On Castro: “For all his flaws…”

November 30, 2016

In 2012, Cuban dissident and pro-democracy advocate Oswaldo Payá was killed in a car accident that surviving passengers in the car say was deliberately run off the road. The Cuban Government claimed it was all one big accident. The significance of this is that Oswaldo Payá had ran a petition called The Varela Project with over 25,000 signatories demanding free expression, free association, the right to start a business, and democratic elections in Cuba, only to be dismissed by Castro’s regime, and many of its advocates imprisoned. Jose Daniel Ferrer Garcia, a leader of the petition, was imprisoned without any food for the first 3 days, and left in a pitch black room. These are the people the Western left should have shown complete solidarity toward. This week, they chose to defend the abuser.

There’s an incredible irony in Jeremy Corbyn’s understanding of social justice. Had the Labour Leader been a member of the Cuban Communist Party and as vocally critical of its leadership as he has been the Labour leadership over the decades, he’d either be in prison by now, or worse. As luck would have it, whilst he publicly, openly, and without fear disapproves of former Labour leaderships, he’s out praising the dead dictator of the Communist Party of Cuba as a “champion of social justice” whilst its critics remain either in prison, in hiding, or dead. And so, once again, the Labour Leader openly sides with the abuser. As do many taking to social media to praise Castro, whilst not grabbing the irony that most of Cuba are not permitted to access the same forms of media as the rest of us.

Indeed, to be progressive is to note without fail, that individual Cubans have far more right to elect their leader, to criticise and scrutinise power structures, and to do so without punishment, than Fidel Castro ever had to rule the nation. Without the protected right to criticise the power structure without fear of death for doing so, people are not free, nor that leader to be considered socially just. Corbyn does not understand this basic concept of liberty, and as such, is not a progressive.

Corbyn went on to joyfully explain how Castro had outlasted many US Presidents. As if not allowing a free election on his leadership and silencing critics is admirable, if it has the outward appearance of some sort of defeat for the US. As if in that time amassing a fortune of close to $1bn for the Castro family, whilst the average Cuban takes home $20 a month with no real right to unionise (seriously), is admirable because the US is beaten down.

Following in the footsteps of Corbyn, Labour Shadow Chancellor John McDonnell speaking on Andrew Marr quickly passed over Castro’s crimes with a simple:

“For all his flaws…”

– A hideously flippant refusal to engage with the horror bestowed upon so many for exercising their basic freedoms. I suspect he wouldn’t so flippantly dismisses abuses by far-right dictators. He then went on to explain Cuba’s achievements in education. As if a moral equivalency exists and balances out improving education standards, with strapping people blindfolded to wooded posts and pumping them full of bullets. This is what we’re being asked to consider ‘balanced‘ in a discussion on Castro’s legacy. I can only assume that some – including Corbyn – consider Cubans and especially those dissenting from the 60 year violent establishment to be less deserving of basic human rights, than the rest of us. Because I’m quite certain that if the man across the road from you were to torture and kill members of his family, but also taught them to read, one would not seek a balanced discussion on his legacy.

Contrary to the ease in which McDonnell can pass by Castro’s crimes without much in the way of condemnation, I would have to argue that if you are willing to refer to the violent silencing of criticism of an establishment lasting over half a century as ‘a flaw‘ you – like your leader – are not a progressive either.

Corbyn and McDonnell were not the only ones on the Labour Front Bench to praise and excuse Castro, though some do it with a subtle hint of cowardice. Shadow Justice Secretary Richard Burgon – a Chavez fan too – hides his praise for Castro behind pictures of the late dictator embracing Mandela. As if that absolves Castro of his crimes. More unnerving, is that the British Shadow Justice Secretary – that’s ‘Justice‘ – praises and excuses a man whom Human Rights Watch say:

“For almost five decades, Cuba has restricted nearly all avenues of political dissent. Cuban citizens have been systematically deprived of their fundamental rights to free expression, privacy, association, assembly, movement, and due process of law. Tactics for enforcing political conformity have included police warnings, surveillance, short-term detentions, house arrests, travel restrictions, criminal prosecutions, and politically motivated dismissals from employment.

Cuba’s legal and institutional structures have been at the root of its rights violations. The rights to freedom of expression, association, assembly, movement, and the press are strictly limited under Cuban law. By criminalizing enemy propaganda, the spreading of “unauthorized news,” and insult to patriotic symbols, the government curbs freedom of speech under the guise of protecting state security. The courts are not independent; they undermine the right to fair trial by restricting the right to a defense, and frequently fail to observe the few due process rights available to defendants under domestic law.”

