Archive for December, 2001

The Nightingale

December 14th, 2001

As I went a-walking one morning in May,
I met a young couple who fondly did stray;
And one was a young maid so sweet and so fair,
And the other one was a soldier and a brave grenadier –

And they kissed so sweet and comforting as they clung to each other;
They went arm in arm along the road like sister and brother;
They went arm in arm along the road till they came to a stream,
And they both sat down together to hear the nightingale sing.

And out from his knapsack he took a fine fiddle;
And he played her such merry tunes that you ever did hear;
And he played her such merry tunes that the valley did ring;
And they both sat down togther to hear the nightingale sing.

“Oh soldier, oh soldier, will you marry me?”
“Oh no”, said the soldier, “that never can be.
For I’ve a wife already in my own country.
And she is the sweetest maiden that you ever did see.”

Now I’m off to India for seven long years,
Drinking wines and strong whisky instead of strong beer.
And when I return again it will be in the Spring –
And we’ll both sit down together to hear the nightingale sing.

Two weeks; not seven years. In any case, there’ll be no more posting to the weblog until the New Year. In the meantime, please send in your nominations for the book, film, album, popular hero\ine and enthusiastic nonsectarian online socialist publication of the year, and I’ll sift through the entries and make the appropriate awards when I get home.

Save Pacifica!

December 13th, 2001

Is victory in the long-running battle over the future of the progressive Pacifica Radio network in sight? The Save Pacifica! campaigners seem to think so: they’ve just sent round this message –

COMMUNITY RADIO ADVOCATES REGAIN CONTROL OF PACIFICA NETWORK AS AGREEMENT IS REACHED TO TRANSFER BOARD MAJORITY CONTROL

An agreement was reached today between plaintiffs in four lawsuits against Pacifica and the foundation’s board of directors, whereby official control of the network will return to community radio advocates.

The agreement calls for an interim board, controlled by the current minority, to serve for fifteen months while new, democratic structures are implemented for an elected national
Pacifica board.

The agreement brings to an end two and a half years of legal, political, and community struggle following an illegal change, implemented under former board chair Dr. Mary Frances Berry, in the method of selecting Pacifica’s directors, who had formerly been elected by the local station boards.

During that time, Pacifica has banned and fired dozens of broadcasters, and incurred millions of dollars in expenditures, due to high fees paid to corporate attorneys, public relations companies, and security firms.

Pacifica’s finances have not been disclosed to either board members or donors in over a year, but at the last board meeting in Washington in November it was reported that the foundation has over a million dollars in unpaid current accounts in addition to two million dollars in pending legal fees.

Alameda County Superior Court Judge Ronald Sabraw will retain jurisdiction over the settlement, and has promised to quickly rule on all disputes that may result from the agreement’s implementation.

The text of the agreement can be read here.

Fascists

December 13th, 2001

Should the BBC be as gentle as it tends to be when it has Nick Griffin of the British National Party on the show? On Monday, he appeared on The World at One, and the following messages were swiftly generated by concerned listeners.

People at the National Assembly Against Racism circulated this protest [10.12.2001]:

CALL THE BBC TO PROTEST: Nick Griffin, the leader of the fascist BNP was today interviewed on The World at One, asked to comment on Blunkett’s ‘British test’. He said that David Blunkett was ‘jumping on the BNP’s bandwagon’.

Griffin on the BBC the day after Blunkett made his comments is a demonstration of what the so-called ‘British test’ leads to: giving lifeline to a fringe fascist group. It is unacceptable that the BBC treats Griffin yet again as a legitimate commentator on race relations in Britain today.

Call the BBC to complain against their decision to interview him, providing him air time, only two weeks after their Panorama programme highlighted their leaders’ criminal records and their allegiance to the politics of the Third Reich.

Palash then commented [11.12.2001]:

What do I think? … I certainly don’t care for the hysterical phrasing of the email, but that goes with the tedious preachy “activist” territory. This bit — “It is unacceptable that the BBC treats Griffin yet again as a legitimate commentator on race relations in Britain today” — is probably a rhetorical sleight of hand. I didn’t hear the report (and on those grounds alone I wouldn’t complain to the Beeb about it unless I agreed with a blanket platform of censoring the far right under any circumstances, which I don’t). But I would imagine that they had Griffin on so as to make precisely the point that these National Assembly campaigners are making, namely that Blunkett’s statement unfortunately plays in some way into the hands of extremists. (Which doesn’t, of course, necessarily mean, in itself, that he was wrong to make the statement. In fact, there is an interesting cynical question here – does it help or hinder the far right when mainstream politicians make anti-PC, or even racist, noises, or get tough on immigration? There’s a case for saying the NF in France lost a lot of ground when the Gaullists stole their clothes in the early nineties. At least it’s useful to have a debate going on in the mainstream, if that debate needs to had, rather than to marginalise it and allow extremists to capitalise on it. Though there is the very serious converse problem that the more the mainstream parties flirt with regressive racial politics, the more acceptable those politics become.)

