How the BBC helped privatise the NHS

One of the “sacred cows” of British society is its National Health Service (NHS). Former politician Tony Benn once quipped that if any British government tried to fully privatize it, “there would be a revolution”. A recent public opinion poll showed a whopping 89% of British people support the NHS over an American style private system. You’d therefore think it would be pretty big news if a decision was taken for a private company to run an NHS hospital for the first time.

Not according to most of the liberal media, particularly the BBC. The main story on the BBC six-o-clock news this evening was that £8 billion pounds of investment is to be made in Britain’s railways (the fruits of which, we’re told, won’t be enjoyed for at least 10 years and that travelers will start paying for in the New Year with fare increases of up to 10%). The second story was that a Conservative Peer, says that poor people living in benefits will be encouraged to “breed” (you know, a bit like dogs do – but dogs on benefits). The third story was that Labour leader Ed Milliband concedes it’s their “fault” that there’s too many of these breeding poor people living on benefits.

Here’s a snapshot of the BBC’s main stories this evening:

No mention of the fact that private company Circle is to take over the running of Cambridgeshire’s Hinchingbrooke hospital to become the first to be entirely run by a private business after it beat another bidder, Serco, to the contract. I think that’s pretty big news that should be one of the main headlines on the evening news or at least on the front page of the BBC website, not tucked away in the Health section.

Of course, it’s only natural that the state-corporate liberal media see it as their role to provide a smokescreen for the corporate takeover of the British state. The BBC may not be a private company but its governors are appointed by the Government – a conflict of interest if ever there was one. Usually they’re a little bit more subtle than this however. With the student protests yesterday for example, their tact was to focus on the isolated instances of violence by a minority. Other methods they use include limiting a debate to two very narrow alternatives which both support state-corporate power or featuring opinions predominantly from only one side of a debate.

But this comes across as rather blatant by the BBC . Incidentally, only Sky News, Channel 4 and the Financial Times even bothered to cover it as far as I can see.

Seymour and Wearing on cuts and ideology

Kings College Cambridge

Author Richard Seymour of the popular Lenin’s Tomb blog and David Wearing of the New Left Project both gave talks in the impressive surrounds of Kings College, Cambridge yesterday in a debate entitled “Necessity or Ideology?” The talks were arranged by the Free University of Cambridge and both men talked for about 20 minutes each followed by a short Q&A session which cut through mainstream media and political propaganda that the UK Government’s £81 billion of public spending cuts are “essential” to save Britain’s economy. Several points came out of the talk which are worth documenting.

  • The cuts have nothing to do with “saving the economy” but everything to do with far-right ideology. Principally, the Conservatives are desperate to convince the corporate community that they are more committed to their interests than New Labour and should once again be the party of choice for big business. The Conservatives lost a lot of ground to Blair’s New Labour which stole the ground from under them and the cuts are their chance to regain this ground. The cuts are intended to demonstrate this to corporate Britain in time for the next election.
  • One simple way of increasing government revenue is to erm, collect tax. Corporations are paying less and less tax on the money they earn in the UK and in some cases, flatly refusing to pay it. This was highlighted recently by Vodafone’s refusal to pay £7 billion of tax to the British government and the protests that followed. There’s a detailed look at how this simple issue could be tackled here by Caroline Lucas and two leading UK tax experts.
  • The power of the corporate liberal media shouldn’t be overestimated too much when it comes to trying to convince people public spending cuts are essential. Although the media can have a powerful effect on convincing the public the effects are necessary, people are still more likely to base their opinions on their everyday experiences. So for example, many are still in favor of nationalising Britain’s public rail network based on their experiences of using the rail network even if the political establishment and corporate media barely ever even mention the idea.
  • Voters are abandoning Labour but also the electoral system in general. Polls indicate that most of these are working class people who feel that New Labour aren’t representing their interests anymore. Why aren’t voters then shifting to more radical alternatives such as the Socialist Labour party? Seymour argued that people withdraw from political participation for many different reasons but a strong likelihood is that they are disillusioned with the entire system as a whole. This suggests that changing the fundamentals of how democracy works may be as essential (if not more so) than building parties and movements that genuinely support workers interest. I personally feel that technology and the internet could be implemented in imaginative ways regarding this point although I’ll save that for another post.

