Posts Tagged ‘Belgium’

Cameron and Ceaucescu: United in Opposition to Journalistic Freedom

February 3, 2014

I’ve reblogged Mike’s and David Hencke’s pieces about the threat to journalistic freedom posed by recent government legislation that would force journalists to reveal their sources to the police. If they do not, then the police may seize their records, including their computers.

Make no mistake, once this passes into law, these powers will be used. There have been a number of cases already where British journalists have had their computers, notes and records seized by the police after they have released information that the authorities would rather have kept under wraps. The EU can be just as bad. One German journalist working in Belgium had his computer and documents seized by the police after he started revealing just how corrupt the European Union was. He was lucky. One of the female officials inside the EU itself, who started raising awkward questions about the amount of corruption, ended up falling from the top floor of a Brussels multi-storey car park in highly suspicious circumstances. The EU is, of course, one of the bête noirs of the Tory Right, but this hasn’t stopped the Tories from emulating them in this attempt to suppress free speech.

David Hencke’s piece about it reports that some journalists’ organisations are protesting about the legislation. The Angry Yorkshireman over at Another Angry Voice wondered how the Right-wing press will react when they’re at the sharp end of this piece of legislation. I have to say I doubt they will make much fuss at all, except if this is done by a Labour government. Then it will be seen as another example of their Marxist perfidy. The parapolitical magazine Lobster has several times stated that a number of right-wing newspapers, like the Sunday Times under Andrew Neil, were used as conduits for disinformation by the British secret state. And there are certainly a number of journalists all too ready to collaborate with the harassment and intimidation of their fellow journalists, who are not prepared to betray their sources to the authorities.

About a decade ago Private Eye ran a story about a female journalist on one of the broadsheets, who had been working on a story about the activities of the terrorist organisations in Ulster. This attracted the attention of one of her male colleagues, who made much about his supposed links to British intelligence. He approached her several times saying that his masters ‘wanted a word’, and demanded to know, who her sources were. When she made it very plain that she was not going to end her career as a journalist by betraying them, he threatened her with the words, ‘Well, we can do this the nice way, or the nasty’.

Now I’ve made my disgust at terrorism of any variety very plain on this blog. However, it goes without saying that to get a story, and give the public a clearer picture of what’s really going on, good journalists sometimes have to talk to some ‘bloody nasty people’, to use a phrase describing certain members of the British Far Right. A lot of intelligence work, supposedly, simply involves going through the papers every morning. It’s hard to see how a piece of legislation that allows the police ample powers to force journalists to reveal their sources can serve the interests of national security, as it would have a chilling effect on journalists investigating anything that remotely touches on terrorism, or organised crime or anything else that would remotely excite the interest of Inspector Knacker. The press would be simply reduced to reporting safe subject, and repeating the statements passed on by their governmental superiors.

Pretty much like Tass did during the days of the former Soviet Union.
Hmmm… now I know what the business model for the new, Coalition-friendly BBC is. Possibly German radio under the Nazis would be a closer analogy. I wonder if Oliver Letwin is going to change his job title to ‘Minister for Public Enlightenment?

Either way, the Coalition has taken another step towards totalitarianism with this latest assault on free speech and free journalism. Ceaucescu, the Communist president of Romania, was so paranoid that his secret police, the Securitate, held copies of the typescript from all the typewriters in the country, just in case someone, somewhere, was writing all that nasty samizdat stuff that got authors like Solzhenitsyn and Pasternak published in the USSR. It’s only a short step to that from the government’s desire to allow the police to force journalists to reveal their sources without the current judicial checks and balances. Ceaucescu also caused massive starvation within his own country by exporting most of their agricultural products to get hard currency, leaving his own people poor with little food on sale in the state shops. Obviously this is not at all like the glorious, Thatcherite administration of David Cameron, where there is plenty of food in the shops, affordable to all, except the unemployed, who have to rely on foodbanks and skips, in hardship and famine created by his welfare policies. But then, which apparatchik in any of the totalitarian parties had much time for the ‘narod’, the people, the lower orders?

It took centuries for Britain to develop a genuinely free press. It’s now under sustained attack. If this succeeds, then we will be back in the 18th and 19th century, when journalists were regularly sued and put out of business for publishing ‘subversive libel’ when they attacked government policy or its ministers. And this would suit David Cameron, Osborne, and the rest of the pukka-Etonian establishment now in power just fine. After all, you can’t have the proles rocking the boat, can you?

