The Imperial President? Not so much…

June 30, 2014

President Obama and Speaker Boehner shake hands at the State of the Union. Photo Credit: By Pete Souza (Executive Office of the President of the United States)

President Obama and Speaker Boehner shake hands at the State of the Union.
Photo Credit: By Pete Souza (Executive Office of the President of the United States)

If you were to add together the average executive orders of President Obama, President Washington, Jefferson, Adams, Madison, Monroe, Quincy Adams, Jackson, Van Buren, Harrison and Tyler (and the first few months of Polk’s Presidency); they’d still add up to less than President Reagan’s average. And so for a Republican Party with a Presidential hero sporting an executive order average of over 11 Presidents (including the current) combined, alongside its recent history of losing the Senate, losing the Presidency twice, losing the popular vote for the House, wildly abusing the filibuster, and generally considered responsible for the shutdown of the government, you might think the Speaker would be a little humble. You’d be wrong. Instead, he’s choosing to sue the President for use of executive powers.

In lieu of addressing wage disparity, or a jobs bill, or working to solve climate change issues, the Republican obsession with the President has become a pantomime. In his memorandum, Boehner’s case lacks substance, whilst also betraying the true purpose of the lawsuit. One of his points reads:

“There is no legislative remedy”

– What this means is, there is no legislative remedy – from a positive PR perspective – to force the President to give in to the demands of the minority Party, and so they’ll pass the buck to the judiciary, whilst throwing around terms like “Executive Monarchy” in the hope that the public will jump on board. There is of course already a legislative remedy to the overreaching of executive power, and that includes de-funding the executive branch and beginning impeachment proceedings against executive branch officials if they feel they have a strong case. They’re also aware that the judiciary has the power the strike down executive orders if they deem it to be unsupported by the Constitution. The Speaker therefore does not have a strong case, and so neither of the previously mentioned legislative remedies serves the GOP well from a PR standpoint, especially after the constant failure of House Republicans to defund the ACA, the obscene abuses of the filibuster, and the disaster of shutting down the government. They’re therefore ignoring the legislative remedies, as if they don’t exist. It is one big publicity stunt, and as with the shutdown, it will be scrutinised thoroughly and reflect terribly on the GOP.

Further, the ill-fated lawsuit that Boehner seeks to bring against the President, will be filed by the Bipartisan Legal Advisory Group – a standing body of the House of Representatives – funded by every taxpayer in the US. If the lawsuit fails – which it will, because the President has not issued an unconstitutional executive order, nor overreached executive power – it will be the second time Boehner has used ‘BLAG’ and failed, costing the taxpayer in the process. It must strike most as incredible that a Speaker has been able to get away with wasting taxpayer’s money on constant symbolic attempts to defund the ACA (knowing they’d fail every time), defending anti-liberty discrimination based on sexuality (for which Boehner used BLAG), on shutting down the government, on a publicity stunt to sue the President, all whilst successfully achieving the title of the least productive Congress in history with disastrously low approval ratings.

The Speaker summarised the President’s use of executive orders as the work of “aggressive unilateralism”, and that the President is in fact an “Executive Monarchy”. Echoing Boehner’s summary, the beacon of wisdom Karl Rove – conveniently forgetting the time President Bush aggressively used signing statements to bypass laws and extend Presidential power – said:

““This is imperial power, this is George III.”

– I’m almost certain King George III did not face such a hostile Parliament, to the point where getting basic aides confirmed by the Senate becomes a long drawn out battle. The implication from Rove and the Speaker, is that the President is abusing the use of executive orders beyond anything that came before. The biggest threat to liberty since George III. So, how does that check out. How does the President’s yearly average of executive orders compare with past Republican Presidents? According to research by The American Presidency Project:

President Obama – Democrat – yearly average: 33.58
President Bush – Republican – yearly average: 36.38
President Bush Sr – Republican – yearly average: 41.50
President Reagan – Republican hero – yearly average: 47.63
President Ford – Republican – 68.92
President Nixon – Republican – 62.30
President Eisenhower – Republican – 60.50

– President Obama has a lower yearly average of issuing executive orders, than any previous Republican President since the 1950s. Compared to those Republican Presidents, he’s a beacon of restraint. Indeed, Obama is issuing executive orders at a rate of 0.09 a day, far below the Republican Presidential average of 0.22 a day (which is higher than the Democrat Presidential daily rate).

To find a lower yearly average on issuing executive orders than President Obama, we have to go back to Grover Cleveland’s first term as President, between 1885 and 1889. The highest in my life time, has been small government, Republican hero, President Reagan. In his first term, President Obama issued 147 executive orders. By contrast, President Reagan in his first term, issued 213 executive orders, and Reagan wasn’t faced with the one of the most hostile and obstructionist Congresses in decades.

If 33.58 magically turns President Obama into King George III, I can imagine 47.63 turns President Reagan into King Henry VIII.

Remember those figures as the Speaker wastes taxpayers money on a frivolous party political publicity stunt over the coming weeks.

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Wonga’s apology: The unanswered questions.

June 25, 2014

Today, the Financial Conduct Authority (FCA) ordered the payday loan company Wonga to pay compensation worth over £2.6 million to customers who were sent threatening letters from fake law firms – Chainey, D’Amato & Shannon and Barker and Lowe Legal Recoveries – invented by Wonga. Wonga also added charges to the accounts of those struggling, threatened customers, for “administration” costs that it incurred whilst inventing law firms and sending threatening letters from them.

The weak apology that Wonga released is as expected from a careless corporate entity who “surprisingly” grow a conscience the moment they’re exposed. The Wonga PR team has obviously been working in overdrive to produce the narrative that Wonga officials will be using on this subject. A clear example: Tim Weller, the interim CEO of Wonga said:

“We would like to apologise unreservedly to anyone affected by the historical debt collection activity and for any distress caused as a result.

