Saturday, 29 March 2014

Welfare betrayal and Labouring under false hopes

In a despicable act of conformity, all but 22 Westminster MPs have voted for George Osborne's benefits cap bill.

Only 13 Labour rebel MPs joined the Scottish National Party, Plaid Cymru and the Green Party's Caroline Lucas in opposing it:

Diane Abbott
Ronnie Campbell
Katy Clark
Michael Connarty
Jeremy Corbyn
Kelvin Hopkins
Glenda Jackson
John McDonnell
George Mudie
Linda Riordan
Dennis Skinner
Tom Watson
Mike Wood

Scotland's Labour MPs voted overwhelmingly for the legislation.

Here (courtesy of Bella Caledonia) are their names:

Margaret Curran – Glasgow East
Tom Greatrex – Rutherglen and Hamilton West
Ian Murray – Edinburgh South
Willie Bain – Glasgow North East
Gordon Banks – Ochil and South Perthshire
Tom Clarke – Coatbridge, Chryston and Bellshill
Dame Anne Begg – Aberdeen South
Alistair Darling – Edinburgh South West
Ian Davidson – Glasgow South West
Thomas Docherty – Dunfermline and west Fife
Frank Doran – Aberdeen North
Gemma Doyle – West Dunbartonshire
Sheila Gilmore – Edinburgh East
David Hamilton – Midlothian
Tom Harris – Glasgow South
Jimmy Hood – Lanark and Hamilton East
Cathy Jamieson – Kilmarnock and Loudon
Mark Lazarowicz – Edinburgh North and Leith
Gregg McClymont – Cumbernauld, Kilsyth and Kirkintilloch East
Anne McGuire – Stirling
Anne McKechin – Glasgow North
Iain McKenzie – Greeenock and Inverclyde
Grahame Morris – Livingston
Jim Murphy – East Renfrewshire
Pamela Nash – Airdrie and Shotts
Sandra Osborne – Ayr, Carrick and Cumnock
John Robertson – Glasgow North West
Frank Roy – Motherwell and Wishaw
Lindsay Roy – Glenrothes
Anas Sarwar – Glasgow Central

Only Katy Clark - North Ayrshire and Arran, and Michael Connarty - Linlithgow and East Falkirk - voted against. (Others among 41 Scottish Labour MPs abstained or didn't vote.)

As warned by Save the Children, the ConDem benefits cap bill will now plunge another 345,000 children across the UK into deep poverty.

In a long, shameful history of political collaboration and class betrayal, such abandonment of just social welfare should now confirm for many Labour voters the true intentions of any potential Miliband government.

For Iain Macwhirter:
Labour is now on record as accepting the logic of an indefinite limit on welfare, something no party has ever proposed before because it locks in unfairness and penalises those least able to look after themselves.
Some might say that Labour's approval of Osborne's bill reflects 'the public mood' for a cap on benefits. While partly true, as Macwhirter accepts, even in more left-leaning Scotland, such impressions have been largely framed by Labour itself, which:
through its actions in Westminster yesterday, legitimised the Conservative welfare agenda. The party that created the welfare state has lost the ability to defend its fundamental principles.
Consider also how much of that shrill message has been hyped by a Daily Mail-type denigration of benefit recipients.

Macwhirter, thus, asks:
If Labour can't defend benefits, who can? Welfare is not devolved to Scotland and there is no obvious way in which the Scottish Government can mitigate the impact of these reforms. No doubt Scottish Labour leader Johann Lamont will continue to claim the cuts are, in some mysterious way, the fault of the Scottish Government and Alex Salmond in person. But that is going to be a very hard argument to sustain after yesterday's vote.
So, as the great Tony Benn is laid to rest, is there any remaining prospect of a Labour socialist alternative, something akin to the forces and hopes that formed the 1945 welfare state?

No, thinks Ken Loach, who is now in no doubt of Labour's true colours:
Labour's rhetoric may be softer than the Tories', but its fundamental stance is limited by the same imperative: profit comes before all else. Can the Labour party be reclaimed? Or, rather, made anew into one that will represent the interests of the people?

