Blogs

Cinema 76 Film Club Review 2015

A selection of the films we showed in the Cinema 76 film club in 2015.

 

Jeanne Dielman, 23 quai du Commerce, 1080 Bruxelles - Chantal Akerman

Accattone (1961) / Mamma Roma (1962) - Pasolini

Man of Iron (1981) - Andrzej Wajda

Solaris (1972) - Andrei Tarkovsky

The Hour of the Furnaces (1968) - Fernando Solanas

Women without Men (2009) - Shirin Neshat / About Elly (2009) - Asghar Farhadi

Kaos (1984) - the Taviani brothers

The Pillow Book (1996) - Peter Greenaway

The Golden Dream (2013) / In This World (2002) - Michael Winterbottom

Winter Sleep (2015) - Nuri Bilge Ceylan

Wild Tales (2014) - Damián Szifron / Chile. Obstinate Memory (1997) - Patricio Guzman

Timbuktu (2014) / Bamako (2006) - Abderrahmane Sissako

How to talk to an anti-migrant Brexiteer

Post-referendum, I'm interested by the notion of a "post-fact society", and how we deal with it. Here I am only dealing with the issue of immigration, rather than other arguments for or against the EU.
 
Firstly a couple of caveats:
 
1. People believing stuff despite all credible evidence is not remotely new.
 
2. Many Brexit voters were suffering from a lack of that well-researched evidence from a CREDIBLE source, a result of the severe democratic deficit which has opened up. Immigration as a cause of their problems, though untrue, is a kind of "common sense" explanation, which the austerity policies of neoliberal economics post-2008 are not. And given the level of mendacity in the Leave campaign, it's hard not to invoke Godwin's Law and quote Joseph Goebbels on the power of the repeated lie. So there's a case for arguing that people were misled as to the facts, or disinclined to believe them, rather than merely ignoring them.
 
Racism should be dealt with forthrightly and we all need to hyper-vigilant at this time. We need to call out colleagues by using the racist word. We absolutely need to report all incidents by anyone in the course of their work to their employers, and follow the report to a satisfactory outcome. "Passer-by" incidents need calling out at the time, and the police informed if appropriate, as just happened in Manchester.
 
But how do we now deal with friends, acquaintances or family who aren't espousing racism, but think there is a problem with immigration, despite a host of research showing no such effects? Cognitive linguist George Lakoff counsels that we should not attempt to argue over the "facts". Here is a video on how to talk to climate change deniers that I made with campaigner George Marshall, whose methods, dealing with the feelings rather than the facts, are I think completely transferable. The end of the video has a quick check-list to commit to memory:

Have I Been Censored By The BBC?

BBC Worldwide have taken down from YouTube a video I made 7 years ago at the time of the first bombing of Gaza. It features the late Tony Benn's magnificent indignation at the BBC's refusal to show the Gaza charitable appeal.  Takedowns of news clips, especially a blacking out of the video in all countries, are unusual these days. Most copyright disputes on YouTube are now settled by leaving the video up, banning adverts by the poster and/or reserving to the copyright holder the right to put ads themselves. The video is available again, if only temporarily, while I dispute the claim.

 

Here is my dispute:

"The subject of the video is to criticise the censorship of a charitable appeal by the same broadcaster that has made the copyright complaint. This is a legitimate and fair exercise of free speech, and satisfies the conditions for fair use. The video is not monetized, and therefore non-commercial, it is from a factual work (a news broadcast), and the amount used is only sufficient to show the indignation of the guest of the show in question at the censorship of the material. The ability of BBC Worldwide to profit from the sale of this 7-year-old news broadcast of an interview with a now deceased politician must be very small, and in any case is not impeded by the clip's being cut into this video critique. It would be perfectly appropriate for BBC Worldwide to exercise its right to prevent the monetising of the video, which in any case we as producers have never done, but to take it down is an attack on free speech. Prior approval of the copyright holder for a usage which so clearly criticises that same copyright holder would clearly be impossible to obtain, and therefore the principle of fair use has been applied for this non--commercial work, for which there many precedents, not only deriving from the statutes governing YouTube, but also from UK case law regarding the public's interest in critical material."

I have won such copyright disputes before. The US legisIation permits re-mixing for critical purposes - it's fairly well established. Might there be some other motivation for the takedown? Could it be Benn's comment: "Let me be clear about this. People will DIE because of what the BBC has done"? Other BBC news clips on YouTube (unedited, without any critique, so straightforward "steals") have been left unmolested, including one of the same clip I have used. Is the BBC's problem precisely that their clip is contextualised, edited together with the aid appeal they censored, plus a devastating orphan's story from Gaza?

