Posts Tagged ‘‘Freedom for Sale: How We Made Money and Lost Our Liberty’’

Modi and Zac Goldsmith’s Attack on Sadiq Khan for Mayor of London

March 15, 2016

Mike over at Vox Political has also this morning put up a piece commenting on Zac Goldsmith’s leaflet for his bid to become mayor of London. One of these is aimed at the metropolis’ Tamil community. Goldsmith is keen to present himself as someone, who has participated fully in the Indian communities festivals, supports family businesses and will protect their homes and valuables from thieves and footpads. This is contrasted with Khan, who supports the trade unions and threatens to nick their family jewels through a wealth tax. Mike comments on how desperate this is, reblogging a Tweet from Chesterfield’s Labour MP, Toby Perkins. Amongst other things, Perkins points out how patronising it is with the scaremongering about Khan coming for the family jewels. Mike’s piece is at:
http://voxpoliticalonline.com/2016/03/15/goldsmith-calls-khan-divisive-then-targets-ethnic-minorities-with-scare-campaign-about-him/. Go and read it for more information.

In fact, the hysterical accusation about Mr Khan threatening to rob hardworking Indians of their mother’s jewels is one of the least offensive items in the entire wretched screed. Far more alarming is Goldsmith’s outrage that Khan supported Jeremy Corbyn, and Corbyn did not want the Indian Prime Minister, Narendra Modi, to come to the UK. The leaflet also claims that Khan did not attend the welcoming party for Modi when he did.

In point of fact, I can think of several reasons why no liberal person, and particularly no-one from a religious minority or from the Dalits should want to welcome Modi, any more than anyone would want to welcome any other Fascist. Because Fascist is what Modi is, just like General Pinochet and various other bigots, who have goose-stepped into power. Modi’s a member of the BJP, the Bharatiya Janata Party. These are militant Hindu nationalists. They even have a paramilitary wing, the RSSS, which was founded in the 1920s and partly modelled on Mussolini’s Blackshirts. They are just about as far away from Gandhi’s policy of ahimsa or non-violence as you can get. Since the BJP took power in the 1990s, they’ve been active fomenting riots against Muslims, Sikhs and Christians, including leading angry, violent mobs into non-Hindu areas to beat, kill and burn. They’ve been responsible for attacks on mosques, and clashes with Muslims, which have led to hundreds, if not thousands of deaths. The attacks on Christians also include a horrific gang rape of a nun, and the forced conversion of Christians to Hinduism in some areas by Hindu priests. As for the Dalits, their position has become much worse since the BJP took power. The upper castes have been pressing for the system of affirmative action which guarantees Dalits a certain number of places at university to be cut or removed. The Dalits have complained that they are being treated as slaves. They and the Muslim minority suffer high unemployment, and do the lowest, most degrading jobs. And under Modi human rights activists and campaigning journalists have been beaten, imprisoned and murdered.

There’s an entire chapter on India in John Kampfner’s Freedom For sale, including interviews with activists and campaigning journalists. One of these is Tarun Tejpal, who runs an investigative website Tehelka. This has not only uncovered cases of corruption, but in 2007 his organisation filmed a number of politicians, businessmen and policemen actually boasting about how they had supervised and managed the mass murder and rape of Muslims in Gujarat in 1982. Tejpal has said about the state of tolerance and democracy in his country

People abroad have been bowled a Gandhian googly. The myth of tolerance remains strong. In fact, through our treatment of caste, gender, children and class we must surely be one of the cruellest free societies in the world. (p. 161).

Modi is the Prime Minister of a great nation, but he’s a ruthless bigot from a party that supports violent thuggery towards the poorest and most marginal in Indian society. He no more deserves a welcome in Britain than that other aspiring bigot, Donald Trump. That Zac Goldsmith has decided that Sadiq Khan is somehow reprehensibly at fault for not welcoming Modi says less about Mr Khan, and much about the qualities Goldsmith clearly admires in a ruler: a jackboot aimed at the face of the poor.