History suggests it cannot. The high-water mark of 1945 is long gone. The many great achievements of that government have largely been dismantled, either with the collusion of Labour or directly by the party when it has been in power. The Labour left has all but disappeared, and even Tony Benn's voice is now sadly silent. A Miliband government will not reverse any of the privatisations in the health service or elsewhere. It will not take the railways back into public ownership – despite the popularity of such a move – or even reclaim Royal Mail.
For Loach, Labour's only motivating force is complicit neoliberalism:
The coalition parties proclaim the importance of the market economy. So does Labour. The coalition cuts back on public enterprise and prioritises the interests of big corporations and private companies. So did the last Labour government. Whenever workers organise to defend jobs, wages or conditions, who supports them? Not Ed Miliband or other Labour leaders. An open letter to Miliband from Labourite "intellectuals" published in the Guardian this week is as peripheral is it is self-important.
Convinced of Labour's decayed state, Loach is now championing a new true socialist party, Left Unity. We should support and wish it well.

Loach has also declared his support for an independent Scotland, as a promising opportunity for people to release themselves from the enduring stranglehold of Tory rule, protect the welfare state and help build those same socialist alternatives.

Both movements should be seen as mutually supporting, driven by the same aims, serving to build a new radical politics beyond the mythology of Labour deliverance.

Progressive Labour supporters in Scotland should surely now see that UK Labour is unredeemable, and that the only possibility of realising a radically reformulated Labour party in Scotland, at least, lies within the political opportunities of independence.

If there's one thing the establishment fear more than a Yes outcome it's the actual demonstration that big power can actually be taken on, it's multiple coercions resisted and its privileged interests rejected by ordinary citizens. A Yes result would open up promising new scenarios for radical politics not only in Scotland but, in encouragement of a vibrant post-Labour left, all across the UK. 

Friday, 21 March 2014

David Cameron's 'benign' part in the 'Middle East peace process' - exchange with the BBC

How much propaganda can be packed into one seemingly innocuous BBC news comment?

Here's a little insight.

Letter to BBC Complaints
13 March 2014

On tonight's 6 O'Clock News newsreader Sophie Raworth ended her piece on David Cameron's visit to Israel and the West Bank with the following statement:
'Mr Cameron is keen to rekindle the Middle East peace process.'

1. What is the BBC's precise evidence for this claim?

2. Shouldn't this comment more precisely read: 'Mr Cameron says/claims he is keen to rekindle the Middle East peace process'?

3. Why does the BBC so readily accept that there is an actual 'peace process' to 'rekindle'?

4. Have the BBC breached their guidelines on 'impartiality' by speaking for Mr Cameron?

5. Have the BBC breached their guidelines on 'balance' by failing to provide a counter-view to that expressed by the BBC/Mr Cameron?

I look forward to your considered responses.

John Hilley

20 March 2014
Dear Mr Hilley

Reference CAS-2613542-K9VGDM

Thanks for contacting us regarding BBC News at Six broadcast on 13 March 2014.

I understand you believe it was inaccurate to report that David Cameron was keen to rekindle a peace process as you believe the report featured no evidence of this, that it should’ve stated what David Cameron said and makes the assumption that there’s a peace process to rekindle.

Having reviewed the programme, it featured a report on his visit to the Middle East and in saying he was keen to rekindle the Middle East peace process, this was due to his engagement with some of the leaders there to try and move a peace process forward. It reported on his talks with the Palestinian president and that he met with former Prime Minister Tony Blair.

This is a very brief report however and didn’t go into wider details due to time constraints. That said, I appreciate that you may continue to feel it was inaccurate and acted as a spokesperson for David Cameron in saying he was keen to rekindle the Middle East peace process.

With your concerns in mind, I'd like to assure you that I've registered your complaint on our Audience Log. This is a daily report of audience feedback that’s made available to all BBC staff, including members of the BBC Executive board, channel controllers and other senior managers.

The Audience Logs are seen as important documents that can help shape decisions on future BBC programmes and content.

Once again, thank you for contacting us.

Kind Regards

Philip Young
BBC Complaints


21 March 2014
Dear Philip Young
Thanks for your letter.
After many years seeking to highlight the multiple distortions and biases presented as 'impartial information' by the BBC, I never cease to marvel at the level of crass evasion and patronising dismissal that can still count as a 'considered response' to a specifically-worded complaint.
You say:
'Having reviewed the programme, it featured a report on his visit to the Middle East and in saying he was keen to rekindle the Middle East peace process, this was due to his engagement with some of the leaders there to try and move a peace process forward.'
I'm at a loss to see what explanation this is meant to convey, other than a tautological reiteration of the claim already made in the BBC report that "Mr Cameron is keen to rekindle the Middle East peace process."

