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An Elite Whitewash: The Chilcot Report Revisited

By Daniel Margrain

A year ago the Chilcot report was finally released into the public domain. It is a salutary reminder to the world that the monumental war crime against the Iraqi people overseen by Blair and his New Labour government will never, and cannot ever, be forgotten. However, the report fell woefully short of offering any justice for the families of British soldiers who lost loved ones or for the hundreds of thousands of Iraqi civilians who were killed.

There are three major issues that emerged from the report. Firstly, flawed intelligence assessments were made with certainty without any acknowledgement of the limitations of the said intelligence. Second, the UK undermined the authority of the UN Security Council, and third, Blair failed the Cabinet about Lord Goldsmith’s rather perilous journey after the latter said the war was legal having initially argued it was illegal having mulled over it for over a year.

The public can rightfully feel short-changed over a report whose remit was extremely limited and whose cost was stratospheric. Analysis of the accounts released by the inquiry revealed two years ago this month that Sir John Chilcot, committee members and advisers shared more than £1.5 million in fees since the inquiry began in 2009. By 2015, a massive £10 million had been spent . In that year alone, £119,000 had been shared between the four committee members and its two advisers – Sir General Roger Wheeler and Dame Rosalind Higgins.

Illegal war

For many observers and commentators, it didn’t need a seven year long inquiry, 2.6 million words and at least £10 million to be told that the invasion of Iraq amounted to what the Nuremberg Tribunal defined as the “supreme international crime differing only from other war crimes in that it contains within itself the accumulated evil of the whole.”

Under the UN Charter, two conditions must be met before a war can legally be waged. The parties to a dispute must first “seek a solution by negotiation” (Article 33). They can take up arms without an explicit mandate from the UN Security Council only “if an armed attack occurs against [them]” (Article 51).

Neither of these conditions applied to the US and UK. Both governments rejected Iraq’s attempts to negotiate. At one point, the US State Department even announced that it would “go into thwart mode” to prevent the Iraqis from resuming talks on weapons inspection.

Iraq had launched no armed attack against either nation. In March 2002, the Cabinet Office explained that a legal justification for invasion would be needed: “Subject to Law Officers’ advice, none currently exists.”

In July 2002, Lord Goldsmith, the attorney-general, told the Prime Minister that there were only “three possible legal bases” for launching a war: “self-defence, humanitarian intervention, or UNSC [Security Council] authorisation. The first and second could not be the base in this case”, he said.

Bush and Blair later failed to obtain Security Council authorisation. A series of leaked documents shows that the Bush and Blair governments knew they did not possess legal justification. Chilcot repeated the lie outlined in the Butler Inquiry that the intelligence was not knowingly fixed.

Downing Street memo

The contents of the Downing Street memo is the smoking gun that puts the above lie to rest. The memo, which outlines a record of a meeting in July 2002, reveals that Sir Richard Dearlove, director of the UK’s foreign intelligence service MI6, told Blair that in Washington:

“Military action was now seen as inevitable. Bush wanted to remove Saddam, through military action, justified by the conjunction of terrorism and WMD. But the intelligence and facts were being fixed around the policy.”

The memo confirms that Blair knew the decision to attack Iraq preceded the justification, which was being retrofitted to an act of aggression. In other words, the memo confirmed the decision to attack had already been made and that the stated legal justification didn’t apply.

The legal status of Bush’s decision had already been explained to Blair. As another leaked memo shows, the UK foreign secretary, Jack Straw, had reminded him of the conditions required to launch a legal war:

“i) There must be an armed attack upon a State or such an attack must be imminent;
ii) The use of force must be necessary and other means to reverse/avert the attack must be unavailable;
iii) The acts in self-defence must be proportionate and strictly confined to the object of stopping the attack.”

Straw explained that the development or possession of weapons of mass destruction “does not in itself amount to an armed attack. What would be needed would be clear evidence of an imminent attack.” 

A third memo, from the Cabinet Office, explained that:

“there is no greater threat now than in recent years that Saddam will use WMD … A legal justification for invasion would be needed. Subject to Law Officers’ advice, none currently exists.”

UN Security Council Resolution 1441

Apologists for Blair often claim that war could be justified through UN resolution 1441. But 1441 did not authorise the use of force since:

“there is no ‘automaticity’ in this resolution. If there is a further Iraqi breach of its disarmament obligations, the matter will return to the Council for discussion as required in paragraph 12.”

In January 2003, the attorney-general reminded Blair that “resolution 1441 does not authorise the use of military force without a further determination by the security council” Such a determination was never forthcoming. UN Secretary General Kofi Annan reaffirmed that the Iraq War was illegal having breached the United Nations Charter.

Significantly, the world’s foremost experts in the field of international law concur that “…the overwhelming jurisprudential consensus is that the Anglo-American invasion, conquest, and occupation of Iraq constitute three phases of one illegal war of aggression.”

As well as their being no legal justification for war, it’s also worth pointing out that the invasion was undertaken in the knowledge that it would cause terrorism – a point amplified by Craig Murray:

“The intelligence advice in advance of the invasion he received was unequivocal that it would increase the threat to the UK, and it directly caused the attacks of 7/7.”

Nevertheless, this determination was followed by a benevolent course of action. Chilcot made clear, the process for coming to the conclusion that Saddam had in his possession WMD as the basis for Blair’s decision to go to war, was one in which his Cabinet was not consulted.

Chilcot fudged legal question

In the run up to the report being published, Chilcot said, “the circumstances in which a legal basis for action was decided were not satisfactory.” In other words, the establishment, which Chilcot and his team represent, hid behind processes as opposed to stating loudly and clearly that the British government at that point was hell-bent on going to war with Iraq irrespective of what the evidence said about WMD or anything else.

Ultimately, the question of legality was fudged by Chilcot. It’s to his eternal shame, that he didn’t explicitly say the war was illegal. Consequently, in his post-Chilcot speech, Blair was still able to dishonestly depict the invasion as an effort to prevent a 9/11 on British soil. He was able to announce this in the knowledge that those complicit in 9-11 were the Saudi elite who, in part, have contributed to his riches.

Blair’s contrived quivering voice, long pauses between sentences and attempts at conjuring-up fake tears that inferred a new meaning to the Stanislavsky method, gave the impression he is a man who is self-aware of his accusers’ ability to be able to look deep inside his soul.

Despite the deaths of hundreds of thousands of Iraqi’s and the destruction of their country out of which arose al-Qaeda and ISIS, a deluded Blair to this day remains unrepentant. He has convinced himself that he is innocent of all serious charges made against him. This is despite Chilcot’s assertion that he was not “straight with the nation.”

Commenting on the Iraq issue one year after the release of his report, Chilcot returned to obfuscation mode that typified his initial statements. For example, he was reported to have said the evidence Blair gave the inquiry was “emotionally truthful” but then claimed the warmonger “relied on beliefs rather than facts.” Chilcot subsequently appeared to contradict himself by stating he believed Blair had “not departed from the truth”. 

Blair impeached?

Putting these shenanigans to one side, those who have been directly affected by Blair’s illegal decision to go to war will not rest until justice is done. But what grounds, if any, has Chilcot laid for Blair’s possible impeachment?

Alex Salmond is one prominent public figure who believes that under plans drawn up by MPs’, Blair could be impeached and put on trial in parliament. A source close to the families who died told the Daily Telegraph the report provided legal grounds for a lawsuit against the warmonger.

Salmond’s announcement appears to be supported by the High Court who, in the wake of Chilcot, upheld an appeal decision at the behest of Michael Mansfield QC to consider bringing a private prosecution against Blair, Straw and Goldsmith for initiating crimes against humanity predicated on unlawful war.

After a half-day hearing, two judges reserved their judgment and said they would give their decision on whether to grant permission at a later date. The Attorney General intervened in the case and his legal team urged the judges to block the legal challenge on the grounds that it was “hopeless” and unarguable because the crime of aggression is not recognised in English law.

Another possibility is a prosecution in one of the states (there are at least 25) which have incorporated the crime of aggression into their own laws. Perhaps Blair’s lawyers are now working through the list and cancelling a few speaking engagements.

No lessons learned

Whatever the eventual outcome, it’s clear, despite claims to the contrary,  no lessons from the guardians of power in the media have been learned in the year since Chilcot published his report. This can be seen, for example, in their reluctance to allow the expression of dissenting voices that extend beyond the restrictive parameters of debate they help create.

In fact, given that renowned investigative journalist Seymour Hersh has been totally shunned by the mainstream following his questioning of the official narrative in relation to an alleged chemical attack by Syria’s president Assad in Idlib on April 4, 2017, it could be argued the situation for millions of people has worsened.

In relation to Iraq, instead of Chilcot inducing any self-refection, humility or remorse on the part of those who promoted the invasion, the media have instead closed ranks. In highlighting the inherent media bias, Craig Murray astutely remarked:

“The broadcast media seem to think the Chilcot report is an occasion to give unlimited airtime to Blair and Alastair Campbell. Scores of supporters and instigators of the war have been interviewed. By contrast, almost no airtime has been given to those who campaigned against the war.”

One of the neglected is Lindsey German. The STWC UK convener pointed to the lack of balance on the BBCs ‘Today’ programme:

“It’s quite astonishing that the comments made by an authoritative figure such as General Wesley Clark who tells how the destabilization of the Middle East was planned as far back as 1991, has not been examined and debated in the mainstream media”, she said.

Perhaps just as pertinently, the media have virtually ignored the claim made by Scott Ritter who ran intelligence operations for the United Nations from 1991 to 1998 as a United Nations weapons inspector in Iraq, that by the time bombing began, Iraq had been “fundamentally disarmed”.

For the most part, the guardians of power continue to fall into line by acting as establishment echo-chambers rather than challenging the premises upon which various stated government positions and claims are made. In this regard, Chilcot has changed nothing.

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Class matters

By Daniel Margrain

Image result for photos of class divide

Defined in the objective Marxist sense, class is an historical constant. However, the extent to which workers, historically, are conscious of their class and its potential power in helping to shape and transform society, is dependent upon prevailing socioeconomic circumstances.

The long demand-led economic boom which had gathered pace during the 1950s in Britain, alongside the developments in the welfare state and the growth in power of social democratic discourses of meritocracy, had led to the emergence of a new social formation of better educated, assertive and frustrated, younger people who wanted to see the stuffiness of a system based upon status and respect shift into a meritocratic environment.

The social realism and British new wave movements in film-making that emerged from the optimism generated after the 1950 Festival of Britain and its espousal of new technologies, produced talents of the stature of Ken Loach, Jack Clayton, Tony Richardson, Karel Reisz, John Schlesinger and Lindsay Anderson. All of these directors produced memorable films whose cinematic themes reflected the deep underlying societal shifts of the time, indicative of the new meritocratic scene in which the working class were largely at the forefront.

As the post-war consensus between capital and labour began to ebb away and be replaced by the growing inequality of the neoliberal years from the mid-1970s onwards, so the confidence of the working class began to recede also. Whereas identifying as working class during the 1960s opened up opportunities, by the 1980s, the perception was that class negatively impacted on them.

Low point

As the British Social Attitudes Survey indicate, the 1980s marked a low point from which the working class haven’t recovered. One particularly depressing shift over the last few decades that the survey highlights, is the extent to which the perception of class relates to welfare. The survey states:

“In 1984 measures of social class such as economic status, socio-economic group and income level had strong correlations with both welfare and liberal attitudes. For example, lower socio-economic groups were more likely to support increased government taxation and spending … In 2012, although there is a relatively high continuity, there are some indications that class has declined in importance.”

Many workers today display, at best, an ambivalent and at worst, a morally superior attitude towards other working class people – usually immigrants and those on benefits – who they regard as being in some way inferior to them. In extreme cases, this has manifested in violence directed against these groups on the streets of many British towns and cities.

These behaviour traits are consistent with the BSAS survey above which appear to reinforce the widely held notion that working class attitudes to people on benefits have hardened over the last three decades as the harshness of neoliberalism has kicked in.

The obvious inference that can be made, is that rather than the prospect of the poor uniting outwardly as one against the forces that oppress them, many instead turn inward by attacking others in similar situations to themselves. Implicit in this, is the notion that the ruling class, through the implementation of the classic divide and conquer tactic, seek to weaken working class resistance to their politics of cruelty.

