Posts Tagged ‘John Kampfner’

Tokyo Bans Sale of Comics ‘Subversive of the Social Order’ to Children

August 28, 2021

It seems to me that there’s a real war going on in ostensibly democratic countries against freedom of speech and conscience. I don’t think this is confined to either the left or right either. In Britain we have had a successions of governments that have been determined to limit the right to public protest from David Cameron to Johnson with his wretched Criminal Justice Bill. And before then there was Tony Blair and his attempts to control what was being said about him and his coterie on state broadcasting, just as Berlusconi was doing to the Italian state media. John Kampfner wrote a rather good book about it, Freedom for Sale, a few years ago, arguing that governments from Blair to Putin were trying to bargain with their peoples. They got material prosperity in return for severe infringements on their ability to protest against their governments. Well, Blair was wretched, but he did at least tackle poverty with no little success. Cameron, Tweezer and Johnson are simply increasing it.

On the other side of the political aisle, the right are complaining about the imposition of curbs on free speech as part of the campaign against hate crime and the ‘cancel culture’. Some of this is exaggerated. Zelo Street demolished some of the claims Toby Young, Douglas Murray and the rest were making about right-wingers being prevented from speaking at universities by giving the precise statistics. These showed that, while it had happened, the percentage of speakers cancelled was minute. But I do think they have a point. For example, it should be accepted that trans people should not despised, persecuted or suffer discrimination. But I think there are legitimate issues and questions voiced by gender critical feminists about trans activism and that there are spaces that should only be reserved for ‘cis’ women. But to some people, simply voicing what to many people are reasonable questions and criticisms constitute hate speech. There are similar problems regarding the reporting and discussion of racial issues. Nobody should want to empower real bigots and Fascists, but it does seem that legislation put in place to protect minorities from real hate has now expanded into Orwellian thoughtcrime.

And these attempts to limit freedom of speech have got into what is permissible in comics. One of the astonishing snippets I found while flicking through Paul Gravett’s Comics Art yesterday, was that in 2011 Tokyo municipality expanded its ban on the sale of certain comics (manga) and animated movies (anime) to children under 18 by including materials ‘excessively disruptive of the social order’. (Page 72). I realise that Japan is a very conservative society. The right-wing Liberal Democratic party were in power for fifty years or so after the end of World War II. The country is very Confucian in that one respects one’s elders and superiors. Gender roles are very traditional, as are conceptions of nationality. I don’t know if it’s still the case now, but under Japanese law at one time a person could only be a Japanese citizen if both their parents were ethnic Japanese. I gather that there are ways you can become a naturalised citizen, but it’s extremely difficult. It’s also supposed to be a very conformist society, in which children are taught at school that ‘the nail that stands up must be hammered down’. But this attack on comics is extreme.

Such attacks on the four-colour funnies and related media haven’t been restricted by Japan by any means. In the 1950s there was a moral panic in America and the United States against comics, one of the major figures in which was the Austrian psychiatrist, Dr Frederic Wertham. Wertham was one of a number of left-wing, emigre intellectuals who believed that popular culture had assisted the Nazis into power. He believed that American youth was being corrupted into crime and sexual deviancy by comics. He accused Superman of being a Nazi, despite the fact that the character’s only similarity to Nietzsche’s superman is the name, and that the Man of Steel’s creators were American Jews. Batman and Robin were an idealised homosexual couple, an accusation that has continued to plague attempts to reintroduce Robin in the strips. Oh yes, and Wonder Woman was a sado-masochist feminist lesbian. I doubt any of these accusations would have been recognised by the kids who actually bought and read the strips. But Wertham’s denunciations were taken up by a variety of groups, from the religious right to the Communist party and led to the passing of laws across America banning or restricting the sale of comics to children. The ban led to the collapse of particular comic genres, specifically the horror and true crime comics, which were particular targets of the legislators’ ire. It also affected the SF comics, because some of them strayed into politically dubious areas. The superhero comics survived, not because they were the most popular, but because they were the type of comics least affected by the new regulations.

One of the SF comics singled out for censorship was a story in which an astronaut from Earth travels to a world populated entirely by robots. His face hidden in his spacesuit, he tells the robots that they’re being considered as candidates for joining a galactic federation. Shades of Star Trek’s United Federation of Planets by a slightly different name here. However, the robots are divided into two types, blue and orange, and there is hatred and conflict between them. At the end of the story, the astronaut informs them that they have been rejected because of these divisions. It was only when the people of Earth rejected their differences and united, that real progress was made, he states at the end of the story. In the last panel he removes his helmet, and reveals that he’s Black.

Shock horror! An anti-racist message! This was too much for one New York judge, who wanted the strip banned on religious grounds. He believed that God had only given speech to humanity, and hated the idea of talking robots. But the underlying issue is obviously its attack on racism at a time when Jim Crow was still very much in force. Eventually the judge had to back down, and the issue degenerated into a fight between the publisher, EC, and the authorities over how many beads of sweat they could show on the Earthman.