Nor should it matter that the report was 'brief' or subject to 'time constraints'. How many fractions of a second does it take to include the word "says" or "claims" in the above quote?    

It can be reasonably argued that there is no honest, viable 'Middle East peace process' to speak of, given that Israel has no intentions of engaging seriously, and that the US/UK, as key allies of Israel, cannot be considered neutral facilitators of such a 'process'.  

Two propositions follow from this: Mr Cameron can't 'rekindle' something that doesn't effectively exist; and he shows no serious signs of doing anything to promote a real peace process.

Bear in mind too that Cameron had just addressed the Israeli parliament, pledging his primary support for Israel and its enduring 'security'. And despite his visit to the West Bank (note, not Gaza), all his urgings for a 'two state solution' are based on preserving Israel rather than liberating Palestine. 

If Cameron was really intent on achieving a just and realisable settlement he would be advocating punitive sanctions on Israel in the way Britain threatens other countries like Iran and Russia. No such action has ever been remotely considered by the UK, even when Israel was mass bombing Gaza with white phosphorus in 2008/9.   

Now, these are my own, if widely shared, views, which I'm at liberty to express. 

The BBC, in contrast, isn't supposed to hold or express any particular view. Yet it can be clearly recognised from Sophie Raworth's comments, and the report at large, that the BBC is expressing an explicitly partial view in assuming the supposed thoughts and motivations of Mr Cameron. That's a clear violation of the BBC's own guidelines on impartiality.

Also, rather than permit counter-comment on Cameron's deep complicity in supporting Israel, thus serving to prolong the Occupation, viewers were given only the assumed views of the government, and could have been left with no impression other than that of 'benign' UK engagement. That, again, is a clear violation of the BBC's guidelines on providing balanced viewpoints.        

I am now asking for a considered response to EACH of the five questions cited in my original complaint, with the intention of taking this matter to BBC Trust level for a satisfactory response.

Kind regards
John Hilley  


Notwithstanding the tortuous procedure that prides itself the 'BBC Complaints process', I will keep readers updated on the 'progress' of this enquiry.  


Friday, 14 March 2014

RIP the great socialist and humanitarian Tony Benn

I read with deep sadness today the news of Tony Benn's passing.

He was a hugely inspirational figure, a man of immense political morality, humanity and compassion who, till his dying day, fought for ordinary people, resisted establishment incorporation and campaigned tirelessy against imperialist wars.

In a memorable act of humanitarian defiance, Benn appeared on the BBC and read out the address for a DEC Gaza Appeal, after the BBC had refused to broadcast it.

As he bravely stated: "People will die because of the BBC decision."

Much more can be said about his admirable actions, from defending Palestinians to rejecting the sham of New Labour.

One of his most admirable traits was never to engage in cheap politics, always focusing on the issues rather than crude personalisation. 

In a world where people are understandably cynical about the 'political process', some say that his style of radical politics was of another time.

But the kind of compassionate politics Tony Benn championed lives enduringly on, secured, in very large part, by his spirited concern always to put people before profits, peace before warmongering, honesty before spin.
In one of his last, moving interviews, he reaffirmed that, from the pursuit of a just politics to the pursuit of inner happiness, you should 'always say what you mean, and mean what you say'.

RIP Tony Benn



Mark Steel
Tony Benn: He was defiantly, stroppily, youthfully socialist to the very end

Jonathan Cook
Tony Benn: How he defied the BBC on Israel

George Galloway
Tony Benn Eulogy

Tuesday, 11 March 2014

Social justice or City profits - radical Yes or corporate No?

Another day, another threatening statement of 'corporate concern' over the potential 'instability' of an independent Scotland.

As dutifully headlined by an 'impartial' BBC:
The chief executive of the oil company Shell has said he would like Scotland to "remain part of the UK". Addressing the company's annual reception in London on Wednesday, Ben van Beurden said he valued the "continuity and stability" of the UK. 
I'll bet he does. When it comes to corporate self-interest, exploitation of resources, and outright suppression of human rights, you can be sure of Shell.

