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government is trying to make fracking just as easy as putting up a garden shed! join campaign to oppose fast-track fracking

The following sections are drawn from pages of the Frack Free Ryedale campaign website.

The government are planning to make non-hydraulic exploratory drilling for shale gas Permitted Development, which means fracking companies won’t need local planning permission to build a 1.5-hectare exploratory well site. They are also planning to make full scale industrial fracking a Nationally Significant Infrastructure Project (NSIP), which means the decisions regarding whether or not fracking is allowed will be made by the Secretary of State and a Planning Inspector – not your local council planning authority.

This is nothing less than an assault on local democracy on an unprecedented scale and would result in local communities left without a voice about whether their countryside should be fracked.

This desperate attempt to bypass local democracy shows that the Conservative government have realised that they are never going to get ‘social licence’ for this unwanted, unsafe and unnecessary industry. Rather than put their support behind renewables, they seem intent on forcing fracking on unwilling communities, and at the same time ignoring the huge weight of evidence of the harm this industry causes, and their own climate change commitments.

The government have launched two consultations, one on Permitted Development and one on NSIP. The deadline for both is 11.45 p.m. on October 25th. You can read more about these consultations in this Drill or Drop post.

Please sign this 38 Degrees petition, and then share with friends and family.

Please also sign this Friends of the Earth petition, and you can sign up for webinars and resources from FoE here.

For the sake of our countryside fracking should be stopped immediately. This is the only way our beautiful country can avoid becoming a contaminated wasteland.

Click here to reach the Frack Free Ryedale Permitted Development & NSIP campaign page.

Please note: the ‘consultations’ linked above use technical language and appear to be deliberately obscure. Frack Free Ryedale intends to post guidelines on how to respond in near future – I shall update but meanwhile click here to sign up for newsletters.

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Q + A on permitted development and NSIP

Let’s start at the beginning. What exactly is Permitted Development?

Permitted Development is the part of the UK planning system which allows people to carry out low-impact improvements on their property without having to apply for planning permission. It was introduced in 1948 to enable people to make modest improvements on their homes without having to apply to the council.

What kind of things can people do to their houses under Permitted Development rules?

Typical home improvements you can undertake under permitted development rules are converting your loft into a bedroom, moving a door or a window, putting up a fence, adding a conservatory or building a garden shed.

That’s all very interesting. But what’s this got to do with fracking?

On 17th May the Government issued a Written Ministerial Statement which proposes that non-hydraulic exploratory drilling for shale gas should be considered Permitted Development, and therefore would not require planning permission from the local council.

What do they mean by ‘non-hydraulic exploratory drilling for shale gas’?

Before companies can frack, they need to build a well-pad and drill an exploratory well, which will then be used to take core samples of the rock about 2 miles below the surface. These are typically about 1.5 hectares in size, require hundreds of truck movements to construct, involve drilling day and night for weeks and installing a drilling rig of up to 125 ft in height.

So you’re telling me the government wants the planning system to treat a fracking well-pad in the same way as a garden shed?

You are correct. If the government gets its way, fracking companies will be able to put one of these 1.5-hectare well-pads – with all the traffic, noise, pollution and other issues that come with such a development – only a few hundred metres from your home, school, town or village without having to apply to the local council for planning permission.

That’s crazy. Why on earth would they be proposing such a move?

There are lots of reasons, but the main one is probably because in every single place where fracking is proposed, local communities are up in arms about it and raising all sorts of objections to the industrialisation of their local area and the threat fracking poses to their health, environment and water. This has resulted in thousands of objections from local people to every fracking application, and concerted opposition from almost everyone apart from the fracking companies themselves.

This widespread and unceasing opposition to fracking has meant that some applications for exploratory drilling have been refused, others have been challenged in court, and those that have been allowed have been the focus of widespread peaceful demonstrations. So, rather like the school bully complaining to the teacher that someone has stolen his lunch, fracking companies appear to have gone to the government to complain that local residents and democratically elected local councils are slowing down their attempts to frack.

This permitted development ruse is therefore a way for fracking companies (and the pro-fracking Conservative government) to bypass the pesky planning system run by locally elected councils and force fracking on unwilling communities.

This doesn’t seem to be in line with the Government’s stated commitment to encouraging localism and letting the local community have the final say.

That’s true, and perhaps one of the most disturbing aspects to these proposals is that the government seems happy to ignore local democracy and accountability in their desperation to kick-start the failing fracking industry in the UK.

For a political party this is a risky step, particularly when many of the areas that are being threatened, such as North Yorkshire, are run by Conservative majority councils. And worryingly for the government, a recent survey of Conservative Councillors showed that 80% were opposed to making exploratory fracking Permitted Development. And of course Labour, the Liberal Democrats, the Green Party and many Independents are implacably opposed to fracking anyway, and would ban the practice if they had half a chance.

Is this permitted development rule now enshrined in the laws of the land? 

No, not yet. The Government launched a public consultation on Permitted Development on the final afternoon of Parliament before the summer recess (a cynic would suggest this was to avoid comment or criticism ). We will be posting guidelines on how to respond to this before the October 25th deadline soon but in the meantime, please see the Let Communities Decide website for how to get involved in the campaign against permitted development. You can also read this summary of all the reasons this is a bad idea on this Friends of the Earth briefing.

And if you are moved to write to your MP and councillors to raise your concerns about this, please see our guidelines on our Campaign Page by clicking here.

But this permitted development would just be for exploratory drilling, right? If a company then wanted to establish a multi-well fracking site for commercial production, they’d still need to apply for planning permission, wouldn’t they?

Currently, that is true. However, it would be a very brave council that would refuse permission for production if commercially viable quantities of gas were found during the exploratory phase, particularly as by then the well pad would already be in place. And even if they did, their decision would most likely get overturned on appeal by the Secretary of State anyway. But just in case, the government have a plan for that too. It’s called NSIP.

Hmm, acronyms are never good. What does NSIP stand for?

Nationally Significant Infrastructure Project. The Written Ministerial Statement also proposes that full scale industrial fracking becomes an NSIP, which would mean that even full-scale commercial production would not need local planning permission, as it would all be decided and imposed by the Secretary of State and the government-appointed Planning Inspectorate. And yes, there is also consultation on NSIP in the summer.

It sounds to me like the government realise that they have completely lost the argument over fracking, and have decided that they are just going to force it on people anyway.

I couldn’t have put it better myself. But all is not lost. This is causing a huge controversy and this is not in place yet. Many groups up and down the land are fighting this and opposition to these outrageous and undemocratic plans are growing every day.

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So, what can I do to stop this happening?

The government have launched two consultations, one on Permitted Development and one on NSIP. The deadline for both is 11.45 p.m. on October 25th. You can read more about these consultations in this Drill or Drop post.

One of the most important things you can do is contact your MP and local councillors asking them to oppose the government’s plans to fast-track fracking and bypass local democracy. There is already a great deal of opposition to these proposals across all parties, with a recent survey showing that 80% of Conservative councillors oppose their own party’s Permitted Development plans.

And please visit the Let Communities Decide website for information on the campaign against Permitted Development, for updates on how to help and downloadable materials to help you campaign. You can also sign up for updates from Let Communities Decide by clicking here.

How do I find out who my MP and councillors are?

YOUR MP – To find out your MP’s name and contact details, please click here. You can also Google him/her to find out their local constituency office, which is useful if you want to go and meet your MP [click here to find advice on this at the Frack Free Ryedale website].

COUNCILLORS – To find out who your local councillors are, please visit the website of your local county council. It should be fairly easy to find the name(s) and contact details of your councillor(s). You can contact your Town Councillors and/or Parish Councillors too.

Here, is a template letter produced as part of the #FrackturedCommunities campaign that is run by the Campaign to Protect Rural England, (CPRE).

Click here to read the full page at the Frack Free Ryedale website.

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Some responses from environmental groups

Daniel Carey-Dawes, senior infrastructure campaigner at the Campaign to Protect Rural England, said:

“It’s as if the government doesn’t realise the scale of the opposition. If they press ahead with these proposals, the protests, outrage and anger from local people across the country will undoubtedly intensify.

“These proposals would be a complete perversion of the planning system and trample over the rights of local communities – all to fast-track an industry bringing environmental risks that would massively outweigh any suggested ‘benefit’ to our energy security.”

Rose Dickinson, Friends of the Earth campaigner said:

“Fracking companies cannot be allowed to drill at will; without the need to apply for planning permission and precious little involvement from the local community.

“It’s absurd that planning rules originally designed for minor home improvements, like putting up a garden shed, could now be used for major drilling infrastructure.

“Our countryside and our climate are at serious risk if the government pushes ahead with these plans. We need to be moving away from fossil fuels, not make it easier for companies to dig up more.”

The campaign group, Frack Free United, said:

“This consultation is probably the most important issue for the anti-fracking movement this summer.

It represents a clear and present danger to the UK’ ability to meet its climate change targets. It drives a coach and horses through local democracy for the sake of fossil fuels.”

Sebastian Kelly, 350.org UK Fracking Outreach Organiser, said:

“The government’s proposal to allow free rein to fracking in the British countryside flies in the face of local democracy and threatens to slash community involvement in decision-making. The fact that the supposedly “public” consultation is being opened without informing those who need to be consulted is in blatant disregard of citizens’ right to be heard.”

Barbara Richardson, member of Roseacre Awareness Group, said:

“The government and industry have already lost the argument on fracking. It’s unpopular, risky, and increasingly financially unviable. Fracking has already been stopped in Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland, and council after council have stood against development in their areas. These planning proposals are a desperate last ditch attempt to kickstart the industry in the UK – and it’s communities like mine who will pay the price.”

All quotes reposted from Drill or Drop article entitled “Government seeks views on proposals to bypass local council control of shale gas schemes” written by Ruth Hayhurst, published on July 19th.

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Filed under Britain, campaigns & events, fracking (shale & coal seam gas)

Peter Hitchens calls for immediate action to stop the rush to war

I would not ordinarily repost extended passages from articles in the Daily Mail without further comment, but we have entered an exceptional time in history and I believe it is vital that Peter Hitchen’s message (published yesterday) is heard widely so that enough of us will be encouraged to follow his advice. Everything below is taken from Hitchen’s original article which is also linked at the end.

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Please write to your MP now without delay — War, terrible war, may be on the way again.

WMD All Over Again: Our Government moves stealthily towards a new war of choice.

IS war coming? This is the traditional season of the year for plunges into war by British governments which mislead themselves and the country about the extent and nature of what is proposed. […]

This week, the Middle East is in a state of grave and dangerous tension. The huge Sunni Muslim oil power, Saudi Arabia, armed and/or backed diplomatically by Britain, France and the USA, is ever more hostile to Shia Muslim Iran, another oil power not as great but still as important, which is close and growing closer to Russia and China.

Bear in Mind as you consider this that Russia is also a European power, and engaged in a conflict with the EU and NATO in formerly non-aligned Ukraine, after the EU’s aggressive attempt to bring Ukraine into the Western orbit and NATO’s incessant eastward expansion into formerly neutral territory. There are several points at which Western troops are now remarkably close to Russian borders, for instance they are about 80 miles from St Petersburg (the distance from London to Coventry), and the US Navy is building a new Black Sea base at Ochakov, 308 miles from the Russian naval station at Sevastopol. Just as the First World War (at root a conflict between Russia and Germany) spread like a great red stain over much of Europe and the Middle East , an Iran-Saudi war could easily spread into Europe itself.

The two powers, Saudi Arabia and Iran, are not yet in direct combat with each other, but fight through proxies in Yemen and Syria. It would not take much for this to become a direct war, at least as destructive in the region as the Iran Iraq war of 1980-1988, during which the ‘West’ tended to side with Iraq’s leader Saddam Hussein, who had started the war and incidentally used chemical weapons at Halabja in 1988, against the Kurds. The attitude of the British Foreign Office towards this atrocity was interesting: They flatly declined to get outraged, saying: ‘We believe it better to maintain a dialogue with others if we want to influence their actions.

‘Punitive measures such as unilateral sanctions would not be effective in changing Iraq’s behaviour over chemical weapons, and would damage British interests to no avail.’

The Foreign Office knows very well that its job is to defend British interests abroad, at more or less any cost. These days it seems to have concluded that British interests involve almost total subjection to the wishes of Saudi Arabia. So their current stance of supposed total horror on the subject of Chemical Weapons, especially when (as was not the case in Halabja) their use has not been established beyond doubt, may be less than wholly genuine. You’d have to ask them, but in any case I ask you to bear this half-forgotten episode in mind as you read this exchange from the House of Commons Hansard for Monday 10th September, an exchange barely reported in the media. It resulted from an urgent question asked by Stephen Doughty MP, and answered without any apparent reluctance by Alistair Burt, who I learn to my surprise is officially entitled the ‘Minister for the Middle East’. Does the Iranian Foreign Ministry have a Minister for North-West Europe, I wonder? The whole passage can be read here : https://hansard.parliament.uk/Commons/2018-09-10/debates/CF970CA2-402E-4CAC-96B4-F480CC33FC7B/Idlib

But I am especially interested in this exchange, Mr Burt’s response to a clever question from the Shadow Foreign Secretary, Emily Thornberry. I have had rude things to say about and to Ms Thornberry, but in this case she is doing her job properly and should be applauded for it. The emphases are mine:

‘Emily Thornberry (Islington South and Finsbury) (Lab)

I thank you, Mr Speaker, for granting this urgent question, and I congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Cardiff South and Penarth on securing it. I can only echo what he said about the terrible bloodshed and humanitarian crisis that is looming in Idlib, the urgency for all sides to work to find some form of peaceful political solution to avert it, and the importance of holding those responsible for war crimes to account.

I want to press the Government specifically on how they intend to respond if there are any reports over the coming weeks, accompanied by horrifying, Douma-style images, suggesting a use of chemical weapons, particularly ​because of how the Government responded after Douma without seeking the approval of the House and without waiting for independent verification of those reports from the OPCW. If that scenario does arise, it may do so over the next month when the House is in recess.

We know from Bob Woodward’s book that what President Trump wants to do in the event of a further reported chemical attack is to commit to a strategy of regime change in Syria—and, indeed, that he had to be prevented from doing so after Douma. That would be a gravely serious step for the UK to take part in, with vast and very dangerous implications not just for the future of Syria, but for wider geopolitical stability.

In the light of that, I hope that the Minister will give us two assurances today. First, will he assure us that if there are any reports of chemical weapons attacks, particularly in areas of Idlib controlled by HTS [Hay’at Tahrir al-Sham], the Government will not take part in any military action in response until the OPCW has visited those sites, under the protection of the Turkish Government, independently verified those reports and attributed responsibility for any chemical weapons used? Relying on so-called open source intelligence provided by proscribed terrorist groups is not an acceptable alternative. Secondly, if the Government intend to take such action, thus escalating Britain’s military involvement in Syria and risking clashes with Russian and Iranian forces, will the Minister of State guarantee the House that we will be given a vote to approve such action before it takes place, even if that means recalling Parliament?

Alistair Burt : The co-ordinated action that was taken earlier this year with the United States and France was not about intervening in a civil war or regime change; it was a discrete action to degrade chemical weapons and deter their use by the Syrian regime in order to alleviate humanitarian suffering. Our position on the Assad regime’s use of chemical weapons is unchanged. As we have demonstrated, we will respond appropriately to any further use by the Syrian regime of chemical weapons, which have had such devastating humanitarian consequences for the Syrian population. The right hon. Lady may recall that there are circumstances, depending on the nature of any attack, in which the United Kingdom Government need to move swiftly and to keep in mind, as their utmost priority, the safety of those personnel involved in a mission. I am not prepared to say at this stage what the United Kingdom’s detailed reaction might be or to give any timescale, because the importance of responding appropriately, quickly and with the safety of personnel in mind will be uppermost in the mind of the United Kingdom.’

In other words, we’re not asking Parliament, if we can help it. When I heard this on the BBC’s ‘Today in Parliament’ late last night I felt a shiver go down my spine. The White House National Security adviser, the bellicose John Bolton, yesterday presumed (which is not proven, see multiple postings here on the work of the OPCW investigations into these events) that the Assad state had used chemical weapons twice, as he said ‘if there’s a third use of chemical weapons, the response will be much stronger’. He said the USA had been in consultation with Britain and France and they had agreed this. The House of Commons goes into recess *tomorrow* 13th September, for the party conference season, and does not come back until Tuesday 9th October. Ms Thornberry is quite right to speculate that the conflict in Idlib, where Russia and the Assad state are in much the same position as the ‘West’ and the Iraqi state were in Mosul and Raqqa not long ago (i.e confronted with concentrations of a largely beaten Jihadi enemy, who might recover if not finally defeated), could explode during that period. […]

Emily Thornberry, far too rarely among MPs, is aware of the true position. In her question to Mr Burt, she said ‘The Government responded after Douma without seeking the approval of the House and without waiting for independent verification of those reports from the OPCW’.

See:

http://hitchensblog.mailonsunday.co.uk/2018/07/initial-thoughts-on-the-opcw-interim-investigation-into-the-alleged-gas-attack-in-douma-syria.html

If she and other wise and cautious MPs are to be able to pursue this, and to prevent British involvement in a very dangerous and perhaps limitless war, we as citizens are obliged to act now, swiftly, before Parliament goes away on holiday.

I ask you to write, swiftly and politely, to your MP, of any reputation or party, to say that you do not favour a rush to war, to say that the guilt of Syria has not been proved in the past (see:

http://hitchensblog.mailonsunday.co.uk/2018/04/waiting-for-the-opcw-how-to-read-the-next-report-on-alleged-chemical-weapons-atrocities.html

and that a rush to judgement on such issues is almost invariably unwise. See for example the lies told to Parliament about Suez, the use of the Gulf of Tonkin to obtain political support for the USA’s Vietnam disaster, the non-existent ‘Weapons of Mass Destruction’ which began the Iraq catastrophe and the claims of non-existent massacres and mass rapes used to rush this country into its ill-judged and cataclysmic attack on Libya. Ask only for careful consideration, for an insistence that no military action is taken by this country without Parliament’s permission after a full and calm debate. 

it is all we can do.

There are many straws in the wind which suggest that we are being prepared for war. War is hell. At the very least, a decision which could have such far-reaching consequences, which could reach into every life and home, and embroil us for years, should be considered properly. The very fact that our government appears not to want us to consider it properly makes it all the more urgent that we insist on it.

Click here to read Hitchen’s article in full at the Mail Online.

Please note that all bold and coloured font highlights are retained from the original. I have also corrected typos.

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Additional:

The following upload by “The Last American Vagabond” from Saturday 8th provides indepth analysis and a broad overview of the latest developments in the Middle East and Idlib in particular (links to all articles are provided beneath the video on youtube):

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Update:

Peter Ford, former British Ambassador to Syria:

You will be seeing lurid accounts in the Western media of the latest  report to the UN Human Rights Council from the Independent Commission of Inquiry on Syria. This was issued on 12 September.

In particular it is being stated that the report vindicates claims that weaponised chlorine was used in Douma. This is not what the report (text below) actually says.

If you read the actual report – you have to reach section 92 so obviously few hacks will do that – you will see that it is carefully worded.

The inspectors, who unlike OPCW did not actually visit the site, ‘received a vast body of evidence suggesting that..’ (of course they did, from the jihadis and from hostile intelligence services); ‘they received information on [deaths and injuries] (which is not the same as seeing bodies or examining victims); they ‘recall that weaponisation of chlorine is prohibited’ (but do not actually say that Syrian forces used it in Douma). 

Besides the text of the relevant part of the report I have added the paragraph on Raqqa and the ‘indiscriminate attacks and serious violations of international law’ by the coalition of which the UK is part, including the bombing of a school and killing of 40 people.

You will note also the acknowlegement that ISIS exploited hospitals in Raqqa (as other jihadi groups have done in every part of Syria). Naturally the media and our government will not want to discuss that paragraph of the report.

Click here to read the same statement – including relevant excerpts from the text of the Independent Commission of Inquiry on Syria report – posted on Eva Bartlett’s In Gaza website

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Further update:

The following is my own letter emailed to Paul Blomfield, Labour MP for Sheffield Central (Thursday 13th). Please feel free use it as a template.

Dear Paul,

The government looks set to get involved in a dangerous escalation in the war in Syria, possibly using the forthcoming parliamentary recess as an excuse for going to war without a vote in the Commons. So I am writing in regards to a recent statement made in the House of Commons by Emily Thornberry on Monday 10th, in which she asked how the government intends to respond “if there are any reports over the coming weeks, accompanied by horrifying, Douma-style images”, and she called on the government, “not take part in any military action in response until the OPCW has visited those sites, under the protection of the Turkish Government, independently verified those reports and attributed responsibility for any chemical weapons used?”

Thornberry continued: “Relying on so-called open source intelligence provided by proscribed terrorist groups is not an acceptable alternative.”

She also asked “if the Government intend[s] to take such action, thus escalating Britain’s military involvement in Syria and risking clashes with Russian and Iranian forces, will the Minister of State guarantee the House that we will be given a vote to approve such action before it takes place, even if that means recalling Parliament?”

The whole passage can be read here : https://hansard.parliament.uk/Commons/2018-09-10/debates/CF970CA2-402E-4CAC-96B4-F480CC33FC7B/Idlib

I ask if you will stand in full support of Emily Thornberry’s call for careful consideration and her insistence that no military action is taken by this country without Parliament’s permission following a full and calm debate.

Kind regards,

James Boswell

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Filed under analysis & opinion, Britain, campaigns & events, Syria

roll up the red carpet!

The following article is Chapter Five of a book entitled Finishing The Rat Race which I am posting chapter by chapter throughout this year and beyond. Since blog posts are stacked in a reverse time sequence (always with the latest at the top), I have decided that the best approach is to post the chapters in reverse order.