Well, at least there were comics creators in America prepared to deal with the issue. Pat Mills, the creator of zarjaz British comic 2000 AD, says in his book about British comics and his career in them, Be Pure! Be Vigilant! Behave! that even in the late 1960s, the policeman heroes in British comics were making quite racist comments about Blacks. Part of what made 2000 AD’s predecessor, Action, so controversial was that Mills and the other creators there had been determined to make it as relevant as possible to contemporary British youth culture and deal with the issues and stories affecting and demanded by the young readership of the time. It was originally going to be called ‘Boots’, after Dr Martens’ distinctively rebellious footwear, followed by the years. So ‘Boots 1977′, Boots 1978’ and so on. But this was too much for the publishers, and the name Action settled on instead. In the end, the comic only lasted a couple of years because it was so controversial, with the major criticism that it was far too violent. 2000 AD was its successor, but here, unlike Action, the violence would be done in support of the law. This led to Judge Dredd, who was deliberately designed as a Fascist cop. The strip’s founding artist, Carlos Ezquerra, was Spanish, and so incorporated into Dredd’s uniform the style of the Fascists then making life a misery in Franco’s Spain, the helmet, the shoulder pads and the eagle badge. And I don’t think it’s an accident that the light reflected in Dredd’s visor looks like ‘SS’. Dredd was thus partly a comment by Mills and Wagner on some of the authoritarian trends in contemporary policing. Other strips tackled issues of racism and religious bigotry – Strontium Dog and Nemesis the Warlock, for example, and sexism, like The Ballad of Halo Jones. There was also a strong anti-war message in the ABC Warriors. Mainstream American comics had been tackling some of these issues for a decade or so previously. There were issues of Spiderman, for example, that tackled racism, and the Blaxploitation craze of the 1970s led to the appearance of Black superheroes like Powerman, Brother Voodoo and the Black Panther. Since then, and particularly since the collapse of the Comics Code Authority in the 1990s, comics have become an accepted and critically respected medium for the discussion of political and social issues. This has reached the point where Conservative and more traditional fans and comics creators believe that the medium and related forms of popular culture, such as SF and Fantasy film and television has become too politicised. In their opinion, contemporary comics writers and artists are too concerned with pushing overt messages about racism, sexism and gay rights at the expense of creating good, likeable characters and engaging plots and stories.

Martin Barker describes how comics have always been the subject of suspicion by the left and the right, going back to the Bloods and Penny Dreadfuls of Victorian Britain, and the cheap, popular novels being read by ‘the democracy’ in his Comics, Ideology and Power. Girls’ comics seem to me to have come in for a particular bashing. They were attacked by conservatives for being too radical and challenging traditional female roles. The left attacked them for being too conservative and not teaching girls their proper, traditional place. Barker shows how these attacks were way off, tearing to pieces specific criticisms of various strips. He argues that children actually subtly negotiate the content of the comics they read. They accept only those elements of the strips which appeal to them and ignore the rest. They do not simply accept everything they read. Barker’s final chapter is a passionate attack on those, who were trying to censor comics at the time he was writing. This included Thatcher and the Tories, but he was also angry at his own camp, the left. Brent and Lambeth councils were also leading an attack on popular literature through their zeal to purge their municipal libraries of anything they considered racist.

And they attack on popular literature has carried on. I remember the furore at the beginning of this century against the Harry Potter books. American Evangelical Christians accused J.K. Rowling of leading children into Satanism and the occult. Well, I admit I’ve only seen the films, not read the books, but I must have missed that one. It’s always seemed to me that the Harry Potter books actually were part of a long tradition of supernatural fantasy in children’s literature going right back to E. Nesbitt and beyond, and including The Worst Witch and Gobbelino the Witch’s Cat. Their attacks on Potter contrast with the Pope’s, who praised them and J.K. Rowling for encouraging children’s imaginations. There was also a rabbi, who wrote a piece praising Potter as a kind of model for Jews.

I’m not a free speech absolutist. I believe the promotion of certain opinions should be outlawed. Obvious examples include anything that encourages the sexual abuse of children or real hatred and violence towards minorities. I have no problem with the law banning the incitement to racial hatred. This was introduced in the 1920s or ’30s with the aim of combating the rise of real Fascism in the form of Mosley’s British Union of Fascists, Arnold Leese’s The Britons and other violent, deeply racist and anti-Semitic outfits. I also believe that parents have every right to exercise concern and control about what their children read or listen to, or are taught at school regarding certain highly controversial issues.

But I am afraid that the rules against certain types of hate are being used to silence perfectly reasonable criticism. One of the quotes that my accusers have cited to show that I am an evil anti-Semite is a statement where I say that every state and ideology should be open to discussion and criticism, even Israel and Zionism. There is absolutely nothing anti-Semitic in that. Even the wretched I.H.R.A. definition of anti-Semitism states that criticism of Israel is anti-Semitic only if it is applied solely to Israel. But that sentence makes it very clear that I don’t single out Israel and Zionism for especial criticism. I simply state that they should not be above it. But to the anti-Semitism hunters, this is obviously too much.

I am very much afraid that freedom of speech, discussion and conscience and true liberty of the press is under attack. The Conservatives want to close down any view that isn’t their own, all while arguing they’re simply standing up for free speech against the censorious ‘woke’ left. And there are forces on the left trying to close down reasonable debate and criticism under the guise of protecting people from hate.

We have to be careful, and defending freedom of speech and publication from attacks, whether by left-wing councils like Brent and Lambeth in the 1980s, or right-wing local authorities like Tokyo and its law of 2011.

This should not be a partisan issue, but should stretch across the political spectrum. But my fear is that it won’t. And as both sides struggle to establish the kind of censorship they want, real freedom of expression will die.

Radio 4 Programme Next Week on Press Censorship and Election Rigging

October 30, 2018

According to the Radio Times for 3rd to 9th November 2018, next Monday’s edition of Radio 4’s ‘Analysis’ is about the increasing destruction of democracy. Entitled ‘How to Kill a Democracy’, for blurb for the programme runs

Matt Qvortrup examines how democracies around the world are being dismantled through the silencing of the press and manipulation of elections.

The programme is being broadcast, appropriately enough, on the 5th November at 8.30 pm.

This has been going on for years. The Groaniad’s John Kampfner wrote a book about it years ago, Democracy For Sale, about how government across the world were trying to make a pact with their peoples by giving them prosperity at the expense of genuine political freedom. The countries discussed included not only Lee Kwan Yew’s Singapore and Putin’s Russia, but also Sarkozy’s France, Berlusconi’s Italy and Britain under that well-known ‘centrist’, Tony Blair.

But the curbs on free speech and publication aren’t just extending to the press. They’re also attacking the internet under the pretext of protecting us all from ‘fake news’. Facebook recently took down 800 pages, mostly of left-wing and oppositional sites, including those critical of the government. The Real News has recently posted up a report showing that this was done under the supervision of a Neocon American politico, who was gloating that this was just the beginning. I’ll post that one up later.

