Racism and rebellion in Ferguson

August 23, 2014 at 10:58 pm (cops, posted by JD, Racism, United States)

From the US Socialist Worker (no longer connected to the UK organisation/publication of the same name):

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A shrine for Mike Brown on the street where he was killed in Ferguson (Eric Ruder | SW)

Above: shrine for Mike Brown on the street where he was killed 

Trish Kahle looks back at Ferguson’s social and economic history in an article written after her trip to the city to report on the demonstrations against a police murder [1].

“IT IS hard to deny just how predictable they are when they finally happen.” That was the conclusion of Merlin Chowkwanyun, a scholar at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, in a Washington Post op-ed article [2] comparing the eruption of protest and unrest in Ferguson, Mo. with so many similar upheavals in other cities since the 1960s.

The whole world knows of Ferguson after the murder of Mike Brown, an unarmed African American teenager, by a white police officer who initially confronted him over walking in the middle of the street.

The crime was heinous, but police killings of unarmed Black men are all too common in the U.S.–they take place once every 28 hours, according to a report by the Malcolm X Grassroots Movement [3]. But what’s unique about Ferguson is the continuing mobilization to demand justice for Mike Brown, centered among the African American residents of the St. Louis suburb.

No one would have guessed that Ferguson would be the site of perhaps the most sustained rebellion against police violence in at least two decades. But at the same time, one statistic after another has emerged in the past week and a half to show exactly how predictable that uprising was.

- – – – – – – – – – – – – – – -

THE CITY of Ferguson, just north of St. Louis, has a population that was, as of the 2010 Census, 67.4 percent Black and 29.3 percent white. Yet whites account for five of Ferguson’s six city council members [4], and six of seven school board members (the seventh member is a Latino). Out of 53 officers in the Ferguson police department, there are three African American.

The white Mayor James Knowles has a delusional attitude toward race in his city. “We’ve never seen this kind of…frustration, this kind of tension between the races,” he claimed. “I know we’ve always gotten along.”

How can a shrinking minority of whites continue to dominate the political power structure in Ferguson? One answer: In the 2013 municipal election, just 11.7 percent of Ferguson’s voting-eligible residents cast a ballot [5]. The percentage was far lower for African Americans–some 17 percent of eligible white voters participated, compared to 6 percent of eligible Black voters. As a result, according to a Washington Post analysis [6], whites were actually a larger part of the electorate than Blacks, despite being a much smaller minority in the population.

Liberal media outlets attributed this disparity to the timing of elections, which take place in mid-April. This is certainly a factor, but there are more important reasons. The people I talked to in Ferguson feel they have little political stake in participating in municipal elections. For one thing, because of the governing structures in the St. Louis area, change would have to happen at the countywide level to be meaningful, which would require an electoral movement crossing over the boundaries of many small municipalities.

And there is a deeper disillusionment among African Americans, says Leslie Broadnax, a native of Ferguson [7] who challenged the incumbent St. Louis County prosecutor in the last election and lost. “I think there is a huge distrust in the system,” said Broadnax. “Many Blacks think: Well it’s not going to matter anyway, so my one vote doesn’t count.”

Here is another statistic that helps capture the economic devastation which, as it does everywhere, hits African Americans disproportionately hard: According to a Reuters report [8], “Traffic fines are the St. Louis suburb’s second-largest source of revenue and just about the only one that is growing appreciably. Municipal court fines, most of which arise from motor vehicle violations, accounted for 21 percent of general fund revenue and at $2.63 million last year, were the equivalent of more than 81 percent of police salaries before overtime.”

Add to that information the fact that Blacks accounted for 86 percent of traffic stops initiated by Ferguson cops, and it makes you wonder if Officer Darren Wilson had a financial motive in mind when he got out of his patrol car to confront 18-year-old Mike Brown on August 9.

Whatever the case, if you put all these facts and figures together, it’s clear that Ferguson’s long history, bound up with racism and social oppression, helped set the stage for both the murder of Mike Brown–and the powerful upsurge of protest against it ever since.

- – – – – – – – – – – – – – – -

IN MANY ways, Ferguson’s history embodies W.E.B. DuBois’s famous assertion that “the problem of the 20th century is the problem of the color line.” It’s clear from all the statistics about Ferguson today that racism structures daily life for the city’s African American population–but it’s also clear this is also nothing new.

