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.


Bush White House paid for universal health care in Iraq.

October 15, 2013

In 2011, ex-Wisconsin Republican Governor Tommy Thompson announced his intention to run for the vacated Senate Seat for Wisconsin in 2012. During the campaign, Thompson told a Tea Party gathering:

“who better than me, that’s already finished one of the entitlement programs, to come up with programs that do away with Medicaid and Medicare?”

– Thompson’s inherent desire to ‘do away with’ essential government-run healthcare services was echoed in his earlier campaign press release in which he reads:

“I intend to continue the fight for a fiscally responsible, market-based approach to reforming our health care system that will improve both access and the quality of care.”

– Thompson is committed to healthcare as a market. To Thompson, the health of individuals is a commodity. The government cannot provide any meaningful provision of health care according to Thompson. So imagine my surprise when it turns out that in 2004, Thompson was the Bush administration’s top health care official as they signed off on a US funded $950mn universal healthcare plan…. for Iraq.

Following the war, and with redevelopment in mind, the US was instrumental in the framing and passing of the Iraqi Constitution in 2005. The US Institute of Peace reported:

“From the time the Leadership Council [this was a group developed outside of the National Assembly made up of senior Iraqi leaders from all sides in order to fast track negotiations] was formed, U.S. Ambassador Zalmay Khalilzad attended meetings regularly, and U.S. Embassy officials were engaged in less-than-subtle efforts to accelerate a final constitution. Several of the early meetings of the Leadership Council took place at the U.S. Embassy. By August 10, the United States was strongly expressing its views on substantive constitutional issues to reach fast compromises that resembled the terms of the TAL… On August 12, in efforts to accelerate the drafting process, the U.S. Embassy circulated its own draft constitution in English”

– At every stage, the Iraq Constitution was under scrutiny by the US. Nothing was overlooked. And so, along with the funding for a universal health care system, Article 31 of the Iraq Constitution states:

“Every citizen has the right to health care. The State shall maintain public health and provide the means of prevention and treatment by building different types of hospitals and health institutions. “

“Individuals and entities have the right to build hospitals, clinics,or private health care centers under the supervision of the State, and this shall be regulated by law.”

– This article and the establishing of a fundamental right to state-funded healthcare in 2005 to run alongside a well regulated private market, could only have been made possible by the funds allocated by the Bush administration to establish a universal health care system, supported by Republicans in Congress.

One of those Republican Congressman who spoke on the floor of the House in 2004, defending the Bush Administration’s $950mn universal healthcare project in Iraq was ex-Congressman Duncan L.Hunter. Hunter said:

“It is hugely important that we provide this infrastructure, this basic health care need to the Iraqi people”.

– It’s essential to note this, because in 2009, after his tenure in Congress was over, when asked about the Affordable Care Act in the US, the same Duncan Hunter said:

“Well listen, this is an attempt to socialize our country. And it is one that is attempted at what the architects of socialism and Marxism would view as being a “soft exposure” in the American fabric. That is, people are obviously concerned about health care. It is important to them, and they are concerned about having security with respect to health care. The problem is government healthcare doesn’t provide security. And in most of the cases we see around the world, it provides instead a system that is largely dysfunctional and provides inadequate care.”

– By his own standards, Hunter worked to create a ‘socialised’, ‘Marxist’, ‘dysfunctional’, and ‘inadequate’ health care system in another country, paid for by US dollars.

Where was Ted Cruz – the foe of any government interference in health care – you might ask? Well, at that time, Cruz was Solicitor General for the state of Texas, and instead of choosing to fight US funding for universal health care in Iraq, he was busy insisting that the Ten Commandments monument at the Texas State Capitol was in fact Constitutional. So now you know; to stop Ted Cruz threatening the health care of the Nation’s most vulnerable people, and closing down the government… just tell him the Ten Commandments on state buildings are unconstitutional. You’ll never hear from him again.

With Ted Cruz and fellow Republicans either fully supporting universal health care in Iraq paid for by the US taxpayer, or just entirely silent on the issue, Democrats were raising concerns. In fact, one of the few who raised objections to the project was the then Democrat Senator from North Dakota, Byron Dorgan. On the Senate floor in April 2004, Dorgan suggested the Iraqi government should perhaps securitise future production of Iraqi oil in order to raise funds for reconstruction:

“It is their job, not the job of American taxpayers to have a program for housing, health care, jobs, and highways in Iraq. That ought not be the burden of the American taxpayer.”

Another Democrat to raise his concerns, was Tim Ryan (D-OH). On the House floor in 2005, Ryan said:

“So we are cutting health care, increasing premiums, increasing co-pays, and yet we have created a Welfare system in Iraq.”

– So whilst Democrats were raising concerns about a US tax payer funded universal healthcare system for Iraq…. Republicans were eerily silent whilst they accepted it without question.

We should also not forget that whilst the funds provided free training for doctors and nurses in Iraq (rightly so), it coincided with a $278mn cut to the Health Professionals Training Program in the US, and a $93mn cut to community access programs, that same year.

This was happening whilst the number of US citizens uninsured rose from 38.4 million when Clinton left office, to 46.3 million by the end of Bush’s term. Not one Republican Senator of House Representative threatened government, or default on the nation’s debt over the government funded establishment of universal health care for Iraq.

A Republican White House, with Republican Congressional support oversaw the framing of the Iraq Constitution that included universal health care as a fundamental human right, provided by the state, and initially funded by $950mn of US taxpayer money, and defended by a Tea Party favourite who now wishes to dismantle all state funded health care provisions.


Painting Congress Blue 2014: Focus on Candidates IV.

September 18, 2013

wisconsin

Seventeen. That is the number of seats Democrats need to pick up in the House to ensure a majority in 2014. It would be a post WWII mid-term record, for the President’s party to pick up that many seats in the House. It has only happened twice before, and the record was set by Republicans who picked up 8 seats in President Bush’s 2002 midterm. So for Democrats to more than double that record, is quite a battle. But not impossible.

The reason the party in the White House tends to lose seats, or gain few seats in the mid-terms is usually down to their supporters not turning out to express satisfaction with the party, whilst the opposition voters turn out to express dissatisfaction. But this mid-term is a little different. At the 2012 election, Republicans lost the national vote in the House by 1.4 million votes, only managing to hold the House due to redistricting. Democrats easily won the national vote. The Republican vote was down by 4.8%, with the Democrats up by 3.4%. Redistricting makes it difficult for Democrats to pick up 17 seats, but with Congressional approval ratings at an all time low, the Republicans offending everyone they possibly can on their journey to far reaches of the right wing, this election will come down to candidates. And so this is part IV of a series focusing on one particular Congressional race that Democrats – though difficult – need to win.

Wisconsin’s 5th Congressional District:
Dave Heaster has a mountain to climb if he is to claim Wisconsin’s 5th from Republican incumbent Jim Sensenbrenner. Heaster won 32% of the vote in 2012, to Sensenbrenner’s 68%. But Sensenbrenner has a voting record, and positions, that is in keeping with the Tea Party take over of the Republican Party in the second decade of the 21st Century, and should be drawn upon strongly by the Heaster team if it is to win the seat in 2014.

Heaster supports campaign finance reform (opposed by Republicans; mainly due to who it is that actually funds them) and believes the government should not legislate against a woman’s right to her own body. The “small government” Sensenbrenner disagrees, and is one of those Elephants in the womb. It’s a curious paradox for 21st Century Tea Party Republicans; small government seems to only apply when it’s for the benefit of of white, Christian, wealthy men, and support for big government for everyone else… as we’ll see in this article.

Earlier this year, Sensenbrenner released this press release.
Importantly, it reads:

“Not coincidentally, 75% of the towers the Obama administration is closing are located in Republican Congressional Districts”.

– This is in relation to the 149 Air Traffic Control towers closing due to sequestration cuts. The implication being, that the Obama administration is playing politics with passenger safety, and jobs. The problem is, the claim is completely untrue. Just invented. No substance whatsoever. Apart from the couple that are inbetween Congressional districts, 58% are in Republican districts, and 42% in Democrat districts. Republicans hold about 52% of Congressional seats. 58% is significantly lower than 75%, and as Politifact point out; many of those affected are in rural areas, which lean Republican.
There is no reason to claim this is at all politically motivated.

In an article to the Guardian earlier this year, Sensenbrenner on the NSA scandal:

“‘Big Brother’ is watching. And he is monitoring the phone calls and digital communications of every American, as well as of any foreigners who make or receive calls to or from the United States.”

– Jim Sensenbrenner introduced the Patriot Act to the House. This includes section 215, which sets out what the FBI Director can apply to obtain without a warrant. These are set out as “tangible things” such as:

“books, records, papers, documents, and other items”

It also provides a gagging order for absolute secrecy, meaning that the government can demand your details, conversations and records, without your knowledge, from third parties who don’t have to inform you, as long as FISA grants it. None of this is new to the Obama Administration:

“No person shall disclose to any other person (other than those persons necessary to produce the tangible things under this section) that the Federal Bureau of Investigation has sought or obtained tangible things under this section”.

– Apart from being a complete disregard for the Fourth Amendment, the leaked Prism documents show the NSA really jumped on board with what falls under “tangible things” and “other items” to include videos, photos, emails, VOIP. The spying hasn’t suddenly appeared under President Obama. Between 2001, and 2005, no one said a word. The ACLU made their case against government agency spying, but Republicans at large kept quiet. So why the outrage now? It is the inevitable product of the Big Brother Patriot Act introduced into the House by Jim Sensenbrenner. The power Sensenbrenner was willing to provide the Bush administration, he now ironically claims is an example of the Obama Administration’s style of big government abuse.

Jim Sensenbrenner is another old, rich Republican male who voted no to reauthorise the Violence Against Women Act. Republicans argued that the law represented a “feminist attack” against family values. Before the Violence Against Women Act, there was little incentive for women to report domestic abuse. The 1994 Act changed that, and has worked ever since. This year, House Republicans let it die, because it included protections for the LGBT community, Native American women, and undocumented female workers. All three of these groups are incredibly vulnerable to abuse, with 40% of Native American women facing domestic violence. The new provisions seeked to address those problems. House Republicans didn’t approve. All women suffer as a result of Republican bigoted, anti-women principles. Sensenbrenner is one of those.

As the ranking Republican on the House Select Committee for Energy Independence and Global Warming, Sensenbrenner chose to ignore the scientific consensus and vast evidence produced and supported by agencies all across the World, deciding instead to side with faith, and big business. Two entities that should not be allowed anywhere close to scientific policy. He Voted NO on expanding vital, life saving research to more embryonic stem cell lines. He Voted Yes on barring EPA from regulating greenhouse gases. Voted No on tax incentives for renewable energy, whilst voting to sustain Federal subsidies for oil & gas exploration. If anything, he has voted to keep science out of policy.

Sensenbrenner is a Republican who decries “Big government” when it suits his debating point, but he voted for the biggest government intrusion into the private lives of individuals possible. He voted for a Constitutional Amendment, banning same sex marriage, and he voted to ban same-sex adoption. Neither of those positions are based on evidence or reason, but on religious conviction alone. In fact, there is absolutely no reasonable excuse to oppose same-sex adoption. The position taken up for opposing same-sex adoption is almost always based on the idea that a child requires a mother and father and anything else is damaging. This of course, isn’t borne out by facts, or any credible research.

It isn’t loving families that happen to be same-sex, that harm a child’s development; it is lack of opportunity, and perpetual poverty. Sensenbrenner voted to authorise the Bush Tax Cuts, which resulted in the median income falling from $52,500 in 2000 (inflation adjusted) to $50,303 in 2008. In 2000, 31.6 million Americans were living in poverty. When Bush left office, 39.8 million were in poverty.
During the 2012 ‘fiscal cliff’ negotiations, the House Republicans passed 39.8 million DOA Plan B 215-209-1. This Bill didn’t make it to the Senate, but its interesting to note that the proposal from Boehner, included throwing 300,000 children off of food stamps, whilst the Tax Policy Center found that the same proposal offered an average $108,000 tax cut for millionaires, in a typical Republican move to redistribute wealth upwards, whilst endangering and impoverishing the lives of children. If you believe that having same-sex parents is more damaging to child than pushing their head under a sea of poverty, for the sake of wealthy tax breaks, then go ahead and vote Jim Sensenbrenner.

This represents an attempt to smash down the Constitutional wall of separation between church & state, but also to place government right in the centre of the private lives of anyone who isn’t considered the “correct” sexuality by religious fundamentalists, whilst limiting the amount of loving and caring parents available for children in desperate need of adoption.

Sensenbrenner not only has no problem with violence against women, but he has no problem with violence against gay people, having voted No to enforce against anti-gay hate crime.

On jobs, Sensenbrenner voted No on prohibiting job discrimination based on sexual orientation. He believes a company should be allowed to refuse to hire you based solely on who you’re attracted to in your private life. Your ability to do the job is irrelevant to Sensenbrenner, if you happen to be gay. It’s what Jesus wants.

If you’re middle or working class, and worried about job security, then it’s probably best not to vote Republican. Sensenbrenner voted No on any assistance provided to you if you lose your job due to jobs being shipped abroad.

