Category: media

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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Burying Bad News in the Killing Fields of Yemen

By Daniel Margrain

Philip Hammond and Saudi Arabia's Defence Minister Prince Salman bin Abdul-Aziz Al Saud

UNICEF reported at least one child is dying every 10 minutes in Yemen and that there has been a 200 percent increase since 2014 in children suffering from severe acute malnutrition, with almost half a million affected. Nearly 2.2 million are acutely malnourished in need of urgent care. An estimated 21 million people – nearly double the number of people who need aid in Syria – require humanitarian assistance in a country where more than 60 per cent of Yemeni’s, according to the UN, are close to starvation. This comes as the country’s health system is on the verge of collapse, in part due to the ongoing US-UK – backed Saudi bombing of the country which began in March 2015.

During the latest wave of 45 airstrikes across the country that began last Sunday (January 22), a school just outside the capital, Sana’a, was hit and 70 people had reportedly been killed in fresh fighting. According to UN figures reported in Reuters, an estimated 10,000 civilians have so far been killed as a direct result of the Saudi-led coalition bombing. However, as the UK government does not keep a record of Yemen’s ‘unpeople’ killed in airstrikes, nor does it have any record of how many “guided missile kits” it has sold to the Saudi regime, the real figure is likely to be much higher. A UN study 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.”

The forgotten war

Despite this humanitarian disaster, Yemen has largely been the mass media’s forgotten war having initially been buried a week after Murtaza Hussain revealed the release of previously suppressed documents contained within a 2002 congressional report that emphasized possible links between high-ranking members of the Saudi royal family and the 9/11 hijackers.

Instead, the focus of the mass media has been their demonization of Russia in relation to the proxy-war being fought in Syria. As terrible as the suffering has been for the Syrian people, the humanitarian situation in Yemen is far worse. Not only is it the poorest country in the Middle East whose people suffered widespread malnutrition before the war, but people have no disposable income in order to be able to pay to get themselves out of the country.

Also, Yemen borders the country that is bombing it which severely hinders the ability of people to flee. Even fishermen have been bombed in their boats off the coasts, which rules out the option of going across the sea to get out of the country. The inability of the people to cope with the restriction on imports, in addition to two years of Saudi-led coalition bombing has culminated in a situation in which 18.8 million people are now in need of some form of humanitarian aid.

Breaking international law

Both the UK and US governments are major backers of Saudi Arabia’s bombing campaign. In August last year, the latter approved more than 1bn in military sales to Saudi Arabia, while UK export licenses to the regime were said to be worth more than £1.7 bn up to the first six months of 2015. 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:

“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’.”

UK complicity & the targeting of civilians

Iona Craig, who won the 2016 Orwell Prize for Journalism, has investigated numerous Saudi-led airstrike sites in Yemen. In an interview on Channel 4 News in December, 2015, 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 four old and their uncle, were American made. Craig at the time stated that she had not personally uncovered evidence of British made weapons but has since corrected this view in the light of subsequent events.

The fact that, as Craig stated, there are twice as many British made aircraft in the Saudi Royal air force than there are in the British Royal air force, and that the British train and supply them with weapons, is by itself, tantamount to the UK government being complicit in the deaths of innocent Yemeni civilians.

Craig emphasized that she has seen evidence which suggests civilian casualties in Yemen are 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.

Britain’s active participation in Yemen began in September, 2015 following the bombing by Saudi Arabia of a ceramics factory in Sana’a close to the Yemeni capital which was confirmed as 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, the UK government’s role in the conflict is to augment US support as part of a broad-based coalition.

In December, 2015, the US 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 2015, the Saudi’s used to target an MSF hospital. On the 15 December, 2015, 19 civilians were killed by a Saudi-led coalition raid in Sana’a.

Double-tap strikes

During a recent interview for LBC, Craig said that one of the tactics the Saudi-led coalition have adopted is to strike locations they had previously bombed which invariably kill first responders at the scene of atrocities who are trying their best to rescue the bodies of survivors. The casualties from such attacks outnumber the original bombings. Craig said she has personally witnessed attacks by coalition forces on a civilian market in which twelve people died in the initial attack and a further fifty or more had been killed in the follow-up attack. According to Craig, houses in Sana’a have been hit multiple times, which contradicts the myth that such targets are errors. Airstrikes of this nature are not isolated incidences as the media often portray. As Craig said in the interview:

“They [airstrikes] happen on a regular basis…The Saudi-led coalition have hit 58 hospitals and 39 markets. Routine targets include petrol stations and public markets. …Between March, 2015 when the war started to the end of August, the Yemen Project gathered all of the figures and calculated that there were 8,600 single incidences and amongst that over 3,000 hit civilian sites.”

Public relations

Facing mounting pressure from human rights groups, last month the Obama administration engaged in what was essentially a public relations exercise by announcing that the US government would halt the sale of precision-guided weapons to the Saudi regime. It’s likely the US government will attempt to get around this by selling them to other members of what is a multinational coalition.

In any case, the US government continues to provide its allies with intelligence and there is no indication that its major US ally, the UK, intends to end its authorization of over £1 billions’ worth of weapons to Saudi Arabia over the course of the war.

But most significantly of all, is that Obama’s announcement will do nothing to prevent the refueling of coalition aircraft. Logistically, without being able to refuel, fighter jets are unable to continue with their sorties. As Craig pointed out, this “would stop the bombing campaign literally tomorrow…If the U.S. government did want to stop the bombing campaign, they could do it…But they’re still heavily involved in the whole campaign carrying on.”

Lying to parliament

Towards the end of July last year, the UK government stood accused of repeatedly misleading parliament about Britain’s role in Yemen – news that was buried until its release in the final hours of the last day of the parliamentary term. Rather than accepting it has contravened International Humanitarian Law (IHL) and as a result says it wants to stop trading in illegal weapons of death with one of the most tyrannical regimes on the planet, the UK governments line has been to assure parliament that assessments into Saudi behaviour have been undertaken and that the country has not been abusing human rights in Yemen.

With talks between the country’s warring factions still deadlocked, the Foreign Office (FO) have retracted a series of statements on the crisis in the country describing them as “an error”, adding that no such assessments of human rights had ever been carried out. However, on July 21 last year, the government admitted misleading parliament on six different occasions telling MPs they had assessed Saudi conduct when they hadn’t, insisting that the Saudi’s weren’t breaking IHL. Amazingly, the UK government is not assessing whether the weapons they sell to the Saudi regime are being used in breach of IHL.

Having previously lied in an attempt to stitch-up Julian Assange in order to please his counterparts on the other side of the Atlantic, the then Foreign Secretary, Philip Hammond went a stage further with his piece of mandarin-speak intended to cover-up his misleading of parliament as a justification to sell weapons that are being used to kill innocent men, women and children in Yemen. Hammond’s signing off weapons of death to one of the most brutal regimes on earth without them having been independently assessed beforehand, is indicative of just how detached Hammond is from the plight of his fellow human beings.

The government statement at the time read:

“We have NOT assessed that there has not been a breach of International Humanitarian Law by the coalition”.

This translates as that on no fewer than six occasions the coalition government misled parliament telling MPs that the Saudi’s were not breaching IHL in Yemen. However, they must of known they were. Late on Friday, June 22, 2016, former Shadow Foreign Secretary, Hilary Benn, MP wrote to then Foreign Secretary, Hammond (now Chancellor):

“I urge Boris Johnson, as the new Foreign Secretary, to ensure that the Government does what you originally said it was doing and immediately assess whether IHL has been breached. A continued failure to undertake such an assessment would be an abdication of responsibility and will serve to further undermine Britain’s standing in the world.”

The jaw-dropping revelations which represent complete u-turns on previous answers that the UK parliament were given, are not just about the correction of six parliamentary answers, but have a direct impact on the people of Yemen and the families of the thousands of civilians who have lost their loved ones in the conflict.

Freedom of information 

The British governments role in the country initially only came to light following a Freedom of Information request that revealed a ‘memorandum of understanding’ (MOU) between the then Home Secretary Theresa May and her Saudi counterpart Crown Prince Muhammad bin Nayef which was signed secretly during the former’s visit to the Kingdom in 2014. 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.

Questions about the precise role the UK, US and Saudi Arabia are playing in Yemen, as well as the extent to which UK weapons are implicated in the deaths of civilians, will redouble in the months ahead, particularly after activists won their battle to take the government to court over the affair set for next month (February, 2017). No amount of attempts by the media to bury the Yemen conflict from the headlines will alter that fact.

The government tried to bury some very bad news last July and got found out. As long as there exists alternative media to bring the government to account, they will continue to be exposed for their criminal activities.

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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Manufacturing Consent & the Myth of the Unelectable Left

By Daniel Margrain

Unelectable Left

 

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.”

In order to defend their interests against the forces of 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. This is largely achieved through 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 continue to both attack Jeremy Corbyn’s leadership and demean the membership of the party who had the temerity to vote for him, securing one of the biggest electoral mandates 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, 2016.

Media hate-fest

Arguably, the plot to oust Corbyn began after a hardcore group of right-wing MPs all refused to serve under him. 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,” 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 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 2015, 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, 2016 Telegraph article – a non-story about Corbyn’s state-funded salary and pension.

Not to be outdone, eleven months later (March 5, 2017), the same rag continued with the smears by suggesting Corbyn had paid insufficient tax on his declared annual earnings – a claim subsequently debunked within hours on social media. Meanwhile, the news that Tory Chancellor, Philip Hammond, refused point-blank to publish his own tax returns after being prompted to do so by Shadow Chancellor, John McDonnell, did not receive anything like the same kind of media scrutiny.

The implication of this ‘fake news’ story, was that Corbyn had misled the public. However, similar media outrage was not leveled at PM Theresa May after it was revealed (March 7, 2017) that she had lied to parliament after having falsely claimed that Surrey Council had not engaged in a ‘sweat heart’ deal with the Conservative government. It appears that when it comes to Corbyn, a completely different set of media standards are applied. Indeed, this is supported by the evidence. Academic studies confirm the media’s anti-Corbyn bias.