The way they achieve this is by shifting the public’s perception of the importance of class understood objectively in terms of the relationship workers have to the means of production, towards their acceptance of its re-definition, subjectively, as an occupation and lifestyle category.

Propaganda

The corporate media is deeply complicit in this latter process. Instead of workers self-identifying as being part of a broad objective class-based stratified system, they are encouraged, through mass consumption and corporate advertising campaigns, to buy things they don’t need with money they haven’t got. In this way, retail therapy embodied in consumption, becomes a form of displacement activity.

This in turn, reinforces the notion that the working class are best defined by the subjective lifestyle choices they make thereby ensuring class consciousness is minimized. The role retail therapy plays in the transformation of the citizen from political actor to passive consumer, is crucial to the process of negating collective class-based mobilizations and revolutionary impulses.

The subtle form of media propaganda described which attempts to obliterate the concept of the working class, correspondingly reduces the need for overt forms of state oppression. As Noam Chomsky put it, “propaganda is to a democracy what the bludgeon is to a totalitarian state.” In this sense, formal dictators have largely failed to understand that ‘successful’ thought control reduces the need for tanks, guns and torture.

This is where the corporate mass media comes into its own. The celebrity lifestyles of the rich and famous and other forms of ‘infotainment’ whose purpose is to encourage the masses to consume, fill the gap left over by ‘news’. It’s hard to disagree with journalist Jonathan Cook who said that consumers “are being constantly spun by the media machine that’s the modern equivalent of ‘soma’, the drug in Aldous Huxley’s Brave New World that its citizens were fed to keep them docile and happy.”

Crucially, a ‘successful’ totalitarian democracy is one in which the ruling class manages to convince a significant amount of ordinary people that what defines them as human beings, is not the extent to which they are able to exercise collective economic control over the productive resources of society, but rather the extent to which they are engaged politically in terms of the individual choices they make as consumers.

Separating the economic & political

The ruling class have succeeded in their myth-making by deliberately separating the economic and political spheres. The strategy serves an ideological purpose predicated on the illusion that the granting of political rights matters.

Unlike formal authoritarian regimes, their formal democratic counterparts understand the important role the use of language plays in terms of the ability of the ruling class to sustain an illusion of freedom. They succeed in this totalitarian image-making by metaphorically legislating for the right of the masses to demonstrate, politically, outside the Ritz while simultaneously convincing them of the parallel illusion that economically they will be able to join with the ranks of the elite class on the inside if only they work hard enough.

It’s precisely the perpetuation of this myth that continues, for example, to sustain a post-Mandela South Africa reconfigured from a system based on politics and race to one based on economics. The South Africa example illustrates, vividly, the fact that granting the political right of the masses to vote and demonstrate does nothing to fundamentally change the underlying uneven economic class structure of society.

Although racist apartheid officially ended decades ago, black people in South Africa continue to suffer the worst social and economic outcomes. The ideology of aspiration perpetuates a myth that assumes an acceptance by the masses of what Peter Stefanovic aptly referred to as the ruling classes prevailing ‘Downton Abbey’ vision of the world where everybody’s role in society is fixed and follows a set pattern.

This is a regressive colonial faded notion of society in which the ruling class is able to project its power onto the rest of the world. It’s an archaic and retarded vision favoured by the likes of pro-nuclear weapons and fox hunting enthusiast, Theresa May and medievalist racist, Nigel Farage.

The Conservative party are the embodiment of the notion that the existing class structure is in stasis. The attempt by the political-media establishment to white-wash class as an objective category from public discourse at the expense of the promotion of the cult of aspiration, lifestyle enhancement and identity politics, is key to their ability to control the masses.

However, what Jeremy Corbyn’s relative electoral success indicates, is a class re-awakening. The days in which the political establishment are able to use the corporate media as their propaganda echo chamber, is coming to an end. But, as Theresa May’s recent meeting with Emmanuel Macron highlights, the ruling class will do their utmost to resist the threat social media poses to their control of the flow of information.

I rely on the generosity of my readers. I don’t make any money from my work and I’m not funded. If you’ve enjoyed reading this or another posting, please consider making a donation, no matter how small. You can help continue my research and write independently..… Thanks!


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No, Jeremy, don’t do it

By Daniel Margrain

Image result for pics of yvette cooper attacking corbyn

Those who were paying attention during Yvette Cooper’s challenge for the Labour leadership last year would have been aware of the undisclosed £75,000 businessman Peter Hearn contributed to the New Labour enthusiasts campaign.

The mainstream media didn’t pay much attention to the scandal at the time. On September 22 of that year, columnist Fraser Nelson wrote tellingly of “the terrifying victory of Jeremy Corbyn’s mass movement” at staving off the coup attempt against him. Two days later, New Labour Corbyn critic and 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

Less than 48 hours after her insincere message on Twitter, the Blairite MP engaged in a media publicity stunt intended to draw a wedge between the PLP and the membership.

Cooper’s crude ‘politics of identity’ strategy inferred 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 Tory government.

The context in which McDonnell attacked the former Tory Secretary of State for Work and Pensions, Esther McVey, was set against a backdrop in which she 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, were the media’s obvious double-standards. A few days prior to the media’s onslaught against McDonnell’s “sexist” comment, Guardian journalist Nicholas Lezard called for the crowdfunded assassination of Corbyn. Needless to say, there was no media outrage at this latter suggestion.

Selective outrage is what many of us have come to expect from a partisan anti-Corbyn media. In May, 2015, independent journalist and Labour activist, 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 and the newly appointed Secretary of State for Work a Pensions, David Gauke

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…..”

What the above indicates is that Cooper laid the groundwork, and was responsible for, setting in motion the Tories regime of welfare cuts and system of testing to the most vulnerable of our citizens, many of whom would have been Labour voters.

It should be deeply concerning that some activists and others within the party are seemingly prepared to overlook Cooper’s treachery as a trade off for her alleged ‘hard-hitting’ experience. Cooper is one of many Blairites who have suddenly had an apparent Damascene conversation and have seemingly bought into the popular wave of Corbynism.

But activists shouldn’t be fooled. Actions speak louder than words. The plans Cooper drew up seven years ago against disabled people were so brutal, they were kept in place by the hard-line Tory, Iain Duncan Smith, who oversaw the excess deaths of thousands.

My advice to Corbyn, for what it’s worth, is that he should think very carefully before appointing his new team. He should stick as much as possible with those who loyally remained by his side over the last two years and who have worked hardest against those Blairites within the party who would have preferred a Tory landslide over a Corbyn victory. Cooper, who is a cynical opportunist careerist motivated by money and self-interest, is one such person.

I would go further. Corbyn and his team should seriously consider looking at ways to clear-out Blairites at constituency Labour party level. Many people, including millions of Iraqi’s, Libyan’s and Syrian’s would not consider that to be mere spite, rather a small step towards justice.

Compulsory deselection is the obvious way forward but to date, Corbyn has suffered from an inability to influence constituency labour parties at the local level whose full-time paid staff are institutionalized. They see in Corbyn somebody who is a potential threat to the status quo. The General Secretary, Ian McNicol represents the apex of this kind of tendency towards self-preservation.

This explains why during the election campaign the website Skwawkbox was able to allege that “almost no resources were made available for the fight to win Tory-held marginals or even to defend Labour-held ones.” Party officials and national executive right-wingers either assumed that Labour could not win seats or deliberately sought a bad result to undermine Corbyn.

The Morning Star reported on the case of Mary Griffiths-Clarke, the Labour candidate in Arfon who won 11,427 votes to Plaid Cymru MP Hywel Williams’s 11,519 — missing out on the seat by just 92 votes, or 0.3 per cent of the vote. She told the paper that her campaign had received “no support — not even a tweet” from the Labour Party at the British or Welsh levels.

It was the party machine, not the leadership, which declined to put resources into her campaign, she said. “Jeremy [Corbyn] was amazing. He was in touch throughout the campaign and even on polling day itself.”

But Ms Griffiths-Clarke says she did not get a campaign manager from central office and had been told by an official in Welsh Labour, when she asked for help, that the party’s priorities in north Wales did not include Arfon.

“It was like campaigning for a franchise — I had the logo and the excellent manifesto, and that was it. Labour sent no activists to campaign in Bangor even on the day of the vote.” She said she was speaking out as it was important for Labour to not make the same mistake if another election is called.

Of the 262 parliamentary Labour MPs, roughly 60 hold genuine left-wing views, while a similar amount tread the ground between the left and right. The vast majority of the PLP – roughly 140 – however, are right-wing disciples of the Chicago school  who are unprincipled cynical opportunists or, as Tony Benn put it, “weathervanes”. They will only go with the Corbyn programme if it looks good for their money-making prospects. This illustrates the battle Corbyn and his supporters are up against.

Disappointingly, the influential commentator and economist, Paul Mason, was quick to announce on the BBC that Corbyn’s subsequent electoral “success” should be used to broaden his cabinet and policy platform by bringing Blairites like Cooper back into the fold. I have often found Mason’s commentary to be convoluted at best and highly contradictory at worse.

His latest appeal does nothing to alter my suspicion that he is a controlled opposition figure in much the same way Owen Jones is/was. If Corbyn ends up being too accommodating to the Blairites it will only encourage them, resulting in the blunting of Corbyn’s radical message which is the major part of his appeal and the very reason why Labour voters, especially the young, voted for him in such large numbers in the first place.

Keeping young voters on board is particularly important given the fact that the proposed boundary changes that the Tories will be keen to bring in before the next election will benefit them by 18 seats. This will provide the ideal opportunity for Corbyn to force through the compulsory re-submission of candidates to members who are energized by a very different set of priorities to that of the Blairites.

Those motivated primarily by money will disappear by stealth into the ether. But in order for this to happen, Corbyn needs to grab the bull by the horns by cleverly negotiating the tide of optimism sweeping throughout the grass roots of the party. He must, in my view, seize the moment by taking control of the hierarchy of the party that he currently lacks.

The Blairites are currently on the defensive and Corbyn should exploit this situation to the maximum. The worse case scenario is one in which the former wrestle back significant control. By giving the likes of Cooper prominence, will only encourage this eventuality.

The contradiction between Cooper’s deeds and words outlined above, highlight the extent to which the ideological consensus between the New Labour hierarchy and the ruling Tory establishment, is structurally embedded within a dysfunctional system of state power that is no longer fit for purpose. Corbyn’s task in changing this situation around is difficult but not impossible. He should resist all calls to bring ‘heavyweights’ like Cooper back into the fore.

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The Scorpion & the Frog

By Daniel Margrain

Image result for scorpion and the frog, pics

In the famous anti-capitalist fable, a scorpion, eager to get to the other side of a stream and unable to swim, pleads with a frog to allow him to ride on his back, across the stream.“Certainly not,” said the frog. “You would kill me.”

“Preposterous!,” replied the scorpion. “If I stung you, it would kill the both of us.”

Thus assured, the frog invited the scorpion to climb aboard, and halfway across, sure enough, the scorpion delivered the fatal sting.

“Now why did you do that,” said the frog, “you’ve killed us both.”

“I am a scorpion,” he replied, “this is what I do.”

A century ago, the Russian Nicolai Bukharin argued that the growth of international corporations and their close association with national states hollows-out parliaments. The power of private lobbying money draws power upwards into the executive and non-elected parts of the state dominated by corporations.

The growing concentration and internationalization of capital causes economic rivalries among firms to spill over national borders and to become geopolitical contests in which the combatants call on the support of their respective states. As professor Alex Callinicos put it:

“The… system embraces geopolitics as well as economics, and…the competitive processes….involve not merely the economic struggle for markets, but military and diplomatic rivalries among states.”

In refining Bukharin’s classical theory, Callinicos argues that capitalist imperialism is constituted by the intersection of economic and geopolitical competition which, if left unchallenged, will lead to the death of democracy and, ultimately, the capitalist system itself.

What corporations do is strive to maximize the returns on the investments of their shareholders. As Milton Friedman put it, “The social responsibility of business is to increase profits.” Unfortunately, if corporations are unconstrained by law or regulation, they can, by simply “doing what they do”, suck the life out of the economy that sustains them. Like cancer cells, lethal parasites, and the scorpion, unconstrained corporations can destroy their “hosts,” without which they cannot survive, much less flourish.

Society and the environment to the corporations and complicit actions of governments, is what the frog is to the scorpion. The CEOs of the giant corporations, together with governments, compete against each other, globally, for the limited resources of the planet. While the actions of the corporations are beneficial to their CEOs and shareholders, they have detrimental impacts for humanity and society as a whole.

