New Left Project is seeking to publish a series on immigration in early Summer 2014. Edited by the NLP collective, the articles will be published first on the website and then collected in an e-book.
We need your writing to make it happen.
Contributions might, for example, explore the following topics:
Law, policy and practice. Are the UK immigration and asylum systems fit for purpose? How do they compare with legal systems elsewhere? How well equipped are other forms of social infrastructure for immigration (e.g. education, health, policing, housing)?
Representation. Who is an 'immigrant' and how are they represented? Which immigrants are the objects of attention, and which are ignored? Submissions may, for instance, examine the invisibility of women immigrants from public policy and discourse, or unpick the framing of media coverage about and the rhetoric of recent anti-immigration government campaigns.
Stories. We're interested in first-hand experiences of immigration and emigration. If you have a family history of immigration or emigration, what stories have been told and passed down? Have you recently come to the UK? Have you experiences of multiple migrations? Have you studied or worked overseas?
Activism. How have people sought to challenge and improve policy, practice and rhetoric around immigration. How effective have these efforts been? If you'd like to promote your campaign or an event, we might be able to do this through the NLP blog, if not the series itself.
Histories. Unpicking the long history of migration and migrant experiences into and out of the UK before Windrush, links with Empire and how past histories of migration frame contemporary debates.
Geographies. Localised politics and experiences of immigration, including differences between places. Although we are British website, we are interested in a lot more than just immigration that relates to the borders of the UK. Submissions that may fall under this category include analysis and stories of long-term refugees, such as Palestinian and Saharawi experiences of exile.
Race and religion. How are race and immigration linked? How do immigrants experience racism? How does racism intersect with other issues in public debates? What are the linkages and disconnects between the immigration and integration agendas? Do some immigrants lose their ‘immigrant status’ more quickly than others?
Class and power. As well as immigrants’ experiences of class and poverty, we are interested in interrogating the idea of the working class as the driver of the anti-immigrant agenda. Are some immigrants more equal than others? How does the immigrant experience vary between people coming to the UK and Britons emigrating overseas?
Age. What are the particular experiences of child migrants, especially those separated from their families, and lack of provision for them? How can child rights intersect with a move towards more compassionate refugee policies? Equally, what are issues for elderly migrants, and how do experiences of migration change over time?
Heteronormativity and cisnormativity. We are interested in questions of prejudice and lack of understanding, as well as problems in application of immigration and asylum law and policy. Submissions may focus on the need to ‘prove’ sexual orientation in order to claim asylum on the grounds of persecution and likelihood of being disbelieved or the lack of services for trans migrants.
Knowledge workers. Submissions may include analysis of the effects of immigration on countries of origin. For example, analysis of 'brain circulation' and ways in which immigration policies may be limiting the international progress of science or of the movement of skilled workers, especially in medicine and engineering from global majority countries to ‘the West.’
Climate change. How serious is the problem of climate change-induced migration and what should we do to prepare for it? How has the green movement dealt with immigration?
Political economy. Migration is, by definition, an international phenomenon. How can we understand immigration to the UK in terms of changes in international economic structures and policy regimes? How do different types of migration fit in to and/or challenge particular economic models? For instance, how did the establishment of the EU shape European migration flows, and to what extent does intra-European migration reflect and perpetuate inequalities between European member states? How compatible is free migration with the social democratic welfare state?
Intellectual history. How have political theorists understood, defended and criticised migration? How have immigrants themselves theorised or otherwise represented it? How has the labour movement historically dealt with migration? Should leftists simply advocate a 'no borders' approach?
Submissions should be between 1500 and 3000 words. Often shorter pieces are the more powerful. As usual on NLP, we welcome articles, interviews and book/cultural reviews, but we're open to other forms too; photo-essays, poetry, fiction, stories and archival material. For this particular topic, we're interested in myth-busters swiftly debunking dominant discourses around immigration, but we are also hoping for more philosophical, even artistic pieces too.
You should pitch pieces at an interested but non-expert audience, explaining any jargon and historical background where necessary and providing links and/ or citations to sources.
