Posts Tagged ‘Britain’

John Kampfner on the Growth of the Surveillance State in France under Sarkozy

March 7, 2016

It isn’t just in Britain where the powers of the state to monitor and imprison its citizens have been massively expanded. John Kampfner in his book, Freedom for Sale describes not only the growth of authoritarian government not just in Britain, and in the traditionally closed societies of China and Russia, but also in the United Arab Emirates, Singapore, India, Berlusconi’s Italy and France under Sarkozy.

He states that in France Sarko introduced a series of measures expanding the surveillance and intelligence gathering powers of the secret police and authorising the preventative arrest of terrorist or criminal suspects. His Socialist opponents have compiled a ‘black book’ of attacks on liberty by Sarko’s government since 2007.

For example, in November 2008 anti-terrorist police arrested twenty people in the small village of Tarnac. There was little real evidence against them. They were arrested because they were suspected of writing a book, The Coming Insurrection, and of being members of the ‘ultra-left’.

In June 2008, Sarko created EDVIGE, a feminine-sounding acronym that stands for Exploitation documentaire et valorisation de l’information generale. It’s a database of groups, organisations and individuals, which the state considers a threat, or possible threat. The database includes not just known criminals, or criminal suspects, but also the people, who associate with them. The EDVIGE database also includes information on their jobs, marriage status and family history; their former and present addresses, phone numbers and email addresses; their physical appearance, including photographs, and descriptions of how they behave. It also includes their identity papers, car number plates, tax records and legal history.

Gay organisations have been worried and criticised the database because it will also store information on people’s sexual orientation and health, as a means of keeping track of AIDS. It has also been condemned by the French magistrates’ union, which declared that it was ‘undemocratic’ and would ‘inform the government on politically active people’. Even the establishment newspaper, le Monde criticised it, commenting ‘A state governed by the rule of law cannot accept the penalisation of supposed intentions’.

Sarkozy’s government stated that much of the database’s function is to keep track on teenage gangs in the suburbs of the major cities. As part of this, the database will include information on children as young as thirteen. This followed the declaration of the Interior Minister, Michele Alliot-Marie, that there had been an increase in teenage delinquency. The French public responded by making her the winner of the tenth Big Brother Awards. The judges decided she deserved the award based on her distinguished contributions to violations of privacy, her love of video surveillance, and ‘immoderate taste for putting French citizens on file’.

The government has also set up a drone programme, ELSA, or Engins legers de surveillance aerienne, creating and testing robot aircraft equipped with night vision cameras to observe criminal and anti-social behaviour from above.

Sarko also used his personal influence to get troublesome journalists either to fall into line. If they didn’t, he got them sacked. When he was Interior Minister, he had the veteran prime-time newsreader, Patrick Poivre d’Arvor sacked from the private station, TFI, after he described Sarko at the G8 summit as ‘looking like a little boy in the big boy’s club’. Alain Genestar was sacked as editor in chief of Paris Match, after he published pictures of his then wife, Cecilie Sarkozy in New York with the man, who later became her husband. He also had another story spiked in Le Journal du Dimanche about Cecilie not voting during the presidential election. When he married his next wife, Carla Bruni, the two were hailed by the newspaper as ‘the Star Couple’.

He also passed a series of legislation strengthening government control over television. In 2009, parliament approved a set of laws gradually phasing out advertising on the state television stations. Instead, the stations would be funded by the state. Furthermore, the Chief Executive of France Televisions would be nominated directly by the president, not by the broadcast regulator.
He was also called ‘le telepresident’ because of the way he orchestrated political events like a reality TV show.

Le Monde describe Sarko as having created ‘a new model of media control’, which fell somewhere between Berlusconi’s and Putin’s style of autocratic government. The newspaper noted that much of Sarko’s control of the press was informal. It observed that unlike Berlusconi, he didn’t have to own newspapers and the media in order to censor and control them. His friends in charge of them did that. (pp. 179-82).

All over Europe and the world, government are becoming increasingly dictatorial and autocratic. This has to be stopped before freedom dies and is replaced across the globe with the jackboot and the fist of the police state.

1920s Iraqi Poem on the New Constitution and Order Imposed by and for Britain, Not Iraqis

March 6, 2016

Bremner, Bird and Fortune, in their book, You Are Here, detailing the stupid, corrupt and murderous policies of Blair, Bush and co, include a poem by Ma’ruf al-Rasafi on the nature of the new country that had been created by the British under the Mandate. It expresses the view that this new country is purely for benefit of the occupying British, not the peoples of the new state themselves.