Karl Marx

In his analysis of the capitalist system over a century-and-a half ago, Karl Marx in The Communist Manifesto articulated the processes that were to lead to the growth of the corporations: “The need of a constantly expanding market for its products chases the bourgeoisie over the whole surface of the globe. It must nestle everywhere, settle everywhere, establish connections everywhere” he said. Marx describes, powerfully, the workings, impulses and aggressive dynamism of an economic system in which the units of production increase in size and where their ownership becomes increasingly concentrated.

It takes an effort on the reader’s part to remember that the passage quoted above was written before the search for oil absorbed the Middle East transforming it into a contemporary battlefield, or that globalization began stamping its mark on a thousand different cultures. The accuracy of Marx’s analysis exemplified in the exponential growth of the corporation in the century following his death, is a testament to his magnificent intellectual vigor and groundbreaking dialectical insight.

Where Marx’s analysis has yet to be realized is in terms of his expectation that the working class would become increasingly radical and ultimately revolutionary. What was impossible for him to predict was the emergence of broadcast media and, by extension, the capacity by which it has been able to disorientate the masses by redirecting revolutionary impulses into identity politics, passivity and leisure pursuits.

Also Marx’s analysis has not been borne out in terms of the extent to which workers have been coerced into an acceptance of capitalism by their economic dependence on employment and the repression of revolutionary movements that sought to overthrow the capitalist system. These workers have also been incorporated through their organizations into the political structures of capitalist societies, and are seduced by the flood of inexpensive imported goods often created by sweated labour, that capitalist production has provided.

As bad as the suffering is for many who endure poverty within the countries of the advanced capitalist states today, it is not sufficient enough in scale – as was the case in the 1930s, for example – to threaten the capitalist economic system. But although its true to say Marx’s expectation that oppressed and exploited workers would overthrow capitalism has not been borne out by events, this does not invalidate his analysis. Marx wasn’t deterministic. He viewed the working class from a position of what he perceived they were potentially capable of becoming in the right socioeconomic circumstances.

Contradictions of capitalism

In The Communist Manifesto, Marx describes capitalism at its beginnings as a revolutionary system, because it creates, for the first time in human history, the potential for liberation from want. Through the development of industrial production, it became possible for every human being to be fed, clothed and housed. But as Marx recognized, even in his time, capitalism would never achieve this society of plenty for all, because of the way production is organized, with the means of production controlled by a tiny minority of society – the ruling class – more widely known today as “the one per cent”.

Marx described the ruling class as a “band of warring brothers” in constant competition with each other – giving the system a relentless drive to expand. As Marx wrote in Capital: “Fanatically bent on making value expand itself, he (the capitalist) ruthlessly forces the human race to produce for production’s sake.” Capitalism’s insatiable drive, embodied in the growth of the corporation, has brought us in the 21st century to the edge of climate chaos and environmental destruction. This is the systems Achilles heel.

Marx’s dialectical understanding of how the capitalist system works, therefore, has contemporary relevance both in terms of explaining the growth of the corporation and its competitive drive to extract resources within the context of an environmentally finite planet. Left to it’s own devices, in the absence of any revolutionary struggle, the corporation, like the scorpion, will ultimately end up destroying its host – in the case of the former, humanity and society. In such a scenario, the contradictions of the system couldn’t be more stark.

Prisoner’s Dilemma, altruism & game theory

It should be noted that the frog/scorpion fable that is a metaphor for the propensity of capitalism to destroy the conditions upon which human life depends, does not portray a Prisoner’s DilemmaIn international political theory, the Prisoner’s Dilemma is often used to demonstrate the coherence of strategic realism, which holds that in international relations, all states (regardless of their internal policies or professed ideology), will act in their rational self-interest given international anarchy. A classic example is an arms race like the Cold War and similar conflicts.

During the Cold War the opposing alliances of NATO and the Warsaw Pact both had the choice to arm or disarm. From each side’s point of view, disarming whilst their opponent continued to arm would have led to military inferiority and possible annihilation. Conversely, arming whilst their opponent disarmed would have led to superiority. If both sides chose to arm, neither could afford to attack the other, but at the high cost of developing and maintaining a nuclear arsenal. If both sides chose to disarm, war would be avoided and there would be no costs.

In the frog/scorpion fable, the former had absolutely nothing to gain by carrying the scorpion to safety. From the perspective of the cynical outsider, the frog’s altruism is foolish because he would have lived had he not assisted the scorpion. Similarly, society, the environment and, indeed, the planet have nothing to gain by being accommodating to the corporation. To some, altruistic acts are consistent with the adage, “No good deed goes unpunished.”

But of course this cynical perspective is predicated on their being no mutual trust between two parties. Because the frog believed the scorpion when he said it was irrational to kill him, any intention to find a way to deflect earlier than the scorpion, hadn’t formed a part of the frogs reasoning. The frog’s actions were based purely on good faith and the acceptance of basic norms of behaviour. A rational approach in which both parties were set to benefit was understood by the frog to be a given. The frog hadn’t accounted for the fact that the scorpion was compelled to act in the way he did.

Similarly, corporate capitalists are compelled to ‘externalize’ environmental costs in order to maximize profits. It is the corporation, like the scorpion, that pulls humanity down. This kind of reasoning applies to other related areas. In the field of international relations, for example, the concept of the Responsibility to Protect (R2P) doctrine of ‘pre-emptive retaliation’, expresses nothing other than a strategy based on defecting early and decisively, even though such an action is highly irrational.

The rationale appears to be that any attempts at cooperative actions are, at some point, doomed to be beset by the actions that pertain to that of the scorpion. This presupposes that all potential and/or perceived foes act in a highly irrational manner akin to the pathological actions of psychopaths that lead to unnecessary harmful deflections instead of mutual cooperation that is beneficial to the greater good.

Game theory, on the other hand, does not really take scorpions into account. It holds that people will defect because the future has no shadow and it is in their best interest to do so. Game theory fails as a tool when we are dealing with sociopathology or extreme denial.

The human dilemma is that all progress ultimately fails or at least slides back, that anything once proven must be proven again a myriad of times; that there is nothing so well established that a fundamentalist (of any religious or political stripe) cannot be found to deny it, and suffer the consequences, and then deny that he suffered the consequences.

Theresa May’s authoritarianism and her insistence on putting the short-term narrow self-interests of her party above the wider interests of the country, reflect a psychopathy, narcissism and sense of entitlement. She seems compelled to want to bring society down on its knees in order to satisfy both her own and her parties vanity. Her propensity to fiddle while Rome burns, is comparable to the actions of the scorpion. The British public can only hope she is put out of her misery before sinking the country entirely.

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The corporate media are protecting the establishment from democracy

By Daniel Margrain

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The fact that Theresa May was only able to cling on to power with the help of the knuckle-dragging DUP because of the gains the Tories made from the SNP in Scotland, is extremely frustrating. Had the SNP fought the election primarily on an independence platform, rather than pretending to be all things to all people, the party would have almost certainly maintained its level of support.

What this illustrates is that the strategy to fight elections on the enemy’s chosen ground, is a flawed one. Offering the electorate competent technocratic managerialism rather than principled and ideologically-based policies, is a strategy of despair as the approach of the Blairites under Milliband aptly illustrated.

Yet, disappointingly this was precisely the retrograde step suggested by Paul Mason while arguing the case on the BBC after it became clear that Theresa May would not achieve an overall parliamentary majority. “Corbyn needs to bring Labour’s ‘hard-hitters’ back into the political fold”, argued Mason. Interestingly, the journalist and economist made his comments sitting next to former Blair spin merchant, Alastair Campbell, who was also quick to suggest that Corbyn should use his success to broaden his cabinet and his policy platform in order to bring the Blairites back onboard.

Concession

This kind of concession based on the false premise it will enable Corbyn to win power, should be avoided like the plague. The election proves that the ‘unelectable’ Corbyn who at 40 per cent gained a higher proportion of the vote than his predecessors (Milliband 2015, 30%, Brown 2010, 29%, Blair 2005, 35%), can win the next election on his own terms. In a rare, honest post-election commentary, Owen Jones wrote:

“Labour is now permanently transformed. Its policy programme is unchallengeable. It is now the party’s consensus. It cannot and will not be taken away. Those who claimed it could not win the support of millions were simply wrong. No, Labour didn’t win, but from where it started, that was never going to happen. That policy programme enabled the party to achieve one of the biggest shifts in support in British history – yes, eclipsing Tony Blair’s swing in 1997…The prospect of a socialist government that can build an economy run in the interests of working people – not the cartel of vested interests who have plunged us into repeated crisis – well, that may have been a prospect many of us thought would never happen in our lifetime. It is now much closer than it has ever been.”

It’s astonishing to this writer that Mason and others apparently fail to recognise that the left is desperate for an alternative to neoliberalism which Corbyn’s policies reflect but which Blairism helps augment. Any concessions towards those who have stabbed the Labour leader in the back over the last two years will totally undermine his alternative anti-austerity vision for the country.

Those who are genuine about the need for radical change, understand how important it is to undermine the hold the Blairites have on the party, not encourage them. The huge increase in turnout and votes of the 18-24 year old demographic up (from 58% under Milliband to 72% under Corbyn) that contributed enormously towards Labour’s 30 seat gain, was predicated on a vision of the country that rejects Blairism.

Hamstrung

Had the media not been biased against Corbyn during the election campaign, had he not been hamstrung by two years of almost constant vilification from the liberal corporate media like the Guardian, and reinforced by Blairites within his own party (the kind of calculating careerist opportunists Mason alluded to), Corbyn would almost certainly have got over the finishing line.

The same media-political establishment who were relentlessly vilifying him in lock-step, now claim they all got it wrong. This is a fallback position in an attempt to obfuscate. The truth is, the media didn’t think he was ‘wrong’, rather they opposed him. As Media Lens posited:

“They were ‘wrong’ about his ability to generate support. They still think they’re right to oppose everything he stands for.”

In other words, the corporate media’s mass failure represents a structural flaw. They have virtually zero credibility. The revelation that the exit polls suggested a hung parliament, prompted Cathy Newman to tweet:

“Ok let’s be honest, until the last few weeks many of us under-estimated Jeremy Corbyn.”

This is disingenuous. The reality is rather different. As opposed to underestimating Corbyn, the truth is the media refused to give him a fair hearing because of what he represents to corporate hacks like Newman.

So-called corporate ‘journalists’ and commentators are, as comedian Dom Jolly argued,

“political PR prostitutes to a handful of billionaires with selfish agendas.”

One such political PR prostitute is Dan Hodges who in July, 2016 tweeted the immortal line:

“If Corbyn beats Owen Smith I don’t see how May doesn’t call an election next year. And that would be political armageddon for Labour.”

Agenda

From the day Corbyn was elected as Labour leader, the agenda of political PR prostitutes like Hodges, Aaranovitch, Rentoul, Cohen and McTernan, has been to get rid of him. All those who are now crying wolf are doing so, not as part of a genuine principled display of collective remorse, but as a damage-limitation exercise in order to save their careers.

Ideally, they would have preferred Corbyn to have lost badly on the premise that the existence of the status quo is better than a Corbyn win which would have engendered career uncertainty. In this sense, the Westminster commentariat’s criticisms of the Labour leader were intended as a self-fulfilling prophecy.

A Tory landslide would have given those within the Westminster bubble like Polly Toynbee and Anne Perkins the opportunity to write their Corbyn obituaries and thus create an opening through which they would effectively have been able to take back control of the Labour party and reconfigure it in their own Blairite image.

Achievement

Corbyn’s sensational electoral achievement illustrates how an increasingly informed and sophisticated public are seeing through the deceptions and lies. Consequently, the attempts by the political-media establishment to exercise their dominance over them, using the Labour party as their tool with which to achieve it, back-fired spectacularly.

Social and political historians will look back at the current period in which a mass social media, controlled by the people, overcame the corporate-media propaganda power of the state, as a watershed moment. The fake apologist tones of the liberal elite who used the pulpit of their employers to try to bring Corbyn and his supporters to their knees, are now trying to persuade the public that their supposed change of heart has nothing to do with reining in their loss of control and, by extension, the reduced revenues of their employers.