– “Historical debt collection activity“. Incredibly creative and manipulative corporate term, devoid of all meaning, employed to mask their crimes as best as possible. But this is the line they’ll be using. Their weak, five line apology for causing unnecessary pressure for vulnerable people uses the same term:

“Historical debt collection issues”

– Their website uses the same phrase:

wonga3
– Their social media apologists are using the same term:

wonga2

wonga1

wonga4

wonga5
– So, that’s their CEO, their website, their social media presence, and replies to complaints; all using the same manipulative, obnoxious phrase in the hope of masking the seriousness of the offence. Which suggests a consciously devised effort to underplay the damage that their grotesque strategy between 2008-2011 (and one they’ve only just realised was wrong, on the day they were ordered to compensate victims) inflicted upon over 44,000 people.

Perhaps it is also worth noting that the policy was used between 2008-2011, immediately after a massive financial crises pushed many to financial breaking point. This was a policy designed to feed off of that misery, its timing is telling. This was a time more people would be forced to go to payday loan companies, and Wonga played on that vulnerability, seeking to harm customers, rather than help. And today they apologise, with five lines of text on a website, and a coordinated media policy. Though the use of the phrase “Following today’s announcement from the FCA…” betrays their enlightened, new found conscience. Like an unrepentant child forced to apologise after getting caught.

I wonder then, if the room they’ve sat and discussed the creative language they will be using to try to save face, was the same room they used to devise the original threatening strategy in order to harass the most vulnerable, in the first place. Because the apology leaves several unanswered questions that I’d quite like to see answered:
1) Who originally came up with the idea to invent law firms, and send threatening letters to intimidate their most vulnerable customers? Give names.
2) Which executives knew about it, and signed off on it? Again, give names.
3) Did Damelin know about it? Is that why he stepped down from the board less than two weeks ago?
4) Are those responsible for coming up with the strategy, still at the company today? If so, why?
5) If it was stopped in 2011, why has it taken the regulator to claw an apology out of you, three years later?
6) Did Adrian Beercroft – a major shareholder – know about this, before he donated to the Conservative Party?
– Wonga is run by human beings. Its strategy is devised by human beings. When the most odious strategy is exposed for the crime that it is, those sociopaths responsible for inflicting it upon so many people, do not get to hide behind the corporate name. It is well within the public interest to know if these people are still at Wonga, and if they are no longer at Wonga, where are they now? If they are no longer at Wonga, do the businesses they now work for know who they’ve employed? In the interests of what Wonga call:

“…the principle of transparency on which our business has been built…”

– The public (especially those directly affected) certainly have a right to know who was responsible for devising a strategy that specifically targeted the most vulnerable at a time of massive economic crises, for their own gain.

Call the free phone Wonga helpline, and ask for the names of those responsible for the threatening, invented law firm policy:
0800 840 0836


The right-winged media & the release of al-Baghdadi.

June 22, 2014

The BBC reported today that ISIS have moved to within 90 miles of the Iraq-Jordan border, having taken over the town of al-Rutba. The town sits on the main road between Jordan and Baghdad, and is around 110 miles from the border with Saudi Arabia. It marks an unnerving couple of weeks of very violent extremists spilling over from the Syrian civil war into the new and fledgling democracy to the south.

The past couple of weeks have also produced a plethora of commentators trying to untangle the web of blame, hoping to land at a particular constant (their favoured figure of hate), rather than admit a whole host of variables, like a complex jigsaw, led to the rise of ISIS and the damage it is inflicting upon Iraq. America’s conservatives have spent the past couple of weeks attempting in any way possible to lay the blame for the crisis in Iraq at the door of the President.

Fox News’s Jeanine Pirro told the nation last week, that ISIS’s leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi was in US custody, and released in 2009 during President Obama’s Presidency:

“The head of this band of savages is a man named Abu Bakr al Baghdadi, the new Osama Bin Laden. A man released by Obama in 2009, who started ISIS a year later.”

– This came a few days after Pirro called for the President to be impeached for the prisoner swap that led to the release of Bowe Bergdahl.

Fox’s Megyn Kelly went a little further, and described the circumstances under which al-Baghdadi was released:

“We are also learning more about the leader of the terror group, a man described as the new Bin Laden, the heir to Bin Laden. It turns out he had been in U.S. custody until 2009, over in Iraq, when he was then turned over to the Iraqi government as part of our troop drawdown. And then he was released.”

– The implication being that the President has a history of releasing dangerous prisoners, including one who went on to form the group currently slaughtering its way across Iraq. Indeed, Michael Daly writing for The Daily Beast took up the story and went further:

“When Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi walked away from a U.S. detention camp in 2009, the future leader of ISIS issued some chilling final words to reservists from Long Island.”

– The chilling words were reported by Army Col. Kenneth King, the commanding officer of Camp Bucca in 2009 and said to be al-Baghdadi telling the camp as he left, that he would:

“See you in New York.”

– The source of the story, Colonel King goes on to express his anger at the release of al-Baghdadi in 2009:

“We spent how many missions and how many soldiers were put at risk when we caught this guy and we just released him.”

– The story went international, with The Daily Mail over here in the UK taking it up and capitalising the words “set free” for extra effect:

“Revealed: How Obama SET FREE the merciless terrorist warlord now leading the ISIS horde blazing a trail of destruction through Iraq.”

– The UK’s Daily Telegraph proposed their own explanation as to why al-Baghdadi was released in 2009:

“One possible explanation is that he was one of thousands of suspected insurgents granted amnesty as the US began its draw down in Iraq.”

– So to summarise, according to the right winged press and TV networks, Al-Baghdadi – the leader of ISIS in 2014 – was released from US custody in 2009, handed to the Iraqis, probably due to an amnesty granted to insurgents at the behest of the Obama administration. That’s the narrative. And yet, the problem with the entire story here, is it isn’t actually true. Any of it.