From the pillage of Nigeria and murderous repression of its Ogoni people, to the attempted billion dollar appropriation of the Arctic, Shell has shown a formidable capacity for exploitation posing as exploration.

Van Beurden, 'ethical' CEO, would have us believe that Shell merely want assurances over currency and monetary issues. What they really want is continued political licence to plunder. Hence this and other such 'non-political' interventions.
We hear much about 'worrying insecurity for the energy sector', and threats of corporate disengagement. What are Shell going to do if there's a Yes vote? Vacate the North Sea?

The greatest unexplored depth here, media and political, is the issue of climate change. While the corporate-political theft of oil revenues is an historic scandal, it doesn't supersede the massive calamity of even more carbon in the atmosphere - and the denial beast behind it. And while that's part of a much larger issue of global containment, it will not absolve any independent Scotland from its primary environmental duty.    

Yet, if, as seems obvious, oil is to be pumped, why not allocate such revenues for the social good, preferably as a Venezuelan-style nationalisation, or, at least, a Norwegian-type oil fund, to feed, house, educate and care for people, rather than stuff the accounts of corporate tyrants like Shell?

Beyond the 'worries' of Tory-minded outfits like Standard life - as amplified by BBC correspondent Robert Peston - and Alliance Trust lie the real, joint concerns of a Westminster establishment and high corporate forces, notably the privileged banks and Big Oil: profit and continuing political protection of it.
Yet concerns about corporate power, a business-first agenda and media prioritisation of such are almost nowhere to be seen.

This is part of a generally loaded reportage on independence, as revealed in academic John Robertson's findings of BBC bias. In one telling example he notes:
- On 26/4/13, in Reporting Scotland, a generally negative assessment of the future of insurance companies after independence finished with the Labour spokesperson’s assertion of ‘billions in costs’ and ‘potential closures’.
From the BBC to STV, the Daily Mail to the Scotsman, it's a daily-repeated diet of corporate insinuation, threat and blackmail.

For Iain Macwhirter at the Sunday Herald, this all amount to a "coalition of the City of London, the political classes and a UK-dominated media laying down the law." Thus:
The Scottish front pages have been reduced to a proforma. They just fill in the dots. Alliance warns of risks, Standard Life warns of risks...Lloyds...BP...Shell...Sainsbury's.
As Macwhirter asks:
Who are these people to make these threats? Who elected all these financiers and captains of industry? Bob Dudley, the boss of BP who earned $8.7 million last year, heads a firm that isn't even British any more. Since when did we allow banks to make our political choices for us? The degree of direct political involvement by big business in this referendum campaign is unprecedented and deeply disturbing. It is reminiscent of Latin America in the bad old days, of US dirty tricks and Yankee colonialism.
Alongside "these daily hectorings about the irresponsibility of independence from the finance houses", whose "unrestraind greed" has caused so much economic and social havoc, Macwhirter castigates "Owen Jones, BBC Question Time's favourite tame lefty", for failing to recognise the radical impetus behind the demand for independence or his willingness to welcome "an alternative political space opening up in which it is possible to challenge the neoliberal consensus."
There's no such timidity from noted leftist figures like Tariq Ali. As Jones departs the Independent for his new 'radical' sinecure at the Guardian, Ali  comes to Scotland this week to help make the case for real, radical independence:
He will tell his Scottish audiences that a vote for independence would "enable the rediscovery of hope of a better future, provide a much greater say for people over what their country looks like, and would finish off the decrepit, corrupt, tribal Labourist stranglehold on some parts of Scotland forever". [...]Ali is not much exercised by suggestions by businesses that would leave Scotland after a yes vote. "Large corporations are trying to frighten people,'' he said.
Again, all with complicit media help. 

