Wednesday, 27 January 2016

Spin Shift on Bernie: The Escalating Media Assault, by Norman Solomon

For a long time, as he campaigned for president, a wide spectrum of establishment media insisted that Bernie Sanders couldn’t win. Now they’re sounding the alarm that he might.

And, just in case you haven’t gotten the media message yet -- Sanders is “angry,” kind of like Donald Trump.

Elite media often blur distinctions between right-wing populism and progressive populism -- as though there’s not all that much difference between appealing to xenophobia and racism on the one hand and appealing for social justice and humanistic solidarity on the other.

Many journalists can’t resist lumping Trump and Sanders together as rabble-rousing outliers. But in the real world, the differences are vast. Donald Trump is to Bernie Sanders as Archie Bunker is to Jon Stewart. 

Among regular New York Times columnists, aversion to Bernie Sanders has become more pronounced in recent days at both ends of the newspaper’s ideological spectrum, such as it is. 

Republican Party aficionado David Brooks (whose idea of a good political time is Marco Rubio) has been freaking out in print, most recently with a Tuesday column headlined “Stay Sane America, Please!” 

Brooks warned that his current nightmare for the nation is in triplicate -- President Trump, President Cruz or President Sanders. 

For Brooks, all three contenders appear to be about equally awful; Trump is “one of the most loathed men in American public life,” while “America has never elected a candidate maximally extreme from the political center, the way Sanders and Cruz are.” 

That “political center” of power sustains huge income inequality, perpetual war, scant action on climate change and reflexive support for the latest unhinged escalation of the nuclear arms race.

In other words, what C. Wright Mills called “crackpot realism.”

Meanwhile, liberal Times columnist Paul Krugman (whose idea of a good political time is Hillary Clinton) keeps propounding a stand-on-head formula for social change -- a kind of trickle-down theory of political power, in which “happy dreams” must yield to “hard thinking,” a euphemism for crackpot realism. 

An excellent rejoinder has come from former Labor Secretary Robert Reich. “Krugman doesn’t get it,” Reich wrote

“I’ve been in and around Washington for almost fifty years, including a stint in the cabinet, and I’ve learned that real change happens only when a substantial share of the American public is mobilized, organized, energized, and determined to make it happen.” 

And Reich added: “Political ‘pragmatism’ may require accepting ‘half loaves’ -- but the full loaf has to be large and bold enough in the first place to make the half loaf meaningful. 

“That’s why the movement must aim high -- toward a single-payer universal health, free public higher education, and busting up the biggest banks, for example.” 

But for mainline media, exploring such substance is low priority, much lower than facile labeling and horseracing… and riffing on how Bernie Sanders sounds “angry.” 

On “Morning Edition,” this week began with NPR political reporter Mara Liasson telling listeners that “Bernie Sanders’ angry tirades against Wall Street have found a receptive audience.” 

(Meanwhile, without anger or tirades, “Hillary Clinton often talks about the fears and insecurities of ordinary voters.”) 

The momentum of the Sanders campaign will soon provoke a lot more corporate media attacks along the lines of a Chicago Tribune editorial that appeared in print on Monday. 

The newspaper editorialized that nomination of Trump, Cruz or Sanders “could be politically disastrous,” and it declared: “Wise heads in both parties are verging on panic.”

The Tribune editorial warned that as a “self-declared democratic socialist,” Sanders “brandishes a label that, a Gallup poll found, would automatically make him unacceptable to nearly half the public.”

A strong critique of such commentaries has come from the media watch group FAIR, where Jim Naureckas pointed out that “voters would not be asked to vote for ‘a socialist’ -- they’d be asked to vote for Bernie Sanders.

“And while pollsters don’t include Sanders in general election matchups as often as they do Hillary Clinton, they have asked how the Vermont senator would do against various Republicans -- and he generally does pretty well.

“In particular, against the candidate the Tribune says is ‘best positioned’ to ‘capture the broad, sensible center’ -- Jeb Bush -- Sanders leads in polls by an average of 3.0 percentage points, based on polling analysis by the website Real Clear Politics.”