We welcome submissions from writers of any educational/professional background and from all over the world, and would particularly like to see submissions from those with migrant backgrounds or who have experience of migration.
More notes on our about page.
Send completed pieces to email@example.com or firstname.lastname@example.org by 14th April 2014.
If you want to pitch/ discuss an idea in advance, please do so but try to do this as soon as possible so you can still submit the full piece in time for the deadline.
After the riots, Peckham became known for its so-called "peace wall" of post-it notes which grew steadily on the side of a boarded up Poundland. It ended up being preserved as an art exhibit and mis-quoted in a Nick Clegg speech.
So it was interesting to see this "write your message to the Job Centre" pop up there (photographed yesterday evening and, according to a correspondent on Twitter, put up by the Revolutionary Communist Group who had a stall at bottom of the high street and were asking people to write).
The notes highlighted in a print of the post-riot wall sold by a local arts project included "Be nice x" "Peckham is Cool!" "Love where you are" "stop messy and noise in Peckham " "Peckham unique and resilient" "Stop burning my city" "friends shopkeepers." If you have a play around the BBC's zoomable image, you'll find a slightly more diverse perspective, one that seemed to reflect some of the tensions behind the riots as well as concerns that the area and it's people would be demonised as dangerious. E.g. "we should make it a weekly event" "We are peaceful people" "it's the first place I've live that I can call home" "more opportunity for young people" "Peckham is a multicultural community with diverse voices" "we need more black police" "the majority are good" "I love Peckham and its people, bring peace and love, we care for each other" "go do it in Downing St, not here" and "the poor youngsters are being penalised by this insidious coalition government that only help the rich."
Still, the tone and focus of this new piece of public art was very different. For example: "Capitalism = injustice, poverty, oppressoin racism. Get organised!" "Only a rich man can think up the Bedroom tax" "Why not concentrate on the businesses doding taxes" "jobs not workfare" "Stop cuts, stop punishing the poor, fight back" "Nobody in government represents us, the represent the rich" "JSA = modern slavery" "if you stop our money, what will we eat?" "fight racism, fight imperialism" "fight together to beat the system" and "how many bedrooms in Buckingham Palace?"
I wonder how long it'll last, and if it'll end up being quoted in Lib Dem speeches. I also wonder how much it reflects the people of Peckham, but I wondered that about the peace wall. Maybe some of the local artists will monitise its messages into prints too.
(dedicated to Steven Salaita)
This is a guest post by Joe Buckley*
On 8th February 2014 Vietnam’s first branch of McDonald’s opened in Ho Chi Minh City, to a great fanfare of loud techno music, strobe lighting, and balloons. The restaurant has proved wildly popular, with people willing to wait for hours to be served – one customer told me that she had queued for two hours to buy two hamburgers, and loved it. There have also been long waiting times and huge queues at the drive-thru section, the entrance of which is, wholly inconveniently, located directly on one of the city’s major roundabouts.
Many media sources have pointed out the apparent paradox of this iconic symbol of capitalism coming to nominally communist Vietnam. The franchisee of McDonald’s Vietnam is Henry Nguyen, who is the son in law of the Prime Minister, Nguyen Tan Dung. This huge investment of foreign money, however, and the revolving door between business and political elites, is not new to Vietnam. The country opened itself up to the free market in 1986 – gradually at first, but over the last decade or so Vietnam has been flooded by international brands. In the realm of fast food, the brand names KFC, Pizza Hut, Burger King, and Baskin’ Robbins all have a very visual presence in the country, and Starbucks arrived in summer 2013. The arrival of McDonald’s, then, does not represent a sudden break from a non-capitalist system, but is merely a continuation of a process that has been occurring for nearly 30 years. It is now impossible to deny that Vietnam has been brought wholly into the global flow of capital, which is probably why the occasion has attracted so much news coverage. This coverage has spanned both national media – in both Vietnamese and English – and international media. Almost all news reports have either observed that the McDonald’s’ arrival shows Vietnam has a rapidly growing economy with a lot of market potential or that Vietnam’s consumers have a big appetite for Western brands.
