Wednesday, 30 March 2011

The biggest lie in British politics

Johann Hari
The biggest lie in British politics

Posted by Johann Hari one day ago

British politics today is dominated by a lie. This lie is making it significantly more likely you will lose your job, your business, or your home. The lie gives a false explanation for how we came to be in this crisis, and prescribes a medicine that will worsen our disease. Yet it is hardly being challenged.

Here’s the lie. We are in a debt crisis. Our national debt is dangerously and historically high. We are being threatened by the international bond markets. The way out is to eradicate our deficit rapidly. Only that will restore “confidence”, and therefore economic growth. Every step of this program is false, and endangers you.

Let’s start with a fact that should be on billboards across the land. As a proportion of GDP, Britain’s national debt has been higher than it is now for 200 of the past 250 years. Read that sentence again. Check it on any graph by any historian. Since 1750, there have only been two brief 30-year periods when our debt has been lower than it is now. If we are “bust” today, as George Osborne has claimed, then we have almost always been bust. We were bust when we pioneered the Industrial Revolution. We were bust when we ruled a quarter of the world. We were bust when we beat the Nazis. We were bust when we built the NHS. Or is it George Osborne’s economics that are bust?

Our debt is not high by historical standards, and it is not high by international standards. For example, Japan’s national debt is three times bigger than ours, and they are still borrowing at good rates.

David Cameron claims that, despite these facts, they need to cut our debt by slashing our spending because the bond markets demand it. If they do not obey, then our national credit rating will be downgraded, and we will have to pay much higher interest on our debt. But here’s the flaw in that plan. That’s not what the bond markets say. Not at all. Professor Paul Krugman, the Nobel Prize-winning economist whose predictions have consistently proved right through this crisis, says Cameron is conjuring up “invisible bond vigilantes” who “don’t exist.” Who is the bond market really punishing? It’s the countries that cut too fast, and so kill their economic growth. The last two nations to be down-graded were Ireland and Spain, who followed Cameron’s script to the letter.

It turns out that cutting our debt rapidly doesn’t cause an increase in “confidence” and so save the economy. Professor Krugman mocks this idea by calling it “The Confidence Fairy,” and goes through the historical record to show she doesn’t exist. Cutting doesn’t create fairy-magic. No: it has a very different effect.

Here’s what we learned during the Great Depression, when our view of economics was revolutionized by John Maynard Keynes. In a recession, private individuals like you and me, perfectly sensibly, cut back our spending. We go out less, we buy less, we save more. This causes a huge fall in private demand, and with it a huge fall in economic activity. If, at the very same time, the government cuts back, then overall demand collapses, and a recession becomes a depression. That’s why the government has to do something counter-intuitive. It has to borrow and spend more, to apply jump-leads to the economy. This prevents economic collapse. Instead of spending a fortune on dealing with mass unemployment and economic break-down, with all the misery that causes, it spends the money on restoring growth. Keynes called it “the paradox of thrift”: when the people spend less, the government has to spend more.

Wherever it has been tried, it has worked. Look at the last Great Depression. The Great Crash of 1929 was followed by a US President, Herbert Hoover, who did everything Cameron demands. He cut spending and paid off the debt. The recession grew and grew. Then Franklin Roosevelt was elected and listened to Keynes. He ramped up spending – and unemployment fell, and the economy swelled. Then in 1936 he started listening to the Cameron debt-shriekers of his day. The result? The economy collapsed again. It was only the gigantic spending of the Second World War that finally ended it.

It is working now. There are enough countries in the world trying enough different economic solutions that we examine them like laboratories. which countries have come out of this recession fastest? They are the ones like South Korea, which have had by far the biggest stimulus packages, paid for with (yes) higher debt. Which countries have fallen furthest and shattered most severely? The ones that tried to pay down their debts immediately with huge cuts.

Indeed, there’s an irony here. It turns out that if all you do is fixate on paying your debt now now now, and so you smother your economic growth, you will end up not being able to pay your debts off anyway. That’s what just happened to our nearest neighbor Ireland, may she rest in peace. And it’s what has happened throughout British history. Professors Victoria Chick and Ann Pettifor conducted a detailed study of the last ten recessions, and they found that consistently “fiscal consolidation increases rather than reduces the level of public debt as a share of GDP.” Think of it this way. It’s as if tomorrow you became so panicked about your mortgage that you decided to pay it all off in one year, by ceasing to buy food and water. You get sick, and your house gets repossessed.