There were probably many more points that came out of the one hour talk that I’ve missed but these are some of the most important off the top of my head. It was great to see a leading university like Cambridge getting behind efforts like this and encouraging to see letters of support like this sent by one of the university lecturers, Priyamvada Gopal.

The event was however a bit too short – it was very difficult for either of them to say much and answer questions in a one hour slot although I understand that the Teach-In event as a whole consisted of other interesting talks throughout the day which required the room. Then again, Kings College is absolutely massive – surely it would have been possible to have found an area that allowed a longer session. It was also a little disappointing to see that two of the most radical writers and bloggers in the UK only attracted a small number of people to listen although maybe the majority of Cambridge’s notoriously privileged university students feel that they are less likely than most to be affected by the spending cuts.

Al Jazeera’s Listening Post on WikiLeaks

Al Jazeera recently asked me to make a viewer contribution to its thought provoking media analysis show The Listening Post which you can watch above. This week it looked at the mainstream media’s reaction to the release of the Iraq War Logs by WikiLeaks. The point I make is:

The constant media reporting of the Pentagon claim that the War Logs have put lives in danger is not only untrue but monstrously hypocritical. Even NATO have confirmed that none of the Afghan leaks have led to reprisals in Afghanistan but more importantly, since the invasion of Iraq was illegal under international law, it is the Pentagon – not WikiLeaks – that has illegally continued to put lives on both sides in danger since 2003.

I added at the end: “This glaring war crime is almost completely overlooked by the corporate, mainstream media” although they didn’t use that bit along with some more general commentary about the way the War Logs had exposed the impotence of the media.

It’s refreshing to see a mainstream media organization like Al Jazeera taking a critical look at media coverage. It’s very rare that the media actually take a long hard look at themselves because it reveals far too much about how complicit they are in state-corporate crimes. A prime example is the way the liberal media have scrambled in recent weeks to smear both Julian Assange and WikiLeaks, deflect attention onto Iran (as a recent article in The Australian did which appears to have been deleted from their website) or dismiss them, as Obama has, saying that “there’s nothing new” in the revelations.

This New York Times pieces by Robert Burns (which requires you to register for free access to the NYT) is a prime example on smearing Assange and WikiLeaks. Check out the comments on this article (which don’t require registration to view) to see just how out of touch the NYT is with its readers on WikiLeaks. Also do not miss this piece in Salon by Glenn Greenwald which is a brilliant expose of both Burns and the liberal media’s Nixon-esque reaction to the War Logs.

WikiLeaks explodes the last liberal justification for Iraq

Statue of Saddam Hussein being toppled in Bagh...

Statue of Saddam Hussein being toppled in Baghdad's Firdos Square on April 9, 2003. Image via Wikipedia.

One frequent justification liberal apologists give for the illegal invasion of Iraq is that for all its failings, at least it removed Saddam Hussein. WikiLeaks latest release has dealt a major blow to this tepid liberal justification for the crippling of an entire nation. The on-going torture by Iraqi Security Forces that the documents reveal, prove that the sadistic spirit of terror that Saddam Hussein unleashed is still very much alive and well.

Much is being made of the fact that American forces knowingly stood aside and knowing let Iraqi Security Forces torture their fellow Iraqis. However, as Al Jazeera point out, while this is morally reprehensible, legally American forces did nothing wrong:

International law did not require the US to investigate these allegations of Iraqi-on-Iraqi detainee abuse, because all of them were reported after June 30, 2004 – when Iraq once again became a “sovereign country”, according to the United Nations resolution 1546. The United States no longer directly controlled Iraq’s security services, and thus, it was no longer legally obligated to police them.

In reality, this caveat is of little relevance either. As is amply clear throughout history, the US Government has little concern for international law. However, even if American forces had been legally bound to intervene in Iraqi-on-Iraqi torture, it should have been no surprise if they hadn’t since the US Military has routinely used torture to “interrogate” detainees in Guantanamo Bay. The fact that they stood by – whether legally or immorally – should be no real surprise.

The biggest scandal here is that one of the supposed main aims of the illegal invasion of Iraq – to remove the tyranny of Saddam Hussein – has merely removed the man, not the brutality of the regime. Perhaps even more scandalous, is that the invasion has left Iraq in an even more desperate state than before troops arrived. One of the most disturbing facts to have emerged prior to WikiLeaks latest release is that due to the invasion, Iraq City now has a higher cancer rate than Hiroshima. It’s a damning indictment of the invasion that many Iraqis feel compelled into the perverse situation of longing for a return to life under the tyranny of Saddam Hussein than face the one they now have in the aftermath of the US led invasion and occupation.

