The Love Children of Mystic Mogg
Private Eye used to have a column called "Mystic Mogg" reporting the hilariously erroneous predictions of William Rees-Mogg, sometime editor of The Times. I suspect this kind of journalistic aberration occurs when their analysis of what is happening is subverted by what they wish would happen. There was a splendid instance this week, when apocalyptic predictions across the media of a Labour vote collapse in Oldham West and Royton were embarassingly contradicted by the actual result (a 7% swing to Labour). Here are some of my favourite gazes into the journalistic crystal ball, which turned out to be more of a hallucinogenic disco ball.
The ever-reliable left-hater, Dan Hodges from the Telegraph on November 21st:
"The word among Labour MPs is that their party is in trouble in the Oldham by-election. One northern MP said: “The white working class vote is haemorrhaging. And it’s haemorrhaging in our heartlands. We’re reaching the point where you’re going to see double-digit constituencies drifting into recount territory.”
But readers of this blog will be accustomed to hearing that the so-called liberal press is more extremely anti-Corbyn. Rafael Behr in the Guardian excels himself:
"Labour will probably cling on in Thursday’s byelection. But the party’s troubled relationship with its northern heartlands seems to be on the rocks......Hopes that Corbynism might be the adhesive reconnecting a dislocated core to the party seem misplaced. It feels more like a catalyst for decline, another iteration of tin-eared disregard for local sensibilities – distinct from Blairism only in the sense that they are opposite sides of one Islington coin."
This is only some of the bile in this sadly unprophetic article.
Ian Warren in the Guardian on 1st December: "I have identified three distinct groups that will decide this byelection on Thursday – and it doesn’t look good for Corbyn." Ian's distinction is that he is director of an election analysis consultancy. I hope this article is added to his CV.
I'm a big fan of the experts, and there are none better than Rob Ford, research fellow at Manchester University's Institute for Social Change, in the Guardian: "Labour has good reason to feel nervous about its poll test in Oldham" he pontificates on 28th November, but the rest of his "analysis" sounds more like Armstrong and Miller's desperate royal correspondent: "Low turnout and Tory recruits can narrow the gap, but a Ukip win would also require large numbers of voters to switch from Labour to Ukip." No shit, Rob! By the way, Rob Ford is the co-author of a dodgy book arguing that UKIP was more of a threat to Labour than the Tories, which maybe explains his psephological errors, as dissected by Richard Seymour.
Robert Hardman in the Daily Mail on 3rd December was also hedging his bets: "...there is no doubt that its whopping 14,738 majority, won just seven months ago at the General Election by the late Michael Meacher, will be slashed.....a tropical heatwave would not avert this slump in Labour’s appeal."
Now begin the surreal. The Daily Mirror's Dan Bloom, who prepared his readers for Labour's demise with the headline "Dark Night of the Polls for Jeremy", had to refute himself a few hours later: "Jeremy Corbyn has defied his critics in spectacular fashion as Labour won a thumping victory in his first ballot box test." Throughout this "turnaround" in elite expectations, a notable feature has been a lack of humility about previous mistakes.
One example of this is Helen Pidd, who benefits from local knowledge by being the Guardian's Northern editor in Manchester. She was cringe-makingly racist about Asian voters in Oldham, and then failed completely to retract anything, keeping in sync with the Blairites' "despite Jeremy" argument: "The message from the leadership came after Corbyn’s critics, who had predicted a narrow win for Labour in the byelection, were confounded by the scale of McMahon's victory. Shadow cabinet ministers had predicted a collapse in the white working class vote, with many of those voters turning to Ukip." She modestly fails to mention her own role in this error. Amusingly, when Corbyn visited after McMahon's victory she tweeted the name of the constituency as Oldham West and Royston, unconsciously linking it to the League of Gentleman's Royston Vasey, a fictional northern town of feral grotesques. Sometimes I have the feeling that middle-class journalists project their own unacknowledged prejudices onto an image they have of a racist, ignorant white working class. "Jeremy Corbyn, never 'eard of 'im." "But he's on every leaflet UKIP pushed through your door." "Oh, ah thought that were Father Christmas."
Hilary Benn's speech was pants (don't believe the media)
The Spectator magazine went so far as to publish the full text for us to ogle at. Here is my quick dissection of his scandalous, tub-thumping, murderous imperialist rhetoric.
BENN: Thank you very much Mr Speaker. Before I respond to the debate.... (CUT patronising encomium to Jeremy Corbyn)
Now Mr Speaker, we have had an intense and impassioned debate and rightly so, given the clear and present threat from Daesh, the gravity of the decision that rests upon the shoulders and the conscience of every single one of us and the lives we hold in our hands tonight.
RH: And as his master Mr Blair would have said: we feel the hand of history on those same shoulders that reach down to those oh so conscious hands. But at least Blair had a bit of self-awareness, and prefaced it by saying "now is not the time for cliches").
BENN: And whatever decision we reach, I hope we will treat one another with respect.
RH: Because when you're discussing whether we should dice up kids with shrapnel, the most important thing is to be polite.
(CUT... complimenting a long list of other people who made speeches - who does he think he is, the PM? Oh. I see now!)
BENN: The question which confronts us in a very, very complex conflict is at its heart very simple. What should we do with others to confront this threat to our citizens, our nation, other nations and the people who suffer under the yoke, the cruel yoke, of Daesh? The carnage in Paris brought home to us the clear and present danger we face from them. It could have just as easily been London, or Glasgow, or Leeds or Birmingham and it could still be. And I believe that we have a moral and a practical duty to extend the action we are already taking in Iraq to Syria. And I am also clear, and I say this to my colleagues, that the conditions set out in the emergency resolution passed at the Labour party conference in September have been met.
RH: They definitely haven't. Conditions 1 and 2 have not been met, and with conditions 3 and 4 it is too early to tell.
BENN: We now have a clear and unambiguous UN Security Council Resolution 2249, paragraph 5 of which specifically calls on member states to take all necessary measures to redouble and co-ordinate their efforts to prevent and suppress terrorist acts committed specifically by Isil, and to eradicate the safe haven they have established over significant parts of Iraq and Syria.
So the United Nations is asking us to do something. It is asking us to do something now. It is asking us to act in Syria as well as in Iraq. And it was a Labour government that helped to found the United Nations at the end of the Second World War. And why did we do so? Because we wanted the nations of the world, working together, to deal with threats to international peace and security – and Daesh is unquestionably that.
So given that the United Nations has passed this resolution, given that such action would be lawful under Article 51 of the UN Charter – because every state has the right to defend itself – why would we not uphold the settled will of the United Nations, particularly when there is such support from within the region including from Iraq. We are part of a coalition of over 60 countries, standing together shoulder-to-shoulder to oppose their ideology and their brutality.
RH: This is a highly complex legal area, and while it is a “clear and unambiguous” call to take action against ISIL/Daesh, Resolution 2249 does not invoke Chapter 7, which mandates military action. Some lawyers believe the self-defence argument, used repeatedly by Benn, can only be used if there is a real and imminent threat, not merely an intention or an unspecified threat some time in the future.
BENN: Now Mr Speaker, all of us understand the importance of bringing an end to the Syrian civil war and there is now some progress on a peace plan because of the Vienna talks. They are the best hope we have of achieving a cease-fire. That would bring an end to Assad’s bombing, leading to a transitional government and elections. And why is that vital? Both because it will help in the defeat of Daesh, and because it would enable millions of Syrians, who have been forced to flee, to do what every refugee dreams of: they just want to be able to go home.
Now Mr Speaker, no-one in this debate doubts the deadly serious threat we face from Daesh and what they do, although sometimes we find it hard to live with the reality. We know that in June four gay men were thrown off the fifth storey of a building in the Syrian city of Deir ez-Zor. We know that in August the 82-year-old guardian of the antiquities of Palmyra, Professor Khaled al-Assad, was beheaded, and his headless body was hung from a traffic light. And we know that in recent weeks there has been the discovery of mass graves in Sinjar, one said to contain the bodies of older Yazidi women murdered by Daesh because they were judged too old to be sold for sex.
We know they have killed 30 British tourists in Tunisia, 224 Russian holidaymakers on a plane, 178 people in suicide bombings in Beirut, Ankara and Suruc. 130 people in Paris including those young people in the Bataclan whom Daesh – in trying to justify their bloody slaughter – called ‘apostates engaged in prostitution and vice’. If it had happened here, they could have been our children. And we know that they are plotting more attacks.
RH: The attacker in Sousse, Tunisia had never been abroad, and was radicalised in Tunisia itself. In the case of the Russian airliner which came down over Sinai, Benn is getting ahead of the evidence. Egyptian authorities are still examining the black box and trying to recover data from the voice recorder. While security experts think that a missile from an ISIS-related group in the Sinai is unlikely, there are still three extant possiblities: a bomb planted on board, technical failure, and human error. If it were a bomb on board, it suggests again an attack from someone based in the local country, most likely on the airport staff. The ISIS group based in the Sinai claimed the attack was "in response to Russian air strikes that killed hundreds of Muslims on Syrian land”. So how does Benn think that launching similar attacks in Syria will make Britons safer? As we already know, the attackers in Paris were from Belgium and France, again observing the killing of Muslims in Syria and Iraq, and seeking revenge.
BENN: So the question for each of us – and for our national security – is this: given that we know what they are doing, can we really stand aside and refuse to act fully in our self-defence against those who are planning these attacks? Can we really leave to others the responsibility for defending our national security when it is our responsibility?
RH: As shown above, the argument for bombing Syria for the sake of self-defence and national security is completely specious. FFS, do we really need to repeat the security services' conclusion that the invasion of Iraq in 2003 substantially increased the risk of terrorist attack, as tragically proven on 7/7? Surely everyone knows that? Surely Benn himself knows that? I'm beginning to think he's a bare-faced liar. He can't possibly be that stupid.
BENN: And if we do not act, what message would that send about our solidarity with those countries that have suffered so much – including Iraq and our ally, France.
Now, France wants us to stand with them and President Hollande – the leader of our sister socialist party – has asked for our assistance and help. And as we are undertaking airstrikes in Iraq where Daesh’s hold has been reduced and we are already doing everything but engage in airstrikes in Syria – should we not play our full part?
RH: Britain's ruthless pursuit of imperial interests in the Middle East is as historic as France's, so within Benn's imperialist conceptual framework, this makes perfect sense.
BENN: It has been argued in the debate that airstrikes achieve nothing. Not so. Look at how Daesh’s forward march has been halted in Iraq. The House will remember that, 14 months ago, people were saying: ‘they are almost at the gates of Baghdad’. And that is why we voted to respond to the Iraqi government’s request for help to defeat them. Look at how their military capacity and their freedom of movement has been put under pressure. Ask the Kurds about Sinjar and Kobani. Now of course, air strikes alone will not defeat Daesh – but they make a difference. Because they are giving them a hard time – and it is making it more difficult for them to expand their territory.
RH: This is a completely separate argument, and should be made in the style: although it increases the risk for UK citizens, it is our duty to stop the expansion of ISIL/Daesh in Syria and Iraq. Benn muddles them up. When you're voting to kill people, you can't write something that reads like a last-minute student essay, to be ripped to shreds by your tutor. In any case, the extent to which bombing is effective is disputed, and may have been lied about by the US government. In July 2015 there was an unprecedented mass whistle-blowing from the US intelligence community (“Intelgate”), where “more than 50 intelligence analysts at Centcom have formally complained that reports on the Islamic State and the Nusra Front — Al Qaeda's Syria branch — have been repeatedly altered by senior intelligence officials to fit with the Obama administration's insistence that the US is winning the war against the two militant groups.” I wonder where Benn is getting his information.
BENN: Now, I share the concerns that have been expressed this evening about potential civilian casualties. However, unlike Daesh, none of us today act with the intent to harm civilians. Rather, we act to protect civilians from Daesh – who target innocent people.
RH: Given ISIL/Daesh's modus operandi in towns and cities, hiding in tunnels and bunkers or among civilians, this is meaningless and heartless rhetoric. He also callously ignores the pleas from civilians in Raqqa not to bomb published on Sunday in The Observer.
BENN: Now on the subject of ground troops to defeat Daesh, there’s been much debate about the figure of 70,000 and the government must, I think, better explain that. But we know that most of them are currently engaged in fighting President Assad. But I’ll tell you what else we know, is whatever the number – 70,000, 40,000, 80,000 – the current size of the opposition forces mean the longer we leave taking action, the longer Daesh will have to decrease that number.
RH: Here Benn culpably narrows the range of numbers for anti-Daesh Syrian rebel forces. Robert Fisk on Monday wrote: “At one point last week, one of Cameron’s satraps was even referring to this phantom army as “ground troops”. I doubt if there are 700 active “moderate” foot soldiers in Syria – and I am being very generous, for the figure may be nearer 70 – let alone 70,000.” Benn has himself become a satrap in selecting the figures he has, and by using the ridiculous term "ground troops". If the number is 70, should we bomb ISIL/Daesh strongholds in the hope of preserving 30 or 40? How would bombing have this effect? The reality is that so-called “moderates” have been cooperating with Islamists in Syria for some time, and in some cases converting to their side.
BENN: And so to suggest, Mr Speaker, that airstrikes should not take place until the Syrian civil war has come to an end is, I think, to miss the urgency of the terrorist threat that Daesh poses to us and others, and I think misunderstands the nature and objectives of the extension to airstrikes that is being proposed. And of course we should take action. It is not a contradiction between the two to cut off Daesh’s support in the form of money and fighters and weapons, and of course we should give humanitarian aid, and of course we should offer shelter to more refugees including in this country and yes we should commit to play our full part in helping to rebuild Syria when the war is over.
Now I accept that there are legitimate arguments, and we have heard them in the debate, for not taking this form of action now. And it is also clear that many members have wrestled, and who knows, in the time that is left, may still be wrestling, with what the right thing to do is. But I say the threat is now, and there are rarely, if ever, perfect circumstances in which to deploy military forces. Now we heard very powerful testimony from the honorable member for Eddisbury earlier when she quoted that passage, and I just want to read what Karwan Jamal Tahir, the Kurdistan regional government high representative in London, said last week and I quote: ‘Last June, Daesh captured one third of Iraq over night and a few months later attacked the Kurdistan region. Swift airstrikes by Britain, America and France, and the actions of our own Peshmerga, saved us. We now have a border of 650 miles with Daesh. We’ve pushed them back, and recently captured Sinjar. Again, Western airstrikes were vital. But the old border between Iraq and Syria does not exist. Daesh fighters come and go across this fictional boundary.’ And that is the argument Mr Speaker, for treating the two countries as one, if we are serious about defeating Daesh.
RH: There is actually a well-known political division between the government in Iraqi Kurdistan quoted by Benn and the Kurds of the YPG currently fighting ISIL/Daesh in Syria. The YPG consider the Iraqi Kurdistan government to be pro-imperialist, whereas they are anti- all imperialist forces, be they Turkish, Russian, US, British or French, and favour a non-sectarian, radically democratic communal state. Benn does not mention them.
BENN: Now Mr Speaker, I hope the house will bear with me if I direct my closing remarks to my Labour friends and colleagues on this side of the House. As a party we have always been defined by our internationalism. We believe we have a responsibility one to another. We never have – and we never should – walk by on the other side of the road.
