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ex-miner John Dunn is guilty of speaking truth to power – so the Labour Party have suspended him!

John Dunn, a Labour Party member for 45 years, has suddenly been suspended. His infraction?

Well, back in late July, Dunn was out and about tackling Owen Smith – politely but firmly:

The two men spoke for a few minutes, before Mr Smith was bundled into the back of a car and driven away, his encounter now over with the very personification of the challenge he faces this summer. 1

An ex-miner, Dunn confronted Smith and accused him of “shamelessly exploiting” what had happened at Orgreave for his own political ends.

As you can see from the photo above, Dunn is proudly sporting a “Orgreave truth and justice campaign” T-shirt. Further evidence of his contumacy.

Dunn afterwards described the moment on his Facebook page:

Just back from running Owen Smith out of S Yorks.

So sick of him trying to shamelessly exploit our struggle that I felt compelled to dash off to Orgreave to politely (yes I can do polite!),and, as a striking miner, ask him to stop such shameless opportunism. He tried to tell me about his background in S. Wales so I replied that whilst he was making pharmaceutical companies rich we were struggling for justice and told him that it was disgusting that he would have such shame as to tarnish the defining moment in our strike, and if he was so committed to the Orgreave issue why had he not signed Ian Lavery’s early day motion, to which I got no response whatsoever.

I added that his actions in the PLP coup were no different to the UDM [Union of Democratic Minerworkers] scabs who undermined our strike. He scuttled into his car, wound the window up and wouldn’t speak to me anymore.

I personally saw John Dunn deliver a terrific speech, both poignant and hilarious by turns, in support of Jeremy Corbyn at last week’s Sheffield rally.

Unfortunately there is only limited footage I can find to embed, although there are plenty of tweets including this one:

And this image published in The Mirror:

Staunch support for the party’s leader appears to have been Dunn’s most egregious infringement of party regulations to date. The last straw, presumably, for Labour’s National Executive Committee (NEC), although we will never know for sure because they have refused to comment on any decisions regarding individual members:

The Labour party say their validation process includes an electoral register check and a duplication check.

It also includes “verification all voters share the aims and values of the Labour Party”, but they have not revealed on what basis this is judged.

It’s been suggested that supporters’ social media accounts are being examined for words including “traitor”, “scab” and even “blairite”, though Labour would not confirm this.

A Labour Party spokesperson said: “We don’t comment on NEC decisions regarding individual members.” 2 

[bold emphasis added]

Defiant as ever, John Dunn vows to fight on:

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John Dunn is one of many members and activists now being suspended ahead of the leadership vote. Others excluded include Ronnie Draper, the General Secretary of the Bakers Food and Allied Workers Union, who says he is “disgusted and in shock”.

Although reminiscent of a previous Labour Party witch-hunt carried out under Neil Kinnock’s leadership during the mid-80s when members were expelled on the grounds of allegiance to Militant Tendency, in the case of today’s purges, the vast majority of members targeted are among the ranks of supporters of the party’s leader, and not those in alliance with any breakaway faction.

The media has indeed repeatedly tried to recast pro-Corbyn group Momentum as if it were comprised of Militant-like entryists, but the slur is much too obvious and doesn’t wash. The better comparison to the 80s infiltration by Militant in fact belongs to another fringe ‘ginger group’ Progress – an influential Blairite faction that the media assiduously fails to discuss.

Progress put forward its own candidate, Liz Kendall, during the last leadership contest. She was so unpopular that she won just 4% of the vote.

Click here to read an earlier post with more about the recent history of the Labour Party and how Peter Mandelson steered it away from its traditional trade union roots and towards the ‘extreme centre’ of British politics.

Finally, here’s a brief and incisive overview on “how to rig an election” from youtube vlogger James Prowse:

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1 From an article entitled “Labour leadership: Owen Smith attempts to woo Jeremy Corbyn backers” written by Chris Mason, published in BBC news on July 27, 2016. http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-politics-36909320

2 From an article entitled “long serving trade union leader banned from Labour Leadership vote” written by Mikey Smith, published in The Mirror on August 25, 2016. http://www.mirror.co.uk/news/uk-news/long-serving-trade-union-leader-8704495

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two little boys in Aleppo and what the corporate media don’t want you to see

Images of little Omran Daqneesh dazed and covered in dust and blood reminded us again of the horrors of war, however the mainstream media outlets who featured the video as their headline story, told us very little about its source, a man named Mahmoud Raslan (also Rslan). Had they dug just a little deeper, they would have quickly uncovered something immeasurably more horrific and sinister.