– The victims of Castro, the ones whose lives are permitted far less freedom than me or you by abusers, are the most important part of his legacy. Rigoberto Hernandez was just 17 years old and had mental health issues when Fidel’s Castro’s guards tied him to a stake and riddled his young body with bullet after bullet. His crime was to be accused of being a CIA agent. Rigoberto wasn’t the only young victim of Castro’s regime over the years. Of the thousands murdered, under 18s were common. Carlos Machado was hammered with bullets from Castro’s guns in the 1960s for refusing to give up his family farm… he was 15.

But that’s not all. For a ‘socialist’ regime, Cuba isn’t too keen on collective bargaining. Human Rights Watch says:

“Despite updating its Labor Code in 2014, Cuba continues to violate conventions of the International Labour Organization that it has ratified, specifically regarding freedom of association, collective bargaining, protection of wages and wage payment, and prohibitions on forced labor. While the formation of independent unions is technically allowed by law, in practice Cuba only permits one confederation of state-controlled unions, the Workers’ Central Union of Cuba.”

– So, this week the leader of the British opposition Party has referred to the murderer of many including children, and the striking violation of the right to free association and collective bargaining as a ‘champion of social justice‘, with his Shadow Chancellor glossing over the human rights abuses that should be opposed without condition by progressives, as “for all his flaws…” and not to leave out the Green Party… a few local Greens have decided that the Labour Party is worth putting its weight behind in an up-coming by-election because:

“We hope that voters in Richmond Park will remember the Lib Dems’ regressive role with the Tories in government: putting austerity into practice; enacting the bedroom tax; and raising university tuition fees after they promised to scrap them.

And we hope it won’t be forgotten that the Lib Dems are ultimately responsible for the decision to expand Heathrow airport, having launched the Airports Commission in 2012 along with their coalition partners in government.

Unfortunately, we have no progressive alliance and no Green party candidate in Richmond Park. Therefore, although not our first choice, we will be supporting Christian Wolmar, the Labour candidate, as the best option available. We encourage other local Green supporters to do the same.”

– That’s right. They can’t support the Lib Dems because they were ‘regressive’ in government, and so instead will be supporting a candidate from a Party whose leader, Shadow Chancellor, and Shadow Justice Secretary are all over the media rampantly praising and excusing a tyrant responsible for torturing and murdering critics, including children, denying petitions for basic rights, and attacking unions. Exceptionally flexible values from The Greens. And… here’s the theme… also not progressive.

But it highlights a point I’ve long been trying to make. This section of the left occupied by Corbyn, McDonnell, Diane “Mao did more good than harm” Abbott, Richard Burgon, Ken Livingstone, and seen as favourable by some of The Greens, do not consider fundamental human rights to be universal nor worth defending if it conflicts with their opposition to what they see as US/UK/Israeli ‘imperialism‘, or conflicts with criticism of a left wing dictator.

The Labour Party invited the Cuban Ambassador to speak at their conference this year, and the Cuban Solidarity stall at conference gained 50 new members. This isn’t in solidarity with Lazaro Yuri Valle Roca, a blogger who was arrested for covering marches and demostrations, taken 30 miles outside of Havana, pulled out of the police car, made to kneel, and had a gun put on his neck and told “you’re on notice”. This isn’t with the previously mentioned heroes of the Varela Project fighting for freedom. No, this is ‘solidarity’ with the gunmen & the regime. It is clear to me that a real progressive Labour Party would instead have invited Cuban dissenters and those critics fearing for their lives to speak at conference, or those fighting daily and at the risk of punishment for basic freedoms in Cuba, because those are the voices of the oppressed.

They instead find excuses for the molesting of those rights, and creative ways in which defending the abusers is acceptable to them. They seek to downplay the seriousness of human rights abuses, by attempting to demand a balance with improved healthcare standards. The rights they claim for themselves, they do not defend for others universally. Social liberalism is not as important to this section of the left, as economic socialism-by-any-means-necessary, and that should concern us all.

With Castro’s death, the left continues its spiral into irrelevance.

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Trump’s anti-establishment’ gang seems eerily familiar.

