Posts Tagged ‘america’

Is This the Real Reason for the Tories’ Gagging Laws?

February 17, 2014

Cameron Pic

Nick Clegg

David Cameron and Nick Clegg: have attempted to regulate and clamp down on free speech and democratic criticism.

The Coalition has shown itself to be consistently opposed to free speech. Mike over at Vox Political, the Void, Another Angry Voice, and Tom Pride at Pride’s Purge have blogged on the way the Conservatives are attempting to stifle dissent and criticism through the Gagging Laws and other legislation. The act regulating political lobbying would make political campaigning by groups, which are not political parties illegal, while allowing the big corporations that lobby MPs to carry on as usual.

They have attempted to censor the internet, with the full backing of the outraged, Middle class authoritarians of the Daily Mail, on the pretence of protecting children and the vulnerable from accessing pornography and the other horrors out on the Net. This frightened and outraged the Neo-Pagans, ritual magicians and other occultists, who found that one of the subjects the Coalition wanted to restrict access to was ‘the esoteric’. This is a term frequently used to describe the occult. Here it probably means something like ‘weird stuff we don’t like, but haven’t thought of yet’, though as the late Conservative MP Geoffrey Dickinson was utterly convinced that there were intergenerational groups of witches and Satanists abusing and sacrificing children, it may well indeed have been intended to attack contemporary occultism.

Tom Pride in particular has found himself the victim of such legislation, after his blog was censored by one internet provider because it contained ‘adult material’. Politics are adult business, and so this is an attack, not just on Mr Pride, but on the continued discussion of politics on the Net.

And a few days ago Mike over at Vox Political described how Britain had fallen from 29th to 33rd place in the index of international press freedom through the government’s persecution of the Guardian for publishing the revelations of mass surveillance by the British and American intelligence services by Edward Snowden.

Clearly, the Coalition is desperately afraid of free speech.

Adolf Hitler

Adolf Hitler: Private Industry needs dictatorship to defend it from democracy.

In his address to a group of 20 German industrialists on 20th February 1933, Hitler urged them to fund the Nazi party as a way of protecting private enterprise from the threat of democracy.

Private enterprise cannot be maintained in the age of democracy; it is conceivable only if the people have a sound idea of authority and personality. Everything positive, good and valuable, which has been achieved in the world in the field of economics and culture, is solely attributable to the importance of personality. When, however, the defence of the existing order, its political administration, is left to a majority, it will go under irretrievably. All the worldly goods which we possess we owe to the struggle of the chosen. Had we the present conditions in the Middle Ages, the foundations of our German Reich would never have been laid. The same mentality that was the basis for obtaining these values must be used to preserve these values… It is, however, not enough to say: We do not Communism in our economy. If we continue on our old political course, then we shall perish. We have fully experienced in the past years that economics and politics cannot be separated. The political conduct of the struggle is the primary, decisive factor. Therefore, politically clear conditions must be reached…

Cameron and Clegg also lead an elite government, composed of aristocrats, with the express purpose of defending private industry from state interference, and extending it into areas previous considered to be that of the state. Nazi Germany had a dirigiste, centrally-planned economy, though one which preserved and operated through private, rather than state-owned industry as in the Soviet Union. Cameron and Clegg have also showed themselves eager to suppress free speech and democratic political campaigning by groups outside the parties. Is this because they similarly share Hitler’s fear that

‘Private enterprise cannot be maintained in the age of democracy’, but only if the people are led by a strong, dictatorial personality, like a Right-wing, authoritarian Prime Minister and his deputy?

Kropotkin on the Potential of Communal Agriculture

February 13, 2014

Kropotkin Conquest Bread

Amnesiaclinic posted this comment, pointing to the development of co-operative gardens in America, on my post about Workfare Exploitation

‘I like the idea of doing as much bartering as possible and definitely blacklisting any company or charity having anything to do with this. There seems to be quite a movement taking off in the US of community gardens where people work together cooperatively and organically to produce good food for schools. hospitals nurseries but could be expanded into teaching basic cooking with fresh food and veggies for Food Banks etc etc. We need to help ourselves become independent and self sufficient leaving them with their useless walls of gold as Voice of Reason says!’

The great 19th-early 20th century Anarchist, Peter Kropotkin, would have agreed. Kropotkin was a Russian nobleman and scientist, who had requested being posted to Siberia when he joined the Russian army. He had earlier been at the tsar’s court, and his experience there, and with the peasants on his own estate and in Siberia, convinced him that the peasants and ordinary working people were more humane and moral than the aristocracy. His research into the botany and animal life of Siberia convinced him that Darwinian ideas that stressed competition in evolution were incorrect, and that co-operation and mutual support were instead the driving forces of biological development. He published his ideas in his book Mutual Aid: A Factor of Evolution.

His experiences also made him a convinced anarchist, believing that the state was both oppressive and unnecessary. Like many other anarchists, he believed that society could only reformed through a revolution. Unlike some contemporary anarchists, like Bakunin, he did not delight in violence, and his works take a more evolutionary line. He realised that the revolution would be violent and bloody, but believed that the new, co-operative order which would replace capitalism and individualism would develop from trends already in place. As proof of what voluntary groups could achieve without state support or interference, he pointed to charities and organisations such as the Royal National Lifeboat Institute in Britain, and the international courts set up by merchants in Europe during the Middle Ages, in which merchants administered their own laws.

In his book, The Conquest of Bread (London: Elephant Editions 1985), Kropotkin discusses how an anarchist revolution would reform society, with a comprehensive reorganisation of industry, housing, agriculture, the provision of food and clothes, and the abolition of the wages system in favour of the direct provision of goods between communities and the workers in particular areas.

The chapter, ‘Food’, describes how a new anarchist commune, like the Paris Commune of 1871, would organise its agricultural production to feed itself. This sounds rather like the community gardens mentioned by Amnesiaclinic. Kropotkin writes

‘The large towns, as well as the villages, must undertake to till the soil. We must return to what biology calls ‘the integration of functions’ – after the division of labour, the taking up of it as a whole-this is the course followed throughout Nature.

Besides, philosophy apart, the force of circumstances would bring about this result. Let Paris see that at the end of eight months it will be running short of bread, and Paris will set to work to grow wheat.

Land will not be wanting, for it is round the great towns, and round Paris especially, that the parks and pleasure grounds of the landed gentry are to be found. These thousands of acres only await the skilled labour of the husbandman to surround Paris with fields infinitely more fertile and productive than the steppes of southern Russia, where the soil is dried up by the sun. Nor will labour be lacking. To what should the two million citizens of Paris turn their attention, when they would be no longer catering for the luxurious fads and amusements of Russian princes, Rumanian grandees and wives of Berlin financiers?

