Disillusionment Setting In

By Daniel Margrain

Jeremy Corbyn and Diane Abbott
Jeremy Corbyn and Diane Abbott CREDIT: AFP

After Jeremy Corbyn’s election victory by one of the biggest majorities in Labour party history, the feeling of optimism among the grass roots membership was palpable. Here was a leader who was said to have genuinely held socialist principles who was about to smash the iron-clad neoliberal consensus that had come to dominate the PLP machine. However, as great as his victory was, for me personally, the optimism was offset by the knowledge that from the outset the corporate media and political class had it in for him. Many of us suspected, therefore, that some of the biggest struggles were yet to come.

These suspicions were confirmed after it emerged that not only were some of Corbyn’s most critical enemies to be found within his own party, but that the media en mass began acting, not as a dispassionate observer but as the delegitimizing arm of the British state. That Corbyn not only defeated the campaign by the plotters to undermine him, but that he also managed to shrug off the media hate-fest that accompanied it with consummate ease, is a testament to the strength of his character.

But it’s more than that. It’s also a testament to his supposed deeply-held and longstanding political convictions and, arguably most importantly of all, his unswerving democratic commitment to the mass membership who elected him into power, not just once, but twice. Unlike the period preceding the 1997 General Election when the media depicted Blair being swept-up in an apparent rising tide of jingoistic sentiment, Corbyn’s success was marked by their overriding intention to demonize him.

Dichotomy

Given that both Blair and Corbyn were elected on an almost identical Left mandate, how can this apparent dichotomy be rationally explained other than the notion the former, as opposed to the latter, was willing to serve elite interests? The rise of Blair was accompanied by flattering noises from the Murdoch press that underlined a palpable sense of intellectual curiosity totally absent from their coverage of Corbyn. This was because unlike the former, such curiosity wasn’t deemed a requirement. Demonization requires neither intellectualism nor curiosity, merely blind bigotry and hate which is precisely what the media-political establishment thrive on.

The most effective way to deal with this kind of bigotry and hate, is to challenge head-on the injustices, misinformation and false propaganda that give rise to them. To a large extent, whatever Corbyn does or says, the media will be unduly critical and biased against him. And so on their terms, he will never be seen to have done the right thing despite that his unequivocal stated commitment to social justice issues, Trident, the re-nationalization of the railways and the NHS are all highly commendable and universally popular.

Talking the talk

So what’s the problem? As effective as he has been in saying the right things at the right time, it’s nevertheless been the case that Corbyn’s leadership has largely been marked by his inability to act on is pronouncements. In terms of the NHS, for example, he appears to be reluctant to publicly denounce the dubious record of NHS England’s Simon Stevens, or to address the highly controversial statements made by his shadow health minister, Heidi Alexander regarding her alleged lack of commitment to its underlying principles. In view of the contentions made by activist Dr Bob Gill, it’s difficult to conclude anything other than the notion Corbyn is not as committed to the ethos of a universally free at the point of delivery HHS as perhaps he has led many people to believe.

In opposition and on the back benches, Corbyn’s stated long-term commitment and principled opposition to social injustice has been exemplary. However, even his most ardent of supporters will surely concede that as Labour leader he has often fallen short in fulfilling some of those principles. Another illustration of this has been his lack of public support for comrades like Ken Livingston and Jackie Walker who have had a series of unjustified and defamatory McCarthyite antisemitic attacks levelled at them.

Corbyn’s opposition to the illegalities of the Israeli Zionist state is long-standing and well known, and yet his failure as leader to break the links between the Labour party and the Labour Friends of Israel is unforgivable. It underscores a weakness in his leadership that cannot simply be brushed aside. Equally, as serious an issue, has been Corbyn’s virtual silence over the corrupt practices of NECs Iain McNicol as well as an apparent inability to tackle the systemic failings of the organisation he leads. More broadly, and arguably most worrying of all, has been Corbyn’s reluctance to set in motion a process by which the MPs who attempted to depose him could be deselected.

It should be recalled that it was McNicol who not only tried to fix the vote to the detriment of Corbyn, but had gone out of his way to prevent him even standing. For a Labour leader not to have supported the Left in the party has meant that the Right, although a minority, has managed to keep control of the Conference and the NEC.

Latest error of judgement

Corbyn’s latest error of judgement – and arguably his biggest – relates to his disastrous Brexit strategy. His entire approach to the issue seems to me to be not only his agreeing to the triggering of Article 50, but his acceptance that Brexit is inevitable when there is no inevitability about it. Corbyn has admitted that his support for EU membership was only 70 to 75% despite the fact that a similar proportion of his constituents voted to remain.

Corbyn’s half-hearted approach has almost certainly played into the hands of the Right. Rather than sending out an ambivalent message, it would arguably have been far more effective had Corbyn demonstrated an unequivocal commitment to defending the right of elected Labour MPs to vote in a way that accurately reflects the interests of their constituents. Instead, we were left with a situation in which a democratically elected Labour leader, albeit inadvertently, ended up being pulled to the Right.

Corbyn’s problematic situation is compounded by evidence which shows that withdrawal from the Single Market will likely result in a decline in working class living standards. Moreover, as Tony Greenstein puts it:

“If May chooses to make Britain a tax haven then this will mean that with far less tax revenue not only will there not be enough resources to fund an expansion of the welfare state but a Labour government would be a rerun of previous austerity governments. Access to the Single Market, both for manufacturing and the financial services is crucial. London faces the prospect of losing its role as the world’s leading financial sector to New York, Frankfurt and Paris. Companies which are located in Britain because of tariff free access to Europe will simply move. The fact that a narrow majority of people were fooled into voting against their own interests, for good reasons, by nationalist bile is not a reason to accept the decision. Parties exist to change peoples’ minds not to pander to their prejudices.”

It is the job of the Labour opposition to oppose not to compete for the racist vote which is what Corbyn’s apparent avatism implies. It’s one thing to yearn for a nostalgic concept of nationalist-based socialism, but another to do so when, firstly, there is clearly no current demonstrable appetite for socialism among the body politic of British society, and secondly, when the implications of the isolationist neoliberal alternative approach is shown to impact negatively on the poorest and most vulnerable.

Island of socialism

What Corbyn effectively envisages is a concept in which the UK exists extraneously from the rest of Europe. This ‘island of socialism’ mentality is the very antithesis of an internationalist concept of a kind he appears to have abandoned. The idea that internationalism can exist without international institutions is farcical. Furthermore, as Craig Murray argues, “to write off those institutions because they are currently controlled by right wing governments is short-sighted to the point of being stupid.”

The reason why the EU as an institution adopts right wing policies, is because it is currently dominated by right-wing governments. That fact is not a justifiable reason to want to abandon the project altogether, but to continue arguing for the reinstatement of the kind of federalist and internationalist concept of the EU envisaged by Jacques Delors in which the appropriation and destruction of national sovereignty is to be encouraged rather than belittled.

More wiser heads than Corbyn’s on the left, such as Diane Abbot, are able to see how out of touch Corbyn’s retrograde form of feudal socialism is. His ambivalence on the Brexit issue clearly put the likes of Abbot in a difficult political position. The dilemma she, and other Labour MPs faced, was whether to vote with their conscience and in the interests of their constituents who voted to remain, or go against their principles by voting for the Article 50 Bill on the basis of maintaining a sense of loyalty to both their leader and to the Shadow Cabinet?

Abbot’s statement below published on twitter, indicates that her preferred option was to go for the latter approach:

Conclusion

In my view, Corbyn’s attempt to effectively coerce Labour MPs into taking the pro-Brexit line, is a major strategic miscalculation that has the potential to back-fire on him. Both this, and his lack of political judgement on the other issues I’ve outlined in this article, is likely to haunt him in the months and years ahead.

Despite these flaws, I am of the opinion that Corbyn can still beat the Tories at the next General Election. Very few people are likely to detest the Tories more than me. I have direct experience of the negative consequences resulting from their welfare retrenchment policies.

I want to make the Labour party the most effective opposition to the Tories as possible. It’s for this reason I feel it’s my duty to provide constructive criticisms as, and when, required. I am not motivated by an intention to undermine Corbyn, but to help ensure he becomes more effective in tackling Tory austerity ideology.

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All original material created for this site is ©Daniel Margrain. Posts may be shared, provided full attribution is given to Daniel Margrain and Road To Somewhere Else along with a link back to this site. Using any of my writing for a commercial purpose is not permitted without my express permission. Excerpts and links, including paraphrasing, may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Daniel Margrain and Road To Somewhere Else with appropriate and specific direction to the original content. Unless otherwise credited, all content is the site author’s. The right of Daniel Margrain to be identified as the author of this work has been asserted by him in accordance with the Copyright, Designs and Patents Act 1988.

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The Government’s Deliberate Destruction of Our NHS

By Daniel Margrain

'Humanitarian crisis' in NHS hospitals, warns Red Cross (Getty) Royal Sussex County Hospital, UK (Photo by Universal Images Group via Getty Images)‘Humanitarian crisis’ in NHS hospitals, warns Red Cross (Getty) Royal Sussex County Hospital, UK (Photo by Universal Images Group via Getty Images)

Pictures that emerged last week from the Royal Blackburn hospital that showed mothers and babies being held in corridors for 13 hours and 89 year old Iris Sibley spending more than six months in a hospital bed because a care home place could not be found for her, are the kinds of incidences that are now becoming the norm in the NHS. Figures from the BBC suggest that nine out of 10 hospitals have unsafe numbers on their wards.

