Thursday, 31 December 2015

Farewell to the Media Lens message board

Time has been called, alas, at the Media Lens message board. Postings will end on 4 January 2016.

The page will be sadly missed by contributors and visitors alike. Over the last 14 years, the board's valiant editors have hosted a dynamic and fast-flowing space for comment, links and discussion. I've been around the site since 2004, and, like others, have gained enormously from it as a source of news, information and opinion. It's been a deeply educational and inspiring place. Amid daily threads exposing our corporate and service media, it's been an immediate go-to resource, with vibrant engagement on every notable issue, conflict and event, from the invasion of Iraq to the bombings of Gaza, from the crisis of climate change to the rise of alternative media.

Lately, the editors have felt unable to cope with the volume, intensity and liability of board correspondence as they endeavour to write their hallmark Alert articles and manage ML's other major online output. Their concern and decision to close the board, in these regards, is understandable.

Along with many other contributors, I'd like to thank them for their great dedication, patience and humour in running the board, and wish them well in their efforts to strengthen the ML project. I hope people will continue to follow ML's vital output at the main ML page, via Twitter and Facebook - problematic, yet still valuable forms of media outreach - and through ML's many fine books. The editors have intimated that they may maintain an abbreviated board for their own messages, comments and links. I particularly hope so, given the important familiarity of the site for so many visitors.

Most of the board's regular and long-time contributors have now taken 'residence' at (the temporary-titled) Lifeboat News. I wish them and arriving others well in their/our founding efforts to develop a similar ML-minded community, offering stimulating information and respectful discussion.

Best wishes and a Happy New Year to all.

Tuesday, 29 December 2015

Donald Trump, just the mad haircut of deeper fascist America

So, Donald Trump is now fully revealed by liberal critics as a fascistic crazy. All to the good. But, besides relating an elementary truth, does this denunciation of Trump also suggest something more troubling about the blindness and evasions of such critics with regard to deeper fascistic power in America? 

Laurie Penny provides a vivid witness account of Trump's ugly rallying:
Trump has already promised to build a wall to keep out Mexican immigrants, who he says are “rapists”, and to force all Muslims to register to prove that they are not terrorists; he gleefully mocks black people, women and, most of all, the mainstream press that hangs on his every outrageous statement.  His followers love him not in spite of his cartoonish fat-cat persona but because of it. His platform is nationalist, militaristic and soaked in the language of big business. The usually cautious American liberal media has called him a fascist. I’m here to see if they are right.
Then, as Penny records, comes that infamous declaration:
“Donald J Trump is calling for a total and complete shutdown of Muslims entering the United States.” Thunderous applause.
For Penny, Trump:
may or may not believe the xenophobic race-baiting he peddles, but his audiences certainly do. This campaign is giving hundreds of thousands of Americans permission to be nakedly racist and unabashedly xenophobic. It’s not about truth. It’s about power.
So, take good note, she concludes, it's:
too late for laughter. Trump is selling fascism with a cartoon face. It’s the only type of fascism that was ever going to sell in America.
And, sell it does, certainly to a core populist right and worryingly wider audience. But does such deconstruction of Trump also help sell, by default, other easy notions of our 'more respectable' leaders, and the 'benign liberal democracy' Trump seems to be 'subverting'?    

Perversely, Trump is the best thing around right now for crusading liberals and, more particularly, crusading liberal interventionists. It gives them great moral cover. 'Look', they can all shake their heads, 'see what a nasty, racist xenophobe he is. Let's all denounce him', while the liberal missionary West gets on with bombing Syria, Iraq, Afghanistan, Libya and all those other troublesome Muslim lands they're busy delivering democracy to (liberal coda for invading). So, while Trump wants to ban Muslims, Obama, Cameron, Hollande and their apologists are content to bomb them. While a hypothetical curtailing of Muslims gets roundly denounced, actual killing of Muslim people gets soundly approved.

Of course, in this latest case, most Muslims and others are to be 'dutifully protected', as it's 'only' the bombing of Islamic State that's been approved. And, not just quietly approved, but cheered ecstatically by all those sturdy Tories and Labour 'rebels'. Never mind the need for basic solemnity in approving a war that will see so many more Syrians and others killed. Wasn't it so telling of our 'noble parliament' that the cry to bomb human beings could be made so gleefully? And reported in the same way. Alas, spoiling it all, with his usual lack of deference, Jeremy Corbyn had the temerity to denounce the cheering of Hilary Benn's forth-to-war speech as "jingoism".  

While a lofty liberal media rail against Trump's fascistic spiel, Benn has been venerated for equating the fight against fascist Franco with the liberal crusade against Islamic State. What was more preposterous: Trump's fascist rhetoric to advance his own narcissistic campaign, or Benn's spurious invocation of the left's anti-fascism to help sell another fascistic war in the Middle East?     

Stop the War's highlighting of such hypocrisy and Benn's fabrications could have been hailed by our media. Instead, note Media Lens, it was wilfully used to denounce them, all as a pretext for more smearing of Corbyn.

Should it actually require having to say that Donald Trump is a racist, a bigot, a corporate megalomaniac, a fascist? Sure, Trump's a crazy in all these regards - though quite an intelligent one, if measured by the capacity for calculated PR. But is he more crazy than those engaged in the actual mass murdering of Muslims? Is he more crazy than those behind the US plan - divulged by ex-General Wesley Clark - to pick-off a top list of Muslim lands? Is he as crazy as those now still actively pursuing that agenda through more bombing and destabilisation?   