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Another Angry Voice on Gove’s Great War Revisionism

January 8, 2014

Gassed Painting

Detail from the Painting Gassed, showing lines of men blinded in combat. This is what Wilfrid Owen described in his poem.

The Angry Yorkshireman over at Another Angry Voice has also weighed in with his comments about Michael Gove’s attempt to present the Great War as something better and nobler than the squalid debacle it was. It’s excellent, and well-worth reading. Entitled Michael Gove’s Great War Revisionism, it begins by referring to the posts by Mike over at Vox Political and others, before moving on to attack recent attempts, including Gove’s to present Haig as much more competent than he actually was:

‘In January 2014 the education secretary Michael Gove penned a ludicrous article in the Daily Mail invoking the spectres of left-wing academics and BBC bias in order to argue that the First World War was not “a series of catastrophic mistakes perpetrated by an out-of-touch elite”.

Other sites (such as Vox Political and The Huffington Post) have already covered this story quite comprehensively so I’ll try to avoid reiterating too much of what has already been said. I’ll go through some of Gove’s absurd ramblings and highlight some of the many things that he’s got wrong.

“The conflict has, for many, been seen through the fictional prism of dramas such as Oh! What a Lovely War, The Monocled Mutineer and Blackadder, as a misbegotten shambles – a series of catastrophic mistakes perpetrated by an out-of-touch elite. Even to this day there are Left-wing academics all too happy to feed those myths.”
The conflict has also been seen through the great volume of testimonies from people who served during the Great War, from the works of great war poets like Wilfred Owen and Siegfried Sassoon to the first hand testimonies collected by the Imperial War Museum and collated in books like Forgotten Voices of the Great War, The Soldier’s War and Britain’s Last Tommies (all of which I thoroughly recommend as infinitely more enlightening than Gove’s partisan wittering on the subject). Many of these first hand testimonies are pervaded by a sense of horror at the tactical blunderings of the generals that resulted in the mass slaughter of millions of men. Gove is desperate to discount the first hand testimonies of those who were actually there in order to present his favoured interpretation; that the war was noble and necessary, that generals like Douglas “butcher” Haig did a good job under difficult circumstances and that the battle of the Somme wasn’t a tragic and futile waste of life.

Despite his efforts to resuscitate the reputation of Field Marshall Douglas Haig, some of us are aware that Douglas Haig once said the “the machine gun is a much overrated weapon”. On the first day of the battle of the Somme 60,000 British troops were killed or injured, the great majority of them by machine gun fire.’

He then goes on to note that many of the historians, who argued that the generals were incompetent, were by no means all Left-wingers. The view that the British troops were ‘lions led by donkeys’ was articulated as far back as 1962 by Ken Clarke, who was a member of Maggie Thatcher’s cabinet. He then duly attacks Gove’s comments about the British troops recognising that it was a ‘noble cause’ and points out that to say that Germany did not recognise by the prevailing international order is hypocritical, as that order was composed of the militarily strongest European nations, Britain and France. He also skewers Gove’s statement that the war was fought against German ‘Social Darwinism’, by pointing out that as an imperial power, Britain also possessed a vast, subject population, who were excluded from politics and barred from voting. This is absolutely correct. The first British colony that gave a place on its council to one of its indigenous citizens was Ghana in the 1920s. This was extremely progressive for the time, and far ahead of the other British possessions. Even in Britain, a sizable minority of the British working class was excluded from voting due to the property qualification, and women only actually got to vote in 1928, although they had been granted the franchise much earlier. In fact, far from being ‘Fascistic’ in many ways the situation was the reverse: a higher proportion of the population in Wilhelmine Germany had the vote than in Britain, although their impact on politics was excluded by a property clause which divided the population into estates and guaranteed the aristocracy and wealthy political representation far beyond their numbers. Even here, one could reasonably compare this with Britain, and the unelected and very feudal House of Lords.

The Angry Yorkshireman also take Gove to task for his attacks on the Left, and totally ignores the fact that amongst the groups and organisations calling for war as response to Germany aggression against Belgium were the trade unions, who actively encouraged men to join the army.

