Tag Archives: Chris Hedges

‘deep state vs. Trump state’: far-sighted analysis from Chris Hedges

Here is an upload to compliment the previous article – an addition I would have incorporated if I had come across it sooner.

On January 11th, Chris Hedges was interviewed on RT’s Watching the Hawks where he discussed why Clinton lost the election, how Chuck Schumer epitomises everything wrong with the Democratic Party, and the ways in which Trump will most likely be influenced by the ‘deep state’:

[from 5:50 mins] But what will be interesting is watching the ‘deep state’ which runs everything – Exxon Mobil, Raytheon, Goldman Sachs – And we see it in terms of Trump appointments. [What will be interesting is] watching them turn Trump.

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Jonathan Cook on “Brexit Hysteria and the Liberal Mind”

I do not ordinarily reprint articles in full, but have decided to break with normal policy to promote Jonathan Cook’s exceptionally important article. Cook understands and brilliantly dissects the febrile atmosphere after Brexit and urges a way forward.

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The enraged liberal reaction to the Brexit vote is in full flood. The anger is pathological – and helps to shed light on why a majority of Britons voted for leaving the European Union, just as earlier a majority of Labour party members voted for Jeremy Corbyn as leader.

A few years ago the American writer Chris Hedges wrote a book he titled the Death of the Liberal Class. His argument was not so much that liberals had disappeared, but that they had become so coopted by the right wing and its goals – from the subversion of progressive economic and social ideals by neoliberalism, to the enthusiastic embrace of neoconservative doctrine in prosecuting aggressive and expansionist wars overseas in the guise of “humanitarian intervention” – that liberalism had been hollowed out of all substance.

Liberal pundits sensitively agonise over, but invariably end up backing, policies designed to benefit the bankers and arms manufacturers, and ones that wreak havoc domestically and abroad. They are the “useful idiots” of modern western societies.

The liberal British media is current awash with articles by pundits on the Brexit vote I could select to illustrate my point, but this one by Guardian columnist Zoe Williams, I think, isolates this liberal pathology in all its sordid glory.

Here is a revealing section, written by a mind so befuddled by decades of neoliberal orthodoxy that it has lost all sense of the values it claims to espouse:

“There is a reason why, when Marine le Pen and Donald Trump congratulated us on our decision, it was like being punched in the face – because they are racists, authoritarian, small-minded and backward-looking. They embody the energy of hatred. The principles that underpin internationalism – cooperation, solidarity, unity, empathy, openness – these are all just elements of love.”

A love-filled EU?

One wonders where in the corridors of the EU bureaucracy Williams identifies that “love” she so admires. Did she see it when the Greeks were being crushed into submission after they rebelled against austerity policies that were themselves a legacy of European economic policies that had required Greece to sell off the last of its family silver?

Is she enamoured of this internationalism when the World Bank and IMF go into Africa and force developing nations into debt-slavery, typically after a dictator has trashed the country decades after being installed and propped up with arms and military advisers from the US and European nations?

What about the love-filled internationalism of NATO, which has relied on the EU to help spread its military tentacles across Europe close to the throat of the Russian bear? Is that the kind of cooperation, solidarity and unity she was thinking of?

Williams then does what a lot of British liberals are doing at the moment. She subtly calls for subversion of the democratic will:

“The anger of the progressive remain side, however, has somewhere to go: always suckers for optimism, we now have the impetus to put aside ambiguity in the service of clarity, put aside differences in the service of creativity. Out of embarrassment or ironic detachment, we’ve backed away from this fight for too long.”

That includes seeking the ousting of Jeremy Corbyn, of course. “Progressive” Remainers, it seems, have had enough of him. His crime is that he hails from “leftwing aristocracy” – his parents were lefties too, apparently, and even had such strong internationalist principles that they first met in a committee on the Spanish civil war.

But Corbyn’s greater crime, according to Williams, is that “he is not in favour of the EU”. It would be too much trouble for her to try and untangle the knotty problem of how a supreme internationalist like Corbyn, or Tony Benn before him, could be so against the love-filled EU. So she doesn’t bother.

Reversing the democratic will

We will never know from Williams how a leader who supports oppressed and under-privileged people around the world is cut from the same cloth as racists like Le Pen and Trump. That would require the kind of “agile thinking” she accuses Corbyn of being incapable of. It might hint that there is a leftwing case quite separate from the racist one – even if Corbyn was not allowed by his party to advocate it – for abandoning the EU. (You can read my arguments for Brexit here and here.)

But no, Williams assures us, Labour needs someone with much more recent leftwing heritage, someone who can tailor his or her sails to the prevailing winds of orthodoxy. And what’s even better, there is a Labour party stuffed full of Blairites to choose from. After all, their international credentials have been proven repeatedly, including in the killing fields of Iraq and Libya.

And here, wrapped into a single paragraph, is a golden nugget of liberal pathology from Williams. Her furious liberal plea is to rip up the foundations of democracy: get rid of the democratically elected Corbyn and find a way, any way, to block the wrong referendum outcome. No love, solidarity, unity or empathy for those who betrayed her and her class.

“There hasn’t been a more fertile time for a Labour leader since the 1990s. The case for a snap general election, already strong, will only intensify over the coming weeks. As the sheer mendacity of the leave argument becomes clear – it never intended to curb immigration, there will be no extra money for the NHS, there was no plan for making up EU spending in deprived areas – there will be a powerful argument for framing the general election as a rematch. Not another referendum, but a brake on article 50 and the next move determined by the new government. If you still want to leave the EU, vote Conservative. If you’ve realised or knew already what an act of vandalism that was, vote Labour.”

A coup in the making

Williams and the rest of the media, of course, are not making these arguments in a vacuum. Much of the Labour shadow cabinet has just resigned and the rest of the parliamentary party are trying to defy the overwhelming democratic will of their membership and oust Corbyn. His crime is not that he supported Brexit (he didn’t dare, given the inevitable reaction of his MPs) but that he is not a true believer in the current neoliberal order, which very much includes the EU.

Here is what one of the organisers (probably a shadow cabinet minister) of this coup-in-the-making says:

“The plan is to make Corbyn’s job as leader extremely difficult in the hope of pushing him to resign, with most MPs refusing to serve as shadow ministers, show up on the frontbench in the House of Commons, support him at PMQs or formulate policy under his leadership.”

This was presumably said with a straight face, as though Corbyn has not been undermined by these same Blairite MPs since day one of his leadership. This is not a new campaign – it has simply been forced to go more public by the Brexit vote.

Labour MPs do not just want to oust a leader with massive support among party members. They have hamstrung him from the outset so that he could not lead the political revolution members elected him to begin. And now he is being made to pay the price because he privately backs a position that, as the referendum has just shown, has majority support.

The neoliberal prison

The Brexit vote is a huge challenge to the left to face facts. We want to believe we are free but the truth is that we have long been in a prison called neoliberalism. The Conservative and Labour parties are tied umbilically to this neoliberal order. The EU is one key institution in a transnational neoliberal club. Our economy is structured to enforce neoliberalism whoever ostensibly runs the country.

That is why the debate about Brexit was never about values or principles – it was about money. It still is. The Remainers are talking only about the threat to their pensions. The Brexiters are talking only about the role of immigrants in driving down wages. And there is good reason: because the EU is part of the walls of the economic prison that has been constructed all around us. Our lives are now only about money, as the gargantuan bail-outs of the too-big-to-fail banks should have shown us.

There is a key difference between the two sides. Most Remainers want to pretend that the prison does not exist because they still get privileges to visit the living areas. The Brexiters cannot forget it exists because they are never allowed to leave their small cells.

The left cannot call itself a left and keep whingeing about its lost privileges while denouncing those trapped inside their cells as “racists”. Change requires that we first recognise our situation – and then have the will to struggle for something better.

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Jonathan Cook won the Martha Gellhorn Special Prize for Journalism. His latest books are “Israel and the Clash of Civilisations: Iraq, Iran and the Plan to Remake the Middle East (Pluto Press) and “Disappearing Palestine: Israel’s Experiments in Human Despair” (Zed Books). His website is www.jkcook.net.

Click here to read the same article published by Counterpunch.

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another day, another atrocity: may I speak freely?

Freedom is always the freedom of dissenters 1 — Rosa Luxemburg

As the mad men of ISIS find ever more vile ways to defile the faith they profess to, I am sickened. Sickened by reminders of the depths of savagery and depravity to which some human beings are capable. Sickened by the fact that the country I live in is one of those that has been deliberately supporting these monsters as they spread their obscene medievalism like a cancer across the Middle East and into Africa. And here is the unspeakable John McCain cavorting with a few of them during a sneak visit to Syria in May 2013:

Furthermore, I am outraged to see our leaders prostrating themselves once more before the House of Saud from whom this fundamentalist sickness of Wahhabism  was first contracted. And then we have the other side of all of this. We have the fanaticists at home.

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When I first heard reports of the attacks in Paris, and then the more recent attack in Copenhagen, the news came like another deadening dose of something expected and horrendous. More rampages of mass killing. And my condolences to the many survivors of these latest atrocities and to families and loved ones of those who were gunned down in cold blood; all of whose lives are now shattered.

I was also braced, of course, like many others, for that different chorus of voices to pipe their own variations to that well-worn theme known as the “clash of civilisations”. But then, and before we had any real chance to draw collective breath, a protest was in full swing with the soon familiar black banners declaring “Je suis Charlie” already fluttering as dusk fell across the world. Right-minded people were gathering together beneath them, and linking arms to show solidarity with the victims. And who amongst us would not stand up and raise the same banner in name of free speech?

Well, I confess that I did not join those gathered in the streets and watched from afar as the “Je suis Charlie” banners were unfurled. Now, after a respectful silence, here are some reflections on the response, both public and media (it was hard to tell them apart), in the immediate aftermath of the murders in Paris. An already ghastly sense of dismay, revulsion and alarm, suddenly compounded.

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Clash of civilisations

How absurd men are! They never use the liberties they have, they demand those they do not have. They have freedom of thought, they demand freedom of speech. — Søren Kierkegaard

It was coming, of course, and it really didn’t very take long at all. Within only a few hours of the murders, Channel 4’s Jon Snow was one of the better known journalists who reacted without pause or delay by responding with the demanded clichés. He tweeted:

Paris: brutal clash of civilisations: Europe’s belief in freedom of expression vs those for whom death is a weapon in defending their beliefs. [bold highlight added]

Is that so? Well, no – this is nothing more or less than reconstituted, unadulterated neo-con claptrap. Reconstituted from Samuel P. Huntington as a matter of fact.

I shall return to consider Huntington in a moment, but meanwhile, would like to offer a more thoughtful journalistic response, posted by Guardian correspondent, Homa Khaleeli, also on the day of the massacre. She begins:

It’s hard to admit to a reaction other than sadness to the murder of 12 people, especially when it takes place in a city that feels so close by. The images of sprawling bodies and masked assailants on familiar-looking streets gives the tragedy an extra edge of horror.

Yet in the moments after the news broke about the Charlie Hebdo massacre, I found it impossible to ignore a sinking feeling: the recognition that we were being pulled further into a cycle of distrust and division.

It grew as I read through the responses online. The straightforward reaction from far-right extremists was the hashtag #killallmuslims, which would have been easy to ignore as empty words if it hadn’t reminded me of the firebombing of mosques after the Lee Rigby murder.

She then responds directly to all those who, like Jon Snow, were so quick to pull out Huntington’s dog-whistle and press it to their lips:

Less violent but still divisive was the way the attack was depicted as a battle between Islam and freedom of speech, or between Muslims and satire – a clash-of-civilisations argument that splits the world neatly into “them” and “us”, by ignoring the staggering death toll of terrorist attacks abroad (most recently the massacre of schoolchildren in Pakistan). 2

In an extended article published by Counterpunch, economist and political analyst, Ismael Hossein-Zadeh, also helped to put the so-called ‘theory’ of the “clash of civilisations” into context in the light of the Paris attacks. He writes:

Huntington’s theory of “the clash of civilizations” is essentially a subtle version of Richard Perle’s strategy of “de-contextualization.” Perle, a leading neoconservative militarist (and a prominent advisor of the Likud party of Israel), coined the term “de-contextualization” as a way to explain both the desperate acts of terrorism in general and the violent tactics of the Palestinian resistance to occupation in particular. He argued that in order to blunt the widespread global criticism of the Israeli treatment of Palestinians, their resistance to occupation must be de-contextualized; that is, we must stop trying to understand the territorial, geopolitical and historical reasons that some groups turn to terrorism. Instead, he suggested, the reasons for the violent reactions of such groups must be sought in the arenas of culture and/or religion—in the Islamic way of thinking. Like the “clash of civilizations” theory, de-contextualization strategy has been part of a well-orchestrated effort to divert attention from the root causes of terrorism, and attribute it to “pathological problems of the Muslim mind.”

As Hossein-Zadeh explains in his piece, following the fall of the Soviet Union, Huntington’s “clash of civilisations” provided the Anglo-American warmongers with an essential surrogate enemy which might be used to disguise and justify its own neo-imperialist pursuit of control of territory and resources:

The theory, initially expounded by Samuel Huntington in the early 1990s, sets out to identify “new sources” of international conflicts in the post-Cold War world. During the Cold War years, major international conflicts were explained by the “threat of communism” and the rivalry between the two competing world systems.

In the post-Cold War era, however, argue Huntington and his co-thinkers, the sources of international rivalries and collisions have shifted to competing and incompatible civilizations, which have their primary roots in religion and/or culture. 3

Of course, Huntington’s “clash of civilisations” is really no less nonsensical than Fukuyama’s now laughable ‘flat earth’ theory that we have somehow already reached the “End of History”. For where is this great Islamic civilisation that the West is supposed to be in opposition to? There is none. There are just fanatics who thanks to our recent assistance have spread their backwardness into more unfortunate pockets of the world. Beyond these benighted corners, the same fundamentalism is supported only by a powerful few in Saudi Arabia and other despotic Gulf States, and these are not in opposition to the West, they are instead our close allies. So the fact that Huntington’s notion persists at all is entirely due to the needs of the war party helped along by voices in the media who, like Jon Snow (someone I once respected), appear to have become utterly incapable of thinking for themselves. (Please Jon, you did some excellent reporting from Gaza, but you need to get a grip again.)

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Freedom of expression

I may not agree with you, but I will defend to the death your right to make an ass of yourself. — Oscar Wilde

Best response to #CharlieHebdo attack – other than catching and punishing the killers – is to escalate blasphemous satire

Or so tweeted Jacob Weisberg, editor of Slate magazine. I heard similar sentiments from friends, responding as if blasphemy was in deficit in the western world. As if breaking all taboos is an unimpeachable good per se. And as if the secular western world was already free from every restriction on what is and isn’t permissible to speak about. But it isn’t so… None of this is really true:

Here is a thought experiment: Suppose that while the demonstrators stood solemnly at Place de la Republique the other night, holding up their pens and wearing their “je suis charlie” badges, a man stepped out in front brandishing a water pistol and wearing a badge that said “je suis cherif” (the first name of one of the two brothers who gunned down the Charlie Hebdo staff). Suppose he was carrying a placard with a cartoon depicting the editor of the magazine lying in a pool of blood, saying, “Well I’ll be a son of a gun!” or “You’ve really blown me away!” or some such witticism. How would the crowd have reacted? Would they have laughed? Would they have applauded this gesture as quintessentially French? Would they have seen this lone individual as a hero, standing up for liberty and freedom of speech? Or would they have been profoundly offended? And infuriated. And then what? Perhaps many of them would have denounced the offender, screaming imprecations at him. Some might have thrown their pens at him. One or two individuals — two brothers perhaps — might have raced towards him and (cheered on by the crowd) attacked him with their fists, smashing his head against the ground. All in the name of freedom of expression. He would have been lucky to get away with his life. 4

That was an excerpt from a short article written by Oxford philosopher and founder member of the Jewish Forum for Justice and Human Rights, Brian Klug. It is entitled simply “The moral hysteria of Je suis Charlie”.

There are lots and lots of things I hate (including, since you may ask, religious fundamentalism) but for a variety of reasons I prefer to keep many of those opinions to myself or share them with my closest friends (and sincere apologies to those who regularly put up with the worst of my ranting).

For instance, I thoroughly dislike the Royal Family. To put it politely, they are an unwelcome anachronistic throwback. Many in Britain feel likewise, but most will rarely say so.

Way back in the year 1977, in the midst of the Silver Jubilee festivities, the Sex Pistols had caused a tremendous brouhaha after they released “God save the Queen – it’s a fascist regime”. It was banned by the BBC, of course, but since then, as the impact has inevitably worn off, this blast from the past is fully defused and assimilated. A sample was even included in the pop montage played at the London Olympics opening ceremony in the presence of HRH. Yet, nearly forty years on, if I were to find a spot in the middle of Sheffield city centre and sit there earnestly defacing portraits of the Queen by doodling swastikas across her face (in tribute to the Sex Pistols obviously!) Or if, heaven forfend, I were to deface pictures of the late Queen Mother (God rest her soul), do you suppose that my act of performance art could fail provoke a rather hostile reaction from many of the passersby? Truth is that I wouldn’t dare try such a stunt.