Many residents of Ho Chi Minh City are also excited by McDonald’s arrival, although it would be a crude generalisation to assert that everyone is enamoured. Some people have concerns about health; a number of Vietnamese media sources have mentioned this problem, interviewing doctors and other commentators on the topic. What is more striking, however, is that, apart from this issue, there has been a distinct lack of any criticism or questioning of McDonald’s, either in the media or on the streets. A quick internet search by anyone interested will reveal this.
Big multinationals, of which McDonald’s is perhaps the most recognised, raise important issues regarding such things as labour and the environment. The arrival of McDonald’s in Vietnam has immense symbolism for the country - the Golden Arches are perhaps one of the most ubiquitous symbols of globalisation - and represents a certain direction that the country is taking. All the associated issues of potential environmental degradation and the exploitation and informalisation of labour are important concerns and things to consider, but have been shockingly lacking from any national conversation and discussion about Vietnam’s development trajectory.
McDonald’s has been criticised worldwide for unethical practices on a range of issues. Further, the McLibel Case is one of the most famous pyrrhic victories in corporate history, in which McDonald’s took a London-based postman and gardener to court over a pamphlet they and other campaigners produced criticising the company (though it has since been revealed that one of the police officers involved in the recent undercover policing scandal helped to write the pamphlet). The criticisms included claims that the company was complicit in Third World starvation, had banned trade unions, and was destroying rainforests, and the court case lasted over ten years. Denied legal aid and forced to represent themselves, the couple lost the case, which lasted 10 years, and were ordered to pay £40,000 (which McDonald’s never collected). In 2005, however, the European Court of Human Rights ruled that the couple had been denied a fair trial.
The company has been accused of playing a big role in the destruction of the Amazon rainforest through the way it sources its Chicken McNuggets. More recently, only last week guest workers in the USA were found to have been hugely exploited by McDonald’s, and, in the first two months of this year, the company came under fire for being one of the sponsors of the Sochi Winter Olympics against a backdrop of intense homophobic discrimination by the Russian government. In Vietnam itself in the mid-2000s, nearly 10,000 workers walked out of McDonald’s supplier factory in the city of Da Nang, central Vietnam, alleging abusive conditions and starvation wages.
All of this makes it more striking that the arrival of McDonald’s in Vietnam has not been accompanied by much questioning. One McDonald’s worker, speaking anonymously, said that he applied for the job because he was told that he had a chance to be trained abroad, and wants experience in a globally recognised company, adding that the salary is “OK”. Crew members are paid a monthly salary of 4 million to 6 million Dong per month (£113 - £170), based on experience, for a 48 hour working week – which works out at 19,000 – 28,000 Dong (54 pence – 80 pence) per hour. They have to sign a 2-3 year contract, and, if they want to leave before this time, money is docked for their training fee. This hourly rate is better in comparison to KFC and the popular Japanese fast food chain Lotteria, though neither of these companies have a minimum number of years for people to work there.
Indeed, there are certainly worse jobs, with poorer conditions and worse hours to be found in this city and the prospect of training abroad is highly attractive to some for sure. However, the absence of debate about what McDonald’s represents hides important issues about the environment, labour rights and inequality. Such issues should really be a central part of any discussion about McDonald's in Vietnam, and about neoliberal globalisation as manifested in the country. On a wider level, this leads to lack of critical engagement with the path of economic development that Vietnam is taking. Of all the media reports about McDonald’s in Vietnam, both foreign and domestic, I could find only one line buried in a Financial Times article alluding to the ‘masked growing inequalities’. This is saddening, as the issues raised by McDonald’s arrival are important for everyone everywhere.
*Joe Buckley is based in Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam. He is a Vietnamese speaker and is interested in issues of labour in Southeast Asia. He tweets at @JoeJBBuckley.
This is a guest post from the Western Sahara Campaign.
