balanced comment and neutrality, Urban's film makes not the slightest posture towards even-handed journalism, with no semblance of a counter-balancing argument as to why UK forces are in Afghanistan and whether enlisted Afghans are being cynically used to fight the West's illegally-initiated war.


Wednesday, 14 July 2010

Israel's joystick killers

Jonathan Cook's latest article, Remote-Controlled Killing, provides a chilling insight into the surveillance and murder of Palestinians, notably in siege-enforced Gaza, by joystick-wielding Israeli soldiers, most of them, even more disturbingly, young females.

It also offers a nightmarish glimpse into the future and wider application of high-tech weaponry.

Spot and Shoot - or Sentry Tech, to give it it's full title - the Guardium armoured robot-car and Heron TP drones are among the growing number of remote-controlled weapons systems being advanced by Israeli arms companies, with Gaza, in particular, being used as an experimental laboratory to test their effectiveness.

As Cook notes:
"Spot and Shoot, as it is called by the Israeli military, may look like a video game but the figures on the screen are real people -- Palestinians in Gaza -- who can be killed with the press of a button on the joystick.

The female soldiers, located far away in an operations room, are responsible for aiming and firing remote-controlled machine-guns mounted on watch-towers every few hundred metres along an electronic fence that surrounds Gaza.

The system is one of the latest “remote killing” devices developed by Israel’s Rafael armaments company, the former weapons research division of the Israeli army and now a separate governmental firm.

According to Giora Katz, Rafael’s vice-president, remote-controlled military hardware such as Spot and Shoot is the face of the future. He expects that within a decade at least a third of the machines used by the Israeli army to control land, air and sea will be unmanned."

Beyond Cook's valiant and informative piece, how much serious information on Israel's robotic-killing technology are we getting from our 'on-the-ground' media?

From the developers of Spot and Shoot, Israel's Rafael company, to Israel's wider weapons suppliers, such as Raytheon and EDO, most 'defence' correspondents have little or nothing to say about such weaponry and its place within Israel's conflict-dependent economy.

All weapons, of course, are made to kill and maim. But there seems an added depravity to this kind of technology in its application to Gaza as a concentration camp-type control and murder system.


Tuesday, 13 July 2010

Blair, market reality and the media - keeping a little sanity

There are days when one's mental faculties feel like a boat lost in the fog. I usually put it down to the standard combination of stresses, sleep loss and the distinct possibility that maybe I'm just a bit thick. I often get told by my loving ones that “you may have academic bits of paper and all that stuff, but you've no common sense.” Or other kindly words to that effect.

It's all taken in good spirit. In fact, I quite like that indulgent feeling of being blankly amiss, quietly out of synch with the 'real' world. Sometimes I even have the contented feeling that it's a pretty common-sensical, well-adjusted place to be. But, hey, who am I to judge me.

Anyway – circumventing all the philosophical tennis that comes with this question - what's actually 'real'?

Often, it's pretty difficult to see the obvious, the woods for the trees, that big elephant in the room. The gas of propaganda has a pretty effective density. And when we do manage to peer through the ideological forest or catch sight of the big trunk in the corner, how really sure are we that others, many others, can see what we're seeing?

Which, again, may prompt cautionary reflection on one's own 'certain' perceptions. Even if I was 'utterly sure' I'd chatted with those fairies behind the cherry tree or had martian day visitors land on my back lawn, would I risk inviting ready ridicule, the added assault on my already suspect perspicacity, by declaring such?

Fair enough. So, when do we feel self-assured enough to say that the obvious is obvious, or, at least, that it should be obvious to those 'obviously' in the know? When should the cry of “the emperor has no clothes” be boldly stated in the hope, even the expectation, that those around the emperor, or ex-emperor, will jump-up out of their soporific complacency and say, “you know, you're right, why haven't we seen this all along?”

Part of the reason they won't, of course, is to do with things like closure, power, secrecy, protection of their own, subconscious denial, that kind of standard thing the establishment do so routinely well.

And yet, sometimes a truth is so glaringly, indisputably evident that maybe even the chum-club might just have to consider sacrificing the ex/emperor.

Might we be coming to that point with Tony Blair?

Media-friendly criminologists are being solicited just now for their 'expert' profiles of gunmen on the run. Thus:

"Scots-born criminologist David Wilson, of Birmingham University, who is also a former prison governor, believes Moat was a “narcissist, concerned with his image ... and quite paranoid... He’s quite caught up in his own sense of self and the way he wants to editorialise what has happened. He wanted to present himself as the victim and avoid taking responsibility for the victims he has created.”"

Impressive stuff. It's always comforting to have such ready 'authority' on what's actually criminal. Yet, might the same profile, these very same words, be applied to our ex-PM? The possibility seems quite unthinkable.

Mr Blair floats around the globe as though the invasion and murder of Iraq never took place. Well, he's a respected financial adviser, peace envoy and humanitarian award collector, don't you know?

Dutifully, most of his political peers and the almost entire panoply of what we readily 'see' as a 'free and enquiring media' accept and indulge this 'truth', treating him and his fellow offenders as though Iraq was all just a bad dream.

