Bem Bulletin #6: Ken, Kuenssberg, and climate catastrophe

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A few years back I used to put out something I called the Bem Bulletin. Essentially, it was a collection of shorter bits about current goings on I’d write in gaps between rambling pseudo-intellectual essay type things. Now, with full-time work meaning those gaps are getting longer and longer, I decided it was a good time to resurrect the concept – and this one’s largely about last month’s local and mayoral elections and media bias, with a dash of me-standard ecological doom.

This month:

  1. Electoralism blues – Labour and the local elections
  2. Flak attack #1: that Ken Livingstone anti-Semitism thing
  3. Flak attack #2: Kuenssberg/sexism
  4. We should probably just shut the BBC down and be done with it
  5. Obligatory reminder of impending eco-doom

Electoralism Blues

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Is it fantastic that Tories (and arrogant egotistical liberal elite do-nothings masquerading as radical anti-politicians, aka ex-Bristol Mayor George Ferguson) have been rejected and replaced with Labourites? Yes – particularly with Corbyn at the helm, and particularly in London, where Zac Goldsmith ran the most repugnantly racist campaign seen in years. Despite the doom-mongering from all sections of the mainstream press, Labour did reasonably well.

Should we expect much to change? No. Not at all. As of yet, a lot of local Labour Parties remain completely insulated from the Corbyn insurrection – partly through concerted effort on the part of the party old-guard, partly through the social media-focused clicktivism and real-world inaction that characterises too much of the Corbyn movement.

The people who’ve just been elected on a Labour ticket, many of them recipients of a huge amount of support from Corbynite activists, are the exact same sort of people we had before – small-town time-servers on council committees, and, at the top of the tree, the kind of bland post-Blairite apparatchiks who’ve been overwhelmingly hostile to the Corbyn project.

Where Corbyn-Momentum-People’s Assembly-type politics is about radical democracy, wresting back control of the political process for ordinary people on the ground, figures like Sadiq Khan and Bristol’s Marvin Rees are from the usual layer of blank, unideological professionalised politicians, schooled in the same barely consultative neoliberal-era management politics as practically everyone else we’ve had in power for the last forty years.

Khan and Rees are at least mini-Milibands, rather than little Blairs – they’ll occasionally say leftish sounding things, and both probably genuinely care about grotesque levels of inner city poverty and rampant inequality. But I don’t think they’ll do anything to tackle either.

Red-trousered austerity apologist George Ferguson might’ve been given the boot in nearby Bristol, replaced with a Labour mayor and a majority Labour council – but Bristol Labour councillors have collectively voted through every austerity measure put to them in the Cameron era.

Even among a lot of left-wingers, there remains this blinkered focus on elections as the be all and end all – ignoring the fact that, without a massive upsurge in radical grassroots activism, Corbyn could even be elected with a giant majority in 2020 and still not be able to do anything. The establishment will do its utmost to destroy him – and he needs to be backed by a boisterous, activist mass movement if he’s going to get anywhere.

I’ve got more time for electoral politics than many of my grouchily far-left persuasion – but I still wholeheartedly believe that radical change is never going to come about just because enough people voted a certain way in a certain election.

Flak attack #1: that Ken Livingstone anti-Semitism thing

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Was Adolf Hitler a Zionist? No he wasn’t.

Zionism is the belief that Jewish people are entitled to live in the part of the Middle East once known as Palestine, now known as Israel.

Hitler didn’t believe that. He was fanatically anti-Jewish. Instead, in the 1930s, Hitler’s objectives briefly aligned with those of Zionist Jews living in Nazi Germany. The Nazis wanted all Jews out of the country. Zionist Jews wanted to go to the Middle East.

In 1933, the two groups made a deal – the Haavara Agreement. It gave German Jews economic help to emigrate to Palestine. Between 1933 and 1938, partly as a result, 60,000 left for the Middle East.

The plan fell apart with the outbreak of the Second World War in 1939. The Nazis drastically changed approach – organising the Holocaust, the industrialised mass slaughter of six million Jewish people (70% of Europe’s Jewish population) as well as thousands of gay people, disabled people and political opponents.

