Whatever happened to “blowback”?

March 22, 2017 at 8:02 pm (apologists and collaborators, conspiracy theories, Galloway, Jim D, John Rees, Lindsey German, London, murder, reactionay "anti-imperialism", relativism, Stop The War, SWP, terror, tragedy)

First picture of London terror attack suspect

There was a time when no Islamist terror outrage was complete without an article published within a day or two, from Glenn Greenwald, Mehdi Hasan, Terry Eagleton or the undisputed master of the genre, Seamus Milne, putting it all down to “blowback”. Such articles usually also claimed that no-one else dared put forward the “blowback” explanation, and the author was really being terribly brave in doing so. No such articles have appeared for a few years (the last one I can recall was after the Charlie Hebdo attack), so here’s my idea of what such a piece would read like today:

LONDON – In London today, a police officer was stabbed to death and pedestrians killed by a car driven by a so-called “terrorist”. Police speculated that the incident was deliberate, alleging the driver waited for some hours before hitting the pedestrians

The right-wing British government wasted no time in seizing on the incident to promote its fear-mongering agenda over terrorism, which includes pending legislation to vest its intelligence agency, CSIS, with more spying and secrecy powers in the name of fighting ISIS. A government spokesperson asserted “clear indications” that the driver “had become radicalized.”

In a “clearly prearranged exchange,” a Conservative MP described the incident as a “terrorist attack”; in reply, the prime minister gravely opined that the incident was “obviously extremely troubling.” Newspapers predictably followed suit, calling it a “suspected terrorist attack” and “homegrown terrorism.” A government spokesperson said “the event was the violent expression of an extremist ideology promoted by terrorist groups with global followings” and added: “That something like this would happen in London shows the long reach of these ideologies.”

In sum, the national mood and discourse in Britain is virtually identical to what prevails in every Western country whenever an incident like this happens: shock and bewilderment that someone would want to bring violence to such a good and innocent country, followed by claims that the incident shows how primitive and savage is the “terrorist ideology” of extremist Muslims, followed by rage and demand for still more actions of militarism and freedom-deprivation. There are two points worth making about this:

First, Britain has spent the last 16 years proclaiming itself a nation at war. It actively participated in the invasion and occupation of Afghanistan and was an enthusiastic partner in some of the most extremist War on Terror abuses perpetrated by the U.S. Earlier this month, the Prime Minister revealed, with the support of a large majority of Britains, that “Britain is poised to go to war against ISIS, as [she] announced plans in Parliament [] to send CF-18 fighter jets for up to six months to battle Islamic extremists.” Just yesterday, fighter jets left for Iraq and the Prime Minister stood tall as she issued the standard Churchillian war rhetoric about the noble fight against evil.

It is always stunning when a country that has brought violence and military force to numerous countries acts shocked and bewildered when someone brings a tiny fraction of that violence back to that country. Regardless of one’s views on the justifiability of Britain’s lengthy military actions, it’s not the slightest bit surprising or difficult to understand why people who identify with those on the other end of British bombs and bullets would decide to attack the military responsible for that violence.

That’s the nature of war. A country doesn’t get to run around for years wallowing in war glory, invading, rendering and bombing others, without the risk of having violence brought back to it. Rather than being baffling or shocking, that reaction is completely natural and predictable. The only surprising thing about any of it is that it doesn’t happen more often.

The issue here is not justification (very few people would view attacks on civilians and police officers to be justified). The issue is causation. Every time one of these attacks occurs — from 9/11 on down — Western governments pretend that it was just some sort of unprovoked, utterly “senseless” act of violence caused by primitive, irrational, savage religious extremism inexplicably aimed at a country innocently minding its own business. They even invent fairy tales to feed to the population to explain why it happens: they hate us for our freedoms.

Those fairy tales are pure deceit. Except in the rarest of cases, the violence has clearly identifiable and easy-to-understand causes: namely, anger over the violence that the country’s government has spent years directing at others. The statements of those accused by the west of terrorism, and even the Pentagon’s own commissioned research, have made conclusively clear what motivates these acts: namely, anger over the violence, abuse and interference by Western countries in that part of the world, with the world’s Muslims overwhelmingly the targets and victims. The very policies of militarism and civil liberties erosions justified in the name of stopping terrorism are actually what fuels terrorism and ensures its endless continuation.

If you want to be a country that spends more than a decade proclaiming itself at war and bringing violence to others, then one should expect that violence will sometimes be directed at you as well. Far from being the by-product of primitive and inscrutable religions, that behavior is the natural reaction of human beings targeted with violence. Anyone who doubts that should review the 13-year orgy of violence the U.S. has unleashed on the world since the 9/11 attack, as well as the decades of violence and interference from the U.S. in that region prior to that.