Health Secretary Jeremy Hunt’s comment on Friday (February 10) that the treatment of some patients was “completely unacceptable” in response to the worst A&E waiting times on record, was uttered as if he was absolving himself of all responsibility for the chaos. The reason why he gives the impression that he has no intention to do anything about the unfolding crisis enveloping the NHS, is because the chaos is a by-product of government policy.

The government’s objective is to move more healthcare to people’s homes and the community which will involve the merging of NHS and social care budgets that largely have already been privatized. This will lead to contamination and the entry-point for patient charges and co-payments. Given that the overall framework for such a system within the NHS already exists, it’s just a matter of time before such payments and charges are put in place.

Health & Social Care Act

The stated referencing for NHS funding is a deception, as was the assurance in 2010 that there would be no top-down re-organization of the service. The 2012 Health and Social Care Act undermines this assurance since it removes the duty on the Secretary of State for Health to provide a comprehensive health service, while the act requires up to 49 percent of services can be tendered out to any qualified provider”. Already between a quarter and a half of all community services are now run by Virgin Care.

Since the late 1980s during Margaret Thatcher’s third term in office, whole entities within the public sector have increasingly been outsourced, health and social care services privatized and competition and the business ethos introduced into public services. Following the advice of the then chief executive of Sainsbury’s, Sir Roy Griffiths in 1987, the Thatcher government set about removing the foundations upon which the welfare state had been built. One study suggests that “the privatisation of social care services is arguably the most extensive outsourcing of a public service yet undertaken in the UK”. 

The aim is to ensure the domination of the market by a small number of very powerful multinational corporations whose primary concern is not the welfare of the residents in care homes which they own or patients in hospitals, but rather with maximizing profits. In line with Noam Chomsky’s defunding notion, the strategy of successive governments’ over the last three decades has been to shrink the NHS and bring it to the point of collapse as the basis for then claiming the only solution is more privatization.

Britain’s Biggest Enterprise

The retreating from the principle of the universal provision of free at the point of delivery health care, can be pin-pointed to 1988 when Tory politician, Oliver Letwin, wrote a ‘blueprint’ document called ‘Britain’s Biggest Enterprise’ where he set out the stages governments’ would have to go through to achieve a US model of healthcare without the public noticing.

The New Labour government under Tony Blair adopted Letwin’s principles. But prior to the 1997 General Election, Blair had to disguise the strategy by using dissembling language in order to get elected. Once in office, he took several steps towards privatization – for example, breaking up the hospital network into foundation trusts which are essentially separate business entities. He also deliberately saddled hospitals with Private Finance Initiative (PFI) liabilities which involved the government borrowing £11 billion from private banks and financiers in order to justify the sale and breakdown of the NHS further down the line.

This culminated with the New Labour government introducing in 2009 what was termed the “unsustainable provider regime” which is a fake bankruptcy framework to justify closing hospitals. The £11 billion of public money Blair and Brown borrowed from the banks and financiers ostensibly to invest in the NHS through PFI (a sum that has soared to £80 billion which the NHS is duty bound to pay), helps further this eventuality in two ways.

Firstly, financing hospitals through PFI displaces the burden of debt from central government to NHS trusts and with it the responsibility for managing spending controls and planning services, thereby hindering a coherent national strategy. Secondly, the high cost of PFI schemes has presented NHS trusts with an affordability gap. The financing of these legally questionable PFI contracts, which has increased the public’s liability by a massive £69 billion, cannot be examined because they hide behind strict confidentiality rules.

Nevertheless, the Labour party under Jeremy Corbyn appears to be reluctant to raise the issue surrounding the alleged inadmissibility of the contracts despite the high probability that best value and cost effectiveness criteria were unlikely to have been adhered to in this instance.

Simon Stevens

The most powerful and influential individual currently working in the NHS is former Labour councillor, Simon Stevens, chief executive of NHS England. After having served under the Blair government, Stevens went on to work for the US private health care provider, United Health, where he campaigned against Obama Care. Stevens then argued for the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership (TTIP) to be included within the UK health care remit. Those encouraged by the election of Jeremy Corbyn (myself included) are still waiting to hear something from the shadow health team about this troubling development.

The latest controversy to have emerged from NHS England led by Stevens is the proposed introduction of its ‘Sustainability and Transformation Plans’ which forms part of the annual 2016-17 HHS Planning Guidance. “Sustainability and transformation” is Orwellian-speak for the move towards the total reorganization of the NHS predicated on more privatizations and cuts. As Mike Sivier puts it:

“We’re told the project is about ‘strengthening local relationships’ and building on ‘local energy and enthusiasm’ to achieve ‘genuine and sustainable transformation in patient experience and health outcomes’. But in fact, the Guidance contains some very specific requirements that will test these new collaborations to the limits and usher in a new wave of privatisations and huge cuts.”

Last January, activist Dr Bob Gill from the Save Our NHS Campaign attended a meeting to get some insight into what the position of the Shadow Secretary of State for Health, Heidi Alexander, was in relation to the direction NHS England was moving in under Stevens. What he heard were narratives that fitted into the ongoing privatization agenda. According to Gill, Alexander expressed support for Simon Stevens, despite his appalling track record.

Concerning

This is deeply concerning for people who see in Corbyn somebody who might be willing to take a man who appears less committed to ethics and patient care than to ensuring medicine is a profit-based ‘conveyor belt’ service, to task. Unfortunately, there is no indication that he is the man who intends to do it. On the contrary, the narrative of the shadow health team appears to be one of support for both Simon Stevens and the existing regime of privatization that he is overseeing.

A year down the line since Dr Bob Gill’s revelation and with no action taken by Corbyn against Stevens, it’s now a matter of urgency that activists exert political pressure on Corbyn’s team to address the rightward direction Stevens, in conjunction with the Tories, is taking the NHS. Prior to the last election, David Cameron promised to “protect the NHS budget and continue to invest more.” This promise has been broken. According to the Nuffield Trust, “government spending on the English NHS is falling as a share of UK GDP – from 6.5 per cent of GDP at the end of the last decade to 6.2 per cent in 2015-16.”

Research by the Kings Fund indicates that the UK is ranked 13th out of 15 original EU members. In Orwellian fashion, health under-funding is portrayed in the media as “unprecedented levels of overspending by hospitals and NHS trusts.”Under-funding has inevitably impacted on staffing levels. The shortage of nurses within the NHS has reached dangerous levels in 90 per cent of UK hospitals, and the amount of doctors per capita is the second lowest among eleven European countries.

Overall, on six out of nine measures of varying sorts – five year survival rates for breast cancer; the same for prostate cancer; the number per capita of MRI scanners, CT scanners, angioplasty operations, hip replacements and knee replacements; waiting times to see a specialist and the OECD assessment of outcomes compared to money spent – Britain did worse than any other advanced country in the world. Under both Stevens and the Tories every aspect of the NHS is under attack.

At the time of writing, Virgin Care is in control of well in excess of 200 contracts across the UK while administration for the new NHS market alone, costs tax payers £1 in every £10 the NHS spends (4.5 billion). The carving open of the service for exploitation by private interests is proceeding at a pace and the government shows no indication of wanting to reverse the process. This is hardly surprising given that 70 MPs have financial links to private healthcare firms while hundreds of private healthcare corporations have donated to Tory coffers.

The erosion of the principle of a free at the point of delivery service also undermines what Sir Michael Marmont refers to  as “the optimal allocation of resources.” This, in part, explains why a country like the United States where the marketization of its health care system is long established, is ranked 44th in the world in 2014 in terms of efficiency compared to 10th for the UK. Given these figures, one might reasonably ask why the government appears to be insistent on dismantling something that, despite its faults, essentially works, and then restructuring it in the image of a system that doesn’t?

The US model we are moving towards

During his recent trip to America following Trump’s inauguration, it is likely that UK Health Secretary, Jeremy Hunt, took the opportunity to discuss with US financiers further moves to carve up the NHS in order to bring it closer to the US insurance-based model. The requirement of the US Affordable Care Act (which was signed into law in March 2010 but is actually unaffordable for large swaths of the US population), is that people are forced to buy private health care insurance if they fail to qualify for public health programmes, namely Medicare and Medicaid. However, the insurers have created plans that restrict the number of doctors in hospitals.

These “ultra narrow networks” have resulted in the reduction of at least 70 per cent of health facilities within communities throughout the US, thereby restricting access to care for people with serious health problems. This means that increasingly Americans are paying higher premiums but are not getting sufficient access to services they need. They are, therefore, having to find the money upfront, largely because their insurance policies do not provide adequate cover for their injuries or illnesses.

So America is still seeing high rates of people who are either delaying, avoiding getting access to the care they need, or are being confronted with medical debts. Research shows that tax-funded expenditures account for 64.3 percent of US health spending, with public spending exceeding total spending in most countries with universal care. Yet, 33 million people in the US do not have access to health insurance cover.