The core issue — about whether to exclude the far right from direct representation in the media, as advocated by groups like the Anti-Nazi League-satellite, “Media Workers Against the Nazis” — is a tricky one. But ultimately I err radically on the side of free speech, and feel that we nice folks should take the racists and neo-fascists on, without fear, in open public conflict. I used to be an ardent ANL supporter …, especially around the time when Derek Beackon was elected to Tower Hamlets Council. I’d helped to organise a holocaust memorial event for the ANL in Oxford Town Hall in 1993, with two Auschwitz survivors who’d lived in the Lodz ghetto. But I was always sceptical about the ANL’s over-zealous desire to censor “Nazis” on the grounds that it’s (a) dangerously and immorally illiberal, and (b) tactically stupid and counterproductive. This vague scepticism hardened into a firm principle when I saw a film about Chomsky, in which he defends the right to free speech of a French Holocaust-denying academic historian, and is physically attacked on American campuses by poisonous creeps from the Anti Defamation League. He argues convincingly (as an anarchist) that freedom of thought and conscience trump everything else. Now, allowing this, there’s the further question of whether the BBC should be spending any airtime on the BNP at all, not on the grounds that they’re unacceptable and shd be censored, but on the grounds that they’re tiny and tin-pot and don’t matter. (After all, the SWP are rarely invited to comment on macroeconomic policy.) Not knowing the context in which Griffin was presented, I will have to suspend judgement. But I think a blanket policy of excluding the BNP from airtime (which is what these “activists” want) would be immoral as well as tactically wrong, and would fuel the existing paranoia of the BNP and of many closet racists, who believe that their views are excluded from mainstream media representation.

I replied [11.12.2001]:

Basically, I agree with Palash’s note. He’s right to make the distinction between the question of free speech (when, if ever, is it permissible for the state to intervene to suppress speech?) and the question of whether an organisation (say, the BBC) should provide a platform for an individual (say, Nick Griffin of the BNP). Only the second question is being dealt with here.

What’s striking about the BBC’s coverage of the BNP at the moment is its schizophrenia. Nick Cohen had a good article in the New Statesman of 6 August this year criticising the BBC (in this case Today and Newsnight) for its excessively soft handling of Griffin. Rod Liddle, the silly man who edits Today, wrote in the following week to say that Today didn’t refer to the BNP as fascist “because, whatever they are, they are not a fascist organisation” (Letters, 13 August) — but he didn’t say anything to justify that opinion, and Cohen had given at least five pretty good reasons for thinking that the BNP was a significantly fascist or neo-Nazi outfit in his original piece. Yesterday’s interview on The World at One followed this pattern: there was no mention of Griffin’s criminal conviction for inciting race hatred, nor was his party described as fascist or neo-Nazi. It’s true that he was being interviewed (by Nick Clarke, I think) to make the point Palash describes above, that Blunkett’s words were music to the ears of the BNP, but it was a gentle encounter, and nothing Griffin said (some of which was quite inflammatory about Asians in Bradford) was challenged by the interviewer.

On the other hand, Panorama on 25 November presented its “expos�” of the BNP which revealed it as — wait for it! — a wretched, racist, thuggish organisation whose leaders were a bunch of violent criminals, which did not have the community roots it pretends in its publicity to enjoy, and whose attempts to present a respectable face to the world (assisted, on occasion, by the choices of BBC editors) were a facade. Panorama was still careful not to call it a “fascist” racket – though the reports mentioned Auschwitz jokes, Nazi salutes and SS tapes being played at BNP rallies, and so on, which is pretty good evidence in most people’s books; but the difference between the treatment Griffin got in that programme and on The World at One yesterday was striking.

I think Palash is right that a “no platform” policy is a political mistake. A party that polls many thousands of votes should not be excluded from the airwaves simply because the majority finds them abhorrent — the Tory government’s ban on Gerry Adams, etc., was indefensible for the same reason. But I also think that Cohen is right: that interviewers should be prepared to refer to Griffin as a fascist, or as a criminal, or as a neo-Nazi, or as a habitual liar, and should introduce him as such when he appears. And if he isn’t prepared to be described in this way, he should quite reasonably be denied the chance of appearing on the radio. If the price of having the BNP on the show is that one has to play along with their strategy for gaining political legitimacy, that price is too high.

As a footnote, in case anyone thinks the cases are parallel, I don’t think Martin McGuinness should be treated in the same way — described as a “former terrorist” or “murderer”, etc. — each time he appears: the Northern Irish peace process is based on a very clear quid pro quo, that certain politicians are legitimised in return for (relative) political stability and (relative) peace. There’s nothing remotely analogous in Griffin’s case.

Cormac then wrote [13.12.2001]:

“No platform for the far-right” – that was one of the NUS conventions I could never quite get my head around. Okay, fair enough, their views are poisonous and distasteful but to ban them completely never quite stacked up. There’s something queerly paternalistic about it – like there is a floating population of ciphers out there, just waiting to be programmed with racist views. But there again, no-one ever really went through the arguments with me so I may be more sypathetic than I imagine.