November 15, 2016

I confess that despite my years of following both UK and US politics, I have yet to discover what ‘anti-establishment’ means. Over here in the UK, it seems to mean leaving complex Brexit negotiations up to Boris Johnson without any say from Parliament. The latter being ‘establishment’, whilst the former – a very wealthy man at the heart of London government & descended from Kings and Ottoman rulers – presented as the opposite. In general, It appears to mean ‘those who disagree with me’.

It cannot mean what we all think it means, given that the anti-establishment candidate that everyone tells me has ‘shaken the establishment!’ by winning the US election, is a billionaire with his own tower in the heart of NYC and has spent a lifetime able to afford accountants that get him out of income tax, whilst making life difficult for workers at his businesses.

It cannot mean that ‘anti-establishment’ candidate’s transition team either. Indeed, Trump’s transition team includes his own children who will also run his massive business empire. As well as his kids, Trump intends to shake up Washington ‘elites’ by including….. Chris Christie; a man who has been Governor of New Jersey since 2010, New Jersey Attorney General from 2002 until 2008, and prior to that was a lobbyist for Dughi, Hewit & Palatucci. A key member of the political establishment since 2002 is now in 2016 considered anti-establishment.

Another of Trump’s Presidential transition team is also the first appointment to Trump’s White House, Reince Priebus. So ‘anti-establishment’ are his credentials, that he’s been RNC Chairman for a longer period of time than Obama has been President, and so partly responsible for the disconnect people feel with Washington.

Yet another of Trump’s transition team, to launch this already blistering array of anti-establishment figures, is PayPal founder and billionaire Peter Thiel. He’s now running a billion dollar venture capital company. He’s also a member of the Bilderberg Group; a gathering of political and economic establishment figures.

To add to this impressive list of just your every-day anti-establishment folk running the transition team, we have Rebekah Mercer. She’s just like all of us, in that she’s the daughter of a billionaire hedge fund manager, runs a foundation with around $30,000,000 in assets which donates to The Heritage Foundation. Heritage in 2014 was listed as 9th on a list of ‘Top Think Tanks in the United States’ for policy influence. Rebekah also has a history of working on Wall Street. So, running a $30mn foundation, with a billionaire hedgefund manager father, donating to policy-influencing think-tanks. Come on… we’ve all done that.

Speaking of Wall Street – the street Trump fans cannot stop telling us all that Clinton was irretrievably wedded to – another of Trump’s transitional team, and likely to head up the Treasury, is Steven Mnuchin. Now Mnuchin is very anti-establishment and very anti-Wall Street elite. So much so, that he spent 16 years at Goldman Sachs – a firm his father also worked for amassing millions of dollars, a few years before all the controversies it found itself in. Mnuchin then went on to founding OneWest Bank. A bank that, on referring to their treatment of foreclosures, a judge said their practices:

“harsh, repugnant, shocking and repulsive”

– They used those sorts of tactics, after receiving a massive federal bail out… obviously.

So, President-Elect Trump’s transition team ready to fight the establishment, and sending a shockwave to the elites, includes a billionaire with his own Tower in NYC, his kids, a Wall Street trader, another Wall Street banker whose bank actively pursued “repugnant” and “shocking” tactics toward vulnerable people, PayPal’s founder and Bilderberg member, and a man who ran the RNC for a decade. And that’s before we even get to his cabinet choices, which I suspect will include Rudy Giuliana… someone so anti-establishment that he was associate attorney general in 1981…. five years before I was born, and has been a big part of US politics ever since.

Indeed, Anti-establishment seems to be a term that the alt-right have taken to, that they’d like to think protects them from scrutiny of their grotesque illiberal, and often bigoted politics. They are quickly becoming unable to handle basic scrutiny. But come on…. make it a little less obvious.


The left must stop excusing Trump voters.

November 12, 2016

There is a glaring contradiction – and dare I say, political correctness – emerging among my fellow left-leaning liberals trying to wrap their heads around a Trump victory, and doing so by subtly excusing those voters. This couldn’t be more highlighted than in the way they are responding to the often violent protests that are breaking out against his election.

The contradiction is this;
1) Protesters are completely responsible for their own individual actions (this is correct) and must be condemned, without any wider context discussed.
2) We must not condemn Trump voters as moral agents willingly empowering a very bigoted (and also, we mustn’t call it or them bigoted) platform, and instead we must look at the wider context.

