Catherine Bennett, Ben & Jerry – and the Moral Ratings Agency

11 Sep

Guardian/Observer, September 10, 2023. Click the screenshot to access the piece.
  • Twenty-two years ago today the world’s screens displayed endlessly looped footage of transcontinental airliners punching gaping craters in Towers 1 and 2 of New York’s World Trade Centre, and with stills of another gaping crater in the outer wall of the Pentagon.
  • Fifty years ago today Chile’s elected government, led by Salvador Allende, was violently overthrown with CIA help. Augustus Pinochet’s long dark night of Washington approved terror had begun.

I say these things because though neither event is my subject today, it would be remiss of me to pass over in silence the shared anniversary. I also say them because both 9/11s lit up in flashing neon the dark heart of the US Empire, which is  my subject today. As I put it in a footnote to my recent post, Broken: the implicit contract between the rulers and the ruled. Part 2:

Failing to see that their relative prosperity and freedoms are premised on the very opposites abroad – which is to say, failing to grasp the nature of modern imperialism – it baffles [liberals] when voices like Caitlin Johnstone call the USA the most tyrannical regime on the planet.

One liberal ingenue, though I may be overly charitable in calling her that, is Catherine Bennett. Writing yesterday in the Observer she begins

So long as you are not Ukrainian, it is difficult to imagine a more caring and sensitive ally than the food, cosmetic and hygiene giant, Unilever. “We strive to do more good for our planet and our society,” its website tells everyone

“So long as you are not Ukrainian …”  Would that be in the country’s east or west? Ms Bennett doesn’t say, an omission which tells me the sum total of her knowledge of Ukraine could – like that of the liberals baffled by Caitlin Johnstone, and Americans surprised by that fire bomb – be written on the back of a stamp. But let’s move on. If you detect in the above extract the setting up of Unilever for a kicking, you’re not wrong. And who am I to protest at corporate leviathans being named and shamed? This site opposes everything they stand for.

All the same, I choose my verbal weapons with care, as opposed to pandering to ignorance and blithely furthering the lethal agendas of power. Later Ms Bennett tells us:

… On the eve of the 2022 Russian invasion, the Ben & Jerry’s team tweeted at Joe Biden (but not Putin) to stop “fanning the flames of war”.

Hmm. Let’s take stock as to why anyone, even the hippie capitalists at Ben & Jerry’s of Unilever, might accuse Joe Biden (but not Vladimir Putin) of fanning the flames of war. For a fuller but still incomplete reminder, see my post of six months ago on The whataboutery of Simon Tisdall.

Meanwhile I offer the following drastically cut down list:

  1. Broken promises

Self-appointed ‘fact checker’ sites of dubious provenance and funding seek ‘to debunk the myth’  of US Secretary of State James Baker having in 1990 promised Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev that, in return for accepting German reunification, NATO would expand not an inch eastwards. In actuality the evidence that Russia was betrayed is unequivocal.

More importantly, even in the absence of any such promises, NATO expansion to Russia’s borders (and refusal to accept Russian membership) would have been a threat no major power, least of all America, could accept. Which leads us to …

2. Broken promises plus monumental hypocrisy

3. Vastly greater form on military aggression

The USA rings the planet with 800 military bases, outspends on weaponry the next ten spenders put together, has been at war for almost its entire history and has slaughtered millions – by bombs, invasions, murderous ‘sanctions’ and terror unleashed – in this century alone. Mostly in far off lands.

In what moral universe can anything remotely similar be said of Russia?

4. The Maidan Coup

In early 2014 a US backed coup ousted Ukraine’s corrupt but elected leader to shoe in an even more corrupt one hand-picked by Obama-Biden’s Assistant Secretary of State, Victoria “fuck the EU” Nuland. 2 Kiev was now in the grip of far right currents, hostile to the ethnic Russian majorities of the east. Streets were  (re-) named after Nazis, the Russian language banned in schools. Donbas, Luhansk and Crimea took to the streets, in the face of marauding Bandera thugs, to back local leaders’ declarations of independence as the country descended into a civil war Catherine Bennett, and almost all her colleagues in Western corporate media, has forgotten.

As they have forgotten that Crimea (a) had been Russian until Khrushchev ‘gave it’ in 1954 to a Ukraine Republic then in the USSR, (b) voted by 97% of an 89% turn-out to return to the Russian Federation, (c) housed the RF’s nukes (at risk of capture by the fascists of the Azov Battalion and C14) – and now, as a consequence of their stupendous amnesia or ignorance, decry “Russian aggression” while giving a free pass, de facto or even de jure, both to the Maidan subversion of democracy and to America’s endless wars thousands of miles from its shores and borders.

