Looking back at Stoke

February 27, 2017 at 9:04 am (elections, labour party, posted by JD, reformism, UKIP)

A final report (for now) from Our Person in Stoke, Phil Burton-Cartledge (from his blog All That Is Solid):

On Labour’s Victorious Campaign in Stoke

While Copeland was important, the outcome didn’t dangle the possibility of an existential crisis. That exactly what was in play at the Stoke-on-Trent Central by-election. For UKIP and their empty cipher of a leader, a viable future was at stake. Both Nuttall and Nigel Farage had made much of UKIP’s need to become the party of the working class, and Stoke was seen as a test bed for this strategy. For Labour, a loss would have signalled a disastrous disengagement between the party and a core component of its electoral coalition. As the campaign wore on and Nuttall’s person was swamped by a tsunami of lies, Labour’s inability to win under those circumstances would have been nothing less than catastrophic.

It didn’t happen. After an awful year of grievous retreats, the line was held. And about bloody time. It’s the kippers who are now in disarray, and Labour lives to fight another day. The majority fell by a wee amount, and the Tories and UKIP put on small numbers of votes. But on the reduced turn out as per all by-elections, the proportions were roughly the same as the 2015 outing. Apart from the stakes and the media hype, including some truly stupid commentary bigging up UKIP’s prospects, was this a pretty dull by-election with very little to say about the state of national politics? Not in the slightest.

As we saw in Copeland, the Corbyn factor combined with the insecurity factor to the detriment of our chances. Did the same happen in Stoke Central? Yes, but with mixed results. During my moments on the doors, the Labour leader only came up the once. It was an old bloke just getting into his motor, and he was voting UKIP. This wasn’t because he hated immigrants or thought Labour was a pile of crap, it was a protest: he didn’t think Jeremy was any good. And nothing, not the NHS, not Nuttall’s lies were going to dissuade him. Having asked around quite a few comrades who worked intensively on the campaign, they found similar sentiments among too many older, white working class voters. These Jez sceptics were either voting for the kippers or abstaining. And yet this was balanced out by the very enthusiastic response he got in other quarters. In Penkhull and bits of Hartshill where there are more middle class and professional residents, and down in Shelton with its large student and Asian populations, Jeremy was a real motivator. When out with Gareth Snell around Shelton, one comrade tells me of how cars would suddenly stop to speak with him and have obligatory selfies taken. 2,500 new electors registered for the by-election, mostly in the student areas, and I would wager that an increased turn out here made up for the decline in the traditional support.

The additional Jeremy factor was evident in the campaign itself. UKIP have talked up its own support on the ground and the people working for it. The party even turned out regular paid-for coach loads from London to bus people in (I wonder if they will appear on their electoral returns?) But truly, the Labour effort was colossal and they were utterly swamped. Yes, plenty of old hands were about doing their bit. However, new members turned out in large numbers as well. For dozens, probably hundreds, The Potteries was their first taste of campaigning. Any analysis skipping the positive consequences of the 2015-16 Corbyn surge is one indifferent to the truth.

The actual campaign was impressive. Huge numbers ensured the entire constituency was covered multiple times. The party could have perhaps dispensed with a direct mail as there were folks enough to deliver them by hand. The strategy was spot on, too. The NHS, Brexit, and more, better jobs for Stoke were heavily featured. Gareth’s Plan for the Potteries with his first few months mapped out was exactly the sort of thing our campaign needed to see. Labour did put out one tabloid, The Potter’s Wheel, which craftily billed itself as the no spin guide to the by-election, and it spent its time doing over UKIP and Nuttall. It’s not often a party leaflet makes me laugh, but as negative campaigning goes its pun-tastic tones were the best way of doing it. The only criticism I would have, and this was evident in Copeland too, was the initial stand-offish approach taken toward the national media. Prioritising local radio, papers and telly is fine, but making it look as though candidates are hiding from reporters is not a good look. Remember, folks everywhere are more likely to follow national news and papers than the local equivalents.

What did annoy me was the constant barrage of claims on the right and the left that Stoke Central CLP had selected a “poor candidate”. Never mind the fact Gareth has a campaigning record that would be the envy of hyperactive Trots, never mind Labour Party people. Forget that his tenure as leader of Newcastle-under-Lyme Borough Council saw a no cuts budget (unless you want to get precious about perks for senior management), and increased funding for domestic and sexual violence services and preparing the council to uprate its lowest pay scales to the proper national living wage. Not one member of our national media did their job and properly investigated his record. Instead they lazily alighted upon tweets written a life time ago, including some apparently abusive criticisms of Jeremy that, in context, were crafted as warnings of being taken out of context. Irony. This occasioned a media carpet bombing of Gareth and should act as a warning for aspirant candidates to take the time and carefully clean up their social media now. And so Fleet Street dubbed our comrade rubbish on the basis of a string of 140 character missives. What a pathetic state of affairs. Ask anyone who knows anything about the Labour Party in North Staffordshire and they will tell you about his energy, his formidable organisational ability, his capacious memory for the minutiae of rules and procedure – a plus should he find himself facing an opponent across the dispatch box – and the fact he is Labour to the marrow. Gareth is among the best of us, as the rest of the Labour Party will see in due course.

The take homes from this then are the differential impacts Jeremy can have, and future by-election and local elections’ strategy need to bear this in mind. A campaign should have a small number of, easy-to-remember messages with the promise to do something about insecurity at their heart, and should avoid going into siege mode with the media. Yes, they will trash the party, it’s what they do. But resisting engagement is not a good look. There are other observations to be made about the UKIP, Tory and LibDem campaigns that have wider significance beyond Stoke, but they will have to wait.

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100 years of recorded jazz: the contested legacy of the ODJB

February 25, 2017 at 7:41 pm (black culture, history, jazz, Jim D, music, United States)

It was fortunate for both jazz and the phonograph industry that the emergence of both co-incided: the improvisational music that is jazz was caught in its early days by the phonograph, and jazz repaid the industry a million times over in sales of music that owed its existence to early jazz.

It is generally accepted that the first jazz records were laid down in New York on February 26 , 1917. The band was the Original Dixieland Jazz (or “Jass”) Band from New Orleans, and the records were Livery Stable Blues and Dixie Jass Band One-Step, which were released as the two sides of a 78 rpm record on April 17, 1917 which became a top-seller (and maybe an early million-seller). So far, so good. But at this point, race enters the story and makes matters difficult.

