Wednesday, December 17, 2014

12 things you should know about that piteous open letter to Russell Brand


Have you seen the open letter from Jo (the disgruntled financial sector worker) to Russell Brand that has been described as "hilarious" and "scathing" by the mainstream press? I have, and I have a few points to make about it. 

TL;DR

The letter was far too long - and that's some criticism coming from me, given the length of most of my articles, including this one. I console myself with the fact that when I write my long articles I like to employ internal structure (such as subject headings) in order to break it down a bit into coherent and accessible pieces, rather than just jumbling together a long rambling diatribe.

The only reason that I bothered reading Jo's seemingly endless whining until the end was that after only the first dozen or so paragraphs I knew damn well that there would be plenty of ammunition for one of my "12 things ..." articles, otherwise I would almost certainly have dismissed it as TL;DR (too long; didn't read).


Hilarious? Piteous more like it?


The letter wasn't "hilarious" as claimed by the mainstream press, it wasn't even funny. If endless callbacks to Jo caring more about his cold lunch than society was meant to be a joke, it simply wasn't funny, and it remained unfunny despite the constant repetition.

I found Jo's letter about as hilarious as I found Russell Brand was when he and Jonathan Ross and made those abusive phone calls to an old man who used to be famous. Like 2008 vintage Brand, Jo's letter was was annoyingly self-centred and desperately unfunny.


How backwards can you get things?


In my view Jo got it completely the wrong way around when he said "much as I disagree with most of your politics, I've always rather liked you".

I used to find Russell's narcissism and puerile sense of humour really annoying. It's only since he started to grow up and engage with the political world that I've actually begun to warm to him.

It's incredible that someone could think that Russell Brand was better when he was an unfunny egotistical bully, and has begun resenting him since he started developing a bit of a social conscience.

Perhaps it's a reflection on how established the right-wing greed-is-a-virtue mentality has become that Jo actually liked Brand when he was an unfunny and egocentric money-grabber, but now that he's decided to listen to his social conscience and stand up for people who need a bit of help (like the Focus E15 mums), Jo reacts with fury.


Where does debt actually come from Jo?

The letter defended bankers' bonuses and complained about the concept of "debt" as a problem. It's almost as if our poor, hungry financial sector worker doesn't even understand that the reason that there is so much debt in our economy is that the private banks invent 97% of the currency that we use out of nothing, then rent out these debt backed wealth tokens as interest bearing loans. Hence all the debt - because if nearly all of the money in the economy is invented out of nothing by the banks and rented out to us, then destroyed by the same banks when it is repaid, where exactly does all of the money to pay the interest come from?

The institutions Jo works for and defends (despite claiming not to be a spokesman for them) are to blame for the fact that there is so much debt in the system, yet he's using "debt" as a stick to beat Brand with!

It's no wonder the banks collapsed if financial sector workers aren't even aware that the institutions that they work for are responsible for the ever increasing indebtedness of our economy.


At the person criticisms

Jo's letter is absolutely riddled with at the person criticisms (often refered to in latin as "Ad Hominem" attacks). Repeatedly slamming Brand for the fact that he is a millionaire is an extraordinary stance for someone who is so desperate to defend bankers' bonuses.

That Jo repeatedly resorts to personal attacks rather than developing coherent critiques of Brand's politics suggests that Jo doesn't care about actually winning the argument, he just wants to smear his opponent as much as possible, content in the assumption that most people don't have the critical thinking skills to differentiate between a blunderbuss barrage of personal attacks and a well structured counter-argument.


Rabid capitalists?

  
"You know what would have happened if a rabid capitalist had just turned up unannounced?"

Accusing Russell of being "rabid" by implication is a clear example of an ad hominem attack, but Jo's thought experiment is clearly a load of rubbish too. Lets say a Private Equity Fund billionaire who has made his fortune buying out and asset stripping countless viable businesses and outsourcing all of the jobs to China (someone I'd classify as a rabid capitalist) turns up unannounced in order to invest a few hundred million of his ill-gotten gains in RBS. Do you think he'd be turned away and physically forced out of the door by security for not having an appointment? If somehow he was, do you think the poor sod who decided to set security on such a wealthy potential investor would remain in his job for long?

Alternatively we could imagine our Private Equity Fund billionaire kicking up a stink in the lobby in front of a load of TV cameras, but it would be up to Jo to explain why such a ridiculously implausible thing might happen.

The issue clearly isn't that Brand had no appointment as Jo tries to pretend, it's that he was kicking up a fuss.


The "good deal for the taxpayer" argument!

Jo's letter makes the absurd argument that the RBS bailout was a good deal for the taxpayer. Since RBS was bailed out to the tune of £46 billion, the losses at the bank have reached, erm ... £46 billion.