  • A major content analysis from Cardiff University revealed that the BBC is pro-business and Conservative-leaning in its coverage.
  • The London School of Economics and Political Science found strong media bias against Corbyn, claiming the press had turned into an “attack dog” against the opposition leader.
  • The UK’s public service broadcaster gave double the airtime to Corbyn’s critics than to his allies at the start of the 2016 Labour coup, according to content analysis from the Media Reform Coalition.

letter from numerous academics and media activists, including Greg Philo of the Glasgow Media Group, Noam Chomsky and Edward Herman, published in the Guardian, ironically, noted:

“The leadership of Jeremy Corbyn has been subject to the most savage campaign of falsehood and misrepresentation in some of our most popular media outlets. He has, at different times, been derided, ignored, vilified and condemned.”

Portland Communications & the antisemitism row

Arguably, one of the most serious impacts that have emerged from this sustained media campaign of biased vilification, have been the attempts by the right-wing Friends of Israel group within the Parliamentary Labour Party (PLP) to topple Corbyn using the specter of antisemitism as a weapon with which to achieve it. Among the most comprehensive analyses of the McCarthy-style witch-hunts undertaken so far has been by 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.

One of the most prominent attacks on Corbyn centred on a contrived ‘antisemitism’ accusation 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 ‘anti-semitism crisis’ on June 30, 2016 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.

Eagle’s hard landing

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 New Labour 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 indicates, Corbyn did much better than Eagle in defending their respective Remain positions:

According to a YouGov poll in the run up to the second election, Eagle commanded just 6 per cent support from Labour members and eventually dropped out of the race to be replaced by challenger, Owen Smith.

The Owen Smith debacle

In a debate on the September 8, 2016 edition of BBC’s Question Time leading up to the election, a studio audience member accused Smith of “being in the wrong party”. Smith’s voting record in parliament appeared to support this thesis.

Having pitched himself as a ‘soft-left’ anti-austerity alternative to Corbyn, the former public relations professional had previously given interviews supporting PFI and, as chief lobbyist for the U.S multinational Pfizer, he actively pushed for the privatization of NHS services. Commenting on a Pfizer funded ‘focus group’ study as part of a press release, Smith referenced and promoted the notion that the precondition for greater availability of healthcare services was the ability of the public to be able to pay for them.

Smith also supported Blair’s city academies and assiduously courted the arms industry of which his support of Trident was a reflection. Arguably, most important of all, is that Smith effectively lined up with the Tories, alongside another 183 Labour MPs in July, 2015 by refusing to vote against the Conservative governments regressive and reactionary policy of welfare cuts to some of the most vulnerable people in society.

In the end, Labour Party members saw through the Smith brand, realized he was, as Craig Murray put it, “another New Labour unprincipled and immoral careerist”, and voted accordingly.

The cementing of Corbyn’s mandate

Consequently, Corbyn increased his proportion of the vote and hence his mandate. This was despite a war of attrition by the PLP that involved a McCarthyite purging of Corbyn supporters – a disdain for the grass roots membership which has a long history within the hierarchy of the party.

The 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 is currently higher than it’s last peak of 405,000 members last seen under Tony Blair’s leadership.

As Corbyn’s vindication by the memberships overwhelming support of him shows, the ‘race to the bottom’ strategy of his opponents serves nobody other than the narrow careerist motivations of an out of touch elite who have their snouts embedded in the trough and don’t want to give up their privileges without a fight. A sincere and incorruptible politician like Corbyn represents a potential threat to these privileges and the gravy train that sustains them.

This explains why the careerists inside the New Labour bubble would prefer a Tory government over a Corbyn government and thus are happy to continue with the ‘divided party at war with one another’ narrative. This was what the challenge to Corbyn’s authority within the right-wing of the party is really all about. It’s not that Corbyn hasn’t a realistic chance of winning the next General Election, rather, it’s more a case that the establishment will do everything in their power to ensure that he doesn’t.

Battle lines drawn

In that sense, the political battle lines have been drawn, not between the Tories, the corporate mass media and the right-wing ‘opposition’, but between these factions and the rest of us. The resignation of the right-winger, Tristram Hunt, who was essentially parachuted into his Stoke-On-Trent constituency, represents a tacit acknowledgement by the Blairites that the New Labour faction within the party is on the ropes and that Corbyn is in the ascendancy. This notion was articulated by Ken Livingston, who in response to the resignation echoed the views of the grass roots when he depicted Hunt as being part of:

“a small elite that is very much London based that dominated the Labour party under the Blair-Brown years and were in awe of the bankers and forgot the needs of ordinary working class and middle class families, that era is gone.”

The popularity of Corbyn among grass roots members did not deter the right-wing of the party prior to the General Election from making the assertion  that Corbyn was an electoral liability for Labour and that he was unelectable.

However, the massive swing to Labour proved them wrong, In addition, his impressive record at elections more generally, should have been a warning to them. In his constituency of Islington North, Corbyn inherited a majority of 4,456, which increased to 21,194. He added a further 10,430 at the General election. He’s one of the few Labour MPs whose vote increased between 2005 and 2010, when he added 5,685 to his majority.

It must also be remembered that pre-coup, Labour led the Tories in three polls in a row over 41 days. Furthermore, London, Bristol and Greater Manchester now have Labour mayors, rolling back years of Tory dominance, while Labour’s majorities in by-elections have generally increased. It’s true that the by-election in Copeland was a major disappointment but this was largely offset by the fact that Labour took the Stoke on-Trent seat on the same day.

It is also worth noting that Labour won three local government by-elections – two off the Tories and one off the SNP. In last May’s local elections, the party overtook the Tories in the share of the vote, coming from seven points behind at the last but one election.

Meanwhile, the party haemorrhaged 4.9 million votes between 1997 and 2010 under the ‘triangulated’ leadership of Tony Blair. The man who took the country to war in Iraq under a false prospectus, and who lobbies on behalf of some of the world’s most brutal and corrupt dictators, claimed in a moment of Orwellian doublespeak that Corbyn is a disaster for the party.

Myth-making

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 continued:

“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.’”

Snap election

No sooner had PM Theresa May announced in April her decision to go to the country in a snap election predicated on a single issue Brexit strategy, Corbyn, was quickly out of the blocks in his attempts to wrong-foot her. The Labour leaders first General Election campaign speech and Q&A in which he outlined a broad set of policies to tackle growing inequality and reverse years of Tory austerity, was a tour de force.

Corbyn was able to capitalize on May’s unpopular campaign on bread and butter issues such as grammar schools and the dementia tax. Where I disagree with Corbyn is in relation to his position on Brexit which I regard as economically illiterate. I outlined my thinking here.

However, given that a poll (July 16, 2017) commissioned by Blair suggests that 56 per cent of the public agree with the statement, “Brexit must mean Brexit”, it would appear that Corbyn looks set to pull off a tactical masterstroke. By refusing to adopt the Remain position of the Liberal Democrats, means that Corbyn is likely to be best placed to capitalize on May’s calamitous hard Brexit outcome.

Other issues that the Tories won’t be able to hide away from, is the chaos in the NHS and social care sector, the scandal of zero hours contracts, in-work poverty, lack of affordable housing and welfare cuts among others.

Ultimately, the implication the public don’t necessarily favour Corbyn’s politics is wrong. His position on the NHS and the re-nationalization of the railways, for example, are universally popular. Rather, it’s more the case that the elite political-media establishment know Corbyn is incorruptible and therefore feel they are unable to win him over on their own terms. Consequently, they realize that the longer Corbyn remains at the helm the more likely it will be that those sympathetic to him and his policies will be elected into positions of power.

The fact that the media barons are constantly drumming it into the public’s heads that Corbyn is useless and should resign, is a testament to his unflinching endurance to see through the mandate entrusted upon him by the rank and file. If both the right-wing Tory media and his political opponents were so convinced that he had no chance of winning the election, why did they keep insisting that he resign?

Moreover, the criticism often leveled at Corbyn that he provides weak opposition at the dispatch box during PMQs, is belied by the fact that under his leadership the Tories have been forced into some thirty policy u-turns.

Cracks

Cracks had started to appear in the Tory armory way before the General Election. Left-Foot Forward noted, both the PMs press secretary, and her director of communications and long-term adviser, departed company with her. In addition, “May’s two closest advisers have a long history of intra-government feuds – both were forced to leave May’s home office team after rifts with other members of David Cameron’s cabinet – and the trend seems to be continuing in Number 10.”

According to Politico:

“The string of departures from Number 10 has been linked to May’s highly controlled leadership style. Government officials frequently report that power over government messaging and media strategy is heavily concentrated in the hands of ‘the chiefs’… and that more junior members of staff have limited freedom to operate.”

May’s authoritarianism has arguably been the motivating factor which has led to what the Canary reported (April 24, 2017) as the resignation of a third senior adviser from Downing Street within a week. The PMs control freakery was underlined by what Ash Sarkar, described as “a moment of short-term political opportunism which actually has potential catastrophic affects in terms of a concentration of power in the executive.”

It’s May’s totalitarian instincts that are symbiotic of the rightward drift in politics over the last four decades, that has culminated in some of the most severe attacks on our civil liberties within living memory.

In November 20, 2016, Craig Murray, published a blog piece that is apposite for the current situation. In it, he illustrates an example of the PMs total contempt for democracy legitimized by what he accurately terms as “an over-mighty executive government backed by corporate wealth which controls a corporate media.”

Murray continued:

“Her [May’s] default position is to retreat into secrecy and blatant abuse of power. That is precisely what we are seeing over Brexit, where there is no plan and much to hide. May’s natural instinct is to brook no opposition, debate or discussion of her actions, but to proceed on the basis of executive fiat, with as little information as possible given to parliament, devolved authorities and – Heaven forbid – the public.”

Both Murray and Sarkar’s assertions were illustrative of May’s refusal to take part in a televised public debate in the run-up to the election, her banning of both the public and journalists from Tory events and the insistence that her MPs sign a three lock pledge.

