Tag Archive: Mediawatch

My hiatus meant that significant and generation changing matters such as Brexit in the UK and the election and defeat of Donald Trump in the US and it might reasonably be assumed I have an opinion on these matters!  I conflate the two things for good reason because I see them as coming from much the same area of ourselves and our societies.

The idea of debunking certain long-held tenets is not in itself a bad thing, in fact often quite the contrary, from such little acorns so the oak trees that can topple repressive regimes might grow.  The difficulty here is that for me to point out where the problem comes is in itself marking out a perhaps slightly patrician way of looking at the world and people in it.  The reason being that I see the movements that have led to both Trump and Brexit as being manipulation of the disenfranchised for the good of an already elite few rather than for the amelioration of the people actually being mobilised on the streets around these ideals.  I’m not saying that Brexit and Trump did not garner huge swathes of popular support, they undoubtedly have done, in a way almost unprecedented in modern times because in both case they have almost split the population of a significant Western country in binary opposition to one another. I would also not want to make out that I do not think the people in their anger and frustration do not have many reasons for feeling so, had they not they would have been impossible to galvanise into such a force.  The working classes of both Britain and the US have been left behind for so long that the gap widening between richer and poorer is entrenched in the system from top to bottom.  What worries me is that they should listen to people who have so obviously benefitted from the system as it stands as being the ones who will lead them from its darkness.

Whilst I am not one for national politics and consider myself both Irish and European I was not intrinsically against Britain leaving the European Union as part of a move to decentralise power and move it to a more local basis, that as a principle is something I can see might have merit, I would have been very interested to discuss certain aspects of how it would mechanically work but I would not be opposed to exploring the principle.  The Left in fact have long since had a fairly antagonistic relationship with the EU as an organ.  I was however considerably more opposed to the Brexit voted for in 2016 because this was so clearly not about a localisation of power but a recentralisation in a different centre that was itself less accountable, namely the British Establishment.  The protagonists claiming to want sovereignty back soon revealed their true colours when the national legal sovereignty flexed its muscles as the Supreme Court ruled certain actions, such as the prorogation of Parliament to have been unlawful, at this point the vitriol was so severe that the judges were in fact branded traitors by the Murdoch media.  These commentators and politicians clearly did not want the British people to have greater power they wanted themselves and their cronies to have greater power over the British people and the ability to make unfettered profits at their expense.  Murdoch himself coined it when he said that ‘When I go into Downing Street they do what I say; when I go to Brussels they take no notice.’ (He has since denied it and claimed he has never asked a Prime Minister to do anything but his denial came later and at a specific time he was looking for approval from politicians on a Sky News takeover so one could be forgiven for cynicism here).  To me Murdoch’s opposition to the EU was one of the great feathers in its cap but his papers and that of the Daily Mail’s campaigning over 40 years to influence the British public is one of the most disgraceful pieces of sustained misinformation of the modern era such was its breath, lack of substance and its mendaciousness. 

I understand to a degree why Americans en masse voted for Trump, there was precedent here long before Brexit, Boris Johnson indeed garnered many non-traditional supporters when he stood for mayor of London, people buying into the bumbling buffoon act he so often puts on much in the same way people have bought into Trump’s facade of successful businessman.  Both are fallacious, Johnson uses this persona in order to not seem like just another conniving privileged Tory bastard whilst Trump who inherited more money than most of us could hope to earn in several lifetimes has lost more than he has made and therefore is a net failure which is certainly not the success story he would have you believe.  This might have certain people casting their minds back over history for other such ‘failed’ figures that have held sway, the failed Austrian painter etc. etc. there will be parallels with many a dictator leader of course but I think the similarities between Trump and Johnson stretch to a great deal more than just curious conglomerations of blonde mop because they are very much 21st Century demagogues.

When you have an ill-educated and ill-informed electorate single-issue politics is very persuasive and this is not a 21st century phenomenon.  Give people binary instruction and tagline that are easy to understand without suggesting anything as to the mechanics of the process.  ‘Get Brexit Done‘ and ‘Make America Great Again‘ are prime examples of this just as the ‘stab in the back‘ theory (Dolchstoßlegende) was used in Weimar Germany to galvanise the German people into suspicion of the Establishment and the belief that politicians had betrayed the German army in WWI.  There is no actual substance to any of these proposals and that is crucial, it makes it consequently difficult to know by what indicator you would be measuring the success (or failure) of the endeavours. Whilst the Brexit slogan may seem to have a defined end point it is not clear what form of Brexit is to be ‘done’ by it and whether it would be the ‘no deal’ Brexit favoured only by the most cavalier, not to mention explicitly voted against by Parliament – the very body sovereignty is supposed to be coming back to following withdrawal from the EU.  Make America Great Again is yet more wooly, it doesn’t even have the idea of what greatness would or did look like nor whether anyone would have an idea when it had been achieved.  It is in fact rather like a ‘War on Terror‘ where no one truly knows when that noun can be seen to have been defeated!

There is a reason I have lumped the Brexit slogan in with Trump’s and that is because despite Brexit having in some way the framework for conclusion in terms of the conditions of Article 50 of the Treaty of Rome it is not that which was the reason for using it. Rather it was the vacuousness of the slogan itself and this I feel is best evidenced by the fact that Johnson attempted to use the phrase again when it came to the pandemic, though he quickly dropped it when it became clear that to link himself to something this nebulous which was potentially never going to go away was folly. Indeed his strategy was so much of a one-trick pony that it was soon followed to the waste bin of history by the very Chief Strategist Dominic Cummins – ‘Getting COVID Done’ requires a very different approach because you’ve not got the ire of the masses and the invective of the Daily Mail to fail back on. The people are looking for leadership, protection of their loved ones, reassurances for health and economic reasons, the enemy is unseen and cannot be vilified in a way that guarantees blind obedience.  The UK government has been typified throughout by it’s failure to decisively act and rather reaction to circumstances and this I would assert explains why the proportionate death rate due to Covid-19 in the UK is one of the highest in the world.

Trump’s reaction to Covid has been even worse than Johnson’s, he looked utterly out of his depth and that’s because he was.  Boris Johnson had several other cronies around him all flustering and floundering whilst Trump had the now infamous arse-clenching, legs-closing incident of one of his chief medical advisors in response to one of his more outlandish claims.  I don’t wish to make out that I presume politicians should have an immediate handle on a global pandemic, there is no shame in being all at sea, especially in the early days, we are all stumbling rather in the dark throughout our daily lives but the difference is in such circumstances you are best coming clean and leaving it to the clinical experts.  Trump instead employed a strategy of inventing or parroting spurious and at times dangerous claims about light and disinfectant amongst others in an attempt to somehow get himself back into the news agenda as the big shot again.  The principle difference between Trump and Johnson on this is that Johnson is the secondary school prefect caught with his trousers down in the boy’s dorm and whilst he won’t admit it has a degree of guilt written across his face and a knowledge that he hasn’t done very well whilst Trump hasn’t yet made it past primary level and looks as if he has been told that he can’t play in the sandpit today, what’s written on his face suggests utter ambivalence at the fact that he was the one responsible for the deposited faeces that rendered the sandpit off limits!

The analysis and studying matters because to quote a wise man ‘those who do not learn from history are destined to repeat it‘ and in both Trump and Johnson what is clear is that our capacity to learn doesn’t seem to last very long before the very same things that worked to hoodwink people before are used successfully again – ‘fool me once, shame on… shame on you, fool me…….., can’t get fooled again‘ as a far less wise man once said in Tennessee! 

Song Of The Day ~ Biig Piig – Sunny

It was a rather typical Tory sort of policy, get people off the dole any which way, not caring what they do just that they do something else.  It is not one fuelled by a desire to have people in work for their own benefit and development as a consequence then also of benefit to society at large, it is not part of a drive for full employment, the Tories since 1979 have always favoured policies that keep inflation down rather than do anything for the poorest section of the population.  You might think that keeping inflation down does in fact help the poorest parts of society but it would do so only were wages to continue going up above the rate of inflation as it changed, otherwise it is simply a matter of by how much your income is diminishing in real terms.

