Tuesday, 15 March 2022

Following the return to public control of Greater Manchester's bus services, Andy Burnham has announced that fares will be capped at £2 for adults and £1 for children. This is less than half the previous prices. 

Burnham's plan is to invest £1.2 billion to deliver a low-carbon, fully-integrated public transport system called the Bee Network. Here is how the Bee Active website describes the plans:

... the Bee Network has evolved and it now represents a vision for a fully integrated London-style transport system which will join together buses, trams, cycling, walking and rail.

Our plan is to revolutionise travel across the city-region, making active travel the number one choice for travelling to work, to school and to the shops. But we can only do this if trips by foot or by bike are a safe and pleasant experience.

That means we hold ourselves to the highest standards for quality – routes that are fit for a 12-year-old, a double buggy or a wheelchair user. We are delivering fully segregated cycling and walking routes on busy roads, quality signage and crossings on quieter routes and creating areas where people are prioritised to make streets safer and quieter.

Now I don't know about you, but I think this sounds like a clear upgrade on the neoliberal nightmare of our current public transport system. 

It's worth noting bus companies demanded a judicial review into the decision to take buses under public control in the hope of preventing the Bee Network from ever being. Clearly, they never gave the slightest shit about public service and only cared about their own pockets, but thankfully they lost in court, meaning the public wins.

I'm not sure enough people appreciate the burden that bus fares are placing on working class families at present. Once upon a time, travelling by bus was considered the low cost option. Now, if I want to take my family of six out for the day in Tyneside, it can actually work out cheaper to book taxis! And even when it's not cheaper, it's a damn sight more convenient.

Rip-off bus fares are not just hitting people in the pocket, but they're hurting the environment too. If we're serious about de-carbonisation, we need to encourage more people to use public transport. Our current system is deterring the public, especially those who live in areas with poor transport links. I remember staying in a small village where you could only get two buses a day into town on Sundays. If you missed one bus, you were waiting four hours for the next. Needless to say, not many people bothered using those buses.

Personally, I think we should be emulating Luxembourg which has made all public transport free and we should be massively increasing the number of bus routes to encourage people to leave their cars at home. Far from being costly, this approach would stimulate economic activity and be particularly beneficial to our struggling high streets.

Here is some great research on how better public transport links boost the economy from the Campaign for Better Transport. It shows 46% of unemployed people find lack of transport to be the main barrier to getting employment. Poor public transport links also hurt employers by limiting the available talent pool to those who already have cars and this in turn leads to issues with congestion and parking.

Our public transport system, like so much of our infrastructure, was privatised on the Thatcherite promise that privatisation is the most efficient possible system and would lead to better value and service. This is what is known in academic circles as bullshit. It was always about creaming off profits, but at least now, we are being shown a better way after 43 years of Thatcherism. 

Look at it this way: if Burnham can cut bus fares in half, imagine what nationalisation could do to our skyrocketing energy bills. Our current cost of living crisis is not unfortunate, it's ideological.

In a recent statement, Burnham said of his Bee Network plan:

"We will support the creation of better jobs and good employment that has a purpose beyond growing shareholder value, utilising the opportunity to make a positive difference in our communities."

You see that? Prioritising shareholder profits over the needs of staff and customers was the problem all along, and we should actually be motivated by doing the right thing. Marketisation is not a synonym for freedom after all, and state intervention can promote, rather than inhibit our wellbeing.

Now I'm certainly no centrist, but Burnham's recent shift leftwards is making him seem like an increasingly appealing option. Contrasted with Labour leader Sir Keir Starmer, Burnham almost looks like the second coming of Karl Marx. This, he most certainly is not, but he is evidence that when centrists shift left, they grow in popularity.

While Starmer is embarrassingly floundering behind Boris Johnson in approval polls, Burnham remains hugely popular among the public and his popularity is growing. This is because he is showing leadership and providing ideas while his party leader seems terrified to take a position on anything.

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Sunday, 13 March 2022

Roman Abramovich is an oligarch who made his billions largely due to his connections with war criminals Vladimir Putin and Boris Yeltsin, and was never a fit and proper person to own a football club. Mohammed Bin Salman is not a person with financial ties to a war criminal, he is a war criminal and his charge sheet is sickening.

