Monday, 16 May 2016

The EU referendum is an uninspiring choice and a raw deal either way

Representing Disclaimer magazine myself, Harry Mason and Will Rogers have contributed our opinions on Britain's referendum in June on European Union membership. Collectively our position represents a neutral but critical one.

Friday, 29 April 2016

Antisemitism and Israeli apologism

The suspension of Naz Shah and Ken Livingstone from Labour for making allegedly antisemitic remarks has brought the problem of antisemitism in anti-Israeli and anti-Zionist discourse to the fore of public debate. The problem with antisemitism on the left is that it takes a much more subtle and covert form compared to antisemitism promoted by the far-right.

neo-Nazis and other assorted fascists and reactionaries advocate obvious and hardcore forms of anti-Jewishness, such as antisemitic racial purism and Holocaust denial (or celebration). It is much easier to identify and combat. In contrast, antisemitism on the left is generally mired in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict and criticism of government policies, military actions and political trends in Israel, and the perceived bias of Western media outlets in how they cover Israeli actions in and towards Palestine, which includes well-documented ethnic cleansing and war crimes. This more pernicious antisemitism manipulates these arguments to promote theories and rhetoric such as political and media control by Jewish elites and an inherently sinister nature of Jewish character, by proxy associating all Jews with the consequences of Israeli government actions.

Apologists for the Israeli government use the spectre of antisemitism to undermine and deflect criticism of Israeli war crimes and human rights abuses, and actually conform to the antisemitic worldview by collectively appropriating the name of all Jews to their cause. Actual antisemites, in turn, use the narrative conflating criticism of Israel to antisemitism, and the interchangeability of Israel and Jewish people, to justify their antisemitism. They portray opposition to antisemitism as a mere tactic to defend Israeli policy, rather being opposition to a specific and unique form of racial hatred. These pro-Israelis and antisemites have different agendas, but on the axis of hatred and bigotry they are both groups of extremists. Their relationship is symbiotic and mutually supportive: between them is both the Jews and Palestinians suffering under the distinct manifestations of persecution and racism their mutually reinforcing narratives maintain.

Jews across the world, including survivors of the Nazi Holocaust, are among the opponents of Israeli war crimes and human rights abuses against the Palestinians. They have a unique perspective of persecution and injustice but their voices are trivialised and erased by the pro-Israelis who use the name of the entire Jewish people to justify Israeli actions. Their presence also inherently negates the legitimacy of the antisemites who facetiously claim to stand for the justice and dignity of the Palestinians but are actually committed to inciting prejudice and hatred towards the Jews. Again through the symbiotic relationship of both extremists, the protection of both peoples is diluted. It is therefore the duty of all of us who believe in human rights and anti-fascism to equally commit to the supporting cause of the Palestinians while combating the ever-present cancer of antisemitism wherever it lays.

Thursday, 28 April 2016

Piratism, Edward Snowden and Iceland's vision for a better world

Much like how Harvey Dent in The Dark Knight was the saviour of Gotham before he transformed into Two-Face, Edward Snowden – whose whistleblowing revealed global mass surveillance by Western governments –  is the hero that Britain and indeed Europe deserves. Snowden has been a driving force behind the online and real life protest movements calling for the resignation of Prime Minister David Cameron, following revelations from the Panama Papers leaks that Cameron was a beneficiary of offshore tax avoidance involving his late father, which he previously publicly lied about before being forced to admit the facts. Given that Snowden is currently fugitive in Putin’s Russia, from where a number of oligarchs have settled in England and benefited from offshore banking and real estate policies favourable to their vested interests, the ever brave Snowden is probably once again putting himself at risk by speaking out so stridently against the corruption of the UK establishment.

Snowden has advised that Britain should follow the revolutionary example set by Iceland, the people of which have managed to force new elections and depose Prime Minister Sigmundur Davíð Gunnlaugsson after the Panama Papers revealed that he, like Cameron, was a beneficiary of an offshore banking scheme. But Iceland is a nation that is already well-acquainted with velvet insurrections against the corruption of its elites. In many European countries – including the UK – the global financial crisis of 2007-2008 led to the imposition of brutal austerity policies, following the bailout of the financial institutions that caused it through their reckless greed and crashed European economies into direly reducing government revenues.

