Monthly Archives: December 2013

Xmas

I’m going away for Xmas (which is a legitimate abbreviation, by the way) and I may not have access to the Internet, so there may not be a Telegraph Comment of the Week nor any of my regular features.  In any case, normal service (such as it is) will be resumed after 2 January.

To all my regular readers: have a great Xmas! See you next year!

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Aidan Burley and The Continuing Story of the Nazi Uniform

Two years ago, Aidan Burley, the MP for Cannock Chase was caught on camera at a stag party in France at which his friend, attired in an SS uniform toasted Adolf Hitler and the Third Reich. For two years the Conservative Party has evaded questions over Burley’s conduct and suppressed its own report into his behaviour.

Yesterday, Political Scrapbook informed readers that the Burley case will finally go to court. The Tory Party report is, unfortunately, another matter and it would seem that the party is doing all it can to weasel its way out of the tight spot.

In the year leading up to the general election, we need to keep up the pressure on Cameron, otherwise he will continue to kick this incident into the long grass.  We can’t let them do that.

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Nightmare on King Street (Part 16)

The ruling Tory group of Hammersmith and Fulham Council are a nasty, mean-spirited bunch. Their blatant classism and disgust for those whom they see as inferior (that’s ordinary working class people, benefit claimants and homeless people) has marked out the council as one of the cruellest in the country.

In the last day or so, the council has been sending out these cards to council tenants.

Happy Christmas from your overlords.

Happy Christmas from your overlords.

The fizzing pound coin represents an Alka Seltzer. Geddit?

Yesterday, Cllr Andrew Johnson, the council’s cabinet member for housing appeared on BBC London News to defend the local authority’s decision to send these cards. His manner was bullish, unrepentant and stridently classist. Remember this is the council where you will find Tory councillors referring to tower blocks as ‘vertical slums’ and the council itself working flat out to reduce to amount of council housing stock within the borough.

I was contacted by Tina Buckley, whose mother is a council tenant of some 60 years and has never been in arrears with her rent. Tina appeared on BBC London 94.9 where she was due to confront Cllr Johnson about his council’s Christmas cards. The ordinarily pugnacious Johnson  took the coward’s way out and declined an invitation to appear.

Let’s remind ourselves of Cllr Johnson’s past musings on council housing. From The Evening Standard, 2 October 2012.

“We believe that the notion of a tenancy for life is outdated and that it’s wrong to expect to inherit a welfare benefit in the form of a subsidised house irrespective of housing need.

“Instead, we want to give honest, hard-working, local residents on low to middle incomes, who make a positive contribution to their local communities, the opportunity to access social housing.”

On Conservative Home, Johnson penned an article that outlined his thoughts about the housing shortage:

That’s why we’re doing all we can to increase the supply of homes to buy for local people on low to medium incomes, through new delivery using council land and assets. We already have a significant amount of social housing, but it needs to be used more effectively. It’s why we’ve brought in fixed termed tenancies and given far greater priority for those in work rather than on welfare. What we really need is more housing for the middle market and at long last we have the figures to prove it.

There’s little, if any, mention here of homes to rent. The council knows that those on low to medium incomes cannot afford the borough’s vastly inflated house prices and will regularly trot out weasel words like these. There are new developments all over the borough and many of the properties within them will be sold to Chinese investors. If LBH&F could get its way, it would sell off all of its council housing (it’s been transferred to a so-called ‘arms length’ management company or ALMO) to foreign investors for redevelopment.

In last October’s edition of Inside Housing, Johnson said:

‘The old, antiquated system has created disadvantaged communities by producing concentrations of people on benefits with disproportionately high levels of unemployment and sometimes social breakdown.

‘In its place, we want to create neighbourhoods where a broad mix of social households all live side-by-side.’

Classism writ large. There will be no “broad mix of social households” if the council gets its way.

Time and time again, the new crop of Tories have shown themselves to be bullies. Unable to fathom what life is like on a low income, they would rather engage with fictional characters and myths than real people. If people are finding it hard to pay their rent, in Tory eyes, it’s because they’d rather spend their money on flatscreen televisions, booze and iPhones than on their rent. This card is nothing less than an attempt to bully people. It also deliberately ignores the economic plight of many of those who are housed by the council, whose stagnant incomes have failed to keep pace with the spiralling cost of living.

The Cowan Report also has the story here.

Next May, we have a chance to vote this current Tory administration out.  Let’s do it.