Here is Mahmoud Raslan standing in front of a tank captured by ‘the rebels’ in the Ramouseh district of Aleppo:

 

Below we find Raslan featured within a montage of four images. Top left, he is again the main subject of a selfie but standing in front of a different group of ‘rebel’ fighters taken from his Facebook page – these same friends are also seen in the adjacent image with arrows indicating who is who (I will come back to that in a moment). Bottom left, we find Raslan wearing his distinctive blue and white shirt, as he is in the accompanying photo (bottom right) which reveals him in the act of filming little Omran Daqneesh.

Now let’s return to the image above again (top right) which is a single frame captured from a ‘rebel’ video. It shows Raslan’s friends sitting in the back of a truck next to another little boy (his face blanked). This second boy is a 12 year old Palestinian child named Abdullah Tayseer Al Issa. Abdullah is about to be slowly decapitated with a knife. 1 The perpetrators of this sickening crime are the CIA-backed Nour al-Din al-Zinki Movement, a faction affiliated to the so-called Free Syrian Army (FSA). 2

As a report by offGuardian explains:

So, the alleged event the MSM are doing their best to make a catalyst for more Western intervention in Syria, was filmed by friends of al Nusra, and its chief witness seems to be an associate of the worst and most depraved murderers in the region.

Is there any independent confirmation that this video [of Omran Daqneesh] is showing what it claims to show? Do we positively know the little boy was hurt by a bomb and not by any of his handlers?

Maybe those misguided people currently chiding and insulting us for daring to question the video should turn their attention to the real issues here. The boy in the video is fortunately alive. The one beheaded by Mahmoud Raslan’s chums is not. If your outrage is real and not feigned – turn it where it deserves to be. 3

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Additional:

The Canary also reported on the “brutal skeletons” in Mahmoud Raslan’s closet with further disturbing evidence taken from his Facebook page that reads [translated by The Canary]:

“With the suicide fighters, from the land of battles and butchery, from Aleppo of the martyrs, we bring you tidings of impending joy, with God’s permission”

And:

“Thousands of suicide fighters and tens of booby-traps are being prepared for the great battle in Aleppo, the first battle where I see men weeping because they can’t participate on account of the number of attackers.” 4

Click here to read the full report.

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 1 Warning: The video embedded below is by Mimi Al Laham (Syrian Girl). It carefully puts all the pieces of the story together, however, it also contains scenes so disturbing [from 5:30 on] that I cannot even bring myself to watch it in full:

2

The men in the first video say he [little Abdullah] is a fighter from Liwa al-Quds (the Jerusalem Brigade), a Palestinian pro-government militia operating in the Aleppo area.

Enab Baladi, a pro-opposition news website, said the boy was captured in Handarat by members of a local rebel group, the Nour al-Din al-Zinki Movement.

It quoted Yasser Ibrahim Youssef, a member of the group’s political bureau, as saying on Facebook that an independent judicial commission had been appointed to investigate the incident. Anyone proven to have been involved in any violations would be referred to military justice, he added.

A legal adviser for the Western-backed Free Syrian Army was also cited by Enab Baladi as saying it would hold to account those responsible for such a violation. […]

A report published by the human rights group Amnesty International earlier this month detailed a series of violations allegedly committed by Nour al-Din al-Zinki Movement fighters, including abductions and torture.

The group is reported to have benefited from financial and military support from the US, UK, France, Turkey, Qatar and other Gulf Arab states in the past.

From a BBC news report entitled “Syria conflict: Rebels ‘filmed beheading boy’ in Aleppo” published on July 19, 2016. http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/world-middle-east-36835678

3 From an article entitled “An ID for ‘Mahmoud Raslan’” published by offGuardian on August 19, 2016. https://off-guardian.org/2016/08/19/an-id-for-mahmoud-raslan/ 

4 From an article entitled “The man behind the viral ‘boy in the ambulance’ image has brutal skeletons in his own closet”, written by Brad Hoff,  published in The Canary on August 19, 2016. http://www.thecanary.co/2016/08/19/the-man-behind-the-viral-boy-in-the-ambulance-image-has-brutal-skeletons-in-his-own-closet-images/ 

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this is the EU — so take it or leave it… #3. ‘The Brussels Business’

“Who runs the European Union?” This is the question front and centre of the excellent 2012 documentary The Brussels Business which takes the viewer on “a journey into the corridors of power of the biggest economy on earth – the European Union.” What filmmakers Matthieu Lietaert (Belgium) and Friedrich Moser (Italy) find is a Byzantine complex of corporate entanglements and high-powered lobby groups.