Western Sahara has been occupied by Morocco for almost 40 years. Around 160,000 refugees from the conflict still live in tents in the Algerian desert, whilst others remain under a brutal occupation. Yet little is known about Africa’s last colony and the UN’s failure to organise a referendum on self-determination and protect the rights of the Saharawi people.
One of Western Sahara’s most prominent human rights defenders, former prisoner of conscience and “disappeared”, Brahim Dahane is in the UK to speak about life under Moroccan occupation. If you are around London, this Tuesday provides a rare opportunity to see him and learn more about the conflict. He will be joined by a respresenative from Amnesty International, Mark Williams MP, Jeremy Corbyn MP and John Hilary of War on Want. The latter 3 recently joined the Western Sahara Campaign on the first official UK delegation to the territory and will report back on their trip.
As Corbyn wrote for the Morning Star last week:
There are 100,000 people stuck in camps in the Algerian desert, many of whom have been there since the 1970s. The remaining Sahrawi population in the territory are now outnumbered by Moroccan settlers. Many now rely on the Moroccan state and para-state companies for work.
In legal terms the territory is a non-self governing territory, in other words occupied. That has been the reason for opposition to the EU's fishing agreement with Morocco which allows Western Sahara fish to enter our shops. Behind the dispute lie the national ambitions of Morocco and the huge mineral wealth of phosphates which stream out of the territory through Laayoune, as well as prodigious quantities of fish off the coast. There are now increasing Moroccan farming activities around the other main city of Dhakla, with vast tomato plantations being established. Some of the products end up in our supermarkets.
The abuses of Western Sahara residents goes on. When we met representatives of the Collective of Human Rights Defenders of Western Sahara (Codesa) we heard of arbitrary arrests, the detention of young people and discrimination against those who speak in favour of self-determination. Codesa president Aminatou Haidar was herself jailed for years - and kept blindfolded for four of them.
Tuesday, 25th February, 7-8.30pm Houses of Parliament. The event is hosted by the All Party Parliamentary Group on Western Sahara. More details at the Western Sahara Action Forum. RSVP: email@example.com.
In a recent blog post Sam Harris publicly recanted his support for extensive covert U.S. 'counter-terror' operations. Having watched Dirty Wars, Jeremy Scahill's documentary about covert actions in Afghanistan, Yemen and elsewhere, Harris now feels 'embarrassed to have been so trusting and complacent with respect to my government’s use of force':
I no longer think about the prospects of our fighting an ongoing war on terror in quite the same way. In particular, I no longer believe that a mostly covert war makes strategic or moral sense. Among the costs of our current approach are a total lack of accountability, abuse of the press, collusion with tyrants and warlords, a failure to enlist allies, and an ongoing commitment to secrecy and deception that is corrosive to our politics and to our standing abroad.
The immediate context for this reversal was a frivolous article by Jonathan Haidt accusing Harris of dogmatism. In the background, too, was an acrimonious exchange with Daniel Dennett about free will, which left Harris despairing of the prospects for rational public discourse:
In recent years, I have spent so much time debating scientists, philosophers, and other scholars that I’ve begun to doubt whether any smart person retains the ability to change his mind. This is one of the great scandals of intellectual life: The virtues of rational discourse are everywhere espoused, and yet witnessing someone relinquish a cherished opinion in real time is about as common as seeing a supernova explode overhead.
Harris's recantation, then, served two purposes: to promote willingness to admit error as a norm of conduct in public discourse; and to refute and generally poke fun at Haidt.
Harris's willingness to hold up his hands in public is, in principle, admirable. I have had to do the same on several occasions, as a contributor to various forums and blogs. Despite posting under a pseudonym about often trivial issues to a tiny audience, it was not a pleasant experience. For someone in Harris's position—writing under his own name on a large platform, under scrutiny by many who for political or personal reasons are sure to seize on any admission of error to attack him—it carries a much higher potential cost.
And yet, there is something about the recantation that really doesn't sit right. It feels tactical, since one of its purposes is to refute a critic. Acknowledging error in order to absolve oneself of the charge of never admitting error rather cheapens the acknowledgement. Relatedly and more importantly, if Harris's aim is to demonstrate 'the pleasure of changing my mind,' his post succeeds too well. His admission of error comes too easy.