The Workfare system has a great deal of one without any of the other, there is no alternative way to look on it than it being slave labour.  Tory protests come in the form of saying that this is a scheme that enables people to get a job at the end of it, this may well be true in some cases, but there is no guarantee of it.  Furthermore to have the spectre hanging over you that you may lose your benefits is somewhat draconian.  I might have more time for the scheme if in the first instance people were given chances to do public sector jobs paid a living wage, or given the chance to work/volunteer in hospitals, youth clubs, environmental schemes, old people’s homes, homeless shelters, schools and others of direct benefit to society rather than being used to prop up the profits of already wealthy giants on as little money as possible.

It is no wonder that companies were in a rush to take part, this for them is a win-win, they get to take on the people they wish to at the end of the scheme, whilst exacting work for nothing from those they don’t.  It circumvents the interview process by holding a knife to the throats of the participants being forced to take part or suffer a loss in benefit.  This alone saves them a not inconsequential amount of time and money in not having to advertise and go through tiresome and lengthy interview and offer processes.  That companies have got their fingers burnt is heartening at least in terms of the level of public outrage to the program, the fact that companies were all to happy to involve themselves in the first place tells us much about our society, the companies who are running it and their contempt for people at the bottom of the social and financial pile.

However there is an equally more sinister element to the slave labour and that is the repression that is beginning to accompany the opposition to the policy.  The government are clearly getting very tired of protests accompanying every scheme they have to privatise each last public facet in the country and with the debacle of the Health Bill being the final straw they have decided that enough is enough.  The rhetoric surrounding begins as pretty standard petulant Tory bollocks.  Campaigners are branded by David Cameron as Trotskyites and fronts for the Socialist Workers Party, it is part of a “left-wing plot” according to Chris Grayling the Employment Minister, whilst Iain Duncan Smith has labelled detractors “out of touch” and that the schemes are “brilliant.”  Given this return to the days of the workhouses and cotton mills where labour was cheap and exploited accordingly one wonders what time it is that Smith is living in that we may be out of touch from, and whether indeed we wish to be in touch with it were we to know.

According to the government the minority, trotskyite etc. etc. protests have spooked the companies who would otherwise have continued in the scheme, which again says much about both parties here.  Hold on a second though since when have national and multi-national corporations listened to anything a small group of active left-wing campaigners said or did?  Let’s be honest governments don’t give a shit about a huge groundswell of public opinion and millions taking to the streets against wars so where would the incentive for corporations be exactly?  The oil companies have brazenly given public opinion the finger and the banks have pillaged the public coffers (with acquiescence of the last two governments) in spite of sustained widespread outrage.  What companies do care about is money, and for that they must rely on the consumer, if the consumer stays away the company loses business and revenue and confidence and that makes major shareholders very cross, so in fact far from these actions being the consequences of the left-wing campaigns and campaigners they are a great deal more likely to have been caused by the edicts from the most right-wing!

Thankfully for a start the Tories have now dropped the section dealing with cuts in benefits to those dropping out of the schemes, they claim this is not at all to do with public pressure, but then they would say that wouldn’t they?!

Song Of The Day ~ The Wailers – Slave Driver

The recent violence in Syria is a terrible thing, of that there is no doubt, such senseless killing anywhere is a tragedy.  We have become used to civil wars in what are classified as Arab countries of late, first the relatively bloodless regime change in Tunisia followed by a more rancourous one in Egypt.  At this point all seemed to be going swimmingly, dictators who had ruled with iron fists were toppled by the will and action of the people who were prepared to be cowed no more.  It gave us all a sense of hope, a sense that if such things were possible in these repressive states then we too might rid ourselves of our oppressors.  The crucial point was that these seemed quite clear popular uprisings, the only resistance came from the regimes themselves and that was only to be expected.

The situation began to get more complicated when the ‘Arab Spring’ spread to Libya.  The prevailing opinion here was not one of surprise, why would it have been the Colonel had been portrayed as a bogeyman for years in the West and was the great bugbear until being usurped by Saddam Hussein.  I knew little of the nascent opposition in Libya, as I suspect most watching and listening to the unfolding news, but I do remember early on hearing about the humiliating withdrawal of British Special Forces agents (SAS & MI6) who had been captured by farm workers in the opposition-held area near Benghazi.  They had not made contact with the opposition forces, as was claimed their mission was, they were in the country with multiple passports and weaponry and appeared somewhat inept.  This was not just an embarrassment to the British government this showed something else, it showed the West was wanted to get involved, or was already in the process of doing so, to hasten things, to topple those whom they had tried to topple from outside for many years.  It didn’t sit well.  It made me wonder what was next.  That it was Syria right after Libya was no surprise at all.

I remember when Bashar-al-Assad came to power in Syria in 2000 following his father’s death.  He was not supposed to be president, he was an ophthalmologist and but for the death of his older brother would have remained so.  He was however touted as a moderate, someone who would loosen the grip on the authoritarian state over which his father had presided.  Indeed for the last 11 years Syria has been one of the quieter of the Middle Eastern nations one that has been something of a diplomatic bridgehead for many of the parties, close enough to the Arab world not to be regarded as a Western puppet as well as maintaining support from China and Russia whilst at the same time seeming to most of the Western world as moderate enough to be a useful broker along with Turkey with whom they also continued to have close ties.

However at the time of the Stop The War actions against the war in Iraq in 2003 I remember hearing it said more than once that whilst we had not stopped the Western forces going into Iraq we had stopped them thinking they could continue on into Syria which would certainly have been their next plan.  As Syria remained unmolested the interest in it appeared to have waned but it came back to my mind late last year.  I know that Syria is also an instrumental piece in the intifada against Israel, not a vocal opponent of Israel per se it gives clear support to the Palestinians from the reasoned position of supporting a dispossessed people.  This sort of intelligent criticism is annoying to the Zionists who must paint all opposition as vehemently anti-semite.

Barbara Walters conducted the first interview from a Western news agency, ABC on 7th Dec 2011 in Damascus and stressed she had been free to ask any questions she wished.  President Assad states quite openly that Syria is not a democratic country and that it is a dictatorship, which is an autocratic form of government where the power of rule is held by one person, (think of a monarchy and you’re on the right lines).  He draws an interesting distinction between dictatorship as a form of government and a dictator as a person and makes it clear that he feels he needs popular legitimacy to continue his role and that Syria is on the path to democratic elections before 2013.  In contrast to what I have heard of his father’s reign this seems no mean achievement or ambition.

The interview is not at all like later ones of Gadaffi who rants and rages and regales against those plotting his downfall with invective and hyperbole.  Perhaps this is merely the contrast in styles between a despot who has been so surrounded by sycophants for so long that he has gone quite mad and a civilised university graduate with an excellent command of English who seems quite at home with intelligent discourse and unflustered by an interviewer so clearly looking for a chink in the armour with which to make an exclusive..

President Assad claims that he retains the support of the majority in Syria, in response it is interesting that Walters refers to the demonstrations against him by people as evidence that he does not have popular support.  Were this to be sole evidence then many of the Western governments should have fallen during the height of the Stop the War campaign due to the mass actions on a scale not seen ever before in some countries.  Where were the UN resolutions for us, where the peacekeeping troops to help us transition to a new government?  I don’t know about the former but we know where the latter were, Iraq, Afghanistan, Pakistan etc. etc.

We must consider at this point that the West is in this regard also not really in a position of strength when it comes to arguments of popular opinion.  The Bush-Gore election is one of the many chequered US examples and in Britain 64% of the population who voted in 2010 did not vote for the current administration.  Why then are we immune from countries meeting to discuss how they will liberate us?  Is it because we have multiple men in suits rather than being countries that only have one?  Or is it because we the people are more cowed by the yoke than the Middle Eastern citizens and our staying at home comfortably numb is our biggest ball and chain?  If indeed Syria’s protesters are a vocal violent minority then Assad has as much right to put them down as Western governments do the G8/G20 protests, or the Occupy movements, one can condemn but only if condemning all state violence not merely someone else’s.

When Walters goes on to push for when presidential elections will take place she is forceful in her point that 2014 is not soon enough but Assad quite correctly says that they will have the parliamentary elections first which will determine the majority opinion and subsequent actions relating to the presidency.  This is perfectly acceptable, after all the anger and frustration in Britain was palpable when Tony Blair handed over the British premiership to Gordon Brown without a popular mandate or ballot.  Assad says clearly that if the parliamentary elections leave him with no mandate then he will not be taking any part in the subsequent presidential elections as he will have lost public support.  You could make noises about the chances of free elections etc. but like the freedom of the press argument the West is decidedly hypocritical in this.