Democracy and free speech and press are under attack right across the globe, including here in the UK. It’ll be interesting to hear what the Beeb has to say about all this, and whether they’ll mention the corporate assault on the Net. This could be a dodgy issue for the Beeb, as more people are turning away from them and other established and establishment news sources for the Net. And groups on the internet, like the circle of new news media journalists Mike, the Canary, the Skwawkbox and Another Angry Voice belong to. As the Beeb can’t mention Corbyn without a sneer or depicting him as a wild, anti-Semitic extremist, I can see the programme shying well away from the subject of internet censorship.

Dimbleby Resigns as BBC Propagandist on Question Time

June 18, 2018

Yesterday, Mike put up a piece commenting on the resignation of former Bullingdon boy David Dimbleby as the host of Question Time. The man Private Eye dubbed ‘Dimblebore’ has been presenting the show for 25 years, and now considers it the right moment to leave. Dimbleby is another BBC presenter, who is very biased towards the Conservatives. Mike’s photograph of him accompanying his piece shows him raising two fingers, with the comment that it’s probably to a Socialist. Mike also cautions against feeling too good about Dimblebore’s resignation, as we don’t know what monster’s going to replace. He wonders whether the secret of human cloning has been found, and whether the next biased presenter of the programme will be Josef Goebbels.

https://voxpoliticalonline.com/2018/06/17/if-david-dimbleby-is-leaving-the-bbcs-question-time-what-horror-will-replace-him/

Last week Dimblebore was off in Russia, presenting a documentary about the country under Putin ahead of the footie there. He wasn’t the only, or even the first person to go. The comedian Frankie Boyle got there over a week earlier, presenting a two-part show about the country, it’s people and football on Sunday evening. Dimblebore was rather more serious in tone, presenting Russia as a country in the grip of a repressive autocrat, and mired in corruption which was strangling the economy.

Dimbleby first explained that Putin was most popular with young people, the generation that everywhere else is rebelling against autocrats, dictators and tyrants. He puts this down to Russians’ experience of economic collapse under Yeltsin. Yeltsin ended communism and dismembered the economy of the Soviet Union, privatising whatever he could. The result was chaos, and massive employment. At one point it got so bad that some factories were paying their workers in the goods they produced. Putin has restored order and economic stability to the country, and so has the support of the younger generation.

He spoke to a great of young professionals, an advertising branding team who were supporters of Putin, working to promote him through images and slogans. He stated that most of the media was controlled by the Russian president, with a few exceptions. He then went to speak to someone from RT’s Moscow branch. Dimbleby explained that some of the staff were British, and asked one of the Brits there whether he was presenting propaganda. The man denied it, said that there was no one watching over him, telling him what to do, and that his conscience was clear. Dimblebore then gave a knowing smirk into the camera.

He then talked to a female presenter on one of the few dissident broadcasters Putin had allowed to remain open. She said that she had not received any threats, but she knew that she could be killed for what she did. But she was still determined to carry on.

He then talked about how those, who criticised the government were arrested and jailed, interviewing a human rights lawyer, who defended them. When asked what people could be arrested and jailed for, the lawyer explained that it could be criticism of the government, or a non-traditional understanding of the Second World War. The other year Putin passed a law criminalising the view that Stalin was partly responsible for the Nazi invasion of eastern Europe and Russia through the Nazi-Soviet pact. From what I remember, I think you can also be arrested for promoting gay rights.

He then spoke to a woman, who was protesting her treatment by the state. She had already been jailed for criticising Putin, but was determined to do so again. She had not been able to get a permit to organise a protest, and so held her own, one-woman demonstration outside the court. This is permitted under Russian law. If you can’t get a permit for a demonstration, you can still protest, so long as there is only one person involved. As she stood with her placard, she was joined by an increasing number of counter-protesters determined to disrupt her protest, and possibly send her to jail. They moved closer to her, and she moved away, telling them to keep their distance. They kept coming, and their numbers kept increasing. Then the cops turned up, and started filming things as they’d been told foreigners were involved. And someone else from one of the TV companies materialised to film the protest as well. Eventually it all ended, and the police and counter-protesters disappeared.

Dimbleby then did a piece about the police’s brutal suppression of dissent, complete with footage of the cops beating what looked like a feminist protester from Pussy Riot.

He also touched on gender roles. He talked to a hairdresser, while having his haircut, who told him that Russia still had very traditional gender roles, in which women wanted a strong man to provide for them.

Putin has also succeeded in reversing the declining Russian birthrate. Instead of falling, it is now rising, with medals and benefits given to couples who have large families. He showed one woman and her husband, who were being presented a medal by Putin for having ten children.

He also went off to talk to a youth organisation, that was set up to get children, including boys of junior school age, interested in the army. The group’s name translates as ‘Net’, and is run by army officers. The children there wear combat uniforms and learn to shoot using air rifles, which they are also taught how to strip down. They were shown blazing away at targets, and competing with each other over who could reassemble a gun while blindfolded the quickest, with Dimblebore cheering the winner. And it wasn’t all boys. One of the youngster there looked like a girl. Dimblebore asked them if they wanted to join the army, to which they gave a very enthusiastic ‘Yes’.

He then went off to speak to a prelate from the Russian Orthodox Church about its support for Putin, where he described Putin as an autocrat attacking human rights and threatening peace in Europe. The prelate responded by saying that there were those, who did not agree with his view. And that was that.

He then went off to discuss the massive corruption in Russia, and how this was undermining the economy as more and more investors and companies left the country because of it. Russia has 144 million people, but it’s economy is 2/3s that of Britain, or about the size of Italy’s, and is declining.

