A legacy of death and dying

on a fateful day, in 2007 I quite vividly recall listening to a teacher at my school tell the class of her happiness at the fact that America had chosen, to her mind, the correct president in the person of Barrack Obama and had avoided four more years of the same under a McCain presidency. The four more years of the same she referred to in this was the torturous primacy of George W Bush who in his time did his level best during his time in office to steer his country away from the enlightened vision of its forefathers towards a nation with nothing short of a Stalinist embrace of its citizens and its enemies. I would openly confess that at that point in time I too felt a very similar emotion to my teacher, having always maintained an interest in world affairs I genuinely believed that with Bush gone and Obama in office that what we would see in his presidency would be a refreshingly new approach to politics. How naive I was. Albeit, my country has never been bombed by the US or had US agents destabilise/overthrow my government so it always remained easier for me to accept that the USA could be a force for good than it would be for an Iraqi refugee or Palestinian trapped in the warzones of Gaza, but none the less I was naive in assuming that all it would take to change the destructive imperialist agenda that the USA has followed since the times of Jefferson was one man. This being said, I will openly suggest that I feel that none of us could have predicted how far from the tree this particular apple would fall. Considering the rhetoric of the campaign I feel we have never before seen such a betrayal of principles by any individual who has walked the gilded halls of Washington. In this post I intend to cover the key issues which are often cited for why George Bush’s presidency was maligned by people all over the world and then I aim to compare it to that of Obama and arguably show how little has changed for the better and that actually in many ways things have only gotten worse.

First on the list of George W Bush’s crimes during his time in office would inevitably be his two ill-informed and disastrous invasions of Afghanistan and later Iraq. Two more short-sighted examples of foreign policy I cannot think of unless pushed hard on the topic. To be fair to the planners of these acts, in both cases the invasions in a strictly military sense were a success but then it seems the planning for any eventuality went out the window. Like a football team who scores two early goals in every match they play but then concede fifteen the USA and its allies in both cases found themselves fighting a running battle  against a variety of forces that they were too ill equipped and too ill informed to ever win against. For example in Iraq after the initial invasion had ended and just as the occupation was getting under way, large crowds looted and torched much of the former Baathist government’s ministry buildings and no effort was made to prevent this riotous behaviour. Oh wait, some effort was made – but only to prevent any damage happening to any of the ministry buildings that were related in any way to the production of oil. In allowing this destruction of much of Baghdad’s infrastructure the coalition authorities demonstrated in a quite blatant manner their utter disregard for the safety and livelihood of Iraqi civilians. In coming years who knows how many lives that were lost to a Cholera epidemic in 2007 could have been saved if armed gangs had not been allowed to loot and burn down the health ministries. Ultimately both the 2001 invasion of Afghanistan and the 2003 invasion of Iraq had far more negative outcomes than positive ones for them to ever be recorded in a entirely positive light and it is largely due to GW Bush and his administration that both of these invasions were such catastrophic failures with each invasion focussing on the minutiae of capturing one figurehead individual while neglecting to ensure that the populations of the countries US forces were riding roughshod over were happy with what was being done in their name.

Next on the list of crimes that were committed with oversight by GW Bush was the massive infringement of civil liberties conducted by US intelligience agencies in the name of the War on Terror. As Glenn Greenwald at the guardian says in an article discussing the civil liberties records of US presidents:

Bush seized on the 9/11 attack to usher in radical new surveillance and detention powers in the PATRIOT ACT, spied for years on the communications of US citizens without the warrants required by law, and claimed the power to indefinitely imprison even US citizens without charges in military brigs.

Such a concerted effort to eradicate civil liberties that the founding fathers strove to define and enshrine in the constitution at the time shocked and horrified many commentators and with good reason really. The programme of extraordinary rendition through which people suspected of terrorism were kidnapped and tortured in nations friendly with the US was one of the most flagrant abuses of international norms and law that I can conceive of. The same can be said about the willingness with which the Bush administration accepted the daily abuses of privacy that were abetted by the Patriot Act in the wake of 9/11. Surely the greatest show of strength in the fact of hatred that the US could have demonstrated in the wake of the single worst terrorist attack in history would have been to show that even in possibly the nations lowest moment that the government were still unwilling to violate the principles of personal privacy. But ultimately, the Bush administration danced according to the tune of the terrorists and reacted by demonstrating just how contemptible Western democracies can be in times of crisis putting the lie to their claims of superiority over the theocracies and autocracies of the developing world.