Dirty Wars was a good documentary, but—unlike and as distinct from Scahill's journalism more generally—it did not reveal anything fundamentally new about U.S. covert operations. That watching it changed Harris's mind so radically suggests that his prior position was not the product of serious research. And yet, Harris relates that he did not merely privately sympathise with President Obama's covert programs; he publically defended them. As a respected public figure, his views surely carried weight. And as Scahill's reporting has exposed, the consequences of those policies could scarcely have been more serious.
Public figures' outsize influence confers on them a heavy responsibility, particularly when pronouncing on matters of great significance for people's lives and well-being. Max Weber captured the sense of political responsibility I'm talking about perfectly:
It is immensely moving when a mature person (whether old or young) who feels with his whole soul the responsibility he bears for the real consequences of his actions, and who acts on the basis of an ethics of responsibility, says at some point, 'Here I stand, I can do no other.' That is something genuinely human and profoundly moving.
In practice, this means that those with influence ought to do their research thoroughly before speaking out, feeling fully the burden of responsibility they will assume for the human consequences of their advocacy. For those who conduct themselves in this way, admitting error will not be pleasurable. If you have arrived at a position only after careful consideration and a painstaking investment of time and effort, acutely aware of the human consequences for which you have thereby assumed responsibility, the realisation that you have been mistaken cannot but be devastating. If Harris really did enjoy changing his mind about U.S. 'counter-terror' policies, this would seem to reflect the irresponsible blitheness with which he advocated his initial position. Easy come, easy go.
Real integrity consists in an ethic of responsibility, in which positions are publicly adopted only with care, and abandoned, not with pleasure, but from sensitivity to the human consequences attendant upon them. In the absence of this, ostentatious adherence to the formal procedures of rational discourse, in which positions on issues of life-and-death are adopted and retracted on a whim, to much self-congratulation and applause from devotees of reason, becomes a contemptible game.
 I take this as evidence of the force of a long-standing concern about the political impact of some New Atheist writing. Narrowing discussion of enlightenment and its enemies to the battle between religion and secularism has marginalised other threats to reason and liberty that are at least as serious, while elevating religious fanaticism to the status of principal and overriding threat to civilised values has legitimised the exacerbation of other dangers—in this case, U.S. military impunity—in the name of combating it.
 It suggests the same about his current position, too.
 Max Weber, 'Politics as a Vocation,' in Max Weber, Political Writings ed. Peter Lassman and Ronald Speirs (Cambridge: Cambridge UP, 1994), pp. 367-68.
 Cf. Norman Finkelstein on the late Christopher Hitchens: '...a sharp political break must, for one living a political life, be a wrenching emotional experience. The rejection of one’s core political beliefs can’t but entail a rejection of the person holding them: if the beliefs were wrong, then one’s whole being was wrong... Yet, the élan with which Hitchens has shed his past and, spewing venom, the brio with which he savages former comrades is a genuine wonder to behold. No doubt he imagines it is testament to the mettle of his conviction that past loyalties don’t in the slightest constrain him; in fact, it’s testament to the absence of any conviction at all.'
A guest post by Ian Sinclair*
Though I’ve forgotten an awful lot of my university education, one thing I do remember is one of my tutors arguing that we are still feeling the effects of Second World War propaganda today.
The sheer volume of newspaper column inches, magazines, history books, novels, television programmes and films that continue to focus on ‘Our Finest Hour’ shows my lecturer’s assertion was right on the money. However, the last person I expected to unquestionably repeat the propaganda narrative was Seumas Milne, considered by many to be the Guardian’s most left-wing voice.
Countering Michael Gove’s ‘preposterous nonsense’ on the First World War, in a recent article Milne stated ‘Unlike the second world war, the bloodbath of 1914-18 was not a just war.’ He went on to argue, rightly in my opinion, that the ‘Great’ War ‘was a savage industrial slaughter perpetrated by a gang of predatory imperial powers, locked in a deadly struggle to capture and carve up territories, markets and resources.’