Second, in what conceivable sense can this incident be called a “terrorist” attack? As I have written many times over the last several years, and as some of the best scholarship proves, “terrorism” is a word utterly devoid of objective or consistent meaning. It is little more than a totally malleable, propagandistic fear-mongering term used by Western governments (and non-Western ones) to justify whatever actions they undertake. As Professor Tomis Kapitan wrote in a brilliant essay in The New York Times on Monday: “Part of the success of this rhetoric traces to the fact that there is no consensus about the meaning of ‘terrorism.’”

But to the extent the term has any common understanding, it includes the deliberate (or wholly reckless) targeting of civilians with violence for political ends. But in this case in London, it wasn’t civilians who were really targeted. If one believes the government’s accounts of the incident, the driver attacked pedestrians at random, but his real targets were in uniform. In other words, he seems to have targeted a policeman– a member of a force that represents British imperialism.

Again, the point isn’t justifiability. There is a compelling argument to make that police officers engaged in security duties are not valid targets under the laws of war (although the U.S. and its closest allies use extremely broad and permissive standards for what constitutes legitimate military targets when it comes to their own violence). The point is that targeting soldiers who are part of a military fighting an active war is completely inconsistent with the common usage of the word “terrorism,” and yet it is reflexively applied by government officials and media outlets to this incident (and others like it in the UK and the US).

That’s because the most common functional definition of “terrorism” in Western discourse is quite clear. At this point, it means little more than: “violence directed at Westerners by Muslims” (when not used to mean “violence by Muslims,” it usually just means: violence the state dislikes). The term “terrorism” has become nothing more than a rhetorical weapon for legitimizing all violence by Western countries, and delegitimizing all violence against them, even when the violence called “terrorism” is clearly intended as retaliation for Western violence.

This is about far more than semantics. It is central to how the west propagandizes its citizenries; the manipulative use of the “terrorism” term lies at heart of that. As Professor Kapitan wrote in The New York Times:

Even when a definition is agreed upon, the rhetoric of “terror” is applied both selectively and inconsistently. In the mainstream American media, the “terrorist” label is usually reserved for those opposed to the policies of the U.S. and its allies. By contrast, some acts of violence that constitute terrorism under most definitions are not identified as such — for instance, the massacre of over 2000 Palestinian civilians in the Beirut refugee camps in 1982 or the killings of more than 3000 civilians in Nicaragua by “contra” rebels during the 1980s, or the genocide that took the lives of at least a half million Rwandans in 1994. At the opposite end of the spectrum, some actions that do not qualify as terrorism are labeled as such — that would include attacks by Hamas, Hezbollah or ISIS, for instance, against uniformed soldiers on duty.

Historically, the rhetoric of terror has been used by those in power not only to sway public opinion, but to direct attention away from their own acts of terror.

At this point, “terrorism” is the term that means nothing, but justifies everything. It is long past time that media outlets begin skeptically questioning its usage by political officials rather than mindlessly parroting it.

(c) Glenn Greenwald, Mehdi Hasan, Patrick Coburn, Seamus Milne, George Galloway, John Rees, Lindsey German, Peter Oborne, the SWP, Stop The War Coalition, etc, etc.

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Morning Star promotes claims of Israeli “apartheid” – from slave-state Qatar!

March 19, 2017 at 6:37 pm (anti-semitism, apologists and collaborators, hell, Human rights, israel, Jim D, Middle East, stalinism, UN)

Foreign construction workers queue for buses back to their accommodation camp in Doha.
Foreign construction workers queue for buses back to their accommodation camp in Doha, Qatar

I’m sometimes asked why I bother commenting on the reportage of the Morning Star, a small-circulation daily controlled by the Communist Party of Britain.

The reason is because the M Star exerts an influence on the mainstream British left – and especially the trade union movement – that is out of all proportion to its circulation, or to the membership of the CPB.

The M Star’s domestic ‘line’ is fairly mainstream pro-Corbyn banality; its foreign policy is characterised by uncritical support for Assad in Syria and absolute hostility to Israel, inherited from Stalinist anti-semitism. So, Fridays’s M Star front-page was not that much of a surprise:

Israel is guilty of apartheid, says UN report


Mar
2017
Friday 17th
posted by Steve Sweeney in Britain

Campaigners hail findings as ‘breakthrough’ in the struggle for Palestinians


ISRAEL is guilty of imposing an apartheid regime of racial discrimination on the Palestinian population, according to a “historic” United Nations (UN) report.

The report, published by the UN Economic and Social Commission for Western Asia (ESCWA) on Wednesday, urged member states to work together to bring such apartheid regimes to an end.

It concluded that it was “beyond reasonable doubt” that Israel is guilty of the crime of apartheid as defined by international law.

The Palestine Solidarity Campaign (PSC) hailed the publication of the report, which condemned the “systematic regime of racial domination” over the Palestinian people and their exclusion from all levels of society.