The third charge that would likely also stick were it to be levelled at George W Bush in a court of law would be the use of torture in an attempt to extract confessions and intelligence from those who had already been treated illegally in either being kidnapped and illegally rendered across international borders or as a result of detention on often highly dubious grounds for endless amounts of time. That the victims of torture in Bagram, Guantanamo Bay and Abu Ghraib were already victims of crimes committed by US forces does not however remove the later stain on the US of subjecting these individuals to torture. Such behaviour  and the frequency with which it was committed by the supposed “leaders of the free world” demonstrates how hollow such a title is and how much respect it should actually command in hindsight. To kill an innocent in a war is certainly an objective evil, but there is an argument to be heard that suggests torture is worse as the innocent must then live with the harrowing memory of being made to fear for their physical and mental health for the rest of their lives. And I genuinely feel that this argument holds some weight in light of the fact that often torturers simply extract lies from their victims who in sheer desperation will put their name to anything they are told to in an effort to stop their suffering and this is commonly known. It does take a special time of criminal to authorise such behaviour with the full knowledge that the likely outcomes will be of no use, and Bush certainly fits the mould. The exact same point about it taking a special kind of criminal to commit these crimes, can be raised about Bush’s rolling back of personal liberty and his invasions of Iraq and Afghanistan too.

The reality, however, is that in reality the current president of the USA, Barrack Obama is guilty of two of the exact same crimes his predecesor, Bush, and arguably guilty of a worse third crime than Bush which would on the surface suggest that actually the Nobel Peace Prize winner is worse than Bush. Who would have though it ?

The first crime of launching questionable military interventions is certainly one Obama is guilty of, and much like Bush the end result doesn’t look very promising with the paint (metaphorically speaking) likely to run a little further before setting. The intervention which Obama championed was the lending of NATO air support to the Libyan rebels to help oust Muammar Gadaffi from power. Seemingly caught up by public and political sentiment that something should be done to support at least one nation in the “Arab Spring” uprisings and not wanting to overthrow one of his own Middle Eastern pawns considering the amount of money that has been poured into their pockets over the year, Libya was the unlucky nation to suffer the consequences of America’s attention. Much the same as in the case of the Afghanistan invasion , and almost identically to the Iraq invasion, the end result of intervention was demonstrably not thought out. The result being that a once relatively isolated/isolationist African nation is now a lawless war zone in which Islamist militias have monopolized power and control large swathes of the country and perhaps more alarmingly also hold large stockpiles of arms and munitions which if history repeats itself, as it is wont to do, will end up in the hands of whoever we fight in ten to fifteen years time. Of course, things might turn out just fine in Libya but the conflict has been officially over for more than a year and there is no end in sight of the lawlessness which grips much of the country and the parallels between the state of Afghanistan after its civil war and Libya as things stand is notable. So, on the first charge Bush’s crime will rank in the annals of history as the worst being as he went all out and invaded two countries as opposed to Obama’s one although there are the best part of three and half years left yet for Obama to fuck that one up.

On the second charge of restricting right and civil liberties within the USA itself, Obama, for a candidate who preached at length about open transparent government in his early campaigns and ultimately was carried to the white house on the back of the successes of the Civil Rights movement has a lot to answer for. While the getting involved in military interventions in another countries civil war struck me as a betrayal of all the Obama claimed to stand for during his election campaign, it is his attack on the rights that most people consider inalienable that must surprise most of all. The first demonstrable way in which Obama has betrayed those who voted for him is his failure to close Guantanamo Bay and end the abuses of human rights that have taken place daily there since its inception under Bush. Amongst the crimes that Guantanamo represents are torture and detention without anything like sufficient proof of guilt and often not even credible suspicion. The legacy of that site was one of the biggest blots on the Bush administration legacy and Obama’s inability or unwillingness to close down the facility there will certainly form one of the biggest blots on his presidential story. A further violation of the campaign rhetoric of open government would be the unfolding drama of the NSA’s massive spying operation in which seemingly almost every american has been spied upon and monitored without specific warrants which I won’t comment on much more than this as the depth of this crime is still only partly apparent as things stand. Needless to say that a crime of such scale really is Stalinist in its style and

