Category: current affairs

Anti-Corbyn plots & the myth of the un-electable left

By Daniel Margrain

 

Corbyn speaking at the Tolpuddle Martyrs’ Festival and Rally in 2015

 

In 1978, the Australian social scientist, Alex Carey, pointed out that the twentieth century has been characterized by three developments of great political importance: “the growth of democracy; the growth of corporate power; and the growth of corporate propaganda as a means of protecting corporate power against democracy.” The 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 in order to defend their interests against the forces of democracy. This is largely achieved as a result of coordinated mass campaigns that combine sophisticated public relations techniques.

The result is the media underplay, or even ignore, the economic and ideological motivations that drive the social policy decisions and strategies of governments’. Sharon Beder outlines the reasoning behind the coordinated political, corporate and media attacks on democracy:

“The purpose of this propaganda onslaught has been to persuade a majority of people that it is in their interests to eschew their own power as workers and citizens, and forego their democratic right to restrain and regulate business activity. As a result the political agenda is now largely confined to policies aimed at furthering business interests.”

This is the context in which the UK political and media establishment are attacking Jeremy Corbyn’s leadership and demeaning the membership who had the temerity to vote for him, securing the biggest electoral mandate of any Labour leader in British political history. It’s the possibility that Corbyn will break the iron-clad neoliberal consensus that scares the establishment the most. As Mike Sivier has shown, the significant role the media have played in undermining Corbyn’s leadership, as well as their failure to explicitly acknowledge the establishment coup against him, can be traced back until at least April.

But arguably, the plot to oust Corbyn began the moment he became leader after a hardcore group that included shadow chancellor Chris Leslie, shadow education secretary Tristram Hunt, shadow communities secretary Emma Reynolds and shadow defence secretary Vernon Coaker, all refused to serve under him. Others included shadow transport secretary Michael Dugher, shadow chief secretary to the Treasury Shabana Mahmood, shadow international development secretary Mary Creagh and shadow Cabinet Office minister Lucy Powell.

The corporate media also played their part in what has arguably been the most vitriolic and biased reportage ever witnessed against any British political figure in history. What Media Lens accurately described as a “panic-driven hysterical hate-fest right across the corporate media spectrum,” actually began during Corbyn’s campaign to become leader. As the media analysts noted at the time, “the full extent of media bias against Jeremy Corbyn can be gauged simply by comparing the tone and intensity of attacks on him as compared to those directed at the other three candidates: Andy Burnham, Yvette Cooper and Liz Kendall.”

The intensity of the media attacks on Corbyn increased after the election despite the fact that he secured ‘the largest mandate ever won by a party leader’. The focus of these attacks included what colour poppy Corbyn would wear, his refusal to sing the national anthem or whether he would wear a tie or do up his top button. All of this was granted national news headlines and incessant coverage. Not to be outdone, in October last year, the BBCs political editor Laura Kuenssberg featured in an almost comically biased, at times openly scornful, attack on Corbyn’s reasonable stance on nuclear weapons. The BBC then broadcast five senior Blairite Labour figures all opposing Corbyn without any opportunity for an alternative viewpoint.

Kuenssberg followed up this hatchet-job three months later when she helped to orchestrate the live resignation of Labour shadow foreign minister Stephen Doughty on the BBC2 Daily Politics show as a pre-requisite to accusing Corbyn’s team of ‘unpleasant operations’ and ‘lies’. Then came the April 12 Telegraph article – a non-story about Corbyn’s state-funded salary and pension.

Allied to all this, have been the attempts by the Blairite Friends of Israel rump within the Parliamentary Labour Party (PLP) to topple Corbyn using the specter of antisemitism as a weapon with which to achieve it. Arguably, among the most comprehensive analyses of the McCarthy-style witch-hunts undertaken so far has been by Tony Greenstein (who remains at the forefront of moves to combat genuine cases of antisemitism on the fringes of the Palestine solidarity movement) in addition to the brilliant investigative work of journalist Asa Winstanley.

In an excellent piece published by the Electronic Intifada (April 28, 2016), Winstanley outlined the links between right-wing, anti-Corbyn and pro-Israel forces within the Labour party. He meticulously showed how this lobby manufactured an ‘antisemitism crisis’, pinpointing the individuals involved, the tactics and dirty tricks used and the connections to powerful individuals whose ties lead to pro-Israel groups both in London and Israel.

The latest attack on Corbyn centred on another contrived ‘antisemitism’ accusation, this time made by Labour MP, Ruth Smeeth who Wikileaks have revealed is a ‘strictly protected’ US informant. Smeeth staged a highly publicised walk-out during Corbyn’s launch of a review into the Labour party’s supposed ‘anti-semitism crisis’ last Thursday (June 30) which, as Jonathan Cook pointed out, was in fact, “a crisis entirely confected by a toxic mix of the right, Israel supporters and the media.”

A few days earlier another manufactured and staged anti-Corbyn story made the headlines. This time it centred around a Corbyn ‘heckler’ at Gay Pride, who in fact, as Craig Murray observed turned out to have been Tom Mauchline who works for the public relations firm, Portland Communications, whose ‘strategic counsel’ is Alastair Campbell, Blair’s former media chief who helped to sell the illegal invasion-occupation of Iraq.

In addition to all of this, Corbyn’s pro-Remain position with respect to the EU referendum provided his critics with the ammunition they needed in their attempts to undermine him further. Chief among these critics is Angela Eagle, one of the many Oxford educated Blairite plotters who resigned her post in order to position herself as a potential replacement for Corbyn and who claimed to be dissatisfied with Corbyn’s performance during the EU referendum campaign. However, as the graphic below would appear to indicate, Corbyn did much better than Eagle in defending their respective Remain positions:

According to a YouGov poll, Eagle commands just 6 per cent support from Labour members while a greater number than last time said they will vote for Corbyn if he were to stand again. In other words, just like last time, Corbyn would likely win more votes than all the other candidates combined. This grass-roots popularity for Corbyn must be seen against a backdrop in which the Labour party gained 60,000 members in one week following the attempted coup against him. Membership of the party currently stands at about 450,000 – a figure that is higher than it’s last peak of 405,000 members last seen under Tony Blair’s leadership.

This would almost certainly translate into Corbyn receiving more votes than his Blairite predecessor Ed Milliband did at the last General Election. With the proportion of the Labour vote increasing under Corbyn, the two main parties are neck-and-neck at 32 per cent. This undercuts the recent claims of elder statesmen like David Blunkett and Neil Kinnock that Corbyn is an electoral liability for Labour.

This narrative is consistent with the notion that the left are un-electable more generally. Such a narrative is a myth. As Craig Murray posited, the idea that you have to be right-wing to win elections is belied by the fact that the SNP under Nicola Sturgeon won the people of Scotland over on a left-wing ticket. Secondly, as he rightly says, there is no point being elected just so you can carry out the same policies as your opponents. Third, the British public’s ‘enthusiasm’ for somebody like Blair in 1997 was not based on policies known as Blairite. As Murray astutely points out:

“The 1997 Labour Manifesto  was not right-wing. It did not mention Academy schools, Private Finance Initiative, Tuition Fees, NHS privatisation, financial sector deregulation or any of the right wing policies Blair was to usher in. Labour actually presented quite a left wing image, and figures like Robin Cook and Clare Short were prominent in the campaign. There was certainly no mention of military invasions. It was only once Labour were in power that Blair shaped his cabinet and his policies on an ineluctably right wing course and Mandelson started to become dominant. As people discovered that New Labour were “intensely relaxed about people getting filthy rich”, to quote Mandelson, their popular support plummeted. “The great communicator” Blair for 90% of his Prime Ministership was no more popular than David Cameron is now. 79% of the electorate did not vote for him by his third election.”

Murray continues:

“Michael Foot consistently led Margaret Thatcher in opinion polls – by a wide margin – until the Falklands War. He was defeated in a victory election by the most appalling and intensive wave of popular war jingoism and militarism, the nostalgia of a fast declining power for its imperial past, an emotional outburst of popular relief that Britain could still notch up a military victory over foreigners in its colonies. It was the most unedifying political climate imaginable. The tabloid demonization of Foot as the antithesis of the military and imperial theme was the first real exhibition of the power of Rupert Murdoch. Few serious commentators at the time doubted that Thatcher might have been defeated were it not for the Falklands War – which in part explains her lack of interest in a peaceful solution. Michael Foot’s position in the demonology ignores these facts. The facts about Blair and about Foot are very different from the media mythology.”

The reality, as one commentator on twitter put it, is that in corporate media and political establishment parlance, “‘un-electable” is media-political code for ‘likely to be highly electable but ‘will not serve elite interests.'”

This description applies to Corbyn. The ‘un-electable left’ meme is likely to intensify the longer Corbyn manages to hang on. In these unsettling and unpredictable times, it’s the one propaganda weapon the establishment is certain to cling to as their means of attempting to prevent democracy from breaking their grip on power.

