Thursday 31 March 2011

Best speech of 26 March TUC demo: Dave Nellist

Dave Nellist's speech 26 March

On the day's violence by young protesters looking at long term unemployment while the rich get obscenely richer, he said:
To the union leaders and the politicians, unless you seriously have a strategy to take on this government and its austerity programme, you are going to consign another generation in this century (1970s) down the blind alley of terrorism. Because that's the beginnings of that road.

The violence we saw on Saturday is born from desperation of the weak, not some bored whim. The violence that wrecks lives is coming from the state run in the interest of a shrinking number of super-wealthy. Why don't the media and politicans get as worked up about that?

Monday 28 March 2011

BP In Deep Water: Greg Palast Dispatches C4

An extraordinary exposé by Greg Palast tonight on the subject of BP and, among other locations, the oil company's interests in Azerbaijan and the Caspian Sea area in Dispatches: In Deep Water for Channel 4. The Caspian region holds one of the biggest oil reserves in the world.

Two interviewees state that MI6 was involved in Azerbaijan. There's an interesting photo taken of Tony Blair and BP's Lord Browne and Caspian basin representatives taken in 1998. Blair allies such as George Robertson of NATO and Anji Hunter did well in this milieu.

The US was signing contracts for pipelines from the Caspian Basin to Europe, including one to Skopje in Macedonia, just 20 km from Kosovo. Stability and control of the Balkans would be crucial to the oil industry's bonanza.

In 1999, Britain and the NATO allies attacked Serbia, ostensibly in defence of Kosovo.

The objectives of the Baku-Tbilisi-Ceyhan pipeline, according to US officials, is to reduce dependence on OPEC oil producers in the Middle East, create a secure supply of oil to Israel, and begin to end dependence on Russian and Iranian oil transportation networks from the Caspian region. ... Controlling pipeline routes from the Caspian Sea has been identified by strategists as a key post Cold War objective.

Sunday 27 March 2011

March for the Alternative: photos and report

Fortnum Masons March 26 anti-cuts LondonThe march passes Fortnum & Masons, the secret target of UK Uncut

The youth wing of the demo in Oxford Street

Anna Chen March 26 anti-cuts London
Nearly half a million of us marched in London, yesterday, challenging the unelected coalition government's policy of slashing public services. Well, it would have been 'challenging' had anyone on the platform laid out a counter policy and some sort of strategy to stop a vicious band of millionaires making the weakest in society pay for the greed of the bankers. With the bottom three percent of the population shouldering 25 percent of the cuts some sort of sign of life was long overdue.

To mobilise the largest group of protesters since the February 2003 anti-Iraq war march was a triumph on the part of the TUC. To then allow this huge demonstration of discontent pour out of the north end of Hyde Park almost as fast as others were arriving through the Queen Mother's gate at the south without having heard any sign of what the alternative is or how we are to restructure the finances of this nation was a crying shame. The speeches in Hyde Park were often overblown and meaningless, not to mention contradictory. The germ of truth in the Tory argument, that Labour would have been doing pretty much the same had they been in power, still stands. The message we took from the rally was that the Tory narrative is unassailable and true: Labour would also cut, only slower.

Ed Miliband takes the early shift in Hyde Park

Pulled leftwards by widespread public support for recent student and UK Uncut action, Ed Miliband had agreed, seemingly reluctantly, to address today's rally. However, sitting on the fence and hopefully getting splinters where the sun don't shine as a result, 'Red' Ed declined to march with a huge slice of his own constituency, leading many of us to suspect he's more afraid of making waves with the press barons and whoever's really running the show than offering leadership in this crisis. As it was, with only the head of this massive march in the park, Ed gave his speech at 1.30pm and avoided the bulk of the protesters, many of whom still hadn't left the Embankment starting point. He was booed and barracked by a minority present who were aware of the Iraq-shaped elephant in the room, and whose repeated refrain, 'You've had your chance,' struck a chord.

The nice lady from the Unitarian Reform Church was on hand to ensure the middle classes weren't scared. Simon Woolley of Operation Black Vote alarmed me with his crucified Christ arms and his 'my people', 'you are my brother' asides, despite the substance of what he had to say being OK. You got the distinct feeling that few of the speakers were used to speaking in front of the multitudes and that, when they did, it went to their heads like a glass of champagne.