Ferguson’s existence as a distinct city from nearby St. Louis has its roots in the failures of the post-Civil War Reconstruction era and the rise of the Ku Klux Klan in the former states of the Confederacy. The city and county of St. Louis separated their legal connection in 1877 over the issue of the under-representation of city dwellers in county politics–the same year that marked the end of Reconstruction and the federal government’s attempt to “reconstruct” the political systems of the former slave states that had seceded to start the Civil War.

This split sharpened the historical divide between city and county–and as a racist backlash developed following the retreat of Reconstruction, many Black Southerners fled to the cities, including St. Louis. But even if the city offered some protection from the Klan, that hardly meant St. Louis was a beacon of racial progress. The city, in collusion with the county, embarked on a project of segregation that would remain legal for nearly a century.

The state of Missouri passed a law [9] requiring that: “Separate free schools shall be established for the education of children of African descent; and it shall be unlawful for any colored child to attend any white school, or any white child to attend a colored school.” Another law declared: “All marriages between…white persons and negroes or white persons and Mongolians…are prohibited and declared absolutely void…No person having one-eighth part or more of negro blood shall be permitted to marry any white person.”

Housing was a primary target of the Jim Crow system. Like many of the 91 municipalities surrounding the city of St. Louis, Ferguson was closed off to Black residents by racist housing covenants. Black Missouri residents remained overwhelmingly concentrated in the city while racist terror continued across the countryside.

Within the city, Black workers endured unequal pay, hiring discrimination and the constant degradation that all African Americans faced under Jim Crow. The inability to live outside the city limits restricted their access to better schools, public services, schools and employment. Black neighborhoods were characterized by substandard housing, overcrowding and poor sanitation.

Housing rights became a major focus of civil rights struggle in St. Louis. The landmark U.S. Supreme Court decision in Shelley v. Kraemer [10], which declared that state enforcement of racially restrictive housing covenants was unconstitutional, revolved around a St. Louis case. Even though the 6-0 decision of the justices was handed down in 1948, it took two more decades of struggle to finally tear down the housing covenants.

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BY THE 1970s, activists had secured the removal of the covenants, and Black residents of the city of St. Louis were able to move out into the municipalities, including Ferguson. In 1980, the population of Ferguson was still 85 percent white and 14 percent Black. Today, those numbers are nearly reversed.

African Americans had scored a major victory in removing the housing covenants, but as the city’s Black population moved out into the suburbs, many whites fled, leaving not only towns like Ferguson, but even the state itself, moving across the river to Illinois–or into concentrated pockets of white wealth, such as nearby Country Life Acres, a tiny municipality that is 96 percent white, with a median household income of $200,000. By comparison, Ferguson’s median annual household income of $37,500.

Today, the St. Louis metro area remains one of the most segregated in the country [11]. That divide extends to unemployment [12], which is 20 percentage points higher for Blacks than the 6.2 percent jobless rate for whites in white unemployment in the area around Ferguson.

Housing discrimination has continued despite the outlawing of legalized discrimination through the housing covenants. As Bryce Covert wrote for Think Progress [13]:

Racial housing segregation hasn’t just affected community makeups, but their economics. Given that Blacks have been shut out of buying homes, a huge source of wealth, and discriminatory practices depressed the values of those who did manage to buy houses, it’s no surprise that there continues to be a huge racial wealth gap. The average Black household has $75,040 in wealth stored in its home, while the average white one has $217,150. Overall, the gap in wealth between white households and Black ones was $84,960 in 2011. A similar gap is apparent in Ferguson, where the median household income is about $37,500 but in St. Louis County as a whole it’s $58,500.

Thus, persistent, pervasive, structural racism extends far beyond policing. The existence of legally separate but still closely integrated townships has had a clear and inevitable impact. St. Louis County’s mainly Black municipalities have high poverty rates rooted in decades of underinvestment, employment discrimination and more.

In Ferguson itself, the poverty rate of 22 percent [14], a full 10 percentage points higher than the county average (and 22 percentage points higher than the 96 percent white municipality with the $200,000 median income).

The county structure of many small municipalities over a large metro area exacerbates the effect of poverty. In the poorer ones, schools are underfunded. Resources for public services are scarce compared to the demand. The municipalities compete in a race to the bottom to provide tax incentives for businesses to locate in their town or city–which gives the chain stores lining the streets of Ferguson a subsidy on the backs of poor residents.

The structure of St. Louis County has, in effect, helped lock Black residents without the means to leave the area into highly segregated communities, with disproportionate rates of poverty by any measure–whether the comparison is to the county, the state or the nation.

