Davos: the sound of one hand clapping

For those who like to follow the example of Brian and his disciples and always look on the bright side of life, it can safely be said that 2016 hasn’t gotten off to the most cracking start.  The year began with the mass sexual assaults at Cologne, which have now become a cause celebre for anti-immigrationists, racists and Islamophobes across the continent,  who have painted Europe’s refugees as a collective rape gang.

While Europe increasingly seethes with fear and hatred, the European Union is poised to undo one of its most cherished achievements, the Schengen Area of free movement, because its members cannot agree on how to deal with a refugee crisis that barely amounts to two percent of its population.

Meanwhile refugees drown in the Aegean almost on a daily basis, or make their way across the Balkans in sub-zero temperatures, to be clubbed and teargassed by police.  In Norway they are being forced back into Russia on bicycles.  In Denmark, the Danish parliament is debating whether or not to confiscate any personal valuables from refugees who are already without homes or jobs in order to offset their cost to the state.

There is still no end in sight to many of the wars that have caused this startling rise in the global refugee population.  Two weeks ago Daesh slaughtered hundreds of Syrians in Deir-al Zour.  In Jakarta, Istanbul and Ougadagou, jihadist groups claiming to be ‘inspired’ by Daesh have killed ‘soft targets’ without mercy or restraint, and there is every possibility that there will be repeats of Paris in Europe, as a weakened and crumbling Islamic State seeks to generate more recruits by whipping up hatred towards Europe’s increasingly beleaguered Muslims.

Meanwhile, despite all the vast sums of money that were handed out in the wake of the 2007-08 financial crisis that ‘saved the world’, as Gordon Brown once put it, it appears that the world has not been saved after all.  Hardly had the year begun, when RBS told its shareholders to ‘sell everything’ and even George Osborne warned that the global economy was headed for the buffers, not that we really needed him to tell us that.

For many people, the economy has been in trouble for some time.  Such as the mother who delivered a moving account to one  of Bernie Sanders’s campaign meetings in Iowa on what it was like to support her family doing up to five different jobs at the same time for less than $12,000 dollars a year.  Or 53-year-old Frances McCormack, who hanged herself last week in her home near Rotherham in the same room where her son had committed suicide,  because she was threatened with eviction and couldn’t pay the Bedroom Tax that was imposed upon her as a result of her son’s death.

Or the impoverished residents of  Flint, Michigan, who are still being charged for the polluted water that has poisoned them, while their elected officials ignored what was happening until it was too late.

Few of the economists, politicians and analysts who lauded the great bandaid operation of 2007/8 ever paid much attention to people like this.  And now the experts are issuing the kinds of apocalyptic warnings that ought to get you pushing barrows back from the supermarkets with stockpiled goods.

So it’s not good, you might even say it’s all looking a little dystopian.  But fortunately, when all hope seems lost, when you really think that it’s time to give up, there is Davos.   Here, at this annual gathering of the richest – if not necessarily the best –  minds of the planet, there is hope and even wisdom.

Some of the attendees were among the 62 people who,  according to Oxfam,  own as much wealth between them as the poorest 3 billion on the planet.  They included Bill and Melinda Gates, whose Gates Foundation was recently accused by the Global Justice Now campaign group of exacerbating global inequality through its ‘philanthrocapitalist’ model of corporate development aid..

There is Christine Lagarde, taking a little contemplative time out between helping the Troika trash Greece and preparing for her forthcoming corruption trial, to  tell a session on ‘the Global Economic Outlook ‘ We’ve heard a lot of about the Internet of Things – I think we need an Internet of Women.’

Now don’t tell me that isn’t deep.  Lagarde also took part in a debate on ‘Where is the Chinese Economy Heading? ‘ in which she answered the question by concluding that ‘ A degree of volatility is OK.  The market sorts things out, eventually.’