When Obama came into office in January 2009 there were approximately 15 per cent of American’s who had been uninsured for at least a year which meant that unless they had access to a significant amount of money, they could not go to a doctor when they or their children fell ill. During this period, surveys showed that two-thirds of all Americans favoured a single payer health plan (ie a publicly financed system of universal health care provision free at the point of delivery for all, similar to the NHS) but Obama rejected it outright. This was despite the fact that war veterans and senior citizens have a variation of publicly/privately delivered and funded arrangements already in place within the existing system.

These limited single payer systems have also proven to be cost effective with good outcomes. In addition, Obama was riding high on a wave of popular support following his election victory. Not only did the Democrats control the White House and Senate but they also commanded a majority in the House of Representatives. It would appear that the $20 million Obama received from private health care companies during his election campaign helped sway his decision not to introduce the single payer system across the board despite the fact that nearly 80 per cent of Democrat voters support the introduction of such a system.

Obama, in other words, had the democratic mandate to introduce the extremely popular single payer system universally but instead he turned his back on the people who elected him into power. The conflicting interests that American presidents like Obama face relates to the close relationship they have to members of Congress who need to get reelected. If Congress speak out against the interests who are funding their campaigns, they’re not going to get that funding. Commenting on a report from the National Journal, Ashlie Rodriguez wrote:

“Health care interests have given $46.6 million in campaign donations since 2005 to [the] 21 lawmakers” at the bipartisan healthcare summit, including Senator Max Baucus, Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, House Minority Whip Eric Cantor, and to the summit’s host, President Obama.”

And Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington found that:

“health professionals, political action committees, hospitals and nursing homes, pharmaceutical and health product companies, health services firms, HMOs and accident insurers have given heavily to all summit attendees.”

Dysfunctional

Tiny efforts to try and patch together what is clearly a dysfunctional system is further undermined in as much as that patchwork involves another obvious paradox. This is highlighted by the origin of the Obama Care Plan which has its roots in the Heritage Foundation, a conservative Think Tank, which came up with the model of forcing people to buy private insurance and to use public tax dollars to subsidize the purchase of this insurance. In other words, as a result of a process of publicly funded corporate welfare, billions of funds are shifted into the hands of private insurance companies.

Nevertheless, this was passed into law in Massachusetts under governor Mitt Romney who was Obama’s Republican opponent in the race for the White House. Almost exactly the same plan was passed by Obama at the national level. This led to the insane situation in which the Democrats were essentially championing a Republican plan in which the latter subsequently distanced themselves from. Instead, the Republican policy under Trump is for everybody to pay privately with no public provision and no safety net of any kind in place.

America’s health care costs are the highest per capita of any country in the world with some of the worst outcomes. Attempts to reform the US system are undermined by the insurance companies whose only function is to be middlemen between the patients and the health professionals.The U.S government’s treatment of health care as a commodity instead of a public good is out of sync with the rest of the developed world and illustrates the extent to which, more broadly, the giant corporations have usurped democracy in the United States.

As things currently stand, the US is the only industrialized nation on the planet that has used a market-based model for healthcare. Alarmingly, whether people want to admit it or not, this is the direction of travel both the Tories and NHS England under Simon Stevens are taking the system of UK healthcare provision. In other words, we are heading for a potential nightmare.

COPYRIGHT

All original material created for this site is ©Daniel Margrain. Posts may be shared, provided full attribution is given to Daniel Margrain and Road To Somewhere Else along with a link back to this site. Using any of my writing for a commercial purpose is not permitted without my express permission. Excerpts and links, including paraphrasing, may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Daniel Margrain and Road To Somewhere Else with appropriate and specific direction to the original content. Unless otherwise credited, all content is the site author’s. The right of Daniel Margrain to be identified as the author of this work has been asserted by him in accordance with the Copyright, Designs and Patents Act 1988.

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The Russian’s Are Coming

By Daniel Margrain

The other day, I watched Norman Jewison’s 1966 comedy satire, The Russian’s Are Coming, The Russian’s Are Coming about the panic that ensues as a result of the forced landing of Russian submarines on a Connecticut holiday island. Released during the height of the Cold War, the film is not a particularly good one, but having spent a great deal of my adult life conditioned into believing the ‘Reds Under the Bed’ propaganda, the one thing that struck me was the extent to which Jewison portrayed the Russian’s in a positive light.

Jewison’s sympathetic portrayal was given added resonance in as much as that during the ensuing post Cold War world, Russian’s continued to be depicted, as Steven Kurutz puts it, as “Hollywood’s go-to villains”. The stereotyping of Russian’s in this way is of course premised on a real life political-based Russophobia narrative whose origins go back until at least the Napoleonic wars of the early 19th century. Propaganda against Russia was, as Ivor Neumann argued, continued by Napoleon’s former confessor, Dominique Georges-Frédéric de Pradt, who in a series of books portrayed Russia as “despotic”, “Asiatic” and “power hungry”. This was a period in which Britain had invaded Russia during the Crimean war. Craig Murray proffers some invaluable historical detail:

“As early as 1834 David Urquhart, First Secretary at the British Embassy in Constantinople, was organising a committee of “mujahideen” – as he called them – and running guns to Chechnya and Dagestan for the jihadists to fight Russia. In 1917 British troops again invaded Russia, landing at Archangel and Murmansk.”

A necessary condition to waging wars against official enemies, is the use of propaganda by the state to achieve that end. Even the influential British economist John Maynard Keynes was not averse to its power. Fifteen years after British troops landed at Archangel and Murmansk, Keynes wrote on Russia in Essays of Persuasion (pp.297-312) that the oppression in the country, rooted in the Red Revolution, perhaps was “the fruit of some beastliness in the Russian nature.”

Russia is no threat

In contrast to the historical threat to Russia from Britain, there is no evidence that the former poses a threat to the latter. Indeed, foreign and defence policy predicated on the alleged Russian threat is a British establishment concocted fantasy that has been perpetuated over time in order to justify the augmenting of the military industrial complex from which the British establishment continues to benefit financially.

Unlike the British empire, its Russian and Soviet counterparts had established their rule through the acquisition of contiguous land which ensured their hegemony over eastern Europe. Most of modern Russia that includes, for example, Dagestan and Chechnya, wasn’t the Russia of the 19th century when Britain was organising its gun running as part of the war of aggression against it.

An understanding of the historical context helps explain why Russia is fearful of Islamic instability and why Russia is concerned with the further spread of Islamic Jihad. It also partly explains why Putin got involved in Syria following Assad’s invitation in October, 2015. The existential threat Russia faces from Islamic extremism in its colonies is comparatively greater than that faced by the West.

Threat to Russia

Historically, the threat to Russia from Islamic extremists has been exacerbated by the British as part of their imperial strategy. By the 1830s the British were consciously and explicitly exploiting the Sunni-Shia divide in Afghanistan where they were playing off their support for the Shia-based communities against their Sunni counterparts during their first invasion of the country. Russia is demonised for the role it is currently playing in Syria, but the main reason it’s active in the country is to act as a counterbalance to the centuries-long determination by British imperial forces to exploit this divide as the precursor to gaining territory and thereby to attempt to dislodge Russia from land that it conquered through its own imperial endeavours.

The increase in Russophobia over the last few years that in many ways is more extreme that anything experienced during the height of the Cold War, mirrors Russia’s intervention in Crimea which was a reaction to the US-led engineered coup in Ukraine that preceded it. Overriding this is the notion that Russophobia, driven by Western fears of the Soviet role in communism’s mission to take over the “Free World”, arises periodically as a consequence of the perceived Russian threat to Western imperialist ambitions. Nothing Putin has ever said or done warrants this fear mongering. He has displayed no desire to attack the UK or the US and there is no cultural, linguistic or historical reasons why he would want to do so.

Offence not defence

Russia’s imperialist ambitions have involved the swallowing up of contiguous land rather than extraneous colonial land grabs and the eastward expansion of NATO typical of Western imperialism. The growth in the amount of US-NATO missile bases positioned around Russia which is much larger than during the period of the Cuban missile crisis, is clearly an act of provocation tantamount to aggression.

Image result for nato bases around russia

While Russia is faced with genuine potential threats from its Islamic colonies, Britain’s adversarial positioning in places like Cyprus and Bahrain serve no purpose other than as an expression of the projection of aggressive military power. In terms of the latter, the British establishment is actively supporting one of the most appalling human rights abusing regimes on earth. With its majority Shia population that rules over a tiny Sunni minority, Bahrain is a state essentially created by British imperialism underpinned by a fluid foreign policy that shifts depending on which president has been elected to the White House.

During a recent speech she made in Washington, Theresa May claimed that the days of military interventions are over. But if this were true, why would Britain need a military base in Bahrain? As Craig Murray contends, its difficult to argue in favour of the notion that Britain’s military capability is anything other than offensive:

“Britain’s forces are not configured for defence. They are configured for attack. Aircraft carriers are of no defensive use whatsoever, and indeed are hopelessly vulnerable against any sophisticated enemy. Their sole purpose today is the projection of power against poor countries. Their use lies only in the neo-con policy of attacking smaller states like Iraq, Libya and Syria. They are Blair force carriers.”

Murray continues:

“Britain is a country where thousands of children go to bed hungry. Yet is spends billion upon billion on Trident missiles whose sole purpose is to increase politicians’ sense of importance, and aircraft carriers designed to facilitate the maiming of other nations’ children. A rational, defence oriented military would have neither.”