We see this, for example, in relation to the Guardian’s associate editor, Michael White, whose public back-tracking strategy on Corbyn days before the election that was intended to halt the decline in his papers readership, was as transparent as Claude Rains in the Invisible Man. This is also reflected in additional sympathetic and supportive Corbyn articles and tweets since it became clear that his pre-election poll ratings had dramatically began to improve.

It’s precisely the kind of cynical attitudes outlined, displayed by the corporate media in general towards its target audience, that creates a space for alternative social media of the likes of the Canary to flourish. The corporate press barons are rapidly losing the public’s respect in no small part due to their biased distorted reportage and crude, fake sensationalist headlines designed to demoralize and disorientate their readership. The tabloid depiction of Corbyn as a Jihadist sympathizer is an obvious case in point.

Political weapon

However, it’s a mistake to think that less overt forms of media propaganda do not also function as a political weapon by the state. As Noam Chomsky put it: “Propaganda is to a democracy what the bludgeon is to a totalitarian state.” The kinds of mutually-reinforcing propaganda in the liberal broadsheets are symptomatic of the broader decline in media performance.

Michael Savage, political editor of the Observer, for example, apparently thought nothing of tweeting the views of convicted fraudster and self-serving former MP Denis MacShane. The Blairite, MacShane and the Blairite, Savage were merely reiterating their respective anti-Corbyn views in order to implant in the public’s mind the notion that Corbyn is useless. This is also true of the wider corporate commentariat who reinforce their own prejudices which become a self-fulfilling echo-chamber. Dissenters who challenge this orthodoxy are often ridiculed, smeared or abused.

Investment

The media barons will continue to invest in traditional media propaganda only if at the end of it they can be assured they get the kinds of governments they want. The opportunistic careerist politicians and corporate journalists who operate within the Westminster bubble, know which side their bread is buttered and are only too willing to adjust their views accordingly, particularly if the corporate buck is large enough and the situation demands it.

However, the rise of Corbyn, concomitant to an increasingly politically active citizenship informed by alternative social media and a sincere and incorruptible form of politics, suggests the foundations upon which corporate greed and the establishment view of the world distorts human relations, are shaking.

It’s true the Tories are still the governing party. But their ability to shape domestic policy unhindered, premised on the existence of a corrupt media and democracy, has been greatly diminished. Theresa May is only able to cling to power by her fingertips because she is propped up by the DUP who have close links to loyalist terrorists who murdered 1,016 people between 1969-2001 and who shot someone dead in a car park in an internecine dispute during the election campaign.

The DUP are also climate change deniers, creationists, homophobes and anti-abortionists. There is only so much of this kind of DUP-Tory relationship the public, and even the media, will be willing to endure in the weeks and months ahead.

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This is the main reason why you should vote Labour today

 

By Daniel Margrain

Image result for pics of boris johnson with saudis

Jeremy Corbyn’s landmark stated intention to tackle not just terrorism in isolation, but its causes, is the potential catalyst for a far wider transformation of society that is desperately needed in Britain and, indeed, the world. This is the reality a Labour victory under Corbyn could realistically usher in, in the years ahead.

In the event of a Labour win, the days in which successive UK governments – both Tory and Labour – have perpetuated endless war and counter-terrorism in order to sustain the profits of the arms and weapons companies and to ensure the privileges and concentration of power of the few at the expense of the many are maintained, will almost certainly begin to come to an end.

This is why the deep state, that includes the corporate media, under the said governments, have consistently, in the words of Media Lens, thwarted the attempt by the public “to shape a genuinely democratic choice out of the sham choices of corporate-owned politics.”

The corporate media’s framing of Syria is a case in point. Back in December 2015, the BBC reported on claims made by the Ministry of Defense that RAF Tornado and Typhoon warplanes had destroyed wellheads in the country….“thus cutting off the terrorists’ oil revenue at the very source”. The impression given to the public was that the UK government had actively engaged in degrading the infrastructural and financial capability of ISIS.

However, this was based on a deception. In reality, the target was the precise location that had been hit by Russian and US coalition forces six weeks earlier. This was confirmed by a report in the Express on October 23, 2015, that highlighted the obliteration by both Russian and US coalition forces of an ISIS oilfield and supply routes in the heart of Islamic State territory in Syria. The Express report, therefore, inadvertently contradicted the UK governments own propaganda.

The deception also underlined the subsequent revelation that ISIS had gained access to weapons exported by the UK to the Middle East in the wake of 2003 invasion of Iraq. The ability of ISIS to access weapons is only possible if they have money to purchase them. Tackling the flow and source of criminal money, is the most effective way to drain them of their ability to function. This is precisely the strategy Corbyn has proposed to undertake in order to tackle the causes of jihadist terrorism.

The reason why the establishment are opposed to the Labour leader is because they realize he cannot be bought off on their terms and hence if elected he is likely to potentially undermine their ability to be able to continue pulling the financial strings that determine the control, flow and maintaining of oil revenues.

Briefing

In September, 2014, in a briefing to the European Parliament Foreign Affairs Committee, EU Ambassador to Iraq Jana Hybaskova, conceded that some European countries have purchased crude from ISIS from the areas in northern Iraq and Syria they have captured. Accepting that the most effective way of countering ISIS is to attack the source of their funding rather than using bombs to kill civilians, appeared to be the rationale behind the then Shadow Foreign Secretary, Hilary Benn’s initial decision to oppose military intervention in Syria.

However, inexplicably, two weeks later, he voted in favour of bombing. Something happened in the two week period up to December 2, 2015, which influenced Benn’s decision to change his mind. Perhaps it had something to do with the fact that war is good for boosting the profits of those connected to the military-industrial complex and that he had allegedly been lobbied by BAE Systems who stood to gain financially from any change of heart.

Sure enough, the depression in their share price in late October, 2015 on the back of Benn’s opposition to war, subsequently jumped after the announcement to bomb was made. Being in the pocket of the arms industry is concomitant to the notion of favouring war, which not only explains the BBCs pro-war stance (BBC Trust vice-chair, Roger Carr is chairman of UK arms manufacturer, BAE Systems), but clearly also explained Benn’s careful positioning in his attempt to usurp the anti-war Jeremy Corbyn for the Labour leadership.

The attempt failed. Corbyn went on to secure a second mandate and Benn was sacked from his post as Shadow Foreign Secretary. Meanwhile, across the Atlantic, major defense contractors Raytheon, Oshkosh, and Lockheed Martin assured investors that they stood to gain from the escalating conflicts in the Middle East. Lockheed Martin Executive Vice President Bruce Tanner said his company will see “indirect benefits” from the war in Syria, citing the Turkish military’s decision to shoot down a Russian warplane.

Tanner was far from being the only beneficiary of the war in Syria. A deal that authorized $607 billion in defense spending brokered by the U.S Congress, for example, was described as a “treat” for the industry. What better way to benefit from this “treat” than for the major powers to secure the “hydrocarbon potential” of Syria’s offshore resources with the aim of reducing European dependence on Russian gas and boosting the potential for an energy independence.

Broader strategy

The broader strategy to dismember Syria involves the annexation of the Golan Heights, captured by Israel during the 1967 war. This is being aided by one of the most concerted media propaganda offensives since the Iraq debacle. The main reason the Murdoch media, in particular, is pushing for regime change in Syria, is because Israel has granted oil exploration rights to the multinational corporation, Genie Energy. Murdoch is a major shareholder in the company. In a 2010 press release, Claude Pupkin, CEO of Genie Oil and Gas stated:

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

Pupkin continued:

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

Other players involved in the plan to extract resources from the Golan, include the Israeli subsidiary, Afek Oil and Gas, American Shale, French Total and BP.  Thus there exists a broad and powerful nexus of US, British, French and Israeli interests, encompassing defense, security, energy and media sectors, at the forefront of pushing for the break-up of Syria and the control of what is believed to be potentially vast untapped oil and gas resources in the country. The plans, if successful, will also rein-in Russian and Iranian influence in the region.

The foreign and domestic policies of successive British governments have been integral to the perpetuation of this system of cronyism, war and corruption. A class system built on inequality, injustice and deference, depends on these factors for its continued existence. The election of Corbyn as Prime Minister would potentially scupper this unethical and corrupt system which is why the deep state (that includes the BBC and the rest corporate media), have done their utmost to ensure it doesn’t happen. Let’s prove them wrong today by turning out in large numbers and putting our crosses next to our respective Labour candidates..

The extent to which the corruption at the heart of the British establishment, emblematic of endless war, has been allowed to continue, is reflected by the unwillingness of successive governments’ to tackle the issue. This is probably best exemplified by the decision of the former business secretary, Sajid Javid, in July, 2015, to invite companies’ to comment on whether the “tough anti-corruption measures” contained within the governments 2010 Bribery Act are “a problem.”

Letters sent by the Department of Business, Innovation and Skills invited industry leaders to comment on whether the act has had an impact on their attempts to export. Needless to say, letters inviting small businesses and employees to comment about regulations that prevent them from making more money at any cost to the environment and working conditions, were not forthcoming.

Corruption

On the August 3, 2015, edition of the BBC HARDtalk programme, host Stephen Sackur interviewed Nigeria’s Minister for Power, Works and Housing, Babatunde Fashola. During the interview Sackur repeatedly alluded that the Nigerian government was systematically corrupt. At one point Sackur related an ‘off mic’ incident in which former prime minister, David Cameron, was said to have berated Nigeria, after he described it as one of the two most corrupt countries in the world.

Apparently, it hadn’t occurred to either Sackur or Cameron that big business in the UK lobbied against the Bribery Act which was intended to undermine corruption – the implication being that corporations would rather be scraping around in the sewer if there was some money to be made among the filth. As far as the British establishment are concerned, corrupt practices are something restricted to what dark skinned people in far away countries engage in. By contrast, the former thinks of itself as occupying the moral high ground, despite the fact that the UK was one of the major players heavily implicated in the Panama Papers scandal.

In 2012, Cameron visited one of the most corrupt and authoritarian countries on the planet, Kazakhstan. The leader of that country showered him with gratitude and praise. Kazakhstan’s former police chief is linked to the ownership of £147m-worth of London properties which forms part of the UKs status as a safe haven for corrupt capital. Other corruption scandals to have hit the headlines around that time include the Straw and Rifkind affair, the MPs expenses scandal (ongoing) and the long-running PFI saga that’s crippling the NHS.

Simon Jenkins summarized the malaise and hypocrisy at the heart of the British establishment:

“The truth is that hypocrisy is the occupational disease of British leaders. They lecture Africans and Asians on the venality of their politics, while blatantly selling seats in their own parliament for cash. I hope some insulted autocrat one day asks a British leader how much his party has garnered from auctioning honours. The government suppresses any inquiry into corrupt arms contracts to the Middle East. And when does lobbying stop and corruption start? The Cameron government is the most susceptible to lobbying of any in history.”

In the nearly two years since Jenkins wrote his piece, nothing fundamentally has changed. If anything, corruption is arguably even more endemic under Theresa May than it was under Cameron. Indeed, unethical practices within the British establishment continue to be integral to the workings of the deep state. Take the ongoing seamless links between the Tory establishment, BBC, the intelligence services and HSBC as an example.

The connection between the former and latter go back a long way. David Cameron’s great, great grandfather was the head of HSBC in the UK when they were established in Hong Kong. In November, 2010, a critical report from the Office for Fair Trading (OFT) insisted that the bank refrain from making illegal charges that amounted to some £200m on its customers.

Vindicated

After a successful 13 year-long battle to prove HSBCs guilt, anti-corruption campaigner and whistle blower, Nicholas Wilson, has finally been vindicated. The bank was found guilty and fined a relatively paltry sum of £4m. The background to the case outlined by Wilson in a video on his blog, is a revelation.

During the time of the critical OFT report, the former Prime Minister, David Cameron, decided to make the then head of the bank, Stephen Green, a Lord and to bring him into government as a trade minister. The government state broadcaster, the BBC, buried the story.

But more significantly, HSBC director, Jonathan Evans (formerly head of MI5), supplied – through his company – customer data to every major government department – MI5, MI6, GCHQ, MOD, MOJ. Cameron proceeded to appoint Evans to head the BBC Trust in 2014. He was subsequently made a Lord and, like Green, brought into the government. Another Lord, Lord Janvrin, former chair of HSBC private bank, sits on the committee that oversees the security services.