Emerson Electric, Boeing and Express Scripts all employ large numbers of people in the Ferguson area, but thanks to the fragmented municipalities, these corporate giants not only receive massive tax breaks, but they avoid paying anything into the tax bases that fund the public schools and services their workers rely on.

Ferguson exemplifies the way that segregation, police violence and economic inequality are tightly woven together.

- – – – – – – – – – – – – – – -

TWENTY YEARS of disinvestment and impoverishment as Ferguson became a majority Black city have taken a visible toll.

As soon as you pull off the Interstate into town, there is a strip mall that stands completely dark. Payday loan companies have set up shop on almost every corner. The notice for a free adult clinic on Saturday hangs from the sign of a business that has been closed for a while.

The ditches that line the streets to help alleviate flooding from the Mississippi River were carefully built and reinforced with concrete a long time ago, but they’re overgrown with brush thick enough to block adequate drainage–even though the town is just minutes from the riverbanks.

But this is not all there is to know about Ferguson.

The media reports that blame Mike Brown for his own murder, with their focus on a surveillance video released by police that allegedly shows Brown in a confrontation with a store employee, also blame protesters for the discord in their community. But nothing could be further from the truth. The police killed Mike Brown, and they are also trying to destroy the community solidarity built up over the past week and a half.

If you go to Ferguson, stop at the QuikTrip, and you’ll see an inspiring sense of trust and community–something that reminded activists of the occupation of the Wisconsin state Capitol in 2011, among other historic struggles.

The people of Ferguson are proud of their community. The immaculate lawns that most residents keep, many with carefully laid stone gardens and neatly trimmed shrubbery, line roads in desperate need of repair. When we meet Kristian Blackmon, a lifetime Ferguson resident who has been protesting each day since Mike Brown was killed, the pride in her voice is clear when she declares to each person she meets that she is Ferguson “born and raised.”

The history of Ferguson–up to and including the killing of Mike Brown and the rebellion we have witnessed over the last week and a half–has been profoundly shaped by racism and inequality that was embedded in this place from its founding.

As a result, the residents of Ferguson, who have come together to oppose the murder of an unarmed 18-year-old and the reign of police terror in their community, are also challenging other forms of racism and inequality that threaten their lives.

Standing together with them, we will fight to stop the racist killer cops–and know that we’re also fighting against the racism built into the very foundation of Ferguson and every other city in this country.

Read the rest of this entry »

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Fisk on ISIS: mind your language!

August 23, 2014 at 1:24 pm (apologists and collaborators, fascism, genocide, grovelling, Human rights, iraq, islamism, jerk, Jim D, kurdistan, language, Syria, terror, Uncategorized, United States)

Robert Fisk, Christchurch, 2008.jpg

Above: Fisk says ‘apocalyptic’ talk is “childish”

An estimated 20,000 to 40,000 Yazidis driven onto Mount Sinjar to escape genocide; 130,000 other Yazadis fleeing to Kurdistan or Irbil; 100,000 Assyrian Christians in flight for their lives; 20,000 Shia Turkmen residents of Amerli besieged for two months and at risk of massacre and/or starvation; countless women and girls kidnapped, raped and sold into slavery; massacres, beheadings, crucifictions, forced conversions …

… I’d say that was a pretty apocalyptic picture, warranting strong action by those of us who care about human rights and democracy.

But for The Independent‘s Robert Fisk, not only is strong action unwarranted: even strong language is to be deplored.

Yesterday, Fisk’s characteristic combination of sneering and preaching was directed at Obama’s use of language:

‘Foley’s murder [has been turned] into a further reason to go on bombing the Isis “caliphate” . And what else did they provoke from us – or at least from America’s vacationing President/ A battle on strictly religious terms … Yes Barak Obama … informed the world that “No just God would stand for what they [Isis] did yesterday and for what they do every single day.” So there you have it: Obama turned the “caliphate’s” savagery into an inter-religious battle of rival Gods, “ours” [ie the West's] against “theirs” [the Muslim God, of course]. This was the nearest Obama has yet come in rivalling George W Bush’s gormless reaction to 9/11 in which he said that “we” are going to go on a “Crusade”.’

