Thursday, 26 April 2018

Trial Date Watch: Day Eight

More than two weeks after I had again been due to stand trial, I now no longer have a trial date, even though it is rightly a criminal offence to fail to attend one's trial.

Had I been tried, as expected, on 6th December, then, even had I been convicted, I would already have been released, since I would by now have served three months even of a wildly improbable six month sentence.

The legal persecution of me, which has been going on for over a year, was initiated only in order to deter me from seeking public office or to prevent my election to it, and its continuation is only to one or both of those ends. Amnesty International is on the case.

Until there is anything to add to it, then this post will appear here every day that the post is delivered.

Libel Watch: Day 63

The Leader of Durham County Council, Simon Henig, was so afraid that I was going to be elected to that authority, that he faked a death threat against himself and dozens of other Councillors.

Despite the complete lack of evidence, that matter is still being pursued by the Crown Prosecution Service as part of the attempt by the sacked Director of Public Prosecutions, Alison Saunders, to secure a Labour seat in one or other House of Parliament.

If I am wrong, then let Henig and Saunders sue me. Until they do, then this post will appear here every day that the post is delivered.

Getting A Signal

Lycamobile. Remember that name. This scandal ought already to be enormous, but another huge one is already going on. We should not have very much longer to wait, though. Lycamobile. Remember that name.

From The Cradle To The Grave

If there is one thing that the case of Alfie Evans certainly will not do, then it is to instil in the British any doubts whatever about the National Health Service in principle. Americans and others who imagine that this or anything else might ever have that effect simply do not understand what it is to be British.

If anything, the political response to this case will be the call for more money for the NHS, which is consistently by far the most popular institution in the United Kingdom, and which has been so throughout almost the whole of living memory. People who do not like it just do not like Britain. That is probably why they almost always do not live here.

The Empire Too, We Can Depend On You?

The detention and deportation of Britons of the Windrush Generation is wrong. As is the detention and deportation of Britons from the Chagos Islands. End them both. You know what you have to do, brothers and sisters. You know what you have to do.

The Road To Nowhere

David Goodhart is a friend of mine, whose generous hospitality I enjoyed only recently. But he is playing into the hands of those who wish to conflate the Windrush Scandal with illegal immigration. And he is now advocating identity cards. He is wrong, on both counts.

The Lost Cause?

Does Ruth Smeeth even know who Marc Wadsworth is, or why he matters? If so, then she and those who otherwise ridiculously marched with her ought to have been carrying Confederate flags. They were the heirs of the Dixiecrats, and his hearing was, or was at least intended to be, his lynching. 

They were traitors to the strongly Jewish elements in the Civil Rights movement in the United States, and in the struggle against apartheid in South Africa. They had come to exact revenge on the Stephen Lawrence campaign. Far more probably, however, they had no idea who Marc Wadsworth was, or why he mattered. And that does not exactly make matters any better.

The selection of Labour Parliamentary candidates is not purely a matter for Constituency Labour Parties. (Here in North West Durham, it is not at all a matter for the Constituency Labour Party, which nevertheless continues to exist out of what one can only assume to be a lack of self-respect.) It is also subject, in each case, to ratification by the National Executive Committee. Watch that space.

Reach For The Sky

The battle for Sky is well and truly on. It is very much to be hoped that the successful bidder will undertake to provide a platform for views that are very widely held here in the United Kingdom, but which have hitherto been ignored across the media.

The workers, and not the liberal bourgeoisie, as the key swing voters. Identity issues located within the struggle for economic equality and for international peace. The leading role in the defence of universal public services of the working class that would otherwise lack basic amenities, and in the promotion of peace of the working class and the youth who would be the first to be called upon to die in wars. The decision of the EU referendum by areas that voted Labour, Liberal Democrat or Plaid Cymru.

Opposition from the start to the failed programme of economic austerity. Against all Governments since 1997, opposition to the privatisation of the NHS and other public services, to the persecution of the disabled, to the assault on civil liberties, to every British military intervention during that period, to Britain’s immoral and one-sided relationship with Saudi Arabia, and to the demonisation of Russia.

Rejection of any approach to climate change which would threaten jobs, workers’ rights, the right to have children, travel opportunities, or universal access to a full diet. Rescue of issues such as male suicide, men’s health, and fathers’ rights, from those whose economic and other policies have caused the problems. And refusal to recognise racists, Fascists or opportunists as the authentic voices of the accepted need to control immigration.

In this age of Brexit and of Jeremy Corbyn, the inclusion of such voices only makes commercial sense. The question will be that of locating them, of locating us. We are never going to be found through the media that already exist, so we are going to have to be very proactive indeed. This is our time.

Found Wanting

If the cuddly faces of neoconservative foreign policy, such as Oxfam and Save the Children, are no longer to receive public funding, then where is that money to go instead? I propose that it go to War on Want, instead of Wanting War.

How She Used What She Learned

Heidi Alexander signed up for five years, not until she got a better offer. The Labour Right can sometimes seem determined to prove the Left's point that they are careerists and nest-featherers. If you or I were a constituency MP, then we would too busy to be looking for other work. Why isn't she? 

Apparently, she was at Durham at the same time as I was. But I cannot remember her, and I knew all the political crowd, from Mark Clarke to Jonathan Ashworth. I shared a house with Tom Hamilton for a year. Does any of them remember her, I wonder? Tom was at the same college. Anyway, there we are. She rose without trace, and she seems to be falling without trace as well. 

Who gets the Labour nomination to replace her is still a story, though. South East London? How about the man who introduced Doreen and Neville Lawrence to Nelson Mandela?

Custom Made

The Customs Union is in fact the "free trade area" for which those who voted Yes in 1975 imagine that they were solely voting. The Single Market, meanwhile, was of course created by Margaret Thatcher. They have both been thoroughly pernicious from the start.