The third and final charge which I think really is the deal breaker in demonstrating how Obama is measurably worse than Bush is his use of drone warfare both as means of repression both against american citizens in the wrong place at the wrong time and against poor brown people seemingly wherever he can find them. The move away from “boots on the ground” was something that Obama promised and so on that front, if literally no other, credit is due. However at no point in his run up to election did he ever make it clear that his intention was to remove one deadly force only to replace it with another equally deadly force which if possible is even less indiscriminate in its killing of non-combatants. The usage of drones which while not as directly comparable as the infringement of civil liberties and invasions of other countries was worth my raising as an issue for one reason. namely, that since taking office, Obama has already had more people extra-judicially executed with these weapons than were ever tortured under Bush’s orders during his entire presidency. This fact in itself is frightening when you take into account the tremendously positive light in which Obama is portrayed by comparison to the presentation of Bush jr throughout his presidency. However when you consider that Obama is not a full year into his second term yet, then the cogs should really start to whirr with the thought of how many more will likely die in later years. It must also be taken into account that many of the grievances that are often cited by the self same “islamic” terrorists that drones are supposedly utilised against involve grievances with the US army and its practices in the Middle East. While there are many reasons for grievances to be raised against the US armed forces, there are on balance probably several redeeming features which members of the armed forces have, Drones however can surely never have a redeeming feature as they simply kill and so the question must be asked as to simply how long it will be before this chicken comes home to roost and whenever that does happen we can already establish a chain of causation that leads directly to Obama’s trigger finger.

A master class in the practice of diversion

What was the big story of the last few weeks in Britain ? For those who aren’t British and don’t read any international news  and consequently think the top news is some guff about the royal family then you’re wrong on this occasion but in all seriousness if you’d said that on any other of the 51 weeks of the year give or take a handful of exceptions, then yes the top story in the news would likely be about our serial divorcee, costume-enthusiast royal family. If you’re a British citizen then the likelihood the story that is centre of your mind due to intense saturation coverage in recent weeks is one of two stories. In any case the two stories that I’m referencing are the ongoing saga that is horse-meat-gate and the second is the recent passing of laws that make gay marriage legal in the UK. My argument against these is that while both stories are news worthy, that the media’s preoccupation with interesting or “historic” stories such as these is often a politically safe option which effectively serves the same purpose as any form of censorship which however well intended serves to distract public attention from far greater issues that exist at the same time.

First off then is the still unfolding story of how several supermarkets in the UK, starting with Tesco and Iceland but continuing to envelope more big-name supermarkets, have discovered that beef products in their range contained horse meat. Again no-one is denying that this whole debacle is a news worthy story being as there are regulators for ensuring this type of thing doesn’t happen who have the princely budget of £100 million . Alongside revelations about the failings of the FSA’s testing capabilities, another reason that this story is undoubtedly newsworthy is that one of the central companies embroiled in this scandal likely knew about the presence of horse meat in their products up to a week before  the story emerged in the press as discussed here and here . These reasons aside however, I believe that this “scandal” has been exaggerated and inflated into a much bigger issue than it ever needed to be by the media. Central among my reasons for disparaging this coverage is that ultimately the main products affected by the inclusion of horse meat were ultimately budget, supermarket own-brand items which are hardly the products you purchase expecting to be exemplars of good quality. My point here is not a classist “if they will eat that shit then let them suffer” one, but that ultimately own-brand products often consist of equally bad, if not far worse chemical additives used to treat meat and is often made of reconstituted meat stock and so frankly the inclusion of more meat, whatever the source, should probably could as more of pleasant surprise than it has thus far.

Budget meat product that probably doesn't even contain meat. Michelin star nowhere in sight.

Budget meat product that probably doesn’t even contain horse meat. This establishments Michelin star nowhere to be seen.

Even without harsh industrial chemicals being added into the mix then if nothing else this whole story should at least lead us to look more closely at the constitution of industrial produced food which is often ridiculously high in fat and salt content.  Applying logic thus should ultimately lead us to realise that whereas so far there has only been a “maybe” drawn between consuming horse meat and negative health effects, research on the other hand has repeatedly proven a range of negative health effects stemming from diets high in fat and salt, so which is the bigger issue ?

Another reason that I believe this issue has been blown out of all proportion is the fact that ultimately our aversion to horse meat does not stem from any reasonable reason just out of sentimentally viewing the horse as a pet and work animal but not one for slaughter. This being the case you might then believe that at least some of the coverage might have addressed the reasoning behind said aversion to horse meat in the Anglophone world or the history of the consumption of horse in the UK in an attempt to at least pay lip service to the notion of balance. In any case those hoping that coverage in both the print and broadcast media might have attempted to be more objective or detailed are likely to be sorely disappointed with what has been a rather one-sided explanation of the story which has consequently inflated the story into something far bigger than it needed to be.