Politifact researched the claim and found it to be entirely false, and worse for US conservatives; al Baghdadi was actually released in 2004, when a Republican was President. A year later, a US intelligent report tells us that the Pentagon considered al-Baghdadi to be incredibly dangerous:

“He would kidnap individuals or entire families, accuse them, pronounce sentence and then publicly execute them.”

– Less than one year after al-Baghdadi was released from custody on President Bush’s watch, the US was again searching for him, for the most hideous crimes.

Back to the story. It seems that Michael Daly, the Telegraph, the Mail and Fox all framed their narrative around the story told by Col.King. Interviewed days later on ABC, King told the network that he “could have been mistaken” and that whilst he didn’t know the name of the guy he’d seen at Camp Bucca in 2009, it looked a bit like al-Baghdadi. From what he could remember. Five years ago. And from that, Fox construct an entire anti-Obama rant, with a story of how al-Baghdadi was handed over to authorities in Iraq and then released. Politifact checked with the Department of Defence, who issued the following statement:

“Ibrahim Awad Ibrahim Al Badry, also known as ‘Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi’ was held as a ‘civilian internee’ by U.S. Forces-Iraq from early February 2004 until early December 2004, when he was released.”

“He was held at Camp Bucca. A Combined Review and Release Board recommended ‘unconditional release’ of this detainee and he was released from U.S. custody shortly thereafter. We have no record of him being held at any other time.”

– And so it turns out al-Baghdadi wasn’t even released to the government in Iraq, as Fox claimed, let alone in 2009. Nor did Obama release him as part of a “amnesty” as suggested by the Telegraph. Though, had al-Baghdadi been released in 2009 as part of an amnesty, that too would not have been President Obama’s doing. As Politifact notes, it was late in 2008 – toward the end of President Bush’s term in office – that the President signed the Status of Forces Agreement with Iraq, an agreement that binds the US to the following terms:

“The United States Forces shall act in full and effective coordination with the Government of Iraq to turn over custody of such wanted detainees to Iraqi authorities pursuant to a valid Iraqi arrest warrant and shall release all the remaining detainees in a safe and orderly manner, unless otherwise requested by the Government of Iraq.”

– Not only was al-Baghdadi released in 2004, but had he been released in 2009 – as suggested by the right winged media – his release would have been due to a framework signed by President Bush in 2008.

The entire story was false and ridiculously manipulative. It relies solely on an army Colonel remembering a face from five years ago, that looked “very familiar”. There was no fact checking from Fox, The Telegraph, The Daily Mail, or The Daily Beast. There was no mention of the US-Iraq agreement. This is how little it takes for Fox to turn a non-story into a familiar national anti-Obama scandal that bears little – if any – resemblance to reality.


Saddam’s terrorists.

June 21, 2014

Saddam in court in 2004.

Saddam in court in 2004.

One of the more notable arguments employed against military intervention in Iraq back in 2003, was that Saddam’s regime posed no threat to the US or UK, and hadn’t attacked, threatened or killed anyone from the US or UK. Indeed, Michael Moore’s popular anti-intervention movie Fahrenheit 9/11 takes this claim and insists that Iraq was:

“A nation that had never threatened to attack the United States. A nation that had never murdered a single American citizen.”

– I find the argument to be shrouded in ambiguity and wholly misleading. Whilst it might be true that Iraqi soldiers were not waiting for the command to storm Pennsylvania Avenue, nor is there much in the way of evidence to link Saddam or Iraq’s Mukhabarat to a cooperative relationship with al-Qaeda despite George Bush’s manipulative insistence to the contrary; to say that Iraq under Saddam had not threatened the US, or been involved in the killing of a single American citizen, is entirely disingenuous, and works to play down – in an attempt to strengthen the anti-intervention position – the role Saddam’s Iraq played in harbouring, funding, and protecting those responsible for hideous acts of terrorism resulting in the deaths of US citizens.

To shoot back in time to 1993, after leaving office, President Bush Sr took a trip to Kuwait, two years after the US helped to rid Kuwait of Saddam’s forces. During the tip, Kuwaiti intelligence discovered a plot to assassinate Bush and the Kuwaiti Emir using bomb material that they believed could have caused devastation to a quarter mile radius of the bomb site. This means it would have also murdered several other key US and Kuwaiti officials in the entourage. Kuwait arrested several suspects, including Al-Ghazali and Al-Asadi, whom both explained that Iraqi intelligence had recruited them to carry out the assassination. Bomb technicians connected the bomb circuit board and detonator that was to be used to assassinate a former US President, to known Iraqi bombs from elsewhere. So did Saddam’s Iraq threaten the US? Yes. They threatened to blow up an ex-President, and were only stopped at the very last minute.

Prior to the assassination attempt on President Bush, Saddam’s regime gave refuge several times to (and then themselves assassinated) the Palestinian terrorist Sabri al-Banna – Abu Nidal – a man who ordered the deaths of 16 people at Leonardo Da Vinci Airport in Rome from gunfire and killing two more when his men threw grenades at people boarding a flight to Israel. Nidal’s terrorist organisation is believed to have been involved in the 1972 Munich attack at the Olympics as well as aborted assassination attempts on the lives of Arafat and Abbas. Nidal, speaking of himself, said:

“I am the evil spirit which moves around only at night causing nightmares.”