Because the Original Dixieland Jazz Band (or ODJB, as they are known in jazz history) were, indeed, from New Orleans – the recognised birthplace of jazz — but were white and achieved their success in New York. Jazz is, in its origins at least, primarily Afro-American, so surely the fact that the first jazz records were made by five white guys is a practical demonstration of racism, even in the foremost art-form developed by Afro Americans?

Well, maybe: but even disregarding the (unsubstantiated) legend that the black/creole trumpeter Freddy Keppard turned down a recording deal (on the grounds that rivals would steal his stuff) in 1916, before the ODJB recorded, there is no evidence that the Victor Talking Machine Company was motivated by racism when it recorded the ODJB, rather than a black band, for the first time. Where racism does come into the story is the reason the ODJB was such a sensation in New York in the first place. After all, James Reese Europe’s (black) orchestrated ragtime group and Bill Johnson’s Original Creole Band (featuring Keppard), which by all accounts was playing very similar music to the ODJB’s, had both already played New York but not achieved the success that came the way of the ODJB. Gunther Schuller, in his book Early Jazz, offers various explanations before concluding: “Finally, the color lines were undoubtedly still drawn so clearly as to make similar success for a comparable Negro group impossible.”

The spurious race issue has been further exacerbated by preposterous rants over the years from the ODJB leader and trumpet/cornetist Nick La Rocca, claiming that he and the ODJB had “invented” jazz and that black musicians had stolen from them: La Rocca’s racism (or, maybe, to be charitable, bitterness from a Sicilian who was himself the victim of prejudice), has antagonised jazz lovers ever since, and contributed to a general consensus in which the ODJB are down-graded as little more than a novelty act who struck lucky (mainly by dint of being white) and happened to make the first (supposed) jazz records.

Philip Larkin, not often cited as an anti-racist, wrote this about La Rocca’s claims (as repeated uncritically in The Story Of The Original Dixieland Jazz Band, by H.O.Brunn): “Mr Brunn’s thesis that the ODJB ‘invented’ jazz out of a kind of instrumental ragtime is put forward mainly by the staggering trick of completely omitting all reference to contemporary Negro New Orleansperformers such as Bolden, Oliver, Bunk Johnson or Keppard. No reader of this book would suspect that the Negroes had anything to do with jazz at all. Can this be the official Southern view?”

So was the ODJB actually any good, and are its records (still widely available on LP and CD) worth listening to? I have to admit that I can only listen to the ODJB as an exercise in musical archaeology – something that I wouldn’t say about King Oliver’s Creole Band, Jelly Roll Morton’s Red Hot Peppers, Armstrong’s Hot Fives and Sevens, or, indeed, the white New Orleans Rhythm Kings who started recording in 1923 – all these early bands sound fresh and exciting in a way that the novelty-effects and stiff rhythm of the ODJB simply does not (though the Victor records they made in the course of a brief 1936 re-union are a considerable improvement).

And yet … the ODJB was made up of good musicians. Clarinettist Larry Shields was a fine and surprisingly sensitive player, who influenced Benny Goodman and was respected by black and creole contemporaries, while drummer Tony Sparbaro (later Spargo) was a top-rank percussionist who could hold his own alongside the best black drummers of the day (he was also the only member of the original ODJB lineup to say active in jazz after the demise of the group in 1924: he was still playing and recording in the late 50’s). Even the much-scorned La Rocca can lay claim to having influenced the great Bix Beiderbeck; as Richard M. Sudhalter (in his monumental account of white jazz, Lost Chords) writes: “Visiting Bix in 1931, his old friend Dick Turner found him bitter and disillusioned, complaining that life had passed him by, that there was no one on whom he could depend – and that hot music held no further charms for him. ‘Hell,’ he told Turner, ‘there are only two musicians I’d go across the road to hear now, that’s Louis and La Rocca’.”

And talking of the great Armstrong, it’s worth remembering that his early record collection included discs by Caruso, Al Jolson … and the ODJB, whose Tiger Rag made a lasting impression on the young man and was part of his repertoire throughout his career. Louis even went so far as to state (in his first real autobiography Satchmo): “Between you and me it’s still the best” (ie the ODJB version of the tune).

Probably the fairest assessment of the ODJB comes from Gunther Schuller, in Early Jazz: “Still, in a balanced assessment of the ODJB, its best recordings, like Sensation Rag, Clarinet Marmalade, Dixie Jazz Band One Step and Livery Stable Blues, were an infuriating mixture of bad and good, of tasteless vulgarity and good musical intuitions. But beyond the music the ODJB left behind, it held, for better or worse, a crucial place in the formative period of jazz. It fulfilled the role in a manner that was not altogether unworthy.”


Surviving ODJB members Spargo and Edwards on a TV show in Sept 1960

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Socialist Worker’s fantasy world of non-racist Brexit, quite different from Trump

February 23, 2017 at 8:35 pm (Andrew Coates, Beyond parody, Europe, fantasy, immigration, Migrants, nationalism, populism, posted by JD, stalinism, SWP, Trump)

Andrew Coates nails the liars and fantasists of Socialist Worker:

Image result for Trump Brexit

Nothing to do with Brexit, says Socialist Worker Alternative News Factory.

Don’t lump together Brexit and Trump.

Socialist Worker. 21.2.2017.

There’s no shortage of things to be angry about at the moment—especially when it comes to racism and attacks on Muslims and migrants.

It can be hard to keep track of the outrages committed by US president Donald Trump.

And in Britain many politicians think the vote to leave the European Union (EU) is an opportunity to attack migrants and end freedom of movement.

Yet Trump and Brexit are not the same thing—and we shouldn’t lump them together.

There are similarities between the two. They both happened because sections of working class people kicked back at mainstream politicians after decades of attack.

Myths

Some did swallow racist myths pushed from the top of society.

But there is a major difference. There could never be a progressive case for supporting Donald Trump—but there has always been a left wing and anti-racist case against the EU.

Socialist Worker campaigned to leave the EU because it has enforced austerity and locked out refugees fleeing war and poverty.

