Archive for the ‘Spain’ Category

Policeman Killed by Terrorist Should Get Award for His Sacrifice

March 23, 2017

I’ve been listening to the news about the vile terrorist attack that occurred in London yesterday. Like everyone else, I’m disgusted by this man’s horrific attack on the innocent ordinary citizens on the bridge, including Aysha Frade, a Spanish teacher at a sixth form college, and the French students, who have been injured.

I believe that Keith Palmer, the police officer stabbed to death by the terrorist, should be posthumously given an award for his heroism in sacrificing his own life to defend the politicos, civil servants, members of the public inside the palace of Westminster.

I also have nothing but respect for the response of the medical staff of one of the hospitals, who rushed out to give immediate aid to the victims. This too was an act of bravery, as they did not know whether they themselves would also be targeted for attack.

Of all the speeches being made by the politicians about it, I think one of the most profound points was made by Ken Livingstone. Livingstone pointed out that London had survived the Blitz, and would survive this. He also said that the terrorists’ intention is to provoke non-Muslims to attack Muslims. However, after the 7/7 attacks, not one Muslim was attacked in retaliation. He followed this with the observation that the people coming to our country are attracted by our values of tolerance and community, and don’t want to change them.

It’s an excellent point, and needed to be said before the bigots of the extreme right try to capitalise on this terrible incident to demonise Muslims in turn, and create the hatred and division the killer and his vile collaborators want.

Today Is International Women’s Day

March 8, 2017

It’s International Women’s Day today. According to Wikipedia, it was first started by the Socialist Party of America, who held the first Women’s Day in New York on February 28th, 1909. Following a suggestion by Luise Zietz at an International Women’s Conference in August 1910, it was then celebrated the next year in Austria, Denmark, Germany and Switzerland. It then spread to the Russian Empire, and became a formal day of celebration under Lenin and Alexandra Kollontai after the Bolshevik coup. It was then celebrated mostly by the Communist countries until 1975, when the UN inaugurated International Women’s Day.

The Wikipedia article gives its history as follows

The earliest organized Women’s Day observance was held on February 28, 1909, in New York. It was organized by the Socialist Party of America in remembrance of the 1908 strike of the International Ladies Garment Worker’s Union.[3] There was no strike on March 8, despite later claims.[5]

In August 1910, an International Women’s Conference was organized to precede the general meeting of the Socialist Second International in Copenhagen, Denmark.[6] Inspired in part by the American socialists, German Socialist Luise Zietz proposed the establishment of an annual International Woman’s Day (singular) and was seconded by fellow socialist and later communist leader Clara Zetkin, although no date was specified at that conference.[7][8] Delegates (100 women from 17 countries) agreed with the idea as a strategy to promote equal rights including suffrage for women.[9] The following year on March 19, 1911 IWD was marked for the first time, by over a million people in Austria, Denmark, Germany and Switzerland.[3] In the Austro-Hungarian Empire alone, there were 300 demonstrations.[7] In Vienna, women paraded on the Ringstrasse and carried banners honouring the martyrs of the Paris Commune.[7] Women demanded that they be given the right to vote and to hold public office. They also protested against employment sex discrimination.[2] Americans continued to celebrate National Women’s Day on the last Sunday in February.[7]

Although there were some women-led strikes, marches, and other protests in the years leading up to 1914, none of them happened on March 8.[5] In 1914 International Women’s Day was held on March 8, possibly because that day was a Sunday, and now it is always held on March 8 in all countries.[5] The 1914 observance of the Day in Germany was dedicated to women’s right to vote, which German women did not win until 1918.[5][10]

In London there was a march from Bow to Trafalgar Square in support of women’s suffrage on March 8, 1914. Sylvia Pankhurst was arrested in front of Charing Cross station on her way to speak in Trafalgar Square.[11]

In 1917 demonstrations marking International Women’s Day in Petrograd, Russia, on the last Thursday in February (which fell on March 8 on the Gregorian calendar) initiated the February Revolution.[2] Women in Saint Petersburg went on strike that day for “Bread and Peace” – demanding the end of World War I, an end to Russian food shortages, and the end of czarism.[5] Leon Trotsky wrote, “23 February (8th March) was International Woman’s Day and meetings and actions were foreseen. But we did not imagine that this ‘Women’s Day’ would inaugurate the revolution. Revolutionary actions were foreseen but without date. But in morning, despite the orders to the contrary, textile workers left their work in several factories and sent delegates to ask for support of the strike… which led to mass strike… all went out into the streets.”[5]

Following the October Revolution, the Bolshevik Alexandra Kollontai and Vladimir Lenin made it an official holiday in the Soviet Union, but it was a working day until 1965. On May 8, 1965 by the decree of the USSR Presidium of the Supreme Soviet International Women’s Day was declared a non-working day in the USSR “in commemoration of the outstanding merits of Soviet women in communistic construction, in the defense of their Fatherland during the Great Patriotic War, in their heroism and selflessness at the front and in the rear, and also marking the great contribution of women to strengthening friendship between peoples, and the struggle for peace. But still, women’s day must be celebrated as are other holidays.”

