Tag: the guardian

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

By Daniel Margrain

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

‘No man is an Island’

By Daniel Margrain

This year the Dutch government intend to introduce a universal basic income (UBI) paid to the residents of Utrecht and 19 other Dutch municipalities. Each person will receive the equivalent of about £150 a week whether working or not. The unemployed won’t be penalized for finding work because they will receive their employment income in addition to the universal income payment.

The hope is that this will prevent the government having to spend extra money on the vast array of related services connected to the bureaucratic elements of the state that are dependent on the unemployed for their existence. This covers everything from unemployed benefit snoopers to the administering of homeless shelters. Then there are the knock-on affects that stem from inequality such as health, poverty and crime. Writing in the Guardian, John O’Farrell astutely points out:

“Since the decline of the unions, workers have been increasingly powerless to refuse longer hours and less money with only the food bank to fall back on if they walk away from an exploitative job. With a guaranteed state income to keep the wolf from the door, employees would be given the bargaining power to demand civilized working conditions and reasonable rates of pay….Our labyrinthine system of benefits and tax credits would disappear and all the stigma of signing on with its degrading culture of blame and humiliation for those at the bottom of the pile.”

The system in the UK is predicated on blaming those at the bottom of the pile and casting humiliation on them, thus enabling the majority in the middle, to feel better about themselves. O’Farrell  concludes:

“For all the apparent expense of the UBI, we would save the small fortune that the state currently spends mopping up the mess of social problems caused overwhelmingly by chronic poverty. Of course, there are complex reasons for increasing homelessness, for bulging prisons, for growing mental health problems – but desperate financial pressure is a major factor in all of them. Every decade sees us spending increasing billions trying to tighten the lid of the boiling cauldron. It might be so much cheaper just to turn down the temperature a bit.”

The long-term socioeconomic and health benefits related to the kind of progressive and enlightened policy adopted by the Dutch is palpable, not only to the poorest in society but it also has some benefits to those at the top. As Richard Wilkinson put it: There seems to be some truth in John Donne’s “No man is an island.”

Rather than the punitive strategy of coercion adopted by the British and other governments by which the ‘stick’ is preferred to the ‘carrot’, the introduction of the UBI – predicated on economic pragmatism rather than state vindictiveness – will almost certainly result in the nurturing of talents and creativity that otherwise wouldn’t necessarily be encouraged.

It’s almost certainly no coincidence that what was arguably the peak of working class creativity in the arts occurred during the 1960s when, underpinned by a universal system of welfare provision, the class in question was at its most confident – a confidence that has been in decline from the mid 1970s onward marked by the ending of the post-war settlement between capital and labour.

Over the last 40 years, ordinary people have found it increasingly difficult to focus on doing things they really like because they tend to spend most of the productive part of their lives working at something they hate often for no other a reason than to maintain the necessities of life – namely securing a roof over their head and ensuring they have access to enough food.

Since the Callaghan government, punishment has been the overriding factor that has guided the social policy of successive UK administrations’ – both Conservative and Labour. The purpose has been to foster a lack of any sense of entitlement. This has involved the gradual removal of a social security safety net that a universal system implies, so as to maintain the level of social stratification to meet the demands set by unfettered capital.

The Dutch model, intended as a corrective to the lack of universal provision, is in principle similar to that adopted by the Green Party as outlined in their last General Election Manifesto. The rationale underpinning the introduction of such a model is that it would not only end the kinds of state bureaucracy and inefficiencies described, but would also be cheaper to administer and hence save the tax payer money. Third, it would boost local economies because poor people would have greater income at their disposal with which to spend on goods and services.

But arguably the greatest benefit is that such a policy would lead to a reduction in inequality whose affects, as Richard Wilkinson has shown, are divisive, harmful and socially corrosive. Research indicates that the world’s richest 1 percent of people this coming year are expected to own the same amount of wealth as the rest.

The more equitable and egalitarian the society, the greater the control people have over their lives. Two years ago, Oxfam research demonstrated how extreme wealth confers political power that can be used to influence rules and systems in favour of an elite at the expense of everyone else.