And whilst he currently makes headlines trying to appear as if he cares for minorities affected by the recent Supreme Court decision to strike down a key section of the Voting Rights Act; let’s not forget that Jim Sensenbrenner voted Yes to require voters produce a photo ID in Federal elections, voted No on $84 million in grants for struggling Black and Hispanic colleges whilst voting Yes to Federal funding of schools that allow voluntary prayer, and received only 33% approval rating by the NAACP. Jim Sensenbrenner is no supporter of minority rights; be they gay rights, women’s rights, African American rights. He will use the power of government to ensure perpetuated privilege for white, heterosexual, Christian men.

It is of course no surprise that Rolling Stone refer to him as “The Dictator”.

According to the Wall Street Journal, in July 2012 Heaster had about $500 in hand for his campaign, to Sensenbrenner’s staggering $350,000. So the outcome of 32% to 67% was not a shock. Hopefully Heaster can turn those fortunes around in 2014 and defeat the big government, anti-women, anti-minorities, anti-science, anti-children, anti-middle class, pro-Corporate socialism Jim Sensenbrenner.

Vote Dave Heaster for Wisconsin’s 5th Congressional District in 2014.

See here for FD’s focus on Florida’s 2nd, and Illinois’ 13th Congressional Districts.
See here for FD’s focus on West Virginia’s 2nd, and Colorado’s 6th Congressional Districts.
See here for FD’s focus on California’s 1st, and California’s 25th Congressional Districts.


The Republican Party: From Lincoln to Romney.

August 26, 2013

Lincoln_O-60_by_Brady,_1862

“I see in the near future a crisis approaching that unnerves me and causes me to tremble for the safety of my country. . . . corporations have been enthroned and an era of corruption in high places will follow, and the money power of the country will endeavor to prolong its reign by working upon the prejudices of the people until all wealth is aggregated in a few hands and the Republic is destroyed.”
— President Abraham Lincoln, Nov. 21, 1864

“Corporations are people, my friend… of course they are.”
– Mitt Romney, 2012.

There is a rather neat simplicity in Republican circles that insists upon the populace, that the Republican Party of the 21st Century, is a continuation of the Republican Party of President Lincoln. In 2010, Christine O’Donnell, running for Senate seat for Delaware, was one of those running for Congress, asserting that the Republican Party that she belonged to, was the Party of Lincoln. It is as if they believe that had Abraham Lincoln, or Teddy Roosevelt (another name often used to link the GOP to its roots) existed today, they would find a similar Republican Party – in tone, and in policy – to the GOP they left behind, when in fact the history of the Republican Party renders it a completely separate entity from its late 19th early 20th Century counterpart.

It isn’t difficult to draw parallels between Texan Governor Rick Perry’s subtle call for secession, on the re-election of President Obama, shouting States Rights, to the same calls upon the election of President Lincoln in 1860 and the same States demanding secession, shouting States Rights (the Civil War was never about States Rights, as I point out in a previous article here).

Indeed, had Lincoln lived today, I would go as far as to say that the Republican Right might categorise him as a liberal who should be opposed at every opportunity. It would be the Republicans calling for secession. The GOP in 2013 is simply anti-government intervention for the most vulnerable. It is a fundamentalist position. It does not take into account context, or indeed, facts.

In contrast, President Lincoln was not anti-government intervention. Far from it, he pressed for state sponsored subsidies for railway building, canal building, road building amongst other Federally financed projects – a stimulus, as you may call it today. A vast swarm of States at the time – including Maine, Iowa, Minnesota, Maryland, Kentucky – had State constitutional bans on Federal subsidies for infrastructure. In fact, it was such a contentious issue splitting the progressive, Government-spending attitude of Lincoln’s northern Republicans with the Democrats in the South, that the Confederate Constitutional Drafters included the particularly conservative, anti-Federal clause:

“… neither this, nor any other clause in the Constitution shall ever be construed to delegate the power to Congress to appropriate money for any internal improvements intended to facilitate commerce”

– The Confederacy – with logic similar to today’s Republicans – considered internal improvements to be a matter for the individual states, not the Federal government. Lincoln disagreed. To the South, Lincoln was the very epitome of the power of central Federal government. Lincoln believed the Federal government to be a force for good.

In 1862, the Lincoln Administration signed into law, the Revenue Act. What this did, was to create the Commissioner of Internal Revenue; the IRS. Furthermore, the law created the USA’s first ever progressive income tax. If your annual income was less than $600, you paid nothing. If your income was greater than $10,000, you paid 5% (this was increased to 10% in the Revenue Act of 1864). It was designed to aid those who couldn’t afford to pay, whilst placing an increasing burden on those who could most afford to. For its time, this was an incredibly progressive step. We can contrast this today to Republicans in – for example – Wisconsin, who are currently pushing for a State flat tax, that independent analysis suggests is simply a massive tax cut for the wealthiest, whilst increasing the burden on the most vulnerable. The exact opposite of the Lincoln plan.

But it isn’t only Lincoln. Republicans will also mention their party’s ties to Teddy Roosevelt. “We’re the Party of Lincoln & Roosevelt!” is the cry from the Republican faithful. And yet, it is difficult to find any similarities between the Republican Party of 1901 – 1909, and the Republican Party in 2013. For example, in the 2012 campaign, Romney set himself up as the anti-union candidate. For Romney, unions were the problem. They hampered corporate power (the corporate power Lincoln – and in fact, Jefferson – were fearful of). For Romney, any legislation that empowered working people over the managerial classes, was only going to create bigger economic problems. This is no surprise given that when Romney was in control of Bain Capital, his company took over Marion, Ind, laid off one fifth of its workers, sharply cut health benefits, cut wages, and abolished its retirement plan. Romney got rich, by hammering working people into the ground, destroying unions, and fostering poverty.

By contrast Teddy Roosevelt supported United Mine Workers, when they went on strike in 1902 for higher wages and better conditions. The Republican President’s support for unions led UMW to a pay increase, for less hours. This, a year after Roosevelt delivered a speech to Congress demanding the curbing of power of large corporations, earning him the title of ‘Trust Buster’. He then signed into law the Meat Inspection Act making it illegal for a label to be misleading, and banned harmful chemicals. With his trust busting, and his dedication to food safety, Monsanto’s abuses certainly wouldn’t have lasted very long. To today’s Republicans, Teddy Roosevelt is far more to the left, than President Obama.

Moreover, Theodore Roosevelt wished to regain the Presidency in 1912, from his Republican ally William Taft, whom he now distrusted and considered anti-progressive. Failing to do so, Roosevelt then went about setting up the very short lived Progressive Party. The Progressive Party proposed the following; strict regulations on campaign contributions (Senate Minority Leader in 2013, Mitch McConnell has very good reason to oppose campaign finance reform; his loyalties lie entirely with big business); A universal healthcare system, proposed 40 years before the British NHS, and still not realised to this day whilst Republicans spend an incredible amount of money on constant repeal-Obamacare votes in the House; Minimum wage for women; social security to provide for the elderly, disabled and unemployed (all threatened by 21st Century Republicans); an inheritance tax (repealed in Indiana by State Republicans in 2012).
Naturally the Progressive Party died horribly, after funding ran dry given that Corporate interests didn’t particularly favour a progressive position. Nevertheless, in 1912, hundreds of progressive Republicans ran for office.

Let us also not forget that whilst the Republican Party today appears to be having a problem appealing to minorities, and giving the impression that it is willing to suppress voting rights of African Americans the moment the Supreme Court struck down a key provision of the 1965 Voting Rights Act; the defining feature of the Ulysses Grant Republican administration, was one of extending voting rights, and progressing civil rights for African Americans. Grant was the first President to sign a Civil Rights Act, in direct conflict with rising anti-civil rights groups in the South.

On the issue of race, it appears to me that the period following the 1876 election, which saw the removal of Federal Troops from the South, allowing Democrats to again mistreat African Americans, lead to Southern Republicans trying to win over those white folk who were naturally drawn to the Democrats, thus we see Republicans actively abandoning the cause of civil rights.

The Democrats had a similar struggle to become the more progressive party we see today. As late as the 1950s we see a Democratic Party that included Hubert Humphrey who strongly advocated a shift in Democrat policy, by including the idea to end racial segregation, at the 1948 Party Platform at the DNC. This moment marks a huge shift for the Democrats. Humphrey took to the DNC floor and demanded that on racial segregation, the Democrats abandon their old position, and:

“…walk into the sunshine of human rights.”

– As Humphrey was making his way through the Democratic ranks, forging new ideas for the Party, another Democrat – Strom Thurmond – was actively fighting the change. Thurmond supported Jim Crow, and segregation. This split eventually lead to Thurmond joining the Republicans, and supporting Nixon’s vastly racist southern strategy. It is incredible to note than in less than a century, the Republican Party went from passing the 13th, 14th & 15th Amendments, reconstruction, and pioneering the way to bring African Americans into politics….. to supporting, and violently enforcing racial segregation. The Eisenhower Republicans of the 1950s, were completely different to the Lincoln Republicans of the 1850s.

By the 1960 election, we see a clear shift of powerful rhetoric, defining what the Democrats now stood for. Less than 100 years after the end of the Civil War, the Democrats were now firmly the party of the progressives, the heirs to Lincoln and Roosevelt. We see this, with Kennedy’s nomination acceptance speech in New York:

“If by a “Liberal” they mean someone who looks ahead and not behind, someone who welcomes new ideas without rigid reactions, someone who cares about the welfare of the people — their health, their housing, their schools, their jobs, their civil rights, and their civil liberties — someone who believes we can break through the stalemate and suspicions that grip us in our policies abroad, if that is what they mean by a “Liberal,” then I’m proud to say I’m a “Liberal.” ”

– This could easily be repeated in 2013, and the same lines of division between liberal and conservative, Democratic and Republican, would apply.

The Republicans we see today started to crop up around the time of the Roosevelt New Deal era, having been stirring for around the previous 60+ years since the end of Reconstruction. According to Nancy Weiss in “Farewell to the Party of Lincoln: Black Politics in the Age of FDR” writes:

“Roosevelt and the New Deal changed the voting habits of black Americans in ways that have lasted to our own time.”

– For a number of years before the New Deal, both Parties were promising some sort of help for the most vulnerable, via the enlarging of Federal Government. The northern Democrats of the Roosevelt era knew fully that the Great Depression gave them the opportunity to reconstitute the entire Democratic Platform. It is only during the New Deal era that the Republicans start becoming the Party of small government, and pressing ahead with much more racially divisive ideas. It is around this time too, that the Republicans start to become involved far more with the Christian Right. President Lincoln did not advertise his religious beliefs, and often questioned Christian dogma. Not as much as Jefferson, but certainly enough to render him the devil in the eyes of a fundamentalist like Rick Santorum.

The name “The Republican Party” is empty & meaningless for the sake of recalling its history. It is the attitudes – conservative or progressive – inclinations, beliefs and policies that form a Party, not its name. The big business, anti-progressive, anti-welfare, rabid obsession with small government fundamentalist vision of the Republican Party in 2013, cannot be identified in any way with the early Republican Administrations, and certainly not with that of Theodore Roosevelt. The Democrats & Republicans of the 19th Century are in no way comparable to their 21st Century counterparts. It is important to point our the complete 180 degree turn the Republicans & Democrats have gone through over the past 150+ years, when confronted with those who claim that today’s GOP is the “Party of Lincoln!“.

21st Century progressivism is the natural heir to the 19th and 20th Century progressivism of Lincoln and Roosevelt.


An American History.

July 22, 2013

The narrative of the history of America that most of us have rolling around in our minds is rather simple; Columbus crossed the Atlantic, found America in 1492, slave owning colonies cropped up, the Native Indians were less advanced, lived in teepees, and were eventually wiped out, before George Washington, Thomas Jefferson and a few others broke free from the British Empire (or as right winged Americans like to inform me regardless of the debate; “that time we kicked your ass“). But the history of America, and specifically, what we’re taught, is far different, far more astonishing, at times unexpected and complex, and has far more twists than we could ever expect. Here are three largely unknown, yet vastly intriguing stories from American history:

Columbus didn’t discover America. Native Americans discovered Europe.
It would seem that the Anglo-Saxon, Euro-centric view of the the beginnings of the relationship between “us”, and the Natives in America is entirely misinformed. According to a new theory, it seems two Native American ships left Canada, and headed toward Scandinavia, ending up ship wrecked just off the coast of Holland….. in 60bc.
To put that into perspective; Jesus was 60 years from being born, there was no Catholic Church, there was no state of Spain, or England, or Italian States like the Republic of Genoa in which Columbus would be born around 1,500 year later, Julius Caesar was not widely known, Augustus had not been born, the Colosseum hadn’t yet been built, and there was to be no such thing as the ‘Empire’ of Rome, for another 35 years.

In 1470, twenty-two years before Columbus makes his voyage, two Native Americans washed up on Galway Bay in Ireland. We know this, because it was recorded in writing… by Christopher Columbus. In the margins of his copy of Piccolomini’s Historia Rerum, Columbus wrote:

“People from Kayato came toward the East. We saw many notable things, and specifically in Galway, Ireland, a man and his wife. A man and a woman with two logs dragged by storm. A superb creature”.

– Naturally, Columbus thought they had sailed from China, given that he had no idea America existed. But this is clear evidence from Columbus himself, that people that were not from Europe, and had came from the East, landed in Ireland, twenty-two years before Columbus headed west. ‘…With two logs’ is also significant, given that it would suggest Columbus didn’t know what to call it. It wasn’t a boat he’d seen before, but it corresponds perfectly to the hollowed out wood for boats used by Native Americans at the time.