Four amendments need to be tabled, and put to the vote on the floor of the House of Commons. To secure the extra £350 million per week for the National Health Service. To restore the United Kingdom's historic fishing rights of 200 miles or to the median line, in accordance with international law. To seek a trade agreement with each of the BRICS countries while remaining thoroughly critical of all five of their current Governments. And to seek the integration into the Belt and Road Initiative of all four parts of the United Kingdom, of all nine English regions, and of all of the British Overseas Territories and the Crown Dependencies.

These ought all to be proposed as a single amendment to the Liaison Committee's motion today. But that has not happened, because there is no one there to make it happen. Make it happen. You know what you have to do, brothers and sisters. You know what you have to do.

Presiding Spirits

I have always supported a State Visit, or even just a working visit, by President Trump. The demonstrations against it would define this country's culture and politics for 50 years, which would be the rest of my life. But if, and only if, they were organised and headlined by the people who had been just as vigorously opposed to Bill Clinton, George W. Bush and Barack Obama, and who would have been just as vigorously opposed to Hillary Clinton.

Meanwhile, Craig Murray takes apart Emmanuel Macron, who is the President of the French Republic by default, because all that he had to do was beat Marine Le Pen, whose party is not really a party at all, but a separate country, more than 200 years old, calling itself "France", believing itself to be France, and these days more or less accepting the borders of France as most people understand the term, but having little or nothing in common with it, and certainly standing no chance of ever winning a national election within it.

As for the "Special Relationship", America's only one of those is with Saudi Arabia, and even that has not always existed, nor will it always exist. The idea that countries have such affinities merely because they speak the same language, or even because they have also inherited relatively similar institutions, is the kind of thing that only children believe. It is held in the most perfect ignorance of the history of the relationship between the United Kingdom and the United States until well into the Second World War, and in the most perfect ignorance of the history of every continent, of the Arab world, and so on.

Erdogan’s Revenge and the Kurdish Dilemma

My friend Maurice Glasman writes:

Arriving in Baghdad, it is clear who has won the Iraq War. The Shia are in charge. Tower-sized, luminous green posters of Husseyn and Ali define the landscape, draped from Brezhnevite tower blocks, augmented by portraits of martyred fighters in identical uniforms, with a prominent place for Nimr Baqir al-Nimr, the Shia cleric executed by the Saudis. These are reproduced in miniature on every soldier’s hut at checkpoints throughout the city. 

Tall concrete barricades confine the defeated Sunni minority to their sealed areas. The Iranian-backed Hashti Shabi brigades made light work of the Kurdish Peshmerga in the disputed areas of Kirkuk, Sinjar, and Nineveh, after the Kurdish referendum on independence, and now control the motorway between Erbil and Sulaymaniyah. 

In Iraq, the Shia won the national war, the Iranians the regional battle, and Russia the global contest. America, France, and Britain ended up making lightning strikes that left no trace. 

I had not traveled to visit Iraq, however, but Syria, at the invitation of the Federation of Northern Syria, also known as Rojava. A very small Kurdish enclave of not more than 2 million people had fought back against ISIS at their worst.

The small city of Kobani on the Turkish border was the first place that resisted the supposedly irresistible spread of the caliphate in 2014. And what emerged was extraordinary, an ideology of women’s leadership and equality combined with democratic confederalism based on strong local democratic self-government. 

The YPJ, the women’s force, and the YPG, which are mixed brigades, turned themselves, with American and British support, into the Syrian Democratic Force that defeated ISIS all the way to Raqqa, establishing their parish commune system in their wake. 

In January, I wrote about how Abdullah Ocalan, imprisoned in solitary confinement on an island in the Marmara Sea, was haunting Turkish President Erdogan in his attempt to build an Islamist nationalist state. Erdogan had arrested the leaders of the mainly Kurdish HDP when they did better than expected in elections a couple of years ago, with the imprisoned HDP leaders receiving more than 200-year sentences between them. 

The Turkish state has broken all public records on the imprisonment of journalists and the political sacking of state workers. It turned out that neither the Gulenists nor the Islamists were the primary focus of Erdogan’s intense attention; instead the Kurds emerged once more as the object of Turkish spite.

It was unacceptable to the Turkish state that a military and political grouping, avowedly inspired by the teaching and leadership of Ocalan, would be permitted to function on its border. Erdogan’s initial flirtation with Ottoman Sunni leadership did not go well as the PYD—as the Syrian Democratic Forces were initially known—not only defeated ISIS in Kobani but began their alliance with Turkey’s NATO allies, America and Britain, and defeated the forces of the caliphate in battle. 

Erdogan actively courted Iran and Russia in order to gain permission to intervene against the Kurds. He got it. On January 20, the Turkish Air Force began a 56-day bombing campaign in Afrin—one of the three provinces of the Federation of Northern Syria—and neither the Russian/Syrian air force nor the coalition allies impeded its air campaign against a people with no protection. 

They bombed the locals from their homes and paid the Al Qaeda, Al Nusra, and ISIS forces on the ground to resume their interrupted reign of rape, dispossession, and expulsion. After 4,000 years of continuous habitation, there is no Kurdish presence left in Afrin. In their place are the Islamist forces backed by Turkey and the Sunni Arab refugees whom Erdogan held as a bargaining chip with the EU. It is ethnic cleansing. 

As I rode the pontoon bridge from Iraq into Syria, I thought about Thucydides and the Melian Dialogue in his History of the Peloponnesian Wars. The Athenians had arrived at the island of Melos with 38 ships, carrying more than 3,000 soldiers—including the ancient equivalent of an air force, mounted archers. 

The Athenian offer was simple: You accept our authority and imperial rule, and in return we will let you live; if not, we will depopulate your island and take it for ourselves. The Melians responded that their natural ally the Lakedaimonians (Spartans) would protect them and that all they wanted was friendship and neutrality, to be left alone to develop their own democracy and way of life.