4. The West’s ongoing duplicity

When Ukraine, Georgia and Central Asia’s “Stans” seceded from the Russian Federation after the break up of the USSR, the newly formed states had ethnic Russian majorities in territories large enough to make self governance viable. In the case of Ukraine (Donbas, Luhansk, Crimea) and Georgia (Ossetia) geographical proximity made a further option, of returning to the RF, also feasible.

This is the reality underlying the Minsk Accord – signed by Ukraine, Russia, France and Germany – by which those Russian majorities would decide by plebiscite their own future.

In December 2022 Angela Merkel boasted that Minsk had been a decoy; its talk of East Ukraine choosing its destiny a lie to keep Moscow negotiating while Kiev built up its military strength inside or outside NATO. This was no careless remark, picked up out of context and amplified, but one the former Chancellor made in at least three interviews, with German and Italian media, and verified by the former French President, Francoise Hollande.

5. The West’s role in sabotaging peace

This piece on the LSE site 3 last year, though flawed by condemnation of Russia – without setting out alternatives she could have pursued – notes that:

On 26 March, President Biden, speaking in Warsaw, said, unscripted: “For God’s sake, this man [Putin] cannot remain in power.” Such an overt statement of intention for regime change in Russia has not gone down well in most of Europe. US Secretary of State Antony Blinken later clarified Biden’s Warsaw remark: “As you know, and as you have heard us say repeatedly, we do not have a strategy of regime change in Russia, or anywhere else, for that matter”. Blinken has apparently forgotten Vietnam, Chile, Iraq, Afghanistan, and quite a few more.

To which we can add the role of then UK prime minister Boris Johnson in flying out to Kiev to order Volodymyr Zelenski not to talk to the Russians

6. Putin’s ‘appeasement’

Other authoritative voices in the USA – John Mearsheimer, the late Stephen Cohen and Michael Hudson spring immediately to mind – have spoken out consistently on the lunacy – madness, but with method in it –  of American foreign policy since the fall of the USSR. But it fell to Paul Craig Roberts, erstwhile Reagan appointee at the US Treasury, to blame “Putin’s appeasement” for making WW3 more rather than less likely. In a 2018 piece, Can Nuclear War Be Avoided? he wrote:

Two factors are driving the world to nuclear war. One is the constant stream of insults, false accusations and broken agreements the West has been dumping on Russia year after year. The other is Russia’s response, or, perhaps more correctly, the lack thereof

In being too placatory, Chamberlain style, Roberts argued, Moscow had been sending all the wrong signals; making it almost as culpable as Washington in endangering us all.

I could go on, really I could. But I’m not here to second guess the intent of a Ben and Jerry tweet irking a know-nothing Graun columnist. I couldn’t care less what the tweeters had in mind. I’m setting out a pruned list of reasons why anyone armed with the facts – as opposed to hacking for the US empire; either with malice aforethought or self-serving credulity 4 and unpardonable ignorance 5 – would accuse Joe Biden, and those he serves, of “fanning the flames of war”.

Without extending the same courtesy to the Russian President.

The know-nothing Graun columnist goes on:

Unilever’s then boss regretted that intervention  but the company still advertises Ben & Jerry’s The ice-cream is among a range of “essential” Unilever products still produced and sold within Russia, and therefore continues, as campaigning groups have long been protesting, as a contributor to Putin’s war chest.

Well now. Guardian Media Group, on top of its de facto support 6 for US wars in far off lands which pose no threat to ordinary Americans, pays taxes – in the USA as in an almost equally aggressive UK -` and is therefore a contributor to Biden’s war chest. 7 We could get into a long debate about taxes being compulsory, of course, but is GMG’s presence in America any less optional than Unilever’s in Russia? Catherine Bennett’s argument, such as it is, taps the myth – America good, Russia baad – which however widely believed in the West, due in no small part to her degenerate profession, is not just unsupported but decisively refuted by the facts.

Nothing new there of course. But then she goes and does something I hadn’t been prepared for:

One of these [campaigning groups] the Moral Rating Agency, recently calculated how Unilever’s costs and taxes in Russia translate into armoury that might make Ukrainians feel unsafe or unhappy: 39 bullets every second, or one Iranian drone every 15 minutes. 8.

I confess, I hadn’t heard of the Moral Rating Agency. Not that I needed to. Context alone places it at the poorer end of that family of online ideologues and hired mouthpieces which purport to be objective and impartial but whose funding is either opaque or from manifestly interested parties. At the stinking rich end of this family lie the most prestigious think tanks like Rand and Center for Strategic and International Studies. These get funded by the US and other Western governments, and by the biggest players in the Military Industrial Complex. But, as noted just the other day by Caitlin Johnstone while skewering a textbook example, the garbage penned by the Catherine Bennetts of this world doesn’t tell you this. Whether that’s because they are liars or simply lazy, self-servingly credulous know-nothings is a question that interests me less with each passing year. Either way they are criminally culpable.