But this was not the case in Iceland, where mass protests in 2009 led to a peaceful revolution that successfully resisted public money being used to bailout banks or take out usurious loans from institutions that have ravaged countries like Greece, Spain and Portugal. A number of Icelandic bankers have actually been jailed for their corruption, with the perceived leniency of the criminal punishments meted against them being one of the reasons for the current protests.

The 2009 revolution also led to the creation of a citizen-led constitutional convention that formulated laws such as expanding suffrage by allowing voting in national elections via the internet, declaring the national resources of Iceland public property, allowing national referenda on an issue if 15% of citizens supported it, and introducing term limits for the president. These laws were formally ratified in 2012.

The political party that has harnessed and pioneered the revolutionary spirit of Icelandic politics has only existed since 2012, but has rapidly become a major player in the Icelandic political system. The Pirate Party of Iceland (PPI), party of the broader global Pirate Party movement, was set up by a group of anti-corruption activists and open culture advocates. It won three seats in the Althing (national parliament) at the 2013 general election, and since then it has at some points led in the national opinion polls. Most Pirate parties are fringe and unrepresented, but in Iceland they are a serious candidate for a party of government.

As proponents of pirate politics, the Pirates established their party to advocate policies in keeping with the values of the 2009 revolution, pivoted around freedom of information, government transparency and protection of the civil liberties of Icelandic citizens in opposition to the War on Terror trend of the surveillance state. Appropriately they sponsored a bill to grant Snowden refuge and citizenship in Iceland.

Since their foundation, the Pirates have developed a full manifesto of a broadly economically communitarian and socially libertarian persuasion. So fundamentally they are anarchist in orientation – with founding member and MP Birgitta Jónsdóttir using the anarchist symbol to represent the A in her name on Twitter – but inspiringly present a vision for an anti-authoritarian society actually functioning in practice.

In a broader context the Pirates’ idealism and policy planks are relevant on an international scale. Our world is more technologically advanced than ever before and continues to develop at a rapid rate, yet both our political and economic orders lag stagnantly behind, leaving millions in chronic states of social immobility, and political disengagement and disillusionment. At worst this amounts to the extreme poverty that up to a billion people languish in, while multi-trillions are hoarded in offshore tax havens by a fragment of the top one percent. The widening inequality and ongoing revelations of maleficence among the global elite only continue to worsen these drastic economic and political gulfs.

The key values that the Pirates propose for Iceland is direct democracy, and rebalancing and utilisation of resources, actually relative to the progress of technology and expansion of wealth. As proponents of open culture and open information, they believe in a reform of copyright and patent laws to ensure that intellectual property is protected, while lifting public restrictions on scientific discoveries and technological innovations unhampered if the research into and building upon them was facilitated, rather than obstructed in the vested interests of a few major corporations.

In terms of economic and social welfare policies, the Pirates are among the most high profile campaigners for a universal basic income (UBI), a policy that has also been proposed in Switzerland and is advocated by the Green Party in the UK. UBI was one of the key demands of the recent Four Demands anti-austerity match in London. It would replace the invasive bureaucracy of the welfare state with a system in which every citizen would receive a fixed financial sum to ensure their basic standard of living and mobility – a fair redistribution of wealth considering the ravaging of European treasuries and economies by the financial sector. UBI would be a transitional step towards a humanistic society in which we could live our lives without fear in pursuit of our natural abilities and interests, to the broader advantage of our societies and communities as well.
Similarly, the Pirates believe in a holistic education policy in which with curriculums are based around cultivating the unique abilities of each student from childhood, rather than being fixated on class indoctrination and meeting arbitrary quotas, and where tuition-fee universities focus on teaching and research to benefit society, rather than operating as factories driven by student debt and vested for-profit interests.

Another of the Pirates’ notable key policy points is reform of drug policy – advocating altering drug laws to treat drug addiction as a public health rather than a criminal issue that pointlessly penalises vulnerable people for suffering with drug dependency. As with the UBI policy this compassionate approach is emblematic of a worldview that seeks to address the core problems resulting in mental and physical illness, and social breakdown, rather than simply managing the decline that defines grossly unequal Western societies.

And finally, while Iceland is not a member of the European Union, the Pirates take a neutral approach towards any hypothetical future EU membership. In keeping with its belief in direct democracy, it believes that citizens should have the right to openly review and analyse the internal workings of the EU in order to fairly consider their country’s place within it. This would be a welcome step towards an EU representing a more Social Europe rather than one defined by bureaucrats imposing a neoliberal agenda on behalf of multinational financial institutions; something for the left to consider in relation to the UK’s upcoming EU referendum, regardless of whether supporting a Remain or Leave vote.