Some supporters of the club I've supported since I was a boy insist Bin Salman does not own Newcastle United, that the PIF which owns 80% of the club is completely independent of the Saudi Crown Prince. This is frankly bullshit. The PIF is a state savings account for the Saudi Arabian government and most of its money comes from oil sales. The chair of the PIF is Mohammed Bin Salman, as confirmed by the BBC here.

It seems unbelievable the Premier League accepted assurances the PIF was independent of Bin Salman and allowed the sale of Newcastle United to go ahead, but I'm hearing there could be a legal challenge to the takeover, due to the obviously flawed Owners and Directors Test. I'm also hearing the Premier League is considering implementing a human rights component to the test in future, but unless they apply that component retrospectively, we will have a farcical situation where Bin Salman is continuing to sportswash his war crimes.

Saudi Arabia has been bombing The Yemen since 2014, leaving the country facing the "world's worst humanitarian crisis". Twenty million Yemenis are facing food insecurity and ten million are at risk of famine. An estimated 340,000 have died so far, including 100,000 children, and starvation is the main cause of death. The Saudis have been bombing food supplies, hospitals and refugee camps. You can read more about Saudi atrocities in this Human Rights Watch report.

And all of this is just what they're doing in their neighbouring country. At home, the Saudis have just beheaded 81 people in a single day.

If you think it's bad your social media account could be deleted for challenging government narratives, in Saudi Arabia a blogger was sentenced to 1,000 lashes and 10 years in prison just for hosting an online forum. He literally did what I do.

Defending human rights is a crime in Saudi Arabia, punishable by torture, imprisonment or death. People have even been executed for committing "offences" when they were children - and children (and entire families) have been arrested for the alleged crimes of their parents. You can read about one such example here.

The human rights abuses committed by Mohammed Bin Salman are many and they are sickening. Who could forget the dreadful bone-saw murder of journalist Jamal Khashoggi at the Saudi consulate in Istanbul? And yet, instead of imposing sanctions on Saudi Arabia, like he did with Russia, the prime minister has flown over there to do an oil deal - and remember, we are currently selling Saudis the weapons they commit genocide with.

That is one hell of a double standard.

The west has rightly responded with indignation to the behaviour of Vladimir Putin and yet is prepared to look the other way when Mohammed Bin Salman behaves in the same manner. If we speak out against the genocide in The Yemen, we are told now is not the time, that we should only be talking about the war in Ukraine! 

It's almost like brown lives are considered less important than white lives. Or that we are willing to sacrifice our principles, the moment someone shows us their money. I'm pretty sure it's a bit of both and if that doesn't sit well with you, it's time to demand change. It's time to end the corrupting influence of billionaires in our beloved national sport and introduce fan ownership.

I remember when Mike Ashley took over Newcastle United in 2007 and we had such high hopes, but he turned out to be a truly awful chairman, although at least he was no monster. The fans became desperate to get rid of Ashley and replace him with someone who was not using the club simply as a financial investment.

Well, now we have Bin Salman who may well invest in players and improve the quality of the team, but at what cost? How much blood money are we willing to sell our souls for? How many innocent Yemenis must be sacrificed so we can end our 53 year wait for a trophy? How many journalists are we willing to see chopped up with bone-saws?

As far as I'm concerned, none of Chelsea's successes in the Abramovich era were real. Those trophies were bought with blood money and count for absolutely nothing. These were not sporting achievements, but rather corruption that was allowed to happen in broad daylight, and now we're allowing it to happen again. The only way to put a stop to this once and for all is to introduce the 50+1 rule and give football back to the fans, but the government won't do that because collective ownership is a socialist principle.

Monday, 7 March 2022

The Conservative government is back to form, treating refugees dreadfully and showing near-indifference to the crisis unfolding in Ukraine. While other countries are offering to take huge numbers of refugees, including their pets, the Tories have accepted only 50 applications out of 5,535 so far - an acceptance rate of less than 1%. 

France has accused the UK of a "lack of humanity" after we turned away 150 refugees at Calais, and a French minister wrote to Priti Patel expressing his disgust. The UK's response to this crisis is a national disgrace, but at least we lit up a building blue and yellow, right?

It's not all been great from our European counterparts though - while Poland rightly says it will welcome a huge influx of refugees (one million so far), there have been sickening examples of black and brown refugees being denied entry into their country from Ukraine.