From its official adoption in Soviet Russia following the Revolution in 1917 the holiday was predominantly celebrated in communist countries and by the communist movement worldwide. It was celebrated by the communists in China from 1922, and by Spanish communists in 1936.[7] After the founding of the People’s Republic of China on October 1, 1949 the state council proclaimed on December 23 that March 8 would be made an official holiday with women in China given a half-day off.[12]

The United Nations began celebrating in International Women’s Day in the International Women’s Year, 1975. In 1977, the United Nations General Assembly invited member states to proclaim March 8 as the UN Day for women’s rights and world peace.[13]

The theme of this year’s International Women’s Day ‘Women in the Changing World of Work: Planet 50-50 by 2030’. The article then explains

In a message in support of International Women’s Day, the UN Secretary-General António Guterres commented on how women’s rights were being “reduced, restricted and reversed”. With men still in leadership positions and a widening economic gender gap, he called for change “by empowering women at all levels, enabling their voices to be heard and giving them control over their own lives and over the future of our world”.

A few weeks ago The Young Turks released the news that the organisers of the Women’s Marches in America were planning a Women’s General Strike against Trump. I don’t know if this is actually taking place, but there are a number of articles about it in today’s I newspaper. Including a report that the veteran feminist, Gloria Steinem, has called Trump a ‘walking violation of women’s rights’. Which is true, unfortunately.

So I’d like to give my best wishes to all the females readers of this blog on this special day.

Archaeology Confronts Neoliberalism

March 5, 2017

I got the latest catalogue of books on archaeology and history from Oxbow Books, an Oxford based bookseller and publisher, which specialises in them, a few days ago. Among the books listed was one critical of neoliberalism, and which explored the possibilities of challenging it from within the profession. The book’s entitled Archaeology and Neoliberalism. It’s edited by Pablo Aparicio Resco, and will be published by JAS Arquelogia. The blurb for it in the catalogue states

The effects of neoliberalism as ideology can be seen in every corner of the planet, worsening inequalities and empowering markets over people. How is this affecting archaeology? Can archaeology transcend it? This volume delves into the context of archaeological practice within the neoliberal world and the opportunities and challenges of activism from the profession.

This isn’t an issue I really know anything about. However, I’m not surprised that many archaeologists are concerned about the damage neoliberalism is doing to archaeology. 15 years ago, when I was doing my Masters at UWE, one of the essay questions set was ‘Why do some Historians see heritage as a dirty word?’ Part of the answer to that question was that some historians strongly criticised the heritage industry for its commodification of the past into something to be bought, sold and consumed. They placed the blame for this squarely on the shoulders of Maggie Thatcher and her Tory government. Rather than being an object of value or investigation for its own sake, Thatcherite free market ideology saw it very much in terms of its monetary value. They contrasted this with the old Conservative ethos, which saw culture as something that was above its simple cash value.

Social critics were also concerned about the way Thatcherism was destroying Britain’s real industries, and replacing them with theme parks, in which they were recreated, in a sanitised version that was calculated not to present too many difficult questions and represented the Tory view of history. One example of this was a theme park representing a mining village. It was on the site of a real mining village, whose mine had been closed down. However, other pieces of mining equipment and related buildings and structures, which were never in that particularly village, were put there from other mining towns and villages elsewhere. It thus showed what an imaginary mining village was like, rather than the real mining community that had actually existed. It was also a dead heritage attraction, a museum, instead of a living community based around a still thriving industry.

There were also concerns about the way heritage was being repackaged to present a right-wing, nationalistic view of history. For example, the Colonial Williamsburg museum in America was originally set up to present a view of America as a land of technological progress, as the simple tools and implements used by the early pioneers had been succeeded by ever more elaborate and efficient machines. They also pointed to the way extreme right-wing pressure groups and organisations, like the Heritage Foundation, had also been strongly involved in shaping the official, Reaganite version of American ‘heritage’. And similar movements had occurred elsewhere in the world, including France, Spain and the Caribbean. In Spain the concern to preserve and celebrate the country’s many different autonomous regions, from Catalonia, the Basque country, Castille, Aragon and Granada, meant that the view of the country’s history taught in schools differed greatly according to where you were.

Archaeology’s a different subject than history, and it’s methodology and philosophy is slightly different. History is based on written texts, while archaeology is based on material remains, although it also uses written evidence to some extent. History tends to be about individuals, while archaeology is more about societies. Nevertheless, as they are both about the investigation of the human past, they also overlap in many areas and I would imagine that some of the above issues are still highly relevant in the archaeological context.

There’s also an additional problem in that over the past few decades, the Thatcherite decision to make universities more business orientated has resulted in the formation of several different private archaeological companies, which all compete against each other. I’ve heard from older archaeologists that as a result, the archaeological work being done today is less thorough and of poorer quality than when digs were conducted by local authorities.

I haven’t read the book, but I’m sure that the editor and contributors to this book are right about neoliberalism damaging archaeology and the necessity of archaeologists campaigning against it and its effects on their subject. By its very nature, the past needs to be investigated on its own terms, and there can be multiple viewpoints all legitimately drawn from the same piece of evidence. And especially in the case of historical archaeology, which in the American context means the investigation of the impact of European colonisation from the 15th century onwards, there are strongly emotive and controversial issues of invasion, capitalism, imperialism, the enslavement of Black Africans and the genocide of the indigenous peoples. For historians and archaeologists of slavery, for example, there’s a strong debate about the role this played in the formation of European capitalism and the industrial revolution. Such issues cannot and should not be censored or ignored in order to produce a nice, conservative interpretation of the past that won’t offend the Conservative or Republican parties and their paymasters in multinational industry, or challenge their cosy conception that the free market is always right, even when it falsifies the misery and injustice of the past and creates real poverty today.