PSC director Ben Jamal said: “This is a hugely significant moment … The case for the international community to hold Israel to account via the imposition of meaningful sanctions is overwhelming.”

And the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) movement said it was a “historic breakthrough.”

Its co-founder Omar Barghouti said: “Our South Africa moment is nearing. This new UN report is a stark indicator that Israel’s apartheid is destined to end, as South Africa’s did.

“BDS is not only growing impressively on campuses, in churches, trade unions, cultural organisations and social movements, it is today adopted by a UN Commission.

“This may well be the very first beam of light that ushers the dawn of sanctions against Israel’s regime of occupation, settler-colonialism and apartheid.”

Although considered a breakthrough by pro-Palestinian organisations, UN spokesperson Stephane Dujarric said that the report did not reflect the views of the secretary-general.

He added that the ESCWA — a UN agency made up of Arab states — did not consult with the UN secretariat before publishing their findings.

The report — titled “Israeli Practices towards Palestinian People and the Question of Apartheid” — called on UN member states to remember their collective duty not to recognise an apartheid regime, not to assist a state in maintaining such a regime and to work to bring apartheid states to an end.

It accused Israel of “demographic engineering” to maintain a Jewish state, and it detailed how control over matters including immigration, land use and public development planning by the World Zionist Organisation and Jewish Agency reinforces discrimination against Palestinians.

The system of martial law operated over 6.6 million Palestinians in the West Bank and the Gaza Strip sees Israel “systematically and routinely” practice every inhuman act other than genocide as defined under the 1973 Apartheid Convention, it added.

Around 1.7 million Palestinians who are living as citizens of Israel suffer oppression on the basis of not being Jewish, according to the report, and they suffer discrimination through inferior services, restrictions on jobs and are legally prohibited from challenging legislation that maintains the “racial regime.”

While Palestinians are entitled to Israeli citizenship only Jews are entitled to Israeli nationality.

In East Jerusalem, the report found widespread discrimination in access to jobs and services with Palestinians suffering expulsions and home demolitions.

Their classification as “permanent residents” in the city means they have no legal standing to challenge Israeli law and, if they openly identify with Palestinians in the occupied territories, they risk automatic expulsion to the West Bank and a ban from visiting Jerusalem.

… except that, for anyone who bothered to read the M Star‘s front page article all the way through, it soon became apparent that

“Although considered a breakthrough by pro-Palestinian organisations, UN spokesperson Stephane Dujarric said that the report did not reflect the views of the secretary-general.

“He added that the ESCWA — a UN agency made up of Arab states — did not consult with the UN secretariat before publishing their findings.”

In other words, the M Star‘s lead story and headline was thoroughly misleading.

And who are the UN Economic and Social Commission for Western Asia (ESCWA) ? Well, it is made up exclusively of Arab states, including Saudi Arabia, Egypt and Libya. There are no democracies – by any definition of the word – in its ranks.

And, most outrageously, the ESCWA includes the state of Qatar, presently enslaving 1.8 migrant workers from India, Nepal and other South Asian countries. And the Morning Star repeats Qatar’s claim that Israel operates “apartheid”!

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Unite: for a critical McCluskey vote

March 18, 2017 at 3:14 pm (elections, Jim D, labour party, reformism, Unite the union, workers)

Image result for picture Len McCluskey Jeremy Corbyn

Serious leftists should vote for Len McCluskey in the Unite general secretary election for which voting begins on 27 March, because it’s a first-past-the-post poll, and without left-wing votes going to McCluskey there is a real risk Gerard Coyne will win.

Coyne is heavily backed by the Labour right wing around Tom Watson and Progress. If he wins, he will swing Unite decisively to the anti-Corbyn camp. That could close down all the openings for Labour revival opened by Jeremy Corbyn’s leadership victories.

Vote Coyne to help Watson and Progress get rid of Corbyn: that’s the deal.

In the 2013 general secretary election there was no right-wing candidate. In the 2010 poll the right-wing vote was split between two right-wing candidates. Their combined vote was only 16,000 less than the vote for McCluskey.

A good chunk of the 53,000 votes won in that ballot by supposed “left-winger” Jerry Hicks will have been by no means tightly anchored to the left. Many members who voted Hicks because they saw him as closer to the old AEU strand in Unite, or because they backed his promise to boost the role of retired members, or because they liked his complaint about “the relationship with Labour being put ahead of members’ interests” (Hicks’s words), may be seduced by a well-crafted Coyne campaign.

Coyne probably has a better “machine” behind him than Bayliss or Cartmail did in 2010. The media has already been much more aggressively anti-McCluskey than in previous elections (partly using ammunition which, it has to be said, McCluskey has handed to them on a plate).

If there were no difference between McCluskey and Coyne, then we could dismiss the “splitting the left vote” argument. But there is a real difference.

