Saturday, 26 April 2014

UKIP - the 'acceptable' face of neo-nazism in the UK

 This is not one of the UKIP posters that has appeared on billboards across the country over the past week. This is a thought experiment. What if the billboards looked like this?

If the billboard had any vestige of truth, it would be minorities who would suffer from it. New unqualified immigrants would compete in the same job markets and industries as previous immigrants, and naturalized citizens. It would be their jobs under threat, not the white male demographic. In fact, women would suffer more as there are more women in the domestic and service industries.

 Yet these are not the images used. Why?

Not only is the premise of the poster based on a lie, it is something that we have seen before. The message is purely designed to incite fear of 'the foreigner'. It uses a message, and even iconography that has been used over and again by fascists ever since the 1940's.

I think that the danger posed by UKIP cannot be overstated. Their vagueness on policy makes them appear a single-issue party, but what I fear is that they will gain popular support from people almost entirely ignorant of the party policy or the interests they represent.

Germany between the wars was in a state of economic collapse, misgoverned without doubt, the economy destroyed by reparations and sanctions on industry and trade. Unemployment and deprivation were rife. National Socialism stood up for the 'true, historic Deutsche Volk', the 'ordinary hard working man in the street'. They were being held in a yoke by the rest of Europe, and the money and jobs seemed to be being taken by immigrants and Jews. Unite behind a common flag, for true patriotism, against a common enemy.

The parallels to the rise of  UKIP are there for all to see. The views of some of their EU candidates seem to differ very slightly if at all from their historic forebears; their appeal and tactics, and as we have seen, their propaganda, is precisely the same.

One ethnic group / nationality has been made a specific target - Romanians. The manifesto gives fake statistics about the number of Romanians imprisoned for serious crimes and there is the oft-quoted favourite lie of Farage that the entire Romanian population was going to invade. Romanians were the only nationality mentioned in their party political broadcast. And when Farage chose to launch his poster campaign, he did it in Sheffield - was it a coincidence that there had been recent media reports of tension with Romanian immigrants in the city?

At the top of the pile is the leader, the one person identified with the party. Who can name a single other senior UKIP member? And this is carried forward into all their election publicity, in a way not seen with any of the major political parties.

What people often forget is that Hitler was not dependent on the Brownshirts or Stormtroopers to win the election that opened the doorway to his seizing total power. There was a lot of support within the general public, naive though most of them probably were. Same again, those UKIP members and candidates I've debated with on Twitter show a shocking ignorance of what the EU is or does, or even of the policies of their own party. They instead are focussing on the hysteria, the myth of mass immigration, and more frightening perhaps, what they call 'patriotism'.

When the 'builder' in one of the election posters turned out to be an EU immigrant, one candidate challenged on it claimed that citizens of the Republic of Ireland were not 'foreign' as this is stipulated in the 1949 act (which concerned recognition of the Republic, no longer as a domain or part of the Commonwealth etc.) and so argued that all the Irish are in fact UK citizens! When I fact-checked the manifesto and asked other members to substantiate any of it, some denied that there was a manifesto and I must have made it up (I sent them the link - it's on their website!).

The belief in the party and their leader is fanatical for some. Any reasonable question or challenge over the actual facts is met with anger, insults, threats and hate. It's true that it seems most of Farage's support seems to come from retired middle-class and disillusioned right-wing Tories. His attempts at rooting out former NF and BNP members from the party (forced after previous revelations of his candidates' beliefs) has rankled some in the far right - but there are still those who have recognised a common cause and so will support UKIP as its popularity rises.

What we must absolutely not do is to see UKIP as some kind of farce, as a joke. The threat is very real and we have to take it seriously, to stop history repeating itself. The key to this is information - getting people past the propaganda to the truth, about the EU, immigration and what UKIP policies really are.

Saturday, 19 April 2014

Farage on Friday vs. Axe of Reason

UKIP is trending again as they discover social media and push their nonsense as much as possible, and people like me support the trend by posting responses.

Well here is the Estimable Farage's latest burbling in the Daily Diana. 

I am quite unusual for a politician in that I have actual run a business and employed people.