In addition, more equal and fair societies’ provide the conditions by which a system of equality of opportunity can be put into place. Workers, as participants in a scheme of cooperation that contribute toward national income, would then have a claim to a fair share of what they have helped to produce.

Richard Wilkinson shows that a correlation exists between income inequality within countries (not between them) and social gradients in terms of a multitude of indicators. These include health, life expectancy, literacy/numeracy, infant mortality rates, homicide rates, proportion of the population in prison, teenage birthrates, levels of trust, obesity, mental illness – which in standard diagnostic classification includes drug and alcohol addiction – and social mobility.

What the data shows is that in the more equal countries – Japan, Finland, Norway, Sweden – the top 20 percent are about three and a half to four times as rich as the bottom 20 percent. But on the more unequal end – U.K., Portugal, USA, Singapore – the differences are twice as big. On that measure, the UK is twice as unequal as some of the other successful market democracies.

According to research measured by the Gini coefficient, which is widely regarded as the best measurement of income inequality, Holland is the fourth most equal society within the EU while the UK is ranked way down at twenty-one. What impacts on society does this level of inequality point to?

Wilkinson collected internationally comparable data on problems with social gradients – the kind of problems that are more common at the bottom of the social ladder of the kind outlined above – and weighted them equally by putting them all in one index. The data showed an extraordinarily close correlation between inequality and the kinds of social problems described. The same correlation equally applies to children who also perform worse in the more unequal societies.

What the data in its totality indicates is that the average well-being of our societies is not dependent any longer on national income and economic growth. Wilkinson elaborates further:

“That’s very important in poorer countries, but not in the rich developed world. But the differences between us and where we are in relation to each other now matter very much. I’m going to show you some of the separate bits of our index. Here, for instance, is trust. It’s simply the proportion of the population who agree most people can be trusted. It comes from the World Values Survey. You see, at the more unequal end, it’s about 15 percent of the population who feel they can trust others. But in the more equal societies, it rises to 60 or 65 percent. And if you look at measures of involvement in community life or social capital, very similar relationships closely related to inequality.”

In terms of mental illness:

WHO put together figures using the same diagnostic interviews on random samples of the population to allow us to compare rates of mental illness in each society. This is the percent of the population with any mental illness in the preceding year. And it goes from about eight percent up to three times that — whole societies with three times the level of mental illness of others. And again, closely related to inequality.”

The overriding factor that emerges from Wilkinson’s research into inequality are it’s psycho-social effects and how this relates to the kinds of values inherent to a capitalist system in which society is driven by consumerism and competition that leads to status insecurity. The potential for the onset of chronic stress and depression from social sources in turn:

“affect the immune system, the cardiovascular system. Or for instance, the reason why violence becomes more common in more unequal societies is because people are sensitive to being looked down on….I should say that to deal with this we’ve got to…constrain income, the bonus culture incomes at the top. I think we must make our bosses accountable to their employees in any way we can. I think the take-home message though is that we can improve the real quality of human life by reducing the differences in incomes between us.”

With regards to social mobility, Wilkinson states bluntly that if Americans want to live the American dream, they should go to Denmark.”

David Bowie: sound, not vision

By Daniel Margrain

The eulogizing in the media of David Bowie since his death last week has predictably been widespread. The consensus view is that Bowie was a trailblazer of musical trends and pop fashion, an innovator and visionary, an artist of unparalleled significance within the musical landscape of rock and roll and electronic music. Adam Sweeting in the Guardian, said of Bowie: “His capacity for mixing brilliant changes of sound and image underpinned by a genuine intellectual curiosity is rivalled by few in pop history.”

The obituary section of the Telegraph, described Bowie as “a rock musician of rare originality and talent”, while Jon Pareles in the New York Times claimed that “Mr.Bowie was his generation’s standard-bearer for rock as theater: something constructed and inflated yet sincere in its artifice, saying more than naturalism could”.…According to Pareles, “He also pushed the limits of “Fashion” and “Fame,”

Mark Beaumont of the NME appeared to go one further by claiming that Bowie’s influence on popular culture:

“simply cannot be overstated. From psychedelic folk rock to glam rock, plastic soul, avant garde experimentalism and beyond, Bowie’s relentless innovation and reinvention was one of the great driving forces of modern music and his impact reached into fashion, performance art, film and sexual politics. While his songs, consistently accessible no matter how difficult the style he explored, inspired countless musicians across a vast tapestry of rock music which he helped weave as he went.”