Watch this space.

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)

Shadow Foreign Secretary Hilary Benn's speech in the House of Commons in favour of bombing Syria has been praised as much by conservative opponents as by his allies. As Sam Kriss said today in Vice magazine: “The reviews are pouring in, as if this were a West End musical instead of the overture to a massacre. "Truly spellbinding", the Spectator gushes. "Fizzing with eloquence", gurgles the Times. "Electric", gloops the Guardian. The Telegraph's Dan Hodges, who can reliably be called upon to provide the worst possible opinion at any given time, goes further. "He did not look like the leader of the opposition," he writes. "He looked like the prime minister.""

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.
[CHEERS]”

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.

Open Letters to Liz Kendall

An open, if rather personal, letter to Liz Kendall:

Dear Liz


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.


Yours kindly


Richard​

-------------------------------------------

My second open letter to Liz Kendall:

Dear Liz

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

Richard

-----------------------------------------------------

My third open letter to Liz Kendall:

Dear Liz

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.

Yours ever

Richard

----------------------------------------------------------

Open Letter No. 4 to Liz Kendall

Dear Liz

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

Richard

---------------------------------------------------------

Open Letter to Liz Kendall No. 5:

Dear Liz

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.

Yours anxiously

Richard

-------------------------------------------------------

Open Letter to Liz Kendall No. 6:

Dear Liz

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

Richard

------------------------------------

Open Letter to Liz Kendall No. 7:

Dear Liz

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

Richard​

---------------------------------------------

Open Letter No. 8

Dear Liz

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.

Yours hopefully

Richard​

--------------------------------------------

Open Letter No. 9:

Dear Liz

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

Richard

-----------------------------------------

Open Letter No. 10:

Dear Liz

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

Richard

----------------------------------

Open Letter No. 11:

Dear Liz

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

Richard

--------------------------------

Open Letter No. 12:

Dear Liz

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:

Yours urgently

Richard

----------------------------------

Open Letter No. 13:

Dear Liz

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?

Sartorially yours

Richard

------------------------------

Open Letter to Liz Kendall No. 14:

Dear Liz

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.

Yours apologetically

Richard​

---------------------------

Open Letter to Liz Kendall No. 15:

Dear Liz

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.

Ever yours

Richard

-------------------------------

Open Letter No.16:

Dear Liz

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?

Yours paranoically

Richard

------------

Open Letter No. 17


Dear Liz


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.

Richard

---------------

Open Letter No. 18

Dear Liz

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."

Richard

 

Film Club Review 2014

Every fortnight for the past five years, I have hosted a film club in our flat in Dalston, East London (projector / white wall / decent throw / blackout curtain). The criterion for film selection is simple: those movies that we might be too lazy to watch otherwise, and would really benefit from a quasi-cinematic sacralized space. Hollywood is banned, though not by me personally. When we started, I was worried that we might exhaust the list of quality art movies quite quickly, and soon be stuck in a second-grade world cinema back catalogue. This has emphatically not proved to be the case, and we feel we've only skimmed the surface of the history of this amazing, short-lived art form.

In 2014 we had a very strong year, from rarely seen classics to outstanding recent movies. If you'd like to come along one Sunday, let me know at richard (AT) visionon.tv

I will add commentary as and when....

-------------------------------

Omar (2013) - Hany Abu-Assad

Superbly made political thriller about young men on the wrong (Palestinian) side of the Apartheid wall. The climbing over the wall itself by the protagonist is an excellent metaphor for the drama. It becomes physically harder for him as the hope for his relationship with the young woman on the other side becomes more hopeless. As Cedric pointed out, the film is nevertheless curiously unmoving. Perhaps the main characters are a littel under-characterised.

5 Broken Cameras (2012) - Emad Burnat

Talking of visual metaphors, there are none better than Burnat's decision to make a film around the occasions each of his cameras is broken by the IDF as he tries to record the abuses in his Palestinian village. Sometimes it shows a slight artificiality, with shooting to fill in the narrative, with the domestic scenes in articualr a little stagey. but this is carping. This is a first-rate, deservedly award-winning, doc.