Mark Serwotka, Mick Leahy and a smattering of trade union leaders gave solid workmanlike performances, but the best speaker by far was without doubt Dave Nellist who should have been on the platform but had to set up his stall with the National Shop Stewards Network in Speakers Corner, away from the main drag [Edit: I thought the stall was Dave's Socialist Party comrades but turns out it was organised by the NSSN) . Here is someone who is clear that we have to fight the cuts every inch of the way, even if it means breaking the law. When have unfair laws ever been changed in our favour without a battle? Go ask the suffragettes. Nellist is a Coventry councillor who has consistently voted against the cuts. I was too busy applauding to take notes so sorry for not giving you a full report here.

Some of us watched BBC coverage on the Marble Arch Wetherspoons screen and walked up Oxford Street, site of the youth wing's sparring with authority, amused that UK Uncut had the police chasing phantoms, mustering forces to protect every Boots, Wallis, bank, Dorothy Perkins and Top Shop in the vicinity, while the scamps' secret target was actually posh grocer's, Fortnum and Masons in Piccadilly. We heard later from an American who'd been having tea and cake there that the protesters had invaded, sung songs and read poetry while the breakables around them remained intact. Ah, the barricades will be full of romance.

I never got to Trafalgar 'Tahrir' Square as we joined David Allen Green for his birthday celebrations at the Phoenix Arts Club, a few hundred yards up the road. A great way to end the day. We departed, thinking about dem yoot and wishing them well. I don't condemn them for vandalising rich people's premises. What's a bit of plate glass? Their lives are being wrecked by the bankers, the tax dodgers, the Bullingdon bully millionaires and Ramsay MacClegg, and that is the worst vandalism of all.

Vodafone, one of the UK Uncut wind-ups of the day, sending police and security to guard potential hotspots

Laurie Penny reports from Trafalgar Square.

Eyewitness report from Harpy Marx: from Embankment to Piccadilly.

An account from UK Uncut.

A good video of the event from the Socialist Party

Wednesday 16 March 2011

What's wrong with the mainstream media? Westminster Skeptics debate

That comatose science fiction writer and his dystopian fever dream I keep writing about has been stirring of late. Giant solar flares and supermoons exert malign invisible forces. Planet Earth splits apart and shifts its axis. Middle Eastern tyrants cling on to power while the West short-circuits itself into a state of paralysis: to act or not to act? All that oil would come in handy now that nuclear is screwed and we await the outcome of Fukushima. But how do we justify armed intervention in Libya's civil war while turning a blind eye to Saudi Arabia sending troops into Bahrain? Oh and Niall Ferguson continues his long march back to Empire on Sunday night TV, gland in hand, enlightenment values in retreat.

Monday's Westminster Skeptics debate turned its attention to the media that brings us the news and shapes our views about such events. Just how bad is the mainstream media? asked our host, David Allen Green, judge in this year's Orwell Prize for blogging.

On call to answer him at the Old Monk Exchange pub were journalist Laurie Penny, columnist Suzanne Moore, lawyer Mark Lewis, resigned Star writer Richard Peppiatt, and yours truly.

Bumped at the last minute into going on first, I opened with my personal experience. I had wanted to talk about the shameful way the media had allowed the Tories free reign to rewrite history and blame the deficit on Labour (only partly true), as bankers and global recessions were forgotten, leaving us with perhaps the biggest class fight our lifetime. Expecting others closer to the student fightback to take this up in their contributions, I pursued another line that disturbs me: the hypocrisy of the media when it comes to free speech, and growing sinophobia. Niall Ferguson may have featured.

I am a Chinese dissident. In late 2009, I found myself banned in the media for arguing a line oppositional to the state’s agenda. The state happened to be the UK under Labour, the media was the Guardian, and the isssue was climate change as thrashed out at the Copenhagen summit. (More here and here.)

Banned by both the Guardian Comment is Free (har!) and the Great Firewall of China, I was once mightily pissed off but am now beginning to understand what a great position this is to be in. Skint and with my skills underexploited, at least I don't have to toe no steenkin' party or editorial line, or court an audience. My mind is free (as far as false consciousness under capitalism will allow, comrade), and my opinions are my own.