Now all of this is factually true. John Kampfner, in his book Freedom For Sale discusses Russia as another state, where the population has made a deal with its leader. They have absolute power, in return for which they give their people prosperity. Except that, according to Dimbleby, living standards and wages are declining. Putin has passed laws against the promotion of homosexuality, there are massive human rights violations, including the jailing of the type of people, who would have been called dissidents under Communism. Journalists, who haven’t toed the Archiplut’s line have been beaten and killed.

Other aspects of the Russian state, as revealed by this programme, would have been immediately recognisable to the generation raised by Communism. Like the corruption. It was rife under Communism. The Bulgarian journalist, Arkady Vaksberg, wrote a book about it, The Soviet Mafia. And Gogol took a shot at official corruption under the Tsars back in the 19th century in his play, The Government Inspector. So no change there.

As for the Russian Orthodox Church supporting Putin, it was always the state church under the tsars, to which it gave absolute support. The watchword of the tsarist regime was ‘Autocracy, Orthodoxy and the People’. And its support of autocratic leadership didn’t begin under Putin. After the restrictions on religion were lifted in the 1990s, the BBC journalists interviewed some of its clergy on their shows. And the clergy had the same preference for absolute state power and total obedience from the people. Putin made the relationship between the Church and his government closer by granting them a sizable share of Russia’s oil.

The youth groups designed to get children interested in joining the army are also little different from what already went on under the Soviet system. Secondary schoolchildren did ‘military-patriotic training’ to prepare them for national service as part of the school curriculum. It was led by retired army officers, who were often the butt of schoolboy jokes. They were taught to handle weapons, complete with competitions for throwing grenades the furthest.

And let’s face it, it also isn’t much different from what used to go on over here. I’ve known young people, who were in the army and naval cadets. And the public schools used to have the CCF – the Combined Cadet Force – which the Tories would dearly love to bring back. And boys, and some girls, do like playing at ‘War’, so I’ve no doubt that if something like the Russian group was set up in this country, there would be many lads and girls wanting to join it.

Russia has also too been a very masculine society with very traditional ideas about gender and masculinity, despite the fact that most engineers were women, who also worked as construction workers and many other, traditionally masculine areas. One of the complaints of Russian women was that the men didn’t do their fair share of standing in queues waiting to get whatever groceries were in store.

And the medals and rewards to the women, who gave birth to the largest number of children is just another form of the Heroic Mother Awards under the Soviet Union. Putin’s Russia continues many of the same aspects of the country’s society from the age of the tsars and Communism, although Dimblebore said the country was going backward.

I’ve no doubt it is, but the programme annoyed me.

What irritated me was Dimblebore’s knowing smirk to camera when the guy from RT denied that he broadcast propaganda. Now I’m sure that RT does. There’s videos I’ve seen on YouTube from RTUK, which could fairly be described as pro-Russian propaganda.

But what annoyed me was Dimblebore’s hypocrisy about it.

The Beeb and Dimbleby himself has also broadcast it share of propaganda supporting western foreign policy interests, including imperialism. Newsnight has finally got round, after several years, to covering the Fascists running around the Ukraine under the present government. But the Beeb has emphatically not informed the British public how the pro-western regime which was put in power with the Orange Revolution, was created by the US State Department under Obama, and run by Hillary Clinton and Victoria Nuland. Far from being a grassroots movement, the revolution was orchestrated by the National Endowment for Democracy, which has been handling the US state’s foreign coups since they were taken away from the CIA, and one of George Soros’ pro-democracy outfits.

Putin is also presented as the villainous aggressor in the current war in the Ukraine, and some have compared his annexation of Crimea and invasion of eastern Ukraine to the Nazi annexation of the Sudetenland. But Crimea had been a part of Russia before 1951, when Khrushchev, a Ukrainian, gave it to that state. And Putin is not looking to take over the country either. The population of Russia is 144 million. Ukraine’s is a little over a third of that, at 52 million. If Putin really had wanted to annex it, he would have done so by now. And under international law, as I understand it, nations are allowed to intervene in foreign countries militarily to defend members of their ethnic group that are being persecuted. That was the pretext for the Nazi annexation of the Sudetenland, and it’s also the reason why Putin’s invaded eastern Ukraine. But it’s legal under international law. And I don’t doubt for a single minute that Russians, and Russian-speaking Ukrainians, were being persecuted by the new, pro-Western government.

In his documentary, Dimbleby met a very angry, patriotic Russian, who told him that the British had tried to invade Russia three times in the past three centuries. Once in the 19th century during the Crimean War; then in 1922 during the Russian Civil War. And now we were preparing to do the same. He angrily told us to ‘get out!’. Dimbleby looked shocked, and said to him that he couldn’t really believe we were ready to invade.

This was another continuation of the Soviet paranoia and hostility towards the West dating from the Communist period and before. Russia has always felt itself encircled by its enemies since the tsars. But the man has a point. We did invade Russia in 1922 in an effort to overthrow the Communist regime. Pat Mills has talked about this in his presentation on comics he gave to the SWP a few years ago. He tried to get a story about it in Charlie’s War, the anti-war strip he wrote for Battle. This is another piece of history that we aren’t told about.

And when Gorbachev made the treaty with Clinton pledging the withdrawal of Soviet troops from eastern Europe after the collapse of Communism, Clinton in turn agreed that these state would not become members of NATO. He broke his promise. They now all are, and NATO’s borders now extend to Russia. At the same time, western generals and NATO leaders have been predicting a war between Russia and NATO. One even wrote a book about it, 2017: War with Russia. Thankfully, 2017 has been and gone and there has, so far, been no war. But with this in view, I can’t say I blame any Russian, who is afraid that the West might invade at any moment, because it does look to me like a possibility.

And there are other matters that the Beeb and the rest of the lamestream news aren’t telling us about. They’re still repeating the lie that the invasion of Iraq was done for humanitarian reasons, whereas the reality was that western corporations and the neocons wanted to get their hands on Iraqi state industries and privatise the economy. And the American and Saudi oil industry wanted to get their mitts on the country’s oil reserves.