British Interplanetary Society Paper on Terraforming Mars with Microorganisms

January 1, 2017

Yesterday I put up a couple of articles on terraforming the various planets of the Solar system, including Mercury, Venus and Earth’s Moon, as well as Mars. There have been a couple of really interesting comments posted to them. Florence, one of the great people, who read this blog, stated that she was a microbiologist. She was very much looking forward to working on microorganisms for Mars, but unfortunately that, and much of the rest of the space programme, vanished.

As well as Carl Sagan’s suggestion in the 1960s that blue-green algae could be used to create a breathable atmosphere and Earthlike environment on Mars, a number of scientists have also suggested using microorganisms to terraform the Red Planet. Twenty years ago the American Astronautical Society published a series of papers, edited by Robert M. Zubrin, about the colonisation of Mars, From Imagination to Reality: Mars Exploration Studies of the Journal of the British Interplanetary Society: Part II: Base Building, Colonization and Terraformation (San Diego: Univelt 1997). This included a paper, ‘Genetic Modification and Selection of Microorganisms for Growth on Mars’ by Julian A. Hiscox and David J. Thomas.

bis-mars-terraforming

The abstract for this paper reads

Genetic engineering has often been suggested as a mechanism for improving the survival prospects of terrestrial microorganisms when seeded on Mars. The survival characteristics that these pioneer microorganisms could be endowed with and a variety of mechanisms by which this can be achieved are discussed, together with an overview of some of the potential hurdles that must be overcome. Also, a number of biologically useful properties for these microorganisms are presented that could facilitate the initial human colonisation and ultimately the planetary engineering of Mars.

After an Introduction, in which they state that the terraformation of Mars could be a two-stage process, with the construction of an Earthlike environment by microorganisms being the first, they then proceed to the following sections:

2. Selection of Bacteria for Mars The Search for a Marsbug, which discusses the suitability of terrestrial microbes for the process, such as the cyanobacterium Chroococcidiops and the extremophiles, which occupy of extreme environments here on Earth;

3. Genetic Engineering – A simple Matter of Cut and Paste;

4. Genetic Modification and Selection;

5. Gene Expression, with subsections on

1) Survival Properties – Tolerance to Peroxides; Osmotic Adaptation; UV Resistance; Tolerance to High Intracellular Acid Concentrations; Endospore Formation;

2) General Properties, with further subsections on photosynthesis, nitrogen fixation, and denitrification;

6. Uses of GEMOS and Some Speculations,

and then finally the conclusion and acknowledgments.

The conclusion reads

The introduction of microorganisms on Mars will greatly facilitate colonisation, both during initial attempts and in establishment of a stable ecosystem, either in enclosed habitats or at the end of ecopoiesis or terraformation. During the initial stages of ecopoiesis climatic conditions on Mars will be limiting for most terrestrial microorganism. By using genetic modification and directed selection under simulated Martian conditions, it may be possible to greatly enhance the survival capability of microorganisms during the alteration of the Martian climate to more clement conditions. Such microorganisms could be used to facilitate any planetary engineering effort. For example, they could be used to release Co2 and N2 from putative carbonate and nitrate deposits.

The genetic alteration of microorganisms will not be so much of a problem of introducing foreign genes into the organism but more a matter of understanding and controlling the regulatory pathways for the expression of such genes. However, such understandings will provide valuable insights into genetics, not only for increasing the productivity of microorganisms on Mars but possibly for Earth.

I’ve got very strong reservations about genetic engineering and modification, but here there is a strong case if it can be used to bring life to a sterile world. Assuming, that is, that Mars does not already possess life. In a way, the article’s ironic. Over a century ago, H.G. Wells had a germ, the common cold, destroy the invading Martians in his book, The War of the Worlds. Now terrestrial scientists are discussing using such organisms as ways to creating a living environment on the Red Planet.

Scottish Economist Mark Blyth’s on Neoliberal Economic Cause of Trump and Global Fascism

December 3, 2016

Mike early today put up a piece about a speech by Jeremy Corbyn, in which the Labour leader correctly described the extreme right-wing parties and their leaders as ‘parasites’, feeding off the despair and poverty that had been created through Conservative economic policies. They blamed their economic problems on immigrants, racial minorities and the poorest and weakest members of society. What was needed was for centre-left parties to reject the political establishment, and devise policies that would help people take power for themselves.

The report cited by Mike quoted Corbyn as saying:

“They are political parasites feeding off people’s concerns and worsening conditions, blaming the most vulnerable for society’s ills instead of offering a way for taking back real control of our lives [from] the elites who serve their own interests.

“But unless progressive parties and movements break with a failed economic and political establishment, it is the siren voices of the populist far right that will fill the gap.””

Mike makes the point that this effectively damns New Labour and its legacy. Blair’s espousal of neoliberal, Thatcherite economics allowed the country’s remaining state assets to be sold off by the Tories and Lib Dems, and made the country ready for the rise of far right politicians such as Theresa May and Nigel Farage.