As revealed by the likes of Snowden and the Panama Papers, it is clearer than ever that corruption, injustice and poor quality of life thrives under the imposition of draconian, corporatist and technocratic secrecy and elitism. The Pirates of Iceland are showing their southwards neighbours in Britain and Europe the way a more just, humane, healthy and cutting-edge order of things.  Let’s join their movement and set sail to a new and better world.

Monday, 11 April 2016

An open letter to Owen Smith MP

The Shadow Secretary of State for Work and Pensions, Owen Smith, has written to DWP head Stephen Crabb regrading the professional misconduct and inadequate testing systems involved in the privately outsourced assessment regime for the Personal Independence Payment disability benefit, as administered on behalf of the DWP by Atos and Capita since PIP replaced Disability Living Allowance. These reports are a continuation of medically illegitimate assessments and abuses, resulting in unnecessary suffering and in some cases death, impacting thousands of disabled people across the UK for multiple years. I have emailed Owen Smith with my own perspective and views on how Labour should challenge the Conservative government on PIP and other disability benefits. I hope he will take it into account.

Dear Mr Smith,

I am writing regarding the situation with DWP assessments for Personal Independence Payments which you have written to the Secretary of State with concerns about, following tonight's Channel 4 documentary on the practices being engaged in by privately contracted assessors such as Capita and Atos.

I sent you some tweets relaying these concerns but am writing long-form to express these fully. I would appreciate it if you would take these concerns into consideration and relay them to Jeremy Corbyn.

I am a Labour member and a disabled person who has been through the DWP assessment process for PIP, and I would like to offer you my personal experience and views on how Labour should approach a regime that is causing immense suffering to thousands of disabled people across the UK. Numerous charities and public bodies such as the BMA have similar concerns.

I have Asperger syndrome, dyspraxia, mental health problems for which I have been under psychiatric care for the past three years, and I was recently diagnosed with Tourette syndrome by a neurologist. I am also a neurology outpatient. I was receiving DLA but was transferred to PIP after informing the DWP of my autism diagnosis.

Despite my severe and complex health problems causing me disabilities that affect my self-care and mobility on a daily basis, I was awarded 0 points in my PIP assessment by the DWP after having an assessment with Atos. I am making an appeal and will attend a tribunal if this is turned down, but I am immensely disturbed by how the assessment system for PIP is functioning.

I have sent the DWP all the medical evidence about my conditions, but despite this they relied on the report provided to them by Atos to assess my eligibility for PIP. The Atos assessor themselves was not medically qualified and clearly did not understand the detail or complexities of my health conditions during the assessment.

The Atos report itself was filled with outright lies and fabrications about me, my medical history and statements I made in my assessment. Despite this the DWP said that they had referred to my full medical history, but the Atos assessment was not based on the medical evidence I sent.

From friends and numerous other people on social media, I have heard stories involving similar ignoring of medical evidence and fabrications in reports sent to the DWP. The United Nations is already making inquiries into whether the UK government is breaching international laws concerning the human rights of disabled people in relation to cuts to benefits and other austerity. 

One of the definitions of a crime against humanity is any state action causing deliberate bodily or mental injury against a social group on a mass scale, and I believe how disabled people are being treated in the benefit system could meet this criteria.

Based on my experience and other anecdotal stories, I am concerned that assessors like Atos are being financially incentivised by the DWP to engage in systematic fraud in order to prevent PIP claimants from getting the benefit. I am also concerned that criminal laws pertaining to fraud, professional misconduct and the abuse of vulnerable adults are being engaged in by privately contracted assessors such as Atos in the process.

I reiterate that Labour should press for full statuary inquires and consider whether there could be criminal prosecution of these companies due to the reported widespread and abusive/discriminatory professional misconduct, and fraudulent reports, of DWP disability benefit assessors.

Saturday, 9 April 2016

Truth Stranger Than Fiction: The Postmodern Satire of The X-Files

Much of the internet fandom surrounding The X-Files, the recently resurrected 1990s cult science fiction television series, seems to revolve around the darkly comedic double act of agents Fox Mulder and Dana Scully, as portrayed by David Duchovny and Gillian Anderson. Agent Mulder is the FBI agent who has an almost child-like fascination with the allegedly paranormal and extraterrestrial aspects of the dark, shady and often gory cases the secret X-Files FBI unit investigates...