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The Birther Conspiracy: Good Old Fashioned Racism For The 21st Century

The Birther conspiracy: white America’s racist fantasy

The ‘birthers’, no name could be more misleading for a group of people who want to be taken seriously about their beliefs, but there is nothing serious, logical or reasonable about people who believe that Barack Obama was born in a country outside the CONUS. If you suggest to people that the idea of questioning the birth circumstances of America’s first non-white president has more than a whiff of racism about it, they get defensive. Some may even claim that you’re ‘obsessed’ with race and that ‘everything’ you say is ‘about race’. But such beliefs – for this is what they are – are also an exercise of denial on the part of the ‘birther’, who is as likely as not to dismiss you as a ‘sheeple’ if you refuse or refute their ‘truths’.

It is undeniable that the language of racism has changed a great deal since the 1970s and racists themselves are conscious of a need to speak in words that aren’t necessarily directly related to what Fanon (1986) called ‘melanism’; a classificatory practice that is based on pseudo-scientific notions of biological difference and characterised by the outward marker of skin colour. Therefore the more ideologically-inclined of their number will resort to purely economic language to circumlocute the subject of discourse. For example, there is a belief on the part of a particular group within the American libertarian right that Jim Crow should have continued because, in their eyes, denying the rights of white Americans to deny African-Americans access to a variety of socio-economic activities was a refusal of white freedoms. This was America’s apartheid that was rationalized in similar terms to South Africa by British apologists (The Freedom Association, for example) for the latter’s racist regime.

The fixation that some people have with Obama’s circumstances of birth is doubtlessly predicated on a racist trope: namely that blacks are not full citizens of the United States. This belief has its origins in slavery when blacks were the property of their masters. Even free blacks (and, indeed, Indians) were not considered citizens: they could not vote and were barred from holding public office. When African-Americans were enfranchised at the end of the Civil War, they continued to be denied the vote in the former Confederate states through the means of pseudo-legalistic mechanisms like The Grandfather clause or the Poll Tax. The former was enacted at the biological level and the latter was exercised economically. It took further Federal legislation to force change on the southern states. Even so, the question of who is allowed to be American and who is not persists with certain sections of the American right.

Like suspicious software that can be downloaded on the Internet, the birther narrative often comes bundled with other dubious narratives that tend to orbit other unpleasant and sometimes hidden discourses, some of which may be related to discredited tracts like The Protocols and bizarre notions about lizards-in-human-form. Wherever you find a site about World Financial Conspiracies, you will also find an abundance of birther material. Those who choose to believe these conspiracy theories appear to be substituting one form of extreme religious belief for another.

Recently, I have found myself having to deal with conspiracy theorists on Facebook and elsewhere. I have tried to use logic and examples from history in an attempt to get them to think critically about their beliefs but, as anyone who has dealt with cultists will recognize, this is an impossible task. The ‘Birther’ conspiracies are some of the most vile racist ideas to have been propagated since The Protocols of the Elders of Zion. When I point out to CT’s that these notions were produced by racist discourses, the reply that I get from them is “I’m not a racist”. But if you’re not a racist, then why do you subscribe to racist discourses? They have no answer. It’s like saying to a born-again Christian that praying achieves nothing; all you are doing is refusing responsibility for your life and your actions – or lack of them.

The way in which the birther conspiracy has morphed over the course of the last few years demonstrates the CT’s slipshod grasp of reality. First, they claimed Obama’s birth certificated was “forged” and that he was, in fact, a Muslim who was born in either Kenya (his father’s place of birth) or Indonesia (his stepfather’s place of birth). Even Obama’s church-going wasn’t enough for these people, who fail to understand that if a Muslim goes into a church and partakes in its rituals, that person would be considered an apostate. To this, the CT’s claimed that Obama was also a “Marxist”. But if that were true, why did he bail out the banks? Why hasn’t Obama created a proper Marxist economy instead of attempting to patch up a fatally-wounded capitalist economic system? Again, the CT cannot produce a coherent reply and instead, falls back on tropes. ‘Obamacare’, they scream. When it is pointed out to them that the biggest opponents of universal healthcare are big pharma and the medical insurance companies, both of whom have an interest in producing scare stories, there is no reply, just more of the same gibberish about people having chips implanted into their bodies or nanites being injected into their bloodstreams. It’s the stuff of dystopian science fiction.

More recently, CTs have claimed that Obama, who shortened his first name to the more English-sounding “Barry” in his youth, renounced his US citizenship when his mother married Lolo Soetoro, an Indonesian. The CTs claim that he applied for a Fulbright Scholarship at Occidental College under the name ‘Barry Soetoro’, yet the college has no record of this and, even if Obama had taken his stepfather’s surname, it’s hardly unusual or surprising. It happens all the time. Naturally, CTs will then claim that Obama “ordered the college to destroy any records”. When you ask them to produce evidence to support this claim, guess what happens? Not much. Just more incoherent babble. In fact, when Obama visited Ireland to connect with his Irish roots, I Gaelicized his name to Bairre Ó Beámagh for a laugh. I don’t doubt that he has Irish ancestors. I, too, have Irish and Scottish ancestors. There is no such thing as pure ethnicity and even those white racists who talk about the “indigenous British” have no idea what they’re talking about because this is an island nation of immigrants and invaders.