See: http://voxpoliticalonline.com/2016/12/03/far-right-politicians-and-their-supporters-are-parasites-says-corbyn-calling-for-rejection-of-the-establishment/

Jeremy Corbyn isn’t the only person making this point. Over a week ago Michael Brooks, filling in for Sam Seder as the anchor on the left-wing internet news show The Majority Report, discusses the economic causes behind the rise of racist authoritarianism around the world. And it is global. Trump has been elected the next president of the United State, Marine Le Pen’s Front National is leading the polls in France, the neo-Fascist Fidesz party is in power in Hungary, and Brexit in England is part of this pattern.

Mark Blyth, a Scottish political economist and professor of international political economy at Brown University gave a speech at the university’s Watson Institute for International and Public Affairs which laid bare the roots of the origins of these illiberal, Fascistic movements in the massive poverty and social inequality created by neoliberal economics. Brooks plays a clip from his speech, and then adds his own comments afterwards.

Blyth states that from 1945 to 1975, the world’s governments were concentrating on full employment. He states that there is an economic law called the Lucas Critique, which states that in any economic policy, someone will try to game it to serve their ends. And in the case of the strategy of creating full employment, both unions and employers tried to game the system, with the result that inflation increased massively. This principally hurt the creditor class – the financial sector – who decided to hit back by liberating the banks from government control and creating an integrated global economy. This included globalising labour, so that they could not demand fair wages. If they did so, their jobs could be closed down and moved overseas. He also makes the point that the international trade agreements concluded during this period have been made with little regard for the interests of ordinary people themselves. You can see this in the Trans-Pacific trade agreement. If you look this up on the web, you will find a 700 page document negotiated between governments and major corporations, but with little input from civil society. Ditto for the treaties of the European Union. People have realised that for the past thirty years from 1985 onwards, massive amounts of money has been made, but these have all been passed upwards to an infinitesimally small number of people.

The result is massive poverty. He makes the point to his audience at the uni that they don’t have to go very far to see the consequences. All they have to do is go to north-west Providence, in Rhode Island. There they can see the stores offering to cash cheques on demand, or selling or fixing goods cheaply. People are fed up, and use every opportunity to show it. This was demonstrated with Brexit in England and Wales, and in the Constitutional Referendum in Italy.

And there is also a macro-economic underpinning to these movements here. Successive governments have targeted inflation, and Blyth states that he can see no reason why the Lucas Critique should not also apply here. We now have a situation in which 3 trillion euros have been dumped into the money supply through quantitative easing, and it has not caused inflation. This has caused other problems. When banks have been bailed out and taken over by governments, so that they have been dumped on the public, the creditors fight even harder to get their money back. This can be seen in the case of Germany versus the rest of the Eurozone. This has set up a conflict between creditors versus debtors. On the left, it’s produced Podemos in Spain. On the right, it’s created the Front National in France. Trump’s part of this trend. Misogyny and racism are part of the mixture that has thrust him to power, but if you look at areas like America’s rust belt, you also see that part of it is also economic.

Brooks adds that this is true, and like Corbyn, he makes the point that if there is no serious left-wing response which deals with an economic system that has been created to serve a tiny elite, it will open the door to the ugly things that are also present in the system.

In America, this is White Supremacism. He states that it’s in America’s DNA. The country was founded on genocide, slavery, apartheid and racism, of which there are different kinds, including discrimination against Asians and Hispanics. It is a profoundly racist country. The situation has also been made worse through the misalignment in the Democrat Party. There is a split between those who want social liberation, and those who want to reign in the corporate interests and break up the big cartels. This wasn’t quite so pronounced twenty years ago under Bill Clinton, who was willing to use racial demagoguery. Brooks states that the only way to tackle the rise of racism in America is to combine the two goals of creating greater opportunities for women and minorities, and attacking the power of the big corporations. The Third Way, neoliberal nonsense is unable to do this. The age of neoliberalism is over. The reign of neo-Fascism is now in.

Blyth, Brooks and Jeremy Corbyn are all exactly right. But you won’t hear it from the establishment press, or the Beeb, or any of the mainstream news outlets, which are there to serve corporate interests. And those interests want to prop up neoliberalism as long as possible. Hence we have the supposedly liberal press – the Guardian and Independent, viciously attacking Jeremy Corbyn and demanding his removal in favour of a safe Blairite leader. There’s a piece in today’s I newspaper by Janet Street-Porter asking why Ed Balls can’t be leader of the Labour party. She makes the point that he’s a fellow of Harvard University, and so intelligent. Balls academic qualifications aren’t in question here. All of the New Labour clique were well educated men and women, and the majority of them had spent periods studying in America. That’s the problem. They are the products of the British-American Project For the Successor Generation, a Reaganite programme set up to influence rising politicians in the 1980s so that they followed the Atlanticist line. And you can see the effects in the case of Tony Blair. When he started out, he was for unilateral nuclear disarmament. They he spent four weeks in America as a guest of the think tanks involved in the programme, and came back a convinced supporter of Britain’s nuclear deterrent. And Balls was an integral part of New Labour, and the Thatcherite/ Reaganite policies it pursued.

And that’s exactly what Janet Street-Porter and the other, supposedly left-wing hacks want: Thatcherism, but under a left-wing guise, which is essentially no different from that of the Tories.