… Thus, learning the art of horticulture from experts, and trying experiments in different methods on small patches of soil reserved for the purpose, vying with each other to obtain the best returns, finding in physical exercise, without exhaustion or overwork, the health and strength which so often flags in cities – men, women and children will gladly turn to the labour of the fields, when it is no longer a slavish drudgery,, but has become a pleasure, a festival, a renewal of health and joy.’

In the last chapter, ‘Agriculture’, he argues that an anarchist commune, such as a town, could provide enough food to support its inhabitants and to trade with other communities, through the use of the intensive agricultural techniques that were then coming into use, with only a few hours labour being demanded of each citizen. He similarly describes the benefits of such communal agricultural work thus:

‘Of all the great days of the French Revolution, the most beautiful, the greatest, was the one on which delegates who had come from all parts of France to Paris, all worked with the spade to plane the ground of the Champ de Mars, preparing it for the fete of the Federation.

That day France was united: animated by the new spirit, she had a vision of the future in the working in common of the soil.

And it will again be by the working in common of the soil that the enfranchised societies will find their unity and will obliterate the hatred and oppression which has hitherto divided them.

Henceforth, able to conceive solidarity-that immense power which increases man’s energy and creative forces a hundredfold – the new society will march to the conquest of the future with all the vigour of youth.

Ceasing to produce for unknown buyers, and looking in its midst for needs and tastes to be satisfied, society will liberally assure the life and ease of each of its members, as well as that moral satisfaction which work gives when freely chosen and freely accomplished, and the joy of living without encroaching on the life of others.’

One of the criticisms levelled at him is that of excessive optimism. He believed strongly in the essential goodness of human nature, to the point where he believed that even people guilty of the most heinous crimes would behave selflessly. In Mutual Aid, for example, he points to a case in France where a murderer in hiding dashed out to rescue a child from a burning house, knowing full well that this self-less act would lead to his arrest and execution for the crime. It’s been said that this is unrealistic. Given the horrors that have occurred in the 20th century – the mass killings by a succession of brutal and tyrannical regimes, and some of the truly revolting crimes you can read about nearly every day in the press, I have to agree.

The other, related point is that, if people really are as good and noble as Kropotkin believes them to be, it’s doubtful how their condition can be improved through a revolution and Anarcho-Communism, when left to themselves in the present system people can be expected to improve their conditions and that of their fellows. It’s another good point.

I have to say that I think any revolution is far more likely to end up in a blood bath than not, though there are exceptions, the greatest of which is the American Revolution. Nevertheless, ideas like Kropotkin’s continue to have a very strong influence on modern Anarchists, and strongly influenced the American hippy counterculture. Furthermore, recent studies of Anarchism have pointed to the various communities and experiments in work and business that have been set up according to anarchist ideals in parallel and within the modern capitalist state. The communal gardens Amnesiaclinic mentions sound like just such a social experiment, though they may not be directly influenced by Kropotkin or anarchist theory generally. I wish them, however, every success if they are bringing fulfilment and good food to the people that own and work them.

Tories Planning Nazi-Style Work Camps to Build HS2?

February 12, 2014

Aidan Burley

Aidan Burley – Tory who organised Nazi-themed stag party. As Tory belongs to a party that supports compulsory voluntary work.

Reichsarbeitsdienst

Workers in the Reichsarbeitsdienst, the Nazi organisation of compulsory voluntary work. At least those on workfare don’t have to wear a uniform. Yet.

I found this piece of information on Guy Debord’s Cat discussing the possible reasons why Aidan Burley was treated so leniently by the Tories. Burley was the Tory politico, you will remember, who was prosecuted by the French authorities for holding a Nazi-themed stag party in France. The Cat points out in the article that Holocaust denial, the wearing of Nazi uniforms and toasting the Third Reich are all illegal in La Patrie. This is what you’d expect in a country that was defeated and occupied by the Nazis. After an investigation, an inquiry found that Burley’s decision to hold the party was ‘stupid and offensive’ but ‘not anti-Semitic’. Possibly not. There are all manner of people, who decide that dressing up as storm-troopers is great fun, who aren’t racist or anti-Semitic. I’ve known people, who play German soldiers in Second World War re-enactment groups, who very definitely aren’t Nazis in real life. Nevertheless, there are real questions of taste, quite apart from the fact that Fascist groups like the NF did use to dress up in Nazi uniform. Burley’s own lapse of taste can be compared with the scandal that erupted a few years ago, when senior students at Gloucestershire University in Cheltenham were vidoed abusing freshers and making them perform stupid and humiliating tasks while dressed as Nazis. In this case, dressing up and acting like Nazis seems to appear to a certain kind of bully, even if they aren’t actually racists.

The Cat, however, discusses the similarity between Burley’s others views and that of the Nazis, particularly regarding trade unions:

So what is so special about Burley that Cameron and the leadership of the party feel such a desperate need to protect him? Is he being groomed for the Home Office or Works and Pensions portfolio? We already know that when the Tories took office in 2010, Burley hit the ground running with his guaranteed-to-please-David Cameron venture, the Trade Union Reform Campaign. Like Burley, the Nazis didn’t care much for trade unions either and banned them outright. In their place, Hitler created the Deutsche Arbeitsfront (DAF), headed by Robert Ley, to organize workers along nationalist and militaristic lines. DAF subgroups like Strength Through Joy and Beauty Through Work were also added to provide diversions.

The Cat ends by noting the way the Reichsarbeitsdienst used conscripted labour from the unemployed, and suggests that there are plans to use a similar scheme to build the HS2 railway link:

The Reichsarbeitsdienst was created with the purpose of providing cheap (often forced) labour that exploited unemployed men, who were used for work on major infrastructure projects like the autobahn network. Is this what the Tories have in mind for trade unionists and the unemployed if they win the next General Election? There is already talk about creating work camps for the HS2 project.

This links to a post at the Independent reporting a plan for 12 per cent of the labour used to build the link to come from the ‘disadvantaged’, which comprises the disabled and the unemployed. The article is here: http://www.independent.co.uk/news/business/news/let-disabled-workers-build-the-43bn-hs2-9069578.html.

I’ve already blogged on the similarity between the compulsory ‘voluntary’ work of the Reichsarbeitsdienst under the Nazis and the compulsory ‘voluntary’ work of the Coalition’s Workfare and Welfare to Work policies. The Void and other bloggers have also reported on the strong similarity between the Tories plan to set up compulsory work and training centres for the disabled and the workhouses of Victorian Britain. Now it seems that similarity between the Nazis and the Tory party is growing stronger every day.