There are many legitimate criticisms to be made of McCluskey, and many on the left in Unite felt it was a great pity that he felt it necessary to stand again, for a third term. But McCluskey is right about one thing: Unite’s backing for Corbyn “in 2015… was a decision of our elected lay Executive Council, and in 2016 of our 600-strong Policy Conference, by a vast majority… Gerard Coyne’s campaign is not being driven by concern for Unite and its members’ interests. It is being scripted by the failed plotters in the Parliamentary Labour Party… in their political project to bring back Blairism”.

During his time in office McCluskey can rightly claim credit for the re-organisation of the union’s branch structures (replacing amorphous and often moribund geographical branches by workplace-based ones) and building the union’s Organising and Leverage Department.

He has presided over the development of Unite community branches, targeted at bringing community activists, the unemployed, and students into the trade union movement, and bringing trade union resources to bear in support of their campaigning.

McCluskey backed Corbyn in the 2015 Labour Party leadership contest, and did so again in 2016.

Leftwinger Ian Allinson is standing as “an experienced workplace activist”, “the grassroots socialist candidate”, and “the only candidate who knows first-hand the experiences and frustrations of our members”. By contrast, writes Allinson, Len McCluskey and Gerard Coyne have both been “been paid officials of Unite for many years.” McCluskey stands for “more of the same” and Coyne stands for “turning the clock back”.

Allinson criticises the current Unite leadership for its failure to build a serious campaign against the Tories’ latest anti-union laws, its (alleged) shortcomings in a succession of industrial disputes, and its concessions to the ideology of “partnership” with employers. Allinson also unreservedly defends freedom of movement of labour, cites “increasing the participation and power of workers” as his “number one priority”, and has promised to remain on his current wage (i.e. not take the General Secretary salary of £130,000 a year).

Having Allinson in the race will be a good thing. It will mean that his arguments about Unite’s shortcomings under McCluskey and his alternative ideas about rank-and-file control will reach a much wider audience than just the branches which have nominated him.

That could help open up the debate about what a lay-member-led union would really look like and how it would function in practice — something which does not figure in either McCluskey’s or Coyne’s election material. So far, so good. But there are problems with Allinson’s election platform and campaign.

Allinson claims to be a better supporter of Corbyn than McCluskey. But Allinson is not even a Labour Party member and has made clear that he has no intention of joining. He advocates “extending Unite’s support for Jeremy Corbyn”, including “through Unite’s role in the Labour Party”. What that means is not spelt out. At a minimum, it must include encouraging more Unite members to join the party, which Allinson himself refuses to join.

Given Allinson’s defence of freedom of movement of labour, he ought to be critical of Corbyn (from the left): Corbyn has retreated from demanding access to the Single Market (and the freedom of movement which goes with it) and has backed the Tories’ Brexit Bill. But Allinson is silent about this. In fact, he does not seems to have ever spelt out own position on Brexit. (The group of which Allinson is a member, RS 21, took no position on the EU referendum — it was too divided internally to have done so.)

Allinson campaigns for a million “green jobs” to help protect the environment, as opposed to “costly and destructive vanity projects”. But he includes in those “vanity projects” Hinkley Point (although even George Monbiot sees a role for nuclear power) and HS2 (which could be developed into a much more environmentally friendly project). Allinson’s proposals for greater lay-member-control in Unite certainly provide a basis for discussion. But they lack a focus.

Alongside some specific demands, such as the ill thought-out ritual call for election of officers, there are vague proposals such as “fortnightly e-mail bulletins [from whom, about what?] to all activists, not filtered through officers and committees” and “involving members, officers and staff in a major review of Unite’s structures”. So officers should be by-passed when a fortnightly e-mail is sent out, but participate in a major review of Unite structures? Allinson “opposes the exclusion of Community and retired members from participation in Unite structures”. This smacks far more of Jerry-Hicks-style electioneering than a thought-through analysis of the role of Community and retired members’ branches. (In the 2010 and 2013 General Secretary elections Hicks ran shamelessly opportunist campaigns, to pick up both right and left votes. The most damning statement in Allinson’s election material is surely: “In previous Unite elections, Jerry Hicks, standing on a similar basis to me ….”)

In order to justify his own candidacy, Allinson refers to previous Unite General Secretary elections “when left challengers beat the right.” But 2013 was a straight clash between McCluskey and Hicks (i.e. no right-wing candidate, although Hicks certainly picked up votes from the ex-Amicus right). In 2010 Hicks came second to McCluskey — but only because two right-wing candidates split the right vote. And when Mark Serwotka beat Hugh Lanning to become PCS General Secretary in 2000, which Allinson also cites, it was a straight left-right clash.