It’s why Tony Blair has also returned, and is talking about his plans to set up an institute to promote ‘centrist’ politics next year. His politics aren’t centrist, as Mike’s pointed out: they’re far right, neo-liberal. They punish the poor, the ill, the unemployed and disabled for the profit and big businessmen like David Sainsbury. I’ve no doubt Blair is genuinely afraid of the rise in racism across the Continent. But he’s also terrified of the re-emergence of genuine socialism and of ordinary citizens taking back power from the corporations and the bankers. Hence his stupid and misguided plans for the institute. He hasn’t realised that his policies are part of the long chain of causes of the present political crisis, going all the way back to Thatcher. His institute isn’t going to solve the problem of racism and authoritarianism across Europe. It’s going to make it worse. If it ever gets going, of course.

Donald Trump Attacks Media Hosts and Company Directors in Meeting

November 23, 2016

This more evidence of the authoritarian, Fascistic nature of Trump’s planned regime. In this piece from Secular Talk, Kyle Kulinski talks about how Donald Trump called a private meeting yesterday, attended by 30 to 40 media executives and TV hosts, in which he attacked them, giving them a dressing down. Amongst other criticisms and remarks, he told the head of CNN that he hated his network. Kulinski states that he also believes that the media deserved this lambasting, as they have done a horrible job of reporting the news. However, this is extremely dangerous, as he is treating the media as if he owned it. The system instead is intended to be structured so that the media can hold the government to account. Trump clearly intends to stop this, and Kulinski predicts that the media will buckle. All the supposedly ‘principled’ Republicans, who swore they’d never support Trump, will fall into line, as will the Democrats, once Trump starts tweeting angrily at 3.00 A.M. in the morning, and Democratic senators start finding themselves flooded with calls from angry Trump supporters. Kulinski states that he’s not necessarily opposed to that tactic, as he’d play rough if he was present to get his legislation through. But this is dangerous as it will affect how the media report the news. They will, he predicts, soft-pedal on criticising Trump, even if it is only subconsciously.

Kulinski is absolutely right to compare this meeting with the treatment of the press in authoritarian and totalitarian regimes, like Hitler’s Germany, Mussolini’s Italy or the former Soviet Union. But it’s also becoming increasingly common in western democracies. Berlusconi and Sarkozy, the premiers of Italy and France, both exercised highly authoritarian control over the state media, sacking executives, news anchors and performers who dared to criticise them. A similar control has been attempted in Britain through successive governments interfering in the running of the BBC, for instance, and threatening either to privatise it or cut the licence fee in order to gain its general compliance. And then there’s the way Maggie Thatcher bullied the media. Thames Television lost its broadcasting licence because of the documentary, Death on the Rock, which showed the shooting of an IRA terror squad was a planned assassination. The terrorists had been tracked all the way through Spain into Gibraltar, and could have been picked up at any time without bloodshed. The documentary outraged Thatcher so much that she effectively destroyed the company, which was replaced by Carlton. She also had the Beeb pull an edition of Panorama, entitled ‘Maggie’s Militant Tendency’, which argued that the Tories had been infiltrated by members of the Fascist Right.

Despite his protestations to the country, Trump is very much a Fascist with a very thin skin and a desire to control and suppress contrary viewpoints. This has to be fought. As Kulinski points out, a free press and media is one of the cornerstones of democracy. But if Trump successfully bullies the establishment media, more people will turn to alternative sources of information, like the various alternative news shows on YouTube, such as Kulinski’s own Secular Talk, The Young Turks, Sam Seder’s Majority Report, the Jimmy Dore Show and so on. Mind you, YouTube have also threatened to demonetarise those shows, which they consider too radical.

This might throw America back into the same conditions as the former Soviet Union, where dissenting opinion was ruthlessly suppressed. In which case, the only recourse will be to copy the Russians there as well and start setting up the samizdat underground presses to bypass official censorship. I don’t think the situation will ever become that bad, at least, not in the foreseeable future. But it is a danger, and the threat of some state political interference in the allegedly free media is very real.

William Penn on Religious Toleration

November 18, 2016

William Penn, the founder of Pennsylvania, was a Quaker and an ardent campaigner for freedom of conscience. He wrote at least three pamphlets arguing for it, The People’s Ancient and Just Liberties Asserted of 1670; The Great Case of Liberty and Conscience (1670) and A Perswasive to Moderation to Dissenting Christians (1685). They’re collected, along with his other writings, in The Peace of Europe, The Fruits of Solitude and Other Writings, edited by Edwin B. Bronner (London: J.M. Dent 1993). Penn argues for freedom of conscience on scriptural, theological, and historical grounds, as well as citing cases of contemporary religious toleration amongst the states in his day, where religious diversity had not caused civil dissension and war. This included the various Muslim empires, which he noticed also were characterised by different sects, all of which apparently lived in peace. He particularly felt that religious persecution was not something Christians should do. Not only was it positively forbidden by scripture, in his opinion, it was unnecessary. Christianity did not need the use of force to prove its truth. Furthermore, the use of force was actually self-defeating, as it caused people to despise, rather than respect Christianity.