What I remember of many of the dictators over the last years is how they met their ends, Saddam Hussein was killed following trial, very few seemed especially upset about this, certainly not his former masters in the US. Col. Gadaffi was killed very rapidly in the latter stages of the fighting in Libya in a hasty way that was I’m sure for many people rather convenient.  The trouble with toppled dictators is that they have at their disposal a large amount of information as to the affairs of their own state and the actions of those who would negotiate with it, much that might tarnish the images of certain states around them.  This is likely to be enhanced considerably in the case of nations with oil with whom many administrations will stop at nearly nothing in their efforts.  Of course this is nearly all conjecture, the truth may be nothing like this, it is therefore odd that it is all too frequent that those who might be able to divulge such information meet such speedy sticky ends.

I am not the only one articulating the slight raising of a quizzical eyebrow, neither Russia nor China have taken part in the calls for regime change in Syria and have openly stated that they fear that at the root of these calls is the attempt to replace the current administration with a more favourable one for the West.  The West certainly has form.

I do not wish to claim that I know what is going on in Syria, I cannot state that the opposition does not have a public mandate any more than I can state that Bashar-al-Assad does not.  I do not wish to underestimate the troubles in Syria or cheapen the loss of life that has already been too high. Without question there are many innocent civilians caught up in troubles not of their own making, the city of Homs is in crisis and is besieged such that those who might wish to leave cannot do so.  It is akin to the American policy in Helmand, Guantanamo Bay in Cuba and on local issues right down to the police kettling protestors in riots and demonstrations, it isn’t right but where is the indignation there?  To hear Hilary Clinton question today why other Syrian cities are not doing the same as Homs if chastising them for their indolence leaves a very bitter taste in my mouth indeed.  The first reason is that if you sit in a safe city with your family secure and going about their business it takes an almost superhuman strength to wish to change this and even more so when you see the potential consequences of such actions.  The second is that it is grossly presumptuous that all Syrian cities should feel the same as Homs, do we know the ethnic makeup of Syria, is there a sectarian issue anywhere?  For a wealthy, comfortable woman to stand up thousands of miles from any conflict and pontificate about whose responsibility such matters are is at best crass insensitivity and political posturing.

I am presuming that my mistrust of the situation is down to my own propensity to believe in the evil doings of the West because I know more about them than I do the doings of a person who has always come across as mild-mannered and erudite.  It is the smoke and mirrors and the media whitewash that makes me deeply uneasy, it is by no means the first time we have heard it, the West preaching all the laudable tenets of representative electoral systems whilst themselves having some of the least democratic of all is nothing new and will continue for as long as the public in those countries remains anaesthetised by the right-wing press that props them up.  I cannot state that the West is directly involved in the Syrian opposition as it appeared to be pushing for in Libya, all I can say is that in the West there will be many people who stand to gain much from the deposing of President Assad. They cannot therefore be considered neutral parties and the idea of them not encouraging, if not in fact actively orchestrating the removal of the Syrian leader seems a little-more far-fetched than them doing so.  The speed with which they have established diplomatic relations with the opposition is in contrast to the reactions to Tunisia and Egypt which were much more hands-off and observational.

It just makes me wonder…

Song Of The Day ~ Gerry Rafferty – One Drink Down

The Condem Demolition  Tory-Tory general wankers government’s spending cap apparently has widespread support amongst the population according to BBC sources today.  The figure of £26,000 effectively represents 2 adults working 40 hours a week at the minimum wage of £6.08 an hour.  Apparently there are many people surprised that we were not already capping payments at this level, as if surprised that the people on benefits should earn minimum wage at all. [This is already below the living wage campaign figure of £7.20 an hour outside London which would work out at £30,000 for 2 adults earning.  The Living Wage Campaign quotes David Cameron as having said “An idea whose time has come” in 2010, of course in 2010 David Cameron was looking for election so is likely to have said whatever it was he felt people wanted to hear.] According to the Office of National Statistics (a government department) the average weekly expenditure for a family is £552.30 in London, £387.20 in the North East and £467.50 as a national average.  Extrapolating the figures out for annual expenditure in London this makes £28,719.60 already above the government’s proposed cap of £26,000 unless they’re planning to have some London Weighting scheme.

Given that there are nearly 3 million unemployed in the UK, although the TUC estimates that the true figure is over 6 million taking into account those off the radar such as in short-term and part-time contracts.  The Office of National Statistics (We’ll call it ONS because we’re going to refer to it a fair bit!) estimates 8.4% of the population.  The population of Metropolitan London is 14 million, which taking the ONS figure of 8.4% makes 1,176,000 people unemployed.  Let us assume that there are a lower percentage of unemployed in London than some deprived areas of the North so we’ll lessen the figure to 1 million.  Taking the UK population as 60 million, which is the usually accepted estimate, this means that around 2% of the entire population will not have enough to live on in London alone and with the average income of the South East as a whole being over £27,000 annual expenditure the 2% is a conservative estimate.  According to the Joseph Rowntree Foundation with the recent years rises in utility bills, transport costs the average family actually needs an annual income of £29,000, their report says that official inflation over the last decade has amounted to 23% while food has gone up by 37%, bus fares by 59% and council tax by 67%.

I’ve tried to do some basic calculations which are in no way exhaustive but I wanted to get an idea as to how problematic the government’s plans would be rather than merely being annoyed that they should cap them at all.  I have looked on Right Move for the monthly cost of a 3 bedroom house or flat within 5 miles of Lewisham as many of the areas there are cheaper than more central parts of London or others that are not frequently on fire.  The cheapest I found was a flat for £895 a week in Lee SE12, this would be an annual expense of £10,740.  Let us assume that Housing Benefit pays all of this money.  Unemployment benefit currently pays £67.50 a week which makes £3510 x 2 for 2 adults in the average family – £7020.  A Guardian article in May 2011 used a Halifax report itself using ONS data on family spending which said that the cost of maintaining a home was a little over £9000 a year however this was including £3500 a year as mortgage payments (I envy those paying only £291 a month for their rent/mortgage!) so removing the mortgage expense that leaves £5500 cost of running a home leaving £1500 left over from the £7000 we calculated earlier.  Are you still with me?  £1500 /52 then divided by 5 for the working days in a week makes just over £5 a day which makes £2.50 per adult per day (nothing at weekends better stay at home).  Ah shit but the Guardian/Halifax/ONS statistics don’t include food, or transport, or clothing or anything at all to do with children, that’s a bit of a shitter isn’t it?  You’d better not work in Central London either because a weekly Travelcard for Zones 1-2 (assuming that if you live in our flat in Lee you walk to Lewisham to save that £5 a week extra you’d be paying for Zone 3.)  So £29.20 for the travelcard is unfortunately more than the £28 odd that you have for the week between you, so you need to work locally, and walk everywhere.

Now I know the whole country’s figures seem skewed towards London and the majority of the population do not live in London and besides we’ve already demonstrated that the total benefits don’t cover London expenditure so let’s look at somewhere else.  How about Burnley?  Leaving aside the fact that I wouldn’t live in Burnley if you paid me £6750 a week there are some who do so let’s examine their costs.  The council tax is much the same as it is in London with the cheapest in Burnley borough being £1225 annually.  Rent is a great deal cheaper with the lowest 3 bedroom place I could find at £365 a month but of course we’ve already sectioned off housing costs to housing benefit so that doesn’t really matter as a change in our calculations.  Assuming that the household bills for a 3 bedroom house anywhere are roughly the same we’re still left with the same sort of expenditure as we were in London.  Jobs might be easier to find within walking distance but food is unlikely to be cheaper nor clothing hence you’re still down to £2.50 a day for each adult without food, clothing, transport costs or something like a TV licence.