Allinson is not always consistent in his critique of McCluskey and Coyne. McCluskey’s defeat and Coyne’s victory would be “a disaster for Unite,” writes Allinson. But he also argues that there is no real difference between them: “Far from my candidacy splitting the left vote, McCluskey and Coyne are splitting the establishment vote.” At the same time, Allinson declares that if he was not standing himself, he would vote for McCluskey: “There will be some members who will support me who would support McCluskey if there were no better option. I would be one of those members myself.”

In fact, the real problem confronting Allinson is a different one. Because there is a worse option (Coyne), members who would otherwise support Allinson, or at least be sympathetic to his ideas, are more likely to vote for McCluskey in a first-past-the-post poll. The shortcomings of Allinson’s campaign, especially in the context of the threat posed by Coyne, outweigh the case for voting for him. Even so, the argument at the core of Allinson’s campaign is the right one: for a member-led union in place of a bureaucracy-led union which pretends to be a member-led one. And that is a message which needs to be pursued beyond the current election campaign.

LINK TO COMPLETE UNITED LEFT EXECUTIVE COMMITTEE AND GENERAL SECRETARY SLATE.

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Derek Walcott RIP

March 17, 2017 at 8:48 pm (Jim D, literature, poetry, RIP)

Derek Alton Walcott, poet: born (Castries, St Lucia) 23 Jan 1930, died 17 Mar 2017


Sea Grapes

Sea grapes are a type of grapes indigenous to Caribbean Sea that has particularly bitter and sour taste. The title of this poem is obscure in terms of the connection between the content and the title. However, the important message or the theme of the poem lies within the sour taste of sea grapes. Furthermore, Derek Walcott was born and raised in the Caribbean, and his experiences around there inspired many of his writings. Walcott was engrossed in Greek mythology, and mentioned about it frequently in his work, comparing and contrasting it with the present situations and problems. This poem, “Sea Grapes,” written by Derek Walcott, illustrates that conflicts between obsession and responsibility must be solved, weaving them to ancient Greek myth and the hero by using allegory and metaphor.

Guardian obituary, here

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That NICS capitulation: why not just ask The Mail what’s acceptable?

March 16, 2017 at 7:14 pm (Conseravative Party, Daily Mail, economics, Europe, Jim D, populism, Tory scum)

Image result for daily mail newspaper front page budget

I hate to admit this, but Hammond’s proposed increase in national insurance contributions (NICS) for the self employed wasn’t such a bad idea.

It would have been a modest, progressive increase in the national insurance contributions paid by the better-off self-employed while abolishing the £2.85 per week flat-rate contribution paid by those earning less than £16,250.

It would have raised  a much-needed £2 billion in a relatively fair way, recognising that  structure of NICs is a major driver in the growth of self-employment. An employer who can persuade a worker to become a self-employed contractor immediately saves paying 13.8% national insurance, while the newly self-employed contractors’ payments fall from 12% to 9%.

Hammond’s enforced (by May) U-turn now leaves a £2 billion hole in public finances, with no obvious means of plugging it.

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On Brexit, the Labour right are less wrong than Corbyn

March 12, 2017 at 4:33 pm (capitulation, Europe, Jim D, labour party, stalinism)

Image result for picture Jeremy Corbyn EU referendum Brexit

The following open letter was drawn up by Labour right-winger Chucka Umunna, and many (but not all) of the signatories are from the right of the party. It criticises the leadership for failing to fight to stay in the EU single market.

On that point, if nothing else, Umanna and the signatories are correct. Corbyn’s (and Keir Starmer’s) capitulation to May’s hard-Brexit approach has been craven and has led to serious demoralisation amongst Corbyn’s supporters in and around Momentum, especially younger party members unencumbered by the Bennite/Stalinist anti-EU baggage that seems to be the default position of Corbyn, encouraged by his Stalinist advisers.

Open Letter to the Labour Leadership

In his budget statement on Wednesday, the chancellor mentioned Britain’s exit from the European Union – the biggest issue in the government’s in-box – just once. But in reality the budget – with its tax hikes, broken promises and increasing public debt – was dominated by the impact of the government’s decision to withdraw Britain from the European Union.

The government has announced its intention to pull Britain out of the single market, discarding our membership of the largest and most sophisticated trading zone in the world before negotiations have begun. Other nations are not in the EU yet opted to be part of the single market because of the huge benefits it brings. So instead of starting the negotiation by aiming for the best deal we can possibly get by staying in the single market, Theresa May has waved the white flag and thrown in the towel.

Having taken account of the Tory government’s negotiating position on Brexit, the independent Office for Budget Responsibility (OBR) this week spelt out the consequences. While ministers pretend we will get a trade deal that delivers “the exact same benefits” as we have now, the OBR predicts that after Brexit our “trading regime will be less open than before”. While ministers say we will enjoy a resurgence of trade with the rest of the world, the OBR forecasts “a lower trade intensity of UK economic activity” even if new deals are negotiated. This is the reality.