Why it’s inappropriate to charge the killer of Jo Cox under terrorism legislation

By Daniel Margrain


A message from the vigil for Jo Cox in Leeds

A message from the vigil for Jo Cox in Leeds (Pic: Andrew Brammer)

 

It is my contention that it is wrong that Thomas Mair, who allegedly killed MP Jo Cox, be charged under terrorism legislation on the basis that such a determination is bound up with all kinds of ideological connotations. The argument of many of those commentators on the political left of the spectrum who take the contrary position and believe that it is appropriate to describe the violent actions committed against the Labour MP, as well as other far right-wing inspired attacks such as the Orlando massacre, as acts of terrorism, seem to have arrived at that conclusion based solely on the question of media’s lack of consistency when describing other similarly planned attacks – albeit motivated by the other end of the political or ideological spectrum.

While on the surface, the ‘lack of consistency’ observation is arguably an accurate one – as evidenced, for example, by the media’s hypocritical response to the case of Ryan McGee who built a nail bomb to attack Muslims – I will attempt to show, however, that it is not a necessarily commendable position to take. Over the last 15 years, the killing of individuals or groups in Western societies have to a greater extent involved a political subtext as a result of the media’s response to them, particularly within a context in which Western-instigated wars waged against Muslim countries have resulted in their ruination and destabilization.

Given that there is no universally accepted definition of terrorism, it follows that the political-inspired violence of individuals or groups, either in support of wars of aggression enacted by the state against its official adversaries, or in what is often perceived to be in opposition to them, illustrates the limitations of this narrow conceptual framework. Specifically, this can be seen, firstly, in terms of the difficulties involved in ascertaining what constitutes a terrorist act and, secondly, relates to the question as to who determines the conceptual framework by which those who are accused of terrorism are legally bound?

The widely used definition of terrorism which pertains to the use of violence and threats to intimidate or coerce, especially for political purposes”, does not preclude the violence undertaken by states to similarly achieve political ends. Based on this understanding, it’s clear that all politically-motivated violence – whether undertaken by individuals, groups of state actors that include illegally constituted wars – amount to acts of ‘terrorism.’ Ostensibly, therefore, politician’s like Tony Blair and G.W. Bush who illegally led the rush to war against Saddam Hussein’s Iraq in 2003, are as equally culpable of committing terrorist acts as somebody like Osama bin Laden or Timothy McVeigh.

However, whilst on the surface such a determination sounds positive and is seen to serve a need for those who desire justice to be achieved, this consensus level playing field approach is paradoxically one that the state is keen to resist. Moreover, given the absence of any universally- defined legal framework for terrorism, the term is subjective. As Bruce Hoffman has noted:

“Terrorism is a pejorative term. It is a word with intrinsically negative connotations that is generally applied to one’s enemies and opponents, or to those with whom one disagrees and would otherwise prefer to ignore. Hence the decision to call someone or label some organization ‘terrorist’ becomes almost unavoidably subjective, depending largely on whether one sympathizes with or opposes the person/group/cause concerned. If one identifies with the victim of the violence, for example, then the act is terrorism. If, however, one identifies with the perpetrator, the violent act is regarded in a more sympathetic, if not positive (or, at the worst, an ambivalent) light; and it is not terrorism.”

As Hoffman also notes, for this and for political reasons, many news sources avoid using this term, opting instead for less accusatory words like “bombers” and “militants”.

It’s my argument that from an activists point of view, it’s important that the media make a distinction between illegal wars undertaken by state actors and the non-state politically-inspired violence of individuals and groups irrespective of whether the latter emanate from the left or right of the political spectrum. By charging some individuals or groups with terrorism offences predicated on politically-inspired violent actions but not others, potentially lends itself to accusations of double-standards and propaganda by the state. Those who doubt the veracity regarding the intention of the state to selectively invoke terrorism legislation need to look no further than the case of Pavlo Lapshyn – who murdered a Muslim and bombed mosques. This case represents the tip of a very large ice berg. As Craig Murray put it:

“Mair, McGee and Lapshyn would all, beyond any possible shadow of a doubt, have been charged with terrorism if they were Muslims. The decision is made by the Crown Prosecution Service, which has also recently decided that Tony Blair, Jack Straw, John Scarlett, Mark Allen et all will not stand trial for extraordinary rendition and complicity in torture, despite overwhelming evidence presented by the Metropolitan Police, including my own. There is a dark cloud of Islamophobia hanging over the Crown Prosecution Service. Given the totality of these decisions, there has to be.”

UK terrorism legislation which built up following the events on 9/11 and 7/7, is clearly intended as an ideological weapon whose purpose is to perpetuate this propaganda offensive in a highly selective and discriminatory way. This explains why the media resisted all attempts to describe the likes of the alleged far-right fascist killer of Jo Cox and the ultra-Zionist who hospitalized MP George Galloway as terrorists, but nevertheless regularly use the terrorist epithet to describe Islamist-inspired violence. The reality of the situation is that all charges of terrorism are legally unnecessary.

Instead, the appropriate course of action for the state to take is to invoke perfectly adequate murder and conspiracy to murder charges. Rather than running with the notion that Mair was a murderer who was almost certainly inspired by far-right politics, the line of the right-wing Daily Mail preferred the suggestion that the killer of Jo Cox allegedly targeted the MP due to a history of mental health problems. The implication is that these alleged mental health issues – in isolation – led to the attack on the Labour MP as though being mentally ill somehow makes one immune, as opposed to being sensitive, to the world which is the reality. The reality is that the mentally ill have no more propensity to violence than anybody else. As one commentator put it:

“The mentally ill are not other. They live in this world. They see the same media. And when the media tries to whip people into a frenzy, it is no surprise that some are whipped into a literal frenzy.”

The truth is that the right-wing media are using the issue of mental illness as a scapegoat for the crimes committed by a far-right politically-motivated murderer. As somebody who is currently diagnosed with anxiety and depression, the notion that some of the media are attempting to attribute the cause of the murder of Jo Cox to similar symptoms, is deeply offensive. This is not an attempt to absolve the murderer of any mental illness he may be suffering with, but merely to highlight that on its own it would have been highly unlikely to have been the cause.

It’s about time the media became unequivocal in emphasizing that, for the most part, wars are illegal state-sanctioned forms of collective violence, on the one hand, while on the other hand, they need to attribute lone killings – whatever their ideological motivations – as murders. In turn, the state needs to stop charging these murderers under terrorist legislation.

 

Osborne’s Budget of Irresponsibility

By Daniel Margrain

Chancellor Gideon Osborne’s budget last week that represented a culmination of six years of government failures and which slipped the UK into a deeper recession, amounted to another massive transfer of wealth from the poorest to the wealthiest in society. This was reiterated by both the Institute for Fiscal Studies (see chart below) and the Office for Budget Responsibility (OBR). The Economist projects that by the end of this parliament, levels of investment – which are already one of the lowest in Europe – will fall to just 1.4 per cent of GDP, under half of what it was when the coalition government came to power. It is also half of what the OECD said is necessary just for the UK economy to stand still. But despite these facts, an alternative narrative has emerged in many of the editorials of the corporate controlled media which bare no resemblance to reality for the vast majority of the British people. As Shadow Chancellor, John McDonnell put it on LBC last week, “If press releases built things, Cameron would have rebuilt our country.”

 

The main thrust of the budget was Osborne’s cut in funding to the disabled by £4.2 billion in order to pay for three separate tax cuts to the rich against a backdrop in which the national debt is rising by £45 per second or £2,700 per minute. Paul Mason summed up the mood in the House:

“Osborne’s glum face during Jeremy Corbyn’s speech — an uncharacteristically angry barnstormer — was matched by the glum faces of Blairites as they realised their own party was actually going to inflict moral and political damage on the government.”

Osborne’s inhumane and fiscally irresponsible budget was preceded by the fiscally responsible alternative version outlined by his opposite number, John McDonnell who, in a speech on March 11 (as well as in various interviews to the media and public meetings), laid out his parties fiscal credibility rules. The shadow Chancellor stated that he will eliminate the deficit and tackle the national debt within a five year period on the basis of the implementation of a progressive and ambitious investment programme that he said will provide the stimulus for growth and demand in the economy.

McDonnell insisted that a future Labour government would invest in skills, infrastructure and above all, technology. The speech was subsequently praised by a wide range of economists and some media outlets in addition to business organizations that included the CBI and the Chamber of Commerce. As a committed socialist, McDonnell is aware of the importance planning is to the economy and the ruthlessness that is required to properly monitor how governments’ spend and, more importantly, earn money. The whole debate is how the country earns its future which McDonnell has said ought to be focused on investment.