At the poorer end lie self anointed ‘fact checker‘ sites, as alluded to earlier: the ones pompous idiots below the line at the Guardian relied on, when they assured me – back in the days when I still thought such a forum worthy of my energies – that the idea of Iraq being “all about oil” has been “resoundingly debunked”.

Click on image to access the CNN article. As with the Guardian, CNN establishes credibility by its fearless investigations  once they can no longer do serious damage to entrenched power.

So who does  fund the Moral Rating Agency? After a short but energetic search I still can’t say. Its website is coy on the matter, but does feature this statement:

The Moral Rating Agency was set up to get Russia out of Ukraine. It later plans to cover corporate unethical actions in other countries and on other issues.

In addition to exposing, and crediting, corporations through moral ratings, the MRA maintains an Indelible Ledger of a company’s actions so any later corrective actions do not wipe the slate clean. Time is of the essence, so the rating system includes a disincentive for delay through exposing and tracking what preceded a later corrective action.

Unlike ESG (Environmental, Social and Governance) rating agencies, which have a commercial responsibility to their institutional investor clients to cover the range of issues these clients wish, the Moral Rating Agency is zeroing in on a single corporate moral issue, in this case the Russia-Ukraine war.

The MRA was founded and is led by Mark Dixon, who runs the mergers & acquisitions consultancy Thinking Linking in the City of London and New York. He was one of the co-founders of the online financial commentator, which is today part of Thomson Reuters. Mark has been opposed to autocratic regimes, particularly to the Chinese government and to Putin’s transformation of Russia from a nascent democracy into a fully-throttled autocracy. 9 He has a personal connection with Ukraine because he has owned an apartment in the city of Lviv since 2010. He has also lived in China.

The MRA has a paid staff of moral raters, verifiers, and fact-checkers who operate according to its Rating Methodology. It also has an on-site team involved in statistics, media relations, site production and publishing.

The MRA has no customers, external commercial relationships, or conflicts of any kind …

Here, surely, is MRA’s chance to say how it is funded – a chance it passes on. Yet Ms Bennett sees fit to cite MRA approvingly in a piece whose effect, regardless of intent, is to play a bit part in a fact-defiant “America good, Russia baad”   fairy tale pivotal to the prolonging of a war she and I both lament, though our understandings of it are oceans apart.

Just as twenty-two years ago an America good  narrative helped impose shock and awe, chaos and impoverishment, terror and oil grab on the peoples of the middle east. Just as, fifty years on from that other 9/11, the same deathly conceit informs those earnest hacks who still pen their plaudit winning empire apologetics from the“… yes, Pinochet did bad stuff but …”  playbook.

Though I don’t suppose Catherine Bennett, far less those who hire her, lose much sleep over such things. Maybe I should launch my own Moral Ratings Agency.

* * *

  1. My recantation addressed known facts, and gaping craters in the Official Account given in the 2005 NIST Report, but only touched on the consequences of 9/11/2001. A useful summary of those consequences is given here.
  2. I’m oversimplifying. The ousted Viktor Yanukovych had favoured a balancing act with the West and Russia. In the leaked phone call with US Ambassador Geoffrey Pyatt, Nuland – who like her husband was and is a lead member of the Wolfowitz cult, and whose boss was Hilary Clinton – is heard floating and rejecting replacements for Ukraine’s elected leader. Western media ran with “fuck the EU”, for which Nuland apologised, and ignored the subversion of democracy, for which she did not. That the corrupt Petro Poroshenko, who did succeed Yanukovych, was not one of the names toyed with by Nuland and Pyatt is secondary to the fact of senior figures in “the free world” calmly appraising who would and would not be allowed to lead Ukraine. Alongside the fact of Ukraine’s corruption and 2014-22 descent into an authoritarian state with wholesale banning of opposition parties, this makes nonsense of a “war to defend freedom”.
  3. The LSE is comparable in prestige to Oxbridge and Ivy League universities
  4. Self-serving credulity? Journalists who know what’s good for them please editors. Editors who know what’s good for them please proprietors. Proprietors not only crave seats at the high table. They can ill afford to offend advertisers and/or, in The Guardian’s case, wealthy sponsors like Bill Gates and George Soros.

  5. Still on the subject of self-serving credulity, do keep in mind that journalists don’t just craft power-serving narratives. Like the rest of us they consume them and this – as well as career focus – is how subjectively sincere journalists can make highly effective propagandists. Here’s what I say in a footnote to Monolithic control at the Guardian?