Let’s go a step further and say that the household does earn the maximum £26,000 and removing the £5500 for household maintenance, moneysupermarket estimates that a family of four would spend around £100 a week on an average shopping trolley.  This of course would mean £5200 a year, whilst you might be able to make some economies on that let’s take the figure for convenience and round down to £5000 a year if you’re being a little thriftier each week.  So with your £5500 household expenses and £5000 food costs we’ve spent £10,500 this sounds more like it, we’ve over £15000 left and paid the main stuff.  Of course we’ve not yet paid transport so let’s say we live in Burnley where the cost of living is cheaper than London.  A 1 day pass for the busses in Burnley is £4 a day, now obviously you need to travel a little to look for jobs, do the shopping and collect benefits and the like.  So that makes £1040 per person so we’re down to £13000.  The Joseph Rowntree Foundation estimates that the average amount of money spent on children is £57 a week, which may seem a lot for people who do not have children but factoring in uniforms, books, general clothing, school trips and other extra curricular activities the figure becomes fairly likely, unless of course we want ou children to suffer for the “sins” of their parents.  We’re going to presume that the children are not of nursery age or needing nappies or more than average childcare due to disability and special needs so let’s take this £3000 a year figure off our total and we’re down to £10000 a year which is just under £100 per adult per week.

Now before we go on we need to tackle the ‘But’, there always is one.  You have to bear in mind that the £26,000 figure is including ALL benefits available, many of which you would only receive if you meet all the criteria for them so let’s see what we can build to make up this figure.  If you take the Income Support/Job Seekers Allowance or whatever the feck it’s called now. £67.50 per week x 2 adults makes only £7,020 per year and we’ve already established that this alone would not be at all sufficient to survive anywhere in the country, even in Burnley!  The standard Child Benefit figure of £20.30 for the first child and £13.40 for any subsequent one would give you a total of £1752.40 a year [remember though the Joseph Rowntree figure of £57 a week – the same report states that Income Support allowances provide between 57 per cent (children under 11 years) and 82 per cent (children aged 16 years) of what is actually being spent on children in families who are on Income Support.]  To build our total benefits we also have to factor in Housing Benefit.  So it’s back to our terraced house in Burnley where this eats up another £4750 of our money, coupled with our Income Support and Child Benefit we’ve found £13,500 odd for both adults and their 2 children so far only half of the amount being capped.  Somehow we need to find some reason for the other £12,000+, knowing the benefits system in the past this will be no mean feat especially given the culling of benefits for the disabled.

If we go back to our calculations of the maximum £26,000 to start with which we’ve whittled down £5500 for household maintenance, £4750 for rent, £5000 food costs, £1000 transport,  £2600 conservative estimate for our children, we’re nearly at £19000 in total so far so already well above the £13,500 we’ve found on standard benefits.  We’ve not looked at clothing yet which obviously is difficult to get a real figure on but the ONS family spending study gives the figure of £23.40 making £1200 odd so we’re now over the £20,000 mark.  The same study includes £5 per week for health and £10 a week for education, we’ll consider this as £7.50 since we have already added money in for children, this makes just under £400.  What we’ve looked at so far I would certainly classify as the bear essentials and that makes a whisker under £20,500.  As it stands then with £5500 remaining this works out to £7.50 per adult per day with only the basic essentials paid in a home that has to be at the very bottom end of the rental market.  Taking into account the Halifax/ONS figures do not include replacement of any appliances or those unforeseen things that come with a big hit we’ve some elements of random expenditure that might occur but in my figures here I’ve tried to stick to thinks that would be unavoidable expenses at this point.  If you were to include other “normal” costs then the picture starts to become much more complex.

Were you to factor a car into the equation the AA estimate that the standing costs (Tax, MOT, Insurance, Breakdown cover) of a car worth under £12,000 when new to be around £2500 and 22p per mile for fuel, tyres, replacement parts etc.  If you were to live 10 miles from work this would mean £982 per year for the commute alone.  The ONS study seems to back this up with an estimate of £64.90 a week on transport (personal and public) which adds up to just over £3300 per year.  It would be as well if you didn’t smoke, were you to have 2 packs a week this would set you back £780 a year if a pack of 20 costs £7.50, if at that price you smoked 20 a day that would be £2737.50 so you’d probably have to cut out some food or sell a child since chimneys and mines are no longer an option.  Don’t forget these figures are effectively only for one person.  If these two things were brought in we’re over our threshold of £26,000 again so let’s leave them out for now.

We are yet to consider entertainment (let’s presume the amount we’ve calculated for children includes their entertainment) the ONS 2011 study on family spending gives weekly figures of recreation and culture at £58.10 and restaurants and hotels at £39 and alcohol, tobacco and narcotics at £11.80 per week.  This seems high on the restaurant side, as this would represent one trip to a restaurant a week and there are many of us not on the minimum wage who can’t afford that, it seems reasonably generous on the entertainment side too (by which I mean the way it will be viewed by those who think the £26000 figure is acceptable).   You can’t have your cake and eat it in this scenario though because that figure on entertainment comes out at over £3000 a year whilst the restaurants total is over £2000.  Drugs of any legality come to over £600 which bearing in mind some smoke and/or drink whilst others do not seems about right to take as a lowish estimate which I’m trying to do to avoid any accusation of artificial inflating of the numbers.  It doesn’t take a professor of Mathematics to work out we’re already over the threshold again if we factor in the non-essentials in combination with each other.  And this is using the example of the lowest costs of essentials such as rent.  Doubtless the supporters of the cap will claim the economic austerity means that entertainment is a luxury the tax payer can’t afford since benefit payments cost the country £150 billion a year, more than is made in total tax revenue.  Somehow the money has to be found and if it is at a deficit then savings must be made somewhere.

So how might we prevent this deficit?  How about the tax evasion for starters?  Figures range from £15 billion at the conservative end of total benefit expenditure (tax evasion being around 3% of total tax liabilities – while benefit fraud accounts for 0.8%) to nearly £70 billion at the top end according to the Tax Justice Network.  Even if you take a billion to be 1000 million (rather than 1 million million) the 15 billion divided by 3 million unemployed would enable a payment of £500 a year to each person.  However you’ll not be shocked I’m sure to know that the same columnists who call for capping benefits also make quotes like “Tax avoidance isn’t morally wrong. It’s perfectly sensible behaviour.” [Toby Young – The Telegraph February 2011].  Nice work if your accountant can get it.  On the same BBC program the 2011 figures for the Royal Bank of Scotland, one of the banks bailed out by the taxpayers which made pre-tax losses of £766 million and at the same time paid out £785 million in bonuses.  Again do we need the professor of Mathematics?  I suppose this is really chicken feed when you look at the total bailout of the banks which at it’s peak comes to £1.162 trillion, enough to pay for the benefits at their current level for a good many years without any tax revenue at all.

This would appear to suggest that whilst the current government is in charge simple arithmetic just isn’t going to cut it.

Song Of The Day ~ The Joy Formation – Whirring

I saw the youtube footage of Jody McIntyre at the London protests.  There was a little shock, only because Jody was wheelchair-bound, the sight of able-bodied protesters being beaten in this country does not surprise me.  I saw the subsequent interview with Ben Brown on the BBC.  There was a little shock,  only because this was a direct interview, I have seen Ben Brown give his report at Westminster bridge and it was clear then that he is “establishment-embedded” to hear a mass media correspondent in this country get the facts wrong and have no intention of asking genuine questions does not surprise me.  In fact what little came out of the interview of any succour was the fact that Jody McIntyre far from being a cowed debilitated witness came across as strong and committed and made Brown look dogmatic and petulant.

At this point I have to stop and think though.  Why does it not surprise me?  It does not surprise me because it is now so commonplace, I have become anaesthetised to such behaviour, to such injustice.  Yet, this does not make each of these incidents any less wrong than when I saw such things for the first time, just that I am no longer seeing it with the same naivety-crumbling shock but through the eyes of a middle-aged man who has seen this and sadly far worse many times before.  We must be very careful here for when we start to accept such attacks we are already down the road to complete ambivalence and dare I say it, toleration, if we lose our outrage there is little to stop atrocity.  To become used to the violence, to the infringement of civil liberties and human rights is to presume that “this is the way things are” as if therefore it cannot be changed.  Were that to be the case a great many repressive regimes would still remain in power.  These regimes function by the very normalisation of the violence coupled with the presumption that if you behave yourself, if you do not represent a threat then you will be ok.  The police attack on Jody McIntyre is a rare slip-up that reveals the more sinister underbelly and under that fleece of “new conservatism” there lurks a beast we are all too familiar with.