All previously uploaded chapters are available (in sequence) by following the link above or from category link in the main menu, where you will also find a brief introductory article about the book itself and why I started writing it.

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“All animals are equal
but some animals are more equal than others

— George Orwell 1

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I discovered recently and by happy accident that the author, Michael Young, who invented the term ‘meritocracy’, detested his own creation. Here’s how Young outlined his position in a Guardian article “Down with meritocracy”, published in 2001:

I have been sadly disappointed by my 1958 book, The Rise of the Meritocracy. I coined a word which has gone into general circulation, especially in the United States, and most recently found a prominent place in the speeches of Mr Blair.

The book was a satire meant to be a warning (which needless to say has not been heeded) against what might happen to Britain between 1958 and the imagined final revolt against the meritocracy in 2033.2

But I shall save further thoughts of Michael Young until later, and begin here by considering what lies in the shadows of a meritocracy. After all, and at first glance, what on earth can be wrong with the purposeful restructuring of society in ways that prioritise ‘merit’ above all else? Isn’t this the epitome of a fair system?

As with examining most ideas, it is helpful first to step back a little to gain perspective. In this case, it is important to get a fuller grasp of what ‘merit’ means when buried within the heart of ‘meritocracy’. What does ‘merit’, in this narrow political sense, finally equate to?

Throughout the last two hundred and more years, including under progressive administrations such as Clement Attlee’s reforming government in Britain and FDR’s earlier New Deal for America, the political systems in the West have remained very solidly rooted in capitalism, and being so, they have remained inherently utilitarian in design. It follows that ‘merit’ (in our narrow definitional sense) must be gauged on the scales of those extant utilitarian-capitalist conventions: that ‘merit’ therefore becomes an adjunct of ‘utility’ or, in other words, ‘usefulness’.

Advocates of capitalism like to evoke the invisible hand of the market, which they say enhances productivity and safeguards against wanton overproduction, thereby ensuring society’s needs are met. Thanks to the market that which is wasteful falls away, and in consequence profits and earnings will flow to the most efficient producers. So it follows that within a meritocracy governed strictly by market forces, with the invisible hand steering our efforts unerringly toward ‘usefulness’, estimations of ‘merit’ ought to be fairly directly measureable in terms of salaries and wealth. Maximum profits and earnings tending to go to those who serve the most useful function and are, by dint of this, the most ‘merited’. The losers are those who merit little since they provide little to nothing of use, and, conversely, the winners contribute most gainfully in every sense…

There is already a suffocating tightness in this loop; a circularity that brings me to consider the first serious objection against meritocracy, if only the most trivial and conspicuous. For judged solely by its own terms just how meritocratic is our celebrated meritocracy? Hmmm – need I go on? Very well then, I shall offer this brisk reductio ad absurdum:

Let’s start where the debate ordinarily ends, with the topic of professional footballers… To most people, the excessive salaries paid to footballers stands out as an egregious example of unfairness. I share the same view, but wonder why we stop at footballers. They are not alone; not by a long chalk.

Indeed, given that our utilitarian-capitalist meritocracy does in fact function as it is presumed to function, then it follows that most top sportsmen (to a lesser extent, sportswomen too), including footballers, but also tennis players, golfers, F1 drivers, cyclists, athletes, etc – sports of low popularity by comparison – as well as pop idols, TV celebrities and film stars (not forgetting agents and the retinue of hangers-on) are, by virtue of their fabulous incomes, not merely most deserving of such high rewards, but also, by direct extension, some of the most ‘productive’ amongst us. Would any deign to defend this high visibility flaw in our socio-economic system? Truth is that many on this ever-expanding list are rewarded for just one thing: fame – thanks to another self-perpetuating cycle in which fame makes you wealthy, and then wealth makes you more famous again.

Nor does such rightful utilitarian calculus reliably account for the gargantuan salaries and bonuses (and who else gets bonuses in excess of their salaries!) of so many bankers, hedge fund managers and other financiers who callously wrecked our western economies. With annual remuneration that outstrips most ordinary worker’s lifetime earnings, the staggering rewards heaped upon those working in The City and Wall Street have little relationship to levels of productivity and usefulness, but worse, remuneration is evidently disconnected from levels of basic competence. Instead we find that greedy ineptitude is routinely and richly rewarded, if only for the ‘made men’ already at the top and lucky enough to be “too big to fail”. In light of the crash of 2008, any further talk of “the classless society” ought to have us all running for the exits!

Then we come to the other end of our meritocratic muck-heap. And here amongst the human debris we find contradictions of an arguably more absurd kind. I am referring to those disgustingly unworthy winners of our many lotteries – you know the types: petty criminals, knuckle-draggers and wastrels (the tone here is strictly in keeping with tabloid outrage on which it is based) who blow all their winnings on a binge of brash consumerism and a garage full of intoxicants. Conspicuous consumption of the most vulgar kinds! How dare they squander such hard, unearned dosh on having fun! But wait a minute… surely the whole point of running a lottery is that anyone can win. Have we forgotten the advertisement already? So if we are really serious about our meritocracy then perhaps we should to be stricter: no lotteries at all! Yet a cursory consideration of this point presents us with far bigger hurdles by far. For if we are truly committed to the project of constructing a meritocracy (and we must decide precisely what this means), it is vital to acknowledge the fact that life is inherently beset with lotteries. Indeed when roundly considered, this represents an existential dilemma that potentially undermines the entire project.

For life begins with what might best be described as our lottery of inheritance. Where you are born and to whom, the postal code you reside in, the schools you attended, your religious (or not) upbringing, whether you happen to carry one or two x-chromosomes, and the colour of your skin… the whole nine yards. Your entire existence happened by extraordinary chance and each and every aspect of it owes an unfathomable debt to further blind chance.

Therefore, in our most puritanical understanding of meritocracy, lotteries relating to the guessing of random numbers will be abolished altogether, in order to set a precedent, although still these other lotteries, life’s lotteries, remain inescapable. Which is devastating blow to the very concept of fully-fledged meritocracy, since whatever meritocracy we might choose to build will always remain a compromise of one kind or another.

In point of fact, however, we have been moving instead in the completely opposite direction. There has been a tremendous and rapid growth in lotteries of all shapes and sizes: from the casino economy working to the advantage of financial speculators at the top; to the rise of online casinos and the latest betting apps, mathematically honed to suck money from the pockets of the desperate and sometimes destitute pipedreamers at the bottom. Further indications of how far our society truly diverges from even the most rudimentary notions of meritocracy.

So there is plenty of scope for devising a better version of meritocracy; one that isn’t so riddled with blatant inconsistencies and arbitrary rewards. A more refined meritocracy operating according to common sense fairness and consistency, with built-in checks and balances to ensure the winners are more consistently worthy than the losers. A more level playing field bringing us closer to the ideal – for surely a better devised version of meritocracy is the fairest system we can ever hope to live under. In fact, I beg to differ, but before entering further objections to the sham ideal of meritocracy, I wish first to celebrate the different areas in which greater equality has indeed been achieved and ones where it is still dangerously lacking.

During the Q&A session following a lecture entitled “Capitalist Democracy and its Prospect’s” that he delivered in Boston on September 30th, 2014, Noam Chomsky speaks to why the notion of a capitalist democracy is oxymoronic. He also discusses the widespread misinterpretation of Adam Smith’s economic thinking, especially amongst libertarians, and specifically regarding the misuse of his terms ‘invisible hand’ and ‘division of labour’.

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There is no denying that at the start of the twenty-first century our own society has, and in a number of related ways, been made fairer and more equal than it was just thirty years ago when I was a school-leaver. Most apparent is the sweeping change in attitudes towards race and gender. Casual racism wasn’t merely permissible in seventies and early eighties Britain, but an everyday part of the mainstream culture. The sporadic Black or Asian characters on TV were neatly allotted into their long-established stereotypes, and comedians like bilious standup Bernard Manning had free rein to defile the airwaves with their popular brands of inflammatory bigotry. Huge strides have been taken since then, and social attitudes are unalterably changed for the better. Today the issue of diversity is central to political debate, and social exclusion on the grounds of race and gender is outlawed.

In the prophetic words of abolitionist preacher Theodore Parker, “the arc of the moral universe is long but it bends toward justice”; words famously borrowed by Martin Luther King in a celebrated sermon he delivered in the year of 1965.3 It was a momentous year: one that marked the official end to racial segregation in the Southern United States with the repeal of the horrendous Jim Crow laws, and the same year when Harold Wilson’s Labour government passed the Race Relations Act prohibiting discrimination in Britain on “grounds of colour, race, or ethnic and national origins”.

On August 28th (last Tuesday) ‘Democracy Now’ interviewed co-founder and chair of the Black Panther Party, Bobby Seale, who was arrested and indicted after speaking outside the 1968 Democratic National Convention in Chicago. He describes how during his trial Judge Julius Hoffman ordered him to be gagged and bound to his chair [from 9:15 mins]:

Did Bobby Seale’s treatment provide inspiration for Woody Allen’s madcap courtroom scene in ‘Bananas’? [from 5:00 mins]:

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As Parker and King understood well, of course, the arc of the moral universe does not bend of its own accord but requires tremendous pressure from below. And so it was, again in 1965, after shockwaves sent by Wilson’s government through former colony Rhodesia, that in efforts to avoid the end of its apartheid system, the white minority government under then-Prime Minister Ian Smith, declared independence, and an armed struggle for black liberation ensued. It was a bloody struggle that would grind on throughout the 70s, but one that ended in triumph. Meanwhile, apartheid in neighbouring South Africa outlasted Rhodesia for a further decade and a half before it too was dismantled in 1994 and the rainbow flag could be hoisted.

In solidarity with Nelson Mandela and leading the armed struggle had been Joe Slovo, a commander of the ANC’s military wing Umkhonto we Sizwe (MK) who fought alongside deputy Ronnie Kasrils; both the sons of émigré Jews. Also prominent within the anti-apartheid resistance were other Jewish figures including Denis Goldberg, Albie Sachs, and Ruth First – an activist, scholar and wife of Joe Slovo, she was murdered by a parcel bomb sent to her in Mozambique. Ironically, today Israel stands alone as the last remaining state that legally enforces racial segregation, but even the concrete walls and barbed wire dividing the West Bank and Gaza cannot hold forever.

This video footage was uploaded as recently as Wednesday 29th. It shows a young Palestinian girl living under Israeli control in Hebron having to climb a closed security gate just to get home:

The fence had been extended in 2012 and fitted with a single gate to provide entrance to the Gheith and a-Salaimeh neighborhoods in Hebron. The footage below was recorded by B’Tselem in May 2018 and shows other students unable to return from school and their mothers beseeching the Border Police officers to open it. The officers say in response that the gate is closed as “punishment” for stone throwing; a collective punishment that is prohibited under international law:

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Likewise, homosexuality, which until astonishingly recent times remained a virtually unspoken taboo, was decriminalised as comparatively recently as 1967 – the year of my birth and coincidentally the same year aboriginal Australians received full citizenship and the right to vote.

Before the Sexual Offences Act came into force, gay men faced prosecution and a prison sentence (lesbians slipped through the legal loophole due to technicalities surrounding the delicate issue of penetration), whereas today they enjoy the equal right to marriage, which cynics will doubtless say entitles them to an alternative form of imprisonment, but hurrah for that… since irrespective of one’s views on the institution of marriage, equality under law is indicative of genuine social progress. The same goes for the transformation of attitudes and legal framework in countering discrimination on grounds of gender, disability and age. Discrimination based on all these prejudices is plain wrong, and liberation on all fronts, an unimpeachable good.

In these ways, our own society – like others across the globe – has become more inclusive, and, if we choose to describe it as such, more meritocratic. Yet many are still left out in the cold. Which people? Sadly, but in truth, all of the old prejudices linger on – maybe they always will – but prime amongst them is the malignant spectre of racism.

For overall, as we have become more conscious and less consenting of racism than in the past, the racists, in consequence, have adapted to fit back in. More furtive than old-style racism, which wore its spiteful intolerance so brashly on its sleeve, many in the fresh crop of bigots have learned to feign better manners. The foaming rhetoric of racial supremacy is greatly moderated, and there is more care taken to legitimise the targeting of the chosen pariahs. Where it used to be said how “the Coloureds” and “the Pakis” (and other labels very much more obscene again) were innately ‘stupid’, ‘lazy’, ‘doped-up’ and ‘dirty’ (the traditional rationalisations for racial hatred), the stated concern today is in difference per se. As former BNP leader Nick Griffin once put it:

[I]nstead of talking about racial purity, you talk about identity, and about the needs and the rights and the duty to preserve and enhance the identity of our own people.4

And note how identity politics here plays to the right wing just as does to the left, better in fact, because it is a form of essentialism. In effect, Griffin is saying ‘white lives matter’, when of course what he really means is ‘white lives are superior’. But talk of race is mostly old hat to the new racists in any case, who prefer to attack ‘culture’ over ‘colour’.

In multicultural Britain, it is the Muslim minority, and especially Muslim women, who receive the brunt of the racial taunts, the physical abuse, and who have become the most preyed upon as victims of hate crimes, while the current hypocrisy lays blame at their door for failing to adopt western values and mix in; a scapegoating that alarmingly recalls the Nazi denigration and demonisation of the Jews. It follows, of course, that it is not the racists who are intolerant but the oppressed minority who are or who look like Muslims. By this sleight of hand, Islamophobia (a very clumsy word for a vile creed) festers as the last manifestation of semi-respectable racism.

When it was released in 1974, “Blazing Saddles” shocked audiences. It is no less shocking today, but the difference today is that no-one could make it. No contemporary film in which every third word is a vile racist expletive would pass the censors. Yet as it plunges us headlong into a frenetic whirlwind of bigotry, and as all commonsense rationality is suspended, nothing remains besides the hilarious absurdity of racial prejudice. Dumb, crude, and daring: it is comedy of rare and under-appreciated genius. As Gene Wilder puts it “They’ve smashed racism in the face and the nose is bleeding, but they’re doing it while you laugh” [6:15 mins]. Embedded below is a BTS documentary tribute entitled “Back in the Saddle” [Viewer discretion advised]:

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“It is only shallow people who do not judge by appearances,” quipped Oscar Wilde.5 And though the accusation at the heart of his bon mot may be contested, that most people certainly do judge by appearances really cannot be. Briefly then, I wish to consider a few of the most overlooked but widespread social prejudices, which though seldom so vicious and of less clear historical significance than other such virulent strains as sexism and racism, are long-standing and ingrained prejudices nonetheless. These tend to be prejudices against certain types of individual, rather than against interconnected “communities”. Prejudices so commonplace that some readers will doubtless see my digression as trivial, or even laughable, and yet there is good reason to delve into the matter as it opens up a bigger question, and, once expanded upon, more fundamentally challenges our whole notion of meritocracy. So here goes… (I am braced for the many titters and guffaws and encourage you to laugh along!)

Firstly, there is a permitted prejudice on the one hand against short blokes (trust me, I am one), and on the other against fat ladies. Short men and fat women being considered fair game for ridicule literally on the grounds that we don’t shape up. Which would be fine – believe me, I can take a joke – except that in playing down the deep-seated nature of such prejudice, as society generally does, there are all sorts of insidious consequences. For it means, to offer a hopefully persuasive example, that whenever satirists (and I use the term loosely, since genuine satire is rather thin on the ground) lampoon Nicolas Sarkozy, rather than holding him to account for his reactionary politics and unsavoury character, they go for the cheaper shot of quite literally belittling him (and yes, prejudice in favour of tallness saturates our language too). Worse still, Sarkozy had the gall to marry a taller and rather glamorous woman, which apparently makes him a still better target for wisecracks about being a short-arse (it’s okay, I’m reclaiming the word). As a result, Sarkozy is most consistently disparaged only for what he couldn’t and needn’t have altered, instead of what he could and should have. No doubt he takes it all on the chin… presuming anyone can actually reach down that far! Yes, it’s perfectly fine to laugh, just so long as we don’t all continue pretending that there is no actual prejudice operating.

Moreover, it is healthy for us to at least admit that there is a broader prejudice operating against all people regarded in one way or another as physically less attractive. Being fat, short, bald or just plain ugly are – in the strictest sense – all handicaps, which, and though far from insurmountable, represent a hindrance to achieving success. Even the ginger-haired enjoy a less than even break, as Neil Kinnock (who was unfortunate enough to be a Welshman too) discovered shortly after he was elected leader of the Labour Party.

Indeed, most of us will have been pigeon-holed one way or another, and though we may sincerely believe that we don’t qualify to be categorised too negatively, our enemies will assuredly degrade us for reasons beyond our ken. But then, could we ever conceive of, for instance, the rise of something akin to let’s say an “ugly pride” movement? Obviously it would be comprised solely of those self-aware and unblinkingly honest enough to see themselves as others actually see them. This envisaged pressure group would comprise an exceptionally brave and uncommon lot.

Then what of the arguably more delicate issues surrounding social class? Indeed, we might reasonably ask ourselves why is there such an animal as social class in the first place? And the quick answer is that people are inherently hierarchical. That “I look up to him because he is upper class, but I look down on him because he is lower class”, to quote again the famous skit from The Frost Report. But now pay proper attention to the vocabulary and its direct correspondence with the physical stature of the three comedians.6

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Class and stature side-by-side, just as they are in the dictionary – and as they have been throughout recent history thanks to dietary deficiencies. Here is a visual gag with etymological parallels: the word ‘stature’ itself a double entendre. But, and unlike physical stature, class is already inextricably tied into levels of wealth and success, and virtually impossible to escape in any society – the Soviet system and Mao’s China were arguably more deeply class-riven than our own purportedly “classless” societies.

Incidentally, I in no way advocate the drafting of future legislation to close the gap on these alternative forms of everyday discrimination: demanding social justice for all those with unpopular body shapes, or who speak with the wrong accent, or stutter, or who have chosen to grow patches of hair in the wrong places, or whatever it is (beards became fashionable after I wrote this!). That would instantly make our lives intolerable in another way: it would be (as the Daily Mail loves to point out) “political correctness gone mad!” After all, prejudice and discrimination come in infinite guises, so where could we finally draw the line?

All of which brings me to our last great tolerated prejudice, and one that is seldom if ever acknowledged as a prejudice in the first place. It is our own society’s – and every other society’s for that matter – very freely held discrimination on the grounds of stupidity. And no, this is not meant as a joke. But that it sounds like a joke makes any serious discussion about it inherently tricky.

Because the dim (and I have decided to moderate my language to avoid sounding unduly provocative, which is not easy – I’ll come to other tags I might have chosen in a moment) cannot very easily stand up for themselves, even if they decide to try. Those willing to concede that their lives are held back by a deficit in braininess (sorry, but the lack of more appropriate words is unusually hampering) will very probably fail to grasp much, if anything at all, of the bigger picture, or be able to articulate any of the frustrations they may feel as daily they confront a prejudice so deeply entrenched that it passes mostly unseen. Well, it’s fun to pick on the idiots, blockheads, boneheads, thickos, cretins, dimwits, dunderheads, dunces, knuckleheads, dumbbells, imbeciles, morons, jerks, and simpletons of the world isn’t it? It is the cheaper half of every comedy sketch, and in all likelihood will remain so; with much of the rest that brings us merriment being the schadenfreude of witnessing the self-same idiots cocking up over and over again. And finally, is there really a nicer word that usefully replaces all the pejoratives above? Our casual prejudice against the dim has been indelibly written into our dictionaries.

On May 13th, 1999, comedian George Carlin was invited to deliver a speech to the National Press Club at Washington D.C. He used the occasion to poke fun at the tortuous abuse of language by politicians as well as the growing tyranny of an invented “soft language”, which includes what he describes as ‘the tedious liberal labeling’ of minorities. His speech is followed by an entertaining Q&A session:

Here’s a little more from Carlin dishing the dirt on political correctness:

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Now if I’d been writing say a hundred years ago (or even more recently) the available vocabulary would have been a little different. For it was permissible during the first half of the last century to speak and write about the problem of ‘feeble-mindedness’ – a term that implies an innate (and thus inherited) ‘disability’. Moreover, as part of a quasi-scientific conversation, social reformers including intellectuals and political thinkers got into the habit of discussing how this affliction (as it was then regarded) might best be eradicated.

Those on the political left were no less shameful in this regard than those on the right, with radical thinkers like H.G. Wells 7 and George Bernard Shaw, chipping in alongside the youthful Winston Churchill8; all scratching their high brows to think up ways of preventing the spread of such evidently bad stock from ruining good society – ‘the feeble-minded’, for reasons never dwelt on by the pioneering eugenicists, not the least bit incapable of passing on their enfeebled genes.

Thanks again to genuine social progress it is unacceptable to speak (openly) about the elimination of the underclasses in our societies today, or to openly speculate on means of halting their uncontrolled and unwanted proliferation (though I write very much in terms that Wells, Shaw and Churchill would have understood). But eugenics, we should constantly remind ourselves, was a great deal more fashionable not so very long ago – even after the concentration camps and worryingly under alternative names it finds advocates still today (for instance, the Silicon Valley techies gather nowadays for conferences on transhumanism, the artificial ‘enhancement’ of humanity, which is one way in which eugenics has reemerged9).

Today’s progressives (and keep in mind that Wells and Shaw both regarded themselves as progressives of their own times) prefer to adopt a more humanitarian position. Rather than eliminating ‘feeble-mindedness’, the concern is to assist ‘the disadvantaged’. A shift in social attitude that is commendable, but it brings new hazards in its stead. For implicit in the new phraseology is the hope that since disparities stem from disadvantage, all differences between healthy individuals might one day be overcome. That aside from those suffering from disability, everyone has an approximately equivalent capacity when it comes to absorbing knowledge and learning skills of one form or another, and that society alone, to the advantage of some and detriment of others, makes us smart or dim. But this is also false, and cruelly so – though not yet barbarously.