A flag, a Constitution, and a National Assembly
Each one a distortion of the true meaning
Names of which we have only utterance
But as to their true meaning we remain in ignorance
He who reads the Constitution will learn
that it is composed according to the Mandate
He who looks at the flapping banner will find
that it is billowing in the glory of aliens
He who sees our Assembly will know
that it is constituted by and for the interests of any but the electors
He who enters the Ministries will find
that they are shackled with the chains of foreign advisors.

(p. 71).

It’s a very accurate description of the nature of the Mandate in the former Mesopotamia. Throughout its history it was ruled by nominally independent politicians on our behalf. One of them was hated so much by the Iraqi people themselves that in the 1950s they hacked him to death in the street. And for good measure, they then ran over the remains with a car. Saddam Hussein was part of these imperialist machinations. He was originally a CIA operative, sent in to kill one of the awkward Iraqi politicos. And the same poem could apply today, in that the occupying powers that drew up the new Iraqi constitution placed limits and clauses in them to make sure that the oil remained in western hands.

And the result has been the chaos of bloodshed that has been this country’s misfortune ever since.

Secular Talk on the Iranians Raising the Bounty on Salman Rushdie by $600,000

February 27, 2016

Private Eyatollah

The cover of Private Eye for Friday 13th March 1989. If you can’t read the caption, one mullah is saying to the Ayatollah, ‘Have you read the book?’. He replies, ‘Do you think I’m mad?’

Kulinski in this clip discusses a report in the Guardian that a group of 40 newspaper and other media companies in Iran have clubbed together to raise the money offered under their government’s fatwa for killing Salman Rushdie by a further $600,000. The fatwas was imposed way back in 1988 by the leader of the Islamic Revolution in Iran, the Ayatollah Khomeini, for Rushdie writing the book, the Satanic Verses, which the Ayatollah considered blasphemous against Islam. Kulinski points out that it hasn’t just been Rushdie whose life has been put in danger by the fatwa. The book’s Japanese translator, Hitoshi Kirigashi was fatally stabbed in 1991. That same year, the Italian translator, Ettore Caprioli, was also the victim of a stabbing, though mercifully he survived. Aziz Nessin, the Turkish translator, survived an arson attack on an hotel in which 37 other people died in 1993. William Nyegard, the Swedish translator, was also attacked in 1993. He was shot three times in Oslo, though thankfully he too survived. And last year, 2015, Iran withdrew from the Frankfurt book fair because they had announced that Rushdie was speaking.

Kulinski states that the Iranians have the attitude that they’re being oppressed, because of their offence at Rushdie’s book. He points out that for civilised people, the solution to such a difference of opinion is to argue about it, and then move on. He states very strongly that the reason why the Iranians aren’t doing this is because they know their arguments are weak. This is why they have to force it on children when they’re young. He also points out that the younger generation in Iran is also disgusted by this. Iran is a very young country, and most of them are much more liberal than their elders. ‘Tick tock,’ he says, ‘the clock is ticking. Times running out for you.’

I’m reblogging this as there’s much more going on here than simply a revival of anti-Rushdie feeling in Iran. In fact, the evidence points the other way. If these media companies have decided to band together to add even more money to the fatwa, then it shows very effectively that few people in Iran are interested in killing the author. Again, thankfully.

The book has been a source of tension between Islam and the secular West almost from the first. Not all Muslims are as extreme as the Ayatollah, but many, perhaps the majority, do resent what they see as an attack on their religion. The book’s Islamic opponents have also pointed out that Viking Penguin was also ambivalent about publishing the book. The publisher’s advisors told them three time that it would result in serious trouble, including mass protests. These were eventually ignored and overridden. Roald Dahl, the renowned children’s author, speaking on Radio 4 several years ago, also felt that the book should not have been published given the hatred and violence that this had caused. He did not consider it great literature, and felt it should be pulped.