It's almost as if all that public cash was poured into a black hole of debt never to be recovered. As all of this cash has been squandered RBS has continued handing out hundreds of millions per year in bonuses, because it apparently takes high calibre, hard-working people to squander £46 billion in free money from the taxpayer.

Jo spends most of his letter whining piteously, which is annoying but not necessarily dishonest, but this "good deal for the taxpayer" bit is either a display of being stunningly misinformed about the financial sector he works in, or it is derived from downright dishonesty.


Selectiveness


Defending bankers' bonuses at bailed out banks could be considered a brave stance considering the understandable amount of public anger, but cast alongside Jo's pitiful refusal to address stuff like the Libor and Forex rigging frauds and the PPI insurance fraud ("I do not speak for RBS, so cannot say anything about the recent FX trading scandal or PPI or any of that shit"), it's clearly spectacularly cowardly and self-interested stuff.

If he's going to use the "I cannot say anything" excuse in regards to several multi-billion pound frauds, it's bizarrely hypocritical to extensively defend other aspects of RBS business practices.


Jailing corrupt bankers makes more sense than just confiscating their bonuses


Claiming that bankers' not getting paid their bonuses for having committed crimes is sufficient punishment an absurd argument. It's like saying that muggers and armed robbers should be allowed to get off with their crimes, as long as they just pay back the money they stole. There should be an awful lot of bankers in jail in the UK and US after the global financial sector insolvency crisis, money laundering for Mexican drugs cartels, Libor, Forex and PPI, but the only big one who got locked up was Bernie Madoff, and we all know why ... he stole from the rich.

Tax-dodging


Jo makes a number of claims about the way the Mayfair film production company has benefited from tax-loopholes in order to raise funding for films with which Russell Brand is associated. There may be some legitimacy in these claims, but they're a bit bloody rich coming from someone who so desperately defends RBS, which is a company that has been caught instructing businesses not to pay their tax and avoided £500 million in tax, even after they were bailed out by the taxpayer.

"Return of the Fucking Jedi"

   
This is one of the most bizarre arguments I've ever seen: "Return Of The Jedi has never, on paper, made a profit. Return Of The fucking Jedi, Russell. As an actor, and even more so as the producer of a (officially) loss-making film, you've taken part in that, you've benefited from it.". The thing that makes this ridiculous argument so especially weak is that we all know that Jo would undoubtedly defend himself if we were to use the same ludicrous debating tactic with claims that HSBC (a bank he doesn't work for) made money from laundering money for Mexican drugs cartels and terrorist organisations, but because Jo is part of the financial sector, he's benefited from it, and that Jo must be a Mexican drug lord and Islamist terrorist by default.

Personal space

Of all of the issues in Jo's seemingly endless diatribe, the claim that Russell Brand aggressively invaded his personal body space seems to me to be by far the most serious.

Apparently this is the film footage of the incident. From what I can see Russell does get a bit close to the guy, but the fact that Russell smiles broadly at several points and the way that he touches him on the arm with his right hand imply an overly-friendly demeanor, not the spectacularly aggressive confrontation described in Jo's letter.

As someone who has suffered social anxiety and personal body space issues, I can see how it is potentially possible to misread situations as a lot more aggressive or critical than they actually are, but Jo's claim that Russell's nose was "two inches" from his face is clearly an under-estimate, the descriptions of the situation as "pretty fucking aggressive" and "an aggressive invasion of personal space"
 are clearly exaggerations, and the comparison to "primates squaring off for a fight" outright hyperbole.


Conclusion

The only reason that this ridiculous letter got all over the press at all is that Russell Brand is "clickbait". The newspapers know that by publishing this ridiculous letter they'll get a load of clicks on their websites, and a boost in their online advertising revenues.

Admittedly the reason I've published this riposte to the letter is that Russell Brand is "clickbait", however at least I can console myself with the facts that:

A. Unlike the mainstream press I've been honest enough to admit that I've used "clickbait" in order to get people to read this article.
B. I won't be making any revenue from ad clicks because I don't put any ads on my website. The only way this article could make any money whatever for me is if people have seen it as worthwhile enough to make a small donation after reading it (the "pay as you feel" principle).
C. Using "clickbait" probably isn't so bad if the readers are drawn into reading an article that is ostensibly about Russell Brand, but actually contains a lot of information on important issues such as financial sector corruption, debt backed fiat money creation and the spectacular failure of the RBS bailout, whilst also exposing some appalling debating tactics for the reader to try to avoid in future.

 Another Angry Voice  is a not-for-profit page which generates absolutely no revenue from advertising and accepts no money from corporate or political interests. The only sources of income for  Another Angry Voice  are small donations from people who see some value in my work. If you appreciate my efforts and you could afford to make a donation, it would be massively appreciated.