The subtle implication is clear; The left is responsible entirely for both, that protesters are violent lefties unable to accept the result of a democratic election, whilst those voters who elected Trump are amoral victims of the left’s inability to craft a narrative of change. I resent this position, because it seems to excuse or deflect from the individual choice that grown adults have made, to empower and embolden a racist, misogynistic, disability mocking, dangerous platform, onto others for not stopping it. It is a feigned outrage. To be outraged at protests (I say protest, not violent protest…. the latter is completely unacceptable and must be punished), but not at voters who consciously empower bigotry, is puzzling at best.

Indeed, I’ve seen liberals insist that conservatives didn’t protest Obama’s election, and that this is protesting is anti-democratic and embarrassing for the left. It’s as if they have chosen to believe that when very divisive language is met with protest, it is the protest that must be condemned. And secondly, It’s as if they have consciously chosen to forget the ‘go back to Africa’ signs at rallies, Confederate flags waving outside the White House or at rallies attended by Sarah Palin & Ted Cruz, or the inviting of people like Ted Nugent (a man who once said “I’m beginning to wonder if it would have been best had the South won the Civil War”)by Republicans as some sort of Patriotic hero to Presidential events or the refusal by Senate Republicans to accept any nomination on time, or the shut down of government, or the demands for birth certificates over the past eight years. It’s like they’ve decided those opposing that sort of vicious shit, are to blame, and see no irony in their new found refusal to condemn it all as hideously bigoted and those who vote to empower it, as embracing that bigotry. The GOP created this atmosphere over the past eight years. They legitimised it. They fostered it. But suddenly, the subtle line here is that Trump voters and Republicans are victims.

This doesn’t happen with any other section of society, for my fellow liberals. We rightly highlight that embracing Islamist principles and the bigotry it permits is the fault of the individual first and the narrative they’ve embraced, and reject groups like CAGE attempting to shift blame onto everyone but the individual. We accept that a wider context exists that entrenches those ideas, but it is the individual first and foremost that we highlight as the culprit. We do not strip those people of their moral agency. Similarly, we accept that – despite presenting themselves as anti-establishment – we will liberals will not vote for a Jeremy Corbyn-led left wing that openly supports violent regimes across the World, and includes a host of anti-Semitic groups and individuals. That is a line we do not cross. Nor do we excuse. Whether left or right, religious or not, the reasoning remains the same.

That the left hasn’t been able to craft a suitable narrative for the electorate to cling to is clear. And as a result, it leaves a festering pot of bigotry to fill the gap. This is an obvious point. Like saying without cold water, there’s just burning hot water. It’s also why the US election wasn’t so much a victory for Republicans given that their share of the vote stayed practically untouched since 2012 and 2008, but that the Democrat share of the vote plummeted. This is such an obvious point, it doesn’t require making. How the left responds and seeks to craft a narrative focused on those abandoned by globalisation over the past thirty years, is important. This, I accept.

The left hasn’t known how to speak to blue collar communities for decades. How to reinvigorate unions to ensure fair wages, secure jobs, and safe environments, when unions have been decimated by the right for so long, is a challenge. How to answer concerns on immigration, without endorsing or legitimising often racist narratives is another massive challenge that no one has touched for far too long. I get that.

But I would also say that the left needs to go on the offensive; absolutely shame and fight the grotesque mentality that seems to have permitted so many to empower to the highest office in the World, a man with 75 pending court cases, a man who mocked the disability of a reporter, a man who believes that China invented climate change, a man who uses phrases like “grab them by the pussy”, a man who has several women claiming sexual assault against them, a man who publicly expressed a desire to ban all Muslims from entering the US, a man who’s likely appointee to Treasury Secretary is ex-Goldman Sachs with a number of court cases against him for how he treated foreclosures (including one judge referring to his company’s actions as ‘repulsive’), a man who’s choice for VP echoes religious fundamentalists across the planet when he claims same-sex relationships are a sign of ‘societal collapse’, a man who called Mexicans rapists, a man who spent a large part of the Presidency of the first African American to hold that office demanding a birth certificate to prove he was American.

We must hear real concerns about immigration and about economic globalisation, we must formulate a narrative of change, but we must also refuse to stroke the egos of those who think using those concerns negates the bigotry they also willingly endorsed and empowered. We must not treat those voters like victims. They are not. They have – through their own moral agency – chosen to empower horrific human traits. We must – through argument and persuasion – alienate the mentality that they have embraced to ensure it is defeated. It must be called out, it must be demonised, and it must be demolished. The right has been on the attack for decades and it has clearly worked. The left must now do the same.