The difference between McDonnell’s approach and that of one of his often cited predecessor, Gordon Brown, is that the latter never went for an investment-growth strategy and relied too much on unregulated finance sector growth and the revenues generated, as the catalyst for the subsidizing of public services. This policy strategy proved to be an abject failure. Similarly, the approach under McDonnell’s immediate predecessor in opposition, Ed Balls, was firstly to underplay the drive toward investment and, secondly, was marked by his failure to recognize that governments’ have to borrow to invest in the long-term in order to grow the economy.

But equally as important, was Balls’ inability to grasp the important role organizations like the IMF and OECD play in diagnosing economic problems and how best to solve them. Specifically, Balls appeared to have underplayed the scope the combination of fiscal and monetary policy plays in combating low or negative interest rates. In contrast to the incompetence of Balls and Brown, McDonnell has expressed awareness that when government’s reach the limits of monetary policy in terms of low or negative interest rates, they have to combine the monetary with the fiscal. What McDonnell acknowledges, is the importance the building of a balanced economy plays to the modern democratic nation state.

The problem under previous government’s – both Conservative and Labour – has been that the investment in the manufacturing base, predicated on new technology, has been largely sidelined at the expense of the finance sector. On LBC, McDonnell used the analogy of a small company to outline his case. “An owner of a new company will need to invest in new machinery in order to compete against his rivals otherwise he or she will go out of business”, he said. He continued: “Government’s, like businesses, need to invest in the future otherwise their economies will fall behind.” The lack of investment is precisely what has beset the UK economy over recent decades, particularly under the latest Tory government which has overseen a widening productivity gap between the UK and its major European rivals.

McDonnell, correctly in my view, has made it clear that the Office for Budget Responsibility (OBR) should be given the power to monitor the UK’s own application of its fiscal credibility. The OBR, according to McDonnell, should not report to the Chancellor as is currently the case, but instead it should go directly to parliament. The aim is not merely to raise the economic credibility of Labour among the public but to raise it among the political class too. It’s ironical that despite the public perception that Labour governments’ have been more economically incompetent in the 37 years since Thatcher was elected than their Tory counterparts, the reality is there have been only two years – under Nigel Lawson during the boom period of the 1980s – in which the Tories produced a balanced budget. Conversely, Labour produced three years of balanced budgets under Gordon Brown.

 McDonnell has been aided in his approach to countering Tory and media propaganda by some of the world’s renowned and leading economists who have not only openly backed the oppositions anti-austerity economic model but have played an active part in advising the Shadow Chancellor as part of Labour’s Economic Advisory Committee. A central plank of the fiscal responsibility rules that McDonnell and his team set out on March 11, relates to Labour’s intention to reduce debt as a proportion of GDP over the lifetime of the government. This will entail growing the economy over the requisite five year period, allied to a fiscally disciplined and controlled approach to spending. The alternative budget that McDonnell proposed emphasized the application of a process of rigorous budgeting so as to restrict the likelihood of public expenditure spiraling out of control. To this end, the Shadow Chancellor stressed the need for the treasury to return to its former role of managing public finances as opposed to signalling to government departments that they have a license to spend public money in a prodigious manner.

An example of the latter happened two years ago following the Tory government’s much criticised selling off and closing down of the Forensic Science Service (FSS) against the advice of all the relevant parties concerned. The treasury ignored the advice because they envisaged the closing of the service as being financially prudent in the short-term. Two years down the line, they decided to set it up again. It’s this kind of short-term based decision-making predicated on the top down authoritarian micro-managed approach of their principal overseer in number 11 Downing Street that inhibits not only the long term financial credibility of government, but undermines democracy and the well-being of society as a whole.

Then there are the secret and highly wasteful and expensive P F I funded projects that typified the Blair and Brown era that McDonnell says he wants to put an end to. A third example of how short-term policy approaches are counterproductive to the long-term financial well-being of the nation, is within the realm of housing. The most labour intensive form of public spending is affordable council house building which, year on year, since the era of the Thatcher government, has failed to meet the demand for them. Labour’s Housing Minister, John Healey, has stated that he intends, as a starting point, to use savings on housing benefit (which is beneficial mainly to the rich), to build 100,000 affordable homes.

Government investment in housing is not only beneficial to those in need of a home, but it also reduces the housing benefit bill. In addition, the cost of buying a house is reduced due to increasing availability more widely. Although on the surface the intention to bring greater scrutiny and accountability to bare within the public sphere sounds overly bureaucratic, the kinds of attempts to rein in government and treasury short-term excesses are nevertheless fundamental to the successful running of governments’ in the eyes of the electorate. It is this electorate that is increasingly aware of just how callous Gideon Osborne has been in the lead up to the decision to cut disability welfare benefits which allegedly prompted Iain Duncan Smith’s resignation letter.

The letter basically outlined every suspicion that voters, and indeed Tory MPs, have about Gideon Osborne in relation to his obsessive attempts to micro-manage government departments as the prerequisite to his cynical positioning as next in line to succeed David Cameron as Tory leader. In relation to Duncan Smith’s resignation, one theory espoused by former UK diplomat Craig Murray is that his conscience got the better of him and as such Osborne’s budget attack on the disabled was regarded by Duncan Smith as one attack too many. Personally, I don’t buy it.

I’m more inclined to believe John McDonnell’s interpretation as expressed on LBC yesterday (March 19). McDonnell claims that the former Work and Pensions Secretary went through a long consultation exercise which specified the new proposal for the qualification criteria for the Personal Independence Payment (PIP). As a result of pressure from Osborne, McDonnell claims that Duncan Smith had no option other than to tear the agreement up.

In other words, a deal was allegedly done but Osborne is said to have reneged on it. This put pressure on Duncan Smith who, in turn, McDonnell claims, had taken the flack for something that was not ultimately his doing. Osborne had invented a fiscal rule that has been unable to withstand political scrutiny and the public, judging by the latest opinion polls, are wise to it. Let’s hope they will continue to be wise to the government’s various shenanigans prior to the forthcoming local elections and vote accordingly.

New Hampshire rejects establishment politics

By Daniel Margrain

There appears to be a pattern emerging within conventional democratic politics that seems set to break the neoliberal stranglehold that has dominated the said politics over the last few decades that is nothing short of revolutionary. Symptomatic of this radical shift as far as Europe is concerned has been the electoral successes of left parties in countries like Spain, Greece and Britain. Illustrative of the break with the traditional centre-right polity in America has been the ascendancy of Bernie Sanders who surged to victory beating Hillary Clinton resoundingly in the Democratic New Hampshire primary.

Whereas Clinton’s voter demographic is largely restricted to those people who are over the age of 65 and who have a family income of more than $200,000, Sanders carries majorities with nearly all demographic groups that include both men and women and those with and without college degrees. The popularity of Sanders reflects an upsurge in the grass roots opposition to the pro-war neoliberal consensus within the Democratic Party and their framing of a triangulation ideology that began under Bill Clinton and continues with Obama.

A Parallel can be drawn here with the phenomenal rise in grass roots Labour Party membership in Britain that elected Sanders’ equivalent, Jeremy Corbyn as leader on the back of a wave of apoplexy and disenchantment with both the self-interested careerist Blairite rump within the Parliamentary Labour Party and the elite political class in general. What we are witnessing on both sides of the Atlantic is the political and media establishment’s attempt to hold on to the levers of corrupt political and corporate media power and the privileges that come with them.

To this end, the strategy of the latter is to restrict the flow of dissenting information that conflicts in a fundamental way with these powerful interests. Set against this mutually reinforcing system of power and privilege undermining democracy, is a tidal wave of public anger and bitterness. Significantly, during his victory speech, Sanders briefly alluded to the kind of collusion between the media and political establishments’ described and their corrupting influence:

“The people of New Hampshire have sent a profound message to the political establishment, to the economic establishment, and by the way, to the media establishment.”

To my knowledge not a single mainstream media outlet has reported this part of Sanders’ speech. If one happens to be in any doubt that the liberal-left media in Britain is anything other than in thrall to the “feminist-progressive” and warmonger Clinton, than one need to look no further than the opinion pages of the Guardian. How the paper is able to reconcile its support for the neoconservative pro-Israeli hardliner predicated on her “feminism” can only be rationalized from the perspective of it’s usurpation to power.

As Craig Murray put it:

“The stream of “feminist” articles about why it would advance the cause of women to have a deeply corrupt right winger in the White House is steadily growing into a torrent. It is a perfect example of what I wrote of a month ago, the cause of feminism being hijacked to neo-conservative ends.”

In America last Sunday, CNN gave the Republican candidate, Donald Trump about half an hour of air time where he was able to call for waterboarding. He went on to state that he was in favour of much worse forms of illegal torture. Despite this, Trump’s comments went unchallenged by the CNN journalists whose role is clearly to promote him.