On the morning following Bowie’s death, and in echoing the kinds of platitudes of superficial pop stars like Madonna and Lady Ga Ga, LBC host James O’Brien devoted half of his three hour programme eulogizing about the alleged innovator and genius, inviting fans to phone in and reminisce about the pop star. With an apparent straight face, O’Brien, a former music critic, stated that Bowie’s 1971 album Hunky Dory was “probably the greatest rock album of all-time.”

These kinds of comments have been the excepted wisdom in mainstream critical circles since Bowie hit super stardom in 1972 with the album Ziggy Stardust and the Spiders from Mars, a work that in many ways came to define him. Under the tag line, David Bowie: Visionary singer and songwriter who for five decades exerted a huge influence on pop and rock, Chris Salewicz reminded his readers of the historical continuum that underpinned the iron clad critical consensus:  “The man is a stone genius,” effused New York’s Village Voice, in the parlance of the times, “and for those who have been waiting for a new Dylan, Bowie fits the bill. He is a prophet, a poet – and a vaudevillian. Like Dylan, his breadth of vision and sheer talent could also exercise a profound effect on a generation’s attitudes.”

In Britain, the critical acclaim bestowed on Bowie is arguably only second to the Beatles. But in the cold light of day, to what extent does the man and his work stand up to proper investigative critical scrutiny? The independent music critic, Piero Scaruffi, whose words I transcribed and edited below, offers some invaluable (and corrective) insights into the mythology that surrounds the man, his music and his art. This is Scaruffi’s critique of Bowie. It’s a critique that I share:

“David Bowie turned marketing into the essence of his art. All great phenomena of popular music, from Elvis Presley to the Beatles, had been, first and foremost, marketing phenomena (just like Coca Cola and Barbie before them); However, Bowie  turned it into an art of its own. Bowie with the science of marketing becomes art; art and marketing had become one.

There were intellectuals who had proclaimed this theory in terms rebelliousness. Bowie was, in many ways, the heir, no matter how perverted, of Andy Warhol’s pop art and of the underground culture of the 1960s. He adopted some of the most blasphemous issues and turned them upside down to make them precisely what they had been designed to fight: a commodity.

Bowie was a protagonist of his times [who] embodied the quintessence of artificial art, raising futility to paradigm, focusing on the phenomenon rather than the content, and who made irrelevant the relevant, and, thus, was is the epitome of everything that is wrong with rock music.

Each element of his art was the emblem of a true artistic movement; However, the ensemble of these emblems constituted no more than a puzzle of symbols, no matter how intriguing, a dictionary of terms rather than a poem, and, at best, a documentary of the cultural trends of his time. As a chronicler, the cause of the sensation was the show, not the music.

In fusing theatre, mime, film, visual art, literature and music, the showman Bowie was undoubtedly in sync with the avant-garde. However, Bowie merely recycled what had been going on for years in the British underground, in what in particular had been popularized by the psychedelic bands of 1967. And he turned it into a commodity: whichever way you look at his oeuvre, this is the real merit of it.

Arguably, his most famous album, Ziggy Stardust (1972) represented a relative quantum leap forward from what went before. The culmination of a behind the scenes refining of his image by a new manager, his signing to a new and more powerful label, the utilization of a much more sophisticated production and, with the talents of Rick Wakeman on keyboards and Mick Ronson on guitar at his disposal, Bowie’s “art” represented the peak of the fad for rock operas.

The album is nevertheless a cartoonish melodrama that recycles cliches of decadent and sci-fi literature. Its popularity was due as much to the choreographic staging as it was to the music. The latter relies on magniloquent pop ballads (such as Five Years , the piano-heavy Lady Stardust , almost a send-up of Warren Zevon, the shrill gospel hymn Ziggy Stardust, Moonage Daydream (with a folkish sax solo reminiscent of the Hollywood Argyles and a shower of strings), arranged in such a manner to make the baroque ‘Tommy’ by the Who sound amateurish.