Big business & the 2006 G8 Summit

Orwell’s famous phrase “war is not meant to be won, it is meant to be continuous”, is probably no more aptly applied than in relation to the Wests periodic war games with Russia. War is big business and the “Russian threat” is the justification by which this business is conducted. In this sense, the Cold War and Russophobia could be seen as synonymous. Putin is a Western ‘demon’ because unlike his Russian predecessors of the post- German unification period, he refuses to be seduced by the Washington consensus.

One of the more recent Cold War phases emerged in July, 2006 after Putin began reasserting Russia’s super-power status as part of the country’s first ever hosting of the G8 summit. Under Putin’s predecessor Boris Yeltsin, Russia had effectively become a vassal of the US. Putin ended that subservient status.

It was Moscow’s international independence in foreign policy, allied to its role as a gas and oil supplier, that prompted the then US vice-president, Dick Cheney, to make one of the most anti-Russian US speeches of modern times. Condemning Russia’s lack of democracy to an audience in Lithuania, Cheney proceeded on to Kazakhstan, where he praised its president whose elections are more flawed than Putin’s.

Hypocrisy

Russia’s continued trend towards the recentralisation of power in the Kremlin that began in the late 1990s under Washington’s poster boy, Yeltsin, was now depicted by the Americans as a policy trajectory defined and initiated by Putin. Western governments approved Yeltsin’s use of tanks against the Russian parliament in 1993 and his biased control of TV coverage in the 1996 elections, and yet here were the Americans criticising Russia’s faltering democracy without an apparent ability to self-reflect on their hypocrisy.

Putin’s reaction to the Cheney tirade was significant. He made only three mentions of the US in his state of the nation address a few days later, one of which was a flattering reference to Roosevelt’s new deal as a partial model for Russia. Unlike the hard power of the US under Obama, Russian foreign policy under Putin appears to be guided by soft power, which judging by the signals emanating from Trump, will be reciprocated by Washington.

Under Obama, as well as the current Conservative administration headed by Theresa May in Britain and her predecessor, David Cameron, the shift by Putin exemplified by the 2006 summit, should have been welcomed. But instead, it was seen as a new “Russian threat.” A decade on, following the unsubstantiated accusations that Russia leaked emails showing Clinton’s corruption, allegedly in order to influence the US election, Cold War anti-Russian propaganda has reached a new phase. Whatever the misgivings people have about Trump’s presidency, his attempts to reconcile US-Russian foreign policy differences must surely be welcomed.

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All original material created for this site is ©Daniel Margrain. Posts may be shared, provided full attribution is given to Daniel Margrain and Road To Somewhere Else along with a link back to this site. Using any of my writing for a commercial purpose is not permitted without my express permission. Excerpts and links, including paraphrasing, may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Daniel Margrain and Road To Somewhere Else with appropriate and specific direction to the original content. Unless otherwise credited, all content is the site author’s. The right of Daniel Margrain to be identified as the author of this work has been asserted by him in accordance with the Copyright, Designs and Patents Act 1988.

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My Review of the opening episode of the BBC3 Comedy, ‘Fleabag’

By Daniel Margrain

Photo: Amazon

There is likely to be nobody who detests the vast majority of what passes for BBC comedy output more than I do. From the unedifying spectacle of Mrs Brown’s Boys to the stupefying banality of Miranda, what the sheer dearth of quality output over the years highlights is the importance teams of writers are to the production of quality comedy. This explains why American comedy’s invariably hit the mark but on the whole, their British counterparts fail.

But once in a while, something extraordinary hits our television screens. I witnessed such a moment the other night thanks to a recommendation from Victor Lewis-Smith. As somebody who appreciates the quirky character-led observational and acerbic comedy canon, I knew I was going to be in for a treat from the opening sequence. One of the early scenes in which the boyfriend of Fleabag creator and star Phoebe Waller-Bridge left her due to her habit of masturbating to Barack Obama speeches, was genius. This was one of the many inventive and inspired tragic-comic sequences that punctuated the shows 26 minute duration.

Firmly set within the confessional territory of Bridget Jones, Waller-Bridge’s first person monologues to camera, which hint at its Edinburgh fringe origins, were repeated throughout the episode. While these sequences were not original – having been seen in Woody Allen films (most notably Annie Hall) – they were nevertheless brilliantly executed.

What we quickly learn is that Fleabag is the epitome of a woman constantly on the verge of having a hyperventilating nervous breakdown in what is an increasingly dysfunctional world. As she navigates an urban terrain of awkward men while struggling to bond with her sister, it soon becomes obvious that her nihilism and inability to deal with personal relationships is an expression of a melancholy that’s rooted in personal tragedy, money problems or both.

We soon learn that somebody close to her had suffered an untimely death and that she lied to her financially successful sister about her financial situation as a front in order to get her approval. Her father (Bill Paterson) appears as a distant and peripheral figure in her life while her stepmother (Olivia Coleman) who tells her how awful she looks, has the potential to be as venomous a character as Julia Davis’ in Nighty Night whose magnetic on-screen presence Waller-Bridge manages to equal, if not surpass.

As with Julia Davis’ character, Waller-Bridge pulls off a woman, whose ferocious self-loathing is out of control and whose life is in a state of perpetual chaos, with great aplomb and technical skill. But unlike Davis’ character, Fleabag’s method of dealing with these frailties is to not take anything seriously.

In contrast to the derivative and telegraphed pratfall farce of a sit-com like Miranda, the sense of pathos and melancholy in Fleabag is never far from the surface. After having watched the opening episode, I get the feeling that a number of tragedies will unfold as the series progresses in which underlying themes of alienation, loneliness and loss look set to be developed.

All the performances were first class, but particular congratulations go to Waller-Bridge whose front and centre role stole the show. I was never quite sure what she was about to do or when she was going to do it – real edge of the seat stuff. I was mezmerized by her which is a testament to the brilliant writing, inventive set pieces, casting and strong characters.

Those responsible for taking the decision to commission this brave and fresh work of art are to commended for their risk-taking in bringing Fleabag to the small screen. We need more of it.

COPYRIGHT

All original material created for this site is ©Daniel Margrain. Posts may be shared, provided full attribution is given to Daniel Margrain and Road To Somewhere Else along with a link back to this site. Using any of my writing for a commercial purpose is not permitted without my express permission. Excerpts and links, including paraphrasing, may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Daniel Margrain and Road To Somewhere Else with appropriate and specific direction to the original content. Unless otherwise credited, all content is the site author’s. The right of Daniel Margrain to be identified as the author of this work has been asserted by him in accordance with the Copyright, Designs and Patents Act 1988.

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Cajoling the Herd

 Daniel Margrain

This herd of cattle was moved from the Shropshire Union Canal in Market Drayton

In 1938, in response to the alleged arrival to America of aliens from another planet, thousands of US citizens left their suburban homes in a state of panic and departed for the hills. An unsuspecting public did this because the authoritative and solemn tones of the radio announcer who imparted this ‘news’ was able to induce the requisite amount of fear in them.

It was only later that the people concerned had realized they had been duped. What was actually being broadcast was an adaptation of H G Wells’ War of the Worlds, and the announcer was none other than the renowned actor and film director, Orson Welles. The power of radio had convinced people to behave in an irrational manner in response to this ‘fake news’.

Almost eight decades after Welles made his fake radio broadcast, hundreds of thousands of protesters descended on Washington DC and many other cities across America and throughout the world. The stated aim of the protests was to demonstrate women’s rights in response to the revelation that Trump had boasted he had groped the genitals of a woman. But this soon morphed into a protest against Trump’s inauguration as the 45th President of the United States.

Censorship by omission

The issues the coverage of Trump’s alleged sexual assault raises is of course welcome. But the media coverage given to the incident which acted as the catalyst for the demonstrations also raises further questions in terms of what the media do and do not regard as a newsworthy story. Why, for example, hadn’t the media given equal coverage to the sexual depravities of Bill Clinton?

It should be noted that Hillary not only condoned Bill’s actions but has often slandered those who would dare speak out against them. The fact that the media have not managed to inculcate into the public consciousness the alleged crimes of Bill Clinton in the way they have in relation to Trump, almost certainly explains why, during Bill’s presidency and impeachment trial 20 years ago, no protests occurred.

So fake news is as much about the ability of the media to censor by omission as it is about the actual production of deliberately false information intended to deceive. In turn, it’s these distortions that provide the catalyst for the ideology of ‘post truth politics’ exemplified by the emergence of a discourse that appeals to emotion and where personal beliefs dominate. The media’s preoccupation with Trump’s seemingly sexist and misogynistic attitude to women intended to evoke an emotional response, was to be the starting point for what was to follow. The media’s anti-Trump agenda, in other words, had been cast.

Manichean logic & Red Baiting

The demonizing agenda was stepped-up a gear following the media’s relentless efforts to link Trump with Putin. With their application of Manichean logic, the intention of the political-media class is the deliberate conflation of media dissent with the notion that the dissenters uncritically support Russia and thus imply they are Trump apologists. In the establishment media’s eyes, the dissenters’ ‘crime’ is the acknowledgement that Trump’s stated aim to shift future US foreign policy from belligerence to cooperation with Russia, has validity.