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Wednesday, December 10, 2014

How could anyone believe that Iain Duncan Smith is now serious about combating food poverty?


In December 2014 a shocking Church of England funded report into the exponential growth in food bank dependency was published. In this article I'm going to consider the report and its findings, look at the ludicrous initial responses from the Tory party and then examine Iain Duncan Smith's claims that he will offer a "positive response" to the findings.

The report

As is often the case, the vast majority of the mainstream media coverage has failed to include an actual link to the report so that people can read it for themselves. I think it's important that people do have the option of viewing the documents for themselves, so here's a link.

The Feeding Britain report was financially backed by the Church of England and the inquiry members were Tim Thornton (the Bishop of Truro) Frank Field MP (Labour) John Glen MP (Tory), Sarah Newton MP (Tory) Emma Lewell-Buck (Labour) and the unelected peer Anne Jenkin (Tory).

The report concluded that a number of factors have contributed to the dramatic rise in food bank dependency. One of the main factors is the skyrocketing cost of living, with food prices prices up 46.4% since 2003 and fuel up 154%. These rises compare very badly with the average increase in wages (up just 27.9%).

Another important factor is the increased use of benefits sanctions designed to condemn people to absolute poverty for "crimes" such as being five minutes late for an appointment, having a heart attack during a employment assessment, selling poppies for a few hours a week for the Royal British Legion, attending a job interview, or refusing to work for no wages at giant multinational corporations like Poundland (owned by the US Private Equity group Warburg Pincus). The report itself details cases of people having their benefits cut off entirely for writing information on the wrong line of a document, attending an urgent medical appointment with their daughter and not applying for jobs after the deadline had already passed.

Some of the recommendations in the report include better redistribution of food wasted by supermarkets so that it can be used to feed the poor, the establishment of an Office For Living Standards within the Treasury, an increase in the minimum wage, reform of the benefits sanction system including the introduction of "yellow cards", reductions in benefits delays and many other things. I suggest that you follow the link to the report and scroll down to page 46 if you want to read the summary of all of their recommendations.

The initial Tory spin

At first the Tories attempted to spin their way out of admitting there was even a problem. The unelected Tory peer John Nash tried to deflect criticism by saying that food bank usage "went up 10 times under the previous government" a look at the actual figures shows how misleading this particular statistical soundbyte is. Food Bank usage increased from 2,814 in 2005-06 to 40,898 in 2009-10, an overall increase of 38,000 people per year using food banks. Under the Tory led government it has soared to 913,138 people per year - an increase of 872,240 people. Only in the world of tribablistic political excuses does an increase of 40,000 counterbalance an increase of 870,000.

Then the unelected Tory peer Anne Jenkin waded in trying to distract attention away from the findings of the report with a ludicrous assertion that poor people use food banks "because they don't know how to cook". If this were really the reason for the exponential growth in food bank dependency it would mean that hundreds of thousands of people must have simply forgotten how to cook since 2010! Anne Jenkin was quick to retract her remarks after the storm of criticism they provoked, but the fact that such a person was on the Inquiry panel arguing the Tory case that poor people are to blame for their own poverty, just goes to show that had the inquiry team not been packed out with Tories, the conclusions and recommendations would surely have been even more hard-hitting.

Iain Duncan Smith's response

Iain Duncan Smith has a long track record of obfuscating, misleading and outright lying when it comes to issues such as benefits sanctionsabsolute destitutionworkfarethe appalling treatment of disabled people and food bank usage, however this report poses a serious problem for him. Not only is it backed by the Church of England (Iain Duncan Smith laughably claims to be motivated by Christian ethics!), more than half of the politicians on the inquiry were Tories.This means that he can't just dismiss the report as being politically partisan in the way that he's casually dismissed other hard-hitting food poverty reports (such as the work of the Trussell Trust).

In a particularly weasely and misleading statement Iain Duncan Smith promised to respond positively to the report, but anyone who is familiar with Iain Duncan Smith's track record (making up qualifications on his CV, bragging that he could live on £53 per week for a year then not following through, obfuscating and obstructing, showing contempt for the dead, misusing official statistics, unlawfully bypassing parliament, lying about court judgments against him, willfully ignoring court judgments against him etc) must know that he's not a man to be taken at his word.