And there are far stricter taboos than this in our ‘Cool Britannia’. For even in a swanky modern secular society like ours, a few things remain completely sacrosanct. Indeed, to offer an incendiary example, suppose that someone (not me) decided to urinate on poppies on Remembrance Day. Well, the fact is that just a few years ago a drunken student did precisely this and it happened in my home city of Sheffield. Caught on camera, the young man in question was publicly shamed. The media had a field day. Even after it had transpired that this piss-artist was so staggeringly drunk that he had no memory of the events of the evening whatsoever, he was still faced with the very real prospect of imprisonment. Given his contrition, however, the judge exercised leniency and sentenced him to a mere 250 hours of community service. 5

And then do you remember the furore when this happened:

 

It was not so much the spray painting of a national icon as his turf mohican that generated the greatest public consternation after the May Day anti-Capitalism demonstration of 2000. And though the more deliberate artist on this occasion turned out to have been ex-soldier, James Matthews, who had served with the Royal Marines in Bosnia, he was subsequently jailed for 30 days. In his defence, Matthews had told the court:

“I thought that on a day when people all over the world are gathering to express their human rights and the right to freedom of speech, I would express a challenge to an icon of the British establishment.”

However, the magistrate was unmoved, saying:

“Your actions caused great affront to many British people”. 6

Doubtless, it was the effrontery far more than the minor criminal damage that cost Matthews his freedom. So we see that even within our notionally free society there are extremely tight restrictions when it comes to “freedom of expression”. Some of these are legally enforced codes of conduct (and they include some of the strictest libel laws anywhere in the world) but there are other limits set by whatever is deemed socially tolerable behaviour. But then “freedom of speech” can never be an absolute in any society; you just need to know where to look to discover its inviolable boundaries.

In any case, to always say precisely what you like with total disregard for the feelings of others isn’t the least bit honourable. In fact, it is Tourettes – and I mean absolutely no offence to those who suffer from the medical syndrome. So let’s return to Paris and rethink the “Je suis Charlie” outcry, but now taking the viewpoint of an already fearful and oppressed minority.

The following is an excerpt from an impassioned article by investigative reporter Chris Hedges entitled “A Message From the Dispossessed”:

The cartoons of the Prophet in the Paris-based satirical weekly Charlie Hebdo are offensive and juvenile. None of them are funny. And they expose a grotesque double standard when it comes to Muslims. In France a Holocaust denier, or someone who denies the Armenian genocide, can be imprisoned for a year and forced to pay a $60,000 fine. It is a criminal act in France to mock the Holocaust the way Charlie Hebdo mocked Islam. French high school students must be taught about the Nazi persecution of the Jews, but these same students read almost nothing in their textbooks about the widespread French atrocities, including a death toll among Algerians that some sources set at more than 1 million, in the Algerian war for independence against colonial France. French law bans the public wearing of the burqa, a body covering for women that includes a mesh over the face, as well as the niqab, a full veil that has a small slit for the eyes. Women who wear these in public can be arrested, fined the equivalent of about $200 and forced to carry out community service. France banned rallies in support of the Palestinians last summer when Israel was carrying out daily airstrikes in Gaza that resulted in hundreds of civilian deaths. The message to Muslims is clear: Your traditions, history and suffering do not matter. Your story will not be heard. Joe Sacco had the courage to make this point in panels he drew for the Guardian newspaper. And as Sacco pointed out, if we cannot hear these stories we will endlessly trade state terror for terror. 7

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I am not Charlie

This Humanist whom no belief constrained/ Grew so broad-minded he was scatter-brained. J.V. Cunningham

Nothing justifies an assassination, all the more a mass murder committed in cold blood. What has happened in Paris, the beginning of January, constitutes an absolutely inexcusable crime.

To say that involves nothing original: millions of people think and feel likewise on this account. However, in the light of this appalling tragedy, one of the first questions that occurs to me is the following: in spite of the profound disgust experienced by the murders, is it obligatory to identify oneself with the victims’ actions? Must I be Charlie because the victims were the supreme incarnation of the ‘liberty of expression’, as the President of the Republic has declared? Am I Charlie, not only because I am a secular atheist, but also because of my fundamental antipathy towards the oppressive roots of the three principal Western monotheistic religions?

In these opening remarks to another article published by Counterpunch, Shlomo Sand speaks out for many who suddenly found that their own voices were being restricted. But then Sand, who is a professor of history at Tel Aviv University, is no stranger to controversy. Not since he released a book entitled The Invention of the Jewish People in 2008, and then followed it up more recently in 2013 with How I Ceased to Be a Jew. Works in which Sand had set about undermining the foundations of Zionism and then, more personally, interrogating the question of what it means to be non-practising and atheistic (as he is), yet to still be identified as a Jew:

“I wrote [The Invention of the Jewish People] for a double purpose. First, as an Israeli, to democratise the state; to make it a real republic. Second, I wrote the book against Jewish essentialism.”8

That was what Sand had told Guardian reporter Rafael Behr back in January 2010. Five years on, and in aftermath of Paris, he says he identifies with another more famous Charlie:

At the moment, and particularly after this terrible massacre, my sympathy goes to the Muslims who reside in ghettos adjacent to the metropolises, who are at considerable risk of becoming the second victims of the murders perpetrated at Charlie Hebdo and at the Hyper Casher supermarket. I continue to take as a reference point the ‘original Charlie’: the great Charlie Chaplin who never mocked the poor and the little-educated.

Earlier in the article, which is entitled “A Fetid Wind of Racism Hovers Over Europe”, Sand writes:

It has been affirmed that Charlie, impartially, lays into all religions, but this is a lie. Certainly, it mocks Christians, and, sometimes, Jews. However, neither the Danish magazine, nor Charlie would permit themselves (fortunately) to publish a caricature presenting the prophet Moses, with kippah and ritual fringes, in the guise of a wily money-lender, hovering on a street corner. It is good that in the society these days called ‘Judeo-Christian’ (sic), it should no longer be possible to publically disseminate anti-Jewish hatred, as was the case in the not-too-distant past. I am for the liberty of expression while being at the same time opposed to racist incitement.

I admit to, gladly, tolerating the restrictions imposed on Dieudonné from expressing too far and wide his ‘criticism’ and his ‘jokes’ against Jews. On the other hand, I am positively opposed to attempts to restrain him physically. And if, by chance, some idiot attacks him, I will not be very shocked … albeit I will not go so far as to brandish a placard with the inscription: ‘je suis Dieudonné’. 9

However, by far the most stinging criticism of Charlie Hebdo comes from a former member of its own team, Olivier Cyran, who had worked at the magazine from 1992 to 2001 before he quit, angered by what he described as “the dictatorial behaviour and corrupt promotion practices” of its editor at the time, Philippe Val. The following extracts are taken from an article that he first published in December 2013 as a response to an opinion piece in Le Monde that was signed by Charb (Stéphane Charbonnier, one of the murdered cartoonists) and Fabrice Nicolino. He begins as follows [the original footnotes are retained]:

Dear Charb and Fabrice Nicolino,

“We hope that those who claim, and will claim tomorrow, that Charlie is racist, will at least have the courage to say it out loud and under their real name. We’ll know how to respond.” Reading this rant at the end of your opinion piece in Le Monde[1], as if to say “come say it to our face if you’re a real man”, I felt something rising within me, like a craving to go back to fighting in the school playground. Yet it wasn’t me being called out. Which upright citizens you hope to convince, moreover, is a mystery. For a good long while, many people have been saying “out loud” and “under their real name” what they think about your magazine and the effluent flowing out of it, without any one of you being bothered to answer them or to shake their little fists.

A little later, Cyran explains how the magazine was reframed in the aftermath of the attacks of 9/11:

Racist? Charlie Hebdo was certainly no such thing at the time when I worked there. In any case, the idea that the mag would expose itself to such an accusation would have never occurred to me. There had, of course been some Francocentrism, as well as the editorials of Philippe Val. These latter were subject to a disturbing fixation, which worsened over the years, on the “Arabic-Muslimworld”. This was depicted as an ocean of barbarism threatening, at any moment, to submerge the little island of high culture and democratic refinement that was, for him, Israel. But the boss’s obsessions remained confined to his column on page 3, and overflowed only rarely into the heart of the journal which, in those years, it seemed me, throbbed with reasonably well-oxygenated blood.

Scarcely had I walked out, wearied by the dictatorial behaviour and corrupt promotion practices of the employer, than the Twin Towers fell and Caroline Fourest arrived in your editorial team. This double catastrophe set off a process of ideological reformatting which would drive off your former readers and attract new ones – a cleaner readership, more interested in a light-hearted version of the “war on terror” than the soft anarchy of [cartoonist] Gébé. Little by little, the wholesale denunciation of “beards”, veiled women and their imaginary accomplices became a central axis of your journalistic and satirical production. “Investigations” began to appear which accepted the wildest rumours as fact, like the so-called infiltration of the League of Human Rights (LDH) or European Social Forum (FSE) by a horde of bloodthirsty Salafists[2]. The new impulse underway required the magazine to renounce the unruly attitude which had been its backbone up to then, and to form alliances with the most corrupt figures of the intellectual jet-set, such as Bernard-Henri Lévy or Antoine Sfeir, cosignatories in Charlie Hebdo of a grotesque “Manifesto of the Twelve against the New Islamic Totalitarianism”[3]. Whoever could not see themselves in a worldview which opposed the civilized (Europeans) to obscurantists (Muslims) saw themselves quickly slapped with the label of “useful idiots” or “Islamoleftists”.

Then he provides some specific examples of the kinds of xenophobia that the magazine has seen fit to publish:

I remember a full-page article by Caroline Fourest which appeared on June 11 2008. In it, she recounted her friendly meeting with the Dutch cartoonist Gregorius Nekschot, who had gotten some grief for representing his Muslim fellow-countrymen in a particularly hilarious way. Judge for yourself: an imam dressed as Santa Claus buggering a goat, with the caption: “We have to share our traditions”. Or an Arab, slumped on a couch and lost in thought: “The Qur’an doesn’t say if you have to do anything to be on the dole for 30 years.” Or even the “monument to the slavery of white indigenous taxpayers”: a Dutch person in foot shackles, carrying a black person on his back, arms crossed and sucking on a pacifier. Foul racism? Oh come on, it’s freedom of expression!

And of how this culture of bigotry outlasted the toxic influence of both Caroline Fourest and editor Philippe Val:

After Val and Fourest left in 2009, called to higher things – one as head of a public radio network, the other to the podiums of official anti-racism – we might have wondered if you would continue to follow their lead in their absence. The least we can say is that you have remained faithful to their line. You’ve absorbed it down to the core, it seems.

Today, those flies which Tignous never fails to add buzzing round the heads of his “beards” are more than ever attracted to your imagination, as soon as you “laugh at” Muslims. In a video posted on the Charlie Hebdo website at the end of 2011, we saw you, Charb, imitate the Islamic call to prayer, to the rapt giggles of your little buddies. What a hilarious new version of the Qur’anic recitation for your magazine’s deadline; Michel Leeb [famous French impressionist] could not have done better. What collective poison would you have had to stew in to get to this point? From what psychological depths did you drag up the nerve to “laugh” at a cartoon representing veiled women baring their buttocks as they bow in prayer towards “Mecca-relle” [a pun on maquerelle, the madam of a brothel]?  This pathetic stream of crap isn’t even shameful; its stupidity embarrasses you, even before it reveals your state of mind, your vision of the world.

As well as the wider effects on French society:

The obsessive pounding on Muslims to which your weekly has devoted itself for more than a decade has had very real effects. It has powerfully contributed to popularising, among “left-wing” opinion, the idea that Islam is a major “problem” in French society. That belittling Muslims is no longer the sole privilege of the extreme right, but a “right to offend” which is sanctified by secularism, the Republic, by “co-existence”. And even – let’s not be stingy with the alibis! – by the rights of women. It’s widely believed today that the exclusion of a veiled girl is a sign, not of stupid discrimination, but of solid, respectable feminism, which consists of pestering those whom one claims to be liberating. Draped in these noble intentions that flatter their ignorance and exempt them from any scruples, we see people with whom we were close, and whom we believed mentally healthy, abruptly start to cut loose with a stream of racist idiocies. […]

But your throne is overlooking a swamp. Charb, for whom I once voiced my esteem, and  Fabrice, whose intellectual rigour I appreciated[13]: I hold you, you and your colleagues, co-responsible for the increasingly rotten atmosphere. After September 11, Charlie Hebdo was among the first in the so-called leftist press to jump on the bandwagon of the Islamic peril. Don’t deprive yourself of receiving your own share of the shit, at a moment when the number of Islamophobic acts is breaking records: 11.3% higher in the first 9 months of 2013 compared to the same period in 2012, according to l’Observatoire national de l’islamophobie. They worry about a “new phenomenon” of violence, marked by at least 14 attacks on veiled women since the start of the year.

Don’t worry, I’m not saying that reading Charlie Hebdo automatically unleashes a craving to bucket a mosque with pig’s blood or to rip the veil off a supermarket shopper, as happens here and there. You’ve pointed out the targets, but you wouldn’t want some poor guy to attack them for real, because you’re against violence and against racism. As are, most certainly, your readers. They have no prejudice against Muslims. It’s just that they break out in whole-hearted laughter at that Charb cartoon where an Arab with a big moustache stops in front of a prostitute, while a bearded preacher sermonizes: “Brother! Why would you pay 40 euros for a single shag when for the same price you could buy a wife!” In the 1930s, the same gag – with Jews instead of Muslims – would have gone down a treat, except that, at the time, its teller would surely not have had the idea to wave around a certificate of anti-racism.

There is a great deal more. Olivier Cyran is incensed and this attack on his former colleagues is boiling over with vitriol. But if you accept that Charlie Hebdo is just harmless fun then ask yourself, as Cyran does, whether or not a magazine devoted to publishing similarly provocative caricatures of Jewish figures would be so lightly laughed off. As Cyran points out (just as others have):

Have you forgotten the Siné incident…? A proven report of Islamophobia, and you burst out laughing. A misleading accusation of anti-Semitism, and someone gets fired.

The incident he is referring to occurred in 2008, when another of Charlie Hebdo’s cartoonists, Siné, was sacked:

Maurice Sinet, 80, who works under the pen name Sine, faces charges of “inciting racial hatred” for a column he wrote last July in the satirical weekly Charlie Hebdo. The piece sparked a summer slanging match among the Parisian intelligentsia and ended in his dismissal from the magazine.

“L’affaire Sine” followed the engagement of Mr Sarkozy, 22 [son of then-President Nicolas Sarkozy], to Jessica Sebaoun-Darty, the Jewish heiress of an electronic goods chain. Commenting on an unfounded rumour that the president’s son planned to convert to Judaism, Sine quipped: “He’ll go a long way in life, that little lad.”

A high-profile political commentator slammed the column as linking prejudice about Jews and social success. Charlie Hebdo’s editor, Philippe Val, asked Sinet to apologise but he refused, exclaiming: “I’d rather cut my balls off.” 10

Olivier Cyran has since added the following postscript to his Article 11:

[T]o all those who think that this article was validation in advance of the shameful terrorist attack against Charlie Hebdo (that they were asking for it), the editorial team of Article 11 would like to give a hearty middle finger to such vultures. To make things absolutely clear, please see this text.

Click here to read a full version of Olivier Cyran’s Article 11, entitled “’Charlie Hebdo’, not racist? If you say so…” translated by Daphne Lawless and reprinted by Lenin’s Tomb with the relevant offending cartoons interspersed throughout.

Wagging the dog

Why does the dog wag its tail?
Because the dog is smarter than the tail.
If the tail were smarter, it would wag the dog. 

— Caption from the film Wag the Dog

The “Je suis Charlie” campaign had as its main slogan the famous adage “the pen is mightier than the sword”, which meant that pens, or better yet, pencils, became imbued with renewed symbolic potency. The pencil-wavers suddenly popping up all around:

Here, for instance, was the scene in Congress during Obama’s State of the Union address on Wednesday 21st. Whilst in Britain, that well-known bastion of free speech, the Daily Mail, reported on the incident as follows:

There are 534 members of Congress, including the 100 senators who shoehorned themselves into the crowded hall. (One seat was vacant after former New York Rep. Michael Grimm’s resignation.)

At 4pm on Tuesday, Mr Harris said that nearly three dozen members of Congress had confirmed they would be participating in the Charlie Hebdo salute, which was broadcast live on television.

Continuing (without a hint of irony):

The pencils were deliberately unsharpened due to security concerns. 11

So one moment the humble pencil is adopted as the embodiment of free expression and the next second, it is being mistaken for a deadly weapon. The pencil may indeed be mightier than the sword, but surely the Members of Congress recognise that this might isn’t in any way intrinsic to the rapier-like sharpness of its tip. Boy, it’s a mad, mad, mad, mad world, ain’t it?

