Saturday, 16 March 2019

Brenton Tarrant, the corporate media and censorship

Brenton Tarrant shot and killed forty-nine people on Friday in Christchurch. The corporate media love this story. News programmes have been dominated by the story. However, it is not the facts of the case that they are particularly concerned to report. Rather, their interest is in the narratives they can spin.

Brenton Tarrant is, according to the corporate media's so called journalists, a white supremacist. He live-streamed his attack. He had published a manifesto on the Internet prior to the attack. He used rifles for his attack. He was influenced by things he had read on the Internet. These few characteristics make the story endlessly fascinating for the corporate media. These details allow them to push their propaganda against freedom of expression, especially on social media. These details allow them to push their propaganda against dissenting views. These details allow them to push their propaganda against citizens having the right to bear arms. These details allow them to push their propaganda against any criticism of Islam. These details allow them to push their propaganda against Donald Trump and all the politicians they characterise as populists.

The use of this tragic event for propaganda purposes is not an aberration: this is normal practice for the corporate media. Exploiting tragic events is their stock in trade; their standard operating procedure.

In all the noise and emoting around this story, one theme is central: their fear of freedom of expression, especially on the Internet. Journalists, pundits, politicians and various forms of experts are rolled out demanding censorship of the Internet. Within hours, video of the attack was taken down. Within a day, Tarrant's manifesto was taken down.

The censorship of the manifesto is significant. It was his rationale for his actions, in his own words. And that is precisely what the corporate media did not want anyone to know. The last thing they want is someone else being able to define the narrative. In their view there is only one legitimate narrative: and it is theirs. The idea that people should have access to primary sources and be able to make up their own minds on the basis of the facts is something the whole of the elite agree should never happen. When WikiLeaks published Democratic Party documents Chris Cuomo told CNN's viewers that it was illegal for them to look at the documents and they could only know about them from the media. Bare-faced lying is also a norm in the media.

I read Tarrant's manifesto before it was taken down. There is nothing in it to justify the corporate media's assertion that he is a white supremacist. It would be more accurate to characterise him as a segregationist. His concern is with mass migration of Muslims into lands occupied by Europeans and people of European descent. His fear is that such migration will inevitably result in the host society having its culture and traditions undermined and eventually replaced. His fear is that the newly arrived will destroy the indigenous culture (apparently the irony of an Australian of European descent holding this view is lost on Tarrant).

Tarrant's manifesto contains other material that would fit uncomfortably with the corporate media's narrative. For example, he claims Candace Owens as a source of inspiration. She is what in the corporate media's racist world view is called black; an unlikely hero for a white supremacist. Tarrant also compared himself with Nelson Mandela. He did this in acknowledgement that his attack would be an act of terrorism. The point he was making was that now that the ANC's struggle has been won, Mandela is no longer regarded as a terrorist. The notion that terrorists are only terrorists when they are the losers but are heroes and emancipators when they are the victors is not a discussion the media wish to see discussed: it would raise far too many uncomfortable issues. No in the media wants to talk about Jewish terrorism, for instance.

The major problem for the corporate media with Tarrant's manifesto is simply that it sounds far to reasonable, too rational, too dispassionate. This is, of course, the exact opposite of the corporate media portrayal. Clarissa Ward (who infamously pushed jihadi propaganda for CNN) has appeared on television, waving the manifesto, claiming it is a deranged, hate-filled rant. There are many criticisms would could make of the manifesto, but deranged and rant are so far off the mark as to render the language meaningless.

The corporate media are afraid of Tarrant. They do not want anyone to hear his voice, his narrative. And so they immediately demanded that his words be removed from the Internet. And this is what they do to anyone who expresses a competing narrative. They describe themselves as liberals in favour of freedom of speech, but their consistent practice is to push for ever more censorship. They not only regret the passing of the days when they were the gatekeepers of public discourse, they are determined to re-establish that hegemony.

I am reminded of Pastor Neimoller's words. "First they came for the Communists, And I did not speak out, because I was not a Communist." Today they censor Brenton Tarrant, and they know you will not speak out. Yet if the right to freedom of expression means anything, it means the right to say things that are disagreed with.

Friday, 15 March 2019

Democracy dies when the losers refuse to accept the result

It was Harold Wilson who famously stated that a week is a long time in politics. This week must have seemed like an eternity to Theresa May. On Tuesday, parliament again voted down her Withdrawal Agreement. On Wednesday, parliament voted against leaving the European Union without a deal. And on Thursday, parliament instructed the government to seek an extension to Article 50. Three resounding defeats on the government's flagship policy.