– In 1986, Nidal’s group hijacked Pan AM flight 73. After sitting on the tarmac for several hours with 389 hostages, Nidal’s team threw grenades into the passengers in the cabin, injuring 100, and killing 16, including 7 Americans. Saddam had publicly kicked Nidal’s group out of Iraq in 1983 – three years before the Pan AM attack – in the hope of winning the US’s support for his war on Iran. But by 1988, Nidal’s group were back in Saddam’s good books, operating out of Syria, supported by Libya and Iraq, and were based primarily in Iraq from 1998, until Saddam had Nidal assassinated (though insisted he committed suicide) in 2004. Between 1998 and 2004, Nidal lived in Iraq, away from justice for his terrorist activities. Whether or not Saddam was involved in any way with the Pan AM massacre, is nor relevant, because he absolutely did harbour and give refuge to Nidal after the attack, allowing the terrorist network to continue unhindered. This also included harbouring Khala Khadr al-Salahat; a member of Abu Nidal’s organisation, found in Iraq in April 2003. Al-Salahat was responsible for designing the bomb that destroyed Pan Am flight 103 over Lockerbie in Scotland in 1988.

A more direct connection between a Nidal attack and Saddam’s regime occurred earlier in their relationship. In 1982 (at the height of their courtship) Nidal was involved in an Iraqi ordered plot to murder the Israeli ambassador in London. Nidal’s group sent Hussein Ghassan Said, Marwan al-Banna (Nidal’s cousin), and Nawaf al-Rosan (a Baghdad intelligence colonel) to assassinate Shlomo Argov as he left a London hotel. Argov was shot in the head, but survived. The hit men later admitted that the guns used in the attack were handed to them by the Iraqi embassy in London, with the order coming from Baghdad. Saddam’s men were happily attempting to assassinate people on the streets of London, ordered by a man who would go on to murder 7 Americans using grenades in a hijacked plane, and later protected by Saddam.

In 1985, Muhammad Zaidan masterminded the attack on the Italian cruise ship, the MS Achille Lauro. After demanding the release of PLO prisoners held by Israel, and being denied docking rights at Tautus, the attackers murdered disabled Jewish-American passenger Leon Klinghoffer and threw his body overboard. Abbas was arrested and subsequently freed by the Italians, moved to Gaza for a while, fled to Iraq, where Saddam protected and used him as a conduit to make payments of $25,000 to the families of Palestinian suicide bombers. He died in 2004 in US custody in Iraq.

It was 11:30am on April 30th, 1980, when six terrorists from the Democratic Revolutionary Movement for the Liberation of Arabistan – sponsored by Saddam’s Iraq – stormed the Iranian Embassy in London, and held 26 people hostage. During the days that followed the terrorists went on UK TV to announce that they intended to kill hostages. True to their word, they murdered Abbas Lavasani and threw his body out of the window. BBC Journalist Chris Cramer who was one of the hostages talks of the terror he felt at being held captive in Britain, by Saddam’s terrorists:

“My fear was that having killed one hostage, why shouldn’t they kill the next one? And then again, why shouldn’t it be me?”

– It took a full SAS siege to bring the crisis to an end. Saddam’s Iraq directly sponsored a terrorist attack on Iran, on UK soil.

In February 2003, the government of the Philippines expelled the Iraqi diplomat Husham Husain for using the Iraqi embassy to make connections with known Islamist group Abu Sayyaf (not affiliated with al-Qaeda). Officials in the Philippines say that Husain received a phone call from a leading Abu Sayyaf member in October 2002, a day after an Abu Sayyaf planted bomb blast in Zamboanga City that killed American serviceman SFC Mark Wayne Jackson. The bomb was deliberately set off near to Camp Enrile Malagutay – a camp playing host to American troops. The same cell phone used to call Husain was later used in an attempt to blow up a Catholic shrine in the same area. Iraq denied that Husain had taken any phone call from Abu Sayyaf members (one of Iraq’s many lies). But then in 2006, an eight-page fax recovered from Iraq and sent from the Iraqi Embassy in Manila to Baghdad in 2001, showed that Iraq had been funding Abu Sayyaf. After Abu Sayyaf kidnapped 20 holiday makers from the Dos Palmas resort, including three Americans, which gained international attention and was undertaken without Iraq’s knowledge, the Iraqi’s lost their patience. The document reads:

“The kidnappers were formerly (from the previous year) receiving money and purchasing combat weapons. From now on we (IIS) are not giving them this opportunity and are not on speaking terms with them.”

– This confirms that the Iraqi embassy in Manila was funding a terrorist organisation and ordering them to purchase weapons, but it also seems to suggest that support for Abu Sayyaf ended in 2001, and yet it is quite clear that Husham Husain – the Iraqi diplomat – had contact with a member of Abu Sayyaf a day after the bombing of Zamboanga. It seems Iraq and Abu Sayyaf rekindled their flame sometime after the bombing of Zamboanga. The Philippine’s immigration commissioner Andrea Domingo said that Husain operated an ‘established network’ of terrorists in the country, and Abu Sayyaf terrorist Hamsiraji Sali informed The Philippine Daily Inquirer that Baghdad had been funding them with up to $20,000 a year between 2000 and 2003. A direct link between the death of an American (deliberately targeted), and Saddam’s Iraq.

The 1993 attempt on President Bush’s life, and the 2000 – 2003 (at least) funding of Abu Sayyaf, along with the harbouring of Abu Nidal and Khala Khadr al-Salahat post-1990, is a clear violation of UN Security Council Resolution 687, part 32, which reads:

“Requires Iraq to inform the Security Council that it will not commit, or support any act of international terrorism or allow any organization directed towards commission of such acts to operate within its territory and to condemn unequivocally and renounce such acts, methods and practices of terrorism.”