For some reason, earlier this month veteran Labour leftist and ex-London Mayor Ken Livingstone decided these were good topics to raise in the run-up to big elections – held at a time when Westminster and the media has already basically declared war on Corbyn-led Labour.

In a radio interview defending Labour MP Naz Shah, suspended for alleged anti-Semitism, he said Hitler was a Zionist (which, as we’ve established, he wasn’t).

Wrongly labelling him as such was Ken’s spectacularly flippant way of pointing out that the Nazis played a small role in the establishment of the state of Israel. It’s an undeniable fact. But it was also completely irrelevant to the subject being discussed at the time – and has now resulted in a massive media onslaught on what supposedly constitutes widespread anti-Semitism among the British Left.

Ken wasn’t being anti-Semitic. Ken was being Ken – determined to say and do whatever he wants, regardless of the consequences. Anti-Semitism isn’t rife among left-wingers either – it definitely exists, but no more, and quite probably a lot less, than it does among right-wingers or the population in general.

So where has the current anti-Semitism uproar come from? Really, it represents two things – the grim convergence of two long-running politico-cultural trends both well known to students of power elite mindfuckery.

One – the use of anti-Semitism accusations to drown out any criticism of the state of Israel. And two, more simply, the establishment doing everything it can to crush anyone or anything that threatens it. What we’re seeing here is one being used to try and achieve two.

Israel is an institutionally racist apartheid state. It might’ve been part-built by Holocaust survivors as a safe haven for persecuted Jews, but it was founded on the brutal ethnic cleansing of Palestine’s indigenous Arab population. The country we now call Israel was stolen from the Palestinians.

In the late 1940s, the soon-to-be-Israelis did everything they could to purge every Palestinian from places they’d lived for thousands of years, destroying hundreds of towns and villages. 700,000 Palestinians were forced out, and those that remained were gradually confined to smaller and smaller scraps of land until, as has now been the case for decades, they were cooped into a few heavily militarised slum estates, half ghettoes, half prisons, where residents are routinely abused by the Israeli military.

We’ve now reached a stage where senior Israeli politicians are suggesting Israelis and Palestinians use segregated roads in the West Bank and referring to Palestinian children as ‘little snakes’.

Left-wingers like Corbyn and Ken Livingstone have condemned Israel’s conduct for years. So now, with a sociopathic ruling class desperately trying to smother the Corbyn phenomenon because it threatens to resurrect egalitarian, democratic politics, Ken’s big mouth has given them a good opportunity to try and damage Corbyn by suggesting the movement that supports him is riddled with racism.

And once all that has died down, they’ll come up with some other stick to beat him with. On which subject…

Flak attack #2: Kuenssberg/sexism

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What fascinates me the most about media bias is that I don’t think reporters realise they’re doing it. I think most if not all of them genuinely believe they’re impartial, professional journalists providing balanced coverage. They’ve marinated in the media system so long that the dos-and-don’ts of corporate-pandering news coverage have become integral to the way they think, and see the world. They’ve been brainwashed, in other words.

To get very far in mainstream broadcasting, you have to be a naturally conformist, person anyway – add that to a media culture that rewards conformity and lack of critical thought with big salaries and prestige, and you’ve got a recipe for an endless parade of useless idiots.

Probably the worst on television at the moment is BBC Political Editor Laura Kuenssberg – responsible for a wagon-load of distortions and Corbyn-bashing propaganda that notably includes the so-called “Revenge Reshuffle”, and organising the on-air resignation of Shadow Cabinet minister Stephen Doughty to maximise the political fallout.

Recently, 35,000 people were so disgusted by Kuenssberg’s apparent anti-Labour bias during BBC election night coverage that they signed a position posted on the 38 Degrees website calling on her to be sacked. Personalising the issue is always a bit of a dead end in my view – if she was sacked, she’d just be replaced by someone just as bad – but it was a legitimate attempt to draw attention to insidious BBC propaganda.

However, it wasn’t long before the petition was taken down by 38 Degrees after allegations that its signatories were posting sexist abuse. Suddenly, the press, spearheaded as is so depressingly common by nominally liberal publications like the Guardian and the New Statesman, were whipping up an anti-sexism witch-hunt to add to the anti-Semitism one Ken Livingstone had sparked off.

