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House of Bishops’ Pastoral Letter on the 2015 General Election

The Prime Minister reacted with anger to the Bishops’ letter published today, see: http://www.welfareweekly.com/cameron-rejects-bishops-warning-against-scapegoating-people-on-benefits/ as did other Tories see, http://www.capitalbay.com/news/715836-church-tells-christians-how-they-should-vote-including-scrapping-trident-nuclear-deterrent.html.

It is true that the letter (see https://www.churchofengland.org/media-centre/news/2015/02/house-of-bishops%27-pastoral-letter-on-the-2015-general-election.aspx for summary) broke the ‘rule’ that politics and religion do not mix, but did so in as non confrontational way as possible, not naming any party in particular. It is though a much needed attack on the ‘Westminster Village’ as a whole.

If there is one criticism I would make against the letter is that it fails to highlight the role of the mainstream media (including the BBC) in limiting the scope of political debate. Christians should be encouraged to seek other sources of information of which there are plenty.

The press release says,

‘In a pastoral letter from the House of Bishops to the people and parishes of the Church of England, the Bishops urge Christians to consider the question how can we “build the kind of society which many people say they want but which is not yet being expressed in the vision of any of the parties?”

The letter also encourages church members to engage in the political process ahead of the General Election and to put aside self-interest and vote for ‘the common good': “The privileges of living in a democracy mean that we should use our votes thoughtfully, prayerfully and with the good of others in mind, not just our own interests.”‘

Trade in Services Agreement (TISA) – GATS on steroids

I guess I have been slow to pick up on this agreement, which however seems only just to have hit AVAAZ.https://secure.avaaz.org/en/stop_tisa_en_eu_sas/?dSWzrab. Back in 1994 nations party to GATTS at the same time as establishing the WTO, made several agreements amongst which was GATS – ‘General Agreement on Trade in Services’, something that British governments have been remarkably coy about ever since. GATS is a framework agreement and negotiations on implementation went on for many years. They eventually stalled at the Doha round when India, China etc. sussed they were being shafted. By that time the US had already realised that the multilateral approach would not give them what they wanted so the shifted to the bilateral approach, starting with NAFTA, and moving on via many agreements with less powerful nations, to TPP and TTIP. All these bilaterals have adopted the secret courts (ISDS) and negotiations have become ever more secret, so we have total reliance on Wikileaks.

The best piece I have found so far is by Professor Jane Kelsey, Faculty of Law, University of Auckland, New Zealand, ‘Memorandum on Leaked TISA Financial Services Text’, 19 June 2014, https://wikileaks.org/tisa-financial/analysis.html. Please read it. One obvious implication is that people will no longer be able to rely on the state to provide a straightforward pension. More links via https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Trade_in_Services_Agreement.

Should the DWP have a duty of care to benefit claimants?

There have been many many stories of the appalling practices in Job Centres whereby benefit claimants are subject to quite disproportionate ‘sanctions’ for trivial and often invalid reasons. See for example http://www.newstatesman.com/politics/2015/02/grieving-relative-confronts-dwp-minister-esther-mcvey-after-benefit-sanctionshttp://www.theguardian.com/society/2015/feb/04/jobcentre-adviser-play-benefit-sanctions-angela-neville?CMP=share_btn_fb, and http://dwpunspun.org.uk/sanctions. Although there is mounting evidence for sanctions targets, employment minister Esther McVey continues to deny it.

These practices (which are being highlighted in the play ‘ Can this be England?’ see http://www.beechleaf.net/show_tell/production.html) are extraordinarily cruel resulting in some claimants committing suicide and some Job Centre staff who have not been totally de-humanised under intolerable pressure. I suppose they save the exchequer some money but they also in many cases discourage claimants from securing worthwhile jobs. It is difficult to get at the true facts because any Job Centre Staff who resign or are ‘eased out’ are pressured to sign confidentiality agreements. Assuming these targets exist, at what level are they set? If not set by ministers, what exactly are the pressures on civil servants to set them?