Guy Debord’s website itself is well-worth a look. It has some excellent critiques of the propaganda from the New Right, including some people with truly terrifying news, such as those, who seem to wish to rehabilitate American slavery. See the post Telegraph Comment of the Week (#26) for the 9th February 2014 attacking one of the Telegraph’s pet columnists. Guy Debord’s Cat can be found at http://buddyhell.wordpress.com/

Reichsarbeitsdients flag

Flag for the Nazi Reichsarbeitsdienst. They don’t have one at the moment, but it’s probably only a matter of time before the Coalition decides on one.

Rachael Kiddey at Bristol University and the Archaeology of Homelessness

January 17, 2014

A few years ago I went to a talk at Bristol University on the archaeology of homelessness in the city, presented by Rachael Kiddey, John Schofield and some of the homeless people, who had helped them and whose lives they had investigated. Kiddey was a former archaeology student at Bristol University, who was now living in Stokes Croft, the part of Bristol which was at the centre of the project. John Schofield is a very senior archaeologist and a member of the Council for British Archaeology. Among his other works is the book with John Vince, The Archaeology of British Towns in their European Settings, published by Equinox.

The project was Kiddey’s idea. She had been angered by plans to demolish the grain store in Stokes Croft. This was a listed building, and one of the few remaining warehouses from the 19th century left in Bristol. Stokes Croft is one of Bristol’s inner city suburbs. It’s been described as ‘bohemian’. It has an ethnically mixed population, including many students and artists. Although it dates from the 19th century, it has suffered considerable economic decline. It was one of the areas in Bristol hit by the anti-Thatcher riots in 1981. As she has pointed out in other presentations on the project, as a historic part of Bristol Stokes Croft enjoys the same level of official protection as the far wealthier and more respectable Clifton. In practice, however, the situation is very different, and despite their legal status Stokes Croft and its buildings were given very little protection from neglect, decay and demolition by the city’s authorities. From what I can remember, the Grain Store was destroyed as part of a project to build luxury flats on the site. Kiddey was angered by this attack on the city’s working class heritage, and the destruction of this building had been so important to the city’s working people, in order to benefit the wealthy middle class. Her study of the city’s homeless grew out of her campaign against the destruction of this old, industrial building.

The project was deliberately set up to be socially inclusive. She quoted EU legislation, which states that every section of society should have the right to participate in the production of culture. This, she made very clear, also included the homeless, a marginal and excluded group. As she started to develop her ideas, she befriended a number of homeless people. They were initially suspicious, but after she had managed to assure them she was genuine, and not a police spy, they gave her considerable support. They took her with them on their journeys across the city, showing her where they lived, visited, and some of the places where they could get a meal, a bed for the night or simply a sympathetic ear.

One of the first things, she found out being taken around the city by them was that they were certainly not lazy. In their journeys about Bristol they walked about six miles a day. When one her homeless friends showed her the makeshift camp he had made underneath a wall or fence, she remarked on the strong similarity between it, and the remains left by ancient hunter-gatherer peoples around their rock shelters. These were camps set up underneath a rock overhang, which gave them some protection from the elements. The homeless people she spoke ate a particular Caribbean café in Stokes Croft. This was one of the few places that would serve them. They also respected it as the owners would not tolerate any trouble from their customers. If someone ‘kicked off’ in there, the staff would throw everyone out, leaving the troublemaker to face the ire of the other diners. They also had a lot of respect for a community of nuns in the area. Although the Sisters would not give them money, they would listen to them, something which the city’s destitute appreciated. They also gave her information about the area’s homeless shelters and their experiences with them. Conditions in one of them were actually so bad that one homeless man went back on the streets as this was a better alternative to the squalor he found in the shelter.

Kiddey managed to get support for the project from Schofield, who was very pleased to give it. He appreciated its novelty and the way it expanded and challenged ideas about archaeology and what it can do. Archaeology is not just about the distant past. It can also cover the very recent and contemporary. One of the other female students at Bristol University, for example, was researching a Ph.D. on mobile phone masts.

Kiddey’s study of homelessness in Bristol is part of a wider study of homelessness by archaeologists around the world. In America this is led by Dr Larry Zimmerman, an archaeologist and professor of Museum Studies at Indiana University – Perdue University Indiana. In an interview with one of the staff at Indianapolis public library, Zimmerman states that archaeology is not just about what happened a century ago, but also what occurred only ten minutes previously. He has stated that the study of homelessness benefits archaeology, as it prevents it from becoming socially irrelevant. Few people are directly touched or affected by academic’s study of the people’s of the distant past. Zimmerman developed his interest in the archaeology of the homeless when excavating the mansion of one of Indianapolis’ wealthiest citizens. He found evidence of homeless people squatting and occupying the site going back over a century to the 1840s. Since then, other archaeologists around the world have followed Zimmerman in studying homelessness, both in the present and in the ancient past. Zimmerman’s fellow researcher, Jessica Welch has personally experienced the problem. She was homeless drug addict for many years, until she managed to turn her life around, get of the street and into university.

The archaeologists studying the homeless used a number of professional techniques to record their lives. This included mapping their movements around the city, recording their rubbish and other material culture left at the places they visited and occupied. In the winter of 2009-10 the university excavated ‘Turbo Island’, a traffic island in Stokes Croft used by the homeless. This got its nickname from a brand of strong lager they drank there. Other sites visited and recorded included phone boxes and the ‘Bear Pit’. This is a circular public ‘square’, sunk below the level of the main roads surrounding it and reached by underpass in Bristol’s Horsefair. It lies at the entrance to Stoke’s Croft in Broadmead.

What came out most strongly from the talk is how immensely hard these people’s lives are. Many of the individuals studied and who spoke at the talk had severe mental health problems, or problems with alcohol and/or drugs. Much of the material remains recovered from the sites were drug equipment, including ‘pins’ – hypodermic syringes – and ‘spoons’. These were the bottoms of drink cans, which had been cut off and shaped so that they could be used for cooking heroin. At least one of them had fled onto the streets to escape a brutally abusive home. From what I can remember, their lives could be extremely short. Homeless people are often the victims of unprovoked attacks and violence. There’s a report on Youtube from America about ‘Bum-bashing’. This does not, unfortunately, refer to some kind of harmless horseplay involving striking the buttocks, but attacks on the homeless by young men, simply for some kind of sick fun. Kiddey also spoke about one of the other derelict buildings in Stokes Croft occupied by the homeless. She stated that its former lift shaft was full of discarded mattresses. Furthermore, if someone died there, then their body would also be thrown down it. Their death would not be reported to the police, as the cops response would be to come and clear the building. One of the homeless speakers described how she had managed to turn her life around and get into social housing. She described how she had lived in this building with her other homeless friends. She described with a kind of amazed horror one evening she had shared with another three, when they were nearly all out of their minds on drugs and alcohol. One of them had became paranoid and was suffering a panic attack, as he had heard a police siren and now thought they were coming for him. What this girl found particularly amazing now is that at the time she thought it was normal.