How did we ever get to such a state of crazy selectivity where rhetorical racism is deemed much worse than wilful, racist killing? Yes, let's be alert to what Trump might do in office. But let's see, more immediately, the carnage caused by those already in-office suits, Obama, Cameron and Hollande.      

There could be a case for banning certain Muslims, like the Saudi elite, as they fly into US, UK and French arms fairs in search of weapons to carry out mass murder in Yemen. But there's been little media scrutiny of these ugly appeasements, and how their economy of death imperils even more Muslim lives. 

Without even having to mention Trump, Chris Hedges relates how "the creeping villainy of American politics" at large has now ravaged US civil society through the infection of hate speech and vilification of Muslims.  

In truth, people like Trump are able to say what they do because they feed from that state of political villainy. And with that political protection comes corporate-cultural approval. Trump has also got away with so much for so long because of his celebrity-corporate status and media-led fascination with star billionaires. Thus, the acceptable personalisation of corporate monsters. Piers Morgan, for example, still counts Trump as a friend, an honourable man, and seems perplexed by his latest racist outpourings. Of course, this says much more about Morgan himself who, as a notable media liberal, has nothing to say about the more dangerous truths behind US Inc. 

Thus strides the corporate behemoth, giving seemingly safe cover to other 'prudent associations', many now awkwardly undone after Trump's outing. Note, for instance, Alex Salmond, who openly courted Trump in the name of 'economic development', leaving a lot of displaced people and ruined land in the lamentable process. A little lesson learned, hopefully, about dark company regrettably kept.

Not so, when it comes to the 'liberal media's burden'. While America has Trump, we have his kindred spirit, Boris Johnson. Here's a man who does already hold significant political office, and, incredibly, may become prime minister. While keeping safe political distance from Trump, this is another mad-haired populist who speaks reverentially of 'our higher right' to kill, in this case crowing about Britain's "martial spirit" in having invaded 176 of the world's nearly 200 countries. Johnson's Etonian bombast may make him sound, to some, like the "rogueish swordsman" of the Flashman novels. In fact, he's peddling a neo-fascistic doctrine of imperialist exceptionalism, the exclusive right to invade and murder. Yet, unlike the response to Trump, Johnson's misty-eyed reflections on Britain's mass violence around the world seems to endear him even more to our liberal quisling media.

As Trump's own campaign claims become evermore shrill, how convenient to hold him up as a demonic stink to 'Western civilization', allowing rising approval of the 'politically fragrant' Hillary Clinton. And here we come to the real beneficiary of Trump's crass soundings, all played-up by a Hillary-adoring media.

Here's what Clinton tweeted in response to Trump's 'ban all Muslims' call:
This is reprehensible, prejudiced and divisive. @RealDonaldTrump, you don't get it. This makes us less safe. -H
A brazen piece of self-denial, when one considers Clinton's own wilful promotion of conflict, division and negation of human safety around the globe.

Recall her support for invading Iraq and extending troop numbers in Afghanistan. Remember her cackling "We came, we saw, he died" hysterics over Gaddafi. Recall her taking care to 'stand by her man', as husband Bill carried out a sanctions policy that saw half a million deaths in pre-invasion Iraq. Think of her support for fascist coup forces in Ukraine.  Reflect on her relentless defending of Israel's brutal occupation and mass killings in Gaza, and her steadfast support for Israel against Iran. And don't forget her urgings to arm the 'moderate' jihadists in Syria in pursuit of regime change. By a clear distance, Clinton's insatiable militarism and promotion of corporate warmongering is much more of a threat to Muslims than any of Trump's wild invective.

Many left-leaning observers are issuing emergency warnings about Trump, and America's dark slide into fascism, without apparently even seeing the extent of Clinton's own militarist-fascistic politics. A seemingly well-intentioned piece by Mike Small at (the often illuminating) Bella Caledonia is a good case in point:
Clinton’s challenge is to present herself as a future-facing candidate rather than a figure from the past. She will be, possibly even more than Sanders, a lightning rod for the right-wing media and Fox culture of America’s shock-jocks and online frenzy. Whoever wins the nomination it will be the most politically-charged and divergent race in decades. The stakes couldn’t be higher. With the world in a state of heightened tension, with multiple points of conflict, Putin at the helm in Russia and crucial climate commitments being brokered, the prospects of Trump gaining power in America are terrifying.
Here, we're being asked to consider Clinton's problem - the "challenge" of new presentation and dealing with Fox-jocks, rather than the problem with Clinton. As Putin, the standard liberal bogeyman, looms large in this troubled scenario, we can, at least, rest easier knowing that:
If the unthinkable happens, and [Trump] becomes the Republican candidate he will at last be under the glare of some proper media scrutiny. Head to head with any of the Democratic candidates he will be taken apart.
 And which part of that "proper media" will be there to scrutinise Clinton, or dare to take apart the sham process of those taking Trump apart?  

All those foretelling the terror of Trump should be ringing much louder alarm bells over the coming calamity of Clinton.