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Vox Political on the Questionable Effectiveness of Privacy Safeguards In the Government’s Snooper’s Charter

March 1, 2016

This is another very interesting and telling piece from Mike over at Vox Political. The government has promised to tighten up the provisions to safeguard privacy in its act giving the intelligence services greater powers to intercept and store personal information from the internet, according to BBC News. It’s been described, rightly, as a ‘snooper’s charter’. It’s been on the table for months, along with cosy reassurances from the government that everything will be fine and this is nothing to worry about. It’s rubbish. Clearly, this is a threat to the liberty and privacy of British subjects. Once upon a time the intelligence services had to take a warrant out from the British government in order to tap phones. This piece of legislation gives them free warrant – or freer warrant – as an increasing amount of legislation over the years has gradually extended their ability to tap just about everyone’s electronic communications. This is dangerous, as it effectively makes everyone automatically suspect, even if they have done nothing wrong.

A week or so ago I posted up a piece I found in William Blum’s Anti-Empire Report, about the way the EU a few years ago condemned Britain and the US for spying on EU citizens. The European authorities were, at least at that time, particularly concerned about the way the US was using intercepted information for corporate, industrial espionage, not to counter any terrorist threat. So there’s a real danger that the British authorities will do the same. A long time ago, in that brief, blissful gap between the Fall of Communism and the War and Terror, the spooks at MI5 and MI6 really didn’t know what to do. The old Soviet Communist threat had evaporated, dissident Republican groups were still around, but Sinn Fein was at the negotiating table and there was a cease fare. And Osama bin Laden had yet to destroy the World Trade Centre and try to kill the president. Prospects looked bleak for Britain’s spies. It looked like there might be cutbacks, job losses. George Smiley, James Bond and the others might be faced with going down the jobcentre. So the intelligence agencies announced that they were going into industrial espionage. Lobster covered this revolting development, with appropriate boastful quote from the agencies concerned. So, if you’re a struggling businessman somewhere in Britain and the EU, with little capital but some cracking ideas, be afraid. Be very afraid. Because this bill will result in the Americans stealing your idea. Blum gave the example of a couple of German and French firms, include a wind-power company, who found their secrets passed on to their American rivals.

Mike also adds an interesting piece comparing the supine attitude of our own legislature to that of South Korea. The opposition there has been engaged in a week-long filibuster to talk their electronic surveillance bill out of parliament, to deny it any votes and any validity whatsoever. Bravo to them! Now if there’s a country that has rather more need of such a bill, it’s South Korea. They are bordered on the north with a totalitarian state that has absolutely no respect for the lives of its people, and which makes terrible threats of military action backed by nuclear warfare. It is run by a bloodthirsty dictator, who has killed members of his own family with extreme overkill. Really. He shot one of his generals to pieces with an anti-aircraft gun.

I got the impression that South Korea is like Japan. It’s an extremely capitalist society with the Asian work ethic. And it is extremely anti-Communist. I can remember being told by an spokesman for the Unification Church, who came into speak to us in the RE course at College, that the anti-Communist parts of Sun Myung Moon’s creed were nothing special, and were part of the general anti-Communist culture of South Korea. I honestly don’t know whether this is true, or whether it was then – this was the 1980s – and isn’t now. But clearly, the South Korean have very good reasons to be suspicious of espionage for their northern neighbours.

But their equivalent of this law is too much for them. And it should also be for us, if we genuinely value our privacy and civil liberties. But I’m starting to ponder whether we truly do. John Kampfner in his book ‘Freedom for Sale’ describes in depth the way Tony Bliar and Broon massively expanded the intelligence gathering powers of the authorities in this country, transforming it into something very like Orwell’s 1984. I kid you not. One local authority affixed loudspeakers to the CCTV cameras on particular estates, so they could order you around as well as keep you under surveillance. Pretty much like the all-pervasive televisions in Orwell’s Oceania. Kampfner also called into question the supposed traditional British love of freedom. He argued that it was actually much less than we really wanted to believe. Blair and Broon made no secret of what they were doing, and the British public in general bought it. Partly spurred on by the hysterics of the populist press, with Paul Dacre, Murdoch and the like demanding greater and more intrusive police powers to fight crime and terrorism.