Forgive me if I sound like a complete idiot here, I probably am one.  But didn’t ‘ the market’ need a certain amount of help from the state to  ‘sort itself out’ after the last crisis, and doesn’t the crisis that’s currently looming suggest that in fact it didn’t really sort itself out at all?  Or maybe Lagarde is playing a long game with that ‘eventually’ that we mortals down here on the lower slopes just can’t see.

And there’s so much more drivel where this came from, so much blue sky thinking you can paraglide in it and never come down to earth. .’Every country needs a Minister of the Future’, says Marc R. Benioff, Chairman and CEO, Salesforce, in a session on ‘ The Future of Growth: Technology-Driven, Human-Centred.’.

Too right.   And Amira Yahyaoui, Founder and Chair, Al Bawsala, has declared that ‘ The Fourth Industrial Revolution should be a revolution of values. ‘  Yep, can’t wait for that, can you? But you better not  wait too long, because, as Meg Whitman, President and CEO at Hewlett Packard told a session on ‘The Digital Transformation of Industries, ‘ You can always go faster than you think you can.”

Isn’t so totally true?  After all,  as Marc R. Benioff told the same session, ‘ Speed is the new currency of business’, which is actually something I’ve believed for a long time, or I would have, if I had the slightest idea what it actually meant.

Even Lord Snooty showed up at Davos, promising to ‘hardwire competitiveness into the European Union’ – for which we can only wait with bated breath.  And there was also none other than Benjamin Netanyahu, in a ‘special conversaion’ in which he opined – swimming against the tide of conventional wisdom as always, that ‘ The key to tackling extremism is despair.  Rob them of the hope that their wild fantasies will win the day.’

OK, I’m probably not winning you over here, am I?  But that’s because you aren’t listening to the voice of  ‘will.i.am, musician and philantrophist’, who told a session on ‘The 21st-Century Dream’, ‘ Let’s put our optimism goggles on.’

And he’s right.  If you want to feel better about the world, you have to think differently about it.  You need to remember, as Melinda Gates reminded a discussion on something called ‘Progress towards Parity’ that ‘ Goals are only wishes unless you have a plan.’

Goals are only wishes unless you have a plan.   All of you out there working for less than $12,000, pin that sentence up on your mirror when you brush your teeth in the morning, and contemplate its profundity and you too might end up running a billion-dollar charitable foundation.  Because, as John F. Kerry told Davos ‘ We are not the prisoners of a predetermined future.’

Which is welcome news for all of us.   and certainly for me.  Because I was beginning to think we were going to continue swimming round and round in this dystopian rip-tide forever.  But now, thanks to this gathering of the creme de la creme of the one percent, I feel liberated and energized and ready to look 2016 in the face.

In fact I’m positively brimming over with new-found wisdom.  And so I’m changing my name to Mat.the.w, philosopher and prophet of the unknown, and I’m putting my optimism goggles  on.  Because after all,  the  future is only the shape of things yet to come and  the past is just an earlier version of the present, and every journey begins with a departure and ends with an arrival.

You see?  It’s not hard. You too can learn to speak Davos.   And if you can’t,  just hang on till next January, when the circus will come back again, to answer those big questions that you haven’t even thought of yet.


The United States of Israel

There is no polite way to say this, but Benjamin Netanyahu is one of the most repellent and dangerous politicians in the world today.     He is a man who trades on fear and war, a cynical and amoral manipulator without a trace of honesty in his entire body,   who lies as easily as he breathes.   In 2012 he warned the United Nations that Iran was a year away from manufacturing a bomb, even though his own security services had told him something entirely different,

Last year he deliberately used the murders of three Israeli teenagers to manipulate Israeli public opinion into supporting the ferocious and strategically meaningless slaughter in Gaza.

He also manipulates his most powerful ally.   In public Netanyahu never ceases to express his love and gratitude to the United States, which props up Israel’s military machine.   Yet in private he’s not always so respectful.   Back in 2001 he told a group of settlers in the West Bank ‘I know what America is.   America is a thing you can move very easily, move it in the right direction.’