Why the privileged headlines for the views of big business? What about the views of deprived people, actual voters? As this recent tweet put it:
Instead of @ScotlandTonight constantly asking big business and the rich what they think about#indyref, why not pop along to Easterhouse?
The latest £12 billion round of ConDem tax and benefits measures are set to cast another 100,000 children in Scotland into poverty. Is that not simply criminal? Deepening austerity and despair for the already poor, ongoing protection and bonuses for the already rich. And where's the much larger media outcry? Why is this not a predominant issue? A large part of the answer lies in the first of these two words: corporate media.
It's not just the problem of being run politically from Westminster by a cabal of neoliberal parties. It's the much bigger problem of being run by the City of London and a financial system which sets the very terms of those neoliberal policies.
That affects everyone, whether you live in Glasgow or Gloucester, Easterhouse or Essex. Poverty knows no boundaries, and any resistance to the poverty-makers will all need to be directed against that same privileged City and the greed credo by which it lives.
The question is, faced with such a depth of corporate-political power, what productive tactics can be deployed to challenge it?   
Beyond any imaginary hope of a leftist breakthrough under a stitched-up electoral system, the independence vote, as Tariq Ali asserts, offers some viable opportunity for breaking the matrix of Westminster rule, big-business parties and an imperialist, warmongering Union, while opening up, at least, some serious prospect of a post-neoliberal landscape. That can only benefit all progressive forces, within and beyond Scotland.

This decision isn't about the SNP, or Alex Salmond - all part of the same scare agenda - even if some of that governing hierarchy still have to be faced-down over its neoliberal accommodations, Nato approvals and eco credentials.  

It's primarily about saying Yes to radical empowerment and No to corporate hegemony.  

Wednesday, 5 March 2014

Duty media: framing the options on Russia and Ukraine

Current events in Ukraine offer yet another prime example of a Western service media jumping to dutiful attention.

While the BBC and other main media have been engaged in a brazenly one-sided view of the conflict, offering little, in particular, on the far-right and reactionary nature of the opposition, coverage of Russian military intervention has seen some of the worst examples of shrill, hysterical and slavish reiteration.    

A perfect example can be heard on yesterday's BBC Radio2 Jeremy Vine Show, with Paddy O'Connell standing in for Vine.

It's a classic package of BBC bias by headline selection, blatant omission, loaded language, guest selection and setting of discussion points.

O'Connell led the report with this introduction:
Now, it's been called the most serious crisis of the 21st century, a brazen act of aggression in violation of international law. Russian troops have moved into Crimea confronting the Ukranian armed forces. Given the fact that half the world seems now to be condemning what President Putin is doing, what exactly are we going to do to force Russia out of Ukraine again? 
Note, firstly, the non-attribution over who actually called this 'the most serious crisis of the 21st century'. It was, in fact, William Hague, but there seemed no apparent need to mention this. It was just assumed by the BBC as a generalised truth. A case of British state media automatically repeating the opinion of British state power.  

There's no mention either here of Iraq or Afghanistan as candidates for the 'century's most serious crisis'. Following Hague's line, it seems these crises have been ignored or 'timed-out', even as the daily crisis for Iraqis and Afghans goes relentlessly on. For many war apologists, like the BBC, these aggressions, it appears, are now just so 'early century'.

Consider, next, when the BBC ever used the words 'a brazen act of aggression in violation of international law' to describe any US/UK/Nato invasion or proxy intervention. Additionally, have we ever heard that phrasing used to describe Israel's multiple criminal actions of occupation, or its bombing of Syria?

Then there's 'the fact that half the world seems now to be condemning what President Putin is doing'. Where's the evidence for that 'fact', or how it 'seems' to the BBC, or even how a 'fact' can 'seem' to be the case?

And, of course, there's the key question: what are 'we', that assumed entirety of 'the free West', to do, using 'our' presumed right of force, to shift Russia out of Ukraine 'again' - one assumes 'again' to mean' after 'we' liberated it previously from the Soviet Union. 

A short synopsis of 'the crisis' follows, with various soundbites and some mild satire on the 'calamity' of leaked briefing papers suggesting the UK's reluctance to engage in punitive trade sanctions.

This sets up O'Connell's posing of four main options for how 'we' might act - smart sanctions, wider sanctions, war, or do nothing - to his two studio guests, ex-Falklands Admiral Lord West and Bill Browder, a hedge fund trader with Heritage Capital Management, whose lawyer had died in a Russian jail.

This, we're expected to believe, is a basis for 'balanced' discussion and consideration of 'our' 'legitimate' responses.