You’d think, wouldn’t you, that any serious commentator on Isis would have more important things to fulminate about than Obama’s use of language? Never mind the fact that Fisk’s interpretation of what Obama said and the comparison with Bush’s use of the word “crusade” is plainly nonsense, and even Fisk himself goes on to admit as much in his next paragraph. So what point, exactly, is this so-called “expert” on Middle Eastern affairs trying to make? Who knows, except that it’s all “our” (ie the West’s, the US’s, Britians’s, Europe’s, etc, etc) fault, perhapd because of “our” use of language. But cutting through Fisk’s verbose waffle is a difficult task, and I for one actually prefer the straightforward ‘my enemy’s enemy is my friend’ western self-hatred of, say,  Seumas Milne, and the Stop The War Coalition’s simple formula that everything’s the fault of the ‘West’.

And Fisk’s linguistic concerns continue: in today’s Indepenedent he once again deplores the Yanks’ use of strong language when describing Isis/Islamic State:

‘”Apocalyptic.” “End-of-days strategic vision.” “Beyond anything we have ever seen.” “An imminent threat to every interest we have.” “Beyond just a terrorist group.” “We must prepare for everything.”

‘So are they Martians? Alien invaders from Planet X? Destroyer spacecraft from the movie Independence Day?

‘The word movie is the clue. Chuck Hagel and Martin Dempsey were pure Hollywood. It only needed Tom Cruise at their press conference to utter the words “Mission impossible”. Who writes this God-awful script? Can’t the US Defence Secretary and his joint chiefs chairman do better than this?

It would be interesting to witness this educated, cultured Brit Arabist and Middle East “expert” explain to the Yazidis, the Assyrian Christians, the Shias of Amerli and the many other victims of Isis/Islamic State, just why the “apocalyptic” language used by Chuck Hagel and Martin Dempsey, is so inappropriate. And why it’s the main issue that should concern us when discussing a fascist movement.

Iraq map

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Protest against IS and the genocide of the Yazidis! Support workers, women and oppressed minorities in Iraq!

August 21, 2014 at 7:36 am (anti-fascism, Anti-Racism, AWL, Human rights, internationalism, iraq, islamism, kurdistan, Middle East, posted by JD, protest, secularism, solidarity, terror, women)

6 – 8pm, Friday 22 August, Downing Street, London
This rally is organised by the Worker-communist Party of Kurdistan, UK organisation, in alliance with other Iraqi, Iranian and UK organisations (see below).

mount sinjar

A Yazidi family on Mount Sinjar

Facebook event

The organisers say:

“Against the Genocide of the Yazidis
Against the Bloodthirsty Forces of IS
Against Fascism and Racism

“Support our demands:
1. Immediate steps and actions must be taken to help all those who are displaced, regardless of their ethnic or religious background. The Yezidis, in particular, are most desperately in need of such help.
2. The countries which have supported the IS financially and militarily should be condemned and held responsible.
3. The ruling parties across Iraq propagate racist and ethnocentric sentiments among the people, causing tension between Arabs and Kurds, as well as Sunni and Shiites. This is catastrophic and has brought about high levels of ethno-sectarian hatred in Iraq and Kurdistan. Pressure should be exerted on the political parties to stop this.
4. Any activities and demonstrations by IS supporters must be organised against by the trade unions, community groups and political organisations. What they do does not constitute freedom of political thought; they advocate hatred and killing. Tolerating these groups may create circumstances for other racist groups to flourish and spread hostility towards people from Muslim backgrounds.
We hope that the EU will register our concern on the matter and act against any and all forms of racist and sectarian attacks and incitement.”

***

Other sponsoring organisations

Worker-communist Party of Iraq UK Organisation
Worker-communist Party of Iran UK Organisation
Worker-communist Party of Iran Hekmatist UK Organisation
International Federation of Iraqi Refugees – IFIR
Kurdish and Middle Eastern Women’s Organisation in Britain – KMEWO
Workers’ Liberty

For more information please contact: 07577 781 626 or 07446 135 857 or 07894 252 708 

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Nationalist Banality

August 20, 2014 at 6:34 am (comedy, history, Rosie B, scotland, theatre)

Well, I have had one of the worst evenings of my life in the theatre. It’s the Edinburgh Festival, and of course that is to be expected, but a bad night there is usually stumbling into a hopeful group of students doing the Medea on roller skates in a church hall performing to an audience of four. It is not going to the splendid Festival Theatre to see a play that has received pages of press coverage and is sold out.