Nigel Farage (sic)

You will find no keener champion of free enterprise and competition than me. But where a few big players dominate things, competition can fail and people can end up getting exploited. So today I want to blow the whistle on an issue that concerns multinational companies exploiting employees. I am talking about the recent trend towards zero-hours contracts for working class jobs.

I wonder what a 'working class job' is.

With so much cheap labour flooding in from abroad, giant corporations are in an increasingly powerful position to dictate terms and conditions for workers.

Labour isn't cheap because it comes from abroad. It's cheap because of the wages that are offered - and employers cannot preferentially hire someone on the basis of their nationality - only their qualifications and experience.

Now zero hours contracts – where no fixed hours are stipulated in advance but employers and employees come to agreement about hours of work available each week or day as they go along – suit some people.

This is not an accurate definition of zero hours. There is usually no consultation - the employee has to make themselves available at all hours, in the event that they are called to work.

Students looking to work a couple of evenings a week, for example. Or parents who are mainly at home but have the odd morning available. It can suit such people to be on call and to be asked the night before whether they can make the next day or the day after that.

So this paragraph is just nonsense!

But while having a zero hours contract as an option is one thing, having it as the only available form of work is quite another. And keeping people on zero hours contracts for year after year when they aspire to stable employment so that they can provide for their families is something else again. I do not believe in banning zero hours contracts. But I do believe there is a very strong case for expecting large employers to sign up to a tough code of conduct as to how they are applied.

OK. Taken out of context, I'd agree with that.

For instance, if an employee proves reliable enough to be working for a big company for a year or more then there should be an expectation that the company will offer him or her a permanent position.

 Mr. F seems to think that zero hours contracts are all temporary. And what is a 'big company'?

At its worst this rapidly proliferating practice reminds me of the way dockers used to have to gather at the dock gates in the 1920s and a foreman would come out and point to those he could use and tell the rest to go home with no money in their pockets. To expect people to pay their bills and raise a family under employment conditions like this is just not on.

He must mean precisely the same way you can see men gathering at street corners any day of the week in Manchester and any other major city in the UK in the hope of some work on a gang.

For small companies I can understand why flexibility can sometimes be the difference between life and death. I am quite unusual for a politician in that I have actual run a business and employed people. But the truth is that most small companies rise or fall on their team-spirit and so the idea of keeping people dangling on zero hours for years at a time is not one that would appeal to many. So we are left with the big battalions. Multinationals that are often foreign-owned and very careful not to pay any more tax than they are legally obliged to. I do not blame them for that – it is the responsibility of the authorities to set the tax regime after all.

So the practice is perfectly acceptable for 'small' companies, paying less than the living wage and relying on the welfare state to subsidise their profits by  making up the shortfall in the pittance they pay? It's perfectly fine for companies to turnover hundreds of millions of pounds in the UK, and yet exploit the law to claim they make no profit and so avoid business rates and taxes, taking from the UK economy and paying nothing back in. Tough luck if you're a cafe owner paying tax and rates, when the Starbucks up the road pays nothing and can undercut your prices, and posts all the cash to Seattle.

But I do say that they should show more responsibility towards those on the shop floor. Often those kept on zero-hours contracts are women with major family responsibilities.

 Ummmm...only women have family responsibilities?

Official ONS figures show rocketing numbers of people employed under zero hours contracts. In 2012 it was estimated that they covered 250,000 workers but last year that estimate more than doubled to 582,000. I have even heard of cases where household name international companies have resorted to expecting workers on zero hours contracts to turn up in the morning and then go home without pay if they are deemed surplus to requirements.

Yes, that is what a zero hours contract is.

That offends my British sense of fair play.

What is a 'British' sense of fair play? How does that differ from a French sense of fair play, a Spanish sense of fair play, or an Indian sense of fair play?

The biggest and most profitable companies can and should do better than that. It surprises me that none of the other political parties appears to want to talk about these excesses. Perhaps it is because these multinationals are the ones willing to back their aim of keeping us in the EU by spouting alarmist drivel about what would happen if we left.

Non-sequitur? Nissan, for example, wants to continue to expand car production in the UK. We are talking here about thousands of well-paid technical jobs in manufacturing. Yet they have said that if we left the EU, they would be forced to relocate.

I have no truck with militant trade unionism – never have and never will. Where over-mighty unions provoke frequent strikes and disrupt production then everyone loses. We must never go back to the bad old days of the 1970s.