The racism hierarchy has become a refugee hierarchy. 

Those words are certainly not intended as an attack on Ukrainian refugees though, they deserve our sympathy and have every right to asylum. It's just the difference in attitudes could not be starker right now.

1.5 million Ukrainians are desperately seeking asylum and many more are likely too terrified to attempt to leave, given the reports of Russian troops firing on women and children in refugee queues. 76% of the British public support welcoming Ukrainian refugees into the UK. I don't have a figure on how many would support welcoming Yemeni refugees, but I'm guessing the figure would be much lower.

While Ukrainians are offered free Eurostar travel to the country of their choice, middle eastern refugees are being left to drown in the sea. While the world weeps at the plight of Ukrainian children, it shrugs with indifference when a school bus is blown to pieces in The Yemen with a British bomb.

Imagine the UK was selling arms to Russia, right now, as it massacres Ukrainians. Well, this is exactly what we're doing with Saudi Arabia, and even worse, we're helping them direct the bombs. We are using our technical expertise to help Saudis fire British-made rockets that cannot be launched without our say so. Britain and America could end this genocide tomorrow, yet we continue the killing and create refugees with a "let 'em drown" policy.

If your heart is bleeding for Ukrainian refugees, but not Yemeni refugees, either your empathy only kicks in when the media tells it too, or you're racist. And in this context, a media-controlled robot is not much better than a racist. The correct response is to welcome all refugees without conditions.

While I have highlighted the double standard around western attitudes towards refugees, it's worth returning to my original point that the UK is treating Ukrainian refugees horribly and that is clearly unacceptable. Visa restrictions mean it's difficult for anyone without immediate family in the UK to enter the country and even adult children are not counted as immediate family. Ukrainians have been describing the paperwork as a "nightmare".

Sorry, but what exactly is there to consider here? We know the war is happening. We know civilians are being butchered and homes are being reduced to rubble. There is no process we need to follow to establish these are genuine refugees, and genuine refugees have every right to enter our country under international law.

Priti Patel has made much about how she will not recognise refugees who arrive in this country through improper channels. So what is she going to do with Ukrainians that enter the country the "improper way"? Deport them to the warzone? Of course she isn't, because as much as I could believe she would be willing to do this, it would be a huge violation of international law. The 1951 Refugee Convention explicitly states you cannot hold a refugee's method of entry into your country against them. This is because refugees are desperate people who will do anything to get to safety and their safety is all that matters.

One thing this crisis has exposed is the absurdity of the argument that Britain takes more than its fair share of refugees. This was never true and it was also never true that people were coming here because the streets are paved with gold and they can live a life of luxury on state benefits. Hell, we don't even allow refugees to work on arrival and we give them less than forty quid a week to live on. We treat refugees horribly, even on those rare occasions we do accept them. It's about time we started doing more to help other countries than sending our weapons.

Wednesday, 2 March 2022

Vladimir Putin has become today's great enemy of the west - a dictator who sends unwitting Russian boys into a conflict they never wanted and who allows the extreme elements of his military to commit war crimes with impunity. While Russian forces are shelling civilian areas, destroying infrastructure and murdering children, some of their soldiers are sabotaging their own vehicles, refusing to fight and surrendering to Ukraine. 

Ukrainian resistance has clearly been much stiffer than Putin expected, partly thanks to NATO weapons, and things are not going to plan for Russia, to say the least. This leaves Putin with one of two options: either he can choose to escalate an already horrific conflict that is turning his own people against him, or he can seek a diplomatic solution. Given many of his own troops clearly have no appetite for war and have already lost thousands of their comrades in battle, a peaceful solution seems increasingly achievable. 

The peace talks so far offer hope of a way out of this nightmare. There is every possibility we can persuade the Chinese to use their leverage and isolate Putin who cannot risk losing too much support at home. And his oligarchs will surely abandon him as western sanctions hit them in the pocket. Wealth, after all, is going to be much more important to them than loyalty to a dictator. 

A way out that enables Putin to save face will become increasingly appealing as this conflict goes on, so surely, the rhetoric from the west should focus on de-escalation and finding a permanent solution to this crisis. Both the left and the right seem to be getting this now. Yet the one political faction who is not getting this at all is the so-called moderates - the people who unironically call themselves the "grownups in the room".

