Tuesday, 15 December 2009

The X-Factorization of British Politics II: The Quickening

“We would have a red telephone in the middle…at anytime, someone from Number 10 could call in…”

Two months ago I wrote about what I called the “X-Factorization of British Politics” and now it seems that things are only going to get worse.

On the BBC programme, Newsnight, this week, Simon Cowell, the mastermind behind the pop-music show in question, X-Factor, revealed that in 2010 he hopes to bring a political version of the X-Factor format to our TV screens in a series of referendum-type shows leading up to the General Election.

In essence, the premise is simple: an important political issue would be presented to the voting public each week – immigration, the war in Afghanistan, knife crime, etc – and advocates from both sides of the debate – professional and public – would put forward their arguments.  The issue would then be voted on by television viewers and a “winning” position declared.

But the simple premise of the plan hides its equally simple flaws, especially when Cowell himself describes what he wants to see as a “bear pit” rather than an American-style formal debate. 

Complex issues require a serious level of argument and analysis if they are to be meaningfully discussed, and any real debate on controversial subjects must be first and foremost informed.  Hearing what “the public” thinks is all good and well – indeed, it is the essence of a functioning democracy – but hearing what an informed and educated public believe, in light of all available evidence and the substantiated claims of experts, is one thing.  Hearing what an un-informed and knee-jerk public believe, after hearing only the condensed and sensationalistic TV sound-bite versions of those issues, reduced to a simple “for or against” dichotomy is the ugly politics of mob rule.

Cowell himself knows this of course.  In perhaps a damning Freudian slip, when trying to explain his motivations for making such a show and saying that he was more interested in what the public think than what politicians think, what he actually said was: “what I’m always interested in is what the public fear…” before correcting himself and saying “…think on certain issues”.

Informed public debate on a popular Saturday night TV show would be a wonderful thing.  But after seeing Cowell’s work on the X-Factor for so many years – subtly manipulating the public into voting exactly the way that he wants them to and dividing the country up into fabricated tabloid outrages – the idea of this Cowell-conducted political “bear pit” occurring in the weeks before a hugely important election is very worrying indeed.

More on this one as it develops…

Friday, 11 December 2009

The Next Phase Is Beginning

In case there is any doubt that the latest phase of the murderous war on terror is a propaganda battle designed to prepare us for an inevitable invasion of some kind into Pakistan, check out this story about how Blackwater, and the CIA, are already there.

Thursday, 10 December 2009


On September 11th, 2001, just under 3,000 Americans were killed in horrific terrorist attacks on the World Trade Centre and the Pentagon. 

As a result, a decision was made to go to war against Afghanistan (and eventually, Iraq).  Wars that have cost the US tax-payers nearly a trillion dollars thus far, killed over five thousand US soldiers, and slaughtered over a hundred thousand Iraqi and Afghan civilians. 

A trillion dollars, and an estimated two trillion more to cover the rest of the post-war and ongoing costs, according to economists Joseph Stiglitz and Linda Bilmes.  Nearly two 9/11’s worth again of soldier fatalities, and over thirty-three 9/11’s worth of innocent civilians killed – and all because, on September 11th, 2001, almost 3,000 people were killed.

Yet did you know that there are an estimated forty-five thousand premature deaths in the United States each year because of poor healthcare provision?  That, on that estimate, because of extortionate costs and profit-motivated private insurers, in the eight years since nearly 3,000 people died on 9/11, 360,000 Americans died because they couldn’t afford basic healthcare?

There is no denying that 9/11 was a tragedy, but how come we have torn the world apart, murdered hundreds of thousands of innocent people in retaliation, pissed away a trillion dollars, and created a whole new generation of America-hating terrorists because of the outrage of 19 lunatics killing 3,000 people one crazy day in September, and yet the systematic killing over 45,000 people a year is a crime that it has taken so long to get around to fixing?

Worse – how can we justify the ludicrous waste of resources and life that the war on terror has proven to be, and yet claim that universal healthcare coverage that could save the lives of fifteen 9/11’s worth of people a year is too expensive a proposition?