The response of a corporate outlet like the Washington Post was to label anybody who proffers an alternative narrative to that pumped out by the mainstream as “routine peddlers of Russian propaganda.” The writer, Chris Hedges, who is on a list of 200 alternative websites condemned by the paper, describes the Post’s report as an “updated form of Red-Baiting.He added:

“This attack signals an open war on the independent press. Those who do not spew the official line will be increasingly demonized in corporate echo chambers such as the Post or CNN as useful idiots or fifth columnists.”

I, myself, was subject to this kind of ‘fifth-columnist’ irrational Red-Baiting on twitter earlier yesterday (Tuesday January, 31). The following tweet, for example, was in response to my factual assertion that Russia was invited by Syria to intervene in the country as a direct response to the arming, training and funding of Salfist terrorists by the US, UK, Saudi, Qatari and Turkish governments’:

: 4h4 hours ago

you sound like you might be a Trotskyist. Are you in the pay of a counter revolutionary organisation?

Paradox

As far as the political-media establishment is concerned, the Trump phenomenon represents a paradox, or as Charles Krauthammer put it, an “ideological realignment”. Trump’s non-conservative, idiosyncratic populism is the antithesis to the prevailing liberal political-media establishment orthodoxy, but is nevertheless welded to the capitalist order.

Under Obama, the media had it relatively easy because the nature of the mutual understanding between the two was understood. The snake oil salesman said the right things when required but was not particularly pro-active in policy terms unless it involved keeping the industrial-military complex ticking along by initiating wars.

Trump, on the other hand, not only says the wrong things, but has so far stuck to his word. This is very bad for the maintenance of the liberal consensus and a media elite that is used to having it’s snouts comfortably feeding from the gravy train trough on its own terms.

Public relations

This is not to suggest that the media is somehow separate from this state-corporate status quo. On the contrary, their role as public relations mediators for the state means they are intrinsic to the protection of corporate power against democratic forces. The unpredictability that arises from the ashes of Trump’s victory is akin to shaking one of those old children’s snow globe toys and waiting to see where the particles land. They have the potential to settle in a multitude of places. The strategies in response to the potential chaos unleashed by Trump, in other words, has the potential to take many forms, from that of the blinkered liberal to the revolutionary idealist and a multitude of possibilities in between.

Much to the undoubted relief of the political-media establishment, many of those who have been encouraged to take to the streets would appear to have been blinded by the media’s displacement activity which is essentially what their attacks on Trump are. Meanwhile, behind the scenes, the Clinton gang is pushing for war with Iran while the war criminal Jack Straw’s criticisms of Trump are clearly his attempts to steal the moral high ground. The kind of blinkered liberalism that focuses a disproportionate amount of criticism on Trump but ignores the underhand warmongering and war crimes of his opponents, is encapsulated by the following tweet:

Ashamed

To claim to feel more ashamed to be a citizen of a country represented by the actions of the latest in a long line of misogynistic presidents who followed through on a seven country visa ban policy mandate rather than the actions of his predecessor who attacked seven countries in eight years, is indicative of the propaganda power of the mass media.

The said media is currently facilitating an agenda by which the Trump ban is up for discussion, but prevents similar discussions in relation to restricting the ability of governments’ to wage wars. It is surely no coincidence that ‘feeling ashamed to be part of America for the first time in 32 years’ is related to the inability of the media to report on the numerous wars of aggression waged both overtly and covertly by successive US presidents.

The fact that the reason why Trump’s selective and temporary travel ban (not a Muslim Ban as reported) is considered to be an acceptable part of media discourse but the war machine championed by Obama and historically by numerous other presidents isn’t, is because critiques of the latter pose a potential threat to the underlying structure of media-state power.

L B C

I first heard about the ban on Maajid Nawaz’s L B C programme last Saturday morning (January 28). Unlike the other topics that have been featured on the show, a disproportionate amount of time was devoted to the Trump issue. The journalist Owen Jones who had just arrived in the UK from America was interviewed on the phone at some length by Nawaz and was given plenty of air time to promote the demonstration outside Downing Street that evening.

Meanwhile, a succession of callers phoned in to the programme, the vast majority of whom aired their disgust at the Trump policy. The calls were interspersed by a running commentary by Nawaz who repeatedly condemned Trump without referencing the fact that the seven country ban had already been put in place by Obama, or that the policy didn’t apply to British passport holding Muslim celebrities or politicians even though both were continually mentioned in a sensational way in order to illicit an emotional response from the listener.

Unlike Jones, Nawaz fell short of arguing for the banning of the planned state visit of Trump to the UK. Nevertheless, the tone throughout was one of hostility towards the visa ban policy and Trump himself. Throughout the show, Nawaz kept reminding his listeners about the growing number of signatures to the ‘Ban Trump’ on-line petition by providing them with a running commentary about the numbers who had signed up every few minutes. This was the standard approach taken throughout the media with all UK terrestrial TV news channels focusing their coverage on individuals at airports who were waiting for news of their loved ones that had been caught up in the confusion.

Meanwhile, it appeared to me that more coverage was devoted to the anti-Trump demonstrations throughout American and other cities than was given to the estimated 2 million people that thronged the streets of London protesting the decision of the UK government to go to war in Iraq. On Monday’s (January 30) the BBC Breakfast programme, a running total of signatures was displayed boldly on the screen as if it was money being raised for the Children In Need charity. All this passed for acceptable discourse in the corporate mass media.

Manipulating the public

It is an illustration of how corporations that now dominate much of the domestic and global economies recognize the need to manipulate the public through media propaganda by manufacturing their consent, largely achieved through coordinated mass campaigns of the kind described that combine sophisticated public relations techniques. These techniques involve the filtering out of all unwanted information by censoring it and amplifying all ‘useful’ information. The former explains why, for example, very few people remember the time when Theresa May as UK Home Secretary illegally deported 50,000 foreign students which consequently failed to generate the publicity required for a mass demonstration.

Although the issue is different, exactly the same principle can be applied to the lack of publicity the media have given to demonstrations against the government’s welfare reforms including cuts to disability benefits, reduced social care budgets and the introduction of the bedroom tax.

Make no mistake, the decision of Trump to ban people from seven majority Muslim countries on the false premise that it’s a security issue when those countries not on the banned list were the ones whose citizens were responsible for the attacks on 9-11, is illiberal, immoral and plain wrong.

But it is also wrong for the media to have perpetuated the myth that it was Trump who set the policy in motion and that his critics are somehow perturbed that he is fulfilling a pre-election democratic mandate. Perhaps it’s a sign of the times that many people are actually shocked when politicians actually follow through on their campaign promises. In that sense, at least – for good or bad – Trump has put down a marker for elected leaders in the future to follow.

Conclusion

The media hype surrounding the reporting of Trump’s sexual assault allegations and particularly the travel ban is disproportionate and exaggerated. Where were the reports of NATO’s flattening of the Libyan town of Sirte that killed thousands of civilians and the changing of the law last year enabling the deportation from the UK of any refugee child?

Why are a series of war criminals and war apologists seen fit to be interviewed about their disparaging views on Trump and are allowed to pass comment unchallenged? Why were the public told that Western civilisation was under threat from Islamist terrorists from the same countries who the elites are now criticising Trump from wanted to put travel restrictions on? Could it be Trump is unknowingly exposing the lie to their own propaganda?

The fact that these questions are never asked of the powerful and that a mass of well-meaning liberal protesters uncritically fall into line like a herd of cattle, is a testament to the hold the media has on great swaths of the population.

COPYRIGHT

All original material created for this site is ©Daniel Margrain. Posts may be shared, provided full attribution is given to Daniel Margrain and Road To Somewhere Else along with a link back to this site. Using any of my writing for a commercial purpose is not permitted without my express permission. Excerpts and links, including paraphrasing, may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Daniel Margrain and Road To Somewhere Else with appropriate and specific direction to the original content. Unless otherwise credited, all content is the site author’s. The right of Daniel Margrain to be identified as the author of this work has been asserted by him in accordance with the Copyright, Designs and Patents Act 1988.

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Real Truman Show: The Corporate Urban Vision

By Daniel Margrain

The Thames in Southwark with City Hall, where campaigners gathered to protest against privatisation of public spaces in London and throughout the UK.

 

The 1998 film, The Truman Show, directed by Peter Weir, presents a character, Truman Burbank, who unknowingly stars in a 30-year soap opera/reality show about his own life, under a giant dome whose boundaries are hidden from him. The show is broadcast to a global audience of billions.

The fake town Truman lives in, Seahaven, is populated by a massive number of actors playing real people. Seahaven’s creator, director, executive producer, and ‘God’, Christof, is convinced that the deception is benign, because Truman’s life in the synthetic town is far happier than anything he could find in the real world.

Truman has no idea he is living inside a television studio, surrounded by actors. Nor does he know that some 5,000 cameras placed around the town of Seahaven record his life for the TV audience, 24 hours a day non-stop without commercial interruption. The only way that Christof can make money is through product placements which are woven, at times clumsily, into dialogue and scenes that Truman is oblivious to.

As the film progresses, Truman begins to suspect that his entire life is part of an elaborate set. It’s at this point that the shows audience begin to root for him in his quest to uncover his fake existence and to escape from the confines of his virtual reality prison. The viewing audience are able to relate to Truman’s plight because they recognize that they too are trapped by similar forces that they need to be rescued from.