For differences in social class, family life, access to education, and so forth (those things we might choose to distinguish as environment or nurture) are indeed significant indicators of later intellectual prowess (especially when our benchmark is academic performance). So it makes for comfortable presupposition that regarding intelligence (an insanely complex matter to begin with) the inherent difference between individuals is slight, and upbringing is the key determinant, but where’s the proof? And if this isn’t the whole picture – as it very certainly isn’t – then what if, heaven forfend, some people really are (pro)created less cognitively proficient than others? Given that they did indeed receive equivalent support through life, it follows that failure is “their own fault”, is it not?

In any case, intelligence, like attractiveness, must be to some degree a relative trait. During any historical period, particular forms of mental gymnastics are celebrated when others are overlooked, and so instruments to measure intelligence will automatically be culturally biased (there is a norm and there are fashions) to tally with the socially accepted idea of intelligence which varies from place to place and from one era to the next. There can never be an acid test of intelligence in any pure and absolute sense.10

Furthermore, whatever mental abilities happen to confer the mark of intelligence at any given time or place, obviously cannot be equally shared by everyone. As with other human attributes and abilities, there is likely to be a bell curve. It follows, therefore, that whatever braininess is or isn’t (and doubtless it takes many forms), during every age and across all nations, some people will be treated as dimmer, or brighter, than their fellows. And notwithstanding that whatever constitutes intelligence is socially determined to some extent, and that estimates of intelligence involve us in a monumentally complex matter, it remains the case that an individual’s capacity for acquiring skills and knowledge must be in part innate. This admission is both exceedingly facile and exceedingly important, and it is one that brings us right to the crux of meritocracy’s most essential flaw.

For how can those who are thought dim be left in charge of important things? They can’t. Which means that it would be madness to give the dimmest people anything other than the least intellectually demanding jobs. The meritocratic logic then follows, of course, that being less capable (and thus relegated to performing only the most menial tasks) makes you less worthy of an equal share, and yet this cuts tangentially across the very principle of ‘fairness’ which meritocracy is supposed to enshrine. For wherein lies the fairness in the economic exclusion of the dim? To reiterate what I wrote above, our prejudice is so deeply ingrained that to many such exclusion will still appear justified. As if being dim is your own lookout.

For whether or not an individual’s perceived failure to match up to society’s current gauge of intelligence is primarily down to educational ‘disadvantage’ (in the completest sense) or for reasons of an altogether more congenital kind, we may justifiably pass over the comfortable view that equal opportunity (laudable as this is) can entirely save the day. Degrees of intellectual competence – whether this turns out to be more socially or biologically determined – will always be with us, unless that is, like Wells, Shaw and Churchill (together with a many other twentieth century social reformers including Theodore Roosevelt, Woodrow Wilson, Alexander Graham Bell, and the founder of Planned Parenthood, Margaret Sanger) we opt instead for the eugenic solution – and I trust we do not. But bear in mind that programmes of forced sterilisation kept running in regions of the western world long after WWII right up to the 1970s.11 Earlier calls to weed out the “feeble-minded” that never fully went away, but instead went underground.

On March 17th 2016, ‘Democracy Now!’ interviewed Adam Cohen, co-editor of TheNationalBookReview.com and author of “Imbeciles: The Supreme Court, American Eugenics, and the Sterilization of Carrie Buck”, who explained how:

After World War II, we put the leading Nazis on trial for some of the worst things that the Nazis did. One of those very bad things was they set up a eugenics program where they sterilized as many as 375,000 people. So we put them on trial for that. And lo and behold, as the movie [“Judgment at Nuremberg”] shows, their defense was: “How can you put us on trial for that? Your own U.S. Supreme Court said that sterilization was constitutional, was good. And it was your own Oliver Wendell Holmes, one of your most revered figures, who said that. So, why are we the bad guys in this story?” They had a point.

Click here to watch on the Democracy Now! website.

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Now for those further thoughts from the man we might describe as “the father of meritocracy” – even though he would certainly hate it! This is Michael Young speaking out against about his accidental bastard child and the decisive role it is has played in reshaping our societies:

I expected that the poor and the disadvantaged would be done down, and in fact they have been. If branded at school they are more vulnerable for later unemployment.

They can easily become demoralised by being looked down on so woundingly by people who have done well for themselves.

It is hard indeed in a society that makes so much of merit to be judged as having none. No underclass has ever been left as morally naked as that.12

This meritocracy we live in today, as Michael Young points out, is not just a distant remove from the fairest society imaginable, but in other ways – psychological ones especially – arguably crueller than any older, and less enlightened, -ocracies.

Embedded below is one of a series of lectures “Biology as Ideology” given by distinguished geneticist and evolutionary biologist Richard Lewontin in 1990. Lewontin here explaining how erroneous theories of biological determinism have been used to validate and support the dominant sociopolitical theories and vice versa. He also offers his subversive thoughts on meritocracy:

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Inevitably, ‘merit’ is equated with, and thus mistaken for, ‘success’, and this is true not only for our self-declared meritocracy, but universally. Think about it: if millions of people love to read your books, or to listen to your songs, or just to watch your delightful face on their TV screens, then who would not leap to the conclusion that what they do is of the highest ‘merit’? How else did they rise to stand above the billions of ordinary anonymous human drones?

The converse is also true. That those who remain anonymous are often in the habit of regarding themselves as less significant – in fact psychologically less real – than others in the limelight they see and admire: the celebrities and the VIPs. Which brings me to a lesson my father taught me; an observation which reveals in aphoristic form the inbuilt fault with all conceptions of meritocracy: VIP being a term that makes him curse. Why? For the clinching fact that every one of us is a “very important person”. If this sounds corny or trite then ask yourself sincerely, as my father once asked me: “Are you a very important person…?”

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Famously, Van Gogh sold just a single painting in his lifetime13, but then we all know that millions of terrible painters have also sold one (or less than one!) Not so widely known is that a great deal of Schubert’s music was lost when, in the immediate aftermath of his death, it was recycled as waste paper; but then again, thousands of dreadful composers have also had their music posthumously binned. So the odds are that if you can’t sell your music or publish your book, then you’re just another of the billions, rather than an as yet unappreciated master and another Van Gogh or Schubert. For aside from posterity, and no matter how much we might like to conjure one up, there is no established formula for separating ‘merit’ from ‘success’, and no good reason for supposing we will ever discover such a razor.

In reality therefore, any form of meritocracy will only ever be a form of success-ocracy, and in our own system, money is the reification of success. A system in which success and thus money invariably breeds more success and more money because unavoidably it contains positive and negative feedback loops. For this reason the well-established ruling oligarchies will never be unseated by means of any notional meritocracy – evidence of their enduring preeminence being, somewhat ironically, more apparent in the American republic, where dynasties, and especially political ones, are less frowned upon, and in consequence have remained more visible than in the class-ridden island kingdom it abandoned and then defeated. But even if our extant aristocracies were one day uprooted wholesale, then meritocracy simply opens the way for that alternative uber-class founded by the “self-made man”.

Indeed, ‘aristocracy’, deriving from the Greek ἀριστοκρατία (aristokratia) and literally meaning “rule of the best”, sounds a lot like ‘meritocracy’ to me. Whereas governance by those selected as most competent (the other way ‘meritocracy’ is sometimes defined) is better known by an alternative name too – ‘technocracy’ in this case – with the select order of technocrats working to whose betterment we might reasonably ask. Meritocracy of both kinds – and every meritocratic system must combine these twin strands – has fascistic overtones.

The promise of meritocracy has been seductive largely because of its close compatibility with neoliberalism, today’s predominant, in fact unrivalled, politico-economic ideology. Predicated on the realism that humans do indeed have an ingrained predisposition to social hierarchy (something that traditional concepts of egalitarianism sought to abolish), it offers a reconfigured market solution to foster a sort of laissez-faire egalitarianism: the equalisation of wealth and status along lines that are strictly “as nature intended”. Furthermore, it appeals to some on the left by making a persuasive case for “equality of opportunity”, if always to the detriment of the more ambitious goal of “equality of outcome”. A sidelining of “equality of outcome” that has led to a dramatic lowering of the bar with regards to what even qualifies as social justice.

Moreover, the rightward drift to meritocracy involves the downplaying of class politics in favour of today’s more factional and brittle politics of identity. This follows because under meritocracy the rigid class barriers of yesteryear are ostensibly made permeable and in the long run must slowly crumble away altogether. In reality, of course, social mobility is heavily restricted for reasons already discussed at length. But this abandonment of class politics in favour of the divisiveness of identity politics is greatly to the benefit of the ruling establishment of course. Divide and conquer has been their oldest maxim.

Interestingly, of the many advocates of meritocracy – from Thatcher to Reagan; Brown to Blair; Cameron to Obama; Merkel to May – none have bothered to very precisely define their terms. What do they mean to imply by ‘merit’ and its innately slippery counterpart ‘fairness’? And whilst they talk of ‘fairness’ over and over again – ‘fairness’ purportedly underlying every policy decision they have ever taken – the actual direction all this ‘fairness’ was leading caused a few to wonder whether ‘fairness’ might be wrong in principle! Like other grossly misappropriated abstract nouns – ‘freedom’ and ‘democracy’ spring instantly to mind – the difficulty here is that ‘fairness’ is a handy fig-leaf.

Instead, and if we genuinely wish to live in a society striving for greater equality, then the political emphasis ought not to be placed too heavily on wooly notions like ‘merit’ or ‘fairness’ but upon enabling democracy in the fullest sense. The voice of the people may not be the voice of God, but it is, to paraphrase Churchill (who mostly hated it), the least worst system.14 One person, one vote, if not quite the bare essence of egalitarianism, serves both as a fail-safe and a necessary foundation.

Of course, we must always guard against the “tyranny of the majority” by means of a constitutional framework that ensures basic rights and freedoms for all. For democracy offers an imperfect solution, but cleverly conceived and justly organised neither is it, as so many right-wing libertarians are quick to tell you: “two wolves and a sheep deciding what to have for dinner”. This sideswipe is not just glib, but a better description by far of the extreme right-wing anarchy they advocate. In reality, it is their beloved ‘invisible hand’ that better ensures rampant inequality and social division, and for so long as its influence remains unseen and unfettered, will continue to do so, by rigging elections and tipping the scales of justice.

Democracy – from its own etymology: rule by the people – is equality in its most settled form. Yet if such real democracy is ever to arise and flourish then we must have a free-thinking people. So the prerequisite for real democracy is real education – sadly we are a long way short of this goal too and once again heading off in the wrong direction. But that’s for a later chapter.

Next chapter…

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Addendum: our stakeholder society and the tyranny of choice

Prior to the rise of Jeremy Corbyn and to a lesser extent Bernie Sanders (for further thoughts on Sanders read my earlier posts), mainstream politics in Britain and America, as more widely, were converged to such a high degree that opposition parties were broadly in conjunction. Left and right had collapsed to form a single “centrist” amalgam in agreement across a wide range of diverse issues spanning race relations, gender equality, immigration, environmentalism, to foreign policy, and most remarkably, economics. In Britain, as in America, the two major parties ceased even to disagree over the defining issue of nationalisation versus privatisation because both sides now approved of the incorporation of private sector involvement into every area of our lives. “Big government”, our politicians echoed in unison, is neither desirable nor any longer possible. Instead, we shall step aside for big business, and limit ourselves to resolving “the real issues”.

The real issues? Why yes, with the business sector running all the fiddly stuff, governments pivoted to address the expansion of individual opportunity and choice. Especially choice. Choice now became the paramount concern.

Even the delivery of essential public services, once the duty of every government (Tory and Labour alike), began to be outsourced. No holy cows. It became the common doctrine that waste and inefficiency in our public services would be abolished by competition including the introduction of internal markets and public-private partnerships, which aside from helping to foster efficiency, would, importantly, diversify customer choice once again.

Under the new social arrangement, we, the people, became “stakeholders” in an altogether more meritocratic venture. Here is Tony Blair outlining his case for our progressive common cause:

“We need a country in which we acknowledge an obligation collectively to ensure each citizen gets a stake in it. One Nation politics is not some expression of sentiment, or even of justifiable concern for the less well off. It is an active politics, the bringing of a country together, a sharing of the possibility of power, wealth and opportunity…. If people feel they have no stake in society, they feel little responsibility towards it, and little inclination to work for its success. ….”15

Fine aspirations, you may think. But wait, and let’s remember that Blair was trained as a lawyer, so every word here counts. “Sharing in the possibility of power…” Does this actually mean anything at all? Or his first sentence which ends: “…to ensure each citizen gets a stake in it” – “it” in this context presumably meaning “the country” (his subject at the beginning). But every citizen already has a stake in the country, doesn’t s/he? Isn’t that what being a citizen means: to be a member of a nation state with an interest, or ‘stake’ (if we insist) in what goes on. However, according to Blair’s “One Nation” vision, members of the public (as we were formerly known) are seemingly required to become fully paid-up “stakeholders”. But how…?

Do we have to do something extra, or are our “stakeholder” voices to be heard simply by virtue of the choices we make? Is this the big idea? The hows and wheres of earning a salary, and then of spending or else investing it; is this to be the main measure of our “stakeholder” participation? In fact, is “stakeholder” anything different than “stockholder” in UK plc? Or is it less than this? Is “stakeholder” substantially different from “consumer”? According to the Financial Times lexicon’s definition, a stakeholder society is:

“A society in which companies and their employees share economic successes.”16

Well, I certainly don’t recall voting for that.

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We are increasingly boggled by choice. Once there was a single electricity supply and a single gas supply – one price fitting all. Now we have literally dozens of companies offering different deals – yet all these deals finally deliver an entirely identical supply of electricity and gas. The single difference is the price, but still you have to choose. So precious moments of our once around the sun existence are devoted to worrying about which power company is charging the least amount. And the companies know all this, of course, so they make their deals as complicated as possible. Perhaps you’ll give up and choose the worst of options – for the companies concerned, this is a winning strategy – thinking about it, this is their only winning strategy! Or, if you are of a mind to waste a few more of your precious never to be returned moments of existence, you may decide to check one of the many comparison websites – but again, which one? Just one inane and frustrating choice after another. And more of those tiresome tickboxes to navigate.

But choice is everything. So we also need to worry more about the latest school and hospital league tables. It is vital to exercise our right to choose in case an actual ambulance arrives with its siren already blaring. In these circumstances we need to be sure that the ambulance outside is bound for a hospital near to the top of the league, because it is in the nature of leagues that there is always bottom – league tables giving a relative assessment, and ensuring both winners and losers.

And provided, an entirely free choice – and not one based on catchment areas – what parent in their right mind elects to send their offspring to a worse school over a better one? So are we just to hope our nearest school and/or hospital is not ranked bottom? Thankfully, house prices save much of the time in helping to make these determinations.

Meantime I struggle to understand what our politicians and civil servants get up to in Whitehall these days. Precisely what do those who walk the corridors of power find to do each day? Reduced to the role of managers, what is finally left for them manage?

And where is all of this choice finally leading? In the future, perhaps, in place of elections, we will be able to voice our approval/dissatisfaction by way of customer surveys. With this in mind, please take a moment to select the response that best reflects your own feelings:

Given the choice, would you say you prefer to live in a society that is:

 More fair

Less fair

Not sure

*

Please note that for the purposes of ‘publishing’ here I have taken advantage of the option to incorporate hypertext links and embed videos – in order to distinguish additional commentary from the original text all newly incorporated text has been italised.

*

1 Quote taken from Chapter 10 of George Orwell’s satirical fairytale Animal Farm published in 1945. After the animals have ceased power at the farm they formulate “a complete system of thought” which is designed to unite the animals as well as preventing them from returning to the evil ways of the humans. The seventh and last of these original commandments of ‘Animalism’ is straightforwardly that “All animals are equal”, however, after the pigs have risen to dominance again, the sign is revised and so this last commandment reads “All animals are equal, but some animals are more equal than others”.

2 From an article entitled “Down with meritocracy: The man who coined the term four decades ago wishes Tony Blair would stop using it” written by Michael Young, published in the Guardian on June 29, 2001. http://www.guardian.co.uk/politics/2001/jun/29/comment

3 Quote taken from a sermon by Martin Luther King Jr. delivered at Temple Israel of Hollywood delivered on February 25, 1965. In fuller context, he said:

“And I believe it because somehow the arc of the moral universe is long but it bends toward justice. We shall overcome because Carlyle is right: “No lie can live forever.” We shall overcome because William Cullen Bryant is right: “Truth crushed to earth will rise again.” We shall overcome because James Russell Lowell is right: “Truth forever on the scaffold, wrong forever on the throne. Yet, that scaffold sways the future and behind the dim unknown standeth God within the shadow, keeping watch above his own.”

An audio recording of King’s speech and a full transcript is available here: http://www.americanrhetoric.com/speeches/mlktempleisraelhollywood.htm

4 Quote taken from a meeting on April 22nd, 2000 with American white supremacist and former Grand Wizard of the Ku Klux Klan, David Duke, that was recorded as “American Friends of the British National Party” video.

In fuller context Griffin says:

“Perhaps one day, once by being rather more subtle we got ourselves in a position where we control the British Broadcasting media and then we tell ’em really how serious the immigration problem was, and we tell them the truth about a lot of the crime that’s been going on, if we tell ’em really what multiracialism has meant and means for the future, then perhaps one day the British people might change their mind and say yes every last one must go.  Perhaps they will one day.  But if you hold that out as your sole aim to start with, you’re going to get absolutely nowhere. So instead of talking about racial purity, you talk about identity, and about the needs and the rights and the duty to preserve and enhance the identity of our own people.  My primary identity quite simply is there (points to veins in wrist). That’s the thing that counts.”

The clip was shown in BBC1’s Panorama: Under the Skin first broadcast on November 25, 2001.

The transcript is available here: http://news.bbc.co.uk/hi/english/static/audio_video/programmes/panorama/transcripts/transcript_25_11_01.txt

5 Although these words are frequently attributed to Wilde himself, they actually belong to one of his characters. To Lord Henry Wotton who says “To me, beauty is the wonder of wonders. It is only shallow people who do not judge by appearances. The true mystery of the world is the visible, not the invisible.” Taken from Chapter 2 of Wilde’s once scandalous novel The Picture of Dorian Gray.

6 The “Class Sketch” was first broadcast on April 7, 1966 in an episode of David Frost’s satirical BBC show The Frost Report. It was written by Marty Feldman and John Law, and performed by John Cleese, Ronnie Barker and Ronnie Corbett in descending order of height!

7 Anticipations of the Reaction of Mechanical and Scientific Progress upon Human Life and Thought (1901), is one of H.G.Wells’ earliest blueprints for the future. Set in 2000, a youthful Wells (aged 34) suggested an altogether more matter of fact solution to the problem of what he then called “the People of the Abyss” than a promise of education, education, education (the commentary is my own of course):

“It has become apparent that whole masses of human population are, as a whole, inferior in their claim upon the future, to other masses, that they cannot be given opportunities or trusted with power as superior peoples are trusted, that their characteristic weaknesses are contagious and detrimental in the civilizing fabric, and that their range of incapacity tempts and demoralises the strong. To give them equality is to sink to their level, to protect and cherish them is to be swamped in their fecundity…”

Which is putting it most politely! Oh dear, oh dear! What has happened to the clarion call for freedom and equality (and here I mean equality of opportunity, since to be fair Wells was ever the egalitarian, consistently keener on meritocracy than any of the more radical ideals of wealth redistribution). Might it be that the young Mr Wells was showing off his truer colours? Let us go on a little:

“The new ethics will hold life to be a privilege and a responsibility, not a sort of night refuge for base spirits out of the void; and the alternative in right conduct between living fully, beautifully, and efficiently will be to die.”

Just who are the hideous hoards who Wells so pities and despises (in roughly equal measures)? Let us read on:

“…the small minority, for example, afflicted with indisputably transmissible diseases, with transmissible mental disorders, with such hideous incurable habits of the mind as the craving for intoxication…”

But he’s jesting… isn’t he?

“And I imagine also the plea and proof that a grave criminal is also insane will be regarded by them [the men of the New Republic] not as a reason for mercy, but as an added reason for death…”

Death? Why not prison and rehabilitation…?

“The men of the New Republic will not be squeamish either, in facing or inflicting death, because they will have a fuller sense of the possibilities of life than we possess…”

Ah, I see, yes since put like that… yes, yes, death and more death, splendid!

“All such killing will be done with an opiate, for death is too grave a thing to be made painful or dreadful, and used as a deterrent for crime. If deterrent punishments are to be used at all in the code of the future, the deterrent will neither be death, nor mutilation of the body, nor mutilation of the life by imprisonment, nor any horrible things like that, but good scientifically caused pain, that will leave nothing but memory…”

An avoidance of nasty old pain… that’s good I suppose.

“…The conscious infliction of pain for the sake of pain is against the better nature of man, and it is unsafe and demoralising for anyone to undertake this duty. To kill under the seemly conditions of science will afford is a far less offensive thing.”

Death, yes, a more final solution, of course, of course…

This is horrifying, of couse, especially in light of what followed historically.

Deep down Wells was an unabashed snob, though hardly exceptional for his time. Less forgivably, Wells was a foaming misanthropist (especially so when sneering down on the hoi polloi). But mostly he longed to perfect the human species, and as a young man had unflinchingly advocated interventions no less surgical than those needed to cure any other cancerous organ. But then of course, it was once fashionable for intellectual types to seek scientific answers to social problems: programmes of mass-sterilisation and selective reproduction.

His Fabian rival George Bernard Shaw had likewise talked of selective breeding in his own quest to develop a race of supermen, whilst Julian Huxley, Aldous’s big brother, was perhaps the foremost and pioneering advocate of eugenics, later coining the less soiled term ‘transhumanism’ to lessen the post-Nazi stigma. Judged in the broader historical context therefore, Wells was simply another such dreaming ideologue.