The most revealing thing about the birther conspiracy is that Black people don’t buy into it. It is supported entirely by whites. Furthermore, Obama is not actually black, he is of mixed parentage and as those people who are of mixed parentage will tell you, they’re always being questioned on their origins. For example I have been referred to to variously as ‘Arab’ or ‘Pakistani’, although I am neither. People will make up things about you if they are blind or foolish enough to buy into the superficialities of skin colour as a marker of a person’s identity and/or culture. This ethnic purism is undoubtedly racist. To this end, the Obama birth conspiracy was concocted by white racists who couldn’t come to terms with the fact that a man who is not white is now President of the United States.

The conspiracy theory is quickly supplanting religion as a belief system. The followers of conspiracy theories are highly devoted to their beliefs and blinded by their faith in questionable ideas. They are unable or unwilling to interrogate the sources that they frequently cite and accept any information so long as it accords with their beliefs.  Unwittingly CTs produce a confirmation bias that is endlessly looped  in their mind. In fact, it is the only voice they hear.

This mediamatters blog is worth a read.

References

Fanon, F. (1986) Black Skin, White Masks. London: Pluto Press

Gilroy, P. (2007) There Ain’t No Black in the Union Jack. London: Routledge

Hall, S. (ed.) (1997) Representation: Cultural Representations and Signifying Practices, London: Sage.

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Telegraph Comment of the Week (#20)

This week’s comment was found on Toby Young’s blog, which pleads for a “First Amendment” (sic) to protect verbal bullies and the orally incontinent. Free speech in Tobes’s mind is where people say anything they like regardless of how nasty and mean-spirited the words may be.  It’s ‘free speech’, right?

Tobes claims that Katie Hopkins is the subject of “visceral hatred” after a successful campaign to sack her from This Morning where she had been appearing as a reactionary rent-a-gob. A tad dramatic. No? Here’s how Tobes opens his article:

There are lots of good arguments for a British equivalent of the First Amendment, not least that it would prevent Parliament passing any law that abridged the freedom of the press, and I hope the next Conservative manifesto includes a commitment to replacing the Human Rights Act with a Bill of Rights.

What Tobes doesn’t realize is that a “First Amendment” or to be more precise, a right to free speech enshrined in law, would not actually apply to a campaign to remove her from our screens. La Hopkins hasn’t been arrested nor has she been charged with any offence. A “First Amendment” has to be part of an existing document and no such document exists, thus the use of the phrase is a little silly.

Nonetheless the Honourable Tobes whines on:

I made a film about JS Mill recently for the Daily Politics and he identifies this form of censorship, which he calls “the tyranny of the prevailing opinion and feeling”, as a far greater threat to freedom of thought and emotion than any laws a tyrannical government might pass. Orwell wrote about the same danger in his essay on ‘The Freedom of the Press’:

In Tobesworld, the right to insult people is more important than making sense and advancing rational arguments. Therefore, challenging crazy ideas or offensive speech is indicative, in his mind at least, of “tyranny”.

Now to the Comment of the Week. This is from “Kentucky Straight”, who doesn’t think the Hon Tobes goes far enough.

Kentucky Warped

This guy is confused: Scousers come from Liverpool, while “Man Utd fans” are fans of guess who? In fact, you don’t need to be a Mancunian to support Man  United. Anyone can be one.  “Kentucky” moans that an unnamed MP (Labour’s Jack Dromey, in fact) used the word “pikey” to refer to a postal worker.  “Pikey” is a derogatory word that is used to refer to Romanis and Irish Travellers and since 2007  it has been an offence to use the word. “Kentucky Fried” then complains that “another councillor” (likely to be UKIP), who is being investigated for “racism” for his remarks about an unnamed council ward in an unnamed city.  You see, this isn’t about “free speech” at all: it’s about the right to be nasty and intolerant as well as offensive.

Now “Kentucky Fried” may deny that he’s a racist but he’d have a hard time convincing me. Today’s racists are more likely to use euphemisms in an attempt to avoid confrontation or, indeed, detection. “Kentucky” is quite clearly either a member of a far-right party or he sympathizes with one. How do I know? It’s the way he claims that “We are becoming a Marxist police state”.