The problem for Milne is that this summary of the First World War also applies to much of the Second World War. But rather than the 10 million dead of the First World War, the ‘industrial slaughter’ of the second caused over 50 million deaths. And while the war to fend off Nazi Germany in 1940 was a war of national defence, the war in the Pacific and Middle East can only be described as being ‘perpetrated by a gang of predatory imperial powers’. What, exactly, were tens of thousands of British troops doing ‘defending’ Singapore and the Middle East when the UK mainland was being threatened with imminent invasion? And those who doubt our leaders were interested in carving up territories and markets should take a look at the infamous Percentages Agreement, which shows Churchill and Stalin carving up South East Europe on one sheet of paper.
A central tenet of Just War theory concerns the reason for going to war in the first place. So was it a war for democracy? The fact the UK was allied with the Soviet Union and ruled over the largest Empire on the globe suggests not. For human rights? Have we forgotten that the US armed forces were segregated during the war or that the British Empire was built on the racist oppression of hundreds of millions of people? To help the Jews? The destruction of the European Jewish population was not a central concern of the US and UK governments.
Another key component of Just War theory is the concept of proportionality – generally considered to mean that war should be waged according to military objectives and not target civilians or use excessive force in achieving these objective. Where, exactly, does the Allied terror bombing of cities such as Dresden, Hamburg and Tokyo fit in to this? In his book Among the Dead Cities: Was the Allied Bombing of Civilians in WWII a Necessity or a Crime? A.C. Grayling points out: ‘Allied bombing in which German and Japanese civilian populations were deliberately targeted claimed the lives of about 800,000 civilian women, children and men’. Not enough terror for you? How about the dropping of atomic bombs on Hiroshima and Nagasaki, used in the knowledge that Japan was close to surrendering?
How the UK behaved after 1945 is also telling, I think. Because, surely, those that fought for the liberation of Europe would also fight for the liberation of India, right? And I imagine those who were disgusted by what the Nazi’s did to the Jews, Gypsies and political opponents, would also be disgusted by what the British did in Kenya in the 1950s? You know, the torture, forcing bottles of hot water up women’s vaginas, the castration and the burning alive of prisoners.
Contrary to Milne’s simplistic statement, at best, at best, it can be argued that parts of the fight against one of our three official enemies (Germany) was a just war. To argue otherwise suggests an inability to face up to inconvenient historical facts.
To be clear, I’m not suggesting here that violently resisting Nazi Germany at the time was not the best course of action for the UK. But I do think it’s important to try to demythologise Britain’s role in the war and to think critically about the subject. For example, shouldn’t we be asking whether a war that killed over 50 million people was the only way to resolve the crisis? And even if war was the only viable option at the time, do we agree with how it was executed? Because if one believes in waging total war in defence of a nation in 1940, then this raises uncomfortable questions about what actions Iraqis and Afghans have the right to take against the UK to resist the invasions and occupations of their own countries.
*Ian Sinclair is a freelance writer based in London and the author of The March that Shook Blair: An Oral History of 15 February 2003 He tweets @IanJSinclair.
The city has been the inspiration for some of the most heart-soaringly brilliant pieces of music ever written. It's been a site of joy, optimism, love and possibility, but also of boredom and loneliness, pain, struggle and oppression. To accompany our new series about the city we're compiling a playlist of songs about the urban experience and we want your ideas. There are some songs already in the playlist, just to get the ball rolling - but we need more. So, your suggestions in the comments below please!
You can read the articles from the series so far here and an introduction to the series here
Former Guardian journalist, and author of several books on the Israel-Palestine conflict, Jonathan Cook posted the following response to Michael Albert's interview with Glenn Greenwald on his blog:
Glenn Greenwald’s great betrayal
I’m a huge fan of Glenn Greenwald’s work, and I very much hope his new media venture, the Intercept, is a success – not just for his sake but for all of us who want to see the media landscape open up for independent journalists.