Assiduously researched and documented, the real importance of this film is that almost uniquely it presents an exposé of the European Union from a leftist perspective:

Produced by:
Steven Dhoedt (VisualAntics – Be)
Friedrich Moser (green + blue communication – Austria)

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Additional: latest example of EU corporatocracy at work

On Tuesday [May 31st] the European Commission together with Facebook, Twitter, YouTube and Microsoft announced a code of conduct “to combat the spread of illegal hate speech online in Europe”:

The definition of illegal online content is based on the Framework Decision on Combatting Racism and Xenophobia which criminalises the public incitement to violence or hatred directed against a group of persons or a member of such a group defined by reference to race, colour, religion, descent or national or ethnic origin. 1

In accordance with the directive, views and opinions that the aforementioned corporations deem “hate speech” will be removed within 24 hours, whereas “alternative” content deemed “a counter narrative” to “hate speech” will be actively promoted. In other words, the tech giants who already own most of the internet will be put in charge of policing it too:

In short, the “code of conduct” downgrades the law to a second-class status, behind the “leading role” of private companies that are being asked to arbitrarily implement their terms of service. This process, established outside an accountable democratic framework, exploits unclear liability rules for companies. It also creates serious risks for freedom of expression as legal but controversial content may well be deleted as a result of this voluntary and unaccountable take down mechanism. 2

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1 http://ec.europa.eu/news/2016/05/20160531_en.htm

2

Today, on 31 May, European Digital Rights (EDRi) and Access Now delivered a joint statement on the EU Commission’s “EU Internet Forum”, announcing our decision not to take part in future discussions and confirming that we do not have confidence in the ill considered “code of conduct” that was agreed.

Launched at the end of 2015, the “EU Internet Forum” was meant to counter vaguely defined “terrorist activity and hate speech online”. The discussions were convened by the European Commission and brought together almost exclusively US-based internet companies and representatives of EU Member States. While no civil society organisations were invited to attend the discussions on terrorism, several civil society representatives were allowed to take part in some of the discussions on online hate speech. However, civil society was systematically excluded from the negotiations that led to the voluntary “code of conduct” for IT companies – an official document that was presented today, despite the lack of transparency and public input into its content.

From the joint statement released by European Digital Rights (EDRi) and Access Now on May 31, 2016. https://edri.org/edri-access-now-withdraw-eu-commission-forum-discussions/ 

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internet freedom and the sovereigns of cyberspace

With two controversial internet ‘anti-piracy’ bills, SOPA and PIPA, now moving through Congress, Rebecca MacKinnon, author of the forthcoming book, “Consent of the Networked: The Worldwide Struggle for Internet Freedom” spoke on yesterday’s Democracy Now! about the clampdown on internet freedom, as well as the dangerous rise of internet surveillance:

[And so,] it’s very important that people who are exercising power, whether they’re corporate or whether they’re government, that are exercising power over what we can see, over what we can access, over what we can publish and transmit through these digital spaces, need to be held accountable, and we need to make sure that power is not being abused in these digital spaces and platforms that we depend on. And so, that’s why this SOPA and PIPA legislation and the fight over it is so important, is who are you empowering to decide what people can and cannot see and do on the internet, and how do you make sure that that power is not going to be abused in ways that could have political consequences.

MacKinnon cites examples from all over the world showing how the internet can be controlled or else used for control. Here is China:

And China, in many ways, is exhibit A for how an authoritarian state survives the internet. And how do they do that? They have not cut off their population from the internet. In fact, the internet is expanding rapidly in China. They now have over 500 million internet users. And the Chinese government recognizes that being connected to the global internet is really important for its economy, for its education, for its culture, for innovation. Yet, at the same time, they have worked out a way to filter and censor the content overseas that they feel their citizens should not be accessing.