As writer Roqayah Chamseddine more concisely notes, Clinton has used Trump's racist eruptions as an opportunistic veil, a capacity for duplicitous positioning seen in her past lauding of George W Bush's 'reassuring' words after 9/11, when he declared:
“America counts millions of Muslims amongst our citizens" [and then] went on to torture and extrajudicially execute Muslims and deprive countless Muslims of their civil liberties.
The same dark calculus continues with Clinton, an arch warmonger with a past record which those emoting fear over Trump rarely address:  
Anti-Muslim animus goes far beyond ornamented stenographers to power obsessing over the statements of Donald Trump. It is systematic, and often cloaked in the language of humanitarian hyper-militarism and even inclusion. Despite Hillary Clinton’s sentimental rhetoric, her policies and political affiliations are concrete and show that she has never been a friend to Muslims, nor will her administration be one.
So, Clinton or Trump, who is the real political psychopath, the more fascistic figure? It's a mark of the liberal media's service propaganda that very little of this deeper issue about fascist America will feature in the next 'great presidential race'. Many more millions of dollars will be spent before we know which faction of the US corporate elite has managed to buy the election. Whichever it is, we can be sure that the same shared business and political interests will prevail. 

Yet, wasn't it always so about the US? Noting Mussolini's dictum that "fascism should rightly be called corporatism as it is a merge of state and corporate power", the late, great American historian Howard Zinn said that, while there are shades of democratic engagement in the United States:
We've had a union of the governing and corporate power ever since the formation of this country. There's an element of fascism in that. 
More recently, the ever-acute John Pilger wrote of "America's modern fascism": 
Since 1945, more than a third of the membership of the United Nations - 69 countries - have suffered some or all of the following at the hands of America's modern fascism. They have been invaded, their governments overthrown, their popular movements suppressed, their elections subverted, their people bombed and their economies stripped of all protection, their societies subjected to a crippling siege known as "sanctions". The British historian Mark Curtis estimates the death toll in the millions. In every case, a big lie was deployed.
For Pilger:
Uniting fascism old and new is the cult of superiority. "I believe in American exceptionalism with every fibre of my being," said Obama, evoking declarations of national fetishism from the 1930s. As the historian Alfred W. McCoy has pointed out, it was the Hitler devotee, Carl Schmitt, who said, "The sovereign is he who decides the exception." This sums up Americanism, the world's dominant ideology. That it remains unrecognised as a predatory ideology is the achievement of an equally unrecognised brainwashing. Insidious, undeclared, presented wittily as enlightenment on the march, its conceit insinuates western culture.
In railing against Trump, rather than exposing these deeper fascistic forces, media liberals are playing a key part in that twisted conceit.

Monday, 28 December 2015

Loki on 'Utopia Scotland', problematic, but still a valued rant

A recent article at Bella Caledonia, Scotland: the Utopia That Never Was, by the writer/rapper Loki, has caused quite a reaction, much of it hostile. And with some justification. Yet, unlike so much mainstream media assault, this wasn't just more of the #SNPbad meme, or parading of that other facile 'One Party State' cliché.  

Loki appears, with earnest intent, to be addressing a certain 'conceited' SNP/Yes element: 
Yes, you, the morally certain, reactionary branch of the dead Yes campaign.  An obtrusive minority of unconsidered opinion that unconsciously exploits every political moment – even the ones where people die – in the singular pursuit of re-animating a corpse for one last blind lunge toward freedom. If Scotland is a cheap haircut you are its puritanical fringe. You intend to vote SNP twice next year because you love democracy.  You call the First Minister Nicola.  You think Braveheart is a documentary.  You have The National delivered directly to your ego and you live in a world where the next referendum is always around the corner – should the right crisis occur. What a paragon of virtue you are.  Except there is one thing you haven’t considered fully that I want to draw your hysterical attention to: the independent Scotland you dream of is actually no more moral, or just, than the Union.
While the Bella editors rightly defend Loki's piece as usefully provocative, there's a lot of over-caustic language and tendentious claims here about a supposedly sclerotic Yes movement, and what he sees as a high-minded indy mindset. It's over-generalised in many places, with some specious charges, notably the suggestion that the indy cause is still seen through a 'Braveheart' lens. Perhaps it still is by some. But that sits very marginally against the much wider maturing of a sophisticated Yes electorate. Some of Loki's raw claims here looks as insular as the 'Nicola' mindset he seeks to call out.

But while some commenters have taken rightful umbrage, Loki's article still has significant polemical merit in helping keep a check on 'comfort independence', most notably the idea that the SNP, for all its vital purpose, can be relied upon to pursue any kind of radical agenda. 
Of course, a vibrant left within the party's ranks have also been pushing hard over key issues like Nato, climate evasion, fracking, TTIP and a neoliberal/banker class EU. That's good. But who would deny there's some very big progressive ground still to be won? Even as the latest 'power transfer' unfolds, why aren't the SNP using existing powers much more assertively, for example over land reform, particularly given its mass popular mandate? 

