James P. Cannon on the separation of church and state

January 22, 2015 at 6:02 pm (atheism, Catholicism, Christianity, Civil liberties, class, Free Speech, From the archives, Human rights, James P. Cannon, Marxism, posted by JD, religion, socialism, trotskyism, United States)

In view of the craven capitulation of sections of the “left” before religion in recent years (and, notably, following the Charlie Hebdo murders), it seems timely to reproduce the views of the great US Trotskyist James P Cannon. This article, entitled ‘Church and State’ originally appeared in the Militant (paper of the US Socialist Workers Party) of November 19, 1951. It was later republished in Notebook Of An Agitator (Pathfinder Press, 1958).

James P Cannon

It’s a fairly safe bet that President Truman didn’t know exactly what he was doing when he announced his decision to send a US. ambassador to the Vatican, nominating General Mark W. Clark to the post. Inhibited by training and constitutional disposition from seeing anything more important or farther in the future than the next election, he probably thought he was just firing off a cap pistol to attract “the Catholic vote in 1952. He didn’t know it was loaded.

But the recoil of the gun and the noise of the explosion leave no doubt about it. The shot heard ’round the country has had results undreamt of in the philosophy of the Pendergastian politico in the White House. A bitter controversy, long smoldering, has burst into a flame that brings both heat and light into American politics. Sides are being chosen for a fight. In my opinion, it’s a good fight worth joining in.

The First Amendment

“Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof.” So reads the first clause of the first amendment to the U;S. Constitution, adopted under the pressure of the people to protect their rights and freedoms. The meaning of this constitutional provision is quite clear to all who have no special interest in muddling it. It is the doctrine of “the separation of church and state.”

Read the rest of this entry »

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The new Charlie cover

January 13, 2015 at 6:18 pm (anti-fascism, Civil liberties, democracy, France, Free Speech, islamism, media, posted by JD, religion, satire, solidarity, terror)

Mahomet en une du «Charlie Hebdo» de mercredi

Comrade Coatesy writes:

Zineb El Rhazoui, a surviving columnist at Charlie Hebdo magazine who worked on the new issue, said the cover was a call to forgive the terrorists who murdered her colleagues last week, saying she did not feel hate towards Chérif and Saïd Kouachi despite their deadly attack on the magazine, and urged Muslims to accept humour.

“We don’t feel any hate to them. We know that the struggle is not with them as people, but the struggle is with an ideology,” she told BBC Radio 4’s Today programme.

The whole magazine, here

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Fraternity with Charlie Hebdo

January 7, 2015 at 12:51 pm (Civil liberties, comedy, Rosie B) ()

We the people declare our inalienable right to take the piss.

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To no person will we deny the right to cock snooks at, give the finger to, take the mickey out of.

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Fraternity with Charlie Hebdo.
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(Crying as I post this.)

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Enemy Intelligence from the Vaults: This is (Auberon) Waugh!

November 15, 2014 at 6:24 pm (Civil liberties, Europe, history, terror, truth)

Above: Aubron Waugh

Robin Carmody writes:

As someone who greatly enjoys your occasional ‘Enemy intelligence’ feature, would it be possible to expand it to include old articles presenting enlightenment from unexpected sources?  In this case, Auberon Waugh, who was undoubtedly fanatically anti-working-class and anti-socialist but when he got it right, he really got it right.  These pieces are both from the Daily Telegraph in September 1995 (first piece slightly edited, second piece complete), and the sadness of both is that they could pretty much still apply today, just with a few names changed:

Saturday 16th September 1995:

(…) Villagers of St Tudy, the small Cornish village near Bodmin, were recently moved to address a petition to Mr Major asking for a referendum on further European involvement.  A senior villager, Vice Admiral Sir Louis Le Bailly, 80, one time head of “intelligence” at the Ministry of Defence, thought the petition would be ignored.  He explained.
“I would not be so naive as to suppose that what St Tudy says today, the Government will do tomorrow.  But at least, before we die, we have done the best we can for our grandchildren.”

If that is the best he can do, it is pathetic.  So is the entire level of political debate in Britain (…)  What these people fail to realise is that we have a much better prospect for resisting change within the protection of a selfish, inward looking Europe than we have when exposed to cultural takeover by the United States and economic takeover by the Pacific Rim.

Terrified and resentful of the tiny changes required by participation in the European Union, Britons miss nearly every opportunity to shape the union to their own advantage.  Instead they mumble their platitudes about British sovereignty, and having fought two major wars to preserve it.

Let them examine the picture of [Paddy Ashdown, Tony Blair and John Major] laughing cruelly about a goldfish.  They are what is left of British sovereignty.