And what’s even more insidious, actually, is the way in which the state uses the private sector to conduct most of its censorship and surveillance. So, actually, what we know as the Great Firewall of China that blocks Twitter and Facebook, that’s only one part of Chinese internet censorship. Actually, most Chinese internet users are using Chinese-language websites that are run by Chinese companies based in China, and those companies are all held responsible for everything their users are doing. And so, they have to hire entire departments of people to monitor their users at the police’s behest and also to not just block, but delete content that the Chinese government believes infringes Chinese law. And, of course, when—in a country where crime is defined very broadly to include political and religious dissent, that involves a great deal of censorship. And it’s being conducted, to a great degree, not by government agents, but by private corporations who are complying with these demands in order to make a profit in China.

This is Egypt:

Facebook has its own kind of type of governance, which is why I call private internet companies the “sovereigns of cyberspace.” And so, Facebook has a rule where it requires that its users need to use their real name, their real identity. And while some people violate that rule, that makes them vulnerable to having their account shut down if they are discovered. And so, the reason they do this is that they want people to be accountable for their speech and prevent bullying and so on. And that may make sense in the context of a Western democracy, assuming that you’re not vulnerable in your workplace or anything like that, which is even a question, but it means that you have to be—as an Egyptian activist or as an activist in Syria and so on, you’re more exposed, because you have to be on Facebook using your real name.

And actually, a group of prominent activists in Egypt who were using Facebook to organize an anti-torture movement were doing so, before the regime fell, under fake names, and actually, at a critical point where they were trying to organize a major protest, their Facebook group went down, because they were in violation of the terms of service. And they actually had to find somebody in the U.S. to take over their Facebook page so that they could continue to operate.

And this is America:

American political cartoonist, Mark Fiore, had an app in which he was making fun of a range of politicians, including President Obama, and Apple App Store nannies decided to censor that app, because they considered it to be too controversial, even though that speech was clearly protected under the First Amendment. So you have companies making these judgments that go well beyond sort of our judicial and constitutional process.

But much worse, here is America again (and I had no idea how much access the US government already has to investigate the private lives of citizens – the bold highlight is added):

And there’s also a real issue, I think, in the way in which our laws are evolving when it comes to government access to information stored on corporate servers, that is supposed to be private, that we are not intending to be seen in public, which is that, according to the PATRIOT Act and a range of other law that has been passed in recent years, it’s much easier for government agencies to access your email, to access information about your postings on Twitter, even if they’re anonymous, than it is for government agents to come into your home and search your personal effects. To do that, they need a warrant. There is very clear restriction on the government’s ability to read your mail. Yet, according to current law, if your email is older than 180 days old, the government can access your email, if it’s stored on Gmail or Yahoo! or Hotmail, without any kind of warrant or court order. So, there’s a real erosion of our Fourth Amendment rights, really, to protection from unreasonable search and seizure. And this is going on, I think, to a great degree without a lot people realizing the extent to which our privacy rights are being eroded.

Click here to read a full transcript of the interview

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Filed under analysis & opinion, China, Egypt, internet freedom, Iran, mass surveillance, Tunisia, Uncategorized, USA

street protests continue to grow in Greece and Spain

It all started about three weeks ago after thousands took to the streets of Madrid on May 15th to voice dissent at the government’s failed economic policies and proposed “austerity measures”. The movement quickly spread to other cities across Spain and was then joined by protesters in Greece.

The protests, which have remained peaceful throughout, have continued ever since, day after day and night after night in both Spain and Greece. Yet these remarkable events have been barely reported by any of the mainstream media outside of the countries involved. Instead, we’ve had endless reports about corruption within FIFA, which is hardly news, especially to anyone who knows anything about football, or else headlines about “killer cucumbers”. So most people I speak to in Britain still know next to nothing about the mass protests taking place just a few hundred miles away.