Another government connection to HSBC concerns the appointment of the head of their Audit Committee, Rhona Fairhead, to the chair of the BBC Trust. According to Wilson, since Fairhead’s appointment at the BBC, there has been no reporting of HSBC criminality which continues to be numerous and has been documented by other journalists around the world as major incidents. This includes a HSBC and Russian- related drug money laundering story.

Wilson points out that journalist Peter Oborne resigned from the Telegraph over its lack of negative coverage of HSBC. In a public letter, Oborne described how the paper had spiked about six negative stories including one by its investigative team over a period of three months because HSBC are “the advertiser you literally cannot afford to offend.”

Wilson has had his attempts to publish his expose of HSBC in the corporate media – Private Eye, the Times, BBC Panorama, Newsnight, Channel 4 News – scuppered by editors who have spiked his version of events. Prior to Cameron’s re-election in 2015, Sunday Times correspondent, Tom Harper, wrote a damning story on HSBC that implicated Cameron in his attempt to cover-up the Stephen Green scandal. But while Harper was investigating, Sunday Times editor, Camilla Cavendish, met with Cameron.

The story was subsequently spiked one day prior to its intended publication. Two months later, it was announced that Cavendish was working at Downing Street in the policy office of Cameron. When he resigned, he gave her a peerage. She is now Baroness Cavendish. That’s the extent of the corruption at the heart of the British establishment. In other words, one of the biggest corporate financial institutions in the UK that illegally stole money from its customers with minimal redress, is embedded within the high echelons of the corporate media and government establishment.

Given the connections HSBC has to many of the High Street chains, the nature of government-corporate corruption is likely to be far more extensive than many people realize. Then there is the extent to which these kinds of manifestations of the deep state are played out in terms of its relationship to the initiation of wars, terrorism and the perpetuation of the arms industry. I discuss these issues (in relation to Syria) here and here.

Jeremy Corbyn’s honest approach to tackling terrorism has brought the topic of corruption sharply into focus and in so doing has exposed the failed war on terror foreign policy strategy of his neoliberal opponents. The fact that Corbyn has wrong-footed the political establishment and the media that back them, is rattling both.

Sophisticated

An increasingly sophisticated electorate are aware that foreign military interventions and the selling of arms to tyrannical regimes like Saudi Arabia, increase the terrorist threat. Craig Murray has cited polls indicating that voters understand the correlation between wars fought abroad and domestic terrorism. Given the establishment themselves admit the connections, the media can no longer smear the left with the terrorist apologist epithet.

That partly explains why the Tories have not gained ground in the polls since Corbyn made his speech. So desperate have the establishment become, that the Home Secretary, Amber Rudd, who was former director of two offshore tax avoidance asset management firms in the Bahamas, resorted to censoring Nicholas Wilson at a Hastings and Rye hustings. Rudd instructed the chair to disrupt his speech. Wilson, who is standing as an independent, had his microphone removed from him, after he commented on Rudd’s alleged political and financial links and actions in Saudi Arabia. The whole thing was captured on video here.

Given the inherent corrupt nature of the British state, the fact that the UK is widely perceived to be the world’s 14th least corrupt country in the world is perhaps a testament to the propaganda power of the corporate media. According to journalist Roberto Saviano, who spent more than a decade exposing the criminal dealings of the Italian Mafia, Britain is the most corrupt country in the world. He told an audience at Hay-on-Wye: “If I asked you what is the most corrupt place on Earth you might tell me well it’s Afghanistan, maybe Greece, Nigeria, the South of Italy and I will tell you it’s the UK.”

The disconnect between perception and reality is clearly indicative of the distorted way in which an organisation like the national state broadcaster under-report the subtle forms of ‘hidden’ systemic corruption that is embedded in the very fabric of the British state, camouflaged by legislation and cushioned by ‘gentlemen’s agreements’.

In bringing together a wide range of leading commentators and campaigners, David Whyte shows that it is no longer tenable to assume that corruption is something that happens elsewhere; corrupt practices are revealed across a wide range of venerated institutions, from local government to big business.

As Penny Green of Queen Mary University of London, contends, “the network of egregious state and corporate corruption in Britain rivals any in the developing world”. This is one reason why the electorate throughout the country in today’s contest, should consider very carefully who they give their vote to.

I rely on the generosity of my readers. I don’t make any money from my work and I’m not funded. If you’ve enjoyed reading this or another posting, please consider making a donation, no matter how small. You can help continue my research and write independently..… Thanks!


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Panama Papers: Business As Usual

By Daniel Margrain

The Panama Papers : How the rich rob us

Steve Topple’s excellent piece for the Canary which revisited the one year old Panama Papers scandal, was a welcome reminder of the background to the biggest data leak in history. As Topple outlined, the government’s stated intention to tackle the systematic corruption that resulted from the handing over by an anonymous source of massive amounts of data from the Panama-based, German-run law firm Mossack Fonseca which specializes in providing clients with dodgy offshore accounts, was essentially a face-saving exercise intended to give the public the impression that the elites were taking the issue seriously. But a year down the line, it appears to be business as usual.

Due to the specific nature of the leak, it’s clear that the potentially incendiary material is unlikely to see the light of day within the public domain. Given that the leaked material is being managed by the International Consortium of Investigative Journalists (ICIJ) who in turn are supported by some of America’s biggest corporate funders, this was always going to be the case.

As was suggested at the time, had the leaker approached Wikileaks with the 2.6 terabytes of data consisting of 11.5 million documents, rather than Suddeutsche Zeitung – and by extension, the Western media more widely – the impact and potential consequences for those concerned would of been far greater. Instead, the largest data leak that journalists have ever worked with was selectively ‘drip-fed’ with most of the significant amounts implicating Western elites being censored from the public gaze.

Luke Harding

The public had already seen signs of that with the release of Luke Harding’s Guardian piece published exactly one year to the day (April 4, 2016). Predictably, Harding focused on Russian individuals and companies whose wealth represents a minority of the money stashed away. Crucially, he failed to mention that 9,670 UK Companies and over 3,000 US Companies, as well as former PM David Cameron’s father, top Tories and some of the UK’s biggest allies, were implicated and/or named in the Panama Papers.

Did the corporate media vilify David Cameron for some serious high-ranking connections to this mother of all leaks? No, it did not. Did the same media publish any damning report that featured Cameron airbrushed alongside global ‘baddies,’ like former Iranian leader Ahmadinejad? Again, the answer is No.

In the year since the leak, there has been no mention in the corporate media of the fact that the amount of UK companies, banks and accountants complicit in the scandal ranked second highest in an international league table (see below):

Neither has there been any mention of the numerous huge Western multinational corporations or billionaires involved, some of whom sit in the House of Lords. It’s also worth recalling that Harding failed to mention by name the 12 leaders, past and present, identified in the documents. Instead, the Guardian journalist, in line with the methodological approach adopted by Suddeutsche Zeitung, selectively focused on the West’s official enemies – Russia, Syria and North Korea.

There was certainly no impression given in the Guardian article that the global web of corruption and tax avoidance extends to 72 states, heads or former heads of state. Instead, the front cover of the paper at the time sensationally headlined with the words “Exclusive: The Secret $2bn trail of deals that lead all the way to Putin”.

Kowtowing

Neither would one have ascertained the scale of the corruption having watched the UK state broadcaster, the BBC, who chose to mention just five of the 72 – Egypt, Iceland, Gaddafi, Putin and Assad. Central to all this is the pathetic kowtowing to power by our media that’s supposed to be impartial and independent yet they act reflexively on mass by directing their fire at enemies of the state.

Naturally, the media cannot be perceived to be so transparently biased which is why the occasional ‘balanced’ message is required. Step forward the Telegraph. A year ago to the day (April 4, 2016), the paper reported:

“David Cameron’s father ran an offshore fund which avoided paying tax in Britain by hiring Bahamas residents, including a bishop, to sign paperwork…The fund, which was established in the 1980s with help from the Prime Minister’s late father, continues today. The Guardian says it has confirmed that ‘in 30 years Blairmore has never paid a penny of tax in the UK on its profits.”

Nevertheless, the targeting of a dead man is virtually risk free as will be the ‘outing’ of an occasional senile corrupt Lord to be cynically used a sacrificial lamb for the media hacks to peruse over if and when the time is right. Ultimately, the UK Secret Services will never allow the media to publish anything that is likely to damage the ‘reputations’ of leading establishment figures. The Snowden files that the Guardian had in its possession but were requested to be destroyed by M15, are proof of that.

Agenda

On Monday April 4, 2016, I had been watching the UK media all day after the Panama Papers story broke. All of the news bulletins, without exception, prefaced the scandal with either Putin, Cameron’s deceased father or Assad. It’s mainly the first two which are easy and convenient targets intended to deflect away from the crimes that implicate ‘our’ leaders. Almost certainly then, there is a highly motivated political agenda at work here.

This explains why Iceland, who locked up many of its corrupt and criminal bankers, was also named. Following the revelation that the country’s PM was implicated in the scandal, the people of Reykjavik took to the streets in their thousands demanding his resignation which happened shortly afterwards.

The elites on both sides of the Atlantic are concerned about the affect the revealing of widespread and systematic corruption within the high echelons of media and politics will have on the body politic of Europe and North America. They don’t want Reykjavik to spread to London, Paris and Washington. This is another reason why the full scale nature of those implicated is unlikely to be revealed for many years to come, if ever.

What all this highlights is the public is being cynically deceived by the corporate media in order to get their fellow elites off the hook. Craig Murray’s brilliant expose of the BBC Panorama documentary, Tax Havens of the Rich and Powerful Exposed, highlights the extent to which BBC producers and presenters will go to in order to misdirect their audience to this end.

Perhaps less subtle than the overt propaganda pieceSaving Syria’s Children, but no less effective, the BBC related at length the stories of the money laundering companies of the Icelandic PM and Putin’s alleged cellist. As Murray said:

“The impression was definitely given and reinforced that these companies were in Panama. [Presenter] Richard Bilton deliberately suppressed the information that all the companies involved were in fact not Panamanian but in the corrupt British colony of the British Virgin Islands. At no stage did Bilton even mention the British Virgin Islands.”

Murray goes on to say:

“Is it not truly, truly, astonishing the British Virgin Islands were not even mentioned when the BBC broadcast their “investigation” of these documents?”

The BBC, and media in general, are obscuring the key role British money-laundering via its base in the British Virgin Islands plays in these transactions. It can never be stated enough that this corruption scandal mostly concerns the British Virgin Islands. Yes, the corruption is widespread and involves a number of world leaders, some of whom are the UK governments official enemies.

However, in the broader scheme of things, these political figures are essentially peripheral. The level of corruption is widespread and systemic. It’s important that the ruling elites are constantly reminded that the British public haven’t forgotten about the Panama Papers scandal.

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Brexit: A Disaster In Waiting

 By Daniel Margrain

With article 50 triggered, the clock is ticking: the UK government has less than two years to reach a settlement in what is going to be the ‘mother of all divorce cases’. With the Tory government having been, up until now, deliberately vague about what it seeks to achieve during the negotiations, the predicted outcome of Brexit is based on unwarranted optimism at best and catastrophe at worst.

This is not what the British people voted for. It’s not the job of politician’s to support a suicidal Brexit strategy predicated on a racist narrative and false promises written on the side of a bus, but to scrutinize claims and represent the best interests of their constituents by voting accordingly in parliament.

There was never any compulsion to follow- through on a referendum based on falsehoods or pandering to racists. In my view, the Labour opposition could and should have done more to defend the Remain campaign from the crass opportunism of their opponents. Labour missed an ideal opportunity to capitalize on Tory divisions over Europe exemplified by Theresa May’s lies and dramatic u-turns.

Richard Corbett nailed it when he said:

“Until recently, the argument that the UK would be able to thrive without any kind of trade deal with the European Union was only promoted by UKIP and the Eurosceptic fringe of the Conservative party. Now, it is apparently shared by UK Prime Minister Theresa May and her foreign secretary, Boris Johnson, repeatedly saying that “no deal is better than a bad deal.”

Beneficiaries

The main beneficiaries of such complacency have been the Liberal Democrats who are stealing many of the 48 per cent of disenchanted English and Welsh voters who voted Remain from under Labour’s nose. What Corbyn seems to be banking on is that enough people will buy into his ‘island of socialism’ narrative.