Netanyahu cannot be ignored entirely, not as long as Israelis are crazy enough to keep voting for him.   But no country with any respect for truth or even its own national interest would actually invite a man like this to speak to its own elected representatives if it didn’t have to, let alone invite him in order to undermine the policy of its elected president. But this exactly what happened yesterday when Netanyahu went to Washington, following an ‘invitation’ arranged between Republican speaker of the House John Boehner and the Israeli ambassador to the United States Ron Dermer.

This demarche was deliberately intended to torpedo the ongoing negotiations over Iran’s nuclear program, and pave the way for a new bill imposing harsher sanctions on Iran. His audience knew what he was going to say,   because everyone always knows what Netanyahu is going to say when it comes to Iran.     Yesterday all the usual buttons were pushed; references to the Holocaust and condemnations of the ‘genocidal’ Iranian regime; Hezbollah and Iran’s ‘march of terror’; five-minutes-to-midnight warnings of nuclear war; and ominous references to ‘Munich’, because Israel’s enemies are always Hitler in Netanyahu’s eyes.

And not only to him.     To the moronic Republican party, whose collective brain is now so rotted by the paranoia, war and militarism and Zionist propaganda that it has been injecting into its veins for years that it no longer even knows how to think, Netanyahu’s was deep, deep stuff, a real clarion call.

Never mind that on Sunday 200 former Mossad veterans took the unprecedented step of staging a public press conference to condemn their own prime minister’s visit as a danger to Israel’s security and argue against imposing new sanctions. None of this had any impact on the glassy-eyed zombie-politicians who sat there in their silk ties and suits and their world-historical facial expressions, sucking up Netanyahu’s fearmongering, warmongering poison like alien seed pods in Invasion of the Bodysnatchers.

Because make no mistake about it, politicians who allow the leader of another country to insult and undercut their own elected government have had their minds well and truly snatched, or maybe they never had any to begin with.

When it was over the congressmen and senators got to their feet like one man, because they are in fact one man, and delivered no less than 26 standing ovations of the type that Stalin used to get when he announced a new five-year-plan.   Of course with Stalin it was Russians praising a Russian and the penalty might have been death if you didn’t stand up.

For the bozos who paid homage to the Great Liar yesterday, the worst that could happen was that their career trajectories might be altered.     But such is the hold that Israel now exercises over the Republican Party that even showing up wasn’t enough, you had to physically express your joy and rapture.   So Kentucky senator Rand Paul was criticized afterwards for looking ‘less than enthused’ and ‘clapping halfheartedly.’

Oh give me an absolute break already.     Whether they actually believed Netanyahu or were merely concerned about their careers and the cash that comes with them, these congressmen and senators effectively colluded with the leader of a foreign state in order to promote its foreign policy objectives and undermine those of their own.

It ought to be disturbing, and alarming, even from the point of view of America’s own national interest, that the leader of a nominal ally would be prepared to do this, and would receive support in doing so.   It ought to provide pause for thought as to why this has happened and what its potential ramifications are, and whether this relationship is entirely healthy.   But none of this is likely to come from those who participated in the weird spectacle that took place yesterday, who showed no evidence that they were capable of thinking anything at all, beyond what the Great Liar wanted them to think.

The friends of Israel: united in blood

Even by the standards we have come to expect from Israel’s powerful supporters, yesterday’s speech by the senior White House adviser Susan Rice was a sickening demonstration of intellectual dishonesty and mealy-mouthed hypocrisy.     At a public ‘solidarity’ meeting convened by Jewish groups in Washington,   Rice criticized the United Nations human rights council for its ‘unfair treatment’ of Israel, in voting for an inquiry into war crimes violations committed by Israel during the conflict.

Rice then repeated the lie that ‘Hamas initiated this conflict.   And Hamas has dragged it on.’   After reassuring Israel that it could always count on American support – even while Israel was briefing against the US Secretary State, she then slipped into the pseudo-humanitarian posture favoured by all Israel’s apologists and defenders, and expressed her ‘deep concern about the suffering and deaths of innocent people that arise from a conflict like this one, In Gaza as well as Israel.’