This was James III: The True Mirror, the third part of a trilogy about the early Stewarts. James was a useless king who irritated his nobles by promoting favourites and neglecting business and was eventually killed- i.e. he was a little like Richard II and Edward II, and though you can’t expect any dramatist to use language like Shakespeare or Marlowe, you would think they could learn a bit about structure and tension and narrative drive. But instead of, say, alternating scenes of a frivolous king with the powerful plotters against him,, there were endless going-nowhere soap opera domesticities of him talking to his wife the Danish Queen Margaret (played by Sofie Gråbøl from The Killing, who made her likable) fighting over custody of the children, a whole meandering pointless mass of boneless characters, sweiry words and button pushing jokes  that got knowing laughs – eg – James to his missus – “all I got with you was Orkney and Shetland”. James III was presented as an anarchic guy pissing round, like Russell Brand and the play was as intellectually light-weight. 

The staging of a high wall with a tier of benches for the meetings of the Three Estates was rather grand and looked promising. Then it began. A red-haired laundry maid tells a bloke that she’s heard James the King is gorgeous. Then discovers she is in fact speaking to James. Squeaks from the maid, and his wife tells James that he’s been doing his man of the people act again. This was the first ten minutes, with dialogue so self-conscious, slack and banal I wanted to leave at that point. At the interval my friends and I discovered that we were all having a bad time, and what the hell was everyone laughing about? But we hung on to the end, and that’s when we got to the worst part of all – cringe-making, boag-inducing awful – a final speech from Queen Margaret who has become regent and tells the Scots lords (who rhubarb aye, aye) that she is a rational Dane from a rational country and they are heaps of manure, but aren’t they a lovable lot, and Scotland could be a nation again, and never fear for the future – in short a party political broadcast for the Yes side of the referendum. Oh how the audience loved it- tell us we are rogues with a bad attitude but lovable and we’ll lap this like Irn Bru.

James_3_poster_notitleV2

There are other shows dealing with this matter of Scotland, all pro-independence, which is to be expected as Yesses are full of vision and enthusiasm and poetry, while Noes are grumpy. I did stumble on a comedian, Erich McElroy The British Referendum. He’s an engaging American guy, a naturalised Brit, who is evidently put out and a little puzzled that his newly adopted country could lose one third of its land mass. With some easy laughs comparing British talking head politicking and American raw gun-shooting advertisements, he did get a few digs in the referendum’s vitriol, with pictures of what a nationalistic country looks like (ie an American flag-lined street). And facetiously warned Scotland that the USA could have interesting designs on an oil-rich country with no defences. There were a few Noes in the small audience, relieved that someone was speaking to them.

 

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People’s March for the NHS

August 19, 2014 at 4:50 pm (Cuts, health service, posted by JD, protest, solidarity, Tory scum, unions)

Here’s a campaign we can all support (I bloody well hope so, anyway):

 The marchers set off from Jarrow on Saturday and will pass through 23 town and cities on their way to London on 6 September. Every MP who’s voted for privatisation or other measures that undermine the NHS, whose constituency is on the route, will be targeted.

The march website is here.

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Stop the War and Sami Ramadani’s loony conspiracy theory: ISIS is “serving Israeli and US … objectives”

August 18, 2014 at 5:49 pm (anti-semitism, apologists and collaborators, conspiracy theories, ex-SWP, iraq, Middle East, plonker, posted by JD, reactionay "anti-imperialism", Stop The War)

Sami Ramadani: idiot and conspiracy theorist

By Dan Katz

The Stop the War Campaign is misnamed. To the naïve it is a happy, pacifist campaign. However the splinter of the SWP that runs it (Counterfire) is very far from being pacifist, and it would be far more honest for the campaign to be renamed, “Stop this War and Start a Different  One”.

Counterfire – and unpleasant/idiotic friends like Sami Ramadani, who writes on the Stop the War site – would be very happy if everyone in the Middle East ganged up and attacked Israel. Or the US.

Apparently - according to Ramadani, and despite all known facts and common sense – Islamic State (ISIS/IS) is actually serving Israeli interests. The evidence for this?

It seems the “ISIS Caliph [leader] and Israeli war criminal Netanyahu declared the death of Sykes-Picot borders between Iraq and Syria on almost the same day.” You might think this is a statement of fact, but not Mr Ramadani who finds the alleged coincidence highly suspicious.

More than that, the leader of ISIS/IS, doesn’t “mention Israel or its war crimes in Palestine.” It must be so disappointing to Ramadani that IS writes: “We haven’t given orders to kill the Israelis and the Jews. The war against the nearer enemy, those who rebel against the faith, is more important.”