My suggestion is that there be primary legislation to assign a duty of care to the  DWP over all claimants. This should apply to all levels of staff up to the Secretary of State. I am not suggesting there should be no sanctions – just that they are fair, proportionate and likely to result in a good outcome, i.e. to persuade the claimant to make all reasonable attempts to secure a suitable job. I am not suggesting that benefit caps should not be applied; these are a matter for parliament. Of course it is just possible that harmful regulations are the subject of an order in parliament under the negative resolution procedure, though McVey’s denial seems to indicate otherwise. What happens in these cases is that the minister lays the order before parliament (without calling attention to its contents), and it comes into force in 40 days unless MPs successfully move a motion to oppose it. Such a challenge is very very rare. Since parliamentary scrutiny is almost always absent, the minister should not be able in such cases to throw the blame onto parliament.

Of course one has to be able to define what is meant by a duty of care in this case, but this could perhaps be left to the courts. They could hardly make things any worse than they are, and it would take the argument out of the hands of lying politicians.

It would not of course be easy to get such legislation passed, but if such a Bill were debated at all, or even supported by a petition it would be deservedly embarrassing to the government. After all if the culture is not the government’s fault they shoulod have nothing to fear from such legislation.

All thoughts welcome.

Labour Lies

On Monday at 7:38am, Labour posted on their Facebook page.

“Labour MPs are Voting to prevent fracking going ahead without tough protections”

By the evening, Labour had abstained on a vote to stop fracking.

Friends of the Earth said:

“We strongly welcome Caroline Lucas’s attempt to ban fracking in this week’s Infrastructure Bill debate, and for raising the concerns of more than 360,000 people that signed a petition calling for government’s unpopular trespass plans to be stopped.”

Free Speech only for Zionists

The murderous attack on Charlie Hebdo should never be condoned. However Charlie Hebdo is not a very nice magazine. It has clearly become pro Zionist, and its scurrilous attack on the prophet was quite pointlessly offensive, see http://www.gilad.co.uk/writings/2015/1/12/spitting-on-other-peoples-prophets-is-not-a-western-value, and all it achieved was to stir up hatred.

The BBC journalist Tim Wilcox was driven to point out that Israelis had done bad things too, see http://www.thedrum.com/news/2015/01/12/bbc-reporter-tim-wilcox-sorry-suggesting-palestinians-suffer-hugely-jewish-hands. He apologised, but there is now apparently a campaign to get him sacked. Reasonable criticism of Israeli actions is apparently not permitted; free speech does not cover that.

There are plenty of Jews who are prepared to criticise Israeli actions where justified. Zionists however argue that Jews wherever they live owe total and unquestioning allegiance to the Zionist cause. The Zionist lobby is immensely powerful. I do not fully understand the reasons for this, but I suppose they include Western guilt over the holocaust and Jewish influence in banking and finance, which in turn was fostered by the prohibition in medieval Europe over Jews owning land. The West has further weakened its moral position by its duplicitous behaviour in the Middle East, just one example of which was the failure of the British to contradict T E Lawrence’s promise to the Arabs he was leading whilst supporting the Balfour declaration.

Zionist claims rely on very dubious assumptions, namely that all Jews have semitic racial origin and are descended from  one of the 12 tribes of Israel, and that all semites are Jews although originally the term ‘semite’ included Arabs. In practice it would seem that anyone who adopts the Judaism is regarded as a Jew. In his book, ‘The Thirteenth Tribe’, published in 1976, Arthur Koestler claimed that many modern Jews are in fact Khazars originating from Turkey and North of the Black Sea, and that the Khazar Empire adopted Judaism in 740 AD. Koestler took pride in his Khazar ancestry. In 1983 Koestler and his wife were found dead – suicide? See http://rense.com/general89/notjws.htm.