– And so to suggest Saddam’s regime posed no threat, and played no part in the threatening or murdering of American citizens, is a gross distortion of the whole story. Saddam utilised terrorist cells when he could (often at arms length), and irritated them elsewhere (Mullah Krekar insisted that Saddam was his sworn enemy). Saddam’s regime openly funded terrorist activities that lead to the killing of Americans. His regime attempted to assassinate an ex-President. His regime conducted a terrorist attack on a foreign embassy in London. His regime protected those already responsible for countless murders and terrorist attacks. His regime was behind the attempted murder of an Israeli official on the streets of Britain. But to read or hear some anti-war commentators – just as insistent that Saddam had not threatened or attacked the US or killed or threatened any US citizen, as George Bush was insistent that Saddam and al-Qaeda were working side by side – you would walk away under the impression that Saddam’s regime was an innocent victim of Western imperialist aggression. And that is of course, the manipulative aim. I am quite sure that the anti-war movement itself is guilty of lying or manipulating to secure support for its cause. By doing so, they grossly hide from view the crimes of one of history’s most brutal regimes, in the hope of strengthening their own position. Ironically, manipulating and hiding the facts, is the very same tactic they accuse the West of committing.


Keep ‘Accelerated Christian Education’ out of schools.

June 20, 2014

“I pledge allegiance to the Kingdom of Jesus Christ, Lord and Saviour, crucified, risen, and coming again as king with life and liberty for all who believe.
I pledge allegiance to the Bible, God’s Holy Word. I will make it a lamp unto my feet, and a light unto my path. I will hide it in my heart, that I might not sin against God.”

– The pledge, spoken at Accelerated Christian Education schools.

It seemed to be a good week for secularism in the UK this week. On June 17th, Ofsted withdraw support for gender segregation in schools, and a day later the government banned free schools from promoting Creationism as science. All seemed to be progressing. That is until a private Christian school in Manchester had been found to be using textbooks by Tennessee based Creationist group, ‘Accelerated Christian Education’ in its curriculum. Alarmingly, the British Humanist Association found that nine nurseries were using ‘ACE’ curriculum. Leaving aside a general discussion on the place of ‘faith’ in private schools, I wondered just who ‘Accelerated Christian Education’ are, and why they are permitted any involvement in the education of impressionable minds. It turns out, they’re about as fundamentalist as Christians manage to get, and incredibly damaging.

Dr Donald Howard founded ‘ACE’ in 1970, for the express purpose of disseminating a literalist interpretation of the Bible, through what Howard termed “educational missions”. The usual suspects are to be found throughout their literature; homophobia, right winged political ideals, creationism, anti-evolution with a little racism thrown in. The children that come out of ACE schools grow up to tell similar stories of how Dr Howard’s “educational missions” horrendously stunted their education and growth, presented them with a false perception of reality far removed from the rest of society, and failed enormously to prepare them for life.

Over at a favourite blog of mine ‘Leaving Fundamentalism’, several ex-students explain their experience of an ‘ACE’ education:

“I found that ACE helped me with test taking, memorization, answering to please the grader, and sitting silently for 7 hours straight. It hindered me by not teaching me long-term retention, critical thinking, literary/historical/contextual analysis, participation in discussions, essay composition, and unbiased presentation.”

“I was going through some old ACE books in order to get my transcripts for my first year of highschool in order and noticed all of the places that I had highlighted wrong information or just blatant lies. It was atrocious! Most of them were in history because that happened to be my favorite subject but Science was chock full of lies as well. Don’t get me wrong, I’m a Christian. But ACE played no part in my conversion. In fact, it put a bitter taste in my mouth towards any fundamentalist or organized religion. The fact that all of the work is reading comprehension and pretty much no creative writing sickens me. In the few years that I studied ACE I was in no way encouraged to voice my own opinion or do any kind of secular research to find things out for myself. I remember at one point, a “creative writing” project was to write a letter to my governor… My problem here? I was instructed to “thank him and show your appreciation for his policies and achievement”… Which I completely disagreed with.”

– The experiences all seem to echo each other. Whether a public school, or a private school, the damage is the same. The indoctrinating through proselytising – abandoning critical thought processes for a bubble of faith – to young minds, harms the development of the student, and leaves them completely unprepared for the next stages of life. ‘ACE’ is a very cult-like group seeking to self perpetuate, by pulling children away from the rest of society, with Christian literalist manipulations, to create a little conclave of Christian fundamentalists. It is to the credit of past students, that many figured out what was going on, and now speak out.

It was only in 2013, that ‘ACE’ in Europe removed from its biology textbook – a book that should be teaching children the basics of biology, including genetics, evolution, medicine – the idea that the Loch Ness Monster is real, and proof that evolution is a terrible lie. The book – Biology 1099 – stated:

“Are dinosaurs alive today? Scientists are becoming more convinced of their existence. Have you heard of the ‘Loch Ness Monster’ in Scotland? ‘Nessie’ for short has been recorded on sonar from a small submarine, described by eyewitnesses, and photographed by others. Nessie appears to be a plesiosaur.”

– They continue:

“Biblical and scientific evidence seems to indicate that men and dinosaurs lived at the same time”

– Whilst this is all clearly wrong, and works only to distort reality for vulnerable minds, ACE take it one step further by moralising – in a way that suggests ultimate truth – to perpetuate an atmosphere of homophobia, with completely misleading and false ‘science’. In ‘Science 1107’ they state:

“Some people mistakenly believe that an individual is born a homosexual and his attraction to those of the same sex is normal. Because extensive tests have shown that there is no biological difference between homosexuals and others, these tests seem to prove that homosexuality is a learned behaviour. The Bible teaches that homosexuality is sin. In Old Testament times, God commanded that homosexuals be put to death. Since God never commanded death for normal or acceptable actions, it is as unreasonable to say that homosexuality is normal as it is to say that murder or stealing is normal.”