And we are here faced by fascists. Not just their calculated brutality, but their belief that they are superior to every single one of us in this chamber tonight, and all of the people that we represent. They hold us in contempt. They hold our values in contempt. They hold our belief in tolerance and decency in contempt. They hold our democracy, the means by which we will make our decision tonight, in contempt. And what we know about fascists is that they need to be defeated. And it is why, as we have heard tonight, socialists and trade unionists and others joined the International Brigade in the 1930s to fight against Franco. It’s why this entire House stood up against Hitler and Mussolini. It is why our party has always stood up against the denial of human rights and for justice.
RH: The Labour Party has definitely not always done that, but let that pass. This is perhaps the most spurious part of Benn's speech. The dubious, and neo-conservative, political science which equates radical Islamism (itself a number of different ideologies) with the European fascist movement is much derided. As security expert Daniel Benjamin wrote: "there is no sense in which jihadists embrace fascist ideology as it was developed by Mussolini or anyone else who was associated with the term." Back in 2008, US federal agencies stopped using the term “Islamo-fascism”, as it was considered offensive, pejorative and confusing. Why is Benn still clinging to this old canard?
BENN: And my view, Mr Speaker, is that we must now confront this evil. It is now time for us to do our bit in Syria. And that is why I ask my colleagues to vote for the motion tonight.
RH: And why, might I add, were so many Labour colleagues persuaded by this? Is it not their job to research an issue as important as raining bombs on other people, so they could be well enough informed to reject this drivel?
David Cameron's 12-point plan for bombing Syria
David Cameron's 12-point plan for the bombing of Syria, as approved by Cabinet today:
1. Bomb the enemy.
2. Backtrack a bit, and explain who the enemy are. They are ISIL militants. They are not the forces of Assad (that was 2013), though they may be bombed again in the future. They are not members of the Free Syrian Army or any other "moderates", if they exist.
3. Don't bomb any "moderates". Despite the fact that "moderates" often become hardline Islamists or work with them, we will have no trouble deciding who is who.
4. Reassure the public that no civilians will be killed. Our 1000lb precision bombs mean that any militant who tries to hide in a group of civilians or deep in a bunker will be taken out, and he alone.
5. Persuade the public that our contribution on top of US, French and Russian bombing will be the turning point in the Syrian civil war.
6. Make an infographic which clarifies the difference between good bombs (ours, French, US) and bad bombs (Russian, ISIL suicide bombs).
7. Fight the argument that all these bombs could raze Syria to the ground with maps, eg showing that the Golan Heights are really quite high.
8. Don't help the Kurds too much. They're commies in conflict with our friends the Turkish government.
9. Pretend that the pleas from civilians in Raqqa not to bomb them do not exist.
10. Use the phrase "stand shoulder-to-shoulder with the French" in every media interview. If a journalist mentions Saudi Arabia, change the subject.
11. Appoint Lord Chilcott to lead a public inquiry into the legality of the bombing, to be completed sometime after our death.
12. If there is a terrorist attack on UK soil, say the solution lies in monitoring Muslim children more closely, further invading the privacy of UK citizens, and return to point 1.
Corbynmania - the Sock Puppets Fight Back
Has it struck you as strange how lifeless are the three right-wing candidates for Labour leadership (or "moderates" as the press calls them) when they debate on TV, when they address tiny meetings in community halls, or when they fearlessly abstain in Parliament? We can reveal that this problem - what shall we call it? the New Labour zombie effect? - may have sunk much deeper into the Labour Party apparatus than was previously imagined.
Meet Maria, Sara, Emilia and Jvlia (and that's not a typo). These charming young women have several curious things in common: the uniform blandness of their names, the stock photo attractiveness of their solitary photos, and their bizarrely recent joining of the facebook empire, given their age (in their 20s, all of them).
Further investigation makes things look even odder.
Maria Wilson, age 25, first post 6th August 2015, is a fan of Archway Kebab in Jeremy Corbyn's constituency, despite living in California City, California (pop: 14,120).
Sara Edward, age 25, law graduate from Bournemouth University, first post 5th September 2015, is a resident of New York, Norfolk, a hamlet in the Broads affectionately known as “The Little Apple”. I made that last bit up. It does not of course exist.
I'm fascinated by Emilia Brown (above), also 25, who graduated in psychology at Nottingham University, but previously studied at Nottingham High School, New Jersey. I'm guessing she's now looking for a job in Nottingham, Alabama.
Jvlia Jones, age 28, first post 25th August 2015, lives in London, but strangely is a fan of the unofficial Gosport Labour Party supporters' page in true-blue Hampshire.
The other thing that these keen new users of social media have in common is that they have all “friended” leading members of the Stop the War Coalition, and many other Corbyn supporters. And the lovely Jvlia includes Sian Berry, Green Party candidate for London mayor in her “friends”.
What can these classic social media “sock puppets” actually be doing? Is it really possible that they're part of a plot to find evidence to exclude Corbyn voters from the leadership election? I can't shake the image in my head of a male, middle-aged Mandelsonian clone tapping away into his computer, endlessly recreating himself as these attractive young women. In what are hopefully its dog days, can the “Old New Labour” Party get more ridiculous?
Addendum: We continue to investigate this phenomenon. An alternative theory is that the sock puppets are sponsored by the Israeli government, and may be designed to associate Stop the War activists with anti-semitic posts. Jvlia Jones has already made one such post. Or possibly to attack Corbyn himself, given the difference his leadership of the Labour Party would make for the Palestinian cause......
UPDATE 9 September: Since I posted this alert yesterday, two of these false friends, Jvlia Jones and Emilia Brown, have been overcome by bashfulness, and have deleted their fb accounts.
But there are many more young women seeking friendship with wizened old Leftists, a really welcome sign of the times.
Caitlin Edward, account created 7th September, has made no posts at all, but is presumably the younger, more hip sister of Sara Edward (see above).
Lucy King, age 23, first post 21st August, friend of the usual overlap between socialists and Greens, lives in Chelmsford, so may be a UKIP spy. Except that it's Chelmsford, New South Wales. Are you noticing any pattern here?
Ella Walker is the senior in the group at 44, but looking good for her age. In addition to a predictable taste for StW, the PSC, CND and Save Shaker, she has also joined a new group called "Mark's Zionist Sock Puppets". When Zionist sock puppets are joining groups of Zionist sock puppets, I fear this may all be a Kafkaesque plot to send Corbyn supporters into clinical paranoia, or at least terminal confusion.
Open Letters to Liz Kendall
An open, if rather personal, letter to Liz Kendall:
You don't know me, but I see you alone in your beige and featureless office, and listen to you struggling to form sentences without having the courage to actually say anything, and I know you're not a happy person. And I think you need somebody. And if you want to call it a friend, you can call it a friend. You and I may be very different politically, for I am supporting your rival Mr Corbyn, but I strongly believe that what unites us as human beings is much stronger than what divides us. When I saw that shot pull out to reveal no personal effects whatsoever to leaven the drabness, only a similarly beige map of the UK, I knew this was a cry for help. And if I can help, I will.
My second open letter to Liz Kendall:
I'm sorry to write to you again so soon, but I watched your video another time, and it struck me that we may share something. That at a deep level those words you are tapping into your product-placement computer all mean nothing to you, as they do to me, and to so many of the unkind commenters on the film. I seriously advise you to get away from your keyboard in that depressing room. I know it's hard to face up to the fact that you won less than one in twenty CLPs, and I'd like to share that I also know how hard it is to be ignored. Often I write on facebook expecting likes and shares, but am only met with silence. Maybe we should both just stop doing it. There's a big world out there, Liz, where you wouldn't have to try so hard not to talk about policies. If I see you in another of these desultory promos, without even a radio for company, I'll know you haven't taken my advice, but please give it some thought.
Very best wishes
My third open letter to Liz Kendall:
I hope you'll forgive me for yet another letter, but I wanted to temper the negativity of some of my earlier comments. Although we are poles apart politically, as I support the front-runner for Labour Party leader Mr Corbyn, I wanted to say that I find you a lot more honourable than your rival Mr Burnham, for instance over the Tories' Welfare bill. He said he opposed it, but nevertheless abstained, which seems to me dishonest, whereas I know that you do not oppose welfare cuts for the poorest at all, and would vote with the Tories if you were allowed. I hope you don't mind, but I'm going to guess that you see yourself as doing for the Labour Party what Margaret Thatcher did for the Tories. But I think we all know that's not going to happen, and I think you should therefore leave that computer alone and get out a bit more. You could try going to one of Mr Corbyn's rallies, and get energised by the young people clambering up the windows to catch him speak. But that may be a bit close to the bone. How about a salsa class (a lot more lively than that sub-Philip Glass music on your video), or a friend of mine swears by tantric yoga? Another lonely friend joined a skiffle band, and has never looked back. You wouldn't need to know how to play anything exotic like the washtub bass or the cigar-box fiddle - a normal guitar would be fine.
Open Letter No. 4 to Liz Kendall
I'm writing to you again because a couple of things have been troubling me, and as ever I have some suggestions I hope you may find helpful. Firstly, I do wish the dinosaurs from Old New Labour such as Messrs Blair, Straw and Campbell would actively distance themselves from your campaign. It can't help for you to be associated with these yesterday's men, especially as many people think they are war criminals who should be arraigned at the Hague. I feel that if they want to campaign for the leadership, they should run themselves, rather than tarnishing your campaign.
Secondly, I hope you don't mind me asking, but I have a friend who is a big fan of the great stage and screen actress Felicity Kendall, and we wondered if you two were in any way related. Who can forget the delightful comedy "The Good Life"? In any case, I'm upset to hear that the opinion polls don't look very good for you, so I wondered if you'd considered leaving politics like Mr David Miliband did when he lost to his brother Ed. If so, with your origins in the great town of Watford, a career in suburban situation comedy might be ideal.
Best wishes in these difficult times
Open Letter to Liz Kendall No. 5:
Let's forget about this terrible video for a moment, with its complete absence of policy. I prefer to blame your communications team rather than you personally. For I know you do have quite specific policies, even extending as far as foreign affairs. I have to say, though, that your desire to remove Parliament's ratification of statehood for the Palestinian people I found really shocking. Again, Mr Corbyn has a distinct, even unfair, advantage here, as he has many Israeli and Palestinian friends. I can only think that you've never been to Gaza. I have, and I can tell you it is an unforgettably tragic experience, which I'm sure would cause you to revise your current policy if you witnessed it. I know you're very right-wing, Liz, but surely that's not the same as being cruel to these suffering people. Or is it? Please please reassure me on this matter.
Open Letter to Liz Kendall No. 6:
I can no longer forbear to comment in detail on the video attached, which completely fails to promote you as potential Labour leader. I am a film maker myself, so offer my skills to suggest improvements. In the strangely inert dialogue scene between you and your computer (strange, that is, after the film "Her"), a great opportunity was missed. Why oh why did we not see some moving images on the screen for you to relate to? Maybe a jolly montage of white working class people NOT on benefits, such as plumbers or taxi drivers, but definitely not electricians, who tend to be committed trade unionists. Or you could have gone the full "Tessa Jowell", with her vision of "One London", everyone from mansion dwellers in Kensington to flat dwellers in Newham (as long as none of them claim benefits). Technically you would have to exclude bankers from this sequence, as they are the largest recipients of state aid, but I leave that as your call. I'm sorry that now we need a bit of film theory. If this is too high-falutin, please pass it directly to your comms team. The crucial concept is Lacanian suture, whereby viewers are "stitched" into your story and ideas by editing, by the juxtaposition of images. Here there was a golden opportunity to achieve suture in a single image, such as Professor Slavoj Zizek finds in the work of Polish master Kieslowski. You could have been reflected in the screen, as a ghostly presence in the lives of all your subjects. Thus as viewers we would have been stitched into your fantasy of power at any cost, and you could have won by a landslide. As it is, all we remember from the sequence is that infernal Apple logo, which makes you appear to be merely a servant of big Capital. Please tell me that isn't so. And Liz, change your comms team!
Best wishes as ever
Open Letter to Liz Kendall No. 7:
I wanted to clarify something in my last letter, as I fear you haven't replied yet to any of my letters because I've inadvertently offended you. When I referred to your "fantasy of power at any cost", I did not mean this in the popular sense of that word. I did not mean that in your wish to be Labour leader you were what people call a "fantasist", rather I meant it in the Freudian sense where fantasies are positive. As Dr Freud himself said, we "cannot subsist on the scanty satisfaction which (we) can extort from reality." He added that the energetic person is "one who succeeds by their efforts in turning their wishful phantasies into reality." Whether that will prove to be the case for you in the coming election is, I regret to say, rather doubtful. I only wish that you had appeared more "energetic" in that awful video, instead of looking like a late-night internet surfer, which always has a rather depressive air. I'm sure I too would be a more productive person if I didn't find myself writing to you in the early hours of the morning. I'm sure we can stop doing this if we try a bit harder, Liz. We could make a pact.
All the very best
Open Letter No. 8
I apologize for returning to the subject of that misguided video, and I promise I won't mention it again. One of the most disturbing aspects of it, though, is how the producers have no idea how to make you shine when moving. Instead you lurk in the shadows, behind the door, facing away from us. It reminds me of the grainy photos of the murder in Antonioni's 60s masterpiece "Blow-Up", but unfortunately I'm not sure whether you're the killer or the corpse. Killer, I hope, because although, as you know, I want Mr Corbyn to win, rather like the 35 MPs who originally nominated him, I'd like there to be a contest. Do you have the instinct, Liz? Aspiration may not be enough, as suggested by this scurrilous satirical site.
If I were directing you in a video, Liz, I would try a much more dynamic scenario. You can't beat the cinematic masters of the 70s, so maybe we could get you out of that computer chair and give you a (female?) friend, walking down the street, with you talking fervently, like in early Woody Allen. Something like this:
LIZ: (gesticulating madly) I mean, he's antIE-nooclear, he's so 80s my mother gets her shoulder pads out of the trunk when he's on TV. ETC
(Can you do a decent Brooklyn accent?).
These ideas are just early drafts, Liz, and we're only brain-storming here. But I'm sure I can do better for you than your current comms team. I would even offer my services for free.
Open Letter No. 9:
In my last letter I suggested a video campaign where you walk down the street dynamically like Woody Allen, putting the world to rights, with a girlfriend at your side. I just found out that you and Ms Stella Creasy, MP for Walthamstow, are drinking pals, even "bezzies". I read this in a newspaper, so it must be true. I was thinking she might be ideal to be your foil in these scenes. She could be your "Annie Hall", if you like. I am a bit concerned, though, that her tilt-headed, slacker hipster style might put you in the shade. We may have to dress her down a bit, though probably not as far as Mr Corbyn. On the other hand, to quote my friend Barry Watt, "Has anyone ever mastered the art of the empty platitude better than Stella?" Come on, Liz, you're not going to take that lying down, are you?