The outrage caused by The Satanic Verses is also a major cause of the current surge of anti-western and Islamist Muslim activism. Outrage at the book prompted Muslims to band together for pretty much the first time in protest, organising demonstrations and book burnings. And the preachers of hate used it as a pretext to attack Britons and British society in general. I can remember Kalim Saddiqui speaking in his mosque on a documentary shown late at night on the Beeb, The Trouble with Islam, in which he described Britain as ‘a terrible killing machine’ and stated that ‘killing Muslims comes very easily to them.’ When the documentary-makers picked him up on this, he blustered that it was about the Satanic Verses, which had been published in preparation for a ‘holocaust of Muslims.’ He was, of course, talking poisonous rubbish.

In fact all the people I know, who’ve actually read the book, tell me that it’s not actually blasphemous. I know a lecturer in Islam, who actually got his students to read the book when he was teaching in Pakistan. They’d been talking about how the book was blasphemous, so he asked them if they’d read it. When they said they hadn’t, he asked them if they would, and gave copies to them to read. They carried them home in brown paper bags so no-one would see them. When they’d read the book, he asked them again if they thought it was blasphemous. They said, ‘No’.

There were very cynical, political reasons for the Ayatollah’s decision to put a price on Rushdie’s head. He was afraid he was losing Iran’s position as the premier Islamic revolutionary regime to others, like Colonel Gaddafi’s Libya. In order to try and whip up some more popularity, he resorted to that classic Orwellian technique: the five minute hate. This is the episode in Orwell’s classic 1984, where ‘Big Brother’ orchestrates a wave of hatred against a traitor figure for about five minutes. It’s very, very much like the way Stalin whipped up hatred in the Soviet Union against Trotsky, who was accused of all kinds of treachery and perfidy against the state and its people. Khomeini was doing the same here, but with Rushdie as the hate figure.

The fatwa didn’t work as well as the Iranians hoped it would, though I have Iranian friends who feel that the Satanic Verses was deliberately published by the British government to sever relations with Iran. After about a decade or more, the Iranians announced that, while the fatwa couldn’t – or wouldn’t – be lifted, they weren’t going actively going to enforce it.

Then a few years ago, more money was placed on the price. This was after the rioting around the world against the film, The Innocence of Muslims, which was a genuinely blasphemous attack on Mohammed. The film, however, was the group of expatriate Egyptians and nothing to do with Salman Rushdie. Again, it looked like a cynical attempt by the Iranian revolutionary authorities to gain some kind of political advantage, which they felt they had lost.

And now this. And everything about this says exactly the same to me: that this is nothing but a cynical attempt to exploit Rushdie’s notoriety to marshal support for the regime. Except that I don’t know how successful they’ll be. Not very, is my guess. They weren’t before, despite the vicious attacks on Rushdie’s publishers and translators. After all, they had to drop it as a dead letter for several years. And Kulinski is right about the Iranian population. They are on average very young. Most of the population is under 30. This generation doesn’t remember the Shah or the Islamic Revolution, and Rushdie to them is nothing but decades old news.

Now I don’t share Kulinski’s atheism. I think that people have the right to bring their children up and have them educated in their faith, and I don’t see it as brainwashing. But I do share his feelings that if the Iranians are resorting to violence, or advocating it, then it does mean that they don’t have confidence in their own ability to confront and overcome Rushdie in the realm of ideas. Which is itself astonishing, considering the rich heritage of Islamic philosophy. But then, I don’t think combating Rushdie’s ideas are what the fatwas is intended for. As I said, I think it’s an appeal to raw emotion simply to bolster the regime.

So why would the Iranian state and authorities need this renewed campaign against Rushdie? It might be because the young general is much less religious, and more secular. Atheism is expanding across the Middle East, including Iran. This is pretty much what you’d expect when religion, or indeed any ideology, becomes oppressive and the source of violence instead of peace and prosperity. Christopher Hill, in one of his books on what he called the English Revolution, his term for the British Civil War notes that the religious violence in Britain in the mid-17th century led to a similar growth in atheism and unbelief. And Iran many people resent their lack of political and social freedoms, and the immense corruption of Islamic clergy, who have enriched themselves through backhanders from commerce, industry and control of the bonyads, the religious trusts, which manage about 50 per cent of the economy, including the oil industry. All this growth in atheism is very, very clandestine. Atheism and apostasy are capital crimes in many Islamic countries, and so people have to be very careful about who they talk to about this issue. Even social media is very carefully monitored. ISIS in Syria kept the facebook and twitter accounts of a female anti-Islamist activist open long after the woman herself had been captured and murdered by them, as a honey trap to catch other anti-Islamist dissidents. And Nokia sold software across the Middle East to the despots and autocrats enabling them to hack into people’s mobiles in order to spy on them. So it’s still incredibly dangerous. Nevertheless, atheism and general disaffection against these regimes is growing. So I’m very sure that the Iranians have raised the fatwa bounty once again, because they hear the ticks of the clock sounding out the final moments of their regime only too well.