We only have to look back to December 2013 to see the real attitude of Iain Duncan Smith and the Tories. After laughing, shouting and smirking their way through a debate on food poverty the Tories and their sickening Lib-Dem enablers defeated
 an opposition motion to compel the government to begin combating food poverty (by 294 votes to 251). Iain Duncan Smith showed his outright contempt for the whole issue by refusing to speak on behalf of the government (instead passing the buck to his odious sidekick Esther McVey) and then walking out of the debate after less than an hour. Within a week he launched a blistering tirade at the Trussell Trust, which gave a very clear forewarning that the Tory Gagging law was actually designed to silence political criticism, not to regulate the lobbying industry as they tried to pretend.

Does anyone really believe that a man with a long track record of dishonesty; a man who who instructed his Tory colleagues to vote down a motion to compel the government combat food poverty just one year ago; a man who couldn't even be arsed to speak in, or even sit through the debate, is a man who has suddenly had an epiphany and decided to make combating food poverty one of his main priorities? Is anyone really that gullible?

A look at some of Iain Duncan Smith's other comments about the Feeding Britain report illustrate the fact that he's sticking to the same tactic of snide, sneering dishonesty.

Not got a leg to stand on? - Time to deploy a straw-man argument

One of the strongest indicators that he's simply going to continue as before was his statement that "It’s really ridiculous to assume that every single reason why someone is going to a food bank is down to what the DWP does". This is a blatant straw-man argument because the report doesn't say this, in fact nobody says this. Most people are well aware that the Tory "war on wages" has resulted in the longest sustained decline in the average wage since records began, and that as a consequence, huge numbers of working families have been driven into dire poverty and food bank dependency, which means that DWP decisions are clearly not the root cause of every single instance of food bank dependency.

What this straw-man argument shows is that Iain Duncan Smith is still insistent on using fallacious debating tactics to make his own incredibly weak debating position look stronger. We shouldn't be shocked that a man with such an appalling track record of dishonesty would use the tactic of making up a rubbish argument and then demolishing it in order to make his own desperate position look better. What we should be shocked by is the fact that, as always, the mainstream media are totally unwilling to hold him to account for using these appallingly sly debating tactics.

Workfare and sanctions league tables

Another indicator that Iain Duncan Smith is going to continue his shockingly dishonest approach is his attempt to paint the exponential growth in the use of benefits sanctions as some kind of accidental occurrence where vulnerable people are slipping through the cracks, rather than them being deliberately forced into the meat grinder by a department driven by Iain Duncan Smith's desire to juke the unemployment statistics by tricking as many vulnerable people as possible into losing their benefits and by forcing them onto Stalinist style unpaid labour schemes under the threat of absolute destitution.

Rigging the headline rate of unemployment is one of Iain Duncan Smith's main objectives as head of the DWP. The way this is achieved is by forcing unemployed people onto unpaid compulsory labour schemes like "Help to Work". Even though the hundreds of thousands of people forced on these schemes have no wages, and they're still claiming unemployment benefits, they are not included in the official unemployment statistics. If people refuse to go on the schemes, they are stripped of their unemployment benefits, meaning that they too are not classed as unemployed on the official statistics (unless they carry on signing on in order to receive no money).

Thus under Iain Duncan Smith's system people are given the choice of doing forced labour and disappearing off the unemployment stats, or refusing to be exploited as a source of free labour for Iain Duncan Smith's mates and disappearing off the unemployment stats.

Another way in which Iain Duncan Smith's department have tried to artificially reduce the headline unemployment rate is through sanctions league tables. Before 2013 Iain Duncan Smith, other members of the Tory party and numerous DWP spokespeople all repeatedly lied that there were no such things as sanctions league tables, until the sanctions league tables (that supposedly didn't exist) were leaked to the press in March 2013.

The problem with sanctions league tables and the setting of sanctions targets is that it is much easier for Jobcentre staff to meet their targets by tricking the mentally ill and the severely uneducated into committing sanctionable offences, than it is to invest a great deal of time trying to catch out the tiny minority of hardened benefits claimants who are very clued up at gaming the system. Thus hundreds of thousands of vulnerable people have been thrown into absolute destitution to meet the sanctions targets that Iain Duncan Smith and the Tories repeatedly lied about the non-existence of.

Sanctions league tables and targets do exist, a culture of tricking people into committing sanctionable offences has been encouraged within the DWP and hundreds of thousands of people have been faced with the "unpaid labour or destitution via sanctions" dilemma. These are some of the big reasons behind the exponential growth in people getting sanctioned, and significant causal factors in the rise in food poverty, but instead of admitting culpability in these deliberate policy of impoverishment, Iain Duncan Smith is insistent that it's all some kind of unforeseen tragedy, and now that he's aware of it "we want to do everything we can to make sure that people do not stumble into a process of sanctions".