May’s autocratic style and her reluctance to allow proper democratic scrutiny, points to a lack of intellectual acumen and the paucity of her campaign policies underpinned by the repetitive mantra, “strong and stable” – amusingly parodied by Mike Sivier (April 27, 2017).

The paucity of May’s campaign was even noted by some establishment commentators. Columnist Fraser Nelson, for example, revealed in the Telegraph (April 21, 2017), that May’s election manifesto was extremely light in both content and detail which a single hard Brexit strategy implied.

An illustration of the PMs lack of intellectual acumen and autocratic style, was perhaps most pertinently highlighted by constituent, Louise Trethowanwho related a fifteen minute encounter she had with May at her constituency office in Maidenhead.

Trethowan said:

“For me, it was an excellent opportunity to put all my fears – and the concerns of the 48 per cent – to the woman who will lead us towards the Brexit cliff edge. I expected… her to present some strong arguments that would counter my own.”

But what she witnessed was a rude, aggressive and finger-pointing individual who was unable to hold an argument.

Trethowan added:

She [the PM] seemed petulant, defensive, tired and rattled… If the Prime Minister is so easily angered how on earth is she going to be the best negotiator for Brexit? I fear she will lose her temper and start jabbing her finger at people.”

The reliance on a constituency of right-wing extremists to argue the Tories’ case for returning an unstable individual to Downing Street based on a ‘blank cheque’ hard Brexit, while ignoring the key bread and butter issues, proved to have been a risky one that ultimately failed.

Of course, the billionaire-owning mass media support the Tories with near unanimity. But the front page of the Daily Mail (April 19, 2017) which ran with the headline “Crush The Saboteurs” (see below), almost certainly alienated 48 per cent of the population who voted Remain. Therefore, given the shifting attitudes towards Brexit, the right-wing media’s depiction of over 16 million people as “the enemy” probably backfired on the Tories.

Behind in the polls

It’s true that when May announced the election, Corbyn was well behind in the polls but, as Craig Murray pointed out at the time, this is misleading. The downside for Corbyn, according to YouGov, is that Labour looked set to lose out to the Tories for the vote of the oldest and least educated demographic – many of whom are traditional working class voters. It seemed at the time Labour’s longer-term prospects would have been hindered by the fact that society is ageing.

But on the other hand, YouGov found that Labour was leading the voting intention polls with under-40s. The problem for Labour, historically, has been that it’s this group who have been the least likely to go out and vote. I stated at the time that “If Corbyn can mobilize this former hitherto relatively passive demographic group into voting, then the polls could be significantly closer than many pundits are suggesting.” And so it came to pass. It is also worth keeping in mind that the last Tory PM to have called an early election on a single issue while ahead in the polls was Edward Heath – and he lost.

It was music to this writers ears that Corbyn began his campaign emphasizing Labour’s policy plans in a lucid and persuasive way. The two-pronged strategy of focusing on May’s shortcomings over Brexit on the one hand, and Corbyn’s emphasis on outlining policies to reduce inequality and create a fairer society on the other, was inspired.

The announcement by Corbyn’s team on April 26, 2017, that the Labour leader would not take part in a live televised TV debate, only for him to change his mind, was another tactical master stroke. The decision wrong-footed May who was the first to announce she would not participate. She was then perceived as ducking out of the challenge to face Corbyn.

Polls narrowed

As the election neared, the public began to frame their views on Corbyn, less on what the media wanted them to believe through their propagandizing of him, and more on what they saw and heard in public speeches and debates. They liked what they heard. The bread and butter issues resonated across the board, but particularly with the young who saw in Corbyn somebody who at last was prepared to put issues like tuition fees, education, inequality, social justice and affordable housing at the top of the agenda.

The media’s depiction of him as a bumbling idiot and terrorist sympathizer didn’t square with the reality. Thus the closer the election got, the narrower the polls became. When the election was called in April, the Tories lead over Labour was 24 points. A week before the election, the lead had been cut to just three.

Having galvanized the young and encapsulated the wider public mood with an inspired insurgency campaign, it was clear in the early hours of June 9, 2017, that Corbyn against all the odds, had prevented a Tory majority. May’s ‘one trick pony’ hard Brexit strategy had failed and the electorate in huge numbers had been persuaded by the Labour leaders message of compassion, justice and humanity.

Given the level of media vilification, hostility and bias against Corbyn from the moment he became Labour leader, the election result was nothing less than astonishing. Corbyn ‘increased Labour’s share of the vote by more than any other of the party’s election leaders since 1945′ with ‘the biggest swing since shortly after the Second World War. He won a larger share of the vote than Tony Blair in 2005.

The corporate media commentariat – most of whom were fanatical, during the election campaign in promoting May and had predicted a Tory landslide – had been caught with their tails between their legs. When a tweeter suggested that Corbyn’s result was “brilliant”, New Statesman editor Jason Cowley replied: “Yes, I agree.” Just three days earlier, Cowley had written under the ominous title:

“The Labour reckoning – Corbyn has fought a spirited campaign but is he leading the party to worst defeat since 1935?”

In March, Cowley opined:

“The stench of decay and failure coming from the Labour Party is now overwhelming – Speak to any Conservative MP and they will say that there is no opposition. Period.”

Corbyn’s success means that the power of the mainstream media to dictate public opinion has been broken. But the shifting political landscape is not reflected in the unrepresentative nature of TV political punditry which continues as it did before the election. The call by Naomi Klein to have fixed terms for pundits just like presidents and prime ministers, is long overdue.

The likes of Polly Toynbee, Toby Young, Andrew Neil, Julia Hartley Brewer et al have not displayed any sense of humility, self-awareness or embarrassment since the election, which illustrates their sense of self-entitlement and the programme-makers disregard for public opinion.

But it isn’t just the commentariate and TV producers within the elite media bubble who are out of touch and aloof. The Labour party establishment who endorse the elite narrative and who were filmed predicting Corbyn’s demise and felt he was unsuitable to lead the party into the election, ought to (but won’t) be hanging their head in shame.

None of the Blairites will be missed as the party enters a new post-New Labour era. Corbyn should take advantage of his popularity and he may now feel emboldened enough to encourage their deselection. Blairites are only motivated by money and power and they will go away once the money dries up.

If you’ve enjoyed reading this or another posting, please consider making a donation, no matter how small. I don’t make any money from my work, and I’m not funded. You can help continue my research and write independently outside the control of corporate-owned and power-serving media structures.… Thanks!


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Stepping into the mud with the barefoot economist, Manfred Max-Neef

By Daniel Margrain

Manfred Max Neef sits at a table near a notebook computer. On the wall behind him is a slide from a presentation.

The media’s trumping (excuse the pun) of economic growth over environmental concerns exemplified by their lack of any critique of the latter following yesterday’s (November 23) Autumn Statement announcement by chancellor, Philip Hammond, is a familiar, if rather depressing, narrative. The news from the government’s Office for Budget Responsibility (OBR) that growth forecasts for 2017 as a percentage of GDP are projected to fall by 0.8 per cent, largely due to Brexit-related affects, was perhaps expected.

But what is rarely questioned by the media are the consequences this prioritizing of growth as a central plank of the governments economic strategy has for the medium to long term sustainability of the planets ecosystems upon which the well-being, and even survival, of humanity depends.

The Green Party MP, Caroline Lucas raised her concern in the House of Commons that neither Hammond in his Autumn Statement – nor any of his Tory predecessors – “have ever mentioned the words ‘climate change’ in the year that’s the hottest on record and where parts of the country are under flood water.”

To all rational observers this is a particularly alarming state of affairs given that the government’s own 2015 National Security Strategy states that human-induced climate change is one of three tier-one threats – alongside international terrorism and cyber crime – that the UK currently faces. By subordinating climate change to a neoliberal economic growth model within a finite planet, amounts to willful ignorance and stupidity of the most serious and blatant kind, namely, because the consequences are potentially catastrophic for all living things.

Shifting the paradigm

Of all the recent discussions around the production of fake news, the inability of the mainstream media to bring the issue of climate change to the forefront of public discourse is probably the greatest dereliction of duty that can be brought to bear on the credibility of professional journalism.

But arguably just as unforgivable, is the media’s inability to bring political power to account in respect to the latter’s fetishization of the current growth model and to shift the discourse from a paradigm where this model is currently regarded to be a panacea among large swaths of the public, to one where it is widely regarded as the death knoll for society and the planet.

The November 22 edition of the BBCs current affairs Newsnight programme featured an extended piece on the current chancellor. Some of Philip Hammond’s former school friends were interviewed, all of whom described him as a highly intelligent figure who, after having completed his class work before everybody else, would often put his feet up on his desk in lessons. Hammond was portrayed by his friends as being so clever that he regularly outsmarted his teachers.

Having made large sums of money as a music promoter soon after having left school, Hammond fulfilled his youthful boast that he would become a millionaire by the age of thirty. But although well-educated, wealthy and well connected, this former Oxford graduate like so many other chancellors before him who have gone on to be the pillar of the political establishment, continues to promulgate the deluded notion that sustained economic growth is emblematic of societal progress.

Hammond is part of a Tory establishment that continues to perpetuate the myth that the current economic growth model is the best way to curtail the threat posed from the likelihood of further economic crisis as opposed to recognizing it’s the major cause. Consequently, Hammond will continue to systematically push for policies that fly in the face of all available scientific evidence.

Politician’s like Hammond know what is to be done but for ideological and dogmatic reasons they do the opposite. Rather than the global financial crisis of 2008 acting as a wake up call, Hammond and Osborne before him, continue with the same poisonous model until the next crisis comes along, by which time they will continue with it until the one after that. And so it goes on. This is the economics of the madhouse.

Radical visions – development not growth

What is required is a radical alternative vision for society – a break from the concept by which everything has become a commodity to be bought and sold for profit. But who, other than a handful of creative thinkers in the academic sphere, are proposing alternative, imaginative visions? One of the most ambitious thesis I’ve come across is that postulated by Pat Devine, who articulates in some detail, the processes by which the development of a democratically planned socialist economy can come into being.