The Athenians responded by saying that justice and rights were enjoyed by equals and that the Melians should recognize that there was a mutual interest in surrendering and preserving their lives and land rather than fighting and losing it all. The Melians did not accept the offer and after they fought and lost were all either murdered or expelled.

I’d first come across the dialogue during a community-organizing training with the Industrial Areas Foundation almost 20 years ago. An identical choice confronted the Kurds of Syria when faced with the reality of their circumstance.

The disintegration of the Syrian state offered up the possibility of autonomy or extermination. ISIS, however, had many enemies, and the Kurds went into alliance with the coalition and fought and extended their autonomy.

I witnessed what they had achieved, and it is extraordinary. It is true that the face of Ocalan appears everywhere, as Barzani does in the Kurdish area of Iraq, as Erdogan does in Turkey, as Husseyn does in Baghdad, and it is the latter vein, of a silent imam in occultation, that prevails. We were there on Ocalan’s birthday and there was, according to his wishes, a mass planting of trees.

The leadership of women in the council system is a reality within a kind of parish commune, in which government takes place at the most local level conceivable. In Qamishli, the capital of the Jazeera canton, I met with the male and female co-chairs of a local commune that comprised 12 streets. 

Although both leaders were illiterate, they were voted in and ran the area, accountable to a local assembly that meets every other Sunday. They decide issues pertaining to housing, receiving refugees from Afrin, education, and self-defense, among others. I met Assyrian Christians and Sunni Arabs who were offended by the idea that this was a Kurdish project, insisting that they helped found it and that no ethnicity dominated. 

On meeting the parliamentarians for the Federation of Northern Syria, they handed me a translation of the “social contract” that all of the communities of the area had agreed to. It is a complex system to ensure minority representation and women’s equality.

In Kobani, which had been almost entirely wiped out by ISIS in battle, the local people had rebuilt their homes with very little state aid. I thought of how amazed Murray Bookchin would have been to see democratic confederalism as such an effective system of democratic self-government in a diverse population.

When I met with the women soldiers of the YPJ they included Yazidi and Sunni Arab fighters as well as Kurds, and the same was true of the wounded male fighters we met. 

There weren’t many shops, and the plumbing didn’t always work, but the system of democracy seemed robust and the energy around it felt genuine. There seemed to be food and shelter for all, and the refugees from Afrin were received by families and not in camps. 

The Melian dilemma, however, hung over it all. Our delegation met with the leaders of the army and with the political leadership in the region, and they all asked the same question: Why have Britain and America abandoned us to the Turkish state?  The answer was that Turkey is a member of NATO and that is a larger and more strategic alliance with a larger and more powerful country than the Federation of Northern Syria. 

They asked if the UN would intervene, or the EU? It emerged in these conversations that Assad and Russia have offered the Kurds a deal. They would be protected from the Turkish invasion—in return for their surrender to the Syrian state. 

Their army and democracy would be subordinate to Damascus, and the central state system, rather than democratic confederalism, would prevail. In return they would be allowed to live in the place where they had lived for 4,000 years. Turkey, on the other hand, would either kill them or expel them from their homes. 

The PYD, the umbrella organization of the Federation, also known as Tav-Dem, took the Melian position. They chose to fight without an air force and now they are utterly defeated. Turkey is threatening to extend its invasion to the rest of Kurdish Syria.

It is important to acknowledge that a NATO partner is a far worse choice than Assad and that America and Britain have abandoned the only example of indigenous democracy in the region to collective execution.

Thucydides’ remark in the Melian Dialogue that the powerful do what they can and the weak suffer as they must still holds true.

Alfie Evans and The State

Craig Murray writes:

Individual cases of huge emotional impact are not something on which I generally feel qualified to comment, and seldom are a good basis for general policy. But the heartbreaking case of little Alfie Evans is so striking I wished to look at it.

The most valuable and complete of many court judgements of the case seems to be the High Court judgement of 20 February, the starting point for the many appeals since. Reading this very carefully, I feel quite certain that the state is taking too much power over individuals in denying the Evans’ family the right to take their son abroad for treatment.

It is worth saying at the start that everybody involved, including the judge, seems genuinely motivated to do the best for little Alfie. It is also fairly plain that there seems no reason to believe that there is ever any chance of recovery. 

The discussions of whether the little boy’s reactions to stimuli including the touch of his mother, are actual reactions or coincidental convulsions, is terribly, terribly sad. But I do worry about the reasoning employed.

All the medical evidence indicates it is unlikely that Alfie can experience pain or discomfort:

para 21 Prof Haas: a. the majority of Alfie’s reaction to external stimuli (i.e. touching, pain stimulation like pinching, etc., reaction to noise, parents voice etc.) is very likely not a purposeful reaction but very likely caused by seizures (as proven by repeat EEC monitoring)
para 25 Dr M: I believe that is it unlikely that Alfie feels pain or has sensation of discomfort but I cannot be completely certain of this since Alfie has no way of communicating if he is in pain or discomfort.
para 28 The thalami, which I have been told fire the pathways within the white matter which generate sensory perception is, Dr R points out, effectively invisible in the scan. In simple terms the thalami, basal ganglia, the vast majority of the white matter of the brain and a significant degree of the cortex have been wiped out by this remorseless degenerative condition.
29. Painful though it is for F to read Dr R’s observations of Alfie’s current condition, it is necessary for me to set them out:

“Alfie does not show any response other than seizures to tactile, visual or auditory stimulation. He does not show any spontaneous movements. His motor responses are either of an epileptic nature or are spinal reflexes. He is deeply comatose and for all intents and purposes therefore unaware of his surroundings. Although fluctuating, his pupillary responses are abnormal with now only the most subtle, very brief dilatation to exposure to light but no normal constriction. Exposure to loud noises does not elicit any response. There is no response to central painful stimuli other than the occasional seizure. There is no response to painful peripheral stimuli other than seizures or at times spinal reflexes with extension and internal rotation of his arms and less frequently now, of flexion of his legs.”