What Jody McIntyre’s case illustrates is the complacency and arrogance of the establishment over recent times, they believe they have won, they believe the spirit is broken and that it is now time to mop up a few dirty stragglers and because of this they are making mistakes.  They have attempted to portray the demonstrators as thugs, as organised hooligans, they have tried to focus upon the damage to property and the demonstration meeting with the royal car in order to obfuscate the issues and yet still people protest and still people are not prepared to put up with it.  They are not going to rest here, the ‘powers that be,’ water cannons may come, the cherry-picking of “ringleaders” certainly will and the stigmatisation of those who take part throughout the rest of their lives has long since been a feature of this country’s way of doing things.  If you attend then you should be aware that they know you have attended.  If you join up with organisations against the system do not expect the system to let you back in later.

Do not presume they hold all the cards.  The reason they want to sort the students out now is because they expect public sector workers to take to the streets in protest against the massive cuts in the NHS, the information about which is seeping out of the dam of disaster capitalism, to risk an active united front of union workers, students and the general public is something they are very afraid of indeed, hence the desire to compartmentalise each individual section of the cuts to be dealt with in turn.  The vote should have seen this off people should have returned home embittered but defeated, this is the English working classes, the MPs aren’t supposed to be scared of them, after all they’ve beaten them before and “we’re not going to have another miner’s strike again.”  This much is true, centralised, mobilised trades union movements are not what they used to be but the loss of central co-ordination also brings with it the loss of central power, the movement now is of people in much smaller groups, more difficult to control but also for the establishment to infiltrate, the weapons of this struggle on their side will be the same, police brutality, zero tolerance in the courts, repression on a grand scale, but we have seen this before this does not defeat people it makes them come stronger and this time we have more modern weapons, ones that if used properly will hit them genuinely where it hurts.  People should not be afraid of their governments, governments should be afraid of their people as Alan Moore wrote in V for Vendetta.  It is time to remind them why they should be afraid, very afraid.

Song Of The Day ~ The Smiths – Panic

I am not an apologist for the current Russian regime any more than I am for the previous Soviet regime, nor am I a holocaust denier or a anti-semite.  It is a pity that I should even have to preface any of my writing with that rather than people judge on content itself but there we go that’s the world and perhaps by me doing so I serve only to perpetuate it.

I saw John Sweeney’s ‘exposé’ on the BBC about the changes in Russian education that are softening the historical message on the Stalin era in schools.  I am not altogether a fan of the Putin regime, at the very least the ideology on which the Soviet Union was founded was theoretically sound, if never properly put into practice.  Putin’s agenda is a great deal shadier though he lacks none of the qualities his Soviet and KGB education and training would have prepared him for.  By the same token though in a Russia that is having to contend with a great many economic problems at a time when its economy is neither really state-nationalised nor free-market driven it is unsurprising that a Putin figure should be seen as necessary by a Russia that has always welcomed strong inwardly nationalistic leadership.  It is the very reason many still have secret admiration for Stalin, just as in other countries Hitler, Mussolini, Franco etc. are seen as having at least brought order to the chaos even if their methods might have been questionable.

Sweeney first approached the historian Igor Dolutsky whose book has been dropped from the syllabus, making him a subjective witness on one side of the story, and then bullied and berated Aleksandr Filippov, the historian responsible for the more revisionist view of history that seeks to downplay the attrocities of Stalin’s tenure and herald him more as a great leader from Russia’s past.  Filippov explains “It is wrong to write a textbook that will fill the children who learn from it with horror and disgust about their past and their people. A generally positive tone for the teaching of history will build optimism and self-assurance in the growing young generation and make them feel as if they are part of their country’s bright future. A history in which there is good and bad, things to be proud of and things that are regrettable. But the general tone for a school textbook should still be positive.” which will make a great many ears prick up as being an area that needed to be handled very carefully indeed, but would I have no doubt raise far fewer eyebrows were it either to be taken as applying to a book in the West about colonialism, slavery or a book about Christianity.

When looking at the Great Famine of 1933 where effectively the direct policies of Stalin led to deaths that are still unquantifiable but run without doubt into multiple millions, Sweeney describes how  the 2009 “positive history” textbook dedicates 83 pages to Stalin’s industrialisation whilst only one paragraph details the famine.  I wonder if Sweeney has read many general English history books since his schooldays where the Irish famine, also very much the result of central government policy, receives little more than a footnote within pages and pages of irrelevant English royalist pomp and ceremony.  This is not to excuse the lack of detail of the Soviet famine, the young must be educated in how something happened so as to see the dangers of things in the present and future but it is also quite easy to see how it might be argued that Stalin’s industrialisation and collectivisation has much more relevance now because it continues to exercise an influence on Russian infrastructure, especially agriculture where an event that happened over seventy years ago is more detached.  I wonder also whether Sweeney applied the same critical eye over Russian Tsarist history and the revisionism that has taken place there in the post-Soviet world.  If one takes the example of famines for direct comparison how much attention is paid to the 1899 famine in which over half a million died, at the same time as which Tsar Nicolas II was commissioning Fabergé eggs in a display of opulence emblematic of the Marie Antoinette school of regal diplomacy.

One must be careful not to criticise Sweeney’s documentary solely on the basis that he lacks the charisma of many hard-nosed investigative journalists.  Sweeney has built himself something of a reputation by virtue of his irascible temper as shown by the many links to his interviews with the Scientologists in which he is seen getting very angry indeed.  Whilst making for good television this does not necessarily constitute a style conducive to finding out things that people do not want to tell you.  He is highly adversarial in style and comes across, at least in this program and the clips I have seen of him as dogmatic.  This is not a crime, nor at times even a bad thing as a presenter, but it is something that needs to be labelled very carefully as comment and not necessarily as objective news.

Sweeney offers a number of what are supposed to be ‘startling facts’ for example that Stalin was voted 3rd in an all-time list of greatest Russians in a recent poll, but one has to consider that Churchill remains top of a corresponding British list and whilst I would not like to draw direct parallels between the two there is plenty of evidence to suggest that Churchill was capable of a number of seriously questionable decisions, such as his home office white paper in 1911 calling for the sterilisation of the mentally ill.  Let us not forget also that Isambard Kingdom Brunel came second on the British all-time list in no small part to Jeremy Clarkson’s erudite and amusing portrayal of the engineer.  Such polls are frequently about entertainment, and often choose the cuddly or popular image of a person rather than the less palatable things that might have been going on behind the facade.

The trouble is that each country sees its leaders differently from those countries where this leader may have exercised malign influence, the internal association will often be for mundane daily things that people may seen as having been better than the present whilst externally that person is synonymous only with the most headline-grabbing events.  You cannot choose who you decide to hold responsible for war crimes, Stalin committed a great many, as many as Hitler and the Nazi regime and was in many ways personally responsible for more even than the Nazi machine due to his own paranoia and cult of personality.  However after the Second World War the allies chose the sides they were on and after the major known Nazis were put on trial at Nuremburg a huge number of war criminals simply faded into the background, as they were not seen as the enemy any more.  Since then Augusto Pinochet, Henry Kissinger, Richard Nixon, Francisco Franco, Tacho Somoza, Kim Jong-Il, the Interhamwe, George W Bush amongst a great many others have all carried out operations that should answer the charges of war crimes and/or genocide and all have had no censure and no trial, despite many attempts to bring them to justice.  Some, such as Robert Mugabe have been reprimanded as if treating them like an eight year old pupil might have an effect on a small-time megalomaniac, others such as Saddam Hussein have just pissed off the wrong people and ironically been handed over for trial by war criminals far worse than themselves.  Victor’s justice is everywhere in the present and the past, if one looks at the Bosnian War as an example, it cannot be denied that genocide took place however if one were to look through the standard media sources you would be hard pressed to see anyone other than the Serbs as responsible and this is by no means the whole story.  That is not to absolve the blame from the Serbs or any party in any way merely to point out that a justice system that functions on this premise makes it not about a prosecution for the actual crimes committed but a prosecution based on whose side you happened to be on at any given time.

Had this been a broad-reaching survey of many countries and condemnation of the Orwellian practice of changing history to shape the future it would have had a great deal more legitimacy, as it was it become an individual tirade against one country for a practice that has been widespread across the world for generations, that of airbrushing the less palatable actions of the past from the history books so as to give an undue preponderance to the events portraying the nation as a great, munificent and benign one.  Of course that may be because Sweeney himself has been educated in a nation that has become something of the master of this practice, how else could one explain swathes of people still hankering after the days of the “We rule it map of the world” of the ‘civilising British Empire’?