As ever, working to lift your campaign
Open Letter No. 10:
I have to confess I'm having second thoughts about the "street-talking" scenario, with or without your charming hipster friend Ms Creasey. It's time we admitted it. We have a major image problem. I don't mean you, perish the thought, any more than the rest of your New Labour comrades. I just mean that Mr Corbyn is quite brilliant at images which resonate with the public. How can any of you compete with that speech he made atop a fire engine in Camden. It said "open air", "spontaneous", "unguarded", "on the level", and "too popular for a mere hall". It also associated him with one of the strongest trade unions, the FBU. Perfect! So let's forget trying to make you into a motor-mouthed nebbish. That was silly. What resonant image could you have, which would work for your voters? How about Queen Boudica, repelling the migrant hordes? I like the idea of you as Labour's warrior queen. The problem which is always at our backs, however, is that Mr Corbyn does all of this without spin doctors or image consultants like me. So we need to do something "authentic". You'll need to cast off everything you've learnt of the dark arts of Mr Campbell, who has schooled young MPs such as you and Stella in the art of caution, vapidity and the infamous "triangulation". And I need to learn how to write "authentic" without inverted commas. Stella and her infernal "irony" can't help us now. Over to you, Liz. Give us the real you. I mean, nothing too scarey for either middle England or for the core voters. Something we could "focus-group". Omg, I'M doing it now. I'll just shut up for a while.
Your retiring helper
Open Letter No. 11:
I'm not just shocked, I'm angry. First of all, they spread a rumour about you, that you were having a relationship with a recently divorced fellow MP Mr John Woodcock. My reaction was incendiary:
1. Who cares?
2. Why is it appropriate for a female candidate such as yourself to suffer this tittle-tattle?
Was this coming from the campaign team of Ms Yvette "I'm a Mum, so I understand your problems" Cooper (barf), trying to take you out of the running because you are single? They deny it, but it must have come from somewhere. We know it didn't come from Mr Corbyn's campaign, because he famously "doesn't do personal". It reeks of the rancid legacy of New Labour, where Blair's people would brief against other ministers, and Brown and Blair would brief against each other. Liz, I only ask, is this what happens when politics is replaced by politicking? I'm so sorry that you should have been similarly traduced.
But even worse was the reaction of Mr. Woodcock himself. He replied that such claims were "not true, have never been true and WOULD NEVER BE TRUE”. Never say never, John. What can you mean? I'm sorry, Liz, I know I'm rather old-fashioned, but I think he's a cad, and in a bygone century I would have challenged him to a duel.
In your defence
Open Letter No. 12:
OK, we've got a problem. I wouldn't be a friend if I didn't tell you that your BBC interview today was a car-crash. I'm sorry, but saying that "we must support the disabled, but we must support ordinary people as well" has wound up a lot of folk. People with disabilities have responded "How dare she say I'm not ordinary!" and the able-bodied have responded "How dare she call me ordinary!". Oh dear. If you'll allow me, I think I've got a solution. It's no good sitting on it, hoping it'll go away. We need to respond now, so I've written you a small, concise retraction (sometimes we just have to do that).
"I realize I could have been misunderstood when I spoke about the disabled today on BBC News. I did not mean to imply that there was any conflict between the interests of people with disabilities and those of the rest of the population. I do not for a moment accept this false argument used to divide people by the Tories. I have always supported disabled rights both in my constituency and in the wider society."
How about it. Liz? Press release it now, and we will have achieved the desired "damage limitation". I know you will say that arguing that to give equal opportunities to the disabled requires state aid makes you sound a fulminating Marxist extremist like Mr Corbyn. But I think we need to recognize that the whole discourse has moved left because of his campaign, and there just aren't enough die-hard Blairites remaining for you to win like that. Disabled people and the unemployed can't easily be blamed for the deficit any more. Get the statement out, Liz, or the kind of picture you see here will continue to shoot around social media:
Open Letter No. 13:
I'm obviously upset that you didn't take my advice to clear up the matter of you seeming to discriminate against people with disabilities and thinking that everyone else is "ordinary". You actually did the next best thing by appearing on the World At One, which under the stewardship of the redoutably reactionary Martha Kearney, is one of the safest media ports for right-wing views to go unchallenged. So let's move on.
We need to think of other ways of bolstering your flagging image. In fact, I'm sorry to say, we need to talk about clothes. This may sound a bit rich coming from a guy who has dressed for years like a slightly sinister 1940s detective. But the point is that here again Mr Corbyn is trouncing his opponents with his now famous "Oxfam-chic", which plays very well with the growing constituency of artists in my part of East London. And, you know, by his not giving a f***. There was a time when a workerist cap indicated a Trotskyite "Dave Spart" you wouldn't want to get caught in a lift with, but now it's just so hip. And his beard will attract all the hipsters in my area, because for them, you know, that is SO political. Anyway, the fact is that the New Labour merchant banker suit just won't cut it any more. It provokes reactions of distrust, disgust, and "What the f*** did you do with my pension?" Your rival Ms Cooper has bagged the "mumsy" look, which is rumoured to be a kind of kid-scoring competition with you (Cooper 3 Kendall 0). Outrageous! Mr Burnham is always well turned-out, but when he opens his mouth you realize he's that Liverpudlian estate agent you met, a bit out of his depth, and battling to keep his job. How would you break away from the Blairite sharp-practice suit, Liz?
Open Letter to Liz Kendall No. 14:
I hope you don't think I'm being presumptuous, but I do wish you'd take my advice occasionally. I warned you about that dreadful sequence in your Open Letter to the Labour Party, the one where you smile at the computer screen, and the screen doesn't smile back. Well, now you've only become a twitter meme! #WhatisLizLookingAt
And I told you to apologize about the disabled vs ordinary people cock-up when you had the chance, and now you've provoked an e-petition. So it's no longer just me asking you to retract, at the last count it's 1,828 people.
I have to confess, Liz, I got sucked into signing it myself.
Open Letter to Liz Kendall No. 15:
I'm glad to hear that you're proud to join "The Resistance", led by those fearless guerrilla fighters Mr Chuka Umunna and Mr Tristram Hunt. I know you will lead a courageous rearguard action if Mr Corbyn wins, as bookmaker Paddy Power is certain he will. You know I liked the idea of you as Labour's warrior queen, but if my man Mr Corbyn wins, it will no longer be possible for you to wield your battle-axe in public on the fields of middle England. You will have to go underground, with only the mewlings of the conservative and liberal press, and old-fashioned, non-social-media broadcasters such as the BBC and Sky, to support you. By the way, I don't think Mr Umunna's earlier withdrawal from the leadership contest, which some people saw as cowardly, should count against him. Then he was facing only the British press, whereas now he fights for the soul of the Blue Labour Party itself. Cometh the hour, cometh the man.
But once again, I offer some advice. Is "The Resistance" really the ideal name for your group? OK, it's better than the earlier attempt, "Labour for the Common Good", which sounds like a particularly uninteresting meeting of the Cooperative Society. But the problem with "The Resistance" is that it evokes the fight of the French resistance in World War Two, and however much Mr Corbyn is attacked across the media, no one has yet suggested he's a Nazi (I am treating Cathy Newman's attempt for C4 to frame him as a supporter of holocaust deniers as, erm, exceptional journalism. Yes, that's the word - exceptional).
So, given that Mr Corbyn is closer to being a communist than a fascist, shouldn't you be called "Samizdat" or "The Dissidents" or something? The "Alexander Solzhenitsyn Appreciation Society" is too long, but you know what I mean.
Open Letter No.16:
I'm in a bit of a panic, actually, and I wonder if you could help me. I know that normally I'm trying to assist you, but this is an emergency.
Many many friends have been excluded from voting in the leadership ballot, and they all seem to have one thing in common. They all wanted to vote for Mr Corbyn. People included in the #Labourpurge include longterm full party members and ex-local councillors, in other words people with much better qualifications than me. So let me make my case to you. Labour is the only political party I have ever belonged to. I left in 1994 when Mr Blair became leader, but I found his government a mixture of the good (the minimum wage, tax credits) and the awful (PFI and the invasion of Iraq). I never rejoined until now, but that was partly because I couldn't afford the suit. I've always voted Labour. And I've never been a stand-up comedian, because they seem to be the most suspect. But there seems be a kind of Blairite Stasi, sorry "rigorous checking regime", excluding people for dissident facebook posts and tweets. It all sounds a bit like China in the 50s, when Mao Zedong announced "Let a Hundred Flowers Bloom" to encourage critical thought, then purged and arrested anyone who came forward. My fevered brain is now imagining that Mr Corbyn may in fact be a stalking horse to root out all the remaining socialists in the party.
So I'm announcing a change of heart. I've decided that I've so enjoyed our conversations, albeit they've been rather one-sided, I'm going to vote for YOU. I've decided the party needs modernising to attract aspirers who live in your home town of Watford, people who like their local Indian restaurant, but for whom that's quite enough, thankyou very much. Furthermore, I really hate the films of notorious Trotskyite Ken Loach, and would much rather watch Downton Abbey. Liz, if I have any trouble with my vote, could you possibly put in a good word for me?
By the way, just checking, this ballot is SECRET, right?
Open Letter No. 17
I hope you're holding up as we reach the fag-end of this tiring campaign. I know it must be hard. In the Sky debate, Mr Corbyn gained over 80% in their viewers' poll, so that must seem like a nadir. But I want to bolster your spirits a bit. You came second! Let's ignore the fact that you only got 9.1%. You were twice as popular as Mr Burnham, and now the attention of all three of you must be focussed on what happens after the leadership election. It's a shaky launching pad, Liz, but like other viewers, I thought you came over as more honest and straight-talking than either of your Blairite rivals. Let's move on, as Mr Blair himself said about the Iraq war.
I think you should continue to emphasise the gulf between you and Mr Corbyn, as Mr Burnham's attempt to face both ways seems to be so much spin he must be dizzy. One of the most crucial fora for political debate these days is that focus for middle-class anxiety and prudent shopping, Mumsnet. They asked you all for your favourite book, and Mr Corbyn gave a most un-focus-grouped answer, James Joyce's “Ulysses”. This will be because, once again, he doesn't give a f*** what people think, and just answers honestly. For the rest of us, though, “Ulysses” is one of the those books that most of us pretend we've read, like Woody Allen's Zelig. (If you remember, Zelig's clinical need to conform starts with him pretending to have read “Moby Dick”.) Your rivals' choices were incredibly dull: Ms Cooper's “Middlemarch” is middle-brow for middle England, and Mr Burnham completely copped out with the Complete Works of Shakespeare. Nothing can be made out of nothing, Andy. But Liz, I have to say I found your choice of Hemingway's “The Old Man and the Sea” a bit disappointing. I hope you don't mind me asking, but was this an O-level set text for you at school, as it was for me? Anyway, it's just a bit too literary to contrast enough with Mr Corbyn's Joycean modernism. I'd suggest something much more popular. “50 Shades of Grey” is probably a bit risqué, and for the uninitiated might sound like a book about the Parliamentary Labour Party. Jeffrey Archer is possibly too Tory even for you, and frankly is just too awful. Bridget Jones I always found a bit wet, but what about something of that ilk? Sophie Kinsella's “Confessions of a Shopaholic” would have a positive underlying economic message. Or how about going further down that line with some proper “shopping and f**king”. Julie Burchill's “Ambition” would show that you were a lot more than merely damp New Labour aspirational. And Liz, I've got a lot more sub-literary suggestions. Just let me know if you need any more help.
With my Booker Prize specs on.
Open Letter No. 18
I enjoyed your final speech today, where you did the superb "triangulation" of arguing for party unity while at the same time trying to kick Mr Corbyn in the teeth. He seems to be quite a stoical type, so I don't think you should stress about any real harm done. There was a nice hint of self-criticism too, where you wondered if you'd been too harsh on Labour Party members who think the party is here to represent the poor. As you know, I'm rarely shy to offer my advice, so I do question if your emphasis on foreign policy was really necessary. You have views for instance on the Middle East which would make a number of Tories blanch, but above all, you know, I don't think the voters care very much.
When we sum up the campaign, it's probably best if we put the politics and those dull debates to one side. Instead, let's look at the positive. We can see that both you and Mr Corbyn have been much hipper and more street-wise than the rather strait-laced Ms Cooper and Mr Burnham.
What do I mean? Well, Mr Corbyn has his own Latin following here in London, and here he is playing the congas, seemingly not as a photo-opportunity, but just because he enjoys it:
And the latest version of your letter-writing video is so much better than the first, now you've re-worked it with one of your favourite rappers:
Liz, we can finally put that ill-fated letter to bed with the words of the great Eminem: "It was probably a problem in the Post Office or something."
Signing off, I can only adapt his words a bit: "I got a room full of Jez's posters and his pictures, man, but I'm your greatest fan. Anyways, I hope you get this, ma'am. Hit me back, just to chat, only yours, your biggest fan. But the problem is, Liz, #JezWeCan."
Vote now for most fatuous Guardian anti-Corbyn journo
(This is getting ridiculous. When I started compiling these, I thought I'd max out at half a dozen - now there are 15, and some are repeat offenders. Thanks to all eagle-eyed contributors.)
Who would you vote for for most fatuous Guardian anti-Corbyn journalist?
1. Polly Toynbee for hand-wringingly revealing a secret dyed-in-the-wool radicalism which presumably also caused her to support the SDP back in the 80s.
2. Patrick Wintour for uncritically recycling anti-Corbyn propaganda from "a Labour source".
3. Jonathan Freedland, leading member of the white liberal smuggerati, for dismissing young peoples' enthusiasm for Corbyn as narcissism.
4. Jonathan Jones, for linking Corbyn to the crimes of Josef Stalin.
5. Daniel Boffey for arguing that Corbyn has distracted Labour from being an effective opposition, in other words, for not being able to see beyond the end of his nose. If only they could be liberated from this pointless contest so they could abstain!
6. Michael White for the penetrating observation that Corbyn possibly used to, if memory serves, wear sandals with socks.
7. Nick Cohen for being the mad dog, visceral left-hater in the pack, veering from the surreal (Corbyn threatens workers' rights) to the shouty, accusing him of planting "kisses on the backsides of half the tyrannies on the planet."
8. Martin Kettle for going beyond Jones' fantasy of Corbynite communist atrocities, all the way back to the millennial Fifth Monarchy Men of the English Revolution.
9. Andrew Rawnsley for winning the alliteration consolation prize for "Labour downs a deadly cocktail of fatalism, fury and fantasy."
10. Suzanne Moore for seeing Blairite splittism as inevitable via cod psychology, and for making it clear, a la Toynbee, that she would support Corbyn if she wasn't so much smarter than all the rest of us.
11. Hadley Freeman, on day release from the "Lifestyle" section, for describing Donald Trump as "America's answer to Jeremy Corbyn".
12. Matthew d'Ancona for his version of the Freedland attack on the young (apparently they're all living in the moment or something) via pseuds corner semiotics.
13. Nicholas Watt for his attempt to make Corbyn seem an idiot by attributing an interviewer's question about "naughty people" to Corbyn himself. Good effort!
14. Sonia Sodha for her wise advice for the Blairites: "they need to explain why a Labour government – without spending more – offers better answers than the Conservatives." You've cracked it, Sonia - join the Burnham/Cooper/Kendall team.
15. Jessica Elgott for the best headline: "Corbyn caught looking gloomy on night bus".
Thanks for all the suggestions, and I know it's really difficult to choose.
Greece: a glossary for understanding the corporate media
Are you finding it difficult to navigate the complexities of the sensational events in Greek politics? This may be because you're following the traditional, corporate media, which is using normally easy-to-understand language in new and mysterious ways.