Wednesday, 20 January 2016

Donald Trump and fascism

In a 1944 essay, George Orwell criticized the rhetorical use of "fascism" by commentators on politics and current events, which he described as being ubiquitous to the point of meaninglessness. In his observation it was applied to ideologies and subjects not limited to: "farmers, shopkeepers, Social Credit, corporal punishment, fox-hunting, bull-fighting, the 1922 Committee, the 1941 Committee, Kipling, Gandhi, Chiang Kai-Shek, homosexuality, Priestley's broadcasts, Youth Hostels, astrology, women, [and] dogs." As this made the definition of fascism so subjective, Orwell advised that it be used "with a certain amount of circumspection" if not at all by those aiming to engage in insightful journalism or political analysis.

A circumspect reference or comparison to fascism would be one referring to fascism in historical context and considering how this would operate in the present day. Donald Trump can be accurately described as a fascist by using this method in the context of the mass movement surrounding his 2016 presidential campaign in the United States. Trump propagates an ideology and platform containing economic and political populism, cultural chauvinism and aggressive militarism, combining disillusionment with political elites with scapegoating of ethnic and religious minorities. He frames the "politically correct" outrage at his bigotry as an asset, using it to constantly and increasingly normalize far-right extremism in the political discourse he presides over his cunning and calculating manipulation of the mass media. This is fascism by definition.

Mussolini described fascism as the merger of state and corporate power. Fascism advocates a regimented and hierarchical society based on elitism and dictatorship; ironically it thrives on the same inequality it condemns in its propaganda. The neo-Nazi Golden Dawn of Greece, part political party and part violent street gang, became the third party of the country decimated by EU-imposed austerity by rallying to support poverty-stricken communities while blaming migrants along with corrupt establishment politicians and austerity-imposing technocrats for the country's ills.

Budding il Duce Trump is a member of the economic 0.1 percent, yet is bizarrely able to use his wealth to populist advantage. He touts his ability to self-finance his political campaign as evidence that he is secured against the vested interests of the lobbyists and corporations whose systemic bribery of representatives dominates the American political system, which drives disillusion with mainstream politics. Trump admits that he has been easily able to make politicians, Democrats and Republicans alike, do his bidding for cash. As have the bankers and hedgefunders whose systemic greed and mismanagement resulted in the Great Recession that has caused hardship for working class Americans who have flocked to Trump's campaign. But unlike Bernie Sanders, who addresses the root causes of inequality, Trump focuses on ethnic minorities as the main culprits of national decay.

An admirer of the authoritarian Vladimir Putin, who like Trump has links to corruption and Mafia criminality, Trump is open to authoritarian control of the internet, ironically invoking the Chinese state that he views as a major adversary. He also insists that the world would be better off with Saddam Hussein and Mummar Gaddafi in power - as the "stability" provided by these criminal strongmen, in Trump's eyes, overrides fleeting concepts like human rights and democracy.

And Trump has pledged to be a war criminal like these dictators if he becomes president, promising to indiscriminately kill civilians in Middle East countries for even being related to ISIL militants, in a military policy of aggression and mass punishment that he would make official. These war crimes victims are equally as dehumanized as the Muslims he advocates barring from the United States, with those remaining on the homeland potentially being monitored and placed on a mass database by a Trump administration.

Trump's Islamophobia is the most obviously fascist and extremist component of his political crusade. Like with Nazism and Jewry, he makes no effort to distinguish between Islamic extremists and Muslims as a whole, which he collectively paints as a darkly sinister element of the American and global population which poses a grave threat to the United States and the West. 

Take Trump sharing this fan-made image on Twitter as a case in point:

This "I do not support Islam" slogan embodies an unequivocal message from Trump: that he has no reservations about mongering hatred against Muslims as a whole and equating them, by collective association with terrorism, as the enemy within.

Trump has shrugged off hate crimes and attacks against ethnic minorities as enthusiasm for his cause, and has embraced avowedly racist white nationalists endorsing his campaign. According to the U.S. Department of Homeland Security, far-right and white nationalists extremism poses a greater domestic security threat to the U.S. than Islamic fundamentalism. Trump can be described as a de facto figurehead of these militant and extremist movements. 

We may derive amusement from the spectacle of Trump, but history teaches us the consequences of having an offhand attitudes towards fascism. The violence and hate will only continue to accelerate as long as Trump is left to his devices unchallenged.