As an aside, do you too recall the carefree pre-9/11 era when it was permissible to board a flight carrying almost any object barring the obvious exclusion of actual deadly weapons? Immediately afterwards, of course, a ban was imposed on sharp objects like scissors, and then further bans and hindrances after plots (whether or not the plots were subsequently proven) involving the deployment of exploding liquids, or shoes, or underpants. So will we now be required to leave our pencils at home? (Perhaps in a safe for heightened security!)

Going back to the goon show… Did you see all of the pictures of that “unity in outrage” march which took to the streets the following Sunday? Out in front Francois Hollande, David Cameron, Angela Merkel, and the rest of the politerati, quite literally linking arms with Bibi Netanyahu, who had muscled his way to the head of the barmy army… and then, after a wide security gap of several hundred yards… the rest of the cortège… an entourage of plebs (a word forbidden by those who appear to have mistaken it for a swear word, and one I am endeavouring to reclaim) marching far behind (as we do). Solidarity – ha, ha, ha, ha!

Frankly, I can’t see how any protest movement could ever be headed by around 40 world leaders and maybe a hundred or more other dignitaries who regard the whole event as a splendid jolly and another photo op:

“Je Suis Charlatan” as satirical magazine ‘Private Eye’ captioned it

Incidentally, if you have never watched the satirical film Wag the Dog, starring Dustin Hoffman and Robert De Niro, then, and if only to understand how media focus can be reframed and public opinion manipulated, I thoroughly recommend it. Without wishing to give too much away, I will simply draw attention to the film’s centrepiece, which revolves around the skilful construction and orchestration of a protest movement. A public relations stunt which flashed to mind (and doubtless the minds of many others) soon after the “Je suis Charlie” banners were unfurled and the pens held aloft. In the film, the tributes are for a soldier called “Good Ol’ Shoe”, and here is a short clip showing how De Niro and Hoffman set about priming the pump for their own PR masterpiece:

*

The Pen is Mightier… (so beware!)

As I look ahead, I am filled with foreboding; like the Roman, I seem to see “the River Tiber foaming with much blood.” — Enoch Powell

It seems to be taken for granted by some that if there is real truth to the adage “the pen is mightier than the sword”, then this is unreservedly a good thing. The presumption being that not only is the pen – here a metonym for speech or expression of ideas – the more potent force, but that it is additionally, and without any exception, a beneficent tool. But when we stop to consider this for a moment, it is evident that not all speech (in the broadest sense) is for the betterment of mankind. In fact, the single word “propaganda”, which only surprisingly recently has become sullied, shows how dangerous ‘speech’ can also be. For speech itself can be filled with bile and hatred, or else a more subtly contrived means for misdirecting and coercing the unwitting. It is a potent instrument not only for delivering truth but also for spreading rumours, stirring up hostility, inflaming tensions and aggravating divisions.

Thus far, all of the quotes selected to mark the beginning to each of these sections have been ones I subscribe to. All, that is, except for the one I have quoted above. Taken out of context it is inoffensive and seemingly appropriate, but it is also the most notorious sentence extracted from what in full remains the most deplorable speech ever made by a British mainstream politician during my lifetime.

Full of pious concerns for the condition of the “quite ordinary working man”, Enoch Powell’s racist bigotry was thinly veiled as he outspokenly called for “re-emigration” of the “negroes”. To most twenty-first century readers, this vocabulary alone betrays him, but back in 1968 it wasn’t the language that upset people so much, as his desire to impose an apartheid solution on what he saw as the problem of immigration from Commonwealth countries. Powell declaring that ‘rivers of blood’ would soon flow because “the black man will have the whip hand over the white man” 12.

The modern bigot is rather less inclined to lean too overtly on the importance of colour as a discriminating feature. Things have moved on, and in this regard racism is no exception. In Britain, the far-right English Defence League (EDL) provide us with a helpful illustration of this on-going shift. For it is rather less common nowadays to hear the unguarded opinion that there are too many “Pakis” around, whereas all-too common to hear that the main problem the country faces comes from the number of “Muslims”. So in response, the EDL have formally abandoned the politics of race in favour of the politics of “religious intolerance”:

“If you look at the pictures of the stage you can see a St George’s flag,” said Robinson, who was speaking before the attack on the offices of Charlie Hebdo in Paris, adding that the man had travelled there “to offer them support and discuss what the next steps are for them and all of us, because what’s happening is a European problem”.

That extract is drawn from a report published in Newsweek and the Robinson in question is the former leader of the EDL, Tommy Robinson. He was answering questions regarding his thoughts on altogether less savoury anti-Islam “solidarity marches” which had been taking place in Germany, and he continues:

“I would have been in Germany in a minute if I could have been”

Adding:

“When the state starts calling [the people on the march] fascists and they know they’re not – that’s the kind of problems the EDL had. In Germany they know they’re just normal people but the state are lying to everyone. I know what will happen because they did the same to the EDL – the state will slander and campaign, everything will get thrown at them.” 13

Robinson was talking about protests run by a group that calls itself Patriotic Europeans against the Islamisation of the West (Pegida). The group was founded as recently as October last year by ex-professional footballer and ex-convict Lutz Bachman, who looks like this:

His idea of a joke by the way

Now, I am fully aware that many of those who did venture out to support the smaller “Je suis Charlie” vigils in Sheffield were totally horrified to find that they were standing side-by-side with members of the EDL. But my open question to them is: why the big surprise? Who else would you expect to be standing in solidarity with…?

It was Voltaire who is most credited (perhaps wrongly) with saying “Though I may disapprove of what you say, I will defend to the death your right to say it.” And very few with a liberal outlook would argue with that sentiment. However, too frequently overlooked is that whoever respects this laudable position is merely defending the right to speech, and not necessarily the content of what is said. Indeed, implied within this famous remark lies the very principle that one ought to be feel free to speak out against anyone whose words are thought repugnant or offensive. In this spirit, no-one stands immune from criticism.

It is an admirable principle, I believe, to defend the rights of Enoch Powell and Tommy Robinson to speak in ways that we find detestable. And it is a measure of the strength of our democracies that such open discussion is permitted. But if Powell or Robinson were assaulted for what they said, then although we might decry the assault, this does not mean that we are somehow obliged to leap to the defence of what they have said. The cartoons of Charlie Hebdo are no different. The murder of the cartoonists does not alter their message. If we feel that the message is a racist one, then we are not merely justified in saying so, but in the same liberal spirit, we are obliged to say so.

*

Mistakes were made…

Every man has a right to utter what he thinks truth, and every other man has a right to knock him down for it. 14 — Samuel Johnson

For the last two decades and more, the Western powers (most especially Britain and America) have been making a rod for their own back. Having embarked upon an endless campaign of neo-imperialist aggression, we have been covertly supporting the very enemy that we are simultaneously hunting out to destroy. For make no mistake, what started out with Operation Cyclone, the clandestine Cold War programme to arm the Mujahideen in Afghanistan against the Soviet Union, still goes on in many other ways. With the backing of militant Islamists, including air support, when we wished to see the overthrow of Gaddafi in Libya, and providing further assistance when attempting the decapitation of the Assad regime in Syria. The West has no qualms at all about fighting dirty, or about choosing sides as and when it suits our purposes.

Sometimes this leads to blowback, as when the forces we have been supporting turn full circle to bite the hand that was feeding them. But on other occasions, the blowback comes more indirectly. For the West’s deplorable foreign adventuring breeds resentment both home and abroad. And just as the “freedom fighters” abroad (later rebranded “terrorists”, which they were all along of course) were quietly co-opted to become unwitting allies of convenience against foes who stood in the way of a greater neo-imperialist agenda, the blowback that takes the form of domestic terrorism can also be profitably finessed. As Adolf Hitler is credited with saying (and whether he said it or not, it remains self-evidently the case): “Terrorism is the best political weapon for nothing drives people harder than a fear of sudden death.”15

Yes, terrorism is a potent, since terrible, tool for mass persuasion, and frequently less helpful to the cause of the terrorists themselves than to the authorities they seek to weaken. After all, each fresh atrocity opens up the possibility for revenge in the form of new collective punishments. The war party licks its slavering chops and prepares to send more drones with Hellfire missiles. Meanwhile, back on the domestic front, we can be more easily nudged when asked to accept a tightening of control all around: infringements of privacy, restrictions on civil liberties, and violations of human rights are always easier to justify when there exists a climate of fear. And restrictions on freedom of speech and expression are yet another part in this sacrifice of our freedom for “security” – truly a bargain with the devil.

In fact, the erosion of freedom of speech started long ago, although the growth in legislation that prohibits it actually helps to make the prohibition itself appear more respectable. For in spite of the Freedom of Information Act, there is plenty that remains above top secret in Britain, with documents routinely withheld as classified on the grounds of “national security”. And aside from being one of the most secretive nations, Britain also has some of the strictest libel laws in the world; laws that ensure the worst indiscretions of rich and the powerful (not only individuals but corporations too) are rarely exposed to full public scrutiny. Not that freedom of speech has any real teeth without freedom of the press, and this has been a wishful fantasy both in Britain and America for decades. Almost the entire mainstream media of the West having been privately captured, so that, as a general rule, those who work within its bounds dare not offend their plutocratic owners or corporate sponsors.

Thus, at the present time, the more significant restriction of freedom of speech has been the narrowing, not so much of what it is legal to say, as what is permissible. This is how western media censorship can be rampant but insidious.

Journalists who are brave enough to report in ways that transgress the bounds of the officially sanctioned narrative can expect to be given short shrift, and so very few actually dare to try. Seymour Hersh is one of the rare exceptions, and yet in spite of his outstanding credentials, no major newspaper has been prepared to publish any of his well-documented articles whenever he has risked straying too far from the reservation. For instance, when he questioned who was behind the release of the deadly sarin gas in the Damascus suburb of Ghouta, or when he later reported on the CIA’s “rat line” which enabled the transfer of armaments from Libya to support al-Qaeda fighters in Syria. Speak too freely on such controversial matters as these and irrespective of your standing, you put your reputation in jeopardy. Repeat offending and there is a danger of being branded a “conspiracy theorist”, which is the modern-day equivalent of landing up on a blacklist.

As someone who does not have an editor to rein me in (not always a blessing), or advertisers to please, I am at liberty to ask tougher questions and altogether disregard the official line. So there is little to hamper me, for instance, when it comes to asking why it was that the suspects in both of these terrorist attacks (in Paris and Copenhagen) were well known to the authorities.16  In the case of the Charlie Hebdo massacre, we might also inquire how an arsenal of powerful weapons could be accessed in an unarmed country like France, as well as how was it that these assassins encountered little to no resistance when they assaulted such a high profile target. On her show Breaking the Set, Abby Martin put one of those questions to journalist Chris Hedges – almost by accident – whilst they were discussing the background to the attacks. The subsequent conversation went as follows [from 23 mins]:

Martin: I also want to get your comments on some questions Julian Assange raised when talking about the recent attacks. As we know the French authorities were already monitoring the Kouachi brothers. Why do you think that surveillance against these men didn’t stop the deadly attack?

Hedges: Um [sustained pause] Well, that’s a good question. I know, having covered al-Qaeda in France, that they have very heavy phone wiretaps. I remember from a Ministry of Interior official telling me that there are twenty-three different dialects of Arabic in Algeria and in real time they have the ability to translate every single one of those dialects. So these people are heavily monitored and that’s a good question, but, you know, somebody from inside France’s security service would have to answer that one.

Their full discussion is embedded below (and well worth listening to):

But it is not only those inside French security services who should be interrogated, because there is a clear pattern which is difficult to overlook. In all of the recent terrorist attacks I can think of (and I invite the reader to offer counter examples) the suspects were known to the authorities, and in many instances, were not only tracked by the security services, but had been approached or actively recruited to act as informants. Take, for instance, last December’s siege in a Sydney cafe. The gunman, Man Haron Monis, was already a wanted man in Iran (and the Iranian government had tried but failed to extradite him in 2000) long before he was “flagged up on the Australian Security Intelligence Organisation’s watchlist in 2008 and 2009”. When Australian Prime Minister, Tony Abbott, was asked about these security lapses, he replied feebly, “I don’t know why he dropped off the watch list in those days, I really don’t.”17

And today, we have the case of Mohammed Emwazi, the alleged ISIS executioner who is better known by the absurd sobriquet “Jihadi John” (a nickname that manages to both simultaneously ridicule and glorify him). But it now transpires that Emwazi wasn’t only on a watchlist as a “subject of interest” (SOI), but that he was actively pursued by MI5 who were wishing to recruit him as an informer. Likewise, Michael Adebowale and Michael Adebolajo, the two men who brutally attacked and killed Fusilier Lee Rigby outside Woolwich Barracks, “had already been on the radar of MI5 and the police for years by the time they committed their savage murder.” The Intelligence and Security Committee (ISC) later produced a report that pointed to repeated ‘failures’ by MI5, MI6, GCHQ, as well as the police.18

This theme of security agencies latching on to, but then losing their ‘SOI’s, people we subsequently learn these agencies were “trying to turn”, is repeated again in the case of the Chechen Tsarnaev brothers, suspected of carrying out the Boston Marathon bombings. On this occasion the older brother, Tamerlan Tsarnaev, was certainly known to the FBI and the CIA after both agencies were tipped off by the Russian intelligence agency FSB who suspected him of terrorist involvement at home.19 Another perhaps more startling example is Mohammad Sidique Khan, the alleged leader of the 2005 London tube suicide bombers. Khan was yet another on the MI5 radar, and it turns out that he had been under suspicion prior even to the 9/11 attacks.20 And then lastly (in this exceedingly reduced summary), there are the 9/11 suspects themselves. It has been well-established that the US security services dropped the ball many times prior to 9/11, and here I will refer the reader to an earlier post on whistleblower Sibel Edmonds, but also direct you to the 28-pages that we now know were redacted from the official report of the Joint Congressional Inquiry:

(You might also like to read my own extended post on issues left unresolved by the 9/11 Commission inquiry. I have also written posts on the inconsistencies in the case of the so-called “underwear bomber”, Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab, that you can read here.)

I note that Conservative MP and former shadow Home Secretary, David Davis, published an article in last Friday’s Guardian that raises the same issue. He writes:

It has also been reported that MI5 tried to recruit Emwazi after it was suspected that he was attempting to join a Somali extremist group. Somehow, despite supposedly being unable to leave the country, he was still able to make his way to Syria and join Islamic State in 2013.

These failures are part of a worrying pattern. Prior to the 9/11 attacks on the World Trade Center at least two of the hijackers, Khalid al-Mihdhar and Nawaf al-Hazmi, were known to the American authorities, and known to have entered the country before the attacks.

Similarly, one of the 7/7 London bombers, Mohammad Sidique Khan, had been scrutinised, bugged and monitored by MI5. Unfortunately, it was determined that he was not a likely threat, and he was not put under further surveillance. And prior to the 2008 Mumbai attacks, the intelligence agencies of Britain, the US and India had all picked up signs of an imminent terrorist assault, and even had some of the terrorists under surveillance.

The Kouachi brothers, responsible for the Charlie Hebdo massacre, were part of the “Buttes-Chaumont network”, well known to the French authorities and kept under surveillance, on and off, as far back as 2005.

Michael Adebolajo, one of the men who brutally beheaded Fusilier Lee Rigby in broad daylight in Woolwich, was also known to the security services. He too was supposedly a recruitment target for our intelligence agencies. After he was arrested, his family claimed he had been “pestered” by MI5, which wanted to make him an informant infiltrating radical Islamic extremist groups.

Given the numbers who appear to have slipped through the net, it is legitimate to ask: how many more people must die before we start to look more closely at the strategy of our intelligence services?

Finishing his piece as follows:

Whether it is the ISC’s review of the intelligence on the London terrorist attacks of 7 July 2005, which required a second report to deal with the first’s failings; its inability to detect the UK’s complicity in torture; its failures to correct Tony Blair’s dodgy dossier; or its lack of insight, let alone oversight, into the surveillance programmes revealed by the Snowden revelations – the ISC has been too timid and unwilling to criticise.

The time has come to learn from the pattern of failures across the globe and apply the appropriate lessons: namely that we need to prosecute, convict and imprison terrorists, and that all our policies should be bent firmly towards that end. We should use “disruption and management” only as a very poor second choice.

As the US experience shows, this policy is both safer for citizens in the short term and more effective at destroying terrorist organisations in the long term.21

I applaud David Davis for speaking out so frankly (although I fail to see why he praises the US example given their similarly poor record).

*

Strategy of tension

Let us never tolerate outrageous conspiracy theories 22 — George W. Bush

The quote reprinted above is taken from a notorious speech given by George Bush Jnr at the United Nations in the immediate aftermath of the 9/11 attacks. Just a few months later, of course, the very same George W. Bush was himself conspiring. Together with Tony Blair, they settled on a false pretext to launch illegal war against Iraq. And it was the same George Bush who also gave secret clearance for kidnap and torture of “enemy combatants”, a term that was quickly redefined after 9/11 to include anyone alleged to be a member of al-Qaeda or the Taliban. The trouble is that our media has allowed him to succeed in these outrageous conspiracies. The war went ahead, the “black sites” remain open, and still no-one has been prosecuted.