Europe didn’t “discover” the Americas. The Americas were populated with great cities, explorers, wonders, commerce, colonists, government, constitutions, and far more people lived in what would become the US and Canada, at the time, than in Europe. It was they, who discovered Europe.

African-American free men, owned African-American slaves.
Andrew Durnford was one of Mississippi’s most successful plantation owners. His best friend, was John McDonogh, the wealthiest man in Louisiana. Schools in New Orleans still bear McDonogh name. McDonogh’s friend, Andrew Durnford, built his successful plantation using slave power. When he first bought the plot of land from McDonogh, he also bought twelve adult slaves, and two child slaves, to undertake the heavy work of building a sugar plantation. He was notably vicious in his treatment of his slaves. He also happened to be black.

In 1830, over 12,000 African-American slaves, were owned by almost 4,000 African-American free men. Slaveholding was a class unto itself, and by 1830, everyone – white & black – strove to be included in the privileged slaveholding class. This included a number of African-American free men.

It is true, that most African-Americans who owned slaves, did so out of benevolence. Most were family members, bought by newly freed African-American ex-slaves, who wished to protect their family. But a few African-Americans owned slaves for economic reasons. Durnford was one of them. As was Richard Holloway. Holloway lived in Charleston. He owned a slave called ‘Sarah’, along with her two children ‘Annett’ and ‘Edward’. After three years, Holloway – instead of freeing Sarah and her children – sold the family for $945, making around $400 profit on what he originally paid for them. For Holloway – African American – owning African-Americans as slaves was not an issue of race, it was an economic investment. Self interest. Slaves were a product to be bought and sold. Andrew Durnford similarly justified his ownership of slaves, with:

“Self interest is too strongly rooted in the bosom of all that breathes the American atmosphere. Self interest is a la mode.”

– Instead of trying to help to overthrow the system that undoubtedly held his ancestors back so horrendously, Durnford, Holloway, and many more chose to embrace the system, and to use it for his economic advantage.

The unspoken inspiration for the US Constitution.
As independence for the colonies drew close, the question of how to form a government became hot. The obvious inspiration for a democratic (at least, democratic for that particular time period) system ahead of a Monarchy comes from the desire to be free from British rule. The obvious inspiration for a a secular system based on inalienable rights comes from the Enlightenment thinking of time; Locke, Rousseau, Paine. But how to link together sections of land and populations vastly separated from north to south? What distinctive inspiration could be used to bind those people together? Well, it seems the Founders may have found inspiration in the local Native population.

The Iroquois were a loose collection of six Nations, under Confederation. They comprised the Seneca, Cayuga, Oneida, Onondaga, Tuscarora, and the Mohawk. They referred to themselves as ‘Haudenosaunee’ meaning ‘People of the longhouse’, which for the Natives, meant several nations, living together, under one house. Each nation lived differently from the others, with different cultural norms, and different languages, yet came together as a government under Confederation, on the basis of cooperation and sharing, noting:

“We bind ourselves together by taking hold of each other’s hands so firmly and forming a circle so strong that if a tree should fall upon it, it could not shake nor break it, so that our people and grandchildren shall remain in the circle of security, peace, and happiness.”

– This new League had a spoken Constitution, ratified close to modern day New York. A model for confederacy of separate nations (or States) already existed, right there, on the doorstep of the Founders. And by new estimates, the Iroquois Confederacy seems to begun as early as the 11th Century. 600 years before the Founding of the United States.
In 1988, Congress passed a resolution noting:

“Concurrent resolution to acknowledge the contribution of the Iroquois Confederacy to the development of the United States Constitution.”

– It was Iroquois leaders such as Canassatego, who urged the States to confederate. In 1744, Canassatego was invited to talk with a delegation in Philadelphia on American and Indian relations. The spokesman for the Iroquois Confederation said:

“Our wise forefathers established Union and Amity between the Five Nations. This has made us formidable; this has given us great Weight and Authority with our neighboring Nations. We are a powerful Confederacy; and by your observing the same methods, our wise forefathers have taken, you will acquire such Strength and power. Therefore whatever befalls you, never fall out with one another.”

– The United States owes much to the system of confederation already established by advanced Iroquois nations, in its founding. Perhaps as much as it owes to John Locke, to Thomas Paine, to the principles of the Enlightenment. The notion of individual rights undoubtedly born out of the minds of philosophers of the Enlightenment. But the premise of separate ‘nations’ working together, under one banner, peaceful and cooperation; came from the Iroquois. Therefore, the Iroquois must share the title of America’s Founding Fathers.

The history of the US is not simple, it isn’t straightforward, it isn’t linear. It is filled with wonderful stories, dark stories, it was a melting pot of ideas as well as people and cultures, it wasn’t a blank slate, and the most widely taught narratives of US history often possess a hidden side that never quite fits the white Euro-centric vision we’re so used to. The history of the US is fascinating. The stories are enlightening. The forgotten figures, without knowing it, would shape the World for the next 250 years.


Trayvon Martin and racism in 21st Century America.

July 15, 2013

The Trayvon Martin murder case has opened up wounds in American social life, that have been poorly bandaged for decades. A young boy, unarmed, confronted by a racist ‘neighbourhood watch’ patrolman with a gun, is confronted simply for ‘looking suspicious’, and is shot to death. The defendant is subsequently acquitted. The defendant, who, apparently cannot understand the difference between someone who is black and committing a crime, and someone who is black and not committing a crime, shoots the man who isn’t, and wasn’t going to commit a crime (I’m almost certain George Zimmerman would not have racially profiled Trayvon Martin that night, had Martin been white), and is acquitted. You would have to suspend all reasonable faculties, and wish away reality, to believe this has no racist connotations. But if you are in doubt here is Zimmerman’s 9/11 call in which he refers to Trayvon Martin as a “fucking coon“.

The privilege afforded to white Americans in everyday social situations, may be less noticeable on the surface, than it perhaps was fifty years ago, but it is still there.

A study by the American economic review between July 2001 and May 2002 entitled “Are Emily and Greg More Employable Than Lakisha and Jamal? A Field Experiment on Labor Market Discrimination.” , found that job applicants with a white sounding name are 50% more likely to be asked back than an applicant with a white sounding name. The researchers sent out 5000 applications in sales, marketing, clerical and customer service positions. The names they used were a mix of white sounding names, and African American sounding names. The report showed that white applicants with stronger resumes than other white applicants received 30% more callbacks, whereas African American applicants with stronger resumes than other African American applicants received just 9% more callbacks. It proved that regardless of credentials, African American applicants were 50% less likely to get a callback than a white applicant.

Another study conducted by Public Policy Polling found that 46% of Mississippi Republicans think interracial marriage should be illegal. Interestingly, Sarah Palin is the favoured candidate among Mississippi Republicans who think interracial marriage should be illegal, by 17 points more than second place. It is of course no surprise that a Tea Party-styled candidate may be favoured among racist voters, given Tea Party rallies tend to include racist overtones.

Several times over the past few years, Palin has been on stage with Ted Nugent. The same Nugent invited to the State of the Union. Rep. Steve Stockman (R) said of Nugent’s invitation to the State of The Union:

“I Am Excited To Have A Patriot Like Ted Nugent Joining Me In The House Chamber To Hear From President Obama.”

– Both Palin’s appearance with Nugent, and Stockman’s insistence that Nugent is a “Patriot”, or a real American that Stockman can respect is rather telling given that Nugent once said that real Americans are:

“Working Hard, Playing Hard, White Motherfucking Shit Kickers Who Are Independent.”

– The seemingly racist Ted Nugent, loved by the Republican Party as a “Patriot” once said of the United States of America:

“I’m beginning to wonder if it would have been best had the South won the Civil War.”

– This is the man the Tea Party faction of the Republican Party embraces as a Patriot. A Confederate racist. So it is no surprise that Sarah Palin supporters in Mississippi would like to see interracial marriage banned.

On a side note, Ted Nugent is an NRA board member. The NRA lobby for ‘Stand your Ground’ laws, the very law that failed Trayvon Martin, and is already appearing to be a law of white privilege. A Federal lawsuit in Georgia in 2012 required Georgia strike down its ‘Stand your Ground’ law, because it didn’t specify what circumstances justified “standing your ground”. According to the lawsuit, courts in Georgia had:

“…accepted the race of a victim as evidence to establish the reasonableness of an individual’s fear in cases of justifiable homicide.”

– What this essentially means is, “I shot him, because I was scared, because he was black“. It is a white privilege defence. Ted Nugent, Confederate, racist, advocate of laws that threaten the lives of innocent African Americans, and according to Republicans; a ‘Patriot’.

Institutional racism – an economic, social, or political structure designed to advance one race to the disadvantage of another – is particularly subtle, and so less noticeable in 21st Century America, than it was 40 years ago, though it still exists. If you are African American, you are three times more likely to be pulled over in your car and searched for drugs than if you’re white, despite the fact that if you’re white, on the few occasions when you are pulled over you are four times more likely to have drugs on you. If you are white and you drive past the police without them pulling you over, you are experiencing the privilege of being white. The war on drugs then, is not a war on drugs, if it were, those statistics would be a hell of a lot different. The war on drugs would go where the drugs actually are, not where the people with dark skin are.

Fox News’s Geraldo blamed Trayvon Martin for his own death, rather creatively:
Geraldo-Rivera-GeraldoRivera-on-Twitter
– Geraldo went on to clarify that:

“What I was trying to do was caution parents that allowing kids to wear hoodies or similar clothing in certain circumstances, particularly if they were minority young men, could be dangerous,”

– I’d say allowing your children to watch a ‘News’ network that pushes the seemingly racist agenda of a particular party, is far more dangerous, and perpetuates the problem in the first place. The danger of wearing a hoody, is the product of Fox News, Republican style politics of fear and division. Fox News: Throwing fuel onto the fire, and then blaming those burning for being too flammable.

Thirteen US States currently completely disenfranchise ex-felons. It is predictable, that this form of voter disenfranchisement disproportionately affects minorities; usually people from poorer minority backgrounds, who have already felt the effects of institutional racism within the school system, health system (The infant mortality rate for African American women was 2.4 times the rate of white women), housing system and justice system. Due to previous convictions, 5.3 million Americans were not allowed to vote in 2004.

In June this year, the conservative lead Supreme Court struck down a key provision of the 1965 Voting Rights Act, allowing States to change their own voting laws. The Voting Rights Act was of utmost importance in the fight against institutional racism, covering those States most affected by institutional racism through voting restrictions: Alabama, Alaska, Arizona, Virginia, Louisiana, Mississippi, Texas, Georgia & South Carolina.
The Act prohibited States from imposing:

“voting qualification or prerequisite to voting, or standard, practice, or procedure … to deny or abridge the right of any citizen of the United States to vote on account of race or color.”

– The Supreme Court struck down Section 4(b) which creates a formula which determines what a State must do to be subject to Section 5, which forces a State to seek approval from the Department of Justice before changing voting rules. Without Section 4(b), there is no Section 5.
Predictably, like a dog pulling on its leash, desperate to break away; within hours of the Supreme Court’s decision, Texas announced it would rush ahead with changing Voting rules. As if Republican Texans had waited decades for this moment. The Texas Attorney General, Greg Abbott announced he would be immediately reinstating the Voter ID rule:

“With today’s decision, the state’s voter ID law will take effect immediately. Photo identification will now be required when voting in elections in Texas.”

– Voter ID costs fall heavily on African American, and Hispanic communities. A hugely disproportionate number of those without photo ID, registered to vote, are Latin American.

The Brennan Center for Justice at New York University found that in the last decade alone, Section 4(b) and Section 5 of the Voting Rights Act, protected minority voters, by striking down 43 attempts to change election rules in the noted States. Between 1982, and 2006, the Justice Department struck down 2,400 state and local voting rule changes. Thanks to voter protection for minorities, the proportion of African Americans registered to vote in Alabama increased from 19% in 1965 to 73% in 2004. The provisions struck down by the conservative majority on the Supreme Court, were working.

Section 2 of the Voting Rights Act was left in place by the Supreme Court. Southern Republicans believe this to be enough to prevent racist policies creeping into the States. Section 2 allows the Federal Government to prosecute any local official introducing racist electoral policies. However, this relies on the victims of the racist electoral policies, pursuing legal action, finding a lawyer, knowing who to contact, where to go. Suddenly, the victims are the ones who must shoulder the burden.

Suppression of minority voters, and playing on race issues, is a key factor in Republican election strategies, and has been for a very long time. Nixon’s Southern Strategy was a way to realign racist voters in the South away from the Democrats, over to the Republicans. Nixon’s strategist Kevin Phillips told the New York Times:

“From now on, the Republicans are never going to get more than 10 to 20 percent of the Negro vote and they don’t need any more than that…but Republicans would be shortsighted if they weakened enforcement of the Voting Rights Act. The more Negroes who register as Democrats in the South, the sooner the Negrophobe whites will quit the Democrats and become Republicans. That’s where the votes are. Without that prodding from the blacks, the whites will backslide into their old comfortable arrangement with the local Democrats.”