He then ends the piece with a series of quotations from some of those, who actively fought in the War and were bitterly critical of its conduct and the actions of their superiors. These include the last surviving Tommy, Harry Patch, Arthur Graeme West, Henry Allinghame, Robert Graves, Siegfried Sassoon, and that notorious Left-wing revolution (not!), Winston Churchill, who said:

‘”How many have gone? How many more to go? The Admiralty is fast asleep and lethargy & inertia are the order of the day. However everybody seems delighted – so there is nothing to be said. No plans, no enterprise, no struggle to aid the general cause. Just sit still on the spacious throne and snooze.”

The article’s over at http://anotherangryvoice.blogspot.co.uk/2014/01/micael-gove-great-war-revisionism.html, if you want to read another excellent perspective on the War.

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.

Guns Will Make US Powerful. Obamacare Will Make Us Fat

August 7, 2013

The American Right has bitterly opposed Obama’s attempt to introduce a single-payer health service similar to those in Canada, Australia and Europe. The arguments used against it is that it has added increased bureaucracy to American healthcare. It is also claimed that American companies are also being penalised by the increased taxes needed to support it. The spurious claims that private American healthcare is superior to the socialised systems of Britain and Europe. Among the more emotive claims is that socialised medicine is somehow totalitarian, because the individual citizens in the countries that have it are supposed to be at the mercy of their government and their doctors. This argument runs that people no longer have any control over their lives, as governments and the medical profession demand that the adopt a healthy lifestyle and eating habits in order to keep medical costs low. This argument is itself specious, as it’s been a very long time since Americans have been free to ignore the advice of their own doctors. They are tied very much to the demands of the insurance companies that provide the cover for their healthcare.

One of the other arguments that the Right has used, and this is the one I intend to examine here, is that expenditure on Obamacare will critically endangers America’s military power and ability to defend freedom abroad. The Right-wing journalist and broadcaster Mark Steyn has particularly used this argument. Steyn used to write for a number of British papers, before he went to America to join Rush Limbaugh as one of the leading figures in American Right-wing journalism. The argument runs that at present, America is able to support a large military force, much of which is stationed overseas because its comparatively low government expenditure makes this affordable. During the Cold War and after 9/11, America’s forces have been actively defending the free world. This is in stark contrast to the military impotence of post-World War II Europe. Europe, according to Steyn, is crippled and decadent due to its commitment to maintaining a high level of expenditure on its welfare systems. They are therefore unable and unwilling to support military campaigns defending freedom across the world. This, warns Steyn and the Right, is what America will become unless Americans vote against President Obama, whom they deride as America’s first European president.

It’s an argument comparable to the quote from Goring about the desirability of military power over an increased food supply: Guns will make us powerful. Butter will make us fat. The only difference is that in this case, the American Right is demanding such sacrifices in order to defend democracy.

Now let’s examine the claim in more detail. First of all, many members of the present EU did not have much in the way of an overseas Empire. The main imperial nations were Britain, France, Spain and Portugal. Germany, Italy, the Netherlands and Denmark also had imperial colonies overseas, but they were much smaller than those of the first four countries. Germany lost its African colonies after the First World War. Spain’s colonies in Latin America broke away during a series of wars for independence in the 19th century. Belgium’s own imperial adventure in the Congo became a major international scandal due to the enslavement of the indigenous peoples to work on the Belgian crown’s vast sugar plantations, in which truly horrific atrocities were committed. Italy was a latecomer to imperialism. Its attempts to establish an empire in Africa in the 19th century resulted in some humiliating defeats by the indigenous peoples, such as at Adowa. This resulted in the downfall of the democratically elected regime and its replacement, for a time, with a military dictatorship. Its greatest attempts to establish itself as a major imperial power came with Mussolini’s dictatorship. This was done with great brutality and the infliction of horrific atrocities. It has been estimated that between Italy’s conquest of the country in the 1920s and decolonisation in the 1950s, about a third of the Tunisian population was killed fighting their occupiers. Despite the regime’s attempts to settle Italian farmers in Libya, bitter resistance remained and Italians were unsafe except in the coastal cities.