DNA studies have since shown that the majority of Jews have a common racial origin, but that origin is disputed. The Israeli geneticist Eran Elhaik concludes that most Jews are Khazars, see: Eran Elhaik, ‘The Missing Link of Jewish European Ancestry: Contrasting the Rhineland and the Khazarian Hypotheses’,McKusick-Nathans Institute of Genetic Medicine, Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine, Baltimore, MD, USA, 21208 http://gbe.oxfordjournals.org/content/early/2012/12/14/gbe.evs119.full.pdf

If this conclusion is correct it somewhat weakens Zionist claims to the land of Israel, which is why it is hotly disputed by Zionists.

Draft Letter to BBC Trust

I welcome comments on the draft below

BBC Trust Unit
180 Great Portland Street
London
W1W 5QZ

Dear BBC Trust

The BBC generally enjoys an excellent reputation but we are extremely concerned at the pro establishment bias in the reporting of current affairs and political discussion programmes. We feel that the BBC has totally failed to deliver on its first public purpose, that of “Sustaining citizenship and civil society”. We believe that part of the reason is that the Purpose Remit you wrote may not provide adequate guidance.

Britain and indeed the whole world, is in a scary place today:

  • natural resources of all kinds are being dangerously depleted, due in part to man’s over consumption
  • pollution of all kinds is threatening much of the life on the planet
  • climate change represents a huge threat to civilisation – even if the cause is disputed.
  • inequality in Britain and much of the West is rising inexorably, to the point where the economy is under threat – a trend which could only be addressed by either very high growth, which will put even more pressure on the environment, or by very substantial redistribution of income, wealth or both
  • Britain has a bloated and highly unstable financial system, which the government is not trying to fix.
  • In Britain, key economic indicators have in our opinion become so misleading as to be worthless; the economy is not improving.
  • The remarkably ineffective ‘war on terror’
  • Our political system is no longer fit for purpose.

The response of the four main parties in Westminster has been largely limited to pursuing ‘austerity’ in one form or another and privatisation (especially of the NHS) . The government has not even felt it necessary to try to justify NHS privatisation on grounds of value for money.

When a right wing magazine like the Spectator accuses the Prime Minister and the Chancellor (rightly in our view) of going about the country misleading the public about the deficit [1], this should be the lead story on all TV channels. We would not expect this of the commercial channels, but surely the BBC should have picked this up. When just three days later the Spectator picks up this story again talking about, “The fatal contradiction at the heart of the Tory message: there is no money, except for people we like.” [2], the BBC should have been asking whether we can ever trust such a government, just as they should been being saying about any Labour government that deceives.

When the government crows about the trend in the unemployment figures, does the BBC never wonder what relevance the headline figures mean in an era of zero hours contracts? It hardly takes a genius to suggest that ‘full time equivalents’ might be a more reliable headline figure.

So how do the public respond to the barrage of misinformation repeated by all the mainstream media, including the BBC? They become totally confused.. According to YouGov polls, most of the public want renationalisation: to cease and reverse NHS privatisation, and to renationalise Energy companies.Royal Mail and railways. This is too left wing for the Labour Party, BUT most people think Labour is too left wing from them! [3] There is a total mismatch between public wishes and party policies. This has to be wrong; democracy has become meaningless. If public expectations are unrealistic then the parties have to explain this properly and not just repeat without evidence the mantra that the free market is good and wealth trickles down.

Why is it that the BBC has so spectacularly failed to perform the proper function of a public service broadcaster? It is supposed to be operationally independent. Of course it has often been accused by Tory MPs and ministers of being ‘left wing’, whereas the opposite is true, as was revealed in a study carried out in 2013 by Cardiff University School of Journalism, Media and Cultural Studies and funded by yourselves [4].