That Wells was also one of the first to use the term “new world order” maybe of little lasting significance, however totalitarian his visions for World Socialism, but importantly Wells was never in the position to realise his grander visions, in spite of being sufficiently well-connected to arrange private meetings with President Franklin D. Roosevelt, who entertained him over dinner, and with Joseph Stalin at the Kremlin. Finally, he was unable to inspire enough significant others to engage in his “open conspiracy”.

All extracts below are taken from Anticipation of the Reaction of Mechanical and Scientific Progress upon Human Life and Thought, Chapman & Hall, 1901

8

Like most of his contemporaries, family and friends, he regarded races as different, racial characteristics as signs of the maturity of a society, and racial purity as endangered not only by other races but by mental weaknesses within a race. As a young politician in Britain entering Parliament in 1901, Churchill saw what were then known as the “feeble-minded” and the “insane” as a threat to the prosperity, vigour and virility of British society.

The phrase “feeble-minded” was to be defined as part of the Mental Deficiency Act 1913, of which Churchill had been one of the early drafters. The Act defined four grades of “Mental Defective” who could be confined for life, whose symptoms had to be present “from birth or from an early age.” “Idiots” were defined as people “so deeply defective in mind as to be unable to guard against common physical dangers.” “Imbeciles” were not idiots, but were “incapable of managing themselves or their affairs, or, in the case of children, of being taught to do so.” The “feeble-minded” were neither idiots nor imbeciles, but, if adults, their condition was “so pronounced that they require care, supervision, and control for their own protection or the protection of others.”

Extract taken from a short essay called “Churchill and Eugenics” written by Sir Martin Gilbert, published on May 31, 2009 on the Churchill Centre website. http://www.winstonchurchill.org/support/the-churchill-centre/publications/finest-hour-online/594-churchill-and-eugenics

9 “Population reduction” is another leftover residue of the old eugenics programme but freshly justified on purportedly scientific and seemingly less terrible neo-Malthusian grounds – when previous “population reduction” was unashamedly justified and executed on the basis of the pseudoscience of eugenics, the pruning was always done from the bottom up, of course.

10 Aside from being the invention of pioneering eugenicist Francis Galton, the IQ test was an pseudo-scientific approach that first appeared to be validated thanks to the research of Cyril Burt who had devised ‘twin studies’ to prove the heritability of IQ. However, those studies turned out to be fraudulent:

“After Burt’s death, striking anomalies in some of his test data led some scientists to reexamine his statistical methods. They concluded that Burt manipulated and probably falsified those IQ test results that most convincingly supported his theories on transmitted intelligence and social class. The debate over his conduct continued, but all sides agreed that his later research was at least highly flawed, and many accepted that he fabricated some data.”

From the current entry in Encyclopaedia Britannica. http://www.britannica.com/EBchecked/topic/85886/Sir-Cyril-Burt

11

Eugenics is now rightly abjured, and if only for its abominable record for cruelty. But the cruelty of the many twentieth century programmes of eugenics was hardly incidental. Any attempt to alter human populations to make them fit an imposed social structure by means of the calculated elimination and deliberate manipulation of genetic stock automatically reduces people to the same level as farm animals.

It should be remembered too that what the Nazis had tried to achieve by mass murder across Europe was only novel in terms of its extremely barbarous method. Eugenics programmes to get rid of “inferior” populations by forced sterilisation having been introduced earlier in America and surreptitiously continuing into the 1970s. For instance, there was a secret programme for the involuntary sterilisation of Native American women long after the World War II.

http://muse.jhu.edu/login?auth=0&type=summary&url=/journals/american_indian_quarterly/v024/24.3lawrence.html

12 From the same Guardian article entitled “Down with meritocracy” written by Michael Young, published in June, 2001.

13 Van Gogh famously sold one painting during his lifetime, Red Vineyard at Arles. A painting that now resides at the Pushkin Museum in Moscow. The rest of Van Gogh’s more than 900 paintings were not sold nor came to public attention until after his death.

14

“Many forms of Government have been tried and will be tried in this world of sin and woe. No one pretends that democracy is perfect or all-wise. Indeed, it has been said that democracy is the worst form of government except all those other forms that have been tried from time to time.”

— Winston Churchill in a speech to the House of Commons, November 11, 1947.

15 Tony Blair speaking in Singapore on January 7, 1996.

16 The source for this definition is given as the Longman Business English Dictionary (although the link is lost). http://lexicon.ft.com/Term?term=stakeholder-society

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Global Network for Syria: “Statement on impending US, UK and French military intervention in Syria”

The following is from the Global Network for Syria [see bottom for names]:

[*Downloadable PDF here: Global Network for Syria_Statement_August 2018]

Statement on impending US, UK and French military intervention in Syria

We, members of the Global Network for Syria, are deeply alarmed by recent statements by Western governments and officials threatening the government of Syria with military intervention, and by media reports of actions taken by parties in Syria and by Western agencies in advance of such intervention.

In a joint statement issued on 21 August the governments of the US, the UK and France said that ‘we reaffirm our shared resolve to preventing [sic] the use of chemical weapons by the Syrian regime and for [sic] holding them accountable for any such use… As we have demonstrated, we will respond appropriately to any further use of chemical weapons by the Syrian regime’.

The three governments justify this threat with reference to ‘reports of a military offensive by the Syrian regime against civilians and civilian infrastructure in Idlib’.

On 22 August, Mr John Bolton, US National Security Adviser, was reported by Bloomberg to have said that the US was prepared to respond with greater force than it has used in Syria before.

These threats need to be seen in the context of the following reports and considerations.

Reports have appeared of activity by the White Helmets group, or militants posing as White Helmets, consistent with an intention to stage a ‘false flag’ chemical incident in order to provoke Western intervention. These activities have reportedly included the transfer of eight canisters of chlorine to a village near Jisr Al Shughur, an area under the control of Hayat Tahrir Ash Sham, an affiliate of the terrorist group Al Nusra. Some reports refer to the involvement of British individuals and the Olive security company. Other reports indicate a build-up of US naval forces in the Gulf and of land forces in areas of Iraq adjoining the Syrian border.

We therefore urge the US, UK and French governments to consider the following points before embarking on any military intervention:

  • In the cases of three of the previous incidents cited in the 21 August statement (Ltamenah, Khan Sheykhoun, Saraqib) OPCW inspectors were not able to secure from the militants who controlled these areas security guarantees to enable them to visit the sites, yet still based their findings on evidence provided by militants.
  • In the case of Douma, also cited, the interim report of OPCW inspectors dated 6 July based on a visit to the site concluded that no evidence was found of the use of chemical weapons and that evidence for the use of chlorine as a weapon was inconclusive.
  • Western governments themselves acknowledge that Idlib is controlled by radical Islamist extremists. The British government in its statement on 20 August justified its curtailment of aid programmes in Idlib on the grounds that conditions had become too difficult. Any action by the Syrian government would not be directed at harming civilians, but at removing these radical elements.
  • Any military intervention without a mandate from the United Nations would be illegal.
  • Any military intervention would risk confrontation with a nuclear armed comember of the Security Council, as well as with the Islamic Republic of Iran, with consequent ramifications for regional as well as global security.
  • There is no plan in place to contain chaos in the event of sudden government collapse in Syria, such as might occur in the contingency of command and control centres being targeted. Heavy military intervention could result in the recrudescence of terrorist groups, genocide against the Alawite, Christian, Druze, Ismaili, Shiite and Armenian communities, and a tsunami of refugees into neighbouring countries and Europe.

In the event of an incident involving the use of prohibited weapons – prior to taking any decision on military intervention – we urge the US, UK and French governments:

  • To provide detailed and substantive evidence to prove that any apparent incident could not have been staged by a party wishing to bring Western powers into the conflict on their side.
  • To conduct emergency consultations with their respective legislative institutions to request an urgent mission by the OPCW to the site of any apparent incident and give time for this mission to be carried out.
  • To call on the government of Turkey, which has military observation posts in Idlib, to facilitate, in the event of an incident, an urgent mission by the OPCW to the jihadi-controlled area, along with observers from Russia to ensure impartiality.

We further call on the tripartite powers to join Turkish and Russian efforts to head off confrontation between the Syrian government forces and the militants opposing them by separating the most radical organisations such as Hayat Tahrir Ash Sham and Hurras Ad Deen from the rest, eliminating them, and facilitating negotiations between the Syrian government and elements willing to negotiate.

Dr Tim Anderson, University of Sydney

Lord Carey of Clifton, Crossbench Member of the House of Lords and former Archbishop of Canterbury

The Baroness Cox, Crossbench Member of the House of Lords

Peter Ford, British Ambassador to Syria 2003-06

Dr Michael Langrish, former Bishop of Exeter

Lord Stoddart of Swindon, Independent Labour Member of the House of Lords

30 August 2018

For enquiries contact Peter Ford 07910727317; peterford14@yahoo.com

* Reposted in full and as original from Eva Barlett’s blog ‘In Gaza’.

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the internet purge has begun in earnest — the last days of American Everyman

American Everyman is a political blog I came across by chance about five years ago, and one of only a handful of blogs I have subscribed to. However, last Friday I learned, again by chance, that it no longer exists – WordPress sent no notification to any of its subscribers and none either to its owner, Scott Creighton, who woke one day shocked to learn “willyloman.wordpress.com is no longer available”.

I caution readers that Scott’s language is less restrained than my own.

Afterwards he uploaded a youtube video to his current channel ‘Churchdog42’ (named after his dog by the way) that I have embedded above. In the notes beneath he writes:

I am speechless, heartbroken, enraged. I violated none of their terms of service. None. Never ONCE supported violence and in fact was dedicated to STOPPING violence. Wars, acts of hostility here at home during protests, economic violence. I am just… speechless

I never thought WP would do this. I am shocked beyond words.

You can contact me at RSCdesigns@tampabay.rr.com

I don’t feel I can do justice to Scott’s story and so have decided to embed a few of his many youtube uploads in sequence (interspersed throughout) so you can hear him tell it directly – at least for so long as this channel exists.

Instead, I’d like to discuss a crazy moment about twelve months ago when I added a comment to one of Scott’s many articles – he is hugely prolific – about the British general election in which Jeremy Corbyn was narrowly defeated.

To cut a long story short, I really shouldn’t have written what I did (I was rattled) and Scott justifiably lashed out at me for insulting him. For the next hour and more a sequence of heated comments flew back and forth between us. By the end we had politely agreed to differ and Scott very kindly wished me well. The whole incident convinced me not only of Scott’s tremendous commitment to searching for truth – he could have cut off the debate at any moment (this took place on his own blog after all) – of his integrity – he could have deleted everything (as WordPress just did) – but crucially, of his goodwill. You don’t have to agree on every count to respect someone’s point of view.

This is not an obituary of course, and Scott says he intends to find another platform to keep fighting on – I will update if he does. Nor is this purely a story about Scott and his American Everyman blog – his site is just one of a number of relatively small sites that WordPress has recently taken down, and doubtless this purge is set to continue. Perhaps after posting this article in Scott’s defence, my own site will be targeted next (who knows). All I can say is that if Scott was a small fish (enjoying around a thousand pageviews a day) then I am an ant.

In any case, the purge goes far beyond WordPress and – as Scott also explains in these videos – he is currently being “unpersoned” by Google too. As I wrote in an earlier post, in which I detailed how my own internet traffic has substantially fallen away, the so-called “internet kill switch” is better imagined as a knob that turns everything down incrementally. Scott is being turned off, as we all are.

He writes:

First Youtube, then PayPal, then WordPress, then TechCrunch and now Google. I am being erased in slow-motion. Little blogs like mine are just the beginning. Priming the pot, as it were. You can expect too see Drudge, Caitlin, AEfor9/11Truth, Before its News, WSWS and so many others follow in my footsteps into obscurity soon enough. Once folks are desensitized to this, the whole of the Western version of the internet will eventually be purged of all dissent. Will Coward Nation finally stand up? I once believed they would. Now… not so sure.

*

Update:

Scott Creighton has now temporarily relocated. His new blog wittily titled Nomadic Everyman can be found here: http://nomadiceveryman.blogspot.com/

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all work and no play

The following article is Chapter Six of a book entitled Finishing The Rat Race which I am posting chapter by chapter throughout this year (and beyond). Since blog posts are stacked in a reverse time sequence (always with the latest at the top), I have decided that the best approach is to post the chapters in reverse order.

All previously uploaded chapters are available (in sequence) by following the link above or from category link in the main menu, where you will also find a brief introductory article about the book itself and why I started writing it.

*

BOSWELL, “But, sir, the mind must be employed, and we grow weary when idle.”
JOHNSON, “That is, sir, because others being busy, we want company; but if we were all idle, there would be no growing weary; we should all entertain one another… But no man loves labour for itself.”
1

*

Leaving aside the various species of bats and whales, very nearly all mammals are land-dwelling creatures. In fact, nearly all animals – meaning quadrupeds – spend their lives earthbound. For millennia humans too occupied the same earthbound sphere alongside fellow ground-dwelling organisms. So consider then the following: at this precise moment upwards of six thousand scheduled airliners are aloft in our skies, and at peak times as many as ten thousand are flying high above the clouds. Each of these airborne vessels is packed with many hundred perfectly ordinary human beings sat in rows, hurtling above our heads at altitudes exceeding thirty thousand feet and speeds above 500 miles per hour. This sum equates to literally millions of people airborne at each and every moment of each and every day – a significant proportion of the entire human population!

Now consider this: prior to December 17th 1903, only a handful of our species had ever lifted off the surface of the planet by any means at all and not a single human being had ever experienced powered flight. But then, on that fateful day, Orville and Wilbur Wright made three successful flights between them. On his first take-off, Orville covered 120 feet, remaining airborne for just 12 seconds. On the final flight, he valiantly managed 200 feet, all at an altitude of only ten feet. A century on, we have Airbus – take note the humdrum name of the company! – and the launch of its A380, the world’s largest passenger jet, which accommodates between 525 and 850 individuals, and is capable of flying approximately 10,000 miles nonstop. Thus, thanks to technology we have grown wings and been transformed into a semi-airborne species; entirely forgetting to be astonished by this remarkable fact is perhaps the final measure of our magnificent achievement.

*

“The world is undergoing immense changes. Never before have the conditions of life changed so swiftly and enormously as they have changed for mankind in the last fifty years. We have been carried along – with no means of measuring the increasing swiftness in the succession of events. We are only now beginning to realize the force and strength of the storm of change that has come upon us.

These changes have not come upon our world from without. No meteorite from outer space has struck our planet; there have been no overwhelming outbreaks of volcanic violence or strange epidemic diseases; the sun has not flared up to excessive heat or suddenly shrunken to plunge us into Arctic winter. The changes have come through men themselves. Quite a small number of people, heedless of the ultimate consequence of what they did, one man here and a group there, have made discoveries and produced and adopted inventions that have changed all the condition, of social life.”

These are the opening paragraphs from a lesser-known work by H.G. Wells. The Open Conspiracy, an extended essay written in 1928, was the first of Wells’ most earnest attempts to set the world to rights. Stumbling across it one day, it struck me that this voice from ninety years ago still chimes. I couldn’t help wondering indeed if we aren’t still in the midst of those same “immense changes”, being swept along by an, as yet, undiminished “storm of change”.

Wells, who uses the word ‘change’, in various formulations, no less than seven times (in a mere eight sentences), goes on to compare our modern wonders to the seven wonders of the ancient world, intending to emphasise their novel potency:

“Few realized how much more they were than any “Wonders.” The “Seven Wonders of the World” left men free to go on living, toiling, marrying, and dying as they had been accustomed to for immemorial ages. If the “Seven Wonders” had vanished or been multiplied three score it would not have changed the lives of any large proportion of human beings. But these new powers and substances were modifying and transforming – unobtrusively, surely, and relentlessly – very particular of the normal life of mankind.”

Wells had been trained as a scientist, and more than this, a scientist at a time when science was reaching its apogee. At the Royal College of Science2, he had studied biology under the tutelage of T. H. Huxley, the man who most publicly defended Darwin’s theory. In the debates against the Bishop of Oxford, Samuel Wilberforce, it was Huxley who challenged and defeated the permitted orthodoxy of divine creation by showing how Science makes a better account of our origins than religious authority; so in an important sense, Huxley must be seen as one of the pioneers of this scientific revolution. With religion rather abruptly and rudely dismissed, it was open to the scientists and technologists to lead us all to salvation.

Wells was keen to get involved, if only as one of science and technology’s most passionate and outspoken advocates.  Growing up in late Victorian Britain, he was well acquainted with how systems of mass production had mostly superseded manual methods to become the predominant form of industrial process. Likewise, he had witnessed the spread of agricultural machines for planting seeds and harvesting crops, and of automotive machines transporting loads and providing ever more reliable and comfortable means for human transit. These innovations had led to a dramatic increase both in production and, more importantly, in productivity, and machine processes were set to become ever more versatile and reliable.

Wells was amongst the first to seriously consider how these new modes of manufacture with their greater efficiencies and capacities for heavier constructions, not to mention for longer range transportation and communication, would bring rapid and sweeping changes to ordinary life. Most importantly, he understood that since technology potentially allowed the generation of almost limitless power, its rise would unstoppably alter human affairs forever, and by extension, impact upon the natural world too.

Quite correctly, Wells went on to forecast an age to come (our age), in which ordinary lives are transformed to an extent so far beyond the technological transformations of past ages that life is unutterably and irreversibly altered. Yet the widespread access to these “wonders”, as he insistently calls them, causes us to regard them as so ordinary that we seldom, if ever, stop to wonder about them.

For machines are nowadays embedded quite literally everywhere – one is in fact translating the movement of my fingertips into printed words, whilst another happens to be reproducing the soulful precision of Alfred Brendel’s rendition of one of Franz Schubert’s late sonatas on a machine of still older conception (the piano) via yet another machine that preserves sound in the form of electrical impulses. Thanks to machines of these kinds, not only the sheet-music – those handwritten frequency-time graphs so painstakingly drafted, perhaps by candlelight, and very certainly using only a feather quill and inkpot – but thousands upon thousands of musical (and other) performances can be conjured up with literally “a click”. The snapping fingers of an emperor could never have summoned such variety. But then the internet is a wonder far exceeding even H.G. Wells’ far-seeing imagination.

*

More than a century ago, the poet, satirist and social commentator Oscar Wilde was another who looked forward to a time of such “wonders”. For Wilde, as for Wells, they presented reasons to be cheerful:

“All unintelligent labour, all monotonous, dull labour, all labour that deals in dreadful things, and involves unpleasant conditions, must be done by machinery. Machinery must work for us in coal mines, and do all sanitary services, and be the stoker of steamers, and clean the streets, and run messages on wet days, and do anything that is tedious and distressing… There is no doubt at all that this is the future of machinery; and just as trees grow while the country gentleman is asleep, so while Humanity will be amusing itself, or enjoying cultivated leisure – which, and not labour, is the aim of man – or making beautiful things, or reading beautiful things, or simply contemplating the world with admiration and delight, machinery will be doing all the necessary and unpleasant work. The fact is that civilization needs slaves… [But] Human slavery is wrong, insecure and demoralizing. On mechanical slavery, on the slavery of the machine, the future of the world depends.”3

Wilde and Wells were optimists, but cautious ones, and each foretold new dangers that potentially lay in wait for us. Wells wrote:

“They [the new “wonders”] increased the amount of production and the methods of production. They made possible “Big-Business,” to drive the small producer and the small distributor out of the market. They swept away factories and evoked new ones. They changed the face of the fields. They brought into the normal life, thing by thing and day by day, electric light and heating, bright cities at night, better aeration, new types of clothing, a fresh cleanliness. They changed a world where there had never been enough into a world of potential plenty, into a world of excessive plenty.”4

Wells believed that the very successes which brought about large-scale manufacturing and distribution, as well as commensurate developments in fields such as agriculture, sanitation and medicine, ones that were already extending the average life-expectancy, might still feasibly bring heavier burdens to bear on the planet. Left unchecked, he argued, our species would finish using up everything, whilst, exponentially crowding ourselves out of existence. So these new “wonders” were a double-edged sword. And then what of “excessive plenty” – of too much of a good thing – how do we avoid replacing one set of miseries with another? Such were Wells’ concerns, but then Wells owed a great deal to the eternal pessimist Thomas Malthus.

By contrast, at the dusk of the Victorian era, Wilde is not much bothered as Wells is, by the prospect of society overrun by a burgeoning and profligate mass of humanity, but by how we can ensure the new prosperity, so long awaited and desperately overdue, could be fairly distributed. After all, progress had until then been primarily technological in form and not social, and it appeared to Wilde that the costs of industrialisation were still hugely outweighing its benefits.

The centuries of Industrial Revolution had claimed so many victims. Not only those trapped inside the mills and the mines, the wage-slaves working all the hours God sends for subsistence pay, but those still more benighted souls incarcerated in the workhouses, alongside their malnourished children, who from ages six upwards might be forced underground to sweat in the mines or else to clamber about in the more choking darkness of chimneystacks.5 Industrial development meant that for the majority of adults and children (boys and girls) life was sunk into a routine of unremitting hardship and ceaseless backbreaking labour, as the poor were ruthlessly sacrificed to profit their masters – one big difference today, of course, is that our own sweatshops are more distant.