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Telegraph Comment of the Week (#19)

I found some terrific comments this week but my computer died and I lost the screenshots. No matter. In the week that Nelson Mandela died, one expected to find a wealth of racist comments on Telegraph blogs but all the articles about Madiba have closed comments threads. It’s only Brendan O’Neill, who I suspected would be first out the traps with an article about how apartheid was good (the RCP was against sanctions and was thus aligned with Thatcher) and how Mandela was a ‘terrorist’, who’s allowing comments on his thread. But rather than write about Mandela,  he’s penned this tribute to ‘free speech’ instead.

‘Free speech’ in O’Neill’s world is when people are allowed to say whatever they like, no matter how abhorrent, free in the knowledge that they won’t be challenged. Because, in the mind of Eddie Munster, if someone challenges your vile views, they are guilty of ‘stifling’ free speech. Without any trace of irony, he tells us:

Firstly, because it is always better to have dodgy extremist ideas out in the open, where they can be challenged and ridiculed, rather than festering underground, hidden away, unquestioned. And secondly, because it is only by defending freedom of speech for all – yes, even for whackjobs – that we can guarantee it for ourselves, for everyone, for the decent as well as the daft.

My bold. The views left on Telegraph blogs are rarely challenged by blog authors and those who try to challenge them are shouted down. The Telegraph has become a place for neo-Nazis and Enoch Powell worshippers to congregate and they are often attracted by the blog author’s views (I give you James Delingpole). The Lyin’ King, in another blog disputes this, but he doth protest too much.

O’Neill appears to have realized that all the comments threads on the Mandela articles are closed, so he circumvents this by titling his blog

If we are serious about freedom of speech, then everyone must have it

Eddie slyly ends his blog with a recording of Nelson Mandela ‘saying farewell to South Africa’. This was done to draw in the self-styled ‘patriots’ and give them a space to air their disgusting views.

This week’s comment is particularly vile and appears to have been left by someone who could easily be a member of The World Union of National Socialists.

Vitaly Klitschko

Brendan O’Neill is absolutely correct. Historical facts must be separated from PC re-writing of history. History uses the same scientific method as the natural sciences.

The FACTS about WW2 must always be remembered; for example, that far from being a dictator, Hitler was an extremely popular politician. Hitler was democratically elected as Chancellor and supported by an overwhelming majority of Germans. It is a huge mistake to demonize National Socialism as “extremism”. Such derogatory labels simplify history, hamper rational analysis and can easily be used for censorship. Demonizing National Socialism means that you fail to understand it.

“FACTS”, eh? In spite of what he says, you won’t find Eddie challenging these views.  This reader believes that Hitler was “an extremely popular politician” and that Nazism has been demonized. Really? But it’s the final sentence that’s the most ignorant. “Vitaly” claims that “Demonizing National Socialism means that you fail to understand it”. Really? Tell than to the millions who died in the death camps. It seems to me that those who clam the Nazis were “demonized” have failed to learn their history or have chosen to ignore it for ideological reasons – like our boneheaded friend,”Vitaly” here.

Here’s part of Hannan’s mealy-mouthed protest:

Now there’s a new variant of the phenomenon: judging a blog by its comment thread. Again, the absurdity should be obvious. Bloggers are not responsible for what happens after they have posted.

Here’s a tip, Danny: if you don’t want to attract the comments of nutters, then don’t write blogs that appeal to them. You could, of course, challenge such views but instead, you’d rather blame it on ‘trolls’ than accept responsibility.

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The ANC were terrorists? So was the apartheid state

It’s easy for Nelson Mandela’s detractors to claim he was a ‘terrorist’.  Yes, the African National Congress formed a military wing, Umkhonto we Sizwe (MK) in 1961 and yes, they sabotaged infrastructure and they killed people.  But what about the National Party regime?

We should remember that MK was formed as a response to the Sharpeville Massacre in 1960, in which 69 people were killed. In Soweto in 1976, an estimated 700 people – many of them children – were murdered by heavily-armed South African police during what became known as the Soweto uprising.

This is not a competition, but the deaths that resulted from MK actions were substantially fewer in number than those caused by the actions of the murderous racist state, which had access to greater firepower and better armour. It was also supported in spirit by Thatcher and Reagan, who believed the country was acting as a bulwark against Communist incursions on the African continent. It was the ‘Domino Theory’, you see.

I saw an interview on Channel 4 News with Charles Powell (pronounced ‘pole’), Thatcher’s private secretary, who said something along the lines of “She (Thatcher) didn’t get along with the Africans”. Says it all really.

So when someone tells you Madiba was a terrorist, you ask them ‘who was the bigger bully’? Then watch as they squirm and clutch at straws.

Amandla Awethu!

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