In other words IS is quite busy, currently, slaughtering Shia and Christians. However, this isn’t quite the same as “serving Israeli interests”, is it?

At a rally in Holland a couple of days ago IS supporters chanted, “Death to the Jews!” Does any sane person think ISIS will not get round to Israel after it has polished off the Shia?

Ramadani claims, “Israel’s ambassador in Washington explained why Israel and the west should back ISIS ‘bad guys’ against other ‘bad guys’.” The evidence for this? Ramadani links to an article by a man called Christof Lehmann. There are a few problems with this. The first is Christof Lehmann is a tiresome conspiracy nut, approved by US ultra-right “libertarians.” The second is Lehmann’s article is based on the word of an anonymous source ‘close to a Lebanese billionaire’ who claims backing for ISIS was decided at a meeting of a US think-tank, months ago (a thinktank which controls US policy?). And finally, that the article doesn’t mention an Israeli ambassador at all.

Then Ramadani, having convinced himself, writes, “It is clear to me that ISIS is serving Israeli and US economic, political and military objectives in the region.”

Which just leaves a small problem: why is the US currently bombing ISIS/IS?

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Elizabeth Tsurkov, Israeli anti-war activist, on prospects for peace and justice in Israel/Palestine

August 18, 2014 at 10:06 am (AWL, Human rights, israel, Middle East, palestine, posted by JD, solidarity, zionism)

My comrade Pate Radcliff conducted this interview with Elizabeth recently. She makes some interesting and perceptive points about the Israeli peace movement, the BDS campaign, antisemitism in the pro-Palestinian movement,  and the Netanyahu  government’s counter-productive attitude towards Palestinian ‘moderates’ and discouraging demographic trends within Israel.

As ever, Shiraz points out that we don’t necessarily agree with all the opinions being expressed (I personally, for instance, think what she says about the Histadrut is unfair, and could be said about any bureaucratic trade union organisation anywhere in the world -JD):

Put half an hour aside to watch this.

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Lauren Bacall and Hoagy Carmichael: How Little We Know

August 16, 2014 at 1:35 pm (cinema, Civil liberties, Democrats, film, good people, jazz, Jim D, mccarthyism, RIP, song, theatre, United States)

Lauren Bacall (1924-2014) and Humphrey Bogart lead a march to the Capitol in Washington, DC to protest against Senator McCarthy's witch hunt of communists and alleged communists, 1947.

The death of Lauren Bacall (pictured above with husband Humphrey Bogart leading a 1947 march against McCarthy’s witch hunt of leftists and liberals) robs us of the last great star from Hollwood’s ‘golden age’ and a brave liberal – in the best sense of the word. She described herself to TV host Larry King, in 2005, as “anti-Republican and a liberal. The L-word. Being a liberal is the best thing on earth you can be. You are welcoming to everyone when you’re a liberal. You do not have a small mind.”

I can’t resist the opportunity to show you a clip of Bacall in her first film, Howard Hawks’ 1944 ‘To Have And Have Not’, in which she sings the Hoagy Carmichael/Johnny Mercer number ‘How Little We Know’, accompanied by Hoagy himself at the piano. For many years it was thought that Bacall’s singing was dubbed by the young Andy Williams, but Hawks confirmed (in Joseph McBride’s book ‘Hawks on Hawks’) that although Williams’ voice was recorded, it was not used because he (Hawks) decided Bacall’s voice was good enough.

RIP Betty

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Morning Star cover-up of domestic abuse allegation sparks crisis and resignations

August 15, 2014 at 7:46 pm (apologists and collaborators, corruption, crime, misogyny, posted by JD, RMT, sexism, stalinism, thuggery, unions, women)

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Above: Caroline Leneghan

An extraordinary crisis has erupted at the Morning Star (de facto mouthpiece of the British Communist Party), resulting in the resignations of the editor and the company director. It stems from reporter Rory McKinnon’s questioning of the RMT leadership over allegations of domestic abuse on the part of the union’s assistant general secretary Steve Hedley (which Shiraz covered here).

McKinnon, who resigned from the Star on 25 July, has written an account of what happened to him at the Star, at the blog Another Angry Woman. This is important, not least because much of the British trade union movement (without reference to their membership) funds the Morning Star:

*********************************************************************************************************

This is a guest post by Rory McKinnon. Content warning for domestic violence. It is published with permission of the survivor.