To abolish this class-ridden barbarism, Wilde therefore proposed an unapologetically radical solution:

“Up to the present, man has been, to a certain extent, the slave of machinery, and there is something tragic in the fact that as soon as man had invented a machine to do his work he began to starve. This, however, is, of course, the result of our property system and our system of competition. One man owns a machine which does the work of five hundred men. Five hundred men are, in consequence, thrown out of employment, and having no work to do, become hungry and take to thieving. The one man secures the produce of the machine and keeps it, and has five hundred times as much as he should have, and probably, which is of more importance, a great deal more than he really wants. Were that machine the property of all, everyone would benefit by it.”6

*

In case Wilde’s enthusiasm for collective ownership encourages you think it, then please be assured that he was not exactly a Leninist (as you will see), nor, in any traditional sense, was he a fully-fledged Marxist. In fact, if anything Wilde was an anarchist, heaping special praise on Peter Kropotkin, whom he once described as: “a man with a soul of that beautiful white Christ which seems coming out of Russia.”7

Now it is interesting and worthwhile, I think, to compare Wilde’s views, writing just a few decades earlier, with those of H.G. Wells, for both held notionally left-leaning sympathies and both were broadly hopeful; each underscoring the special importance of science and technology when it came to achieving such desirable goals as ending poverty and rebuilding a fairer society. For in some regards, Wilde’s perspective is orthogonally different to Wells – and it is Wells who made the better communist (though he remained deeply antagonistic towards Marx for other reasons).

For Wells was an unflinching collectivist, and thus forever seeking solutions in terms of strict autocratic control. For instance, in one of the concluding chapters of The Open Conspiracy, Wells outlines “seven broad principles” that will ensure human progress of which the sixth reads as follows:

“The supreme duty of subordinating the personal career to the creation of a world directorate capable of these tasks [ones that will ensure the betterment of mankind] and to the general advancement of human knowledge, capacity, and power”8.

Wilde, on the contrary, unswervingly insisted that above all else the sovereign rights of the individual must be protected. That personal freedom must never be horse-traded, since “the true personality of man”, as he puts it, is infinitely more precious than any amount of prospective gains in comfort and security. This is precisely where Wilde is at his most prescient, foreseeing the dangers of socialist authoritarianism a full two decades before the Russian revolution, and instinctively advising a simple cure:

“What is needed is Individualism. If the Socialism is Authoritarian; if there are governments armed with economic power as they are now with political power; if, in a word, we are to have Industrial Tyrannies, then the last state of man will be worse than the first.”9

So compare Wilde’s earlier views to those of Wells fifty years on, by which time the Soviet model was up and running, and yet he is still advocating the need for a more widespread and overarching central authority: ultimately, a world government to coerce and co-ordinate the masses into the new age of socialism; even to the point of eradicating misfits for the sake of the greater good.

For Wells, every answer for resolving humanity’s problems involved the implementation of top-down governance, with the patterns of individual behaviour controlled by means of an applied political force-field, whereas Wilde was equally insistent that individuals are not uniformly alike like atoms, and must be permitted, so far as is humanly possible, to organise ourselves. It is a fundamental difference in outlook that is reflected in their attitudes towards work.

*

The inherent value of work is rarely questioned by Wells. In his earlier fictional work A Utopian World he answers his own inquiry “will a Utopian be free to be idle?” as follows:

“Work has to be done, every day humanity is sustained by its collective effort, and without a constant recurrence of effort in the single man as in the race as a whole, there is neither health nor happiness. The permanent idleness of a human being is not only burthensome to the world, but his own secure misery.”10

Wells is expressing a concern that once the labouring masses are relieved of their back-breaking obligation to work, they may “develop a recalcitrance where once there was little but fatalistic acquiescence”:

“It is just because labour is becoming more intelligent, responsible, and individually efficient that it is becoming more audible and impatient in social affairs. It is just because it is no longer mere gang labour, and is becoming more and more intelligent co-operation in detail, that it now resents being treated as a serf, housed like a serf, fed like a serf, and herded like a serf, and its pride and thoughts and feelings disregarded. Labour is in revolt because as a matter of fact it is, in the ancient and exact sense of the word, ceasing to be labour at all.”11

For these reasons, Wells senses trouble ahead, whereas for Wilde, these same changes in modes of employment serve as further reasons to be cheerful:

“[And] as I have mentioned the word labour, I cannot help saying that a great deal of nonsense is being written and talked nowadays about the dignity of labour. There is nothing necessarily dignified about manual labour at all, and most of it is absolutely degrading. It is mentally and morally injurious to man to do anything in which he does not find pleasure, and many forms of labour are quite pleasureless activities, and should be regarded as such. To sweep a slushy crossing for eight hours on a day when the east wind is blowing is a disgusting occupation. To sweep it with joy would be appalling. Man is made for something better than disturbing dirt. All work of that kind should be done by machine.”12

In his essay, Wilde, unlike Wells, is unabashed in confessing to his own Utopianism, writing:

“Is this Utopian? A map of the world that does not include Utopia is not worth even glancing at, for it leaves out one country at which Humanity is always landing. And when humanity lands there, it looks out, and, seeing a better country, sets sail. Progress is the realization of Utopias.”13

But then, both Wilde and Wells were dreaming up Utopias during an age when dreaming about Utopia remained a permissible intellectual pursuit. So it is just that Wilde’s dream is so much grander than any visions of Wells. Wells was certainly an astute forecaster and could see with exceptional acuity what immediately awaited humanity around the next few corners, but Wilde, on the other hand, sought to navigate across a wider ocean. He did not wish to be constrained by the tedious encumbrances of his own time, and regarded the complete abolition of hard labour as an absolutely essential component of a better future. Even then, he was far from alone.

*

Writing in the thirties, Bertrand Russell was another outspoken advocate of cultured laziness. Russell, who is now venerated by some almost as a secular saint was nothing of the sort. Many of his views on politics and society were highly disagreeable and he was arguably one of the dreariest philosophers ever published, but this aside he was a supreme mathematician. It is noteworthy therefore that in order to support his own expressed desire for reducing the average workload, he did a few very simple sums. These led him to what he regarded as the most important, yet completely overlooked, lesson to be learned from the Great War.

At a time when the majority of the able-bodied population were busily fighting or else engaged in other means of facilitating the destructive apparatus of war, new modes of production had maintained sufficiency, and yet, as Russell pointed out, the true significance of this outstanding triumph of the new technologies was altogether masked by the vagaries of economics. He writes:

“Modern technique has made it possible to diminish enormously the amount of labour required to secure the necessaries of life for everyone. This was made obvious during the war. At that time all the men in the armed forces, and all the men and women engaged in the production of munitions, all the men and women engaged in spying, war propaganda, or Government offices connected with the war, were withdrawn from productive occupations. In spite of this, the general level of well-being among unskilled wage-earners on the side of the Allies was higher than before or since. The significance of this fact was concealed by finance: borrowing made it appear as if the future was nourishing the present. But that, of course, would have been impossible; a man cannot eat a loaf of bread that does not yet exist. The war showed conclusively that, by the scientific organization of production, it is possible to keep modern populations in fair comfort on a small part of the working capacity of the modern world. If, at the end of the war, the scientific organization, which had been created in order to liberate men for fighting and munition work, had been preserved, and the hours of the week had been cut down to four, all would have been well. Instead of that the old chaos was restored, those whose work was demanded were made to work long hours, and the rest were left to starve as unemployed.”

And so to the sums – easy stuff for a man who had previously tried to fathom a complete axiomatic system for all mathematics:

“This is the morality of the Slave State, applied in circumstances totally unlike those in which it arose. No wonder the result has been disastrous. Let us take an illustration. Suppose that, at a given moment, a certain number of people are engaged in the manufacture of pins. They make as many pins as the world needs, working (say) eight hours a day. Someone makes an invention by which the same number of men can make twice as many pins: pins are already so cheap that hardly any more will be bought at a lower price. In a sensible world, everybody concerned in the manufacturing of pins would take to working four hours instead of eight, and everything else would go on as before. But in the actual world this would be thought demoralizing. The men still work eight hours, there are too many pins, some employers go bankrupt, and half the men previously concerned in making pins are thrown out of work. There is, in the end, just as much leisure as on the other plan, but half the men are totally idle while half are still overworked. In this way, it is insured that the unavoidable leisure shall cause misery all round instead of being a universal source of happiness. Can anything more insane be imagined?”

His conclusion is that everyone could and would work a lot less hours, if only the system permitted us to:

“If the ordinary wage-earner worked four hours a day, there would be enough for everybody and no unemployment – assuming a certain very moderate amount of sensible organization. This idea shocks the well-to-do, because they are convinced that the poor would not know how to use so much leisure.”14

It was still only 1932 remember – technology’s “wonders” have moved on a lot since Russell’s day…

*

Apis mellifera, the honey-bearing bee, is the paragon of industriousness. It’s a pleasure just to watch them humming their way from flower to flower. Working all the hours the apian god sends, without a care in the world. We ascribe tremendous social virtue to our arthropodous familiars, the busy, busy bees. However, if we are to judge bees fairly then we ought properly to consider more critically what it is that our conscientious little friends actually get up to day in, day out…

For though we say that the bees are “at work” – the infertile females who carry out the majority of tasks technically denominated as “workers” – their most celebrated activity, the foraging for nectar from flowers, can hardly be considered a “real job” at all. Unless by “real job” we allow that gorging oneself on the sweetest food available automatically qualifies as work. For, after supping up an abdomenful of nectar (I exaggerate a little for effect), these “workers” then return home to empty the contents of their bellies, as any professional drinker might. Back at the hive, their sister bees also collaborate in the transformation of the incoming nectar, collectively “manufacturing” honey by means of repeated consumption, partial digestion and regurgitation – and apologies to anyone who has suddenly lost their appetite for honey, but bear in mind that milk and eggs are no less strange when you stop to think about them.

By chance, it happens that humans (and other creatures) are partial to the sticky end product of a bee’s binge drinking session. I personally love it. And so we steal away their almost intoxicating amber syrup and attach an attractive price tag to it. The bees receive compensation in the form of sugar, and being apparently unaware of our cheap deception, are extolled as paragons of virtue.

In fact, whenever we take to judging or appraising human conduct of any kind, there is a stubborn tendency to take direction either from Religion, or, if Religion is dismissed, to look for comparisons from Nature. If doing something “isn’t natural”, a lazy kind of reasoning goes, then evidently – evidentially, in fact – there must be something wrong with it. For it cannot be right and proper to sin against Religion or to transgress against Nature. Thus, behaviour that is unorthodox and deviant in relationship to a received normal is denounced, in accordance with strict definition indeed, as perversion.

This fallacious “appeal to nature” argument also operates in reverse: that whenever a particular behaviour is thought virtuous or worthwhile, then – and generally without the slightest recourse to further identifiable evidence – ipso facto, it becomes “natural”. Although of the tremendous variety of human activities, work seems outstanding in this regard. For throughout historic times, societies have consistently upheld that work is self-evidently “natural”; the Protestant “work ethic” is perhaps the most familiar and unmistakeably religious variant of a broader sanctification of labour. Although it is surely worth noting that God’s punishment for Adam’s original sin was that he should be expelled from Paradise “to till the ground from whence he was taken.”15 (Most probably booming “the world doesn’t owe you a living, my son!” before slamming the gates to paradise shut.) Protestant mill-owners, of course, found it convenient to overlook how hard labour was God’s original punishment.

But then, atheistic societies have been inclined to extol work more highly still, and not simply because it is “natural” (the commonest surrogate for Religion), but because atheism is inherently materialist, and since materials depend upon production, productivity is likewise deemed more virtuous and worthwhile. Thus, under systems both Capitalist and Communist, work reigns supreme.

Stalin awarded medals to his miners and his manufacturers – and why not? Medals for production make more sense than medals for destruction. Yet this adoration of work involves a doublethink, with Stalin, for example, on the one hand glorifying the hard labour of labour heroes like, most famously, Alexey Stakhanov, and meanwhile dispatching his worst enemies to the punishment of hard labour in distant work camps, as did Mao and as did Hitler. “Arbeit macht frei” is an horrific lie, yet in some important sense the Nazi leaders evidently believed their own lie, for aside from war and genocide, the Nazi ideology once again extolled work above all else. In the case of Communism, the exaltation of the means of production was to serve the collective ends; in Fascism, itself the twisted apotheosis of Nature, work being natural ensures it is inherently a still greater good.

Yet oddly, whenever you stop to think about it, very little modern humans do is remotely natural, whether or not it is decent, proper and righteous. Cooking food isn’t natural. Eating our meals out of crockery by means of metal cutlery isn’t remotely natural either. Sleeping in a bed isn’t natural. Wearing socks, or hats, or anything else for that matter, isn’t natural… just ask the naturists! And structuring our lives so that our activities coincide with a predetermined time schedule isn’t the least bit natural. Alarm clocks aren’t natural folks! Wake up!

But work is indeed widely regarded as an especially (one might say uniquely) exemplary activity, as well as a wholesomely natural one. Consider the bees, the ants, or whatever other creature fits the bill, and see how tremendously and ungrudgingly productive they all are. See how marvellously proactive and business-like – such marvellous efficiency and purpose! In reality, however, the bees, ants and all the other creatures are never working at all – not even “the workers”. Not in any meaningful sense that corresponds to our narrow concept of “working”. The bees, the ants and the rest of the critters are all simply being… being bees, being ants. Being and “playing”, if you prefer: “playing” certainly no less valid as a description than “working”, and arguably closer to reality once understood from any bee or ant’s perspective (presuming they have one).

No species besides our own (an especially odd species) willingly engages in drudgery and toil; the rest altogether more straightforwardly simply eat, sleep, hunt, drink, breathe, run, swim and fly. The birds don’t do it! The bees don’t do it either! (Let’s leave the educated fleas!) Nature natures and this is all. It is we who anthropomorphise such natural activities and by attaching inappropriate labels transform ordinary pleasures into such burdensome pursuits that they sap nature of vitality. So when Samuel Johnson says, “No man loves labour for itself!” he is actually reminding us all of our true nature.

*

Whether or not we welcome it, “manpower” (humanpower that is), like horsepower before, is soon to be superseded by machine-power. Indeed, a big reason this profound change hasn’t made a greater impact already is that manpower (thanks to contemporary forms of wage slavery and the more distant indentured servitude of sweatshop labour) has remained comparatively cheap. For now the human worker is also more subtle and adaptable than any automated alternative. All of this, however, is about to be challenged, and the changeover will come with unfaltering haste.

To a considerable extent our switch to automation has already happened. On the domestic front, the transfer of labour is rather obvious, with the steady introduction and accumulation of so many labour-saving devices. For instance, the introduction of electric washing machines, which eliminate the need to use a washboard, to hand rinse or squeeze clothes through a mangle, spares us a full day of labour per week. When these became automatic washer dryers, the only required task was to load and unload the machine. In my own lifetime the spread of these, at first, luxury appliances, is now complete throughout the Western world. Meantime, the rise and rise of factory food and clothing production means ready meals and socks are so inexpensive that fewer of us actually bother to cook and scarcely anyone younger than me even remembers what darning is. The bored housewife was very much a late twentieth century affliction – freed from cooking and cleaning there was suddenly ample time for stuffing mushrooms.

Outside our homes, however, the rise of the machine has had a more equivocal impact. Indeed, it has been counterproductive in many ways, with new technologies sometimes adding to the workload instead of subtracting from it. The rise of information technologies is an illustrative example: the fax machine, emails, the internet and even mobile phones have enabled businesses to extend working hours beyond our traditional and regular shifts, and in other ways, work has been multiplied as the same technologies unnecessarily interfere to the detriment of real productive capacity.

Today’s worker is faced with more assessments to complete, more paperwork (albeit usually of a digital form), more evaluation, and an ever-expanding stack of office emails to handle – enough demands for swift replies to circulars and a multitude of other paper-chasing obligations that we spend half our days stuck in front of a monitor or bent over the office photocopier. Every member of “the team” now recruited to this singular task of administrative procedures.

But these mountains of paper (and/or terabytes of zeroes and ones) needing to be reprocessed into different forms of paper and/or digital records are only rising in response to the rise of the office. In fact, it is this increase in bureaucracy which provides the significant make-weight to mask the more general underlying decline in gainful (meaning productive) employment. Yet still, this growth in administration is a growth that only carries us so far, and a growth that can and ultimately will be eliminated, if not for perfectly sound reasons of practicability, then by automation. Ultimately, office workers are no more immune to this process of technological redundancy than the rest of us.

First broadcast by Channel 4 in 1993, the final episode of Tim Hunkin’s wonderful “Secret Life of the Office” served up a humorous take on the social engineering that led to the Twentieth Century’s rise of the office:

*

That the robots are coming is no longer science fiction, any more than the killer robots circling high over Pakistan and Yemen armed with their terrifyingly accurate automated AGM-114 Hellfire missiles, are science fiction. In fact, all our future wars will be fought by means of killer robots, and, unless such super-weapons are banned outright or, at the very least, controlled by international treaties, subsequent generations of these ‘drones’ will become increasingly autonomous – the already stated objective is to produce fully autonomous drones; an horrific prospect. It is also a prospect that perhaps most graphically illustrates how sophisticated today’s robotic systems have become, even if, as with all cutting-edge technology, the military enjoys the most advanced systems. In short, the grim robots fleets are with us, and set to become swarms unless nations act to outlaw their deployment, whereas more beneficial robotic descendants still wait more placidly in the wings. The arrival of both fleets heralds a new age – one for the better and one decidedly for the worse.

Of course, the forthcoming workforce of robots might also be for the worse. Yet the choice is ultimately ours, even if we cannot hold off that choice indefinitely, or even for very much longer. For all our robotic rivals (once perfected) hold so many advantages over a human workforce. Never grumbling or complaining, never demanding a pay rise or a holiday, and, in contrast to human drones, never needing any sleep at all, let alone scheming against their bosses or dreaming up ways to escape.

And the new robots will not stick to manufacturing, or cleaning, or farming the land, or moving goods around in auto-piloted trucks (just as they already fly planes), but soon, by means of the internet, they will be supplying a host of entirely door-to-door services – indeed, a shift in modes of distribution is already beginning to happen. In the slightly longer term, robots will be able to provide all life’s rudimentary essentials – the bare necessities, as the song goes. Quietly, efficiently and ungrudgingly constructing and servicing the essential infrastructure of a fully functioning civilisation. Then, in the slightly longer term, robots will be able to take care of the design, installation and upgrading of everything, including their own replacement robots. In no time, our drudgery (as well as the mundane jobs performed by those trapped inside those Third World sweatshops) will have been completely superseded.

This however leads us to a serious snag and a grave danger. For under present conditions, widespread automation ensures mass redundancy and long-term ruin for nearly everyone. And though there are few historical precedents, surely we can read between the historical lines, to see how societies, yielding to the dictates of their ruling elites (in our times, the bureaucrats and technocrats working at the behest of unseen plutocrats), will likely deal with those superfluous populations. It is unwise to expect much leniency, especially in view of the current dismantlement of existing social safety nets and welfare systems. The real clampdown on the “useless eaters” is only just beginning.

It is advisable, therefore, to approach this arising situation with eyes wide open, recognising such inexorable labour-saving developments for what they are: not merely a looming threat but potentially, at least, an extraordinary and unprecedented opportunity. However, this demands a fresh ethos: one that truly values all human life for its own sake and not merely for its productive capacity. More specifically, it requires a steady shift towards reduced working hours and greatly extended holidays: a sharing out of the ever-diminishing workload and a redistribution of resources (our true wealth), which will of course remain ample in any case (the robots will make sure of that).

This introduction of a new social paradigm is now of paramount concern, because if we hesitate too long in making our transition to a low work economy, then hard-line social and political changes will instead be imposed from above. Moves to counter what will be perceived as a crisis of under-employment will mean the implementation of social change but only to benefit the ruling establishment, who for abundantly obvious reasons will welcome the rise in wealth and income disparity along with the further subjugation of the lower classes – the middle class very much included.

As physicist Stephen Hawking said in response to the question “[D]o you foresee a world where people work less because so much work is automated?” and “Do you think people will always either find work or manufacture more work to be done?”

“If machines produce everything we need, the outcome will depend on how things are distributed. Everyone can enjoy a life of luxurious leisure if the machine-produced wealth is shared, or most people can end up miserably poor if the machine-owners successfully lobby against wealth redistribution. So far, the trend seems to be toward the second option, with technology driving ever-increasing inequality.”16

It is an answer that closely echoes Wilde’s foresight of more than a century ago; the difference being one of placing stress. Hawking emphasises the threat of what he calls the “second option”, whereas Wilde encourages us to press ahead in order to realise Hawking’s “a life of luxurious leisure” for everyone.

Of course, there will always be a little useful work that needs doing. Robots will ultimately be able perform all menial, most manual and the vast majority of mental tasks far more efficiently than a human brain and hand, but there will still be the need and the place for the human touch. In education, in medicine and nursing, care for the elderly and sick, and a host of other, sometimes mundane tasks and chores: emotionally intricate, kindly and compassionate roles that are indispensible to keeping all our lives ticking pleasantly along. The big question for our times, however, is really this: given the cheapness and abundance of modern labour-saving equipment, how is it that, even in the western world, instead of contracting, working hours are continuing to rise? The question for tomorrow – one that the first question contains and conceals – is this: given complete freedom and unrestricted choice, what would we actually prefer to be doing in our daily lives? As Bertrand Russell wrote:

“The wise use of leisure, it must be conceded, is a product of civilization and education. A man who has worked long hours all his life will become bored if he becomes suddenly idle. But without a considerable amount of leisure a man is cut off from many of the best things. There is no longer any reason why the bulk of the population should suffer this deprivation; only a foolish asceticism, usually vicarious, makes us continue to insist on work in excessive quantities now that the need no longer exists…”

“Modern methods of production have given us the possibility of ease and security for all; we have chosen, instead, to have overwork for some and starvation for others. Hitherto we have continued to be as energetic as we were before there were machines; in this we have been foolish, but there is no reason to go on being foolish forever.”17

*

I was about twelve when I took my first flight. It was onboard a Douglas DC9 and I was travelling to Vienna on an exchange trip. I was so excited and not afraid at all – or at least not afraid of the flight. Indeed, I recall how this was the main question older relatives kept asking and I found their obsession puzzling more than anything. But as I have grown older I have sadly developed a fear of flying. This is annoying in the extreme. Why now… when I’m middle-aged and have so much less to lose? But fear is only seldom a purely rational impulse.