Membership of the single market is the best possible economic option for our country and would allow us to leave the EU without wrecking people’s jobs and livelihoods. It would give us totally free trade with the biggest market on the planet, with neither tariff barriers to trade in goods nor regulatory barriers to trade in services between the UK and the EU – all whilst not being a member of the EU. Any trading arrangement which does not deliver such a level of market access will reduce the flow of trade between Britain and our biggest partner. This will mean higher costs for businesses, fewer jobs, and higher prices in the shops.

Confronted with this threat, the British people – leave voters and remain voters alike – are looking to the Labour party to provide leadership and direction as we go forward. It is crucial that we reject the argument that Brexit must mean a trading arrangement that makes the British people poorer. Instead, Labour must stand unambiguously for a deal that protects peoples’ jobs and livelihoods and enhances their life chances; not a hard Brexit that could take our economy off a cliff whilst making working people worse off. This requires our party to be full-throated in its defence of Britain’s membership of the single market.

The arguments against single market membership illustrate a level of defeatism and a lack of ambition, not worthy of a great country like ours.

Leaving the EU while remaining in the single market respects the will of people. The UK would regain control over agriculture and fisheries policy, justice and home affairs measures, defence and foreign policy.

Yes, there is a desire to reform the way our immigration system works but we do not need to sacrifice our prosperity to achieve greater immigration control. Britain is Europe’s second largest economy, its most significant military power, and one of its two permanent members of the UN security council. It should not be beyond us to conclude a deal that retains our single market membership while reforming the immigration system. Free movement has been shown to be reformable in the past, and so it can be in the future.

It should also not be beyond the ability of a government, with the right negotiation strategy, to secure an agreement that allows us continued influence over European regulations that will continue to affect our country if we stay in the single market. No government should willingly give up the best economic option for our country at this stage without even trying to retain it – but that is the course on which the government has now embarked.

It is the basic responsibility of the Labour party to mount the strongest possible opposition to Theresa May’s government and fight for a Brexit deal that respects the will of the British people but ensures that they will not be made substantially worse off. As the party that has always stood up for working people, we must fight tooth and nail for a future that does not destroy their jobs and livelihoods. Single market membership outside the EU is the way to achieve this and is what Labour should be arguing for.

Signed,

Chuka Umunna, Alison McGovern, Heidi Alexander, Chris Leslie, Kate Green, Ian Murray, Chris Bryant, Tulip Saddiq, Mike Gapes, Stella Creasy, Wes Streeting, Graham Allen, Liz Kendall, Anne Coffey, Mary Creagh, Angela Smith, Rushanara Ali, Ben Bradshaw, Karen Buck, Peter Kyle, Julie Elliot, Luciana Berger, Madeleine Moon, Gareth Thomas, Daniel Zeichner, Thangam Debbonaire, Owen Smith, Margaret Hodge, Seema Malhotra

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Happy birthday, Dick Hyman

March 10, 2017 at 5:53 pm (good people, jazz, Jim D, music, Sheer joy)

A slightly belated happy 90th birthday to piano and keyboard wizard Dick Hyman, born in New York on 8 March 1927.

Dick is still gigging and still wowing audiences with his wondrous technique and versatility. He’s as comfortable paying tribute to Jelly Roll Morton as he is playing  Art Tatum-style arpeggios or exploring the experiments of Cecil Taylor. In the course of an amazing career, he’s worked with (amongst many others) Benny Goodman, Red Norvo, Charlie Parker, Pee Wee Erwin, Ruby Braff and Soprano Summit/Summit Re-union. In the 50s he even made some commercial honky-tonk records under the name of ‘Knuckles O’Toole.’

Click on the Youtube clip above for a master-class recorded in 2014, in which Dick gives that good ol’ broad Georgia Brown a new lease of life.

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SWP breaks with TUSC, calls for Labour vote in England: total confusion in Scotland

March 9, 2017 at 5:54 pm (Europe, Jim D, nationalism, reformism, scotland, strange situations, SWP)

Many socialists are arguing for a yes vote for an independent Scotland

The SWP calls for a new border between Scotland and England (Pic: Socialist Worker)

At last! The SWP have realised they should probably  be calling for a Labour vote. However they reduce everything to Corbyn himself. They won’t support Labour in Scotland.

Socialist Worker explains:

The Socialist Workers Party has decided to suspend its membership of the Trade Unionist and Socialist Coalition (TUSC).

TUSC has provided a structure for trade unionists, campaigners and socialists to stand in elections against pro-austerity politicians.

It’s not a decision we take lightly.

We have been part of TUSC for over seven years, stood dozens of candidates and recorded some of TUSC’s better results.

We have worked with the other components of TUSC—the RMT union, the Socialist Party and independents.

We think it is right to cooperate with others on the left wherever possible.

Labour won’t be the vehicle for socialist transformation any more than Syriza was in Greece—and we still want a socialist alternative to it.