This ‘concern for both sides’, which so many of Israel’s supporters have expressed again and again during the last two weeks, is so utterly fake that it is actually a kind of moral obscenity.     So far three Israeli civilians have been killed in the war, while seventy percent of the 1,080 Palestinians killed in the war are civilians, according to the United Nations.   To   suggest,   as Rice did, that this grotesque disparity belongs to some kind of common tragedy is a shocking evasion of what is actually taking place.

But then all deaths, according to Rice, are not the fault of Israel, but Hamas, because ‘The people of Gaza, many of whom disapprove of Hamas and suffer under its misrule, are trapped in the crossfire.   The loss of children has been particularly heartbreaking.’

Somehow one suspect’s that Rice’s heart will be able to endure this strain, and one really has to resist the urge to vomit at her vile presentation of mass murder as a ‘crossfire’ – and interpretation which entirely disregards overwhelming evidence to the contrary.

But her crocodile tears aren’t just an expression of hypocrisy   They are in fact a form of collusion in the hideous massacre that Israel is perpetrating in Gaza, and a green light to Netanyahu to escalate it still further.

Such collusion is not unique to Rice or even to her government.     It extends to the European Union and its member states, all of whom have expressed similar sentiments.   It includes the British government and its equally dishonest foreign secretary Philip Hammond, who expressed his government’s ‘grave concern’ about civilian casualties last week, while simultaneously expressing his support for Israel’s ‘right to defend itself’ and his sympathetic understanding of the ‘difficulties’ faced by Israel in conducting its military operations.

All these governments and institutions have enabled and facilitated Israel’s monstrous act of collective punishment in Gaza, while simultaneously pretending to care about its impact on Palestinian civilians.   The best that can be said about such behavior is that it is a form of base moral cowardice.   At worst the refusal of the ‘international community’ to criticize Israel for anything at all is the work of aiders and abetters of Zionist violence who know perfectly well that this war has nothing to do with Israel defending itself but everything to do with crushing Hamas by crushing the Palestinian population.

The same can be said about the handwringing liberal commentators who have rushed to Israel’s defense, such as the Guardian’s Jonathan Freedland, who has tried to hard to help his readers understand Israel’s ‘security concerns’, while ignoring completely any concerns that Palestinians might have; or the atrocious Bernard Henri-Levy, the man who once warned the world of an impending ‘massacre’ in Benghazi and now loudly supports Netanyahu’s war and urges the Israeli army to ‘liberate’ Gaza from Hamas.

So remember these positions and statements, the next time these pseudo-humanitarians evoke universalist moral imperatives as a pretext for the next ‘humanitarian intervention.’   Remember it next time Susan Rice or Samantha Power call on your help to stop genocide.   Remember it when Obama or Cameron denounce the ‘unconscionable’ crimes carried out by this or that dictator as a cassus belli, and the world cannot stand idly by etc, etc

Remember that in Gaza the world did stand idly by, and not because its attention was distracted, or because it couldn’t figure out what to do, but because for most western governments and their liberal interventionist supporters, military violence against civilians is entirely acceptable as an instrument of national policy, providing the state responsible for it is on our side or doing it for reasons that we approve of.

Remember that behind the thin facade of humanitarianism that western governments have used to justify the new wars of the 21st century, there is the same old heart of darkness,   the same cold-blooded, merciless realpolitik, and for Israel, the same get-out-of-jail card that allows it to do anything to anyone, safe in the understanding that there will always be a moral fraud like Susan Rice ready to stand up and blame the victim while pretending to really, really care.


Special Agent Philip Hammond: Our Man in Jerusalem

Years ago, as an undergraduate history student at SOAS, I wrote an essay on the Balfour declaration and the British role in the formation of the state of Israel for Professor Malcolm Yapp.   Professor Yapp kindly gave me an ‘A+’ for that essay, but I also remember a tutorial in which he queried my argument that Britain was self-interested, dishonest, and duplicitous, and had no interest in Arabs or Jews, except insofar as it could use them to further its imperial interests.