To make life easier, here is a quick glossary for these media key-words, telling you what they really mean:
|Media says||Describing||Should say||Gloss|
|Moderates||New Democracy / PASOK||Right-wing OR extremists|| |
The defeated coalition represents a group of hard-right ideologues with a commitment to the impossible, the repayment of the Greek debt, resulting in a brutal austerity policy which has only increased that debt. They are blindly wedded to a now outdated neo-liberal project from the 1990s.
|Centrists||To Potami (The River)|| |
Centre-right OR right-wing wolves in liberal sheeps' clothing
|A number of liberal journos over here see this new, media-confected party as better allies of Syriza than the racist Independent Greeks. This is an extraordinarily confused position, given that the arrogant demands of The River would have destroyed the anti-austerity policies voted for by the majority of Greeks. It's better to see To Potami as a way for conservatives to vote New Democracy without the accompanying embarassment.|
|Far OR Radical Left||Syriza||WE DON'T KNOW YET - could be left or centre-left/ in economic terms, moderates||The far left position is to leave the Eurozone, which most Greeks don't want, and Syriza is not espousing. How Syriza turns out depends a lot on what happens in the next few months. The Communist KKE is far left, refusing to enter coalition with Syriza, and wanting to ditch the Euro. Syriza by contrast takes the moderate position that the Greek debt is clearly both inhumane and unpayable, so at least part needs to be written off, as was very successfully done for West Germany back in 1953.|
|Dangerous brinkmanship / utter bankruptcy||Syriza's economic policy||Re-negotiating of the Troika memorandum|
Hope this is useful!
Why the Paddington movie does nothing for migrant rights
The new Paddington movie is witty, exquisitely acted and beautiful to look at. And in a welcome change from the usual more-saccharine-than-a-plum-pudding Christmas fare, it has delighted liberal viewers with its perceived pro-migrant message. "Bear baits UKIP with fluffy immigrant tale" headlines Xan Brooks in the Guardian. Author Michael Bond has long been on the right side on this issue, allowing Paddington's image to be used in campaigns for migrant rights. An immigration lawyer's commentary on the real difficulties which an anthropomorphic bear might face has been popular on social media.
In the film however, this radical potential is tightly circumscribed, as London is represented by a small area from Notting Hill to South Kensington. Ukippers might well scoff that the Browns, with their huge W10 home, can easily afford to take in a migrant. The film very deliberately positions itself as a tale of London rather than the UK as a whole. This allows Londoners to feel smug about their racial integration, while allowing Ukippers from outside the capital to harp on their constant whinge that a London elite doesn't understand them or their issues. Even worse, Peter Capaldi's nosey neighbour Mr Curry, the representative of UKIP ideas in the film, has second thoughts when Nicole Kidman's evil museum director plans to stuff Paddington rather than report him to the authorities. Deportation of migrants is fine, we are left thinking, but killing them is not. Nigel Farage would agree. And all of this is tinsel-wrapped in a Mary Poppins London where non-ursine immigrants are represented by the best-groomed Caribbean street band you have ever seen. At the end of the film, the message is that in London everyone is different and can make a contribution. Note: London, not England or Britain. The UKIP mantra is effectively reinforced.
Sadly, it's a sweet film that is utterly unchallenging to watch for the many low-level racists who will vote UKIP in May, and even endorses them.
Pirate Bay Down! Panic, Paranoia and Plain Speaking
It is now two days since a raid by Swedish police on the mountain lair of its server took down the world's most attitudinal torrent tracker Pirate Bay. The internet is awash with rumours and claims about what has happened, and what will happen to peer-to-peer (P2P) file-sharing in the future. Owing to my addiction to the obscurer corners of art cinema, I am an inveterate file-sharer myself, and therefore have a strong vested interest. Here's my take on the responses to tpb's outage so far.
The commentary up to this point has mainly reflected the two poles on views of the future of the net:
1. The Pirate Bay will always come back, and if not, something else will replace it, because of the nature of the internet. Copyright holders are pursuing an inevitably losing war against file-sharing, and only changes in their business model will reduce it.
This could be true. I'd like it to be. Today I have been downloading from another bittorrent tracker, which actually I find I prefer to tpb.
2. This is the beginning of the end for torrents. After blocking torrent trackers in many countries, the copyright holders have a coordinated take-down campaign to deal file-sharing a death-blow, to destroy the remaining trackers and to block torrent files from even appearing on google.
Although it veers towards conspiracy theory, and perhaps overstates the power of a few companies, it could also be true that torrents' days are numbered. From my own experience as a downloader however, the torrent universe has never been brighter, populated with movies I could only dream of a few years ago. For instance, my partner and I have Rwandan friends, so wanted to discover more about the genocide on its 20th anniversary. I downloaded half a dozen feature films apart from the obvious Hotel Rwanda, including two excellent movies where white people were almost completely absent, made in local language Kinyarwanda.
3. A number of positions between these two extremes.
4. A generalised and impotent panic about the loss of a favourite website and the pleasure it provides.
This shows that even in the non-corporate web, people are remarkably passive, relying on a brand just as they rely on facebook for their social interactions. Sad.
5. If this is the end for Pirate Bay specifically this is a good thing, because it has sold its soul to the Mammon of porn ads etc. The major espouser of this position is one of the original founders of Pirate Bay, Peter Sunde.
Firefox's ad-blocker means I miss out on the chance of a Russian wife unencumbered by bridal gown. People bothered by ads in their browser need educating. Sunde's point about the demise of tpb as campaigning organisation is taken, however.
6. Further to this, Sunde argues, while the corrupted Pirate Bay persists, no innovation is happening in digital file-sharing, to move us on from the 13-year-old technology of the bittorrent protocol.
As someone concerned for the future of the open web, and the democratising of culture in general, I sympathise strongly with Sunde's line. As a movie downloader, however, bittorrents supply everything I need, so I want them to carry on (see above).
As with almost every discussion about the internet (and almost nothing else!), I find I sit on both sides of the fence. If the next web needs different tech, I selfishly hope it's a smooth transition.
Reports of the Death of the Latin American Left Were Exaggerated
On 27 September 2014, the Economist's anonymised Latin American op-ed "Bello" heralded "a turning of the political tide in South America after a dozen or more years of leftist hegemony." The writer was encouraged by the possiblity of defeat for Dilma Rousseff in Brazil, and considered likely the victory of right-wing candidate Luis Alberto Lacalle Pou in Uruguay. Two months on, and Bello's crystal ball clearly needed some serious polishing. Rousseff won for the Brazilian Workers' Party a fourth consecutive term in office, and yesterday in Uruguay Tabare Vasquez won an unprecedented third term for the leftist Broad Front by a massive 13%.
"Bello" had already conceded that Evo Morales of the Movement Towards Socialism in Bolivia was going to win (he did by a landslide 61%), but in the usual knee-jerk way of rightist commentators the writer describes Morales as an "autocratic socialist of Amerindian descent". Dodgy, these indigenous people who come up through the social movements! They just don't respect democracy in the way that the white-skinned oligarchy who ruled previously do, that same oligarchy that has consistently supported the fascist coup d'etats which stain Latin American history. In this manner, yet another Anglophone commentator echoes the endemic racism of the Latin American elite. A feature of nearly all reports on Latin American elections in the right-wing press, and much of the liberal press, is just how much they are bad losers. "Bello" of course recycles this, ascribing Morales' victory partly to his "grip on the media". In fact, in Brazil and Uruguay a very dominant conservative media campaigned virulently for the right-wing candidates. To their credit, the voters ignored them.
I must say that I am rather tired of friends repeating opinions to me which they have gleaned from the pages of the Economist in particular, so let me attempt to characterise this periodical. It is far from being serious advice about business risks and prospects around the world. For details of the magazine's absurd errors in reporting Venezuela, see here, here, and here. If I were investing in South America, I would buy a subscription to the estimable Latin American Weekly Report, which has given accurate data for the last 47 years. Instead, we might describe the Economist as a readable mass-circulation magazine pitched at lower and middle managers, who wish to impress their bosses with their knowledge of world affairs. It represents not serious investment advice for the elite, but rather the ideology of that elite, enabling ambitious businesspeople a way of talking about the world which will not challenge the dominant ideology of the boardroom. On Latin America it is frequently wrong, jettisoning facts and reasoned argument for dreams as wish-fulfilment. It is, to quote the outstanding venezuelanalysis, "the neoliberal ideologue's favourite rag."
Brazil: how does the left continue to be re-elected?
As expected, the Presidential election result was the closest since the end of the dicatorship (Dilma Rousseff 51.64%, Aécio Neves 48.36%). What does it mean for the leftist governments in the rest of Latin America, and for democratic progressive projects in general?
First of all, we need to understand a little of the history of the Brazilian Workers' Party (PT), so Ill sketch it very briefly. As a new party formed under the US-backed dictatorship, the PT was always committed to parliamentary or liberal democracy. These very limited democratic credentials were however enriched by direct, devolved democracy where the Workers Party had local power, principally in the form of the Participatory Budget, a parallel democratic system for the distribution and spending of local government money on capital projects. In a country rife with corruption, where half of state budgets never reached their intended destination, this was vital grassroots control, and made inroads into Brazil's clientelist system ("vote for me, I tarmac your road" - not roads in general in the municipality, but the one outside your door!). After losing three elections to neo-liberal, right-wing opposition, the PT conducted a semi-secret internal coup in the late 1990s, where the people around presidential candidate Luis Inacio Lula da Silva jettisoned the more radical policies, arriving in government in 2003 with a policy to pay off the external debt rather than cancel it. The PT now had no commitment to extending participatory democracy, its unique radical feature, on a national scale. The results of playing the neo-liberal economic game were impressive, with strong economic growth able to weather the storms of the global recession of 2008. Socialist, grassroots empowerment was replaced by welfarism - the Bolsa Familia (Family Benefit) for the poorest seemingly making the Workers Party impregnable in the north and north-east.
It also enabled the party to reach out beyond its traditional base of the organised working class, which only gave them a chance of 25-30% of the electorate, to the poorest sectors - those who traditionally often "sold" their vote for $10, a T-shirt or a pair of glasses. Through this reaching down to, and providing for, the poorer and less organised, the PT could win a landslide majority. Partly because of welfare, the poorest now vote repeatedly for a Workers Party President. This is presented starkly in the extraordinary geographical split in the 2014 election results: red in the poor north and north-east, and blue in the richer south. Actually, a first glance at the map does not reflect how extreme the division was: Dilma won no less than 79% of the votes in impoverished Maranhão, and 70% in somewhat richer Bahia, while Aécio won landslides of 65% in Santa Catarina and 64% in São Paulo state. There was also a huge division between richer urban and poorer rural areas within states. There were only three states (out of 27) where Dilma gained a higher percentage in the state capital than in the state as a whole (Espirito Santo, Rondônia, and São Paulo). In other words, people in the countryside voted more left, and people in the cities more right (the stats are here). So much for the Workers Party's roots in the industrial proletariat! (Lula was a metal-worker trade union leader). A barometer of Aécio Neves' defeat was his loss in his home state of Minas Gerais, where he was previously a two-term governor, but while he only took 47.6% in the state as a whole, he took 64% in state capital Belo Horizonte.
So here we have two expressions of the "two Brazils": rural/urban, and north/south. There is a further split down the nation as campaigned on by Dilma with the support of the hugely popular Lula. Impressively, the PT constantly emphasised that there were two models of society in contention. Compare the dismal campaign to be run by the British Labour Party under Ed Miliband next year - exactly the same model, perhaps a little bit nicer, a conflict between managers of the same system. In some ways, during their campaign, Dilma and Lula sounded more radical than they were in government.
The 50/50 voting split between poor and middle-class should concern those of us who support the successes of the Latin American left in the last 15 years. Evo Morales in Bolivia won a landslide 60% two weeks previously, but Nicolas Maduro of Venezuela only won by a measly 1.5% in April 2013. As Michael Albert writes so thoughtfully about the Bolivarian revolution in Venezuela, before the recent high inflation and shortages, why were the electoral victories not more like 80%, capturing the votes of many middle-class as well as inhabitants of the favela? In the UK as well as Brazil, there is much disaffection among the reasonably waged that the poor are receiving "something-for-nothing" via social security. Among the Brazilian middle-class, the Bolsa Familia is known derisively as the bolsa-esmola, the beggars' benefit. This is where the lack of socially-transformative direct democracy in the PT's adminstrations may be damaging, the absence of a community empowerment which is not purely economic, and is not merely passive, something which could potentially involve the lower-middle and middle class. Looking at Venezuela, Chavez' governments made central the development of parallel, devolved democracy, without which, with the economic problems that Venezuela now faces, the government of Nicolas Maduro would be heading for certain defeat. But coming back to Michael Albert's critique, how is that playing out? In the favelas, communal councils are still growing and in many places thriving, but the real test of them is whether they draw people in in wealthier, opposition-backing areas, and whether the cadres of the Bolivarian revolution have any real enthusiasm for trying to roll that out.
Having fought with an anti-neo-liberal banner, and won, Dilma Rousseff has started to make conciliatory noises towards the middle class. Exactly how this develops is crucial for the future of progressive government in Latin America.
Who will win Brazil's second round?
Now that Marina Silva's "independent" campaign has ended in her rejection by the voters, we need to analyse what this means for the deciding round between the Workers' Party's (PT) incumbent Dilma Rousseff and her right-wing opponent Aécio Neves. Silva herself has not declared her preference, but indications are that she might favour Neves, which is further support for my argument with progressive friends who were naively backing her in the first round.
Why does it matter? Has the PT itself not evolved into a hopelessly compromised Blairite neo-liberal party, so that the election does not make much difference? As I argued in my previous article, whether Brazil turns its back on leftist governments in Latin America such as the US State Department's bugbear Venezuela is very important for the region's poorest inhabitants. And Washington and Brussels will be taking a keen interest in whether "their" candidate Neves could begin to reverse the independence of Latin America achieved in the last 15 years. The election is also important for Brazil's own poor.
A striking aspect of the first round of voting in the Brazilian presidential elections was the geographical split between left and right, red in the poorer north and north-east and blue in the richer south and south-east. A danger to the progress made in Brazil in eradicating poverty in the last 12 years is the attitude and electoral heft of the middle-class in those southern areas. The "bolsa familia" which provides a basic income to the poorest families is resented by this middle-class, and frequently dismissed as the "bolsa-esmola", or beggar's benefit.
After Neves' impressive showing in the first round (33.6% vs Dilma's 41.6%), the question remains whether his surge has already peaked, having taken votes from Marina Silva as her campaign sank. The right hopes not, and all progressives should hope that the mere 30% of Silva's voters that Dilma needs in the second round will migrate to her. The first opinion poll is tomorrow (Thursday)...
Marina Silva - darling of the liberals, menace to the poor
The first round of the Brazilian presidential election is today, and there is a new, supposedly independent, candidate to take on the Workers' Party's domination of the post for the last 12 years. Ex-Workers Party (PT) minister Marina Silva is running in opposition to PT incumbent Dilma Rousseff, and has the unusual benefit of support from right-wing periodicals such as the Economist, and the panting enthusiasm of liberal organs such as the Guardian. The latter derives from her mixed-race, working-class origins, and her avowed commitment to the environmental preservation of the Amazon region in which she was born. My doubts about her seem increasingly to be shared by Brazilian voters, who have cooled towards her since she was jettisoned into candidacy by the death of the leader of her Brazilian Socialist Party in a plane crash. She stands a chance of winning however in the second round. Before leftists and supporters of the Brazilian poor attach themselves to Marina's coat-tails, it may be worth mentioning a few points that are unlikely to appear in liberal journals.