The judge concludes that, as Alfie is in a semi-vegetative state with a degenerative condition and probably cannot experience any benefit from life such as the touch of his mother, support should be withdrawn and he should be allowed to die with proper palliative care. But here is the place where I radically disagree: though it is unlikely that Alfie can feel pain or discomfort, the possibility that he MIGHT be able to experience pain and discomfort is the reason the offer from the Vatican to ship him by air ambulance to a hospital there cannot be permitted.

60. Whilst I have, for the reasons stated, rejected the evidence of Dr Hubner, I do not exclude the possibility that travel by Air Ambulance may remain a theoretical option. It requires to be considered however in the context of the matters above and one further important consideration. All agree that it is unsafe to discount the possibility that Alfie continues to experience pain, particularly surrounding his convulsions. The evidence points to this being unlikely but certainly, it cannot be excluded. 

The judge concludes that the risks of pain in travel by air ambulance, from the “burdensome” air travel and the difficulty of maintaining his care regimen on the air ambulance, rule out his going to Italy. I have a fundamental problem with this.

Throughout the medical reports, the possibility of Alfie experiencing pain and discomfort is not represented as a more significant possibility than that he can experience joy from the touch of his mother – both are viewed as highly unlikely.

The argument that he cannot receive further treatment in the UK because he is vegetative, yet cannot travel for it in case he is not, appears to me pernicious.  That is without the lesser point that the capabilities of air ambulances are perhaps here underestimated. 

There is also one area where I think Justice Hayden is deplorable. Professor Haas, who is German, concluded his evidence with this powerful paragraph:

“Because of our history in Germany, we’ve learned that there are some things you just don’t do with severely handicapped children. A society must be prepared to look after these severely handicapped children and not decide that life support has to be withdrawn against the will of the parents if there is uncertainty of the feelings of the child, as in this case.” 

Justice Hayden takes extreme exception to Professor Haas’ statement, which he refutes at length, concluding:

53. I regard the above as a comprehensive answer to the tendentious views expressed by Professor Haas. No further comment is required by me. 

This is completely out of order from Hayden. He is entitled to disagree with Professor Haas, but he is not entitled to describe the good Professor’s honest and reasonable view as “tendentious”.

This case is overreach by the state. It is not a case of the parents demanding perpetual NHS support, it is a case of the parents wishing, at no cost to the state, to leave the country with their severely ill son. 

As the state’s view is that their son will very shortly die anyway, and it is unlikely it will occasion Alfie any significant discomfort he can feel, I can see no reason that the state should override the wishes of the parents to pursue their hope, however remote, that some span of life of some quality might yet be available to their son.

Anti-Semitism and Britain’s Hall of Mirrors

In The New York Times, no less, Mark Mazower writes:

As I’ve read about the furor over anti-Semitism in Britain’s Labour Party, I’ve thought of my grandfather and wondered what he would have made of it.

In his youth, in czarist Russia, he had been a revolutionary activist, a member of the Jewish socialist movement known as the Bund. By the time the Bolsheviks seized power, he had fled to England to make a new life in North London. The Labour Party was his natural constituency, as it was my father’s. Can the party that welcomed my family have changed so much? 

To read the recent headlines, one would think so. Jeremy Corbyn, the party’s leader, has been under attack for months. If Britain’s news media are to be believed, anti-Semitism is rife within Labour, Mr. Corbyn has willfully turned a blind eye to it, and successive internal inquiries have been mishandled. A wave of protest in the past few weeks has put his leadership under pressure.

Yet a survey of anti-Semitic attitudes in Britain, published last September by the respected Institute for Jewish Policy Research — an organization with no ties to any political party — contains several findings that are worth considering amid this uproar. First: Levels of anti-Semitism in Britain are among the lowest in the world. Second: Supporters across the political spectrum manifest anti-Semitic ideas. Third: Far from this being an issue for the left, the prejudice gets worse the farther right you look. And yet, at the same time, British Jews now generally believe anti-Semitism to be a large and growing problem and have come to associate it with Labour in particular. 

The left has had an awkward relationship with what was once called “the Jewish question” going back to Proudhon, Bakunin and Marx. And in Socialist parties across the world, workers (and, for that matter, peasants) have historically been just as prone to xenophobia of all kinds as the middle and upper classes.

Today it would be stupid to deny that there is anti-Semitism on the left, including in Britain, extending in some quarters to Holocaust denial. But for all the shopworn stereotypes and the repulsive social media postings, the scale of anti-Semitism inside the Labour Party is insufficient to warrant the kind of reaction we have seen recently. So what explains the furor? To answer that it is simply the work of Mr. Corbyn’s enemies inside and outside the party is tempting. Indeed, that position has been adopted by some of his supporters. But it misses the mark. If people think there is a problem, we need to understand why. 

A key factor is that it is on the left that criticism of Israel is most likely to be found. This explains a good deal, because in recent times the boundaries between anti-Semitism and anti-Zionism have become hopelessly muddled. To be sure, the two are sometimes found together. But a lot of people simply equate them, as Britain’s chief rabbi himself did in May 2016, and regard the very idea of anti-Zionism with suspicion. 

The widespread use of what started out as a European Union attempt to define anti-Semitism has done nothing to help. The so-called Working Definition of Antisemitism, internationally adopted since its formulation in 2005 (including by the British government), lumps together Holocaust denial with hostility to Israel. Muddled, catchall definitions such as these lend themselves to the sort of surreal politicking that we now see in Britain.

The result is a confusion that turned the past week into a theater of the absurd after Mr. Corbyn was slammed in the British press for attending a Seder hosted by a far-left, but unmistakably Jewish, group called Jewdas. Jewdas calls itself non-Zionist, and it revels in the history of the radical Jewish diaspora; during the Seder, participants sang Yiddish songs cursing the police (in addition to observing more traditional Passover rituals).