I gave further examples of the Yellow Peril fears that stalk academia nuts and the media, not just the blatant China-bashing diversion away from the Danish treaty stitch-up by the rich nations, or Niall Ferguson suggesting the Chinese were responsible for the opium wars, but the sniggering fit on Twitter from one Guardian editor who thought the photo of Morrissey having a cat on his head was the most remarkable thing about a prominently plugged article in which he said the Chinese were a subspecies. And that Sherlock episode.

The point I was trying to make was that the liberal media are slipping in all kinds of poison, whereas we sort-of-know what the tabloids get up to, as Richard Peppiatt would tell us most entertainingly.

After a long enough time of being compelled to act like a champion prick on the Daily Star, with no regard for the truth or harmonious race relations, Peppiatt finally bit the hand that had fed him and wrote this resignation letter to proprietor Richard Desmond, copying in the Guardian.

Funny and self-deprecating, Peppiatt deserved a somewhat warmer welcome than he got from Laurie Penny, who tore him off a strip for his past behaviour. While collusion with PRs who service the slebs is pretty nauseating, he had, after all, added to the gaiety of the nation by getting up Richard Desmond's nose, and provided some parties with the opportunity to pressure the PCC to investigate claims of Islamophobia. Better late than never.

There followed contributions about the truly awful state of phone hacking by the press, mention of Chomsky from Suzanne, and tales of careers tainted by fancy canapés, the dangers of being recognised as a famous person, and how anything more than a basic living wage is spoiling journalists.

So what are the aims of the media in these interesting times? In the second half, when the discussion was opened to the floor, I said I thought they were supposed to hold power to account, comfort the afflicted and afflict the comfortable. I quoted my friend Dan Hind, who'd noted that the US government had said, 'communications is not just a business ... the mass media transmit and help establish the country's shared values.' Dan also wrote, 'The broadcast & print media have amply shown that when they are faced with determined and powerful lobby groups. they cannot provide the bulk of the population with a tolerably accurate account of the world.'

So what do we have instead? In my notes, I wrote 'STIR-FREUD CHINESE PENIS' because it appears that dark unconscious compulsions are at work. It does look as if the liberal media is terrified of the Chinese male penis. Maybe even the Chinese female penis, coz we are evidently built differently.

When a top British intellectual can call for Westerners to 'Lock up your daughters' because testosterone-maddened Chinese are headed this way and no-one thinks this even worthy of comment, then we have already hit the skids and have no rubber left to burn.

Not that what I thought mattered a toss. No-one on the panel or in the audience or anyone who commented in the blogs or on Twitter picked up the fact that one of their own had been banned in the very mainstream media which was under discussion. So I shall consider hiring myself out as a Ninja pundit in future.

And fuck the mainstream media.

Apart from BBC Radio 4 which is lovely and has commissioned two more programmes from me.

Thanks to Louise for taking the pic.

Thursday 10 March 2011

Working for the Clampdown: Niall Ferguson's testosterone theory of history

'Dominate, dominate, dominate.' No, not an S&M dalek, but Niall Ferguson on the telly. I lost count of how many times this word, or variations thereof, came up in the first five minutes of Episode One of Ferguson's Channel 4 series, Civilisation: Is the West History?

Coming on like an Oxbridge Jeremy Clarkson, Ferguson promises an explanation as to why the West is in decline and about to be overtaken by Asia, as represented by China in the first programme. However, instead of presenting a cool economic and political analysis of history since 1420 when China was the most advanced nation in the world and England was a 'septic isle', this heavyweight intellectual rammed home a barrage of triumphalist tub-thumping which quite startled me. His nostalgia for Empire, as once observed by an astute Eric Hobsbawm, was cranked up to eleven as he attempted to nail his viewers to the headboard.

Fear of the Yellow Peril evidently stalks academia, and Ferguson stoked himself up to confront the threat of the Other.

Much of his thesis seems predicated on the supremacy of the penis because, on Planet Ferguson, the human cock is central to his might-is-right narrative. It's all eunuchs (them) and size (us) and grrr ... He may think that the overblown use of macho terms is punching (see what I did it there, 'pushing' being far too effete?) buttons in his audience which will identify him with the power he craves, but there's a danger of thus drawing attention to what he lacks.