1. Her manifesto is widely described as "business-friendly" by right-wing papers, more so than her opponent Rousseff's. This is notable in a context where the supposedly left-of-centre Workers' Party has hardly been hostile to big business.
2. Her proposed spending plan is modelled on the last budget of the government of President Lula's right-wing predecessor Fernando-Henrique Cardoso. It is effectively an "austerity budget", and it is difficult to see how this cannot harm Brazil's millions in poverty.
3. Her foreign policy aims to re-orientate Brazil back to the US and Europe, in other words the imperial nations of the past. One of the successes of Brazil in the last 12 years has been its role in building the BRICS economies as an alternative pole, and in a Latin American context its support for regional initiatives such as Mercosur, and its defence of the major target of US attack, Venezuela. Marina Silva's position on this is emphatically rightist. Obama and Merkel must be salivating at the prospect of her winning.
4. She left Lula's government and then his party over what she considered its failure to protect the environment, but Beto Albuquerque, her vice-presidential candidate on the ticket, is close to the same agri-business that the PT government capitulated to, and has his campaign largely financed by them.
5. She is a social conservative as a result of her evangelical Christianity, with a position against abortion and gay marriage.
6. Her independence from the political system is exaggerated. The Brazilian Socialist Party, under whose banner she runs, is a well-established party with 6 state governors, 3 senators, 34 federal deputies and the mayors of 3 state capitals.
7. Similarly, in her early days in the PT, her tendency within the party was the very mainstream Articulação, on the right of the PT.
8. I refute the argument that candidates in any election stand apart from the traditional distinction between left and right. When people say Marina Silva has cross-class and -political appeal, this is because she is trying to triangulate a position that satisfies all, a situation which cannot hold. For instance, if you support the environment, that it is a left-wing position, and if you support big agri-business (the "ruralistas" the PT has been much criticised for making alliances with), that is right-wing. You cannot do both.
9. Neither working-class nor female Presidents of Brazil are new. Lula was a Sao Paulo metal-worker and trade unionist from the poor north-east, and Dilma is a bourgeois-origin ex-guerilla fighter against the dictatorship.
10. Marina's possible second round victory relies on right wingers who have voted for PSDB candidate Aécio Neves in the first round switching to her, What effect will this have on policies for the benefit of Brazil's poor?
I have many criticisms of the Workers Party in national government since 2003, but hope that Brazilians are not seduced by the media hype, and vote with their eyes open. Recent polls suggest they will.
Scottish referendum a "lose, lose" for Labour
Something so far missing from commentary on the vote for Scottish independence is the real plight of the Labour Party should the vote have been either won or lost. If Scotland had voted "yes", then the loss of 41 MPs from the British Parliament would make a Labour majority extremely difficult to achieve, as many commentators have remarked. But equally, the sting in the tail of Cameron's proposed devolutionary changes is the threat to take away the right of those same Labour MPs to vote on "English only" issues. This would for instance include the budget of a future Labour Chancellor of the Exchequer. Cameron is a loathsome, but not stupid individual. He knows that statistical analysis shows a reducing Conservative proportion of the vote into the future. The only way they can continue to exercise power for the elite they both represent and serve is to change the Constitution. (I'm not of course saying that the Labour Party does not serve that elite, merely that there is some evidence that the attack on the poor would be less vicious if they were in power.)
The BBC is as ever asking the wrong question (Will Cameron deliver on his promise of more power for the Scottish Parliament?). Whether or no, there is something else "devolutionary" he needs to do with indecent haste, before the next General Election, to preserve the power of the Conservative Party into the 21st century.
Review of our Film of the Week
visionOntv's FILM OF THE WEEK is a key feature of our aggregation of the best video for social change. Here is my first review of the films selected.
It's a real joy to feature thejuicemedia's latest report (play and click through to find it). Giordano Nanni and Hugo Farrant's satirical rapping on the news has been going for almost five years, reaching 25 editions, and here they risk an avalanche of Zionist trolling by taking on Israel/Palestine. Getting hip with the hip hop is none other than activist and son of holocaust survivors Norman Finkelstein.
Heathcote Williams' My Dad and My Uncle Were in World War One is a wonderful antidote to the a-historical jingoism of the likes of Michael Gove, and the reactionary revisionism of TV historians such as Dan Snow. (Snow seemed to parody himself during his recent BBC series, asking questions such as: how did so many soldiers survive the trenches? In fact, Britain lost around 2% of its entire population, or "only 700,000 military deaths" according to Snow. France and Germany lost more than 4%, or one in 25 people. In addition, there were the physical and psychological after-effects on survivors which crippled and traumatized a generation. These effects are calmly recounted in Heathcote Williams' film, for instance how his uncle lost all his friends in the trenches, and never gained another friend for the rest of his life. But he also articulates their quiet, but absolutely indomitable, resistance. How his uncle would scoff at pompous nationalist commemorations, never even collecting his own medal for extraordinary valour, and how he and his comrades-in-arms in the trenches would desist even from loading their weapons.
The video reporting the lockdown of three activists to stop an oil train in their locality in Anacortes, Washington State was chosen because it is a perfect example of how to make a fast-turnaround edited activist report. It is economically but powerfully shot, in a way that can be cut and uploaded the same or next day. In fact it closely mirrors our own video news production template "Edit This!". This template, along with eight others, will soon feature in visionOntv's new publication, the Video Activist Handbook.
Bloggers for Palestine are unnecessarily apologetic about the imperfections of their video A Message to the World (Stop the Killing), as it was made during the height of Israel's latest bombing of Gaza. As they say in the film, "Their F16s, drones and guns can kill our bodies, but they can never kill our voice."
"Giving a voice" to the unheard has long been a mission of radical video the world over, but the voices of people with disabilities who fight back are still comparatively rare. Indefilms33's video of the action in central London to oppose the British government's axing of the Independent Living Fund begins with the voices of the disabled themselves. An insightful moment comes when a cleric from Westminster Abbey is caught saying: "I support everything you say, but Jesus would speak in a nice, quiet way." One of my little hobbies is pointing out to Christians what the Bible actually says, so here is a text this clergyman seems to be unaware of: "He made a whip of cords, and drove them all out of the temple.....; and He poured out the coins of the money changers and overturned their tables." (John 2:15) So much for non-violent direct action! Is the be-cassocked man in the video the actual Dean of Westminster Abbey, who called the cops on the wheelchair-bound?
The only feature length documentary in the list so far is The Internet's Own Boy, made in the year since internet activist Aaron Swartz's tragic suicide. It is both a moving and inspiring biopic and an astutely political film about freedom and the state/corporate nexus against it. Swartz died aged only 26 after hounding from the FBI and zealous, career-ambitious attorneys. He was indicted with no less than 13 felonies in connection with his attempt to download pay-walled academic journals. A further villain of the piece is MIT, an academic institution supposedly committed to empowering its students to undertake risky exploration, but which in this case set a spy camera to trap Swartz to enable a criminal case, and then never interceded to have charges dropped. Like so many institutions of higher education, both in Europe and the United States, which have effectively become money-making corporations, MIT chose to back other corporations over freedom of knowledge.
The Tar Sands Healing Walk 2014 is a stirring and beautiful combination of the traditions of First Nations people in Canada with voices of struggle against the despoliation of their land. In this sense, it reminded me of time I have spent with indigenous peoples in Brazil, who were drawing on similar traditions to oppose illegal logging from their forest. Too often in our societies, a mystical approach is quietist and resigned, an escape from struggle rather than an inspiration towards it. The people in this video show us a clear alternative.
To embed Film of the Week in your website or blog, get the code from here.
Political satire is obsolete - yet again
It was Tom Lehrer who coined this phrase when Henry Kissinger won the Nobel Peace Prize in 1973. I was reminded of it twice in recent times (add your own examples). The first was in 2007 when Tony Blair was appointed Middle East Envoy for the "Quartet" (the UN, US, EU and Russia), and charged with "helping mediate Middle East peace negotiations". This was only four years after Blair had almost single-handedly enabled George W. Bush to wage war in Iraq, with the estimated death of one million people.
The second was today, when I heard that one of the leaders of the opposition in Venezuela has been awarded the Charles T. Manatt Democracy Award. Maria Corina Machado has received the prize from the excitingly-named International Foundation for Electoral Systems, a US-based organisation. While the foundation sounds like a doddery academic body of psephologists discussing the benefits of alternative vote over single transferable, in fact this is an institute which receives funding from USAID and celebrated democracy-lovers the US State Department.
So it's time for some faux-naif indignation: can they possibly not know that Machado is one of the people who signed the Carmona Decree during the brief 2002 coup attempt against democratically-elected President Chavez? The decree dissolved democratic institutions, such as the National Assembly and Supreme Court, and suspended constitutional liberties. Can they also not know that she runs a campaign of violent street protests demanding "The Exit" of Chavez' democratically-elected successor Nicolas Maduro, five years before the end of his term? Some of these protesters are so committed to democracy that they have strung wire across public highways to decapitate motorcyclists. Two people have died from this action alone. They have also attacked public transport, health clinics, social housing projects, and a kindergarten, and physically assaulted 169 doctors. And does the IFES really not know that Machado is currently under investigation for allegedly plotting to assassinate the Venezuelan President, saying that it was "time to take out the trash"?
What can we do? Is satire really dead, or can we give it the kiss of life?
POST-SCRIPT September 3 2014
Come on, satirists, shape up! Once again, earnest award-giving institutions have trounced you. GQ Magazine has now made Tony Blair "Philanthropist of the Year", a decision only agreed with by Benyamin Netanyahu. Many thanks to Mark Steel for his concern, which goes some way to redress the situation: "I worry that Tony Blair's award will make him even MORE generous, until there's nothing left for himself. He's just give give give give give."
PPS: November 21 2014
It's getting ridiculous. Now Blair has received the "Global Legacy Award" from Save the Children. It's hard to know where to start with Blair's philanthropy towards children, as an internet search immediately sends you into a world of unspeakable horror. The cluster bombs dropped on Iraq by both US and British forces are one place to begin. I quote very selectively from one Iraq Body Count report:
"Terrifying film of women and children...... showed babies cut in half and children with amputation wounds, apparently caused by American shellfire and cluster bombs. Much of the videotape was too terrible to show on television and the agencies’ Baghdad editors felt able to send only a few minutes of a 21-minute tape that included a father holding out pieces of his baby and screaming “cowards, cowards” into the camera." (Robert Fisk - The Independent, April 2 2003)
"Among the 168 patients I counted, not one was being treated for bullet wounds. All of them, men, women, children, bore the wounds of bomb shrapnel. It peppered their bodies. Blackened the skin. Smashed heads. Tore limbs. “All the injuries you see were caused by cluster bombs,” Dr Hydar Abbas told Antonowicz. “Most of the people came from the southern and western periphery. The majority of the victims were children who died because they were outside.”" (Anton Antonowicz - Daily Mirror, April 3 2003)
"In the deserted emergency ward, Mohammed Suleiman hysterically looked for his 8-month-old daughter, Rowand, brought in after a bomb her brother unwittingly brought home exploded. “Please look at her face and see how beautiful she is,” he screamed when he found the baby's lifeless body, covered with a blanket, her eyes half open, her nose and mouth bloodied." (Associated Press, April 12 2003)
It turns out that the current CEO of Save the Children, Justin Forsyth, was a policy adviser for, you guessed it, Tony Blair. Is it too much to expect this narrow political class to show, if not a moral compass, a bit of self-awareness?
I was going to make a joke speculating about Blair's next honour (the Bram Stoker Award for Services to Blood Transfusion?) But for my own sanity, I feel I must stop updating this catalogue of atrocity and abject moral blindness.
Why Maria Miller should not have resigned
In the last few days I was more than once sent a request to sign an e-petition demanding the resignation of UK Culture Secretary Maria Miller. I didn't put my name to it for a very simple reason.
I loathe this government of the super-rich and their gleeful attacks on the poor and disabled with an absolute vengeance. If you share my opinion, let me ask you a question. Why would you want to help this government to clean up its act? As Chomsky argues, isn't visible, grotesque corruption a crucial factor for the wider public turning against not just a particular government but potentially the whole system? I ask you which you would prefer: a "clean" neo-liberal government that attacks the poor and sick and dismantles our great NHS with complete legality and efficiency. Or would you prefer one where corruption means no one can miss the stench of their rotten machinations?
It's the same argument with Ian Duncan Smith, surely in his role as Work and Pensions Secretary one of the most morally puny figures in public life. IDS's only redeeming feature is that he is grossly incompetent. Would you like him to be replaced by someone else more efficient, who could implement his cruel Universal Credit without a hitch?
No. Maria Miller should have stayed, and Ian Duncan Smith, stay right where you are!
Venezuela and the politics of Twitter
It's all over mainstream news outlets, and some outlying ones, so it must be true. The Venezuelan government has censored Twitter. Except that, when you look a little closer, this is by no means clearly the case.
The background to this is several days' protests by a segment of the Venezuelan opposition. Those who want the democratically elected President to leave office, not when his term is up in 5 years' time, nor after a possibly successful recall referendum in half that time, but right now, just after his party resoundingly won the latest local elections in Venezuela in December.
Reporting of this "censorship" story is strange to say the least. The proud sources of the story seem to be the correspondents of financial news outlet Bloomberg. They say that Nu Wexler, Twitter's PR man in Washington DC, confirmed in an email that "the (Venezuelan) government was behind the disruption." But they do not quote his email directly, so that the only statement by Mr Wexler in the public domain is one he made on his own network Twitter:
Thousands of Venezuelan pro-government twitter accounts deleted
Around 7,000 Venezuelan Twitter accounts were deleted yesterday, including those of an elected state governor, three cabinet ministers, a radio station, a revolutionary daily newspaper, and the official accounts of ministries and other institutions. They all appear to have been pro-government accounts, and none of them of the opposition.
Twitter has been an effective means of communication for supporters of the Bolivarian revolution, since late President Hugo Chavez opened an account in 2010 and reached 4 million followers, making his the second most popular account globally for a political leader, after Barack Obama's.
This appears to have been a coordinated, politically-motivated attack, but we don't know yet how it happened. Twitter spokesman Nu Wexler has flatly refused to comment.
There are basically three ways it could have occurred. Large-scale coordinated hacking and deletion of accounts by opposition supporters is a possibility. It could also be that a similar campaign of reporting accounts for spam triggered an algorithm in Twitter which automatically blocked the accounts (I'm being generous to Twiiter here!). Thirdly, and less likely in my opinion, it could be something much more sinister involving Twitter and for instance US Intelligence agencies.
As of this afternoon, some 50 accounts have been restored by Twitter, including those of Governor Aristobal Isturiz, which has 332,000 followers, and of Communications Minister Delcy Rodriguez. However most accounts have not been restored, for instance of Minister of the President's Office Wilmer Barrientos and of the Women's Ministry and the Bolivarian University of Venezuela.
It is important to set this attack in social and historical context. After opposition candidate Henrique Capriles came close to winning the Presidential election last April, focus has shifted to the local elections coming on December 8th. Both the Venezuelan opposition and their supporters in the US State Department know that a good showing for the opposition would help build support for a referendum to recall President Nicolas Maduro in 2016. Dirty tricks to derail the Venezuelan government now abound, principally in the form of economic sabotage, creating shortages in shops which the government is battling to combat. Some commentators therefore think the Twitter attack could be a trial for a much bigger taking-out of Bolivarian social media nearer the elections.