According to a friend who lives in Barcelona, a fairly accurate description of what’s happening in Spain can be read in an article by Martin Varsavsky published on Huffingtonpost:

Friends outside of Spain have been asking me about the ongoing movement that has become known as #spanishrevolution. Here’s the summary of what this movement is about:

People have become increasingly frustrated by the many problems in Spain: Over 20% unemployment rate and over 30% youth unemployment rate, incompetent politicians unable to deal with the effects of the crisis, extremely high housing prices both for rental and purchase, a mortgage system that ties mortgage holders for life to the bank if the real estate is sold for under the loan amount, and a general discontent with the status of the political landscape (especially the effective two-party system of the center-right People’s Party and the center-left Spanish Socialist Workers’ Party).1

After a detailed account of how the protests have been organised via the internet, and a breakdown of the various groups and spokespersons, the article explains that:

While there are no exact numbers, it is safe to say that there are tens of thousands of people who have been or are at #acampadasol [camping out at the Puerta del Sol in Madrid], and many more in other cities. Most of the sit-ins had food delivery donations and some even had their own daycare. They also received legal assistance from two lawyers, David Bravo and Javier de la Cueva. The movement has even found supporters in other countries, with protests popping up in cities like Berlin, Paris and New York to show solidarity with the movement in Spain. […]

In the end, what started with a few ideas and different initiatives on the web has become a huge movement on the streets all over Spain and in many other countries. As I already mentioned, most of the initiators didn’t know each other at the beginning and only met in person a couple of weeks before the 15M event. The main platforms enabling them to join forces were social networks like Facebook and Tuenti, and of course platforms like Twitter and hundreds (or even thousands) of blogs that supported the movements and spread the word. The sit-in at Plaza del Sol even has its own TV channel, with a mind-blowing 11 million accumulated views so far. Around 45 million people live in Spain.

Click here to read the full article.

My friend in Spain is a teacher and she says:

“I don’t know if my experience is anything to go by, but I’m in touch with this age group through students where I work, and my impression until quite recently was that they were totally uninterested in and dismissive of politics. And they are still, in the sense that they see themselves as “apolitical” and reject all political parties – this is of course something I don’t quite agree with myself, old-fashioned socialist that I am, but it’s the way the younger generation (at least the more educated and aware among them) approach things these days. But at least they’re protesting, and they’re doing it in an organized way, and putting quite a bit of thinking into it, which is a rare thing in a country like this, where the notion of being a citizen with rights is much weaker than in older democracies like Britain.”

“Of course the main question protesters are facing now is what to do next. One thing is to point out what’s wrong with society, to make proposals and protest, and a very different thing is to gain enough power. This movement rejects any involvement with parliament-style politics, not even in the form of so-called “popular law initiatives” – I don’t know what the equivalent thing is in Britain, but here any citizen can try to get a new law passed as long as they have a minimum of half a million supporting signatures to back it up. In any case, protesters are not attempting any of this, and they’re not into petitions either as far as I can tell, and so far no political party has said that they’ll take up any of their proposals. The closest one to the protesters in terms of its agenda is a party called “Izquierda Unida”, which I normally vote for, but despite being considerably to the left of the socialists, I don’t think this party would support the movement’s more radical proposals. They did slightly better than usual in the last election, but they have only 10 seats in the Catalan parliament, and two in the Spanish one.”

So what proposals are the protesters actually making? Well, you can read them in Spanish at the main website, and here is a summarised translation of the headings and contents:

1. “Suppression of politicians’ privileges”: most of the proposals here are about dealing with political corruption.

2. “Against unemployment” : among others, measures to reduce the number of working hours, bring retirement age back to 65 (the government changed it to 67 a few months ago) or set up permanent unemployment benefit for the long-term unemployed (many unemployed people in Spain have run out of benefits and are dependent on charity).

3. “The right to accommodation”: the main proposal here is to change mortgage regulations, so that a mortgage can be paid off by repossession (according to Spanish law, you can lose your property to the bank and still have to pay interest for ever, or even capital if the bank reckons that your property has lost value –many people are becoming destitute through this).

4. “Quality public services”: various proposals to maintain and expand every aspect of the welfare state.

5. “Control of banking institutions”: these mainly consist of stopping any further bailouts, and getting banks to return the money they’ve been given by the state.

6. “Taxation”: various measures to stop tax evasion by the rich, and to impose higher taxation on banks.

7. “Citizens’ liberties and participative democracy”: this is a mixed bag of things, ranging from a defence of freedom of speech on the internet, to proposals for change in the Spanish election system (which favours the main two parties). They also argue there should be a referendum every time the EU puts forward a new measure.

8. “A reduction of military expenses”: there’s just a heading here, without further development.

My friend says that the main effect of the protests so far, seems to be on the number of null or blank votes cast in recent elections:

“Whether the protesters become less “apolitical” in the future and set up new parties is difficult to tell. But I think they have made a lot of people aware. Since they started, politicians here have looked a bit less confident. They still bang on about how we need the cuts, but saying that we deserve them has become bad form, at least in some quarters. I suspect this won’t translate into a change of policy in the short term, but who knows.”