    My observations on journalists and their editors knowing what’s good for them  don’t necessarily or even usually imply cold calculation. The subject of ideology, touched on in the third of my February reads last year, is vast. Here it suffices that in our messy world: (a) humans are good at believing what it suits us to believe; (b) we’ve imbibed since infancy – from news media (which journalists consume as well as produce), from school and college, and from arts and entertainment whose soft propaganda is underrated – that liberal democracy is the worst system except for all the others; ergo (c) most journalists will believe the dangerous drivel they write.

  6. The Guardian will sometimes cheerlead for an imperialist war but in the main its MO is to vilify the leaders of states targeted then baulk at the consequences. And not just leaders. I discuss the Guardian MO here, in the context of its vilification of Julian prior to wringing its hands over the likely extradition of a man whose support that vilification had done so much to erode.
  7. “Guardian Media Group … is a contributor to Biden’s war chest”.  I’m responding here in the superficial and childishly personal tones Catherine Bennett has adopted. In truth the entire planet contributes to the US war machine. See the opening paragraphs of Broken: the implicit contract between the rulers and the ruled. Part 2.
  8. This may be news to Catherine Bennett but differently funded bullets and drones also kill Russians, Iraqis, Yemenis and Palestinians. As Caitlin Johnston, quoted here, put it:

    The hyperbolic language westerners use to describe fairly normal modern warfare in Ukraine suggests they’ve invested exactly zero thought in what their own governments have been doing in the middle east for the last two decades.

    It’s like, yes, killing, violence and destruction is what war looks like. You’re describing the thing that war is. It’s creepy that you’re only just discovering this now. What did you think your government has been using to conduct its wars this whole time? Dank memes?

  9. … Putin’s transformation of Russia from a nascent democracy into a fully-throttled autocracy…?  Verily, Mark Dixon and his MRA must be having a full-on chortle. Chapters 10 and 11 of Naomi Klein’s impeccably documented Shock Doctrine show exactly what was done to that “nascent democracy” amid the capitalism-on-steroids conditions – and plunging living standards – the IMF, on the drunken watch of Boris Yeltsin, inflicted after the USSR’s collapse. As for any “full throttle autocracy” as the RF made its remarkable recovery on Vladimir Putin’s watch, how, I wonder, do they explain the approval ratings, way above those of any western leader, enjoyed by the Russian President?

3 Replies to “Catherine Bennett, Ben & Jerry – and the Moral Ratings Agency

  1. Sounds familiar. Are Stonewall aware that someone else is copying their model?

    The ‘moral’ rating ‘philosophy…….

    … clearly based on the well worn Western cultural practice or pre-assuming what you aim deduce – pace champagne socialist Josep Borrell’s ethnocentric Garden/Jungle metaphor. Which takes as read that its own self-serving definitions of moral values represent the historical gold standard.

    A further example found in this similar reiteration of almost a millennium of ‘moral’ justifications for empire and ethnic slaughter.*

    * Posted recently on Andrei Martyanov’s blog.

      • The problem here is that the Stonewall model does not stop at corporations, institutions or organisations, in pursuit of enforcing The Official Narrative (TON).

        It goes after individuals.

        Given, for one example, that there have been recent elections across the RF which have included the four former Ukrainian Oblast’s of Donetsk, Lugansk, Kherson and Zaporozhe……

        ….which have included international observers it is not that big a step for this self appointed “Moral” global Parish Guardian to apply the same pressure against those observers or even individuals who go off script as it is for Corporations and other large entities.

        We have already witnessed kite flying precedents attempting to deny people access to bank accounts (Canadian truckers; Farage (among others)); prevent people standing for election (Trump, Kennedy*); and unprecedented character assassination (Corbyn, Assange – and by extension those who support their approach (ask LP members/former members who have been cancelled in droves by the kangaroo court internal processes** )).

        And once that manufactured purity spiral ‘Moral” Overton Window process is established on specific Official Narratives like Sex/Gender or Foreign Policy/Empire wars of choice every other Big Brother Official Narrative is up for grabs in terms of pre-crime like sanctions which seek to effectively ‘Morally” outlaw the expression of non-sanctioned views and narratives, corporate or individual.

        * The obvious next stage on from preventing the plebs/deplorables from having a candidate to vote for is outlawing them from having a vote at all. Purely on self-serving “Moral” grounds, of course.

        ** This has included not only suspension and expulsion of individuals but also preventing the candidacy on anyone not part of TON; take over of CLP’s and other Party Units; and even the takeover of local Labour run Councils. Sheffield was a particularly interesting case. But that’s another story.

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