The civil war in Syria is also presented in simplistic terms: Assad as evil tyrant, who must be overthrown, and Putin as his bloodthirsty foreign ally. Assad is a tyrant, and one of the causes of the civil war was his oppression of the Sunni majority. But we are constantly being told that the rebels are ‘moderates’, while the fact is that they still have links to Islamists like the al-Nusra Front, the former Syrian branch of al-Qaeda, and ISIS. Nor have I seen the Beeb tell anyone how the Syrian rebels have also staged false flag chemical weapons attacks against civilians in order to draw the west into the war.

And objective reporting on Israel is hindered by the pro-Israel lobby. Any news item or documentary, which shows Israel’s horrific crimes against Palestinian civilians is immediately greeted with accusations of anti-Semitism from the Israeli state and the Board of Deputies of British Jews. I’ll be fair to the Beeb. Some of their presenters have tried to give an objective reporting of events, like Jeremy Bowen and Orla Guerin. But they’ve been accused of anti-Semitism, as was Dimblebore himself when he tried to defend them. In this instance, the bias isn’t just the fault of the Beeb. But it is there, and newsroom staff have said that they were under pressure from senior management to present a pro-Israel slant.

Domestically, the Beeb is very biased. I’ve discussed before how Nick Robinson in his report on a speech by Alex Salmond about Scots devolution carefully edited the SNP’s answer, so it falsely appeared that he had been evasive. In fact, Salmond had given a full, straight answer. Salmond’s reply was whittled down further as the day went on, until finally Robinson claimed on the evening news that he hadn’t answered the question.

And numerous left-wing bloggers and commenters, including myself, have complained about the horrendous bias against the Labour Party and Jeremy Corbyn in the Beeb’s reporting. Dimblebore himself has shown he has a very right-wing bias on Question Time, allowing right-wing guests and audience members to speak, while silencing those on the left. Not that he’s alone here. Andrew Marr has done exactly the same on his programme on Sundays.

Dimblebore is, quite simply, another right-wing propagandist, with the Beeb backing current western imperialism. His smirk at the RT journalist’s denials of doing the same is just gross hypocrisy.

Chris Hedges: RT Target Because Gives Platform to Anti-Imperialist, Anti-Capitalist Critics

November 15, 2017

Yesterday, RT America was forced to register as a foreign agent under FARA, the Foreign Agents’ Registration Act, a piece of legislation that dates from the 1930s, and which was set up to regulate foreign lobbyists and propaganda outlets.

The move has been condemned by Alexandra Ellerbeck, the North American co-ordinator of the Committee for the Protection of Journalists.

Compelling RT to register under FARA is a bad idea. This is a shift in how the law has been applied in recent decades, so we have little information about how its reporting requirements might affect individual journalists. We’re uncomfortable with governments deciding what constitutes journalism or propaganda.

The presenter then interviews Pulitzer-prize winning journalist and dissident, Chris Hedges, the presenter of RT America’s On Contact. Hedges states that the head of American national intelligence said that RT was a threat, not because it broadcast Russian propaganda, but because it gave a platform to anti-imperial, anti-capitalist voices, and covered issues and movements that the country’s elites would rather not be covered, such as the Occupy movement, Black Lives Matter, and fracking.

As for the question whether Americans should have a choice in their media, Hedges states that it would be true, if America had a functioning media which actually did its job and covered dissent. But it doesn’t. The media has been taken over by corporate interests, including the most retrograde of those in the form of the Koch brothers.

He also points out that this move is a major threat to press and political freedom generally. The elites, which he describes as kleptocrats, are resorting to censorship because they now realise that they have no arguments to support neoliberalism. They are desperate to suppress the reporting of the growing inequality, which has produced such an uprising in both the Democrat and Republican parties. And so they are trying to suppress the reporting of the growing poverty in America as foreign propaganda, and claim that the increasing dissent and discontent is due to foreign interference.

This is going on at the same time that Google and other internet companies have developed algorithms to take searchers away from left-wing and dissenting news sites.

He notes that the organisations that are charged with protecting the freedom of the press have largely ignored this issue and have not objected to RT America’s registration under FARA. But he warns that this will only be the beginning of a greater assault on press and media freedom.

Once the elites have finished suppressing marginal, alternative media and journalists that they have pushed to the sidelines, such as himself, they will move on to the mainstream media.

This isn’t just about RT America. The British government and Theresa May has also started baying about how Russia is interfering in British politics. Here the main issue seems to be Brexit at the moment. May seems to be trying to use the Russians as a scapegoat for her own failure to secure any kind of deal with the EU.

Other alternative news programmes, that have nothing to do with Russia, are also being hit by Google’s algorithms. These are shows like The Young Turks, the David Pakman Show, Sam Seder’s Majority Report, and Democracy Now! And left-wing British bloggers like Mike over at Vox Political have also suffered problems with some of their material mysteriously vanishing from Facebook, or people finding it difficult to log on. One of the commenters to this site posted that she had had difficulty getting on to Mike’s page in response to an article I put up about how I found it impossible to get onto Mike’s site on Saturday, when he wrote a reply demolishing the claims of a Tory councillor that Journalists’ reporting of the immense harm done by the government’s policies to the disabled was ‘inflammatory nonsense’.

John Kampfner wrote a book about ten years or so ago, Freedom for Sale, about how governments all over the world, including Blair’s, were cracking down on freedom of speech. He considered it part of a deal they had made with their peoples. They would give them prosperity, but the other side of the bargain was that they would not tolerate any criticism. Now, ten or so years later, that bargain has gone. These governments are not bringing prosperity. Quite the opposite. Poverty has expanded massively under the Tories. But they are continuing to clamp down on freedom of speech and the press.

All in the name of protecting us from the Russians. Or terrorists like ISIS. Or anyone else they can use as a handy pretext for regulating and narrowing media freedom even more.