It is a disgustingly bitter pill, and one that many people, especially those who live in the West, find almost impossible to swallow, but what we can say with certainty is that we are constantly lied to, and not only by obvious villains such as George W. Bush and Tony Blair. The really sickening truth is that these lies are endlessly perpetrated and recycled and especially so when pressure grows for war. As a consequence, so long as we choose to remain silent, then we clear the way for permanent war, and, in parallel with this, a never-ending attrition of our freedoms. This is why it is the duty of serious investigative reporters not to unthinkingly restate the official story, but to scrutinise the available details of every case and to demand answers wherever discrepancies appear. Here is the most important reason for protecting our rights to freedom of speech.

*

There were two words that flashed through my own mind when I first watched the dreadful news from Paris. Words that I know sprang into the minds of many others, but who afterwards perhaps said nothing for reasons of not wishing to sound too alarmist or provocative. The words were these: Operation Gladio.

Below I have embedded (again) a youtube upload of a three-part BBC Timewatch documentary made in the pre-Hutton years (first aired in 1992). If you have never seen this documentary before then I very much encourage you to do so – the quality of reproduction may be a little grainy, but it remains one of the most remarkable pieces of investigative journalism ever broadcast on British TV. For what it is reveals is extremely shocking:

“You had to attack civilians, the people, women, children, innocent people, unknown people far removed from any political game. The reason was quite simple. They were supposed to force these people, the Italian public, to turn to the State to ask for greater security. This is the political logic that lies behind all the massacres and the bombings which remain unpunished, because the State cannot convict itself or declare itself responsible for what happened.”

These are the words of right-wing terrorist Vincenzo Vinciguerra, who is one of many to testify in this film:

For the majority of us, negligence in the workplace results in charges of misconduct, dismissal and the possibility (depending upon our occupation) of a criminal prosecution. Yet, in the aftermath of the atrocities detailed above, no-one in charge of any of the relevant agencies has been brought to book for their failure to protect us. The agencies themselves have instead been rewarded in spite of their negligence, with powers extended to permit snooping on everyone. Post-9/11,  we are all guilty until proven innocent.

Meanwhile, the government inquiries into these terrorist attacks have apportioned only broad-brush culpability, having refrained from holding individuals accountable, whilst both governments and the agencies themselves have subsequently issued hollow apologies constructed around the ‘don’t blame us, it’s a difficult job’ refrain, which ends: “we must move forward and learn from our mistakes.” And even as the police state grows, the terrorists, many of whom are extremely well-known to our authorities, are somehow still able to slip between the cracks.

We may never know the final truth regarding what happened in Paris, in Copenhagen, or in other recent terrorist attacks, but given the historical precedent of the Operation Gladio so-called “strategy of tension”,  we are fully justified in holding our security services to account for their failures, and for interrogating those in power to try to establish it.

 *

Additional:

On the morning of attack on Charlie Hebdo, France’s best known contemporary author, Michel Houellebecq, was about to launch his latest and perhaps most controversial novel, Submission. Its central story, involving a mix of real and fictional characters, foretells the coming to power in 2022 of an Islamist and pro-EU (strange combination) French President after the discredited Socialists and Conservatives form an alliance to keep out Front National leader Marine Le Pen.

The following extracts are drawn from a short review by Lara Marlowe and published in The Irish Times in the hours immediately prior to the Paris atrocities – given the timing, her views are undoubtedly less guarded than they might otherwise have been. The article starts rudely:

With his wispy, greying hair, dark-circled eyes and sempiternal anorak, Michel Houellebecq looks like a scarecrow, or one of the amoral, sex-obsessed characters who people his controversial novels. His books are about the profound alienation of French society. They feature masturbation in peep shows, sex tourism to exotic countries, and murderous Muslims.

Marlowe continues:

Before it was even published, Submission became a cause célèbre, winning praise from the right and condemnation from the left. Jérôme Béglé of the conservative weekly Le Point sees the book as an attack on “the blindless, silence, passivity and complicity of centre left media and intellectuals” regarding the rise of political Islam. […]

By portraying the “UMPS” [left-right coalition] in cahoots to hand France over to Muslims, Houellebecq validates one of Le Pen’s favourite conspiracy theories. The publication of his novel “marks the return of extreme right-wing theories to French literature”, writes Laurent Joffrin, the editor of Libération. “It warms up a seat for Marine Le Pen in the [famous literary] café de Flore.”

She finishes her piece saying:

Submission is the English translation of the Arabic word “Islam”. It’s meant to designate man’s submission to Allah, but in Houellebecq’s profoundly misogynistic novel, it’s really about the submission of women.

The strange coincidence of the release of Submission on the day of the attacks is compounded by a caricature of Michel Houellebecq which featured on the front cover of that week’s edition of Charlie Hebdo. Houellebecq depicted as a dishevelled magician with the caption “The Predictions of Wizard Houellebecq”:

This article published in The Telegraph, also from the day of the attacks, explains more:

Submission, by celebrated French author Michel Houellebecq, was featured on the front cover of this week’s Charlie Hebdo, the magazine attacked by terrorist gunmen on Wednesday.

Speaking prior to the terror attack on the magazine’s Paris headquarters, in which at least 12 people were killed, Houellebecq said the book “was not taking sides”.

He denied that the novel – which has triggered furious debate prior to its release over whether it is Islamophobic – was a “Christmas present” to Marine Le Pen, the far-Right Front National leader. […]

In an interview on state TV channel France 2’s flagship evening news programme, Houellebecq said his political scenario was not implausible.

“It is a possibility – not in as short a term as in the book, not in 2022. But it’s a real possibility,” he said.

Following the attacks, Michel Houellebecq briefly went into hiding. He returned to Paris to break his silence over the murders, saying “Je suis Charlie”.

*

Update:

We had been noting, in the wake of the Charlie Hebdo attacks in France, how the country that then held a giant “free speech” rally appeared to be, instead, focusing on cracking down on free speech at every opportunity. And target number one: the internet. Earlier this week, the Interior Minister of France — with no court review or adversarial process — ordered five websites to not only be blocked in France, but that anyone who visits any of the sites get redirected to a scary looking government website, saying:

You are being redirected to this official website since your computer was about to connect with a page that provokes terrorist acts or condones terrorism publicly.

Click here to read the full article from techdirt.com published on March 18th.

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1 Literally “Freiheit ist immer Freiheit der Andersdenkenden” and generally translated as quoted here.

2 From an article entitled “After the Charlie Hebdo attack, we must resist the clash-of-civilisations narrative” written by Homa Khaleeli, published in the Guardian on January 7, 2015. http://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2015/jan/07/charlie-hebdo-clash-civilisation-terrorism-muslims

3 From an article entitled “Making Sense of the Paris Terrorist Attacks” by Ismael Hossein-Zadeh, published in Counterpunch on January 16–18, 2015. http://www.counterpunch.org/2015/01/16/making-sense-of-the-paris-terrorist-attacks/

4 From an article entitled “The moral hysteria of Je suis Charlie” written by Brian Klug, published by Mondoweiss on January 11, 2015. http://mondoweiss.net/2015/01/moral-hysteria-charlie

5 

The CCTV images caused national outrage, and the judge said that he had been sent many letters about the case before sentencing.

“I said to you when you last appeared that the image of your urinating over the wreath of poppies at the city war memorial was a truly shocking one. That was no understatement,” he said. “There you are, a young man of 19, urinating on the war memorial erected to honour the memory of so many other young men.

“You have understandably had the wrath and indignation of the public heaped upon you and your family, but I am required to decide your sentence on the basis of the facts of the case and principles of law alone.”

His parents left through the public exit and his mother said: “He’s sorry. He’s very, very sorry.”

From an article entitled “Student who urinated on war memorial spared jail” written by Martin Wainwright, published in the Guardian on November 26, 2009. http://www.theguardian.com/uk/2009/nov/26/student-urinated-war-memorial-sentenced

6

An ex-soldier has been sentenced to 30 days’ imprisonment for defacing the statue of Winston Churchill during May Day demonstrations in central London. […]

There was widespread outcry from MPs and the press after the statue of the former prime minister was defaced with red paint and the Cenotaph was sprayed with graffiti during rioting at the anti-capitalism demonstration.

The figure, which stands in Parliament Square, was made to look as though blood was dripping from its mouth.

Graffiti was sprayed on the plinth and a turf mohican was added to the statue’s head. […]

Although he admitted defacing that statue, he denied any involvement in graffiti sprayed on the Whitehall Cenotaph during the May Day demonstrations.

The ex-soldier said it was “a monument to ordinary soldiers and I was an ordinary soldier”.

From an article entitled “Churchill graffiti man jailed” published by BBC news on May 9, 2000. http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/uk/740524.stm

7 From an article entitled “A Message From the Dispossessed” written by Chris Hedges, published by Truthdig on January 11, 2015.  http://www.truthdig.com/report/page2/a_message_from_the_dispossessed_20150111

8 From an article entitled “Shlomo Sand: an enemy of the Jewish people?” written by Rafael Behr, published in The Observer on January 17, 2010. http://www.theguardian.com/books/2010/jan/17/shlomo-sand-judaism-israel-jewish

9 From an article entitled “A Fetid Wind of Racism Hovers Over Europe” written by Shlomo Sand, published in Counterpunch on January 16–18, 2015. http://www.counterpunch.org/2015/01/16/je-suis-charlie-chaplin/

10 From an article entitled “French cartoonist Sine on trial on charges of anti-Semitism over Sarkozy jibe”, written by Henry Samuel, published in The Telegraph on January 27, 2009.  www.telegraph.co.uk/news/worldnews/europe/france/4351672/French-cartoonist-Sine-on-trial-on-charges-of-anti-Semitism-over-Sarkozy-jibe.html

11 From an article entitled “Members of Congress wave yellow pencils in the air during State of the Union address as they pay tribute to Charlie Hebdo victims” written by Jane Evans and David Martosko, published in the Daily Mail on February 21, 2015. http://www.dailymail.co.uk/news/article-2919442/Members-Congress-wave-yellow-pencils-air-State-Union-address-pay-tribute-Charlie-Hebdo-victims.html

12 Here Powell is relating words from a conversation he had with a constituent. In fuller context the man says to him: “I have three children, all of them been through grammar school and two of them married now, with family. I shan’t be satisfied till I have seen them all settled overseas. In this country in 15 or 20 years’ time the black man will have the whip hand over the white man.” And Powell’s very sympathetic response to this man’s remarks goes as follows:

“I can already hear the chorus of execration. How dare I say such a horrible thing? How dare I stir up trouble and inflame feelings by repeating such a conversation?

“The answer is that I do not have the right not to do so. Here is a decent, ordinary fellow Englishman, who in broad daylight in my own town says to me, his Member of Parliament, that his country will not be worth living in for his children.

“I simply do not have the right to shrug my shoulders and think about something else. What he is saying, thousands and hundreds of thousands are saying and thinking – not throughout Great Britain, perhaps, but in the areas that are already undergoing the total transformation to which there is no parallel in a thousand years of English history.”

A full transcription of Enoch Powell’s “Rivers of Blood” speech was reprinted by The Telegraph on November 6, 2007. http://www.telegraph.co.uk/comment/3643823/Enoch-Powells-Rivers-of-Blood-speech.html

13 From an article entitled “Anti-Isam Marches Will Come to Britain, Says Former EDL Leader Robinson” written by Lucy Draper, published by Newsweek magazine on January 8, 2015. http://www.newsweek.com/anti-islam-marches-will-come-britain-says-former-edl-leader-robinson-297257

14 As quoted in James Boswell’s The Life of Samuel Johnson, Vol. 1 (1791), p. 335.

15 According to wikiquote, it is unclear whether this is apocriphal or not.

16 In the case of the last month’s Paris attacks, the suspects were the usual ones. Both of the Kouachi brothers were well-known for their jihadist sympathies. Chérif Kouachi had previously been convicted of terrorism in 2008, and sentenced to three years in prison. Saïd Kouachi had received direct terrorist training from al-Qaeda in Yemen in 2011. The suspected gunman in Copenhagen, however, Omar el-Hussein, was more of a petty hoodlum. Indeed, he had only been released from prison a fortnight prior to the attacks, after completing a two year sentence for grievous bodily harm following a knife attack. The question asked now is had el-Hussein been radicalised in prison? And the answer to that question is that we will almost certainly never know for sure. Instead of facing a criminal investigation and trial, as with the Kouachi brothers before, el-Hussein was himself shot dead.

17 From an article entitled “Sydney cafe gunman Man Haron Monis ‘dropped off watchlist’ and Australia refused Iran’s request to extradite him, Tony Abbott says”, written by Adam Withnall, published in The Independent on December 17, 2014. http://www.independent.co.uk/news/world/australasia/sydney-cafe-gunman-man-haron-monis-dropped-off-watchlist-and-australia-refused-irans-request-to-extradite-him-tony-abbott-says-9930073.html

18 From an article entitled “Lee Rigby murder report: How MI5 latched on to – and lost – the man who later murdered soldier”, written by Kim Sengupta, published in The Independent on November 25, 2014. http://www.independent.co.uk/news/uk/home-news/lee-rigby-report-how-mi5-latched-on-to–and-then-lost–the-man-who-later-murdered-the-soldier-9883135.html

19 Read more in a Reuters report entitled “Russia warned U.S. about Boston Marathon bomb suspect Tsarnaev: report” published March 25, 2014.  http://www.reuters.com/article/2014/03/26/us-usa-explosions-boston-congress-idUSBREA2P02Q20140326

20 More details on the failures and mistakes of MI5 can be read in an article entitled “7/7 inquest; Mohammed Sidique Khan on MI5’s radar before 9/11”, written by Duncan Gardham, published in The Telegraph on May 6, 2011.  http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/uknews/terrorism-in-the-uk/8497204/77-inquest-Mohammed-Sidique-Khan-on-MI5s-radar-before-911.html

For instance, the article details how:

“Sidique Khan had been photographed at Toddington Service station on the M1 after he was followed on his return from the meeting in Crawley, West Sussex, along with fellow bomber Shezhad Tanweer and another associate.

The photographs from the service station were taken at close range and in full colour, clearly showing Sidique Khan and Tanweer standing in front of a Burger King takeaway and a fruit machine.

But an MI5 desk officer cropped the photographs so that the background could not be identified before sending them to America, the inquest into the 52 deaths was told.

Hugo Keith QC told a senior member of MI5: “I am bound to observe, if you will forgive me, one of my children could have done a better job of cropping out that photograph.”

Tanweer was missing half his nose and face and Sidique Khan was so badly cropped that he was missing half his head and the majority of his body and picture was not sent to America.”

21 From an article entitled “If MI5 sticks to outdated tactics, Emwazi won’t be the last British security failure” written by David Davis, published in the Guardian on February 27, 2015. http://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2015/feb/27/mi5-mohammed-emwazi-security-failures-terrorists-free

22

“We must speak the truth about terror. Let us never tolerate outrageous conspiracy theories concerning the attacks of September the 11th; malicious lies that attempt to shift the blame away from the terrorists, themselves, away from the guilty. To inflame ethnic hatred is to advance the cause of terror.”

From George W. Bush’s address to the United Nations on November 10, 2001.

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Filed under al-Qaeda & DAESH / ISIS / ISIL, analysis & opinion, Australia, Britain, Denmark, France, Germany, police state, September 11th, Seymour Hersh, USA

the price of everything

The following article is Chapter Nine of a book entitled Finishing The Rat Race which I am posting chapter by chapter throughout this year. 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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When the accumulation of wealth is no longer of high social importance, there will be great changes in the code of morals. We shall be able to rid ourselves of many of the pseudo-moral principles which have hag-ridden us for two hundred years, by which we have exalted some of the most distasteful of human qualities into the position of the highest virtues. We shall be able to afford to dare to assess the money-motive at its true value. The love of money as a possession — as distinguished from the love of money as a means to the enjoyments and realities of life — will be recognised for what it is, a somewhat disgusting morbidity, one of those semi-criminal, semi-pathological propensities which one hands over with a shudder to the specialists in mental disease…”

John Maynard Keynes 1

*

Have you ever wondered what it’s like to be rich? Here I don’t just mean well-off, with a paltry few tens of millions in the bank, I mean proper rich – megabucks! So much money that, as I heard one comedian put it (aiming his joke squarely at the world’s richest entrepreneur), if Bill Gates were to stuff all his cash under the mattress, then due to interest alone, if he fell out of bed he’d never hit the ground!