This group was then denounced by the president of the Board of Deputies of British Jews, Jonathan Arkush, as “a source of virulent anti-Semitism.” The board, which has claimed to speak for British Jewry since the 18th century, usually keeps its head down and avoids the headlines. In the 1930s, it held back as other Jewish groups, mostly on the left, led the struggle against a nascent fascist movement on the streets of London. An inglorious role, perhaps, but one that has allowed the Board of Deputies to appear nonpartisan and impartial. 

Not this time. Interviewed on TV, Mr. Arkush opined that Jewdas’s members “are not all Jewish,” as if he were in a position to make authoritative pronouncements on the subject. 

We are back in the usual arena of communal politics in which notables bandy writs of excommunication as a means of confirming their own authority. What happened to keeping shtum? Is fighting Jewdas really a priority in the struggle against anti-Semitism?

In this business no one comes out well — neither Mr. Corbyn nor his critics. But the lack of perspective and insight that both sides have demonstrated ultimately have less to tell us about anti-Semitism than they do about the diminished state of British politics. Is anti-Semitism a real issue in Britain? Yes. Is it worse for the Labour Party than for others? The evidence suggests not. Is it the most serious manifestation of racial prejudice facing the country? By no means. Muslims have it much worse than Jews, and Eastern European and other immigrants have also been the targets of far-right violence, especially since the referendum to leave the European Union.

In Brexit, Britain faces the most consequential foreign policy decision of the past half-century, one that will transform the country’s position in the world. So far, the government has handled the negotiations like amateurs. Faced with a hostile use of deadly nerve agents on its own territory, the foreign secretary, Boris Johnson, has responded with his characteristic lack of professionalism. If this is how the country’s political elite tackles issues of such gravity, can we be surprised at how Mr. Corbyn, no less parochial in his way than his Conservative opponents, has fumbled his own internal crisis — and how the news media have fanned the flames?

I am not sure that my grandfather would have seen much change in the Labour Party. The ongoing clash within its ranks between moderates and radicals would have been familiar to him. Nor would he have been very surprised to find prejudice extending left as well as right: This would not have affected his preference for the party of social justice. And since, as a Bundist, he had grown up in opposition to Zionism (Bundists and Zionists were locked in ideological combat from their birth onward), he would have regarded pretty searching criticism of Israel as a far more normal part of the political landscape than most people do today.

But he could only have been disappointed at the immense change in the country that took him in, in Britain itself, losing its way in a hall of mirrors, distracted by secondary issues while the country’s fate hangs in the balance.

How The Media Reveal Inconvenient Truth About Syria

Tim Hayward writes: 

The truth is sometimes revealed through words, but more often through deeds. The Times and several other papers recently carried alarming stories about “Apologists for Assad” to be found in social media, in independent journalism, and even in universities.

Passive consumers of corporate media communications may have taken the papers’ word for it and been perturbed. The more alert, however, will have taken this conspicuous flagging of certain journalists, tweeters and academics to be a strategic communication: “these are people you must not listen to and definitely not think of emulating!”

The response from the critically aware has been spectacularly resistant – not least on Twitter, which, ironically, was the main source of the “evidence” used in the coordinated smear campaign. The fact of a campaign, and a coordinated one, appeared obvious.

Perhaps a rush to launch the attacks all at once was due to an unexpectedly quick unravelling of the authorized narrative in Syria. As the Syrian Arab Army brought Douma back under government control, the liberated citizens were bringing horrendous stories about conditions of life under the UK-sponsored “moderate rebels”, speaking of terror, humiliation, deprivation, rape, murder and forced labour.

These stories, if verified, would severely undermine the mainstream narrative. As would the discovery of exceedingly inconvenient facts relating to the alleged chemical attack that recently served as justification for the F-UK-US bombing raid.

So it is that those of us who strive to get a fair hearing for the inconvenient testimonies are branded “Apologists for Assad”.

Whoever devised the smear campaign perhaps underestimated the public’s instincts of fairness and its appetite for truth. They are also up against a strong streak of decency that runs even through parts of the establishment.

Thus in the same week as the attacks on us we could also hear dissenting voices from sections of society that would be especially surprising hotbeds of “Assad Apologism” (whatever that even is). They include lords of the realm, generals and admirals of Her Majesty’s armed forces, United Kingdom ambassadors, Church of England clergy, Westminster politicians, academics from world-leading universities, and even celebrities on mainstream media (apparently including The Great British Bake Off).

The smear campaign also didn’t seem to have effective personnel for the job. The poor hacks who were dispatched to rummage through people’s old twitter feeds and contrive loose chains of supposedly incriminating association seem hardly to have had their hearts in it. Understandably, perhaps, given how far outside their sphere of competence it is to engage with the careful, detailed and often highly sophisticated presentations of serious independent investigators.

hen there was downright idiocy. Riding on the bandwagon of Russophobia is an opportunistic assortment of self-styled sleuths, deploying sometimes hilarious methods of “Russian bot” identification. This has led to the fingering of the now celebrated Ian Shilling, for instance, and the already greatly celebrated Syrian chemist in Australia who goes by the handle @Partisangirl.

Hilarity aside, the campaign has revealed how serious the situation is. To listen to Ian and Mimi is to learn what ideas get equated with Russian propaganda today. I find it chilling that to share such ideas is to be regarded as an enemy in an information war with Russia –  a war that even Lord West was publicly recommended to be mindful of by a BBC interviewer last week (who warns him about his loose talk here, from 04:30).

Such a mass mobilisation of controlled information should be no less worrying than the mobilisation of armed force. It is what generates the atmosphere of acquiescence required to get a military war going.

By coordinating their concerted smear campaign, those with centralised power over information have literally revealed what they don’t want revealed. Nobody reading their words will be much the wiser about the alleged problem of “Assad Apologists”, but anyone reflecting on the mere fact of this extraordinary campaign will know that they are pointing out with neon light the people who must not be listened to and certainly not emulated.