A large number of moderates have been outright arguing for a no-fly zone (someone please take Dan Hodges' Twitter away from him) and insisting anything less would be equivalent to appeasing Hitler. Other moderates are not explicitly calling for a no-fly zone, but hinting they are leaning in that direction, or at least sympathetic to the argument.

Meanwhile, moderates are screaming at anyone who tries to understand the nuance of the situation (something which is essential if we are to negotiate peace) that they are a Putin sympathiser. The Labour leader is even threatening critics of NATO with expulsion from his party and condemning the Stop the War movement. Perhaps we should be not surprised: it was, after all, this faction that dragged us into illegal wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. Clearly, they have learned nothing from their past mistakes.

Let's be clear what these people are arguing for:

A no-fly zone would not be a no-fly zone at all; it would be NATO jets fighting Russian jets in the skies above Ukraine. It would be the start of World War 3 and dramatically increase the risk of nukes being detonated across the northern hemisphere. Even if Putin did not resort to nuclear Armageddon, he would surely start fighting a hell of a lot dirtier than he currently is. Let's not forget he has only used a fraction of Russia's military might so far.

Do we want to risk a situation where Putin is carpet-bombing Ukrainian cities? Do we want to risk a situation where he turns his attention to European cities? Because those things are a distinct possibility, even if nukes are off the table (which they aren't). We would have no choice but to escalate into full war with Russia at that point, and Russia is not Iraq or Afghanistan. It has state of the art weaponry and a military might comparable to our own. It would be a war of equals and the death toll would be unthinkable. 

If you doubt Russia's might, you can always travel to Ukraine yourself and sign up for their military. They would welcome keyboard warriors like yourself with open arms, but I'm guessing you don't want to do this. I'm guessing you simply want working class lads and lasses to do the work for you while you revel in the glory of a war you never fought in, just like you do with World War 2.

Trouble is, this is real life and there is so much more at stake than you showing the world how courageous you are on social media. As horrific as the conflict in Ukraine is, our direct intervention would risk worsening things one thousand fold. Far from saving lives, we would be killing many, many more. 

And what do you think would happen when Russia start losing this war and their cities are in ruins and Putin is on the verge of being captured or killed? At this point, you had better hope his own people refuse to take his orders and arrest or kill him, because you can bet your right arm he will be ready to push that nuclear button. If he is going to die, he is going to take the rest of us down with him.

Now I don't think everyone understands what nuclear war would mean (I even saw someone on Twitter argue it would be preferable to letting Putin win!) so let me explain for the hard of thinking: it would not be a war at all. It would not be a tit-for-tat bombing campaign in which a handful of cities are taken off the map. 

If you push the red button, you know your enemy is going to respond with overwhelming force so your only option is to unleash your full military might at once. It would be a desperate last gasp move to take out your enemy, knowing full well they are going to do the same to you. It would be pressing the self-destruct button of the northern hemisphere and quite possibly the whole planet. Let's not forget western missile defences are maybe 50% reliable and half of 6,000 Russian warheads would be more than enough to do the intended damage.

There would likely be no survivors on an island the size of Britain, and you want to be among the first dead because instant incineration would be preferable to your skin peeling off in the ensuing wildfire. Sorry to be grim, but that is the likelihood.

Further afield, nuclear bombs would kill an estimated 20-50% of the human population, and the survivors would be left to starve in an irradiated wasteland during a nuclear winter that would last for decades - it's plausible this would wipe out our entire species. The most optimistic estimates suggest a reasonable number of people would survive in the southern hemisphere with high cancer rates, common birth defects, and a life expectancy shortened by 10-15 years. Again, this is the most optimistic scenario.

This is why the loony lefties who are demanding peace at all costs are right - they understand the horrifying reality.

A few days ago, I thought the prospect of nuclear war was unthinkable, that no one would escalate to that extreme over a fight for the Russian-speaking Donbas regions of Ukraine. But I never reckoned on the absolute madness we have seen from "moderate" voices, or the way even Labour leader Sir Keir Starmer says he will speak to the prime minister about the possibility of a no-fly zone. 

Starmer did state that a no-fly zone is not his party's policy, but in that case, what the hell is there to talk about? Does he want to leave the option on the table, just in case we change our minds and decide Armageddon would be better after all?