But as repugnant as the above is, it’s not the obvious differences between the right-wing extremism of Trump and other Republican’s compared to the democratic socialism of Sander’s that is the core issue voters are faced with in deciding whether to vote Democrat or Republican. Rather it’s the kind of cynical attempts of Clinton to disingenuously hitch on to the coat-tails of Sander’s for electoral gain depending on which way the prevailing wind is blowing, that contributes to left-wing voter fatigue that ultimately can only benefit the right.

Emphasizing the ideological distinction between himself and Clinton, Sanders said:

“What the American people are saying—and, by the way, I hear this not just from progressives, but from conservatives and from moderates—is that we can no longer continue to have a campaign finance system in which Wall Street and the billionaire class are able to buy elections. Americans—Americans, no matter what their political view may be, understand that that is not what democracy is about. That is what oligarchy is about. And we will not allow that to continue. I do not have a superPAC, and I do not want a super PAC.”

Former Democratic nominee, Arnie Arnesen, gives expression to this sentiment:

“What Bernie Sanders showed—and, to some extent, even Donald Trump has shown—is that this is no longer a time for establishment politics, that there is a problem. There is a disconnect between what they do and what they think and what the American people are feeling. Bernie tapped into that, not just in New Hampshire, but around the country.”

Fundamental to the popularity of Sanders has been his attack on the system that gave rise to the Wall Street banking scandal of which nothing short of a political revolution can resolve. He said that the problems in the United States stem from the fact that the country where mainly 62 American billionaires have the wealth of half the entire population of the world, is one of the most unequal and that he intends to do something about it:

“When the top one-tenth of 1% now owns almost as much wealth as the bottom 90%, that’s not fair. It is not fair when the 20 wealthiest people in this country now own more wealth than the bottom half of the American people…. Together we are going to create an economy that works for all of us, not just the 1%. And, when millions of our people are working for starvation wages, yep, we’re going to raise the minimum wage to $15 bucks an hour. And, we are going to bring pay equity for women.

And, when we need the best educated workforce in the world, yes, we are going to make public colleges and universities tuition free. And, for the millions of Americans struggling with horrendous levels of student debt, we are going to substantially ease that burden….The greed, the recklessness, and the illegal behavior drove our economy to its knees. The American people bailed out Wall Street, now it’s Wall Street’s time to help the middle class.”

Other progressive policy messages Sanders outlined in his speech on issues such as healthcare, climate change, foreign policy and minority rights, are similarly resonating within the Democratic Party and arguably further afield. In a desperate attempt to add some kind of (misguided) substance to her campaign, Hillary Clinton’s team called on former Secretary of State, Madeleine Albright. The “feminist” who, under Clinton’s husband during the Iraq debacle, asserted that U.S. policy objectives were worth the sacrifice of half a million Arab children, shamelessly invoked identity politics as a tactic intended to vilify women who voted for her Democrat opponent. “Women’s equality is not done”she said “There’s a special place in hell for women who don’t help each other.”

Almost certainly, what a significant amount of New Hampshire Democrats considered before they cast their votes was to evaluate both candidates’ voting record. Clinton’s record has been dogged by accusations of triangulating flip-flopping. This has been put sharply into focus by her sudden shift to the left on issues such as the Keystone XL pipeline and the Trans-Pacific Partnership soon after Sanders entered the race.

Certainly, her voting record on key issues, unlike that of her rival, has been less than stellar. From supporting the 2001 Patriot Act through to the Iraq and Syria interventions and many other issues there is very little, if anything, to distinguish her record from her Republican rivals.

Assange’s stitch-up is a lesson for us all

By Daniel Margrain

Yesterday’s UN ruling (February 5) that deemed the deprivation of liberty of Julian Assange to be unlawful is a legally binding vindication of all those activists who have supported the quest of the Wikileaks founder to bring into the public domain the illegalities of Western power under the guise of democracy and freedom. Of course, establishment figures who represent the gatekeepers of the said powers, like Phillip Hammond, invariably attempt to undermine the findings of the UN body – of which the UK government is a signatory – when their conclusions fail to go in their favour and thus deny any wrongdoing on the part of the imperial powers that they represent.

On the other hand, praise will be heaped on the UN during the occasions they rule in their favour. This is, perhaps, to be expected. But what was shocking in terms of Hammond’s sheer Kafka-esque dishonesty was the extent to which he was prepared to sink in order to attempt to justify the unjustifiable at the behest of his masters in Washington. According to former UK diplomat, Craig Murray, Hammond’s lies were “utterly astonishing”. The official statement by the UK Foreign Secretary, states: “I reject the decision of this working group. It is a group made up of lay people and not lawyers. Julian Assange is a fugitive from justice. He is hiding from justice in the Ecuadorian embassy.”

Hammond’s statement belies the fact that every single one of the UN panel is an extremely distinguished lawyer. His statement was clearly made in order to undermine the UN ruling which by so doing, as Edward Snowden acknowledges, “writes a pass for every dictatorship to reject UN rulings...and hence sets a “dangerous precedent for UK/Sweden to set.” Craig Murray states that: “Countries who have ignored rulings by this UN panel are rare. No democracy has ever done so. Recent examples are Egypt and Uzbekistan. The UK is putting itself in pretty company.”

Previous rulings by the panel have gone against countries with some of the world’s worst human rights records, such as Saudi Arabia, Myanmar and Egypt. Recent cases where the UN has ruled in circumstances in which individuals have similarly been detained, include the Washington Post journalist, Jason Rezaian in Iran in December last year and former pro-democracy president Mohamed Nasheed last October (both subsequently released).

The contextual underpinning of the ruling vindicating Assange stems from the fact that he has never been charged with any offence. The UN findings confirm that his detention has been unlawful since his very first arrest in the United Kingdom in 2010 and that there has never been any genuine attempt by the Swedish authorities to investigate the allegations against him. For all those commentators who have been following the case closely, it has been obvious that from the outset the establishment have had it in for Assange. The rape allegations were merely the Casus Belli.

This was given credible weight early on by Naomi Wolf, a prominent American writer, feminist and social commentator, who argued that the allegations against Assange bore all the hallmarks of a set-up. This was further elaborated on by Craig Murray who thoroughly demolished the case against Assange. As John Pilger outlined, the reality is, there was no genuine judicial process in train against Assange in Sweden, a point that was advanced by Assange’s lawyers before the UK supreme court:

“The Assange case has never been primarily about allegations of sexual misconduct in Sweden – where the Stockholm Chief Prosecutor, Eva Finne, dismissed the case, saying, “I don’t believe there is any reason to suspect that he has committed rape”, and one of the women involved accused the police of fabricating evidence and “railroading” her, protesting she “did not want to accuse JA of anything” – and a second prosecutor mysteriously re-opened the case after political intervention, then stalled it.”

justice4assange.com provides some background:

Julian Assange, editor-in-chief of WikiLeaks, has been detained without charge in one form or another since 7 December 2010…In Sweden, Julian Assange is not charged with a crime. But in a highly unusual move, Sweden issued an Interpol Red Notice and a European Arrest Warrant, immediately after WikiLeaks began publishing a cache of 250,000 US Diplomatic Cables on 29 November 2010. Such warrants are usually issued for persons whose whereabouts are unknown. But Julian Assange’s whereabouts were known (he had given a press conference and hundreds of interviews in London). His lawyers were in communication with the prosecutor and had communicated that he was available to answer questions from the Swedish prosecutor through standard means.

Questioning people within European borders is a routine and uncomplicated process, which is standardised throughout the European Union. Sweden often uses these means to question people. In the initial ten days after 20 August 2010, the police opened the ’preliminary investigation’, it was assigned to three different prosecutors in quick succession. The penultimate prosecutor found that the case had no basis, and that there were no grounds to place Julian Assange under a criminal investigation.

The final prosecutor however, Marianne Ny, took over on 1 September 2010 and reopened the investigation. The Swedish investigation has been frozen since 2010. In November 2014, Sweden’s Svea Court of Appeal ruled that the prosecutor had failed her professional duty to progress the investigation against Julian Assange.

Given the astounding level of media misinformation, demonization, smears, deceptions and outright lies in the mainstream corporate media’s reporting of Assange, one might be under the impression that the man in question is the devil incarnate, a misogynist, who is using his work as a cover in order to avoid facing justice for the crime of rape that some commentators have seen fit to pronounce a verdict of guilty on the head of the whistle blower in advance of any hypothetical future trial. The self-appointed Witch finder General, Joan Smith of London Women against Violence, for example, was allowed to express her opinion, unchallenged, that he was guilty of the crime he has been accused of.

Much of the vitriol stems, not from the traditional right-wing of the media terrain, but rather from what many people consider to be the liberal-left of the political spectrum. Owen Jones, for example, who appears to be the latest poster boy for left wing opinion throughout the liberal media, penned, in August 2012, an article for the UK’s Independent newspaper, titled “There should be no immunity for Julian Assange from these allegations.”  But Jones’ inference that diplomatic immunity is a feature of the Assange case is, in reality, a red-herring since neither he, his supporters, legal team or anybody else outside the media bubble, have ever suggested that his case is predicated on a claim of immunity.