– The problems with this passage are so vast, that one blog post is not enough to cover it all. Needless to say, everything we actually know about the science of sexuality discredits everything this passage offers. Plenty of children in ‘ACE’ schools will be gay. Here, they are told they are not normal, must be discriminated against, and that God – taught as fact – wishes them dead. The science, the studies, the biological nature of sexuality are dismissed, for Leviticus. As well as homophobia, ‘ACE’ taught – in ‘Social Studies 1086’ – that Apartheid in South Africa and institutional racism is acceptable, if it is perceived to be economically valuable:

“The government must be responsible to the taxpayers who provide the money that the government spends. Since that is true only taxpayers should be given the privilege of voting…

The apartheid policy of South Africa is a modern example of this principle. Under the apartheid system, the population of five million Whites controls most of the nation’s wealth. If apartheid were done away with, the twenty million Blacks, who are not taxpayers, would be given the privilege of voting. Within a short period of time they would control the government and the means of taxation. ‘The power to tax is the power to destroy.’ Heavy taxation could become a burden to the property owners who actually finance the government and provide jobs. Economics is the major reason that apartheid exists. Some people want to abolish apartheid immediately. That action would certainly alter the situation in South Africa, but would not improve it.”

– The racism continues, with a complete manipulation of history, for the benefit of Christian supremacy:

“It’s interesting that in the African primitive languages there is no word for wisdom. We in the West find that surprising, but you see, the idea of wisdom came through the Biblical channels of the Judaeo-Christian religion and filtered into all of western culture and society.”

So, that’s the benefits of homophobia and racism – and so, the supremacy of white, heterosexual, Christians – taught to children. Studies on Maths, Science, and English, are treated no less hideously, with all intrinsically linked to the Bible and politically right-leaning ideas. For example, ‘ACE’ offers the following in an English test:

(29) Responsible citizens will vote for political candidates who
a. promise to provide good paying jobs for all those who are out of work
b. promise to cut back on both government services and spending and cut taxes
c. promise to raise taxes on “big business” and use the money to help the poor
d. promise to provide child-care services for all mothers who need to work

(The “correct” answer is b.)

– For science on evolutionary biology – the very basis of all modern genetics, biology, zoology, and medicine – ‘ACE’ offers no evidence-based studies to back up their claim that:

“… no transitional fossils have been or will ever be discovered because God created each type of fish, amphibian, and reptile as separate, unique animals.

– For physics, ‘ACE’ again offers no scientific studies into their claim on nuclear fusion in ‘Science 1096’ that:

“The nuclear fusion theory of how the sun emits heat and light is an invention of evolution scientists… All other theories require the sun to use up all its energy sooner than the evolutionists’ invented timetable would allow.”

Worryingly, despite the massive distortions of science and reality, despite the political narrative ‘ACE’ is trying to instill into the minds of children, its deep rooted homophobia, and its clear use of schools to proselytise, the National Recognition Information Centre – which offers validation for certain qualifications – deemed International Certificate of Christian Education gained through ‘ACE’ programmes, to be equivalent of A-Levels.

Whilst this week proved to be a positive step in reducing – albeit, slightly – the wholly negative influence of faith-as-fact in schools, it is worrying that schools in the UK in the 21st century – private or public – are willing to present a dangerous and fundamentalist narrative, devoid of all reality in favour of bronze aged myths, with undertones of discrimination thrown in, to the nation’s young. Grotesquely anti-secular groups like Accelerated Christian Education must not be allowed to play any part in the education of children.


Iraq: Don’t blame Blair. Blame sectarianism.

June 17, 2014

There seems to be a slight undertone of glee in the writings of the rabidly anti-Blair brigade since ISIS began its hideous incursion into Iraq a couple of weeks ago. A sort of “We told you so” smugness to their tone. Owen Jones’s article for The Guardian is horribly self serving. This attitude is then qualified with an incredibly simplistic analysis that seems to draw a direct line from Blair in 2003 (the beginning of all history), to ISIS in 2014. To do this, requires ignoring the Arab Spring, it requires ignoring ISIS’s earlier incarnation in 2000 under a different name whose goal was to overthrow “UnIslamic” regimes in the Middle East before, it requires ignoring a power play between Saudi Arabia and Iran in Syria, it requires ignoring the policies of al-Maliki and a largely Shi’ite heavy-handed military, it requires ignoring the decades long desire for a resurrected Caliphate from militant groups across the World, it requires ignoring the Syrian civil war in its entirety and the tensions between ISIS and Jabhat al-Nusra, it ignores the fact that most ISIS fighters are Syrian, and most of all it requires stopping at 2003, rather than perhaps laying an ounce of the blame at the door of an historically militant Sunni inability to accept that Shi’ite Muslims have a right to life and participation in government. It’s as reasonable an assessment, as blaming Ali and Abu Bakr.

April this year marked the 20th anniversary of the genocide that UN Secretary General Ban Ki Moon insisted the UN should be ashamed for not preventing. Rwanda was the very epitome of what happens when dogmatic non-intervention is adopted. The World has seemingly learnt nothing in those 20 years, given that the the international community is largely ignoring another genocide on the horizon, in which intolerant Sunni extremists attempt to wipe Shia Muslims from the face of the planet knowing full well that Western powers are chained by their own internal soul searching over the invasion of Iraq, rather than internally soul searching since the sectarian genocide in Rwanda.

This is a problem that has existed for generations, is perpetuated by Saudi Arabia and Pakistan, was utilised by Saddam, was not adequately addressed at the constituting of a new Iraq, leads to reprisal attacks, and has now fallen into the hands of ISIS. It did not begin in 2003. In fact, in June 1992, Human Rights Watch noted:

“In Karbala, as in al-Najaf, there were reports that Shi’a clerics found walking on the streets were rounded up and never seen again.”