In view of this, the on-going torture revealed by WikiLeaks, and the scandalous revelation that of 109,000 people killed in Iraq, a staggering 66,081 were civilians, there are no liberal excuses left for one the 21st Century’s most shocking war crimes.

Sweden – Where liberal left is right

Mona Sahlin - Current leader of the center "left" Social Democrat party which has lead the dismantling of the Swedish welfare state over the past 40 years.

Sweden is regularly held up as a model of social democracy, equality and of a “cradle-to-grave” welfare state. But while it still has a welfare state and level of equality that’s ahead of most countries, the truth is that it has been in terminal decline for the past 40 years. The astonishing thing is, this decline has happened under a liberal center-left government – the Social Democrats – who have been the ruling party in Sweden for all but 13 of the last 78 years. It is their failure to stand-up for working Swedes that has seen the country shift even more to the right in this year’s General Election. While many liberal-left Swedes are outraged at the success of a racist far-right party in this year’s election, they show little outrage at this right-wing attack on their society by liberal-left wing governments since the 1970s.

Sweden’s social democracy and welfare state reached a peaked in the 1950s and 60s when unemployment reached virtually zero for a while and it was considered one of the richest countries in the world. Since the 1970s however, Sweden’s welfare state has been subject to a series of vicious attacks by successive center-left Social Democratic governments which have failed to stand-up to corporations and international right-wing organizations such as the IMF and OECD and aggressively applied pro-corporate neo-liberal economic policies ushered in by the Reagan and Thatcher eras and which still continue today.

In the 1990s, after an economic crisis which saw unemployment reach 40% bringing the Swedish economy to its knees, the Swedish government commissioned a study into the state of its famous welfare state entitled Welfare in Sweden: The Balance Sheet of the 1990s. It provided a damning indictment of the performance of the center-left Social Democrat party:

Over the last decade, the most noticeable change was the increase in the proportion of the population that encountered various kinds of disadvantage and ill-health. Negative psychosocial working conditions and short-term employment became more common. Progressively larger groups suffered financial difficulties and low incomes. In the health field, we find a significant decline in specific areas, especially as regards mental well-being. In the area of chronic disadvantage, the number of long term social assistance recipients increased significantly.

The report pointed out that public service workers saw their wage levels fall continually and around 60,000 lost their jobs to private contractors. Immigrant areas became more segregated. Higher fees were introduced for child, elderly, health and dental care. Almost 20% of elderly people who needed home support did not apply for it anymore because it was too expensive. 12% less was spent on teachers as fewer and less qualified teachers were employed to teach ever increasing class sizes. And since 1997, social security was no longer linked to inflation and housing support was removed for single people over 28 years of age.

As the new millennium arrived, the International Monetary Fund (IMF) and Organisation for Economic Co-Operation and Development (OECD) felt these cuts hadn’t gone far enough and were outraged in particular that in their eyes, too many Swedes took sick leave from work. In a 2002 report, they concluded that there wasn’t enough workers in Sweden because too many were signed-off sick:

The Swedish government spends 113 billion Skr ($12 billion) per year, or 16 percent of the national budget, on sickness and disability payments. The surge in sickness absenteeism and continued high levels of disability retirement have eroded the labour supply.

Perversely however, they acknowledged that the huge cuts in government spending had been mainly responsible for creating high levels of sickness and absenteeism saying:

It is possible that cuts in fiscal expenditures during the second half of the 1990s led to a rise in work-related stress, particularly in the health and education sectors.

The center-left Social Democrats agreed with them that sick Swedes had it way too easy and planned to cut central government spending on sickness and disability benefits in half by 2008 through an Orwellian sounding scheme called “The programme for a humane working life.” They never got the chance however.

Completely disillusioned with the Social Democrats, Swedes abandoned them in the 2006 election paving the way for Frederik Reinfeldt and his center-right Moderate party to form a government with other center-right parties (including one party called “Center” Party which launched a campaign of hate against Swedish workers at the 2010 election called “Fuck Facket Forever” – meaning effectively “Fuck Swedish Workers Forever” since Facket is the biggest workers union in Sweden). Naturally, Reinfeldt’s Alliance government not only continued the public spending slashing of the Social Democrats but accelerated it. Today, claiming sickness benefit in Sweden has been made as difficult and humiliating as possible leading to cases such as this where a woman who was declared unfit to work for the rest of her life by 5 different doctors, was turned down for sickness benefit by the Swedish government.