Song Of The Day ~ The Beatles – Back In The USSR

Executing Justice

I watched Channel 4’s parallel Britain drama The Execution Of Gary Glitter because I felt kind of compelled to as something that is likely to ignite debate about a very emotive subject.

What I think the program did well was keep out of much of the subjective judgement of the pros and cons of the death penalty in the sense that it did not overtly seem to favour one side or the other, it was after all a drama. However it did venture partially into that area by providing the arguments in the characters represented within the drama and by the closing credits which cited a Harris Poll that stated 54% of the British public supported the reintroduction of the death penalty.

Unlike some people criticising the drama I think the example of Gary Glitter was a good one because it is high profile enough for most people to have some opinion on it. There is likely to be very little debate as to any miscarriage of justice in Glitter’s case as it is widely presumed that he is guilty. Therefore, putting the judicial situation to one side for a moment, the arguments in his case come very much down to whether or not one supports the execution of people who have been proven categorically to be guilty of the most heinous crimes.

The drama focused on a couple of points that are perhaps fanciful (maybe designed to be) in the main case namely that (a) sentence should be carried out within 30 days of it’s being passed and (b) that the decision to implement the death sentence itself lay with the jury and not with the presiding judge. Both of these points I would have thought are complete non-starters in legal terms. In the model the drama described the only appeal process possible was to the Home Secretary hence the ability to keep the timeframe to 30 days. The judiciary are not likely to cede their sovereignty in such matters nor should they. To place elected politicians in the situation of having the last say in the serving of judgement would be catastrophic as it would mean the likelihood of judgement served based on public opinion and not necessarily on jurisprudence.

I was not impressed with the dealing of the counter-arguments to the death penalty which I think were restricted very much to a bourgeois middle-class liberalism that only serves to inflame the supporters of capital punishment and does nothing to further the case to prevent its reintroduction. Not everyone who stands against the death penalty is a wooly-minded liberal and neither are the most cogent arguments against it.

Looking at the arguments in favour of the death penalty which were certainly voiced in the program a lot, these press all the populist, self-righteous and vengeful buttons and, allowed to go unchecked, are as persuasive as the idea of immigration controls.

The most common view is that the death penalty is a deterrent to the most severe of crimes, though I believe most of the people who cite this could not if pressed come up with any statistics that would in any way back this up. Certainly my impression is that you are not less likely to be murdered in the states of America where the death penalty is enforced than you are in those where it is not. With very little research it appears that the FBI statistics support my position and not that of those thinking it is a deterrent.

Overall Murder rates 2007

The second idea is that there are certain people who are just evil. This rather depends therefore on whether you accept evil as a value, or a concept that exists. If so it certainly packages things into the more black and white, which humans tend to prefer, rather than successions of greys which are a great deal more ambiguous. It would be very nice and easy to say ‘well that person murders people because they are just evil’ but the debate should not actually end there, though most of the proponents of the evil hypothesis would prefer it to. If such a thing as evil exists how does it manifest itself? Are some people born evil? Is it something that people can become later on? If the former then there must be some form of genetic predisposition and therefore is it not a good idea to study such a thing in order to ascertain whether or not it can be identified? If in fact ‘evil’ is something that comes about through nurture then there must be identifiable factors at certain points of a person’s upbringing that could be studied to determine which of these changed a person’s intrinsic moral value. What if evil were to exist but be a combination of both of these factors? Therein surely still lies the basis for scientific research to determine whether there are common triggers that may make people in certain circumstances or at certain times more disposed to acts that the majority would consider evil. Furthermore once a person is ‘evil’ is that it, is there no turning back? If this were to be true are there different grades of evil, can you just become a bit nasty or is it a case of once turned you have the dark lord as your master? If there remains hope (and surely the Christians amongst you must believe this to be the case for it is written thus) then would it not be verging on sinful to deny someone the chance to realise their wrongs and repent? Apparently God rejoices far more when a sinner repents than ‘he’ does over someone who’s always righteous. Possibly because the always righteous are either sickeningly sanctimonious and therefore very boring company, or they are merely non-existent. How does God feel if you decide for ‘him’ and put someone to death?

This is of course leaving aside the idea that evil is an arbitrary subjective concept that has been invented in order to brush things under the carpet that disturb us but we do not understand. After all a great many humans retain a naive belief that there is an innate moral justice in the world, that there will, that there must be, be some balance. The God theories are but one manifestation of this. Taking the God theory into the debate though, the bible may say an eye for an eye (better refuted by Ghandi) but it also says “judge not lest ye be judged” and Jesus says that one must forgive ones neighbour 77 times 7, he does not go on to list a hold load of caveats such as unless your neighbour is just evil or has committed certain things. Ah but the bible has commandments and ‘thou shalt not kill’ is one of them so does this not therefore show a clear transgression of the most basic moral code? Yet there is no commandment that thou shalt not rape, or interfere with children but we still know this to be wrong and it is enshrined in law. Are some laws therefore more important than others? Or is it the adherence to a code of laws that is key? If the state kills how does it square this with the thou shalt not kill commandment? Are there a group of people for whom the commandments do not apply? If so who is to say who is in these groups? Is it simply a majority thing, that if you’re in the biggest group you can decide that they don’t apply to you today? The evil and religious argument in general is riddled with holes and fraught with moral subjectivism and frankly to make a code of laws on these premises is going against all forms of logic.

A lot of supporters of the death penalty ask what one should do if you know categorically that someone is guilty. This of course depends on one’s view of categorically, it reminds me of the case of Nick Ingram who was executed in Georgia on the 8th of April 1995. For Americans Ingram’s case was no different to so many others and it only came to light in the UK because he was of joint British-American nationality. In April 1995 a retrial was called for because it emerged Ingram had been given anti-psychotic drugs during his trial which made him appear cold and emotionless and had potentially a detrimental effect on how he was seen in court and by the jury. In Ingram’s case there was no refuting that he appeared to have carried out the crime, Ingram’s defence hinged on the claim that he had blacked out after a drunken binge and remembered nothing of the bungled robbery and subsequent murder. This might be seen as an easy defence, but what if it were true? Are we really prepared to stake people’s lives on the fact that we think this is provable one way or another? Ingram served 12 years on Death Row and was granted last minute reprieves more than once including the last one one hour before his scheduled execution. Despite pleas of clemancy by the then Archbishop of Canterbury and numerous backbench MPs Prime Minister John Major who claimed to be against capital punishment refused to intervene and plead for clemency. American pro-death penalty supporters cheered the hearse that drove to the prison on the night he was put to death by electric chair. He was 31.

I am also often asked what I would do were I in the situation of the victim, ie were someone in my family killed – well this is a non-starter, the law is not made by people who are involved in a case for they cannot be anything other than subjective, the law has to take a dispassionate view as to what is right and just. You hear a great many people wronged by people who do not play the vengence card for as they rightly say “it will not bring x back.”

Another argument I have heard mentioned is cost – that it must surely cost less to put someone to death than to keep them alive at the taxpayer’s expense for their life’s incarceration. Are there any figures to support this? My gut instinct is that the legal framework that must be gone through for a death penalty case and the appeals processes etc. are probably vastly more expensive than the cost of keeping someone locked up. According to statistics in California the additional cost of an inmate on Death Row is $90,000 a year more than an inmate who is serving life with no prospect of parole in a maximum security prison.

The case of Gary Glitter is interesting because it highlights another potential problem, the fact that the media hugely influences and manipulates our opinion about people and circumstances. Frequently we are told that other countries standards are not up to our own, the mistrust of foreigners and foreign governments is rife, and yet in the Gary Glitter case one is expected to take all the evidence of a Vietnamese court as red. Now it may very well be the case that the allegations are completely well-founded and Glitter is indeed guilty, he certainly does not come across as a likeable man nor full of remorse. However were he to be innocent of the crimes this would very likely be his behaviour, it certainly does not prove guilt one way or another. There is nothing that precludes innocent people from being bastards, you don’t have to be likeable to be law-abiding.
Finally though I have to come back to the case of the Guildford Four where in 1975 Mr Justice Donaldson, who also presided over the Maguire Seven trial, expressed regret that the Four had not been charged with treason, which then still had a mandatory death penalty. In 1977 the IRA made the British aware that the Guildford Four were innocent of the bombings but the convictions were only quashed in 1989 when the appeal judge declared that the police had lied and fabricated notes and documents in order to fit the case they wished to present. The overturning of the convictions came too late for Guiseppe Conlan, had Judge Donaldson had his way it would have come too late for ten other innocent individuals.