To anybody who likes to take the media’s word at face value will not want to click any of the links below. For everybody else, they constitute a collective declaration of solidarity with what we all hold dear.

[Personal thanks go the authors and speakers linked below, but also to those many people who have shown support, whether in public or in private, and including, of course, fellow members of the Syria, Propaganda and Media working group and international advisory board. Thank you all!]

Standing together

C.J. Hopkins, ‘‘The League of Assad-Loving Conspiracy Theorists’ (Counterpunch, 26 April 2018)
The Listening Post, ‘How the media covered the Syria strikes’ (Al Jazeera, 21 April 2018) 8 minute video report
John Wright and Tara McCormack, ‘McCarthyism in Our Time: Witchhunting the Witchhunters’, (25 April 2018) [30 mins radio recording]
MediaLens, ‘Douma: Part 1 – Deception In Plain Sight’ (25 April 2018)
Max Blumenthal, ‘Syria Controversy: Don’t Believe the Official Narrative’ (Truthdig, 23 April 2018)
Mark GB Blog, ‘How did the media sink this low?’ (23 April)
[‘Massive mass media attacks on people who do not accept the official truth about Syria’] ‘Mahniti napadi masmedija na osobe koje ne prihvaćaju službenu istinu o Siriji’ (Balkan Express, 23 April 2018)
Craig Murray, ‘Index on Disgrace’ (22 April 2018)
‘The emergence of a Christian United Front against the war in Syria’, Voltaire Network (22 April 2018) [and the prior statement by Patriarchs since endorsed by Pope Francis]
Claire Connelly, ‘When the press attacks – the Times’ & BBC’s war on truth’, (Renegade Inc, 20 April 2018)
Open Letter to The Times on Assad and Academic Freedom, (not published by The Times, signed by twenty academics unconnected to those attacked by The Times, 18 April 2018)
Phil Hammond, Syria: stop asking questions (OpenDemocracy 17 April 2018)
Gavin Ashenden, ‘Syria, censorship and ‘The t/Times’ (14 April 2018)

Reference, links and discussion page, from ACLOS:

‘April 2018 attack on dissent’ (A Closer Look On Syria)

The academics respond in first person:
Tara McCormack, interviewed on BBC Newsnight (25 April 2018)
Tim Hayward, ‘Academic Freedom And Setting An Example’ (20 April 2018)
Tara McCormack, ‘Syria, The Times, and Free Speech‘, (Spiked, 19 April 2018)
‘”Assad Apologists”: media attacks academics over dissenting posts’, RT news video, with Tara MacCormack (18 April 2018)
Piers Robinson, ‘UK Academics Questioning Western Foreign Policy in Syria’ (Sputnik, 17 April 2018)
Piers Robinson, International mainstream media ‘failing’ audiences (Newstalk ZB, New Zealand – audio – 17 April 2018)
Louis Allday, Twitter thread (14 April 2018)
Tim Hayward, ‘Attacked by The Times’ (14 April 2018)

Wednesday, 25 April 2018

Trial Date Watch: Day Seven

Two weeks after I had again been due to stand trial, I now no longer have a trial date, even though it is rightly a criminal offence to fail to attend one's trial.

Had I been tried, as expected, on 6th December, then, even had I been convicted, I would already have been released, since I would by now have served three months even of a wildly improbable six month sentence.

The legal persecution of me, which has been going on for over a year, was initiated only in order to deter me from seeking public office or to prevent my election to it, and its continuation is only to one or both of those ends. Amnesty International is on the case.

Until there is anything to add to it, then this post will appear here every day that the post is delivered.

Libel Watch: Day 62

The Leader of Durham County Council, Simon Henig, was so afraid that I was going to be elected to that authority, that he faked a death threat against himself and dozens of other Councillors.

Despite the complete lack of evidence, that matter is still being pursued by the Crown Prosecution Service as part of the attempt by the sacked Director of Public Prosecutions, Alison Saunders, to secure a Labour seat in one or other House of Parliament.

If I am wrong, then let Henig and Saunders sue me. Until they do, then this post will appear here every day that the post is delivered.

Gala Theatre, Indeed

The loathsome Durham County Council has the gall to send me the details of this season's productions at the Gala Theatre, having cut to the bone the buses without which my disability makes it impossible for me to attend. I did not grow up in the middle of nowhere. Yet, without having moved, that is where I now find myself. 

So much for the fact that the Chosen One, so called because she spookily did not have to undergo any kind of selection process in order to become a parliamentary candidate, now really does live in Lanchester, and is no longer merely pretending to do so, as she did for electoral purposes last year.

Simon Henig has a real problem with the disabled in general. He long ago withdrew the Special Needs Allowance from those Teaching Assistants who had previously qualified for it, and he has now cut the salaries of 472 Teaching Assistants, about one quarter of the total, by 23 per cent. They are now paid less for full-time work with children, and not least with disabled children, than Councillors receive for no formal requirement beyond attendance at four meetings per year.

They are in that situation because they listened to the political advice of the man whom the Chosen One has since appointed as her Political Advisor. Had they listened to me, as I concede that Henig had made difficult by faking a criminal charge against me, then Labour would have lost control of Durham County Council last year and justice for the Teaching Assistants would already have been achieved. 

But instead, they listened to Ben Sellout, who has since done very well indeed out of the Chosen One. I am not the only person who thinks that. Just as I am not the only person who has noticed that the Durham Miners' Association, previously very supportive indeed of the Teaching Assistants, has since Davey Hopper died transferred its affections from them to the Chosen One. During that period, it has also become, so to speak, strikingly less political in general. There has been a significant MI5 addition to its staff.

Justice for the Teaching Assistants would be a non-negotiable part of the price of my support for any Government in the coming hung Parliament. You know what you have to do, brothers and sisters. You know what you have to do.

Peter Hitchens Should Sue

I realise that journalists do not like to invoke the English law of libel, but he should consider making an example of this.