It seems unbelievable that we have to explain to the "grownups in the room" how idiotic their nonsense is, but these are people who scream you down if you dare mention that Ukraine was embroiled in an eight year civil war prior to the Russian invasion - and that civil war left over 13,000 civilians dead. You're certainly not allowed to mention the neo-Nazi Azov battalion in the Ukrainian army, but you are allowed to mention the Nazi elements in the Russian military. You are allowed to criticise Russian imperialism but not NATO expansionism. You are only allowed to state the Ukrainian government is an entirely blameless victim (separatists would beg to differ) and NATO is a purely defensive organisation (Libyans would beg to differ).

The thing is, the above points must be discussed, not to "do Putin's propaganda for him", but because understanding the politics around the Donbas regions, the Ukrainian civil war and NATO expansionism is central to all of this. You simply cannot have a peace process without these things being discussed.

You might prefer to act like this is a Marvel movie and Putin is the super-villain who must be stopped at all costs, but in this scenario "all costs" would likely mean the death of yourself, your family, all your friends and mine too. This really is a time for "grownups in the room" to find peace and the moderates are not behaving like grownups.

Thursday, 24 February 2022

After the annexation of Crimea in 2014, the Donbas regions of Donetsk and Luhansk declared independence from Ukraine, following referendums in which 90% of voters chose autonomy. These regions consist of roughly 70% native Russian-speakers.

An opinion poll carried out on the day of the referendum found that 94.8% of those who intended to vote would vote for independence, and even if you factor in those who did not intend to vote, 65.6% still backed independence. 

Ukraine argued that any referendum would only be valid if all Ukrainians were allowed to vote - a principle which flies in the face of the right to self-determination. Ukraine has since engaged in an eight year civil war which has resulted in civilian casualties on both sides - 80% (13,000) of those casualties on the side of pro-Russian separatists. Many were killed by the notorious neo-Nazi Azov battalion who are now equipped with state of the art US weaponry. You can see why the separatists are nervous.

The US has been talking about the possibility of Ukraine joining NATO since 2004, and in 2020, Ukraine joined NATO's enhanced opportunity partner interoperability program. From the Russian perspective, NATO bases are appearing all around their doorstep and they now face the threat of a US military base in Ukraine, just 800 miles from their capital. 

As Putin's former bodyguard Viktor Zolotov recently stated, "We don't have a border with Ukraine, we have a border with America, because they are the masters in that country".

NATO member states essentially become satellite states of the US empire. While we call them "freedom-loving democracies", they surrender a degree of their freedom to US corporatism in exchange for security. 

The US is basically an oligarchy and more imperialist than Russia, or as the popular meme puts it: the US is a corporation with an army. If you don't see this, you're probably one of the people living in a middle class bubble - the Waitrose army who would happily send working class kids into war to protect your lives of privilege.

Russia is hardly some blameless victim here, but the notion that Ukraine is a blameless victim and Russia the mindless antagonist is sorely lacking nuance, kind of like when we highlight the Russian/Georgian war in 2008 and fail to mention an EU report found that conflict was triggered by the illegal actions of Georgia. We can acknowledge truths like this without siding with Putin.

Russia is obviously wrong to be launching a military offensive against Ukraine, it's just a shame that neither Russia nor NATO seriously wanted to avoid war in this situation. 

Russia and the US have been engaging in cold war brinksmanship for the last two years. Hardly a week has gone by without the New York Times or Washington Post running a headline about how war with Russia (or China) might be inevitable. There has been a careful process of manufacturing consent for western intervention because NATO needs permission to take whatever action it feels necessary to stop the world's other superpowers threatening US global hegemony. Ten years from now, China will be the world's biggest economy, but a weakened Russia would mean a weakened China.

A drawn out war would be beneficial to the US in many respects - the sanctions and cancelling of the Nord Stream 2 gas pipeline will hit the Russian economy, as will the cost of war itself. If Russia is sustaining large military casualties, this could impact Putin's popularity at home. The same country that wanted Putin in charge when they thought he was their man, now want him gone so they can install a puppet.

The main beneficiaries of this war will be western arms manufacturers whose share prices are soaring, and oil companies whose prices have jumped by 8% overnight.