Iain Duncan Smith's track record

When the Trussell trust used the information in the "reason for referral" box on their referral forms to begin collecting proof that benefits sanctions and benefits delays were responsible for a significant percentage of food bank referrals, Iain Duncan Smith refused to countenance reforming the system so as to prevent people falling into abject poverty (because the fear of abject poverty is one of the main tools he uses to get people to participate in his forced labour schemes). What the DWP did instead was to ensure that the "reason for referral" box was simply removed from the food bank referral form so that the Trussell Trust no longer had easy access to the data proving DWP culpability.

When Iain Duncan Smith says that he's going to "do something positive", we should be very wary indeed that his idea of doing something positive is not some kind of euphemism for attempting to destroy or cover up the sources of the information that people are using to criticise him with.

Conclusion

In my view Iain Duncan Smith is the most dishonest and vindictive cabinet member in the most dishonest and vindictive government in living memory. He's proven his dishonesty and his malice towards those he considers to be beneath him on countless occasions.

Anyone who is inclined to believe his claims that he's going to take "positive action" to combat the exponential growth in food povery only needs to look at his shocking behaviour (and the outrageous behaviour of his party) when the subject of food poverty was debated in parliament less than a year ago.

This is a man who couldn't even be bothered to sit through the food poverty debate (as well as having lied about the non-existence of sanctions league tables, lied about court judgments against him and blatantly misused official statistics). If anyone thinks that this is a straight-talking guy who will stick to his word, they must be the most dismally poor judges of character.

It is incontestable that thanks to his
 draconian regimes of "workfare or sanctions" and the widespread use of sanctions targets and league tables within the DWP, Iain Duncan Smith is largely responsible for the shocking rise in food poverty. Therefore you'd have to be completely out of your mind to think that he's an appropriate person to be given responsibility for reversing it. 


 Another Angry Voice  is a not-for-profit page which generates absolutely no revenue from advertising and accepts no money from corporate or political interests. The only sources of income for  Another Angry Voice  are small donations from people who see some value in my work. 
If you appreciate my efforts and you could afford to make a donation, 
it would be massively appreciated.


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Friday, December 5, 2014

Keep Volunteering Voluntary


When we are thinking of making a charitable donation, I believe it is important to make sure that the charity or non-profit organisation we are giving to is not involved in things we find abhorrent.

One of the things I find abhorrent is the widespread use of forced unpaid labour under government mandated "Workfare" schemes. Unfortunately many charities and non-profit organisations have decided to involve themselves in these forced labour schemes by accepting free labour under the Tories economically destructive "work for free or suffer absolute destitution" regime.

You can read some of my critiques on Workfare here and here, and you can read an article proposing a fairer welfare system here.

Keep Volunteering Voluntary

Several charities have resolved to carry on supporting this forced labour regime (despite the criticism), 
however hundreds have seen sense and publicly distanced themselves from these draconian schemes.

There is an easy way to check that the good cause you're supporting refuse to involve themselves in forced labour schemes. Keep Volunteering Voluntary (KVV) have created a list of organisations who have signed their agreement.

This is what their agreement says:
"As charities and voluntary organisations we know the value of volunteering. Volunteering means people independently choosing to give their time freely to help others and make the world a better place. Workfare schemes force unemployed people to carry out unpaid work or face benefit sanctions that can cause hardship and destitution.  We believe in keeping volunteering voluntary and will not participate in government workfare schemes."

The list of signatories is here

What to do if a charity or voluntary group is not on the list

If you're planning to make a charitable donation don't assume that because your favoured charity/voluntary group is not on the list that this means that they are guilty of exploiting forced labour.

Many voluntary organisations may not even be aware of the Keep Volunteering Voluntary agreement.

The best course of action would be to contact the organisation and ask them directly if they exploit forced labour.

If they don't use forced labour you could suggest that they should sign the Keep Volunteering Voluntary agreement so that they can be
 listed as a proper voluntary organisation on their website (here is the link to do that).
If they do use forced labour, you could tell them that you support their work, but that you won't be making any more donations to their cause until they terminate their involvement in forced labour schemes.

If you are directly involved with a charity or voluntary organisation that is not on the list, you should establish that they are not involved, and if this is the case, make sure they sign the Keep Volunteering Voluntary agreement so that they can be listed as a proper voluntary organisation on their website (here's that link again).

If it turns out that your organisation has been involved in exploiting forced labour you should try to do something about it. As someone within the organisation you have much more power to change their practices than someone on the outside. If the organisation fears losing their genuine long-term volunteers, they're much more likely to stop accepting the forced labour supplied to them by the government.

Conclusion

In my view it is a complete outrage that organisations that consider themselves to be charities and voluntary groups continue to use forced labour.

Direct action is one of the best things we can do to pressurise such organisations to terminate their involvement with such schemes. If we refuse to donate our money or our time until they cease involvement, they're a hell of a lot more likely to stop than if we do nothing.