Loki is, similarly, unsparing in his view of 'branch Scotland':
Ladies and gentlemen, I give you Scotland: The Slightly Less English British Franchise. The Franchise where elites a little closer to home enjoy the perks of cronyism and privilege.  The Franchise where we remain plugged into the neo-liberal apparatus we, ourselves, identify as the root of the inequality all the masochistic Unionists apparently love. The Franchise where corporation tax is lower than it is in London.  The Franchise where you can still go to jail for possessing cannabis, but hey, didn’t we show those English twats who is boss? The Franchise where we still operate on the same moral playing field as the union we so denounce – politically, economically and militarily insulated by NATO and the EU – while believing ourselves to be morally superior.
Again, beyond some questionable assertions (is Scotland really more regressive than the rest of the UK on things like corporation tax and drug laws?), and the 'our moral superiority' overload, there's a number of uncomfortable truths here, if what we really seek is a radical form of independence, free, in particular, from NATO and failed state militarism.
Loki also slates readers of The National newspaper as 'paragons of virtue', which looks like a kind of inverse virtue egotism, even if it's a legitimate articulation of his own class experience, as outlined in the piece. Yet, as one Bella editor, Kevin Williamson, usefully asks in a reply comment, where might we actually go to find left criticism of The National? For all its vital worth in pushing the indy cause and giving a voice to the Yes left, it's still corporate-run media, with all the structural boundaries that entails.

This should be prompting deeper questions about the need for more radical media platforms. And, for all Bella's own valued part in such, and valid defence of Loki's piece, that includes open discussion of some of its own, at times, 'Guardian-lite tone' and questionable liberal pitches, as in the space it gave to a recent 'Truth about Syria' article.
Another 'more tempered' version of the Loki indictment can be found here. Again, all good, constructive argument, making the case for not having all our indy eggs in the one basket. It's important to be having that kind of stripped-down examination in this pre-indyref2 period. 

Loki's piece is most welcome in all these regards. As a left Yesser, who sees the movement, rather than parties, as the primary force for independence, it's good to have Loki's and other 'awkward' voices around. 

Friday, 11 December 2015

Passing of Ian Bell

Very sad news.

A fine and principled writer, capturing so much political truth, articulating so much radical hope.

As a small tribute, here's part of Ian Bell's powerful and poignant blog article, 31 December 2014, lamenting that year's lost opportunity, yet asserting the coming day of independence:

The Old Year Ends. Part One.
As the year expired, an elderly lady materialised on TV sets across the land. In deference to centuries of invented constitutional theory, Her Majesty did not purr. Instead, she gave us a little talk. Her theme was reconciliation.

This was odd, even by the traditional standards of the royal house. It displayed a strange ignorance. It seemed to insist that Scotland in 2014 had endured terrible scenes of estrangement, anger and upset. HM Queen, like the rest of the British establishment, seemed to need to believe that Scotland had gone to war with itself over a vote.

An egg got broken: that, as best as I could tell, was the casualty figure. Everyone who was anyone got death threats. In the slapstick of social media, tempers and spelling sustained some damage. But that was it. Two million said they'd rather be British; 1.6 million said they'd rather not; and no one had to call the cops.

So what was Mrs Windsor on about, exactly, at Christmas? With whom – for grammar survived – did our 1.6 million require reconciliation? An historian yet unborn will one day say 18 September 2014 was the day Britain died. It was the day when close to 45% of the lieges told the nice old lady that, all things considered, they had their eyes on another kind of future. 

But they did not riot. They did not, most of the time, fare badly with friends, family, or colleagues. Though too polite to say so, HM was another who was still determined to believe things about the desire for self-determination that are simply – very simply – untrue.

In 2014, people who really ought to know better called me a Nazi. Some of the old-school followers of the flag promised me an execution “come the day”. The nicer opponents just wished me a long spell of unemployment. Permutations on various uses for eggs and half bricks were plentiful. Back in the real world, people went about their business, and made their choices.

The Queen missed that part. Scotland made its choice in 2014 with enormous dignity, in enormous numbers, and with great panache. The kids turned out; the grandparents turned out; folk who'd never vote for any of the usual local deadbeats turned out. Reconciliation was neither desired nor required. The community of Scotland voted. And even those who voted No – especially those who voted No – made a point about their country. It lives.

Tragically, you will not find any of that in my forthcoming campaign diary, Memoirs of a Government Stooge. This was a good year for Scotland, but a bad year for most versions of my trade. I used to avoid the “parcel o' rogues” cliché. As it transpires, the gold is still plentiful, like the stooges, but passable prose is hard to come by. The stooges should be ashamed, but are not. There's time enough, though, for fun with them in the years ahead.

That point was missed this year, by winners and losers alike. The most important day for me was the day after. I did my share of consoling. A lost vote is scant recompense to those who were not around in 79. But you have to remember reality on behalf of those who are less dim than a monarch. We got a vote on independence? We got almost 45%? So why do you think our opponents were so very agitated on that morning after, and on every morning since? They fear something.

Self-determination is a glacial thing in this country of ours. In 1979, we were robbed of an “assembly” with no legislative powers worth a damn. In 2014, we declined Alex Salmond's prospectus of HM Queen, Nato, and a currency left in the sweaty mitts of George Osborne. We chose to regard those facts as details while we determined a future. But anyone who thought all matters were settled in the early hours of 19 September failed to attend to facts.

What do you do, exactly, with 1.6 million churlish folk? You could demand that they just “get over it” and go back to voting for their local Jimmy or Jim. Sitting in the back room of a London tower block, you could write a long lecture on “anti-politics”, then explain to the provincials that a vote for self-determination is just another protest against a “status quo”. There are lots of ways to miss the point. The status quo ante covers most.

In 2014, Scotland decided that things could not go on as before. Those who wished to keep their powers, and their jobs, and – no small detail – their bonuses from head office, took fright. David Cameron, a Prime Minister, made stentorian speeches to describe his love for the churlish sorts. Her Majesty's head of government feared that his heart would be left in bleeding pieces if the churls got too churlish. But that didn't work.