I suppose what I’m wondering is this – and perhaps you’ve found yourself thinking along similar lines – why are these super-rich guys always so intent on accruing ever greater wealth when they already possess more than enough funds to guarantee the needs of a small country. Think about it this way: Gates and the others are, barring a few very necessary legal constraints, completely at liberty to do whatever they choose at every moment of every day. They can eat the best food, drink the most delicious vintage wines, smoke the finest cigars, play golf morning, noon, and evening, and then after the sun goes down, and if it is their wont, have liaison with the most voluptuous women (or men) available. Quite literally, they have means to go anywhere and do everything to their heart’s content and all at a moment’s notice. Just imagine that. So why be bothering about sales at all? I mean wouldn’t you eventually get bored of simply accumulating more and more money when you’ve already got so much – and let’s face it, money itself is pretty boring stuff. So just what is it that keeps them all going after it? After all, there are only so many swimming pools, grand pianos, swimming pools in the shape of grand pianos, Aston Martins, Lear Jets, and acreages of real estate that one man (or woman) can profitably use (in the non-profit-making sense obviously). Economists would call this the law of diminishing marginal utility, although in this instance it is basic common sense.2

Presented with evidence of this kind, some will say that here is further proof of the essential greediness of human beings. That, as a species, we are simply never satisfied until we have the lot. Fine then, let us take on this modern variant of original sin, since it certainly holds more than a grain of truth. For the sake of argument, we might presume that all men and women are greedy to an almost limitless extent. That this is truly the natural order, from our conception having been evolutionarily programmed to grab as much as we can for ourselves – our most primeval reflex being to snatch.

So I shall not waste too much time here. Only to say that I do not find such unrestrained cupidity within the circles of people with whom I have chosen to associate, most being happy enough to share out the peanuts and fork out for the next round of beers, quite oblivious to outcomes in terms of commensurate returns. What comes around goes around… There is, of course, no doubting that most folks will, very naturally, if opportunity arises, take good advantage to feather their own nests. Making life a little more comfortable for themselves, and reserving the ample share of their fortune for their immediate family and closest friends. But then, why not…? Charity begins at home, right?

What most don’t do (at least in the circles I know best) is devote their whole lives to the narrow utilitarian project outlined above. And why? Because, though quite understandably, money and property are greatly prized assets, they offer lesser rewards than companionship and love. And, in any case, pure generosity is its own reward – and I do mean “is”, and not “has” or “brings” – the reward being an inseparable part of the act itself: a something received as it was given, like a hug, like a kiss. That said, if you still prefer to believe that we are all to a man, woman and child, innately and incurably selfish and greedy, then next time you take a look into the mirror, do consider those all-too beady eyes staring back. It’s very easy to generalise about mankind when you forget to count yourself in.

But if not intractably a part of human nature, then we must find other reasons to account for how our world is nevertheless so horribly disfigured by rampant and greedy exploitation. For if greed is not an inherently human trait, and here I mean greed with a capital Grrr, then this monomaniacal obsession is all too frequently acquired, especially in those who approach the top of the greasy pole. There is an obvious circularity in this, of course. That those whose progress has depended upon making a buck, very often become addicted. As money-junkies, they, like other addicts, then prioritise their own fix above all else. Whether or not these types are congenitally predisposed to becoming excessively greedy, we have no way of knowing. What we can be certain of is this: that by virtue of having acquired such great wealth, they disproportionately shape the environment they and we live in. So they are not merely money-junkies, but also money-pushers. If you’re not a money-junkie then you don’t know what you’re missing. There’s nothing new in this. This is the way the world has been for many centuries, and perhaps ever since money was first invented.

So here’s Oscar Wilde addressing the same questions about money and our unhealthy relationship to it; his thoughts leaping more than a century, during which time very little has apparently changed:

“In a community like ours, where property confers immense distinction, social position, honour, respect, titles, and other pleasant things of this kind, man, being naturally ambitious, makes it his aim to accumulate this property, and goes on wearily and tediously accumulating it long after he has got far more than he wants, or can use, or enjoy, or perhaps even know of. Man will kill himself by overwork in order to secure property, and really, considering the enormous advantages that property brings, one is hardly surprised. One’s regret is that society should be constructed on such a basis that man has been forced into a groove in which he cannot freely develop what is wonderful, and fascinating, and delightful in him – in which, in fact, he misses the true pleasure of joy and living.”3

Embedded below is a recent interview [from December 2013] Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist Chris Hedges gave on “The Real News” in which he talked about – based to a large extent on his own personal experience – how the super rich are isolated and disconnected from the rest of society. He explains how this creates a deluded sense of entitlement and a pathological callousness:

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Isn’t money funny stuff! Funny peculiar, I mean. We just take it so much for granted, almost as though it were a natural substance (disappointingly, of course, it doesn’t actually grow on trees). But when we do think about it, money has far stranger properties than anything in the natural world. And our relationship to it is more peculiar than our relationship to almost anything else.

Money, that’s what I want… sang the Beatles on one of their less celebrated tracks. But the truth will out. So just why did the Beatles want money, and, for that matter, why do I, and why do you? It doesn’t work, you can’t eat it, and it’s not, of a rule, a thing of special beauty. Money is absolutely useless in fact, right until you decide to swap it for what you actually want.

Money can’t buy me love, true again, but it might buy me a chocolate bar. Because money is really just a tool, a technology: a highly specialised kind of lubricant, that enables people to exchange their goods and services with greater ease and flexibility. The adoption of a money system enabling levels of parity for otherwise complex exchanges to be quickly agreed and settled. The great thing about money being, to provide a concrete illustration, that although £1 of tinned herring is probably equivalent to about thirty seconds of emergency plumbing (if you’re lucky), you won’t require crates of herring to pay for the call-out. So far so simple.

Except wait. We all know how the price of herring can go up as well as down, and likewise for the price of emergency plumbers. So why such a dynamic relationship? Well, there’s “the market”, a price-fixing system that arises spontaneously, regulating the rates of exchange between goods and services on the basis of supply adjusting to match demand. Thus by a stroke of good fortune, we find that money is not merely a lubricant for exchange, but also regulatory of useful production and services. This, at least, is the (widely accepted) theory.

Prices rise and fall in accordance with demand. Things that are in short supply become expensive, things that are abundant are cheaper. This is basic economic theory and it means, amongst other things, that in every transaction the “real value” of your money is actually relative, for the simple reason that the amount required depends not only on what you’re after, but also upon whether or not other people are after the same kind of thing. Money then, in terms of its “real value” to any individual or group, is something that is constantly varying. We might call this “the relativity of money”.

One consequence of the relative nature of money, is that the useful value of money overall can also rise and fall. It is possible that wholesale, retail and labour costs can all more or less rise or fall together, although the general tendency, as we all know from experience, is for overall rising costs. Indeed such “inflation” is regarded as normal and expected, and, as a consequence, it comes to seem just as natural as money itself. Yet since you always need more and more money to buy the same things then the value of your money must, in some important way, be constantly falling. But just why does money as a whole lose its value in this way? What makes yesterday’s money worth less than today’s? Well it turns out that this is a huge question and one that economists have argued long and hard about.

One partial account of inflation goes as follows: businesses and people in business are constantly looking for a little bit more. For how else can they maximise profits? In direct consequence, we, as customers, necessarily require more dosh to pay for the same goods or services. But to enlarge our budget, this automatically requires a commensurate increase in income, which means successfully negotiating for a larger salary. In the bigger picture then, the businesses supplying our wants and needs, are now needing to cover their larger wage-bills, which means higher prices to compensate. So prices and incomes rise together, with money becoming worth less and less precisely because everyone is trying to accumulate more and more of it. This endless tail-chasing escalation, which is given the fancy title of “the price/wage spiral”, serves as an excellent example of why money is really very odd stuff indeed.

And what is money in any case? The first traders most likely exchanged shells, precious stones, or other baubles to aid in bartering, but then naturally enough, over time these exchanges would have been formalised, agreements arising with regards to which objects and materials were most acceptable as currency. The material that became most widely accepted was eventually, of course, gold. But why gold? Well, no one actually knows but we can make some educated guesses.

Firstly, gold is scarce, and it is also rare in other ways – for instance, having a unique and unusual colour, which just happens to correspond to the colour of the Sun. The fact that it is almost chemically inert and so doesn’t tarnish, means that it also shines eternally, and so again is like the Sun. Indeed, Aldous Huxley, in Heaven and Hell (his sequel to The Doors of Perception) points out that almost every substance that humans have ever regarded as valuable shares this property of shininess. To Huxley this is evidence that even money owes it origins, in part at least, to a common spiritual longing. Our wish to own a precious piece of paradise.

But back to more mundane matters, if gold (or any other substance) is chosen as your currency, then there arises another problem. How to guarantee the quantity and quality of the gold in circulation? For if gold is worth faking or adulterating then it’s certain that somebody will try cheating.

Well, one answer could be the adoption of some kind of official seal, a hallmark, and this solution leads, naturally enough, to the earliest forms of coinage. But then, if the coins are difficult to counterfeit, why bother to make them out of gold in the first place? Just the official seal would be enough to ensure authenticity. And why bother with metal, which is bulky and heavy. So again it’s an obvious and logical leap to begin producing paper banknotes. The value of these coins and banknotes, although far less intrinsically valuable in material terms than the gold they represent, is still backed by the promise that they are redeemable into gold. But hang on, what’s so special about the gold anyway (aside from its shininess). And doesn’t the gold, which is now locked up in bullion reserves, in fact have real uses of its own? And doesn’t this mean that the gold also has a monetary value? So why not cut loose from the circularity and admit that the value of money can exist entirely independent from the gold or from any other common standard. Indeed, why couldn’t the issuing authority, which might be a government but is more often a central bank, simply make up a “legal tender”4 with no intrinsic or directly correlated value whatsoever and issue that? Not that the money issued need even correspond to the amount of real coins or paper banknotes in circulation – most of the world’s money being bits and bytes, ones and zeroes, orbiting out in cyber-space. Which brings us to just how funny money has now become.

The Pound Sterling, the various dollars, the Euro and every major currency on Earth are, to apply the correct terminology, “fiat currencies”5 With fiat currencies there is no parity to the value of any other commodities and so they are, if you like, new forms of gold. As such, and given their shifting relative values, these new fiat currencies can also be traded as another kind of commodity. Money, in the form of currency, becoming an investment in itself. Money is strange stuff indeed.

Yet money also remains as an instrument. And we use this instrument to measure just about everything. To establish the value of raw materials and manufactured items. The value of land and, by extension, the value of the space it occupies. The value of labour, and thus a value on the time used. And, since works of art are also bought and sold, money is even applied as a measure of such absolutely intangible qualities as beauty.

So money is basically a universally adaptable gauge, and this is its great strength. It is perhaps the big reason why its invention gradually caught on in such a fundamental way. From humble trading token, money has risen to become a primary measure of all things. But remember, remember… Money, whether fiat currency or gold standard, can never be real in the same way as tins of herring and plumbers are real, and neither is “monetary value” an absolute and intrinsic property, but only ever relative and acquired. Money, we ought to constantly remind ourselves (since we clearly need reminding) is nothing without us or without our highly structured civilisation – intrinsically, it is worthless. It is very strange stuff.

Perhaps the future benchmark for money will no longer be gold but ‘virtual gold’ in the form of cryptocurrencies – bitcoin being currently the most well-known of these. One advocate of these alternatives to traditional forms of money is financial expert Max Keiser. On February 3rd 2014, he spoke with coder, hacker and cryptocurrency specialist Andreas Antonopoulos about the regulation of bitcoin transactions; the advent of bitcoin derivatives, which he believes these are less of a threat than ordinary derivatives (a subject I’m coming to next); the fact that unlike gold, cryptocurrencies can be ‘teleported’; and a future in which bitcoin is used widely by businesses as much as by individuals. He says that a time is coming when the prevalent misgivings and doubts about bitcoin and other cryptos have long since been forgotten. Is he right? I don’t know and remain highly skeptical, but I find the debate an interesting one:

Incidentally, there are less radical and more tangible alternatives to the currencies we now have in circulation. “Treasury notes” are one such alternative and these have historical precedence in the form of both the American “greenback” and the UK’s Bradbury Pound. To read more about this and also for links to campaigns to reintroduce them please read the addendum at the end of the chapter.

*

Little more than a century ago, and even in the richest corners of the world, there were no dependable mechanisms to safeguard against the vicissitudes of fortune. If you weren’t already poor and hungry (as most were), then you could rest assured that potential poverty and hunger were waiting just around the corner. Anyone with aspirations to scale the ladder to secure prosperity faced the almost insurmountable barriers of class and (a generally corresponding) lack of education. A lower class person of such ambitions would be very well aware that if they could step onto the ladder at all, there was very little in the way of protection to save them in the event of falling; errors of judgement or sheer misfortune resulting in almost certain and unmitigated personal disaster. This was the sorry situation for people at all levels of society aside from the highest echelons.

One tremendous advantage then, of living in a modern society, is that, aside from having slightly less restricted social mobility (not that we now live in the classless society we are told to believe in), there are basic safety nets in place, with additional protection that is optionally available. For those languishing at the bottom of the heap, there are the reliable though meagre alms provided through a welfare system, whilst for the ever-expanding middle classes there is plenty of extra cover in the form of saving schemes, pension schemes, and, in the event of the most capricious and/or calamitous of misfortunes, the ever-expanding option of insurance policies. If the Merchant of Venice had been set in today’s world then the audience would feel little sympathy for his predicament. Why had he ventured on such a risk in the first place, casting his fortune adrift on dangerous waters? Why hadn’t he protected his assets by seeking independent financial advice and taking out some preferential cover? It’s a duller story altogether.

Systems for insurance are essential in any progressive civilisation. Protection against theft, against damage caused by floods, fires and other agents of destruction, and against loss of life and earnings. Having insurance means that we can all relax a bit, quite a lot, in fact. But it also means that, alongside the usual commodities, there’s another less tangible factor to be costed and valued. That risk itself needs to be given a price, and that necessarily means speculating about the future.

Indeed, speculations about the future have become very much to the forefront of financial trading. As a consequence of this, at least in part, today’s financial traders have become accustomed to dealing in “commodities” that have no intrinsic use or value whatsoever. They might, for example, exchange government bonds for promises of debt repayment. Or, feeling a little more adventurous, they might speculate on the basis of future rates of foreign exchange, or in interest rates, or share prices, or rates of inflation, or in a multitude of other kinds of “underlying assets” (including that most changeable of underlying variables: the weather) by exchange of promissory notes known most commonly as “derivatives”, since they derive their value entirely on the basis of the future value of something else. And derivatives can be “structured” in any myriad of ways. Here are a just few you may have heard of :–

  • futures (or forwards) are contracts to buy or sell the “underlying asset” up until a future date on the basis of today’s price.
  • options allow the holder the right, without obligation (hence “option”), to buy (a “call option”) or to sell (a “put option”) the “underlying asset.”
  • swaps are contracts agreeing to exchange money up until a specified future date, based on the underlying value of exchange rates, interest rates, commodity prices, stocks, bonds, etc.

You name it: there are now paper promises for paper promises of every conceivable kind. Now the thing is that because you don’t need to own the “underlying asset” itself, there is no limit to the amounts of these paper promises that can be traded. Not that this is as novel as it may first appear.

Anyone who’s ever bought a lottery ticket has in effect speculated on a derivative, its value in this case being entirely dependent upon the random motion of coloured balls in a large transparent tumbler at an allocated future time. All betting works this way, and so all bets are familiar forms of derivatives. And then there are, if you like, negative bets. Bets you’d rather lose. For instance, £200 says my house will burn down this year, is presumably a bet you’d rather lose, but it is still a bet that many of us annually make with an insurance company. And general insurance policies are indeed another form of familiar derivative – they are in effect “put options”.

However there is one extremely important difference here between an ordinary insurance policy and a “put option” – in the case of the “put option”, you don’t actually need to own the “underlying asset”, which means, to draw an obvious comparison, you might take out house insurance on your neighbour’s property rather than your own. And if their house burns down, ah hum accidentally, of course, then good for you. Cash in your paper promise and buy a few more – who knows, perhaps your neighbour is also a terrible driver. There are almost numberless opportunities for insuring other people’s assets and with only the law preventing you, then why not change the law. Which is exactly what has happened, with some kinds of derivatives circumventing the law in precisely this way, and permitting profitable speculation on the basis of third party failures. When it comes to derivatives then, someone can always be making a profit come rain or shine, come boom or total financial meltdown.

But, why stop there? Especially when the next step is so obvious that it almost seems inevitable. Yes, why not trade in speculations on the future value of the derivatives themselves? After all, treating the derivative itself as an “underlying asset” opens the way for multiple higher order derivatives, creating with it, the opportunity for still more financial “products” to be traded. Sure, these “exotic financial instruments” quickly become so complex and convoluted that you literally need a degree in mathematics in order to begin to decipher them. Indeed those on the inside make use of what are called “the Greeks”, and “the Higher Order Greeks”, since valuation requires the application of complex mathematical formulas comprised of strings of Greek letters, the traders here fully aware, of course, that it’s all Greek to the rest of us. Never mind – ever more financial “products” means ever more trade, and that’s to the benefit of all, right…?