Even Niall Ferguson, the right-wing historian and columnist, was shocked at how far this process went. In the 1990s he went on a tour of China. When he came back, he was shocked by the ubiquitous presence of the CCTV cameras. Alan Moore, the creator of the classic dystopian comic and graphic novel, V for Vendetta, said in an interview that when he wrote the strip in the British anthology comic, Warrior, back in the 1980s, he put in CCTV cameras on street corners, thinking that it would really frighten people. Now, he observed, they were everywhere.

I’m very much afraid that everywhere we are losing our liberties, our rights to freedom of conscience and assembly. That they’re being stripped from by a corporatist elite in the name of protecting us from terrorism, but which is really a fa├žade for a military-industrial complex determined to control, and control absolutely and minutely. And what makes the blood really run cold is the sheer apathy of the great British public to this process.

I’ve been mocking Alex Jones of the conspiracy internet site and programme, Infowars the past couple of days, putting up pieces of some of his weird and nonsensical ranting. Jones is wrong in so much of what he says. He’s a libertarian, looking in the wrong direction for the threat to freedom. But fundamentally, he has a point. There is a campaign from the corporate elite to strip us of our freedoms. And our leaders – in the parliament, the press and the media, seem quite content to do little about it.

Viva Zapatero: The Beeb, Sarkozy, Berlusconi and Political Censorship in Television

February 24, 2016

One of the issues that comes up regularly is the question of BBC bias. In actual fact, there doesn’t seem to be much question there. BBC News is very biased against the left and in favour of the Tories. There have been studies done by media monitoring organisations in Glasgow, Edinburgh and elsewhere. Mike over at Vox Political has pointed out that the Beeb will ignore certain strikes, or grudgingly give them coverage only online. There was anger the other week when the panel on Question Time was nearly all composed of right-wingers. Nick Robinson censored and distorted one of Alex Salmond’s speeches during the Scots independence campaign to make it appear he didn’t answer a question when he did. Robinson was the former head of the Young Conservatives at Manchester University. And Laura Kuenssberg doesn’t really bother writing her own material any more. She just recycles press releases from Tory central office.

But ’twas ever thus. One of the commenters on this blog pointed out that the Beeb ran government propaganda against the strikers during the General Strike. Yet still the right jumps up and down ranting about ‘liberal’ bias at the BBC. There are liberal voices there, but they’re increasingly kept away from the main news and comment.

Kampfner in his book Freedom for Sale: How We Made Money and Lost Our Liberty describes the development elsewhere in the world of similar political bias and censorship in television. He looks at the way Sarkozy in France and Berlusconi in Italy both overtly sought to extend state control over television in order to suppress or censor unfavourable broadcasting. In the case of Sarkozy, the centre-right president passed a series of legislation in 2009 which reinforced government control over publicly owned television stations. This was aimed at phasing out commercial advertising, which would be replaced by government funding. Kampfner states that this made French television dependent on the goodwill of the central government. He also removed the responsibility for nominating the Chief Executive of France Televisions, and instead made it one of the powers of the presidency. He also ensure that the contract could be severed at any time, and the CEO dismissed. (p. 181).

It’s not hard to see parallels between this and the way the government has continually exerted pressure on the BBC. I can remember John Major’s administration threatening the Beeb with cuts in the licence fee, or refusing to raise the licence fee to extent desired by the broadcaster. The Tories have also made noises about not renewing the Corporation’s charter, and privatising it, either wholly or in part.

The most extreme example of state political control of television in Europe outside Putin’s Russia and the former Soviet bloc is probably Berlusconi in Italy. Kampfner states that Berlo not only owned the major private broadcasters, but also very strictly controlled state television. Editors and managers, who refused to toe his line were removed from their posts after the diminutive Duce had a few words with the board. Those TV shows he didn’t like, or which criticised him, were taken off the air. One of the most notorious of these was the satirical show, Raiot, shown late nights on Rai Tre, Italian TV’s third channel. This directly lampooned Berlo himself, and so not only did the vain squadristo with the dodgy hair implants have it pulled from television, his private TV station, Mediaset, sued. Sabina Guzzanti, the show’s writer, made a film about this debacle, entitled Viva Zapatero. This became a surprise hit and the Cannes Film Festival It’s title is not just a homage to the film, Viva Zapata, but also a tribute to the Spanish centre-left president, Jose Zapatero, who removed the right to nominate the head of the state television authority from presidential control.