– A year earlier, and three years before Blair became leader of the Labour Party in the UK, Saddam had been responsible for – with Taha Yassin Ramadan overseeing – the hideous massacre of around 100,000 Shi’ite Muslims in and around Karbala and al-Najaf and had previously restricted pilgrimage in Karbala (a holy Shi’ite city) to Iraqi citizens only. In all, The New York Times reported that Saddam was responsible for around 1,000,000 deaths of his own people; a figure that permits the term ‘genocide’. During the repressions, al-Najaf was hit heavily, including the Shi’ite shrine of tomb of the Imam Ali, which Saddam’s security forces didn’t seem to care too much for. Karbala was opened up in 2004 to Shi’ite pilgrims, with over 1,000,000 Shia from all over the World attending for the first time, but the day was marred by the brutal slaughter of many Shi’ite pilgrims, by car bombs and rocket fire planted by a group led by Sunni anti-Shia Abu Abdallah al Hassan Ben Mahmoud. The slaughter of the Shia is a continuation of supremacist Sunni attitudes. The Shia genocide is not new. It was simply institutionalised and easily hidden under the rule of Saddam.

Ten years earlier, in 1982, Saddam had ordered the rounding up of 393 men, and 394 women, and children, on suspicion of being part of a Shia uprising in Dujail that attempted to assassinate him. Some died in captivity after taking a beating by security forces, others were exiled. Hundreds were routinely tortured, and executed, including ten children between the ages of 11 and 17, who were held in secret, and executed in 1989.

In Balochistan in 2011, 29 Shia Muslims were murdered by Islamist terrorist group Lashkar-e-Jhangvi, whose main reason for being, is to murder Shia Muslims where ever they find them. Some estimate that around 30,000 Shia have fled Balochistan because they feel threatened, and Pakistan refuses to acknowledge the problem, largely due to their ties with Saudi Arabia. This is reflected in Pakistan’s treatment of Lashkar-e-Jhangvi’s leader Malik Ishaq, who is routinely arrested and released instantly, despite his clear involvement in the deaths of hundreds.

In 2012, armed Hamas men stormed a gathering of Shi’ite worshipers, brutally assaulted them, and continued the attack even as the victims were on their way to hospital. Incidentally, George Galloway spent Sunday on Radio 4 denouncing Blair for the troubles in Iraq, rather than acknowledging that funding Hamas – as they perpetuate a narrative of violent sectarianism, and anti-Shia hate – to the tune of £25,000 might not have helped matters either.

Today coordinated attacks against Shi’ite communities simply for not being Sunni continues, and not just in Iraq. Shi’ites in Parachinar, Pakistan have been the focus of violent attacks from Sunni extremists for years. In July 2013, extremists deliberately targeted Shi’ite mosques in a town next to the market place, because families were out shopping for Iftar. Instead of a family day out at the market, 56 people were killed, and another 100 injured in coordinated bomb blasts simply for being Shia. In fact, between January 2012, and July 2013, over 635 Shia have been killed in Pakistan, in separate attacks.

It isn’t just the Middle East either. Indeed, it is illegal in Malaysia for Shia to promote their faith. Middle Eastern academic Vali Nasr insists that Shia living in Bahrain are basically living under a system of apartheid (largely ignored by the Western left, who focus the term ‘apartheid’ on Israel only). Similarly, Shia are often accused of crimes they didn’t commit in Saudi Arabia and imprisoned, a country that also bans Shia from leading government positions. Shia in Saudi Arabia also have to live with the fact that school books refer to their interpretation of their faith as a heresy. All over the Middle East, Shia Muslims are disenfranchised, abused, tortured, oppressed, and murdered. It’s been going on for years, and ignored for those same years.

Today, the growth of ISIS – to the point in which they are a threat to the World, not just Iraq – and the mentality and anti-Shia hate – as well as a rabid desire to reconstitute a Caliphate – that drives groups like them did not begin in March 2003. It has a long and deep history, it is rooted in intolerant religious sectarianism autonomous of Western foreign policy, Saddam’s Iraq made it the order of the day, Pakistan turns its head and ignores the problem for global political reasons, Saudi Arabia perpetuates it, a Galloway funded Hamas plays on it, Iraq’s government has left it to fester, scripture is used to justify it, and the complexity of this is slowly leading to a Rwandan-like genocide, as an international left that cared not an ounce when Saddam was doing it, nor takes a moment to consider its poison in Saudi Arabia, haven’t mentioned the attacks in Pakistan, do not know the name of liberal, secular, democrats fighting for a just and peaceful Iraq, but suddenly developed a sense of humanity the moment they recognised the potential to ceaselessly denounce Blair as the principle architect of the problem.

The end of the war in Iraq failed to provide a substantial constitutional framework for the institutional protection and political equality and a fair distribution of power between both Shia and Sunni minorities in different parts of the country and on local levels. The scales tip from one sect, to another, and a balance seems to evade Iraq’s politics. It was a key issue in providing the base for a working democracy, and it was largely mishandled, and a heavy handed Shi’ite military seems now to be viewed with contempt by Sunni minorities feeling alienated. For years Anbar province has complained that Maliki’s government in Baghdad ignored them and that they had been practically left out of the political process. So they rebelled, some joined militant Al Qaeda inspired groups, and Maliki inflamed the sectarianism by referring to all of them as al-Qaeda, rather than refusing to acknowledge his own shortcomings. He ignored the fact that the same Anbar province largely supported the US surge in 2007. Again, this has nothing to do with Blair, and everything to do with religious sectarianism and a failure to address the issue on a political level. It is not the fault of the Iraq war that Iraq now slips back into sectarian violence. It is both global inaction in Syria, and the deficiencies in the democratic settlement that require immediate redress, because Iraq still deserves a safe, democratic institutional framework that caters for all, rather than leaving it to fall into the hands of violent Theocratic thugs. For the West to leave Iraq to burn, is to tacitly agree with ISIS that Iraq cannot handle democracy, human rights and political equality, and can only be controlled by dictatorship.


Sarah Vine & Daily Mail land.