There is virtually no opposition to this dismantling of the Swedish welfare state in the mainstream Swedish political system. One party in Sweden – The Left Party – has in the past rejected at least some of this path that Sweden is taking. But the Social Democrats have refused to even consider entering into a deal with them unless they water down their principles and accept that Sweden “has to” carry out even more more major public spending cuts – which the Left Party have more or less agreed to. Social Democrat leader Mona Sahlin calls this “responsible economics”. What she means however, is that perpetual large cuts to public spending are responsible to the needs of capital and big business in Sweden, not to the social and economic needs of Swedish people.

Only the Trade Unions in Sweden offer any kind of voice for working Swedes nowadays. One Trade Union leader, Ylva Thörn, summed-up the failure of the liberal left in Sweden when she said: “The typical working class feels left out. People with low wages and women need to feel that a better alternative for them exists.” It is precisely this alienated state of the Swedish working class that Thörn talks about which has seen working Swedes turn increasingly right-wards in search of solutions in the 2010 election. While the center-right Alliance looks almost certain to retain power, early indications are that the Sweden Democrats – a far-right party which wants to expel large numbers of immigrants from Sweden – has won almost 6% of the national vote. That’s almost the same percentage of the vote as the Green Party won in a country that’s one of the most environmentally conscious in the world.

Many people on the liberal left who consider themselves Social Democrats will no doubt bemoan this rise of a racist far-right party in Sweden. But they don’t see that Sweden has already been under a right-wing attack from the left for the last 40 years. This is in large part because they are subject to intense subtle propaganda by the mainstream corporate media which perpetuates the illusion of a vibrant left and right debate in Sweden while expressing liberal outrage at the racism of the far right. But while working class Swedes feel that they can’t turn to the Swedish political left to solve their problems anymore, the popularity of those parties on the right that offer scapegoats and oversimplified solutions to the failures of the liberal left will only increase.

How to smear a hero

Julian Assange, Wikileaks

Image by New Media Days via Flickr

How do you discredit someone who undermines systems of power? In the old days, the CIA would just assassinate and murder them (they’ve tried 638 times to get Castro), even topple entire governments if need be. However, since the world is now much more aware of the dirty tricks or “Black Ops” that they use, powerful interests have had to find other ways of “subtly” smearing them in the public eye. Calling them a rapist is one way of doing it which is what has happened today to Julian Assange founder of WikiLeaks.

Firstly, let’s get the rather flimsy circumstances straight. Assange is accused of prancing around the Greater Stockholm area like a crazed animal between 15th to 17th August. According to center-right wing newspaper Expressen, last weekend, he sexually harassed a woman in Södermalm, Stockholm. Two or three days later, he traveled 20km to the quiet nearby town of Enköping where he supposedly raped another woman. The two women – aged “between 20-30″ according to Expressen and by an astonishing coincidence, friends also – decided a week later to go to a police station and said that “Julian Assange has raped and harassed us” and that they “didn’t want to press charges but just wanted some advice”. The first Assange knew of these allegations were when he saw the front on Expressen this morning. He denied it in an e-mail to Dagens Nyheter newspaper saying:

Why these accusations are coming at this point in time is an interesting question. I haven’t been contacted by the police. The allegations are false.

Assange is now understood to be making his way to a police station.

Secondly, let’s get the context clear to recent events in Assange’s life. The Pirate Party – a political party in Sweden dedicated to freedom of information – have this week agreed to host WikiLeaks documents on their servers since the organization is banned from publishing in many other countries. Assange has been in Sweden to arrange this deal and also agreed to write a column for centre-left Swedish newspaper Aftonbladet (the main rival to Expressen who “broke” this “story”), the first of which was due to be released today. Incidentally, Aftonbladet have decided to postpone publication in the light of the rape allegations.

Thirdly, and perhaps most importantly, let’s get the wider context clear. Assange and his team at WikiLeaks are on the verge of publishing 15,000 more Afghan war documents which the US Government and Pentagon are desperate to suppress. Whether orchestrating a smear campaign against Assange would even stop that, I very much doubt it. And even if Assange were a rapist – or even worshiped Beelzebub and Hitler – it takes nothing away from the incriminating Collateral Murder video and Afghan war documents that WikiLeaks have already released.