The lie was repeated by the Guardian’s legal expert, Joshua Rozenberg, presumably in an attempt to add a certain degree of gravitas to the claim. The truth is that all Assange has ever requested from the outset, is a guarantee from the Swedish authorities that if he agrees to travel to Sweden to answer the rape allegations made against him, he won’t be extradited to the United States. Assange’s request for this assurance from Sweden is supported by Amnesty International. However, the Swedish authorities have consistently failed to give Assange such an assurance.

Despite all this, the Sky News journalist and LBC stand-in presenter, Tim Marshall, implied that callers to his programme on February 5 who suggested that should Assange step foot outside the Ecuadorean embassy, he would ultimately be extradited to the U.S predicated on the trumped up charge of rape and subsequently be imprisoned, were mad conspiracy theorists. The incandescent, Marshall, is apparently unaware of the case of Chelsea Manning who was imprisoned for 35 years in 2013 for leaking information to WikiLeaks.

He is also seemingly unaware that, according to Edward Snowden, Assange is on a US “manhunt target list” or that the Independent revealed that both the Swedish and American governments’ have already discussed Assange’s onward extradition. If Marshall had bothered to avail himself of the views of Mats Andenas, the Norwegian chair of the UN Working Group for much of its investigation, he would have realized that the panel had to resist intense pressure from the US and UK to arrive at a decision contrary to the one they actually reached.

Marshall’s tone throughout was one of incredulity that the “liberal” Sweden would place Assange at risk of extradition to the US or for that matter that the latter under the liberal-progressive Obama, could ever preside over an administration that has imprisoned more whistle blowers than all his predecessors combined. In terms of the former (something else that Marshall is apparently oblivious to), is the subject matter of Amnesty International’s 2013 report which highlights Sweden’s damning record of extraditing people to other countries and its cooperation with the US in extraordinary renditions.

Jonathan Cook sums up just how far down the perilous road towards fascism our governments’ and their accomplices in the media are prepared to go in order to augment the interests of the powerful:

“The degraded discourse about the UN group’s decision does not just threaten Assange, but endangers vulnerable political dissidents around the world. The very fact that…[liberal media commentators]… are so ready to sacrifice these people’s rights in their bid to tar and feather Assange should be warning enough that there is even more at stake here than meets the eye.”

 

Housing crisis created from money produced from thin air

By Daniel Margrain

Switzerland is set to hold a referendum to decide whether to ban commercial banks from creating money. This follows a move by over 110,000 people in that country who signed a petition calling for the central bank to be given the sole power to create money within the financial system. The campaign is designed to limit financial speculation by requiring banks to hold 100 per cent reserves against their deposits.

Banks will no longer be able to create money for themselves (euphemistically termed fractional reserve banking), rather they will only be allowed to lend money that they have accumulated from savers or other banks. Currently banks are able to lend money that they don’t actually have and then command interest on the non-existent money.

This is akin to x offering to loan y a sum of say, £100,000 that the former hasn’t got. The way around this conundrum is for x to then lodge the sum with another financial institution who happens to be in on the scam. Y then pays x interest on the money that x has never been in the position to lend in the first place. Switzerland is now considering whether or not to do something about this fractional reserve banking racket. If successful, the bill will give the Swiss National Bank a monopoly on physical and electronic money creation.

The idea of limiting all money creation to central banks was first touted in the 1930s and supported by renowned US economist Irving Fisher as a way of preventing asset bubbles and curbing reckless spending. It’s the former that most accurately characterizes the current financial system. The rising cost of housing is an example of a major asset bubble underpinned by a Tory government housing policy that is geared towards satisfying the asset diversification needs of the super rich rather than to meet the human need for homes for ordinary people to live in.

So the motivating factor determining the government’s housing policy is not to end the housing crisis but to bolster the investment opportunities of the rich which will make it worse. This is what David Cameron’s announcement yesterday (January 10) regarding the governments’ intention to demolish council homes and replace them with private housing is all about.

This is also the precursor to the newly proposed Housing and Planning Bill (voted on today, January 12) which will force families living in social housing and earning £30,000-£40,000 in London to pay rents nearly as high as those in the private sector. It will also compel local authorities to sell ‘high value’ housing, either by transferring public housing into private hands or giving the land it sits on to property developers.

The 126 MPs who declared that they receive rental income from property, represent over 19 per cent of the house, the vast majority of whom are Conservatives. The voting through of the bill, which almost certainly represents a major conflict of interest, will lead to soaring rents meaning that ordinary people will find it increasingly difficult to afford to live in the capital. As the statement on a flyer that promoted a protest against the bill argued:

It [the bill] takes public funding away from affordable homes for rent and does nothing to improve security or control rents for private renters.

This is turning back the clock, taking away security and pushing up rents. It would force the selloff of council homes on the open market, to pay for housing association ‘right to buy 2’. Councils and housing associations will not be able to build replacement homes for rent.”

The exponential growth in the construction of new tower blocks throughout London and other major cities are not intended for local residents to live in, thereby helping to ameliorate the worst excesses of the housing crisis, rather they are being built for foreign investment funds and billionaires to buy on mass as financial safe havens.

Greenwich Mean Time (GMT), a relatively favourable temperate climate, convenient geographical location, the establishment of law and order, good schools and infrastructure, minimal history of revolution and good transport hubs and networks, means that London is a particularly attractive place for the rich to increase their property investment portfolios.

However, these investments in houses and apartments are essentially made of cards built on sand predicated on a financial illusion of which the Swiss example described is symptomatic. The context of the illusion that the Swiss people are soon to vote on is historically tied the the Swiss National Bank (SNB). Since 1891 when the SNB was established, the bank has had exclusive powers to mint coins and issue Swiss bank notes. But over 90 per cent of money in circulation in Switzerland now exists in the form of electronic cash which is created out of nothing by private banks. In other words, nearly all of the money in Switzerland, and arguably the world, does not in reality exist as a tangible entity.

In modern market economies central banks control the creation of bank notes and coins but not the creation of all money which occurs when a commercial bank offers a line of credit. Iceland, whose bloated banking system collapsed in 2008, has also touted the abolition of private money creation and an end to a practice in which a central bank accepts deposits, makes loans and investments and holds reserves that are a fraction of its deposit liabilities. Fractional banking means the production of money from thin air.

The entire financial system and the laws on which it is governed that many believe to be an exact science is, in reality, based on a gigantic illusion. The fact that Britain’s banks are paying far less in corporation tax than before the crisis, despite their profits improving and global tax payments staying constant, is illustrative of a flawed unscientific system that society has nevertheless hitched itself on to. Rather than the Cameron government investing in a productive based economy in which tangible things are made, bought and sold, it has focused disproportionately on financialization – an abstraction predicated on smoke and mirrors.

The money illusion stems from the Bill of Exchange Act of 1882. Effectively, money is created the moment a loan document from a bank or any other financial institution is signed. Having created a financial instrument as a result of any signature, the bank or financial institution then lends the money created in the form of a bill of exchange which in effect becomes a promissory note. The customer then gives the power of attorney within the signed document to the bank to then lend the said customer the money that has just been created as a result of the signature.

By removing the requirement of the government to insist upon the amount of gold being equal to the amount of currency in circulation (gold exchange), they created a debt based economy (Fiat currency). So by not basing money on anything material whatsoever, central banks are able to create limitless amounts of it effectively by pressing numbers on the keyboard of a computer. The origins of the promissory note stem from the promise to pay a physical sum of silver (subsequently gold) in exchange for the promissory equivalent (sterling was originally based on sterling silver).

The purpose was to prevent individuals from having to carry large sums of silver around with them. A silversmith would simply weigh the silver and give the owner a promissory note which could then be cashed in at a later date to be spent on goods and services. Up until the 1930s, governments’ were required to have in their possession an amount of silver or gold equal in value to the amount of promissory notes issued. This requirement was removed in the 1930s which then gave banks the right to create money out of nothing. This is a legacy that continues today. Will Switzerland be the catalyst for a paradigm shift in this state of affairs?

Cameron fiddles while England drowns

By Daniel Margrain

James Bevan, the chief executive of the environment agency who said it was the job of the government to hold him to account, spoke out in support of its chairman, Philip Dilley. Bevan rebuffed criticism that the environment agency avoided telling journalists that Dilley was in Barbados at Christmas at the time of some of the worst flooding the UK has ever seen, while at the same time claiming he had been honest, transparent and straightforward. The paradox was not lost on this writer.

Meanwhile, according to analysis by the Committee on Climate Change, homes continue to be built in England’s highest flood risk areas at almost twice the rate of housing being built outside of flood plains. Housing stock in regions where flooding is likely at least once every thirty years has grown at a rate of 1.2 per cent every year since 2011. By contrast, housing outside of flood plains in areas with less than one in a thousand years’ chance of flooding, increased by an average of just 0.7 per cent over the same period.