Not that it is half so irrational as we are told to have a severe anxiety about being catapulted inside a thin metal capsule six miles up and at close to the speed of sound. Statistics are one thing but being in the presence of sheer physical danger is another. That said, fear of flying is surely as much about loss of control as anything. For why else did my own fear of flying worsen as I got older? Children are more accustomed than adults to feeling powerless, and so better able to relish the excitement of situations totally outside of their control.

Whole societies – or at least majority sections of societies – also suffer with phobias. Like our private fears, these collective fears held by social groups are frequently rooted in some sense of an impending loss of control. Fear of foreigners, fear of financial collapse, and fear of “terror”. But seldom considered is another societal phobia: our collective ‘fear of flying’. Flying in the poetic sense, that is: of fully letting go of the mundane. Instead, it seems our common longing is to be grounded: an understandable desire.

Why else, scarcely a century since the Wright Brothers’ miraculous first flights, do today’s air passengers find flying (that ancient dream) so tiresome that our commercial airlines serve up non-stop distractions to divert attention away from the direct experience? Indeed, listening to those familiar onboard announcements bidding us a pleasant flight, we are inclined (and very likely reclined) to hear the incidental underlying message: “we are sorry to put you through the dreary inconvenience of this journey”.

We fly and yet we don’t fly – or not as those who first dreamt of flight imagined. Flight has instead been transformed from visionary accomplishment into a nuisance and taken entirely for granted by the clock watchers impatiently kicking our heels beneath the slow-turning departure boards.

And just why are today’s airports such sterile and soul-destroying anti-human spaces? Presumably because this is again what modern humans have come to expect! The same can be said for so many facets of modern live. If we can transform the miracle of flight into a chore, then it follows that we can turn just about any activity into one.

Next chapter…

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In 1958 Mike Wallace interviewed psychoanalyst and social critic, Erich Fromm. What Fromm says about society, materialism, relationships, religion, and happiness is remarkably prescient, as is his analysis of a growing alienation as we become diminished to the role of products in an age of consumerism:

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Addendum: the future of work and Universal Basic Income

Due to its historical roots in workers’ movements18, the political left has tended to hold a somewhat inimical position when it comes to appraising the value of work. The understandable and perfectly legitimate elevation of the worker has had a countervailing effect in terms of accentuating the virtuousness of work per se, thereby adding to the weight of received wisdom that to endure toil and hardship is somehow intrinsically valuable. This is why the left has fallen into the habit of making a virtue out of the central object of the oppression it faces.

So what is the goal of the political left (of socialism, if you prefer)? What is its aim, if not, so far as it is possible, to fully emancipate the individual? For whatever dignifies and ennobles labour, and however understandable it may be as a strategy, to celebrate work for its own sake, disguises the base truth that only seldom is it edifying, and more often just a millstone, frequently a terrible one, which, if we are ever to become truly “free at last”, ought to be joyfully laid aside.

In 2013 Anthropologist David Graeber, professor of anthropology at LSE, wrote an excoriating essay on modern work for Strike! magazine. “On the Phenomenon of Bullshit Jobs” was read over a million times and the essay translated in seventeen different languages within weeks. Embedded below is a lecture Graeber gave to the RSA (Royal Society for the encouragement of Arts, Manufactures and Commerce) to expand on this phenomenon, and explore how the proliferation of meaningless jobs – more associated with the 20th-century Soviet Union than latter-day capitalism – has impacted modern society:

Since writing most of the above chapter the Zeitgeist has shifted remarkably. Suddenly technological unemployment is treated as a serious prospect and debated as a part of a wider political discourse on future trends. Introduced into this new debate, especially on the left, is the proposal for a ‘universal basic income’ i.e., money provided to everyone by the state to cover basic living expenses. Importantly this payment would be provided irrespective of how many hours a person works and has no other (discernable) strings attached.

UBI is certainly a very bold initiative as well as a plausible solution to the diminishing need for human workers in the coming hi-tech era. Unsurprisingly, I very much welcome it, at least in principle, but wish also to offer a small note of caution. Before large numbers of us are to able to live solely by means of a state provided UBI it will be essential to adjust societal norms relating to work. There can be no stigma in idleness. For if UBI is seen as merely a state handout and its recipients as welfare dependents, then we put them all into severe danger.

After all, work historically equates to status and money and until this ingrained relationship is eroded away, anyone subsisting on UBI alone would rather quickly sink to the level of a second-class citizen. Which is why I propose the better approach to UBI must aim to advance by taking baby steps: reducing days and hours, increasing holidays, lowering pensionable age, as well as expanding education – we must in fact think of eventually offering the luxury of lifelong education for all. Given where we start from today, to attempt to leap to it with one giant stride is surely too much of a risk. If UBI is truly our goal then we might reach it best by trimming work back until it barely exists at all.

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Please note that for the purposes of ‘publishing’ here I have taken advantage of the option to incorporate hypertext links and embed videos – in order to distinguish additional commentary from the original text all newly incorporated text has been italised.

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1 Quotes taken from The Life of Samuel Johnson, LL.D by James Boswell (1791). In the original version, the section substituted by ellipsis reads as follows: “There is, indeed, this in trade:– it gives men an opportunity of improving their situation. If there were no trade, many who are poor would always remain poor.”

2 Now part of Imperial College (my own alma mater).

3 Extract taken from The soul of man under socialism by Oscar Wilde (first published 1891).

4 The Open Conspiracy was published in 1928, subtitled “Blue Prints for a World Revolution”. These extracts are taken from Chapter 1 entitled “The present crisis in human affairs”. Interestingly, in a letter to Wells, albeit a begging letter, Bertrand Russell said of the work: “… I do not know of anything with which I agree more entirely”. The Open Conspiracy was later revised and republished as “What Are We to Do with Our Lives?” in 1931. http://www.voltairenet.org/IMG/pdf/Wells_The_Open_Conspiracy.pdf

5 Many boys and girls suffocated and others fell to their deaths. This was not helped by the practice of master sweeps to light a fire beneath them in order to force them to climb faster.

6 Quote taken from The Open Conspiracy.

7

“Two of the most perfect lives I have come across in my own experience are the lives of [the French Symbolist poet, Paul] Verlaine and of Prince Kropotkin: both of them men who have passed years in prison: the first, the one Christian poet since Dante; the other, a man with a soul of that beautiful white Christ which seems coming out of Russia.”

Taken from “De Profundis”, meaning literally “from the depths”; Wilde’s celebrated cri de coeur was intended, in part at least, as an extended letter and impassioned rebuke to his lover Lord Alfred Douglas. It was written during his imprisonment in Reading Gaol between January and March 1897, and has since been publicly released in various expurgated versions, the first of which was published in 1905. A complete version was finally released in 1962.

8

From The Open Conspiracy by H.G. Wells. The full set of seven “broad principles” reads as follows:

(1) The complete assertion, practical as well as theoretical, of the provisional nature of existing governments and of our acquiescence in them;

(2) The resolve to minimize by all available means the conflicts of these governments, their militant use of individuals and property, and their interferences with the establishment of a world economic system;

(3) The determination to replace private, local or national ownership of at least credit, transport, and staple production by a responsible world directorate serving the common ends of the race;

(4) The practical recognition of the necessity for world biological controls, for example, of population and disease;

(5) The support of a minimum standard of individual freedom and welfare in the world; and

(6) The supreme duty of subordinating the personal career to the creation of a world directorate capable of these tasks and to the general advancement of human knowledge, capacity, and power;

(7) The admission therewith that our immortality is conditional and lies in the race and not in our individual selves.

In light of what was about to come, this last item of the seven is perhaps the most perturbing. Wells introduces it as follows:

“And it is possible even of these, one, the seventh, may be, if not too restrictive, at least unnecessary. To the writer it seems unavoidable because it is so intimately associated with that continual dying out of tradition upon which our hopes for an unencumbered and expanding human future rest.”

9 Extract from The soul of man under socialism by Oscar Wilde (first published 1891).

10 From A Modern Utopia by H. G. Wells (published 1905). The same passage continues:

“But unprofitable occupation is also intended by idleness, and it may be considered whether that freedom also will be open to the Utopian. Conceivably it will, like privacy, locomotion, and almost all the freedoms of life, and on the same terms – if he possess the money to pay for it.”

11 Extract from The Open Conspiracy by H.G. Wells (first published 1928).

12 Extract from The soul of man under socialism by Oscar Wilde (first published 1891).

13 Ibid.

14 Extract taken from In Praise of Idleness by Bertrand Russell (1932). Note that Russell’s reference to pin manufacture is a deliberate allusion to Adam Smith’s famous hypothetical pin factory in which he illustrated the benefits of ‘division of labour’ in The Wealth of Nations.

15 From Genesis 3:23 (KJV)

16 In answer to a question posed during a Reddit Ask Me Anything session on October 8, 2015. https://www.reddit.com/r/science/comments/3nyn5i/science_ama_series_stephen_hawking_ama_answers/cvsdmkv

17 Extract taken from In Praise of Idleness by Bertrand Russell (1932).

18 Without an upwelling of righteous indignation amongst the oppressed rank and file of working people, no leftist movement would ever have arisen and gained traction. Yet, the political left also owes its origins to the early co-operative movements, a spontaneous awakening of enlightenment humanists, to the Romantics, and most importantly, to fringe religious groups. Tony Benn famously said that the formation of the Labour Party in Britain owed “more to Methodism than Marx”.

In 1832 six agricultural labourers formed a friendly society to protest against their meagre wages. George Loveless, a Methodist local preacher, was the leader of this small union – the other members included his brother James (also a Methodist preacher), James Hammett, James Brine, Thomas Standfield (Methodist and co-founder of the union) and Thomas’s son John. These men were subsequently arrested, convicted and sentenced to transportation. Three years later, and following a huge public outcry which involved a march on London and petitions to parliament, they were issued pardons and allowed to return to England as heroes. This small band of men is now collectively remembered as the Tolpuddle Martyrs.

But the origins of socialism in Britain can be really traced as far back as the English Civil War and indeed earlier again to Wat Tyler’s Peasants’ Revolt of 1381, when the workers of the Middle Ages, inspired by the teachings of the radical priest John Ball, took their demands directly to the King Richard II who reneged on his concessions and had them hunted down.

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the last casualty of war is Truth… as the White Helmets ride off into the sunset!

When members of the world’s most distinctively attired ‘rescue group’ were last weekend “evacuated” by Israel and their role in the war in Syria formally ended, the official portrait of the White Helmets as humanitarian “volunteers” and paragons of virtue was freshly asserted. By parsing a single Guardian article, my intention here is to show again how this grotesque misrepresentation of the truth has been cultivated and maintained.

For closer analysis of the corporate media’s complicity in the promotion of the White Helmets I refer you to the addendum – first published on Pier Robinson’s official website, his original article is reproduced in full at the end of this post.

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The White Helmets and their families were evacuated by Israeli defence forces on Saturday night, crossing from northern Israel into Jordan at three points. The Israelis had initially put the numbers evacuated at 800, but later the figure was revised downwards by James Le Mesurier, a former MI5 officer who is considered to have founded the group in Turkey in 2013.

He said on Sunday that 422 people were rescued, including 98 White Helmets. As many as 800 others did not manage to escape or chose not to do so.

Writes ‘Patrick Wintour and agencies’ [italicised as original] in a recent Guardian article.

The first point of note is that the primary source for their story, James Le Mesurier, is described simply as “a former MI5 officer who is considered to have founded the group” following which the partially anonymous authors rather conspicuously fail to drill down into Le Mesurier’s stated ties to British intelligence. Moreover, they avoid all mention of Le Mesurier’s subsequent contract work for the US and UK governments:

Prior to his founding of the White Helmets, Le Mesurier served as Vice President for Special Projects at the Olive Group, a private mercenary organization that has since merged with Blackwater-Academi into what is now known as Constellis Holdings. Then, in 2008, Le Mesurier left the Olive Group after he was appointed to the position of Principal at Good Harbor Consulting, chaired by Richard A. Clarke – a veteran of the U.S. national security establishment and the counter-terrorism “czar” under the Bush and Clinton administrations. 1

Click here to read more about Le Mesurier in the same article written by Whitney Webb and published by Mint Press News.

It is the case and easily verified that Le Mesurier was indeed the founder of the White Helmets which he had helped form in March 2013 in Turkey. His pivotal role in the unlikely origins of the White Helmets is not remotely controversial although the authors of the article deliberately lessen the impact by stating only “is considered to have founded the group”. Quoted below is Le Mesurier’s own account of the birth of the White Helmets, proudly retold in a speech given in Lisbon in 2015:

In early 2013 I had a meeting with nine local leaders that had come out from northern Aleppo, and they painted this picture of the frequency and the intensity of the bombing that was taking place. And I was delivering programmes on behalf of the US and UK governments, and we were able to offer them some good governance training, some democratising training, and a handful of sat phones.

Several days later I was very fortunate to meet the head of Turkey’s earthquake response group, a group of people called “AKUT.” And the conversation that we had was along the lines of: “If they can rescue people from a building that has been flattened as a result of an earthquake, how possible is it to rescue people from a building that’s been collapsed as a result of a bomb?” And this led to a series of design labs. We brought a number of people out of Syria who brought building samples, and we sat down over several days merging the expertise of the Syrians that had come out from the ground (who knew the regime tactics) with my organisation that understood operating in war zones and the expertise of this organisation, AKUT, who rescue people after earthquakes. 2

[from 4:10 mins]

Embedded below is Le Mesurier’s full speech given at The Performance Theatre, Lisbon on June 26, 2015:

James Le Mesurier’s CV is so very reminiscent of former Navy Seal and founder of Blackwater-Academi, Erik Prince, that this really must raise eyebrows. For why did an ex-MI5 officer who thereafter enjoyed a boardroom position in private security firm the Olive Group – a group that afterwards merged with Prince’s Blackwater-Academi – go on to form the purportedly humanitarian White Helmets? And why did he officially name this group formed in Turkey, the “Syrian Civil Defence”, unless he fully intended to usurp extant and internationally recognised domestic civil defence organisations? Incidentally, if you search for James Le Mesurier on Wikipedia you will be redirected to the entry for the White Helmets. Unlike Erik Prince, there is no separate entry for James Le Mesurier himself who in the White Helmets entry is correctly designated its founder but briskly described merely as “former British Army officer”.

Click here to read an extended piece investigating the background to the White Helmets written by Max Blumenthal, published by Alternet in October 2016.

Wintour and the unnamed ‘agencies’ continue:

The White Helmets have operated in opposition-held areas rescuing civilians from the rubble of airstrikes, but they have been attacked as western agents by Russia since their work has been funded by the UK Foreign Office (FCO) and the White House. 3

That the White Helmets have exclusively operated in regions controlled by “opposition groups” is well-known. What is only seldom reported on, however, is how they shared the same territories with proscribed terrorist groups including Jaish al-Islam (trans: “The Army/Sword of Islam”), Ahrar al-Sham and Jabhat Fateh al-Sham (formerly Jabhat al-Nusra aka al-Qaeda in Syria).

Once again, this well-established fact ought to cast very serious doubt on their stated neutrality. Moreover, this admittedly circumstantial evidence of collusion on the grounds of location becomes conclusive once we consider the multiple images shamelessly uploaded on social media by White Helmet “volunteers” themselves, in which we see them cavorting with combatants of those same Islamist terrorist groups, posing with firearms, waving the black flag of al-Qaeda, and actually assisting with the clear-up of executions. Is this the image of selfless humanitarianism?

Click here to see a cache of literally hundreds more images like this one.

The authors of the Guardian piece claim “they have been attacked as western agents by Russia since their work has been funded by the UK Foreign Office (FCO) and the White House”, which is another of many half-truths in this account. Saying “funded” implies that monies donated to the group were additional and a top up, when it would be far more accurate to say that the White Helmets are ‘financed’, or, better still, ‘bankrolled’ by Western governments. Here are the figures – please judge for yourself:

But the main implication in this statement is that no-one besides agents of the Russian state has ever challenged the neutrality of the White Helmets, which is outright rubbish.

For instance, here is John Pilger describing them as “a complete propaganda construct”:

Seymour Hersh has been nearly as outspoken against the White Helmets saying:

“Also, I think America was indirectly supplying some money [to the White Helmets], certainly the Brits were, and so certainly it was a propaganda organisation too.” 4

Both statements were of course made in interviews broadcast by RT, but this is because even journalists as acclaimed as John Pilger and Seymour Hersh are just not permitted mainstream airtime to impugn the heroic status of the Oscar-winning White Helmets. The neutrality of the White Helmets has become an article of faith and all who dispute it do so at the risk of becoming marginalised themselves – Hersh in particular, who is today largely restricted to publishing articles in the London Review of Books, has been roundly abused for his stance on Syria.

Embedded below is a ‘Corbett Report’ broadcast in February and aptly entitled “The White Helmets are a Propaganda Construct”. It addresses all of the points raised above and more:

As this officially sanctioned story of the White Helmets has been spun, the most troubling aspect is the astonishing lack of diligence in mainstream reporting. Aside from an abject failure to follow the money — or simply to acknowledge and report on the considerable streams of taxpayer funding — the corporate media has never once questioned the group’s humanitarianism or its purported neutrality. In consequence (at least in part), the White Helmets have since been lauded by politicians across both sides of the aisle, bolstered by some of our most influential NGOs including Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch, celebrated in an Oscar-winning documentary, and finally nominated for the Nobel Peace Prize. Had the truth ever been allowed to come out, would they still have so many friends in high places?

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Finally, I know that we are no longer expected to retain memory of events relating to periods outside the current news cycle, but that Israel is leading this rescue mission is curious isn’t it. Curious given the recent IDF massacre of more than 130 unarmed Palestinian protesters – including 25 children; given how those same forces are once again “mowing the grass” in Gaza, bombing the homes of its own refugee population; and that Israel has just passed a nation-state law to ensure the old de facto apartheid system was made de jure. Why then, we might reasonably ask Netanyahu, are the lives of some Arabs who have chosen to live within regions of Syria occupied by Islamist terrorist groups worth so much than others, closer to home, who just happen (perhaps entirely by accident) to be living under the flag of Hamas?

Netanyahu later tweeted that the evacuation by the IDF was a “humanitarian gesture”, which given Israel’s very direct involvement in the war on Syria is clearly downplaying its significance. But then, it is impossible to understand Israel’s aims in backing anti-Assad opposition without considering the bigger picture. As Brian Whitaker wrote in a Guardian article published during the lead up to the Iraq War in late 2002 and entitled “Playing skittles with Saddam”:

The “skittles theory” of the Middle East – that one ball aimed at Iraq can knock down several regimes – has been around for some time on the wilder fringes of politics but has come to the fore in the United States on the back of the “war against terrorism”.

Its roots can be traced, at least in part, to a paper published in 1996 by an Israeli thinktank, the Institute for Advanced Strategic and Political Studies. Entitled “A clean break: a new strategy for securing the realm”, it was intended as a political blueprint for the incoming government of Binyamin Netanyahu. As the title indicates, it advised the right-wing Mr Netanyahu to make a complete break with the past by adopting a strategy “based on an entirely new intellectual foundation, one that restores strategic initiative and provides the nation the room to engage every possible energy on rebuilding Zionism …” […]

The paper set out a plan by which Israel would “shape its strategic environment”, beginning with the removal of Saddam Hussein and the installation of a Hashemite monarchy in Baghdad.

With Saddam out of the way and Iraq thus brought under Jordanian Hashemite influence, Jordan and Turkey would form an axis along with Israel to weaken and “roll back” Syria. Jordan, it suggested, could also sort out Lebanon by “weaning” the Shia Muslim population away from Syria and Iran, and re-establishing their former ties with the Shia in the new Hashemite kingdom of Iraq. “Israel will not only contain its foes; it will transcend them”, the paper concluded. 5

[Bold highlight added]

Click here to read the full article written by Brian Whitaker.

A strategy for Israeli expansion which includes the “weaken[ing] and ‘roll back’ [of] Syria” can be further traced back to the so-called Oded Yinon Plan – Yinon was an Israeli journalist with links to the Israeli Foreign Ministry. Published back in 1982 by the World Zionist Organisation’s publication Kivunim, it had called for the Balkanisation of Iraq and Syria. Both nations have since been ravaged by war and Iraq is already partitioned. The permanent division of Syria may yet follow. If it does, it will not have happened by chance.

Click here to read more about ‘The Clean Break’ and the ‘Yinon Plan’ in an extended post on the subject.

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Additional: Peter Ford responds to the ‘evacuation’ of the White Helmets

Former Ambassador to Syria 2003 – 2006, Peter Ford responds to the UK Government statement by Foreign Secretary Jeremy Hunt and International Development Secretary Penny Mordaunt on “exceptional” Israeli evacuation of the UK/US Coalition intelligence construct, the White Helmets:

Following a joint diplomatic effort by the UK and international partners, a group of White Helmets volunteers from southern Syria and their families have been able to leave Syria for safety.

They are now being assisted by the UNHCR in Jordan pending international resettlement.

The White Helmets have saved over 115,000 lives during the Syrian conflict, at great risk to their own. Many White Helmets volunteers have also been killed while doing their work – trying to rescue civilians trapped in bombarded buildings or providing first aid to injured civilians. White Helmets have been the target of attacks and, due to their high profile, we judged that, in these particular circumstances, the volunteers required immediate protection. We therefore took steps with the aim of affording that protection to as many of the volunteers and their families as possible.

We pay tribute to the brave and selfless work that White Helmets volunteers have done to save Syrians on all sides of the conflict.

Peter Ford responds:

The government statement contains two bare-faced lies.