“The public have no right to know”: how the Morning Star threatened to sack me for reporting domestic violence allegations

My name’s Rory MacKinnon, and I’ve been a reporter for the Morning Star for three years now. It’s given me a lot of pride to see how readers and supporters believe so strongly in the paper, from donating what cash they can to hawking it in the streets on miserable Saturday afternoons. I was proud to represent a “broad paper of the left”, as my editor Richard Bagley always put it: a paper that saw feminism, LGBTQ issues, racial politics and the like as integral to its coverage of class struggle.

It’s for this reason that I thought I would have my editor’s support in following up domestic violence allegations against the Rail, Maritime and Transport union’s assistant general secretary Steve Hedley. Instead the Morning Star’s management threatened me with the sack, hauled me through a disciplinary hearing and placed me on a final written warning.

If you want to see my reasons for writing this, skip to the bottom. But I’m a reporter, and in my mind the most important thing is that you all know exactly what’s happened behind closed doors. So let’s get on with it.

—–

Last March a former RMT assistant branch secretary, Caroline Leneghan, went public about what she described as a “violent assault” at the hands of Hedley while they had been in a relationship.

“On this occasion he kicked a pot of paint at me, threw me around by my hair and pinned me to the floor repeatedly punching me in the face.”

Leneghan said she had approached both police and the union after their break-up to seek an investigation: her RMT rep confirmed that police had suggested “a high chance of conviction” but that the six-month window for a charge of common assault had since expired.

Despite this, the union’s then-leadership had decided not to refer the allegations to its national executive for a formal investigation. It was at this point that Leneghan decided to go public (you can find Leneghan’s full statement and photographs here).

Now, I don’t pretend to have any inside knowledge, and at the time I had only just been assigned to a post in Scotland and was busy trying to get my feet in under the table up there. But I am a journalist, and when the union agreed to consider an appeal from Leneghan only to see it eventually withdrawn at her request – amid a pretty vile reaction from some elements of the left – I mentally filed it away as something to keep an eye on.

In March of this year I went as a Morning Star reporter – with the RMT’s approval – to cover its women’s conference in Glasgow. Women I knew of in the RMT were still talking about Leneghan’s case, and it made sense to me as a reporter to follow it up in the public interest, so I took advantage of a Q&A session with the union’s national organising co-ordinator Alan Pottage – a session on recruiting women organisers and combating sexism in the workplace – to ask whether he thought the lack of formal investigation into the allegations against Hedley had affected women members’ perceptions of the union. Pottage declined to comment and the session continued, but when delegates reconvened for the afternoon session the union’s equalities officer Jessica Webb and executive member Denis Connor approached my seat and forcibly ejected me from the conference. (You can find my full statement on the incident here).

The very next day the Morning Star’s editor Richard Bagley informed me that I had been suspended following allegations of gross misconduct and that any public comment I might make “could risk bringing the paper into disrepute and could have a bearing on [my] case”. (You can see the letter here and subsequent charges here.)

Six weeks later, I found myself back in London for a disciplinary hearing, with the company’s secretary Tony Briscoe bringing the charges and Bagley sitting in judgement. But as the Morning Star management’s minutes (for some reason presented as a verbatim transcript), and my own notes here show, it quickly became clear that the real nature of the accusations had nothing to do with the charge sheet and everything to do with appeasement.

From the minutes:

“RB: You have three years’ experience as a Morning Star journalist. Given the type of stories you’ve covered previously do you think the paper would have published a story on the issue you raised?”

—–

“RB: So let’s clarify the role of the Morning Star here: internal union matters are different from inter-union matters.”

—–

“TB: It’s debatable whether the NUJ (National Union of Journalists – Rory) code of conduct applies in a situation such as this and the fact you asked it raises a question about your approach. The question feels more like something a Daily Mail reporter would ask than someone from the Morning Star. You should have known better. This indicates a lack of journalistic etiquette and has damaged our relationship with the trade union movement.”

And from my own notes:

TB: “I would have thought the role of the Morning Star reporter was to progress the aims & goals of the paper.”

—–

TB: “I would expect that sort of question to be asked in the Daily Mail or the Sun.”

—–

TB: “I would say the public has no right to know about the ins-&-outs of the relationship between Leneghan & Hedley.”

Shortly afterwards I received Bagley’s written judgement. Again, you can read it for yourself here, but the thrust of the Morning Star’s editorial policy is below:

“After three years at the paper you should reasonably be expected to be familiar with the paper’s news priorities, which do not include reporting internal union rows or personal controversy. Your actions suggest a fundamental failure to grasp the Morning Star’s news focus, and by extension the role of any journalist employed by it.”