If You Want The Truth

On last night's Newsnight, Evan Davis blurted out that, "If you want the truth, then there's the BBC, The Times, The Guardian and the Daily Telegraph," actively admitting that they were all the same thing, something that most readers of only one of those newspapers do not realise, and taking it as a given that that single entity had the absolute right to set the parameters, not only of acceptable debate, but of accepted fact.

The same attitude is evident in the call for a new party made up of fading grandees from New Labour and the Coalition. "Weren't those people supposed to have been opposing each other for 20 years?" "Oh, you simple little peasant, to imagine such a thing!" 

For 20 years BC, Before Corbyn, we sat through staged debates about nothing, between people whom no one any longer even pretends ought not to have been in the same party in the first place. To return us to that sorry state of affairs, not least by pretending that it still exists, is now the all-consuming mission of the BBC, The TimesThe Guardian and the Daily Telegraph.

Hence the seriousness with which Yvette Cooper, of all people, is being treated on the Windrush issue. As Shadow Home Secretary, she welcomed Theresa May's Immigration Bill, calling it "sensible". The only four people to have voted against it and to remain Labour MPs were Jeremy Corbyn, Diane Abbott, John McDonnell and Dennis Skinner.

Three of  those are now in the Shadow Cabinet, and Skinner has never done Select Committees since, having been shunted to Leader of the House, Norman St John-Stevas invented them in order to give himself something to do. Who, then, should Chair the Home Affairs Select Committee? Very obviously, the position is crying out for David Lammy. And to hell with Yvette Cooper. However much that might annoy the BBC, The TimesThe Guardian and the Daily Telegraph. Indeed, not least for that very reason.

On Windrush, Jacob Rees-Mogg has also been having a good war. He was on fine form on Channel 4 News, indicating that he is nowhere near as right-wing as his putative supporters like to imagine. He did not vote against the Immigration Bill, but that is only because he has rarely or never voted against the Cameron or May Government. Like Lammy, he seems to be genuinely contrite now. And like Lammy, he favours the preservation and restoration of a Christian culture in this country. In which case, the more immigration, the better, from the Caribbean, from Africa, and from Eastern Europe.

Preservation and restoration. With the conviction of two of the murderers of Stephen Lawrence, the alteration to the law of double jeopardy has now done its job. That ancient liberty should be restored. Henceforth, as historically, no acquitted person should ever have to stand trial again for the same offence.

The erosion of trial by jury and of the right to silence ought to be reversed, and the partial reversal of the burden of proof ought to be reversed back. Conviction by majority verdict, which by definition is not conviction beyond reasonable doubt, ought to be abolished. The Scots Law requirement of corroboration of evidence ought to be extended to the rest of the United Kingdom. The Crown should have 12 weeks from charge to present its case or be told that it had no case, such that the accused ought never to have been charged. Legal Aid should be restored across the board. And very much else besides.

You know what you have to do, brothers and sisters. You know what you have to do.

Hebrew Characters

As the Government teeters on the brink of collapse over the worst British political scandal in living memory, the BBC dutifully maintains that the main news is that Jeremy Corbyn failed to acquiesce to the jaw-droppingly arrogant and entitled demands of two entirely self-appointed bodies, one of them full of hardcore Tories and headed by a leading Conservative activist, and the other plainly and simply a front for what little remains of the Conservative Party organisation in London.

Even if the Board of Deputies and the "Jewish Leadership Council" spoke for every Jew in Britain, and that is most certainly not the case, then that would still be fewer people than voted to re-elect Corbyn as Labour Leader in 2016. The turnout at their lavishly publicised demonstration was pitiful. If that few protesters turned up to object to a road scheme in a country town, then the organisers would call the whole thing off and head to the pub. I am serious.

The local election results in London will be the definitive proof that Corbyn should simply have refused to meet this pair of joke organisations. Just as he should never have overlooked his supporters by appointing his enemies to frontbench and other positions, or allowed some of those to worm their way back in, despite their having resigned in an attempt to force him from office, or allowed a free vote on Syria when no one remembers a free vote on Iraq, or whipped an abstention on Trident, or acted against the social and ethnic cleansing of Labour Haringey but not to secure justice for the 472 Teaching Assistants in Labour Durham, or supported the Government's indulgence of the ludicrous theory of gender self-identification, or hinted at support for the Customs Union, or accepted any part of the Government's wholly baseless and now collapsed claims about Salisbury and Douma.

While Theresa May's Government is detaining and deporting British citizens based on the colour of their skin, her party consorts with some very colourful characters in the European Parliament, it restores its whip to an MP who publicly used the n-word, and it depends at Westminster on at least two MPs who subscribe to Dispensationalism, a nineteenth-century theory that, although hugely popular in the United States, is in fact of Irish Protestant origin. Among many other things, Dispensationalists want all Jews to move to Israel in order to bring on the Second Coming, prior to which they will either convert to Christianity or be killed. That is what those Evangelicals who subscribe to "Christian Zionism" believe.

Yet it is for holding the older Evangelical line, to which the idea of the modern State of Israel as a fulfilment of Biblical prophecy is as ridiculous as it sounds, that Dr Stephen Sizer is castigated by, you've guessed it, the Board of Deputies of British Jews, which presumes the right to dictate who may or may not or may not minister in the Church of England, just as it presumes the right to determine who may or may not be a member of the Labour Party, or who may or may not appear on a platform with a member of the Labour Party. Stephen is a thoroughgoing Conservative Evangelical, and absolutely no one's idea of a theological liberal. Yet he is cast out for not wanting all Jews to convert or die, and Corbyn is assailed for associating with a man of that view.

In similar vein, at this very moment, Marc Wadsworth, who introduced Doreen and Neville Lawrence to Nelson Mandela, is in a hearing to determine whether or not he should be expelled from the Labour Party on the say-so of one Ruth Smeeth, who is notable for absolutely nothing apart from her allegedly having been the victim of Wadsworth's anti-Semitic abuse, which was conveniently witnessed only by herself.