– Well, in 2013 Republicans have the racist vote, and so the Voting Rights Act is no longer required to “prod” them over to the GOP, and so the Voting Rights Act is no longer beneficial to Republicans. In 2013 this means, voter ID, trimming down early voting, enforcing long waiting times at voting booths, banning ex-felons from voting, and as was happening in Michigan in 2008; attempting to block people from voting if they turned up to vote still registered to their foreclosed home. These measures are all designed to suppress minority votes. The Republican Party is institutionally racist.

But it isn’t just conservatives that show horrendous racial prejudice. After the Supreme Court struck down Section 4(b) of the Voting Rights Act, Minnesota State Rep. Ryan Winkler, a Democrat tweeted this:

winkler
– An incredibly ironic statement, in that he is referring to Justice Clarence Thomas, an African American, as “uncle Thomas”, a phrase used to describe an African American who betrays his race to win favour from a structure of white privilege. The implication being that Justice Thomas couldn’t possibly have any other reason for opposing Section 4(b), than to suck up to those he must consider to be his white superiors. A second implication being, that African Americans must place their skin tone at the front of all policy considerations, whilst white people can have a multitude of reasons for opposing or supporting particular policy.

Martin’s friend Rachel Jeantel told the court that Trayvon had called her moments before the confrontation with Zimmermand, and had said he was being followed by “some creepy ass cracker“. In an article for The Slate, Craig Pittman says:

“So when Trayvon Martin, who was black, referred to George Zimmerman, a light-skinned Hispanic, as a “cracker,” did he mean it in the “hey, look, it’s a son of the pioneers!” way? Given that the term was modified by the adjective “creepy-ass,” I would have to say no. ”

– The implication being that Martin was the one that introduced racism to the confrontation. It is of course, intensely unimportant given that Zimmerman himself didn’t think to mention this, and so it didn’t actually figure in his decision to confront Trayvon. If Martin did use ‘cracker’, of course it was meant in a racial sense. The fact remains that had Zimmerman not racially profiled, and followed Martin in the first place (the introduction of confrontational racism into the situation), then the term ‘cracker’ (used by Martin in this context, whilst trying to walk away from Zimmerman) would not have been used. Zimmerman introduced racism, and very confrontational racism, into the equation. Any ensuing racism on the part of Trayvon Martin, can only be considered secondary, and completely unimportant to the case, after the fact that Zimmerman had already racially profiled him. The racism that lead to the death of unarmed, innocent Trayvon Martin was on the part of armed, racist George Zimmerman, and no one else.

Trayvon Martin was followed and stopped, because he was black. George Zimmerman – despite his previous appearances in court for domestic violence, battery, speeding and alcohol abuse – will never have to experience that level of profiling. At night, in the street, he is presumed innocent. Trayvon Martin, on account of his skin colour, was presumed guilty. Racism is a social structure, not simply an individual revealing private prejudices.

Those who insist that white privilege is no more, that racism is dead, that a framework built on race-based power is a relic of the past, are the very conservatives on the Supreme Court, and the ruling Republicans in Southern States who stand to gain the most from perpetuating racism and white privilege. America has an institutional racism problem, whose weakly applied bandage is slowly peeling away.


Republican Round-up

July 6, 2013

Every week, the extremes of the Republican Party just wont go away. Like a christmas gift you really dislike. You didn’t ask for it, but you can’t take it back, or if you did take it back, you’d get home, and it’d be sat on your kitchen table, to your utter horror. There has been a spectacular array of irritating headlines on offer from the Grand Old Party this week. Here is a quick summary of five of those stories, that caught my attention:

Sex Education is for Soviets:
Louie Gohmert (R-TX) isn’t a stranger to over the top, strange statements to back up political points, as we see with his statement on gun control:

And I pointed out, well, once you make it ten, then why would you draw the line at ten? What’s wrong with nine? Or eleven? And the problem is once you draw that limit ; it’s kind of like marriage when you say it’s not a man and a woman any more, then why not have three men and one woman, or four women and one man, or why not somebody has a love for an animal?

There is no clear place to draw the line once you eliminate the traditional marriage and it’s the same once you start putting limits on what guns can be used, then it’s just really easy to have laws that make them all illegal.

– He managed, effortlessly, to link a slippery slope gun control, to a same-sex marriage slippery slope. That’s impressive by any Republican standard. Not least because it contains two fallacies rolled into one. Both his arguments are the equivalent of: “Well you eat chicken meat, so why not eat human meat?” … completely absurd.

But Gohmert’s obsession with sex didn’t end there. This week he made more wondrous statements, this time on the subject of sex education:

“Mankind has existed for a pretty long time without anyone ever having to give a sex-ed lesson to anybody,”

– This could be used to restrict progress in any subject known to man. Mankind existed for years with slavery, so why not reinstate it? Mankind existed for thousands of years without airplanes and cars, so let’s scrap them. Progress is defined by moving from a primitive stage to a more enlightened stage of human existence. Sex-education, according to Gohmert is fine as it is. It’s not necessary to educate our children. I mean, it isn’t like we’ve had millennia of Patriarchy, sexual oppression, with growing numbers of sexually transmitted diseases whilst an old white man’s womb controlling Republican Party continues to push anti-women sentiment, anti-homosexuality sentiment, anti-contraception sentiment, anti-transgendered sentiment, that absolutely leads to sexual discrimination and bullying in school and beyond and perpetual patriarchy. That’s never happened. Why would we need to educate children away from primitive ideas on sex? Thanks Gohmert.

He goes on to inform us about the time he spent in the Soviet Union:

“I was shocked when they were saying ‘no, the children don’t belong to parents, they belong to the state.’ And if any parent said anything in front of their children negative about the wonderful Soviet Union, then we will take their children away and give them to somebody more deserving. And I just thought how horribly shocking that was, that of course parents were the ones who love the children, not the state. And I thought thank God that we don’t have that in our country.”

– Here, he suggested that sex-ed takes responsibility away from the parents, and places it in the hands of the State. I’m not sure why this only applies to sex-ed, and not, say, geography? And there is no comparison. The purpose of sex-ed is to ensure children have all the available information on their bodies, on contraception, on relationships, on their developments, on the risks and so on. It is not the purpose of sex-ed to take children from their parents, if their parents criticise the President.

The Republican Party: The Party of Poverty.
In my previous article I noted the damage inflicted upon the most vulnerable, when Republicans are in control of the State. In it, I point out:

In Mississippi, child poverty rates are at a shocking 32%, one child or teenager is shot and killed every single week, and infant mortality is higher than anywhere in the country. This, as well as around 60,000 uninsured people living in Mississippi, and yet, Republicans in the State have decided to tackle all of these problems…….. by harshly regulating abortion inducing pills, whilst attempting to make it easier to carry a gun in public.

– Not to be outdone, North Carolina’s Governor Pat McCrory will sign off on a plan to strip 71,000 long term unemployed people of their unemployment checks. This comes after cutting weekly unemployment benefits by 35%, and repealing an important tax credit for families on the lowest incomes. The extraordinary move to the economic far right was enabled after the Republicans won both chambers of the General Assembly and the Governorship.

This is all possible, because the moment Governor McCrory was elected, the new official appointed Art Pope as State Budget Chief. It’s no great leap to see how the libertarian Pope managed to secure this position, given that, according to The Institute for Southern Studies, Pope (through groups linked to himself) spent $2.2 million on winning 18 out of 22 legislative battles in North Carolina in 2010, spending three quarters of all spending by independent groups in the State that year. The Governor thanked him, by giving Pope free reign to attack whomever he wished; Punishing those who lost their jobs during the recession, further immiserating the lives of the most vulnerable, North Carolina’s Republicans are really trying to challenge Mississippi’s as the winning poverty State. A State that is now privately owned by Art Pope.

On the subject of North Carolina, lawmakers in the State are currently working to suppress minority voting, after the Supreme Court killed the voting rights act. Their proposals include an end to early voting, same-day registration, and a new provision requiring I.D at the polls. All methods to harshly and disproportionately affect African American voters in North Carolina, who tend to vote Democrat.

The GOPs horrifying War on Women:
In a previous article I referred to a number of attacks over the years on women, committed by GOP lawmakers in their continued war on women. This week, Republican Governor of Wisconsin Scott Walker took it one step further. Walker signed into law a Bill that forces a woman who wishes to have an abortion, to have a transvaginal ultrasound, for no medical purpose, whether they want it or not. Walker is quite literally asking for Republican politics to be inserted into a woman. Talia Frolkis, a young pro-choice activist in Wisconsin said:

“That’s part of the reason this is so important to me. It is a violation. It is unnecessary penetration, and for some women who are seeking abortions because they’ve been violated already, it’s just going to repeat the trauma.”

– The anti-women attacks by the Republican Party are becoming darker by the day. They are a Party that believe it less intrusive to insist on a vaginally probing a rape victim, than checking the credentials of would-be gun owners. Nothing says “small government” like a Republican Governor insisting that pregnant women have a piece of metal inserted into them without their full approval. Every time a woman in Wisconsin is forced to undergo a transvaginal ultrasound without medical reason, and without her actually wanting to undergo it….. Scott Walker and the Republicans of Wisconsin should be guilty in all of our eyes of sexual assault.

Beware, the ‘Rabid Radical Homosexual Activist Movement’.
Republican nominee for lieutenant governor of Virginia, E.W Jackson is angry this week that his comments on homosexuality have been taken out of context. To recap, in the past Jackson said:

“Their minds are perverted, they’re frankly very sick people psychologically, mentally and emotionally and they see everything through the lens of homosexuality. When they talk about love they’re not talking about love, they’re talking about homosexual sex.”

“Homosexuality is a horrible sin, it poisons culture, it destroys families, it destroys societies; it brings the judgment of God unlike very few things that we can think of… It’s an authoritarian, totalitarian spirit.”

– Usually, ambiguity leads to words being taken out of context. The “their minds are perverted, they’re frankly very sick people” and “Homosexuality is a horrible sin, it poisons families, it destroys culture” lines don’t scream ambiguity to me. So, we should really see why Jackson believes his words were taken out of context, and what he really meant. I’m sure we’ll all be surprised by his declarations of love, and compassion:

“I don’t believe that there’s any second-class citizens in Virginia. I don’t treat anybody any differently because of their sexual orientation. But I do think that the rabid, radical homosexual activist movement is really trying to fundamentally change our culture and redefine marriage and do a number of things that I just think are not good at all.”

– In essence, what he’s done here, is cloaked his inherent homophobia behind more creative – but just as unambiguous – language. He’s rephrased the words that were ‘taken out of context‘ to appear less brutal on the surface. He has clearly been told “probably don’t say words like ‘poison’ and ‘they’re frankly very sick’ “. And so he’s omitted the blatantly vicious rhetoric, with slightly more subtle but equally as vicious rhetoric.

In the past, Jackson has suggested that Medicaid is worse than slavery, that LGBT rights groups are worse than the KKK and that President Obama has “Muslim sensibilities“. In summary, E.W Jackson should not be allowed anywhere near a position of power.

Can’t win on merit? Say something that no one has any interest in hearing:
Alison Lundergan Grimes, Democratic Secretary of State of Kentucky has a tough road ahead of her if she is to beat Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell in the 2014 Senate race. McConnell is ruthless, he’s very wealthy, and very negative. He is not a good person. As noted in a previous article, McConnell is loyal to the interests of big business and those who donate to his considerable wealth. In it, I note:

“A couple of years back, McConnell attacked Democrat attempts to prevent foreign companies from financing US public figures and elections. He claimed laws already exist to stop this from happening. He of course failed to mention that existing laws do not prevent foreign corporations with US subsidiaries from channelling money to preferred candidates. This omittance shouldn’t come as too much of a shock, given that McConnell, from 2005 to 2010, received around $21,000 from BAE Systems Inc. BAE Systems Inc is a US subsidiary of the World’s 2nd largest defence contractor, BAE Systems, based in the UK. In 2010, McConnell asked for $17,000,000 of Federal funds to be earmarked for BAE defence improvements, at the exact same time as BAE was under State Department investigation for alleged widespread corruption (including the bribery of public officials). Of course, any link between McConnell’s apparent passion for outspokenly opposing campaign finance regulation from foreign companies who are under investigation for bribing public officials, at the same time as one of them is funding his own campaign – and in fact funding the Mitch McConnell Centre at the University of Louisville to the tune of $500,000 through a subsidiary – is just speculation.”

– Though, McConnell, as of April was only leading Grimes by 4 points according to Public Policy Polling, he is likely to pull out all the dirty tricks at his disposal to make sure he retains his long held seat for the State of Big Business Kentucky. And he’s already begun. Soon after Grimes announced her plans to run against McConnell, his team released this video. Perhaps it might contain his policy plans? Perhaps it might contain his record in office working for Kentuckians? No. Instead, it attacks Grimes, already, for not having a campaign banner and, oddly, having no air conditioning in the room.

Grimes not having air conditioning, pales in comparison to McConnell’s very dirty tricks McConnell has used to ensure Federal dollars keep flooding into the pockets of his donors. McConnell lead all but five Senators, in 2012, to kill the Veteran’s jobs bill, designed to provide training and jobs to Veterans. Similarly in 2012, McConnell lead a Senate filibuster movement to block the “Repeal Big Oil Subsidies Act”, an Act that offers tax breaks to big oil, to the tune of $24bn. Unsurprisingly, McConnell received $131,500 from oil donors in Midland, Texas.
I hope the Grimes team can make issue out of where exactly Mitch McConnell’s loyalties lie.