It was a truly excellent presentation that really did challenge my own perceptions of the city’s homeless, and opened my eyes to their problems. I have to say I went to the talk with some scepticism about such deliberately socially inclusive projects. It’s all too easy to take up the views of some of the more Conservative journalists and pundits that projects like this were a superficial product of the Blair administration’s insistence on ‘inclusivity’. It can be all too easy to accept the attitude of the Daily Fail and other Right-wing rags that the homeless are just feckless scroungers, a social nuisance, who should be moved on and who deserve little pity or sympathy. This project showed the complete opposite. Their lives are bitterly hard. They are not on the street through idleness, but often through simple misfortune, or from mental health problems that have left them unable to hold down a normal life. As I mentioned earlier, at least one of them was on the streets because of horrific abuse in the parental home. These people do not the deserve the scorn and hatred as some kind of the threat to decent society. Rather, they should be given sympathy as people, who are more often than not severely unfortunate. Rather than tabloid attacks, they should be given proper help from the governments and charities so they can pick themselves up and live some kind of safe, normal, reasonable life. Unfortunately, thanks to the Coalition’s austerity policies and their attitude that if you’re unemployed or poor, it’s your fault, the chances of this are becoming increasingly small.

In this clip from Youtube below, Rachael Kiddey talks about her project with the homeless in Bristol. Warning to Bristol Evening Post readers: she makes no secret of her contempt for the newspaper, describing it as the Evening Fascist. As it is partly owned by the Daily Mail, some people would argue that’s the correct description.

Since then, Rachael Kiddey has moved on to do a Ph.D. in the archaeology of homelessness at York University. Here are another few videos from Youtube about the archaeology of homelessness in that ancient city.

This is part 1.

Part 2.

Part 3.

This is a video, also from Youtube, of Jon Barnes’ interview with Larry Zimmerman at Indianapolis Public Library.

This an ABC news report on ‘Bum Bashing’ assaults on the homeless.

.

This is the address for a webpage on the Archaeology of Homelessness

http://archaeologyofhomelessness.wordpress.com/

This site gives further information on Larry Zimmerman’s and Jessica Welch’s work researching the archaeology of homelessness in America.

http://www.redorbit.com/news/science/1602577/archeology_of_homelessness/

Andrew Neil’s Lies Defending Pinochet’s Coup

January 16, 2014

A week or so ago I posted a few pieces on the BBC’s Right-wing political bias, with a number of commenters giving further information and their experiences of it, and individual journalists and presenters. One of these was Andrew Neil. Robin Ramsay, the editor of the parapolitical magazine, Lobster, has also commented on Brillo Pad and his connection to the British intelligence agencies. He was moved to write one particular piece about Neil after the former editor of the Sunday Times wrote a piece in 22nd October 1998 issue of the Independent falsely accusing Salvador Allende of trying to turn Chile into a Soviet satellite state. Allende was the democratically elected, Marxist president of Chile, who was overthrown by General Pinochet. In an article entitled ‘Pinochet was a Vile Fascist but Allende was no hero’, Brillo wrote:

‘…within months of Allende taking power, armed gangs of leftist thugs invaded homes and took over factories… a relatively free society was on the brink of Marxist terror as Allende’s tanks took to the streets … we can be sure that if a nasty, torturing, murdering, Chilean Castro had emerged triumphant rather than Pinochet…’.

Ramsay wrote to Neil for further information on these allegations, and did not receive a reply. Neil also wrote in the same article that

‘The Americans did not become involved in Chile until they realised that it was being turned into a Marxist enclave by the Soviet Union’.

This is also refuted by Ramsay, who states that American interference in Chile began in 1964 before Allende took power. Ramsay concludes with the statement that when he was editor of the Sunday Times he printed a considerable amount of disinformation, that was provided to him by the British secret services. Ramsay considered that his piece on Chile was similarly a piece of such disinformation, and suggested that it may even have come from the material disseminated by the British and American intelligence services at the time of the coup itself. Neil at that was working at the Economist, which was also a conduit for official, secret service propaganda.

British Shell Companies and the Attacks on Liberal Journalism in the Ukraine

January 16, 2014

ukraine

Private Eye has long been extremely critical of the shell companies and the British tax legislation and accountancy firms that support them. These are companies that largely exist in name only, which are used as an accountancy trick to allow corporations to avoid paying tax in Britain by falsely claiming that they are resident, or owned by companies in foreign tax havens. It dates back to Blair and New Labour, but as with everything corrupt that benefits big business, it’s been taken over by the Coalition. Now, according to the Eye’s Christmas edition, these companies have been used for something even more pernicious and sinister: the attack on liberal journalism itself on the Ukraine. The Eye’s article ‘Tricking Kiev’ reports how a network of shell companies was used by the American-Ukrainian businessman, Alexander Altman, to wrest control of Ukrainian news agency, TVi, from its rightful owner, Konstantin Kagalovsky, a Russian businessman based in Britain.

The Eye says:

‘The battle in the Ukraine between pro-European reformers and the friends of Russia’s Vladimir Putin is partly a fight for control of the media.

Luckily for the oligarchs, they can rely on the acquiescence of TVi. Once a source of investigative journalism, it is now a feeble wreck thanks to a massive fraud perpetrated with the help of Britain’s lax corporate regulations.

As Eye 1344 reported, American-Ukrainian “businessman” Alexander Altman walked into TVi in April, and astonished its journalists by saying that he was now their boss. He locked out its owner, the British-based-based Russian businessman Konstantin Kagalovsky, and ordered reporters to stop causing trouble on pain of dismissal.

In a withering judgment at the High Court in London last week, Mr Justice Turner said there had been a “coup” at TVi, accomplished by “using forged documents comprising fake powers of attorney, board resolutions and board minutes”.

TVi’s baffled owner found that control had passed to a British firm called Balmore he had never heard of. No one could blame him for his ignorance. Balmore was an off-the-shelf firm, which Mr Justice Turner said “was in the precarious position of having beern served with a notice that it was to be struck off the company register for failing to submit an annual return”.

On the day Altman moved against liberal journalists in Kiev, Balmore’s annual return was prepared and filed electronically to Companies House in Britain.

The rightful owners’ lawyers secured an injunction in the summer saying that Altman must disclose information on how TVi had gone from Balmore into a maze of British shell companies. Robert Dougans, Kagolovsky’s solicitor, said Altman had refused to comply and was thus guilty of contempt of court. Even Altman’s London lawyers, Kerman & Co appeared to suspect that something unprofessional and unethical may have been going down. Internal emails, revealed to the court, show Sebastian Devlin, an associate lawyer at the firm, warning partner Carl Robinson that he saw a “real risk” in complying with Altman’s wishes. As the judge drily noted, Robinson was “unable to proffer any clear Explanation” on what Altman had asked Turner that had so worried his colleague.