If she, or the Board of Deputies, or the "Jewish Leadership Council" wanted to make themselves useful, then, as we moved towards an entirely unnecessary war with Iran at Israel's insistence, they would board a plane to Tehran, unannounced, and smartphones in hand so that one of them might tweet immediately before landing that they would not be leaving without Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe. But they won't. They haven't yet, and they won't. Then again, nor has Jeremy Corbyn.

No Remorse For Hillary

Craig Murray writes:

I am hopeful that the commendable discovery process involved in US litigation will bring to light further details of the genesis of Christopher Steele’s ludicrous dossier on Trump/Russia, and may even give some clues as to whether Sergei Skripal and/or his handler Pablo Miller were involved in its contents. 

The decision by the Democratic National Committee to sue the Russian Government, Wikileaks, Julian Assange personally and the Trump campaign is an act of colossal hubris. It is certain to reveal still more details of the deliberate fixing of the primary race against Bernie Sanders, over which five DNC members, including the Chair, were forced to resign. 

It will also lead to the defendants being able to forensically examine the DNC servers to prove they were not hacked – something which astonishingly the FBI refused to do, being instead content to take the word of the DNC’s own private cyber security firm, Crowdstrike. Unless those servers have been wiped completely (as Hillary did to her private email server) I know that is not going to go well for the DNC.

I cannot better Glenn Greenwald’s article on why it is a terrible idea to sue Wikileaks for publishing leaked documents – it sets a precedent which could be used to constrain media from ever publishing anything given them by whistleblowers. It is an astonishingly illiberal thing to undertake. 

Nor is it politically wise. The media has done its very best to ignore as far as possible the actual content of the leaks of DNC material, and rather to concentrate on the wild accusations of how they were obtained. But the fundamental crookedness revealed in the emails is bound to get some sort of airing, not least as the basis of a public interest defence.

I have often been asked if I regret my association with Wikileaks, given they are held responsible for the election of Donald Trump. My answer is that I feel no remorse at all. Hillary Clinton lost because she was an appalling candidate. A multi-millionaire, neo-con warmonger with the warmth and empathy of a three week dead haddock and an eye for the interests of Wall Street, who regarded ordinary voters as “deplorables” (a term she used not just once, but frequently at fund-raisers with the mega-wealthy). 

Hillary Clinton conspired with the machine that was supposed to be neutrally running the primaries, to fix the primaries against Bernie Sanders. The opinion polls regularly showed that Sanders would beat Trump, and that the only Democratic candidate who Trump could beat was Clinton. Egomania and a massive sense of entitlement nevertheless led her not just to persist to get the candidacy, but persist to rig the candidacy. She then proceeded to ignore major urban working class battleground states in her campaign against Trump and focus on more glamorous places.

In short, Hillary was corrupt rubbish. Full stop, and not remotely Wikileaks’ fault. Wikileaks did not go out to get the evidence against Hillary. They were given it. Should they have withheld the knowledge of the rigging of the field against Bernie Sanders from the American people, to let Clinton benefit from the corruption? For me that is a no-brainer. It would have been a gross moral dereliction to have done so. It is also the case that Wikileaks can only publish what they are given. Had they been given dirt on Trump, they would have published. But they were not given any leaks on Trump.

I should put in an aside here which might surprise you. I like Anthony Weiner. I have never met him, but I watched the amazing 2016 fly on the wall documentary Weiner and he came across as a person of genuine goodwill, passion and commitment, undermined by what is very obviously a pathological illness. I realise that was not the general reaction, but it was mine.

But – and now I am going to really annoy people – I have to say that from an international perspective, rather than an American domestic perspective, I am also not in the slightest convinced that Trump has been worse for the world than Clinton would have been.

Trump has not, to date, initiated any new military intervention or substantially increased any military conflict during his Presidency. In fact his current actions more closely match his words about non-intervention during his election campaign, than do his current words. Despite hawkish posturing, he has not substantially increased American military intervention in Syria. 

My reading of the reported chemical weapon attack on Douma is this. Whether it was a false flag chemical attack, a pro-Assad chemical attack, or no chemical attack at all I do not know for sure. But whichever it is, it was used to attempt to get Trump to commit to a major escalation of American involvement in the war in Syria. 

So far, he has not done that. The American-led missile attack was illegal, but fortunately comparatively restrained, certainly in no way matching Trump’s rhetoric. All the evidence is, and there is a great deal of evidence from Libya and Afghanistan, that Clinton would have been far more aggressive. That leaves the dichotomy between Trump’s rhetoric and his actions.

Certainly there is every sign of a sharp tilt to the neo-cons, His apparent preference in his press conference with Macron today for an extended presence of France, the former colonial power, and US troops in Syria is deeply troubling. His sacking of the sensible Tillerson from the State Department, and his appointment of the odious John Bolton as National Security Adviser all appear to be terrible signs. But still, nothing has actually happened.

There is a reading that Trump is placating the neo-cons with position and rhetoric while his actions – in Syria and in what a hating political class fails to acknowledge has all the makings of a diplomatic coup in North Korea – go in a very different direction.

It is beyond doubt that Hillary, who cannot open her mouth without denouncing Russia for causing her own entirely self-inflicted failure – would be taking the new Cold War to even worse extremes than it has already reached, to the delight of the military-industrial complex and her Wall Street friends. It is open to debate, but I would contend that it is very probable that President Hillary would have launched a major attack on Syria by now, just like she presided over as Secretary of State in Libya. 

So my answer is this. Firstly, Clinton caused her own downfall by arrogance, and by failing to grasp the alienation of ordinary people from neo-liberal policies that impoverished them while the rich grew massively richer. Secondly, I strongly suspect that if Hillary were President, more people would be dead now in the Middle East. So no, I have no regrets at all.