So debt isn’t the problem. Debt is part of the cure. The facts suggest need to spend more, not less, to get the economy back to life – and pay back the debt in the good times, when we will be able to afford it.

I am not a doctrinaire defender of the last Labour government. I think Tony Blair should be in prison, and Gordon Brown will be damned by history for his role in deregulating the banks – the real cause of this crisis. But to claim that this crisis was caused by Labour “racking up debt” is simply false. When the Great Crash hit, Britain had the second-lowest debt in the G7 club of leading economies. To react to a recession by increasing spending, and so keeping the economy afloat, is the only rational response. The real criticism is that they didn’t go anything like far enough, and now Ed Miliband’s Labour Party is now too cowardly to defy the false conventional wisdom and make the case for fiscal stimulus, instead promising merely slower, smarter cuts.

The real reason why David Cameron is imposing these massive cuts has nothing to do with the national debt. It is because he regards himself as, in his words, “the child of Thatcher”, and he wants to pursue her agenda harder and faster than she ever dreamed. He can do the difficult job of selling that to the British people if he wishes – but he should stop doing it on the basis of a swollen, suppurating lie.

Saturday, 26 March 2011

Blair: truth and lies

As Tony Blair appears at the Iraq war inquiry, a raft of evidence suggests he misled parliament, the public and the press

* Mehdi Hasan
o Mehdi Hasan
o, Friday 29 January 2010 10.00 GMT

Did Tony Blair tell the truth about Iraq? Or did he deceive us? As the nation prepares for the former prime minister's testimony at the Iraq inquiry, one ex-adviser to Blair tells the New Statesman this week: "There is a little bit of rhetorical exaggeration in what Tony said at the time, though he always believed that there were WMD in Iraq, as did I, so it was exaggeration rather than lying."

Seven years on from the invasion of Iraq, this myth persists – even amongst critics of the war. It doesn't make sense to call him a liar," Sir Rodric Braithwaite, the former chairman of the Joint Intelligence Committee, tells me. "I think he convinced himself."

Blair himself is a keen purveyor of this self-serving and self-deluding nonsense. ""I have never told a lie. No. I don't intend to go telling lies to people. I did not lie over Iraq," he told Sky's Adam Boulton in 2005.

Sorry, but I don't buy it. Call me a cynic but I have no doubt in my mind that the former premier lied over Iraq, Saddam Hussein and WMD – and did so again and again. He knowingly, deliberately and consciously misled parliament, the public and the press. In the under-reported words of Lord Butler, speaking in the House of Lords in February 2007, Blair was, at the very minimum, "disingenuous".

However, to borrow a phrase from the ex-premier himself, I happen to believe the evidence for his mendacity and dissembling on Iraq is "extensive, detailed and authoritative". Here's a sample of 10 such lies, deceptions and half-truths in no particular order.

1. "Stockpiles"


We know that he [Saddam Hussein] has stockpiles of major amounts of chemical and biological weapons…

– Tony Blair, interview on NBC News, 3 April 2002


Intelligence on Iraq's weapons of mass destruction (WMD) and ballistic missile programmes is sporadic and patchy... From the evidence available to us, we believe Iraq retains some production equipment, and some small stocks of CW agent precursors, and may have hidden small quantities of agents and weapons.

– Joint Intelligence Committee (JIC) assessment on 15 March 2002

2. Regional threat


However, there is no doubt at all that the development of weapons of mass destruction by Saddam Hussein poses a severe threat not just to the region, but to the wider world.

– Tony Blair, House of Commons, 10 April 2002


Saddam has not succeeded in seriously threatening his neighbours.

– "Iraq: Options Paper", secret "eyes only" Cabinet Office paper, 10 March 2002

3. Nuclear weapons


Q: Mr. President, can you tell us what conclusive evidence of any nuclear – new evidence you have of nuclear weapons capabilities of Saddam Hussein?

THE PRESIDENT: We just heard the prime minister talk about the new report. I would remind you that when the inspectors first went into Iraq and were denied – finally denied access, a report came out of the IAEA that they were six months away from developing a weapon. I don't know what more evidence we need.

PRIME MINISTER BLAIR: Absolutely right. And what we – what we know from what has been going on there for a long period of time is not just the chemical, biological weapons capability, but we know that they were trying to develop nuclear weapons capability. And the importance of this morning's report is it yet again it shows that there is a real issue that has to be tackled here.