Thatcherism and Blairism have prevented any chance of that happening again. And another non-sequitur?

But equally where over-mighty corporations refuse to accept any social obligation towards loyal employees I am moved to cry foul as well.

Now he's talking about 'social obligation' - but the companies have no such obligation to pay their share of taxes, maintain a level playing field in the spirit of 'fair play' and pay the living wage?

Unlimited immigration from Eastern Europe and elsewhere has left many British working people pretty much defenceless against constant downgrades in their pay and employment conditions.

Immigration doesn't downgrade pay and conditions. Lack of regulation on employers and weakened unions does this. It has nothing whatsoever to do with labour coming from other countries - and of course these workers will then contribute to society as we all do through their taxes and consumption, as well as their effect in widening the cultural base of their adopted communities.

My message to them is that while the other parties may have forgotten about you, Ukip is aware of your plight and will speak up for you – however unpopular it makes us with the political class and its corporate allies.

Who is he talking to? And has he actually said anywhere anything about a policy?

Sunday, 13 April 2014

Showdown at the Bundy Ranch

If you follow Twitter, you'll have seen tweets about the Bundy Ranch. Lost in the fog of war, deliberate misinformation, propaganda and conspiracy theories is the story of actually what has been going on and came to a head this week.

Cliven Bundy runs the last free-range cattle ranch in south eastern Nevada. The ranch is his but in the same way his family has done since the 1870's, he grazes his thousand head of cattle on the open range, not prairie but desert scrub - which is technically Federal land (let's forget Native American claims for the time being - further complicates the issue). 

In 1993, ostensibly to protect a species of tortoise, local ranchers lost their grazing rights and had to pay the government for the privilege, and one by one they shut down and moved out, apart from Bundy who withheld the tax payments (now over $1m owed). Court orders have been ignored and this week, the Federal Bureau of Land Management (BLM) decided to take action and confiscate his herd.

So far, so good. Apart from the fact that the legality of the confiscation is under question, and the BLM showed up with a bunch of cowboys to take the herd, and over a hundred heavily armed agents, helicopters and armoured vehicles. The ranch was surrounded, the cattle rounded up and taken to a compound, apparently for sale to recover the owed grazing fees. They managed to get about a third of the herd.

What we know is that when one of Bundy's sons was attacked by a K9 unit and tasered, it was captured on video and it went viral.

Suddenly Twitter was alive with all kinds of wingnuts - white supremacists, Tea Party supporters, NRA members and local militias ready to ride in and defend Bundy from the Feds. The Feds didn't help. They reinforced, set up of all things a 'First Amendment Area',

deactivated local cell towers and on Friday the FAA declared the area a no-fly zone. The state governor became involved, and the story was covered by Fox and RT (both taking the same position on the story!).

At this point it looked like the whole thing was going to be a repeat of Waco and Ruby Ridge
but in this case armed supporters of the Bundys from local states showed up - some as heavily armed as the Feds - and today the BLM stood down and released the cattle. Some amazing pictures here (click on one of the pictures to open the slide show, the source text is unsurprisingly inaccurate).

The way the whole issue was handled by the government was flawed, as if nothing had been learned from the past. But there is something else at the core of this story which is why it peaked my interest. The Federal government had no chance of winning this dispute as they had decided to take on the most evocative cultural myth at the heart of their own national identity - the cowboy.

At this point, the facts of the story are as lost and as pointless as the historical truth of the cowboys of the American West. Whilst the varied extremist groups wanted to exploit this case for their own questionable causes, when a cattle rancher takes on the government and talks about freedoms enshrined in the US Constitution, and that government has undeniably sought to curtail those freedoms (a first amendment area?), it immediately summons up the plots of a hundred B-movie westerns and TV shows. Bundy becomes an iconic representation of the very concept of freedom in the American sense without even trying. 

UPDATE: In the past week, Mr. Bundy has shared his views on African Americans. These proved to be racist in the extreme, and so the myth is shattered and reality is restored. Bundy lost his support, was denounced by nearly all who supported him. The dream was nice while it lasted. But thinking about it again, is he really just a man out of time? Those views were probably not much different from those his by his ancestors who built his ranch back in the era of the cowboy. And as those days are gone and the world turns away from the views he holds, perhaps time to bury the myth too.