That said, I found his responses to Michael Albert in an interview on the problems of journalism utterly disillusioning. Questioned about the ideological constraints on journalists posed by the nature of the media’s commercial, corporate interests, he comes across as smug and complacent. To be honest, he sounds like the Margaret Thatcher of new media.
Let’s start with the best bit. Greenwald agrees with Albert that there are institutional and structural pressures on journalists. Here’s what he says:
These kinds of biases [in media organisations] are cultural and generalized, not absolute. The Guardian has published Noam Chomsky many times [sic]. So has Salon. The nature of theories of media bias isn’t that it’s impossible to ever inject certain ideas into them. That’s just not the case. Exceptions happen. But to the extent that you’re suggesting that most journalists would find it uncomfortable and even damaging to their career to write critically of their employers, of course that’s true. That’s true everywhere, not just in journalism.
Unfortunately, that’s the high point. It goes rapidly downhill from there.
I use my own experience as an example, but there are lots of other people who could report similarly. When I worked at Salon and at the Guardian, there were owners, funders, etc. They all had their own interests. But I negotiated into my contract to be able to write whatever I wanted and to publish directly onto the internet without anyone even looking at what I write much less having the ability to edit or change it except in the most extreme circumstances. And I think that one of the things we are seeing is that there are now journalists who are able to use the resources of institutions and enjoy certain benefits of the institution like readers and traffic, yet very much keep those institutions at arm’s length so the dynamics that you described don’t end up limiting or interfering in the kind of journalism they do – and I guess it is up to the individual journalists to figure out ways to make that happen.
I find this more than hard to stomach. I worked for many years at the Guardian, and unless things have changed dramatically in the last decade Greenwald is talking complete nonsense in suggesting that the arrangement he secured with the newspaper is commonplace, or even possible for the overwhelming majority of journalists.
The word that I used in the past about the deal that Greenwald struck with the Guardian was “unique”. Now, I’m prepared to be persuaded that things have changed enough in recent times that there are other journalists with such absolute independence written into their contracts, but I would want some evidence. And if there are a few – a tiny elite at the Guardian like, maybe, George Monbiot, Polly Toynbee, Simon Jenkins – the point would be that almost all of them are safely within the consensus of the Guardian. Most are veteran journalists who have proved that they are never likely to stray from a broad consensus the Guardian is comfortable accommodating.
The point about Greenwald – what made his appointment so exciting to so many of us – was our understanding that he did not fit into that safe consensus. The Guardian’s decision to give him real independence was a very risky undertaking from its perspective. It was a sign of quite how desperately they needed him, as a way to bolster their credentials among a radical US readership (not least because a strong US presence might finally make their online advertising strategy profitable).
In short, Greenwald was able to dictate his terms. That is simply not possible for 99% of other journalists, least of all radical journalists. For Greenwald to suggest otherwise is, in my view, a betrayal of their struggle. In fact, it is the equivalent of blaming the victim. The inability of most radical journalists to get a high-paid, high-profile job at the Guardian or the Huffpo is, Greenwald implies, not related to structural problems in the industry; it’s simply that they haven’t, like him or Jeremy Scahill, worked hard enough at “figuring out ways to make that happen”.
Or as Greenwald puts it at another point,
I agree that you do get a little ostracized [if you are radical] but again, you have to not succumb to it and instead fight for independence. So you are right that there are real institutional pressures, but I think there are ways to insulate yourself from them so you can do the kind of journalism that you want without regard for what anyone, including those in your media outlet, think about it.
Albert, to his credit, isn’t falling for this. In the end, Greenwald’s answers inadvertently prove the point that Albert is trying to make about structural constraints in the media. Greenwald is now a very well-paid senior journalist in the new media empire of Pierre Omidyar, eBay founder and multi-billionaire. Greenwald’s self-made, entrepreneurial journalism philosophy sounds very much in line with what one would expect Omidyar to believe about the industry.