– Transcript of remarks made by Tony Blair and George Bush at Camp David news conference, 7 September 2002


There's never been a report like that issued from this agency… There is no evidence in our view that can be substantiated on Iraq's nuclear-weapons program. If anybody tells you they know the nuclear situation in Iraq right now, in the absence of four years of inspections, I would say that they're misleading you because there isn't solid evidence out there.

– IAEA spokesman Mark Gwozdecky, 26 September 2002

4. "Beyond doubt"


What I believe the assessed intelligence has established beyond doubt is that Saddam has continued to produce chemical and biological weapons, that he continues in his efforts to develop nuclear weapons, and that he has been able to extend the range of his ballistic missile programme.

– Tony Blair, foreword to the intelligence dossier on Iraqi WMD, 24 September 2002


Intelligence remains limited and Saddam's own unpredictability complicates judgements…

- Joint Intelligence Committee (JIC) assessment, 15 March 2002

"We believe that this uncertainty should have been highlighted to give a balanced view of Saddam's chemical and biological capacity."

- Intelligence and Security Committee (ISC) report, 11 September 2003

5. "45 minutes"


It [the dossier] concludes… that he has existing and active military plans for the use of chemical and biological weapons, which could be activated within 45 minutes, including against his own Shia population.

– Tony Blair, House of Commons, 24 September 2002


The exchange is recorded in my diary on March 5 2003. Tony Blair gave me the same reply as John Scarlett, that the battlefield weapons had been disassembled and stored separately. I was therefore mystified a year later to hear him say he had never understood that the intelligence agencies did not believe Saddam had long-range weapons of mass destruction.

- Robin Cook, the Guardian, 12 July 2004

6. Regime Change


So far as our objective, it is disarmament, not regime change – that is our objective… I have got no doubt either that the purpose of our challenge from the United Nations is disarmament of weapons of mass destruction, it is not regime change.

- Tony Blair, interview on Radio Monte Carlo, 14 November 2002


I said [to Condoleeza Rice] that you would not budge in your support for regime
change but you had to manage a press, a Parliament and a public opinion that was very different than anything in the States.

– Foreign policy adviser Sir David Manning's memo to Tony Blair, 14 March 2002

We discussed whether the central aim was WMD or regime change. … TB felt it was regime change in part because of WMD but more broadly because of the threat to the region and the world.

– Alastair Campbell's diary entry for 2 April 2002, after meeting with Blair in Chequers

7. Weapons Inspectors


In respect of Iraq we have the clearest possible evidence, both because of what they have done before and what is left over from the previous inspections when the inspectors were kicked out in 1998…

– Tony Blair, House of Commons Liaison Committee, 21 January 2003


I received a telephone call from US Ambassador Peter Burleigh inviting me for a private conversation at the US mission... Burleigh informed me that on instructions from Washington it would be 'prudent to take measures to ensure the safety and security of UNSCOM staff presently in Iraq.'... I told him that I would act on this advice and remove my staff from Iraq.

– Richard Butler, executive chairman of the UNSCOM weapons inspectors, in his book Saddam Defiant

8) Saddam's son-in-law


It was only four years later after the defection of Saddam's son-in-law [Hussein Kamal] to Jordan, that the offensive biological weapons and the full extent of the nuclear programme were discovered.

– Tony Blair, House of Commons speech, 25 February 2003


All chemical weapons were destroyed. I ordered destruction of all chemical weapons. All weapons - biological, chemical, missiles, nuclear were destroyed.

– Hussein Kamal, speaking with UN weapons inspectors in 1995, and first reported by Newsweek on 24 February 2003

9. International opinion


On 8 December he [Saddam Hussein] submitted the declaration denying he had any WMD, a statement not a single member of the international community seriously believes.

– Tony Blair, 25 February 2003


Russia does not have in its possession any trustworthy data that supports the existence of nuclear weapons or any weapons of mass destruction in Iraq and we have not received any such information from our partners as yet.

– Vladimir Putin, Moscow news conference with Tony Blair, 11 October 2002

10. Mass graves


We've already discovered just so far the remains of 400,000 people in mass graves.

– Tony Blair, 20 November 2003


Downing Street has admitted to the Observer that repeated claims by Tony Blair that '400,000 bodies had been found in Iraqi mass graves' is untrue, and only about 5,000 corpses have so far been uncovered.