The other one, the Conservative given charge of the Queen's Treasury, decided that scaring the Jockos would work better. I'd say only this: if George Gideon Osborne puts that effort on his CV, the Tory Party is in bother. Still, a few soft nationalists toughened up. A few Scots asked themselves about the actual negotiable worth of the currency the Chancellor meant to reserve – with half a dozen constitutional howlers – as his personal gift. A majority didn't care for that behaviour. They really didn't care for it.

In 2014, there was a historic event that had nothing to do with a plebiscite. This part is complicated. A great many Scots – possibly as many as 1.6 million – don't know, to this day, quite what they did, or why they did it. They've heard the shouting. They've seen all the usual media suspects announcing that the corpse lives, breathes, and walks. But we all know: on 18 September 2014, the Labour Party in Scotland expired. How come?

Like many, I get queasy during this part of the tale. In 2014, one mark of Labour's decline was that so few in its ranks understood why an alliance with the Tories would disgust quite so many people, and so deeply. What, asked their stoats and weasels, time and again, is your problem? If you followed their logic – feel free to take a crack – a pact with bankers' hirelings was the only way to ensure justice for all. Such was their genius.

Labour's role in Scotland in 2014 was to secure the proles for Britain. There is no nice way to put it. Threaten their pensions, frighten their children, make a desert of their future, but – so that message ran – get it done. These were old pages from an ancient script. The cold numbers say it worked a treat, on schedule and on target. The revenge taken on Scottish Labour is, however, another story entirely.

You could tell it in terms of those astounding SNP membership numbers. You could tell it by the semaphore of opinion polls, spelling out SOS for Westminster politics and Ed Miliband. You could even make a story from all the old comrades hearing last orders for a peerage. None of that would get you beyond act three in Labour's little tragedy. When push came to shove, the party that wrote Scotland's story for a century preferred suicide to the national interest. And, still worse, was proud of the fact.

We, 1.6 million of us, just turned our backs. They think we'll be “reconciled” to the rebranding of honest Jim Murphy? They think we'll be stampeded, as usual, by the old, rational fear of Tories? Labour is done. We're over it. In 2014, for or against, we were not dealt with honestly, from January to September. Those seasons will not be forgotten or forgiven. Humpty Dumpty can kiss goodbye to his wall, and whatever else he was sitting on.

If you happened to be old enough, nevertheless, it made for a strange year. A Scotland without Labour – Labour rough, foolish, thuggish, compassionate, or stolidly determined – involved an act of imagination. What were we without the familiar cast and the usual soap opera? When Johann Lamont quit as her party's branch office under-manager after the referendum, she managed – ever the good teacher – to deliver a lesson and ask a question. If Labour has rendered itself worthless, what remains?

Strange to report, some of the smarter girls and boys already had answers scrawled on the backs of their hands. While the usual dullards filled their column inches with tales of protest votes and anti-politics, a new Scottish generation presented itself on behalf of the Common Weal, as a National Collective, as a Radical Independence Convention. They were as incoherent, sometimes, as any nascent movement. They were also a lot of fun. More than that, they cared deeply and thought hard.

With my own faded colours up on the sagging mast, I spent most of 2014 wondering what had become of the British state. Why were its responses so feeble, its prose so vapid, its tunes so banal? For much of the referendum campaign, the only noise from the No side seemed to involve a clamour for “passion” on the United Kingdom's behalf. Time and again they tried. Time and again, while superannuated stand-ups and hack actors dumped their love bombs, they failed to manage sense, far less joined-up sentences.

I found that revealing. More than once, I caught myself thinking, “Jeez, I could make a better case for Britain than that”. In the year when we were being told to honour the carnage inaugurated in 1914, when the meaning of a United Kingdom forged in unspeakable sacrifice should have furnished a phrase for the meanest hack, we instead had self-satisfied jokers cackling that “No means no”. And so Britain died.

They haven't quite noticed yet. Her Majesty did her Christmas thing as though normal service had been resumed. Scottish Labour went on acting as though a Jim Murphy is the solution, not the name of the condition. But 1.6 million are beyond all that. We've handed in our notice. It's why all the instant cliches over who really won and truly lost have such force this winter. That British game, we say, is a bogey.

In England's capital, there is no shortage of folk turning a bob by explaining that these are strange days for conventional politics. They employ a couple of propositions. One says that a loss of trust in “Westminster” has invigorated those known traditionally as “other parties”. The antithesis holds that those others have done for the big old parties. A variant, tricky to prove, says that this is going on all over the western world.

So think of that, if you voted Yes in September. When you come to your senses, you'll go back to voting mostly-Labour. Were you living below the Border, you'd probably be backing the racist ticket. Your considered response to 307 years of Union was just a spasm, an “anti-Westminster” thing. You'll get over it. You'll be reconciled.


There's some truth to it. As 2014 ends, the parties accustomed to treating Westminster as their private Hogwarts can barely scrape together two-thirds of the vote in the average opinion poll. They and their institution are not held in esteem. Their scandals have given the very business of political argument a bad name. Coalition government has left many – let's say – unimpressed, and made the death of Liberal Britain seem less strange than inevitable.