Throughout the contempt case, Altman said he was the victim of a “set up”. He got out of bed one morning and found that he was associated with mysterious British companies. The judge was having none of it. If Altman were an innocent victim, “he would have made far more strenuous efforts to find out what had happened”. He “knew full well “why the companies had been formed. He was their “controlling mind”, who had retained Kerman & Co and handed them boxes of corporate documents.

The judge found Altman guilty of contempt, and will sentence him next year.

Robert Dougan, the victorious solicitor, told the Eye that despite the judgement there was still no guarantee that the Ukrainian courts would hand TVi back. “One of the reasons why people are on the streets in Kiev is because shady operators in and out of government can commit frauds and no one does anything about it.” As in so many other frauds, the fraudsters turn to “light touch” Britain for help. Dougans explained how he had found out for himself how light that touch was. “I decided to test our controls by registering my cat as a company director,” he said. “No one tried to stop me.”

(Private Eye, 21 December – 9 January 2014, p. 33).

This is a serious attack on the nascent free press in the new, post-Soviet state. The Ukraine is one of the oldest of the Russian states. As the kingdom of Kiev, tt was founded in the early Middle Ages by Varangian Vikings, who intermarried with and adopted the culture of the indigenous Slav population. Under its king, Oleg, in the 9th century it established relations with the Byzantine Empire. Oleg marched to Constantinople at the head of an army and after sacking its suburbs and nailed his shield to the city’s wall. As well as extracting tribute, he also demanded a number of agreements establishing trade between the Empire and Kievan Russia. The Byzantine Emperor acceded to his demands, and Oleg married a Byzantine princess. Later in the century, sometime after 988, the Kievan king, Vladimir the Great, converted to Christianity. This marked the beginning of the Orthodox Church in Russia, as well as the beginning of the Russian view that they are the ‘Third Rome’, after the Eternal City itself, and Constantinople, the capital of the Byzantine or eastern Roman Empire.

The country takes its name from the Ukrainian word ‘Krai’, which means a border area. During the Middle Ages it was part of the Republic of Poland, before being conquered and incorporated into Russia. The Ukraine has produced some of the greatest Russian authors, including Nikolai Gogol and Mikhail Bulgakov, the author of the White Guard and the Master and Margarita.

One of my father’s workmates was Ukrainian, who finally moved back his native country to be with his family after the fall of Communism. One of my friends has also lived and worked in the former Eastern Bloc. A few years ago he holidayed in Kiev, and really loved the place. When he came back he proudly showed me the various sights he’d seen. Back in the 1990s there was some pessimism about the new, post-Soviet nation’s future. There has been considerable friction between the western Ukraine, which is largely rural and Roman Catholic, and the industrialised, Orthodox east, which has a large Russian population. Some observers and commenters feared that the country would degenerate into ethnic conflict and possible civil war, along with the emergence of anti-Semitism. While the country is clearly divided over the question of its ties to either the EU or Putin’s Russia, large scale conflict has been avoided. Indeed, the Financial Times was so impressed with the new state that in an article about it, the newspaper described it as almost a magical place, straight from a fairy-tale. The question of whether the country has closer ties to Russia or the EU is, of course, an issue for the Ukrainians themselves to decide. To do so, and to strengthen their democracy, they need a genuinely liberal, free press able investigate corruption and dodgy political dealing. Unfortunately, the extremely lax corporate legislation over here has meant that this is being stifled to serve very powerful, corporate interests.

The use of this legislation to attack Ukrainian free journalism also poses a threat to the free press in the rest of the world, including this country. Globalisation has meant that the world is now interconnected, and once international big business feels it can get away with something in one country, it will try and use the same tactic elsewhere. We cannot afford to see this as merely a problem for a far away country, tucked away in the former USSR. If it is allowed to succeed in the Ukraine, then it will eventually come here.

From the Director of 47 Ronin: The Gift Short SF Film

January 15, 2014

With the samurai fantasy epic, 47 Ronin about to hit the big screens here in Britain, I found this fascinating short film by its director, Carl Erik Rinsch. The Gift is set in a future Russia, inhabited by animal and humanoid robots, and patrolled by sinister and murderous robotic cops. A mysterious man travels through Moscow with a gift-wrapped package, containing something so precious people are willing to kill and die for it.

I found it on Youtube at http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Jeve1kJCBlc.

Rinsch himself is American, and the film itself was shown about four years ago in 2010 as part of the Philiips Parallel Lines film festival. Nevertheless, it’s a fascinating little film, which certainly makes me wish for a few more, full-length SF films set in Russia. Russia has a long tradition of excellent SF literature, of which the best known in the West is probably the work of the Strugatski brothers. Their novel, Stalker, was turned into a film of the same name by the great Russian director Andrei Tarkovsky. Tarkovsky had earlier produced Solaris, based on the classic SF novel of the same name by the Polish SF writer, Stanislaw Lem. Tarkovsky, however, cut out most of the books special effects sequences, leaving the film as a long discussion on evil and human responsibilities by the characters as they roam a devastated, post-industrial landscape in search of something.

It’s very different from the book, where the weird, devastated environment of the Zone is given a rather fuller description. In the book the area has been cordoned off following a mysterious incident, the crash of an alien spacecraft. The area is now a death-trap in which normal, physical laws no longer apply. There can be sudden, massive increases in gravity, which can crush the unwitting traveller. The Zone is also populated by hostile dummies, the zombie remnants of humans caught, killed, and twisted into something not quite dead by the power of the strange forces that created and pervade the Zone.

The book’s hero is rather different too. In both the book and the film he’s an outlaw, venturing into the forbidden environment of the Zone in order to bring back valuable alien artefacts for money in order to support himself and his family. His journeys into the Zone have worked a terrible effect on him. Over time the Stalkers suffer genetic damage due to their exposure to the Zone and its bizarre forces. The Stalker of the novel in his career makes too many journeys into the Zone, with the result that his daughter is mutated. The film, however, makes the character much less morally ambiguous. In the book the character is at times quite ruthless, fully prepared to sacrifice his unwitting fellow travellers to the Zone and its deadly forces in order to get what he wants. Instead of the film’s elevated questioning of the nature of morality in the face of catastrophe, the book has a much darker tone, more Western cyberpunk with its similar amoral, outlaw heroes and noir-ish visions of a decaying or wrecked future.