This appears to involve his rejection of the notion that the EU, as an international institution, is synonymous with an internationalist conception of socialism. That’s not to say the EU is a perfect international institution – far from it. But its effectiveness in the progressive sense is dependent upon the nature of the governments who control it.

Rather than retreating into the concept of an inverted socialist vision, it’s my view that Corbyn would have been better served by maintaining a strategy of solidarity with other pro-EU socialist colleagues within Europe by helping to create a much more integrated and supranational form of political organisation at the European level and thus radically helping to change the direction of EU policy. Big capital can only be countered by big institutions.

Much of the Tory austerity drive has to do with the systemic and structural limitations associated with state power at the national level. The “pooling of national sovereignty” which implies greater European integration and federalization, goes some way to addressing these limitations, which is no bad thing.

Regardless, many of those who favour greater integration in principle, falsely believe that the lackluster performance of the Euro undermines it. In truth, the national schadenfruede that culminated in the British government’s reaction to the performance of the Euro, is a red-herring.

The problem, as Craig Murray recognized, is not currency union, but the lack of any fiscal union. The one is not feasible without the other. The economic argument for the alleged failure of the EU as an economic project, therefore, cannot be made on the basis of the relative weakness of the Euro, but rather on the lack of any implementation of a fiscal union.

Rolling back

Similar unjust criticisms are leveled at EU legislatures as the basis for arguing for UK withdrawal from the union. The anti-EU right have attempted to roll back the powers of both the EU Court of Justice (ECJ) and the European Court of Human Rights (ECHR). The Brexit establishment has objected to some of the humane rulings of the ECHR. In particular, this includes the protection of the human rights of immigrants at risk of being deported by the UK. The ECHR is itself outside the remit of the European Union.

But the ECJ is bound by the overarching decisions of the ECHR when ruling on matters of specifically EU law. The Tories want a “British” convention on human rights to replace the European convention which if achieved, would further seriously undermine civil liberties and human rights in Britain.

Given the numerous advantages of the EU described, it seems strange that Corbyn hasn’t come out more stridently in public to defend the notion that more, not less, European integration is needed. The labour leader’s calculated rejection of the Remain position is a risky strategy. It’s one in which he seems to be prepared to put all his eggs into one basket.

We will know closer to the next General Election whether the implications of a damaging Brexit predicated on the isolationist neoliberal approach by those who champion it, will be sufficient enough to engender a return to socialism among the body politic of British society.

However, if by 2020 Corbyn’s ambivalence to Brexit backfires on him and he loses the election, it will be the poorest and weakest in society who will pay the biggest price in terms of further cuts to welfare and the undermining of workers rights and protections.

Having left the EU, any post-2020 Labour opposition will have to win arguments on these and other key issues such as social legislation and human rights that are currently protected by the EU but which the Tories have long wanted to opt out of.

Scrapped

There can be no doubt that in a Brexit Britain under the Tories, many European regulations restricting working hours and other employment and social reforms will be scrapped and working class living standards diminished.

This will be achieved through the enactment of something as far reaching as the Great Repeal Act. Embodied in the Statute of Proclamations 1539, the Great Repeal Act will override the preservation of EU law by granting executive powers to enable legislation to be changed by order, rather than through parliament; a method of lawmaking wholly at odds with democracy and accountability.

To add salt to the wound, the Tories dream of extending a tax-haven for the super-rich will mean that the 99 per cent will be expected to fund the shortfall of a welfare state depleted of resources. Any future Labour government will be left to pick up the pieces of Brexit against a backdrop in which access to the Single Market both for manufacturing and financial services will of been severely hampered.

With the prospect of London losing its role as the world’s leading financial sector to New York, Frankfurt and Paris due to companies’ relocating resulting from lack of tariff-free access, these problems will be further compounded. Already German car manufacturer’s are bracing themselves for a new era of trade tariffs with the UK because Angela Merkel has warned that she is going to put the interests of the 27 remaining EU members first in the forthcoming Brexit talks.

The possibility of a country like Australia plugging the gap, has been torpedoed by the decision of that nations foreign minister to consider relocating Australian companies from Britain to Ireland in order to allow the country to keep its access to the Single Market. Meanwhile, across the Atlantic, Donald Trump’s trade chief, Wilbur Ross, has urged Britain’s rivals to exploit the “God-given opportunity” of Brexit to take business away from the UK.

Taking back control

These kinds of examples illustrate the nonsense behind the rhetoric of those who argue that Brexit will enable Britain to “take back control”. How does a country take back control of its trade relationships by giving complete control of these relationships to the union it has just left, arguably because its people felt it had too much control of their country?

Paradoxically, what the 52 per cent who voted for Brexit on the basis that the EU have too much control did, was to ensure that the EU have absolute control. In other words, “taking back control” is essentially coded language for saying that the remaining 27 EU members will exercise complete control over precisely what relationship the UK will be able to enjoy with the world’s largest trading bloc.

Moreover, May and Johnson’s populist mantra “no deal is better than a bad deal” means the exact opposite. As Richard Corbett points out:

“The National Institute for Economic and Social Research predicts that leaving without a deal, and thus falling under WTO rules and tariffs, would reduce real wages by between 4.6 per cent and seven per cent. A leaked Treasury report also warns that leaving the EU with no trade deal is the “alternative to membership with the most negative long-term impact” and would cause a “major economic shock”.

Corbett continued:

“Some studies estimate the increase in UK food prices alone could be as much as eight per cent, in addition to those already created by the devaluation of the pound following the referendum. Yet the impacts are not just financial or trade-related. A report from the UK House of Commons’ cross-party foreign affairs committee highlights the difficulties that UK citizens in other EU countries, and EU citizens in the UK, would face on issues such as residence rights, access to healthcare, employment rights, cross-border civil law disputes and pensions if we exit with no arrangements in place. It would also take our universities out of European research programmes, our police out of cross-border crime-fighting systems and our airlines out of EU skies.”

White Paper

Then there is the issue that the British people voted for Brexit on the basis that in so doing they would ensure parliamentary sovereignty would be reclaimed. But, as the government’s Brexit White Paper reveals, this is yet another false argument. Parliament has “remained sovereign throughout our membership to the EU”.

In a section titled “taking control of our own laws”, the White Paper states: “The sovereignty of Parliament is a fundamental principle of the UK constitution. Whilst Parliament has remained sovereign throughout our membership of the EU, it has not always felt like that.”

Even the suggestion that the fishing industry has a glittering future as a result of Brexit falls apart given that 60 per cent of fish landed in British ports arrives in Scotland which voted to Remain.

Meanwhile, the DUP’s Nigel Dodds seems to be suggesting that Sein Fein are poised to head for full unification of Ireland which means the UK won’t exist anymore. Then there is the issue of Scottish independence. A few days ago the Scottish parliament voted for another referendum.

This puts Theresa May in a difficult position. On the one hand, the woman who argued that “we need more unity” while undertaking negotiations that guarantee disunity, can’t be seen to be granting Scotland a referendum. This is because if she loses she will be forced to resign. On the other hand, if May does grant Scotland a referendum and puts a date on it, she will send her negotiators to Brussels without knowing what her own country looks like.

Michael Howard’s jingoistic remarks over the British money laundering tax haven, Gibraltar – 96 per cent of whose residents voted Remain – will undermine Britain’s negotiating position no matter what approach May decides to take. It’s quite possible to envisage a situation in the near future in which the “country we got back” consists of nothing more than England and Wales.

In the comments section of a recent LabourList article, Richard Dean provides a neat “conservative” summary of the likely impacts resulting from the irrational Brexit position. He writes:

  • We are going to get control of our borders, but according to leading Brexiteers this is not going to change immigration much, because we actually benefit from immigration overall.
  • We are going to get control of our laws, but according to leading Brexiteers this does not mean that anything much will be changed. At most we might tweak a few little things here and there, but Brexiteers don’t know what things.
  • We are going to get control of our money, except that we are likely to end up losing money as a result of the loss of trade with the EU27. We will probably lose about the same as we gain from not paying the famous £350 million.
  • We are going to be able to strike trade deals with countries outside the EU, just like the trade deals that we currently benefit from by being inside the EU.
  • We are going to leave the ECJ, and then negotiate an identical arrangement to settle trade disputes. We will agree to be bound by whatever the independent new adjudicators adjudicate, just like being in the ECJ, because if we didn’t do that it wouldn’t be the independent arbiter of trade disputes that every trade deal needs.

David Jackson adds:

“Brexit is the equivalent of doing a parachute jump without checking the pack on your back actually has something in it. Still it’s not the falling that does the damage its the sudden stop at the bottom or in our EU exit case in 2 years time!”

 

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Justice for Alexander Blackman. But shouldn’t Fallon have been in the dock too?

Claire Blackman, the wife of Alexander Blackman, speaking outside the Royal Courts of Justice (Photo: PA)

 By Daniel Margrain

On March 28, 2017 justice was seen to have been done at the Court of Appeal in London where the murder case of Royal Marine, Alexander Blackman, was reduced to manslaughter. Back in September, 2015, the Daily Mail reported on a leaked dossier that contained crucial evidence withheld from Blackman’s court martial into the killing of a mortally wounded Taliban insurgent in Afghanistan.

Military chiefs solely blamed Blackman for the killing. However, the report into the incident says that his over-stretched unit was being pushed to be too aggressive; that his senior officer was not prepared for the demands of the war zone and that there were signs that Blackman’s unit was cracking up. All these things, the leaked report says, were missed by commander’s.

If not for the investigative work of the Daily Mail and the informant who unearthed these details, none of the MOD’s censoring of the admission of command failings in Helmand province would have come to light. What the paper revealed, is that the MOD conducted a report into their own actions and put a black line through anything that didn’t make them look good.

Warning signs

The MOD report said that the supervision of the commanding officer where Blackman and his men were based was insufficient to identify a number of warning signs that could have indicated that they were showing evidence of moral regression, psychological strain and fatigue. I think you and I would show evidence of moral regression if somebody was shooting at us while we were at work.

The Daily Mail says this shows that high-ranking officers were partly responsible for the extreme state that Blackman was in when he pulled the trigger. The report, which formed a major plank of his battle for justice, was debated in Parliament on September 16, 2015. The papers discovery of the full executive summary of the report was followed by minsters’ caving in to demands from Blackman’s lawyers to have confidential access to all its 50 pages. What was the MOD trying to protect?

It’s not for the benefit of the British public that this report was blacked out, but for the benefit of pen-pushers in the MOD. “Blackman and his troops were at breaking point”, says the Mail in their report after a “tour from hell in Hellmand province that had seen comrades tortured and killed.”

But the Daily Mail investigation discovered that Blackman’s court martial was blocked from hearing the truth about these mitigating circumstances. The executive summary of the Navy’s report into the shooting that was leaked to the Mail  was marked “official-sensitive”. It lays bare how commanders were blind to the psychological strain and fatigue endured by Blackman and his men.

Censored

The fact that the damning conclusion is blotted out with censors’ black ink illustrates how the UK government refuse to acknowledge that there are any systemic problems within the corridors of power. On the contrary, they have shifted criticism from attributing blame to those within the high chain of command towards the whistle blower and the journalists who exposed the scandal.

Meanwhile, in responding to a question in the House of Commons from Green Party MP Caroline Lucas, Defence Secretary, Michael Fallon said the estimated number of ISIS fighters killed as a result of UK strikes from September 2014 to 31 August 2015 was around 330. “This figure is highly approximate,” he said, “not least given the absence of UK ground troops in a position to observe the effects of strike activity.” He added that he believed no civilians had been injured or killed by such strikes. “

Fallon effectively admits that the British government doesn’t have the faintest idea how many people had been killed by British airstrikes in the year up to 31 August 2015. If he doesn’t know how many had been killed, it follows that he doesn’t know who had been killed and in what circumstances. Therefore, he is unable to satisfactorily conclude, as he did, that it was his belief that “no civilians had been injured or killed by such strikes”.

Imminent threat

Fallon’s inconsistent line of argumentation followed the extrajudicial murder of two British citizens in Syria justified on absurd grounds that the alleged terrorists presented an imminent threat to the population in Britain thousands of miles away. The notion the government acted in self-defense in this case is preposterous. What Fallon’s comments, on the one hand, and the initial conviction of Blackman for murder on the other highlight, is the contradictory approaches the state takes towards the crime.