Albert asks a very important and penetrating question:
So, have you ever written a piece for the Guardian that reveals aspects of their structure, their decision making, their division of labor, their pay scales and internal culture, and shows the implications for the people involved and for journalism, and, if someone did that, what do you think would be the response? Has anyone at the Guardian ever written such a piece even about another corporation, for that matter, much less the Guardian itself? Can they even think those thoughts?
Here’s Greenwald’s answer:
Again, a lot of this depends on one’s individual situation. Before coming to the Guardian I never wrote much about the internal decision-making processes of media outlets because the only work I had done with media outlets previously was at Salon, where I had total editorial independence and worked alone. The same was true at the Guardian, until I began reporting on the NSA documents. But I have zero doubt that – had I been so inclined and thought I had worthwhile things to say about it – I could have easily written about the internal processes of newspapers, including the Guardian, without being interfered with.
If someone had said something like this to Greenwald about any subject other than the media, I think he would have – rightly – torn their argument to shreds. Is Greenwald saying he cannot write about something unless he has direct experience of it? So did he ever work for the security services or the NSA? And does he really want to argue that he has “nothing worthwhile” to say – ever – about the role of corporations in controlling the media, the single most important prism through which we interpret the world and the events around us.
I can only hope enough readers and colleagues call Greenwald out over this interview that he is forced to do a reality check. Yes, Glenn, we hold you to a higher standard than almost anyone else. But that’s because you’re only any use as long as you stay honest. Lose that and you lose us.
Like many, I was kept awake by the wind on Friday, frightened by the weather for first time since I was little. I didn’t feel in immediate danger, it was more that I lay there wondering is this something we're going to have to get used to. Uncertainties over whether these recent weather events have been caused by climate change aside (and such uncertainties are overstated anyway) this is the sort of thing we can expect to see more of. A trailer of sorts.
On Saturday night I passed a car that had been smashed by the storm - killing a woman with it - and the knot in my guts that’s been tightening for years, clenched.
On Sunday, I read about the erosion near my old home in Brighton, and looked again at the remarkable photos of Somerset. The knot tied harder.
Our island nation is being swallowed by water. Once the storms do ease and things gradually go back to normal, I suspect it will leave emotional scars. The sea sits strongly in our national psyche - from myths of King Cnut to wartime lullabies of white cliffs of Dover via a chorus or three of Britannia rules the waves. These fears aren't new; they are the nightmares of my late 20th century childhood. These experiences aren't new either; we've been flooded before, and there is a growing corpus of devastating weather stories from other parts of the world we just manage to avoid listening to.
We can continue to stick your head in the sand when it comes to dealing with the threat of climate change. Or rather, we can stick it in the mud, becuase there's going to be a lot of that for a while. Or we can take a lead on re-making our world to cope and limit damage as much as possible. We have to find ways to deal with these horrible, stomach-knotting problems and take as much action as we can (timings of impacts mean there's a limit to how much we can do, now, though we can still do important prevention work as well as considering adaptation).
“It's alarmist!” people opposing action complain, putting many environmentalists on a defensive footing. Well, it is alarming. “Don't be so depressing!” the delayers continue. Well, it is depressing. We have to get used to these feelings. We have to be get used to having a grown up conversation about this.
Nicholas Stern calls for "a new low-carbon industrial revolution" in his Guardian front page last week. It's rhetoric that's been rolled out before, often rather loosely, but there's an important point in there too. It won't be easy, but then industrial revolutions never are. People have made money from previously ones, yes, but a lot of people were fucked over in the process too. We just don't hear their stories because they were marginalised. There's a reason industrial revolutions are valorised when ones uprooting political power are not. And it's all about who is inconvenienced. Maybe this time we can be cleverer about distributing the burdens. Because change is happening, whatever we do. The more we delay, the more radical the impacts of climate change will be. We can sit back and let devastating change be done to us, or we can take much smaller changes to mitigate them.
Britain lead the world in an industrial revolution which helped build this pathological carbon-dependent society we're so hooked on. It's time we used some of the residual global power that allows us, and took a lead to change.