Another reason that this story has been given undue special significance in the media relates directly to the last point in that due to our cultural sensitivities regarding the horse we baulk at the the thought of our beloved horses treated in the poor manner in which we treat other animals sent to slaughter. I am not being  callous in suggesting that I am ok with Horses being treated poorly in abattoirs, I am simply suggesting that the story is not specifically the poor treatment of horse but the frequent mistreatment of all animals sent to slaughter. For those who doubt that a culture of cruelty towards animals reared for their meat still exists then please watch this video although I will warn that it is unpleasant. But this being said I do not pretend to claim that it would somehow be more unpleasant for me objectively to watch if the animals being mistreated were horses as opposed to sheep, cows and pigs.

I defy anyone to not want to murder anyone who hurts this particular animal

I defy anyone to not want to murder anyone who hurts this particular animal.

All of the above reasons for why I do not believe horse-meat-gate worthy of the level of coverage it has received being true, that is not to say that there aren’t any reasons that this issue should be discussed in the media. Amongst the reasons I believe this story is worthy of press coverage which has yet to really surface (at time of writing) are the need for frank discussions about the global food industry and as well as this perhaps the central issue that also has been neglected to a degree is the failure of self-regulation as a mechanism to protect consumers from corporate crimes. My hopes that either of these two issues would gain some airtime or column inches have repeatedly been dashed against the rocks as instead the press focus on which supermarkets and fast food chains are recalling their stock. Oh how I would have delighted to see the BBC or Sky News take a in-depth look at the way in which basic food products often travel many miles across the surface of the earth before even reaching the supermarket, let alone to the table of this middle class family eating burgers indoors because the rain delayed their barbecue.

Which one contains more than trace elements of black beauty ?

Which one contains more than trace elements of Black Beauty ?

And to think, if I was content with the news studying the global production of food, just how happy I might have been to read in my favourite high-circulation middle-class news paper that there had  been a discussion in the houses of parliament that very same day about the need to do away with the practice of self-regulation in private businesses which time and time again has proven to be a wholly ineffective mechanism for prevention of crimes. I’m not keeping my fingers crossed that either of these issues is going to get much time devoted to it, certainly not as much as horror stories about how Eastern Europeans are not only to blame for the reckless and persistent theft of jobs but are also up to their elbows in butchered horses that are no longer able to till the fields.

The next issue as I highlighted in my opening statement that recently caught my ire due to saturation coverage in the lead up to the event and on the day itself was when the UK government voted on whether to legalise gay marriage. The vote was a success, proof that apparently some Tories have a heart, although looking at this prick’s smug gurn I doubt that the ones with heart get let out of their cages much. Ok, so the vote passed through meaning that gay couples can now legally marry which I am actually very happy about as I do whole-heartedly support equality for all. The thing that started my annoyance off was the inappropriate use of “Historic” as an adjective to describe the day, like any other moment in the past by definition also doesn’t qualify as worthy of the term. Hitler’s decision to annex the Sudetenland was historic, so too was the rape of Baghdad by the Mongols and the US army after them and I’d hazard a guess that in someone’s world the rebuilding of Hiroshima was a pretty historic moment too, so why this infuriating and bizarre use of the word to describe moments that are always positive when the whole back catalogue of human existence and the entirety of the universe is equally “historic” ? The roots of this hatred stem beyond the gay marriage story which circulated recently in the British press I feel I must clarify, it began with the election of Barack Obama, the “Historic” first black president of the USA, like being black and totally devoid of morals as it turned out, was something to congratulate in and of itself.

This man was the first and no less ONLY LBJ to be president

This man was the first and, no less, ONLY LBJ to be president

After much jaw clenching and many exasperated sighs, I noticed other things about the gay marriage story which annoyed me almost as much as the afore mentioned improper use of the English language.  To start with the way in which this story was used by many in the media as a means simply to pat themselves and the MPs who voted for legalisation on the back in congratulations over their excellent liberalness and sneer at all the doddering old grumps who voted against this measure troubled me. Despite what some schools of liberal politics teach, people are allowed to have differing opinions and all have a right to be heard, while you, I or the journalists may not agree with their views which they espouse we have NO right to tell them that their views are “wrong” only the right to discuss with them why we disagree based on evidence we have seen.

Another issue that surfaced when learning about this from the media that wasn’t really discussed was how close Britain came that day to a complete breakdown of government as the majority party, of a coalition government albeit, split down the middle over whether to pass the legislature. while this would have been  mightily entertaining to watch happen on the news and to read about for days after the event it would have crippled the country further than we already are. In pointing this out I am not saying that I believe the media could have prevented the vote happening when it did, only that there was missed opportunity for a voice to suggest that this vote could have been better timed so the chances of political destabilisation were far less great than on that “historic” day.