The late, great Harold Pinter had much the same thought about US/Western crimes:

"It never happened. Nothing ever happened. Even while it was happening it wasn't happening."

And even though Blair's wicked doings did happen, there are still ways of making it seem that they didn't. From cosy chat show appearances like Parkinson to Mark Urban's recent coy interview with Blair in the West Bank, nothing remotely contentious is raised about his role in the genocide of Iraq, no mention is made of his suitability for office, no murmur is raised about his disturbed state of mind.

It's all part of the quiet, polite denial of Blair's culpability, the avoidance of that awkward reality, permitting such people to maintain their place in, or re-enter, 'normal' society.

It reminds me of the Dallas (soap) script-writers who figured out how they could 'return' the star-cast 'Bobby' from the grave. They simply had him walk out of the shower, with his beloved 'Pammy' waking sleepily to announce that his death had all been a bad nightmare. Some of the public were a little furious, but they just got on with the 'new reality'.

It would be stretching it a little to devise a similar plot twist for Blair emerging from the shower pleading for a UN resolution, with the legally-learned Cherie waking to the comforting realisation that it was just Bush's doings all along. But, who knows?

And there's still the latest smoking gun evidence to consider, namely the words of then Attorney General Lord Goldsmith in a note to Tony Blair (30 January 2003), now so inconveniently in the public domain:

"I remain of the view that the correct legal interpretation of resolution of 1441 is that it does not authorise the use of military force without a further determination by the Security Council"

That authorisation, as we know, never came. The war was, therefore, illegal. Blair and his spinners can't re-write the script. What to do?

The media can't just magic-away the AG's words. So, instead, they demote their significance. The BBC give the cold facts. But there's no mention of the million-plus lives that have been lost as a consequence of these facts. What should have been a breaking news revelation, prompting extended coverage and demands for Blair's arraignment, was simply mentioned and forgotten.

Such news gets treated as some kind of passing aside to an already past issue. It's not, to the media's mind, particularly outstanding, not key, and, crucially, it doesn't involve any of 'our' official enemies.

Millions of us figured out the truth of Blair's criminal subterfuge even before Shock and Awe - and well before the drip-drip revelations of the war's illegality "took the shine off Shock and Awe", as Newsnight's Kirsty Wark so 'impartially' put it.

Showing Blair's criminality, and the media bias that's helped him and his gang evade the dock - the clues are in the above kind of BBC one-liners - isn't that difficult. The difficulty is in getting others to accept the 'insane' proposition that a respectable media has, somehow, gone along with the gigantic lie of Blair's moral propriety and innocence.

It's all in the (unstated) job description, of course. Thus, as the latest Media Lens Alert illustrates, the BBC's daily working denials, obfuscations and refusal to countenance public objections to their loaded output goes on and on like an eternal cycle of Kafkaesque deceit.

Readers' letters are ignored or passed-off with template-style dismissals. The diary of BBC News Director, Helen Boaden, so her secretary regrets, is apparently too "chocka" for replies to a few thoughtful questions from the ML Editors.

It's the system, you see, that must remain beyond questioning. (That sentence also works without the commas.) Which is why editors, journalists and others with a vested career interest in that system tend to keep shtoom about its leanings to power and its complicit tendencies in supporting illegal wars.

Which also helps explain why others, like plain old us, choose to keep quiet about such media complicity, too afraid of being branded pests, recalcitrants and unhinged individuals.

Yet, contra Ms Boaden, if seeing is believing, don't we have, as sane and moral individuals, the dutiful right to challenge such obvious warmongering insanity and the media bias which helps sustain it?

Market reality

Beyond my non-common-sensical whimsy, here's a few other things that I've pretty-safely figured out - again, despite multiple media portrayals to the contrary.

The current spending cuts are a criminal front for the greatest rip-off in modern economic history. Indeed, despite almost every presenter around echoing their inevitable requirement, there's no obvious need for any cuts.

The banking elite, aided and abetted by the political class, have raided the public purse in an audacious act of grand theft that we're encouraged by the media to call 'necessary bailouts'.

And now, assisted by Cameron, Clegg and 'Uncle' Vince Cable, ordinary people are paying the price of that heist and subsequent corporate welfarism with their own jobs and livelihoods, none more ruthlessly than within the banking sector itself.

Take this fearful woman's snapshot of life inside RBS:

"Jane says she knows who is paying the price for the financial crisis: she is.
The thirty-something mother is earning in the low teens, and says she is trying to keep her job processing ­mortgages. But it is getting harder every day.
I get up in the morning crying and go to bed crying,” she says. “You go in to work and you hope you won’t tear up. But somebody does, nearly every day.”
Jane – she doesn’t want to give her real name – is talking about her office, the home-loans base in Greenock of the Royal Bank of Scotland (RBS). The building is open-plan. “When 
someone cracks up, we all see it,” she explains. “You’ll hear the sobbing and see her pals huddle around her.
Sometimes you’ll come across somebody all red-eyed in the coffee lounge. I’ve seen managers like that.”
Their problem? Fear, says Jane. “We are all scared. We are all afraid of getting paid off. Maybe because of the way the building is, the fear just seems to move across the room. But they are disciplining us for everything, including clerical errors and timekeeping.”
Jane doesn’t know if she will hold on. “I’ve been doing this for a long time and I know how to do it. But I feel set up to fail. For the last six months or so there has been a big white board that shows what each of us must do.
We get deadlines for everything – like 15 minutes to write a letter, even if somebody calls you up in the middle of the job. I have seen experienced underwriters snap under the pressure, working through their lunch-breaks and staying in late to keep up.”"