Czech President Threatens Journalists with Fake Kalashnikov

October 25, 2017

More from Cenk Uygur and Ana Kasparian of The Young Turks on the rising threat to freedom of the press around the world. In this clip they report on and discuss the behaviour of the Czech President, Milos Zeman, who turned up at a press conference waving around a replica gun which had ‘For Journalists’ written on it. Zeman himself hates the press, and in the past has described them as ‘manure’ and ‘hyenas’. At a meeting with Putin in May, he joked about how some of them deserved to be ‘liquidated’. As Uygur points out, there is very strong evidence that Putin has had journalists murdered, so that joke really isn’t funny. Zeman, you will not be surprised to know, is also a colossal Islamophobe. He has said that Czechs need to arm themselves against a coming ‘superholocaust’ against them, which will be carried out by Muslims. Uygur comments drily, ‘Who knew there were so many Muslims in the Czech Republic, and they were so powerful?’

Zeman’s gun-waving comes after the death of a female journalist, Daphne Caruana Galizia, who was killed by a car bomb in Malta. Galizia was dubbed a ‘one-woman WikiLeaks’ for her dogged pursuit of uncovering stories of corruption. She was killed a week after revealing that Joseph Muscat, the Prime Minister of the island nation, had been involved in offshore companies and the sale of Maltese passports and payments from the Azerbaijani government.

Clearly, Malta isn’t anywhere near the Czech Republic, but her death was reported there. And the president, Zeman, thinks so little of the murder of journalists that he ‘jokes’ about it by waving replica firearms around at the press. Uygur also states that the Czechs have just elected a new prime minister, who is the millionaire head of a populist party. He predicts that this won’t end well.

This is clearly a story from a small nation in the EU, but it shows the way journalistic freedoms are being eroded all over the world. The Young Turks point out that democracy isn’t just about voting – it’s also about the freedom of the press and conscience – and this is what has makes Western democracy so great. The Young Turks have also covered the prosecution of journalists and political opponents of President Erdogan in Turkey, and the persecution of another crusading journo in Azerbaijan itself. As well as the attempted assassination of another Russian journo, who was suspiciously stabbed a madman two weeks after the Putin media declared her and her radio station an agent of America.

About ten years ago, John Kampfner wrote a book, Freedom for Hire, in which he described how countries around the world, from France, Italy, Russia, Singapore and China, were becoming increasingly dictatorial. And we in Britain had no cause for complacency, as he described how Blair had also tried to muzzle the press, especially when it came to the Gulf War. The web of corruption Galizia uncovered was so widespread, and went right to the top, so that Malta was described by the Groaniad yesterday as ‘Mafia Island’.

As for the Czech Republic, after Vaclav Havel its post-Communist presidents have been extremely shady individuals. I can remember reading one travel book on eastern Europe, which discussed how his critics had disappeared or been murdered. And following the Fall of Communism, there has come a series of reports and scandals about rising racial intolerance there. The target of much of this is the Roma. It has been reported that the Czech medical service routinely forcibly sterilised Gypsy women in order to stop them having children, and members of various political parties have called for either their expulsion or their extermination. I am not surprised by the Islamophobia, as a little while ago Counterpunch carried a story about one of their contributor’s meeting with a Czech politician, who had very extreme, right-wing views, including a deep hatred of Muslims. There also appears to be an undercurrent of anti-Semitism in the country as well. A few years ago, the BBC’s programme, Who Do You Think You Are, explored Stephen Fry’s ancestry. As Fry himself has said many times on QI, his grandfather was a Jewish Hungarian, who worked for a sugar merchants. It was through his work that he met Fry’s grandmother, who was a member of Fry’s, the Quaker chocolate manufacturer, and settled with her in England. Thus he fortunately survived the Holocaust. Fry travelled to Austria, Hungary and the Czech Republic, tracing the movements of his ancestors in the course of their work through the former Austro-Hungarian Empire. Fry was, understandably, visibly upset and shaken when he found out just how many of his grandfather’s kith and kind had been murdered at Auschwitz.

He was also very unimpressed by the attitude of some of the Czechs he spoke to in his quest. He quoted them as saying that ‘it is very curious. They knew the Holocaust was coming, but they stayed here anyway.’ He was justifiably outraged at the implication that somehow the millions of innocents butchered by the Nazis wanted to be killed.

It’s possible to suggest a number of causes for the rise in Islamophobia. You could probably trace it back to historic fears about the Ottoman Empire and the conquest of the Balkans by the Muslim Turks in the 15th century. The Ottoman Empire still sought to expand in the 17th century, when its army was just outside the gates of Vienna. It was defeated by Jan Sobieski, the king of Poland, and his troops. The Ottoman Empire persisted until it finally collapsed in the late 19th and early 20th centuries, amidst a series of bloody massacres. The majority of these were blamed on the Turks, and specifically the irregular troops, the Bashi-Bazouks. It was their massacres that led to Gladstone calling for Turkey to be thrown ‘bag and baggage out of the Balkans’. But other journalists in the Balkans at the time also noted that the Christian nations, like the Serbs, were also guilty of horrific mass slaughter, but that this went unreported due prevailing Western prejudice.

Part of it might be due to the Czechs being a small nation – there are about four million of them – who have had to struggle to survive against domination by larger neighbours. Their medieval kings had invited ethnic Germans into the country to settle and develop their economy. This led to the creation of what became the Sudetenland, the areas occupied by ethnic Germans, and there was friction between them and the native Czechs. This friction eventually exploded into open conflict in the 15th century in the wars following the attempt of Jan Hus to reform the Roman Catholic church. Czech nationalism was suppressed, and Moravia and Bohemia, the two kingdoms, which became Czechoslovakia, were absorbed into the Austrian Empire. The Czechs and Slovaks achieved their independence after the First world War, but the country was conquered by the Nazis during World War II, and then ‘liberated’ by Stalin. It was then incorporated into the Communist bloc. When Anton Dubcek, the president, attempted to create ‘Communism with a human face’, introducing free elections and a form of market socialism, the-then Soviet president, Anton Dubcek, sent in the tanks to quell the ‘Prague Spring’.