Bowie’s melodic skills shone in the grand soaring refrains of Starman and Rock And Roll Suicide, that were de facto tributes to the old tradition of Tin Pan Alley. The album displayed the half-hearted stylistic variety of latter-day Beatles albums, from the soul-jazz tune Soul Love to the martial folk-blues shuffle It Aint ‘Easy. Hang On To Yourself is a whirling boogie dance as is Suffragette City. The latter, in particular is a quintessentially hysterical breathless Who-style boogie and perhaps his career standout.

The track exudes the languid existentialism of the ballads, confronting Bowie’s erotic futuristic cabaret from the vantage point of teenage angst. Certainly the whole worked well as a postmodernist analysis of show business’ cliches. Credit for the production quality goes to Ken Scott (who Bowie defined as “my George Martin”) and new guitarist Mick Ronson: all the arrangements were designed from them (the string arrangements are all Ronson). Scott did all the mixing alone.

Bowie’s “heartbreaking” vocals were so exaggerated that they sounded like a parody of sorts. Ditto the kitschy arrangements. The concept was, first and foremost, a caricature. By fusing Scott Walker’s melodramatic style, Jacques Brel’s weltschmerz, Zen mysticism, McLuhan’s theory of the medium, Andy Warhol’s multimedia pop art and Oscar Wilde’s fin de siecle decadence, Bowie coined the ultimate revisionist and self-reflective act of the most revisionist and self-reflective decade.

For better and for worse, Ziggy marked the end of the myth of rock sincerity and spontaneity: the star was no longer a teenager among many, a “working-class everyman,” and, above all, the star was no longer “himself” but rather a calculating inventor of artificial stances and attitudes. His stance indirectly mocked and ridiculed the messianic aura of rock music.

Not much of a musical genius, but certainly a terrific showman, diligent student of Hollywood’s mythology, living impersonation of the Gothic iconography (Dorian Gray) and of the Parnassian iconography (Pierrot), Bowie owed ​​little to his frail and easy compositions: he owed ​​almost everything to the “image” that he had created and was nurturing with non-musical factors.

Although the music was almost always banal and embarrassing, the scene in which it played out was at least funny while at the same time solemn and murky. Bowie’s world was a frightening one, devastating and senseless, populated by outcasts and alienated human wrecks. Bowie’s vocal tone resembled an existential horror that could modulate detachment, cynicism and yearning.

Bowie had rediscovered the “crooning” of pop and soul singers of the ’50s, perhaps a less innovative style of singing that one could have imagined in 1975, that nevertheless also managed to combine a form of cabaret in the service of the theatre of Brecht. Mindful of the dramatic experience and clearly with Lou Reed in mind, Bowie consciously evoked “Brecht-ian” alienation that was fashionable in those years. The songs of Bowie deliberately calculated a striking contrast between music, text and image which would lead the public to think critically about “illusions” as presented.

Inspired by the alienated rock of Reed, the Dionysian like performance of Iggy Pop and the meticulous electronics of Brian Eno, Bowie forged a new type of ritual mass that paradoxically conceptually morphed into a kind of kitsch Hollywood entertainment. Skilled at riding fashions, as opposed to creating them, Bowie always arrived one or two years after someone else had invented the phenomenon (for example, decadent rock, soul-rock, electronics).

As with the Beatles before him, Bowie knew how to best present the phenomenon to the masses via the bourgeoisie media and turn it into an international “fashion”. Essentially, Bowie’s major contribution to the annals of rock music was his popularization of the notion of the eclectic and refined musician. Many other rock musicians have explored and referenced pop art, literature and painting in a more thorough and original way than Bowie but have not garnered the critical recognition that came his way.

Bowie was said to have written the first “space ballad” but space-rock had been invented a few years earlier. Before the release of Space Odyssey, the Rolling Stones had recorded 2000 Light Years and the inventors of space-rock, Pink Floyd had, in 1967, released Interstellar Overdrive and Anno Domini. Moreover, long before the media had coined Bowie as being the inventor of the ‘glam’ concept, Mick Jagger, and many other contemporaries of the period, had been sexually ambiguous and had worn make-up.