Here’s a couple of passages that struck me as particularly acute, though all of the arguments in The Great Case of Liberty and Conscience are worth reading, as one of the arguments for toleration is the peaceful coexisting of Christians and Muslims in Spain under Charles V. This didn’t last long, as they were expelled in the 15th century under Ferdinand and Isabella. Nevertheless, it is important and acutely relevant to today that Penn had no doubts that Christians and Muslims could live together peacefully without religious coercion.

11. It ever was the prudence of the wise magistrate to oblige their people; but what comes shorter of it than persecution? What’s dearer to them than the liberty of their conscience? What cannot they better spare than it? Their peace consists in the enjoyment of it: and he that by compliance has lost it, carries his penalty with him, and is his own prison. Surely such practices must render the government uneasy, and beget a great disrespect to the governors, in the hearts of the people.

12. But which concludes our prudential part shall be this, that after all their pains and good will to stretch men to their measure, they never will be able to accomplish their end: And if he be an unwise man that provides means where he designs no end, how near is he kin to him that proposes an end inobtainable. Experience has told us, 1. How invective it has made the imposed on. 2. What distractions have ensued such attempts. 3. What reproach has followed to the Christian religion, when the professors of it have a used a coercive power upon conscience. And lastly, that force never yet made either a good Christian, or a good subject. (p, 171.)

3. Unity, (not the least, but greatest end of government is lost) for by seeking an unity of opinion (by the ways intended) the unity requisite to uphold us, as a civil society, will be quite destroyed. And such as relinquish that, to get the other (besides that they are unwise) will infallibly lose both in the end. (p. 172).

In short, what religious, what wise, what prudent, what good natured person would be a persecutor; certainly it’s an office only fit for those who being void of all reason, to evidence the verity of their religion, fancy it to be true, from that strong propensity and greedy inclination they find in themselves to persecute the contrary; a weakness of so ill a consequence to all civil societies, that the admission of it ever was, and ever will prove their utter ruin, as well as their great infelicity who pursue it.

And though we could not more effectually express our revenge than by leaving such persons to the scope of their own humours; yet being taught to love and pray for our persecutors, we heartily wish their better information, that (if it be possible) they may act more suitably to the good pleasure of the eternal just God, and beneficially to these nations. (p. 185).

Penn was aware of the counterargument that by arguing for freedom of conscience, he was also arguing for religious Dissenters to be able to attack and murder everyone else, and deals with it in the following passage:

Object. 3. But at this rate ye may pretend to cut our throats, and do all manner of savage acts.

Ans. Though the objection be frequent, yet it is as foully ridiculous. We are pleading only for such a liberty of conscience, as preserve the nation in peace, trade, and commerce; and would not exempt any man, or party of men, from not keeping those excellent laws, that tend to sober, just and industrious living. It is a Jesuitical moral, to kill a man before he is born: first, to suspect him of an evil design, and then kill him to prevent it. (p. 175).

Trump’s embrace of Fascists and anti-Semites, and his automatic suspicion of all Muslims, as somehow a threat to America, is here explicitly condemned by one of the very first founders of America, and a leading figure in the centuries-long campaign for freedom of conscience in Britain. Penn was one of the founders of the great American tradition of religious liberty, a tradition which Trump is determined to attack and uproot. He must not be allowed to do so.

Gaza: Jon Snow Calls Mark Regev What He Is – a Liar

October 9, 2016

Earlier today, Mike put up a piece over on Vox Political reporting that the members of Pink Floyd – David Gilmour, Nick Mason and Roger Waters – had a issued a statement supporting the women’s boat to Gaza, and deploring its interception by the Israeli military. The boat had sailed from Barcelona last month. It was sponsored by the Freedom Flotilla Coalition, which condemns the Israeli’s siege of that part of Palestine.

Mike’s article notes that Waters had previously been attacked as an anti-Semite by Rabbi Shmuely Boteach for previous comments he had made about Israel’s treatment of the Palestinians. But, almost needless to say, Boteach couldn’t offer any reasons to back up his slur against Waters. The great muso responded “If Rabbi Boteach can make a case for the Israel government’s policies, I look forward to hearing it.

“It is difficult to make arguments to defend the Israeli government’s policies, so would-be defenders often use a diversionary tactic, they routinely drag the critic into a public arena and accuse them of being an antisemite.”

Mike’s article briefly discusses the previous Freedom Flotilla to Gaza, which was stopped in International Waters and boarded by the Israeli military. The result was a confrontation which left nine passengers killed and dozens injured, with nine Israeli servicemen also wounded.

See Mike’s article at: http://voxpoliticalonline.com/2016/10/08/pink-floyds-support-for-womens-boat-to-gaza-puts-pressure-on-israel/

The Israeli blockade of Gaza is a disgusting abuse of human rights. It’s been estimated that in four years time – 2020 – conditions in that part of Palestine will be so atrocious that the region will be uninhabitable. Israel was widely condemned for its shelling of the area several years ago, which it claimed was in response to rocket attacks. This was another lie. The Israelis had deliberately broken the ceasefire by firing their own rockets into the district to kill a Palestinian terrorist leader. Lobster also described the vast difference in the quality of weapons used. The rockets used by the Palestinians were largely home-made. Crude, and deadly, but not sophisticated killing machines like those the Israelis were launching into Gaza, which included phosphor weapons. This is extremely nasty material. It’s like medieval Greek fire in that it burns on contact, and keeps on burning it way through the human body. So it could be argued that the retaliation by the Israeli military was far out of proportion to the actual threat or provocation from the Palestinians themselves.