None of that has much to do with what happened in Scotland in 2014. In all the chatter over parties and the usual politics, an essential fact got overlooked. A new generation got to vote and said, simply, “Why?” Their parents sentimentality for Labour evaporated. Any deference towards Conservatives and monarchs and old stories of a scepter'd isles disappeared. They looked at their country and imagined a better future. Their opponents just told scary tales.

The Yes voters lost, of course. There is no point in arguing over it. Equally, no one of a sound mind believes the 2014 generation will lose twice. Britain's best efforts turned out to be paltry. This writer expected more, in spring, than a few hacks turning puce for the sake of the honours list, or a consignment of party leaders shipped north in a hurry to placate the locals. For Unionists, the advice is offered free: poor show. 

Those who believed their country should determine its own future might also wish to look back on the year ending. Why were so many of our people so easily frightened? Why were we hemmed in by an argument over bank-notes? Why did our older folk fall hostage to puerile arguments and barter a future that was not theirs to trade? And who said, finally, that we must dodge the heart of the matter?

If you seek the independence of Scotland, you must be ready and willing to talk about the country and its people. Your opponents will have plenty to say about “identity politics” while promoting a British identity. It's tricky and complicated. It tends to get messy. You have to be alert to every nuance. But in the end you have to be honest.

In my opinion, the referendum was lost because too many of us were afraid to say why a Scot would not want to be British. Too much time was spent attempting to square a circle: everything would change and yet, somehow, nothing would change. Currency, monarchs, the telly: it was as though we were doing no more than rearranging junk in the attic. And too many of us – this scribbler included – said we'd deal with these little matters later. That was a mistake.

Despite everything, 1.6 million believed that Scotland's interests could be managed better in Scotland. They are no worse off for it. The mess emanating from the Smith Commission will make life difficult for a few years, but a principle will be secured. In future, no one will ask why a power should be retained by Westminster. They will ask why it hasn't been devolved to begin with, as a matter of course.

Long years ago, sitting in a Glasgow pub with the finest Scottish novelist of my generation, the question of independence came up. My answer then, as now, was that it would happen in my lifetime. I didn't anticipate that we'd be cutting it a little fine, but Willie, cheery as ever, couldn't see it happening. McIlvanney was the one who called us feart in 79, after all, and he wasn't wrong. But in 2014, the fear fell away.

I'll remember that. They brought up every pop-gun in the armoury and people far younger than I found all their threats comical. Scotland woke up. Its young men and women turned the lead of the usual political crap into gold. They didn't get an answer worth the name from the decayed hulks of old political traditions, but they kept on asking their questions. They exposed the rot.
Things are set fair, I think, for a wee country.

Thursday, 3 December 2015

Once more to insane, corporate-loving war - UK is a failed state

So, here 'we' go again. More bombing, murder and misery. Once more to useless war and slaughter under the imprimatur of 'noble Britannia'. A dark and shameful night in the 'mother of parliaments', where the fate of so many innocents have been signed-off by so many obedient members in thrall to the war agenda.  

The words of SNP MP Mhairi Black provide a suitable record to the chilling occasion: 
Very dark night in parliament. Will never forget the noise of some Labour and Tory cheering together at the idea of bombs falling #SyriaVote 
In supporting Cameron's motion for war, Hilary Benn was cheered to the rafters by a motley assembly of Tories and Lab/Lib collaborators. A sickening moment. 

In proclaiming 'our socialist internationalism' and 'past resistance to fascism' as analogous to 'the fight against Isis', Benn's speech will go down in history as one of the greatest ever pieces of political distortion.

How readily a swooning BBC and their 'impartial' journalists have loved and lauded Benn's 'remarkable' performance. The Guardian have given it almost consecrated status. But no amount of impassioned rhetoric can disguise its reactionary content. All the finest oratory in the world cannot make respectable a speech in favour of mass killing. Every line proclaiming concern for suffering Syrians, the need to defeat Daesh, and to 'defend our way of life' reeks of deceit and hypocrisy. How truly telling to watch. How more revealing to observe the adulation.

As Media Lens assert: 
Hilary Benn is the new neocon poster boy. The way to the media's heart is always to stand for the left but act for the right, as Blair did.
To those who say, 'I disagree with him, but respect and admire his powerful conviction', there's nothing respectful or upstanding about blatant warmongering. Jeremy Corbyn may have looked beaten and demoralised as the vote was cast. But he stands as a moral giant in contrast to Benn and his shameful cabal

To all the pro-bombers, in that 'ennobled' parliament and across our slavish media, remember this: more innocents will now die in Syria, while other innocents will surely be lost on our home streets. When it happens, don't say you didn't know.

Media Lens: 'Our' military power is so photogenic.
Doesn't this just make you want to 'love' it?
@BBCNews #Syria #Propaganda
And all for what? To maintain Britain's 'top-gun status', its 'elevated' place as a 'world player'? Such is the conceit of 'our' righteous rush to wage 'moral war', to intervene 'on behalf' of those already suffering the consequences of Britain's criminal part in destabilising Syria and bringing chaos to the region.

How the merchants of death, the war profiteers, must have been cheering on Cameron, Benn and their tawdry accomplices. What profit-tingling emotion for those "Western firms primed to cash in on Syria’s oil and gas ‘frontier’".  And for BAE Systems, MDBA and Airbus, producers of "Brimstone precision missiles", it most surely is Bombs away - Ker-ching £££££.