Also decadent rock had long preceded Bowie with the likes of the Velvet Underground and the Doors. Bowie’s “uniqueness” was that his antics were the first to be publicized by the media. As often happens with the pop star, Bowie has falsely been attributed with creating the merits of an entire population of musicians. One of the most overrated artists of his generation, Bowie’s sound was largely Visconti’s (or Eno’s). Without that Sound, Bowie was a second-rate pop vocalist singing for a second-rate audience. 

For more analysis and reviews, go to: http://www.scaruffi.com/

 

Is The UK Government Deliberately Putting The Lives Of Eritrean’s At Risk?

2014AFR_Ertirea_Immigration

Life in one of the biggest migrant settlement camps in Western Europe in the Calais jungle exemplifies our dysfunctional world, A miniature city of makeshift tents dot the landscape. Men and women of various nationalities undertake their basic day to day activities the best they can while they dream of a better life on the other side of the razor wire fences.

In many ways, the scenes at the settlements conform to many of the dystopian fantasies that permeate the popular culture of many of those, who by nothing more than a simple twist of existential fate, happened to have been born into relative privilege.

These are citizens who, through either business or leisure activities, are able to move freely from the one line of demarcation to the other. Occasionally this might involve confronting the “other” due to the fact that many of their migrant counterparts will be moving in the opposite direction.

As Matt Carr, who travelled from the UK to France recently, eloquently put it:

“There we can find a city that has become a perfect mirror of our dysfunctional world, a place where men and women fuelled by the promise of sanctuary or the hope of a different life collide with the UK’s pitiless and implacable borders, and intersect with the dreams of the citizens of one of the richest countries on earth, heading for their holidays or returning from them.”

The sad reality for the refuges who stay in the camp more than a few days is that they are likely to remain their for the foreseeable future.The Guardian did a very good photo essay of life in the camps which can be seen here. These are the “forgotten” migrants, the poorest of the poor who are near the bottom of the migration food chain because they don’t have neither the sufficient funds to pay the gangs nor the contacts.

The media narrative tends to focus on the migrants who are able to pay the gangs between £1,000 and £4,000 to be put on to lorries bound for the UK hundreds of miles before they reach Calais. If justice prevailed, many of the “forgotten” at the bottom would be at the top, but it doesn’t so they aren’t. The migrants from the horn of Africa country, Eritrea, have a particularly strong case for the top status.

These are people that are fleeing political repression in their home country. A recent UN report outlined systematic human rights violations in Eritrea including torture, imprisonment and forced labour. Many Eritreans come to the UK seeking asylum but there has been a drastic decline in those given refugee status because of a recent change in government guidelines.

Government statistics show that between January and March 2015, 743 Eritrean applications for asylum were made of which 543 were granted. That’s an approval rate of 73%. However, since government guidelines changed in March, the approval rate had dropped to just 34%.

Eritrean’s are the only group, apart from Syrian’s, eligible for re-location from the EU’s bordering states’ because, according to The European Commission, they are deemed “persons in a clear need of international protection.”

So why does the British government appear to be paving the way to send them back to an almost certain death?

It would seem that the government has revised its guidelines on Eritrea based on a report commissioned by the Danish government which suggests that the Eritrean government is reforming. But in June the UN accused Eritrea of crimes against humanity.

According to Dr Lisa Doyle of the Refugee Council,:

“The government are currently basing their decisions on a report that is fundamentally flawed and widely criticised. These are life and death decisions and we need to be giving people the protection that they need”.

The nation who was partly responsible for establishing the boundaries of the present-day Eritrea nation state during the Scramble for Africa in 1869 as part of its imperial ambitions, is the same nation who today is denying fundamental human rights to the people it formerly subjugated.

It’s clear that the government is using the plight of the Eritrean people as a political football in an attempt to hit their immigration target, thereby pandering to a right wing electorate fearful of growing rates of net migration which are currently at record levels. The fact that the British government is playing politics with people’s lives in this way is abhorent but not surprising.