Deregulation of the markets – kicked off in Britain by the Thatcher government’s so-called “Big Bang” and simultaneously across the Atlantic through the laissez-faire of “Reagonomics”6 – both enabled and encouraged this giddying maelstrom, allowing in the process the banking and insurance firms, the stockbrokerage and hedge funds that make up today’s “finance industry” to become the single most important “wealth creator” in the Anglo-American world. Meanwhile, declines in manufacturing output in Britain and America meant both nations were becoming increasingly dependent on a sustained growth in the financial sector – with “derivatives” satisfying that requirement for growth by virtue of their seemingly unbound potential. Indeed, having risen to become by far the largest business sector simply in terms of profit-making, many of the largest banks and insurance groups had become “too big to fail”7. Failure leading potentially to national, if not international, economic ruin. Which is how the very systems that were supposedly designed to protect us, systems of insurance, have, whether by accident or design, left us more vulnerable than ever.

And then came the bombshell, as we learnt that the banks themselves were becoming bankrupt, having gambled their investments in the frenzy of deregulated speculation. Turns out that some of the money-men didn’t fully understand the complexity of their own systems; a few admitting with hindsight that they’d little more knowledge of what they were buying into than the rest of us. They’d “invested” because their competitors “invested”, and, given the ever-growing buoyancy of the markets at the time, not following suit would have left them at a competitive disadvantage. A desperate but strangely appropriate response to the demands of free market capitalism gone wild.

*

It is currently estimated that somewhere in the order of a quadrillion US dollars (yes, that’s with a qu-) has been staked on derivations of various kinds. Believe it or not, the precise figure is actually uncertain because many deals are brokered in private. In the jargon of the trade these are called “over the counter” derivatives, which is an odd choice of jargon when the only thing the average customer buys over the counter are drugs. Could it be that they’re unconsciously trying to tell us something again?

So just how big is one quadrillion dollars? Well, let’s begin with quadrillion. Quadrillion means a thousand trillion. Written at length it is one with a string of fifteen zeros. A number so humungous that it’s humanly impossible to properly comprehend: all comparisons fail. I read somewhere that if you took a quadrillion pound coins and put them side by side then they would stretch further than the edge of the solar system. The Voyager space programme was, of course, a much cheaper alternative. Or how about this: counting a number every second, it would take 32 million years to count up to a quadrillion… Now obviously that’s simply impossible – I mean just try saying “nine hundred and ninety-nine trillion, nine hundred and ninety-nine billion, nine hundred and ninety-nine million, nine hundred and ninety-nine thousand, nine hundred and ninety-nine” in the space of one second! You see it really doesn’t help to try to imagine any number as big as a quadrillion.

However, there are still useful ways to compare a quadrillion dollars. For instance, we can compare it against the entire world GDP which turns out to be a mere 60 trillion US dollars8. One quadrillion being nearly twenty times larger. Or we might compare it against the estimated monetary wealth of the whole world: about $75 trillion in real estate, and a further $100 trillion in world stock and bonds. So one quadrillion is a number far exceeding even the total monetary value of the entire world – material and immaterial! A little freaky to say the least! Especially when we discover that many of these derivatives are now considered to be “toxic assets”, which is a characteristically misleading way of saying they are worth nothing – yes, worthless assets! – whatever the hell that means!

So just like the Sorcerer’s Apprentice, it seems that the spell has gone out of control, and instead of these mysterious engines making new money out of old money, the system has created instead an enormous black hole of debt. A debt that we, the people, are now in the process of bailing out, with extremely painful consequences. Efforts to save us from a greater catastrophe having already forced the British and US governments to pump multiple hundreds of billions of public money into the coffers of the private banks. Yet the banks and the economy remain broken of course, because how is any debt larger than the monetary value of the entire world ever to be repaid?

Another tactic to halt descent into a full-blown economic meltdown has involved the issuance of additional fiat currency in both Britain and America; a “quantitative easing” designed to increase the supply of money by simply conjuring it up (a trick that fiat currency happily permits). Money may not grow on trees but it can most certainly be produced out of thin air. But here’s the rub. For in accordance with the most basic tenets of economic theory, whenever extra banknotes are introduced into circulation, the currency is correspondingly devalued. So you may be able to conjure money from thin air, but all economists will readily agree that you cannot conjure “real value”, meaning real purchasing power. Indeed this common mistake of confusing “nominal value” (i.e., the number of pounds written on the banknote) with “real value”, is actually given a name by economists. They call it: “the money illusion”. And it’s useful to remind ourselves again that money has only relative value.

To understand this, we might again consider money to be a commodity (which in part it is, traded on the currency markets). As such, and as with all other commodities, relative scarcity or abundance will alter its market value, and, in obedience to the law of supply and demand, more will automatically mean less. This is just as true for the value of money as it is for tins of herring, plumbers, scotch eggs and diamonds. So it seems that if too much of our quantitative is eased, then we’d better be prepared for a drastic rise in inflation, or much worse again, for hyperinflation. Printing too much money is how hyperinflation has always been caused.

Our future is bleak, they tell us. Our future is in the red. So much for security, so much for insurance. We’d apparently forgotten to beware of “the Greeks” and of the “higher order Greeks” when they’d first proffered gifts.

*

I said earlier, just in passing, that money is actually pretty boring stuff, and it is… Truly, madly and deeply boring! So when I hear on the news how “the markets” are hoping that the latest round of “quantitative easing” will enable governments to provide the necessary “fiscal stimulus”, I am barely even titillated. Whilst explanations, both in the popular press and supposedly more serious media, that like to describe such injections of new money as in some way analogous to filling up my car with imaginary petrol provide me only with a far, far more entertaining distraction: to wit, a magical car that runs on air.

But then, of course, money isn’t really stuff at all! More properly considered, money is perhaps a sort of proto-derivative, since its worth is evidently dependent upon something other than the paper it’s (increasingly not) written on. So what is it that money’s worth depends upon? What underlies money? Well, the accepted answer to this question is apparently that money is a “store of value”. Although this leads immediately to the obvious follow-up question: in this context, what precisely is the meaning of “value”? But, here again there is a problem, since “value”, although a keystone to economic thinking, has remained something of an enigma. Economists unable to agree upon any single definitive meaning.

Is “value” a determinant of usefulness? Or is it generated by the amount of effort required in the production of things? Or perhaps there is some other kind of innate economic worth? For instance in a thing’s scarcity. And can this worth be attributed at the individual level or only socially imputed?

There are a wide variety of definitions and explanations of “value”, that, being so foundational, have then encouraged the various branches of economic theory to diverge. And here is another important reason why economics is in no way equivalent to the physical sciences. Ask any physicist what energy is, and they will provide both an unambiguous definition and, no less importantly, offer established methods for measurement. Because of this, if ever one physicist talks to another physicist about energy (or any other physical quantity) they can be absolutely certain that they are talking about the same thing. Which is very certainly not the case when economists talk about “value”.

“A cynic is a man who knows the price of everything and the value of nothing,” said Oscar Wilde, distinguishing with playful wisdom the difference in human terms between “price” and “value”. The great pity is that the overwhelming majority of today’s economists have become so cynical – but then perhaps they always were.

*

As part of his on-going assault against religion, Richard Dawkins recently published a book called The God Delusion. It’s the old hobby-horse again; one that he shares with a great many millions of other broadly liberal, literate and intelligent people. That religion is an evil of which humanity must rid ourselves totally. And yes, much of religion has been dumb and dangerous, this I will very readily concede (and already have conceded in earlier chapters). But really and truly, is it “the God delusion” that we should be most concerned about in these torrid times? For regardless of Dawkins claims, it is quite evident that religion is a wounded animal, and for good or ill, the secular world is most certainly in the ascendant. Right throughout the world, aside from a few retreating pockets of resistance, faith in the old gods has been gravely shaken. It is not that human faith, by which I mean merely a belief and/or worship of something greater, is extinguished, for it never can be, but that it has been reattached to new idol-ologies. And in those parts of the world where the old religions have been most effectively disarmed or expelled, namely the West, one idol-ology above all others has gathered strength from Religion’s demise.

Richard Dawkins has said many times that instructing young children in religious obedience is a form of psychological child abuse and on this point I wholeheartedly support him. Children’s minds are naturally pliable for very sound developmental reasons. But is it less pernicious to fill their precious minds with boundless affection for let’s say Ronald McDonald? For this is merely one stark but obvious illustration of how a new fundamentalism has been inculcated in the young. Devotion to the brand. Love of corporations. Worship of the dollar and the pound.

This new kind of fundamentalism has long since swept across the world, but it is unusual, although not unique, in that it denies its own inherent religiosity whilst claiming to have no idols. This is the fundamentalism of free market neoliberal economics. The Father, Son and Holy Ghost having been forsaken, only to have been usurped by the IMF, the World Bank and the WTO. If you think I’m joking, or that this is mere hyperbole, then think again. When things are tough we no longer turn to the heavens, but instead ask what sacrifices can be made to “reassure the markets”. Sacrifices to make it rain money again.

By far and above, here is the most pernicious delusion of our age. And it has next to nothing to do with God, or Yahweh, or Allah, or even the Buddha. The prophets of our times talk of nothing besides profits or losses. They turn their eyes to the Dow Jones Index, trusting not in God, but only in money. So I call for Dawkins to leave aside his God delusion, for a moment, and pay a little attention to the rise and rise of “the money delusion”. If future historians reflect on our times, this is what they will see, and given the mess this “money delusion” is creating they will scratch their heads in disbelief and disgust.

*

I have already discussed the so-called “money illusion” – of mistaking nominal banknote value for real purchasing value – but this is merely one of many nested and interrelated illusions that make up “the money delusion”. Illusions that have become so ingrained within our permitted economic thinking that they are completely taken for granted.

Foundational is the belief that individuals always make rational choices. According to the definition of making rational choices, this requires that we all choose with consistency and always with the aim of choosing more over less. That a huge advertising industry now exists to tempt us into irrationality is never factored in. Nor are the other corrosive influences that so obviously deflect our rational intentions: the coercion of peer pressure, our widespread obsession with celebrities and celebrity endorsement, and that never-ending pseudo-scientific babble that fills up many of the remaining column inches and broadcast hours of our commercial media. We are always eager for the latest fashionable fads, and perhaps we always were. Yet this glaring fact, that people make wholly irrational choices time and again, whether due to innate human irrationality or by deliberate design, is of little concern to most economists. It is overlooked and omitted.

Likewise, a shared opinion has arisen under the name of neoliberalism that economics can itself be neutral, usefully shaping the world without the nuisance of having to rely on value judgements or needing any broader social agenda. If only individuals were left to make rational choices, as of course they do by definition, or so the idea goes, and the market could also be unshackled, then at last the people will be free to choose. Thus, goes the claim, individual freedom can only be guaranteed by having freedom within the marketplace. Freedom trickling down with the money it brings. “Wealth creation” alone must solve our problems by virtue of it being an unmitigated good.

Of course, back in the real world, one man’s timber very often involves the destruction of another man’s forest. Making profits from the sale of drugs, tobacco and alcohol has social consequences. Factories pollute. Wealth creation has its costs, which are very often hidden. There is, in other words, and more often than not, some direct negative impact on a third party, known to economists as “spillover” or “externalities”, that is difficult to quantify. Or we might say that “wealth creation” for some is rather likely therefore to lead to “illth creation” for others.

Illth creation? This was the term coined by romantic artist, critic and social reformer, John Ruskin, and first used in his influential critique of nineteenth century capitalism entitled Unto This Last. Ruskin had presumably never heard of “the trickle-down effect”:

“The whole question, therefore, respecting not only the advantage, but even the quantity, of national wealth, resolves itself finally into one of abstract justice. It is impossible to conclude, of any given mass of acquired wealth, merely by the fact of its existence, whether it signifies good or evil to the nation in the midst of which it exists. Its real value depends on the moral sign attached to it, just as sternly as that of a mathematical quantity depends on the algebraical sign attached to it. Any given accumulation of commercial wealth may be indicative, on the one hand, of faithful industries, progressive energies, and productive ingenuities: or, on the other, it may be indicative of mortal luxury, merciless tyranny, ruinous chicane.”9

*

We are in the habit of regarding all money as equal. Presuming that the pounds and pence which make up my own meagre savings are equivalent in some directly proportional manner to the billions owned by let’s say George Soros. A cursory consideration shows how this is laughable.

For instance, we might recall that on “Black Wednesday” in 1992, Soros single-handedly shook the British economy (although, the then-Chancellor of the Exchequer Norman Lamont was left to shoulder the blame)10. But to illustrate this point a little further, let me tell you about my own small venture into the property market.

Lucky enough to have been bequeathed a tidy though not considerable fortune, I recently decided to purchase a house to live in. The amount, although not inconsiderable by everyday standards (if compared say with the income and savings of Mr and Mrs Average), and very gratefully received, was barely sufficient to cover local house prices, except that I had one enormous advantage: I had cash, and cash is king.

For reasons of convenience, cash is worth significantly more than nominally equivalent amounts of borrowed money. In this instance I can estimate that it was probably worth a further 20–30%. Enough to buy a far nicer house than if I’d needed to see my bank manager. A bird in the hand…

Having more money also has other advantages. One very obvious example being that it enables bulk purchases, which being cheaper, again inflates its relative value. The rule in fact is perfectly straightforward: when it comes to money, more is always more, and in sufficient quantities, it is much, much more than that.

But then, of course, we have the market itself. The market that is supposedly free and thus equal. The reality being, however, that since money accumulates by virtue of attracting its own likeness, the leading players in the market, whether wealthy individuals or giant corporations, by wielding larger capital resources, can operate with an unassailable competitive advantage. These financial giants can and do stack the odds even higher in their favour by more indirect means, such as buying political influence with donations to campaign funds and by other insidious means such as lobbying – all of which is simply legally permitted bribery. The flaunted notion of a free market is therefore the biggest nonsense of all. There is no such thing as a free market: never has been and never will be.

The most ardent supporters of free market neoliberalism say that it is a non-normative system, which permits us finally to rid ourselves of disagreements over pesky value judgements. The truth, however, is very much simpler. By ignoring values, it becomes a system devoid of all moral underpinning. Being morally bankrupt, it is unscrupulous in the truest sense of the word.

*

If I had enough money and a whim, I might choose to buy all the plumbers and tins of herrings in Britain. Then, since money is (in part) a measure of scarcity, I could sell them back later with a sizeable mark-up. Too far-fetched? Well, perhaps, but only in my choice of commodity. The market in other commodities has without any question been cornered many times in the past. For instance, by the end of the 1970s, two brothers, Nelson Bunker and William Herbert Hunt, had accumulated and held what was then estimated to be one third of all the world’s silver. This led to serious problems both for high-street jewellers11 and for the economy more generally12, and as it happened, when the bubble burst on what became know as “Silver Thursday”, it also spelt trouble for the brothers’ own fortune. Fortunately for them, however, the situation was considered so serious that a consortium of banks came forward to help to bail them out13. They had lost, their fortune diminished, although by no means wiped out. As relatively small players they’d played too rough; meanwhile much larger players ensure that the markets are routinely rigged through such manufacture of scarcity. Going back as early as 1860, John Ruskin had already pointed out a different but closely-related deficiency in any market-driven capitalist system of trade:

“Take another example, more consistent with the ordinary course of affairs of trade. Suppose that three men, instead of two, formed the little isolated republic, and found themselves obliged to separate, in order to farm different pieces of land at some distance from each other along the coast: each estate furnishing a distinct kind of produce, and each more or less in need of the material raised on the other. Suppose that the third man, in order to save the time of all three, undertakes simply to superintend the transference of commodities from one farm to the other; on condition of receiving some sufficiently remunerative share of every parcel of goods conveyed, or of some other parcel received in exchange for it.

“If this carrier or messenger always brings to each estate, from the other, what is chiefly wanted, at the right time, the operations of the two farmers will go on prosperously, and the largest possible result in produce, or wealth, will be attained by the little community. But suppose no intercourse between the landowners is possible, except through the travelling agent; and that, after a time, this agent, watching the course of each man’s agriculture, keeps back the articles with which he has been entrusted until there comes a period of extreme necessity for them, on one side or other, and then exacts in exchange for them all that the distressed farmer can spare of other kinds of produce: it is easy to see that by ingeniously watching his opportunities, he might possess himself regularly of the greater part of the superfluous produce of the two estates, and at last, in some year of severest trial or scarcity, purchase both for himself and maintain the former proprietors thenceforward as his labourers or servants.”14

By restricting the choices of others, one’s power over them is increased, and it this that brings us to the real reason why money becomes such addiction, especially for those who already have more than they know what to do with. For truly the absolute bottom line is this: that money and power become almost inseparable unless somehow a separation can be enforced. And whilst wealth, especially when excessive, accumulates, as it almost invariably does, then along with it goes the accumulation of power. This is underlying and centralising mechanism has perhaps always operated at the heart of all civilisation. But even the power of money has its limits, as Ruskin points out:

“It has been shown that the chief value and virtue of money consists in its having power over human beings; that, without this power, large material possessions are useless, and to any person possessing such power, comparatively unnecessary. But power over human beings is attainable by other means than by money. As I said a few pages back, the money power is always imperfect and doubtful; there are many things which cannot be reached with it, others which cannot be retained by it. Many joys may be given to men which cannot be bought for gold, and many fidelities found in them which cannot be rewarded with it.