It’s not true that the main factor behind the Leave vote was racism against migrants—as polls keep showing.

It was a way of punishing the elite and mainstream politicians.

There’s an anti-establishment feeling in Britain that can be turned into resistance.

But to do that means connecting with people’s anger—not dismissing it as racist.

It is no doubt important to emphasise that Trump, who strongly backed Brexit, is not Brexit, nor indeed is he Paul Nuttall, nor was he present, like Nuttall at the Battle of Hastings.

Yet one suspects that the SWP are stung by the loud noises of celebration coming from the Trump camp, and far-rightists around the world, from Marine Le Pen onwards, at the British vote to Leave.

It would be interesting to see the data that shows that the main factor behind the Brexit  was “a way of punishing the elite and mainstream politics.”

It would be also interesting to see a Marxist analysis of the ‘elite’, what class it is, and indeed what an ‘elite’ in the UK is.

It would be perhaps too much to expect an account of how leaving the EU, and attacking migrants’ rights (in the UK and, for UK citizens within continental Europe)  and ending freedom of movement within its frontiers, is going bring borders down and help, “locked out refugees fleeing war and poverty”.

No doubt the “The EU’s Frontex border guards stop refugees entering Europe by land – forcing them to risk their lives at sea.” will disappear as the UK……. sets up its own border guards.

How Brexit  was going to be part of the the fight against austerity by consolidating power in the hands of the right-wingers now in charge of the UK Sovereign state, opening up the way for future trade agreements with the pro-Brexit nationalist Trump, is one of those mysteries of the dialectic.

One that shouting that Trump is not Brexit, and an analysis based on “kicking back” at elites, is not going to unravel.

As for people’s reasons for the Leave vote.

This is a synthesis of many studies (Wikipedia).

On the day of the referendum Lord Ashcroft‘s polling team questioned 12,369 people who had completed voting. This poll produced data that showed that ‘Nearly half (49%) of leave voters said the biggest single reason for wanting to leave the European Union was “the principle that decisions about the UK should be taken in the UK”.”

Lord Ashcroft’s election day poll of 12,369 voters also discovered that ‘One third (33%) [of leave voters] said the main reason was that leaving “offered the best chance for the UK to regain control over immigration and its own borders.”’[8]

Immediately prior to the referendum data from Ipsos-Mori showed that immigration/migration was the most cited issue when Britons were asked ‘What do you see as the most/other important issue facing Britain today?’ with 48% of respondents mentioning it when surveyed.

In the SWP’s Alternative News Factory the third who were plainly anti-migrant have vanished, nor any consideration that this may have been a reason, if not the principal one, for a Brexit vote.

Perhaps the writers for Socialist Worker were asleep when the torrent of anti-migrant propaganda was unleashed in the country.

Now, how exactly  is the SWP going to relate to the “anti-establishment” demand that motivated the others  that “decisions taken in the UK should be taken in the UK” by these people ‘angry at the elites’?

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Guess which paper campaigned for al-Harith’s release?

February 23, 2017 at 7:32 pm (Daily Mail, islamism, Jim D, media, terror, Tony Blair)

Like the majority of people in the UK, us lot at Shiraz don’t have much time for Anthony Blair Esq, and wish he’d shut up (even – as on Brexit – when he’s making broadly the right noises). But, just for once, we applaud his decision to make a statement on an issue of public concern.

 Martin Rowson 23.02.17Illustration: Martin Rowson (Guardian)

Yesterday, The Daily Mail could scarcely contain its fury, accusing the Blair government of releasing and then paying compensation, to Jamal al-Harith, the British ISIS fighter who blew himself up in Iraq on Monday.

But in a strongly worded statement, Blair has hit back, noting that the £1 million compensation al-Harith received for his treatment in Guantanamo Bay was paid out not by Labour, but by David Cameron’s Tories in 2010, and that the campaign for al-Harith’s release was led by … the Daily Mail !

Blair’s statement reads:

“I would not normally respond to daily stories about events which happened during my time in office but on this occasion I will do so, given the utter hypocrisy with which this story is being covered.

The Daily Mail is running a story entitled ‘Still Think He Wasn’t A Danger, Mr Blair? Fury at Labour government’s £1m compensation for innocent Brit’, regarding news a former Guantanamo Bay detainee launched a suicide attack on behalf of ISIS this week.

It is correct that Jamal al-Harith was released from Guantanamo Bay at the request of the British government in 2004. This followed a massive media and parliamentary campaign, led by the Daily Mail, the very paper that is now supposedly so outraged at his release and strongly supported by the then Conservative opposition.

The Mail headline shortly after he was released after months of their campaigning was ‘Freedom At Last for Guantanamo Britons‘.

They then quoted with approval various human rights activists saying ‘clearly by what’s happened they’re not bad guys, they are entirely innocent.’”

Above left: yesterday’s Mail; right: the Mail when al-Harith was released

Blair went on to say when al-Harith’s release was announced ‘in very measured terms’ in 2004, ‘Conservative MPs reacted by strongly criticising not the release but why it had taken so long’.

He added:

“The fact is that this was always a very difficult situation where any government would have to balance proper concern for civil liberties with desire to protect our security, and we were likely to be attacked whatever course we took.

The reason it did take a long time for their release was precisely the anxiety over their true affiliations. […]

But those who demanded their release should not be allowed to get away with now telling us that it is a scandal that it happened.”

On this – if nothing else – we’re with you Blair. Keep stickin’ it to Dacre and those lying hypocritical scumbags at the Mail.

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Amnesty’s 2016/17 Annual Report and the effects of the Brexit vote

February 22, 2017 at 9:49 pm (Anti-Racism, campaigning, Civil liberties, CPB, Europe, Human rights, internationalism, Jim D, stalinism)

Amnesty International has released its 2016/17 Annual Report. Once again, I am indebted to the Morning Star for drawing my attention to a valuable publication. However (and once again) I have to note that the M Star’s coverage is – shall we say – misleading when it comes to the effects of the EU referendum campaign and result. The report notes (in the section on the UK), that “The National Police Chiefs’ Council’s official statistics in June and September showed a 57% spike in reporting of hate crime in the week immediately following the EU membership referendum, followed by a decrease in reporting to a level 14% higher than the same period the previous year. The UN High Commissioner for Human Rights expressed his concern in June. Government statistics published in October showed an increase in hate crimes of 19% over the previous year, with 79% of the incidents recorded classified as ‘race hate crimes’. In November, the CERD Committee called on the UK to take steps to address the increase in such hate crimes”.