And so, as the first 'airstrikes' commence, as the empire embarks upon another blood-spilling assertion of its 'moral authority', we must all now fall into dutiful line behind this 'difficult military task'. Whatever the political divisions, those parliamentary schisms, the principle of 'our good intent' must be held sacrosanct.

If the label 'Islamic state' can be deemed a desecration of Islam and false claim to ideological 'sovereignty', how less reasonable to call Britain a relentlessly war-addicted entity, a failed state, as it embarks upon yet another ideological campaign of violence in the name of 'conscientious intervention'?

Please read this tremendous piece from Wee Ginger Dug:
In the land of the mad the sane are crazy 

Monday, 30 November 2015

Bella's mistaken claim of 'truth' on Syria

Bella Caledonia has published an article by Muhammad Idrees Ahmad, asking: What is to be done about Syria?

In an introductory tweet, Bella's editor announces the piece as "the truth about Syria". As a large number of comments on the article suggest, it's nothing of the kind.

The Bella editor is challenged on exactly why the site is playing host to such war narrative. His response to one such comment:
I’m confused about your outrage Kevin? It would be good to hear the basis of it? As the author writes: “The debate now is driven by fear and optics alone. The flawed logic guiding the rush to action might deliver some telegenic victories, but will certainly make things worse in the longer run.”
Bella, presumably, sees this as a statement of 'war aversion'. Yet, consider what the author says in his preceding lines:
But if global inaction after the August 2013 chemical massacre in Syria yielded a disaster—at the time of the attacks, 30 months into the conflict, close to a hundred thousand people had been killed; in the next 30 months, the number of the dead would treble—action now is unlikely to make things better. The action being considered in 2013 at least had the merit of good faith.
The strong inference here is that military "inaction" in 2013 was a serious mistake, leading to greater deaths. We're asked to believe that the action being considered by Cameron and Obama was initiated in "good faith". And we're also expected to accept without question the 'certainty' of Assad's responsibility for these attacks.

Whatever one's views on such issues, these lines should be enough to indicate the author's own real war agenda. Indeed, the very title of the piece plays immediately to liberal war sensitivities.

The author asks us to blame Assad for the rise of Isis, ignoring the West's key role. He won't countenance the possibility that bombing in 2013 would have led to even more deaths. The death count is all attributed to Assad. His 'reticence' about the rush to action now, as opposed to 2013, is because this one isn't specifically about bombing Assad. It's also contradicted by his actual prescription at the end of the piece for deeper militarist involvement:
This can be ensured either through the imposition of a no-bombing zone across Syria or by giving shoulder-fired MANPADs to the Syrian rebels.
This military aid, we're to presume, is for Cameron's proclaimed '70,000 moderate rebels' still ready to fight Assad. Robert Fisk thinks otherwise. Instead, Muhammad Idrees Ahmad takes the "indispensable Charles Lister" as an 'authoritative' voice on such matters. Writing at the right-wing Spectator, Lister also laments: "Had the West more definitively intervened in Syria early on, we would undoubtedly have more moderate, more cohesive and more natural ally-material opposition to work with." A Visiting Fellow at the conservative Brookings Doha Center, Senior Consultant to The Shaikh Group, and once leading figure at IHS Janes’ “Terrorism and Insurgency Center”, Lister is part of an establishment  'think tank' circle posing as objective scholars, what Glenn Greenwald exposes as "the sham 'terrorism expert' industry". 

Readers of the Bella article may rightfully ask why an author upholding such figures and 'military solutions' ever got commissioned by its editors.

In defending this, the Bella editor tweets that many of those commenting below the article are being "incredibly naïve about Assad."

Whatever the truth of Assad's own conduct in this conflict, that's a pretty patronising remark. Another Bella response appears to use the author's academic status as a seeming rebuke to those who have 'no such understanding' of the issues. The article is further lauded by Bella as being "a more nuanced view" of the conflict.

Alas, this is so much Guardian-type posturing.

The more urgent and direct question here should be: what is to be done about the West?

As Chomsky so often asserts, we should be doing all we actively can to challenge, expose and resist the mendacious actions of our own states and governments. Pilger makes the same essential point in asking us to see the West's dark record of aggressions over Syria, Iraq, Afghanistan, Libya and elsewhere. That kind of opposition is, in itself, an act of humanitarian intervention in support of already war-afflicted Syrians.

Sites like Bella should be on emergency footing right now, standing with Stop the War and other such voices in helping to resist the war parties. It should be shining the most damning light on Nato's militarism, alongside the West's support for Saudi and other repressive regimes in inflaming this conflict. As copious links provided in the comments section show, the West's and their Gulf proxies' leading part in the disastrous attempt at regime change in Syria is all too obvious. 

Rather than invite the kind of militarist line being laundered and spun in this piece, Bella should be urgently promoting decisive commentary against war propaganda and more weaponry. Otherwise, what does Bella fashion itself as? A purveyor of Guardian-type war editorials and tortured call-to-war mitigations?

The war media are in full drive, joined, as ever, by liberal White Man's Burden appeals for dutiful intervention. Indeed, the first two paragraphs of this Bella article look like something straight out of a Guardian leader. "After Paris, Syria can no longer be ignored", announces the author. Shouldn't a supposedly critical, left-leaning site like Bella be asking more incisive questions about the role of the French state and their allies in all of this? Here's 10 key truths for a start.