Devine’s thesis is closely aligned to that of the Chilean economist, Manfred Max-Neef whose visionary holistic and philosophical appraisal of the existing model ought to go a long way in persuading people of the legitimacy of the planned socialist model. While recognizing the importance, geographically, of bringing production closer to consumption, Max-Neef argues that the root of the existing problem stems from how establishment economists perceive their academic discipline as being above, and separate from, nature and the biosphere.

For Max-Neef, economists know nothing about ecosystems, thermodynamics or biodiversity. “I mean, they are totally ignorant in that respect”, he said… “And I don’t see what harm it would do, for an economist to know that if the beasts would disappear, he would disappear as well, because there wouldn’t be food anymore. But he doesn’t know that we depend absolutely from nature. But for these economists we have, nature is a subsystem of the economy.”

Max-Neef argues that for the paradigm to shift, it is necessary for economics to be taught in a different way based in five postulates and one fundamental value principle:

1) The economy is to serve the people and not the people to serve the economy.

2) Development is about people and not about objects.

3) Growth is not the same as development, and development does not necessarily require growth.

4) No economy is possible in the absence of ecosystem services.

5) The economy is a subsystem of a larger finite system, the biosphere, hence permanent growth is impossible.

The fundamental value to sustain a new economy should be that no economic interest, under no circumstance, can be above the reverence of life.

For far too long, humanity and the natural world has been subordinate to the imperatives associated with an economic growth paradigm that’s perceived by economists and politicians as being separate and distinct from the former. What Max-Neef is saying in the first point above is that the dialectical relationship between economy and people has to be restored in order for society and nature to function properly.

The distinction Max-Neef makes between growth and development in point three, is particularly significant. As the economist from Berkeley points out:

“Growth is a quantitative accumulation. Development is the liberation of creative possibilities. Every living system in nature grows up to a certain point and stops growing. You are not growing anymore, nor he nor me. But we continue developing ourselves… So development has no limits. Growth has limits. And that is a very big thing, you know, that economists and politicians don’t understand. They are obsessed with the fetish of economic growth.”

This fetishization of economic growth is arguably explained, in part, by the fact that the monetary offshoots that accrue as a consequence of this growth have, since the onset of ‘trickle-down’ neoliberalism, increasingly ‘gushed upwards’ towards the top of the socioeconomic pyramid.

This is revealed by statistics which indicate that economic output (GDP) in the UK, adjusted for inflation, has over doubled from £687bn in 1979 to £1,502bn in 2011. However, over the same period, income inequality, as measured by the Gini coefficient, increased from 0.25 to 0.34. In other words, since the era of neoliberalism, working people who have created the sustained increase in wealth in society, have seen their slice of the pie reduced. Max-Neef understands that the ruling class obsession with the fetish of economic growth is underscored by the fact that this is the class that disproportionately benefits the most from it.

The threshold hypothesis

One of the later works Max-Neef authored was the famous threshold hypothesis, which says that in every society there is a period in which economic growth, conventionally understood or not, brings about an improvement of the quality of life. But only up to a point – the threshold point – beyond which, if there is more growth, quality of life begins to decline.

According to Max-Neef, the U.S, which he terms an “undeveloping nation” is currently at this point. The UK is not far behind. This is reflected in the growing concentration of wealth towards the one per cent at the expense of the 99 per cent. The logic of diminishing returns applies to other parts of the system that eventually results in net costs over the long-term.

These costs are quantified not only in strict monetary terms, but involve human capital too – something which the economic-growth fetishists rarely factor in to their cost-benefit calculations. Diane Abbot’s posting on Twitter yesterday (November 23) of an OBR sourced graph (see below) highlighting the impact of immigration on UK debt, is a case in point.

 

“OBR has also shown immigration reduces Government debt, because it is a net economic benefit.”

 

 

The ORB (and Abbot) present only a partial truth. While Abbot is correct in stating that “immigration is a net economic benefit because it reduces government debt”, the analysis doesn’t take into account other factors such as the uneven distribution of wealth described which negate the benefits accrued, or indeed, other (social) indicators such as reduced quality of life resulting from, for example, a lack of school places or other pressures on public services that mass immigration potentially brings.

Walking barefoot

It’s the apparent inability of politicians to view the economic growth paradigm as destructive that opens up spaces for alternative narratives of the likes of Max-Neef to fill. After winning the Right Livelihood Award in 1983, two years after the publication of his book Outside Looking In: Experiences in Barefoot Economics, the Chilean economist’s metaphor was inspired as a result of the ten years he spent working in extreme poverty in the Sierras, jungles and urban areas of different parts of Latin America. It was during this period that the economist from Berkeley began to view his profession in a different light. What subsequently happened was to change his life for ever.

“I was one day in an Indian village in the Sierra in Peru”, recalls Max-Neef. “It was an ugly day. It had been raining all the time. And I was standing in the slum. And across me, another guy also standing in the mud — not in the slum, in the mud. And, well, we looked at each other, and this was a short guy, thin, hungry, jobless, five kids, a wife and a grandmother. And I was the fine economist from Berkeley, teaching in Berkeley, having taught in Berkeley and so on.

“And we were looking at each other, and then suddenly I realized that I had nothing coherent to say to that man in those circumstances, that my whole language as an economist, you know, was absolutely useless. Should I tell him that he should be happy because the GDP had grown five percent or something? Everything was absurd.”

Max-Neef continued:

“So I discovered that I had no language in that environment and that we had to invent a new language. And that’s the origin of the metaphor of barefoot economics, which concretely means that is the economics that an economist who dares to step into the mud must practice.”

“The point is, you know, that economists study and analyze poverty in their nice offices, have all the statistics, make all the models, and are convinced that they know everything that you can know about poverty. But they don’t understand poverty. And that’s the big problem. And that’s why poverty is still there. And that changed my life as an economist completely. I invented a language that is coherent with those situations and conditions.”

The ‘language’ Max-Neef refers to relates to the way that we as human beings in developed countries have lost the capacity to understand. Despite our ability to accumulate knowledge, this capacity, in the absence of empathy, love and understanding, is according to Max-Neef, insufficient:

“You can only attempt to understand that of which you become a part”, says Max-Neef. “If we fall in love, as the Latin song says, we are much more than two. When you belong, you understand. When you’re separated, you can accumulate knowledge. And that is — that’s been the function of science. Now, science is divided into parts, but understanding is holistic.”

For Max-Neef, in order for professional economists to understand poverty, it’s necessary they live among people who are poor. Only then can economists understand that in such an environment there exists a different set of values and principles that are alien to world of academia that cannot be learned or understood their.

“What I have learned from the poor is much more than I learned in the universities”, said Max-Neef. “But very few people have that experience, you see? They look at it from the outside, instead of living it from the inside.”

The economist from Berkeley, continued:

“And you learn extraordinary things. The first thing you learn, that people who want to work in order to overcome poverty and don’t know, is that in poverty there is an enormous creativity. You cannot be an idiot if you want to survive. Every minute, you have to be thinking, what next? What do I know? What trick can I do here? What’s this and that, that, that, that? And so, your creativity is constant.”

“In addition, I mean, that it’s combined, you know, with networks of cooperation, mutual aid, you know, and all sort of extraordinary things which you’ll no longer find in our dominant society, which is individualistic, greedy, egoistical, etc. It’s just the opposite of what you find there. And it’s sometimes so shocking that you may find people much happier in poverty than what you would find, you know, in your own environment, which also means, you know, that poverty is not just a question of money. It’s a much more complex thing.”

What underlines Max-Neef’s message, perhaps more than anything else, is that the developed world that sees itself as sophisticated, educated and cultured, while pushing away to the margins the poor of the developing world by building walls, do so while failing to acknowledge that the kind of ‘progress’ the economists and politicians sitting in their plush offices aspire to, is in truth measured by the speed at which they are destroying the conditions that sustain life.

The Imperial arrogance of the BBC

 

 

By Daniel Margrain

“I think the days of Britain having to apologize for our history are over….I think we should celebrate much of our [imperialist] past rather than apologize for it, and we should talk, rightly so, about British values.”

The above words were uttered not by Nigel Farage, Nick Griffin or Enoch Powell, but former New Labour Chancellor, Gordon Brown eleven years ago during the recording of a BBC ‘Newsnight’ film which explored Brown’s ideas about Britishness. The “values” supposedly specific to Britain that Brown was referring to were not made clear.

Four years later, in 2009, Brown as Prime Minister, became embroiled in the controversy that surrounded the appearance of the fascist Nick Griffin on the BBCs flagship political forum programme, Question Time. After much to-ing and fro-ing between the BBC hierarchy and Brown, it was the latter who finally decided that the responsibility to allow Griffin on to the programme rested with the former.

Although in principle the BBC Trust – which oversees the requirement of the organisation “to deliver duly impartial news by the Royal Charter and Agreement and to treat controversial subjects with due impartiality” – is able to intervene in cases like this, in practice the body never interferes in individual programme content prior to transmission.

The decision to allow the then leader of an openly fascist party on to the programme on the basis that not to have done so would have breached the corporations impartiality guidelines, is an illustration of the absurdity underpinning the BBC claim. The organization frequently breaches its guidelines in this area. This can be seen in terms of a) how little BBC journalists scrutinize and challenge fascists in interviews and political debating programmes (Andrew Marr’s treatment of French MEP, Marine Le Pen being an example), and b) the extent to which these journalists uncritically accept the views and pronouncements of those in political power.

Stenography

Another clear example of how the corporation breaches its impartiality guidelines was in 2007. The then North America editor for the BBC, Justin Webb, whose role could be said to be closer to that of a stenographer than a journalist, rejected the charge he was a propagandist for US power. Webb said:”Nobody ever tells me what to say about America or the attitude to take about the United States. And that is the case right across the board in television as well”

Webb began a radio programme from the Middle East as follows:

“June 2005. US Secretary of State, Condoleeza Rice flies to Cairo and at the American University makes a speech that will go down in history”.

Reproducing Rice’s subsequent statement verbatim, Webb allowed her views to be aired without challenge or critique. Rice said, “For sixty years my country, the United States, pursued stability at the expense of democracy in this region, here in the Middle East, and we achieved neither”.