The corporate media at home and abroad play a crucial role in this destabilisation. The UK-based Economist had to print a letter from the Venezuelan Embassy in London refuting two erroneous articles on freedom of the press. The standard line, though, is of economic woes, though all social statistics disprove this absolutely. We can all do a bit to refute media distortions. Only last night I corrected the Bloomberg correspondent in Caracas Nathan Crooks (@nmcrooks), who had spouted an egregious error about the minimum wage. Distortion or carelessness? It's impossible to know, though in response he merely repeated the error. But the media lies about Venezuela, including in so-called liberal newspapers, are so blanket that they come to appear like the truth. Journalists don't expect to get called out, so we should.
The Venezuelan government has officially complained to Twitter, and although a few accounts have been restored, is yet to receive a reply. If Twitter PR Nu Wexler maintains this silence, and thousands of accounts remain suspended, it may be appropriate to observe that in his resume he has been in and out of the revolving doors of Capitol Hill, including time as the Communications Director for the House Budget Committee. I'm not suggesting anything nefarious, merely that he is part of a political elite which regards anything Bolivarian as bad. For that Washington 1%, gross interference in Venezuela's democracy, including its social media, is legitimate.
First of all, liberate your computer
There are two types of computer user. There are wised-up geeks who use open source software, type command lines like it's in their blood, and talk a completely different, totally inaccessible language from the other type of user, who they mainly consider to be losers. This other user may have bought their computer on the recommendation of the guy in PC World, who also tried to sell them support for two years at a special price of 12.99 a month. They then try to run it with the pre-packaged closed-source trash-ware it comes with - the kind of software that wants to control you more than you controlling it. Some of these second type of users have bought a Mac, because, as proven by the fact that it's eye-wateringly expensive, it simply works. Except when they get it home they realize it doesn't.
A friend of mine, despite being a smart and creative person doing a master's in London, was a "loser user". When trying to download a torrent on her Mac through the official search engine Safari, she was getting a .exe file (don't ask me why). When she tried to play videos, she found most of them would not through the proprietary Quicktime player. The solution? To start to liberate her machine - use open source Firefox or closed-source, but more functional, Google Chrome as browser. Bingo, torrent files downloading films in Transmission. Use vlc as media player. Same result, every video file playing. As for Windows users, my reply is simple, but a bit more radical: "I won't fix your broken Windows computer, but I will help you install Ubuntu on it." Nobody I have done this for has ever felt the need to web-surf on Windows again.
My point here is this. Let's close the gap between the smart geeks, who would find my advice crass and obvious, and the general users, who are victims of corporate software and the enclosure of the internet, and who react with joy and relief when they start to liberate themselves just a little bit. Let's begin by helping them to install and use some really basic stuff, and take the opportunity to explain about open source and the open internet.
It's time the National Trust responded on #Fracking
Following up on George Monbiot's article on the National Trust's policy on fracking, it's time they answered two simple questions:
1. Has the National Trust's "presumption against fracking" announced in August changed since Dame Helen Ghosh's statement?
2. If it has changed, have the National Trust's members been informed?
The fastest video news in the East
My 8-year-old son Xav does art reviews around the preview nights of the galleries of East London. This might sound precocious, but initially this was a cunning plot for me to be able to see the new art while with someone who prefers to sit at home playing DS, making something quite boring for him a bit more fun. But it has become a project with a life of its own.
The reason i'm writing about this small activity now is to show how it illustrates the potential of rapid-turnaround citizen media. We went out last Thursday night to see a show at our local venue, the Doomed Gallery in Dalston. We arrived about 9pm, made three takes with our smartphone one-shot template (the audio failed on the first two - using external microphones with smartphones is challenging!). Then we went home and uploaded.
We tweeted and social media-ed, and this "one night only" event was publicised before it finished.
For more info on visionOntv's citizen journalism templates, go to http://streetreporter.org/tools
How to talk to a climate change denier
Local protester Rob occupies a fracking works truck at Balcombe, West Sussex. Hear his reasons for his acrtions below.
Rob D-locked himself to the truck, causing a four-hour road blockade outside the Cuadrilla fracking site. 30-40 police surrounded him, but for a long time only managed to capture a shoe.
Fellow community protectors have sent Rob bust cards (useful advice if he gets arrested) by small helicopter (video to follow).
Latest report and photos by visionOntv's Hamish Campbell.
Reclaim the Media at Reclaim the Power
Get trained in smartphone video in Balcombe this weekend, with our unique templates.
We will be running a solar-powered media space at the action camp in Balcombe, West Sussex as part of Reclaim the Power! this weekend. And we will be there during the actions which follow (19-20 August).
Bring your smartphone and learn how to make rapid-turnaround video news, with interviews and everything. Get ahead of the traditional media, and tell your own story.
Call in for tea and ask us anything techie or whatever else about video news reporting on your smartphone.
Embed the FRACK OFF video player on your site or blog.
A previous visionOntv solar-powered TV studio at the Camp for Climate Action.
And finally, a really cute picture from the Balcombe camp.....
Make your own power! Be your own media!
(Photos by @HamishCampbell)
The BBC's racism and what to do about it
Another outstanding example from the Radio 4's Today programme this morning. A minor politician had made an overtly racist remark in an effort to gain primetime publicity for his extreme right-wing politics, and the presenter of the BBC's "flagship" morning news show spluttered the voice of white privilege: ""No one here finds it offensive. I found it quite amusing."
Conclusions? Much twitter outrage is directed at the self-publicising politician, a delight for that disgusting person. Surely instead we should be focussed on the media cheerleaders. The BBC tacks ever more to the right since the Conservatives took power. Star presenter of the Today programme John Humphrys recently made a programme which so grotesquely misrepresented benefit claimants that his piss-poor Daily-Mail-style journalism was condemned by his own corporation's Trust. The lesson of this for BBC monitors should not be that complaints work. Instead this reporter is seen by the BBC as the perfect "safe pair of hands" in the current times
So our outrage should not be focussed on "reforming" the corporate media, which is impossible. Instead, we should be devoting our social media energy towards promoting real, quality alternatives to their counter-factual right-wing bigotry. Can we do that, please?
The Road to Freedom with Open Source
Finally I'm completely liberated from Windows and Mac.
For a while now, I've been running a "dual boot" Windows 7/Ubuntu machine. Open programmes on the Linux OS were able to match or better any pricey software made for Bill Gates' system. And Windows insisted on treating me like a child. I mean, how the fuck does Windows 7 have the right to disable my sound card from recording audio streams? Open source software was as good or better for everything, that is, apart from one solitary activity: video editing. My reliance on the professional features of Adobe Premiere was the final thread tying me to the dark world of monopoly-capitalist control. The open source editors were never quite up to snuff.
But then I discovered Kdenlive.
Powerful, intuitive, with a host of professional features, Kdenlive straight away passes the most fundamental of tests - import and export. Its compression of Full HD mobile phone footage was both high quality and fast. It has its idiosyncracies, but so do Premiere and Final Cut Pro, as any long-suffering user will agree. Editing with cut-aways, the basis of reportage, is integral rather than an awkward and reluctant add-on, as in iMovie and MovieMaker. A very useful feature is the ability to edit Full HD at lower resolution, then export the movie at full spec.
Never having tried it before, I had a tight deadline for a news report about the struggles in Turkey (see below).
So bye bye Mr Gates. Being infantilised by you and Steve Jobs hasn't been fun, and now I can enjoy my adulthood as part of a massively helpful community. Plus it's free of charge (though they really deserve a donation).
Finally a suggestion, in full "cyber-utopian" vein. Isn't the victory of open tools actually inevitable? (Think Linux, Open Office, etc). And are they not vital in the fight against the most serious threat to our freedom and our creativity, the corporate enclosure of the internet?
Latest from Istanbul protest: "Reclaiming the park made people feel very strong"
An eye-witness account from Taksim/Gezi Park, Istanbul
I received this report this morning from a friend:
"It was like hell in here. I was not able to go home tonight, I came to a friend of mine for the night.
We are very tired and it seems that the conflicts will continue tomorrow as well, so we want to be ready for it.
But I can summarize it like this: the attitude of the police is very brutal. They almost try to kill us. Today they used a different gas, which is claimed to be agent orange (banned by UN). It makes you vomit the second you inhale it. But the resistance is unbelievable. Nobody expected it. There is a great solidarity. For example yesterday I lost my friends when the police sent gas bombs to us, just in the beginning of the protest. I was alone almost all night long. I panicked at the beginning, but after a while you realize that it doesnt matter, because everybody is helping everybody out. You know that you are not alone, even if you dont know a single person around you. Today there happened a massive march towards Taksim and the police left the park and the square. Not only socialists, but everybody was there. Those groups that you wouldnt believe they could stand side by side walked to Taksim alltogether. It is not about Taksim or Gezi Park anymore. People had enough with the government. Reclaiming the park and the square today was amazing. You should have seen the atmosphere. I cannot describe it. We were just like some very excited primary school kids. People are very confident right now. We were there all night long and it was not just a protest anymore. People occupied it. Everybody is saying the same thing today: from then on, the government will not be able to do anything that easily. Reclaiming the park made people feel very strong. Right now there are still people there who will stay there till morning in case the police attacks in the morning. But today the police was very brutal in Besiktas. There are many wounded people. We tried to go there to help people but it was impossible to reach there. We saw some videos which showed the police attacking even the houses as people let the protestors in. Now they say that Besiktas is calmer. People went back to Taksim to protect the square from the police. We will rest tonight as it was exhausting for us to be in the streets for 4 days. We want to be ready for tomorrow, as it is clear that the conflicts will not end today.
Bigot sorry for “historian” claim
Professor Niall Ferguson apologized today for having pretended that he was a serious historian.
“When I look back at the books I have written, I can now see that they are a collection of reactionary prejudices masquerading as well-researched historiography” he said.
Professor Ferguson made his name by arguing against the prevailing historical views on for instance the First World War and the British Empire. “I mean, to hold that the slaughter of World War One was justified, or that the Empire was of huge benefit to Johnny Native, how could anyone believe that?” he joked.
Secondary school history teacher Jack Williams commented "To be honest, it's a liberation. I don't need any more to explain to a class of students from all over the world why an established author thinks Britain civilized them."
Ferguson admitted that he had been attracted by the fame of other television “historians”. “I saw David Starkey able to strut his bigoted stuff all over the media on the basis of some crap pop-historical bios of the kings and queens of England, and I was jealous. I mean, as a poof, he doesn't care about the future, so how could anyone trust him with the past?”
How to break the Chinese and Vietnamese firewalls
OR How piracy is the greatest spreader of culture in history
I am currently in teeming and steamy Hanoi, surely one of the greatest cities in the world, having taken the epic sleeper train up from Da Nang in central Vietnam. Yesterday I lighted on an old quarter bookstore (not more than a table on the street) with a very shrewd and discerning selection of English language books. There I found a copy of Jonathan Neale's excellent "People's History of the Vietnam War". Astutely the old lady running the store suggested to me Graham Greene's classic "The Quiet American" to go with it, but I had just finished reading it. Glancing at Jonathan's history, the misspelt cover pages and scanned text showed me it was a pirate copy, which I'm sure would be a great delight to the author, even more if it was in Vietnamese. I couldn't check that yet. This is not an article to discuss the pros and cons of copyright protection so I will simply state that I consider file-sharing to be the most vital disseminator of culture in the world. My own use of it is fairly prolific, though probably not by ths standards of teenagers I know. Torrents found through pirate bay furnish our fortnightly film club of deeply obscure art movies, and the magnificant aaaaarg.org gives me more serious food-for-thought reading matter than I can ever get through, and helps impoverished doctoral students the world over. Downloading from spotify and youtube allows me to consume music on my smartphone whenever I travel. This activity is made more fun by the ferociously concerted attempts of a few corporations to alter the very nature of the internet in order to protect their sadly outdated business models. The resulting game of cat and mouse is frequently absurdly unequal, like watching repeated episodes of Tom and Jerry. When ISPs were forced to ban pirate bay by a daft court judgement, it took me two minutes to find a proxy, and pirate bay's traffic rose with the publicity.
So much for the corporate-sponsored legislative firewalls. Here in Vietnam there is a state-sponsored firewall no less absurd and meretricious. In Da Nang we can't get facebook (no tragedy for me), but can get the BBC. In Hanoi it's the reverse. (I shoud point out that I do not use the BBC for its news, which is as unreliable as any corporate media's, but for its excellent football coverage at what is a crucial juncture of the season for the Gunners.) A quick and simple installation of the excellent anonymity network Tor, gives me a blow-by-blow account of the Arsenal's battle for a Champions' League place. In the lobby of our hotel yesterday I met a young Chinese woman despairing at the blocking of the Zuckerberg empire in her home country. She said that people in China paid for a service to get round the Great Firewall (a VPN?). With something as important for human rights as internet freedom, trust someone to try to make money out of it. I suggested Tor to her as a free alternative. The Chinese authorities are continually trying to block Tor, but bridging apparently makes this much more difficult. For further information, see this excellent article.
Meanwhile, I must go out and buy a beautiful wooden birdcage in Hanoi's bustling markets, though not of course to house a bird. For someone who opposes corporate and state attempts to cage the internet, that might be considered hypocritical.....
A Psychopath Comes Home: "Skyfall" and the Zeitgeist of the Elite
The latest 007 adventure “Skyfall” has been widely praised by reviewers, and welcomed by fans as a return to the series' core values. For me, though, it was probably the divergence from those values that made me so keen on the much criticised previous outing “Quantum of Solace”. But “Skyfall” goes a lot further than a mere return to the conservative spirit of the 50-year-old series. Any mistaken idea that Berkshire-born director Sam Mendes is a typical London theatrical liberal is decisively squashed by this deeply reactionary movie. Mendes' British stage productions are normally described as “dark”. I haven't seen them, but I'm guessing they belong to a very contemporary zeitgeist of paranoiac grimness, with very little critical ideology at all. Incidentally, I have never been able to understand the ecstatic reception given to Mendes' first Hollywood movie “American Beauty” (1999), a mild and inconsequential drama of suburban manners.
As for the half-century-old Bond, we can make a brief retrospective by looking at 007's enemies. In the Sean Connery / Roger Moore age, the real, drab, if sinister, Cold War adversary from the KGB is substituted by much more entertaining Pacific-island-owning, cat-stroking megalomaniacs bent on world domination. Mike Myers' Austin Powers derives much of its hilarity from being only a small step further down the road of caricature. Only when the Soviet Union was finished could communists actually appear. The Russian Futurist design of Pierce Brosnan's first film “Goldeneye” (1995) is one of its more appealing features. Communist-capitalist rapprochement even became possible in “Tomorrow Never Dies” (1997). Michelle Yeoh's agent Wai Lin and Pierce Brosnan provide a more sexy version of Mao Tse-Tung and Richard Nixon's meeting of more than 20 years earlier. “Who said Communists have no sense of fun?” quips Bond, yoking Yeoh's character to the same stereotype as Garbo's Ninotchka of 70 years before. Coming back to villains, it was a very pleasing departure to see the colourlessness of Mathieu Amalric's Dominic Greene in “Quantum of Solace”. In the only left-wing film of the series, the villainy here lies not in a crazed individual, but in an impersonal corporation which wants to steal Bolivia's water supply. This is clearly a reference to real events, the water privatisation tried at the behest of the World Bank in the city of Cochabamba in 2000, heroically overturned by mass protest. These events were themselves recently made into a film, “Even the Rain” (2010). “Quantum of Solace” is “Even the Rain” with sex and stunts, and without of course the actions of the people.