The film works as a satire because the community in which Truman lives his fake existence is very much tied into a corporate dominated world in which the notion of illusion and reality are often blurred. ‘Product placement’ and testimonials for this emerging system of entertainment-marketing capitalism are being seamlessly woven into our lives.

Truman’s quest for freedom can be interpreted as the aspiration for authenticity and meaning within a world in which the increasing commodification of all things is a feature of modern life. Was Weir on to something? Is the world in which Truman inhabits more than just a piece of science fiction allegory?

Molded into a desired pattern

Every institution provides the people who are members of it with a social role – that’s as true to the role played by say, the church, as it is to the corporation whose goal it is to maximize profit and market share. Capitalism could not function if it were not for the fact that individuals are disassociated from both the products of their labour and from one another. Just like the God figure, Christof, public relations and advertising industries facilitate the process of disassociation by molding people from a very early age into a desired pattern.

To achieve this, corporations don’t necessarily advertise products, but advertise a way of life and a narrative of who we are as people. The aim is to persuade the masses that the corporation is virtuous, responsible for the good life and the belief that the future can only be better than the present; that modernity itself means human improvement. However, the contradictions inherent to capitalism are such that progress is measured by the speed at which we destroy the conditions that sustain life. The function of corporate branding is to persuade us that the ideology of progress will offset the decline in societal and environmental well-being.

Disney Utopianism

Many corporations have already recreated their branded visions as three dimensional representations of real life with this aim in mind. A company like Disney, for example, have taken this logic to the next level by building a “town” in the image of their brand – Celebration Florida – which it describes as a unincorporated community of almost 8,000 people, situated on 11 square miles of carefully engineered Floridian swamp.” The brand image of Celebration Florida is a themed all-American family friendly privatized branded cocoon set within a bygone era – the real life Seahaven.

Given that relations mediated between human beings increasingly appear to be the function of the commercial world, could the Utopian Celebration Florida model become a commonplace vision elsewhere? Moreover, can civilization survive on this narrow definition of how humans interact with one another?

The real-life experiences many of us engage in on a day-to-day basis, embodied in atomized living and the increasing engagement with virtual reality and robotics, is arguably closer to the allegorical fantasy of the Truman Show than many people are perhaps prepared to admit. Just as Christof wove product placements into dialogue and scenes as part of Truman’s constructed reality, the same processes form part of the marketing tools available to professional marketeers who weave product-placements into our everyday real lives.

Product placement

Professional marketeer, Jonathan Ressler CEO of Big Fat Inc. concedes that “real life product placement is just that – placing stuff in movies but the movie is actually your life.” In other words, it’s already the case that people are being subliminally targeted with branding by undercover marketeers on a daily basis. Ressler elaborates on these themes in the documentary film, The Corporation.  He claims that the public are subject to an average of eight or nine subliminal marketing messages a day and they therefore effectively act as brand bait and soundbites of knowledge for corporations.

According to Ressler, it’s fine if the masses want to be critical by cynically challenging the motive behind every human exchange, but adds that if the corporations “show you something that fits and something that works that makes your life better in some way, who cares?…Just say, thanks!” The implication seems to be that if an uncritical and undemanding public are happy with the commercial ‘comforts’ that the corporation is able to provide them and their families with, then logically there is no reason for people to want to absolve themselves of these comforts.

Reassurance

Familiarity and reassurance appears in some way to be hard-wired into the human psyche. This probably explains why, for example, many people who travel or settle in foreign lands tend to congregate and surround themselves with others of similar linguistic and cultural backgrounds.The corporate marketeers are thus able to exploit this situation for their own commercial ends.

Just as Christof sought to discourage Truman from leaving his inauthentic existence in Seahaven by warning him of the dangers that exist in the real world compared to the life of safety constructed for him, so it is that Celebration Florida spokesperson, Andrea Finger, is able to promote a highly successful Disney brand predicated on the notion that it “speaks of reassurance, tradition and quality.”

There’s an interesting Truman site by Ken Sanes who says the Truman Show tells us that “if we want to be free and have a chance at an authentic life, we will have to distance ourselves from the safety and comforts of our media-saturated culture and be willing to live in the world as it is”. This brings into sharp focus the contesting nature of authenticity; of identity and representation and what constitutes democratic urban space and its relation to forms of state power. I discuss these issues in more detail here and here.

Authentic spaces or corporate landscapes of power?

More broadly, the public’s perception of what constitutes an authentic space is often tied to what use the state puts them to. The line between private and public spaces in which large parts of towns and cities have been hollowed out, is becoming increasingly blurred. London’s Canary Wharf, Olympic Park and the Broadgate development in the City, for example, are public places now governed by the rules of the corporations who own them. Other privatized public zones in Britain include Birmingham’s Brindley place, a significant canal-side development, and Princesshay in Exeter, described as a “shopping destination featuring over 60 shops set in a series of interconnecting open streets and squares”.

Ultimately, corporations are shaping elements from the landscape of cities and towns and re-packaging them under the banner ‘urban renaissance’ predicated on place promotion and development with culture, heritage and conspicuous consumption in mind. The real life Disney Celebration Florida model that literally could have been borrowed from the fictional Truman Show, represents the apex of this concept. In her book Landscapes of Power, Sharon Zukin quotes a Disneyland planner:

“We carefully program out all the negative, unwanted elements and program in the positive elements…Disney succeeded on the basis of this totalitarian image-making, projecting the collective desires of the powerless into a corporate landscape of power.”

Is this kind of privatized and sanitized Disney- Truman Show-type environment the kind of model for society we ought to be encouraging planners to move towards?

COPYRIGHT

All original material created for this site is ©Daniel Margrain. Posts may be shared, provided full attribution is given to Daniel Margrain and Road To Somewhere Else along with a link back to this site. Using any of my writing for a commercial purpose is not permitted without my express permission. Excerpts and links, including paraphrasing, may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Daniel Margrain and Road To Somewhere Else with appropriate and specific direction to the original content. Unless otherwise credited, all content is the site author’s. The right of Daniel Margrain to be identified as the author of this work has been asserted by him in accordance with the Copyright, Designs and Patents Act 1988.

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Syria: Unraveling the Propaganda

By Daniel Margrain

One of the key signs of a healthy democracy is the extent to which state and corporate media encourage genuine diversity of opinions and the ability for alternative narratives to flourish. On both counts, the mass Western media failed in relation to their coverage of the Syrian conflict. The inability to report objectively on Syria is indicative of a structural and systematic bias that permeates the media. Its highly concentrated nature has resulted in a sustained narrative of misinformation, deceptions and outright lies.

The mass media’s propaganda campaign against the government of President Bashar al-Assad began to surface during the events which led up to an intended series of planned demonstrations – the much hyped “Day of Rage” of March 4 and 5, 2011. However, at this early stage the propaganda proved to have been a failure and the planned action never materialized. Time correspondent, Rania Abouzeid conceded that the inability of the protest organizers to draw significant support for the “Day of Rage” was a reflection of the Syrian people’s support for their government and its policies.

Iranian influence

The support for Assad had become rooted as far back as 2007 after Iranian influence in neighbouring Iraq became established and the former’s relationship with the Syrian government strengthened. It was around this time that the American’s began to switch policy from opposing Sunni Jihadist militants embodied in al-Qaeda, to opposing Iran who they regarded as the bigger threat to their wider regional objectives. In Washington this switch became known as “re-direction”. The US attempts to destabilize Syria in order to counter growing Shi-ite predominance in the region was probably best articulated by renowned investigative journalist, Seymour Hersh:

“To undermine Iran, which is predominantly Shi-ite”, Hersh wrote, “the Bush administration has decided, in effect, to reconfigure its priorities in the middle east. In Lebanon the administration has cooperated with the Saudi Arabian government, which is Sunni, in clandestine operations that are intended to weaken Hezzbollah. The US has also taken part in clandestine operations aimed at Iran and its allies in Syria. The by-product of these activities is the bolstering of Sunni extremist groups that espouse a militant vision of Islam – one hostile to America and sympathetic to al-Qaeda.”

False narrative

What former UK ambassador, Craig Murray, described as the active arming, funding and training of anti-Assad groups from 2007 onward, contradicts the “completely untrue narrative” that the conflict in Syria suddenly erupted and that the American’s came in to support democratic forces – a narrative that culminated in the outbreak of violent protests in the Syrian-Jordanian town of Daraa on March 17, 2011, less than two weeks after the failed “Day of Rage” protests outlined above. Echoing Murray, Professor of Economics, Michel Chossudovsky noted that the violence:

“had all the appearances of a staged event involving, in all likelihood, covert support to Islamic terrorists by Mossad and/or Western intelligence. Government sources point to the role of radical Salafist groups (supported by Israel). Other reports have pointed to the role of Saudi Arabia in financing the protest movement.”

Jeremy Salt, associate professor in Middle Eastern History and Politics at Bilkent University, Ankara, wrote:

“The armed groups are well armed and well organised. Large shipments of weapons have been smuggled into Syria from Lebanon and Turkey. They include pump action shotguns, machine guns, Kalashnikovs, RPG launchers, Israeli-made hand grenades and numerous other explosives. It is not clear who is providing these weapons but someone is, and someone is paying for them.”