Logically, it’s only possible to claim you are under imminent threat from terrorists if you are able to identify the nature of the said threat. The only way to do that is if one is able to identify those who are allegedly threatening you. How then, can the government claim self defense under such vague circumstances? Dropping bombs from a great height in order to supposedly ‘target’ terrorists can never be precise despite the propaganda claims to the contrary. Killing in this way is necessarily indiscriminate.

How can it be the case that commanding officers who were partly responsible for the extreme state of mind of one of their underlings, and a foreign secretary who oversees them all, get a free pass for murder, while one of the men at the bottom of the chain of command who pulled the trigger on a foe in the battlefield while under enormous stress, was initially sentenced to life imprisonment for the crime?

It’s reasonable to assume that there are certain circumstances in which somebody on the battlefield who is showing evidence of moral regression, psychological strain and fatigue, and whose life would almost always be under imminent threat, could be justified in killing an enemy combatant. But it’s impossible to envisage the mitigating circumstances by which it could be justified for others higher up the chain of command who oversee or give orders to others who kill by pressing buttons on computer screens.

Telling

It’s perhaps telling that at the time of Blackman’s conviction for murder, not a single political establishment figure within the Cabinet came forward to publicly criticise the decision. On the contrary, the then PM David Cameron, prior to a visit to see the Afghan president, defended the decision of the court to imprison Blackman for life.

This is a classic example of the elite class closing ranks in order to deflect the massive crimes of the establishment onto soldiers on the ground. I, for one, am glad that justice was finally done at the Court of Appeal. The question is, when can we expect to see the likes of Michael Fallon stand in front of the judges to face justice?

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Cuba: Dreams, Beauty & Disillusionment

 

By Daniel Margrain

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In a previous article, I discussed the egalitarian nature of politics and society on the Island of Cuba and its relationship to the authentic urban experience. In an attempt to contextualize the piece, I would like to take this opportunity to express some thoughts about the two months I spent traveling independently throughout this beautiful Caribbean Island during late 2009 and early 2010.

I arrived in Havana from Madrid in the late evening of November 17, 2009 and settled in at the famous Plaza Hotel which has all of the grace and fading colonial splendour I had anticipated. The wooden shutters in my room opened up to a small balcony that overlooked a dusty and dimly lit street below whose initial appearance had a sense of serene calmness about it as if I had stepped into a Edward Hopper painting. Except for the sound of the occasional taxi that passed in the street directly below me and the flickering echo of distant voices, the streets remained eerily quiet.

Bustling

It wasn’t until the following morning from the rooftop of the hotel that the aromas of the city, bustling street life and clogged roads in the distance below – set against a backdrop of crumbling tenement buildings, colonial edifices and pot-holed roads – became evident in this unique metropolis. The vivaciousness, eclecticism and atmospheric energy of the Caribbean’s largest city has survived everything that has been thrown at it throughout its 500 year history and continues to stand as a beacon of resistance against U.S imperialism today.

For this writer, it was the visceral and abstract, as opposed to conventional notions of beauty, that was Havana’s main appeal. The overriding sense of a city that forms part of an Island of quasi-socialism within a sea of capitalism, and all of the contradictions and potential opportunities that this entails, is palpable for the first time visitor. Graham Greene was right when he said that Havana is a city where “anything is possible”.

The opportunity to be mesmerized by the hustle and bustle of all that surrounds you whilst constantly reminding yourself of the historical significance of the city in both time and place, opens up a potential space in which you can lose yourself in the melee and embrace the cities earthly authenticity. No other city in the world that I have visited has quite the aesthetic seductiveness for the flaneur as Havana has.

Although some of the bars in the renovated parts of Habana Vieja did tend to be frequented by tourists enamored with a Hemingway fetish, traditional sites aside, at no time did I feel that the city was some kind of trussed-up tourist resort or cynically concocted amusement park.

It’s along the kilometre-length stretch in the nearby Calle Obispo that the city really bursts into life. A rag-bag collection of hustlers, drunks, artists and musicians throng the street from dawn until dusk after which time the cramped drinking dens come into their own. Musically accomplished and professional-sounding resident bands who can be heard for free playing everything from jazz and the traditional son through to calypso, folk and salsa way into the early hours, throng the bars.

Beating heart

The beating heart of the city metaphorically pulses to the sound of live music in much the same way as New Orleans does. Whether it emanates from somebody’s balcony or from the bars and streets, the eclecticism of a city where music and architecture seemingly fuse into one, means that visitors and residents alike are rarely far from either.

The latter, is one of Havana’s main draws. Some of the buildings and squares which are shaped by a colourful colonial history and embellished by a myriad of foreign influences that gracefully combine baroque, neoclassical, art nouveau, art deco and modernist styles, are visually stunning. Unfortunately, much of it has been left to fester in an advanced state of dilapidation, largely as a result of the turmoil of three separate revolutionary wars.

Thankfully, though, the cities well-preserved historical core has survived into the 21st century relatively unscathed. One of the most impressive of these ‘survivors’ is the magnificent 18th century baroque Catedral de San Cristobal de la Habana. This graceful-looking edifice was once described by the Cuban novelist Alejo Carpentier as “music set in stone”. This, if anything, is an understatement. Words cannot describe the emotional impact this building and the beauty of its tranquil surroundings had on this writer.

It’s difficult to fully set aside the vibrant and colourful cultural preconceptions associated with Havana from a life-time of images ingrained in ones consciousness. Some of these images have an objective basis in reality, while others are mainly subjective fantasies and caricatures. The Havana experience in its totality, though, is never less than alluring.

To what extent you allow yourself to be immersed within either aspect is largely dependent on the individual. “Habana is very much like a rose”, said Fico Fellove, in the movie The Lost City, “it has petals and it has thorns….so it depends on how you grab it. But in the end it always grabs you.” If one fails to be grabbed by Havana’s eclectic charms, then just like somebody who might happened to have become jaded of London in the 1980s, it’s perhaps ones own life that needs to be questioned.

Trinidad

As culturally stimulating Havana is for the visitor, I nevertheless made the decision to journey further afield in order to broaden my Cuban experience. After eight days in Havana (to which I was to return at the end of my Cuban trip), I decided to take a bus to the old Spanish colonial town of Trinidad (pop. 50,000) 375km to the south side of the island.

After an eye-opening bus journey along near-deserted ‘highways’ interspersed with lush green paddy fields and remote villages, I was in the end relieved to arrive at my destination, particularly as the coach driver insisted on playing a music video of what seemed like the entire works of Boney M on repeat throughout the entire length of the journey.

Upon my arrival at the local bus station in Trinidad, I was met by my host Dr Carlos, a dermatology specialist who made me feel very welcome at his Casa Particulare (Hermanos Albalat) on nearby Frank Pais Street. During the day, I would spend my time relaxing on Playa Ancon, 12km south of the town, and during the evening I would stroll aimlessly around this quaint old town, drinking copious amounts of dark rum and listening to live music or people-watching at the Casa de la Musica situated at the top of a wide stairway just off the central plaza.

It was on the steps of the Casa dela Musica on my last night in Trinidad that my overriding lingering memories of the town remain. Nearby, a musician played solo flute and a small child flew a kite overhead as a quarter moon emerged flickering on the palm-fringed horizon in the distance below. For one brief moment I had thought I had gone to heaven.

Cienfuegos

Cienfuegos Banner.jpg

My next destination was the two hour bus journey to the French-influenced fortress port city of Cienfuegos in the province of the same name, home of the ‘The Barbarian of Rhythm’, Benny More.

The city sits on a beautiful bay surrounded by the lush-green and fertile Las Villas Plain that opens into the Caribbean Sea. The legacy of French migrations to the city is evident both in terms of its neoclassical architecture and the wide grid-like street layout. Cienfuegos is an industrial city that appears to rely less on tourism then either Havana or Trinidad, largely because much of the region is devoted to the cultivation of sugarcane and the growing of coffee in the mountains to the southeast of the city.

Upon my arrival, I was struck by how the city reminded me of Penang or Bangalore. Its billing as “The Pearl of the South” is one that has not been over-hyped. In fact the city lives up to its tourist brochure description as consisting of a “world compromised of a multiplicity of shapes, colors and aromas that seduces the visitor….” This is a city where one can enjoy local ‘crooners’ belting it out at the Cafe Cantante More well into the early hours, or witness the sight of young Cuban’s reveling at the Club Costa Sur and walking arm in arm by the Malecon.

A typical afternoon involved strolling about town where I would regularly see local people queuing, ration stamps in hand, for essentials like sugar, butter, milk and rice, before I would return to my fully equipped CFC-free refrigerated and energy-saving light generated Casa for a siesta. Such are the contradictions of Cuban society.

But then I am reminded that Cuba is in a state of effective war with his neighbour 90 miles away. Under these circumstances, the normal functioning of society is an impossibility and the suspension of ‘formal’ democracy the norm. The US trade embargo with Cuba has hit the country hard. The US-imposed 1992 Torricelli Act prevents foreign subsidiaries of US companies trading with Cuba and prohibits ships that had called at Cuban ports from docking at US ports for six months.

The end result of this draconian attack on the country, is the effective banning of virtually the entirety of the rest of the world trading with Cuba. This explains why ninety per cent of banned goods consist of food, medicine and medical equipment which naturally is causing terrible suffering, even death, in the country.

Cuba has been left adrift by what are widely considered to be the major players within what is often euphemistically referred to as the ‘international community’, but nevertheless is a ‘modern miracle’ which had, as I was about to discover, emerged defiant and strong.

Two-tier economy

Within Cuba a two-tier economy appears to have emerged. Professional and skilled workers like doctors and engineers, whose monthly state salaries are barely enough to pay for a pair of trainers, look elsewhere – usually the tourism sector – for a means to supplement their small incomes. It would appear that the tourist dollar and the hefty taxes and supplements the Cuban government generate from visitors, is an insufficient source with which to pay the Cuban people a decent salary.

It was clear to me, that many Cuban professionals, particularly many of the young, are hungry for change. It was also apparent that some, but by no means all, want out of Cuba. From my experience though, the majority of Cuban’s adore their country and would do anything to defend the revolution. But there also exists a kind of resigned pragmatism regarding the countries likely future transition to capitalism.

During my trip there was much discussion about the impact Obama, who had recently been elected as U.S president, would have on Cuba. The consensus appeared to be that he would be the catalyst for positive change in the country. But these changes were envisaged as only being possible within the context of a transitional Cuban government of which the lifting of the embargo would be the first step in the cooling of US-Cuban relations.

Due to the 1996 US Helms-Burton Act, the tightening of the embargo was pulled up a notch by the U.S, not loosened. The hope for many was that under Obama, Helms-Burton would be repealed. However, Obama’s impotent legacy resulted in these hopes being dashed. Given the perilous state of the U.S economy under his successor, Trump, any radical shift in Cuban politics, post-Fidel, seems equally unlikely.

Disparity

During my time spent in the country, I stayed in a variety of different sized accommodations from the small apartment to the large family house and I wondered how this disparity could be explained given the nature of Cuban society. I was also curious how, in practical terms, Cuban people managed to move home and set up new lives in new cities and towns within the context of a country where private property is non-existent.

I discussed these topics, as well as the comparative notions of democracy and human rights in Cuba, with some British travelers whilst on a boat trip around the crescent shaped coast of the ‘Jewel of the Caribbean’ on a cloudy and relatively cold December evening. Like myself, my fellow travelers had been unable to get any answers to these questions. It was clear that I was not going to be able to satisfy my inquisitive mind in the charming laid back atmosphere of Cienfuegos where time appeared to have stood still.

Peter Linebaugh

What struck me most about this beautiful city, is that the things we in the West take for granted, like the notion of time, appear to have no real meaning or relevance in Cuba. This concept squares with Peter Linebaugh’s contention that the essence of time and the spaces it fills in the vacuum left over from unprofitable “surplus” free time, are necessarily constrained by a capitalist economic logic that prioritizes the accumulation of profit above all other human activity.

As Linebaugh asserts, the emergence of the mass-produced time-piece during the 18th century, reflects this overriding obsession with time and its negative affects in perpetuating and reproducing the disciplining of workers as part of the prevailing capitalist order.

The Cuban people’s disrespect for time was no more evident than in the streets of Cienfuegos – arguably the most authentic of all Cuban cities. The relatively well-maintained streets, squares and open spaces in the centre of the city, provide the backdrop for idle chatting, drinking, eating, the playing of dominoes, chess, baseball and general relaxation. Cuban’s of all ages embrace, kiss, talk and laze about – it’s an intrinsic part of the way Cuban folk spend their time together.