Steven Soderbergh remade Solaris a few years ago, with George Clooney in the lead role. It was shorter than the Tarkovsky version, but made a few minor changes. There were sex scenes, which certainly weren’t present in Tarkovsky’s presence, one of the characters, the physicist Snow, was changed from a White man to a Black woman. In most other respects, however, the film was almost exactly the same, with some scenes almost shot-for-shot identical to the original. I’d like to see someone remake Stalker, but keeping closer to the source novel and showing some of the terrible wonders and dangers of the Zone.

The Strugatski brothers are only two of the many brilliant SF writers from Russia and eastern Europe. One or two of their other works were also filmed under Soviet rule, including In The Dust of their Stars, in which heroic Russian space travellers try to lead a rebellion against the oppressive rule of a planet’s feudal tyrant. Another Soviet SF film, though one which wasn’t written by them, is Planet of Storms, about a expedition to Venus. More recent Russian SF/ Fantasy films have been Daywatch and Nightwatch, about a secret society protecting humanity from supernatural evil. Seeing The Gift and with its setting in Russia reminded me just how great Russian, and eastern Science Fiction generally could be. It’s at times markedly different from Western SF. Under Communism, it was often written as a parable, in which the authors made coded comments and observations about the state of Soviet society, which they couldn’t express directly in realist fiction.

Stalker, with its depiction of wrecked landscape rendered deadly through a technological accident, became particularly relevant after the Chernobyl disaster. A few years ago a computer game was released, whose creators were Russian, and which mixed elements of Stalker with that of Chernobyl and its similar, horrifically polluted zone. Although it was entertainment, it also had a more serious purpose as it was partly intended to promote ecological awareness about the dangers of the devastating effects of such human activities on the natural world. The Russian film industry suffered catastrophically after the collapse of Communism, as it couldn’t compete with the big budget films from Hollywood, like The Terminator. The success of the Day- and Nightwatch films has proved that Russian film-makers can still produce great SF/ Fantasy films in a global market, so hopefully there will be a few more SF and Fantasy films coming from Russia and eastern Europe. And that will be no bad thing at all.

This is the trailer of Tarkovsky’s 1979 film of Stalker from Youtube:

Here’s an extract from Planet of Storms, also from Youtube :

A Hellish Morass of the Demoralised, Poorly-Paid and the Back-Stabbing: Life at the Bottom of the Civil Service

November 23, 2013

I’ve been doing a course run by one of the local further education colleges and held at one of Bristol’s museums these past two weeks, intended to give the unemployed some of the skills and qualifications to help them find work. It’s been fascinating meeting the other people on the course, and hearing their stories and views about employment and the Job Centre. They’re a very mixed group. Some are intellectual and academic, while others’ skills and experience lie in the practical, manual trades. Listening to them, it’s a complete mystery why some of them don’t have jobs. There are a few, who have been out of work for a couple of years, yet are clearly articulate, capable and willing. Several have been on other courses before. Several of them have suffered from bullying employers in what were blatantly cases of constructive dismissal. Many also have been badly treated by the Job Centre.

One of the gents on the course has worked at one time in the Civil Service. It is not a job to which he wishes to return. He stated that at the lowest levels – that of the AAs, it is extremely poorly-paid, and the other employees are personally treacherous in their desperation to move on. AA stands from ‘Administrative Assistants’. Their job is basically going round taking claimant’s files to those higher up the chain of command, to the AOs, who interview clients, and the EOs, HEOs and office managers making the decisions. They also deliver the mail. According to this fellow, the pay is below £7,000. As a result, many are forced to ask for advances on next month’s salary in order to make ends meet. What he found shocking is that they were so acculturated to this exploitative arrangement, that they accepted it as normal. He also was shocked and disgusted at the amount of back-stabbing he had encountered amongst them, as each one fought against the others to climb up the corporate ladder. From the way he describes it, it sounds very much like he was glad to leave the job. It sounds very much like Thomas Hobbes’ ‘war of each against all’, with personnel, who are very definitely nasty and brutish.

This is very different from the civil service AAs I met in my career over twenty years ago. I don’t know how much they were paid, but they were largely a very good-natured, cheerful bunch, who got on well together, while doing their jobs efficiently and conscientiously. That, however, was over two decades ago, and clearly years of re-structuring by Blair and now the Coalition has taken its toll.

I don’t think this fellow is alone in his feelings about working in the Civil Service either. I’ve met other civil servants, who were bitterly disgusted at their working conditions and the poor management from above. They too, wanted to get out of it.

Now this reflects very strongly on IDS’ claim to leadership quality. Ian Duncan Smith has made much of attending Sandhurst, even if there are considerable doubts about whether or not he actually graduated. He desperately wants the public to be impressed with his alleged leadership ability through his claimed rank in the army.

Well, the treatment of the employees in the civil service seems to disprove this.

It hardly needs to be said that the armed forces are tough environments. Discipline is rigorously enforced, frequently through lurid personal abuse screamed at you by the Sergeant Major. However, team work, and a paternalistic attitude by the commanding officers are also vitally important. Conservative opponents of Bush’s Neo-Con policies and the invasion of Iraq within the US military were highly critical of the extreme individualism and personal touchiness of the Neo-Con political advisers they were required to obey. They derisively referred to them as ‘chickenhawks’, because despite their belligerence and willingness to expend lives, they personally had never seen combat, and had frequently done their best to make sure they had avoided military service. They were also greatly unimpressed by the fact that only two of Bush’s army of advisers ever did team sports. The army, at least in the US, liked team sports because the survival and effectiveness of troopers in combat depends on their working well as a team, not as a group of individuals. In team sports, like American Football, no single player was more important, or immune to criticism for poor performance than the others. It didn’t matter if you were a great quarterback, if you dropped the ball, you could still expect to be bawled at by the coach, like anyone else, observed one female general. She stated that Bush’s Neo-Cons could never handle professional criticism as a result of their not playing such sports. When their judgements or decisions were criticised, they took immense umbrage as if it were an attack on them personally. Other officers have been critical of the way the armed forces has stressed individualism in its recruiting drive, and its apparent omission of how much teamwork and the active subordination of individual interests to that of the group plays in the forces as a whole. One senior officer in the US army voiced his low opinion of its recruiting slogan ‘Be an army of one’. He stated it was ridiculous, as the army was one of the biggest, least individual bureaucracies there was. Despite the horrors of war, it was the camaraderie that many soldiers found in the army and the solidarity they experienced with their fellow squaddies that they enjoyed, and which has been celebrated in literature, songs and poetry, like Kipling’s.