So we are building houses on flood plains at twice the rate we are building houses in places where its far less likely to flood. Maybe I’m missing something here, but isn’t it illogical to build twice as many houses on flood plains given that flooding devastates lives and communities and, according to analysis by accountancy firm PricewaterhouseCoopers, flood damages could run as high as £1.3bn?

It would appear that the government is not taking climate change seriously enough and therefore are not preparing adequately for it. Perhaps Prime Minister David Cameron is taking his cue from the BBC’s Weather’s Sarah Keith-Lucas who appeared to be unaware that the mild and wet conditions throughout December in the UK are related to climate change.

Whatever the case, Cameron cannot use the excuse that he wasn’t warned about the impact cuts to defences would cause in terms of flood damage. In 2011, for example, the National Audit Office (NAO) estimated the annual cost of flood damage in England to be £1.1bn. So one might reasonably ask why the Conservative government then proceeded to cut flood defences by 8 per cent resulting in the loss of 1,500 jobs?

All this comes on the back of government promises to build a million new homes in climate change ravaged Britain by 2020. Yesterday (January 4) the Tories pledged the commissioning of the construction of 13,000 homes on public land owned by the tax payer, describing it as a huge shift in policy, the first of its kind since the Thatcher government. But how many of the 13,000 will be affordable and will the million target be met?

The situation at present is that the combined efforts of the government, councils and the private sector are in no way sufficient enough to meet Britain’s housing needs. The other day, I had a walk along the Thames and the visible presence of cranes and other signs of construction activity on the nearby brownfield sites looked, on the surface, impressive. However, when one looks behind the facade an altogether different, less optimistic, story begins to emerge.

Home ownership in Britain is at its lowest for a generation and the actual supply of homes for sale is not meeting the demand for them. In part, this is explained by the fact that there are an insufficient amount of new homes on the one hand, and that there is a scarcity of second-hand housing on the other. The solution to solving the lack of available housing requires more than the vague and repeatedly unfulfilled promises of this current Tory administration.

What is needed is the kind of boldness and vision that was adopted after WW2 in which the term “homes fit for heroes” was first coined. At that time, a coordinated house building programme of some 300,000 council homes were built for the masses over many years. This figure is similar to the amount that Jeremy Blackburn from the Royal Institution of Chartered Surveyors (RICS) is calling for today. “We…. need 240,000 units a year....”, Blackburn said. “We are not building enough….There are a number of other things the government can do including enabling local councils and housing associations to build more.”

Despite this, house builders such as Berkeley, Barratt, Persimmon and Taylor Wimpey are sitting on huge plots of land enough to create more than 600,000 new homes. RICS predicts that the current supply shortfall will push up house prices by 6 per cent across the UK this year with the highest rises likely to be seen in East Anglia which is forecast to rise by 8 per cent.

Paradoxically, East Anglia is one of the areas in Britain that is at the greatest risk of flooding as a result of climate change but is among the areas where the greatest amount of new homes will be built. I can only assume that the higher predicted percentage increase in property values in East Anglia will be as an indirect consequence of any expected rise in ecotourism in the region.

For those who already cannot afford to buy, there is a rent increase of 3 per cent on the horizon for 2016 too. With the options for renting and buying increasingly becoming out of the reach for many, particularly the young, the battle lines are being drawn between those who are effectively being denied the right to a home on the one hand, and the government who are not living up to their promises to meet demand on the other.

In London and other major cities, access to what little remains of council housing is almost non-existent. This is being exacerbated as a result of the decision of numerous local councils throughout the country to ‘gentrify’ former council estates (of which the Heygate Estate in Elephant and Castle in London is emblematic) through a process of social cleansing that increasingly involves the relocation of entire communities from the localities that normally have long established roots.

The social cleansing of communities has negative knock-on affects in terms of the undermining of long held social networks and local economies upon which local businesses depend for their livelihoods. Increasingly major cities, particularly London, are becoming hubs for the property investment portfolios of the super rich who, in many instances, buy up entire reconstituted apartment blocks only for them to subsequently be left empty or rented out at exorbitant rates.

The hollowing out of inner city communities in this way is the product of specific social policies adopted by governments’ predicated on an ideological template intended to bolster the interests of a small minority, many of whom have little or no connection to the communities they invest in. These investors are given priority over and above those who are anchored in the said communities, who do have links.

Given the political will, the housing crisis, could and indeed should, of been solved many years ago. But the point is, there is no political will on the part of the government to solve the crisis because the interests associated with international capital run counter to such an eventuality. We are currently in the frankly absurd situation whereby apartments’ – in many cases entire blocks – lie empty or are occupied for part of the year by transient populations’, while simultaneously growing numbers of British people are unable to afford, or otherwise are being denied access to a necessity of life which is what a home of ones own is.

This madness is indicative of the irrational and contradictory nature of capitalism in arguably its most debased form. It’s the fact that capitalism is first and foremost premised on greed rather than satisfying human need means it is one of the most wasteful and inefficient economic systems for allocating resources known to man. The current housing and flood crisis are both symptomatic of this.

In terms of the latter, we only have to see how flood policy is determined by perverse incentives, often as the result of public money (via farm subsidies) that not only make flood disasters inevitable but are specifically intended to:

“prioritize the protection of farmland above the safety of towns and cities downstream. By straightening, embanking and dredging rivers where they cut through fields, drainage boards accelerate the flow of water, making flooding downstream more likely. protect the rich landowners and their country estates rather than the towns and villages.”

For Tories like Cameron, the moral concept of community and the satisfying of fundamental human needs, of which the former is dependent, implies the rejigging of ‘market forces’ away from the priorities associated with capital towards human beings. But such a ‘bucking of the market’ requires government intervention and the Tories only intervene when the need for the redistribution of wealth presents itself in an upwards direction.

Yesterday on twitter, I was reminded of the consequence that decades of neoliberalism has had in this regard. According to the latest figures on inequality, the share of wealth of the richest 1 per cent now exceeds that of remaining 99 per cent.

Cameron’s announcement yesterday offers no new extra investment in affordable homes, just as there was no new extra investment for flood defences. People on modest incomes will have little hope of being able to afford to buy or rent in the future.

The proposed construction of one million homes by 2020 is a pledge that Cameron’s government which predicates its policies on short term goals for short term electoral gain, has no intention of ever meeting. Perhaps the best, and perhaps only solution, will be to utilize the impacts of climate change by living on a barge in the swamp flood plains of the new British terrain.

 

The slow strangulation of Yemen

By Daniel Margrain

Often overshadowed by the proxy war being fought in Syria, is the nine month old regional conflict in Yemen which ostensibly pits Sunni Saudi Arabia against Shia Iran. British-made ‘smart’ bombs dropped from British-built aircraft both of which continue to be sold in vast numbers to the Saudi’s have contributed to thousands of civilian deaths in Yemen.

Jeremy Corbyn’s peace narrative predicated on his public denunciations of the governments’ shady dealings with the Saudi Arabian regime have helped expose British involvement in Yemen even though the UK Government insists that it is not taking an active part in the military campaign in the country. However, it has issued more than 100 licences for arms exports to Saudi Arabia since the State began bombing Yemen in March 2015.

Meanwhile, a Freedom of Information request revealed that a so-called ‘memorandum of understanding’ (MOU) between Home Secretary Theresa May and her Saudi counterpart Crown Prince Muhammad bin Nayef was signed secretly during the former’s visit to the Kingdom last year. The purpose of the MOU is to ensure that, among other secret deals, the precise details of the arms sales between the two countries is kept under wraps.

What is the extent of Britain’s role in Yemen? In September, Saudi Arabia bombed a ceramics factory in Sana’a close to the Yemeni capital which Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch confirmed was a civilian target. Fragments of a British made missile that had been built by Marconi in the 1990s had been recovered from the scene.

With the British providing technical and other support staff to the Saudi led coalition, and UK export licenses to Saudi Arabia said to be worth more than £1.7 bn up to the first six months of 2015, the UK government’s role in the conflict appears to be to augment the support the U.S is giving to the Saudi-led coalition.

The United States, alongside the UK, has bolstered the Saudi-led coalition’s airstrikes in Yemen through arms sales and direct military support. For example, last month, the State Department approved a billion-dollar deal to restock Saudi Arabia’s air force arsenal. The sale included thousands of air-to-ground munitions and “general purpose” bombs of the kind that, in October, the Saudi’s used to target an MSF hospital.

On the 15 December, 19 civilians were killed by a Saudi-led coalition raid in Sana’a. According to analysis by eminent international law experts commissioned by Amnesty International UK and Saferworld, by continuing to trade with Saudi Arabia in arms in the context of its military intervention and bombing campaign in Yemen, the British government is breaking national, EU and international law.