Browder proceeded to denounce Putin as a "maniac" and a "cannibal" who shouldn't be allowed to "dine at the fine tables" of the US and Europe. He approved the heaviest sanctions and ultimate move to war. Objecting that Putin is not a maniac, just darkly calculating, the more cautious Admiral dismissed the war option, approved some sanctions and urged diplomatic engagement.

While the latter understood the dangerous realpolitik of provoking Russia, neither figure had anything to say about Nato's own aggressive pushing on Ukraine's border, the EU's associate role in that exercise, or the West's more general hypocrisy in condemning Russian intervention.  

And nor did O'Connell. A few token comments from listeners were noted on the West having little moral right to judge Russia, but the key message of 'good versus bad' interventionism had been dutifully conveyed.

Cautious Obama, scary Putin  

The same framing of 'greatest century crisis', 'Putin the villain' and tortured reflection on what 'we' can/must do is evident all across what passes for a 'critical-independent' media.  
Thus could an Independent editorial lament that:
 Obama’s cautious style has left US foreign policy lagging events. On Ukraine, he must take the lead.
It goes obsequiously on: 
For Barack Obama, the de facto Russian annexation of the Crimea – not to mention the risk of further such encroachment into Ukrainian territory – is by far the greatest foreign policy challenge of his presidency. It is a test of both his own and his country’s credibility, in what increasingly seems a last act of the Cold War, the confrontation that dominated the second half of the 20th century. First and foremost, Mr Obama must reverse perceptions. His cautious and cerebral style in many respects is to be admired. His judgement is sound.
And with this shameless ingratiation, a plaintive warning that failure to act will only allow other suspect states to indulge in wider mischief: 
Not just Vladimir Putin in the Kremlin, but other potential rivals like China, have surely gained the sense that this White House will not react as forcefully as others in the past, and that they can act with relative impunity.
So, what must be done? Beyond the token nod that "Russia has legitimate and unique interests in Ukraine", this:
does not mean it can simply annex chunks of the country as it sees fit. Mr Obama must articulate, loudly and clearly, a plan of action in the likely event that Moscow does not reverse course. Direct military intervention by the West is unthinkable, as Mr Putin knows. But there are other means of ensuring that Russia pays a price. The expulsion of Russia from the G8 (an organisation it should never have been permitted to join in the first place) should merely be a start. Stiff sanctions against Russian individuals and institutions should also be introduced by Washington and its allies.
So, a clean sheet for a 'peace-holding' West and its noble institutions, 'sensible liberal restraint' in taking on that much bigger foe, stiff headmasterly punishments instead, and, to round it all off, a stirring call to our reticent commander-in-chief: 
Most important of all however, Mr Obama must take charge – with a forcefulness and a conviction that of late have often been absent.
Similar Obama-approving sentiment with a more open inference to the war option was tweeted by regular Guardian columnist and blogger Sunny Hundal:
We should welcome that President Obama isn't rushing into war and confrontation with Putin. But no option should be left off the table 
And, while excusing Obama's own warmongering, here's Hundal with another variation on the 'dark Putin' psychology:
Partly feel Putin wants everyone to think he's lost his mind. People get scared of unpredictable opponents.
Thankfully, amid all this grovel and hype came some welcome perspective from Jonathan Steele, lamenting the "hysterical reaction to Russian military movements".

For Steele:
Nato should refrain from interfering in Ukraine by word or deed. The fact that it insists on getting engaged reveals the elephant in the room: underlying the crisis in Crimea and Russia's fierce resistance to potential changes is Nato's undisguised ambition to continue two decades of expansion into what used to be called "post-Soviet space", led by Bill Clinton and taken up by successive administrations in Washington. At the back of Pentagon minds, no doubt, is the dream that a US navy will one day replace the Russian Black Sea fleet in the Crimean ports of Sevastopol and Balaclava.
Alex Thomson provided another worthy counter to the hysteria, distortion and bias - a welcome independent view which, alas, not for the first time, seemed confined to his Channel 4 News blog.

A further admirable piece from Peter Hitchens at the Mail, of all places, offered real historical and political background to the situation, while dismissing shrill claims of Russian ‘paranoia’:
What continues to strike me about this whole row is the inability of most people to view Russia as a country, or Russians as people. Russia is portrayed as a bogeyman, and its people as either oppressed or as tools of a new Hitler.
All of which reveals the mass conformity of 'our' supposedly independent and critical media.