As we’ve come to expect, the Brexit-supporting M Star makes no mention of this aspect of the report, but quotes (or is it a quote? There are no quote marks round it) Amnesty UK director Kerry Moscoguri saying that the attacks on migrants and refugees didn’t start with the Brexit campaign – a statement so banal and beside the point as to be meaningless.
preview

Below: Amnesty’s press release summarises the report:

‘Politics of demonization’ breeding division and fear

  • Amnesty International releases its Annual Report for 2016 to 2017
  • Risk of domino effect as powerful states backtrack on human rights commitments
  • Salil Shetty, head of the global movement, warns that “never again” has become meaningless as states fail to react to mass atrocities

Politicians wielding a toxic, dehumanizing “us vs them” rhetoric are creating a more divided and dangerous world, warned Amnesty International today as it launched its annual assessment of human rights around the world.

The report, The State of the World’s Human Rights, delivers the most comprehensive analysis of the state of human rights around the world, covering 159 countries. It warns that the consequences of “us vs them” rhetoric setting the agenda in Europe, the United States and elsewhere is fuelling a global pushback against human rights and leaving the global response to mass atrocities perilously weak.

“2016 was the year when the cynical use of ‘us vs them’ narratives of blame, hate and fear took on a global prominence to a level not seen since the 1930s. Too many politicians are answering legitimate economic and security fears with a poisonous and divisive manipulation of identity politics in an attempt to win votes,” said Salil Shetty, Secretary General of Amnesty International.

“Divisive fear-mongering has become a dangerous force in world affairs. Whether it is Trump, Orban, Erdoğan or Duterte, more and more politicians calling themselves anti-establishment are wielding a toxic agenda that hounds, scapegoats and dehumanizes entire groups of people.

“Today’s politics of demonization shamelessly peddles a dangerous idea that some people are less human than others, stripping away the humanity of entire groups of people. This threatens to unleash the darkest aspects of human nature.”

Politics of demonization drives global pushback on human rights

Seismic political shifts in 2016 exposed the potential of hateful rhetoric to unleash the dark side of human nature. The global trend of angrier and more divisive politics was exemplified by Donald Trump’s poisonous campaign rhetoric, but political leaders in various parts of the world also wagered their future power on narratives of fear, blame and division.

This rhetoric is having an increasingly pervasive impact on policy and action. In 2016, governments turned a blind eye to war crimes, pushed through deals that undermine the right to claim asylum, passed laws that violate free expression, incited murder of people simply because they are accused of using drugs, justified torture and mass surveillance, and extended draconian police powers.

Governments also turned on refugees and migrants; often an easy target for scapegoating. Amnesty International’s Annual Report documents how 36 countries violated international law by unlawfully sending refugees back to a country where their rights were at risk.

Most recently, President Trump put his hateful xenophobic pre-election rhetoric into action by signing an executive order in an attempt to prevent refugees from seeking resettlement in the USA; blocking people fleeing conflict and persecution from war-torn countries such as Syria from seeking safe haven in the country.

Meanwhile, Australia purposefully inflicts terrible suffering by trapping refugees on Nauru and Manus Island, the EU made an illegal and reckless deal with Turkey to send refugees back there, even though it is not safe for them, and Mexico and the USA continue to deport people fleeing rampant violence in Central America.

Elsewhere, China, Egypt, Ethiopia, India, Iran, Thailand and Turkey carried out massive crackdowns. While other countries pursued intrusive security measures, such as prolonged emergency powers in France and unprecedented catastrophic surveillance laws in the UK. Another feature of “strongman” politics was a rise in anti-feminist and -LGBTI rhetoric, such as efforts to roll back women’s rights in Poland, which were met with massive protests.

“Instead of fighting for people’s rights, too many leaders have adopted a dehumanizing agenda for political expediency. Many are violating rights of scapegoated groups to score political points, or to distract from their own failures to ensure economic and social rights,” said Salil Shetty.

“In 2016, these most toxic forms of dehumanization became a dominant force in mainstream global politics. The limits of what is acceptable have shifted. Politicians are shamelessly and actively legitimizing all sorts of hateful rhetoric and policies based on people’s identity: misogyny, racism and homophobia.

“The first target has been refugees and, if this continues in 2017, others will be in the cross-hairs. The reverberations will lead to more attacks on the basis of race, gender, nationality and religion. When we cease to see each other as human beings with the same rights, we move closer to the abyss.”

World turns its back on mass atrocities

Amnesty International is warning that 2017 will see ongoing crises exacerbated by a debilitating absence of human rights leadership on a chaotic world stage. The politics of “us vs them” is also taking shape at the international level, replacing multilateralism with a more aggressive, confrontational world order.

“With world leaders lacking political will to put pressure on other states violating human rights, basic principles from accountability for mass atrocities to the right to asylum are at stake,” said Salil Shetty.

“Even states that once claimed to champion rights abroad are now too busy rolling back human rights at home to hold others to account. The more countries backtrack on fundamental human rights commitments, the more we risk a domino effect of leaders emboldened to knock back established human rights protections.”

The world faces a long list of crises with little political will to address them: including Syria, Yemen, Libya, Afghanistan, Central America, Central African Republic, Burundi, Iraq, South Sudan and Sudan. Amnesty International’s Annual Report documented war crimes committed in at least 23 countries in 2016.

Despite these challenges, international indifference to war crimes has become an entrenched normality as the UN Security Council remains paralyzed by rivalries between permanent member states.

“The beginning of 2017 finds many of the world’s most powerful states pursuing narrower national interests at the expense of international cooperation. This risks taking us towards a more chaotic, dangerous world,” said Salil Shetty.

“A new world order where human rights are portrayed as a barrier to national interests makes the ability to tackle mass atrocities dangerously low, leaving the door open to abuses reminiscent of the darkest times of human history.

“The international community has already responded with deafening silence after countless atrocities in 2016: a live stream of horror from Aleppo, thousands of people killed by the police in the Philippines’ ‘war on drugs’, use of chemical weapons and hundreds of villages burned in Darfur. The big question in 2017 will be how far the world lets atrocities go before doing something about them.”