The Republican platform can be summed up thusly: Those without money have too much and need less. Those with money have too little and need more. Every policy can be attributed to that summation of Republican ideals. The GOP war cry of “Take back America” is sounding more and more like “Take back America….. by about 60 years” every day.


The Reagan Convictions

July 1, 2013

Source: Wikimedia Commons. Author: Michael Evans [Public domain].

Source: Wikimedia Commons.
Author: Michael Evans [Public domain].

Conservatives over in America, in an effort to find any scandal possible to throw at the President, are obsessing daily, still, over the events that lead up to Benghazi. It’s an interesting scandal, because it seems to be one in which those shouting the loudest, are doing so simply to destabilise the President, rather than caring too deeply for those affected by the horrendous tragedy in Benghazi. I would hazard a guess that most cannot name the victims. It is used simply as an excuse to call for secession, or impeachment, or casting out demons, or any other craze the far-right in the US has decided to cling onto today.

And yet, ask most right winged, angry Americans who the greatest President of all time was, and most will say Ronald Reagan. Some will note President Lincoln, others may say Thomas Jefferson. Both of whom are examples of Presidents who overstepped Constitutional executive power, both increased the size of government, and Jefferson especially was incredibly anti-Capitalism (as I note here, in my article on Jefferson, and the Tea Party). So it is of no surprise, that the Reagan Presidency is also a rather hypocritical Presidency to be particularly fond of, if you’re a right winged American. Reagan’s Presidency was perhaps the most corrupt in living memory. And here is why:

President Reagan’s Deputy Chief of Staff at the White House, Michael Deaver was convicted in 1987 of committing perjury in statements submitted to a Congressional subcommittee and then grand jury, in relation to his secret lobbying activities within the administration. He was sentenced to three years, later reduced to probation for three years and a $100,000 fine, along with 1,500 hours of public service.

Reagan’s National Security Advisor, Robert McFarlane was imprisoned in 1990 and fined $20,000 for his part in the Iran-Contra affair in ’86, in which the Reagan Administration ignored the arms embargo on Iran, and initiated the selling of weapons. The money gained through sales would then be slyly diverted to help train and fund the violent contra’s in Nicaragua; a group that had been struck off the US funding list, by Congress in ’82 and ’84. But of course, McFarlane’s clear corruption and overstepping of Federal executive power, was ignored when President Bush – another Republican – pardoned him in 1992.

In 1982, Reagan appointed California State Republican Rita Lavelle to the position of assistant administrator of the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency for solid waste and emergency response. She was in control of around $1.5bn to be used for chemical spills and hazardous waste. She was convicted in 1984 of lying to Congress, over her misuse of the $1.5bn fund. She served three months, paid a $10,000 fine, and was place on probation for five years.
In 2005, Lavelle was convicted again, this time of wire fraud, and making false statements to the FBI, in relation to forged documents and trying to defraud another company out of $36,000.

The 43rd United States Secretary of the Interior, appointed by President Reagan in 1981, was James Watt. He held the record (until a President W Bush appointee) of protecting the fewest endangered species on the list, in US history. In 1995 Watt was indicted on 25 counts of perjury and obstruction of justice for giving false statements to a grand jury during an investigation into Department of Housing and Urban Development influence peddling, of which Watt lobbied in the 1980s. He plea bargained, paid a $5000 fine, five years probation, and ordered to give 500 hours of community service.

Five years after nominating Rita Lavelle, and whilst Secretary of the Interior was running up his record of caring little for endangered species, Reagan nominated another dubious character, to Assistant Secretary of Housing and Urban Development. Deborah Gore Dean was convicted by jury of accepting an illegal gratuity, on three counts of trying to defraud the Federal Government, on four counts of perjury. She was eventually sentenced on the first two conspiracy counts and ordered to pay $2,500 for each.

President Reagan’s Defence Secretary Caspar Weinberger was fully pardoned by President Bush before he could stand trial for two counts of perjury and one count of obstructing justice for his role in Iran-Contra. He was responsible for selling Hawk missiles to Iran.

John Poindexter, another National Security Advisor, was convicted in 1990 on five charges of lying to Congress by obstructing Congressional investigations into Iran-Contra. His conviction was later overturned due only to the wording of the case against him. President George W Bush later recalled Poindexter to head up DARPA Information Awareness Office. He eventually retired, after proposing a market for future contracts, based on predicting events (such as assassinations) in the Middle East. Former Senator Byron Dorgan said of the idea of the idea:

“The idea of a federal betting parlor on atrocities and terrorism is ridiculous and it’s grotesque.”

Another President Reagan appointee, and President Bush pardonee, is Elliott Abrams. Quite horrifically, Abrams was Reagan’s Assistant Secretary of State for Human Rights and Humanitarian Affairs, whilst Human Rights Watch and Amnesty accused Abrams of covering up human rights offences in Latin America. This can be noted, when in 1993, the UN’s Commission on the Truth for El Salvador found that 5000 civilians were rounded up and executed in 1981, whilst being supported by the US. Prior to the ruling, when reports were hitting the US press of executions in El Salvador in the 1980s, Abrams said the reports were misleading, and left wing propaganda.
So good at this position of covering up Reagan’s funding of human rights violators and terrorists, that he was later promoted to Assistant Secretary for Inter-American Affairs. In this role, he was 100 hours community service for his role in Iran-Contra. President Bush Sr pardoned him. President Bush Jr promoted Abrams to Special Assistant to the President and Senior Director for Democracy, Human Rights, and International Operations at the National Security Council just after taking office in 2001. This is about seven years before Sarah Palin continuously attacked President Obama for “palling up to terrorists” for once maybe having spoken briefly to Bill Ayers. Republican hypocrisy at its finest.

The list goes on; Catalina Vasquez Villalpando, Silvio D. DeBartolomeis, Joseph A. Strauss, Anne Gorsuch Burford, Thomas Demery.

It isn’t just President Reagan’s administration that was deeply corrupt, violent, extreme, and criminal; it was the next Republican President also. President Bush is guilty of pardoning criminal after criminal, simply because he could. They were not treated to the same level of justice that ordinary American citizens are treated to. They were considered above the law, by their powerful friend in the White House. President George W Bush brought a couple of them back into political life. Republican sleaze. If this had all happened in 2013, under President Obama; I dare say Glenn Beck would be holding “Throw Obama in Prison” rallies whilst drawing parallels to Stalin and lack of Jesus in schools; Fox News would be indecipherable through the sound of daily venomous rage; calls for secession because the President is “destroying America” would be even more irritatingly loud; and Congressional Republicans would be trying to impeach at every possible second. Instead, the most aggressively corrupt administration in US history, is ironically, the administration of the conservative hero, President Reagan. Big government wasn’t the problem. Reagan-style government was, and is the problem.


The Confederacy and Britain

June 28, 2013

mkwary

Hatfield House in Hertfordshire boasts a very English interior, accompanied by a beautiful garden. It is owned by former leader of the opposition in the House of Lords, Robert Gascoyne-Cecil, 7th Marquess of Salisbury. It has been in the Cecil family since the 17th Century. Among its occupants was former Prime Minister, Robert Cecil. And in Hatfield House, remains a painting of Cecil’s hero; Confederate General Thomas ‘Stonewall’ Jackson.

June 1861. Two months had passed since secession and skirmish turned into full blow civil war as the shots rang out through Fort Sumter. Three months earlier, civil war was a possibility, but not a reality. Federal buildings had fallen into Confederate hands without a declaration of war, and though supplies to the Fort had been prevented by the odd skirmish out of South Carolina, it was not enough to provoke all out conflict. That all changed as President Lincoln took the initiative to begin hostilities whilst putting that particular ball firmly in the Confederate court by letting the Confederacy know that he was indeed going to reinforce Sumter, but not violently, and that war would be initiated if supplies were prevented from reaching the Fort. Reinforcing Sumter was of course provocative after the previous unsuccessful attempts in January 1861, and Lincoln knew it’d end violently, but it would be the Confederacy that fired the first shot after a tense stand off, and so appearing to be the aggressors.

James Bulloch arrived in Liverpool, England, two months after the attack on Fort Sumter and the beginning of the United States Civil War. His job; Chief Foreign Agent of the Confederate States of America. His task; to procure British ships in order to aid the Confederacy. His name is unknown to most, but his influence kept the Confederacy going, shook President Lincoln’s confidence, and almost brought Britain into the conflict on the side of the Confederacy. The Union State Department Officials referred to Bulloch as “the most dangerous man in Europe“.

Lincoln knew that sympathy in the UK for the Confederacy was intricately linked to high flying members of the British establishment (though, class doesn’t seem to play too high a part in support for either side). He sent a letter of thanks to Manchester workers who issued a proclamation of support for the Union. A statue of Lincoln now resides in Manchester. Lincoln thus played a very cautious game with the British. He was up against members of the Palmerstone government with obvious sympathy and suspect ties to the Confederacy, as well as newspapers such as the Glasgow Gazette and Manchester Weekly Budget. It’s true that most MPs and Lords and in fact, people in general, distrusted both sides.

President Lincoln thus sent Charles Francis Adams as United States Ambassador to Great Britain. Adams was the grandson of President John Adams, and son of President John Quincy Adams, and thus, had a degree of notoriety in the UK. He was tasked with making it abundantly clear to Great Britain, that with British possessions scattered all over the World, and US power increasing, that Britain should be careful about recognising the Confederacy, or sending ships to the Confederacy, or any other policy that could “set a dangerous precedent“. Washington was worried. Eduard de Stoeckl, the Russian Minister to Washington expected Britain to declare for the Confederacy at any moment, stating:

“The Cabinet of London is watching attentively the internal dissensions of the Union and awaits the result with an impatience which it has difficulty in disguising.”

Adams was worried, by 1862, that the British were considering brokering a peace deal between the North and South. Adams further worried, that brokering peace, meant offering concessions to the South.

Great Britain was officially neutral during the Civil War. It was in Britain’s interest not to throw its lot in with either side. Unofficially, there were those in high places handing out favours to both sides. Companies in the UK took advantage of the US civil war. Whilst it’s true that the Confederacy, despite its lack of strong industrial base that the North had, managed to produce some impressive arms, they also imported much from Britain. Especially rifles. It’s suggested that around 900,000 rifles were imported between 1861-1865, almost all made in Enfield.

Bulloch took advantage of this, knowing that British companies noted a brand new war market. He engaged with a company in Liverpool called Fraser, Trenholm Company; a large shipping company specialising in buying – and thus, bankrolling – the Confederate cotton industry, located in a rather unimpressive part of Liverpool close to the Thistle Hotel. From the offices of Fraser, Trenholm, Bulloch managed to purchase the CSS Alabama, despite British neutrality. CSS Alabama was built in secret though the Prime Minister knew, in Birkenhead. Bulloch managed to sneak Alabama out of Liverpool, and over to the the Confederacy, though the ship never docked in any Confederate port. For the next couple of years, it managed to raid 450 Union vessels, burn 65 Union merchant ships, and take 2000 prisoners. CSS Alabama (along with other ships out of Liverpool, including the CSS Shenandoah) was key to the Confederate war effort. It is also notable that Prime Minister Palmerstone most probably knew that the ship was headed for the Confederacy, and yet, he still let it depart pleading ignorance to where it was headed. Following the war, the US claimed damages for the destruction caused by the Alabama. Senator Sumner (a radical abolitionist) wished the claim to include the Canada becoming a part of the USA. In the end, the matter was settled for $15.5m.

In 1862, William Gladstone, then Chancellor under the Prime Ministership of Palmerstone, angered both his boss, and Queen Victoria with a speech made in Newcastle, in which he stated:

“….there is no doubt that Jefferson Davis and other leaders of the South have made an Army; they are making, it appears, a Navy; and they have made — what is more than either — they have made a Nation.”

– It is also rumoured that Gladstone had purchased Cotton bonds from the Confederacy also. It was a great deal at the time. Jefferson Davis policy was to hold back cotton from Europe, because he believed Britain especially was so reliant on Southern cotton, that they’d eventually have no choice but to back the Confederacy. And so, whilst holding back cotton, the South tried to strengthen their position by attracting European investors for such a sought after product in purposely short supply. Bankers from Paris were involved in the underwriting of cotton bonds – floating a loan of $3,000,000, redeemable in cotton at sixpence a pound – secretly authorised by the Confederate Congress in order to raise funds for arms. As Britain remained neutral, Gladstone appeared to be both a vocal supporter of Jefferson Davis, and a financier of the Confederate cause.

Another subscriber to the Confederate cotton loan program was John Arthur Roebuck, the Liberal MP from Sheffield. His reasons for supporting the Confederacy, like Gladstone, seem to be entirely related to profiting from the cotton loan program. It is no shock then that Roebuck was a member of the UK’s Southern Independence Association, and that he raised a motion in Parliament for the House of Commons to officially recognise the independence of the Confederacy. Roebuck, in proposing full recognition of the Confederacy, also strongly advocated sending arms and aid to the rebels. Roebuck overstepped the mark, perhaps delivering the biggest blow to the Confederate cause in the UK, on his visit to France in order to try to convince Napoleon III to support the Confederate cause. Roebuck returned to England insisting that the French Emperor had agreed to recognise the rebel States. This was a fabrication. The Emperor had completely rejected to idea. The fabrication was soon discovered, and used to ridicule Roebuck’s cause. The Confederate offensive in the UK Parliament, had been dealt its deathblow. A Confederate agent in Britain, Henry Hotze, charged with helping to lead the cause for recognition noted after the withdrawal of Roebuck’s motion:

“All hope of Parliamentary action is past. Diplomatic means can no longer avail. Everybody looks to Lee to conquer recognition.”