Saturday 30th September 1995:

At the time of the Gibraltar shootings, I remember taking the rather pompous line that if we Brits were to adopt terrorist tactics and start executing people on suspicion, we had no business to pose as upholders of law and order in Northern Ireland.  Those who argued, as they did in every saloon bar, that the only way to deal with outlaws was to give them a dose of their own medicine, were quite simply wrong, or so I maintained.

The three terrorists, two men and a woman, were unarmed, none carried a remote control device to a nearby bomb, nor was there any bomb nearby.  At the time it seemed more likely than not that it was a planned assassination, an illegal execution of three suspects, and that a cock-and-bull story about explosives in a parked car and remote control devices was a limp afterthought for the benefit of the inquest.

Seven years later it seems probable that the SAS were indeed misinformed, and that they genuinely intended to arrest the three terrorists, although there was remarkably little planning for their removal from the scene as prisoners.  What remains slightly frightening is the weight of opinion behind the idea that it is perfectly acceptable to execute suspected terrorists without trial, on the basis of unexamined and highly questionable intelligence information.

One expects this degree of moral crassness from The Sun and from at least some of its sexually confused readers.  The Sun summed up its own reaction to the European Court of Human Rights’ verdict in a sentence: “Terrorists have no human rights”.  That is an attitude people are free to take, but they still have to establish that the people from whom they propose to remove all human rights are terrorists.  You can’t condemn people on a wink and a nudge, or on the untested gossip of an intelligence service which seems to get three quarters of its information wrong.

However we look at the matter, the SAS goofed.  When someone described as a “senior Cabinet minister” talks of the “prompt and courageous action of the SAS” and announces that in response to the European Court’s unfavourable verdict many Cabinet ministers want Britain to leave the Court of Human Rights, I think we should start to tremble.  It is unpleasant enough to have to live surrounded by people of The Sun‘s intellectual and moral calibre.  One does not want to be governed by them.

Let us be thankful for every bit of self-determination we sacrifice under these circumstances.  For my own part, I shall even welcome tomorrow’s arrival of the litre and the kilo.  Those most vehemently opposed to them are just the sort of people who ought to be in prison.

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Jon Danzig on the Tories’ attack on our human rights

October 3, 2014 at 8:09 pm (Civil liberties, Europe, Human rights, posted by JD, reblogged, Tory scum)

 .
In marked contrast the rabid Tory tabloids … excellent commentary and historical context from Jon Danzig:

Home Secretary Theresa May (and Justice Secretary Chris Grayling -JD), with support of Prime Minister David Cameron, wants the UK to scrap the Human Rights Act and leave the European Convention on Human Rights.

Instead, they want a new UK-only ‘Bill of Rights’ giving less human rights to certain humans (mostly foreign ones).

Many (but not all) Conservatives, currently in a coalition government with the Liberal Democrats, don’t much like the Human Rights Act, and many (but not all) don’t like the European Union either.  The two are connected, as a commitment to Human Rights is a condition of EU membership.  


The Conservative party, if it wins the next General Election in May 2015, has pledged to scrap the Human Rights Act and the UK’s binding obligation to the European Convention on Human Rights.

It was British war leader Winston Churchill who in 1948 advocated a European ‘Charter of Human Rights’ in direct response to the abject horrors of the Nazi and Soviet regimes and the Second World War.  British lawyers drafted what was later to become the European Convention. The UK was one of the first countries to sign up to the Convention, and leaving it would end 60 years of being legally bound by this first international treaty on Human Rights.   

Read the rest here.

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Some questions about the release of Moazzam Begg

October 3, 2014 at 7:21 pm (Civil liberties, conspiracy theories, islamism, Middle East, Pink Prosecco, strange situations, Syria)

Moazzam Begg,

Above: Moazzam Begg

Guest post by Pink Prosecco

Reactions to the sudden and surprising release of Moazzam Begg, who has been awaiting trial on charges of terrorism since March, have been predictably polarised.

5Pillarz is rejoicing at the news, and wheels out a spokesman from the extremist group Hizb-ut-Tahrir to tell us all how shocking it is that some people associate Muslims with extremism. Puleeze:

“Meanwhile, Taji Mustafa, media representative of Hizb ut-Tahrir in Britain said he was pleased to hear about the release of Moazzam Beg, after months of incarceration and separation from his family. He said: ‘Moazzam’s case, along with others arrested for traveling to Syria, has been used to manufacture a climate of opinion that the government will use to further its policies regarding Muslims in the UK, in particular for their support of causes dissenting from British foreign policy.'”