The perversity of it all. Bailed-out bankers now imposing savage job losses, austere slashings and brutal working pressures on their own employees. Along with the surge in banks' home repossessions, it's another illustration of the utterly vicious hand of capitalism.

So, here's something else I've come to view as beyond reasonable doubt: the system of capitalism itself should be regarded as certifiably insane.

Capitalism creates sickness. Most often, it's not the person who is disturbed, it's the system that's disturbed the emotional well-being of person. Contrary to what the market defenders and a slavish media will tell you, corporate-driven life can be exceptionally bad for your health - physical, mental, spiritual.

Not work, in itself. Not labour. Not the ingenuity and beauty behind physical and mental endeavour. But the anguish, illness and neurosis that zero-sum, competitive market demands inflict on human beings - people denied their right to an existence that doesn't depend on profit for the few and struggle for the many.

That seems such an elementary truth that we must, again, wonder how we ever managed to fall for the Goliath-sized fiction that corporate life is the one and only benign option available.

Yet, as Pilger usefully reminds us, it's the corporate leviathan itself which revels in the insane lust for war and violence:

"The psychopathic is applauded across popular, corporate culture, from the TV death watch of a man choosing a firing squad over lethal injection to the Oscar winning Hurt Locker and a new acclaimed war documentary Restrepo."

Which leads me to this one last confident assertion: anyone who refuses to subscribe to the 'normality' of corporate life is quite safely of sane and sound mind - and, common-sense deficit apart, I feel reasonably safe in declaring my own inclusion in that company.

When in doubt, it's always useful to consult Erich Fromm and his diagnosis of capitalism:

"More than fifty years after Erich Fromm's The Sane Society was first published, it remains an important work, surprisingly contemporary in scope, with particular relevance to scholars working in social theory and media studies. Fromm's primary emphasis is on evaluating the sanity of contemporary western societies, which he suggests often deny its citizens' basic human needs of productive activity, self-actualisation, freedom, and love. He suggests that the mental health of a society cannot be assessed in an abstract manner but must focus on specific economic, social, and political factors at play in any given society and should consider whether these factors contribute to insanity or are conducive to mental stability. Ultimately The Sane Society provides a radical critique of democratic capitalism that goes below surface symptoms to get to the root causes of alienation and to suggest ways to transform contemporary societies to further the productive activities of its citizens. Fromm envisions the refashioning of democratic capitalist societies based on the tenants of communitarian socialism, which stresses the organisation of work and social relations between its citizens rather than on issues of ownership."

Blair, the bankers, our corporate elite: these are the truly criminal who walk confidently, boldly, with impunity, amongst us, taking refuge in our psychopathic system, all the while covered, feted and protected by a self-serving media that keeps us thinking we may be the unbalanced ones for trying to pronounce the obvious and seek sane alternatives to the madness of warfare and market 'reality'.

Capitalists, warmongers and their propagandists: unlike Fromm's text, still crazy after all these years.


Monday, 12 July 2010

Israel: the economics of oppression

Here's a very illuminating interview with economist Shir Hever, from the Alternative Information Centre, on Israel's political economy and the ways in which concentrations of wealth amongst its major capitalist class continue to serve the Zionist agenda.

Israel is not just an occupying force inflicting daily misery and death on the Palestinians. It's also one of the most unequal societies on earth, reserving disproportionate sums for military expenditure and excusing its wealthiest few from serious taxation while curtailing social safety nets for the rest.

As Hever reports, just 18 families control 60% of Israel's wealth.

All this is of relative significance, of course, to the much greater spectre of Palestinian deprivation.

But it's a measure of the blanket indoctrination pervading Israeli society that such social injustice goes largely unchallenged, as radical alternatives to the dominant economic order are almost completely supplanted by the 'higher imperatives' of Zionism.

As Hever asserts, Zionism is not just cultural and ideological, it's also economic, with much of Israel's capitalist structure built around the occupation, 'homeland security' and other R&D-driven forms of high-tech militarism.

Besides land-grab capitalist appropriation, Zionism also serves another vital class purpose in keeping even the poorest Israelis antagonistic towards occupied and poverty-stricken Palestinians.

It's the political economy of civil fear and illegal expansion, in effect, all helping to maintain hegemonic control and that vital popular consent for continued oppression.


Saturday, 10 July 2010

Chomsky on Hamas, Obama and Blair

Dispelling any doubts about US/EU/Israeli efforts to subvert Palestinian unity and foment a Fatah-led coup against Hamas, following its free and fair election victory in 2006, here's the ever-dependable Noam Chomsky reminding his BBC interviewer of the facts we never get from the mainstream media.

Mark Urban and his fellow BBC journalists, please take note:

Chomsky on BBC Radio 5