Song Of The Day ~ Idlewild – Love Steals Us From Loneliness

Are you scared of Russia again yet?

Apparently the Russian FSB (ex-KGB) are running riot, if the Western media is to be trusted, which is debatable at the best of times let alone in these cases where there may be seen to be a clear political agenda at work, what we are expected to believe is that an organisation that ran for decades one of the most effective covert espionage operations across the world has suddenly decided that such secrecy is not in its best interests, or simply not necessary, when it comes to things like high profile target elimination.

It is true that the KGB and many of its operatives do not function quite in the same actively-sponsored way that it may have enjoyed in Soviet times and therefore many former employees may now be essentially little more than ‘guns for hire’. However to me at least it seems a little implausible that they have forgotten their training overnight in order to pursue a more public campaign to advertise their work.
First there was the ‘Orange Revolution’ in the Ukraine.  There was always something I never felt was quite right. There seemed to me, from the raw facts alone, to be a great deal of ambiguity which was not being reflected by an electrically-charged media who looked all intent on being a lynch mob for the “wronged” candidate, Viktor Yuschenko the one who happened, quite coincidentally, to be the pro-Western, that is to say pro-Western industry and foreign investment, candidate. We were given a black and white version of events, one which stated that the pro-Russian candidate Viktor Yanukovych had rigged the election in favour of his faction over Yuschenko’s.  A little digging appeared to suggest that there were many irregularities on both sides.
The initial first round election results had both candidates receiving a shade over 39% with Yanukovyych faring well in his Russian-bordering Eastern Ukraine whilst Yuschenko had likewise received most of his support from the EU-bordering Western Ukraine. The river Dnipro being the rough dividing line between the two areas. The turnout was cited as proof of Yanukovych’s gerrymandering since it stood at around 96% which was enough to make anyone suspicious. It was not however cited in context with the turnout figures of Yuschenko’s areas where the turnout was only marginally less at 94%. Presumably this extra 2% makes all the difference in the identification of foul play over a well-run honest campaign.
To make matters worse Yuschenko had been “poisoned” by means of dioxins which left pock-marking all over his face and didn’t kill him.  Correct me if I’m wrong but if you are trying to kill someone high profile would it not be a somewhat stupid idea to use something that even if it achieved the desired result would take not only a long time but in addition make it very publicly obvious what was going on.   I did hear an interview with a former KGB colonel who stated that he had never known the KGB to have used dioxins for poisoning.
Ironically in the West after a matter of months criticsims were already being made of the Orange government’s economic reforms, calling them too socialist and populist.  Yuschenko tried sacking most of the government but that doesn’t appear to have worked so one can only expect the US to come to his aid at some point and build a large airbase at Lviv.
Then there was the murder of defector Oleg Litvinenko. The use of polonium in the poisoning has been seen as proof of involvement of a state actor, as more than microscopic amounts of polonium can only be produced in nuclear reactors. Most polonium produced in Russia, however, is distributed by western commercial distributors. This is not to assert specifically that there is an evil shadowy Western presence at work herein, no how could such a thing be necessary, the US government can freeboot around and pretty much do openly what it desires. What it illustrates is depending on the nature of your spin the information that is omitted is often as important as the information that is given. Again I find it strange that an organisation such as the FSB would have chosen something so public and so high profile as a method. That is not to say that it could not have been them merely that one has to question a little further in order to determine whether or not it might have been rather than accepting it as red (forgive the pun!).  Unless of course the new FSB have decided in the case of the poisoning of Victor Yuschenko and Oleg Litvinenko to be altogether more unashamed and blatant in their approach.
Finally (for now) we also have the “irregularities” of the recent Russian election that has returned Vladimir Putin’s party to power with a large majority. However in much media coverage of interviews in Russia Putin in particular appears to have fairly widespread support particularly in voter rich areas such as Moscow. We are told about a “creeping Putsch” and referred to the election of Vladimir Putin to follow Boris Yeltsin in a ‘by any means necessary approach.’ Then our attention is further drawn to the establishment of a spurious war on a separatist group, the Chechens, responsible allegedly for terrorist attrocities in order to enact large scale internal humanitarian repression and violation of human rights and legislative curbs on civil liberties…
I’m sensing you’re way ahead of me here…!
Do not get me wrong, I am not suggesting for a moment that Russia is a beacon of hope for those in the country nor of us on the Left any more than it ever really used to be in the Soviet days. I just find the propaganda war interesting nowadays, in the Cold War era there did at least seem to be some difference in the two ideologies even if neither were especially population-friendly. Now it appears there is a neo-capitalist/state capitalist hegemony that simply differs in the specific language it uses in order to appeal to the voting majority to retain its hold on power. Dissent seems now to have been marginalised to the point of near-extinction so ingrained is the propaganda of no alternative. To account for any gradual shift or the ‘muttering masses’ some new threat comes to light in order that people feel scared and cower in their own homes.
The media world has so many enemies for us to hate now it is a wonder we come out of our homes at all but Osama Bed Linen, Slobbo Milosevic, the Taliban and even Saddam Hussain, all of whom have been likened to Hitler and Stalin at one time or another, couldn’t cut the same sort of pathological fear as the old foe themselves.  The Reds are coming back
If you want a coping strategy my advice is to find a combination of what my Da told me to do with monsters in a nightmare which was to imagine them on the khazee and to do what a journalist for The Observer did in Libya when confronted with Col. Gaddafi’s cult of personality which was to call him Keith and refer to him thus throughout the rest of the travelogue.   You can choose to be afraid and allow your human rights to be ceded away to nothing in anti-terrorist laws which smack of emergency powers of the 1930s, or you can choose not to buy into the hegemony and cast your net wider and ask yourself why you are being told certain things and by whom.
It’s up to you. 
Song Of The Day ~ Radiohead – Black Star 


Red Baron Mediawatch – Tucked away on p. 23 in The Guardian a few weeks ago was a story about the US consolidating its position as the world’s leading arms dealer. The US currently accounts for 42% (approx $17bn of sales) of the world’s arms trade, 80% of which is currently to the Developing World. According to the article US sales have been buoyed up by the wars in both Afghanistan and Iraq making neighbours somewhat nervous, Pakistan, India and Saudi Arabia have been the largest buyers whilst Iran also remains high on the list, but it generally sources its hardware from the Russians.

It doesn’t take a genius to see that the US is absolutely raking it in on all counts. Firstly the defence budget has been justified meaning the American public pays good tax money that might otherwise be frittered away on healthcare or welfare on good old fashioned warfare in a struggle to defeat a subjective concept which keeps expanding even were one to get anywhere near to seemingly defeating it. Nouns are of course tacticians of the highest order!

Secondly all that military hardware is being used, and they’ll need to keep spending money to keep it going, the military objective is a largely destructive one whilst lo and behold who comes along to build Iraq like a Phoenix from the flames but Haliburton and the like, who glean lucrative contracts which are not tendered fairly in the first place.

Thirdly anything in the Iraqi infrastructure that is worth anything is put into the hands of companies that are fronts for US companies thus safeguarding the Iraqi oil not to mention ensuring that Iraqi oil continues to be traded in $ rather than € thus propping up the stability of the $.

It’s a win-win situation. For some. Certainly not for the Iraqis, or the Afghans. Is it any wonder Iran is shitting itself and trying to do a North Korea and tell the US that it has a nuclear capability in an effort to keep the GIs out of Tehran. However they’ve made a fatal mistake and are not playing the game, damn them, they’re paying money to the Ruskies and the septics want a piece of the action. It’s the rather more supra-national equivalent of the hoods coming roung saying:

“We’re offering you protection.”
Victim: “But I don’t need protection.”
Hoods: “You will do!”
Victim: “Listen we pay those red geezers”
Hoods: “Do we look like the red geezers? We’re bigger than the red geezers, we could eat the fucking red geezers for breakfast, you pay us from now on unless you want your capital city to have a nasty accident, know what I mean?”