By contrast, The Henry Jackson website rather sulkily reminds its readers that Moazzam Begg still isn’t very nice even if he is innocent of these particular charges.

But some have been asking whether he really is innocent after all. A report in the Times hinted at some shady dealings behind the scenes:

“Neither police, prosecutors nor intelligence sources would comment on whether the sudden abandonment was linked to behind-the-scenes efforts to free British hostages held by Islamic State in Syria.”

This invitation to speculate in a way unflattering to Begg has been picked up very readily by those of an Islamosceptic bent, as a skim read below the line (of the Times article) will demonstrate.

However, although my own views on Begg are much closer to the Henry Jackson Society than to 5Pillarz, there doesn’t seem any evidence that Begg has been let off as part of a deal with ISIS, nor does it seem a particularly plausible theory.

It certainly doesn’t fit with the CPS response:

“The Crown Prosecution Service said that it had reviewed the case after being made aware of material previously not known to the police investigation. A spokesman added: “If we had been made aware of all of this information at the time of charging, we would not have charged.”

He was charged back in March, well before any negotiations with ISIS over hostage release might have taken place.

It’s frustrating that there is so much mystery over Begg’s release – and to note that, in line with the stopped clock rule, 5Pillarz may have a point on this occasion. Here’s part of the Muslim Council of Britain’s statement:

” … we have said time and time again, that the best way to tackle extremism is to work with Muslim communities and have faith in our very British values of freedom, liberty and democracy.

“This means robust, intelligence-led policing that works with communities every step of the way and ensures full judicial oversight of the entire process. We should be proud of our commitment to due process, our tradition of free speech and anything that undermines them will only play into the hands of violent extremists.

“Today is a good day for British justice and the upholding of the rule of law in this case. What remains deplorable is the inclination of some of our political leaders to lapse into populist rhetoric when there are terrorism-related arrests, without waiting for due process.”

In the circumstances, unless some further evidence comes to light, that’s a fair comment. And, as Mary Dejevsky points out:

“At the very least this has been an egregious waste of public money.”

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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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TUC report on tribunal fees: What Price Justice?

August 1, 2014 at 8:18 am (Civil liberties, law, posted by JD, publications, reblogged, TUC, workers)

Republished from Thompsons’ Labour & European Law Review:

A new report by the TUC to mark the one year anniversary of the introduction of tribunal fees has found that they have had a devastating impact on access to justice for working people.

Since July 2013, workers who have been sexually harassed, sacked because of their race, or bullied because of a disability have been forced to pay £1,200 for their claim to be heard by an employment tribunal. Those seeking to recover unpaid wages or holiday pay have to pay up to £390.

The report – What Price Justice? – analysed government statistics for January to March 2014, which revealed a 59 per cent fall in claims, compared to the same quarter in 2013. During these three months just 10,967 claims were received by employment tribunals compared to 63,715 for the same quarter in 2013.

The TUC analysis of the statistics found that:

  • Women are among the biggest losers – there has been an 80 per cent fall in the number of women pursuing sex discrimination claims. Just 1,222 women took out claims between January and March 2014, compared to 6,017 over the same period in 2013.
  • The number of women pursuing pregnancy discrimination claims is also down by over a quarter (26 per cent), with just three per cent of women seeking financial compensation after losing their jobs.
  • Race and disability claims have plummeted – during the first three months of 2014 the number of race discrimination and sexual orientation claims both fell by 60 per cent compared to the same period in 2013.
  • Disability claims have experienced a 46 per cent year-on-year reduction.
  • Workers are being cheated out of wages – there has been a 70 per cent drop in workers pursuing claims for non-payment of the national minimum wage.
  • Claims for unpaid wages and holiday pay have fallen overall by 85 per cent. The report says that many people are being put off making a claim, because the cost of going to a tribunal is often more expensive than the sum of their outstanding wages.
  • Low-paid workers are being priced out – only 24 per cent of workers who applied for financial assistance to take claims received any form of fee remittance.
  • Even workers employed on the minimum wage face fees of up to £1,200 if a member of their household has savings of £3,000.

TUC General Secretary Frances O’Grady said: “Employment tribunal fees have been a huge victory for Britain’s worst bosses. By charging up-front fees for harassment and abuse claims the government has made it easier for bad employers to get away with the most appalling behaviour.

“Tribunal fees are part of a wider campaign to get rid of workers’ basic rights. The consequence has been to price low-paid and vulnerable people out of justice.”