The White Helmets most definitely have not assisted all sides in the conflict. From the beginning they have only ever operated in rebel-held areas. Government controlled areas have the real Syrian Civil Defence and Syrian Red Crescent. This is quite a big whopper on the government’s part. It goes without saying that the media will not pick up on it.

Secondly the White Helmets are not volunteers. They are doing jobs for which they are paid, by Western governments. They have a press department 150 strong, bigger than that for the whole of the UK ambulance service. Their claims of saving over 115,000 lives have never been verified. The co-location of their offices with jihadi operation centres has been well documented.

Apparently the government are lying because they are nervous of being accused of importing into this country scores of dangerous migrants who have many times been reported to be associating with extremists (social media is rife with self-propagated videos of their misdeeds such as participation in beheadings and waving ISIS and Al Qaida flags), and wish to whitewash them.

The White Helmets’ dramatic exfiltration leaves many questions unanswered

1. Why was it deemed necessary to evacuate this particular group in the south when other groups of White Helmets simply got on the buses to Northern Syria when military operations concluded in Aleppo, Eastern Ghouta and elsewhere, and when similar exodus by bus has been arranged for rebels in Deraa?
2. Why should White Helmets be considered to be more at risk than combatants, many of whom have either ‘reconciled’ or been bussed out? In the demonology of the government side the White Helmets are not seen as worse than other jihadis.
3. Might the British government have been afraid of this particular group being caught and interrogated, revealing perhaps the truth about alleged chemical weapon incidents?
4. Will they now be foisted on to areas of the UK already struggling to absorb migrants, or will they go to places like Esher and Carshalton?
5. Will local councils be informed about the backgrounds of these fugitives? Will local councils be given extra resources to absorb them and cope with resulting security needs, bearing in mind that Raed Saleh, leader of the White Helmets, was refused a visa to the US in 2016?

Click here to read the same post originally published by Vanessa Beeley on her website The Wall Will Fall.

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The following is a comment by writer and photographer Bryan Hemming appended to Peter Ford’s statement on TheWallWillFall:

From our living room window, here on the tip of Southern Spain, we can see the North African coast. Every day we hear news of refugees risking their lives to cross the Mediterranean. They are fleeing the violence, hunger and destruction that is a direct consequence of wars instigated by Western governments funding, training and arming religious fanatics and terrorist groups determined to impose tyranny.

This morning’s news told of another thousand or so new arrivals over the weekend. We see videos of the blurred out women holding the lifeless bodies of babies that didn’t survive the trip. With the extremely hot weather, most died of dehydration. As if from ironic perversity, a few died from drowning in salt water.

A walk along the beach at any time of year can reveal a tiny shoe, a pair of soaked jeans, or the sorry remains of a deflated rubber dinghy, whose passengers didn’t make it to shore .

In the art market in Conil de la Frontera, where we sell our work, Javier, a painter, tells me of the times he’s called out. He’s a Red Cross volunteer on standby. On call 24/7 he gives up his time to welcome and look after the survivors, handing out food, water and blankets along with a little bit of care and love. Last week was particularly busy, he told me, with two or three helicopters searching for survivors of dinghies that sank. Many launches were also out hardly knowing where to look, as there were so many in need of help.

The Anglo corporate media won’t be reporting that, they are too busy worrying about the White Helmets. Seems a good time for someone to come down here and see what’s really happening.

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Addendum: Pier Robinson on media complicity

The recent Guardian article by Olivia Solon attacks those investigating and questioning the role of the White Helmets in Syria and attributes all such questioning to Russian propaganda, conspiracy theorizing and deliberate disinformation. The article does little, however, to address the legitimate questions which have been raised about the nature of the White Helmets and their role in the Syrian conflict. In addition, academics such as Professors Tim Hayward and Piers Robinson have been subjected to intemperate attacks from mainstream media columnists such as George Monbiot through social media for questioning official narratives. More broadly, as Louis Allday described in 2016 with regard to the war in Syria, to express ‘even a mildly dissenting opinion … has seen many people ridiculed and attacked … These attacks are rarely, if ever, reasoned critiques of opposing views: instead they frequently descend into personal, often hysterical, insults and baseless, vitriolic allegations’. These are indeed difficult times in which to ask serious and probing questions. It should be possible for public debate to proceed without resort to ad hominem attacks and smears.

It is possible to evaluate the White Helmets through analysis of verifiable government and corporate documents which describe their funding and purpose. So, what do we know about the White Helmets? First, the ‘Syria Civil Defence’, the ‘official title’ given to the White Helmets, is supported by US and UK funding. Here it is important to note that the real Syria Civil Defence already exists and is the only such agency recognised by the International Civil Defence Organisation (ICDO). The White Helmets receive funding from the UK government’s Conflict, Stability and Security Fund (CSSF) and the US government’s USAID, Office of Transition Initiatives programme – the Syria Regional Program II. The UK and US governments do not provide direct training and support to the White Helmets. Instead, private contractors bid for the funding from the CSSF and USAID. Mayday Rescue won the CSSF contract, and Chemonics won the USAID contract. As such, Chemonics and Mayday Rescue train and support the White Helmets on behalf of the US and UK governments.

Second, the CSSF is directly controlled by the UK National Security Council, which is chaired by the Prime Minister, while USAID is controlled by the US National Security Council, the Secretary of State and the President. The CSSF is guided by the Strategic Defence and Security Review (SDSR) which incorporates UK National Security Objectives. Specifically, the White Helmets funding from the CSSF falls under National Security Objective “2d: Tackling conflict and building stability overseas”. This is a constituent part of the broader “National Security Objective 2: Project our Global Influence”.

The funding background of the White Helmets raises important questions regarding their purpose. A summary document published online indicates that the CSSF funding for the White Helmets is currently coordinated by the Syria Resilience Programme. This document highlights that the core objective of the programme is to support “the moderate opposition to provide services for their communities and to contest new space”, as to empower “legitimate local governance structures to deliver services gives credibility to the moderate opposition”. The document goes on to state that the White Helmets (‘Syria Civil Defence’) “provide an invaluable reporting and advocacy role”, which “has provided confidence to statements made by UK and other international leaders made in condemnation of Russian actions”. The ‘Syria Resilience CSSF Programme Summary’ is a draft document and not official government policy. However, the summary indicates the potential dual use of the White Helmets by the UK government: first, as a means of supporting and lending credibility to opposition structures within Syria; second, as an apparently impartial organisation that can corroborate UK accusations against the Russian state.

In a context in which both the US and UK governments have been actively supporting attempts to overthrow the Syrian government for many years, this material casts doubt on the status of the White Helmets as an impartial humanitarian organization. It is therefore essential that investigators such as Vanessa Beeley, who raise substantive questions about the White Helmets, are engaged with in a serious and intellectually honest fashion. The White Helmets do not appear to be the independent agency that some have claimed them to be. Rather, their funding background, and the strategic objectives of those funders, provide strong prima facie grounds for considering the White Helmets as part of a US/UK information operation designed to underpin regime change in Syria as other independent journalists have argued. It is time for the smears and personal attacks to stop, allowing full and open investigation by academics and journalists into UK policy toward Syria, including the role of the White Helmets, leading to a better-informed public debate.

Click here to read the same article published on Pier Robinson’s official website.

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Update:

On August 4th, RT broadcast a special episode of its news show Going Underground featuring interviews with head of the White Helmets, Raed Al Saleh, and investigative reporter Vanessa Beeley:

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1 From an article entitled “James Le Mesurier: The Former British Mercenary Who Founded The White Helmets” written by Whitney Webb, published in Mint Press News on July 31, 2017. https://www.mintpressnews.com/james-le-mesurier-british-ex-military-mercenary-founded-white-helmets/230320/

2 Transcript modified from show notes to “Episode 330 – The White Helmets Are A Propaganda Construct” (Feb 9, 2018) written and published by James Corbett on The Corbett Report website. https://www.corbettreport.com/whitehelmets/

3 From an article entitled “UK agrees to take in some White Helmets evacuated from Syria by Israel” written by Patrick Wintour and agencies published in the Guardian on July 22, 2018. https://www.theguardian.com/world/2018/jul/22/israel-evacuates-800-white-helmets-in-face-of-syria-advance

4 http://thepeacereport.com/investigative-journalist-exposes-propaganda-of-the-white-helmets/

5 From an article entitled “Playing skittles with Saddam” written by Brian Whitaker, published in the Guardian on September 3, 2002. https://www.theguardian.com/world/2002/sep/03/worlddispatch.iraq

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‘Brazil’: now more than ever, a satire for our age

Prologue: a slow ‘soft coup’ in Brazil

When Brazil hosted the World Cup in 2014, the gaping contradiction between the sporting festival and anger on the streets was widely commented upon. This reported ‘popular uprising’ was said to have been against government corruption and President Dilma Rousseff’s handling of the economy. In fact the forecast riots never happened, and the drama instead took place on the pitch, when the host nation was routed 7-1 by Germany in a semifinal disaster. A portent perhaps that Rousseff’s days were also numbered.

Two years on, in the immediate aftermath of a de facto coup, Brazil descended into more serious political turmoil just as the Olympics arrived in Rio. However, this time around the tear-gas and the plastic bullets failed to make the headlines, with TV coverage maintaining a steady focus on the events inside the stadia.

Brazil’s soft coup is now complete: Rousseff was impeached on August 31st 2016, and the presidency thereafter seized by then-Vice President Michel Temer. With a meager 5% approval rating, he has since become the most unpopular president in Brazil’s history:

Since his appointment, Temer has also been accused of corruption scandals, the alleged reason for which former president Rousseff was impeached, and the very reason that he assumed office. Every measure of social wellbeing has plummeted as Temer’s administration has passed sweeping austerity measures and cut funding the social programs implemented by the Workers’ Party that are credited with making Brazil a main power on the global stage, increasing social inclusion in higher education, growing the middle class, and decreasing hunger and homelessness… Despite his abysmal approval rating, mass protests, public criticism, and a tanking economy, Temer is still in office. And now, the main leftist candidate, Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva (also known as Lula), who has consistently led in the polls by wide margins, is in prison serving a 12-year sentence for a legal proceeding that has yet to be concluded.

From an article entitled “The ‘Soft Coup’ and the Attack on the Brazilian People” by Celina Stien-Della Croce.

The legal battle over former president Lula’s imprisonment is ongoing. Last Sunday Judge Rogério Favreto ordered his release but was subsequently overruled not once but three times “as bewildered Brazilians on social media compared the legal drama to a World Cup penalty shootout”.

Celina Stien-Della Croce continues:

When we think of coups, most of us imagine an image of the past or, at the very least, a clear and undeniable use of force. Large guns. Military intervention. Blood. The brutal overthrow of an elected government. (Think: Chile in 1973, Honduras in 2009, Argentina in 1976). What has been deemed a ‘soft coup’ in Brazil in 2016 stems from the same motive—the protection of corporate, foreign, and imperialist interests over the interests of the poor and working people and their right to self-determination—but comes wrapped in more palatable packaging that makes it easier to deny the violation of democracy. As Tricontinental: Institute for Social Research discusses in their recent dossier “Lula: The Battle for Democracy in Brazil,” the foreign and national elite used a series of legally sanctioned measures to remove the Workers’ Party from office under the guise of corruption. Though the legal case against former president and current Presidential candidate Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva and former President Dilma Rousseff is full of holes (a lack of evidence, unreliable and changing quid-pro-quo testimonies given in exchange for lighter sentences, illegal wiretapping, etc), it allowed the bourgeoise—operating through the Brazilian courts—a means to sentence Lula to prison and remove Dilma from power. Quoting law professor Carlos Lodi, Tricontinental defines lawfare as the ‘process of using the law to produce political results. Opponents are removed by use of the legal system rather than the constitutionally valid electoral process’. This is a major strategy behind Brazil’s ‘soft coup’ and the assault on Brazilian democracy. 1

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Nineteen eighty-four and a half

The following piece was first drafted at the height of the Brazilian World Cup four years ago but for various reasons remained unpublished. Given the situation in Brazil and elsewhere, it seems more applicable than ever…

Braaaaa-zzzilll, dah, dah, dah, da-da-dah etc… if you’ve been watching what I’ve been watching throughout the last month then you will have been hearing it rather a lot: the laid-back guitar riff on which we drift into every World Cup commercial break. Does it turn my thoughts to warm, golden sands and ice-cold sips of Piña Colada? Well, no actually, barely at all. Instead the dreamy jingle is in the habit of recalling Terry Gilliam’s elegant satire on a garish and tawdry bureaucratic dystopia in his film (called appropriately enough) Brazil. The odd juxtaposition – 1985 film and 2014 tournament – snaps unconsciously into place as if the two were always meant to be conjoined.

Interestingly, Brazil (the movie) is quite deliberately set in no specified place or time. Gilliam’s dread warning is of a tyranny that might assert itself anywhere and anytime. Indeed, his is the more hideous portrait of a society frozen precisely at “the end of history” where every form of alternative outlook and unorthodox opinion has been dismissed outright from the collective psyche. Devoid of nonconformity, all nascent dissent, though it very seldom arises, is stamped out in an instant. Not a very pretty picture.

Yet instead of a cunning and ruthlessly efficient despotism, we marvel only at how such a grey and faceless system grinds on unstoppably, even when it is as comically disorganised as the stiflingly ubiquitous ducts – yes, ducts (as in duct tape… there’s no such thing as duck tape!) – ducts for heating, air-conditioning, for water and waste disposal, and even those old-fashioned ones for sending documents through. Ducts that coalesce into one vast, tortuous entanglement that worms itself throughout Brazil‘s high-rise sprawl; twisting and looping in and out of every gloomy apartment block, shop and restaurant, and every administrative office. A labyrinthine network no less invincible than the Byzantine regime it embodies; one that occasionally, and especially when in need of repair, behaves all-too viscerally: throbbing like the guts of some tremendous monster. Eerily, the ducts often seem more alive than any of the denizens who have to squeeze their lives so awkwardly to fit in around them.

To add to the general misery of Brazil, citizens also have routine terrorist attacks to dodge. Again, it is prescient how terrorism exists as an overarching pretext for these authoritarian rulers (whoever they may be, since – like the terrorists – the powers-that-be are never fully seen) to bring all “enemies of the state” to a swift new equivalence of justice. Long gone is the old-fashioned inconvenience of habeas corpus, with law-enforcement streamlined thanks to SAS-style SWAT team raids and jurisprudence reduced to “interrogation” somewhere inside the wittily titled “Office of Information Retrieval”. A procedure of kidnap and torture that in today’s real world is (no less euphemistically) called “rendition”. In keeping with the tone of the satire, each suspect is thereafter scrupulously billed for “the service” they received! In Brazil the corporatocracy is total.

The title track and accompanying score (composed around the same famous tune as ITV’s jingle 2) is the solitary theme that beguiles us. A leitmotif, it fades up on occasions when central character Sam Lowry (played by Jonathan Pryce) daydreams his escape from the humdrum trauma of his dutiful but otherwise meaningless existence. And in some ways, the World Cup also feels like a daydream of distraction to lull us briefly from the inanities and brutalities that we rub against in our own lives or else pass over as news. For it turns out that Gilliam’s futuristic vision (thirty years old already) is prophetic in too many ways. His world of secrecy, surveillance, and superficiality (cosmetic surgery features strongly), an altogether grim exaggeration of where we had been heading all along. Briefly, if you’ve never seen Brazil, then just think Orwell’s Nineteen Eighty-Four retold as a black comedy of errors – it was originally pitched as “1984 and a half” apparently.

Back in Brazil (and now I refer to the country rather than the film), as here and elsewhere, “austerity” remains very much in vogue. Here as elsewhere, of course, “austerity” isn’t for everyone. Our political leaders may try to persuade that “we’re all be in this together” but tightening the belt has never been very respectable in the more prosperous strata of our societies – and for perfectly understandable reasons, never will be.

So yes, there may indeed be inadequate revenues to maintain fully-functioning public services, to rebuild infrastructure or new housing, but money was readily available when the bankers needed their bailouts. It is also noticeable how the public purse can always be stretched (here and elsewhere) whenever it comes to putting on spectaculars like the Olympics and World Cup – not forgetting a stage the Tour de France that passed through my home city Sheffield at the estimated cost to the city council alone of £1 million. With less bread to go around, how blessed we all are with more circuses than ever!

Please don’t get me wrong however, I enjoyed the Tour de France and love the four-year reappearance of every World Cup… FIFA, try as they might, are fighting a losing battle to destroy the romance altogether. But I am torn. For even when the World Cup has been as entertaining this one, a small part of me aches to join in the chorus in the streets (you know, those protesters we don’t normally hear about – reported on just once in a blue moon and especially if it happens to suit Western interests).

It would be far better, of course, if politics and sport never mixed; but unavoidably they do. Take the obvious recent example involving a few overpaid Cameroon players squabbling about bonuses. Individual greed of this sort is just the visible (one might say risible) tip of a truly gigantic iceberg of corruption: but obviously corruption in sport exists simply because sport is a microcosm of wider society.

To take an overhead view, corruption is an oily slime that gurgles through serpentine systems, like those ducts in Brazil, connecting up governments and corporations via the murky conduits of foundations and “political charities”. Looking for social welfare? Well, there’s no money! Corporate welfare? Sure, no problem! Tax breaks, cozy public-private partnerships, no-bid contracts, and bailouts: the media, itself corrupted, naturally plays along.

We see welfare benefits transformed into income support in the most literal sense imaginable, with vital public revenues redirected to make up for shortfalls in real wages – full-time work is no longer sufficient to make ends meet. This is evidently just another form of corporate welfare, but widely misrepresented as an element of social welfare.

And why? Why isn’t every adult in Britain, a developed nation in the twenty-first century, in receipt of, at a bare minimum, adequate income to have a home and keep a family (as opposed to struggling on the laughably titled “Living Wage”)? Well, because government policies are not set in accordance with the popular will (which as vulgar as it sounds is the inherent principle of ‘democracy’ from the Greek dēmokratia, meaning dēmos ‘the people’ + -kratia ‘power, rule’) but at the behest of a few giant corporations, accredited by the foundation funded ‘think tanks’ and ‘policy institutes’: a plethora of staunchly anti-democratic organs of the same monolithic financial-corporate establishment. Thus welfare makes way to ‘workfare’. Workfare – how they must laugh… at the choice of homonym.

Then we come to lobbying. Money creamed off from the top of this extensive profiteering and stuffed into the back pockets of the cronies in government – legalised (though I’m not sure when) bribery. Bringing us inevitably to the biggest racket on this planet…

Warfare is more profitable by miles than any amount of workfare when viewed in purely business terms. It pours out of our tax revenues and directly into arms industry coffers. What other activity could transfer comparable wealth from the poor to the rich with greater efficiency? Not that this constant burden on the public purse is much discussed. Nor do our politicians or media urge much restraint in spite of recent historical precedents: so-called ‘humanitarian interventions’ wreaking far greater horrors than those we ostensibly intended to prevent. That none of the many wars is finally ‘winnable’ is tacitly accepted. It serves as an excuse to double down. Because when it comes to waging war, the government behaves like an addicted gambler. The country’s reserves might just as well be bottomless.

As in Brazil, the nebulous threat of terrorism is the main pretext that justifies all of this. It permits the rollback of civil liberties and the steady abolition of human rights – take for instance the resurgent debate about whether or not torture is effective, which is not only horrifying but a grotesque anachronism.

Counterterrorism also justifies our killing abroad and the total surveillance of our populations at home. A cynical person might say that if terrorism did not exist then the corporatocracy would have to invent it.

Meanwhile, Braaaaa-zzzilll, dah, dah, dah… and there we find our celebrity politicians clamouring to be seen and heard in support of “the team”, feigning ordinariness in the hope that we regard them merely as compatriots, forgiving their true allegiance to transnational corporations and special interests… Whoa! Here comes those commercials… and it’s time once more to be teased: fresh inducements to throw the last remnants of your meagre salary on tantalisingly (im)probable bets… “Have a bang on that!” growls Ray Winstone, as he plays head tennis with an overgrown digitised Big Brother likeness…

In short, there are plenty of lotteries and cheap beer to keep the proles happy, which is exactly as Orwell tried to forewarn us. It is one strand of Nineteen Eighty-Four that is mostly overlooked and forgotten.

The rule is straightforward, of course: financial depression brings political oppression in its wake. Out of political oppression comes conflict and division: riots at home, wars abroad. It is a dire and incontrovertible fact that this cycle of misery has already cost multiple millions of lives, not once, but twice, during the last century. A lesson from history we ought to have learned the hard way.

Instead, it’s getting late again… yet another storm is threatening to break out across the Middle East as clouds are also darkening the skies over Ukraine. Time is running short because the existential threat to Western democracy has nothing to do with terrorism, but is the entirely terrifying prospect of a full-blown international shoot-out. The war that everyone says can never happen.

So this is not the most opportune moment to be putting our feet up and settling back to enjoy ice-cold sips of Piña Colada, or (more probably) pints of lager, as pleasant as putting our feet up and supping ale is. When the circuses have pulled up sticks and temporarily left town, and the final whistle is blown for another four years – or if you happened to live on a stage of the Tour de France, the last of the yellow bunting is taken down – the War Party remains in power.

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Epilogue: it’s not coming home… but that’s ok

“Someone said to me ‘To you football is a matter of life or death!’ and I said ‘Listen, It’s more important than that’”

— Bill Shankly 3

I was a disappointed as anyone after England’s semifinal defeat to Croatia, but have we lost all sense of proportion? I watched the game at a friend’s house and when ITV switched over to the news studio afterwards we were all quite staggered that its World Cup coverage continued unabated and throughout the rest of the broadcast. Repeats of game that had ended just a few minutes earlier were now interspersed with wide-angle shots of beer-hurling crowds and vox pop interviews of supporters, and on and on and on it went. Eventually we crossed over to Thailand to see pictures of the boys miraculously rescued from the cave who are thankfully now recuperating inside an isolation unit. Apparently they were watching the World Cup too. But the genuine emotion of their cave rescue was over and with far stronger emotion directly on tap back home, the news abruptly switched over once more – to the overblown spectacle of yet more pogoing crowds and bleary-eyed fans.