Keep Volunteering Voluntary are doing a really good job of helping charitable people make informed decisions about their charitable donations, and you can help them by making sure that charities and voluntary organisations that deserve to be on their list are on their list.


 Another Angry Voice  is a not-for-profit page which generates absolutely no revenue from advertising and accepts no money from corporate or political interests. The only sources of income for  Another Angry Voice  are small donations from people who see some value in my work. If you appreciate my efforts and you could afford to make a donation, it would be massively appreciated.


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Wednesday, December 3, 2014

Why you should use your critical thinking skills, whatever the information source

  
I'll begin this article with an admission that I made a mistake. I always try to be careful that the infographics I create for social media are completely accurate (or clearly marked as satire when they're jokes), however on Sunday 30th of November 2014 I shared an infographic made by someone else without properly fact checking it (the one in the article header).

It turns out that the image I shared was slightly misleading. The nine images of incredibly sparsely attended debates in parliament were perfectly accurate, but the two below claiming to be debates about MPs pay and expenses were just stock images of the House of Commons. The infographic in question was then cited in a Spectator article by Isabel Hardman entitled "The menace of Memes: How pictures can paint a thousand lies".

I apologised as soon as I realised that I'd made a mistake in sharing a partially inaccurate image, but also took note of the fact that Isabel Hardman's article was also misleading for the fact that that it implied that the image was deliberately inaccurate (made in bad faith), rather than the result of a quite obvious mistake (made in good faith), and also because it made the ludicrous argument that so few MPs bother to turn up to some debates because "it is more constructive to be outside the Chamber during those sessions". The author casually dismissed all of the perfectly accurate pictures of incredibly sparsely attended parliamentary sessions (on the war in Afghanistan, child sex abuse, preventing knife crime, drugs laws, the effects of Iain Duncan Smith's brutal welfare "reforms" on disabled people, the living wage, recognition of Palestine, tenancy reform, and Syrian refugees) as if they were probably just unconstructive waste-of-time type debates that might have been better had nobody bothered to attend them at all!

Had Isabel Hardman done the vaguest research on how someone might have mistakenly concluded that the two stock images were what they were claimed to be, she would have easily found this article on the BBC News website, and this article on the Daily Telegraph website which both lazily used old stock images to illustrate their articles about parliamentary debates on MPs pay and MPs expenses.

The following day Isabel Hardman was invited to participate in a BBC Politics "debate" on social media images. I use the word "debate" in inverted commas because the "debate" consisted of Isabel Hardman, three MPs (the subject of the criticism) and the host, who showed her own bias by incessantly repeating the word "misleading" over and again. There were five individuals lined up against social media, and not a single representative to stand up for social media. It's hardly possible to conceive a less balanced "debate".

The BBC Daily Politics "debate" didn't make the slightest effort to draw any kind of contrast between "misleading" social media content and accurate social media content (of which there is lots), and neither did it admit that the source for one of the "misleading" images was almost certainly a misleadingly illustrated article about an MPs expenses debate on the BBC's own website!

The general tone of the whole "debate" was that social media is untrustworthy compared to politicians and paid journalists. Isabel Hardman even complained that "people trust the Internet more than they trust newspapers or politicians".

After stuff like the Hillsborough lies and cover-up, the "sexed up" Iraq dossier, the countless parliamemtary expenses scamming scandals, phone hacking, David Cameron's countless lies about the NHS and the national debt, the "misplaced" dossier about the Westminster paedophile ring, and the shockingly biased mainstream media campaign against Scottish independence - is it any wonder that people are more inclined to assume good faith when it comes to a picture their friend has shared on Facebook, than the utterances of a career politician or a paid journalist?

Isabel Hardman came across as a lot less condescending in the BBC interview than she did in her Spectator article, and she freely admitted that "the [9] pictures at the top did actually represent the debates", so it's clear that nine out of the eleven images used in the infographic were perfectly fair representations. The problem was that (like the Daily Politics presenter) she fell into the trap of assuming bad faith. She assumed that the creator of the image had deliberately set out to mislead, when the truth is self-evident: The creator of the infographic was clearly a bit naive in assuming that the mainstream press articles about the MPs pay and expenses debates were accurately illustrated, rather than lazily blathered with old stock images of completely unrelated parliamentary debates.

Even though the Daily Politics debate was so one-sided and openly hostile to social media I'm glad I watched it for the fact that the intensely smug Labour MP Jamie Reed made a truly remarkable admission that just goes to show how the current crop of career politicians consider their roles in our society. He said "you get business done on the telephone, you get business done face-to-face, you really don't achieve much in the chamber". Essentially this is an admission of what many people already know: Virtually all of the important decisions in our so-called democracy are made without democratic scrutiny in unrecorded "chats" between government ministers, civil servants, unelected lords, professional consultants, corporate lobbyists and the like, while the House of Commons serves only as an anachronistic rubber-stamping process, where MPs are free to completely ignore the actual debate then flood into the chamber at the end to cast their votes in the way they have been instructed to by their parties.