Your purpose remit stresses the need to be impartial, but fails to define what the word ‘impartial’ means. We believe that the BBC lazily or timidly takes it to mean not departing too far from a prevailing consensus manufactured by the weight of corporate and government propaganda, propagated by commercial media, and regretably the BBC itself. We on the other hand believe that ‘impartial’ should mean not partial, in other words all reasonable points of view (including ‘heterdox’ ones) should be given proper weight.

In particular, misleading statements about matters of genuine public interest, from whatever source. should be rigorously and persistently exposed; well informed and well argued criticism of orthodox opinion should be vigorously promoted; but baseless and populist rants should receive the scorn they deserve. If necessary TAM ratings should be downrated in their importance.

Much of the trust’s attempts to measure performance are based on licence fee payers’ perceptions. This is not adequate in itself. In your report for 2013/14 you say, “50% of respondents [to your survey] said that BBC News was the source they were most likely to turn to for impartial news coverage. This is a much higher figure than for any other broadcaster and remains at around the same level as last year…” Given that most other broadcasters are commercial and may be expected to to biassed towards commercial interests, 50% is an appallingly low figure. The other problem with reliance on audience perception is that people tend to trust repetition of what they have been told before, too often in the mainstream media. Blind belief in a rapidly crystallizing ideology will be disastrous for Britain.

Whereas we recognise that you face pressures not to depart too much from the establishment view of reality, some of you surely have children. A NASA funded study found that in cases of societal collapse, where the elite, in order to protect their position, had appropriated almost all the resources available to the civilisation in question, that civilisation collapsed that much faster [5].

We very much hope you will now revise the Purpose Remit along the lines we suggest.

yours faithfully

[2] http://blogs.spectator.co.uk/coffeehouse/2014/12/the-fatal-contradiction-at-the-heart-of-the-tory-message-there-is-no-money-except-for-people-we-like/

[1] http://blogs.spectator.co.uk/coffeehouse/2014/12/shamefully-david-cameron-is-now-misleading-voters-about-the-deficit/

[3] http://anotherangryvoice.blogspot.co.uk/2014/08/terrifying-scale-poliical-illiteracy-uk.html

[4] http://theconversation.com/hard-evidence-how-biased-is-the-bbc-17028

[5] Safa Motesharrei, Jorge Rivas, Eugenia Kalnay, “Human and nature dynamics (HANDY): Modeling inequality and use of resources in the collapse or sustainability of societies”, Ecological Economics 101 (2014) 90 – 102, http://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S0921800914000615

‘They’ Don’t Need Minitruth – The BBC Charter suits ‘them’ just fine

In Orwell’s dystopia, Minitruth was one of the four great ministries that served the Inner Party of the Ingsoc state. It was a massive bureaucracy, whose job was to continuously rewrite history in the most minute detail. In reality it could never have worked perfectly. Certainly it would have been incompatible with either democracy or the sham version of it we experience.

For those like Edward Bernays, who in 1928 published his book ‘Propaganda’, there was a problem with democracy. If everyone was allowed to develop their own opinions there would be chaos. A country would become ungovernable. There would have to be ‘manufactured consent’. People would have to be told what to think. This has worked pretty well. The majority of people rely on the mainstream media for their perception of social and economic reality. Those with direct experience of a particular corner of reality realise the distortions and feel that they are victimised, but they may not realise that such distortions apply right across the board. It is only those with the time and the determination to actively use the internet and other sources, who realise that too often we are being fed a totally unbalanced and misleading version of reality.

Very often the distortions arise from things that are not covered rather than direct lies about what is covered. But there are significant distortions in what is covered. Who for example, looking at their household bills, believes that the Consumer Prices Index represents any meaningful reality? Certainly the study by the Joseph Rowntree Trust did not find so. In these days of zero hours contracts, what meaning do figures of numbers of people ‘in work’ have? David Cameron reports that ‘we are paying down the National Debt’. No they are not; they are trying to reduce the deficit (i.e. the rate at which the debt increases) but they are well below target on that. The BBC, for example, never seems to challenge any of these things. People are taken in by these distortions; for example the government likes to portray all recipients of benefits as ‘scroungers’, in spite of the fact that many on benefits are working their butt off, but cannot make ends meet. But those same people buy the lie and criticise all other recipients as scroungers.