Street protests in Greece have also been gathering momentum, and this weekend saw the biggest gathering so far in front of the parliament building in Syntagma square, Athens:

“Thieves – hustlers – bankers,” read one banner as tens of thousands of people packed the main Syntagma square outside parliament to vent their frustration over rising joblessness as austerity bites, blaming the crisis on political corruption and government incompetence.

Turnout was the biggest so far in a series of 12 nightly protest gatherings in the square inspired by Spain’s protest movement. […]

Police put the crowd at 50,000 by mid-evening, but numbers continued to grow as dusk fell over the Greek capital. According to the Athens News reporters on site the number of protesters exceeded 500,000 at around 22:00 on Sunday. Security was also stepped up around the parliament, with the area blocked for the first time by barricades set by the police.

Another banner drew comparisons with rallies early this year in central Cairo which ousted Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak. “From Tahrir Square to Syntagma Square, we support you!”, it read.2

Click here to read the Athens News article.

Yesterday’s demonstrations also came on the eve of Papandreou’s cabinet meeting to discuss the latest round of “austerity measures”:

Protesters from all over Greece on the square rejected the austerity policies to cut the budget deficit that lead to layoffs, wage and pension cuts and a heavier tax burden.

“You got the disease, we got the solution — revolution,” read one banner. “We don’t owe, we don’t sell, we don’t pay,” read another, hung on the square’s lamp posts.

Students, pensioners, young couples with their children and immigrants, were among those gathered on the square over the past week, while protesters also gathered in Greece’s second city of Thessaloniki, in the Port of Patras and other major cities.

Organizers say they are determined to continue indefinitely as the number of people joining the Facebook group “Angry at Syntagma” is growing.

A report of this “huge Athens rally against austerity cuts” even made it onto the BBC News website today, although with estimates far below the half million reported by Athens News:

At least 60,000 protesters angered by cuts and tax rises packed into central Athens as Greek PM George Papandreou planned further austerity measures.

The crowd in Syntagma Square rallied outside parliament on Sunday night chanting “thieves!”

It was reckoned to be the biggest demo in 12 consecutive days of protests.3

However, the main story on BBC News today is that the “IMF supports UK economic policies”. Apparently, the IMF forecast is for the UK recovery to resume:

“The IMF gave broad backing to the government’s approach to tackling the deficit saying the spending cuts and tax rises remained essential.”4

Of course, these are precisely the same “remedies” which the IMF have already applied in Spain and Greece, along with a whole host of other unfortunate countries in poorer regions of the world. As a consequence of the inevitable deprivation such measures have already brought to their communities, the Spanish and the Greeks are being forced to take their anger onto the streets, and when similar “austerity measures” begin to bite at home, it is more than likely that this rapidly growing protest movement will spread to our own cities. When it does, we should not expect the BBC or CNN or even Al Jazeera or Russia Today to pay much attention to the gathering storm.

In preparing ourselves for what’s to come, it is essential that we try to learn as much as we can from our friends in the south, since to be forewarned is to be forearmed. One thing we know already is that alternative methods of finding and spreading information will become invaluable, and that means, at the very least, switching off our television sets and doing something less boring instead…

1 From an article entitled “’Spanish Revolution’ of 2011 explained” by Martin Varsavsky, published on 25th May by Huffingtonpost. www.huffingtonpost.com/martin-varsavsky/spanish-revolution-of-201_b_867156.html

2 From an article entitled “Biggest anti-memorandum protest in Syntagma square” (from Reuters) published in Athens News on 5th June. www.athensnews.gr/portal/9/42689

3 From a BBC News article entitled “Greeks stage huge Athens rally against austerity cuts” published on 6th June. www.bbc.co.uk/news/world-europe-13665140

4 From a BBC News article entitled “IMF cuts UK growth forecast for 2011” published on 6th June. www.bbc.co.uk/news/business-13669932

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sheep in wolf’s clothing

Yesterday night I happened to come across an organisation I’d not heard about before. Called UK Uncut, they are one of many new protest groups that have recently taken a stand against the government cuts. Indeed, they are one of the groups trying to organise direct action on the streets of London in and around today’s big march.