Professor Yapp put it to me that the Balfour declaration was in fact an act of selfless altruism that went wrong, but whose original intentions were good and even noble.   Yapp was a former foreign office offical himself, and I had no doubt that he sincerely believed this.   I sensed also that this belief reflected his conviction that the British political elite was generally – perhaps uniquely – benign and motivated by moral decisions and moral conviction, rather than the colder strategic calculations that other powerful states have made.

I didn’t accept this argument then, and nothing that I have seen since has led me to change my mind.   I thought about Professor Yapp   yesterday, when the newly-appointed foreign secretary Philip Hammond turned up in Jerusalem to bring British influence to bear on the Gaza war.

On the day that Israeli rockets killed more than fifteen people in a school in Gaza, Hammond attended a joint press conference with Netanyahu and gave an interview to Sky News in which he expressed his solidarity, understanding and support for Israel.

In a soft interview with Sky TV’s David Bowden that had all the forensic penetration of two pensioners playing ping pong in an old people’s home, Hammond blamed Hamas for causing the war and also for preventing a ceasefire.   Hammond neglected to mention that the ceasefire had been opposed above the heads of Hamas, without consultation, and without including any of its demands for an opening of borders or the ending of Israel’s economic blockade of the Gaza Strip.

Hammond also reiterated the British position that Israel has the ‘right to defend itself’ against Palestinian rockets. He omitted any reference to the chain of events that led to the war which preceded the rockets, and his interviewer thoughtfully refrained from mentioning it too.

Most chillingly of all, Hammond twice expressed Her Majesty’s understanding for Israel’s ‘difficulties’ in conducting military operations in Gaza, on the grounds that ‘ if you launch rockets from a densely-populated civilian area there will be civilian casualties, that I’m afraid, is inevitable.’

So in other words, when civilians die, it’s not the fault of Israel, but Hamas. Faced with these insurmountable difficulties, Hammond politely suggested that Israel should conduct its operations with ‘restraint’ and in accordance with its core ‘western values.’

Such restraint was especially necessary, because ‘As this campaign goes on and the civilian casualties in Gaza mount, Western opinion is becoming more and more concerned and less and less sympathetic to Israel’, and ‘there is huge public concern about the level of civilian casualties and the humanitarian situation that is going on in Gaza.’

For Hammond, former defense secretary and millionaire-businessman, such ‘concern’ is more dangerous and disturbing than the ‘inevitable’ casualties themselves, because it is likely to make Hamas ‘politically stronger.’

This response is not just an example of hypocrisy, or political dishonesty and cowardice, though it is all these things.   What Hammond’s arguments reveal once again, is an entirely unproblematic acceptance of Israeli violence as an instrument of state policy at the upper echelons of the British establishment, coupled with a wary recognition of what he clearly regards as the naive sentimentalism of the ordinary public, that foolishly allows itself to be horrified by photographs of dead children.

The same logic once led Blair to slow demands for a ceasefire in the 2006 Lebanon war, when he was inadvertently captured on microphone offering to go to Lebanon to pretend to be a peace envoy so that he could ‘just talk’ – and give Israel more time to blitz the country and complete its war aims.

Hammond is working from the same playbook.     Though he reiterated at his press conference with Netanyahu that his government was ‘gravely concerned’ about civilian casualties, it is clear that it is only concerned about the political consequences of these casualties.   It was certainly clear to Netanyahu anyway, who thanked Her Majesty’s government for its support and told Hammond, ‘ I thank you for keeping your moral focus and your moral clarity. We shall need it in the days ahead.’

Netanyahu is not the man to talk to anyone about ‘moral clarity’.     And whatever that term means it has nothing at all do with the actions of our man in Jerusalem, who demonstrated once again yesterday the remarkable ability of the British elite to transform even a plodding and unimaginative appatchnik like Hammond into a cold-blooded, merciless exponent of amoral realpolitik.