Achieving patronising machismo in one tiny phrase, 'Killer Apps', the first of his six apps, 'Competition', is the theme of this opening programme, so I laid back and thought of England while Fergy strutted his stuff.

I recognised some of his reading material. Ferguson is able to draw on 1421 and 1434 by Gavin Menzies for his enthralling account of China's massive 15th-century Ming Dynasty fleet: a veritable ocean-going city, while much of his list of China's achievements in science, agriculture and warfare can be found in Robert Temple's masterful The Genius of China (Joseph Needham). This, plus the superficial nature of his enquiry, gives the unfortunate impression that little information has been gleaned from original research but has instead been sourced from best-sellers and airport potboilers.

Following an amazing period of voyage and discovery, when vast 400-foot ships sailed as far as Africa, and possibly further to the Americas and Greenland, the new Emperor issued an order in 1424 that China clam up.

I eagerly awaited an explanation as to why China closed down in the 15th century. Was it fiscal troubles? Squabbling in court? Wars in Annam (Vietnam) proving to be too expensive? And the master's answer? 'We may never know.' But Niall, honey, you're paid to at least come up with a likely answer.

At this point he must have been experiencing performance anxiety, but nonetheless on he ploughed. His next trick: a brief dismissal of the opium wars as a reaction to something done by China to the British, as if the Brits were mere passive unwilling participants, thereby absolving them of any responsibility ... "We got the coffee houses," he says, "while China got the opium dens." Admire the cunning linguistic gymnastics, distancing Britain from its role as drug pusher-in-chief.

The opium wars were airily dismissed as 'retaliation' for an 'over-zealous official' who had the temerity to 'burn' the Britishers' opium. The 'over-zealous official' happens to be Governor-General Lin Zexu, something of a hero to many Chinese for his bid to stem the tide of opium, about 1,400 tons of it per year, but Niall couldn't bring himself to even give him a name. (And the opium wasn't burnt for obvious reasons: it was dissolved in water, salt and lime and dumped into the sea.) But what's a little drug addiction when there's cash to be made?

'Size isn't everything,' Fergy growls manfully. Hence his admiration for tiny Portugal's Vasco da Gama, who wrested the spice trade from the Arabs and other Easterners in what he tortuously calls the 'first spice race'. Ba-doom! Never mind that da Gama set up trading posts in the East with 'ruthlessness and downright nastiness', you can smell the envy. 'G'wan my son. Who's the daddy?' as Fergy might have thought but thankfully never said. At least not in this programme.

Portugal was followed by Spain, Holland, France and then England which, in 1635, sent its first ship to Chinese waters. 'With each new trading post, Western capitalism uploaded its killer app of competition.' Western lust for money made the interlopers 'hungry enough to kill for it.' Good grief, where's the competition in the bloody brutality this entailed? Is this his definition of competition?

Venice, Frankfurt, Lubek and London wanted their own 'autonomy'. Small was beautiful, according to Fergy, because it meant competition between states. But it was still within a great schtonking Western capitalist system. So not exactly competing systems, then.

Chaos can produce energy, and Karl Marx approved of the productive energies released by the early competitive stages of capitalism. However, Marx saw that the system contained the seeds of its own destruction, and predicted that capitalism would be its own gravedigger. For many of us being chewed up by this great juggernaut, this is true: even if it does mutate and survive, it will be for the benefit of a shrinking number at the top, not humankind as a whole. Capitalism took us out of feudalism and makes a better springboard to a more humane system than it does a place to stop and ossify.

Fergy fetishises capitalist competition out of context, out of time. 'By being divided, the West was able to rule the world', he says, as if this is a good thing on its own. He wants this 'killer app' applied as a principle where we are all atomised and competing against each other for dwindling resources. Haven't we moved on from this barbarism?

Casual racism aside, and noting that slavery was at no point even mentioned, Fergy's crowing about the success of capitalism — despite 2008's catastrophic and ongoing recession — may be considered by some to be short-sighted, out-of-touch and perhaps even a tad corrupt. As others have pointed out, we are only now beginning to feel the effects of a recession with its roots in the untrammelled 'competition' of the banks since they were deregulated by Reagan and his fellow Milton Friedman acolytes.