“Trite enough, – the reader thinks. Yes: but it is not so trite, – I wish it were, – that in this moral power, quite inscrutable and immeasurable though it be, there is a monetary value just as real as that represented by more ponderous currencies. A man’s hand may be full of invisible gold, and the wave of it, or the grasp, shall do more than another’s with a shower of bullion. This invisible gold, also, does not necessarily diminish in spending. Political economists will do well some day to take heed of it, though they cannot take measure.”15

Until such a time, every action and probable outcome must continue to be evaluated on the basis of strict cost and benefit estimates. Our “ponderous currencies” literally enabling a figure to be set against each human life – an application fraught with the most serious moral dilemmas and objections – and beyond even this, we have price tags for protecting (or else ruining) the natural environment all our lives depend upon. For only the market can secure our futures, optimally delivering us from evil, though inevitably it moves in mysterious ways. Which is how the whole world – land, water, air and every living organism – came to be priced and costed. Everything set against a notional scale that judges exclusively in terms of usefulness and availability, such is the madness of our money delusion.

We are reaching a crisis point. A thoroughgoing reappraisal of our financial systems, our economic orthodoxes, and our attitudes to money per se is desperately required. Our survival as a species may depend on it. Money ought to be our useful servant, but instead remains, at least for the vast majority, a terrible master. As a consequence, our real wealth has been too long overlooked. Time then for this genii called money to be forced back tight inside its bottle. Ceaselessly chasing its golden behind, and mistaking its tight fist for the judicious hand of God, is leading us ever further down the garden path. Further and further away from the land it promises.

Next chapter…

*

 Addendum: Q & A

Back in April 2012, I forwarded a draft of this chapter to friends in Spain (a nation already suffering under imposed “austerity measures”). They sent an extended reply which raised two interesting and important questions. Both questions along with my replies are offered below:

Q1: You seem to be saying that printing money (as the US and UK, who are in control of their own currency, are doing ) is as bad as dealing with the debt problem by means of austerity (the “Merkozy” approach). But the latter is surely definitely worse.

A. I think these are simply two sides of the same scam. The bankers create an enormous unpayable debt and then get governments to create new money to bail them out. This is sold to us as a way of bailing out a few chosen victims (Greece, Spain, Portugal, Ireland) although it simply means a huge transfer of wealth from public into private hands. To make that money useful to the bankers (and the rest of the ruling elite) ‘austerity measures’ are put in place which not only steal money off the average person but also permit the fire sale of national assets. Meanwhile, in Britain and America, the governments are helping to pay for these bailouts by creating money out of thin air, which means the real value of our money is reduced through inflation (effectively a hidden tax). If the money were invested in infrastructure or education or whatever, then this could potentially be a good thing (even though it still creates inflation), so certainly QE could have been beneficial but not when you use the money only to keep afloat a huge Ponzi scheme. But then you ask later…

Q2: ‘but how come the pound is high now and the euro low’

A. That’s a very good question and I won’t pretend that I understand this completely, but I gather there are plenty of ways for keeping currencies higher than they ought to be by manipulating the markets [incidentally, the Forex Scandal to manipulate and rig the daily foreign exchange rates did not come to light until Summer 2013]. The market is rigged in any case by virtue of the fact that the dollar remains the world’s reserve currency and that oil is traded entirely in dollars. But essentially what’s going on here is a huge currency war, and the euro is constantly under attack from speculators. I am fairly certain that the chickens will come home to roost sooner or later in America and Britain (and in Germany too), but meanwhile the governments simply go about cooking the books and telling us how inflation is only 4% or whatever when fuel prices, for instance, have rocketed during the past few years. In any case, we get ‘austerity’ too, not as hardline yet as the ‘austerity’ being imposed elsewhere, but it will come – of this I have no doubt. Either it will happen slowly, or worse, there will be a huge war and the ‘austerity’ will be brought into place to justify the expense of that. This is a deliberate attack by the bankers against the people of the world, and until the people of the world say that’s enough, and most of the debts are cancelled outright, I don’t see any way this can be reversed.

*

Another topic I briefly touched upon in the chapter above is the matter of inflation. What is it and what causes it? My answers were sketchy, in part, because I wished to avoid getting too bogged down in technicalities beyond my training. But this question about the causes of inflation is, in any case, an extremely thorny one. Different schools of economists provide different explanations.

One less orthodox account that I have frequently come across is that our fractional reserve banking system when combined with a central bank’s issuance of a fiat currency is inherently inflationary. That in the long term, and solely because of these extant monetary mechanisms, inflation is baked into the cake. So I wrote to a friend who holds with the above opinion and asked if he would explain “in the briefest terms that are sufficient” why he and others believe that central bank issuance of currency and fractional reserve banking are the primary underlying cause of inflation. Here is his succinct but detailed reply:

In a central bank system, money is created in the first instance by governments issuing bonds to banks and banks “printing” money and handing it over to the government in return. The government then owe the banks the money plus interest. If they ever pay back any of the principal, then a corresponding amount of bonds are handed back, i.e. cancelled. In that case, the money repaid goes out of existence!

Before elaborating any further, let’s take a step back. Fractional reserve lending doesn’t require central banks, nor does it require governments to create money by issuing bonds in exchange for it. Fractional reserve lending is simply the act of taking someone’s money to “look after it”, then turning around and lending a fraction of it to someone else. If the lender has enough depositors, then sum of all the unlent fractions of each deposit should cover him if one of them suddenly comes through the door asking for all their money back in one go. As I’m sure you know, if too many turn up at once looking for their money, a run ensues. Fractional reserve banking doesn’t even require a government sanctioned paper currency to exist. Depositors can simply deposit something like gold and the lenders can issue receipts which become the paper currency.

In olden times, when depositors of gold first found out that the goldsmiths they were paying to store their gold safely were lending it out for a percentage fee, they were outraged. The goldsmiths appeased them by offering them a cut of the fee for their interest in the scam. Accordingly, this money became known as ‘interest’.

So where do central banks fit in? Countries like the Unites States prior to 1913 have operated without central banks. There were thousands of banks of all sizes. To compete with one another, they had to endeavour to offer higher interest to depositors, lower interest rates to borrowers or to cut the fraction of deposits that they kept in reserve. This latter aspect was what caused banks occasionally to go to the wall, to the detriment of their depositors.

Central banking avoids this risk because the same fractional reserve ratio applies to all the banks under a central bank’s jurisdiction. However, it is really a way to avoid competition and if the system ever does get into trouble, the government feel obliged to bail it out or risk collapse of the whole system.

Now to answer your question about inflation.

In a fractional reserve central bank system, money is created as I’ve described by the government issuing bonds to the bank, receiving money created out of thin air and having to pay interest on it. When they spend it by paying salaries of government employees, contractors, arms manufacturers and so on, that money goes straight into bank accounts and the bankers can’t wait to lend out as much of it as possible, up to the limit of whatever fractional reserve ratio applies. So now there is a double claim on the money. The government employee thinks their salary is sitting in the bank but 90 percent of it is in the pocket of a borrower who thinks it’s theirs as long as they keep up with interest. That borrower, will inevitably either put the borrowed sum in their own bank account or spend it. Either way it will end up in another bank account somewhere. Then the same thing happens again; up to 90 percent of it gets lent out (81 percent of the original government-created money) and so on…

We end up in a situation where all of the money in circulation has arisen from someone somewhere, signing the dotted line to put themselves in debt. The money isn’t backed by a commodity such as gold. Instead it is backed by the ability of the borrower to repay. All these borrowers, including the government are paying interest. If interest is to be paid on every penny in circulation, then it doesn’t take a genius to figure out that new money must be continuously ‘created’ to keep paying this. That occurs by governments constantly borrowing so that their debts keep on increasing and borrowers constantly borrowing more and more. This seems to work as long as prices, wages and asset values keep increasing. Generation after generation, workers can afford to pay more and more for the houses that they live in because the price of the house keeps going up so it looks like good collateral to the lender and also their wages keep going up, so the borrower can meet payments in the eyes of the lender.

Working out what the rate of inflation is at any given time is practically impossible. Government figures such as RPI and CPI are just another tool for the propagandists to use as they see fit at any given time. However for the banks to gain anything from the game, the rate of inflation must be:

  • less than the rate of interest paid by borrowers and;
  • greater than the rate of interest paid to savers.

This is why savers money is ‘eroded’ if they just leave it sitting in a bank account.
Now imagine a different system where:

  • governments issue paper money by printing it themselves;
  • the amount in circulation is absolutely fixed;
  • there is no central bank but there are plenty of independent banks.

In such a country, there is no need for the government to have any debt and there is ample historical evidence of nations that have existed without government debt for very long stretches of time. What borrowers there are have to find the interest by earning it from the fixed pool of currency that is in circulation. There is little need for anyone to borrow but that’s something that most people you speak to have difficulty accepting. That’s because they’ve only ever lived in a system where they spend their lives in the service of debt and cannot conceive of it being any different.

The bankers right at the top of the system aren’t out to grab hold of all the money in the world. They’re not after all the tangible in the world either. Their only goal is to ensure that as much human labour as possible is in the service of debt.

Now for something different. How can this whole thing go horribly wrong for the bankers? I don’t just mean a run on banks or a recession. That happens periodically and is known as the business cycle. People lose confidence and are reluctant to borrow for a number of years, then they regain confidence and start to borrow again and the whole thing picks up and the cycle repeats.

What can go horribly wrong is if, after generations and generations and generations of increasing prices and debts, everyone gets more spooked by debt than ever before and totally fixated on repaying it. They sell assets but there are so many folk doing that that asset prices start to decline. That spooks people further. A spiral is under way. Banks try to ‘stimulate’ the economy by lowering interest rates but there is very little confidence around, especially if asset prices are declining compared with debts and wages aren’t rising either (or may be in decline), so that the ability to repay debt is impaired. This decline can be long and protracted. Also there can be many ups and downs along the way, although the long term trend is down. Ups can be deceptive as they are perceived as “coming out of the recession” by those used to the normal business cycles we’ve experienced throughout the whole of the twentieth century. In this way, asset prices can bleed away until eventually they reach something like a tenth of of their peak value. This process can reach a very late stage before a lot of people recognise what’s really going on. This is just a scenario but one worth considering seriously. We could be in for long term deflation but it will be well under way and too late for many people in debt by the time it gets mainstream acknowledgement.

A closely-related question and one that automatically follows is why do countries bother having central banks at all? Instead of a government issuing bonds, why not directly issue the currency instead, thereby cutting out the middle men? It is an approach that actually has a number of historical precedents as pointed out in this open letter to Obama urging him to reissue ‘greenbacks’ and the campaign in Britain to print ‘treasury notes’ like the Bradbury Pound. So in a further reply to my friend I asked him, “do you think that the re-issuance of ‘greenbacks’ in America or the Bradbury Pound in the UK might offer a realistic solution to the current crisis?” His response:

The issue of greenbacks or whatever you call them (essentially government-issued money) would probably make no immediate difference. Already, the money created by quantitative easing is not working its way into the system, so why would money issued by any other means?

In the longer term, such a fundamental upheaval would make a huge difference as the government wouldn’t need to be in debt the whole time and people wouldn’t have to keep paying increasing prices for houses and cars on top of interest. Pensioners wouldn’t be on a treadmill, having to ‘invest’ their savings just in vain an effort to keep up with inflation.

There’s a risk that the government might be tempted to print more and more money, which is often cited as a point in favour of the present system. It is claimed that having to pay interest and ultimately repay the whole principal is a disincentive in this respect. However, the current system ensures constant “printing” all the time as there’s no way that everyone involved can pay interest otherwise.

There’s talk at the moment about banks charging people a few percent for holding their money on deposit, i.e “negative interest”. People think they’ll lose money as their account balances will go down over time. However, it’s no different to being paid say six percent interest at a time when inflation is at 9 percent and the cheapest loan you can get is 12 percent.

I’m amazed at how people in the alternative media can inform us that banks are going to charge us ‘negative interest’ for our deposits, express outrage and then in the next breath claim that we’re in a hyperinflationary environment. Low/negative interest is a sure sign of massive deflationary pressure. I don’t know what’s going to happen but I’m convinced that deflation’s the one to watch. It has the potential to catch people out.

Getting back to your original question, the direct issuing of money by the government would represent a seismic shift of power from bankers to governments; a shift in the right direction, no doubt. It’s only possible if everyone knows what’s exactly going on. We’re a very long way off yet. Peoples’ understanding of the banking scam is very very poor.

I would add that very much front and centre in that scam is the role of the central banks. These extraordinarily powerful commercial bodies that adopt the outward appearance of public institutions when in fact they work for commercial interests. The US Federal Reserve, for instance, is a de facto private corporation and all of its shareholders are private banks. The status of the Bank of England is more complicated. This is what the main wikipedia entry intriguingly has to tell us:

Established in 1694, it is the second oldest central bank in the world, after the Sveriges Riksbank, and the world’s 8th oldest bank. It was established to act as the English Government’s banker, and is still the banker for HM Government. The Bank was privately owned [clarification needed (Privately owned by whom? See talk page.)] from its foundation in 1694 until nationalised in 1946.[3][4] 

Original references retained.

Clarification needed indeed! Anyway, nowadays it is officially (since 1998) an ‘independent public organisation’. However, the BoE is not really as independent as it might first appear, since along with eighteen other central banks from around the world (including the US Federal Reserve) it is a member of the executive of “the central bank for central banks” – the little known Bank for International Settlements (BIS) based in Basel, Switzerland. To hear more about the history, ownership and function of this highly profitable (tax free and extraterritorial) organisation, I recommend listening to this interview with Adam LeBor, author of the recently released book The Tower of Basel:

For my own more detailed thoughts on effective remedies to the on-going financial crisis please read this earlier post.

*

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 From “The Future”, Essays in Persuasion (1931) Ch. 5, John Maynard Keynes, CW, IX, pp.329 — 331, Economic Possibilities for our Grandchildren (1930).

2 Adam Smith applied “the law of diminishing utility” to solve “the paradox of water and diamonds”. Water is a vital resource and most precious to life and yet it is far less expensive to purchase than diamonds, comparatively useless shiny crystals, which in his own times would have been used solely for ornamentation or engraving. The reason, Smith decides, is that water is readily abundant, such that any loss or gain is of little concern to most people in most places. By contrast, the rarity of diamonds means that, although less useful overall, any loss or gain of use is more significant, or to put it more formally the “marginal utility” is greater.

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

4 Legal tender is a technical legal term that basically means an offer of payment that cannot be refused in settlement of a debt.

5 Fiat (Latin), “let it be done” meaning that these currencies are guaranteed by government decree only.

6 Milton Friedman pays homage to Ronald Reagan’s record on deregulation in an essay entitled “Freedom’s friend” published in the Wall Street Journal on June 11, 2004. Drawing evidence from The Federal Register, “records the thousands of detailed rules and regulations that federal agencies churn out in the course of a year”, Friedman contrasts Reagan’s record with that of Presidential incumbents before and since: “They [the rules and regulations] are not laws and yet they have the effect of laws and like laws impose costs and restrain activities. Here too, the period before President Reagan was one of galloping socialism. The Reagan years were ones of retreating socialism, and the post-Reagan years, of creeping socialism.” For socialism read regulation. http://online.wsj.com/news/articles/SB108691016978034663

7 Definition of “too big to fail” taken from Businessdictionary.com: “Idea that certain businesses are so important to the nation, that it would be disastrous if they were allowed to fail. This term is often applied to some of the nation’s largest banks, because if these banks were to fail, it could cause serious problems for the economy. By declaring a company too big to fail, however, it means that the government might be tempted to step in if this company gets into a bad situation, either due to problems within the company or problems from outside the company. While government bailouts or intervention might help the company survive, some opponents think that this is counterproductive, and simply helping a company that maybe should be allowed to fail. This concept was integral to the financial crisis of the late 2000s.”