At anytime in previous parliamentary history such defeats would have brought down the government. However, the Fixed Term Parliament Act allows Theresa May to cling to the trappings of power. Yet it is obvious to all that she is no longer in control of events. Indeed, on Thursday members of her own Cabinet defied a three line whip and did not resign, repudiating the doctrine of collective responsibility. Worse still, she is now having to work against her constantly reiterated (more than one hundred times from the despatch box) assertion that the country will leave the European Union on the 29th of March and having to ask the European Union for more time.

Even worse, this new policy position that parliament has forced on the executive is utterly incoherent, as it does not specify the purpose nor the duration and the European Union has repeatedly made it clear that they would only consider a request for an extension if there is a clear purpose. This lack of clarity can only cause further uncertainty and confusion. If the request is for a short extension, it would only be granted if the European Union were assured that the current Withdrawal Agreement would be accepted by parliament - something parliament has repeatedly declined by massive majorities to do. Any other reason for an extension would require a much longer delay, which would mean that the United Kingdom would have to participate in the European parliamentary elections - something wanted by neither the European Union nor the United Kingdom.

These three days of government defeats in the House of Commons have shown that parliament is strong enough to prevent the executive from governing but too divided to wrest control and direction of the executive from the government. This outcome is a direct result of the clash between direct democracy and representative democracy which was set in train by David Cameron's decision to hold a referendum on the issue of membership of the European Union. When he made that decision, he was sure that the result would be Remain. If he had been right, there would have been no problem. But the people ignored all the warnings and exhortations and voted for democracy: a result that is unacceptable to the elite. But the political class cannot just simply and plainly tell the people their votes count for nothing: it would strip away the image of consent and reveal the stark truth that parliamentary democracy is merely an illusion.

The actions of parliament this week have partially stripped away the mask. The events of the next two weeks will determine whether or not the mask will be discarded completely. The only way to prevent that disillusion would be for the country to leave on the 29th of March, the current legal default. Theresa May could still bring about that outcome, but only if she is prepared to defy both parliament and her own Cabinet. Will she? I doubt it.

Thursday, 7 March 2019

Javid exploits May's correlation gaffe

Last Friday night a seventeen year old girl, Jodie Chesney, was stabbed to death in a leafy London suburb. The political media elite immediately went into moral panic mode. In the midst of this moral panic Theresa May asserted that there is no "direct correlation" between the numbers of police officers and violent crime. Politicians, senior police officers and the corporate media all immediately poured scorn and contempt upon her assertion. Yet, the prime minister is undoubtedly and obviously correct.

For decades crime, including violent crime, has been declining. Yet over the same decades the number of police officers has risen and fallen. Any dispassionate analysis of the figures would lead to the conclusion that there is no direct correlation between the number of police officers and the incidence of criminal acts. Crime clearly has causes that are at least partially independent of the number of police officers.

Yet, the prime minister's claim is being treated with withering contempt, as though it is the height of foolishness, by the elite. News programme after news programme is filled with supposed experts, and people who obviously have no expertise, asserting that there is an obvious (albeit unexplained - indeed, completely contradictory rationales are offered) link between the number of police officers and the rate of violent crime. However, if this constantly repeated assertion were correct, the statistical evidence would show declining crime consequent to increased police numbers and increasing crime consequent to reduced police numbers: there is no such statistical evidence.

This lack of evidence is, however, completely unimportant, as the "debate" is not about evidence. It isn't even a debate. It is, in fact, a moral panic. The death of Jodie Chesney was only one in a series of such incidents, but it triggered the moral panic because her death showed the elite that it could affect them (rather than just poor people). This triggered an emotional response and ensured that thinking by the elite on this subject was now confined to the level of intuition. In this context, merely pointing to disconfirming evidence is, at best, proof of idiocy and, at worst, downright evil.

Sajid Javid, the Home Secretary, who is doubtless well aware that there is no direct correlation between police numbers and crime, has decided to side with the herd and repeatedly asserts that there is a link, even though his government has been responsible for reducing police numbers by more than twenty thousand.

Javid is obviously positioning himself for a bid to be the next leader of the Conservative Party. He is using the tried and tested law and order card, making a direct appeal to the members of the party across the country. He knows they will, just like the corporate media so called journalists, be taking that view that more police officers would mean less crime. He knows that they will not be considering the statistical evidence and would dismiss it out of hand even if it were presented to them. He knows May's accurate assertion was a serious political gaffe and, out of ambition to be the next leader, he is prepared to exploit that gaffe for all it's worth.