Trump Mocks Sikh Protestor at Rally

February 25, 2016

This video comes from the 26th of last month – January, 2016. It shows Donald Trump sneering at a Sikh protestor wearing a turban and holding a banner saying, ‘End Hate’. The guy is grabbed by Trump’s stewards and guided – or manhandled, depending on your point of view – towards the exit. As he goes, Trump asks ‘Was he wearing one of those hats?’ It appears to be a reference to the guy’s turban, which Sikhs wear for the same reason they don’t cut their hair and have beards: it’s part of their religion.

The incident occurs just when Trump is in full-flow about the al-Qaeda terrorists in 9/11 flying the planes into the Twin Towers. I’m not sure this is a coincidence. In Britain, the first victims of the backlash against Muslims after 9/11 were Sikhs, because Osama bin Laden was wearing a turban in his propaganda video. It looks like Trump’s expanding his racism to encompass Sikhs, as well as Muslims, Mexicans, Blacks and just about everyone else who ever looked at him funny, or gave The Apprentice a bad review.

The gentleman who posted this on his channel on Youtube in voiceover talks about why electing Trump would be an appalling move. Basically, Trump is a buffoon, who has offended every other nation except Putin. He points out that even we Brits are thinking about banning him. ‘The Brits!’, he exclaims, ‘they never ban anybody!’ We do. Quite a long line of ’em, actually, including Lincoln Rockwell of the American Nazi party and Michael Savage, for the same reason. Quite apart from the Islamist fanatics and hate-mongers. The commenter asks how Trump is going to be able to sit down with the other nations at international conferences. He fears that other countries will think Americans are the same as this moron, if he’s elected, and says jokingly that everyone will try and nuke them. That’s actually part of the danger. As he says in rather more colourful language, Trump is emotionally volatile and unstable and is extremely antagonistic to people he feels have offended him. It’s a psychological failing that could make a diplomatic crisis worse, and escalate minor friction or difference of opinion into something much worse.

The actual clip of Trump throwing the protestor out is only a few seconds long, so there’s other shots in here of Trump looking ridiculous, including some splendid footage of his blonde coiffure waving in the breeze. The man’s a grim bigot, but like all massive egos obsessed with their self-importance, he’s also a comic figure as well. Don’t be mistaken: he is extremely dangerous, but he’s also someone who can and should be mocked and ridiculed.

The Young Turks on Trump Wanting to Kill Muslims with Bullets Dipped in Pig’s Blood

February 23, 2016

Trump & Hitler

More verbal brutality from the prospective generalissimo of America. In this clip from The Young Turks, the anchors Bill Mankiewicz and Elliot Hill discuss another piece of raging, vile rhetoric from the current Republican front runner. In one of his speeches, Trump glowingly recounts an incident from ‘back a bit’ in the early 20th century, when the Americans were faced with a series of terrorist outrages. General Pershing responded by rounding up fifty of the terrorists. 49 of them were shot out of hand with bullets dipped in pig’s blood. The fiftieth was then released to tell his comrades about what happened. ‘And do you know,’ Trump concludes, ‘that for twenty-five years afterwards we didn’t have any problems. We need to do this, or else we’re not going to have a country’.

Trump claims that this story can be found in the history books, but ‘not many, ’cause they don’t like putting it in. Only some.’ Mankiewicz and Elliot point out that the real reason it’s not in the history books is because it didn’t happen. It’s mythical. The incident Trump refers to supposedly happened during the Spanish-American War, when America took the Philippines from Spain. The Philippino people resisted. Mankiewicz points out that as they were the original people, they wouldn’t have wanted either Spanish or Americans. Trump calls the resistance fighters terrorists, but if they had been Americans fighting for America, or on the side of America, they would have been called ‘freedom fighters’. It’s horrible story, but it didn’t happen. He compares the incident, and the way it’s been left out of conventional history books because of its entirely fictional nature, with the way Republicans are trying to sanitise American history. In Texas, for example, the school board has voted to use books that don’t mention slavery, or don’t call it what it was, because it makes America look bad. This is one case where an incident that makes America look bad isn’t in the history books. Mankiewicz points out that if historians really were intent on putting in material just to denigrate America, that incident would be in there.