Time may be a great healer as the saying goes, but it’s not one for change. Given complete control of the media for the last few weeks during which these two moments occurred  here are a small selection of stories that the media might have considered which are equally deserving of  the same level of coverage yet got buried under the weight of it all. I accept that these were all covered in some way, but consideration the wider implication they received barely any relative to the implications of eating horse meat or being allowed to marry regardless of sexual orientation.

First up was the continuing fiasco around the fixing of the Libor rate which reached a head when, on the same day that the news began to report that horse meat had been found in processed beef products on sale in several supermarkets, fines levelled against RBS chiefly by US regulators were announced. In itself perhaps not the most breaking of news stories as people have known for weeks that these fines were coming. However on the very same day that every broadcaster and newspaper was swamped with features about horse meat The Independent, the only paper to discuss this issue to my knowledge, printed this article which tells us that the British taxpayer is likely to cover the majority of the £500m fine levelled against the banks being as the British government bailed out the bank to the tune of £45bn in the economic crisis of 2008. After this story emerged, British chancellor Osborne made something of a big deal of telling people in the media that he would insist that the bankers themselves covered the costs of this fine. That being said, another thing the media failed to point out is that even if the bankers themselves pay the fine, it is likely to come out of the benefits they have accrued from not paying out interest on pensions and savings as a direct result of the Bank of England’s farcical quantitative easing process. I imagine any senior editor or producer who was faced with the option of reporting on this story over horse-meat-gate decided that based on the complexity of this story to not cover it in the same way despite its profound implications. That being the case, they are guilty twice, first for under-reporting a highly important story for anyone who lives in the UK and secondly for pandering the stupidity of the public in all matters financial and for not making concerted enough efforts to explain these type of stories in a way that makes them palatable to the public.

I fear the punishment for bankers he has in mind is very different to what you and I were thinking

I fear the “punishment” for bankers he has in mind is  of a very different nature and far more deviant to what you and I were thinking.

The next story which didn’t really make the UK news in the last few weeks despite the far-reaching political impact it is likely to have on the wider world was the discovery by NBC News of a confidential US Department of Justice memo which revealed what has only been hinted at and alluded to previously, that the US government has the legal capability to order the killing of American citizens. The article above summarises brilliantly the most troubling aspect of the memo in question when it says “the U.S. government can order the killing of American citizens if they are believed to be “senior operational leaders” of Al-Qaida or “an associated force” — even if there is no intelligence indicating they are engaged in an active plot to attack the U.S”. Freaky right ? Well you might argue that actually this only opens up this potential in theory. Well you would be wrong as the US government, as Glen Greenwald at The Guardian points out, has already exercised this power in practice to kill Anwar Awlaki in 2011 in Yemen.  Say what you will about the inherent guilt of terrorists, but as far as I am concerned the sane approach for dealing with crime is to punish those guilty of committing them, not those that one day may go on to commit them. This story should have received a greater level of coverage as ultimately it demonstrates two things which are of concern to British citizens, that if the US government can treat its own citizenry with such contempt that it will undoubtedly over time display an even greater level of callousness towards other nations citizens, including those of the UK.  Secondly this also arguably demonstrates the willingness of the US government to violate the sovereignty of other nations without offering any reason that the people of Britain should expect to be treated any better. Yes the UK isn’t a Muslim nation, but that’s not to say that there isn’t evidence that the policies of previous UK governments have alienated Muslims in this country to the point where they might one day feature on Obama’s kill list.

That Nobel peace prize I mentioned earlier is looking less and less worthy by the day.

That Nobel peace prize I mentioned earlier is looking less and less worthy by the day.

The third and final story which again in light of its far-reaching implications was woefully unreported was the publication of a report by a New York based NGO Open Society Justice Initiative (OSJI) which detailed the involvement of 54 nations worldwide, the UK included, in the CIA’s extraordinary rendition operations after 9/11. This story did surface quite prominently on the day the report was published, but considering as an upshot of the revelations contained within the report the fact that the UK could, and in all reality should, face being summoned before the European Court of Human Rights over its involvement, the level of coverage dropped back to almost zero a day later.

After looking at some of the other stories which surfaced in the same time scale as the horse meat and gay marriage legalisation stories I hope that if nothing else the reader is convinced of the need to regularly check alternate source of news as opposed to relying on main stream sources as often they will focus on the easiest of stories distracting attention away from the far more profound and far reaching of issues. I do not suggest for one moment that this is a conscious decision on the part of editors and producers but the lasting effect is still the mass diversion of the public’s attention towards far less important issues leaving the important stuff slip past us under the radar. You have been warned.