Censorship and political bias at the Beeb long predates the modern, insistent Tory bias, but it seems to be a part of the increasing right-wing authoritarianism across Europe, a process that needs to be tackled before free speech is gradually snuffed out across the continent.

More about the Raiot affair can be read here, on the site for US Citizens for Peace and Justice: http://www.peaceandjustice.it/o25-viva-zapatero.php

I found this English language interview from 2008 with Guzzanti, where she talks a bit about the Raiot incident, and her forthcoming movie, Sympathy for the Lobster. Influenced by Jean-Luc Godard’s film about the Rolling Stones, she says that this movie is about what happens when you want to change society politically, but can’t because politics is too corrupt. She also mentions that she has two more films in production, one on satirists and censorship, and another which was to be a straightforward documentary on Italian society.

If you can speak Italian or Spanish, here’s the trailer for the film Viva Zapatero itself. It’s in Italian, with Spanish subtitles. There are piece of English. This includes a sketch she did as Berlusconi with our own Rory Bremner as Tony Bliar, and a Spitting Image-like puppet sequence where Dubya and the other leaders sing ‘We fight the world’. Oh yes, and at one point two of the characters from Pulp Fiction leap out and shoot Berlusconi.

India’s Present – Britain’s Future under the Conservatives?

February 23, 2016

I’ve been reading John Kampfner’s book, Freedom for Sale: How We Made Money and Lost Our Liberty, which describes the process around the world in which nations are becoming more authoritarian, more dictatorial, as the rich and middle classes retreat from any kind of political involvement and simply concentrate on making money, blind to, or unconcerned with the political corruption, poor public services and glaring poverty and inequality around them.

One of the nations he discusses is India, where talks to a number of activists, journalists and radical politicians about this process of political stagnation. He describes the fury of the rich after the Mumbai terrorist atrocities in 2002 at the politicians’ failure to protect them, despite the fact that for many poorer Indians, political violence and its consequences are much more common. The country is considered safe, and compared with Pakistan, which is widely considered a failed state. Yet India has three times as many terrorist attacks as their neighbour to the West. He writes

The fury of wealthy Indians at the Mumbai bombings arose from the realisation that their pact had been broken. They had enjoyed a comfortable relationship with politicians and the state. They would finance political parties and line the pockets of their elected representatives. They would privately connive in corruption, while berating its existence in public. They would demand little from the state and receive little in return, except the right to avoid taxation. They would not have to rely on lamentable public services. Their air-conditioned 4X4s would glide over uneven roads; their diesel-fed generators would smooth over the cracks in the energy supply (in some cities power can go off for up to twelve hours at a time); their private tanks would ensure a constant supply of clean water. The elite had seceded from active politics and had been happy to do so. They never asked questions of the security forces when violence was meted out to the less fortunate. But what they did not expect, or take kindly to, was that their lives would be put at risk by incompetents at the Home Ministry, police departments, army or intelligence services. (p. 157)

This doesn’t quite describe the attitude of the Tories over here, as they are all too keen to exploit terrorism atrocities on the general public to extend the power of the coercive surveillance state. But in other aspects, it’s very true. There is corruption, and the rich are paying what are effectively legal bribes in the form of donations to the Tories and other parties. For all their professed concern over public services, the actual quality of service has declined as a result of privatisation and cuts. But they are unconcerned at this, because the sales of these public enterprises directly enriches them. Furthermore, they don’t use the same public services we do. I’ve got a feeling one of the Tories involved either in the rail network or bus services was caught making a disparaging remark about having to use them. He didn’t. He moved around the country in his chauffeur driven limo. And there may well be power outages. Private Eye has been forecasting that unless new power stations are built quickly, next year or at least a mere few years into the future, Britain will suffer blackouts and power cuts. And the rich over here, as in India, are completely indifferent to the grinding poverty outside their own small circle.