The former U.S Secretary of State added:

“Now we are taking a different course. We are supporting the democratic aspirations of all people.”

Webb told his listeners in all seriousness:”I believe the Bush administration genuinely wanted that speech to be a new turning point; a new start”.

Nobody had to tell Webb to say these words; he genuinely believed them.

In March, 2009, BBC reporter Reeta Chakrabarti was asked why she had claimed that Tony Blair had “passionately believed” that Iraq had weapons of mass destruction when all evidence suggested otherwise. Chakrabarti responded it was because he [Blair] had “consistently said so.”

When Media Lens challenged former BBC news director Helen Boaden on whether she thought these kinds of uncritical responses relating to U.S-UK intent compromised the BBC’s commitment to impartial reporting, she replied that “analysis of the underlying motivation of the coalition is borne out by many of the speeches and remarks of both Mr Bush and Mr Blair.”

Another clear illustration of how the BBC breaches its impartiality guidelines occurred in 1999. It was during this year that the corporation made the political decision to allow its own high-profile newsreader, Jill Dando, to present a DEC appeal for Kosovo at the height of NATO’s 78-day bombing campaign against Serbian “genocide” in Kosovo (the genocide claim has since been proven to have been false).

Shortly after broadcasting the appeal, the BBC reported:”Millions of pounds of donations have been flooding in to help the Kosovo refugees after a national television appeal for funds.”

In a linked article, Tony Blair was was quoted as saying:”This will be a daily pounding until he [the Serbian leader Slobodan Milosevic] comes into line with the terms laid down by NATO”.

The Kosovo appeal contrasted with the BBC’s decision not to broadcast the Gaza Charity Appeal a decade later in response to Israel’s violent 22-day attack on Gaza as part of Operation Cast Lead.

The BBC’s refusal to broadcast a national humanitarian appeal for Gaza, breached an agreement that dates back to 1963 and left “aid agencies with a potential shortfall of millions of pounds in donations.”

The BBCs support of the Kosovo appeal was consistent with the British states political and military imperial objectives in the region. By contrast, the notion of any support given to the Palestinian’s in Gaza run counter to these objectives. Apparently, the BBC had no concerns that this clear double-standard might damage its alleged reputation for impartiality.

The state broadcaster’s claims of impartiality are further compromised in relation to both the nature of their senior management appointments which are made by the government of the day, and by acts of cronyism of which there is clear evidence. For instance, at the time of the 2003 invasion of Iraq, both the BBC chairman, Gavyn Davies and his director-general, Gregg Dyke, were supporters of, and donors to, Blair’s New Labour government. Davies’s wife ran Gordon Brown’s office; his children served as pageboy and bridesmaid at the Brown wedding. Tony Blair has stayed at Davies’s holiday home.

Consider too, the establishment links of the members of the BBC Trust whose duty, to recall, is to uphold its public obligations, including impartiality. Are the general public seriously expected to believe that the unrepresentative demographic composition of the trustees, as reflected in their relatively narrow educational and professional backgrounds, are independent of the government that appointed them and of the elite corporate and other vested interests which they are deeply embedded?

Lord Reith, founder of the BBC, was honest in his assessment of the corporation and its relationship to the establishment: “They know they can trust us not to be really impartial”, he said.

Arguably, it’s the Iraq debacle more than any other event in recent history that has exposed the BBCs flagrant beaching of its Charter. BBC journalist, Andrew Gilligan lost his job after he revealed that the Blair regime had manipulated intelligence in relation to Saddam’s supposed possession of WMD.

Marr and full spectrum dominance

Probably no clearer illustration of BBC bias has existed as that which occurred outside 10 Downing Street on April 9, 2003. The BBCs political editor, Andrew Marr’s infamous piece to camera in which he described government ministers walking around Whitehall “with smiles like split watermelons” amounted to imperial hyperbole of the most obnoxious kind.

But it was his premature eulogizing of war criminal Tony Blair that will go down in history as one of the most blatant examples of pro-establishment propaganda ever witnessed. Marr, in overtones that echoed Churchill, and with a wry smirk and air of self-congratulatory righteousness, said of Blair and the coalition forces:

“He [Blair] said they [coalition forces] would be able to take Baghdad without a bloodbath, and in the end the Iraqi’s would be celebrating. And on both of those points he has been proved conclusively right. And it would be entirely ungracious even for his critics not to acknowledge that tonight he stands a larger man and a stronger prime minister as a result.”

With Iraq fast becoming an historical footnote, the latest Western-led imperialist wars of aggression in the middle east extended to Libya and latterly, Syria. However, unlike the former two countries, the government of president Bashar al Assad is proving to be a far stronger adversary than perhaps many U.S-UK strategists initially thought.

The BBCs propaganda offensive against Syria and its key regional Russian ally, is all-pervasive. John Pilger said, correctly, that “the first casualty of war is journalism.” What the public is witnessing, in other words, is a media propaganda war machine in ‘full spectrum dominance’ mode.

The BBCs deceptions and lies in relation to Syria – whether in terms of their uncritical stance to the role played by the White Helmets, their use of a fake BBC documentary film in an attempt to influence an important government vote in the House of Commons, or of their censorship by omission –  is so entrenched as to have become systemic and normalized in virtually all aspects of mainstream reportage emanating from that country.

RT & the demonization of Russia

The lies and deceptions also involves the BBCs demonizing of Russia. One way the media manages to achieve this is by instilling fear in the UK population. For instance, on the same day the head of Britain’s M15, Andrew Parker, was interviewed in the Guardian about the Russian “threat” – subsequently reported uncritically on the BBC – the CIA-financed Henry Jackson Society unveiled their new Manual of Russophobia.

A crucial component of the BBCs ‘demonization of Russia strategy’ relates to their attempts at discrediting the broadcaster, RT (also known as Russia Today). The BBCs Andrew Neil, for example, who post-satirist, Victor Lewis-Smith points out, hosts three political programmes on the station, while acting as chairman of the company that runs the Spectator and Telegraph, oversaw, on the Daily Politics programme, arguably one of the most repugnant pieces of anti-Russian propaganda ever witnessed on British television.

Launched in October, 2014, the RT channel is accused by its critics as essentially being a Putin propaganda mouthpiece. However, writer Glenn Greenwald proffers a far more nuanced (and accurate) evaluation. Writing about an anti-RT campaign in March, 2015, Greenwald said:

“The most vocal among the anti-RT crowd – on the ground that it spreads lies and propaganda — such as Nick Cohen and Oliver Kamm — were also the most aggressive peddlers of the pro-U.K.-government conspiracy theories and lies that led to the Iraq War. That people like this, with their histories of pro-government propaganda, are the ones demanding punishment of RT for ‘bias’, tells you all you need to know about what is really at play here”.

It’s also worth noting that another of the prominent liberal ‘leftist’ anti-Russia-RT brigade is David “those [Iraqi] weapons had better be there” Aaranovitch of the Times whose role for decades on the BBC appears to be to support just about every opportunity to wage war.

Journalists and broadcasters like Aaranovitch, Kamm and Cohen who are critical of RT, nevertheless tend to overstate the channel’s influence. The reality is RT’s global reach is far less than the BBCs, whose World Service is essentially funded by the organization who founded it – the Foreign and Commonwealth Office.

Meanwhile, the U.S spends hundreds of millions annually on outfits like RFE/RL in order to spread American values to the rest of the world in much the same way the BBC does in relation to its spreading of British values to a global market.

Apparently propaganda is only ‘evil’ when the broadcaster of the official enemy engages in promoting it, even though the impact of such propaganda is far less destructive than the propaganda emanating from the BBC.

The default position of the British state broadcaster appears to be that the nature of the liberal-democratic state in which they are embedded is such it confers them with certain entitlements – one of which is an unwritten rule allowing them to be selective in terms of their reportage. Thus, ignoring ‘our’ criminality is deemed to be acceptable based on the premise that elected politicians serve the people, and that it is the task of journalism to support, not undermine democracy.

However, democracy is dependent on a fair and impartial media to keep it in check. The realization that corporate lobbying money is becoming increasingly concentrated within the executive arm of the state, results in the subversion of democracy and a lack of honest media scrutiny of its actions. This explains why the mainstream’s demonization of official enemies like Russia and Syria is a given. As Media Lens put it:

“As a rule of thumb, we can be sure that the demonization of official enemies is a key requirement of all [mainstream] journalists in [influential positions]….It is simply understood.”

This structural bias also explains why Barack Obama, for example, continues to be depicted by the BBC as an almost saintly figure, while in truth his record of bombing seven countries is indicative of a warmongering psychopath. In Britain, the notion that the BBC is a propaganda organ of the British state that promotes imperialist war, is widely regarded as being outside the boundaries of acceptable discourse.

 

Why Trump’s victory isn’t as shocking as the MSM would have us believe

By Daniel Margrain

For this writer, the election of Donald Trump as the 45th president of the United States didn’t come as a surprise. The same, however, could not be said of numerous “experts” and media political pundits, many of whom responded in shock and incredulity to the result in the early hours on November 9. Independent journalist, Neil Clark quoted one irate Oxford-educated columnist who tweeted:

“Just woke up. Jesus H Christ, America. What the f*** just done. You should be ashamed of yourselves.” 

For such “experts” the idea that ordinary American’s could have voted for a chauvinistic, misogynistic and demagogic racist as opposed to a what the media bubble perceived was Clinton’s modern liberal and humanist values and sense of dynastic self-entitlement, was inconceivable. The pollsters who were wrong about the 2015 UK general election, the EU Referendum and Corbyn’s election victory, predicted with near unanimity that Clinton would win as illustrated by CNBC in the graphic below.

Analysis of the polls prompted Dan Hodges, who has been wrong on virtually everything else, to make the following prediction on Twitter:

Meanwhile, hardcore anti-Corbyn ‘socialist’ and former adviser to Tony Blair, John McTernan tweeted:

The “expert” views above were largely predicated on what the polls were telling them. In view of the pollsters latest debacle, it must be increasingly obvious to the public that the purpose of the metropolitan media elite’s use of polls – which as Mark J Doran pointed out – “are expensive and have no shelf-life” – is to influence, rather than reflect, public opinion.