The lawyers, Professor Philippe Sands QC, Professor Andrew Clapham and Blinne Ní Ghrálaigh of Matrix Chambers, conclude in their comprehensive legal opinion that, on the basis of the information available, the UK Government is acting in breach of its obligations arising under the Arms Trade Treaty, the EU Common Position on Arms Exports and the UK’s Consolidated Criteria on arms exports by continuing to authorise transfers of weapons and related items to Saudi Arabia within the scope of those instruments, capable of being used in Yemen.

They conclude that:

“Any authorisation by the UK of the transfer of weapons and related items to Saudi Arabia… in circumstances where such weapons are capable of being used in the conflict in Yemen, including to support its blockade of Yemeni territory, and in circumstances where their end-use is not restricted, would constitute a breach by the UK of its obligations under domestic, European and international law….The UK should halt with immediate effect all authorisations and transfers of relevant weapons pending an inquiry” (emphasis added).

According to Kate Allen, Director of Amnesty International UK:

“This legal opinion confirms our long-held view that the continued sale of arms from the UK to Saudi Arabia is illegal, immoral and indefensible. Thousands of civilians have been killed in Saudi Arabia-led airstrikes, and there’s a real risk that misery was ‘made in Britain’.”

With a seven day ceasefire in Yemen broken on December 16, Saudi-led airstrikes have continued throughout the Christmas period as have British and American arms exports to Saudi Arabia that give rise to them. In a standard response to accusations of British complicity, the Foreign & Commonwealth Office blandly stated:

“The UK is satisfied that we are not in breach of our international obligations. We operate one of the most vigorous and transparent arms export control regimes in the world…

…We regularly raise with the Saudi Arabian-led coalition and the Houthis the need to comply with international humanitarian law…we monitor the situation carefully and have offered the Saudi authorities advice and training in this area.”

Oliver Sprague, Amnesty International’s arms trade director, added:

“There is a blatant rewriting of the rules inside the (Foreign Office). We are not supposed to supply weapons if there is a risk they could be used to violate humanitarian laws and the international arms trade treaty – which we championed. It is illogical for (Foreign Secretary) Philip Hammond to say there is no evidence of weapons supplied by the UK being misused, so we’ll keep selling them to the point where we learn they are being used.”

Journalist Iona Craig has investigated 20 Saudi-led airstrike sites in Yemen in which a total of around 150 civilians have been killed. In an interview on the December 16 edition of Channel 4 News, Craig asserted that during these strikes, which she said are a regular occurrence, the Saudi’s targeted public buses and a farmers market.

Remnants from a bomb that Craig pulled from a civilian home that killed an eighteen month old baby as well as a 4 year old and their uncle, were American made. Although Craig stated that she had not personally uncovered evidence of British made weapons, Amnesty International is nevertheless unequivocal in its damning assessment of the illegality of Britain’s role.

The fact that, as Craig stated, there are twice as many British made aircraft in the Saudi Royal air force then there are in the British Royal air force, and that the British train the Saudi air force as well as supplying it with its weapons, is by itself, tantamount to Britain being complicit in the deaths of innocent Yemeni civilians.

Craig emphasized that she has seen evidence which suggests that civilian casualties in Yemen were the result of deliberate targeting rather than “collateral damage”. Among the numerous cases the journalist has examined there have been no Houthi positions or military targets in the vicinity – a contention which she claims is supported by the pro-coalition side. The consequences of this policy for the civilian population within the poorest country in the region, has been catastrophic with an estimated 2 million people having been displaced from a nation that’s on the brink of completely falling apart.

At least 5,600 civilians have been killed in the war torn country since March. A UN study in September found that 60 per cent have died from Saudi-led aerial bombardments in the Houthi-controlled north of the country. Journalist Sharif Abdel Kouddous who was based in this region commented:

“Everything has been hit, from homes to schools, restaurants, bridges, roads, a lot of civilian infrastructure. And with that, of course, comes a lot of the suffering.”

What is unfolding alongside the death and destruction in Yemen is a massive humanitarian crisis, exacerbated by the complicity of the U.S and UK, in which 21 million people – nearly double the number of people who need aid in Syria – are in need of humanitarian assistance. Consequently, levels of malnutrition have skyrocketed in the country with more than 60 per cent of Yemeni’s, according to the UN, close to starvation.

Sharif Abdel Kouddos describes the humanitarian situation unfolding in Yemen as a consequence of the imposition of a blockade on Yemen by Saudi Arabia and the coalition on a country, which:

“… comes under the rubric of a Security Council resolution—an arms embargo on the Houthi leadership….In September, 1 percent of Yemen’s fuel needs entered the country. Fuel affects everything—access for food delivery, electricity. So, Yemenis are slowly being strangled to death.”

The wider implications for British and U.S tacit support for Saudi Arabia in Yemen and the region in general is one of huge instability. Apart from the Yemeni context alone in which millions are being displaced and suffering from the onset of famine, is the broader question relating to how this situation is likely to bleed into the already ongoing refugee crisis in Europe.

But also, the conflict in Yemen involves a variety of regional players with opposing economic and geo-strategic interests – many of whom are using smaller factions to fight their battles on their behalf. These include mercenary groups from places as far away as Colombia and Panama as well as the involvement of Moroccan and Sudanese troops, all of whom are operating within one country as a part of a regional conflict that has all the makings of a much bigger one.

 

Is Western corruption & duplicity fanning the flames of ISIS?

By Daniel Margrain

On October 23 the mainstream media reported the obliteration by both Russian and US coalition forces of an ISIS oilfield and supply routes in the heart of Islamic State territory in Syria. Following the UK government’s decision to extend its military campaign from Iraq into Syria, a subsequent BBC report highlighted an additional bombing raid on December 5 in that country. But it has since transpired that this second raid targeted the precise location hit by the Russian and US coalition forces.

So the question arises, why would RAF warplanes hit a target that had already been obliterated five weeks prior to the second raid? A possible explanation is that the oilfield and supply routes described were in the process of being hastily reconstructed. However, this seems highly unlikely given that the BBC report cites Ministry of Defense claims that the RAFs Tornado and Typhoon warplanes were involved in eight attacks in which Paveway IV bombs were offloaded resulting in the destruction of wellheads….“thus cutting off the terrorists’ oil revenue at the very source”.

The impression given that the UK government had actively engaged in degrading the infrastructural and financial capability of their latest bogeyman, ISIS, appears therefore, to be a deception. In any event, one of David Cameron’s major justifications for his case for more war, was that Brimstone missiles, as opposed to Paveway bombs, were to be deployed against ISIS targets in Syria on account of their greater level of accuracy, thus limiting the possibility of civilian casualties.

It follows that in the unlikely event that what was being bombed was actually a site in the process of reconstruction, as opposed to an already existing obliterated terrain, the use of Paveway bombs would have greatly increased the risk of death to the civilian construction workers working on the site. This totally undermines Cameron’s claim that the UK would not attack civilians.

Whatever the truth of the situation, the fact that the RAF attacked a civilian target rather than a military base, would suggest that the government’s alleged intention to bring closure to this conflict at the earliest opportunity is bogus. The prospect of lengthy war provides a boost to the profits of the arms and weapons companies’. ISIS have gained access to weapons allegedly exported by the UK to the Middle East in the wake of 2003 invasion.

But gaining access to weapons is not possible without the access to money to purchase them. Tackling the flow and source of criminal money which helps sustain the lifeblood of ISIS, is the most effective strategy in dealing with the root cause of the terrorist organization. A second consideration, is ascertaining what the overriding medium to long-term motivation of the great imperial powers and their allies that underpins the strategy for war is. The answers to these questions are most likely to be found within the belly of the beast of the political establishment who, to a large extent, appear to be pulling the financial strings that determine the control, flow and maintaining of oil revenues.

One of the leading figures who allegedly plays a pivotal role in this regard is the British politician Nadhim Zahawi whose financial interests in Genel Energy suggests he is vulnerable to lobbying. As a member of David Cameron’s government, it is alleged that the Conservative MP for Stratford-upon-Avon has traded black market oil derived from ISIS controlled fields in Iraq prior to the black stuff being transported and sold, in part, to European markets through Turkey and the Mediterranean Sea, with the main purchaser said to be Israel.

The allegations against Zahawi come against the backdrop of evidence which indicates that ISIS sell oil emanating from nearly a dozen oil fields in northern Iraq and Syria’s Raqqa province that they control. It then passes through Turkey and Iraq’s Kurdistan region. Back in 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.

In September last year, 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. Given that the most effective way of countering ISIS is to attack the source of their funding rather than using bombs to attack civilians, it was unsurprising that Shadow Foreign Secretary, Hilary Benn’s initial position was to oppose military intervention in Syria. However, inexplicably, two weeks later, he changed his mind and voted in favour of bombing.