In mass media, the conventional sensibilities of pundits like Brooks and Krugman, reporters like Liasson, and outlets like the Chicago Tribune routinely get the first and last words.

Here, the last ones are from Naureckas: “When pollsters match Sanders against the four top-polling Republican hopefuls, on average he does better than Clinton does against each of them -- even though she, like Bush, is supposed to be ‘best positioned’ to ‘capture the broad, sensible center,’ according to the Tribune

“Actually, the elements of Sanders’ platform that elite media are most likely to associate with ‘socialism’ -- things like universal, publicly funded healthcare and eliminating tuition at public colleges -- are quite popular with the public, and go a long way to explain his favorable poll numbers. 

“But they are also the sort of proposals that make Sanders unacceptable to the nation’s wealthy elite -- and to establishment media outlets.”

Norman Solomon is the author of War Made Easy: How Presidents and Pundits Keep Spinning Us to Death. He is the executive director of the Institute for Public Accuracy and co-founder of

Sunday, 24 January 2016

It Is Time to Exercise the United Kingdom's Right to Self-Determination, by David Lindsay

Did Tony Blair want to give Gibraltar to Spain in order to ease what was always his own fanciful progress to the Presidency of the European Union? Perhaps he did. After all, in May 1940, Churchill had been all ready to give Gibraltar, among several other places, to Mussolini.

The territories that the so-called “Greatest Briton” had been prepared to cede to the man whom he had called “the greatest living legislator” had also included the ones inhabited by the white settlers in Kenya and Uganda.

Fascist rule might have suited the Happy Valley set down to the ground. But whether or not it would have done so was of no interest to Churchill. Not very long afterwards, Britain did simply walk out on them. Under a Conservative Government, of course.

The “kith and kin” populations that Britain has at some point just upped and left behind, almost (if almost) always after having very recently fought wars in order to hold onto them, are collectively larger than the No vote in the Scottish independence referendum.

Those populations are much larger than the Unionist vote in Northern Ireland, and enormously larger than the population of the Falkland Islands, which pretends for British television that it is all-white when it no longer is.

It is common for a colonial possession to be far larger and more populous than its colonial possessor. Such is now the relationship between the United Kingdom and the Falkland Islands.

They are the colonial power, and we are the colony.

The question is how long we are prepared to put up with that, before we exercise our right of self-determination and assert our independence from somewhere that has never been part of the United Kingdom, any more than The Gambia has ever been part of the United Kingdom. 

Great swaths of the earth fought for Britain in the two World Wars, and a huge proportion of the global population is anything up to nine generations removed from these Islands.

What the Falkland Islanders currently have is not self-determination. It is other-determination. The rest of us have to expend our blood, potentially, and our treasure, very much more than potentially, merely because they say so.

Thus, we have the most expensive empire in history.

The cost of defending one of the British Overseas Territories, the only one that needs it and the tenth most populous of the 11 that have permanent populations, is greater than would be the cost of declaring them all independent, including the restored Chagos Islanders, each with a permanent annual grant of one billion pounds.

Why not do that? There would be no need to ask them. Like teenagers, they would get to be consulted when they started putting money in the pot.

St Helena, where I was born and from which the whole of my mother’s family originates, would have had its airport, and a great deal more besides, a very long time ago under that arrangement.

Further south, if a billion a year did not include enough to provide for the defence of 4,700 square miles, then the 2,932 inhabitants of those square miles would not deserve to be defended.

We left India a mere two years, to the day, after VJ Day. That had nothing to do with whether or not the people there wanted us.

It was because we could no longer afford both an empire abroad and the progressive measures for which our people were crying out at home.

We left people behind in India, and almost everywhere else that we left for the same reason. That never bothered us for one second.

There is no question of forcing places or their inhabitants into Spain or Argentina. But there is absolutely no obligation on Britain to keep them merely because they wish to be kept. That obligation simply does not exist.

If Gibraltar did not want to be part of Spain, or the Falkland Islands did not want to be part of Argentina, then it would be Gibraltar’s responsibility to keep itself out of Spain, or the Falkland Islands’ responsibility to keep themselves out of Argentina.