– At around this time, sympathy for the Confederate cause in Britain was drying up.

Colonel John Lewis Peyton of Virginia was sent to Britain in 1861, sent with instructions to buy arms for the Confederacy. He docked at Southampton, and resided in Jermyn Street, adjacent to Piccadilly in Westminster. He quickly became a member of Pall Mall’s Reform Club – a club that still runs today and boasts members such as Prince Charles and former Mi5 Director General, Stella Rimington. Peyton managed to secure a deal worth 1760 Enfield rifles which reached Confederate troops in South Carolina, in 1862.

One of London’s most famous Confederate guests was Matthew Fontaine Murray. His bust currently resides at the ‘Hall of Fame for Great Americans’ in New York City. His statue presides in Richmond Virginia. Murray was a great oceanographer, nicknamed ‘the pathfinder of the seas’, a wonderful astrologer, and great navy man. He landed in Liverpool, with his son, in November 1862, met with Bulloch, and then onto London to advance the Confederate cause. He made lasting friendships with high members of British society including Lord Wrottesley and Roberts Fitzroy, the captain of HMS Beagle, of Charles Darwin fame. Along with a distant cousin, Murray worked to establish ties that would supply the Confederates with support, and arms, whilst trying to give credit to their cause by mixing with those of important standing.

Peyton and Murray were just two of many agents sent to London, and other parts of England, to mix with high ranking officials, to use cotton bonds for funds and arms used to kill Union soldiers and prolong a vicious civil war. Confederate operations in London, were extensive; this included the business World, the journalism World, and deep inside the corridors of power in Parliament and Whitehall. John D Bennett, in his book “The London Confederates” notes of the South’s agents in England:

“For four years their efforts helped the Confederacy maintain its armies in the field; and without them the South would almost certainly have been defeated much earlier.”

A small Confederate community began to occupy Royal Leamington Spa in Warwickshire – and about 30 minutes from my house – including Major Norman Stewart Walker, a Confederate officer, who was sent to Britain with Confederate bonds to buy arms. Another visitor to the Royal Leamington Spa Confederate community, was youngest officer on board the CSS Alabama, Irvine Bulloch; whose nephew went on to become President of the United States; Theodore Roosevelt. James Murray Mason – grandson of George Mason known as the “father of the Bill of Rights” – stayed in Leamington Spa, sent by Jefferson Davis himself, to try to win over the British by appealing to the necessity for cotton. Writing to Confederate Secretary of State Judah Benjamin about the town, he remarked on the:

“…large circle of Confederates in this retired town”

– Thus, the town has a unique history in Britain with its links to the Confederacy. Many more Confederate agents were sent to Britain to procure arms, investment and support for the Confederate cause, knowing the CSA had quite a strong presence already.

The Confederate agents didn’t stand too much of a chance of succeeding in bringing Britain over to their corner. Loss of US grain supply, war with the US, potential loss of Canada, a rise in tariffs and risking aggravating large groups of pro-Union working class Brits, especially in the North, was too big a risk for the British to take for very little return.

Agents of the Confederate States of America flooded the shores of Britain during the war, in order to secure weapons and aid for the Confederate war effort, and whilst Britain publicly remained neutral and showed very little desire to recognise the Confederacy on an international state level; in private many of the country’s high ranking members of society gladly aided the Confederacy in big, and small ways. Wealthy Brits saw the US civil war as a great time to profit from death. This makes Britain – specifically in relation to keeping the Confederacy armed and dangerous, in which hundreds of thousands died – intrinsically linked to the attempts to both perpetuate and nationalise African American slavery in the US, far more so than most Brits care to admit.


Bad Day for Bigots III: DOMA Struck Down.

June 26, 2013

Cheers rang out across America today. Firstly, the wonderful filibuster in the Texas State Senate by Senator Wendy Davis, defeating the anti-women bill, and secondly, the Supreme Court has just struck down The Defence of Marriage Act as unconstitutional, 17 years after President Clinton signed it into law. Most recognise the incredible step forward for human equality and progress and the right to love that SCOTUS has affirmed today. Predictably, certain people were not too pleased with the ruling. I thought I’d post some of my favourite right winged meltdowns from the World of social media. And what better place to start than Fox News:

twitter-starnes-20130626-DOMAgod
– This overly dramatic nonsense is brought to you by Fox News’ Todd Starnes, who seems to be under the impression that his definition of ‘God’ has the right to legislate, in a secular democracy. Not only that, but he seems to be complaining, whilst completely clean shaven. This of course being in direct contradiction – or, direct overruling – of God’s law found in Leviticus 19:27. Theocrats tend to ignore Biblical rules not pertaining to discriminating against same-sex couples.

Here are a few of my favourite post-DOMA freakouts:

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– “Becoming Sodom and Gomorrah” (a place that didn’t actually exist) needs to be added to my list of terrible things same-sex marriage will lead to according to conservatives. This list so far includes; marrying your duck, marrying your computer, a lesbian Queen with an artificially inseminated heir, and a US radio DJ vomiting continuously.

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– Another that relies on a Christian interpretation only of the word ‘marriage’. So culturally narrow, and so wrong to impose this one religious concept of marriage on a secular nation. Marriage, of course, has many different definitions throughout history (as I note here). Enshrining a Christian definition only, institutionalising a Christian understanding of marriage, completely shatters the wall between Church and State, and could not be any more anti-constitutional if it tried. Theocracy is not an American value.

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– Massive population losses? Because heterosexual people will all now decide they’re gay?

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– Are the Supreme Court Justices not aware that we should be basing all rational discourse on dust man and rib lady myths? If not, why not?

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– As well as dust man and rib lady myths, why aren’t the Supreme Court framing law around principles of IKEA furniture assembly?

This guy is entertaining all by himself. He appears to be having a homophobic meltdown. One of those “he’s protesting a lot…… perhaps he has something to hide” sort of meltdown:
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And he continues, in a somewhat more flirtatious style:
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– Southern States were pretty overruled in the 1860s too. Are we going to suggest that shouldn’t have been the case? Institutional bigotry is acceptable, if the majority who benefit from it say so? Really? Denying equality under the law based on biological differences like race, or gender, or sexuality, is not a States Rights issue. Conservatives do not get to decide the superiority of one race, or gender, or sexuality. Permitting the same rights that they themselves have always enjoyed, to another group, takes nothing away from their rights. And of course, the repeal of DOMA simply means States now rule on same sex marriage. So, a victory for States Rights as well as equality.

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– Yes! Exactly! You must be exactly what you support. Support women’s suffrage? You must be female. Are you pro-life? You must be a fetus! Support 1960s civil rights movement? You must be a racial minority. Support funding for NASA? You must be an astronaut! That’s how supporting things works.

Here’s a few more overly dramatic, end times tweets to enjoy:

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And my absolute favourite of them all:
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From the bigoted, to the ridiculous, to the incredibly funny, we see that progression, is still met with mind blowing overly dramatic, conservative meltdowns. We should check back with them in a years time to note if any of their marriages have failed due entirely to same-sex marriages, or if Jesus has returned, wrapped in a Confederate flag, unleashing end times on California. Naturally, God will take revenge through right winged commentators, insisting that perfectly natural weather cycles are actually His wrath.

Today is a wonderful day, for liberal, progressive, secular, Constitutional America. It is a wonderful day, for the battle for equality, and natural human rights. But it is a terribly bad day for bigots.

For ‘Bad Day for Bigots’ part I, click here. For Part II, click here.


Buying Mitch McConnell.

June 20, 2013

By United States Senate (http://mcconnell.senate.gov/official_photos.cfm) [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

Mitch McConnell, By United States Senate (http://mcconnell.senate.gov/official_photos.cfm) [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

“The people of the state of Colorado hereby find and declare that large campaign contributions to political candidates create the potential for corruption and the appearance of corruption; that large campaign contributions made to influence election outcomes allow wealthy individuals, corporations, and special interest groups to exercise a disproportionate level of influence over the political process”
– Article XXVIII, Section I, Colorado Constitution.

The Kentucky Republican Kingmaker and Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, is perhaps not a name too many of us are all that familiar with over here in the UK. We may have heard his name banded about occasionally but we really have to delve a little deeper into the murky World of US politics to come across anything of significance, and when we do, we’re presented with a self created ‘maverick’ image of a lone senator willing to be a voice for the Constitutional rights of massive Corporate campaign finance. A worthy cause, I’m sure none of us would agree.

Why, you may ask, does McConnell care so deeply about thwarting any attempts – supported by both Parties at different times – to regulate campaign finance? Well, the Senate Republican filibuster timings, along with McConnell’s own campaign finance, are all rather telling. McConnell’s work blocking legislation at times appears to reflect periods in which he is receiving massive campaign contributions from Corporate titans.

A couple of years back, McConnell attacked Democrat attempts to prevent foreign companies from financing US public figures and elections. He claimed laws already exist to stop this from happening. He of course failed to mention that existing laws do not prevent foreign corporations with US subsidiaries from channelling money to preferred candidates. This omittance shouldn’t come as too much of a shock, given that McConnell, from 2005 to 2010, received around $21,000 from BAE Systems Inc. BAE Systems Inc is a US subsidiary of the World’s 2nd largest defence contractor, BAE Systems, based in the UK. In 2010, McConnell asked for $17,000,000 of Federal funds to be earmarked for BAE defence improvements, at the exact same time as BAE was under State Department investigation for alleged widespread corruption (including the bribery of public officials). Of course, any link between McConnell’s apparent passion for outspokenly opposing campaign finance regulation from foreign companies who are under investigation for bribing public officials, at the same time as one of them is funding his own campaign – and in fact funding the Mitch McConnell Centre at the University of Louisville to the tune of $500,000 through a subsidiary – is just speculation.

So to continue to speculate; according to Oil Change International, McConnell has voted in favour of the big oil companies 100% of the time during the period 2005-2007. In 2011, McConnell decided to push for the extension of the Keystone oil pipeline, by adding it onto the end of a bill designed to extend year-end payroll tax cuts for middle class people and families. Yes. Senate Republicans would vote down tax breaks for struggling people, unless the Obama Administration succumb to Republican demands for the pressing ahead with the Keystone XL oil pipeline. The Senate Republicans insist that they support the pipeline for the sake of American jobs, and energy independence. I’m sure that must be the case. Yes. It can’t possibly be anything to do with the fact that the recipient of the most Oil and Gas contributions in between 2011 and 2012, was Senate Republican Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, racking up an astonishing $583,550. His main contributor, being Exxon Mobil, at $48,000 for that period. In fact, McConnell is the biggest benefactor from Exxon’s generosity in 2011-2012. In 2013, ExxonMobil CEO Rex Tillerson publicly urged the Obama Administration to press ahead with the Keystone pipeline extension. Draw whatever conclusions you so wish.

McConnell is a good friend to big oil. On the actual day of the debate on the so-called “Repeal Big Oil Subsidies Act” – an Act designed to end the tax breaks afforded to the wealthiest oil companies in the World of up to $24bn – in 2012, McConnell received $131,500 from oil donors in Midland, Texas. The Act failed by filibuster. One of many very dubious filibusters promoted by McConnell since the Republicans lost the Senate in 2006. There is no reasonable excuse to filibuster an Act designed to stop unnecessary Federal funds subsidising very wealthy oil companies. A few Republican bloggers insist that the Act is unconstitutional, because it didn’t originate in the House. How desperately naive to believe that’s the point the Senate Minority are most strongly concerned with.

In 2011, the “Close Big Oil Tax Loopholes Act” also failed in the Senate – an Act which would have closed loopholes for the main oil companies, including Exxon – due to Republican derailing tactics, despite the revenue raised from the closure of loopholes being earmarked for debt reduction, something the GOP seems to be obsessed with, when it suits their electoral chances. McConnell, like every great Republican, managed to appear as if he cared about actual American people and their concerns (the same people, he thinks don’t deserve a tax break extension unless an oil pipeline is built) by saying:

“Clearly, this is not a serious effort to address the price of gas at the pump.”

– As if addressing the price at the pump, is impossible if you close tax loopholes for your corporate donors. Those Senators who voted against closing tax loopholes, allegedly received on average $370,664 from big oil, compared to $72,145 for those Senators who voted against. Again, draw whatever conclusions you so wish.

Harking back a couple of paragraphs, I wish to reiterate that McConnell and Senate Republicans in general argued that the Keystone XL pipeline, would create real jobs for Americans. This is one of their main arguments. It’s all about jobs. Job creation… for Americans…. in America. And yet, oddly, if we look back to 2010, we note that Republicans including McConnell voted against the “Creating American Jobs and Ending Offshoring Act“, offering payroll tax relief to companies hiring domestic workers, for a three year period. According to a Senate Democrat Aide, there was also a provision that:

“basically eliminates deferral of taxes for companies that move overseas but continue to sell products back in the United States.”

– A practical incentive to keep jobs in the US. The GOP opposed it. The Senate Minority Leader, Mitch McConnell opposed it. According to reports, of the companies that lobbied on this Bill, McConnell received over $1,000,000 from executives and the PACs connected to the lobbying companies.