Mankiewicz and Elliot also discuss the way Trump’s brutal rhetoric, combined with his confidence and easy oratorical style – for example, he asks his audience if they want to hear the tale – is actually desensitising people to the viciousness of what he says. He describes waterboarding as only a very small torture, for example. They point out that this is actually worse than if he’d said it actually was torture, but he believed that it worked and so was justified to protect America from terrorism. This wouldn’t justify it to them – it would still be horrible, but not as vile as simply calling it ‘a very small torture’. But there’s a tendency for people just to laugh it off, and say, well, it’s only Trump being Trump. And that’s dangerous, because it makes light of what he says and what he could clearly do.

It’s a good point. Regarding the supposed use of bullets dipped in pig’s blood, or other pork products, the Israelis were supposed to be using them against the Palestinians. The idea is that some Muslims feel that they will go to hell if they eat even a scrap of pork. And so one of the newspapers over here reported that the Israeli army was using bullets containing small pieces of pork as part of a psychological weapon against them.

As for its use in the Philippines during the Spanish-American War, that may be entirely mythical, but the Americans did carry out atrocities there with the intention of spreading terror. For example, after shooting Philippino freedom fighters, they tied inflatable bladders to the corpses and set them floating down rivers in order to make an example of those shot.

And the warning about not taking Trump’s brutal rhetoric is also entirely correct. We’re back to Godwin’s Law again, but it needs to be brought up. During the Weimar period, there were Germans, who went to see Hitler speak simply because it was laugh. They wanted to see who he’d attack next. And very many Germans, and the British politicos too, really didn’t believe that he’d actually do what he said he would, in his speeches and Mein Kampf. Once in power, they thought he could be tamed and controlled into becoming a responsible, conventional politician. They were wrong. And in the resulting War that followed, forty millions died.

There’s a bit in the Bertolucci film, The Conformist, where one of the characters tells the other that when he was in Austria, there was a man, who used to go round bars ranting. No-one took him seriously. ‘We all threw beer bottles at him’. The speaker abruptly concludes, ‘That man was Adolf Hitler’.
It’s the same with Trump now. The temptation is not to take him seriously, because what he says is so outrageous, and the man himself so much a buffoon. But that’s underestimating him. The danger is, he means exactly what he says.

William Blum on EU Opposition to US Telecommunications Surveillance

February 22, 2016

I found this interesting little snippet about US electronic spying in issue 118 of William Blum’s Anti-Empire Report. In it, Blum discusses the Echelon system, that allows the US to spy on phone calls around the world. The systems works by tapping phones, listening for certain trigger words. When these get picked up, the call gets recorded and passed onto the NSA, the biggest of the US’ many intelligence agencies. It’s been known about for a very long time. The British conspiracy magazine, Lobster, had an article about it way back in the 1990s. What is interesting is that the EU was opposed to the system, and tried to block American spying on European citizens. Blum writes

ECHELON is carried out without official acknowledgment of its existence, let alone any democratic oversight or public or legislative debate as to whether it serves a decent purpose. The extensiveness of the ECHELON global network is a product of decades of intense Cold War activity. Yet with the end of the Cold War, its budget – far from being greatly reduced – was increased, and the network has grown in both power and reach; yet another piece of evidence that the Cold War was not a battle against something called “the international communist conspiracy”.

The European Parliament in the late 1990s began to wake up to this intrusion into the continent’s affairs. The parliament’s Civil Liberties Committee commissioned a report, which appeared in 1998 and recommended a variety of measures for dealing with the increasing power of the technologies of surveillance. It bluntly advised: “The European Parliament should reject proposals from the United States for making private messages via the global communications network [Internet] accessible to US intelligence agencies.” The report denounced Britain’s role as a double-agent, spying on its own European partners.