No one in the United Kingdom had a vote in the referendum in Gibraltar in 2002, or in the referendum in the Falkland Islands in 2013.

Yet that latter, at least, was deemed to keep the taxpayers of the United Kingdom under an enormous obligation, up to and including the loss of life if necessary. On the votes of 1,513 people. 

But even the 1,517 people who voted are not the only people with rights, although they alone enjoy their rights without the concomitant responsibilities.

Instead, declare all of the British Overseas Territories independent, including the restored Chagos Islanders, each with a permanent annual grant of one billion pounds.

Exercise our right to self-determination.

Thursday, 14 January 2016

Will There Be Much EU Left to Brexit From?, by Loz Kaye

With a new year, the prospect of the “Brexit” referendum draws ever closer. With Cameron's negotiations set to push forward in February, a date this summer starts to look increasingly likely, possibly as soon as six weeks after the May elections.

In any case both campaign groups have continued to gear up. What's noticeable as 2016 has begun is how oddly insular the Yes/In campaign's line of attack has been.

It's been about British jobs, British influence, British farming, even the British space industry. All of this is based on the notion that the EU is a stable unifying force both politically and financially.

However well-intentioned the progressive hopes for Europe are, it makes for a selfish yes that's about trying to show what's in it for us, rather than trying to address the challenges we face together as an international community.

And there are plenty of challenges. The Yes campaign view of what the EU offers is bizarrely divorced from what is actually happening on the mainland right now. The EU is in deep crisis, unable to deal with threats to freedom of movement, financial stability and progressive values.

If anything has shown this, it is the turmoil unleashed by the humanitarian disaster of people fleeing conflict zones and oppression. Even the half-hearted attempts to respond have not been honoured. At the beginning of this year only 0.17% of the pledged target of relocations had been met, just 272 Syrians and Eritreans.

Besides, if your frame for dealing with refugees is Europe, you have to draw a not-Europe line somewhere. Whether that is Calais, Siklos, or the Syrian border. Whether that line is a discrete blue sign with stars or with barbed wire.

Since the waves of sympathy generated by pictures of Alan Kurdi's body on the beach, the European establishment has been focusing on keeping refugees out, not helping them.

There are border controls in Denmark, Sweden, Germany, fences have been rolled out in Hungary. The Schengen agreement is in real terms dead, if it can be suspended so easily.

The most obvious symbol of European cooperation on the ground is being undermined with each ID check on a Scandinavian train. The EU has been entirely unable to handle the situation once it has arisen.

It is all very well for Commissioner Avramopoulos to call in ministers for a meeting and insist freedom of movement must stand.

It is all very well for commentators to suggest that the Danish government is not abiding by EU law. The reality is that ministers are clearly indifferent to what Commissioners think or what EU law is.

Perhaps the In/Yes camp just think this is member states not living up to the ideal. But whether it's in the Baltic or in the Balkans the fundamentals of how the EU is supposed work are simply being ignored. 

Cameron's objection to “ever closer union” is beginning to look increasingly moot.

Poland is under investigation by the commission for its media laws, with Guy Verhofstadt suggesting that the country might not have been admitted to the EU had they been in place.

Denmark voted against ditching its justice area opt-out in a recent referendum. Despite a forced Greek return to the drachma being avoided, the Eurozone's woes can hardly be described as over. The fiscal pact is causing inevitable political as well as financial tensions.

The formation of a Portuguese government after elections was held up, with the President having reservations about left-leaning Eurosceptic support, despite the coalition's being able to command the necessary mandate.

While the President's actions fell well short of being the “coup” that was claimed by many on social media, the political stand-off underlined being part of the fiscal pact is far from a guarantee of stability.

The chief art of European politics has been how elegantly problems can be kicked further down the road. But this does not make for the promises of unity and reliability held out by the Yes campaign.

None of the crises that the EU has faced has been dealt with satisfactorily, and that is becoming more and more apparent across the continent.

By the time we get to the referendum, there may well be not much EU left to Brexit from.