By contrast, the fatal political weakness at the heart of Thomas Paul Anderson's “There Will Be Blood” (2007) is the grand guignol villainy of Daniel Day-Lewis' oil prospector central character. Watching the film, I was more curious about the other oil executives he encounters at one point in a restaurant: a group of normal, family men, who are presumably exploiting both people and natural resources in ways similar to Day-Lewis' character. This depiction of wrong-doing, that it is the act of twisted individuals rather than a function of the system, dogs many otherwise political films. Good examples are the treatment of Nazis in many post-war dramas. For instance, in both Bunuel's “Diary of a Chambermaid” (1964) and Bertolucci's “1900” (1976), the fascist character is not a dispassionate bureaucrat sending Jews to the camps, but a child rapist and killer. But of course if Nazism had been able only to rely on the participation of people like Ian Brady and Myra Hindley, the Holocaust could never have happened. This is one of the great strengths of Pontecorvo's “Battle of Algiers” (1966). Ruthless, torturing paratroop colonel Mathieu is so admirably objective, turning French journalists' questions back on them: “The question is: should France be in Algeria?” If it should, then he needs to torture. If not, not. There is no way to have both human rights and the empire, as pro-war liberals often try to maintain.
The enemy in “Skyfall” is Javier Bardem's turncoat MI6 agent, a computer geek. Chillingly, the substituted enemy here is neither the KGB nor Osama Bin Laden, but Julian Assange and the masked youths of Anonymous. “Skyfall” has therefore taken an exceptionally reactionary turn to focus on the “enemy within”.
Mendes' “dark” world is very much in evidence, showing a menacing London not far from the dystopia of “V for Vendetta”. So much is this the case that I was impelled to ask, what is MI6 protecting exactly? Presumably the 1%, target of the Occupy movement and those same masked Anonymous youths. Can I have been the only viewer who was not upset to see MI6' notorious ziggurat on the Thames blown to bits?
Judi Dench's role as M has also become darker. Since her first appearance in 1995, she has been Jocasta, mother to Bond's Oedipus. In his “The Life of Ian Fleming”, John Pearson suggests that M may even be based on Fleming's own mother. In “Skyfall” she is more the child-murdering Medea, or Woody Allen's mother in “Love and Death”, ever prepared to sacrifice him for the good of the nation.
Apart from Dench's character, “Skyfall” is incredibly negative in its portrayal of women.
OK, I know that being shocked by James Bond's sexism is like being surprised by the Pope's religion, but here once again Mendes has given the standard Bond line a further twist to the right. There are a number of progressive currents running through the 007 canon. There are consequently choices that producers and directors can make. One of the attractive aspects of “Quantum of Solace” was the feistiness of Gemma Arterton's Bond girl. As such, in this world of sick, sorry, playful male fantasy, she must of course be killed, but that only gives her the same fate as every mere sex doll he meets. In “Skyfall”, though, we have Naomi Harris' hapless Eve Moneypenny, who, having accidentally nearly killed Bond, at the end of the film retires to a woman's “proper place” as secretary.
For the first time, in “Skyfall” we see Bond's social origins, as a member of the presumably English landed gentry in Scotland. These very “1%” roots are consistent with the political world of the rest of the film. Recent research on happiness in a deeply divided society suggests that the 1% may be as miserable and unfulfilled as the 99% in this state of affairs. Bond's strangely unmoving childhood trauma, and his consequent shallow and callous hedonism, make him the perfect agent to protect this grim world, in which he may be sacrificed at any moment. In this world individual human beings count for nothing. The preservation of the system is all.
The Shack-dwellers movement: using democracy to replace capitalism
The problem is capitalism, but what, for the poorest people on the planet, are the solutions? This was the constant theme when the Anarchist Bookfair on October 27 2012 was addressed by Lindela Figlan from the South African Shack-Dwellers Movement (Abahlali baseMjondolo - AbM).
The AbM grew from the discontent of poor shack-dwellers with the neo-liberal policies of the African National Congress government since 1994. Since foundation in the Kennedy Road settlement in Durban, it has won victories over land rights and infrastructure, while remaining fiercely independent of both politial parties and NGOs. This grassroots movement is famously democratic, and as such reminded me of the Brazilian Landless Workers Movement (MST), with whom they are linked. Currently they are organising popular assemblies for decisions to be made, a parallel political structure from the grassroots. Their leaders are unpaid, and Lindela describes them as "servants of the people". Everything the movement does seems designed to contrast clearly with the kleptocratic corruption of the post-apartheid political system.
Their door is always open for meeting with politicians, but, Lindela says, rather than come imposing their own agendas, the politicians must listen to the democratically-decided demands of the shack-dwellers.
The movement's radicalism has provoked violent repression, with arrests and torture common, and there have been cases of armed raids. Lindela himself sleeps in a variety of places for his personal safety.
Answering a question about the role and threat of NGO involvement, it was clear from his reply that the movement has no delusions about help offered. Lindela described how one NGO bussed in AbM activists to a meeting with the NGO's donors, but afterwards refused the movement's request for modest help to organise a march. He made an analogy: as long as your car (the movement) keeps travelling, the dogs (the NGOs) run after it barking, but if it stops, they cock their legs against it. He contrasted the canine NGOs with War on Want, who had listened and responded to their needs.
The AbM is in no way a single-issue movement. They recognize, for instance, that new housing projects are not enough. As Lindela explained, if a person gets a new flat, but can't eat, they then sell the flat for a fraction of its value to put food on the table. So Abahlali baseMjondolo is adamantly anti-capitalist, arguing for a complete transformation of society from the bottom up.
For more information: http://abahlali.org
Catch the DATES of Lindela Figlan's UK TOUR here
The Fear of Working Class Power - Liberal journalists and Venezuela
Yet more counter-factual bile is spewing out of the traditional media, and especially the liberal media, on the occasion of Hugo Chavez' death. So I re-publish this article written at the time of the Venezuelan Presidential elections in October 2012:
Most journalists work for companies whose purpose is very well described in Patrick Chalmers' article News to Make the Rich Richer. Based on his 11 years' experience as a journalist for Reuters, this article introduces the broader themes of his excellent book Fraudcast News. Ownership, who pays, news sources, editorial ideology, and journalists' fear all contribute to the distorting lens.
The immediate aftermath of another election in Venezuela is a perfect opportunity to count the cost of corporate media mis-reporting. This article will analyse the reporting of some journalists of the supposedly liberal media in the UK. But following Patrick's lead, let's look first at Reuters.
Sure enough, in the lead-up to the Venezuelan Presidential election, which pitched socialist incumbent Hugo Chavez against candidate of the right-wing coalition Henrique Capriles, Reuters followed the meta-narrative of the vast majority of the corporate media. They constantly insisted that the election was closely fought, right up until election day, when Chavez actually won by a whopping 11%. This depiction of a tight race was despite most opinion polls showing Chavez with a double-digit lead. A cursory research would have told a half-decent journalist that the solitary polling organisation that showed Capriles to have a lead, Consultores 21, has an abysmal record in previous elections. In 2004, 2006, and 2009 this poll underestimated Chavez' vote by between 10 and 13 percentage points, well outside the acceptable margin of error. And again this time, Consultores 21 underestimated Chavez' vote by 10%. They are nothing if not consistent. Of course for US media organisations, that makes this poll "respected", "reputable" and "well-regarded" (in the words of the Wall Street Journal, ABC News, and the Washington Post respectively). But why are the reporters of Reuters not more sceptical? Patrick Chalmers answers this well. But I believe there is another factor.
In the almost universal disparaging of Bolivarian socialism in the media of the US and UK, one of the most interesting phenomena is the intense involvement of liberal newspapers and news outlets. The Guardian's Rory Carroll is notorious. For him, Venezuela is always on the point of infrastructural collapse, while Chavez is a waning force. His recent headlines included "A strongman's last stand" and "People's hero in final showdown". Chavez was described as "Banquo's ghost". Given the opinion polls cited above, was the apocalyptic tone justified? His reports are also peppered with the kind of factual errors which always chime with the opposition's narrative of an authoritarian populist demagogue. I felt roused to challenge Carroll, using the feeble means of twitter, over his claim that Chavez' election victories were "not always fair". Jimmy Carter, after his long experience of monitoring democratic elections, for which he won a Nobel Prize, said “the election process in Venezuela is the best in the world” and that Chavez has always won “fairly and squarely”. No response of course came from Carroll, so I ask again. What is it that you know, Rory, that Jimmy Carter doesn't? The overwhelming tone of all of Carroll's pieces is an obsession with the figure of Chavez himself, not the Revolution he has led into being. His post-election piece is headed "Hugo Chavez: a victory of enduring charisma and political mastery". Note how Chavez' voters, the Venezuelan poor, are, according to Carroll, voting for him because of his charm and Machiavellian skills, not because of their empowerment through communal councils, the free health clinics and universities, the new housing, or the massive reductions in poverty.
The Independent newspaper reporter Jim Armitage, however, makes Carroll look like a Chavista sympathiser. Here we have unsupported references to human rights abuses, defamation of oil workers, the casual, and again unsupported, claim of privations, and the cheap and gratuitous reference to Ken Livingstone. If you are astonished by the tone of the unfactual hack piece in the link, it's worth noting that the supposedly liberal Independent has a long history of this kind of coverage.
But one thing connects Carroll and Armitage. When I wrote that I would analyse their coverage, I meant it in an almost psychoanalytic way. Their patronising of and disregard for the poor majority seems to me to involve the same hysteria that Carroll ascribes to Chavez' voters. They both profess to support a mildly social democratic system of social welfare, as avowedly did Chavez' so soundly beaten rival Capriles. In other words, they think the elite should deign to alleviate the worst excesses of capitalism. What troubles them beyond their being able to deal with it rationally is the idea of the poor majority taking power. For this presumption on the part of the working class, and their vision of a society that goes beyond welfarism to socialist democracy, the poor deserve to be mocked or sidelined or ignored. Why do Carroll and Armitage not celebrate the Bolivarian revolution's reduction of poverty by half, instead of putting it in parenthesis, or treating it as an electoral bribe? What is the mixture of hatred and fear that motivates them to write such shoddy journalistic bile? The fact that the Guardian and Independent commission and print it shows us the dark, inhuman heart of liberalism.
Whose reconstruction? - the tsunami disaster one year on
One year on from the biggest earthquake to hit Japan, with media interest having dwindled, relief NGO Peace Boat has announced today that it will continue to work for the foreseeable future in the Tohoku area so devastated by the tsunami wave. Why?
When we visited the fishing town of Ishinomaki in September, we witnessed the hard work, and phenomenal organization, of Peace Boat volunteers and workers, still clearing debris from the beaches and serving hot food in emergency shelters.
Now their work has shifted to helping restore the infrastructure and to focussing on the long-term psycho-social problems of people who lost their homes and loved ones. As the emergency shelters closed, tsunami survivors have been rehoused far from their original homes, often isolated and left alone with their trauma. Just before our trip, one man in this situation in Ishinomaki committed suicide.
One local man, Konno Fumiaki, from Rikuzentakata, 60 miles to the north of Ishinomaki, commented:
"Unfortunately, in spite of the effort of our mayor and city authorities, one big flaw is there. That there is very little communication or consultation with the local population, who are dispersed in different parts of the city, and sometimes outside of the city, and that worries me so much. It seems that in spite of the enormous help from outside, our future planning is not going to be the planning made by the people ourselves, but a plan made by a few officials, and the outside agencies and the government and the companies and so on. so I am very worried that our town in the future may not be the town of our own. That concerns me so much."
THOUSANDS PROTEST IN TRAFALGAR SQUARE
RALLY CALLS TIME ON DICTATORS IN SYRIA, EGYPT, BAHRAIN....
Activists from countries across the region took to a huge stage to share their stories of struggle and perseverance in the face of violent suppression. Speakers were there from Egypt, Libya, Syria, Palestine and Bahrain. The huge crowd was made up of trade unionists, students, Amnesty International supporters and other ordinary people from across the UK who gathered in a day of "solidarity and defiance".
visionOntv interviewed the activists:
The Graveyard of Boats - photo essay
Richard Hering and Takako Yamaguchi have been touring with visionOntv's Making News Roadshow in Japan, promoting video citizen journalism. As part of this they visited the area of the earthquake-damaged nuclear reactors. Richard's first article from the Roadshow follows:
Near Minamisoma City, just 25km from the nuclear meltdown at the power plants of Fukushima, northeastern Japan, is a shocking sight. It's a classical painting gone wrong, where seascape and landscape have surreally combined.
The tsunami carried these boats no less than five kilometres inland.
The area is known locally as the "graveyard of boats". There are some 30 hulks here.
Compensation from the authorities and from nuclear power company TEPCO has been marred by controversy. Application forms sent out to 60,000 households on September 12th are 60 pages long with a 156-page manual. (Earlier provisional payments were praised for their simplicity). The new claim forms, with one required for each individual in a family, also only cover the period to the end of August, with a new form being required for subsequent damages. "Is this some kind of harassment?" tweeted a recipient. (1)
In any case, compensation will not restart the fishing industry on this coast any time soon. The ocean around remains irradiated, including the vital frozen storage. So this is all that is left.
Our guide, Tomoyuki Narasaki of the Japan Volunteer Centre, informs us that the tsunami wave also took 600 lives on this coast alone. On what was once a popular public beach, most of the sand was washed away. The force of the wave ripped up some of the some of the very solid stone steps which took sunbathers to the water and carried them far inland.
The remains of a concrete bridge. Cars and other metal items lie in shredded and rusting heaps.
We visit a closed primary school, whose playground has a huge pit in the centre, as diggers excavate the radioactive dust from it.
Narasaki-san introduces us to a project he manages, Minamisoma Disaster Radio. This citizen radio station broadcasts three times a day, including the latest radiation levels, and facts and opinions from listeners. He was our guide for what he ironically termed "disaster tourism". His guided tour will be published soon on globalviews.
Follow all coverage of the Making News Roadshow tour on the globalviews channel.
Got a Camera? Be a Reporter, Not a Spectator
Richard Hering and Hamish Campbell are checking on what you're doing with that camera:
We've all done it. Gone on a demo and taken an hour's worth of video, and the tape of it then languishes on a shelf slowly icing over with dust. Sometimes, but certainly not always, we even label it carefully, because one day we will definitely edit it into our award-winning activist documentary. Yeah, right.
The question is: why don't we do more with all the video and photos we take of every event in our lives? At any interesting action, a hundred people turn up with cameras. Sometimes there are more cameras than activists. What happens to all these pictures and footage? Mainly, if they appear at all, they go into a kind of flickr or youtube compost, waiting for someone, somewhere to grow something out of them. Or worse, they end up in the internet silo which is facebook, as part of your individual profile. I took these pictures, me, they're all about me. Not much desire for social change in that!
So what stops you, and we mean YOU, from doing something useful with your gadgets? How do you become a journalist instead of a by-stander? It's actually a lot easier than you think, but there are some rules.
Being a journalist simply means telling the story, and you don't need a degree course in media to do it.