Who is going to stand up for human rights?

Amnesty International is calling on people around the world to resist cynical efforts to roll back long-established human rights in exchange for the distant promise of prosperity and security.

The report warns that global solidarity and public mobilization will be particularly important to defend individuals who stand up to those in power and defend human rights, who are often cast by governments as a threat to economic development, security or other priorities.

Amnesty International’s annual report documents people killed for peacefully standing up for human rights in 22 countries in 2016. They include those targeted for challenging entrenched economic interests, defending minorities and small communities or opposing traditional barriers to women’s and LGBTI rights. The killing of the high-profile Indigenous leader and human rights defender Berta Cáceres in Honduras on 2 March 2016 sent a chilling message to activists but nobody was brought to justice.

“We cannot passively rely on governments to stand up for human rights, we the people have to take action. With politicians increasingly willing to demonize entire groups of people, the need for all of us to stand up for the basic values of human dignity and equality everywhere has seldom been clearer,” said Salil Shetty.

“Every person must ask their government to use whatever power and influence they have to call out human rights abusers. In dark times, individuals have made a difference when they took a stand, be they civil rights activists in the USA, anti-apartheid activists in South Africa, or women’s rights and LGBTI movements around the world. We must all rise to that challenge now.”

Background

Amnesty International has documented grave violations of human rights in 2016 in 159 countries. Examples of the rise and impact of poisonous rhetoric, national crackdowns on activism and freedom of expression highlighted by Amnesty International in its Annual Report include, but are by no means limited, to:

Bangladesh: Instead of providing protection for or investigating the killings of activists, reporters and bloggers, authorities have pursued trials against media and the opposition for, among other things, Facebook posts.

China: Ongoing crackdown against lawyers and activists continued, including incommunicado detention, televised confessions and harassments of family members.

DRC: Pro-democracy activists subjected to arbitrary arrests and, in some cases, prolonged incommunicado detention.

Egypt: Authorities used travel bans, financial restrictions and asset freezes to undermine, smear and silence civil society groups.

Ethiopia: A government increasingly intolerant of dissenting voices used anti-terror laws and a state of emergency to crack down on journalists, human rights defenders, the political opposition and, in particular, protesters who have been met with excessive and lethal force.

France: Heavy-handed security measures under the prolonged state of emergency have included thousands of house searches, as well as travel bans and detentions.

Honduras: Berta Cáceres and seven other human rights activists were killed.

Hungary: Government rhetoric championed a divisive brand of identity politics and a dark vision of “Fortress Europe”, which translated into a policy of systematic crackdown on refugee and migrants rights.

India: Authorities used repressive laws to curb freedom of expression and silence critical voices. Human rights defenders and organizations continued to face harassment and intimidation. Oppressive laws have been used to try to silence student activists, academics, journalists and human rights defenders.

Iran: Heavy suppression of freedom of expression, association, peaceful assembly and religious beliefs. Peaceful critics jailed after grossly unfair trials before Revolutionary Courts, including journalists, lawyers, bloggers, students, women’s rights activists, filmmakers and even musicians.

Myanmar: Tens of thousands of Rohingya people – who remain deprived of a nationality – displaced by “clearance operations” amid reports of unlawful killings, indiscriminate firing on civilians, rape and arbitrary arrests. Meanwhile, state media published opinion articles containing alarmingly dehumanizing language.

Philippines: A wave of extrajudicial executions ensued after President Duterte promised to kill tens of thousands of people suspected of being involved in the drug trade.

Russia: At home the government noose tightened around national NGOs, with increasing propaganda labelling critics as “undesirable” or “foreign agents”, and the first prosecution of NGOs under a “foreign agents” law. Meanwhile, dozens of independent NGOs receiving foreign funding were added to the list of “foreign agents”. Abroad there was a complete disregard for international humanitarian law in Syria.

Saudi Arabia: Critics, human rights defenders and minority rights activists have been detained and jailed on vaguely worded charges such as “insulting the state”. Coalition forces led by Saudi Arabia committed serious violations of international law, including alleged war crimes, in Yemen. Coalition forces bombed schools, hospitals, markets and mosques, killing and injuring thousands of civilians using arms supplied by the US and UK governments, including internationally banned cluster bombs.

South Sudan: Ongoing fighting continued to have devastating humanitarian consequences for civilian populations, with violations and abuses of international human rights and humanitarian law.

Sudan: Evidence pointed strongly to the use of chemical weapons by government forces in Darfur. Elsewhere, suspected opponents and critics of the government subjected to arbitrary arrests and detentions. Excessive use of force by the authorities in dispersing gatherings led to numerous casualties.

Syria: Impunity for war crimes and gross human rights abuses continued, including indiscriminate attacks and direct attacks on civilians and lengthy sieges that trapped civilians. The human rights community has been almost completely crushed, with activists either imprisoned, tortured, disappeared, or forced to flee the country.

Thailand: Emergency powers, defamation and sedition laws used to restrict freedom of expression.

Turkey: Tens of thousands locked up after failed coup, with hundreds of NGOs suspended, a massive media crackdown, and the continuing onslaught in Kurdish areas.

UK: A spike in hate crimes followed the referendum on European Union membership. A new surveillance law granted significantly increased powers to intelligence and other agencies to invade people’s privacy on a massive scale.

USA: An election campaign marked by discriminatory, misogynist and xenophobic rhetoric raised serious concerns about the strength of future US commitments to human rights domestically and globally.

Venezuela: Backlash against outspoken human rights defenders who raised the alarm about the humanitarian crisis caused by the government’s failure to meet the economic and social rights of the population.

For more information or to request an interview please call Amnesty International’s press office in London, UK, on

+44 20 7413 5566 or +44 (0)77 7847 2126

email: press@amnesty.org

twitter: @amnestypress

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How the alt-right have reacted to Milo’s support of child abuse

February 22, 2017 at 12:35 am (anti-semitism, apologists and collaborators, Asshole, child abuse, conspiracy theories, fascism, funny, gloating, misogyny, parasites, plonker, populism, posted by JD, Racism, Trump, wankers)

By Mack Lamoureux at Vice.com

Many alt-right figures are going to extraordinary lengths to explain away the former Breitbart editor’s “pro-pedophilia” comments.