He then goes onto describe how the system is used by the NSA and CIA for industrial espionage against European firms. Among the victims of the US’ commercial spying have been Enercon, a German manufacturer of wind generators, Thomson S.A. and Airbus Industrie in France. He also reveals that in 1995
Germany demanded that the United States recall three CIA operatives for their activities in Germany involving economic espionage. The news report stated that the Germans “have long been suspicious of the eavesdropping capabilities of the enormous U.S. radar and communications complex at Bad Aibling, near Munich”, which is in fact an NSA intercept station. “The Americans tell us it is used solely to monitor communications by potential enemies, but how can we be entirely sure that they are not picking up pieces of information that we think should remain completely secret?” asked a senior German official. Japanese officials most likely have been told a similar story by Washington about the more than a dozen signals intelligence bases which Japan has allowed to be located on its territory.

The article also discusses the way the American intelligence services have also been active persuading the manufacturers of encryption software to hand over the keys to the code, and inserting trapdoor programmes in computer software in order to have access to the private data stored on individual computers.

This adds another, very interesting dimension to the current debate about whether Britain should remain in Europe. I’ve blogged about the way membership of the European Union protects us under certain human rights legislation, while the Social Charter guarantees certain minimal rights to European workers. It’s also sobering to find that the EU was concerned about US snooping on its citizens. And this wasn’t done for security, but simply for sheer commercial advantage.

And American technology firms can be extremely predatory. The French found that out to their misfortune when they were busy working on a cure for the HIV virus. They made all their data available free of charge, as they felt it would be immoral to patent such important and potentially life-saving information. Unfortunately, no good deed goes unpunished. An American rival patented the information, and then sued them for infringing their copyright, even though they had not produced the data. This piece of information does not come from a fringe magazine like Lobster, but from New Scientist.

The antics of the American and British surveillance state, and its expansion under Bush, Bliar and Cameron, is a real threat to our liberty. We’re complacent about it at our peril. I doubt this issue will never be raised at the debate about membership of the European Union, but I feel that for sake of our liberty we need to remain inside the EU. The EU has voiced opposition to such increased electronic surveillance, and at the stage I think it’s only from the EU that further concerted opposition can come. It certainly isn’t going to come from our politicos, determined to deprive us of more of our hard-won traditional freedoms under the pretext of saving us from Islamist tyranny.

Sam Seder Attacks Economist Review Defending Slavery

February 22, 2016

This is unbelievable. In this segment from Sam Seder’s Majority Report, Seder rants about a negative review in the Economist attacking Edward Baptist’s The Half Has Never Been Told: Slavery and the Making of American Capitalism. The reviewer criticised Baptist’s book for being one-sided. All the Blacks in the book were victims, he complains, and all the Whites were villains. Seder is understandably and rightly outraged by this statement, and goes off on a long rant about how luck Blacks were to be enslaved, when they could simply have been kept in the slave ships and not landed in America, or been eaten by lions back in Africa, rather than captured and sold. It seems that many others were offended too, as the review was pulled from the Economist’s website.

Now depending on how their masters treated them, slaves could enjoy quite a high standard of living. Archaeologists researching Benjamin Franklin’s slaves’ quarters found remains of violins, pipes, and good quality china, as well as quite a varied diet, which included fish. And the defenders of slavery pointed out that the standard of living of their slaves was better than the miserable industrial workers in the north, the ‘factory slaves’, who were free in name only. You can even find examples of slave owners, who risked punishment under the law for trying to give their slaves some education, teaching them to read, for example.

None of which detracts from how monstrous and horrendous slavery actually was. The slave was legally just a mere chattel, subject to extreme punishment for even minor offences, who by law was banned from mixing with Whites. It was the appalling conditions in which slaves were kept, sold and exploited that motivated so many people in America, Britain, Canada and across the world to protest against slavery and demand its abolition. Just how deeply traumatised slaves were simply by the condition of slavery itself can be seen by the fact that, in general, very few former slaves described what their lives were like to their free children and grandchildren. Years ago there was a piece in the Observer about the reparations movement. One of the leaders of the movement explained that it wasn’t just about getting reparations for slavery, it was also to recover some of the lost history. They were afraid that with their grandparents’ generations dying off, Blacks would lose contact with the last people, who had had contact with the slaves. They complained that their slave forebears had never talked to them about what it was like when they were slaves.
I can’t say I’m surprised. People who go through deeply traumatic experiences tend not to talk about them. They just want to forget and move on. Old soldiers, for example, rarely talked about what they did in combat. It was too shocking, too horrific. Similarly, people, who have been raped or sexually assaulted generally don’t want to talk about the experience. They’re too deeply shamed, even though they were not responsible for their assault. So it seems entirely natural to me that a generation of Black Americans, raised in servitude, should have gone through their lives as free people determined not to speak about the condition of degradation they had been born into.