According to Campaignmoney.org, McConnell’s share of small donations has fallen to just 5%. He is reliant on huge companies, most outside of Kentucky – the State he represents – and companies for whom he coincidentally, votes in favour of, practically any time they will benefit from such a vote.

According to the same report, in 2004 McConnell was the 41st wealthiest Senator. By 2010, and despite a massive global economic crises, McConnell became the 10th wealthiest Senator. It is McConnell who is responsible for the super-majority tactic that brings the Country to a standstill. He does this, whilst the companies that fund his sordid Political life, continue to gain from unnecessary tax privileges that benefit no one but the companies… and McConnell.

Any politician who is tempted to sacrifice duties or principles to get more money doesn’t belong in office.
– Mitch McConnell, 1987

Dark money, is money spent by political groups who do not have to disclose their funding. McConnell, predictably, isn’t a big fan of the disclosure of dark money, though he hasn’t always had that attitude. In 1997, McConnell said this:

“Public disclosure of campaign contributions and spending should be expedited so voters can judge for themselves what is appropriate,”

– And yet, when the Disclose Act was introduced into the Senate in 2010; at a time when campaign contributions are far higher and far more suspect than back in 1997, Mitchell voted against. His 1997 love for transparency, appears to have died by 2010, at a time when he was racing up the richest Senators list, and attracting huge campaign contributions. According to reports, enormous pressure was placed on Republican Senators to vote against the Disclose Act.

Campaign finance reform seems to have bipartisan support much of the time. Those who oppose it most outspokenly, and most vehemently, appear to be the Senators and Representatives – like McConnell – that have a stake in big monied, campaign finance. And the one reason campaign finance reform, through a deadlocked and Partisan FEC, is so notably difficult to push forward, is because those who lobby against it, pay very good money, to very powerful Senators, who then vote in turn to kill off reform.

It is so incredibly transparent that certain Senators, who have a terrific amount of power, exist for the benefit of multinationals regardless of the consequences felt by the public at large. The dismissive nature of the GOP in the Senate, and the vicious experiment in Corporate-sponsored political obstruction, occurs for one specific reason; the corruption of campaign finance. GOP obstruction since 2009, has been off the scale. It should be treated for the hellishly radical and dangerous policy that it is. But much of the obstruction exists purely because it benefits the very wealthy lobbyists. Something Mitch McConnell has fought for years to protect.

Senators like Mitch McConnell, are poisonous to Democracy.


The time I almost had a fight with a ghost in a tent in the woods in Michigan.

June 27, 2012

To fall in love with the tip of the pinky finger on the Michigan hand
is to look out across the lake at sunset and view complete perfection as it glows red and sinks into a seemingly unbreakable horizon. How lucky we are to be able to perceive this.
She is my favourite of all the Americans.
There was New York and then there was Michigan. Michigan is stunning. I could sit for hours and just watch. The sound of running water is as mellifluous as any other to me.
I wore a cowboy hat. Well you just have to. Don’t judge me. Howdy!
The lady in the bar in New York told me she had just moved to Manhattan and had already been arrested for trespassing. We drank beer and talked about the Constitution. She was obsessed with the Constitution. I wanted to watch the football game on TV. I missed the goal, because I was being told about her rights. It is at that point that I decided my favourite Founding Father; Thomas Jefferson was no longer my favourite. He had pushed for the First Amendment – the right to free speech – and I would have given anything to be able to put gaffer tape over her face at that very moment. Go to hell Jefferson. You ruined the match for me.
New York is oddly captivating.
It is one long, unending car horn. It is the reason behind the one long, unending car horn. The fragrance of Central Park breaks the mold. I loved Central Park.
What a wonderful view it is from the 102nd floor of the Empire State Building. And how much I felt like I had been transported back to the height of Art Deco when walking through that triumph of 1930s architecture with the elevator doors as criss-crossed steal that a bellman pulls across. This building has existed, and been seen by Roosevelt, by Kennedy, by Truman and Nixon and Carter. Standing at the top of history.
Manhattan is a forest of concrete.
What a dull sentence. But the reality is that it makes you marvel of what humankind is capable of producing. We have came such a long way in such a short space of time. We are impressive. In less than 200,000 years we have gone from communicating via gestures, to developing languages, concepts borne out of ideas, systems based on survival instincts. Humanity is intensely brilliant. We do not need Gods. But we are dangerous and destructive also. Our excellence breeds our ignorance. I stood at Ground Zero. The fountains. They epitomise humanity. Their design came from the beautiful mind of an artist. A mind. A piece of matter that has become self aware. A piece of matter, like a stone. How did it become self aware? Self aware, and capable of dreaming. Dreaming is art. This is what sets us apart. How can this development in human evolution not over awe you? And then the juxtaposition. The fountains reason for being is the horrifyingly destructive nature of humanity and what it is capable of doing to its own species. It is a harrowing place. I used to
Can somebody please tell Mitt Romney to stop telling everyone how much he doesn’t want to become like Europe. The reason the US isn’t like Europe, is because it has rejected the idea of austerity. Stick with Obama, he’s doing it right.
I was stopped at Heathrow by a security official with a drastically over inflated sense of his own importance. This is a man who had contempt on his face for anyone who isn’t him. A man who only smiles, cries with awe, and manages to achieve a sexually aroused state whilst looking in the mirror. At no other time is it possible for him. He stopped me and said “What’s in your bag?” So I told him. He knew anyway, having been watching the xray machine. He said “Anything else you want to tell me about?” Patronising question. I had two books, my glasses, my sunglasses, and my wallet in that bag. Nothing else. So I said “no”. He then said “What do you do for a living?” I told him that was none of his business, and then asked him what he had for dinner last night. He told me not to get cocky with him. He then got a lady to go through my bag in private, wearing rubber gloves. She treated me like a criminal. She then got to the end of the bag, and said “Okay, there’s nothing concerning in here, I apologise for the inconvenience”. I didn’t want her to apologise. I wanted the man who stopped me in the first place, who for some reasons needs to know my main source of income, to come and profoundly apologise. He didn’t. He walked away. I was held back for 35 minutes for that.
The Statue of Liberty is the face of freedom. Though it also makes me reflect on America over time. Emma Lazarus wrote the ‘New Colossus’ poem that sits at the entrance to the Statue. It reads:

“Keep ancient lands, your storied pomp!” cries she

With silent lips. “Give me your tired, your poor,

Your huddled masses yearning to breathe free,

The wretched refuse of your teeming shore.

Send these, the homeless, tempest-tost to me,

I lift my lamp beside the golden door!”

This beautiful sentiment epitomises how it must have felt for those immigrants coming on the boats into New York harbour, to have seen the Statue with the promise of a liberty that had been kept from them for so long. Whether it still applies now (considering the Arizona border dispute, it’s hard to say) is debatable. But the original sentiment is one that makes me smile.
We do not go into BOBs in Grand Rapids. Only douches go into BOBs.
I went into BOBs.
Ssshhh.
I hate flight.
Whenever the plane experiences turbulence, I presume we’re going to crash.
I don’t understand how such a big tin can is able to stay afloat. It seems unnatural. And yet it is wonderful.
Over the skies of the United States on my way to Michigan, I looked out of the window. It struck me; I am only one of a very few number of people in the World over its history to have seen the planet from this perspective. Great people have come before me and never experienced this. How lucky it is to be me. Our ancestors looked into the heavens and wondered. I was now in the place that drove such profoundly wonderful men and women to meditate on what the sky had to offer. Da Vinci was desperate to invent a machine that could take humanity into the sky. Newton was fascinated by it. The Aztecs would pray every night to the Gods in the hope that it would ensure that the sun would rise the next day. Galileo was imprisoned for his fascination with that which existed above the surface of the Earth. Religions were invented to try to make sense of the unknown. Plato was a part of a society that believed the Gods dwelled in the clouds. And here I am. Sat above them, in a machine that man built; essentially the culmination of great thinking up until this moment. All of those names; Newton, Galileo, Plato, Da Vinci had some influence on the reason that I was sat in the air that day. I love humanity. But humanity is a product of natural selection. This is the reason that I have a love affair with nature. Its possibilities are endless and we should be constantly amazed by this.
We went to a vin yard to try to some local wines.
We then went to another vin yard to try some local wines.
We then went to another vin yard to try some local wines.
Sometimes people take your breath away.
Their quality is ineffable.
But they just glow, and you can’t explain why.
New York is full of these people.
I could live in Michigan. Happily.
We see a plane, and our eyes are used to it. We know how it works, we are not surprised, it is a fact of our lives. Sometimes I wonder if wonderment is the essence of life. Do we lose a certain degree of beauty, when we understand? I choose not to understand how a plane works. I don’t want to understand. This makes it far more bewildering and ultimately astonishing for me. Yet, conversely, not understanding is part of the reason that I hate flying.
Free front row ticket to Jersey Boys on Broadway. I had no idea Frankie Valli had sang so many great songs. ‘My Eyes Adored You’…. I forgot about that one. ‘Begging’… Had no idea he’d sung that. Sherry, Big Girls Don’t Cry, Walk Like a Man. The entire show was fantastic. Oh what a night.
The woods are wonderful. She said that these places go on without humanity, that regardless of our worries and our problems, this beauty still exists. She’s right. That is what makes them beautiful. We stood on the rocks after sunset and talked about people and about nature. Everything that had happened before us, and before our mums and dads, and before our grandparents, and before nations, religions, empires, before language and before art and before….everything, had led up to the point where we could be stood on rocks after sunset talking about people and about nature.
Apparently Americans are quite the fan of Brits reading Harry Potter whilst holding a box of Hobnobs. There is no need to explain the context here. It is EXACTLY as you just read it. So I made them say the pledge of allegiance. Fair trade I feel. If you are English, take the opportunity to have your American friends speak in a British accent. It is much fun!
kbye….
We sat in rubber tubes, with cold beers and floated down the river into Lake Michigan in the sun. I couldn’t help but note that ten years ago I was in a shitty school, expecting to spend my life on a rough council estate with multiple children and a dead end job by the time I was 20, holidaying in Skegness. I am proud of me. A lot has happened in ten years and even the bad, I am in a strange way grateful. I am grateful for Mrs English the day she told me that I would never be smart enough to read a book cover to cover, or ever be eloquent enough to write anything of any significance. I hope the phrase “Fuck you, you incompetent bitch” is eloquent enough for her. I am grateful for everything. But not so much for Reese’s. I hope they go away.
Take chances, and be happy. Lose sometimes. Smile. Do it all again. Life.
There were footsteps outside the tent. Then they stopped. Right outside the door. I sat up, ready for a struggle.
There were no more footsteps retreating or pressing forward.
they just stopped outside of the tent.
But, no one there.
I was preparing for a fight still.
Apparently with a ghost.
This was the thoughts and the events and the people that led up to the time I almost had a fight with a ghost in a tent in the woods in Michigan.

— Click on the picture to enlarge —


Bobby Kennedy

June 5, 2011

Forty-three years ago today, Robert Kennedy was shot and killed as he campaigned at the Ambassador Hotel in Los Angeles.

Languishing in hindsight and speculation, I will say that I believe Bobby Kennedy would have been one of the greatest President’s the United States has ever had, had he not been cut short on the campaign trail in 1968. If he’d have lived, there may have been no President Nixon, No President Ford, and maybe even no President Reagan. If his ideas and sentiments not been crushed in the following years by a vicious right winged neoliberal elite, and less eloquent and less popular and far less charismatic liberal politicians made to sound like the ramblings of archaic socialists, the World might not have had to endure thirty years plus, of the rise of the Hayekian New Right. The spirit of the ’60s was firmly shot down in 1968.

I wanted a short blog today on RFK, and a quote that I felt summed up his political philosophy, and why he remains one of my political heroes.

“Our gross national product … if we should judge America by that – counts air pollution and cigarette advertising, and ambulances to clear our highways of carnage. It counts special locks for our doors and the jails for those who break them. It counts the destruction of our redwoods and the loss of our natural wonder in chaotic sprawl. It counts napalm and the cost of a nuclear warhead, and armored cars for police who fight riots in our streets. It counts Whitman’s rifle and Speck’s knife, and the television programs which glorify violence in order to sell toys to our children.

Yet the gross national product does not allow for the health of our children, the quality of their education, or the joy of their play. It does not include the beauty of our poetry or the strength of our marriages; the intelligence of our public debate or the integrity of our public officials. It measures neither our wit nor our courage; neither our wisdom nor our learning; neither our compassion nor our devotion to our country; it measures everything, in short, except that which makes life worthwhile. And it tells us everything about America except why we are proud that we are Americans.”

Perfect quote.


…from her melodious lay

April 20, 2011

If you take the time to read the diary entries of Christopher Columbus after he found land in the “New World“, you notice a distinct lack of awe. There is no language describing in detail the land itself. This is a continent that no European had ever step foot on before, and Columbus spends almost the entire length of his journals, telling posterity that he expects to find gold any time soon. He speaks of all the marketable goods this new World could offer. The first group of people who meets, are the Taino’s. He describes them as:

They are very gentle and without knowledge of what is evil; nor do they murder or steal..Your highness may believe that in all the world there can be no better people ..They love their neighbours as themselves, and they have the sweetest talk in the world, and are gentle and always laughing.

This admiration for the Tainos does not foreshadow the devastation that the arrival of the Spanish would cause to the Taino people, who by 17th Century, were all but wiped out. After noting their friendly natures, Columbus regained his European nature, and wrote to the Spanish government:

The Tainos could all be subjected and made to do all that one might wish.