I witnessed joy and happiness, as well as sadness and despair on the faces of the people on the streets of Cienfuegos, much like anywhere else on the planet. But of all people in ‘third world’ countries, Cuban’s are by a country mile, some of the most humble and dignified of any that I met on my travels. This is despite the fact that they suffered terribly following the break-up of the Soviet Union during the three years 1991-94.

Crisis

The current crisis in the Cuban economy can be traced back to this period in the nations history. The ending of Soviet subsidies that had effectively sustained the Cuban economy for 30 years had, by the end of the decade, become reliant for its growth on a rapidly expanding tourist industry. But this growth was fragile because it did not reflect any deep transformation of the economy.

Nevertheless, I saw no evidence of the horrors of that period. In Cuba, unlike for example,’democratic’ India, I did not see emaciated and starving people, neither did I see vast inequalities of economic wealth, or witness the social fabric of a country at the point of collapse. Civil society in Cuba – albeit limited by Western standards – functions relatively well when compared to many other countries that we prefer to call ‘developing world democracies’.

Further, the perception of street safety and well-being was, in my experience, a reality in the towns and cities I visited throughout the country. Whilst widespread alcoholism, drug addiction, petty theft of property and other social misdemeanors, are a regular feature of everyday life in a modern country like Britain, in Cuba this is not the case. During the odd occasions I had brought up this particular topic with Cuban people, the response was often one of total dismay and incomprehension.

Safety

Women can, and frequently do, walk the streets of Cuban cities alone and in safety. This may appear to some folks to be somewhat of a caricature, but in 2009 it happened to have been true. It is also true that Cuba places a high priority on education which is 100 per cent subsidized by the government, meaning that Cuban students at all levels can attend school for free. The government also operates a national health system and assumes monetary and administrative responsibility for the health care of all its citizens. In addition, housing and utility costs throughout the country are minimal to non-existent.

Cuba ranks as having among the world’s best patients per doctor ratios and has levels of infant mortality and life expectancy rates that compare favourably with many of the first world nations of the industrial world. As of 2012, infant mortality in Cuba had fallen to 4.83 deaths per 1,000 live births compared with 6.0 for the United States and just behind Canada with 4.8. I will remind readers, all this has been achieved within the context of an extremely damaging and punitive US-initiated trade embargo which has seen Cuba marginalized and isolated – both economically and politically – from much of the world.

At war

It is also a nation that remains effectively at war with the most powerful country on earth. It is true that democracy as we have come to understand it in the West, has been ‘suspended’ in Cuba on the pretext that it is a country at war, in much the same way that democracy was suspended in Britain during WW2. The draconian embargo is a reflection of this war-footing.

In keeping with tradition, my Cuban hosts in Cienfuegos were friendly, charming and hospitable. I would often eat dinner at the home of my hosts who occupied a rather grand house close to the centre of town. While staying there, I occasionally took the opportunity to watch some television. Cuban output is not unlike most national media throughout the world in terms of its targeting of a specific demographic at different times of the day.

In London, I have the potential to be able to tune into approximately 100 virtually identical channels. In Cuba the number is a diverse four. During my stay, I managed to watch an episode of The Sopranos and the movie Goya’s Ghosts. News and current affairs output and debate in Cuba is clearly more incisive and truthful than its British state broadcasting counterpart, the BBC. For example, there appears to be none of the fake probing and bating in the interviewing style of Paxman, or any of the dubious claims of impartiality and objectivity that typify the BBC.

In terms of the Cuban news media more broadly, the emphasis appears to be focused on Latin American affairs as one might expect. Studio debates seem, by and large, to be genuinely heated, spontaneous and passionate which, at least as far as I was concerned, made for a refreshing change from the kind of bland European and North American-focused, and often contrived, output that passes for news in much of the West.

The income generated by travelers like me was highly valued by my hosts who not only ensured that my every need was catered for but being a guest of theirs, also provided their young son and daughter with the opportunity to practice their English. As there was a big gap in my hosts future bookings they seemed reluctant to let me go. But this was not the only reason. I felt that a genuine mutual friendship had developed between us.

Varadero

Varadero Banner.jpg

Nonetheless, as much as I enjoyed Cienfuegos, my time in Cuba was limited and I felt the time had now come for me to move on. I wanted to get a taste of the Cuban experience within a tourist package environment. This meant only one word – ‘Varadero’ – a relatively developed ‘package resort’ 184 kilometres from Cienfuegos on the Atlantic side of the island.

The contrast with Cienfuegos could hardly have been more striking. Just like Ancona near Trinidad, the raw and ragged coastal setting was picture-postcard beautiful. I arrived as the sun descended on the horizon, its orb the brightest of tangerine orange. As this gigantic ball of light melted into the Atlantic, a handful of tourists began frantically photographing the afterglow – a kaleidoscope of subtle hues that sank into the sillouette of nearby palms and wooden canopies of the restaurants that adorned the bay.

The pork steak and rice washed down with a bottle of Buckaneroo beer that I consumed at a beach-side restaurant that evening made a pleasant change from the rather predictable food of the Casa’s. Saturday night in Varadero was more subdued than I anticipated. The vast swathes of British package tourists that I thought would be filling the hotels and bars never materialized, having been usurped by their mainly French, Italian and Canadian counterparts.

Varadero, much like other places in Cuba where tourists spend much of their time and money in each others company, is a foreign tourist enclave where small businesses proliferate and operate semi-autonomously from the centralized arm of the Cuban state. This small coastal town is littered with restaurants, bars and numerous plush but sanitized all-inclusive hotels.

As of 2009, Varadero was the only place in the country where it’s illegal for Cuban’s to let out the rooms of their Casa’s, which was presumably intended as a means to avoid the eventuality of undercutting the income of the hotel chains. That’s not to say that these illegal private rooms for rent in shared houses don’t exist. They proliferate in the small back streets. I stayed in one.

Hard currency

In Varadero, hard currency in the form of the Cuban convertible, has replaced the Peso as the international monetary language. It is the place that many Cuban’s come to boost their state salaries. The domination of hard currency in the town has resulted in a distorted local economy altering the dynamic of the community, not necessarily in a good way. Varadero is actually a rather sad and uninspiring place – a kind of miniature version of how I imagine Miami to be without the gregarious trappings that one associates with the latter, but nevertheless is as equally as unsuited to the environment from which it has emerged.

Mass tourism and the tourist ghetto that has accompanied it, has created socioeconomic polarizing fractures within the community. Visible, and at times ostentatious displays of material wealth exist here alongside abject material deprivation – a situation that will almost certainly worsen as the relative trickle of tourists here inevitably turn into a flood in the years to come. The apparent irreconcilable forces that are pulling Varadero apart acts as a warning sign to the rest of the country in a post-Fidel world.

Inauthentic

Wherever large swaths of tourists converge who bring with them hard currency in a two-tier economy in which a dual currency operates, all notions of authenticity correspondingly disappear. This is because without access to the Convertible, Cubans are effectively excluded from the social circles, restaurants and bars that tourists frequent. Let me put this into some kind of context. A beer in a hard currency-only bar costs the equivalent of one-twentieth of the monthly salary of a skilled Cuban worker.

If you have access to the Peso (which tourists are able to acquire at any Cuban bank in exchange for the Cuban Convertible or other forms of hard currency like the Euro), a basic meal on the streets of Havana costs the equivalent of 25p. This kind of two-tier economy is not consistent with socialism but rather a highly political bureaucratic state. The revolution that overthrew U.S puppet, Fulgencio Batista in 1959, was in reality an anti-colonial rather than a socialist revolution in which Cuba’s workers were largely onlookers, however sympathetic.

Corruption

State corruption is the inevitable consequence that flows from this set of relationships. Ordinary Cubans who are not connected to either the high echelons of the bureaucratic state or the tourist sector, speak endlessly and angrily about the visible and growing gulf – economic, social and political – between this privileged layer and the majority, whose daily life is a struggle. Tourism exacerbates these divisions which explains why politically, socially and economically Cuba is being pulled in different directions.

For many visitors to Cuba, the ‘authentic’ Cuban experience normally means any combination of the following: reading Hemingway, salsa music, Che iconography, the Buena Vista Social Club, 1950s Cadillacs and bustling smoke-filled bars full of folks drinking Mohito’s and smoking Monte Cristo cigars. But for others – myself included – these aspects of Cuban life represent the fetishization of Cuba – a partial and largely superficial depiction of Cuban culture.

What capitalist relations do, is they distort and exploit these aspects of culture for the benefit of the market as if the whole of Cuban society can be reduced to something akin to a composite painting. In this sense, the most marketable aspects of culture are identified, repackaged and then sold for public consumption as the precursor for the expansion of the capital accumulation process.

The sad and ironic truth is that without the hard currency of the tourists, there would be little ‘authentic’ Cuba for visitors to experience. I’m specifically thinking not about merely the sterile atmosphere of Varadero, but many of the bars, cafes and restaurants in the regenerated Habana Vieja where only the Cuban Convertible is the accepted currency.

This disenfranchises ordinary Cubans from much of the social life of the city frequented by tourists. In this regard, I have a great deal of sympathy for all those visitors –  journalist and writer, Neil Clark included – who have expressed disillusionment with Cuba.

Last day

During my last day in Varadero, I met Karolina, a Polish woman who had, for many years, been living and working in Cuba as a health professional. I asked her about the question of housing and freedom of movement for Cuban’s. She explained to me that the Cuban people are legally allowed to change houses through a kind of swap scheme similar to the principle of council house swaps in Britain. Although she was married to a Cuban and had been living in the country for a long time, she claimed she had many unanswered questions about the nature of Cuban society.

As I sat at an outdoor bar in Varadero across the street from one of the outwardly plush but sterile hotels listening to the resident salsa band work through their worn routine, I realized that the version of Cuba fetishized in guide books like Lonely Planet exemplified in a place like Varadero, no more resembles contemporary Cuba than red telephone boxes, city stockbrokers wearing bowler hats or the Houses of Parliament represent contemporary London.

Many of the young Cuban’s in Varadero, are more likely to aspire to what they perceive to be an archetypal capitalist lifestyle and the consumption that comes with it, then they are to keep faith with the ideals of Fidel. The popular musical genre known as reggaeton that is mainly enjoyed by the young, is more Miami then Havana and the majority of Varadero youth want to be seen sporting the latest designer clothes and sipping Red Bull rather then lingering on a Mohito wearing a Panama or propping up the bar puffing on a Cohiba.

Karolina explained to me that many young Cuban’s, when exchanging homes, are often prepared to ‘downgrade’ their places in terms of size and/or condition in order to obtain cash so as to be in a position to be able purchase elements of this Western ‘lifestyle’. In Varadero, I saw many young Cuban’s dressed in expensive designer clothes and trainers and driving new cars either paid for through tourism, the downsizing of accommodation or through the receipt of hard currency from the estimated one in four Cuban’s who live in exile.

Meanwhile, the majority of Cuban’s who live their lives outside of this bubble, and who have no access to the Cuban Convertible, must make do with their small state salaries. Thus, Cuban society is bound to become increasingly fractured and divisive in the years to come.

Political crackdown

When I suggested to Karolina that this scenario would likely necessitate a political crackdown by the Cuban state which would probably lead to the likelihood of a counter-revolutionary struggle, she looked at me in a resigned knowing way: “Yes, sadly I think this outcome is almost inevitable”, she said….But then added positively, “We people in Cuba have to find a way of looking to the future, and we must believe we can succeed.”

With that positive message embedded in my head, I eagerly anticipated my return to the bustling city of dreamers and street hustlers amid the chaotic frenzy of the dusty, pot-holed strewn streets of downtown Havana where my journey began. Upon my return, I bumped into many familiar faces that I had met in the streets and bars of a city in which one ex-pat, in particular, had made his home.

Having spent a further two weeks here, my time in the country was drawing to an inevitable end. Of the towns and cities in Cuba I visited, Havana was the place I felt most comfortable and relaxed. After two months, my Cuban odyssey – which left me with as many questions as answers – was a mixed one. I certainly recognized many of the problems associated with the existence of a dual currency outlined by Neil Clark which echoed my trips to Eastern Europe prior to the collapse of the Berlin Wall. Nevertheless, my memories of this beautiful country will linger for many years to come.

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