June 11, 2014

In the green pastures of Daily Mail land, where the year is perpetually 1950, Dvorak’s Symphony 9 plays on a loop, and everyone attends Church on a Sunday. Where someone with slightly darker skin in the village is a frightening novelty, morality and normality are defined by Christianity, gay folk are trying to destroy humanity, and someone with tattoos can only mean one thing; the decadent youth and their alien ways are throwing their lives away, destroying this once great country, and they don’t even know it. If only they’d suspend their critical faculties, and pick up the Daily Mail from time to time, the country could be great again!… Or something like that.

I woke up shocked this morning. Shocked that my life has been a lie. Thanks to Sarah Vine over at the ever illuminating and rational Daily Mail, I learnt this morning that my tattoos are simply a “hideous” form of self harm. This came as a shock, because up until now, I thought I had my tattoos as a form of self expression, that I chose them because I felt they represented me in a way that I wanted to represent myself, and that they had a certain meaning to me and me alone. I thought I was pretty happy when I had my tattoos. Of course, we all have our problems in life, but on the whole, I really fucking love me. At least, that’s what I thought. I thought I knew what my tattoos meant to me, because, well, I’m me. That all changed this morning when I read Sarah Vine’s column for The Mail (and Tory’s and the Mail are notoriously excellent at understanding young people) and discovered I have serious mental health issues that I address by harming myself with tattoos. I discovered my friends must be covering their intense inner sorrow, with outward displays of faux-happiness and joy. I discovered that the word “self-harm” can now be thrown around whenever we see someone doing something we personally wouldn’t do.

But then I thought, maybe it’s an ironic piece? I mean, there appears to be a noticeable irony in someone writing for the Daily Mail, and being married to Michael Gove having the nerve to refer to anything other than writing for the Daily Mail and being married to Michael Gove as “ghastly” and “self harm”. Perhaps it is Sarah Vine’s cry for help. I mean, she has her ears pierced; a needle pushed through the body, and a piece of metal shoved into the hole. Does this not also count as self harm? There can’t be much pleasure in writing for a newspaper famed for its tacit support for Fascism in the 1930s, and that recently hounded a transgender person – Lucy Meadows – to suicide, whilst married to a man universally hated by the profession he’s the Minister for. Perhaps at this point you’re thinking that I’m being incredibly judgmental in presuming that I get to tell someone else that their private life, their private loves, and the way they express themselves is “ghastly” or “self harm”. Yes… you’d be right. It’s pretty shitty and irrational of me, isn’t it?

There is a degree of irony in the article itself:

“Think of poor, frail Amy Winehouse, her emaciated limbs decorated like a navvy’s; think of the ethereal, fragile Peaches Geldof.”

– Yes. Think of the ‘poor, frail Amy Winehouse’, like The Mail did when they plastered unflattering pictures of Amy Winehouse all over a completely irrelevant article, whilst needlessly poking fun at her, despite this being in the middle of her health issues:

“At first glance it may seem she had forgotten to get dressed.
But bra, shorts and ballet slippers almost count as overdressed for Amy Winehouse these days.”

– Think of the ‘poor, frail Amy Winehouse’ like The Mail did with this article dedicated entirely to how ill she looked coming out of a restaurant:

“The Rehab singer looked worse for wear after dining at Balans restaurant in London and exposed a small pot belly after the meal.”

– Nothing says compassion and sensitivity for those suffering quite like having a gutter photographer selling you photos of every troubled moment, for a paper that gets a bizarre kick out of dehumanising those struggling. So yes, think of the ‘poor, frail Amy Winehouse’ and the grotesque rag of shit with a business model that relies on perpetuating the suffering and misery of others.

The article goes on:

“When I was Barkley’s age, tattoos were the preserve of sailors, Hell’s Angels and ex-cons.”

– When my grandfather was my age, in the 1940s, writing for (or owning) The Daily Mail was the preserve of Nazi supporters and the British far right. Some things change, some things remain remarkably similar.

The article goes on, still:

“Twenty-year-old Ross Barkley, by contrast, has used his to illustrate his more contemplative side. On the outside of his arm, in Chinese script, the word ‘fengxian’, meaning ‘to devote’. And at the base of his hand, a quotation from none other than the Greek philosopher Aristotle: ‘No notice is taken of little evil. But when it increases it strikes the eye.’
Wow. Who knew that beneath that rugged exterior lurked the sensitive soul of a classicist?”

– This came as a shock to me too, because I have a rose tattooed on my arm, and I haven’t even studied botany. There is absolutely no reason why Barkley would need to know the first thing about the classical period, to take away something meaningful from a pretty universal quote. Indeed, that is part of the timeless genius of Aristotle. You don’t have to be a connoisseur of classical Greek philosophy, to take something meaningful from a fifteen word quote. Similarly, Sarah Vine doesn’t have to be an expert in the art of jewelry making, to have a piece of metal shoved in her ear.

There is no single reason someone gets a tattoo. Do some people get tattoos as a form of self-harm? It’s a possibility, though I don’t know of anyone who has. For some, their bodies are a canvas for the art form. For others, a tattoo might commemorate a moment in time. For others, a tattoo might be a middle finger to a neat and tidy, soulless, and robotic business-defined culture they find to be so devoid of individuality. For me – as for all others – it is simply a form of self expression. I don’t care what someone else thinks of my tattoos. There is no hidden anguish in my choosing to be tattooed. Like the clothes I wear, the haircut (to an extent; though nature took away most of my hair) I have, the photographs I take, the words I write, the tattoos I have; all are forms of expressing myself, and myself alone. They mean something to me. We express ourselves in a variety of ways and what is important is that I decide what it is that represents expression to me. No one else. Certainly not a Tory journalist flippantly using the subject of mental health to explain away her personal dislike of tattoos, from the unbearably stagnant pastures of Daily Mail land.