And then, like now, the Israelis tried to cover up any coverage of their shelling’s civilian victims. A CNN journalist was sacked from his post because he described playing football with four boys minutes before the youngsters were all killed in the shelling. Thankfully, CNN reinstated him after massive public outcry.

When Israel intercepted the first Freedom Flotilla six years ago, the Israeli ambassador, Mark Regev, turned up on the news to present his country’s case. One of those, who was very unimpressed with him was Channel 4 News’ Jon Snow. Regev claimed that the Flotilla was intercepted to stop them smuggling weapons into Gaza. He then went on to claim that if people genuinely wanted to send humanitarian aid to Gaza, then the ships should be sent to two Israeli ports, one of which was Ashdod, and reassured viewers that it would get through. Snow lost patience with that last statement, and called it, and Regev, what they were. Snow stated it was a lie, as only 18 per cent of the aid for Gaza going through Israel actually reached its intended destination. He then asked Regev what his government was going to do if the Turks did what they said they were considering, and sent a gunboat to protect the next ship. Would the Israelis attack this, a vessel from their ally, and so start a war? Regev tried to laugh this off with a incredulous ‘Are you serious?’ To which Snow responded that it wasn’t him making the statement, but the Turks, and he should check with them. Here’s the clip:

I found it thanks to one of Guy Debord’s Cat’s excellent pieces on Israel and its crimes.

As for Shmuely Boteach, I got the distinct impression he was one of the various ‘spiritual mentors’ who like to hand around celebrities, doling out platitudes to help the rich feel comfortable and justified in their possession of such massive wealth. If memory serves me correctly, he was hanging round Michael Jackson at one point. I don’t know the precise reason why the journalist so described him, but he was so obnoxious at one point that I remember one newspaper article about a decade or so ago referring to him as ‘odious’.

So I join with Mike in saluting Gilmour, Mason and Waters – ‘Shine on, you not-so-crazy diamonds!’

Vox Political: Jackie Walker’s Response to Anti-Semitism Smears on ‘Free Speech on Israel’

October 4, 2016

Mike has put up another important piece about the anti-Semitism smears against Jackie Walker. Mrs Walker has written a long piece explaining her attitude and comments on the website Free Speech on Israel, to which Mike’s attention was directed by one of the people he was talking to on Twitter.

In the pieces Mike has reposed, Mrs Walker explains her comments linking the Jews to the transatlantic slave trade. She states that she was trying to make the point that there are no hierarchies of genocide, and that her people were involved in both sides of the slave trade. She is Black and Jewish, and noted that the Jews also played a role in financing the slave trade, hence the number of early synagogues in the Caribbean. She also makes the point that it was the Christian rulers of Spain and Portugal, who massacred and expelled the Jews from their kingdoms, and that it was overwhelmingly Christian kingdoms and empires that profited from the kidnap, enslavement and murder of Africans. She states that she is perfectly happy to correct the different impression her Facebook comments made. She also makes the important statement

“The shame is, at a time when antisemitism has been weaponised and used against certain sections of the Labour Party, nobody asked me before rushing to pin the racist and antisemitic label on me.”

She says that she is perfectly willing to change her views if they are shown to be wrong in future. But she did not state, as the Jewish Chronicle claims she did, that Jews played a disproportionate part in the slave trade. She makes the point instead, quoting the historian Arnold Wiznitzer, that at that time and place the Jews were also involved in financing the sugar and slave trade. She also quotes the historians Kagan and Morgan as describing the Jews as a stateless minority within the European empires, but who also played a key role in expanding them. She also cites Jonathan Israel on the peculiar position of the Jews as both the victims and agents of empire.

Mike’s quotes from her conclude with this paragraph:

“This was the point I was attempting to make on Facebook, in a comic-strip, abbreviated, inadequate, deficient sort of conversational way. This was my point, as the Israel Advocacy Movement could see even as they decided to weaponise my words. No peoples have a monopoly of suffering or virtue. No peoples are special or free of the complexity of history. That is as true in the Middle East now as it ever was anywhere, in all places, with all peoples, across the diversity of our globe and so it will remain until, and unless, we achieve the goal of all internationalists – the liberation of humanity.”

Mike states in his comments that ‘certain…elements’ have tried to claim that Mrs Walker’s comments on the Jews and slave trade came from those of the head of the Nation of Islam, Louis Farrakhan. Farrakhan made speeches in the 1990s claiming that the slave trade was basically the fault of the Jews. Mike has challenged those claiming that Walker’s views are the same as Farrakhan’s to show him how they are linked. Mike notes that they have not done so.

The article’s at: http://voxpoliticalonline.com/2016/10/03/jackie-walker-responds-to-accusations-of-antisemitism-free-speech-on-israel/

Please go and read this article. Mrs Walker clearly is very well-informed about the slave trade and Jewish involvement in it, as well as the complex nature of European imperialism, and the historiography of both. It is a fact that the global European empires also frequently used subaltern peoples as part of the mechanism of imperial expansion and exploitation. The slave trade was immensely profitable, and so it not only involved White Europeans, but Muslim Arabs and Black Africans. Recognising this should not be considered anti-African, anti-Arab or islamophobic, any more than noting that some Jews were involved in the transatlantic slave trade, should make one an anti-Semite, provided that this is kept within the bounds of historical fact. And Jackie Walker has done just that. She has not done what Louis Farrakhan, and which some White Nazis and members of the At Right do, and made Jews, or Africans, or Muslims solely responsible for the slave trade, or accused them of playing the major role in it.