But we cannot support the decision taken at TUSC’s recent conference to stand in May’s council elections in England and Wales.

These elections will be seen as a referendum on Corbyn. It won’t matter if the candidates are right wingers. Every loss will be blamed on the left.

Furthermore,

For TUSC to stand at this point welds together Labour supporters and is a barrier to united front work with Labour people.

Our small electoral united front would make it harder to achieve a larger united front with the Labour left.

At the Copeland and Stoke by-elections Labour’s candidates were from the right. However, Socialist Worker called for a vote for Labour. We don’t want Ukip or the Tories winning.

What’s at issue is how to fight cuts and work with Corbyn-supporting Labour members against those who ram though the attacks. And we know any victories for them would be used to unleash the dogs on Corbyn.

We have been proven right. If TUSC was winning substantial votes the argument might be different, but the results will be modest. There’s no shame in that. But it makes standing against a Corbyn-led Labour even harder to justify.

Our unwillingness to put forward candidates is not because Labour councils are doing a good job. They are ruthlessly imposing Tory cuts.

Many councils face a loss of 60 percent of their income between 2010 and 2020. Yet there have been no Labour-led national marches, no councillors’ revolt, no calls for defiance by councillors, unions and people who use the services.

Instead, at the last Labour conference, delegates and leadership united to declare it a disciplinary offence to pass “illegal” no cuts budgets.

What’s at issue is how to fight these cuts and work with Corbyn-supporting Labour members against those who ram though the attacks.

We believe the best way is to campaign in the streets and workplaces alongside Labour supporters.

None of us can predict future events. At some point, as part of the fight to move beyond social democracy, we believe it will be necessary to stand in elections again.

Were Corbyn to be removed and replaced by a right winger, the question of standing against Labour would return in sharper form.

We hope TUSC will continue to be part of the response.

But…

In Scotland the situation is different. Labour is headed up by the anti-Corbyn Kezia Dugdale. The rise of the Scottish National Party has raised the question of alternatives to Labour.

We support Scottish TUSC candidates as part of what we hope will be a wider realignment on the left.

We wish the best to those who remain in TUSC and look forward to continuing to work with them.

Just to further underline their incoherence, the SWP also:

– Cites as one reason not to call for a vote for Labour in Scotland: the fact that Kezia Dugdale is anti-Corbyn (BUT, a majority of Scottish CLPs nominated Corbyn, not Smith. Most affiliated and registered supporters in Scotland probably voted Corbyn. Individual members in Scotland voted only narrowly for Smith rather than Corbyn. If members with less than six months membership had not been excluded from voting, a majority of individual members would probably also have voted Corbyn).

– Cites as the second reason not to call for a Labour vote in Scotland, “The rise of the SNP has raised the question of alternatives to Labour” … (BUT, it could equally be argued that the rise of UKIP in England has raised the question of alternatives to Labour).

– Argues that Labour in Scotland will not revive unless it comes out in favour of Scottish independence. (“There is no way back for Labour unless it breaks with its pro-Union stance.”)

– Demands a second referendum on Scottish independence (“We Need to Fight for New Referendum on Scottish Independence”). Current support for a second referendum: 51% against. 25% for.

– In the real world, the pretext for a second referendum is that Scotland voted ‘Remain’ but England voted ‘Leave’. But the SWP, of course, called for a ‘Leave’ vote. The SWP wants a second referendum because Scotland voted the wrong way in the EU referendum?

– In fact, the SWP’s idiocy goes a step further: it argues that the way to win a second referendum (in Scotland, where over 60% voted ‘Remain’) is not to demand continuing membership of the EU/Single Market: “It won’t be won by saying it is to secure access to the bosses’ EU single market.”

– What the SWP refuses to recognise is the obvious fact that those most enthusiastic about a second referendum are the ultra-nationalists. But the SWP pretends that the demand for a second referendum is ‘really’ the property of the most progressive-minded people: “For socialists the sight of independence rallies can sometimes grate a little with the display of Saltire flags and Scottish football tops. But the aspirations of the people who turn out at them is vastly different from that narrow nationalist perspective. The number of Palestinian flags and the rainbow flag of LGBT+ liberation present showed the grassroots movement for independence is marked by a progressive politics.”

  • See also Tendance Coatesy, here.

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Wikileaks: stooges of Putin, friends of Trump

March 8, 2017 at 11:03 pm (apologists and collaborators, fascism, Guardian, Human rights, Jim D, libertarianism, populism, Putin, reactionay "anti-imperialism", Republican Party, strange situations, Trump)

Is Donald Trump still a fan of Wikileaks? Would he still say, as he did in January, that he’d sooner believe Julian Assange than his own intelligence services?

Trump has repeatedly attacked US intelligence agencies – going as far as comparing them to the Nazi regime – while openly cheering for WikiLeaks. He has also alleged, without any evidence, that the Obama administration spied on him and his election campaign.