As a dual UK/US citizen who has sat from the pleasantly NHS-covered shores of Great Britain and watched America faff about so uselessly to come up with a viable healthcare plan for so long, the priorities of Washington politicians truly sicken me.

30,000 more troops to Afghanistan.

A couple of billion dollars more pissed away into the wind.

Expand the war into Pakistan.

Rattle sabres at Iran.

Because the 3,000 people who died on live TV will always take precedence over the 45,000 faceless, nameless annual casualties on America’s unnecessary and immoral war on itself.

Thursday, 3 December 2009

A Change We Can Deceive In…

So President Obama has committed 30,000 more troops to the unjustified and immoral war in Afghanistan, proving once and for all that it doesn’t matter who you vote for – the interests of power and business always rule the day.

Worse: this is just the 30,000 troops that he’s telling us about. 

Who knows what the true total will be once all the private military contractors like Blackwater (sorry: Xe, as they are called today) are added to the mix? 

It’s also only the 30,000 more American troops we are talking about here, exclusive of all the other additional surges the President has demanded from all other “allies” involved in the “Coalition of the Killing” currently fighting in Afghanistan (the UK, for example, will be sending at least 500 more too).

Of course, what we’re supposed to feel about this 30,000 number, is that it shows a tremendous restraint in comparison to the gung-ho, “kill ‘em all” approach of the previous administration.  Sure, Obama’s sending 30,000 new soldiers into a war we have no business being in, but the General McChrystal wanted him to send 40,000.  Even the media got it wrong when they spent the week predicting 34,000 – Obama has undercut the General’s demands by 10,000 soldiers, and the media consensus by 4,000 – what a guy!

He also spent a very long time coming to this decision.

We are supposed to feel – as has been repeated in every media report I have read, seen, or listened to since this decision was made – that this was a decision Obama didn’t want to have to make; that he struggled long and hard with his conscience over this one, but the facts, in the end, were just too convincing to ignore…

Perhaps that idea would hold a little more weight had Obama’s long and torturous soul-seeking not ended in the entirely predictable outcome of an Afghanistan decision that completely conforms to over sixty years worth of historically consistent US Foreign Policy?

I remember a girlfriend I had once.  I knew I needed to break-up with her, but when I told her about it she told me that maybe I just needed a little more time to think about things?  She gave me the night to re-assess our relationship and said she’d be back in the morning for my real, thought-out, answer.

I knew all along that my answer wouldn’t change – I wanted to break up with the girl and the relationship was done.  But I also knew that the appearance of deliberation was important to her.  So I stayed in my room – not really thinking things over at all; just playing on my Playstation whilst she waited in her room hoping I would come to my senses. 

When we met the next morning, the illusion of deliberation complete, my decision to end the relationship carried a lot more gravitas to the girl in question – this wasn’t just a knee-jerk decision I’d come to after one or two bad dates, I’d thought about it, damn it!  It had pained me to come to my conclusions…

The whole idea that Obama legitimately wrestled with this issue is an insult to anyone actually aware of US Foreign Policy since the end of the Second World War.  Obama has simply done what every President before him has done for nearly seven decades.  Namely, whatever is best for elite power and business interests; human rights, international law, and the domestic population be damned!

Of course the next argument meant to salve my outrage is that, at the same time Obama committed yet more troops to this ridiculous war, he unveiled a timetable for withdrawal by the end of 2011.

Well, first off, excuse me for not being tremendously overjoyed at the news that this murderous and unnecessary war is now guaranteed to continue at least one and a half more years.  We could pull every single soldier out of that country today and be no less safe than we currently are – if anything, an immediate withdrawal, along with a publically made apology for invading an innocent country in the first place and the prosecution of George W Bush as a war criminal, would make us far safer, because the massive al-Qaeda problem we allegedly have now in Afghanistan and Pakistan is entirely the result of our having invaded both there and Iraq since 2001, as consecutive National Intelligence Estimates have concluded – but by committing to an escalation of the war – even a limited one – instead of a withdrawal, Obama has committed himself to both the continued occupation and massacre of a previously innocent country, and the assured radicalization of the native population into the terrorists of tomorrow; a self-perpetuating war machine.