Seaumas Milne writes:
... there is a determined attempt in Britain to restore the economic model so comprehensively discredited in the crash of 2008. ... the banks' survival might depend on the greatest public handouts and guarantees in history.

In Wisconsin, collective bargaining rights have just been removed, while we face devastating cuts to our services in the UK. Right now, it is the working class and proletarianised middle classes who are paying for the bankers' crisis, capitalising the ruling business class. Where is the competition here?

Ferguson glorifies the nasty, brutish and short values of Hobbes in a world of every man for himself, dog-eat-dog, devil take the hindmost. You know what happened to civilisation? Masters of the Universe like Ferguson ate it.

Perhaps the key to Niall and his strange obsessions is to be found in the latest issue of Newsweek. In a piece about the gender imbalance in China, titled 'Men Without Women: The ominous rise of Asia’s bachelor generation', he writes:
That has scary implications. Remember, most of Hemingway’s stories in Men Without Women are about violence. They feature gangsters, bullfighters, and wounded soldiers. The most famous story is called simply “The Killers". It may be that the coming generation of Asian men without women will find harmless outlets for their inevitable frustrations, like team sports or videogames. But I doubt it. Either this bachelor generation will be a source of domestic instability, whether Brazilian-style crime or Arab-style revolution—or, as happened in Europe, they and their testosterone will be exported. There’s already enough shrill nationalism in Asia as it is. Don’t be surprised if, in the next generation, it takes the form of macho militarism and even imperialism. Lock up your daughters.

Once upon a time, such paranoia would have earnt you a spell of therapy or a nice basket-weaving holiday. Nowadays it gets you a TV series. Funny old world. No wonder civilisation's going down the pan.

Looks like de Niall is a river in Egypt.

In the Evening Standard, Civilisation: The West and the Rest is imperial history without the nasty bits by Alex Von Tunzelmann

Glorious British Imperialism in action or bullying by gunboat diplomacy? 'China's Age of Fragility' by Robert Bickers in History Today.

Ken Livingstone challenges Niall Ferguson on the Tory cuts.

Guardian review 25th March 2011

Review of Nial Ferguson's Channel 4 series, China: Triumph and Turmoil, 12 March 2012

Niall Ferguson threatens to sue London Review of Books writer over unfavourable review in the LA Times.

Julia Lovell on The Opium War

Tuesday 1 March 2011

No lead from Camden councillors on anti-cuts

Last night's Camden Council budget meeting

A lively 1,200-strong march from Mornington Crescent through the backstreets of Camden to the Town Hall was followed by a protest as cowardly council held their final budget meeting behind closed doors.

A thick yellow line of police prevented the protesters entering the public gallery meaning that the vote was taken in secret. Luckily, one activist from Beyond Clictivism, Tim Hardy, managed to get in with a handful of others and Tweet reports using the #camden hashtag from the meeting, exposing what a sham of democracy this was.

"over £100,000,000 in reserves but they refuse to use them to protect the vulnerable", he tweets, and your blood runs cold at the level of cowardice in the council's quisling complicity.

'It was painful to witness Labour’s spineless failure to take a stand,' writes our intrepid reporter at the blog, aghast at the empty public gallery and the even emptier hearts and minds of the robo-councillors. Apparently a Green councillor was the only one to vote against the cuts.

Harpy Marx has some thorough reportage at her website with photos and now some great videos. In her third video, hospital worker Candy Udwin reports back on the meeting to the remaining protesters, and actor Roger Lloyd Pack urges councils to refuse to sign off on the cuts. The same old tired argument is that if Labour doesn't implement the cuts then Eric Pickles and his Tory cohort will set the cuts at an even more devastating level. But as Pack points out, "if they refused to vote this budget in they would set a ball rolling that would be impossible to stop. They'd be national heroes and would set an example for the rest of the country."

Wisconsin and the UK students have set the bar which our elected representatives miserably fail to match.

Labour — putting the 'u" into spine.

Afterwards, about fifty protesters blocked Marylebone Road outside St Pancras for an hour, dodging angry taxis and white van man who tried to drive through while the police watched and did nothing. The fight goes on. Watch out for the anti-cuts space.

UPDATE: "No ifs, no buts, no public sector cuts." "London, Cairo, Wisconsin. We will fight, we will win." Excellent short film from via Open Democracy.