We Don’t Need Chilcot To Tell Us Blair Lied

Embedded image permalink

In his book The New Rulers Of The World, the renowned investigative journalist John Pilger (p.65-67) describes his stay at Baghdad’s Al-Rasheed Hotel shortly before the allied invasion of Iraq in March 2003:

“I met an assistant manager who had been at the hotel since the 1980s, and whose sardonic sense of western double standards was a treat. “Ah!, a journalist from Britain”, he said. “Would you like to see where Mr Douglas Hurd stayed, and Mr David Melon [sic] and Mr Tony Newton, and all the other members of Mrs Thatcher’s Government…These gentlemen were our friends, our benefactors.”

He has a collection of the Baghdad Observer from ‘the good old days’. Saddam Hussein is on the front page, where he always is. The only change in each photograph is that he is sitting on his white presidential couch with a different British government minister, who is smiling or wincing.

There is Douglas Hurd, in 1981, then a Foreign Office minister who came to sell Saddam Hussein a British Aerospace missile system and to ‘celebrate’ the anniversary of the coming to power of the Ba’ath (Redemption) Party, a largely CIA triumph in 1968 that extinguished all hope of a pluralistic Iraq and produced Saddam Hussein.

There is Hurd twice: on the couch and on page two, bowing before the tyrant, the renowned interrogator and torturer of Qasr-al-Nihayyah, the ‘palace of the end’. And there is the corpulent David Mellor, also a Foreign Office man, on the same white couch in 1988.

While Mellor, or ‘Mr Melon’ as the assistant manager preferred, was being entertained, his host ordered the gassing of 5,000 Kurds in the town of Halabja, news of which the foreign office tried to suppress…..As the subsequent inquiry by Sir Richard Scott revealed, these celebrities of the Baghdad Observer knew they were dealing illegally with the tyrant. “Please give Mr Melon my greetings”, said the assistant manager.

Twenty seven years later, ‘Mr Melon’ can be heard presenting a phone in show alongside Ken Livingstone every Saturday morning on LBC Radio. I phoned the programme a few weeks ago to remind Mellor of this unfortunate episode in his career. Needless to say, I was cut off immediately.

In Chapter 13 of his book, Web Of DeceitBritish historian, Mark Curtis highlights – with reference to the views expressed in the Scott inquiry mentioned above – that elites do not think the public are entitled to know what the decision-making processes are that give rise to their decisions.

They are especially keen to deflect criticism away from the ruthless and violent nature of the British state towards the perpetuation of the myth that British foreign policy is historically predicated on the idea of benevolence. This involves the promotion of high and noble principles – democracy, peace, human rights and development – in its foreign policy.

Any critiques of Britain’s role in wars within the mainstream media are normally marginalized or presented within narrow limits which show “exceptions” to, or “mistakes” in, promoting the rule of basic benevolence. Curtis believes that overall:

“People are being indoctrinated into a picture of Britain’s role in the world that supports elite priorities. This is the mass production of ignorance. It actively works against our interests, which is precisely why the ideological system is critical to the elite, who essentially see the public as a threat…. As the chapters on Kenya, Malaya, British Guiana, Iran and others have shown, the reality of British policy is systematically suppressed” [1].

Has anything fundamentally changed since BBC founder Lord Reith wrote of the establishment: “They know they can trust us not to be really impartial”? [2] Why did the British and American mass media fail to challenge even the most obvious government lies on Iraqi weapons of mass destruction before the invasion in March 2003? Why did the media ignore the claims of UN weapons inspectors that Iraq had been 90-95 per cent “fundamentally disarmed” as early as 1998? [3].

What Curtis convincingly shows is that Blair’s contempt for international law in relation to Iraq is part of an historical continuum. As Caroline Lucas put it: “By imposing regime change in Iraq… Tony Blair is not so much following the US as continuing a national tradition.”[4].

After studying declassified British government files, Curtis concluded that:

“British ministers’ lying to the public is systematic and normal…In every case I have ever researched on past British foreign policy, the files show that ministers and officials have systematically misled the public. The culture of lying to and misleading the electorate is deeply embedded in British policy-making” [5].