I was placed on a final written warning with twelve months’ probation, then went on to appeal (dismissed, ruling here), but that’s procedural stuff that isn’t strictly relevant.

What’s relevant, to my mind, is that readers cannot trust the Morning Star’s current leadership to report on abuse allegations and failures to formally investigate when they concern favoured figures in the trade union movement, even when those figures are elected officials. As the edition for 24 July shows, however – coincidentally the same day I had decided to give my notice – those Nasty Tories cannot expect such discretion. Feminist principles are a weapon with which to attack the right, but not an end in itself for the left.

I’ve written this because I was told that “the public has no right to know.” I think the Rail, Maritime and Transport Union’s members do have a right to know about their leaders’ decision not to hold a formal investigation into reports of violence against a female member, and I think the Morning Star’s readers and supporters also have a right to know that the paper’s senior staff have an explicit policy of suppressing such allegations.

It is quite possible that the Morning Star’s management committee – a panel which includes the National Assembly of Women’s Anita Wright – have not been told anything about this. If so, I hope that they will investigate and reassert the paper’s editorial independence. I am not trying to wreck the Morning Star here. I am insisting that it commits to its feminist principles and treats readers with the respect they deserve.

Rory MacKinnon
Morning Star reporter (2011-2014)
mackinnon.rorySPLATgmail.com
@RoryMacKinnon

UPDATE – This post was drafted on Saturday 26 July, the day after informing the Morning Star’s management of my intent to quit. On Monday 28, the paper announced company secretary Tony Briscoe’s retirement and editor Richard Bagley’s departure “for family reasons”. Bagley would continue to work for the paper, the report added.

__

ETA: The survivor has clarified some of the sequence of events. Caroline says:

“There’s a mistake here, the executive refused me to appeal, after that the only route was the agm, which is the quashed one, as i realised all my documents, statements etc had been distributed to hundreds of people without my knowledge”

ETA 2 (19.14 08/08/14): The MS have issued a statement denying everything. To borrow their phrasing, it is interesting to note they haven’t started issuing libel threats…

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Demonstrate against ISIS: tomorrow in London

August 15, 2014 at 4:46 pm (anti-fascism, genocide, Human rights, iraq, islamism, kurdistan, Middle East, posted by JD, reactionay "anti-imperialism", solidarity, Syria, terror)

Short notice, I know, but readers in or near London should make every effort to attend:

Organised by the Kurdish People’s Assembly UK

ISIS protestjOn Saturday the 16 of August, a large demonstration will take place in central London calling for urgent action to protect the people of Sinjar and the surrounding region from attacks by the group Islamic State in Iraq and Syria (ISIS).

ISIS represent a new and unprecedented threat to the lives and way of life of millions of people in Iraq and Syria. Furthermore, this is a threat we in the West cannot afford to ignore since it could potentially jeopardise our own national security.

The demonstrators will be calling on the UK government to make more effort in assisting the Yezidi people and put diplomatic pressure on states such as Turkey and Qatar for their policy of supporting jihadism in the region.

ISIS linked terrorists are carrying out a wholesale massacre against the Kurdish people and other ethnic and religious groups including members of the Shia, Sufi, Christian and Yezidi communities.

In the meantime, thousands of Yezidi Kurds are still stranded in the Jabal Mountains area of Sengal and with temperatures of up to 40 degrees Celsius during the day, the civilians are suffering from thirst and hunger whilst living under the constant threat of extermination.

We at Quilliam believe such a demonstration is vital at this critical juncture because, unopposed, ISIS will continue to take territory, kill innocent civilians, take women as slaves and create conditions in which many children will die of starvation.

Quilliam Chairman Maajid Nawaz said:

“I hope as many people as possible turn up in order to express the outrage we all feel towards ISIS and their barbaric actions. I also hope our government does all it can to support the victims of ISIS as well as those on the ground who are fighting against them.”

Further Details:
Date and time: Saturday 16 August 2014, 13:00
Venue: Gathering at BBC Broadcasting House, Portland Place, W1A 1AA; marching towards the US embassy and later to Marble Arch

Organised by: The Kurdish People’s Assembly UK.

For more information or media inquiries contact: aysemeleti@gmail.com / 07540 156019

From Left Foot Forward 

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