Then ex-UK ambassador and Scottish political commentator Craig Murray dug up the cached version of the now-deleted 38 Degrees page, showing all the comments posted by people who’d signed the petition. I went through them all myself before the cache was routinely deleted by Google, but I’m sure you’ll be able to find a copy online somewhere – and didn’t find a single post that could be even vaguely classified as sexist abuse, or abuse of any kind.

There is absolutely no doubt that women in public life – including Kuenssberg, I’m sure – receive bucketfuls of violent, sexist abuse from anonymised internet cowards every day of the week. It’s a resounding indictment on the state of society, and the pathetic cult of masculinity that still festers among the angry and cripplingly insecure. It’s the responsibility of every right-thinking person to try and crush it.

But here, yet again, we see the establishment cheapening a serious issue to try and smother dissent – and this time, upsettingly, a ‘progressive’ petition website seems to have gone along with it.

We should probably just shut the BBC down and be done with it

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There’s been a lot panic this month about the government’s proposed changes to the BBC – including placing government officials on the board, thereby enabling it to exercise nefarious political influence over the corporation and its output.

For a lot of left-wingers, the BBC is a NHS-style national treasure that’s lost its way, and needs both defending from the government, and dragging back to the scrupulous impartiality it was once respected for worldwide.

I think it’s been rotten from the start, since it acted as the propaganda arm of the government during the 1926 General Strike, setting the tone for a profound, structural bias in favour of the right-wing establishment that’s continued for 90 years.

Numerous academic studies show it consistently gives more attention to Conservative figures than Labour ones, that the airtime allocated to figures from business and finance dwarfs that given the trade union representatives and others, that the academics and ‘experts’ it features are overwhelmingly from schools of thought that favour the neoliberal status quo, and that, across its multiple TV and radio channels, it generally conveys a worldview that echoes the elitist, anti-egalitarian and anti-democratic views and priorities of the neoliberal power elite.

I think it was obvious long before Corbyn came in out of the cold – but now it’s more blatant than ever. One of the main things that the reaction to Corbyn’s ascendance has proved is the extent to which the BBC actually isn’t separate from the corporate media as a whole.

It might be nominally public-owned, but it swims in the same ocean as the Guardian, the Telegraph, the Mail, the Sun, Sky News, and so many others. It’s part of the same corporate media ecosystem – and rather than rigorously and impartially investigating things for itself, more often than not it just follows that same neoliberal agenda, and subsumes itself in the same twisted, sociopathic, elite-facing worldview collectively created by the organs of the mainstream corporate press.

The reason the range of opinions voiced in the news is so narrow and pro-corporate is because papers and TV channels are profit-making organisations – they sell a product, us, their audiences, to other profit-making organisations. It’s called advertising. Mainstream news outlets thus rigorously avoid broadcasting anyone or anything critical of big business and corporate capitalism in general. Minor criticisms sometimes slip through, fundamental ones never do.

People always argue that the BBC is different because it’s not-for-profit. But it’s operating in a media environment completely dominated by the corporate media – and in which the corporate media has come to define what ‘news’ and ‘journalism’ mean in the modern world.

Political ‘journalism’ means schmoozing with powerful people for gossipy titbits, becoming embedded in the Westminster-Whitehall-City-of-London bubble in a way we’re supposed to believe doesn’t completely undermine journalists’ claims to impartiality. ‘News’ is information that doesn’t rock the corporate-capitalist boat. Being ‘neutral’ means being pro-big business, pro-austerity, and pro-militaristic foreign policy – unquestioned positions virtually all outlets present as some sort of default setting for every right-thinking person.

The BBC is an integral part of all that. BBC journalists uncritically run with the distorted, often completely stupid anti-Corbyn narratives coming out of the papers, and poisonously unpleasant Simon Danzcuk-types from Labour’s far-right – turning Corbyn’s misgivings about police shoot-to-kill policies into him somehow arguing law-enforcers shouldn’t fire on suicide bombers, for example.