Good generals also frequently have a paternalistic attitude to the personnel under them. Nicholas Courtney, The actor, who played Brigadier Lethbridge-Stuart in Dr Who remarked in an interview that a good commander looks after his men. This was explain the Brigadier’s decisions in combating the various alien invasions and attempted coups by mad scientists, which plagued Earth regularly during his long career with the Doctor. Now these adventures were clearly fictional, but the ethos guiding the Brigadier’s treatment of the men and women under him in UNIT is real. General Sir Peter de la Billiere, who is very definitely an Eton-educated member of the establishment, states in his memoirs that he found out that one of the key leadership skills was looking after one’s troops. This didn’t mean being soft with them, but it did mean you took more care of them than you did yourself.

Almost none of this seems to be present in civil service that has been created and over which Ian Duncan Smith and his fellows preside. There clearly is no comradeship amongst people, who are all bitterly fighting each other for the merest chance of promotion. Neither can one see a paternalistic attitude amongst the senior staff and ministers, when they have increasingly inflated salaries while the people on the lowest rungs of their organisation are reduced to asking for advances to cover their inadequate pay. One can find accounts of great generals, who personally risked their careers to get their troops the equipment they needed despite the obstructions of the army bureaucracy. There’s a fictional description of such in Bulgakov’s The White Guard, set during the Russian Civil War in the 1920s. IDS certainly doesn’t seem to have fought to improve conditions for the civil servants under his management. Added to this, there is the personal cowardice of IDS himself. Like the Neo-Cons described and derided by traditional American Conservatives, IDS appears unable to take professional criticism and reacts badly when he meets it. He has repeatedly failed to meet opponents of his welfare reforms, and avoided answering questions by parliamentary committees. Once upon a time, generals led from the front. IDS, it appears, prefers to be well behind lines so he doesn’t have to take the flak dished out to his troops. And as we’ve seen, if he can’t legitimately get his way, then he reverts to bullying. No wonder he may have been returned to his unit.

This, then, is the state of the civil service under Ian Duncan Smith. It’s badly led, with no team spirit or esprit de corps, at least at its lowest levels. There it is a poisonous hell of back-stabbing by the desperate and demoralised, acculturated to poor treatment and poor pay. It’s little wonder that the civil servants in turn mistreat and abuse the job seekers and other benefit claimants. And all while IDS and his fellow ministers vote themselves increasingly bloated salaries. This constitutes the Tories’ ideas of leadership and ideal social conditions in modern Britain.

Guardian and Snowden on Britain Spying on Americans for America: America Angry, but this Not News

October 13, 2013

The Guardian is at the centre of a diplomatic and legal storm over its publication of information leaked by Edward Snowden that Britain was regularly tapping and monitoring Americans’ phone calls and electronic messages on behalf of the American intelligence services. The American constitution forbids the American state from doing this, so the Americans got round this block by getting us to do it for them. This was then one of the revelations leaked by Snowden, which was picked up and printed by the Guardian. The scandal was briefly mentioned by Dan Snow on the Beeb’s satirical news quiz, Have I Got News For You. Snow was of the opinion that it had damaged relations between Britain and America by angering the Americans. This is probably true, but the information itself – that Britain was spying for America on American citizens – isn’t remotely new. It was already available to anyone with a library card, a good bookshop, or a subscription to Lobster, Steamshovel Press or any of the other parapolitical ‘conspiracy’ magazines. Simon Davies’ book, Big Brother: Britain’s Web of Surveillance and the New Technological Order, published by Pan in 1996 states that GCHQ was monitoring telephone lines and sharing this information with the Americans. GCHQ’s main listening station at Menwith Hill in 1994 had 40,000 active telephone lines connected to it, although the Home Secretary had only authorised 871 new wiretaps. As for computer listening systems like PRISM, which monitor telephone lines and record conversations containing a number of key words, those have been around for a very long time. Lobster carried several stories about ECHELON, a similar listening system in the ’80s and ’90s.

The technology even formed the basis for the plot of an episode of the short-lived BBC SF series, Star Cops, in 1986. In the episode ‘Intelligent Listening for Beginners’, Nathan Spring and his band of near-future rozzers are called in to investigate the claim by an Indian computer tycoon that he has developed a computer system that will spy on Anarchist terrorist groups and prevent the kind of cyberterrorist attacks that were responsible for a train crash in the Channel Tunnel. In fact, the Subcontinent’s answer to Steve Jobs has in fact done no such thing. His computer system is an abject failure, and he has himself sabotaged it in his residence on the Moon. The faked worm attack will kill him, and take Spring with him, but will appear to vindicate him by showing that his system has been successful. Spring, however, fortunately is able to shoot the tycoon and make his escape before the computers melt down and the house explodes. Star Cops was short lived and lasted only a single season. Looking back, it was in many respects wildly optimistic. It was set only a decade or so away, in 2026, when the new generation of spaceplanes developed by Martin Marietta had finally made the space age a reality. People were travelling into orbit to work on space stations, and further to laboratories, mines and industrial units on the Moon. There was also a small colony on Mars. Well, here we are nearly three decades hence and this is still very far away. If only! The series was scripted by Chris Boucher, the script editor and writer on the bleak, dystopian SF series, Blake’s 7. Star Cops was based very much on solid scientific fact, or what was believed to be possible at the time. Its predictions are, in many cases, wildly inaccurate. In the series’ future world, the Soviet Union and Communist bloc still existed, and Anarchists, rather than Radical Islam, were responsible for global terrorism. This is apart from the expected breakthrough in mass space travel and commercialisation. The series was entirely right about intelligent listening systems, though.

So, while the American state may be angered by Snowden’s revelations, they aren’t really providing much in the way of new information. What has made the difference is that they were picked up and published by a respected, national newspaper. They were thus made available to a mass public, rather than the few thousand or so, who read books on the intelligence services and the secret state, or the even smaller numbers reading very specialist, niche magazines like Lobster.

For vintage SF fans, here’s the Star Cops’ episode ‘Intelligent Listening for Beginners’.

Part 1

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Part 2

Part 3

Part 4

Part 5

Immigration, ID Cards and the Erosion of British Freedom: Part 1

October 12, 2013

‘The true danger is when liberty is nibbled away, for expedience, and by parts’.

– Edmund Burke.

Edmund Burke is regarded as the founder of modern Conservatism, the defender of tradition, freedom, and gradual change against revolutionary innovation based solely on abstract principle. He was also the 18th century MP, who successfully campaigned for the Canadian provinces to be given self-government on the grounds that, as they paid their taxes, so they had earned their right to government. His defence of tradition came from his observation of the horror of the French Revolution and his ideas regarding their political and social causes, as reflected in his great work, Reflections on the Revolution in France. While his Conservatism may justly be attacked by those on the Left, the statement on the gradual, incremental danger to liberty is still very much true, and should be taken seriously by citizens on both the Left and Right sides of the political spectrum. This should not be a party political issue.