Something appeared to have happened in the two week period up to December 2 which influenced Benn’s decision to change his mind. Perhaps it had something to do with the fact that war is good for boosting the profits of those connected to the military-industrial complex and that he had been lobbied by those who stood to gain financially from any change of heart.

Although share prices in the manufacturers of British WMD, BAE Systems, were depressed in late October they subsequently jumped after the announcement to bomb was made. Being in the pocket of the arms industry is concomitant to the notion of being favourable to war, which clearly explains his careful positioning to usurp the anti-war Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn for the Labour leadership.

Across the Atlantic, major defense contractors Raytheon, Oshkosh, and Lockheed Martin assured investors that they stand 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, citing the Turkish military’s recent decision to shoot down a Russian warplane.

Meanwhile, 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 an energy independence.

Israel is part of a broader strategy to dismember Syria with a view to toppling Syrian president Bashar al – Assad leading to the annexation of the Golan Heights, captured from Syria during the 1967 war. This is being aided by one of the most concerted media propaganda offensives since the Iraq debacle. At the forefront of this offensive is the Murdoch printed press.

But what are Murdoch’s reasons for pushing so hard for war? The answer is Genie Energy. Israel has granted oil exploration rights inside Syria, in the occupied Golan Heights, to this multinational corporation. 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. The following is from a 2010 Genie Energy press release

Claude Pupkin, CEO of Genie Oil and Gas, commented, “Genie’s success will ultimately depend, in part, on access to the expertise of the oil and gas industry and to the financial markets. Jacob Rothschild and Rupert Murdoch are extremely well regarded by and connected to leaders in these sectors. Their guidance and participation will prove invaluable.”

“I am grateful to Howard Jonas and IDT for the opportunity to invest in this important initiative,” Lord Rothschild said. “Rupert Murdoch’s extraordinary achievements speak for themselves and we are very pleased he has agreed to be our partner. Genie Energy is making good technological progress to tap the world’s substantial oil shale deposits which could transform the future prospects of Israel, the Middle East and our allies around the world.”

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, encompassing defense, security, energy and media sectors, 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, as well as reining in Russian and Iranian influence in the region.

The West’s intention to augment its geopolitical and economic strategic influence in Syria and the region more widely is premised primarily on a militaristic, as opposed to, a political solution. This gives rise to conflicting attitudes to the Assad regime in terms of ascertaining who are, and who are not, terrorists. In this complex web, some players are more motivated to destroy ISIS than others.

NATO member Turkey’s geo-strategic motivation, for instance, is the obliteration by Turkish forces of the Kurdish YPG who conversely happen to be one of the key fighting forces opposed to ISIS on the ground. The YPG are ostensibly supported by the British and American’s who in turn desire the overthrow of Assad whose forces are the only real credible presence on the ground.

On the other hand, it’s in both Russia’s and Iran’s interest to keep Assad in power – the latter on the basis of maintaining a link to Hezbollah in Lebanon. If ever there was an illustration for the need for a properly coordinated and multi-pronged diplomatic approach to solve a complex problem that transcends narrow self interest, then Syria and the wider Middle East is it. But instead the world powers’ are blundering from one major crisis to another with no apparent end point in sight.

 

 

Jeremy Corbyn’s Speech

By Daniel Margrain

I, like many other Labour supporters, spent yesterday afternoon glued to the telly in eager anticipation of the speech that was to come. I thought Corbyn looked, understandably, somewhat nervous and at times his frequent glances at the auto cue reflected a measure of uncertainty. He’s not the greatest of orator’s in say, the Galloway mold, but paradoxically, therein lies his strength. It’s the man’s humility that is arguably his strongest quality. It’s a quality that cannot be measured in the objective sense but you know it and feel it when you see it. And make no mistake, hundreds of thousands of us do see it.

But alongside that humility comes a level of integrity and steely resoluteness to get stuff done. One senses that here is a man who doesn’t suffer fools, and the media spin machine that plays to their tune, lightly. Underpinning this resolve, which is borne out of decades of principled and committed campaigning on issues that the establishment would rather whitewash away, is a man who is an idealist as much as he is a realist.

The image the media portray of him as a man out of time and place – a kind of naive and reluctant hero for the masses in the style of the Peter Sellers character in the film Being There – cannot be sustained for much longer. Indeed, I suspect that it’s a cliche that’s already run its course. Ultimately it’s his raw humanism and plain speaking that people seem to warm to the most.

I’m convinced that what people want more than ever are these kinds of politician’s. Somebody like George Galloway also has these qualities in abundance but with Corbyn you don’t get the self-centred inflated ego that comes with it. As you’ve by now realized, I’m a huge fan of the bloke and his policies as well as the new direction he intends to take the Party.

As for the speech itself, I thought it was refreshing and inspiring. I thought Corbyn was at his strongest during the middle section when he attacked the Tory government for the scaremongering tactics used against him when he was accused of threatening the economic interests of the public and the security of the country. The following extract from his speech was Corbyn at his most powerful:

The Tories talk about economic and family security being at risk from us the Labour party, or perhaps even more particularly, from me. I say this to them. How dare these people talk about security for families and people in Britain.

Where’s the security for families shuttled around the private rented sector on six month tenancies – with children endlessly having to change schools?  

Where’s the security for those tenants afraid to ask a landlord to fix a dangerous structure in their own homes because they might be evicted because they’ve gone to the local authority to seek the justice they’re entitled to?

Where’s the security for the carers struggling to support older family members as Tory local government cuts destroy social care and take away the help they need?  

Where’s the security for young people starting out on careers knowing they are locked out of any prospect of ever buying their own home by soaring house prices?

Where’s the security for families driven away from their children’s schools, their community and family ties by these welfare cuts?  

Where’s the security for the hundreds of thousands taking on self-employment with uncertain income, no sick pay, no Maternity Pay, no paid leave, no pension now facing the loss of the tax credits that keep them and their families afloat?  

And there’s no security for the 2.8 million households in Britain forced into debt by stagnating wages and the Tory record of the longest fall in living standards since records began.

And that’s the nub of it. Tory economic failure. An economy that works for the few, not for the many….

…It didn’t help our national security that, at the same time I was protesting outside the Iraqi Embassy about Saddam Hussein’s brutality, Tory ministers were secretly conniving with illegal arms sales to his regime.

It didn’t help our national security when we went to war with Iraq in defiance of the United Nations and on a false prospectus.

It didn’t help our national security to endure the loss of hundreds of brave British soldiers in that war while making no proper preparation for what to do after the fall of the regime.

Nor does it help our national security to give such fawning and uncritical support to regimes like Saudi Arabia and Bahrain – who abuse their own citizens and repress democratic rights.

This is the spin Ian Dunt of politics.co.uk put on the speech:

Of all the speeches Jeremy Corbyn could have made, this was the most predictable and the most useless. There was no thematic content, no idea unifying what he was saying, no quality in delivery, no attempt to speak to the public outside the hall, no plan for the future and no sign he is prepared to work with the media to communicate his appeal more widely. It was the speech of someone who either doesn’t care or isn’t capable of speaking to anyone outside of his immediate supporters.

This was the common refrain of many within the wider media establishment spectrum. Clearly Dunt and me both witnessed two completely different speeches.

The vile Laura Kuenssberg from the BBC claimed, without evidence, that Corbyn will have difficulty getting the middle ground voter on-side, implying that his politics are somehow Marxist as opposed to essentially humanist. Kuenssberg’s assertion went unchallenged. So much for the BBCs alleged impartiality. Her tone in all her commentaries on Corbyn thus far have been condescending at best and outright dishonest at worse. But she is far from being alone on that front.

The mainstream media and the establishment elite cannot handle the idea that Corbyn can be both a campaigner and a leader, or that decision making can be a democratic process emanating from the bottom up. They just can’t seem to get to grips with the rapidly changing nature of British politics in 2015. In that regard, the people of Britain are a country mile ahead of a media that is frankly out of touch and becoming increasingly irrelevant as each day passes.

This also explains why people are turning to alternative and social media sources for their information. I think it was a positive move that Corbyn made when he tasked Watson to work on the social media aspect of his campaign which is, of course, important. But equally, we ought not forget that the majority of people in this country still consume their news through traditional methods.

I believe Corbyn can, and will, capture the centre ground because ultimately he is essentially a humanist at heart and humanism is centrist. But you would never believe that after having analysed the media who continue to portray him as “hard left” although that particular epithet is starting to wane. There is currently a campaign doing the rounds that has almost reached the 100,000 signatures required to ensure that, in the name of parity, pressure is put on the BBC to describe Cameron as “hard right.”

If Corbyn does win over the party and eventually get elected as PM, the turn of events will have an uncanny resemblance to the plot line of the brilliant television drama A Very British Coup. Unlike, Being There, such an eventuality would be akin to a situation in which life imitates art. Let ‘Corbynmania’ continue long into the nights and days ahead.