The latest WikiLeaks document dump about the CIA’s computer hacking tools comes in the midst of a very public feud between Trump and the US intelligence agencies over Putin’s intervention into the presidential election in Trump’s favour.

It seems likely that the new WikiLeaks revelations are intended to help Trump, and emanate from the Putin regime, which has long been using WikiLeaks to further its agenda in the west and to undermine bourgeois democracy from the extreme right.

The WikiLeaks press release highlights the CIA’s “Umbrage” group, said to collect a library of hacking tools used by intelligence agencies of foreign countries, “including the Russian Federation”, allowing them to conduct false flag operations.

“With Umbrage and related projects the CIA cannot only increase its total number of attack types but also misdirect attribution by leaving behind the ‘fingerprints’ of the groups that the attack techniques were stolen from,” WikiLeaks said.

James Lewis, senior vice-president at the Centre for Strategic and International Studies and an expert on cyber security, speculated that the motive behind the leak could be to underpin the false flag conspiracy theories and evasions of the Trump camp.

“This might be one explanation for the leaks – it’s data to build a case that the Russian interference and connections are a secret ‘deep state’ plot, as the false flag bits in WikiLeaks ‘shows’,” Lewis said, putting “Vault 7” in the context of the trial of strength between the president and intelligence agencies.

“Mr Trump, who last year angrily dismissed the conclusion of intelligence officials that the Russians interfered in the presidential election to boost his candidacy, has now asked both his staff and a congressional committee investigating Moscow’s influence on the election to turn up evidence that Mr Obama led an effort to spy on him,” he said.

Perceptions of WikiLeaks in the west – and on the liberal-left in particular – have changed since the organisation’s 2010 release of huge numbers of classified US documents from the Afghanistan and Iraq wars, as well as US embassies around the world. WikiLeaks was then widely supported by opponents of those wars and by advocates of greater transparency on the part of western governments.

But since its de facto support of Trump, at the behest of Putin, in the presidential election, Wikileaks is now regarded with suspicion by rational liberals and leftists. Its leaks focused exclusively on Hillary Clinton’s camp, and were released at critical moments in the campaign: no wonder Trump declared “I love WikiLeaks!

Roger Stone, a former Trump adviser, wrote on Saturday night that he had a “perfectly legal back channel” to WikiLeaks’ founder, Julian Assange. Stone then deleted the message.

In early January, the CIA, National Security Administration (NSA) and FBI assessed with “high confidence” that Russian military intelligence was behind the anonymous hackers Guccifer 2.0 and DCLeaks.com, which stole data from prominent Democrats and passed it on to WikiLeaks.

“Moscow most likely chose WikiLeaks because of its self-proclaimed reputation for authenticity. Disclosures through WikiLeaks did not contain any evident forgeries,” the agencies found.

Assange has insisted that the documents did not come from Russian sources, although the organisation also says that in most cases it does not know the sources of the data passed on to it.

In a press release announcing the latest document dump, WikiLeaks suggested that the original source was a former US government hacker or contractor.

Assange has been living in the Ecuadorian embassy in London for more than four years, since Sweden sought his extradition for questioning on an accusation of sexual assault. In that time, he has hosted his own show on the Russian state-run television channel RT (formerly Russia Today).

WikiLeaks has published little or no material that could be seen as damaging to Russia, although Assange has argued that is because the leaks the organisation receives are overwhelmingly in English, while Russian-language material finds its way to other outlets.

“There is a lot of circumstantial evidence of the links between Assange and Russia,” said Susan Hennessey, a former NSA lawyer now at the Brookings Institution. “It’s certainly not a coincidence that Russian military intelligence selected WikiLeaks as a distribution platform for its Democrats hack.”

“WikiLeaks’ involvement creates a reason for suspicion. It has committed itself to putting out material that is harmful to western interests, but has assiduously avoided releasing material that could be perceived as damaging to Russian interests.”

WikiLeaks has also published material helpful to pro-Putin far-right parties in France and Germany, suggesting that it will seek to influence the forthcoming French presidential election in favour of Marine Le Pen and the German election in favour of the neo-nazi Alternative for Germany (AfD).

Meanwhile, Trump may be regretting his outspoken support for Assange and WikiLeaks, as allegations of Russian influence dog his White House, and the threat of impeachment begins to look like a realistic possibility.

JD would like to acknowledge the work of Julian Borger in the Guardian, which has provided him with much of the information used in this post.

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Putin’s TV takes the piss out of Farage: that’s the thanks you get for grovelling

March 4, 2017 at 6:47 pm (apologists and collaborators, corruption, Europe, Jim D, populism, Putin, Racism, reactionay "anti-imperialism", Russia, UKIP)

Farage’s grovelling to Putin merely gets him having the piss taken on Putin’s TV channel; Trump beware:

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