Remember: India and Developing Nations like it are the model held up for British workers to emulate by Priti Patel and the others behind Britannia Unchained. In order to compete with the Tiger economies, British workers should worker harder, for less pay and with fewer welfare benefits. Kampfner gives this description of the appalling plight of Indian’s masses:

In the twenty years of liberalisation, the poor, the 75 per cent of the population living on less than $2 a day, have lived a parallel existence. Their plight is as acute now as it’s ever been, inextricably twinned with malnourishment and illiteracy. The grinding routine of India’s downtrodden, and the humiliations they endure, has been documented in trenchant critiques by Pankaj Mishra, Arundhati Roy and others. Books and films have described the deals between the slumlords, the police and the politicians, the extortion and protections rackets, the beatings, the constant threats of relocation and demolition, the particularly misery the monsoons bring. Research academies provide a welter of statistics, charting levels of inequality. For all the economic growth, less than 1 per cent of the budget goes on public health. Child malnutrition levels remain higher than much of sub-Saharan Africa. UNICEF studies have shown that more than half of all women and three-quarters of all children below the age of three in India are anaemic. The problem is not lack of information or transparency, but a lack of will.

Let’s see, growing starvation and malnutrition? Yep, that’s over here, due to cut welfare benefits and low wages, people are being driven to use food banks simply to survive.

Slum landlords and demolition. Well, there was Peter Rachman in the 1950s, and then Nicholas van Hoogstraten in the 1990s, who were two of the most notorious. The Tories housing policy is pushing housing beyond the reach of all but a dwindling number of the rich, and the poor are being pushed out of their homes as they’re bought up and gentrified. And people have been forced on to the streets by the bedroom tax.

Of course, the problems faced by contemporary India are far vaster than those in Britain. At the moment. But India, and nations like it, are the Tory model, regardless of what they spout about ‘One Nation’ Toryism and helping the poor. This is what we’ve got to look forward to for our country, if they remain in power.

Republicans Attacked Unions as Terrorist Supporters after 9/11

February 21, 2016

This afternoon I put up a piece showing the continuity between Trump’s plans to exclude Muslims from the US and compel the registration of those already in the country with the round up of Arabs and other Middle Easterners as ‘suspicious persons’ under George Dubya after 9/11.

I’ve also been alarmed that Conservatives on both sides of the Atlantic will move from interning Muslims and persecuting other minorities, such as Mexicans and Blacks in America, to incarcerating left wing and labour activists. In the 1970s at the head of the paranoia about Harold Wilson MI5 and MI6, along with elements in the Tory party, were planning a coup. They investigated the possibility of setting up an internment camp for 40 MPs, ‘not all Labour’, and a total of 5,000 others, including journalists, youth, minority and senior citizens’ activists, as well as trade unionist, and members of the Socialist Workers and Communist parties.

It seems that after 9/11, certain sections of the Republican party also wanted to do the same. John Kampfner in his book Freedom for Sale: How We Made Money and Lost Our Liberty describes how in 2003 the office of the House majority leader, Tom DeLeay, sent out a letter appealing for donations to supporters of the National Right to Work Foundation. This is an anti-union pressure group. The letter stated that organised labour ‘presents a clear-and-present danger to the security of the United States at home and the safety of our Armed Forces overseas’. It attacked ‘big labour bosses’ who were ‘willing to harm freedom-loving workers, the war effort, and the economy to acquire more power.’ (p. 244.)

Kampfner traced the DeLay’s office’s assault on the unions to the Red Squads that were set up by the police forces in major cities like New York, Chicago and Los Angeles in the 1920s to combat ‘subversives’. These included Communists, Anarchists, civil rights activists, feminist activists, trade unionists and just about anybody else they thought was a threat to good, Right-wing patriotic American values. (p. 243).

I blogged the other day about the Tories’ plans to build a special prison for radical Islamists following Mike’s article on this. Mike considered this approaching the Nazi concentration camps. I concur. It looks very much like the first steps towards creating internment camps. And it won’t just be Muslims that will eventually be interned. There are enough people on the British Right, who share the Republicans’ attitudes that trade unionists and organised Labour are a subversive threat.

Much has been written recently about the various employers’ groups, who compile black lists of trade unionists and other ‘disruptive’ workers and pass them on to firms so that those same workers don’t get jobs. There have been a number of excellent documentaries on them since the 1980s. One of them was Hakluyt, but there are others. Hakluyt was the successor of a much older organisation dating from the 1920s, the Economic League against Industry Subversion.