It seems like Nero has finally been consumed by the fire he started.

Far-right provocateur Milo Yiannopoulos, who just stepped down from his position as Breitbart’s tech editor this afternoon, had a very bad couple of days, with his keynote speaker engagement at CPAC pulled and a book deal worth more than $250,000 canceled. Yiannopoulos, who went by @nero before being the rare media personality actually kicked off Twitter, saw his troll empire finally burn him after videos of him making what has been described as “pro-pedophilia” comments resurfaced.

“We get hung up on this child abuse stuff, to the point where we’re heavily policing even relationships between consenting adults,” he said on a podcast called The Drunken Peasants in January 2016. Later, in the same conversation, he said that relationships “between younger boys and older men… can be hugely positive experiences.”

On an episode of Joe Rogan’s podcast in July of the same year, Yiannopoulos made similar comments and also hinted that he has personally seen minors being sexually abused at a party and not reported it.

Yiannopoulos, for his part, has vehemently denied the allegations, saying that his comments were taken out of context and that he was being humorous. Yiannopoulos apologized during a press conference today saying that he regrets the comments, but that “as a victim of child abuse” the concept of him being a supporter of pedophilia is “absurd.” He went on to say that this was a conspiracy by the media to bring him down.

“Let’s be clear about what’s happening here,” said Yiannopoulos. “This is a cynical media witch hunt from people who do not care about children; they care about destroying me and my career and, by extension, my allies. They know that although I made some outrageous statements, I’ve never actually done anything wrong.”

“They held this story back. They held this footage back—footage that has been out there in the wild for over a year because they don’t care about victims. They don’t care about children; they only care about bringing me down. They will fail.”

As one would expect, the derpy superheroes of the alt-right, or new-right (whatever these neo-fascists are calling themselves these days,) have had his back… to a point. That said, it’s not exactly the work of geniuses.

Oddly enough, some of the more well-known players in the alt-right have come out against Yiannopoulos. Richard Spencer and Tim Treadstone (Baked Alaska), the latter of whom claims to be Yiannopoulos’s former manager, both shit on their former British king.

“The guy is totally done,” said Spencer on Twitter. “No sane person will defend him.”

However, it seems, even if Richard Spencer (a self-avowed white supremacist) won’t defend Yiannopoulos, the pizzagaters will.

Mike Cernovich during his online call-in show. Photo via screenshot

Mike Cernovich, best known as that pizzagate guy, dedicated his online radio show to defending Yiannopoulos last night. His main argument is that Yiannopoulos was joking about the comments, but he also has some rather strong thoughts on how the video came to be. Toward the end of his show, Cernovich tail-spins into a theory that this is all a systematic takedown by the “deep state”—influential but unknown members of the military or government agencies (CIA, FBI)—because “citizen journalists” were onto their pedophilia rings. Look, it’s not that easy to summarize something that is crystallized stupidity brought to life so here it is in full:

One third of the deep state are pedophiles, to get at that high level that they get at they have all kind of initiation rituals that a lot of people that wouldn’t believe are possible but it’s how they control you,” Cernovich said.

“What they do, if you want to be at the highest level—the highest power level—they make the new members molest children and record it. That accomplishes two things, one it gives them blackmail material on everybody for the rest of their lives but, even bigger, they know that if you harm a child, then you will do anything for them.

“That’s why they became really nervous when citizen journalists began investigating pedophile rings in DC, they got shaken up. The fake news media freaked out and now they want to tar everybody that they possibly can to try and distract from their true crimes, that’s what’s really going on here, 100 percent what’s going on here.

The  theory that this is a deep-state psy-op has taken hold in many of the circles of the alt-right. Jack Posobiec, another prominent alt-right social media figure, tweeted that a source told him $250,000 was spent on opposition research on Yiannopoulos, where “they” hired PIs and video editors—former independent presidential candidate Evan McMullin is somehow involved as well. Lauren Southern, a 21-year-old Canadian media personality for the northern equivalent of Breitbart, also tweeted out that it was a hit job but later deleted her tweets.

Many, many blog posts have been written supporting this idea that Yiannopoulos is the victim of a smear job conducted by the mainstream media. However, these videos were out publicly on YouTube for quite some time, which would mean that these “deep-state operatives” must have a hell of a budget to be able to go back in time and force Yiannopoulos to make those comments publicly on the podcasts.

That said, there is significant online chatter worrying about further takedowns of members of Yiannopoulos’s brethren. Cernovich later tweeted that “Deep State is going after everyone with a large social media following” to which Paul Joseph Watson, of conspiracy theory and Infowars fame, tweeted “can confirm.”

Alex Jones ranting on camera. Photo via screenshot

Which brings us to Infowars founder (and apparently semi-regular Trump advisor), Alex Jones, who posted a doozy of a video entitled “Milo Is A Victim of Sexual Abuse, Does Not Promote Pedophilia” last night. The video is mostly him yelling in the dark about Yiannopoulos; yet it is still, somehow, the most sane defense of the bunch.

In the rambly clip, Jones calls Yiannopoulos a “beta gay guy” and seems to suggest that he’s gay because of abuse and has Stockholm syndrome. He calls the stories about Yiannopoulos a “witch hunt” and goes on a tirade against people who support trans rights. In the video, he suggests that journalists should be going after the big pedophile rings in Hollywood and DC instead of Yiannopoulos.

“On a scale of one to ten—zero being a really good person with your kids and a good life where you’re standing up for what’s right. On the compendium, on this whole spectrum, most of us are a one or something,” said Jones. “Then you got a Sandusky or these type of people that are nines or tens.

“This is like a three or four, so if we’re going to fry Milo, we better go ahead and fry everybody else who is involved in this.”

Jones concludes that this is “absolutely the Republican Party trying to roll up the grassroots support of the nationalist and populist movement that is taking place” and then compared Yiannopoulos to PewDiePie.

The whole situation seems to have taken place in the Upside Down. For several years now, the alt-righters have never seen a pedophile conspiracy they couldn’t sink their teeth into. At one point, Cernovich repeatedly targeted Vic Berger as a pedophile and sicced his merry band of trolls on him.