– Peter Beaumont, the Observer, 18 July 2004

Sunday, 20 March 2011

Two thoughts for the day on Kosovo and Iraq

Media Lens Message Board
[ Media Lens Message Board ]

* Two thoughts for the day on Kosovo and Iraq

Posted by The Editors [User Info] on March 20, 2011, 9:26 am

Michael Smith of The Times in the LA Times:

"British officials hoped the ultimatum [for Iraq to readmit UN weapons inspectors] could be framed in words that would be so unacceptable to Hussein that he would reject it outright. But they were far from certain this would work, so there was also a Plan B... Put simply, US aircraft patrolling the southern no-fly zone were dropping a lot more bombs in the hope of provoking a reaction that would give the allies an excuse to carry out a full-scale bombing campaign, an air war, the first stage of the conflict." (Michael Smith, 'The real news in the Downing Street memos,' Los Angeles Times, June 23, 2005)

John Norris, director of communications during the Kosovo war for deputy Secretary of State Strobe Talbott - a leading figure in State Department and Pentagon planning for the war - commented on the real motives. Presenting the position of the Clinton administration, Norris wrote in his book, Collision Course: "it was Yugoslavia's resistance to the broader trends of political and economic reform - not the plight of Kosovar Albanians - that best explains NATO's war". (Norris, Collision Course: NATO, Russia, and Kosovo, Praeger, 2005, p.xiii)

Thursday, 17 March 2011

'Jamie's Dream School' (Jamie Oliver's new reality show about education)

'Jamie’s Dream School' is doing an excellent job of lifting the lid on the dire state of state ‘education’.

We get a very good insight into how much anger and aggression is always bubbling under the surface with so many teenagers within state schools and how, when that is always bubbling away, the aggression inevitably bursts out as abusive language and/or physical violence.

The nation might begin to appreciate that ‘teaching’ (so-called) is far more about ‘containment’ than ‘education’. For example, you have to plan your lessons according to what students will find do-able, thereby more likely to keep them in their seats, rather than according to what they will find challenging – which they will immediately give up on, leading to restlessness, leading to arguments, leading to fights.

Years ago, a colleague of mine was (repeatedly) driven close to, or actually to, tears because, no matter how hard he tried, he couldn’t get them to listen and engage. I told him that he must +lower+ his expectations of students (i.e. the exact opposite of what the hypocritical education establishment say); that he must recognise his job for what it really was – an attempt to civilise the savages rather than enlighten the next generation. Being idealistic, na├»ve and holier-than-thou, he said he didn’t like my characterisation of students as savages. Fair enough. But then he was the one who couldn’t survive, repeatedly looking weak in front of pupils through his obvious frustration and misery; and he came close to suspension/termination through manhandling a pupil who wouldn’t ‘listen’. I, on the other hand, focused on setting tasks that were very doable and occupying rather than trying too hard to explain difficult concepts to feral creatures. The first priority in state schools has to be to +control+ pupils, not +educate+ them. Only when you have good control techniques can you hope to move on to a bit of education.

Tuesday, 8 March 2011

This Time We're Taking the Whole Planet With Us – Chris Hedges

...The global economy is built on the erroneous belief that the marketplace—read human greed—should dictate human behavior and that economies can expand eternally. Globalism works under the assumption that the ecosystem can continue to be battered by massive carbon emissions without major consequences. And the engine of global economic expansion is based on the assurance that there will always be plentiful and cheap oil. The inability to confront simple truths about human nature and the natural world leaves the elites unable to articulate new social, economic and political paradigms. They look only for ways to perpetuate a dying system. Thomas Friedman and the array of other propagandists for globalization make as much sense as Charlie Sheen.

Globalization is the modern articulation of the ancient ideology used by past elites to turn citizens into serfs and the natural world into a wasteland for profit. Nothing to these elites is sacred. Human beings and the natural world are exploited until exhaustion or collapse. The elites make no pretense of defending the common good. It is, in short, the defeat of rational thought and the death of humanism. The march toward self-annihilation has already obliterated 90 percent of the large fish in the oceans and wiped out half of the mature tropical forests, the lungs of the planet. At this rate by 2030 only 10 percent of the Earth’s tropical forests will remain. Contaminated water kills 25,000 people every day around the globe, and each year some 20 million children are impaired by malnourishment. Greenhouse gases in the atmosphere now are at 329 parts per million and climbing, with most climate scientists warning that the level must remain below 350 ppm to sustain life as we know it. The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change estimates that the measurement could reach 541 to 970 ppm by 2100. At that point huge parts of the planet, beset with overpopulation, droughts, soil erosion, freak storms, massive crop failures and rising sea levels, will be unfit for human existence...