In my view MPs should have to sit through at least 80% of the actual debate if they are to be allowed to vote on the issue, and all "chats" between politicians and people like professional consultants and corporate lobbyists should be recorded so that they can be subjected to democratic scrutiny. Politicians and their friends in the media certainly won't be earning back any public trust simply by conducting a hopelessly biased and one-sided attack against social media, instead of fundamentally reforming the way they go about their own business.

After cautioning against making bad faith assumptions it would be wrong of me to state categorically that the reason for this hopelessly one-sided "debate" on social media was the journalists' abject fear that social media is allowing citizen journalists to spring up and provide competition to the professional journalists of the mainstream media like them, and the politicians' fear that social media can be used as a tool to hold corrupt/lazy/incompetent politicians to account. Let's assume the best and say that the BBC has simply strayed so far from it's public service remit that there wasn't anyone at all within the entire Daily Politics production team capable of thinking that an effort should have been made to find someone to represent social media in order to add a bit of balance to the "debate".

The fact that a debate about social media without a single representative of social media is considered acceptable output by the mainstream media just goes to show how unfit they are to be moral arbiters of anything. At least when you follow someone on Twitter or follow a page like mine on Facebook, you know we're opinionated, but at least we're not trying to hide our biases behind a reputation for neutrality that has long since been burned like a pile of old tyres that a farmer can't be arsed to get rid of properly.


To conclude I'll return to my admission of my mistake at the beginning of this article, and the fact that I made a public apology for it on my Facebook page as soon as I could. I think this is where a clear distinction can be made. The BBC were totally unprepared to admit their role in misleadingly attributing a completely unrelated stock image to a debate on MPs expenses (which would have changed the nature of the debate from "misleading social media to the lazy use of stock images on BBC News articles). Career politicians are notoriously unwilling to admit their mistakes (best evidenced by the typical politician's apology where they apologise for "any offense that may have been caused", rather than actually apologising for the offensive thing they've said/done). If it was the Spectator, or any other mainstream media publication making the mistake, we all know the apology would be hidden away in minuscule text on page 94 in a tiny box underneath an advert for dishwasher tablets that appears weeks or months later, not in a high profile statement that is posted as soon as the person becomes aware that they've made a mistake.

Perhaps one of the great things about social media is that it frees the individual to follow news from people they have learned to trust, rather than allowing a single newspaper or broadcaster to drip-feed their biased new agenda to them. Hence huge numbers of people have been made aware of things like the TTIP corporate power grab, the WCA disability witch hunt or the Tory "gagging law" through social media sources like my Another Angry Voice page, 38 Degrees or Atos Miracles, not through the biased and agenda driven coverage presented by the mainstream media.

Of course mistakes will be made on social media, but it is how people deal with their mistakes that is a true indicator of their trustworthiness, not the slickness of their presentation or the unanimity of their so-called "debates"



 Another Angry Voice  is a not-for-profit page which generates absolutely no revenue from advertising and accepts no money from corporate or political interests. The only sources of income for  Another Angry Voice  are small donations from people who see some value in my work. If you appreciate my efforts and you could afford to make a donation, it would be massively appreciated.


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Update: Two things have come to my attention. The Spectator journalist is actually called Isabel Hardman, not Hartman - I have updated the article to correct this spelling error (apologies to her for the spelling mistake). It has also come to my attention that Isabel Hardman is a BBC employee who has actually worked on the Daily Politics show, something that was not mentioned at any point during the (2 BBC journalists and 3 establishment politicians vs 0 social media representatives) "debate".




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Monday, December 1, 2014

Nick Clegg - nonsense economics and ideological attacks on the working-age poor


On the 1st of December 2014 the Liberal Democrat leader Nick Clegg came out with some absolutely astonishing comments about the Tories his party enabled into power in 2010.

His headline grabbing comments were the statement that the latest Tory economic plans are "complete and utter nonsense" and that George Osborne is attempting to balance the books "on the backs of the working-age poor".

It's beyond the realms of possibility that Nick Clegg was unaware that George Osborne's ideological austerity experiment was always "complete and utter nonsense". It only takes a rudimentary understanding of basic macroeconomic ideas (like fiscal multiplication and aggregate demand) to understand that arbitrary across the board government spending cuts at a time of low economic demand are a recipe for economic stagnation.