There are three basic ways of telling the story, in ascending order of skill:
1. Shoot video of anything interesting, keep it short, and put the journalism in the title and description of the video and blogpost when you upload. Just tell us the 5 Ws: Who, What, Where , When and Why.
2. Think about your story, plan it and tell it right there on the spot, putting the story in the video as it is shot. Template 1 - the live editing one shot report.
3. Learn the skills, put 3 months' work in as a video apprentice and plan the story beforehand, so that you can easily edit the result in a few hours. Template 3
All of these need a level of commitment which clearly separates the reporter from the mere on-looker. But they are all things that can be done in your spare time. To make this a whole lot easier, visionOntv is organising the MAKING NEWS ROADSHOW, a citizen journalist training programme beginning in Liverpool on 17-19 June.
So what do you want to be today? A journalist or a spectator?
Welcome to our world of mash-up!
Richard Hering introduces our new multi-media "book" of the largest UK protest since 2003
"If I was going to start a news business tomorrow, I would start a business that was not designed to produce one new bit of news, but instead to aggregate news for individuals in ways that mattered to them." (Professor Clay Shirky - NYU)
Ten years ago, if faced, as on 26 March 2011, with the largest public protest since the lead-up to the invasion of Iraq, I would have been out on the streets with my video camera, trying to capture a slivver of the excitement of that day. If I'd been well-prepared, I would have gained the trust of a direct action "affinity group" ready to do something really visual, and keen to get it seen. I would then have tried to sell this footage to the mainstream news in time for the evening bulletins, to get it watched by normal people, and to cover costs and possible legal expenses incurred by the protesters. And finally I would have lovingly crafted a short punchy film that told the story from our point of view. Capacity for social change: small.
Or else I would not have attended the protest at all, and would instead have been honing meticulous 2-page proposals for investigative documentary on Channel 4, which, if successful would send me on a long and arduous journey in return for a slot on primetime TV. Viewers: many. Personal prestige (awards etc): great. Capacity for social change: tiny.
But on March 26, I did not walk the streets of central London at all. Instead, Marc Barto and I sat scrutinizing the stream of data coming into our laptops in an improvised studio lent to us by the University of London Union. We were using the phenomenal new software Storify to compile a timeline of the day, as it happened before our glassy eyes. The latest tweets, newsy or funny or attitudinal, were carefully selected alongside the best photos, and the first videos to come in that really told a story. (These last mainly used visionOntv's video citizen journalist templates, made by members of the London Video Activist Network, guided during the day from the same studio space). Later we added an edited selection of eye-witness accounts, some by experienced journalists such as Laurie Penny of the New Statesman, and others by first-time writers being hosted by other blogs. We also added the higher-quality videos which take between a day and a fortnight to edit, such as Michael Chanan's "A Tale of Two Demonstrations" and our own Kayte Fairfax' and Shaun Firkser's brilliant "Anarchists Unmasked!" (I will review the video content from March 26 in a following article.)
The result is only one of many possible stories of this massive protest against the cuts. We have tried to reflect all points of view among the protesters, from those who marched and attended the rally in Hyde Park in the hope of challenging power through numbers, through to those who think that the only solution is deep systemic change. It puts both sides as the protesters debate the value of tactics such as damage to property. It excoriates the laughable coverage by the mainstream media. It is a genuine, multi-faceted, and multi-media, story from the grassroots, crowd-sourced from citizen writers, photographers, and film makers.
Welcome to our wonderful world of mash-up media.
Check out the March26 timeline here!
Egyptian trade unionists' declaration 19 Feb 2011
Note: no url source for this, but it looks genuine......
Egyptian independent trade unionists' declaration
Cairo, 19 February 2011
Revolution - Freedom - Social Justice
Demands of the workers in the revolution
O heroes of the 25 January revolution! We, workers and trade unionists
from different workplaces which have seen strikes, occupations and
demonstrations by hundreds of thousands of workers across Egypt during
the current period, feel it is right to unite the demands of striking
workers that they may become an integral part of the goals of our
revolution, which the people of Egypt made, and for which the martyrs
shed their blood. We present to you a workers' program which brings
together our just demands, in order to reaffirm the social aspect of
this revolution and to prevent the revolution being taken away from at
its base who should be its beneficiaries.
The workers' demands which we raised before the 25 January revolution
and were part of the prelude to this glorious revolution are:
1. Raising the national minimum wage and pension, and a narrowing of
the gap between minimum and maximum wages so that the maximum is no
more than 15 times the minimum in order to achieve the principle of
social justice which the revolution gave birth to; payment of
unemployment benefit, and a regular increment which will increase with
2. The freedom to organize independent trade unions without conditions
or restrictions, and the protection of trade unions and their leaders.
3. The right of manual workers and clerical workers, peasant farmers
and professionals, to job security and protection from dismissal.
Temporary workers must be made permanent, and dismissed workers to be
returned to their jobs. We must do away with all excuses for employing
workers on temporary contracts.
4. Renationalization of all privatized enterprises and a complete stop
to the infamous privatization program which wrecked our national
economy under the defunct regime
5. * Complete removal of corrupt managers who were imposed on
companies in order to run them down and sell them off.
* Curbing the employment of consultants who are past the age of
retirement and who eat up 3 billion of the national income, in order
to open up employment opportunities for the young.
* Return to the enforcement of price controls on goods and services in
order to keep prices down and not to burden the poor.
6. The right of Egyptian workers to strike, organize sit-ins, and
demonstrate peacefully, including those striking now against the
remnants of the failed regime, those who were imposed on their
companies in order to run them down prior to a sell-off. It is our
opinion that if this revolution does not lead to the fair distribution
of wealth it is not worth anything. Freedoms are not complete without
social freedoms. The right to vote is naturally dependent on the right
to a loaf of bread.
7. Health care is a necessary condition for increasing production
8. Dissolution of the Egyptian Trade Union Federation which was one of
the most important symbols of corruption under the defunct regime.
Execution of the legal judgments issued against it and seizure of its
financial assets and documents. Seizure of the assets of the leaders
of the ETUF and its member unions and their investigation.
Employee of the Meteorological Office, Ahmad Kamal Salah
Health Technicians Union, Hossam Muhammad Abdallah Ali
Nurse, Sayyida Al-Sayyid Muhammad Fayiz
Al-Fayyum Sugar Refinery, Ashraf Abd al-Wanis
Omar Effendi Department Store, Abd-al-Qadir Mansur
Future Pipes Co, 6th October City, Hafiz Nagib Muhammad
Egypt - Helwan Textiles Co., Muhammad Hassan
Tora Cement, Mahmud Abd-al-Munsaf Al-Alwani
Egyptian Commercial Pharmaceutical Co., Ali Mahmud Nagi
Hawamidiyya Sugar Refinery, Omar Muhammad Abd-al-Aziz
Egyptian Pharmaceuticals, Muhammad Galal
Suez Fertilisers Co., Shazli Sawi Shazli
Military Factory No.45, Muhammad Ibrahim Hassan
Military Factory No. 999, Wasif Musa Wahba
General Transport Authority, Gamil Fathi Hifni
Cairo General Contractors, Adil Abd-al-Na'im
Al-Qanah Rope Co., Port Sa'id, Ali Hassan Abu Aita
Information Centre, Hind Abd-al-Gawad Ibrahim
Information Centre, Hamada Abu-Zaid
Information Centre, Muhammad Khairy Zaid
General Authority for Cultural Centres, Hatim Salah Sayyid
National Postal Authority, Muhammad Abd-al-Hakim
International Ibex Co., Ahmad Islam
Military Factory 99, Tariq Sayyid Mahmud
Military Factory 999, Nabil Mahmud
Trade unionist, Mahmud Shukri
Military Factory 999, Ahmad Faruq
Military Factory 999, Osama Al-Sayyid
Future Pipe Industries, Yasir Al-Sayyid Ibrahim
Tannery workers, Mahmud Ali Ahmad
Future Pipe Industries, Abd-al-Rasul Abd-al-Ghani
Omar Effendi Department Store, Ali Al-Sayyid
Property Tax Collectors (RETAU), Kamal Abu Aita
Property Tax Collectors (RETAU), Ahmad Abd-al-Sabur
Property Tax Collectors (RETAU), Salah Abd-al-Hamid
Property Tax Collectors (RETAU), Mahmud Umar
Worker, Khalid Galal Muhammad
Petrotrade Co., Muhammad Zaki Isma'il
Suez Canal Co., Saud Omar
Suez Fertilizers Co., Kamal el-Banna
Attack Palin for her politics not her idiocy
I'm happy to risk being accused of not having a sense of humour when I say I wish we'd stop mocking a person like Sarah Palin for her ignorance and stupidity.
OK - so this time she talked of "our North Korean allies", and the reason this is funny is obviously that Stalinist, anti-imperialist, vituperative North Korea is the country in the world LEAST allied with the United States. But the less amusing side of this is that an appalling number of Americans have no idea even where the Korean Peninsula is. George W. Bush was famously revealed as having zero knowledge of foreign affairs, and won a second term as President (we know he didn't win the first one!), despite all the mockery by people smarter than him, and even BECAUSE of it.
Palin's ignorance makes her appealing to large numbers of voters. She is one of them. In mocking her, we mock all those people who don't know how many sides a triangle has, think Iran is where Australia is, and that the US should next invade Italy.
Sorry to be po-faced, but this level of ignorance is tragic, not comic. And in laughing at it we make Palin's Presidency more likely, not less.
Why piracy is the vanguard of capitalism
I'd like to tell you a story about a friend of mine who committed a petty crime, and thus unwittingly found himself at the cutting edge of helping the entertainments industry renew itself in the digital world. Really. Let me explain. He was sitting with his 5-year-old son in a greasy-spoon cafe in Bethnal Green, east London, when a guy comes in offering pirate DVDs. My friend is not interested in Jackie Chan (he'd rather watch the Romanian New Wave / take an overdose of painkillers, take your pick - some would say the effect is similar). But the canny salesman immediately brandishes Toy Story 3, and the boy's eyes light up. As a single parent on a low income, my friend has not been able to take his kid to see the latest Disney blockbuster. So, while he does not believe the guy's claims that it's "100% quality", he takes a punt on it for the measly sum of £2. Screening it at home later, it's clear it isn't DVD quality, and it has Chinese sub-titles, but it's perfectly watchable, and he and his son enjoy the toys' antics very much.
At this point cue Arnold Schwarzenegger on a motorbike in that risible anti-piracy commercial that sometimes interrupts your DVD viewing pleasure, and ironically also stars Jackie Chan. "Copying is theft" is their menacing message. Wrong, Arnold. If I steal your bicycle, that's theft. If I copy your bicycle, you stlll have a bicycle, though in your case it would be a gas-guzzling, planet-fucking humvee, which I wouldn't touch in the first place. Does film copying threaten jobs? This is the classic "lump of labour" theory, that if jobs are lost in one industry there are no new jobs in any others. Computerisation has ended type-setting, but graphic designers have taken their place. I can also think of a few economies the film industry could make without it affecting anybody. In 2001, Schwarzenegger himself was paid an astonishing $30 million to be a monosyllabic killing machine in Terminator 3. Regarding income from copyright, recent research from the University of Uppsala showed that only 2% of spending on media and culture in Sweden went to artists for copyright. Income for creators from copyright is very low, and they would be much better off selling directly to consumers online. Meanwhile artists make the vast majority of their income from non-copyright sources, such as gigs.
My friend's pirate DVD almost certainly came from a website called TV Shack, which by coincidence was the previous week raided in New York by the FBI. All the press reports quoted the availability of Toy Story 3 on its website as a motivation for the raid. The technologically-backward Feds may sadly have thought that they had cut off TV Shack's illegal trade. In fact opened a few hours later from a Chinese address, and it took several more months of no doubt expensive cat and mouse to take it down again. Why are such public resources being thrown at trying to preserve an antiquated business model?
Anyway, two days after laughing at Woody and and his anthropomorphised mates, my friend is in a toy shop, wanting to buy something for his boy. He lights on a Toy Story lego set, which he would never have bought without them having seen the film. And later that week, the boy needs a new schoolbag, and he rejects the usual superheroes, and happily goes for more Toy Story merchandising. So it's not that my friend does not consume products which profit mega-corporations. It's just that £20 for a one-off cinema trip could be much better spent. When 5-year-olds like a film, they want to see it ove and over (and not only they, says the author, who makes sure he sees Hitchcock's "Vertigo" in a state of awed reverie every year). We have a video projector at home, a large white wall, and a decent throw for the beamer. How much better it is for us to watch a film like that in multicultural London, where we can turn on the DVD sub-titles for viewers whose first language is not English, and can pause and fetch a beer at will. Is it possible that cinema is, in the words of my wise old lecturer Dr Roy Armes, "the last of the nineteenth century theatrical entertainments"? At the beginning of the 20th century, should we have protected blacksmiths by banning cars?
Now, Disney executives, let's "do the math". Simply put, because of my friend's terrible crime, he has put more money into your already loaded pockets. And let's see who else he might have helped. The guy who sold it to them might have been a pawn in a global mafia involved in drug-dealing and the trafficking of women into prostitution. I say might, because this is a claim made on the Home Office website, not a very reliable source, and they give absolutely no evidence to support it. But it is true that activities which should be legal, such as the buying of recreational drugs, are through being made illegal, thrown into a criminal underworld which presumably does some really bad stuff. But let's imagine for a moment that our seller is a cottage industry. He's doing a serious day's work. The costs up front: blank media 20p, a laser-copy cover 20p, and a subscription to the website source, which is the only way of getting a whole copy. Then he has to hawk it round East London under constant fear of arrest. Alternatively he could rely on state benefits. Is that what you prefer?
I am also pleased that TV Shack got some money, because serving popular content costs a sum probably not covered by the advertising revenue, and they were providing a very valuable service to people who are too poor for the cinema or the cable package. And, finally, everyone is a winner in this situation, including Disney themselves.
So why this war on piracy? And a war it is, with profoundly undemocratic and unworkable legislation being passed with minimal scrutiny in a number of countries at the behest of corporations such as Disney. The most notorious are the "three strikes and you're out" laws in France and the UK, where households could lose their internet connections because of allegations of illegal downloading the copyright-holders do not have to prove in a court of law. What motivates this attack? Corporate greed? Surely not. It makes no economic sense. There's a strong body of evidence to say that so-called "illegal downloaders" spend more on cultural products than people who never do this, and that they do this because they try out the products themselves beforehand, and then rush out to buy them for a friend's birthday. Is it instead a question of control, of power? For these old mega-corporations, the horizontal democracy of the internet can seem a very scarey place. Digital information just wants to be free, a fact that must strike terror to companies grown complacent with the idea that people must consume what they produce in whatever way the producers choose.
And finally, back to my friend. He is a bit embarassed and ashamed about his dodgy deals in downtown Hackney. He's really not sure he should be doing this. You see, as a man of the left, he is aware of old Uncle Walt's ugly history of McCarthyite witch-hunting and union-bashing. He has also read about the way that Donald Duck was used to inculcate selfish individualism in Latin American children. In the end, though, he is happy to say that on balance he can justify tipping money into Disney's pockets via its merchandising. You see, he really admires the films, and his son adores them. Hence the lego-set and the schoolbag. But pay to see an unknown film in the cinema he doesn't even know that his son will enjoy? Come off it, Mickey!