The Economist is, of course, one of the main upholders of capitalist economic orthodoxy. There seems to be very much a movement on the libertarian Right at the moment to try and play down the importance of slavery as a dark smear on American history. Guy Debord’s Cat has several very interesting pieces on how the intellectual heirs of Milton Friedman, Ludwig von Mises and von Hayek are trying to rewrite the American Civil War to avoid slavery as its major cause. They’re trying to make out it was due to some kind of trade controversy over tariffs. Together with the deeply racist beliefs of Donald Trump’s supports, it shows how frightening reactionary the American Far Right is.

Words from the Southern US to Describe Ian Duncan Smith

February 3, 2016

ids-slug1

I’ve been going through dictionaries of slang, turning up words and turns of phrase that describe the current head of the DWP, and minister in charge of culling the unemployed, sick and disabled. One of them is ‘Gentleman Ranker’, a 19th century term which described a broken gentleman, who was forced to serve as a private soldier. One of the rumours going around about IDS is that, contrary to his claim to have been an army major, he flunked the course at Sandhurst and was R.T.U.’ed – returned to unit. IDS certainly has pretensions to gentility, and so the term suits him admirably. And looking through You All Spoken Here, a compendium of words and phrases from the southern US, I found a few more terms that could be imported over here to describe this least honourable of Honourable Gentlemen. These are:

‘Coattail politician: One who depends on the favour of a more successful political figure.’ IDS has been an abject failure on his own. His stint as leader of the Tory party was a disaster, as has been his management of the DWP. He is massively incompetent, and his big idea – the consolidation of all the various welfare benefits into a single, Universal Credit, has been marked since its inception with massive cost overruns and postponements. It seems to me that he owes his whole position in the cabinet to his vocal support for David Cameron. And it seems to me that it is only Cameron’s power that’s keeping him there.

‘Snollygoster’: The book defines this as

A tadpole; a pretentious boaster; a political shyster. The Dictionary of Americanisms quotes “a Georgia editor” as defining snollygoster as “a pretentious boaster” and a “fellow who wants office, regardless of party, platform or principle, and who, whenever he wins, gets there by the sheer force of monumental talknophical assumnacy.”

Whatever “talknophical assumnacy” is, deponent knoweth not. But we know the editor quoted was Colonel H.W.J. Ham. He was great shakes as a platform speaker, circa 1890, and on the northern lecture circuit was known as “the Cracker Chaucer.”

The Colonel’s son, Walter Ham, said his father applied the snollygoster tag to “a fellow who is continually side-wiping around after a little office which he can’t get, and which ain’t got sense enough to fill even if he could get it.”

President Harry S. Truman, in his whistle-stop campaign in 1952, renewed interest in the term. This when he applied it to “a group of Republican obstructionists – men of little minds and mean aspirations – who have put party above country and have worked for votes instead of peace.” “Republican snollygosters,” he called them.

The article ends by stating that the term originated as a colloquial word in the south for a tadpole.

It also fairly accurately describes IDS. He is indeed a vain boaster. He claimed that his benefit reforms would end poverty, and likened himself to the great anti-slavery campaigner, William Wilberforce. He has also claimed to have a degree from an Italian college or university, even though that particular institution doesn’t issue first degrees. His management of the DWP is massively incompetent, and he seems to have zero scruples whatsoever.

He and Cameron won their first campaign going round slum estates and expressing concern about poverty in Britain. The book, Red Tory, by Cameron’s political mentor, Andrew Blond, made Cameron’s Conservatism seem more left-wing than Blair’s Labour administration. Once actually in power, of course, the mask came off, and it was back to privatisation, stringent welfare cuts, and the demonization of the poor, the underprivileged, the unemployed and the disabled as usual. Cameron also declared that his ‘would be the greenest government ever’. That also went by the board very quickly. Once in office, Cameron ditched the windmill he’d put over his front door, and set about passing laws to allow fracking, build nuclear power stations and generally set about avoiding any kind of environmental regulations. And now he and Osbo have decided to cut the subsidies for renewables. And despite Osborne’s statement that all this austerity and hardship is to cut the deficit, it’s actually gone up under the Tories. So in that respect, just about the entire Tory front bench are snollygosters.