Whether this is an orchestrated smear campaign, just two very silly girls, or a genuine case of rape and harassment, the fact is that WikiLeaks is bigger than Assange as he I’m sure would be the first to admit. It, and other projects like it, cannot be stopped. It’s like Chavez in Venezuela – even if the CIA assassinated him now, it’s too late to stop the popular revolution he’s unleashed and the same goes for the spirit of exposing abuses of power that WikiLeaks has ushered in since the corporate mainstream media are utterly impotent and unwilling to do so.

Unfortunately for the powerful, dirty tricks, black-ops and even assassinations simply can’t stop the tide of change and revolutions once they’ve begun in an inter-connected globalized age.

A former Wall Street worker speaks-out

Couldn’t help but re-post this great comment by a former Wall Street insider on a recent interview with Naomi Klein by OnPoint Radio. Sometimes, only an honest insider can say it best.

I was a senior, high profile stock/company analyst in a major global (and still extant) Wall Street firm and witnessed firsthand the greed-driven, destructive policies pursued by the executive management teams of the many companies I followed for institutional clients during my career. The cynicism of these ‘managers’ with their huge self-dealing stock options grants (some offered at a discount to the company’s stock price only days before the business announced positive “news”) can’t be overstated. They orchestrated massive layoff schemes in which tens of millions of their colleagues lost their livelihoods, benefits & pensions to global offshoring centers while they simultaneously presided over insider-stuffed corporate boards that rewarded them with ridiculous and ever-escalating salary, benefits and options packages, private planes, ultra exclusive golf and country club memberships, private staffs, 8-figure office decorating budgets and many other excesses, all under the chimera of “adding value”. I voluntarily left my position because these practices were repugnant to the Midwestern, middle class values of hard work, fairness and community I’d been raised to believe mattered. The few journalists, politicians, intellectuals and others who openly questioned these policies were branded as ‘losers’, ’socialists’ and ‘radicals’ who were presumed to lack the intelligence, Ivy League education and/or connections to become highly paid corporate managers, consultants, investment bankers, hedge fund managers themselves, rather than the white, pink and blue-collar schmucks who worked for shrinkng pay, benefits and job security – that is if they were fortunate enough to have a job.

If anyone believes this era is over, ask yourselves who received the massive no-strings-attached, taxpayer (and Chinese) funded bailout packages (Wall Street & other finacial elites) and who didn’t (most taxpayers & the economically dispossessed). Yup – the same small, elite group who made billions of dollars in bonuses before they engineered the near- catastrophic collapse of our economic and financial system, are once again making record bonuses when our true national unemployment rate (e.g., the short- and long-term unemployment rate plus those who’ve given up looking for work) is nearly 20%. And in January 2010, the US Supreme Court overruled two important precedents by banning the government from limiting corporate spending on political campaigns as if the business lobby doesn’t already have enough influence on our political process. Where is the outrage? Unfortunately, many Americans are either too busy working (many have 2 or 3 jobs and dependent children and/or parents), too afraid or both, to protest a system some barely comprehend. And the nation’s traditional watchdog – the media – is either too hallowed out and/or owned by huge, rich global conglomerates which are too invested in the system to investigate the architects of the problems, or even register discontent. Even the much-lauded ‘Tea Party’ movement is largely populated by older, right wing, economically and financially privileged white men and wealthy PACs who want US tax dollars to be spent on programs that enrich their personal and business priorities rather than the needs of the majority of U.S. citizens. However, the Pied Pipers of this elitist system are mostly Baby Boomers – the infamous “Me Generation” – so perhaps we shouldn’t be surprised.

Ms. Klein was spot on ten years ago with “No Logo” and her thesis on “disaster capitalism” is just as prescient. It’s truly disturbing to realize that after the shattering natural, economic and military developments of the last decade, crony capitalism is still alive and thriving. But there are small cracks, and I hope readers of this book realize that we have the power to influencee and change this corrupt and corrosive system in a democratically-elected government despite its flaws. When a former Wall Streeter feels like a radical for having progressive views, the system well and truly needs reform.

The interview incidentally is also well worth listening to for an insight into “Brand Obama” and how branding has evolved since Klein wrote No Logo. Someone actually tried to copyright the logo of her book after it came-out and then sue her for using it!

That’s just twisted.