The notion that Trump’s flamboyant and largely inflammatory campaign was directed at a disillusioned, disenfranchised and alienated working class, while Clinton’s rather lackluster and robotic campaign was aimed towards a corporate-media elite, appeared to be beyond the understanding of the liberal-left broadsheets. Jonathan Freedland’s piece for the Guardian entitled, Who is to blame for this awful election?, for example, was written as if he had just ventured to earth from another planet.

At no point did Freedland make reference to Clinton’s complicit role in the destruction of Libya, the dismembering of Syria, her role in Honduras or the comments she made in relation to Palestinian elections. Neither, did he mention the disastrous domestic economic policies of the Obama administration and its fetishizing of neoliberalism, or the wider ratcheting-up by the establishment of anti-Russian propaganda. Instead, the politics of identity were preferred. It appeared to be beyond the comprehension of the Guardian journalist that one of the main reasons why the American people voted Trump into power was that the failed economic policies of his predecessors over the last two decades, have resulted in a fall in their incomes, while those at the top have increased

Neither, apparently, had Freedland considered that the de-industrialization and hollowing-out of U.S cities and the mass outsourcing of jobs, might actually equate to the American public voting for a politician who promised a major programme of investment in public infrastructure, a revitalization of industry and the creation of millions of jobs to boost a flailing economy akin to the New Deal. Nowhere were these factors mentioned in Freedland’s analysis. But perhaps most significantly of all, not a single reference was made in respect to the American public’s lack of any desire for a new cold war and military confrontation with Russia which Clinton’s rhetoric promoted, nor of the Wikileaks revelations of her e-mails proving “beyond reasonable doubt the extent of Hillary’s corruption.”

Predictably, recriminations from liberal academics and others followed the realization that Trump had won. Economist Paul Krugman, for example, exclaimed on Twitter:

“Btw, Jill Stein has managed to play Ralph Nader. Without her Florida might have been saved.”

Krugman’s tweet was a clear slur on all those who had the temerity to vote on principle for a candidate who was closer in ideology and policy to Sanders than Clinton.

Meanwhile, this is what @RachelleLefevre had to say on the subject:
“The numbers don’t lie: If you voted for Gary Johnson or Jill Stein, you voted for Trump. You were told. Don’t ever tell yourself different.”
I responded to Rachelle’s tweet with:

“Let me guess. During the primaries, you favoured warmonger Clinton over the man who would have beaten Trump?”

This is important. The Democratic National Committee rigged the election against Bernie Sanders in order to ensure their favoured candidate, Clinton, would win. I’m almost certain that had Sanders run against Trump he would have won the race to the White House. So its somewhat rich for a Clinton supporter to be critical of people for voting for a third candidate on the basis that it split the Clinton vote.

There’s an argument to be had whether there’s a core element among Trump’s supporters motivated by the racist sentiments and crass economic nationalism expressed by the president-elect. It’s also legitimate to acknowledge the anti-intellectualism and ‘post-truth’ nature of modern society in which major grievances are embodied, for example, in the comments of Michael Gove and the public’s reaction to the High Court judgement regarding Brexit. But this is vastly overshadowed by the real socioeconomic concerns of the mass of working people in terms of the race towards the lowest wages, employment rights and working conditions in an era of neoliberal globalization.

It’s the latter that Freedland and other metropolitan elite commentators and journalists routinely fail to acknowledge in their articles and opinion pieces. The reason they fail to acknowledge it, is because they don’t understand what’s going on and totally underestimate the public’s disdain towards them. As Bernie Sander’s put it on Twitter:

It’s this failure to understand that contributes enormously to the rise of right-wing populist movements of which Trump’s electoral success exemplifies. The gap between what elite political commentators believe is credible on the one hand, and the reality on the ground on the other, is enormous. Unless this gap closes, corporate newspaper sales will continue to decline. With declining readership comes falling advertising revenues which means more newspapers going to the wall in the months and years ahead.

The Real Syria Story

By Daniel Margrain

Image

Roth, and by extension Human Rights Watch, further discredits whatever vestiges of impartiality he and HRW might have had with inane tweets such as “Douma market killings show how Assad chooses to fight this war: deliberately against civilians,” (@KenRoth, Aug 16), an obviously biased, and utterly unsubstantiated allegation. Roth could have absolutely no knowledge of either the identities of the dead, or the Syrian government’s motives, when he released the tweet the same day as the attack. He reveals himself here to be little more than a lackey for imperialism, a war hawk masquerading as a human rights defender.” [citation from: The Douma Market Attack: a Fabricated Pretext for Intervention?]

Hand in Hand for Syria:

The UK Charity Commission’s website states that Hand in Hand for Syria exists for “the advancement of health or saving lives”.  Until July 2014 the Facebook banner of Hand in Hand’s co-founder and chairman Faddy Sahloul read “WE WILL BRING ASSAD TO JUSTICE; NO MATTER WHAT LIVES IT TAKES, NO MATTER HOW MUCH CATASTROPHE IT MAKES”.  The image was removed shortly after it was commented on publicly. Also on Hand in Hand’s executive team is Dr Rola Hallam, one of the two medics featured in ‘Saving Syria’s Children’.

On 30 August 2013, the day after the BBC’s initial report on the alleged Aleppo incendiary bomb attack, Dr Hallam appeared on BBC’s Newsnight programme expressing her profound disappointment at parliament’s rejection of a military strike against Syria. Dr Hallam’s father is Dr. Mousa al-Kurdi.  According to a 2013 article by Dr Saleyha Ahsan – the other Hand in Hand for Syria volunteer medic featured in ‘Saving Syria’s Children’ – Dr al-Kurdi is “involved politically with the Syrian National Council”.” [citation from: UK Charity Which Shares Syrian Opposition “Aims and Objectives” Benefits from Alan Kurdi Tragedy]

“The Syria Campaign”:

The Syria Campaign, begun in spring 2014, is managed by Anna Nolan, who grew up in northern Ireland and has very likely never been to Syria. In addition to promoting the White Helmets,  Syria Campaign promotes a new social media campaign called “Planet Syria”. It features emotional pleas for the world to take notice of Syria in another thinly veiled effort pushing for foreign intervention and war. According to their website, The Syria Campaign received start-up funding from the foundation of Ayman Asfari, a billionaire who made his money in the oil and gas services industry. …One of their first efforts was to work to prevent publicity and information about the Syrian Presidential Election of June 2014.

Accordingly, “The Syria Campaign” pressured Facebook to remove advertisements or publicity about the Syrian election.  Since then Syria Campaign has engineered huge media exposure and mythology about their baby, the “White Helmets” using all sorts of social and traditional media. The campaigns are largely fact free. For example, the Syrian election was dismissed out of hand by them and John Kerry but taken seriously by many millions of Syrians.” [citation from: Seven Steps of Highly Effective Manipulators White Helmets, Avaaz, Nicholas Kristof and Syria No Fly Zone]

White Helmets/”Syrian Civil Defence

This organization is highly publicized as civilian rescue workers in Syria but in reality is a project created by the UK and USA. Training of civilians in Turkey has been overseen by former British military officer and current contractor, James Le Mesurier. Promotion of the programme is done by “The Syria Campaign”supported by the foundation of billionaire Ayman Asfari. The White Helmets is clearly a public relations project…who work in areas of Aleppo and Idlib controlled by Nusra (al-Qaida). White Helmets primary function is propaganda. Their role is to demonize the Assad government and encourages direct foreign intervention.

A White Helmet leader wrote a Washington Post editorial and are also very active on social media with presence on Twitter, Facebook etc.  According to their website, contact to the group is made by email through The Syria Campaign which underscores the relationship. [citations from: About Those Chlorine Gas Attacks in SyriaSeven Steps of Highly Effective Manipulators White Helmets, Avaaz, Nicholas Kristof and Syria No Fly Zone]. Also see: Who are the White Helmets and what is their role in Syria?

Mayday Rescue 

At the present time Mayday’s sole responsibility appears to be management of the ‘Syrian Civil Defense’ or White Helmets, a supposed first responder organisation staffed by ordinary Syrians, which are in fact an extension of the terrorist groups in Aleppo and Idlib. Their function is to cooperate with the Aleppo Media Center (AMC) in the production of material which shows the White Helmets both as heroes and legitimate authorities on the Syrian conflict on the ground, and the Syrian and Russian governments as war criminals, deliberately targeting hospitals, schools, bakeries, animal shelters etc.

To that end, Mayday is generously funded by the UK, US and other governments, with offices in Amsterdam, Turkey, Jordan and Dubai. As at March 2016 its operational headquarters in Istanbul employs 30 staff, located in the operational centres of Istanbul, South-East Turkey, and has an annual operating budget of US$35,000,000.

Founder James le Mesurier, according to Mayday, “has spent 20 years working in fragile states as a United Nations staff member, a consultant for private companies and the UK Foreign and Commonwealth Office, and as a British Army Officer…Since 2012, James has been working on the Syria crisis where he started the Syrian White Helmets programme in March 2013. In 2014, he founded Mayday Rescue.” (Citation: Barbara McKenzie).

Incostrat

Incostrat was founded by Paul Tilley, who has a similar background to le Mesurier, with experience of both the army and the Foreign Office. His CV on LinkedIn reveals the following:

“2011-12 Director of Strategic Communication (STRATCOM) in the Ministry of Defence for the Middle East and North Africa.
2012-current. Developed and Project managed several multi-million dollar media and communications projects that are at the leading edge of UK and US foreign and security policy objectives in the Middle East.”

Both Incostrat and Mayday Rescue were formally founded in November 2014, according to the LinkedIn profiles of their respective founders, but le Mesurier and Tilley were doing development work 2013 or earlier. The White Helmets first officially appeared on the scene in April 2014, when the BBC assisted in the launching of the brand by producing a documentary on ‘Civil Defence’ in Aleppo, which coincided with the White Helmets appearance on social media.