According to their own website, UKU began as a single sit-down protest at a flagship Vodafone store on Oxford Street. But their method of protest, of taking direct action against tax-dodging corporations, was quickly to go viral. By means of Facebook and Twitter, this campaign has since spread far and wide across the country – and it is very likely to grab some news attention later today, presuming that some of their many “occupation” plans succeed in London.

If you click on the “About” section of their website you will find a statement of their principles:

“We start with some simple points of agreement. The brutal cuts to services about to be inflicted by the current Government are unnecessary, unfair and ideologically motivated. The coalition are particularly fond of two obscene catchphrases: ‘There is no alternative’ and ‘We’re all in this together.’ Both slogans are empty and untrue. The cuts will dismantle the welfare state, send inequality sky-rocketing and hit the poorest and most vulnerable hardest. A cabinet of millionaires have decided that libraries, healthcare, education funding, voluntary services, sports, the environment, the disabled, the poor and the elderly must pay the price for the recklessness of the rich.

“Austerity-economics is the policy of the powerful. It cannot be stopped by asking nicely. We cannot wait until the next election. If we want to win the fight against these cuts (and we can win) then we must make it impossible to ignore our arguments and impossible to resist our demands. This means building a powerful grassroots mass movement, able to resist the Government cuts at every turn.
UK Uncut hopes to play a small part in this movement. In only a few months, from a single action in London, UK Uncut has spread to up to fifty-five towns and cities. Everyone from pensioners to teenagers, veterans to newbies have already joined our actions in towns from Aberdeen to Aberystwyth. We have proved that there is anger at these cuts, that the idea of mass apathy is a myth and that people are willing to do more than just join a Facebook group to stand up and defend what they believe in.
Even if you have never been on a protest before, please join us. UK Uncut makes it easy to either join or organise an inspiring, effective protest wherever you are. Vodafone’s own slogan is ‘Power to You.’ It couldn’t be more appropriate.
Now is the time to get angry, to get organised and to build a resistance to austerity.
See you on the high streets.”

So can we disable the current government plans through such a series of sneak attacks? Well, UK Uncut seems to think it will help and one of the tabs brings up a schedule of actions past and pending.

At today’s march they are planning to occupy for the alternative:

“From 2pm flash mobs, bail-ins and occupations will shut down the dozens of banks and tax dodgers along the length of Europe’s biggest shopping street.

And at 3.30pm, after the dispersed actions, there will be a massive final convergence, ready for a spectacular mass occupation of a secret target.”

Their campaign promotion continues: “March 26th is not the end of the battle against the cuts. It is the beginning. Join us on Oxford Street and let’s help kick things off in style.”

Now that’s fighting talk if ever I heard it. And the logo is a good one. In the style of a signpost with a pair of scissors crossed through by a red band, making very clear the demand for no cuts. I’d wager that we’re likely to see a lot more of that logo in the next year or so.

Moving on, I was next drawn by the links at the bottom of the “About” page. And one of these took me to the website of openDemocracy. Having opened the attached mission statement, I followed another link to “our generous supporters” – well, it’s often a good idea to take a look just in case…

“The development of openDemocracy has been funded by the generosity of more than twenty trusts, foundations and individuals since 2001.
openDemocracy’s main source of funding has been through the Open Trust, a registered UK charity (number 1086404). The Trust has no direct stake in openDemocracy but conducts regular oversight to be sure that it is operating in conformity with the Trust’s charitable purpose.1

So what of these other trusts, foundations and individuals? Well, let’s begin with its “past supporters”. We have the Rockefeller Foundation and the Rockefeller Brothers Fund. Then there is something called New World Foundation. Another click of the mouse revealing that NWF’s own partners include, the Ford Foundation and Open Society. Then we have the more recent supporters of openDemocracy. There is the Ford Foundation again in 2008. And since 2009, we have The Open Society Institute. And so the chase continued. I clicked again on the link and came to Open Society Foundations. Ever heard of them? Nope? Me neither. Here is what you find if you click on “About”:

“The Open Society Foundations work to build vibrant and tolerant democracies whose governments are accountable to their citizens. To achieve this mission, the Foundations seek to shape public policies that assure greater fairness in political, legal, and economic systems and safeguard fundamental rights. On a local level, the Open Society Foundations implement a range of initiatives to advance justice, education, public health, and independent media. At the same time, we build alliances across borders and continents on issues such as corruption and freedom of information. The Foundations place a high priority on protecting and improving the lives of people in marginalized communities.”