And several of the national papers have also demanded that striking workers should be jailed. I can remember reading a piece in the 1980s in the Sunday Express, which recommended that laws should be passed preventing workers in essential industries from going on strike. Those who did, like air traffic control personnel in America, should then be arrested and jailed.

Cameron has already passed a series of legislation designed to emasculate the trade unions. In the latest of these, he allowed employers to hire scab labour from agencies, though reducing the right to strike to being merely symbolic. This has been criticised by the International Labour Organisation in the UN. It also follows a long line of anti-union legislation passed by the Tories, and similar actions intended to break up strikes by the Italian Fascists and Nazis in Germany. And members of his own party attacked part of his anti-union legislation. This was the clause demanding that trade unionists on pickets should give their names to the police. Even David Davies, the right-winger’s right-wing, found that a step too far and called it ‘Francoist’.

Given the authoritarianism and intolerance of Cameron and his aristo cronies and the way they and their Lib Dem enablers pushed through the establishment of secret courts to try accused terrorists, I think it is all too possible that after the Republicans in America and Tories over here have finished rounding up the Muslims, they’ll start on trade unionists and organised labour. All while loudly claiming that they stand for freedom, transparency and democracy, of course.

Trump and the Rounding Up of Arabs and Muslims in America after 9/11

February 21, 2016

I’ve been blogging about Trump’s Fascist demands to prevent Muslims entering the US on the grounds that they represent a terrorist threat, simply through the actions of what is a tiny number of extremists. He also wants Muslims already in America to be registered. Along with his comments about building a wall to keep out Mexicans, his organisation’s suspicion of Black workers, and the violence he has encouraged at his rallies against protestors and journalists, it is fair to call Trump what he is: a Fascist. Jewish Americans have been particularly alarmed at his violent xenophobia, and a little while ago there were demonstrations organised by Jews in 17 American cities.

Trumps demands for the exclusion and state surveillance of Muslims can be traced back to Dubya’s attack on civil liberties in the name of preventing terrorist after 9/11. John Kampfner in his his book Freedom for Sale: How We Made Money and Lost Our Liberty describes how the American state began rounding up suspicious persons. 80,000 people were rounded up in police dragnets across America. Most of them were Middle Eastern, mostly illegally immigrants working in corner shops, petrol stations and for trucking companies. The authorities also received over 100,000 phone calls and emails tipping them off to the presence of suspect characters. In the event, none of those arrested were charged with terrorism.

Kampfner states that in these cases

The notions of guilt and innocence were discarded. The overriding priority was to prevent, at all costs, the suspect from getting away. If the wrong people were locked up as a consequence, so be it. The notion of pre-emptive justice had been created without going through any democratic or political checks and balances. (p. 235).

He also describes how he met a radio producer, and the problems she had had getting a documentary she was making on the difficulties Arabs and Palestinians were experiencing in America broadcast. She had found several cases where Arabs had been arrested and held by the authorities without charge, and their families not informed where they were. Her editors at the station were sceptical and incredulous, as they didn’t believe this could happen in America. When she showed that it could and was, she was asked to tone it down. The programme was eventually broadcast, but only locally and non nationally. (p. 235-6).

Kampfner also describes discussing the situation with Eric Foner, a writer on the issue of freedom and the long history of the political persecution of minority groups in America. Foner mentioned the parallels between the mass internment of Arabs and that of Japanese-Americans in the Second World War. Foner pointed out that the majority of Americans were still in favour of such clampdowns on personal liberty in emergencies. He describes going to the International Spy Museum in Washington. On the interactive computers placed around the museum was a quiz, which included the question whether the American government had the right to detail indefinitely the enemies of America. Of the 30,000 or so people, who had taken the quiz, 60% were in favour. (p. 241). It’s an anecdote intended to show that in America, attacks on personal freedoms can be popular with a sizable section of the American public.

Trump’s Fascism is therefore tapping into a vein of paranoid xenophobia that has been present in America since or before the War, and which has only increased with the War on Terror. He’s building on the assaults on liberty led by George Dubya. And if he gets in, you can expect these policies to lead to more disappearances of innocent people, held without charge, simply on the grounds of their ethnicity or religion. It’s the ‘Nacht und Nebel’ of the Nazis, shifted from 20th century Germany, to America in the 21st.