All the European powers were left exhausted by the Second World War, which stimulated nationalism and the demands for independence in their subject territories. One African or Indian nationalist commented on the way the experience of fighting with the British destroyed in the First World War destroyed their image of invincibility. Before the War the British had appeared to be supermen. Now, seeing them injured, sick and suffering like their imperial subjects, convinced Africans and Indians that they were the same as them, and could be defeated. George Orwell in one of his piece of journalism records watching a parade of Black troops in French Morocco. He states that standing there, watching them pass, he knew what was going through the minds of every White man present: How long can we continue to fool these people? Writing in 1910, the leader of the German Social Democrats, Karl Kautsky, observed the increasing opposition to European imperialism in Asia and Africa and predicted the rise of violent nationalist revolutions against the European powers in the occupied countries.

‘The spirit of rebellion is spreading everywhere in Asia and Africa, and with it is spreading also the use of European arms; resistance to European exploitation is growing. It is impossible to transplant capitalist exploitation into a country, without also sowing the seeds of revolution against this exploitation.

Initially, the expresses itself in increasing complications, colonial policies, and in a growth of their costs. Our colonial enthusiasts comfort us, with regard to the burdens the colonies now impose on us, by referring to the rich rewards the future will bring. In reality, the military expenses required for the maintenance of the colonies are bound to increase constantly from now on – and this will not be all. The majority of countries of Asia and Africa are approaching a situation in which intermittent uprisings will become continuous and will ultimately lead to the destruction of the foreign yoke. Britain’s possessions in East India are nearest to this stage: their loss would be equivalent to the bankruptcy of the English state’.

(Karl Kautsy: Selected Political Writings, ed. and trans. by Patrick Goode (London: MacMillan 1983), p. 77.)

Historians now consider that the Empire was a drain, not a source of wealth, for Britain after 1900. Britain’s gradual departure from its colonies was also a condition for the military and financial aid given by its allies, America and the Soviet Union, during the Second World War. In a series of meeting held with the British authorities and the British Anti-Slavery Society, the Americans demanded the opening up of Britain’s colonies to American trade. The Russians also demanded access to British colonial markets and Britain’s gradual withdrawal from her colonies. By and large Britain’s decline as an imperial power was peaceful, as her colonies were granted independence one after another, beginning with India and Pakistan, from the late 1940s to the 1970s. Nevertheless, Britain did fight a series of wars to retain control of some her colonies in the face of rebellion by the indigenous peoples in Kenya and Malaya.

The establishment of the welfare state in Britain certainly did add greater expenses to the government. However, Britain was unable to support its Empire due to the immense costs of the Second World War on one side and the demands by the formerly subject people’s for independence on the other. Moreover Britain was unlike America in presenting a convincing claim to be defending freedom. America’s own attempts to establish an Empire was confined roughly to the period around 1900. Britain, however, remained a major imperial power and could not present an entirely convincing claim to be defending freedom while denying its subject people’s self-government.

Steyn’s view that the establishment of a welfare state results in military weakness and a reluctance to engage with military threats on the world stage also breaks down completely with some of the other European nations. The origins of Germany’s welfare system lie in Bismarck’s legislation providing German workers with old age pensions, sickness and unemployment insurance. This was several years before the late 19th century Scramble for Africa, which saw the Kaiser attempt to gain colonies there. Furthermore, the use of military force abroad is associated in the minds of the German public with the horrors and militant nationalism of the Third Reich. This is the reason successive German administrations have found it difficult sending troops abroad, even if they were to be used as peacekeepers preventing greater atrocities from being committed by other warring peoples, such as in the former Yugoslavia. As for Italy, the BBC’s foreign affairs programme on Radio 4, From Our Own Correspondent, stated that the country was unwilling to send further troops to support the coalition forces after 9/11 out of fears for the damage terrorist reprisals would inflict on its priceless artistic, architectural and cultural heritage. The small size of many European nations, such as Belgium, the Scandinavian countries and the Netherlands, also prevents them from sending vast numbers of troops comparable to those of America or Britain abroad. In the case of Belgium, there is also considerable amount of guilt over the horrors of the atrocities in the Congo, and it has only been in the past few decades that the country is facing up to its history in this area. After the Second World War the country, so I understand, simply wished to forget the whole affair. I don’t know, but like Germany, this may well colour any attempts to interfere militarily in another nation with the Belgian people.

In short, Europe’s gradual military withdrawal from the wider world has far less to do with the expense of maintaining a welfare state than with the economic exhaustion and social and political disruption of two World Wars, and the demands of its former subject peoples for self-determination. The European experience does not suggest that American military power will decline with the introduction of Obama’s single-payer health service, and certainly should not be used to generate opposition to it.