Nick Clegg was well aware that the Tory ideological austerity experiment was abject economic gibberish, and that their plan to load the costs of the bankers' crisis onto the poor and ordinary was socially unjust, but he signed up to support these agendas anyway back in 2010 in order to bag himself a six figure ministerial salary and a short-lived sense of self importance. How else could you explain Clegg's pr-election statement that "we think, that merrily slashing now is an act of economic masochism ... so if anyone had to rely on our support, we were involved in government, of course we would say no, do it sensibly"?

It is absolutely clear that the Lib-Dems opposed Osborne's ideological austerity experiment before the 2010 General Election, but that they changed their tune to become cheerleaders for it as soon as it suited the short-term self-interest of the Lib-Dem leadership.

This decision by Clegg and the Liberal Democrats to enable the Tories back into power to impose their ideological "serve the rich, smash the poor" agenda has led to a spectacular hemorrhaging of Liberal Democrat support from 20%+ in 2010 to the 6-8% support they have now. Things have got so bad that Clegg's party lost 10 of their 11 MEPs in the 2014 European elections and finished as the 5th party behind UKIP, Labour, the Tories and the Green party.

Nick Clegg and the Liberal Democrats have become a hopelessly toxic brand, and I wouldn't be at all surprised to see the party attempt to rebrand itself completely, or break up into two different parties (the right-wing economic liberals and the centre-left social liberals) once they are rid of Nick Clegg.

           
Some of Clegg's other comments about austerity are best described as revisionist drivel, especially his assertion that the coalition government "has not been dogmatic about deficit-reduction plans".

Clegg went on to assert that "
when it became obvious that the deficit was not going to be eliminated by the end of this parliament, far from doing what some people urged me to do – which was to cut even more – we said no ... it is going to take a little longer, and it will be three years into the next parliament before we wipe the slate clean"This is about as clear a demonstration as is possible that Clegg is talking complete rubbish. The reason Osborne's ideological austerity experiment failed so spectacularly to deliver the promised results (complete elimination of the budget deficit by now) is that arbitrarily cutting government spending at a time of low economic demand simply reduces economic demand even further.

If Clegg had listened to anyone sensible when it became obvious that Osborne's austerity experiment was failing badly, they would have suggested that arbitrary across the board cuts need to be stopped in favour of investment in areas that produce strong economic returns (infrastructure spending, social housing, flood defences, public services, research and development, tax inspectors etc) and cuts/reforms need to be imposed on wasteful areas of government spending (tax cuts for the rich, Ian Duncan Smith's failing welfare reforms, half a million quid in three years on ministerial limos for Eric Pickles, Trident etc). It's clear that Clegg was only ever interested in listening to right-wing hawks and their mantra of "harsh spending cuts haven't worked, therefore we need even more harsh spending cuts than ever".

The worst thing about the above is that it shows how dogmatic Nick Clegg and the Liberal Democrats have become since they joined forces with the Tories. Gone is the stirring rhetoric that ideological austerity would be "economic masochism" and instead we have a ludicrous narrative about how we should be thankful that the Lib-Dems allowed Osborne to continue his failing austerity experiment instead of allowing him to intensify it, as if ideological austerity and ideological austerity on steroids are the only two conceivable options.


What could be more dogmatic than presenting what we did or an even more extreme version of what we did as the only two conceivable options?
   
There are two factors that make Clegg's criticisms of Tory economics so incredibly weak. The first is that Clegg and the Liberal Democrats have spent the last four and a half years assisting the Tories with their nonsensical austerity experiment and their policy of loading the costs of the bankers' crisis
 "on the backs of the working-age poor", so to try to change tune and blame the Tories now is a stunning display of political opportunism that nobody but the most die-hard Lib-Dem supporter is going to be fooled by.

The second massive criticism is that he is still incapable of accepting what is self-evidently true - that ideological austerity has utterly failed to achieve what Osborne claimed it would. His criticisims of Tory economics would carry a lot more weight if he was man enough to admit that supporting Osborne's ideological austerity agenda was a huge mistake that has done immeasurable economic and social devastation to the United Kingdom and to his own party. 
  
         
In conclusion it's a bit bloody much for Nick Clegg to suddenly decide to publicly distance himself and his party from the failing ideological austerity experiment they have loyally voted in favour of time and time again, simply because he knows there's a General Election on the horizon and he needs to put as much space as possible between his party and the ridiculous economic shambles they have allowed to happen for the last four and a half years.


 Another Angry Voice  is a not-for-profit page which generates absolutely no revenue from advertising and accepts no money from corporate or political interests. The only sources of income for  Another Angry Voice  are small donations from people who see some value in my work. If you appreciate my efforts and you could afford to make a donation, it would be massively appreciated.


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