Reports (suppressed in the Western media) indicating that the number of policemen killed at Daraa (seven) was more than the number of demonstrators killed (four), is hardly indicative of the brutal actions of a government intent on oppressing its own people.

Legitimacy

Time reported that unlike “the ousted pro-American leaders of Tunisia and Egypt, Assad’s hostile foreign policy toward Israel, strident support for Palestinians and the militant groups Hamas and Hezbollah, are in line with popular Syrian sentiment.” Assad, in other words, had legitimacy.

This was confirmed when, twelve days after the Western fomented violence at Daraa, tens of thousands of Syrians gathered at central bank square in Damascus in support of their president. The pro-government rally, which can be viewed here was wrongly portrayed in the Western media as an anti-government demonstration. The Guardian, for instance, reported the rally as a “military crackdown against civilians”

This kind of misinformation prompted Russia and China to veto a European-backed UN security council resolution threatening sanctions against the Syrian regime “if it did not immediately halt its military crackdown against civilians”.

Members of a US Peace Council inferred that the key motivations underpinning the foreign policy objectives of Washington and its allies in relation to Syria, have nothing to do with protecting civilians, nor with democracy but is about inflaming sectarian divisions and thus political instability as the prelude to initiating regime change in the country.

Former French Foreign Minister Roland Dumas confirmed in 2013 that Britain had been planning the war on Syria “two years before the Arab spring” which was to involve the organizing of an invasion of rebels into the country. “This operation goes way back. It was prepared, preconceived and planned”, he said.

Regime change/Ghouta & Houla

Given the context described, it comes as no surprise that much of UK journalism had decided that the Wests current official enemy was responsible for the chemical attacks in the Damascus suburb of Ghouta in 2013, the year Dumas made his announcement. On September 16 of that year, the UN published the evidence in its report on “the alleged use of chemical weapons in the Ghouta area”. The UN did not blame the Syrian president, Assad, for the attack, but instead expressed “grave doubts” that the Syrian government was responsible.

Just one day after the attacks, a Guardian leader claimed there was not “much doubt” who was to blame, as it simultaneously assailed its readers with commentary on the West’s “responsibility to protect” (see below). The media’s response to the May 2012 massacre in Houla, similarly reported the Assad government as having been mainly responsible for the deaths.

On June 27, 2012, a UN Commission of Inquiry delivered its report on the Houla massacre by concluding that they were unable to determine the identity of the perpetrators. However, the gruesome nature of many of the deaths pointed to the kinds of atrocities typical of Al Qaida and their affiliates in the Anbar province of Iraq. Nevertheless, the clear intention of the media was to attempt to cast Syria into the ‘civil war’ of the Wests making. The propaganda offensive continued two months later when Barack Obama announced his “red line.”

On cue, on April, 2013, the White House claimed that US intelligence assessed “with varying degrees of confidence” that “the Syrian regime has used chemical weapons on a small scale in Syria, specifically the chemical agent sarin”. This was flatly contradicted by former Swiss attorney-general Carla Del Ponte on May 6, 2013. Speaking for the United Nations independent commission of inquiry on Syria, Del Ponte said, “We have no indication at all that the Syrian government have used chemical weapons.”

September 16, 2013 UN report

Seemingly undeterred, Washington continued with the accusations following the chemical attacks in Ghouta over three months later, long before the UN published the conclusions in its September 16, 2013 report. The reports findings were cautious in terms of blaming the Assad regime for the attack. Nevertheless, as far as the U.S administration was concerned, Assad had crossed the ‘red line’ and was pronounced ‘guilty’. As a result, the U.S president announced on television that he was going to respond with a ‘targeted’ military strike on Syria, despite widespread public opposition to any such attack.

In response to the opposition to mission creep and war, the BBC produced the now infamous documentary, Saving Syria’s Children, arguably the most overt piece of war propaganda ever made. Sequences filmed by BBC personnel and others at Atareb Hospital, Aleppo on 26 August 2013 that purported to show the aftermath of an incendiary bomb attack on a school in Urm Al-Kubra were, in the words of journalist Robert Stuart, “largely, if not entirely, staged.” Broadcast on the day the House of Commons was due to vote for military action in Syria, the documentary was clearly intended to influence the vote which the Cameron government ultimately lost. Stuart’s brilliant and meticulous analytical demolition of the documentary is discussed here.

Qatari government report

Yet another cynical piece of anti-Assad propaganda that passed the corporate mainstream media class by, was the BBCs distorted interpretation of a report commissioned by the Qatari government which claimed that the Syrian government had “systematically tortured and executed about 11,000 detainees since the start of the uprising.” Craig Murray, described the BBCs presentation of the report as “a disgrace” that again, was clearly intended to influence public opinion in favour of war. The media war-drive was averted after Obama agreed to a Russian proposal at the UN to dismantle Syria’s capability for making chemical weapons after having been exposed for his deceptions.

Based on interviews with US intelligence and military insiders, Seymour Hersh, the journalist who revealed the role the United States played in the My Lai massacre in Vietnam, asserted that Obama deceived the world in making a cynical case for war. This claim was supported in April, 2016, by former CIA analyst, Ray McGovern, who argued that the Turkish government, at the behest of Washington, engineered the chemical attacks in Ghouta in order to draw the United States into Syria. McGovern stressed that one of the Turkish journalists who exposed Turkey’s involvement in the alleged false flag attack has (as part of president Erdogan’s crackdown on independent journalism), been imprisoned and charged with treason.

Arms company profits

The prospect of a lengthy war against Syria provided a boost to the profits of the arms and weapons companies while simultaneously reining in Russian and Iranian influence in the region. According to Charles Glass, in order to help achieve this, U.S tax payers’ money “has been used to fund terrorist groups from the very beginning.” The author, journalist and film-maker proffered the U.S rationale for this course of action:

“Iran is president Assad’s only ally in the region, and Assad is the only client state of Russia in the entire Arab war. Remember, there are only twenty-two members of the Arab League, twenty-one of whom are client American states, and Russia wasn’t going to give the one that remains [ie Syria] up. So from the point of view of the U.S, they want to have all twenty-two.”

Glass continued:

“Moreover, they want the Syrian army to be U.S trained, and they want a Qatari pipeline to go through Syria. They want to dominate the whole region and Syria is the missing piece. In addition to which, because Syria supported Hezzbollah in Lebanon, which the Israeli’s have never forgiven them for, they wanted to break the bridge with Tehran. For the outside powers, it’s never been about human rights and democracy inside Syria (emphasis added). That’s not the issue. The issue has always been about Assad’s relationship with Iran.”

Glass’s assertions, which are supported by Craig Murray, have been corroborated by Wikileak cables. But regime change that invokes the imposition of an anti-Russian leader within the power structures of the Syrian state, cannot be achieved without the aid of ISIS on the ground who have gained access to weapons exported by the UK to the Middle East in the wake of the 2003 US-led Iraq invasion.

However, gaining access to weapons is not possible without access to money to purchase them. The main source of ISIS funds is from the sale of oil from nearly a dozen oil fields in northern Iraq and Syria’s Raqqa province. It then passes through Turkey and Iraq’s Kurdistan region. In September 2014, in a briefing to the European Parliament Foreign Affairs Committee, EU Ambassador to Iraq, Jana Hybaskova, conceded that some European countries have purchased crude from ISIS from the areas in northern Iraq and Syria they have captured. This is all part of the West’s strategy to wreck the relatively secular and stable nature of Syrian civic society.

Black market oil/Arab allies funding ISIS

In 2012, a Pentagon document obtained by Judicial Watch spelled out the fact that the Wests supported terrorist opposition – who have burned down churches and massacred the world’s oldest Christian communities – “are the major forces driving the insurgency in Syria.” Two years later (2014), David Cohen, US Treasury under-secretary for terrorism and financial intelligence, claimed that middlemen from Turkey and Iraq’s Kurdistan region buy black market oil from ISIS that earns the terror group some $1 million a day.

If Western governments were serious about obliterating the existential threat they claim ISIS represents, they would not have aligned themselves with 70,000 unidentified ‘moderates’ who, as Patrick Cockburn contends “are weak or barely exist”. On the contrary, they would have aligned themselves with the forces on the ground that are resisting ISIS most effectively. These groups are the Syrian Kurds, the Syrian National Army, Hezzbollah and Iran – all of whom were, and to some extent still are, being backed by Russian air power.

Nafeez Ahmed notes that in his testimony before the Senate Armed Services Committee in September 2014, General Martin Dempsey, then chairman of the US Joint Chiefs of Staff, was asked by Senator Lindsay Graham whether he knew of “any major Arab ally that embraces ISIL”? Dempsey replied: “I know major Arab allies who fund them.” In other words, the most senior US military official at the time had confirmed that ISIS were being funded by the very same “major Arab allies” that had just joined the US-led anti-ISIS coalition. Dempsey’s testimony is consistent with information contained within a leaked US State Department memo, dated 17 August 2014, which states that:

“We need to use our diplomatic and more traditional intelligence assets to bring pressure on the governments of Qatar and Saudi Arabia, which are providing clandestine financial and logistic support to Isis and other radical groups in the region.”