Other factors also include the wave of immigrants from Syria and North Africa, that forced their way through the various international borders to come up through Greece and Serbia in their hope of finding sanctuary and jobs in the West. The Counterpunch article stated that there was a real fear that they would turn east, and swamp the small, former eastern bloc nations like the Czech Republic.

And these racial fears are being stoked throughout the former eastern bloc by the poverty and misery that has come with capitalism. The peoples of the former Communist nations were led to believe that the introduction of capitalism would create employment and prosperity. This has not occurred, and the result has been widespread disillusionment. Counterpunch also ran another article, which quoted the statistic that 51 per cent of the population of the former East Germany had responded positively to the statement that ‘things were better under Communism’ in a poll, and wanted Communism to come back. Similar statistics could be found right across the former Communist nations of eastern Europe.

Now, faced with rising poverty, unemployment and inequality, made worse by neoliberalism, the old fears of racial domination and extermination are rising again, and being exploited by ruthless, right-wing populists. So there are a series of extremely nationalistic, Fascistic governments and parties in Hungary and the Czech Republic. Just like in western Europe there’s Marine Le Pen’s Front National and Germany’s Alternative fuer Deutschland, and Donald Trump and the Alt Right in America.

And across the globe, ruthless, corrupt politicians are trying to curtail freedom of speech and the press, in order to preserve their power. Hence the rising racism, Fascism and violence towards ethnic minorities and the press. These freedoms are at the core of democracy, and have to be defended for democracy to work at all, and governments held accountable by their citizens.

TYT on Anti-Putin Journalist Stabbed in the Throat

October 25, 2017

This is another piece of news on the attack on free speech and a free press and media around the world. In this piece, Cenk Uygur and Ana Kasparian of The Young Turks comment on the stabbing of Tatiana Felgenhauer, an outspoken critic of Putin, by an apparent schizophrenic man, Boris Gritz. Felgenhauer was the deputy editor in chief and a presenter at an anti-Putin radio station, Ekho Moskvi, whose name translates as ‘Moscow Echo’. Gritz, who the pro-Putin media has claimed believed he was in telepathic contact with Felgenhauer, broke into the station’s headquarters, pepper-sprayed a guard, and then stabbed Felgenhauer in the throat. Gritz had previously emigrated to Israel, but shortly returned to Russia. Felgenhauer was rushed to hospital. She has survived, and is breathing through a tube.

Uygur and Kasparian find the claim that Gritz believed he was in mental contact with her far too convenient. They point to the immense number of journalists, who have been killed in highly suspicious circumstances, which suggests that they were murdered because of their criticism of the Arkhiplut. They were killed even when they were not actually opponents of Putin. Simply pointing out problems with Putin’s policies or other failures is enough. In Gritz’s case, the attack occurred two weeks after a pro-Putin news programme stated that Ekho Moskvi was an agent of America, and specifically named Felgenhauer.

And it’s not just journos that are being killed. After Trump was elected president, a whole slew of diplomats met with similar suspicious ends. One was simply walking down the street when a sofa, which was being lifted into position into an apartment above him, happened to fall and kill him. The poor fellow’s death made little impression with Trump, who seems to have shrugged it off. As for Gritz, Uygur speculates that, as the main suspect in what looks like an assassination will go the same way as Lee Harvey Oswald.

Kasparian also goes on to explain the reason she went off on a rant about the number of Americans a recent poll claimed believed that Donald Trump was right when he said he wanted to revoke the broadcasting licences of the news media that opposed him. She states its because all over the world journalists are hated by those in power, because they’re supposed to keep a check on the government and tell truth to power. She and Uygur make the point that freedom of speech is at the core of American constitutional freedoms, and is what makes America so great. But this freedom is under attack, both in Russia and in Trump’s America. They state that before he became president, it was okay for Trump to admire Putin. But now he’s in office, he needs to be told that the muzzling of the press and media is not how it’s done in America.

This is indeed another suspicious attack from a long line of very many similar attacks in Putin’s Russia. The Graoniad’s John Kampfner discusses the number of Russian journos, who have been beaten and murdered in his book on the way governments around the world are becoming increasingly autocratic, Freedom For Sale. And it really isn’t just journos, who are being assassinated. The victims also include leading dissenting politicians, like Aleksandra Politovskaya. She was a genuine pro-democracy activist and opponent of Putin, who was mysteriously shot dead in her apartment in Moscow. Her murderer has never been caught. And what made her death more suspicious was that her flat was in the same block as a cop bar on the ground floor.

Felgenhauer’s murder looks very much like a plot from Stuart Kaminsky’s Inspector Rostnikov novels, The Man Who Walked Like A Bear, A Fine Red Rain, Rostnikov’s Vacation and others. They’re crime thrillers, set in the last days of the Soviet Union. The hero, Rostnikov, is an honest cop, who’s been posted to a police department, whose own functions are largely ceremonial, because he has embarrassed the authorities by solving the kind of crimes they didn’t want solved. Rostnikov’s team includes a short pathologist and a man so humourless and inadvertently intimidating that he is nicknamed the ‘Vampire’. They go on to solve various murders, all of which appear to have a political dimension to them, as hidden factions within the Communist party try to settle their differences by setting up various pawns and patsies to assassinate their rivals. Or else stage incidents, which are carefully set up to lead Rostnikov and his team to those they want caught, but can’t be seen moving against themselves.

Kaminsky seems to have captured the politically fraught world of the Soviet police. The novels came out at about the same time as the thriller, Gorky Park, which was later filmed, about a soviet policeman investigating a serial killer in Moscow. And then there was the case of a real-life monster, arrested by another honest cop. The dedicated ‘tec this time was an Ingush, one of the small nations deported from their homes in the Caucasus to Siberia by Stalin. He caught a monster, who had raped, killed and eaten about 50-odd men and boys. The perp was able to get away with his crimes because he was a member of the Communist party.