Incostrat is described by Thierry Meyssen as “a communications company in the service of the jihadist groups. It designed logos, made video clips by portable telephone, and printed brochures for a hundred of these groups, thus giving the impression of a popular uprising against the Republic.”

Meyssen continues:

“Together with the SAS, [Incostrat] made a spectacle of the most important group, Jaysh al-Islam (Army of Islam). Saudi Arabia supplied the tanks which were delivered from Jordan. Uniforms were made in Spain and distributed to the jihadists for an officer promotion ceremony. All this was choreographed and filmed by professionals in order to give the impression that the army was organised like regular forces and was capable of rivaling with the Syrian Arab Army. The idea was planted that this really was a civil war, and yet the images only showed a few hundred extras, most of whom were foreigners.”(Citation: Barbara McKenzie).

The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights

Founded in 2011, SOHR is a UK-based organisation that provides information on the Syrian conflicts to the world’s media. The “Observatory” is run from a terraced house in Coventry, England by Rami Abdulrahman, a three-term convicted criminal in Syria who left that country more than 10 years before the war started, and is openly opposed to the Syrian government.

The Observatory is almost certainly the brainchild of the Foreign Office:

“His funding comes from the European Union and “an unnamed European state,” most likely the UK as he has direct access to former Foreign Minister William Hague, who he has been documented meeting in person on multiple occasions at the Foreign and Commonwealth Office in London. […] it was the British government that first relocated Abdul Rahman to Coventry, England after he fled Syria over a decade ago because of his anti-government activities.” Beau Christensen, Propaganda spin cycle: ‘Syrian Observatory for Human Rights’ is funded by US and UK governments

Although the Observatory is manifestly biased, only showing the conflict from the perspective of the insurgents, and consistently showing the Syrian government in a bad light, the information provided is considered by the corporate media, the United Nations and trusted non-government organisations to be authoritative, and is widely quoted.

Clearly for real journalists, Abdulrahman is a useless, utterly compromised source of information who has every reason to twist reality to suit his admittedly politically-motivated agenda of overthrowing the Syrian government. However, for a propagandist, he is a goldmine. That is why despite the overt conflict of interests, the lack of credibility, the obvious disadvantage of being nearly 3,000 miles away from the alleged subject of his “observations,” the Western media still eagerly laps up his constant torrent of disinformation. (Tony Cartalucci, West’s Syrian Narrative Based on “Guy in British Apartment”) (Citation: Barbara McKenzie).

Media consolidation

Integrated within the almost seamless relationship that exists between the executive of government and the kinds of players outlined above, is an increasingly consolidated corporate media who share with the military and political establishments’ mutual economic interests which war helps facilitate. As author Ed Jones points out, it’s the billionaires who own the press that set the agenda:

“Who owns the media shapes what stories are covered and how they are written about”, he said, adding that, “the UK media has a very concentrated ownership structure, with six billionaires owning and/or having a majority of voting shares in most of the national newspapers.”

Yvette Cooper: Imaginary wheelchair woman

By Daniel Margrain

Yvette Cooper (5257912357).jpg

Those who were paying attention during Yvetcte Cooper’s challenge for the Labour leadership would have been aware of the undisclosed £75,000 businessman Dan Jarvis contributed to the New Labour enthusiasts campaign.

The mainstream media didn’t pay much attention to that scandal at the time. Over a year later on September 24, following what columnist Fraser Nelson described tellingly as “the terrifying victory of Jeremy Corbyn’s mass movement” at staving off the coup attempt against him, the Corbyn critic and New Labour MP for Normanton, Ponefract, Castleford and Nottingley tweeted the following:

Congratulations re-elected today. Now the work starts to hold everyone together, build support across country & take Tories on

Clearly, a day is a long time for liars to avoid tripping over their own pronouncements. Less than 48 hours after her insincere message on Twitter, the Blairite MP engaged in a media publicity stunt intended to draw a deeper wedge between the PLP and the membership.

Cooper’s crude ‘politics of identity’ strategy was to infer that shadow chancellor John McDonnell was a misogynist for his use of emotionally charged language in defending the “appalling” treatment of disabled people by the last government.

The context in which McDonnell made his remark is set against a backdrop in which former secretary of state for work and pensions, Esther McVey, planned to cut the benefits of more than 300,000 disabled people. That Cooper rushed to the defence of a Tory who presided over some of the most wicked policies of arguably the most reactionary and brutal right-wing government in living memory, is extremely revealing.

What was also revealing was the media’s obvious double-standards. A few days prior to their reporting of McDonnell’s comment, Guardian journalist Nicholas Lezard called for the crowdfunded assassination of Corbyn. Needless to say, there was no media outrage at this suggestion.

Selective outrage is what many of us have come to expect from a partisan anti-Corbyn media. In May last year, independent journalist, Mike Sivier reported on Yvette “imaginary wheelchairs” Cooper’s criticism of those “using stigmatising language about benefit claimants”.

But as an article from April 13, 2010 below illustrates, while in office as Labour’s secretary of state for work and pensions, Cooper had drawn up plans that would almost certainly have met with the approval of Iain Duncan Smith.

Indeed, the policy plans outlined by Cooper were subsequently adopted by the Coalition government under the tutelage of Esther McVey. In policy terms, it would thus appear Cooper has more in common with McVey than she does with McDonnell. This, and her disdain towards both Corbyn and McDonnell and the mass membership they represent, explains her outburst. She was not motivated by sisterly love.

This is the relevant part of the 2010 article implicating Cooper’s policy outlook with that of the Tories she supposedly despises:

“Tens of thousands of claimants facing losing their benefit on review, or on being transferred from incapacity benefit, as plans to make the employment and support allowance (ESA) medical much harder to pass are approved by the secretary of state for work and pensions, Yvette Cooper.

The shock plans for ‘simplifying’ the work capability assessment, drawn up by a DWP working group, include docking points from amputees who can lift and carry with their stumps.  Claimants with speech problems who can write a sign saying, for example, ‘The office is on fire!’ will score no points for speech and deaf claimants who can read the sign will lose all their points for hearing.

Meanwhile, for ‘health and safety reasons’ all points scored for problems with bending and kneeling are to be abolished and claimants who have difficulty walking can be assessed using imaginary wheelchairs.

Claimants who have difficulty standing for any length of time will, under the plans, also have to show they have equal difficulty sitting, and vice versa, in order to score any points.  And no matter how bad their problems with standing and sitting, they will not score enough points to be awarded ESA.

In addition, almost half of the 41 mental health descriptors for which points can be scored are being removed from the new ‘simpler’ test, greatly reducing the chances of being found incapable of work due to such things as poor memory, confusion, depression and anxiety.

There are some improvements to the test under the plans, including exemptions for people likely to be starting chemotherapy and more mental health grounds for being admitted to the support group.  But the changes are overwhelmingly about pushing tens of thousands more people onto JSA.

If all this sounds like a sick and rather belated April Fools joke to you, we’re not surprised.  But the proposals are genuine and have already been officially agreed by Yvette Cooper, the Secretary of State for Work and Pensions.  They have not yet been passed into law, but given that both Labour and the Conservatives seem intent on driving as many people as possible off incapacity related benefits, they are likely to be pursued by whichever party wins the election…..”

Cooper’s deeds and words are yet another illustration as to the extent to which the ideological consensus between the New Labour hierarchy as represented by the Parliamentary Labour Party (PLP) on the one hand, and the ruling Tory establishment on the other, is structurally embedded within a dysfunctional system of state power that is no longer fit for purpose.

 

Killing them softly

By Daniel Margrain

The 30 minute documentary film Killing Us Softly (1979) based on a lecture by Jean Kilbourne focuses on the effects of advertising on women’s self-image and the objectification of women’s bodies. Kilbourne argues that the superficial, objectifying and unreal portrayal of women in advertising lowers women’s self-esteem and that sexualized images of women are being used to sell virtually all kinds of goods.

Kilbourne then goes on to posit that these images degrade women, encourage abuse, and reinforce a patriarchal and sexist society. She also makes the connection between advertising and pornography, stating that “the advertisers are America’s real pornographers”.

Below is a video of Jean Kilbourne almost four decades later discussing her ideas as part of a campaign to bring her film to a new audience of young people. Significantly, she says since her film’s initial release in 1979 things have got worse, not better.

Thirty-six years after the release of Killing Us Softly, Channel 4 News reported on the inquest of 21 year old bulimia sufferer Eloise Perry who on the April 12 last year died at the Royal Shrewsbury Hospital one week after having swallowed eight unlicensed fat-burning pills that she purchased from the internet.

The pills, which the Food Standards Agency describe as being illegal to sell for human consumption, contained DNP which is an industrial chemical historically used in the manufacture of explosives and fungicides. Website companies who sell this chemical depict DNP as a fat burning product and some even use the tag line “getting leaner through chemistry” as a marketing tool.

No sooner had the UK authorities made attempts to close down these sites, they reappeared under different names and hence it’s clearly a battle that they are losing. The fact that informed young people like Ms Parry who are aware of the risks, are so desperate to lose weight that they are prepared to go to such extreme lengths raises wider questions about the nature of the kind of society we live in.

The social pressures for young women (and increasingly young men) to conform to certain expectations placed upon them by the media are immense. The upshot is that they are involved in a constant psychological battle between myth and reality. In Britain, for example, the average size of a woman is now 16 but the ‘aspirational’ size is zero – an unobtainable goal.

The contradiction between reality and aspiration is undermining many of the gains that women made in the feminist debates of the 1960s and 1970s. What Ariel Levi terms “raunch culture” is another symptom of the undermining of the gains made.

A tour by High Street Honey’s that involves women employed by lads mags touring the various university campuses throughout the country dressed as porn stars, is yet another social layer as part of the pressure for young women to conform to certain body-image stereotypes placed upon them.

The notion that pole dancing which is sold as exercise classes at some universities and widely regarded as being empowering for women in terms of getting them in touch with their inner sexuality, is in reality, setting back women’s rights decades. Activities like this inhibit the way women (and increasingly men) feel about their bodies and therefore they cannot be disentangled from the tragic case of Ms Parry.