8 According to IMF economic database for October 2010, World GDP is $61,963.429 billion (US dollars).

9 Unto This Last is based on a collection of four essays first published in the monthly Cornhill Magazine, 1860, and then reprinted as Unto This Last in 1862. This extract is drawn from his second essay: “The Veins of Wealth”

10 George Soros proudly explains the events of “Black Wednesday” on his official website: “In 1992, with the economy of the United Kingdom in recession, Quantum Fund’s managers anticipated that British authorities would be forced to break from the European Exchange Rate Mechanism (ERM) then in force and allow the British pound to devalue in relation to other currencies, in particular the German mark. Quantum Fund sold short (betting on a decline in value) more than $10 billion worth of pounds sterling. On September 16, 1992—later dubbed “Black Wednesday”—the British government abandoned the ERM and the pound was devalued by twenty percent.” http://www.georgesoros.com/faqs/archive/category/finance/

11Last year [1979] Bunker and his syndicate began buying silver again, this time on a truly gargantuan scale. They were soon imitated by other speculators shaken by international crises and distrustful of paper money. It was this that sent the price of silver from $6 per oz. in early 1979 to $50 per oz. in January of this year. Chairman Walter Hoving of Tiffany & Co., the famous jewelry store, was incensed. Tiffany ran an ad in the New York Times last week asserting: ‘We think it is unconscionable for anyone to hoard several billion, yes billion, dollars worth of silver and thus drive the price up so high that others must pay artificially high prices for articles made of silver from baby spoons to tea sets, as well as photographic film and other products.’” Extract taken from “He Has a Passion for Silver”, article published in Time Magazine, Monday 7April, 1980. http://content.time.com/time/magazine/article/0,9171,921964-2,00.html

12Many Government officials feared that if the Hunts were unable to meet all their debts, some Wall Street brokerage firms and some large banks might collapse.” Extract taken from “Bunker’s busted silver bubble”, article published in Time Magazine, Monday 12 May, 1980. http://content.time.com/time/magazine/article/0,9171,920875,00.html

13What may deal the Hunt fortune a fatal blow is the fallout from the brothers’ role in the great silver-price boom and bust of 1980. Thousands of investors who lost money in the debacle are suing the Hunts. On Saturday the brothers lost a civil case that could set an ominous precedent. A six-member federal jury in New York City found that the Hunts conspired to corner the silver market, and held them liable to pay $63 million in damages to Minpeco, a Peruvian mineral-marketing company that suffered heavy losses in the silver crash. Under federal antitrust law, the penalty is automatically tripled to $189 million, but after subtractions for previous settlements with Minpeco, the total value of the judgment against the Hunts is $134 million.” Extract taken from “Big bill for a bullion binge”, article published in Time Magazine, Monday 29 August, 1988. http://content.time.com/time/magazine/article/0,9171,968272-1,00.html

14 Extract also taken from the second essay, entitled: “The Veins of Wealth” of Unto This Last by John Ruskin.

15 Ibid.

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fight over NDAA indefinite detention bill is telling

On May 16th, District Judge Katherine Forrest in Manhattan made a preliminarily ruling in favour of a group of seven civilian activists and journalists, which included Daniel Ellsberg, Noam Chomsky, Birgitta Jónsdóttir, and perhaps most prominently, former New York Times war correspondent and Pulitzer Prize winner Chris Hedges.

The plaintiffs had argued that a section of the NDAA 2012 bill, which had been signed into law by President Barack Obama late on New Year’s Eve, was in violation of “both their free speech and associational rights guaranteed by the First Amendment as well as due process rights guaranteed by the Fifth Amendment of the United States Constitution.”1

In response, the Obama administration immediately contested the judgement, asking Judge Forrest to reconsider her ruling:

… saying that the plaintiffs lacked legal standing to challenge the law and that it was “extraordinary” for her to have restrained future military operations that might be ordered by the commander in chief during wartime.2

In case you’re not sure, by the way, the US commander in chief is the President. And yes, just like Bush, Obama obviously sees himself as a “war president”. After all, he’s still fighting that preposterous “war on terror”, which rumbles mercilessly on and on, forever and ever, as it inevitably must – “terror” being such a deliberately ill-defined adversary.

Bravely, Judge Forrest stood her ground:

As part of that request, the government said in a footnote that it was interpreting her injunction narrowly as applying only to the handful of people specifically named as plaintiffs in the lawsuit, including Chris Hedges, a journalist who interacts with terrorists as part of his reporting work, and several prominent supporters of WikiLeaks.

But on Wednesday [June 6th], Judge Forrest said that her order still stood — and that, contrary to the government’s narrow interpretation of it, her injunction applied broadly and not just to the named plaintiffs.

“Put more bluntly, the May 16 order enjoined enforcement of Section 1021(b)(2) against anyone until further action by this, or a higher, court — or by Congress,” she wrote. “This order should eliminate any doubt as to the May 16 order’s scope.”3

And then, on September 12th, Judge Forrest made permanent her order that blocked enforcement of the provision within NDAA 2012:

The permanent injunction prevents the U.S. government from enforcing a portion of Section 1021 of the National Defense Authorization Act’s “Homeland Battlefield” provisions.4

However, the Obama administration came rushing back again, and on Monday [Sept 17th] won an emergency suspension of the ruling that was now blocking their indefinite detention provisions:

The Justice Department, which represents U.S. President Barack Obama, argued the judge’s September 12 injunction barring enforcement of a portion of the National Defense Authorization Act’s “Homeland Battlefield” provisions would harm U.S. war efforts abroad. […]

Monday night’s order by Circuit Judge Raymond Lohier said the district court’s order is stayed until an appeals panel considers the issue.

Carl Mayer, a lawyer for Hedges, said Tuesday that the order was procedural and “we are confident the district court opinion will be vindicated.”5

On Tuesday [Sept 18th], Democracy Now! covered the issue of the Obama administration’s appeals against Judge Forrest’s rulings on NDAA 2012, as well as Obama’s continuing use of indefinite detention at Guantánamo.

Amy Goodman spoke to Marcy Wheeler, investigative blogger who runs the website emptywheel.net. Wheeler told her:

Just last night, the Second Circuit did issue a stay in that. So, Friday night, the judge issued an injunction saying you can’t hold anybody according to this NDAA. The government immediately said they were going to appeal. There are some interesting legal issues about whether the government appeal—should have been able to appeal, but nevertheless, judges in this country continue to say, you know, “As soon as the president says ‘national security,’ we’re going to do whatever you say.” And they did that in this case. They’ve issued—they’ve issued a stay, which means they can go ahead and use the NDAA.

And what it means is this kind of vaguely defined—the government hasn’t even been able to define it—this vaguely defined category of people who substantially support al-Qaeda, Taliban, other terrorist organizations can be indefinitely detained. U.S. citizens, Obama has said, wouldn’t be held in military custody, but there’s a lot of gray area there, and I think people are right to be concerned.

Of course, Obama is far from alone in endorsing the tyrannical and unconstitutional NDAA 2012. Here’s what presidential rival Mitt Romney had to say when asked if he would have signed the act:

Yes, I would have. And I do believe that it’s appropriate to have in our nation the capacity to detain people who are threats to this country, who are members of al-Qaeda. Look, you have every right in this country to protest and to express your views on a wide range of issues, but you don’t have a right to join a group that has challenged America and has threatened killing Americans, has killed Americans and has declared war against America. That’s treason. And in this country, we have a right to take those people and put them in jail.

The highlight in bold is mine, of course, added to drew attention to what civil rights campaigners and all true constitutionalists are constantly up against – that like it or lump it, America remains at war… Romney being eager to pick up where Obama left off, as the next war president.

So these are the two guys running for office and heaven help us all! As bad as Obama has been during his four years in the White House, we can only expect Romney to be at least as bad, and judging from what we already know, a good deal worse again.

To get some measure of just how bad Romney could be, here’s Marcy Wheeler again, taking a closer look at a few of the people now installed around him:

You know, as problematic as Obama has been on things like indefinite detention, when you look at Romney’s aides, they’ve got people like Cofer Black6, who really invented the counterterrorism program that we’ve been using since 9/11. You’ve got Steven Bradbury”7, who was one of the writers of the—

Amy Goodman: Cofer Black, who used to be an official with Blackwater.

Yeah, he went from the CIA to the State Department to Blackwater. But he’s the guy who invented targeted killing, who invented torture, who invented—I mean, he’s the architect of our entire counterterrorism program—top Mitt Romney aide. You’ve got Tim Flanigan8, who’s another one of the architects of the torture program. So, if you you look at the people who are close to Mitt Romney, and if you look at what he said—he’s also said that he thinks we should bring back torture—it’s clear that, if anything, he’s going to be worse than Obama on these issues. We don’t—we don’t have a great choice on these issues at the top of the ticket in November.

Nothing can really change in America until the “war on terror” is officially ended. A ‘war’ that is without any sense or direction, although undoubtedly useful when it comes to justifying the old wars, and with the dangerous potential for sparking new ones: Iran, very evidently, now in the cross-hairs. And aside from keeping the war machine ticking over, the “war on terror” also continues to provide cover for the escalating assault against all of our individual rights and freedoms – so perfectly encapsulated in the current legal battle taking place over NDAA 2012.

“The war against terror is like the war against dandruff, I mean it’s a metaphor. It doesn’t mean anything…” said the late Gore Vidal, but in truth it’s even less meaningful than that, since when it comes to dandruff we at least know what we’re looking for.

For further information about NDAA 2012 and the Hedges vs Obama legal battle visit www.stopndaa.org

Click here to read more of the transcript or to watch the interview on the Democracy Now! website.

*

Update:

Carl Mayer, an attorney with The Mayer Law Group and legal counsel for the plaintiffs in the case, spoke with Russia Today on September 14th:

In brief, Mayer says:

“[The Obama administration] plan to appeal this to the Second Circuit and probably ultimately to the Supreme Court. We think this is ill advised because it contradicts President Obama’s campaign statements, it contradicts his criticism of his own legislation in his signing statement and he knows, as a former constitutional law professor, that this is wholly unconstitutional.” […]

“Because the language is so vague in this law,” Mr. Mayer explains, “if any journalist or activist is seen as reporting or offering opinions about groups that could somehow be linked not just to al-Qaeda but to any opponent of the United States or even opponents of our allies” they could be imprisoned indefinitely.

“I think they are ill advised to appeal this at all,” he tells Russia Today. “The Obama administration has now lost three times. They lost the temporary injunction, they lost the motion for reconsideration and they lost the hearing for permanent injunction. I say three strikes and you’re out.”

Click here to read a more complete transcript or to watch the interview on the Russia Today website.

1 From an article entitled “Federal court enjoins NDAA: An Obama-appointed judge rules its indefinite detention provisions likely to violate the 1st and 5th Amendments”, written by Glenn Greenwald, published in Salon on May 16, 2012. http://www.salon.com/2012/05/16/federal_court_enjoins_ndaa/

2 From an article entitled “Detention Provision Is Blocked”, written by Charlie Savage, published in the New York Times on June 6, 2012. http://www.nytimes.com/2012/06/07/us/terrorism-detention-provision-is-blocked.html

3 Ibid.

4 From an article entitled “US judge’s rule protects reporters, activists in their Middle East work”, written by Basil Katz, published by Reuters on September 12, 2012. http://in.reuters.com/article/2012/09/12/usa-security-lawsuit-idINL1E8KCI8N20120912

5 From an article entitled “Government wins temporary freeze of military detention order”, published by Reuters on September 18, 2012. http://www.reuters.com/article/2012/09/18/us-usa-security-lawsuit-idUSBRE88H0X020120918

6 If Mitt Romney wins the presidency, his trusted man inside the intel community will almost certainly be Cofer Black, a retired CIA officer best known for running the agency’s counterterrorism center on 9/11. […] Early in his career, Black was credited with doing much of the street work that led to France’s apprehension in Khartoum, Sudan, of the master terrorist known as Carlos the Jackal. After the 9/11 attacks, according to Bob Woodward’s first book in his series about the Bush presidency, it was Black who briefed the president on the CIA’s war plan for Afghanistan. He’s also the guy who promised to leave al Qaeda’s operatives with “flies walking across their eyeballs.”

Taken from an article entitled “Meet Mitt Romney’s Trusted Envoy to the Dark Side, Cofer Black”, written by Eli Lake, published in The Daily Beast on April 11, 2012. http://www.thedailybeast.com/articles/2012/04/11/meet-mitt-romney-s-trusted-envoy-to-the-dark-side-cofer-black.html

7 “Steven G. Bradbury is one of three Bush administration lawyers who signed memos enabling the Central Intelligence Agency to use harsh interrogation methods on terrorism suspects. […] The first of the memos, from August 2002, was signed by Jay S. Bybee, who oversaw the Office of Legal Counsel, and gave the C.I.A. its first detailed legal approval for waterboarding and other harsh treatment. Three others, signed by Mr. Bradbury, sought to reassure the agency in May 2005 that its methods were still legal, even when multiple methods were used in combination, and despite the prohibition in international law against “cruel, inhuman or degrading” treatment. Mr. Bradbury was serving as the acting head of the Justice Department’s Office of Legal Counsel.”

Taken from an article published by the New York Times and updated on April 22, 2009.

http://topics.nytimes.com/topics/reference/timestopics/people/b/steven_g_bradbury/index.html

8 “The torture memos recently released by the Obama administration have focused interest on three of their authors: John Yoo, Jay Bybee, and Steven Bradbury. However, there’s another lawyer involved in the creation of the torture memos whose name hasn’t yet come into the discussion — Timothy Flanigan.
Flanigan did not work for the Justice Department’s Office of Legal Counsel like the others. He was a deputy to then-White House Counsel Alberto Gonzales in 2001-02, when he helped craft some of the earliest justifications for the use of waterboarding and other forms of torture”

Taken from an article entitled “Timothy Flanigan: The torture memo lawyer no one is mentioning”, written by Muriel Kane, published in The Raw Story on April 22, 2009. http://rawstory.com/news/2008/Timothy_Flanigan_The_torture_memo_lawyer_0422.html

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Chris Hedges is suing Obama over indefinite detention bill

A little over a fortnight ago [on Friday 13th], attorneys Carl Mayer and Bruce Afran filed suit in the Southern U.S. District Court in New York City against President Obama and Secretary of Defense Leon Panetta to challenge the legality of the National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA 2012), which authorises indefinite detention of suspects without charge or trial:

The act authorizes the military in Title X, Subtitle D, entitled “Counter-Terrorism,” for the first time in more than 200 years, to carry out domestic policing. With this bill, which will take effect March 3, the military can indefinitely detain without trial any U.S. citizen deemed to be a terrorist or an accessory to terrorism. And suspects can be shipped by the military to our offshore penal colony in Guantanamo Bay and kept there until “the end of hostilities.” It is a catastrophic blow to civil liberties.1

Click here to read an earlier post on NDAA 2012.

Mayer and Afran filed the litigation on behalf of plaintiff Chris Hedges, a senior fellow at the Nation Institute and former New York Times foreign correspondent who was part of a team of reporters that was awarded the Pulitzer Prize in 2002. In an article posted on January 16th entitled “Why I’m suing Barack Obama”, Hedges says:

I spent many years in countries where the military had the power to arrest and detain citizens without charge. I have been in some of these jails. I have friends and colleagues who have “disappeared” into military gulags. I know the consequences of granting sweeping and unrestricted policing power to the armed forces of any nation. And while my battle may be quixotic, it is one that has to be fought if we are to have any hope of pulling this country back from corporate fascism.

Adding that:

[But] I suspect the real purpose of this bill is to thwart internal, domestic movements that threaten the corporate state. The definition of a terrorist is already so amorphous under the Patriot Act that there are probably a few million Americans who qualify to be investigated if not locked up. Consider the arcane criteria that can make you a suspect in our new military-corporate state. The Department of Justice considers you worth investigating if you are missing a few fingers, if you have weatherproof ammunition, if you own guns or if you have hoarded more than seven days of food in your house. Adding a few of the obstructionist tactics of the Occupy movement to this list would be a seamless process. On the whim of the military, a suspected “terrorist” who also happens to be a U.S. citizen can suffer extraordinary rendition—being kidnapped and then left to rot in one of our black sites “until the end of hostilities.” Since this is an endless war that will be a very long stay.

Click here to read Hedges’ full article.

On Jan 17th, Hedges and his attorney Mayer discussed their reasons for taking legal action on Democracy Now! :

CARL MAYER: Well, the purpose of the litigation is to have a federal court declare this act unconstitutional. And that would apply to everyone.

Chris is an important plaintiff in this, because—you just showed the clip from Mitt Romney. I’m not sure that Mitt Romney has read this bill. The act is so broad and vague that it covers, in its writing, any persons who give, quote, “substantial support to al-Qaeda, the Taliban, or,” quote, “associated forces,” which are incredibly broad, nebulous terms and could capture, within those—their terms, journalists like Chris Hedges, who courageously has gone around the world to interview members of opposition parties, to interview members of terrorist groups, to report the truth. And so, when Mitt Romney says these are people who are in terrorist organizations, that’s not how the bill is written. It’s written so broadly that it could encompass a journalist like Chris Hedges.

CHRIS HEDGES: President Obama said he was going to veto it, but we now know from leaks out of Levin’s office that that’s because the executive branch wanted to decide. They wanted the power to decide who would be tried, who would be granted exemptions. It wasn’t actually about the assault against due process.

And I think we have to ask, if the security establishment did not want this bill, and the FBI Director Mueller actually goes to Congress and says publicly they don’t want it, why did it pass? What pushed it through? And I think, without question, the corporate elites understand that things, certainly economically, are about to get much worse. I think they’re worried about the Occupy movement expanding. And I think that, in the end—and this is a supposition—they don’t trust the police to protect them, and they want to be able to call in the Army. And if this bill goes into law, and it’s slated to go into law in March, they will be able to do that.

Click here to read a full transcript of the interview.

1 From an article entitled “Why I’m suing Barack Obama”, written by Chris Hedges, posted on Jan 16, 2012. http://www.truthdig.com/report/item/why_im_suing_barack_obama_20120116/

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