Suddenly, the people became a commodity.
Columbus’ diaries show that the mode of thought that Europeans had in the 15th Century was aimed exclusively at commerce. Columbus obsession with finding gold was entirely because his financiers would demand it back home. The lack of description of the landscape is echoed in the lack of descriptive language in their vocabulary. Gonzalo Fernández, the Spanish historian proves this decisive lack of language, and leads me onto the point of this blog, perfectly:

Of all the things I have seen, this is the one thing that has most left me without hope of being able to describe it in words. It needs to be painted by the hand of a Berruguete, or some other excellent painter like him, or by Leonardo de Vinci, or Andrea Mentegna, famous painters whom I knew in Italy

To understand my favourite era’s in art – the Renaissance and Pre-Raphaelites – we have to understand the context of the time period in which they were created. The vast majority of people were supremely materialistic and beauty was largely ignored unless it had some sort of commercial value in the 14th, 15th and 16th Century. The way Columbus spoke of the Taino people in Hispaniola was not malicious for the time period. Through 21st century specs, Columbus’ words regarding the subjugation of an entire group of people seem heartless, especially given that he had already noted just how gentle those people were. But through 15th Century European specs, they were common.

Renaissance and later Baroque artists managed to convey a World both lost to antiquity, and contemporary but free from the constrains of a deeply materialistic World that they inhabited. That is their genius. The beauty of the World is somehow missed when it is overshadowed by the need for “things”. We ignore objects that the artists amplify. The natural World is just “there“, it becomes both a commodity and entirely ignored because there are apparently more important things to focus our attention on. If we get very little pleasure from seeing a tree because we’re so used to it, but we note the beauty of Giorgione’s (or Titian’s… no one is sure which one of the two painted it) pastoral scene in which the trees have an almost dreamlike quality, for no apparent reason, we have heightened our sense of reality. That is what art is supposed to do.

I cannot put my finger on what it is I love so much about Renaissance art. But I suspect it is because the artist takes an everyday object and makes me take note of that object in a painting, despite the fact that I wouldn’t normally take note of that object in reality. It heightens my sense of reality. If we jump forward to another favourite time period in art, of mine, to 1829, and to the Pre-Raphaelite Sir John Everett Millais (which is odd, given that the Pre-Raphaelites really hated Renaissance concepts), and more specifically, to his work “Ophelia” (one of my all time favourite paintings), this heightened sense of awareness becomes apparent:

We sense calm, we sense perhaps spring, we sense the contrast between the strong colours of nature, and the grey, lifeless colours of Shakespeare’s dying Ophelia. Her face does not stand out among the very allegorical choice of flowers. Pansies were also known as hearts-ease, meaning peace in feeling. The poppy has always signified death. Daisies signified innocence. The plants and flowers Millais included were not at the scene in which he painted, he added them himself for a reason. The poppy doesn’t appear in Shakespeare’s description either. Ophelia’s expression contrasts with the madness of the character Shakespeare created. She looks at peace. The flowers she holds signify the peacefulness of her death, despite the madness of her life. Her hair looks peaceful, it is not all over her face. She is not face down in the darkness of the water, she is holding flowers. The Victorians had a little bit of an odd obsession with the “language of flowers“. Her face is white and her clothes flow into the river at the end of the painting neatly. There is no madness to her death. That is why Millais’ Ophelia heightens my sense of a reality I am blissfully unaware of in my every day life.

In his book “The Florentine Painters of the Renaissance”, Berenson sums this up perfectly, by stating that:

… the chief business of the figure painter, as an artist, is to stimulate the tactile imagination

– That is to say, the artist is there to point out the World that we are unaware of, and say “look, this is it, enjoy it!!” Art is a reminder of what is real.

The 15th and 16th Centuries needed the Renaissance painters to convey a World that was beyond the imagination of the every day person looking for material gain. Columbus is the epitome of that obsession for material gain. When faced with a brand new World, his only thought was material wealth. Conversely, without that obsession with material wealth, art is pointless.


God the predator

April 10, 2011

One of the greatest evolutionary qualities of any animal, is the defence mechanism of the Horned Lizard. It believes it is the top of the food chain, and is blissfully unaware of any predator, until that predator is close enough to cause such powerful distress, that the horned lizard ruptures tiny blood vessels in its own eyes, and squirts blood at the predator. The blood tastes so vile, that the canine predator will immediately run away and leave the lizard alone. The one drawback is that the blood does not affect predatory birds. So the birds will still try to eat the lizard. There has been no evolutionary development within the Phrynosomatidae genus, that can act as a defence mechanism against the predatory birds.

If the Horned Lizard is to be held up as an example of intelligent design within nature, then it would appear that the “intelligent” designer overlooked its need for protection against predatory birds. What a dreadful argument for design. In the same way as the “intelligent” designer, when designing humans, gave us a vermiform appendix whose only purpose is to randomly kill us. Thanks God! The lack of defence mechanism against predatory birds, like the appendix within a human, is a sign of the misgivings of evolution, yet at the same time, pretty strong evidence for evolution.

God, up until very recently, and still in some parts of the World, is a predatory bird that we have no defence against. We are evolving a defence every so often. Society is remarkably similar to the evolution of species. Our defence against the predatory nature of God – whom we have designated as our predator, because we seemingly cannot stand to be at the top of the food chain ourselves – is logic and reason. Christians, Jews and Muslims alike find implausible and repugnant the idea that Mesoamericans were inclined for centuries to brutally sacrifice another human being every morning to ensure that the sun would rise. Even though the logic behind Mesoamerican sacrifice was essentially identical to Christian, Jewish and Islamic worship tradition. The Aztecs believed in the legend of the five suns, whom were gods that sacrificed themselves for the sake of mankind, which sounds eerily familiar to the story of another invented character from history; Jesus. Both Christianity and Aztec Mesoamericans believed the sacrifice made by their God/s sustained humanity’s place in the universe, which God/s created in the first place. The victim of Aztec sacrifice was seen to be “nextlahualli”, which simply means, paying his debt to the Gods. One wonders what kind of God requires his creation to sacrifice each other for the sake of the upkeep of his creation. It seems a little oxymoronic. But similarly, the notion that a God that has created everything (and that everything encompasses itself) would demand prayer five times a day, or driving Pope Urban II to state that war could be not only just and necessary, but also key to the advancement of spirituality, demanding fear and obsessive worship of his “greatness” despite not giving us the opportunity to agree to be born into such a wretched system in the first place. This notion that war is a spiritual necessity is not simply a product of the Papacy of the middle ages; the Orange Volunteers in Northern Ireland are a Protestant Terrorist group. They have threatened to bomb football matches, they have bombed homes of politicians and they are still active today, having sent death threats to head of Sinn Fein, Gerry Adams.

On the subject of human sacrifice, the Bible is not immune to such practices. Jephthah in the book of Judges, is keen to sacrifice his daughter, to glorify God. In return for God’s help in defeating the Ammonites, Jephthah says he will sacrifice his daughter as a “burnt offering”. His daughter seems perfectly happy with this deal, but is a little bit sad that she didn’t get the chance to get laid before her dad rightly burned her to death:

When he saw her, he tore his clothes in anguish. “My daughter!” he cried out. “My heart is breaking! What a tragedy that you came out to greet me. For I have made a vow to the LORD and cannot take it back.” And she said, “Father, you have made a promise to the LORD. You must do to me what you have promised, for the LORD has given you a great victory over your enemies, the Ammonites. But first let me go up and roam in the hills and weep with my friends for two months, because I will die a virgin.” “You may go,” Jephthah said. And he let her go away for two months. She and her friends went into the hills and wept because she would never have children. When she returned home, her father kept his vow, and she died a virgin. So it has become a custom in Israel for young Israelite women to go away for four days each year to lament the fate of Jephthah’s daughter.

– Notice the custom at the end. A needless custom, based on a situation that is nothing short of monstrous and predatory.

The predatory instincts of the faithful play a dark and deadly role in every part of the World. A Muslim friend of mine once told me that whilst his belief is that I am indeed condemned to burn in hell for eternity (apparently, saying that kind of thing, is not as offensive as drawing a cartoon of the Prophet), I don’t believe it so it shouldn’t bother me. What an interesting argument. To ignore the fact that a large amount of the population of the World, who have never met me, never spoken to me, never had the pleasure of eating one of my amazing roast turkey dinners, would take one look at me, and decide i’m heading to a fiery pit, is to perpetuate the awful trait of ignorance. Those people are ignorant to who I am. They have made a conclusion based on nothing but a fairy tale from their book. That is ignorant and preaches non-thinking. That, I cannot abide. Naturally, I believe their distinct form of hatred to be putrid and absurd, it should be ridiculed and philosophically attacked for the bullshit that it is. But he suggested that I shouldn’t care, because I don’t believe in it so it wont affect me. On a very thin reasonable level, this makes sense. To me, i’m not going to a fiery doom. To him, I am. To care about how he thinks of my eternal hell is irrelevant because I don’t believe it, right? Well then the Islamic world should perhaps practice what it preaches in that respect and not demand Fatwa’s be placed on non-believers simply because they drew a cartoon or wrote a book. To call for the death of another human being, because a book was written, is nonsensical and despicable. Religion doesn’t particularly enjoy free speech, because it wishes to perpetuate its nonsense through mass indoctrination, without question. In this respect, it is predatory.

Nietzsche – who incidentally is becoming the hell of my life with politics study – once noted that “God is dead”. The suggestion being that society has evolved to a stage where belief in God is irrational and unnecessary, whereas in time past, belief was essential. A social development that means we no longer need that objective base for our morality that anchored generations previous. I think Nietzsche is wrong. I don’t believe God was ever alive. The belief in God was a forced belief. It was through the threat of eternal hell, and in fact Earthly death for heretics – William Tyndale was famously strangled at the stake and then burnt for daring to translate the Bible into English – ensured that God would live on as a concept, in the minds of the fearful. A lack of belief in a God was punishable by death. A lack of belief in the God philosophically interpreted by the State, was punishable by death. The claim that religion has ever held an objective base for morality is as ludicrous as it is insulting. One only has to review the centuries that religion has had a deep hold over humanity, to note the horrific abuses over such trivial issues. The very first person to be executed for heresy under Christian law, was Priscillian, the Bishop of Avila, in the fourth century. Christianity was still incredibly young at that stage. It was only fifty years previous that Constantine had converted the Empire to Christianity, though he knew very little about the faith. The lack of worship of an Emperor in Rome – the Imperial Cult – would lead to public floggings and executions. It appears that as the Roman Empire was dying, the indoctrinated peoples needed to transfer that obsessive cult worship from the less and less powerful Emperor, to a new single identity, and Christianity provided that outlet. It is no surprise then, that the beatings, and the tortures, and the murders that followed if one chose not to accept the doctrines of the Imperial Cult, would transfer to Christianity also. Suddenly if you did not agree with the Theology of the Church, you were excommunicated at best, and put to death at worst.

Of course now, instead of using the fear of death to ensure blind acquiescence, religion tends to get to people at an early age, and reinforce religious morality as a basis for objective morality. We were told at school that Bible stories helped to teach kids right from wrong. What those teachers left out, were the stories of mass genocide and the systematic abuse of women, by a God who was apparently responsible for helping kids distinguish between right and wrong. A writer for The Sun wrote recently on the news that a primary school in Blackburn will be teaching certain Atheist principles (simple introduction to Darwinism) that:

I think that four years old is too young to be learning about atheism.

At that age they hardly know what Christianity is. I’m sure a four-year-old couldn’t comprehend it.

I am sure it is not appropriate to be teaching, say, Darwinism to infants. In primary schools it is difficult to get youngsters to understand theology and spiritual concepts. Children tend to struggle when you are making the first Holy Communion.

Why is he placing the teaching of Christianity above Darwinism? He is happy to teach kids a fairy story, but wishes to suppress facts that contradict his fairy story? He goes on:

I think it is still important to teach Christianity and other major religions in schools. Christianity is not as strong in schools as it used to be. I don’t think so many young people know the Lord’s Prayer or popular hymns any more.
There used to be a prayer every morning during school assemblies and that has gone now.

– I agree, it is important to teach Christianity and other major religions in school, but it is not right to teach it as unquestionable fact. He makes a major leap from teaching Christianity, as a subject, to then suddenly moaning that the indoctrination of students through morning prayer isn’t as strong any more. It is absolutely necessary to prevent indoctrination of children through morning prayer. To preach Christianity in primary school is to preach the absolute obedience to a heavenly dictator, and to ignore arguments to the contrary. That is wrong, on so many levels. At my primary school, we were forced to say morning prayer, on fear of being thrown out of the room and given lines to write at play time, if we didn’t. The predatory nature of religion.

As it stands, and to my dismay, humanity needs religion. I would never seek to ban anyones faith. I believe everyone has the right to believe whatever they chose to believe, and to practice the traditions and customs of that system of belief in which ever country they see fit. I have absolutely no problem with Mosques being built in the UK, or with the Christian Church bells never ending on a Sunday morning. I was happy to take my shoes off when walking in the spectacular Blue Mosque in the heart of the old city of Constantinople, now Istanbul. But I do hold out hope that one day society will evolve to a state of being in which organised religion is consigned to the bin of undesirable history.