She is clearly not an anti-Semite. Rather, she has shown that she possesses a critical intelligence, which is not satisfied with facile simplifications of complex issues. And that makes her a danger. She has been targeted, in my view, because she is like the very many Jews and people of Jewish heritage, who do not accept the simplistic message promoted by the Israel lobby that the immense suffering of the Jewish people in the Holocaust and throughout history justifies their brutalisation and oppression, in turn, of the Palestinians. Authoritarian regimes of all shades, from Fascists and Nazis to the Stalinist Communists, cannot stand people, who dare to think for themselves. This is why free speech, and the ability to say things that others might consider offensive, is so vital for genuinely humane, democratic societies. The Right likes to attack politically correct speech codes, saying ‘No-one has the right not to be offended.’ They will also quote Orwell on the importance of telling truths people don’t want to hear. Both of these statements are correct, if you’re telling the truth. They trivialise both of these aphorisms, because they take them as giving them licence to sneer at women and ethnic minorities, and insist on traditional hierarchies of race and gender. But those two comments go much further than that. Orwell, for all his hatred of totalitarianism and Communism, was an anti-imperialist and Socialist. During the Spanish Civil War he fought for the non-Marxist Socialist faction, POUM, and was strongly impressed by the achievements of the anarchist movement, which he described in Homage to Catalonia. The Young Turks have pointed out time and again that for all their sneering at political correctness and ‘safe spaces’, it is the Right, who are the worst at invoking political correctness to silence speech that is offensive to them.

And this is what the Likudniks of the Jewish Labour Movement and the Israel lobby have tried to do to Mrs Walker. Like the American Right with its shouts of ‘Political correctness’ and denunciations of laws against ‘hate speech’, they are hypocritically using perceived offensiveness to try to silence and stifle genuine historical and political debate, in order to present a simplistic, carefully sanitised and politically useful view of history.

This is to be resisted, and resisted to the utmost. The distorters of history, who use carefully crafted falsifications to justify their own brutality, cannot be allowed to win, regardless of who they are and who they claim to represent. We need to be supporting Jackie Walker, and those like her, who are not satisfied with the easy answers of totalitarian propaganda, and who stand for genuine Socialist internationalism against militaristic nationalism posing as its opposite.

The Push for War with Russia: Another Reaganite Policy?

September 8, 2016

I’ve also put up several pieces recently commenting on the increasing military tensions with Russia, and how NATO seems to be preparing for some kind of war with Russia next year. A few months ago a retired NATO general published a book with the title 2017: War with Russia, which forecasts that Putin will invade Latvia next year. We will retaliate to defend our NATO ally, and by May we and the Russians will be at war. I’ve also put up a video of George Galloway talking to the Stop the War coalition, in which he describes how he was told by a NATO general (the same one?) that British mothers may soon have to prepare themselves for sending their sons and daughters to shed their blood on the alliance’s eastern frontier. He was rightly scathing about this prediction.

There have also been several pieces in Counterpunch, reporting that Obama has stepped up production of nuclear weapons. In addition, he seems to be keen to develop limited nuclear bombs. The website and magazine also reported that the Washington Post had run an article claiming that various European countries, including us and the French, were demanding that America change its current policy against being the first to strike in a nuclear war.

This is terrifying stuff. I don’t know where the Washington Post got its story about we Europeans being so mad to have America initiate nuclear conflict. It hasn’t been reported this side of the Atlantic. I don’t know whether this was put forward in secret talks, or whether it’s a fabrication by the American military-industrial complex to encourage Obama to scrap the policy. After all, if he did, it would be just him showing how eager he is to defend us Europeans… I also don’t know, who these ‘Europeans’ demanding this change in military policy are. No-one asked me nor anyone I know. I also doubt that anyone has canvassed the opinion of the average Frenchman and -woman, Spaniards, Italians, Germans or the peoples of Scandinavia, the Netherlands or Ireland, let alone those further east.

It also appears to be another case of one of Reagan’s squalid policies coming back. In issue 11 of his Anti-Empire Report, William Blum reported

In 1984, Reagan spoke to a group of American newspaper editors about possibly limiting a nuclear war to Europe, without a single one of them regarding it as newsworthy. The fuss about his remarks only came after a European reporter had read the transcript. This of course says as much about American newspaper editors as it does about Reagan.

See: https://williamblum.org/aer/read/11

I can remember watching a piece on one of the Sunday morning news programmes back then, reporting plans for a possible nuclear war in Europe using battlefield nukes, which only had a limited range, unlike the current bombs that level whole cities. This seems to be the same idea, now being considered by Obama and the Neocons, particularly Hillary Clinton, given her highly aggressive posture on Russia.

For we Europeans, this is madness. A limited nuclear war in Europe will still leave our continent a scorched, radiation-poisoned desert from the Atlantic to the Urals. If this really is being considered, it shows just how dangerous and irresponsible our political and military leaders have become.