Just as the public didn’t need the Scott Inquiry to tell them that the Thatcher government illegally sold weapons of mass destruction to Saddam that were used to deadly effect against the Kurds, so we don’t need £10 million (and counting) of our money wasted in a whitewash of an inquiry into Blair’s deceptions in relation to Iraq.

All that is required is a cursory glance at the contents of the Downing Street memo which provides the public with an invaluable record of a meeting in July 2002, between Blair and Sir Richard Dearlove. The memo reveals that 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 [6]. In other words, what this memo shows is Blair knew that the decision to attack Iraq had already been made; that it preceded the justification.

Banking Racketeers Set For Another Windfall

A sign is displayed outside of a branch of The Royal Bank of Scotland in central London, Britain May 20, 2015. REUTERS/Neil Hall

The UK Chancellor’s announcement that he plans to sell-off £2 billion worth of the 79 per cent stake the government has in RBS over the coming fortnight is, according to Unite national officer for finance Rob MacGregor, “recklessly irresponsible”(1). RBS shares that stood at £6.88 in 2007, are now valued at £3.30 (2). It should be noted that the shares have not been offered to the people who bailed out RBS, that is us, the taxpayers but to the Tories’ city friends.

The decision by Aristocrat Gideon Osborne, who seems set to be next in line to take the reins of PM from his friend David Cameron (3), and who promised action on tax avoidance (4), despite the fact that his family business has avoided tax (5), is defended by Treasury minister, Harriet Baldwin. Why would she defend the sell-off which will result in a £1bn loss to taxpayers, you may ask?

Well, it could have something to do with her connections within in the banking racket. Having joined investment bank JP Morgan Chase in 1986, she then became managing director and Head of Currency Management at their London office in 1998. She left the bank in 2008, after more than two decades with the bank (6). Maybe she has advised Cameron to get shot of the RBS millstone before his transition to PM.

The chief architects of the RBS collapse, Fred Goodwin and Sir Tom McKillop seemed to have disappeared into the ether.

To sell these shares when business is slow, many are on holiday and the stock market depressed, means its the opportune time for these scoundrels to defraud us for the second time round, which of course is really what this latest scandal is all about.

If, after this latest act by the page boy to his dads banker friends in order to further the interests of the banking racketeers, won’t have awaken the masses from their slumber, then I fear nothing will. There is no clearer illustration we are being taken for a ride than the governments collusion with the bankers as highlighted by this sell-off.  Austerity amounts to the raiding of the public coffers to bolster the pockets of the super-rich (7).

As economist Andrew Fisher alludes, this is clearly an ideological and dogmatic move by Osborne, not a financially pragmatic one:

“Banks that owe their continuing existence to public funds should be acting in the public interest — investing in the productive economy, reducing the margins between their lending rates and savers’ rates, and ending the fat-cat bonus culture at the top, while underpaying and laying off cashiers at the other end.”(8).

The Financial Times reported yesterday (August 3) that Osborne wants to flog off £32bn worth of public assets by the end of the financial year, as part of a strategy to reduce the role of the state that will do nothing to stimulate growth (9). The £32bn worth of public asset stripping that is to include the Met Office, Ordnance Survey and air traffic controller Nats, breaks even Thatcher’s record (10).

We are not in this mess because politicians are stupid but because of the cozy relationship that exists between them and the bankers who the latter lobby on behalf of (11). The Guardian outlines how it all works. A commentator on Craig Murray’s blog argued that:

“The entire RBS saga is a scam from start to finish:

• All banks make huge profits by lending prodigiously.
• Concentrate bad debts in a few banks.
• Instill ‘too big to fail’ meme.
• Order politicians to ‘nationalise’ compromised banks at huge cost to tax-payers.
• Continue injecting billions until ‘nationalised’ banks have paid off the lion’s share of bad debt.
• Sell bank back to bankers at knock-down price” (12).

Another commentator from the same blog makes another apt point:

“Note the bastards didn’t buy voting shares in RBS: the taxpaying sucker didn’t even have the opportunity to reform the bank. Lovely little restructure: the retail arm goes to another retail bank for a knockdown price (W&G may not have been too wise buying it even then), while the crooked division ends up divvied up between hedge funds. And lives to cheat another day” (13).