So it’s interesting to watch these people, who see pedophiles around every corner, and, like Yiannopoulos, have weaponized pedophilia accusations, scrambling to explain away Yiannopoulos’s own comments.

Sometimes it’s hard to tell when the call is coming from inside the house.

Lead photo via Facebook and Youtube

Follow Mack Lamoureux on Twitter.

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Liverpool UKIP Chairs resign: “Nuttall not fit to lead”

February 20, 2017 at 2:19 pm (elections, nationalism, plonker, populism, posted by JD, tragedy, truth, UKIP)

More Nuttallaria from the excellent SKWAWKBOX:

nuttall-worried

In yet another blow to UKIP leader Paul Nuttall’s chances in the Stoke Central by-election later this week, the Chairs of UKIP Liverpool and Merseyside have both resigned. It’s extremely rare for this writer to be able to say ‘well done’ to anyone from UKIP, but both gentlemen have taken a stand on principle and that’s laudable.

nuttall polhome.png

As Politics Home revealed, Stuart Monkcom  issued a statement on behalf of himself and Adam Hetherington, which reads:

Although the timing of our resignations is unfortunate in light of upcoming elections, both Adam and I wish to make it clear, where the painful subject of Hillsborough is concerned, with closure not yet in sight, this unprofessional approach and crass insensitivity from high profile people closely within and without Ukip is upsetting and intolerable.

We identify most strongly with all the good people of Liverpool and most importantly the families of the Hillsborough victims who have fought so hard and long for justice, in their condemnation of the way Ukip has handled these issues.

I felt supporting a libertarian party was the right thing to do in order to affect change in the political system in this country. Unfortunately that dream has been shattered and the potential of Ukip has been squandered by people who have demonstrated they are not fit to lead.

Nuttall’s campaign – and even his party – appear to have come apart at the seams. The SKWAWKBOX, which initiated this chain of events and added various links to it – especially the revelation that Nuttall and Nigel Farage had smeared the Hillsborough families in an attempt to get off the hook (a fact that is unlikely to be unconnected to today’s resignations, given the wording of the statement), is proud to have played its part in what should be a ‘dustbin of history’ moment for UKIP’s leader and hopefully even his party.

The SKWAWKBOX is provided free of charge but depends on the generosity of its readers to be viable. If you can afford to, please click here to arrange a one-off or modest monthly donation via PayPal. Thanks for your support so this blog can keep bringing you information the Establishment would prefer you not to know about.

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Hungarian Right destroying and remaking history

February 20, 2017 at 1:31 pm (anti-fascism, history, Hungary, intellectuals, literature, Marxism, philosophy)

 Image result for picture Budapest statue of Georg Lukács

On 25 January the Metropolitan Council of Budapest decided (by 19 votes to 3) to remove the statue of the Marxist philosopher Georg Lukács from the 13th District and replace it with a statue of King Stephen, the founder of the Hungarian nation. The proposal was put by a member of the neo-fascist Jobbik Party, Marcell Tokody. Last year, despite opposition, Lukács’s house which has served as an open archive since his death in 1971 was closed by the authorities. The fate of the documents in the archive, many of which have yet to be translated in languages other than their original Hungarian or German, is unclear.

In the history of 20th century Marxism Lukács is a central figure. He is certainly not without his critics but some of his writings, particularly History and Class Consciousness, are seminal works of Marxism and have stood the test of time. We should not standby and allow the barbarians of the Hungarian right, and their odious leader Prime Minister Viktor Orbán, to destroy his legacy.

Please sign the petition:

www.petition24.com/protest_against_closing_down_the_lukacs_archive

John Cunningham

(the author of these few words lived in Hungary from 1991 to 2000 and is currently working on  a full length study of Lukács and his legacy)

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Jackie Walker to tour Scotland despite efforts of “well financed agents” of Israel to “silence” her

February 18, 2017 at 12:12 pm (anti-semitism, conspiracy theories, israel, labour party, palestine, reactionay "anti-imperialism", scotland, stalinism, zionism)


Above: a typical Jackie Walker performance

By Dale Street

Jackie Walker, currently still suspended and under investigation by the Labour Party in connection with allegations of anti-Semitic conduct, will be doing a speaking tour of Scotland in March. The speaking tour has been organised by the Scottish Palestine Solidarity Campaign (SPSC).

The SPSC’s main claims to fame are:
– Commemorating Holocaust Memorial Day with readings from Perdition (to demonstrate that the Holocaust was a joint Nazi-Zionist endeavour), with the added attraction of Ken Livingstone’s intellectual guru Lenni Brenner as the special guest speaker.
– Commemorating Holocaust Memorial Day the following year by hosting Azzam Tamimi (who thinks that Israeli Jews should “go back to Germany” (sic), and has also advocated: “The US, the Zionist father through adoption, [should] grant [the Jews] one out of its more than fifty states.” (sic)).
– Campaigning, with an unsurprising lack of success, in defence of Paul Donnachie

The leaflet advertising the speaking tour (Palestine, Free Speech, and Israel’s ‘Black-ops’) states:

“Jackie Walker is a high-profile target of false, evidence-free accusations of antisemitism that we have become all too familiar with. They are now seen to be part of the ‘black-ops’ organised by the Israeli Embassy and its well-financed agents in every mainstream political party. Jackie joins those supporters of Palestinian rights who have been attacked for challenging Zionist political ideas.

“She dared to criticise the official Holocaust Memorial Day organisation set up by Tony Blair as not dealing sufficiently with all genocides. HMD blanked, and a Tory Minister then attacked, Auschwitz survivor Hajo Meyer when he spoke at meetings across Scotland and compared the current Israeli dehumanisation of Palestinians with the vile racism he suffered as a Jewish kid in 1930s Germany. …

“We have the right to challenge any political idea in the public domain, but pro-Israel voices seek to exempt the racist ideology of Zionism from criticism and smear opponents as ‘antisemitic’.”

The fact that the SPSC thinks that the allegations against Jackie Walker are “evidence-free” does much to explain their lack of success with the ‘Paul Donnachie is Innocent’ campaign.

And isn’t it a bit odd that it’s always the Israeli agents who are the “well-financed” ones? Hmmm, sounds familiar!