The author of this piece, and his Pulse Media site, proclaim 'pro-uprising', 'people-defending' motives, while positioning themselves around the 'necessary intervention' argument. It would be facile to label them neo-cons. Yet, they employ a more insidious war-speak, using false emotionalism as a spur to 'external involvement'. As with Libya, they peddled this very line in 2013 over the proposed UK/US action against Syria, claiming: "An externally imposed solution is less egregious than dooming Syria to prolonged war." Any resistant voices, such as Stop the War, who have argued otherwise, who see the repeated folly of more bombs and militarism, are denounced for their "left infantilism." So much for 'nuanced analysis'.

That's essentially, what Bella has given a platform to here. I don't know whether that's down to 'naivety', or the site's own attempt at 'nuance', but it certainly suggests an absence of critical recognition and assertive activism.

Monday, 23 November 2015

Liberal war media let rip over Paris, IS and 'defence of civilization'

Doesn't the heart surge to hear crusading Western liberals warn of the 'existential threat' from Islamic State, and the call for 'dutiful military responses'? And all in the name of 'our civilizational values'. 
Some, like arch-neocon Douglas Murray peddle their ultra-zealous message with undisguised hostility for Islam. Others, like Paul Mason, try to dress-up the case for Western militarism in more faux left tones, warning, again, about that looming 'threat to our civilization'.

And there's always Jonathan Freedland's cloying pitch for the war agenda. His latest is an invocation of the "grey zone" (read, liberal comfort zone) of 'civilized coexistence', while lamenting the West's "inaction" and 'lost opportunity' to attack Syria in 2013.
It's all too typical of the Guardian. In the immediate hours after the Paris attacks, reactionary views on the need for civil clampdowns and revenge bombing filled the airwaves. In contrast, we now belatedly learn, the Guardian spiked any critical comment suggesting that the attacks might be causally linked to Western aggressions in the Middle East. 
At least we have the 'resolute impartiality' of the BBC to rely on. Or that, presumably, is how we're expected to understand the monologue rantings of This Week's Andrew Neil, almost quivering with hubris as he invoked the greats of French philosophical thought, in his lambasting of IS as 'Islamist scumbags'.
Missing from Neil's list of French greats and achievements was Frantz Fanon, (born on the French colony of Martinique, 1925). If only that fine voice of resistance to decades of French oppression in Algeria was here today surveying France's ongoing colonialist interventions and the tragic fallout of IS violence. 
In taking apart the myth of BBC leftism, Mehdi Hasan notes how Neil's Thatcherite presence has loomed large over the corporation for decades now. As David Edwards records, Neil also stated on his Daily Politics show in 2005: “We went to Iraq to make it a better place.”
Yet, this warmongering right-winger has been roundly commended for his This Week performance, not only by 'classic liberals' and Tories like Toby Young and Dan Hodges, but by a chorus of  'celebrity liberals', from Richard Dawkins to Stephen Fry to Piers Morgan.

Thankfully, writer Bea Campbell provided some rational objection to Neil's crude invocation of Enlightenment figures. But doesn't it say so much about the poverty of intellectual thought these days that ideological carpetbaggers like Neil can command this kind of applause and adulation for wallowing in such bathos?

And with the default media and political rush to embrace 'France', the reactionary liberal finds even safer platforms to wage more 'civilized war'.      
In "How to be a Western liberal in an age of terror", Stephen Daisley, STV's digital political correspondent, pours forth in another such rant:
What we need as keenly as military might is civilisational confidence. [...]It’s time to get a little less dainty and a lot less squeamish. We are already deploying drones and extra-judicial killing; we should be prepared to extend the use of these techniques where necessary. As we eliminate the hard infrastructure of Islamism, we will need to target its softer furnishings: Hate preachers and inciters should face deportation or the loss of British nationality, as applicable. Intelligence gathering and policing will become more intensive and at times intrusive but we must take care to cabin this to counter-terrorism. There will be difficult decisions on how we go about identifying suspects, how long we may detain them, and the conduct of interrogations. None of these are easy questions; some make me very uncomfortable. We are fortunate to be rich and privileged and alive. We don’t get to be innocent too. [Emphasis added.]
Here speaks the voice of the 'liberal hawk'. That's not an oxymoron, just a fair reading of how people like Daisley profess their 'Western civilized values' through a chest-beating desire for 'moral vengeance' and more illegal murder.
One can only presume that STV know Daisley is peddling such virulence on an STV site.
Daisley is also, unsurprisingly, a dedicated apologist for Israel's mass crimes, and a vanguard liberal voice on the 'perilous dangers' of Jeremy Corbyn's 'anti-Semitic associations'.
If nothing else, it all helps dispel the facile notion of the 'objective journalist', as so often peddled by news organisations.
Just don't try saying anything truly challenging of such media or the establishment power structure. Amid all the live correspondence from Paris, which BBC or other 'objective' reporter would dare raise the truths of France's and the West's dark culpabilities in creating the space for IS to emerge?  

In an act of true, independent journalism, Glenn Greenwald has alerted us to the case of reporter Elise Labott, suspended by CNN for sending an innocuous tweet about US refusal to admit refugees fleeing the conflict. As Greenwald documents, many more journalists have met similar career fates for daring to editorialise with words and sentiments decidedly 'off-message' for their corporate employers and political overseers.

One Twitter message summarises it perfectly:          
If you're sympathetic to the weak, it's activist journalism. If you're sympathetic to the powerful, it's objective journalism.
As Greenwald says, "No truer tweet has even been written".