It’s time to call them what they are, and throw them out of government for good.

Vox Political: Labour Demands Information on UK’s Role in Saudi Bombing of Yemen

January 29, 2016

I put up several videos last week and earlier this week about the way the Saudis have targeted civilians in their bombing of Yemen. They’ve destroyed mosques, schools, a factory out in the desert, and a hospital run Medecins Sans Frontieres, or Doctors Without Borders, to give it its English title. There have been allegations that the Wahhabi, ultra-Sunni Saudis are ethnically cleansing Yemen’s Shia. The American government has been criticised for supplying information to the Saudis for the bombings, in which the majority of victims have been civilians. Now, according to Mike over at Vox Political yesterday, Labour has also requested information on the role of British military staff advising them. This was after the UN condemned the bombings for violating humanitarian law. See the article http://voxpoliticalonline.com/2016/01/28/labour-seeks-details-of-uk-role-in-saudi-led-airstrikes-on-yemen/.

Corbyn and Hilary Benn, who made the request, are absolutely right. It is disgraceful that Britain should be assisting the Saudis to kill civilians. Among the reports of atrocities are incidents where residents, fleeing their destroyed homes, were shot at by Saudi helicopters. This should be embarrassing for David Cameron, who was all too eager to fly down to Saudi Arabia to sell them more arms, even though they have so many at the moment that they literally don’t know what to do with them. They’ve bought fleets of aircraft, for example, that they don’t have the infrastructure to maintain. They’re useless. Except for enriching Cameron and his friends in the arms industry, and killing civilians, of course. In fact, as the Saudis were behind 9/11 and are funding al-Qaeda and ISIS, we have absolutely no business giving them any further aid whatsoever. They are a menace to us and to their neighbours in the Middle East.

Secular Talk: Oklahomas Bans History Course; Fox News Wants to Ban State Schools

January 27, 2016

This video from Secular Talk, the atheist news show, dates from February 2015. I’m not an atheist or secularist, and this is an American issue. Nevertheless, Murdoch is over here too, and he would just love to buy up the Beeb and replace it with his own grotty channel. And likewise, his stooges and collaborators in the Tory party want to privatise state education, just as Dirty Rupe would like to take over part of the school system. So, this needs to be put up, and discussed over here.

Kyle Kulinski, the show’s host, talks about a clip on Fox News, where one of the hosts simply says, flat out, ‘There shouldn’t be any state schools’. Why? Well, the school board in Oklahoma has taken the step of getting rid of a history course on the grounds that it contradicted the doctrine of American exceptionalism. This is the idea that America is simply far and away better than anybody else, full stop, and has never, ever done anything wrong. The course taught students about slavery, Jim Crow and Segregation, and the genocide of the Indians. This all happened, and were part of American history. As Kulinski points out, this needs to be taught along with all the good America has done for the world, like the Marshal Plan and so on. But it didn’t satisfy the Right, who have totally abolished the course and replaced it with Reagan’s speeches.

I’m surprised they got away with that, as it is political indoctrination. There’s no two ways about it. My guess is that there’s some arcane clause in the Constitution connected to states’ rights which allow them to do so. Which is probably why Kulinski recommends making state education a federal, not a state responsibility. And naturally, as an atheist he’s concerned about what would happen if the schools in Alabama and the Conservative southern states were privatised, with the introduction of religion and the probably removal of evolution. I don’t share his concerns here, having attended an Anglican Church school which did teach evolution, and actively preached against sectarianism and racial hatred. I’m more concerned about the privatisation of education and its replacement with fee-paying schools. But on a wider issue, Gove and the Tories want to do much the same over here as Oklahoma has done. Gove wanted the school curriculum here in Britain to be reformed to celebrate Britain more. He was particularly incensed at teachers for informing their students about the horrors of the First World War, rather than celebrating it. You may remember Mike over at Vox Political attacked Gove for whining about how the history taught about the War resembled Blackadder Goes Forth. Presumably, this is what Gove and Thickie Nikki Morgan would like to replace proper history with. Only instead of Reagan’s speeches, it’d be Thatcher’s.

We need proper state education, and the impartial teaching of history, which tell its students about both the good and the negative parts of their countries’ past. And we definitely need to stop propagandists like those on the Oklahoma School board, Murdoch, Gove, Morgan and the rest of the Right trying to indoctrinate young minds with their own skewed views.