As for Holocaust Memorial Day being an initiative of Tony Bliar – well, say no more!

Is Jackie Walker’s speaking tour going to prove to be a boost for the defence, or a boost for the prosecution?

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Trump and the alt-right

February 18, 2017 at 11:36 am (fascism, nationalism, populism, posted by JD, Racism, thuggery, Trump, United States)

Scott McLemee looks back at the opening weeks of the Trump administration, in an article written for the German magazine Marx21 and published at New Politics and (the US) SocialistWorker.org

DONALD TRUMP likes to think that he has not only won an election, but “built a movement.” And to judge by his first week in the White House, he has–just not in the way he thinks.

One day after the smallest public attendance at a presidential inauguration that anyone can remember, roughly a half million people turned out for the Women’s March on Washington to denounce Trump’s agenda of immigrant-bashing, misogyny and attacks on reproductive rights. It was perhaps the largest protest since the antiwar rallies during George W. Bush’s second term, and a number of speakers expressed solidarity with the Black Lives Matter movement against racist police violence. On the same day as the march, hundreds of “sister” events were held at the same time in cities throughout the U.S. and around the world (including Berlin, Munich and Frankfurt) with estimates of up to 3 million participants in total.

In short, Donald Trump may well be on the way to inspiring a new mass radicalization on a scale that American leftists have only dreamt of in recent decades. In 2016, millions of first-time voters came out in support of Bernie Sanders, a Democratic Party candidate who identifies himself as a socialist and has called for “political revolution”–a concept left vaguely defined, to be sure, but one that resonates with a generation that has grown up with no reason to think that either the world’s economy or its environment can take much more of capitalism’s “invisible hand.”

– – – – – – – – – – – – – – – –

JUST TWO months ago, the movement most associated with Trump’s name was the so-called “alt-right” of extreme reactionaries, including the neo-fascists who joined Richard Spencer in chanting “Hail Trump!” during a meeting of the National Policy Institute, a white supremacist “think tank.” Another leading alt-right figure, Trump’s campaign manager Steve Bannon, now serves as the president’s chief strategist and senior counselor, and has undoubtedly been the adviser urging Trump to think of his electoral success as proof that he is at the leader of a mass movement.

It is something Trump himself quite desperately wants to believe. Anyone paying attention to his campaign could see how deeply he craved the adulation of crowds that laughed, cheered and expressed rage in time to his moods. Someone once called politics “show business for ugly people.” By that standard, Trump is a star ne plus ultra.

But he is far from knowledgeable about affairs of state, much less about the complex ideological terrain of American conservatism. He enters office with a Congress dominated by a Republican Party that–as one of its leading strategists put it–only needs the president to have enough fingers to sign the legislation it gives him. Trump qualifies in that regard, so the Republican establishment thinks it can work with him. They can all agree on dismantling Obama’s health-care reform, cutting taxes, privatizing public education, restricting the rights of women and LGBT people and removing or preventing government regulation of the economy (especially of anything based on a recognition of man-made climate change), for example.

Most of this has been central to the Republican agenda for decades, along with support for military spending and an aggressive imperialist foreign policy. Carefully avoided, for the most part, is any explicit reference to race. The late Lee Atwater, an influential Republican figure, once explained that the old-fashioned race-baiting had become unpopular and ineffective, so the trick was to be more subtle. “So you say stuff like, uh, forced busing, states’ rights, and all that stuff,” he told a political scientist, “and you’re getting so abstract. Now, you’re talking about cutting taxes, and all these things you’re talking about are totally economic things and a byproduct of them is, Blacks get hurt worse than whites…’We want to cut this’ is much more abstract than even the busing thing, uh, and a hell of a lot more abstract than ‘Nigger, nigger.'”

Trump’s political ascent began with a variant on this tactic: he promoted the idea that Barack Obama could not prove that he was actually a U.S. citizen. But his campaign rhetoric against Mexican and Muslim immigrants was less “abstract” (to borrow Atwater’s term) about appealing to racist sentiments. This proved embarrassing to Republican leaders, but they were hardly in the position of taking a principled stand against it. At the same time, a tension within the American right had intensified under the impact of the world economic crisis: Republican propaganda might celebrate the wealthy as “job creators,” proclaim the virtues of small business ownership, and declare rural towns to be “the real America.” But the policies they actually advanced (and that the Democratic party under Clinton and Obama largely supported) have heightened economic uncertainty and inequality to extremes not seen since the Great Depression.

– – – – – – – – – – – – – – – –

SPENCER, BANNON and other alt-rightists understand their role as building up mechanisms of political and social authority over a population that will only grow more ethnically and cultural heterogeneous in the next two decades–while also being unlikely to recover its standard of living through the pure magic of the free market. They reject both neoliberalism and Atwater-style coyness about channeling racial hostilities.

Insofar as the conservative establishment has a body of ideas to shore it up, the influences come from a blend of Ayn Rand’s celebration of “the virtue of selfishness” with a belief that God dictated the Constitution, or at least had a hand in the outline. By contrast, the more sophisticated of the alt-right strategists are acquainted with Alain de Benoist’s ethnic communitarianism and Carl Schmitt’s understanding of politics as defined by the sovereign’s combat with an enemy. And they see most of the Republican leadership as being an enemy.

Donald Trump is no doubt entirely innocent of such esoteric concepts. He spent his first week in a simmering rage over slights by the media and fuming from an awareness that he entered office with the lowest level of public confidence of any incoming president (only to lose another three points since then). But he sits astride the fault line between members of Congress who see themselves as Ronald Reagan’s political heirs, on the one side, and those who share Bannon’s aspiration to destroy the Republican Party and replace it with something more vicious and brutal.

It is, in other words, a precarious and unstable conjuncture and one that can only grow more volatile as far-right campaigns mobilize elsewhere in the world. One thing that Marxists bring to the situation is an understanding that capitalism’s crises are always international–throwing down to us the challenge of finding ways to learn from and unify the forces from below that resist them. Millions of people in the United States are thinking about how to shut down Trump’s assaults on vulnerable segments of the population. And seeing millions more around the world take to the street in solidarity can only help as we relearn the truth of the old Wobbly slogan: An Injury to One is an Injury to All.

First published in German at Marx21 and in English at New Politics.

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