In truth, the media role today is not to dispassionately present information as it claims but to whip up raw emotion. The targets may shift – fear and loathing of terrorism has mostly given way to fear and loathing of Russiagate ‘meddling’, Putin, ‘Novichok’ and Trump – but the hysteria remains. As playwright and novelist CJ Hopkins writes:

The speed at which they switched from the War on Terror narrative to the Putin-Nazi narrative attests to the power of the corporate media and the neoliberal propaganda machine, generally. It really is an amazing achievement. In less than two years, they managed to condition a significant portion of the Western masses to forget about “the Islamic terrorists” that they had been conditioned to live in fear of, and to transfer their fear and hatred to Trump, and Putin, and anyone who appears to support them, or doesn’t sufficiently hate and fear them.

The ruling classes have achieved this feat by generating an ongoing series of episodes of mass hysteria. Most of them last a week or two, but their cumulative effect is powerful and enduring. Fake news, bots, travel bans, Confederate statues, neo-Nazi rallies, “novichok” attacks, kids in cages … anything the corporate media can use to channel more hatred toward Trump and Putin. None of these episodes are generated out of whole cloth. Obviously, the Russians are pursuing their interests, there is a white supremacist subculture in the United States, as there always has been, those kids were put in those cages, and so on … none of which began with Trump, or has anything exclusively to do with Putin, or triggered mass protests and widespread outrage until the neoliberal ruling classes and corporate media decided it should. 4

Click here to read CJ Hopkins’ latest satirical piece entitled “Hardcore Hitler on Hitler in Helsinki”.

Sport provides another way to push our buttons.

An audience of 26 million Britons apparently watched the game live on Wednesday night although there isn’t anything close to 26 million football fans living on this small island. How many packed-in beneath the giant screens would be watching any ordinary England match? Fewer still are regular match-goers.

Those beside me on the sofa were all long-standing fans of the game. One supported local club Sheffield Utd, another cheers on Crystal Palace and I’ve supported Wolves for most of my life. We all know very well the giddy ups and downs of football fandom. Intense feelings of elation and defeat are recurring experiences. But this was different. This was a festival backed by a media frenzy – the strange intensity heightened again thanks to a highly intoxicated social media. Sorry if I sound like an old fuddy-duddy, but quite frankly I don’t wish to be sprayed with beer every time my team takes the lead – that’s not football; it’s Glastonbury or Ibiza or something.

Bill Shankly was only joking when he made his famous remark usually misquoted as “football is not a matter of life and death, it’s much more serious than that”, even if a woeful number with the literal-minded priggishness of Christian end-timers are silly enough to have taken him seriously. Shankly knew hardship. After he left school aged fourteen, he had worked in a coal mine. He knew first-hand what it felt like to be hungry and confined in darkness. He surely would have understood the quiet anguish felt by the Thai boys better than any of us, but what would he have made of the media-hyped and largely manufactured heartbreak felt by England’s johnny-come-lately carnival fans? I imagine he might well have choked on his beer… chortling in derision.

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1 From an article entitled “The ‘Soft Coup’ and the Attack on the Brazilian People” written by Celina Stien-Della Croce, published in Counterpunch on June 22, 2018. https://www.counterpunch.org/2018/06/22/the-soft-coup-and-the-attack-on-the-brazilian-people/  

2 A symphonic reworking of “Aquarela do Brasil” (Watercolor of Brazil), known in the English-speaking world simply as “Brazil”, written by Ary Barroso in 1939.

3 In an interview on a Granada Television chat-show, hosted by Shelley Rohde on Wednesday 20th of May 1981

4 From an article entitled “Hardcore Hitler on Hitler in Helsinki” written by CJ Hopkins published in Counterpunch on July 10, 2018. https://www.counterpunch.org/2018/07/10/hardcore-hitler-on-hitler-in-helsinki/

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Filed under analysis & opinion, Brazil, Britain, neo-liberalism, police state

censorship in the name of copyright: stop the EU turning the internet into a ‘tool for surveillance and control’

The internet as a public forum is coming under attack once more. In the name of protecting intellectual property rights, the European Parliament’s Legal Affairs Committee today voted for legislation first proposed by the European Commission in 2016 which requires the installation of filters that will highly restrict the inclusion of news snippets in internet content, thus overhauling the existing copyright principle of ‘fair use’.

An open letter signed by seventy tech experts including Tim Berners-Lee, the inventor of the worldwide web, was sent to the President of the European Parliament in June. It begins:

As a group of the Internet’s original architects and pioneers and their successors, we write to you as a matter of urgency about an imminent threat to the future of this global network.

The European Commission’s proposal for Article 13 of the proposed Directive for Copyright in the Digital Single Market Directive was well-intended. As creators ourselves, we share the concern that there should be a fair distribution of revenues from the online use of copyright works, that benefits creators, publishers, and platforms alike.

But Article 13 is not the right way to achieve this. By requiring Internet platforms to perform automatic filtering all of the content that their users upload, Article 13 takes an unprecedented step towards the transformation of the Internet from an open platform for sharing and innovation, into a tool for the automated surveillance and control of its users.

It concludes:

We support the consideration of measures that would improve the ability for creators to receive fair remuneration for the use of their works online. But we cannot support Article 13, which would mandate Internet platforms to embed an automated infrastructure for monitoring and censorship deep into their networks. For the sake of the Internet’s future, we urge you to vote for the deletion of this proposal.

Another provision in the proposed legislation is a so-called “link tax” that will force all of us who use news snippets (as I am about to) to obtain a licence:

The aim is to generate income for publishers from aggregators such as Google and Reddit. Since readers usually want to know what a link leads to before clicking, most websites include a snippet of the linked-to content. Any limitation on snippets is hence also a limitation on linking.

The proposal would potentially restrict not just big players but smaller sites and individuals who publish news snippets. Germany and Spain have introduced similar laws, which have failed badly and been disastrous for publishers, the very group the EU seeks to protect. 1

Click here to read the full Guardian report by Kenan Malik.

Here’s another link to a different part of the story (and separate article) that the EU also wants to prevent me from quoting:

[Green MEP Julia] Reda argues that the “link tax” would drastically curtail internet users from sharing news stories and even holiday photos on the internet. Under the proposals, “such snippets would require licensing, including even short and purely factual headlines like ‘Angela Merkel meets Theresa May’”, she wrote ahead of the vote. 2

*

Click here to add your name to a petition against the introduction of Articles 11 and 13 of the Copyright in the Digital Single Market Directive:

The proposed law includes powers for media giants to charge licensing fees for posting links, through a new type of copyright, aka the link tax. 3 It would also demand websites install bots to monitor your posts, and censor them, if copyrighted content is detected. 4 We know these rules impact how many of us work on a day to day basis: from journalists looking up sources, to professional reviewers discussing the latest films. 5

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1 From an article entitled “A fairer deal on web copyright doesn’t need the bovver boots from Brussels” written by Kenan Malik, published in the Guardian on April 8, 2018. https://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2018/apr/08/fairer-deal-on-web-copyright-eu-free-speech-open-access

2 From an article entitled “EU votes for copyright law that would make internet a ‘tool of control’” written by Jennifer Rankin, published in the Guardian on June 20, 2018. https://www.theguardian.com/technology/2018/jun/20/eu-votes-for-copyright-law-that-would-make-internet-a-tool-for-control

3 Ancillary Copyright, Publishers’ Right, Link Tax: a bad idea under any name. Source: Communia Association

4 Killing parody, killing memes, killing the internet? Source: EDRi

5 Help our link tax impact research AND speak to your MEPs. Source: OpenMedia

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Filed under campaigns & events, internet freedom

America’s favourite terrorist dies peacefully in Miami — more on the life and crimes of Luis Posada Carriles

“He was the United States’ man in Caracas. He worked for the CIA for, by his own admission, over 24 years. It just goes to show you, if you’ve got friends in high places, even though you may be a terrorist, the United States will protect you.”

José Pertierra, a Cuban attorney based in Washington, D.C 1

*

Luis Posada Carriles died peacefully at “a government home for veterans” in Miramar, Florida last Wednesday. News of his death passed largely unnoticed, although a few media outlets did produce obituaries.

BBC news reported:

Luis Posada Carriles, a Cuban-born former CIA agent who dedicated much of his life to trying to overthrow the communist government on the island, has died in Florida aged 90. 2

It described Carriles in its headline as simply a “Cuba anti-communist activist”. Meanwhile, The New York Times, beneath a movie star portrait of the younger Carriles, ran with “Luis Posada Carriles, Who Waged Quest to Oust Castro, Dies at 90”, and printed eulogies from his friends:

“He had that magnetic quality to him that I’m sure explains how he was able to survive all those years,” said Mr. Posada’s lawyer, Arturo V. Hernandez. “He was able to establish alliances to help him. You can’t do that if everybody hates you.”

Exiles sent him money, and they bought his paintings to help him survive. (He had learned how to paint in prison.) They paid bribes to sneak him out of jails and countries and into others.

“He was a charmer,” said Santiago Alvarez, a longtime Miami activist who has served time in prison for his anti-Castro efforts. “He had stories for everything. He made you laugh. He was good company.”

Frances Robles, the author of the NYT piece summarised Carriles’ life as follows:

Mr. Posada spent nearly 60 years on a quixotic and often bloody mission to bring down Fidel Castro by any means possible. He was accused of using bombs and bullets in a crusade that took the lives of innocents but never did manage to snare that Cuban leader, who died at 90 in 2016. 3

But the real life Carriles was no hero and was “accused of using bombs and bullets… that took the lives of innocents” because he did. It stands as a fact and not an accusation that Carriles was a most notorious and unrepentant terrorist, who very certainly murdered hundreds of people, the majority of whom were entirely innocent bystanders, and afterwards as he once boasted to a different New York Times reporter, Ann Louise Bardach, when interviewed in 1998, had “slept like a baby”. 4

A comprehensive catalogue of the known crimes committed by Carriles with corroborating evidence contained in documents from the CIA and other US agencies is available at the website of the National Security Archive, the center for research and documentation:

Luis Posada Carriles is certainly on any terrorist expert’s list of top 10 most prolific purveyors of violence over the last 30 or 40 years. He was a Cuban, left Cuba after the revolution, started to work with the CIA, was a paid asset and trainer in sabotage, in explosions — in explosives for the CIA, training other Cuban militants in the mid-1960s. He was on the CIA payroll from 1965 through 1976. He left the United States in 1967 and moved to Caracas, Venezuela, where he became a very high official in the Venezuelan secret police, DISIP.

And while he was in Caracas, in October of 1976, according to CIA and FBI declassified secret documents, he was one of the two masterminds of one of the most heinous acts of international terrorism in the Western Hemisphere before our own 9/11: the bombing of a Cubana flight, mid-air, killing 73 men, women and children on October 6, 1976.

He has a long history beyond that. He went on to orchestrate a series of hotel bombings in Cuba in the late 1990s. He was arrested in Panama in November of 2000 with a car full of C-4 explosives and dynamite in an effort to blow up Fidel Castro during an Iberian-American summit. I mean, the list goes on and on and on.

And we had hoped that he would actually be convicted and, at 83 years old, spend the rest of his life in prison. Instead, it may be that he is able to live in retirement in Miami, which is, you know, a complete stunning turn of events for anybody who cares about the security of U.S. citizens and justice for the victims of international terrorism.

Peter Kornbluh, director of the National Security Archive at the George Washington University and the Cuba Documentation Project *

To learn more watch Posada Carriles: Terrorism Made in the USA (2007) — a documentary from renowned Venezuelan filmmaker Angel Palacios which details his longstanding relationship with the CIA, dating back to the 1960’s.

The film took two years of meticulous research by an investigative team that examined declassified documents and criminal files, and interviewed witnesses and survivors from several Latin American countries.

Reposted in full below is an earlier article (one of the first posts on this blog) published in May 2011 shortly after Carilles had been tried and acquitted by a court in Texas of immigration-related charges.

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On January 10[th] one of the most dangerous terrorists in recent history will go on trial in a small courtroom in El Paso, Texas. This is not the venue the Obama administration has finally selected to prosecute the perpetrators of 9/11; it is where the reputed godfather of Cuban exile violence, Luis Posada Carriles, may finally face a modicum of accountability for his many crimes.

Writes Peter Kornbluh in an article published on January 24th in The Nation magazine:

In the annals of modern justice, the Posada trial stands out as one of the most bizarre and disreputable of legal proceedings. The man identified by US intelligence reports as a mastermind of the midair destruction of a Cuban airliner—all seventy-three people on board were killed when the plane plunged into the sea off the coast of Barbados on October 6, 1976—and who publicly bragged about being behind a series of hotel bombings in Havana that killed an Italian businessman, Fabio Di Celmo, is being prosecuted for perjury and fraud, not murder and mayhem. The handling of his case during the Bush years became an international embarrassment and reflected poorly on the willingness and/or abilities of the Justice Department to prosecute crimes of terror when that terrorist was once an agent and ally of America. For the Obama administration, the verdict will carry significant implications for US credibility in the fight against terrorism, as well as for the future of US-Cuban relations. 5

Whilst James C. McKinley Jr., writing in The New York Times on January 9th, asks why this elderly former CIA agent is on trial not for terrorism but perjury:

An elderly Cuban exile who once worked for the C.I.A. and has been linked to bombings in Havana and the downing of an airliner in the 1970s is scheduled to go on trial this week in a Texas courtroom — not on terrorism charges, but for perjury.

His article continues:

“The C.I.A. trained and unleashed a Frankenstein,” said Peter Kornbluh, an analyst with the National Security Archive who has studied Mr. Posada’s career. “It is long past time he be identified as a terrorist and be held accountable as a terrorist.”

Mr. Posada’s lawyer, Arturo Hernandez, predicted that his client would be acquitted. “He’s innocent of everything,” Mr. Hernandez said.

The defendant in question, Luis Posada Carriles, has in fact worked with the CIA on many different occasions – and especially during America’s Cold War campaign against Castro:

Mr. Posada has long been entwined with American intelligence services, going back to the failed Bay of Pigs invasion in 1961. He worked directly for the agency until 1967, spying on Cuban exile groups in Miami and running paramilitary training camps, according to declassified documents. He was also a “paid asset” of the agency in Venezuela from 1968 to 1976, according to declassified documents and an unclassified summary of his career in the court record.

“The C.I.A. taught us everything — everything,” he told The [New York] Times in 1998. “They taught us explosives, how to kill, bomb[,] trained us in acts of sabotage.” 6

Click here to read the full article.

But then, back in May 2005, the 77-year-old Posada Carriles was arrested in Miami, and held for entering the US illegally; the judge eventually ruling that he could not be deported to face charges in Venezuela:

The judge said Luis Posada Carriles – wanted by Caracas over a 1976 plane bombing which killed 73 people – faced the threat of torture in Venezuela.

The Venezuelan government reacted angrily to the ruling, accusing the US of having a “double standard in its so-called war on terrorism”. 7

Click here to read full report from the BBC News in September 2005.

The record of terrorist offences Mr Posada is charged with is a very long one: Posada has actually admitted to involvement with bombings of Cuban hotels and nightclubs, and has already been convicted in Panama for his involvement in many other plots, including the attack which brought down Cubana Flight 455. Stephen Kinzer, writing for The Guardian, in May 2007, says he only narrowly escaped becoming one of those victims:

One October day in 1976, a Cuban airliner exploded over the Caribbean and crashed, killing all 73 people aboard. There should have been 74. I had a ticket on that flight, but changed my reservation at the last moment and flew to Havana on an earlier plane.

I was sitting by the pool of the Hotel Riviera when I heard news of the crash. A few days later, I attended a powerfully moving ceremony at which one million Cubans turned out to hear Fidel Castro denounce the bomb attack. On the reviewing stand next to him were flag-draped coffins of the few victims whose remains had been found.

Investigators in Venezuela, where the doomed flight originated, quickly determined that a famous anti-Castro terrorist, Luis Posada Carriles, had probably planned this attack. More than 30 years later, however, Posada remains amazingly immune to prosecution. Instead of going to jail, he went to work for the CIA.

Last week a federal judge in Texas threw out a case against Posada. The Bush administration has power under the Patriot Act to detain him indefinitely, and could even extradite him to Venezuela. Instead it has chosen to protect him. 8

Click here to read the full article.

Posada Carriles was released from US custody on April 19th 2007, after paying his bond. Peter Kornbluh picks up the story again:

In April 2006 government lawyers decided to hold a naturalization interview with Posada while he was in jail, surreptitiously gathering self-incriminating evidence against him in the hotel bombing case…

Instead, on January 11, 2007, Posada was indicted in El Paso on six counts of making “false statements” and one of fraud about how he came to the United States and for his use of false names and false passports—charges that carry an maximum sentence of five to ten years each. To make matters worse for the credibility of the US legal system, four months later Judge Kathleen Cardone dismissed all charges against Posada. The government, she ruled, had engaged in “fraud, deceit and trickery” in obtaining evidence against Posada under the guise of conducting a naturalization review. The court, she declared, could “not set aside [Posada’s legal] rights nor overlook Government misconduct [just] because Defendant is a political hot potato.”

A free man, Posada took up residence in Miami…

Ironically, it is now the legal proceedings against Posada that could be embarrassing to, and carry significant implications for, WOLADY [the CIA’s codeword for the United States]. In the six years Posada has been in the United States, his case has become a spectacle around the world. Now, if he is found guilty and in effect proven to be a mastermind of terrorism, the US government will have to address the scandalously short sentence the perjury charges carry. If he is found innocent and released, the Obama administration will have to confront the fact that the US legal system is inadequate to hold Posada even minimally accountable for his violent crimes, and that the United States is, in the end, harboring an international terrorist.”

Hardly surprisingly, some of the relatives of Posada’s victims were already outraged that a known terrorist was only going to trial to face charges of perjury:

“He is not being charged as a terrorist but rather as a liar,” says Livio Di Celmo, whose brother, Fabio, was killed in one of the hotel bombings in Cuba. “My family and I are outraged and disappointed that a known terrorist, Luis Posada, is going to trial for perjury and immigration fraud, not for the horrific crime of masterminding the bombing of a civilian airliner,” Roseanne Nenninger, whose 19-year-old brother, Raymond, was aboard the Cuban plane, told The Nation. “Our hope is that the US government will designate Posada as a terrorist and hold him accountable for the pain, suffering and loss he has caused to us and so many other families.”

But they needn’t have worried because in April, the now 83-year-old Posada Carriles was acquitted of even these relatively minor offences, and so the case is presumably closed:

A US court has acquitted a veteran Cuban anti-communist activist and former CIA agent, Luis Posada Carriles, on immigration charges.

US federal prosecutors had accused him of lying to immigration officials, but a jury found him not guilty. 9

Click here  to read the full report from BBC News on April 8th.

Back in May 2007, Stephen Kinzer had written:

“After last week’s verdict, a spokesman for the US Department of Justice said Posada’s case is under review. A grand jury in New Jersey is investigating his role in the bombing of Cuban hotels in the 1990s. So far, though, the services he provided to the CIA for more than four decades have protected him.

“If you harbour a terrorist, you are a terrorist,” President Bush famously declared after the attacks of September 11, 2001. The United States is now harbouring Luis Posada Carriles. His continued freedom mocks victims of terrorism everywhere. It also shows how heavily the “war on terror” is overlaid with politics and hypocrisy.”

This latest verdict merely goes to show how the double standards that applied during Bush’s “war on terror” have been perpetuated under the Obama administration.

*

1 José Pertierra, a Cuban attorney based in Washington, D.C, speaking on Democracy Now! on Friday 25th.

Click here to read the watch the interview and read a full transcript on the Democracy Now! website.

2 From an article entitled “Luis Posada Carriles: Cuba anti-communist activist dies” published by BBC news on May 23, 2018. http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/world-latin-america-44226647

3 From an article entitled “Luis Posada Carriles, Who Waged Quest to Oust Castro, Dies at 90”, written by Frances Robles, published by the New York Times on May 23, 2018. https://www.nytimes.com/2018/05/23/obituaries/luis-posada-carriles-castro-foe-dies-at-90.html

4 From an article entitled “Catch him if you can” published by The Economist on April 14, 2011. https://www.economist.com/node/18560259

5 From an article entitled: “Former CIA Asset Luis Posada Goes to Trial” by Peter Kornbluh, published in The Nation, January 24, 2011. www.thenation.com/article/157510/former-cia-asset-luis-posada-goes-trial

6 From an article entitled “Terror Accusations, but Perjury Charges” by James C. McKinley Jr, published in The New York Times on January 9, 2011. www.nytimes.com/2011/01/10/us/10posada.html

7 “No deportation for Cuban militant” from BBC News published on Wednesday 28, September 2005. news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/world/americas/4289136.stm

8 From article entitled: “The terrorist Bush isn’t after: Luis Posada Carriles is a terrorist – but an anti-Castro one, so as far as America is concerned he’s all right.” by Stephen Kinzer, The Guardian,  published on May 15, 2007. www.guardian.co.uk/commentisfree/2007/may/15/theterroristbushisntafter

9 From an article entitled “US court acquites Cuba militant Luis Posada Carriles” published by BBC News on April 8, 2011. www.bbc.co.uk/news/world-latin-america-13021002

* Peter Kornbluh, director of the National Security Archive at the George Washington University and the Cuba Documentation Project, speaking on Democracy Now! on April 11th 2011.

Click here to read the watch the interview and read a full transcript on the Democracy Now! website.

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