Neil Todd at Thompsons Solicitors said: “The statistics set out in the TUC report make it absolutely clear that the introduction of Tribunal fees have deterred workers from seeking legal redress as a result of unlawful conduct in the workplace. The fees are one of a number of attacks on working people which have been introduced by the Coalition Government. This has left workers in the UK more vulnerable than their counterparts across the EU”.

To read the report, go to: http://www.tuc.org.uk/sites/default/files/TUC_Report_At_what_price_justice.pdf

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Peter Tatchell is wrong: gays have the right to be dull and conservative!

July 2, 2014 at 7:54 am (Civil liberties, gay, Human rights, LGBT, middle class, Peter Tatchell, Pink Prosecco)

Beehive Handknits for Men 01

Guest post by Pink Prosecco

Peter Tatchell is an admirable man who has campaigned bravely on LGBT rights and many other issues.  However I cannot agree with the thrust of this post, recently published in Gay London.  To summarise, he regrets the way in which the LGBT community has retreated from ‘radical idealism to cautious conformism’.  He wishes instead that LGBT campaigners questioned the institution of the family and were generally less bourgeois, and complains that more timid types only jumped on the LGBT bandwagon when it was safe to do so.

But this can be turned round I think.  One might conjecture that the handful of LBGT men and women who were prepared to campaign and be visible forty years ago were unusually independent and tough minded.  They were perhaps thus also more inclined to be non-conformist and politically radical in ways that went beyond sexual orientation.

I should note at this point that the ‘pink’ in ‘pink prosecco’ only references my slightly sub-shirazian shade of politics. However personally I don’t see why LGBT people should be expected to be any more or less radical than anyone else.  It’s a sign of progress not regression that people who are dull, or disagreeably right wing, are as happy to identify as LGBT as creative, radical, edgy types. Peter concludes:

“The unwritten social contract at the heart of the recent campaigns for LGBT law reform is that gay people should behave respectably. No more cruising, orgies or bondage. In return, the ‘good gays’ will be rewarded with equal treatment. The ‘bad gays’, who fail to conform to conventional morality will, of course, remain sexual outlaws. Is that what we want? A prescriptive moralism that penalises non-conformists within our own community?”

But why should bondage and a rejection of conventional morality be seen as LGBT specific issues?

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Solidarity with imprisoned Al Jazeera journalists

June 23, 2014 at 9:48 pm (Civil liberties, democracy, Egypt, Free Speech, Human rights, media, posted by JD)

We must all register our protests, as best we can. Staff at Channel 4 (including Jon Snow, below) made their feelings known this evening:

Pete Radcliff's photo.

Excerpted from Press Gazette:
National Union of Journalists’ general secretary Michelle Stanistreet described the sentences as “outrageous” and called for the British Government to condemn the verdicts.”The NUJ condemns in the strongest terms these sentences meted on journalists who were merely doing their job,” she said. “This is an outrageous decision and travesty of justice made by a kangaroo court.”Al Jazeera has rejected the charges against its journalists and maintains their innocence. This is a brutal regime which is attacking and arresting many journalists to attempt to silence them and prevent them from reporting events.

“The British Government must immediately signal its opposition to this verdict and do all it can to have the sentences overturned. The NUJ is calling on all media organisations to register their protest in support of colleagues at Al Jazeera and all the Egyptian journalists who have been attacked and arrested by their country’s authorities.

“Governments must not be allowed to deny journalists, wherever they are, the right to be able to report independently and in safety. The freedom of journalists is an integral part of any democratic process.”

Free speech campaign group Index on Censorship said the verdicts sent a message that journalists “simply doing their job” was considered a crime in Egypt.

Chief executive Jodie Ginsberg condemned the verdicts as “disgraceful” adding: “We call on the international community to join us in condemning this verdict and ask governments to apply political and financial pressure on a country that is rapidly unwinding recently won freedoms, including freedom of the press.

“The government of newly elected president Abdel-Fattah el-Sissi must build on the country’s democratic aspirations and halt curbs on the media and the silencing of voices of dissent.”

Ginsberg said at least 14 journalists remained in detention in Egypt and some 200 members of the press were in jails around the world, and that concerns are growing over the safety of media representatives across the globe.

“Index is deeply concerned at the growing number of imprisoned journalists in Egypt and around the world,” she said. “We reiterate our support to journalists to report freely and safely and call on Egyptian authorities to drop charges against journalists and ensure they are set free from jail.

“And we ask governments to maintain pressure on Egypt to ensure freedom of expression and other fundamental human rights are protected. Index joined the global #FreeAJStaff campaign along with other human rights, press freedom groups and journalists.”

The hashtags #journalismisnotacrime and #FreeAJStaff were trending on Twitter this morning after the verdicts came through.

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