Sunday, 6 April 2014

Captain America: The Winter Soldier - Freedom or Fear?

Search Winter Soldier on Google and you might get a surprise. Rather than the comic book character or the movie now on release, you will see links to an investigation into US war crimes in Vietnam in 1971, and a recent investigation into US war crimes in Iraq and Afghanistan in 2008. This did not receive wide media coverage, and featured eye-witness testimony from veterans who believed that what they had seen was not done in the name of freedom - and was a stain on the United States. 

If you've seen the movie, this might be starting to sound familiar.

Over the past year we have been finding out more about how the intelligence services of the US and UK have compromised the security of the entire internet, to collect all metadata from every source, from everyone on the planet; to data mine, to track, to target, to influence politically and obtain commercial advantage. And this has been done using 'terrorism' as an excuse - but the real purpose being domination of the web and control of the population.

This might also sound familiar to fans of the movie - except this is all true. 

The Russo brothers who made the movie wanted to make an old fashioned political thriller with a current reference - but the Snowden revelations only came whilst the movie was in post-production. Their actual inspiration was Obama's kill list 

Coincidentally another film was released last year about this, based on a best-selling book, winner of the Sundance Film Festival and nominated for an Oscar. Dirty Wars was more about the secret wars run without congressional oversight directly from the office of the Vice President, mechanisms taken over rather than broken down by Obama. Special forces units were sent anywhere in the world in order to 'dominate the battlespace', such as Seal Teams 2 and 6 (by the way, there are ONLY two, they were named like that to give the impression that there were more). 

However, Obama was more concerned about boots on the ground and so 'death from above' became his favourite method of attack. And so he became the first president in US history to order the 'extra-judicial killing' (i.e. execution) of a US citizen. This man had not been tried or charged let alone found guilty of any crime - and a short time later, his 15 year-old son, US born and raised, died by drone.  The court case relating to these and other killings was thrown out by a judge this week.

SPOILER ALERT - skip to the bottom if you haven't seen Captain America - the Winter Soldier

In the film, Hydra uses flying gun platforms controlled by satellite (just like drones) to eliminate targets, identified through data-mining their internet metatdata (just like the NSA and GCHQ programmes). These targets will be killed in order to eliminate any threat to the new world order - to maintain the peace. Their initial sweep identifies over a million targets.
So far, Obama has killed an estimated 2,400 men, women and children for precisely the same purpose. And he will probably make that 3,000 before the end of the year, in Yemen, Afghanistan, Pakistan - basically anywhere he likes.

Robert Redford's character explains how Hydra waited until the people of the world would willingly give up their freedom, and how this was achieved by manipulating world events - in exactly the same way as the US has done and even showing some places where the US and CIA DID intervene to achieve regime change in the movie. Even this week, we found out about a CIA operation to set up a fake Twitter-style company in Cuba in order to secretly post political push messages to the youth of the country to foment a 'Cuban Spring'.

END OF SPOILERS! Safe reading from here!

The lack of political or popular support for protecting privacy and freedom online, particularly in the UK, is shocking. People do not realise what is being done and the danger involved - ultimately the loss of any illusion of freedom or human rights, as not only is everything you do watched and monitored, but also increasingly controlled, using methods far more subtle than any totalitarian government has used in the past. 

And what we hear from the government 'talking heads' is to protect society from 'terrorism' - when the government's own assessment of actual terrorist threat is practically zero. (BTW that's not the best source(!) but it does faithfully summarise the main points and contain an active link to the actual document). And over the years that the surveillance programs have been developed and used, not one terrorist plot has been prevented, and no-one has been charged with any criminal offence based on evidence gathered from it.

But there are things you can do to fight back. We don't have The Avengers - but  we do have the European Parliament and euro MPs committed to fight for online privacy (especially in the Green Party). We have the Open Rights Group and Liberty in the UK, in the US,  ACLU and EFF. And now the companies that either willingly collaborated or were gagged by the NSA are seeing the commercial implications and actual losses - even they are bringing their influence to bear. 

But we need to do more. For now, go and see Winter Soldier. Think - what if this was actually happening? 

Then catch up on the Greenwald revelations - see Dirty Wars. 

And realise that IT IS.