It is obvious why commercial media are happy to convey the distorted message. They have to satisfy the interests of their advertisers and the prejudices of their proprietors. However under the BBC Charter, the first of its public purposes is, “sustaining citizenship and civil society”. Sounds good, doesn’t it? What does mean in practice? The Charter itself does not say, but it gives the Trust the job of defining ‘purpose remits’. The remit for “sustaining citizenship and civil society” reads,

“SUSTAINING CITIZENSHIP AND CIVIL SOCIETY

The Charter and Agreement note the importance of sustaining citizenship through the enrichment of the public realm and obliges the Trust to ensure that the BBC ‘gives information about, and increases understanding of, the world through accurate and impartial news, other information, and analysis of current events and ideas.’ In doing so, the Trust is obliged to ‘have regard to the need to promote understanding of the UK political system (including Parliament and the devolved structures) including through dedicated coverage of Parliamentary matters, and the need for the Purpose Remit to ensure that the BBC transmits an impartial account day by day of the proceedings in both Houses of Parliament.’ The Trust is also obliged to have regard to ‘the need to promote media literacy’, and the importance of sustaining citizenship through the enrichment of the public realm.

What the BBC will do to achieve this purpose:

1. Provide independent journalism of the highest quality.

BBC journalism should be independent, accurate and impartial – providing news and current affairs of relevance, range and depth which audiences trust. BBC Journalism should offer a range and depth of analysis not widely available from other UK providers…”

There are three important points about this: The focus on how things are done in Britain as opposed to how they might be done, the use of the word ‘impartial’, and reliance on what [the majority of] audiences trust.

Given that distrust of politicians is at an all time low and things have got worse for the majority of people, surely the BBC should encourage constructive discussion on how things might be done better, including reform of the political system. The Trust does not seem to see things that way.

What does the word ‘impartial’ mean? The Trust does not appear to have defined it. Surely the word should mean the opposite of partial, i.e. all sides of the story should be told. I see no sign that the Trust understands this. The one thing the Trust does try to measure is public perception. In their annual report for 2013/14 they write,

Impartiality is central to the BBC’s role as a public service broadcaster, funded by the licence fee. It is one of our principal concerns in terms of editorial standards, particularly in relation to news and current affairs. Each year, the BBC runs a survey of perceptions of the impartiality and trustworthiness of BBC News compared with other media. In this year’s results, released in June, 50% of respondents said that BBC News was the source they were most likely to turn to for impartial news coverage. This is a much higher figure than for any other broadcaster and remains at around the same level as last year…”

But surely if only 50% of people say they would turn to the BBC for impartial coverage rather than to commercial media which have obvious motives for biassed reporting, that is an appalling commentary on a public service broadcaster. More importantly if most people rely on mainstream media, all of which are biassed towards ‘orthodox’ views, how can they possibly judge which media are more impartial? The system does nothing to encourage the BBC to challenge orthodoxy.

The government of the day does not officially tell the Trust how to judge the BBC, but members of the Trust, who are appointed by Order in Council, no doubt know what is expected of them.

How does the ‘establishment’ get away with its orthodox view of reality, largely unsupported by evidence? It is possible that politicians think there are no such things as truth, only interpretations, a carry over from the late 20th century philosophy of post-modernism. In the academic world this philosophy has largely played itself out in absurdity, but politicians appear to think that they justify their actions in terms of their unsupported beliefs, even where these are contradicted by the facts.

The BBC should give weight to all ‘heterodox’ opinion that is supported by fact, and represents a credible challenge to that orthodox opinion. However it should be a criminal offence for anyone whatsoever to knowingly lie to the public. Democracy cannot function properly without these measures.

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