There was me thinking that this was all about power and religious ideology and the clash of civilisations when all the time it’s nothing more simple than a brutal rip-off and how to make profane amounts of money at the expense of others in a rather Caponeian sort of way. Still we can’t say they aren’t learning from their history then can we?!

Song Of The Day ~ Maximo Park – Apply Some Pressure

So it was very much a legal news day yesterday:

Firstly from the ‘Court Circular’ – George Galloway has won his libel action against the Daily Telegraph. For those not familiar with the story the newspaper which is the most right-wing of the British broadsheet papers published a series of documents which had allegedly been found in the rubble of a recently bombed Iraqi government ministry. These documents asserted that George Galloway had received money from Saddam Hussein to the tune of £375,000 a year. Furthermore it claimed he had misappropriated funds which were supposed to be for an Iraqi child suffering from Leukaemia. The Telegraph in its defence suggested that it had been in the public interest to publish these documents. They claimed that in doing so they were not making a judgement one way or the other as to whether the information was correct. They are now asserting that having lost the case the freedom of information for the press has been seriously compromised.

The media and the press in particular is something I have always been very interested in and I have tried to remain objective in this case because the facts interest me, it has been difficult obviously with George Galloway being considerably closer politically to me than the Torygraph. One thing that I cannot see within the Telegraph’s defence is how they have claimed that no-one has actually proven these documents fake without being able on the flip side to prove their authenticity. So basically what it boils down to is that the newspaper has in its possession documents about a public figure on the other side of the political spectrum which are unsubstantiated. In this instance do they have the right to publish these documents inflicting damage on the public figure? If the case was The Guardian (liberal UK broadsheet) against Jonathan Aitken (former Tory cabinet minister) how would I feel? Well I have chosen that analogy precisely because it did happen, only the difference was that the Guardian was able to prove the genuine nature of its sources and Aitken lost the trial and went to jail for purgery. Leaving aside the events of the two trials I am struck by a contrast in reactions of politicians over the cases. When Aitken said he was going to “stamp out the cancer of bent and twisted journalism” many MPs rallied round him saying that the media should be regulated etc. etc. The same was true around the time of Jeffrey Archer who also went to prison having lied in court during the libel trial against the Daily Mirror (centre left UK tabloid).

Now these 2 examples were during the days of a Conservative government that was not averse to corruption, morally questionable behaviour, lying and hypocrisy, so what of the Labour government now? It is the Labour government that took the BBC to task regarding its reporting the they “sexed up” the intelligence dossier on Iraq to make out that Saddam posed a more imminent threat. The BBC Director-General and Chairman were forced to resign and the reporter Andrew Gilligan was censured because his sources were not apparently corroborated. It now transpires that Gilligan’s assertion was quite correct and in fact the government had used uncorroborated sources to apply the ’45 minute claim’ against the advice of the intelligence community. The BBC D-G and Chairman have not been reinstated nor have the government even issued any statement of contrition. The parallel with the Galloway situation bears observation as the Labour party expelled George Galloway shortly after the Telegraph article but veiled under the guise that he was not consistent with party policy. The fact that Galloway’s politics had not been consistent with central Labour party policy for over 10 years was not mentioned. Suffice to say I suspect George is not expecting an apology or even less likely a call back to the party having been exonerated of the charges of ‘treason’ as some claimed. I would hope and expect that were George to receive such an invitation he would at least have a little more integrity than Ken Livingstone who practically bit the arm off the Chief Whip after a cynical Labour Party U-Turn.

Secondly David Bieber, the man who was on trial for the murder of one policeman and the attempted murder of two more was convicted and sentenced to life (whole life) with no prospect of release. It transpires that Bieber was in fact wanted in US for the murder of his wife’s lover but that he had been released on bail whilst the case was assembled and when the police in the US were ready to arrest him he fled. He escaped to Britain where he was at large for 10 years. I found the case interesting that the US is currently insisting on extensive screenings on anyone scheduled to come into the country and yet someone leaving appears to have a far easier time of things. I’ll grant you it was 10 years ago when the US was more lackadaisical but even so I found it ironic nonetheless.

Song Of The Day – E.L.O. – Evil Woman

Original Comments:

Mark Ellott made this comment,
I’ve commented on this over at my blog. The Telegraph’s main defence seems to be that old adage “public interest” and “freedom of the press”. However, they have a responsibility to determine a story’s provenance before going to press. If the story is untrue or defamatory, then it is libel. The treason charge was a ludicrous one and merely added to the libellous nature of the story. They deserved to lose. It is not, as they claimed on the steps of the court, a “black day for journalism.” They broke the rules and got caught. Tough. No sympathy.
Visit me @ http://longrider.blog-city.com

[Redbaron responds – Exactly, spot on, I failed to put it better myself!]

comment added :: 4th December 2004, 11:35 GMT+01
Danny the Infidel made this comment,
It seam to be a thin line between public interest and sensationalistic press. We have had some cases here where news papers have been pounced by the Press Ombudsman. In one case a newspaper reviled the photo and identity of a suspect in a high profile murder case, when he still was just held for questioning. The person was later able to sue the paper.
To claim that the fact that they didn’t made and judgement on whether the information was correct or not seam to be rather like how the Fox News are playing the game with there hints of ‘some people say’ and ‘it have been said’. Then you just want to avoid responsibility and spread gossip.
I belive that the press should be extremly free, but in the same time I cale for stricter ethical thinking among the journalists them self.
Visit me @ http://upnorth.blog-city.com

comment added :: 4th December 2004, 17:41 GMT+01
Mark Ellott made this comment,
My own feeling is that they know damn well what they are doing and go for the publish and be damned approach. Libel or not, they sell an awful lot of newspapers that way. And, true or not, the Baghdad documents made good copy. However, tight regulation could mean governments suppressing stories that criticise them and that isn’t a good thing either. I think, on balance what happened here was a good thing as it was a timely reminder that libel costs and they can’t expect to get away with it carte blanche.
Visit me @ http://longrider.blog-city.com

[Redbaron responds – I heard a guy from Cairo put it into perspective – “In the darkness within the rubble of a bombed Iraqi government building a Telegraph journalist was looking around when a document fluttered down and it happened to be a document that explained in English how George Galloway was in the pay of Saddam Hussein.” This seemed to sum up the lunacy of the whole situation.]

comment added :: 4th December 2004, 20:46 GMT+01
Mark Ellott made this comment,
As Harry Hill would say; “What’s the chances of that?”
Visit me @ http://longrider.blog-city.com

comment added :: 5th December 2004, 10:18 GMT+01
Pimme made this comment,
Stealing from charity is horrible.
Sure, the US takes precautions if someone wants to enter, but if a known felon wants to leave, then I suppose the government is glad to be rid of him. ;^)

Visit me @ http://pimme.blog-city.com

[Redbaron responds – Indeed stealing from charity is morally repugnant, which is why if you are going to accuse someone of it you have a duty to ensure that the allegation has some founding. Accusations such as this are very damaging whatever the outcome. Just like accuse a man of rape and women will always be suspicious of him whether or not he was innocent. It’s the ‘throw enough mud and some of it will stick’ principle.]

comment added :: 6th December 2004, 01:17 GMT+01
Rachel made this comment,
The US is simply glad to have them out of their hair…I’m sure.
What a long post. And it’s only 7:26 in the morning. I promise I’ll report back when I’m most assuredly alive.

Visit me @ http://palmysinfullbloom.blog-city.com

comment added :: 6th December 2004, 13:26 GMT+01
Diogenes made this comment,
Is anyone going to investigate where the Galloway forgery came from? It is reminiscent of those KGB allegations against the Labour Party.
On the other issue, the Washington Sniper case showed that crossing jurisdictional borders is a good tactic for criminals.

Visit me @ http://diogenes.blog-city.com

comment added :: 7th December 2004, 01:36 GMT+01
A visitor made this comment,
Isn’t it great that Galloway won? And the Ukrainian vox pop won! Could this all indicate a turning in the tide of deceit towards an era of truth and justice?
Hey, come and vote for me! I’ve been nominated something or other.

comment added :: 7th December 2004, 16:50 GMT+01