But at its most sinister, the BBC actively blocks attempts to try and democratise our lamentably undemocratic political and economic system. BBC pundits comes on every night and spout their own views and prejudices as if they’re unchallengeable fact – hammering the idea that Corbyn-led Labour is shambolic, incompetent, bound for disaster and on the verge of collapse into millions of heads, day after day.

In fact, Corbyn’s just not playing by the mainstream media’s rules. He’s not trying to make political headway by forging dubious alliances with media barons and big business, or getting news reporters on side by briefing them about policy announcements before they’ve happened, like Blair used to do. He’s trying to turn Labour into a mechanism for ordinary people to exert influence on the political system.

For the news industry, the BBC foremost among it, that’s unacceptable. It’s got a huge vested interested in maintaining the current form of barely consultative elite politics. The news media has inserted itself between the disempowered public and our detached, self-serving political class, acting as (hugely unreliable) intermediary between the two, and leeching off our corrupted pseudo-democracy. If Corbyn gets his way, the anti-democratic distinction between the people, and the media, and the parliamentary elite would end – and the elite news media will be finished.

People fret about protecting, defending, or even ‘saving’ the BBC –  I don’t think we’d be any worse off without it.

Obligatory reminder of impending eco-doom

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Meanwhile, the cataclysmically stupid status quo the media system busts a gut to maintain continues to hurtle us towards ecological catastrophe.

2016’s has now been officially announced as the hottest April on record, breaking the previous record by the biggest margin yet seen. That makes it the third month in a row a record has been smashed by the largest ever margin, and the seventh in a row where temperatures have topped the 1951-1980 mean for that month. 2016 will now all-but-inevitably become the hottest year in recorded history.

COP21, the Paris climate agreement signed by governments around the world last year, commits world leaders to keeping global temperatures no higher than two degrees above pre-industrial levels. It also says they’ll try and limit the temperature rise to 1.5 degrees.

Annoyingly, no government on the face of the planet is proposing anything in terms of practical measures that, even if they were forcibly rolled out to every society on the planet, would hit the no-more-than-two-degrees target. As things stand, we’ll be lucky if its limited to three of four degrees.

Why is the whole two degrees thing important? Well, to be honest, it’s a fairly arbitrary marker – one answer to the question “how much climate change can we take without catastrophic consequences?” that the global community has settled on as a rallying cry for action more than anything else.

Really, we need to be fighting for as little climate change as possible. Even if we did manage to stop temperatures climbing beyond that much-banged-on-about two degree figures, that would still mean rising seas, the submersion of low-lying areas all around the world, including much of Bangladesh, India, Vietnam, and dozens and dozens of small islands, disrupted food supplies, and a spike in extreme weather events like droughts and intense heat waves.

Just to stop climate catastrophe there – at a time, bear in mind, when even the mildest hint of radicalism is mercilessly squashed by the powers that be – we need the most radical socio-politico-economic overhaul in human history. Limiting the rise in global temperatures to two degrees by 2100 would require cuts in carbon emissions infinitely bigger than anything proposed in the mainstream – and then, from about 2050, us to be actually somehow taking carbon out of the atmosphere, rather than just reducing the amount we pump into it.

At things stand, we’re heading for something as potentially catastrophic as three or even four degrees by 2100. That would mean huge areas of the planet being made uninhabitable, and, almost inevitably, the end of civilisation as we know it.

To avoid that, the developed world needs to drastically shrink its environmental impact, by abandoning fossil fuels, destroying consumerism, and radically reducing the size of Western economies, and investing trillions in bringing food, water, shelter, security and comfort to billions currently living in poverty – and then, as the two halves of the world finally meet in the middle, investing trillions more in producing 100% of our energy needs renewably

And now, for the people dying of starvation at the rate of one every three seconds, and of malaria at the rate of one a minute, and the people sleeping under newspapers in alleyways, and having human beings they’re quite fond of blown to bits before their eyes, and everyone else suffering needlessly in a world that can’t be bothered to do anything about it, here’s the Bemolutionary theme tune (if you ignore the Jesus-y bits), on permanent loan from the sadly dead Johnny Cash.