But such crimes and assassinations aren’t confined to the Soviet past. There was a massive surge in gang violence in the days of chaos following Yeltsin’s privatisation of the Soviet economy. The mob moved out of the usual criminal activities – drugs, stolen goods and extortion – and tried to take over whole industries. Travelling through Siberia, Simon Reeve in his programme on contemporary Russia a few weeks ago commented on how the Russian mafia fought a series of battles with the authorities in one Siberian town in order to wrest control of the local, profit-making aluminium smelter. Reeve explained that Putin is genuinely immensely popular in Russia, despite his dictatorial nature, because he put a stop to the gang violence.

The price, however, is high. The oligarchs, who were given or bought their control of the great Russian monopoly industries, have done so at the cost of giving their complete support and loyalty to Putin. And Politovskaya herself said that so long as this system remains in place, there is no freedom, no democracy, ‘just the strong man in the Kremlin’.

A silovik (strong man), who is very much appeared by Donald Trump. Who would like to do to the press in America, what Putin has done in Russia.

Secular Talk: Judge Has Journalist Arrested for Using Freedom of Information Act

July 10, 2016

It seems that freedom of the press is under attack all around the world. Erdogan, the wannabe Ottoman Sultan of Turkey, has made himself notorious for jailing anyone, journalist or not, who dares criticise him. John Kampfner, in his book, Freedom for Sale, describes the clampdown on press and media freedom across the world, in Britain, France, Italy, Russia, Singapore, Dubai and Russia. And now America. In this piece from Secular Talk, Kyle Kulinski comments on a Vice Report about the arrest of a journalist in the US state of Georgia, Mark Thomason, and his lawyer, Russell Stookey, by the chief judge of Pickens County superior Court, Brenda Weaver. Thomason’s the publisher of a small, local newspaper, Fannin Focus. They were arrested on charges of identity fraud and making false statements. Thomason’s real crime was making official requests for public documents on illegally cashed cheques. He and Stookey also issued subpoenas to the court’s banks to get them to provide information on this issue. Weaver claims that Thomason made false statements when filing the official requests, and that he did not ask her permission, when issuing the subpoenas, and so was attempting to steal that information on the banking details. Weaver also stated that she resented Thomason’s weekly attacks on her character in his paper, saying, ‘I don’t react well when my honesty is questioned.’

Kulinski points out that this is indirect violation of the amendments in the Constitution guaranteeing the freedom of the press. He points out that she had the two arrested not for slander or libel, but simply because she didn’t like what he said about her. She is the criminal in this case, who for her attack on one of America’s fundamental freedoms should be jailed instead of the journo and his lawyer.

I know this is an American case, but I’m posting it because, along with the good and noble stuff we’ve had come across the Pond – MLK, Civil Rights, the Freedom of Information Act, and Elvis – our politicians seem determined also to pick up every wretched, degrading idea as well. Like workfare, which first emerged under the Republicans, and was being touted over here by the Conservatives under Thatcher. Mike and the other disability activists have been given the run-around by the DWP when they’ve tried to use in the British Freedom of Information Act to get the info on the number of disabled people, who’ve died after being wrongly declared ‘fit for work’ by Atos and its successor, Maximus. The DWP first of all declared that the requests were frivolous. Then, when this was overturned on appeal, they delayed releasing the information, and waited till almost the very last minute before appealing against the decision, and then, after they were told to release it, they cavilled against the terms of the request, and deliberately misinterpreted them so that they could issue the wrong information.

And then Ian Duncan Smith had the sheer audacity to pretend to break out in tears during an interview with Ian Hislop on Channel 4, to show he genuinely cared about the unemployed. This was after he and his boss, David Cameron, were shown having a jolly old guffaw in parliament when a Labour MP was reading out tales of the hardship the government sanctions had caused. They looked like the Chuckle Brothers, if those stalwarts of British children’s television had made the weird decision to make their characters grotesque old Etonian snobs.

And then the Tories a few months ago held an inquiry on making the terms of the Freedom of Information Act even narrower, so the public would not be able to get access to so much government information. They did so, because they didn’t like the power it gave citizens like Mike and so many other activists to challenge government decisions. Rather than being used for this purpose, the government issued a statement that the information provided under the Act should only be used to understand how a decision was made. In other words, shut up, you proles, and obey.

If Brenda Weaver gets away with this in America, I can see it spreading to this country. You can read in Private Eye’s ‘Rotten Boroughs’ column, week in, week out, reports of how local authorities up and down Britain have tried to imprison ordinary people for daring to criticise them on blogs, in the press and even for notices they’ve put on the windows of their own property. In one particularly hilarious incident down here in the West Country, a parish councillor in Compton Dando went berserk and was trying to have arrested the appalling felon, who stuck a picture of him as Adolf Hitler in the local public call box. The fiend! But I can see the big boys and girls further up the food chain – Cameron, IDS, Jeremy Hunt and now Theresa May, as being equally, if not more eager, to have journalists arrested for spreading the wrong message, if they could. The DWP’s constant delays and appeals under IDS certainly shows that it doesn’t want to co-operate in releasing embarrassing information. And I can see IDS ordering the arrest of journalists under trumped up charges for maligning him, if he could get away with it. This is the man, after all, who turns up in parliament with an armed guard, just in case he’s attacked by a squad of elite ninja disabled people and their careers. This is the man, after all, who has made up lie after lie about himself, having qualifications he does not possess and serving as a major in the army, when he was returned to unit. Probably. Just before he left the DWP he was whining about getting the blame for welfare-to-work, when it was Labour that invented it. Well, so they did, but he could have discontinued it. He didn’t, and so he deserves the condemnation he got. And the probable new leader of the Tories, Theresa May, is an authoritarian, who wants access to everyone’s internet and phone data. Just in case we’re all members of ISIS or paedos.

If this gang of would-be tyrants think they can get away with arresting people for using the Freedom of Information Act, they will.

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.

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.

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.