Secondly – how exactly does Obama know that we will be out in 2011?  Escalating the war at this stage is a completely unknown variable: will our escalation be met with escalation from the other side?  Will things get progressively worse – as they did in Vietnam – until yet more troops are needed, and more pseudo-justifications for continued occupation are explored?

Let us not forget what I said above – the problem we are facing in Afghanistan now, is entirely the result of the initial 2001 invasion.  That invasion was illegitimate.  At the time – and arguably still today – there was no evidence of Afghanistan’s involvement in 9/11 (only that its alleged mastermind, bin Laden, was “hiding” there).  The Afghanis agreed to hand bin Laden over as soon as they were given evidence to support the claim that he was culpable for the 9/11 attacks.  No evidence came, and instead the bombs started falling.

If we are already justifying our continued occupation of the country on the basis of a situation that we have created ourselves, what is to stop us from staying long past 2011 if the additional 30,000 troops in the region cause even more complications that we then have to deal with?

The answer is nothing.  As always: what elite power wants, elite power shall get.  I’m sure that, if troops do stay past 2011, Obama will explain that decision to us too, with all the gravity that accompanied this one.  He will dwell long and hard on it.  He will seek advisement from experts and Generals.  He will play his role perfectly, maintain the illusion of “change”, and then – with his fabulous skill at oratory – he shall spin us the latest eloquent version of the exact same line of bullshit the Whitehouse has been shovelling out since 1945.

And even if the troops do leave Afghanistan in 2011; where will he send them to next?

I said throughout the Obama campaign that my central worry about this President – despite the obvious fact that no President in history has truly brought with them the change that they have promised – was that he was being portrayed as a dove on Iraq whilst his tremendously hawkish position on Afghanistan was often ignored. 

Obama, wrongfully perceived as the candidate for “peace”, spoke a lot about getting the troops out of Iraq – but he did so only via the argument that Iraq was a “distraction” from the real problem at hand: Afghanistan.

Obama never once questioned the legitimacy of the war in that country, and often he spoke of his desire to see attentions turned more thoroughly to it.  Indeed, he was implicitly arguing for troop escalation all along: we need to get our soldiers out of the unnecessary war in Iraq, so that we can put them where they need to be: Afghanistan.  That, my friends, is escalation.  That is taking the troops out of Iraq not so that they can go home and see their families or return to civilian life, but so that they can be re-assigned to a different – less controversial –unjustified war.

So the troops may well leave Afghanistan in 2011…but will they be leaving Afghanistan because the war will finally be over?  Because it will be acknowledged – at long last – that they were only ever causing more harm than good by being there?


They will likely be leaving Afghanistan in 2011 because intelligence will tell us that al-Qaeda has now moved further into Pakistan, and the soldiers currently deployed in Afghanistan would be much better served relocating over the border.  The US is, after all, already funding private military contractors in the region to fight the war in Pakistan…by 2011 the country should be nicely softened up for a full-blown invasion.

And if Pakistan won’t do, there’s always Iran nearby…or North Korea…or we could always give good old Syria a go.  You see, until we have a President who actually stands up and acknowledges that this whole bogus war on terror is a crime, our troops will never be truly “coming home”, they will simply be re-fuelling and re-focusing for the next phase of this seemingly endless bloodbath.

30,000 more troops to Afghanistan may not seem like a lot compared to the numbers already there fighting – or compared to the much higher number demanded by General McChrystal – and getting troops out by the end of 2011 might even seem like real progress.  But what Obama’s decision to send 30,000 more troops into Afghanistan really means, is that Obama is just another in a long line of confidence-tricksters who have manipulated their way to the Oval Office and pursued the consistent and unchanged policies of American imperialism whilst pretending to offer us change.  It means that he endorses this war, he endorses its duplicitous justificatory principles, and the fundamental wrongs of the war on terror will not be addressed during his Presidency, if they are ever addressed at all.

President Obama committed 30,000 more troops to the war in Afghanistan this week, and by doing so he showed us that the Bush years are far from over, and that democracy in the twenty-first century is as meaningless as slogans for change.