The ‘Responsibility to Protect’ Doctrine

The following year (September 28, 2015), in a speech to the U.N General Assembly in New York, Barack Obama alluded to the ‘responsibility to protect’ (R2P) doctrine as the justification for Assad’s overthrow and, in the name of democracy, the bombing of Syrian cities. Earlier that day at the British Labour Party Conference in Brighton, England, the neocon fanatic, Hilary Benn, was more explicit by actually citing the R2P doctrine by name as the justification to attack Syria.

Formulated at the 2005 UN World Summit, the version of R2P currently in vogue and proposed by the [Gareth] Evans Commission, authorises “regional or sub-regional organisations” such as NATO to determine their “area of jurisdiction” and to act in cases where “the Security Council rejects a proposal or fails to deal with it in a reasonable time”.

Often used as a justification to protect suffering populations, in reality the R2P doctrine has been used to overthrow a series of sovereign states, most recently in Libya. The version of R2P formulated at the UN World Summit will, in all probability, be used in an attempt to legally justify the dismembering of Syria. The use of the R2P doctrine in Iraq set a precedent whereby Western powers have been able to circumvent the consensus view of what constitutes illegality among the world’s leading international lawyers.

The Caroline Principle

The rejection of the consensus view of the world’s leading international lawyers, was outlined in a memorandum where the concept of the Caroline Principle was developed. A key part of the memorandum states:

“It must be right that states are able to act in self-defence in circumstances where there is evidence of further imminent attacks by terrorist groups, even if there is no specific evidence of where such an attack will take place or of the precise nature of the attack” (emphasis added).

In other words, the re-framing of international law based, as one administration official  put it – on “pre-emptive retaliation” – means that the West can make any decision to attack a potential adversary without evidence of any wrongdoing. During a January 11, 2017 speech, the English and Welsh Attorney General (AG) outlined the legal position on the UK’s use of drones stating that it was dependent on a subjective interpretation of “pre-emptive”, specifically on the word, “imminent”.

According to Craig Murray, during the time of the Iraq war in 2003, the entire UK legal department of the Foreign and Commonwealth Office (FCO) advised Jack Straw that it would be illegal for the UK to attack Iraq. In response, Straw was said to have done two things. First, he allegedly asked the Attorney General to sack the person the AG appointed – ie the chief Foreign office legal adviser, Michael Woods, who advised Straw about the illegality of going to war with Iraq.

Secondly, having failed in his attempt to get Woods sacked, Murray alleges that Straw sent the AG for England and Wales, Lord Goldsmith, to the US to consult with G.W Bush’s legal advisers, ostensibly in order to clarify the legal position. The consultation resulted in Goldsmith changing his view from one where he argued the war was illegal to one of legality.

Murray contends that Straw realized that he could no longer depend on the FCOs legal advise to justify war. So, after Woods subsequently left the FCO voluntarily, Straw appointed, for the first time ever, a new chief legal adviser who originated from outside the FCO. This outsider was the international lawyer who developed the Caroline Principle, Daniel Bethlehem.

Prior to his role as legal adviser to the FCO, Bethlehem was legal adviser to Benjamin Netanyahu and had represented Israel before the Mitchell Inquiry into violence against the people of Gaza, arguing that Israel’s actions could be sanctioned on the basis of self-defense using the reconfigured “imminent threat” definition as justification.

Bethlehem also supplied the Government of Israel with a Legal Opinion that the vast Wall they were building in illegally occupied land, surrounding and isolating all the major Palestinian communities and turning them into large prisons, was also legal.

When on January 11, 2017, the AG gave his speech in which he made public the legal advise of Daniel Bethlehem, none of the British media made any critique of it at all. Not a single media outlet inquired about the background of Daniel Bethlehem, his development of the Caroline Principle and the R2P doctrine that underpins it. This doctrine, it is to be recalled, is used to legitimize drone strikes without due legal process and was used as the legal basis for the Iraq war. But arguably, most significant of all in the context of this article, is the mass media have failed in their duty to critique Bethlehem’s possible role as part of the Wests broader strategy to dismember Syria.


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Israel & energy independence

This broader strategy involves the granting of oil exploration rights inside Syria, by Israel, in the occupied Golan Heights, to the multinational corporation, Genie Energy. Major shareholders of the company – which also has interests in shale gas in the United States and shale oil in Israel – include Rupert Murdoch and Lord Jacob Rothschild. Other players involved include the Israeli subsidiary, Afek Oil and Gas, American Shale, French Total and BP.

Thus, there exists a broad and powerful nexus of US, British, French and Israeli interests at the forefront of pushing for the break-up of Syria and the control of what is believed to be potentially vast untapped oil and gas resources in the country.

Against this are the competing agendas of the various belligerent gas-exporting foreign factions, that according to Orstein and Romer, have interests in one of the two gas pipeline projects that seek to cross Syrian territory to deliver either Qatari or Iranian gas to Europe. As Orenstein explained:

“In 2009, Qatar proposed to build a pipeline to send its gas northwest via Saudi Arabia, Jordan, and Syria to Turkey… However, Syrian President Bashar al-Assad refused to sign the plan; Russia, which did not want to see its position in European gas markets undermined, put him under intense pressure not to”.

Russia’s Gazprom sells 80 per cent of its gas to Europe. So in 2010, Russia put its weight behind “an alternative Iran-Iraq-Syria pipeline that would pump Iranian gas from the same field out via Syrian ports such as Latakia and under the Mediterranean.” The project would allow Moscow “to control gas imports to Europe from Iran, the Caspian Sea region, and Central Asia.”

Up to this point, US policy toward Assad had been ambivalent – the intention being that “jaw-jaw” rather than “war-war” would more likely pry Assad away from Iran, thus opening up the Syrian economy to US investors, and aligning the Assad government with US-Israeli regional designs. But the signing in July, 2011, of a $10 billion Iran-Iraq-Syria pipeline deal put an end to the U.S ‘softly-softly’ approach.

The rebel-terrorist factions whose violence had been fomented by the Western imperial axis at Daraa in March 2011 had, by the end of that year, seen their levels of covert assistance increase substantially. The purpose of this increase in support, was to elicit the “collapse” of the Assad government. This kind of ‘war of attrition’strategy of supporting Islamist terrorists, was intended to draw Russia into Syria in the same way the Carter government in 1979 had supported the mujahideen in Afghanistan in order to draw the Soviet Union, as it was then, into that country as the prelude to its collapse.

Meanwhile, across the Atlantic, major defense contractors Raytheon, Oshkosh, and Lockheed Martin assured investors that they stood to gain from the escalating conflicts in the Middle East. Lockheed Martin Executive Vice President Bruce Tanner said his company will see “indirect benefits” from the war in Syria. In addition, a deal that authorized $607 billion in defense spending brokered by the U.S Congress, was described as a “treat” for the industry. What better way to benefit from this ‘treat’ than for the major powers to secure the hydrocarbon potential of Syria’s offshore resources with the aim of reducing European dependence on Russian gas and boosting the potential for energy independence?

Pushing hard for war

None of the above would have been possible without one of the most concerted media propaganda offensives since the Iraq invasion. At the forefront of this offensive has been the Murdoch printed press with the rest of the pack not far behind. According to the Pew Research Journalism Project, “the No. 1 message” on CNN, MSNBC, Fox News and Al Jazeera, is that “the U.S. should “get involved” in the conflict in Syria”. But involvement requires a semblance of public consent and this is often achieved as the result of a singularly defining propaganda image or event.

In terms of the first Gulf conflict, the event in question was the infamous nurse Nayirah affair. In relation to the 2003 Iraq invasion, it was the WMD debacle, and in Libya in 2011 it was the false claims of rape said to have been committed by Libyan government troops. Aside from Saving Syria’s Children, the defining propaganda event in relation to Syria is probably the image of a small boy, Omran Daqneesh, photographed covered in dust sitting on a chair which brought a CNN anchor to tears.

But this incident is one of many. From the media’s use of the term “barrel bombs”, the glorification of White Helmets (who have been exposed as terrorist-enabler’s) – through to the ‘weaponizing’ of children exemplified by the exploitation of seven year old Bana Alabed by an individual whose on-line activities suggest complicity in a criminal disinformation campaign – the propaganda during this latest conflict has arguably been more sophisticated and far-reaching than at any time since WW1.

A major factor in the mass media’s hidden agenda in the selling of fake narratives to large swaths of the public, has been their ability to portray themselves as legitimate and reputable news organisations. During the conflict, Channel 4 News, CNN and Al-Jazeera have all reported overt, and often crude, false anti-Syrian propaganda as a replacement for objective reportage. The latter, for example, produced what was clearly a piece of absurd theatre in which the news anchor struggled not to laugh out loud live on air. This was reminiscent of CNNs interview with the fake “Danny”- clearly a Western-funded propagandist and Islamist extremist enabler.

Interwoven web

More broadly, evidence points to the existence of a complex interwoven web that connects the various government departments, NGOs, opposition groups and activists with the corporate media who facilitate and amplify this kind of propaganda. The evidence, outlined by Barbara McKenzie, is compelling:

“The role played by the British Foreign Office and other government departments in the unremitting propaganda against the Syrian government is unquestionable. The British government is determinedly pursuing its policy of regime change in Syria, and sees gaining public acceptance of that policy through propaganda that demonises the Syrian government and glorifies the armed opposition as essential to achieving that goal.”

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