The assumed Russian 'threat' to 'civilized Western order' also prompted a bombastic Spectator piece from Nick Cohen, smearing Noam Chomsky over his and the anti-war movement's 'lack of solidarity' with Ukraine.

As ever, Cohen and his interventionist peers could never countenance the principle that opposing lofty Western intervention is the most valuable and proactive form of solidarity. 

In further bouts of unleashed enmity, 'our' media 'finest' have used the 'century's greatest crisis' to expose Russia's media 'subservience'.  

Thus, could the BBC's chief political correspondent Nick Robinson preeningly tweet:
This is Russia Today/Putin view of Ukraine - troops greeted with flowers, kisses & selfies @RT_com
Reminded in one response: "and then we have the #bbc propaganda #samedifference", Robinson countered, with seeming incredulity: 
You really think that there is no difference between Russia Today propaganda & BBC?! Wonder how many Russians would agree?
What, indeed, might observant Russians, with long memories of Pravda output, really make of Robinson's slavish quips and indignant denial of BBC propaganda, or of Paddy O'Connell's indulgence of 'our retaliatory options', or John Simpson's facile 'analysis' of Putin's 'contrived style' and 'the difficult challenges for the West', or even the BBC's flagship Newsnight with its safe-hand presenters and 'prestige interviews' with people like John McCain and John Bolton?
Last night's edition (4 March) saw a studio guest list of Nancy Soderberg, former US ambassador to the UN, Malcom Rifkind, Foreign Secretary, and Dmitry Linnik from Voice of Russia discuss the same framing issue of 'the West's available options'.
The following segment had presenter Kirsty Wark ask right-wing commentator Anne Applebaum and Timothy Snyder of Yale University what they thought about the possibilities of sanctions, Russia's expulsion from the G8 and other such 'problems' for Europe and the wider West. Again, the guest choice and framing of discussion precluded any serious assessment of Nato's own militarist part in the conflict and its ongoing agenda.   
Wark preceded the piece with a brief re-showing of how RT presenter Abby Martin had ended her show with an open denunciation of both Russia's military intervention and all such aggressions. Martin had also lamented the dire overall media coverage of the conflict.
Evasively, Wark framed Martin's statement as implied evidence of 'even a once-dependable Russian media now undermining Putin', with no thought offered on how state media like the BBC itself might compare as a source of free and independent comment. Like the West's own aggressions, another awkward issue neatly circumvented. 
The real question is could Wark, Robinson or any of their craven colleagues ever have the courage or independent mind to do on the BBC what Martin did on RT?
Whatever lies behind Abby Martin's words, and much of the liberal media's ready denunciation of her, there's no seeming chance of the BBC ever reflecting on its own journalistic output or propaganda function.

Monday, 3 March 2014

The illogicality of 'welfare abuse' within an abusive system


Iain Duncan Smith:
one face of an abusive system
Discussions about welfare and benefits will often have someone pronounce the familiar line: "Yes, but what about those who abuse the system?"

The 'logic' behind this question may range from liberal angst to indignant rant, from the protests of the 'heavy burdened tax-payer' to the angry denunciation of 'miscreant benefit cheats'. 

Rarely in political, media or reflected common usage does one find 'abuse' used to signify the deeply abusive nature of the system.

How conditioned we are to the message that not only is such 'abuse' taking place, but that the system is only subject to abuse.

Yet, consider how, under the pretext of 'welfare reform', zealous exponents of the system have crafted the most abusive and vindictive policies ever inflicted on the poor and sick.

In the latest instance of system-serving callousness, a leaked report suggests that the DWP plan to charge sanctioned claimants for the cost of their appeals.

As noted at the Guardian, this proposal comes as an apparent effort to quell the number of appeals being raised due to the staggering rise in people being sanctioned:
Earlier this week figures showed that in the past year nearly 900,000 people have had their benefits stopped, the highest figure for any 12-month period since jobseeker's allowance was introduced in 1996. In recent months, however, 58% of those who wanted to overturn DWP sanction decisions in independent tribunals have been successful. Before 2010, the success rate of appeals was 20% or less. One welfare legal adviser said the number of appeals being lodged at independent tribunals would be decimated if the government introduced a charge.
As with the bedroom tax, only already system-abused minds could have contrived such an idea.