While some on the left have mocked the overblown "Russia-gate" in which Russia interfered in elections by sharing a few dodgy memes on social media, only a fool would deny the concern about Russian oligarchs making huge donations to the Tory party. Russia certainly interferes in foreign elections, but then again, so does the CIA. It really is hypocrisy of the highest order when the west accuses Russia of what it too is guilty of. It is incredibly frustrating to see so-called moderates foaming at the mouth over the violation of Ukrainian territory while disregarding worse behaviours from the US and UK.

Many are calling for "robust sanctions" against Russia, whatever that means in practice, but they would never dream of calling for sanctions against the US, next time it decides to illegally invade a country. This is because while we say our sanctions only target figures connected to governments, in reality, they always cause hunger among civilian populations, as Afghans know too well. 

Too many have divided their world view into America = good, Russia = bad, and this is exactly the kind of attitude which enables the imperialist behaviours of the west. We are currently criticising Russia from a moral low ground as though our criticisms of their unacceptable behaviours somehow absolve ourselves of ours. See the problem here? To understand the belligerent attitude of Putin you have to also understand the image that we project on the world stage. We pose a threat to any country that refuses to bow to western imperialism, as every country in Latin America would  testify.

If we really want to stop war, it starts with acknowledging who we are and appreciating that our ongoing military expansion is wrong. A dictator like Putin is not going to back down because we threaten him with sanctions when he is starting a war precisely because he feels threatened. On the contrary, he is only going to feel antagonised into further aggression. 

Now you can yell all day long about how Putin ultimately started this war, but if we look beyond his bluster and the western hysteria about rebuilding the Soviet Union, what we see is a vulnerable man wanting a buffer zone between his nation and the US. If we can have a serious conversation about ending NATO expansion and allowing Russian separatists their democratic right to self-determination, then we might have a chance at restoring peace. But while we screech we will welcome whoever we like into NATO and insist on building endless military bases and look the other way as Russian separatists are killed, we can't sensibly say we did our best to stop war, can we?

Sunday, 20 February 2022

It is so frustrating how otherwise good people get sucked into western imperial narratives. The public are lied to about every conflict that Britain and America involve themselves in, yet every time, some people will tell themselves this one is different. This time intervention is necessary. Their gullibility enables consent to be manufactured, and ensures the anti-war movement is labelled as crazy (just like Stop the War right now), but the anti-war movement is vindicated every single time.

In 2001, if you questioned the narrative, you were pro-Al Quaida. In 2003, if you questioned the narrative, you were pro-Saddam and his WMDs. In 2011, if you questioned the narrative, you were pro-Gaddafi. In 2018, if you questioned the narrative, you were pro-Assad. 

Challenging your government when it's beating the war drum does not make you pro-Putin or anyone else. It's literally what every responsible citizen should do. And remember, the west is happy to support foreign aggression when it comes from one of their allies.

If the US and UK really care about the safety of Ukrainians, why aren't we extending those concerns to the people of The Yemen who are being killed by the Saudis with British and American bombs? If we are so opposed to brutal dictators, why are we training the military of Cameroon who are butchering their own people? If we are so opposed to annexation, why do we keep giving Israel a free pass?

The fact is the US and UK are okay with crimes against humanity that are committed by our allies, especially if there is an opportunity to make profit. Let's not forget that we helped install Putin because we thought he was our guy and we looked the other way when he was invading Chechnya. 

Putin is not a saint, clearly, but to pretend that anyone who opposes western intervention is Pro-Putin is simply absurd. History shows there are always consequences to our interventions and there is almost always a better way. Some of us don't want to rely on the benefit of hindsight this time and we don't want to be hypocrites.

Consider our illegal conflicts in Iraq and Afghanistan. Would Russia have been justified in intervening then? Should they have given state of the art weaponry to Saddam or the Taliban to help them kill our troops? If your answer is no, but you support western intervention now, ask yourself why the double standard?

It's time to stop dividing the world into good and bad guys and try to understand the complicated reality. The truth is the behaviour of so-called defensive alliance NATO is aggressive expansion. After promising not to expand one inch east, they have been doing just that, installing US military bases in Europe and pointing their missiles at Russia. 

Remember when Russia installed a missile base in Cuba? That was the Cuban missile crisis and everyone agreed it was a huge act of aggression. Now imagine if Russia had also installed missile bases in Canada, Mexico, Haiti, the Dominican Republic and half of Latin America. Imagine they were now pushing for a military base in Puerto Rico. Americans would feel pretty damn intimidated, wouldn't they?