-------------------------------

Rust and Bone (2012) - Jacques Audiard

*CONTAINS SPOILER* The magnificent Marion Cotillard again (we saw the superb Two Days, One Night in 2013) in a moving romance between the "disabled by shark" Stephanie and desperado kick boxer Ali. Is there a problem in Act 3, with the rather forced turnaround, where his son's near-death makes Ali realize he should commit? Does it matter?

Read My Lips (2001) - Jacques Audiard

A nice "oddball romance" / crime thriller with excellent performances.

------------------------------

The Secret In Their Eyes (2009) - Juan Jose Campanella

Uses gripping murder investigation to examine love. commitment, justice, and the legacy of the US-backed fascist coups in Latin America. And there's THAT shot, the long tracking take into and around the football stadium as the police find and chase their man.

The Official Story (1985) - Luis Puenzo

Argentina's only country to win the Best Foreign Movie Oscar twice. This first one powerfully presents the intersection of the personal and the political, showing how the "Dirty War" could even destroy middle-class families that saw themselves as immune.

------------------------------

Something Else Brazilian....

Foreign Land (1996)

------------------------------

A Separation (2011) - Asghar Farhadi

Divorce: Iranian Style (1998) - Kim Longinotto

-----------------------------

Audition (1999) - Takashi Miike

Dark Water (2002) - Hideo Nakata

-----------------------------

Andrei Rublev (1966) - Andrei Tarkovsky

-----------------------------

Nymphomaniac (2013) - Lars von Trier

-----------------------------

Rome, Open City (1945) - Roberto Rossellini

Germany, Year Zero (1948) - Roberto Rossellini

----------------------------

Games of Love and Chance (2003) - Abdelatif Kechiche

Closely Observed Trains (1966) - Jiri Menzel

---------------------------

A Touch of Sin (2013) - Jia Zhangke

The Flowers of War (2011) - Zhang Yimou

---------------------------

The Conformist (1970) - Bernardo Bertolucci

Red Desert (1964) - Michelangelo Antonioni

---------------------------

Contempt (1963) - Jean-Luc Godard

Hiroshima, Mon Amour (1959) - Alain Resnais

---------------------------

Hospital (1970) - Fred Wiseman

In the Year of the Pig (1968) - Emile de Antonio

--------------------------

Cries and Whispers (1972) - Ingmar Bergman

Summer Interlude (1951) - Ingmar Bergman

--------------------------

Dead Ringers (1988) - David Cronenberg

Videodrome (1983) - David Cronenberg

--------------------------

Memories of Underdevelopment (1968) - Tomas Gutierrez Alea

Medium Cool (1969) - Haskell Wexler

--------------------------

Summer Palace (2006) - Lou Ye

Crisis - Behind a Presidential Commitment (1963) - Robert Drew

A Pervert's Guide to the Cinema Part 3 (2006) - Sophie Fiennes / Slavoj Zizek

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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.

England cricket team's secrets revealed

On the final day of the Lord's Test the England batsmen must have been truly astonished, and who can blame them? Who'd have imagined it? Short-pitched deliveries! In a Test match! Some commentators have been less generous. Sir Geoffrey Boycott claimed they had committed a painful Japanese suicide, though he confused it with popular discount warehouse "Harry Carry". But he is right in seeking another explanation for what otherwise was possibly the most dismal exhibition of batting I have ever seen.

In fact I can now exclusively reveal that the England team is in the grip of a sinister evangelical cult and that what happened on the fifth day at Lord's was none other than a suicide pact, where everyone follows their leader's command and ends it all in exactly the same way. Except, that is, for Jimmy Anderson, who sought a new and more self-abasing way to meet his Maker. He showed admirable piety and humility. At last we can make sense of the carnage of Monday afternoon. Otherwise we were left puzzling over how an experienced player such as Matt Prior, facing three men on the legside ready to catch him, and having escaped dying to a rash pull shot, would play exactly the same shot again.

Psychological studies show that when the mass hysteria takes hold, even doubters are pulled in, or rather pulled out in this case. Under peer pressure, erstwhile sane and rational Joe Root fell to the same grisly fate. Lord's pavilion insiders report there may be a mysterious cult sage who dispenses fatal advice in the luncheon interval. And that batsmen chatting in the middle are using a secret handshake.

So now we know. Hapless Captain Cook is not to blame, and until this team is rescued from this evil cult, India will continue to trounce them. Before you dismiss this as an internet conspiracy theory, think for a moment. Do you have a better explanation?

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!

 

Showing 1 - 20 of 65 results.
Items per Page 20
of 4