This is the system at its most abusive towards the poorest and most vulnerable, part of a wicked larceny to pay for mass banker bailouts and protection of the rich; a system that, whatever party is in office, forces poverty and desperation upon those with the least in order to protect those with the most.

The term 'austerity policy' is often used to describe this process. But it too is ideologically loaded and misleading, denoting a measure of hardship 'beyond the norm'; that which, whether defended as a 'necessary measure' or 'unnecessary extreme', still fixates on 'abuse of the system' rather than an actual system of abuse. In truth, the entire system is built on abusive austerity.

The commonly-used 'welfare reform' fits well here as another false and constrained term, whether in its ConDem distortion or its liberal call for less harshness in the system.  

This is where Guardian-type reformism fails as a counter discourse, as in Polly Toynbee's castigating of Iain Duncan Smith and urging Ed Miliband not to endorse George Osborne's austerity and cuts. 

While Toynbee rightly condemns the "perversity in this brutal system" of benefit assessments and sanctions, it's still but a micro-liberal view of the human effects rather than radical recognition of a more structurally abusive system, and the vital role of all neoliberal-driven parties, Labour crucially included, in sustaining it.     

A well-meaning Toynbee may be displaying admirable compassion. Yet, such plaintive appeals to corporate-serving leaders like Miliband to deliver a 'fairer deal for the poor' only reinforce the flawed notion of 'meaningful change' under this 'politically-abused-but-still-decent' system.

Other liberal minds make similar valid distinctions on abuse of the system, notably the token amounts of benefit fraud compared to mass tax fraud.

It's a fair and potent point. But even this is a false rationalisation, just another way of saying that there's still that 'problematic abuse' of the system, thereby acknowledging its basic 'neutrality' and legitimacy.

Similar system-upholding can be seen in parliamentary committee 'grilling' of top corporate tax evaders, a posturing theatre which is vital in promoting the 'bad apples' line, and feeding the myth that the system is inherently good if, alas, subject to serious 'corporate abuse'.

Never will you hear such 'public servants' suggest that corporate power and a subservient political class is collectively and systematically abusive in itself.

So, while people struggle for basic necessities, and exist on meagre benefits, a liberal commentariat can only appeal for an easing of the pain rather than radically indict the abusive system that inflicts it, thus effectively shielding the core cause of such human detritus and a landscape of despair. 

While a system-serving media laud the vast profits of corporate grocers, people go hungry. Where's the headline discussion of a system which permits that kind of abuse?  

Recently, one of Scotland's biggest food banks was forced to close its doors after soaring demand from needy recipients saw its shelves run completely empty.

Following church leaders' denunciation of government policies, a vicar is going on hunger strike in solidarity with Britain's poor.

Food aid from the European Union has been blocked by a ConDem government, claiming this is 'interference' with its welfare policies.

For those surviving on the street and in doss houses, it's a grim existence of fear, violence and Dickensian squalor.

And, of course, the number of fragile souls driven to their deaths by a brutal government 'medical assessment' process continues to grow at an alarming rate.

With this level of organised cruelty, what kind of ideology persuades us that people are wilfully abusing the system rather than the system wantonly abusing people?

Answer: an ideology that depends on fear, suspicion and greed. 

One that urges us to deny or limit our compassion.

One that, as seen in Benefits Street, fosters ugly prejudice and pushes us to turn on struggling people like benefit claimants and immigrants.

One that has a vested interest in sustaining a top elite's enormous wealth and privilege through the fiction that, 'individual rogues' apart, the system proper is still there to facilitate all of our 'fair and competitive' aspirations.

Crucial to this is a corporate media which might 'alert' us to a certain 'corporate abuse' of the system, but never the more damning truth of the corporate system as serially abusive.

We read much about criminal and predatory abuse of people, yet rarely consider the way in which capitalism as a system is constituted, directed and managed as a criminal, predatory and abusive enterprise.

That's a pretty effective kind of hegemony; one that can still get us to believe that such a system is essentially benign and shouldn't be abused.

Which returns us to that illogical question, "Yes, but what about those who abuse the system?"

The logical answer: you can't abuse something that's already pathologically abusive.