Now let's bring this a little closer to home. Imagine that rather than NATO spreading into eastern Europe, a military alliance with Russia was spreading into western Europe. Imagine how you'd feel if that alliance wanted to move into Ireland. The thought is pretty claustrophobic, right?

You can argue all day long about how any country is free to join any military alliance it likes. This is true, but if you want to join such an alliance, it is foolhardy to not consider how your neighbours might react to such a move.

The behaviour of the Russians is so very far from perfect, but things are less black and white than is often portrayed by the media where nuance is sorely lacking. 

Many people in Eastern and Southern Ukraine speak Russian and there are many pro-Russian separatists. The US and UK are currently arming neo-Nazi groups in Ukraine who are chomping at the bit to butcher these people. Remember when we armed "friendly" rebel groups in Syria and it turned out we were really arming ISIS? Well, it looks like we are making the same mistake all over again.

Thankfully, the calmest head in the room is the Ukrainian president who is far from great, but at least calling out the hawkishness of the west and asking our media to calm down. He understands that we're inflaming the situation with our rhetoric, but there are reasons why we're talking the way we are.

Our governments need the public to be afraid - this is how they obtain consent for increased military budgets and fund our proxy wars. Our governments need former Soviet states to be afraid - this is how to push them into the arms of NATO and the EU. And I haven't even gone into the politics surrounding gas pipelines, but needless to say, we have economic and strategic interests, which are not necessarily the same as Ukrainian interests. 

If military conflict does break out, then we will continue arming the Ukrainians and position ourselves as their selfless allies. We will tell our public that our motives are to keep the Ukrainian public safe, rather than increase profits for Lockheed Martin and BAE. We will hail the conflict as proof that Putin was the only villain in the equation and we will infantilise the public who will sadly lap this up. However, armed conflict would be entirely unnecessary, and if the west just backed off and let Russia and Ukraine talk, we'd probably find diplomatic efforts went a lot more smoothly.

Saturday, 19 February 2022

Facebook is accusing its users of spreading fake news if they dare mention that some companies are enjoying record profits during inflation. The thing is, Facebook is not disputing that these companies are enjoying record profits during inflation because that claim is factually correct. Instead, they're saying that inflation is not caused by the record profits, therefore, the posts are false or missing context.

Here's the thing, Facebook: You do not need to be an economist to see that any company enjoying record profits has no need to inflate their prices. If they are doing so, they are doing it because of corporate greed. At this point, any external factors become irrelevant.

What's particularly disturbing here is how Facebook does not seem to be making a sincere attempt to counter fake news at all. It looks like the latest in a long line of attempts to control the narrative. Rather than allow genuine pluralism on their platform, they're pushing a centrist, pro-corporate but socially liberal agenda to create the illusion of balance. They're pissing off both the left and the right wing under the false notion this is equivalent to objectivity. Yet it's the very opposite of objectivity. It's manipulation.

I fell foul of Facebook's "fact checkers" myself last year when I made a post which was labelled as fake news, even though the gist of the post was correct. I had facetiously suggested Serco had "magically disappeared" the £37 billion test and trace budget, but what I was essentially doing was questioning where the money had been allocated. Only a fool could have taken that line literally. Facebook did, saying the post had "no basis in reality" and they reduced the visibility of my Facebook group as a result. To this day, if I post in my own group, the visibility of my posts is much lower than they used to be.

Here is the screenshot of the original post that I'd shared from Twitter onto Facebook:

If I'd changed the words "that Serco magically disappeared" to "allocated to the test and trace program", my post would have been 100% accurate. Instead, Facebook said it had no basis in reality. With a few Google searches, you can check my claims yourself and find out if they have any basis in reality.

It gets even better. Serco personally thanked Full Fact on Twitter for doing their "fact check" on me. It genuinely looked like someone had put them up to this.

This is not tackling fake news. That would come with only targeting posts that make objectively false claims, like for example, if I said Joe Biden had just kicked a puppy on national TV, you could say that statement is objectively false. But then again, what if the post was satirical?

Facebook should not be intervening when there are ambiguities and when posts stray into subjective opinions or satire. Only in the most clear cut cases of fake news, should they be applying a warning label or de-boosting someone. Instead, their staff are going into every political group and page and applying these questionable warning flags. This is a huge attack on free speech.