Don’t forget dear readers, we are all in it with the aim of getting the deficit down.

People Socially Cleansed As ‘Dirty Money’ Floods Into London

“There is no place for dirty money in Britain”, so says UK Prime Minister, David Cameron, who has promised to crack down on dodgy offshore companies that buy up luxury properties in the UK. Cameron says he will introduce a public land registry of properties owned by foreign investors. Channel 4 News has access to the data which highlights the problem is particularly acute in London.

“London must not become a safe have for corrupt money from around the world”, says Cameron. “We need to stop corrupt officials or organized criminals using anonymous shadow companies to invest their ill-gotten gains in London property without being tracked down.”

The figures are staggering. Some £122 billion worth of property in England and Wales is owned by foreign companies. Around 100,000 UK property titles are registered to them. Most are in Greater London where almost 43,000 properties are owned by overseas firms. “There is no place for dirty money in Britain. Indeed, there should be no place for dirty money anywhere. That is my message to foreign forces. London is not a place to stash your dodgy cash”, he said.

Undercover reporters’ working as part of the Dispatches documentary, From Russia With Cash, discovered just how easy it is to buy property in London with no questions asked. Chido Dunn from Global Witness says that “the presence of corrupt money in the London property market props up corrupt regimes overseas and means that a lot of people are stuck in poverty and violence and don’t have access to education.

So concretely, how is Cameron proposing to deal with the problem?

In the Autumn, data will be released that will highlight which foreign companies are buying up property in England and Wales. Although the data already exists within the public domain, Downing Street says it will now be more easily available.

In Westminster, where one in ten homes are owned by foreign investors, Channel 4 asked  Transparency International about the changes that are being consulted on.  A TI spokesman said that if enacted, the proposals would require foreign owners to declare their interests at the same standard as UK companies. The unanswered question is why the discrepancy in the first place?

That aside, over last 10 years a suspected £180 million of laundered money has been investigated by the authorities. However, according to Global Witness, that’s merely the tip of a very large ice berg. What these new measures will do if enacted will be to identify where the corrupt money is and prevent it from coming in to the country in the future. Currently the government is able to identify who owns a property on an individual and company basis but crucially not who the real people are who hide behind these companies.

People can still use offshore companies to structure their investments in order to benefit from things like inheritance tax and capital gains tax. But, if the consultation process succeeds, people hiding money for a criminal reason will no longer be able to hide it in property.

This appears on the surface to be an important first step. The question is, should the proposals go through, will law enforcement be empowered to properly investigate the practice of money laundering in the UK?

In a speech to Muslims in Birmingham on July 20, Cameron said “that people can grow up and go to school and hardly ever come into meaningful contact with people from other backgrounds and faiths”.

But money laundering is a major contributory factor (as is the failure to tax property effectively) in house price rises which in turn results in the kind of social cleansing I discussed here. Any failure by Cameron to get to grips with the problem will increase the problem of social exclusion he claims he wants to redress.

As with much else in the area of social and economic policy, the UK government appear to be tugging at the coat tails of the United States. What applies across the Atlantic is of as much relevance in New York as it is London. But at least in the former, rent controls to some degree ameliorate the problem. That said, UK government policy is geared towards increasing the disconnect between the rich and poor in much the same way the United States is.

As George Monbiot astutely puts it:

“The rich disconnect themselves from the civic life of the nation and from any concern about its well being except as a place to extract loot. Our plutocracy now lives like the British in colonial India: in the place and ruling it, but not of it.” We suffer the same curse: a ruling class whose wealth lies offshore, and which identifies more readily with a transnational elite than with the other people of this nation. On behalf of this elite, the government now gives away £93bn a year in corporate welfare: a sum bigger than the deficit. It champions the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership; a graver threat to the interests of this nation than Islamic extremism presents.”

The failure to tax property effectively has fuelled a rise in house prices so severe that entire English regions are becoming almost uninhabitable to the poor. The situation is made all the worse by the announcement from the head of the National Crime Agency who said there is a direct link between money laundering in property and the massive rise in London house prices.