In my last post, I reblogged Mike’s article commenting on recent legislation attempting to cut down on illegal immigration. This essentially devolved the responsibility for checking on the status of immigrants to private individuals and organisations, such as banks and landlords. As with much of what the government does, or claims to do, it essentially consists of the state putting its duties and responsibilities into the private sphere. Among the groups protesting at the proposed new legislation were the BMA, immgrants’ rights groups and the Residential Landlords’ Association. The last were particularly concerned about the possible introduction of identification documents, modelled on the 404 European papers, in order to combat illegal immigration. Such fears are neither new nor unfounded. I remember in the early 1980s Mrs Thatcher’s administration considered introduction ID cards. The plan was dropped as civil liberties groups were afraid that this would create a surveillance society similar to that of Nazi Germany or the Communist states. The schemes were mooted again in the 1990s first by John Major’s administration, and then by Blair’s Labour party, following pressure from the European Union, which apparently considers such documents a great idea. The Conservative papers then, rightly but hypocritically, ran articles attacking the scheme.

There are now a couple of books discussing and criticising the massive expansion of state surveillance in modern Britain and our gradual descent into just such a totalitarian surveillance state portrayed in Moore’s V for Vendetta. One of these is Big Brother: Britain’s Web of Surveillance and the New Technological Order, by Simon Davies, published by Pan in 1996. Davies was the founder of Privacy International, a body set up in 1990 to defend individual liberties from encroachment by the state and private corporations. He was the Visiting Law Fellow at the University of Essex and Chicago’s John Marshall Law School. Davies was suspicious of INSPASS – the Immigration and Naturalisation Service Passenger Accelerated Service System, an automatic system for checking and verifying immigration status using palm-prints and smart cards. It was part of the Blue Lane information exchange system in which information on passengers was transmitted to different countries ahead of the journey. The countries using the system were the US, Canada, Andorra, Austria, Belgium, Bermuda, Denmark, Finland, France, Germany, Ireland, Italy, Japan, Liechstein, Luxembourg, Monaco, the Netherlands, New Zealand, Norway, San Marino, Spain, Sweden and the UK. Davies considered the scheme a danger to liberty through the state’s increasing use of technology to monitor and control the population.

At the time Davies was writing, 90 countries used ID cards including Belgium, France, Germany, Greece, Italy, Luxemburg, the Netherlands, Spain and Portugal. They also included such sterling examples of democracy as Thailand and Singapore. In the latter, the ID card was used as an internal passport and was necessary for every transaction. The Singaporean government under Lee Kwan Yew has regularly harassed and imprisoned political opponents. The longest serving prisoner of conscience isn’t in one of the Arab despotisms or absolute monarchies, nor in Putin’s Russia. They’re in Singapore. A few years ago the country opened its first free speech corner, modelled on Hyde Park’s own Speaker’s Corner. You were free to use it, provided you gave due notice about what you were planning to talk about to the police first for their approval. There weren’t many takers. As for Thailand, each citizen was issued a plastic identity card. The chip in each contained their thumbprint and photograph, as well as details of their ancestry, education, occupation, nationality, religion, and police records and tax details. It also contains their Population Number, which gives access to all their documents, whether public or private. It was the world’s second largest relational database, exceeded in size only by that of the Mormon Church at their headquarters in Salt Lake City. Thailand also has a ‘village information system’, which collates and monitors information at the village level. This is also linked to information on the person’s electoral preferences, public opinion data and information on candidates in local elections. The Bangkok post warned that the system would strengthen the interior ministry and the police. If you needed to be reminded, Thailand has regularly appeared in the pages of the ‘Letter from…’ column in Private Eye as it is a barely disguised military dictatorship.

In 1981 France’s President Mitterand declared that ‘the creation of computerised identity cards contains are real danger for the liberty of individuals’. This did not stop France and the Netherlands passing legislation requiring foreigners to carry identity cards. The European umbrella police organisation, Europol, also wanted all the nations in Europe to force their citizens to carry identity cards. At the global level, the International Monetary Fund routinely included the introduction of ID cards into the criteria of economic, social and political performance for nations in the developing world.

Davies’ own organisation, Privacy International, founded in 1990, reported than in their survey of 50 countries using ID cards, the police in virtually all of them abused the system. The abuses uncovered by the organisation included detention after failure to produce the card, and the beating of juveniles and members of minorities, as well as massive discrimination based on the information the card contained.

In Australia, the financial sector voiced similar concerns about the scheme to those expressed recently by the landlords and immigrants’ rights and welfare organisations. Under the Australian scheme, employees in the financial sector were required by law to report suspicious information or abuse of ID cards to the government. The penalty for neglecting or refusing to do so was gaol. The former chairman of the Pacific nation’s largest bank, Westpar, Sir Noel Foley, attacked the scheme. It was ‘a serious threat to the privacy, liberty and safety of every citizen’. The Australian Financial Review stated in an editorial on the cards that ‘It is simply obscene to use revenue arguments (‘We can make more money out of the Australia Card’) as support for authoritarian impositions rather than take the road of broadening national freedoms’. Dr Bruce Shepherd, the president of the Australian Medical Association stated of the scheme that ‘It’s going to turn Australian against Australian. But given the horrific impact the card will have on Australia, its defeat would almost be worth fighting a civil war for’. To show how bitterly the country that produced folk heroes like Ned Kelly thought of this scheme, cartoons appeared in the Ozzie papers showing the country’s president, Bob Hawke, in Nazi uniform.

For those without ID cards, the penalties were harsh. They could not be legally employed, or, if in work, paid. Farmers, who didn’t have them, could not collect payments from marketing boards. If you didn’t have a card, you also couldn’t access your bank account, cash in any investments, give or receive money from a solicitor, or receive money from unity, property or cash management trusts. You also couldn’t rent or buy a home, receive unemployment benefit, or the benefits for widows, supporting parents, or for old age, sickness and invalidity. There was a A$5,000 fine for deliberate destruction of the card, a A$500 fine if you lost the card but didn’t report it. The penalty for failing to attend a compulsory conference at the ID agency was A$1,000 or six months gaol. The penalty for refusing to produce it to the Inland Revenue when they demanded was A$20,000. About 5 per cent of the cards were estimated to be lost, stolen or deliberately destroyed each year.

The ID Card was too much for the great Australian public to stomach, and the scheme eventually had to be scrapped. It’s a pity that we Poms haven’t learned from our Ozzie cousins and that such ID schemes are still being seriously contemplated over here. It is definitely worth not only whingeing about, but protesting very loudly and strongly indeed.

In Part 2 of this article, I will describe precisely what the scheme does not and cannot do, despite all the inflated claims made by its proponents.