Well that sounds good. So who could be behind such a progressive venture? Let’s see… “George Soros is founder and chairman of the Open Society Foundations. He is also the chairman of Soros Fund Management LLC.” Would that be the George Soros? What really — again! So when UK Uncut posted their link to openDemocracy did they actually bother to consider who might actually be paying the piper?

Meanwhile, in the opposite corner, we have the Tax Payers’ Alliance. TPA is a pressure group that actually favours the government cuts, and is calling for swifter “austerity measures”. So taking the same approach, is it possible to find out who is funding this supposedly grassroots movement, with its appeal to Middle England Conservatives? Well, here again I hit a sticking point, with no information available from their own website regarding sponsorship and campaign donations. Indeed, there is now yet another organisation called “The Other Taxpayers’ Alliance” which challenges the transparency of TPA:

“Let’s look at the facts. It’s simply not true that all political organisations are secretive about their funding. Most declare their income and expenditure, and some give a break-down of income sources, including donors. The TPA does neither. It publishes abbreviated accounts which means income and expenditure are withheld. The last time it published full accounts was in 2006, when it recorded an income of £130,000. But the current organisation has ten full-time staff across two offices, which suggests either its income has jumped substantially or it is loaded with debt.”

The above extract was taken from an article on The Other Taxpayers’ Alliance.

As with UKU, it is hard to know precisely who is behind the TPA, aside from establishing its evidently close ties to the Conservative Party.2

According to Sourcewatch “It is affiliated with the World Taxpayers Association. Its initial funding came from the three directors and “generous people we know”.

Sourcewatch also shines a light on other groups the TPA has rubbed shoulders with. These include the right-wing think tank, Institute of Economic Affairs, which has close association with the odious neo-conservative Heritage Foundation. TPA held a joint seminar with the IEA in February 2004, with guest speaker Daniel J. Michell of the Heritage Foundation. According to Sourcewatch, the IEA is in turn funded by the Earhart Foundation, which depends on donations from, amongst others, the Rockefeller Brothers Trust, and a number of major corporations including Exxon and Chase Manhattan Bank.

Oh, what a tangled web of think tanks, charities and foundations we now have. Delving into pressure groups on the left and the right is like peeling back the layers of an onion. But it doesn’t actually take much peeling to reveal the extent of the current astroturfing – one click from the UK Uncut website we find Soros and the Rockefeller Foundations. One step from the Taxpayers’ Alliance and we find related foundations. So when it comes to pressure groups we ought to be careful, alert to the ever-present danger that we might all too easily end up as sheep in wolf’s clothing.

1 And so what of Open Trust? This is the charity that oversees openDemocracy, ensuring that “it is operating in conformity with the Trust’s charitable purpose.” Well, that’s where the trail finally ran out. I found no links from Google for an Open Trust website and so checked on the Charities Commission website instead.

The activities of Open Trust listed by Charity Commission are as follows:

“THE OBJECT OF THE TRUST IS THE ADVANCEMENT OF EDUCATION, NATIONALLY AND INTERNATIONALLY, IN THE SOCIAL, ENVIROMENTAL [sic], POLITICAL AND BIOLOGICAL SCIENCES, ECONOMICS, LAW, THE ARTS AND MEDIA COMMUNICATION AND OTHER RECOGNISED SCHOLARLY SUBJECTS.”

Registered 30th April 2001. Open Trust have no website registered, but there is an email address and a postal address that traces to a law firm.

So is that normal? For a charity to have the same address as a solicitors – I’m confused now!

2 “[But] a Guardian investigation has established that a large part of its funds come from wealthy donors, many of whom are prominent supporters of the Conservative party. Sixty per cent of donations come from individuals or groups giving more than £5,000. The Midlands Industrial Council, which has donated £1.5m to the Conservatives since 2003, said it has given around £80,000 on behalf of 32 owners of private companies. Tony Gallagher, owner of Gallagher UK, a property company that gave the Conservatives £250,000 in 2007, is a member of the MIC, as is Christopher Kelly who owns the international haulage firm Keltruck, and Robert Edmiston who owns IM Group, a large car importer.” From Guardian article “Who is behind the Taxpayers’ Alliance?” by Robert Booth, Friday 9th October 2009. Click here for full article.

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