The normalization of sexist imagery in pop videos and television commercials and the sexualization of young girls clothes is another illustration of raunch culture outlined by Levi in which fantasies, desires and ambitions are transformed into commodities to make money.

The growth in cosmetic surgery is another factor that increases expectations on women’s appearances. Ninety-one per cent of cosmetic surgery is undertaken on women of which the most popular is breast enhancement. I was astounded to learn that in the U.S it’s widely considered normal practice for girls to be given a breast enlargement as a graduation present.

It’s a fact that a growing number of girls who suffer low self-esteem perpetuated by a media system that constantly portrays an ‘ideal’ body shape is a tendency that’s less common in the developing world.

This would seem to suggest that mental illness, of which eating disorders are a reflection, is to a large extent symptomatic of the growth of the consumerist capitalist society in which human relations are objectified. In Marxist terms, objectification is the process by which human capacities are transferred to an object and embodied in it.

Young females who read fashion magazines tend to have more bulimic symptoms than those females who do not – further demonstrating the impact the media has on the likelihood of developing the disorder. As J. Kevin Thompson and Eric Stice have shown, individuals first accept and ‘buy into’ the ideals set by fashion magazines, and then attempt to transform themselves in order to reflect the societal ideals of attractiveness.

The thin fashion model ideal is then reinforced by the wider media reflecting unrealistic female body shapes leading to high levels of discomfort among large swaths of the female population and the drive towards thinness that this implies.

Consequently, body dissatisfaction coupled with a drive for thinness is thought to promote dieting and its negative affects, which could eventually lead to bulimic symptoms such as purging or binging. Binges lead to self-disgust which causes purging to prevent weight gain.

Thompson’s and Stice’s research  highlights the extent to which the media affect what they term the “thin ideal internalization”. The researchers used randomized experiments (more specifically programmes) dedicated to teaching young women how to be more critical when it comes to media, in order to reduce thin ideal internalization. The results showed that by creating more awareness of the media’s control of the societal ideal of attractiveness, the thin ideal internalization significantly dropped.

In other words, less thin ideal images portrayed by the media resulted in less thin ideal internalization. Therefore, Thompson and Stice concluded that there is a direct correlation between the media portrayal of women and how they feel about themselves.

Social media also plays a part in how young people feel about themselves. A recent two part study [1] looking at social media sites, such as Facebook, researched influence and risk for eating disorders. In the first part of the study, 960 women completed self-report surveys regarding Facebook use and disordered eating. In the second part of the study, 84 women were randomly assigned to use Facebook or to use an alternate internet site for 20 minutes.

What this cross-sectional survey illustrates is that more frequent Facebook use is associated with greater disordered eating. The survey indicates a close correlation between Facebook use and the maintenance of weight/shape concerns and state anxiety compared to an alternate internet activity [1]. Other research suggests an etiological link between eating disorders and the tendency towards self-harming [now referred to as Non Suicidal Self Injury (NSSI)] [2].

In terms of prevalence, over 1.6 million people in the UK are estimated to be directly affected by eating disorders. However, the Department of Health estimate that the figure is more likely to be 4 million due to the huge level of unmet need in the community [3].

Recent studies suggest that as many as 8 per cent of women have bulimia at some stage in their life. The condition can occur at any age, but mainly affects women aged between 16 and 40 (on average, it starts around the age of 18 or 19). Reports estimate that up to a quarter of Britons struggling with eating disorders may be male [4].

 

References

1.Mabe AG, Forney KJ, Keel PK. Int J Eat Disord. 2014 Jul;47(5):516-23 Do you “like” my photo?  

2.Colleen M. Jacobson and Cynthia C. Luik, Epidemiology and Sociocultural Aspects of Non-suicidal Self-Injury and Eating Disorders 2014

3. Joint Commissioning Panel For Mental Health (www.jcpmh.info/wp-content/uploads/10keymsgs-eatingdisorders.pdf)

4. http://www.nhs.uk/Conditions/Bulimia/Pages/Introduction.aspx

September 12, 2015: the day Blairism died

By Daniel Margrain

The momentous nature of Jeremy Corbyn’s landslide victory  one year ago should not be underestimated. It has to go down as one of the most sensational and politically earth shattering events in modern British political history – the impacts of which sent tremors throughout the entire establishment. After the announcement was made that Corbyn had won, it was obvious that the smiles, handshakes and applause of the vast majority of the calculating and opportunistic labour elite were as a fake as Blair’s claim that Saddam was about to attack Britain within 45 minutes.

A pointer to the overwhelming inspiration underlying Corbynism was the fact that no less than 160,000 volunteers who seemingly emerged out of nowhere, were recruited to the cause. The grass roots support that Corbyn engendered – by far the biggest of its kind in history – was almost certainly the catalyst that propelled him to victory. Although the activists were mainly young people, they were by no means exclusively so. In fact the demographic was wide ranging.

Corbyn’s straight talking, lucidity, and unambiguous commitment to a programme of anti-austerity brought many older activists who had felt betrayed by the direction the party had gone under Blair, back into the fold. To put Corbyn’s victory into context, he secured a higher percentage of votes than Blair in 1994  Even more significantly, the 554,272 votes he achieved was more than double Blair’s, and no less than 76 per cent of them actually voted, a higher percentage turnout than Blair received.

This suggests that ‘Corbynmania’ is no ‘flash in the pan’. On the contrary, it represents a new hope for people that society can make a great leap forward from the decades of Blairism where nothing happened, to weeks where decades happen. Neoliberal ideology and the cementing of the Red-Tory axis, which for many was perceived to have been fixed and immutable has, with the rise of Corbynism ,the potential to be swept into the dustbin of history. All that is solid really can melt into air.

When Corbyn was first nominated, he was seen by his opponents – both inside and outside the party – as a joke candidate. But an indication of how seriously he has been taken since he became leader is the extent to which the mainstream corporate media and Tory establishment continue to unanimously attack him.

Tories such as Gove, Fallon, Cameron, Osborne and Patel who thought an opposition party lead by Corbyn could only enhance their political careers, were the ones who subsequently read out an unsubstantiated claim contained within what was clearly a widely circulated Whitehall-issued memo which asserted Corbyn was a threat to national security. Gove then went on to misquote the Labour leader by implying he was economically incompetent and an apologist for Osama bin Laden.

The smearing wasn’t restricted to the media and Tories. On the labour side, around twelve MPs ‘lent’ Corbyn their support ostensibly to widen the contest. Blairites such as Margaret Beckett who nominated Corbyn clearly as a tokenistic gesture, described herself as a moron after Corbyn won. His victory had therefore rebounded back in her face.

No sooner had Corbyn’s victory based on clear and unambiguous principles been announced, then threats to resign by ‘modernizing’ frontbenchers followed. According to the Daily Mail at the time of Corbyn’s election victory, among the Labour figures refusing to serve in his team were high profile prominent Blairites Chris Leslie, Tristram Hunt, Emma Reynolds, Vernon Coaker, Michael Dugher, Shabana Mahmood, Mary Creagh and Lucy Powell. I’m sure the Tories will welcome these unscrupulous careerists with open arms.

The resignations were undertaken on the basis that Corbyn’s programme was too ‘extreme’. Is a refusal to be a part of the Labour friend of ethnic cleansing (sorry, Israel) rump within the party ‘extreme’? Is supporting the nationalization of the railways and utilities ‘extreme’?

Is it also ‘extreme’ to oppose nuclear weapons, war, the growing wealth gap and supporting the need for a massive affordable house building programme that benefits the mass of the population? How can it be that as far as the PLP are concerned, all these things are regarded as ‘extreme’, yet the bailing-out of bankers that benefit nobody other than bankers, is not?

It’s precisely the kinds of principles Corbyn espouses that has resulted in the regurgitation of the official/media meme which criticises him for voting against his party 500 times. This is represented as disloyalty. The notion that he might have voted against the Tories, while most of his Blairite colleagues, many of whom are war criminals, voted with them, is quietly forgotten.

The notion that the Blairites within the PLP will willingly work alongside Corbyn after having spent a large part of the past year conspiring against him – despite the elected leader’s continued attempts at reconciliation – is, I would suggest, delusional. If he wins the election on September 24, as expected, it’s almost certain that the war of attrition against him will continue. Any reluctance to act decisively against the destabilizing elements is likely to be seized upon resulting in a possible split within the party.

Corbyn might be banking on the possibility that a newly elected pro-Corbyn NEC will reinvigorate the party further from the grass roots up leading to a dissipation of the Blairites by stealth, akin to the melting of ice enveloped by steam. As the parties grass roots expand, the reliance on corporate funding and large individual donations lessens. This will give more confidence for Corbyn and his allies to expose, as John Moon put it“the ongoing immoral motivations and machinations of their elected Blairite MPs”, thus initiating the possibility of deselection at the grass-roots level.

A year ago, I heard Ken Livingston on LBC say that under Corbyn the party will unify with little signs of any attempts to undermine him. In terms of the latter, he has been proven wrong. We await the outcome of the former. My fear is that in the absence of any purging of the Blairite clique, the gap between the ideology represented by the elite within the hierarchy of the party and the multitude of its members is so vast, as to be irreconcilable. I strongly suspect that something will have to give as the party moves forward, but we will see.

The idea that a highly principled leader of a party who espouses peace and reconciliation can reconcile two diametrically opposing forces, seems to me to be a bridge too far. But equally, the notion that these irreconcilable forces are able to keep Blairism teetering on the edge of the precipice by its fingernails indefinitely, is as misguided as the insistence that a free-falling object is able to resist the gravitational pull of the earth.

As I type this, I’m watching Corbyn being interviewed by the BBC in relation to the proposed boundary changes against a backdrop in which fellow comrades are seen uniting behind those protesting against the police brutality at Orgreave. A year ago a newly elected Corbyn was protesting at a rally about the terrible treatment of refugees created by Cameron and Blair’s wars. Could, you dear reader, imagine Owen Smith or any of Corbyn’s predecessors post-Michael Foot doing that?