It reminds me a bit of the broadcasting ban on Sinn Fein et al – in fact any peace process shows you that people you think are unimaginably bad may one day become the people you have to listen to and do deals wiith (although God forbid that the BNP ever get to that position in Britain).

I don’t know that I agree with your analysis of the French Right – there are various reasons why the FN are now a busted flush and I think Chirac’s remarks about the “odeur” of immigrants have caused lasting harm to race relations in that country (which are pretty mediaeval anyway).

What I do agree with, though, is the view that the BBC – and the press in general – should not canvass the views of the BNP on race any more than they do the views of the SWP on the budget on the grounds of their marginality. It is the journalists’ cynicism and irresponsibility that I object to rather than transgression of some ill-defined unwritten ban. But hey, I’ll be objecting to that for a few years yet.

And Dave wrote [13.12.2001]:

I like the suggestion in Chris’ email, which is certainly closer to my own beliefs than other ideas I’ve seen. For what it’s worth my own position is about 50% between Chris and the traditional “No Platform” line.

My criticism of current advocates of No Platform is that we seem to have changed the argument from the 1970s. At that time, a majority of leftists argued that Nazis should be given no platform within democratic bodies (eg should not be allowed to speak on student union or trade union platforms). Part of the argument was that these were grass-roots organisations, which could be controlled by their membership – so in the same way that their executive committees should be subject to recall, so no resources or opportunities should be provided to groups like the NF which stood for the abolition of trade unionism and social democracy.�

No Platform was then normally accompanied by an argument against calling on the state to censor people – because the state was a hostile organisation, which would use any powers to clamp down on real democrats (look at the use of the Public Order Act since 1936).

The distinction between these two arguments may escape people but it boils down to a tactical question — Who should stop the Nazis?

My criticism of current No Platform politics is that in the last ten years (perhaps since the Welling campaign) anti-fascists seem to have shifted stance from an argument about the radical observation of democratic organisations, to a ‘No Speech” position. Personally, I think that this is a tactical mistake.��People may remember Griffin with the mask over his face calling for free speech. (Griffin is a lying opportunist — in the run up to the election, the local press actually gave his group at least as much publicity as any of the mainstream parties). Someone with politics like Griffin’s should never be gifted an opportunity to claim the morality of the defence.

On the other hand I am potentially just as concerned by the strategy of groups like Searchlight, for whom I write. I did not�watch the Panorama program (which Searchlight helped to make) — but I did look at the weblog afterwards, most of which was taken up by happy, crowing Nazis. Their argument was that any publicity, especially publicity in that style, was good news.�

I guess what I’m saying sounds a bit of a mess: No Platform to Nazis + No Crude Propaganda by Liberals = an incoherent position!

Maybe my real point is that people who regard themselves as anti-fascists need to think more carefully about what propaganda actually exposes the BNP in front of themselves and their audience. I think the Nazi photos of Tyndall in the 1970s were very embarrasing and effective. I would like to see more use made of Griffin’s embarrasing mid-1980s period where he claimed that Gaddaffi was history greatest national leader. But when some stupid liberal at the BBC carries out a deadpan interview with Griffin … it seems right to me that those journalists should be subject to criticism.

What do you think?

Who said this — Joe McCarthy or John Ashcroft?

December 12th, 2001

“To those … who scare peace-loving people with phantoms of lost liberty, my message is this: your tactics only aid ___, for they erode our national unity and diminish our resolve. They give ammunition to America’s enemies and pause to America’s friends”.

Take the test at morons.org. (I scored 9 out of 14, which isn’t bad).

Alec wrote [12.12.2001]: I achieved exactly the same score! … Looking at one or two of the mistakes I made, I feel like a bit of a moron myself. Ah well. Here is my own ‘favourite’ McCarthy moment, from one of his earlier speeches:

“The great difference between our Western Christian world and the atheistic Communist world is not political, ladies and gentlemen. It is moral. There are other differences, of course, but those could be reconciled. For instance, the Marxian idea of confiscating the land and factories and running the entire economy as a single enterprise is momentous. Likewise, Lenin’s invention of the one-party police state as a way to make Marx’s idea work is hardly less momentous. Stalin’s resolute putting across of these two ideas, of course, did much to divide the world. With only those differences, however, the East and the West could most certainly still live in peace.

“The real, basic difference, however, lies in the religion of immoralism – invented by Marx, preached feverishly by Lenin, and carried to unimaginable extremes by Stalin. This religion of immoralism, if the Red half of the world wins, … will more deeply wound and damage mankind than any conceivable economic or political system.”

Nick wrote [13.12.2001]: OK, then, who wrote this:

“There is a concern that the Internet could be used to commit crimes and that advanced encryption could disguise such activity. However, we do not provide the government with phone jacks outside our homes for unlimited wiretaps. Why, then, should we grant government the Orwellian capability to listen at will and in real time to our communications across the Web?

“The protections of the Fourth Amendment are clear. The right to protection from unlawful searches is an indivisible American value. Two-hundred-years of court decisions have stood in defense of this fundamental right. The state’s interest in effective crime-fighting should never vitiate the citizens’ Bill of Rights.

“The President has proposed that American software companies supply the government with decryption keys to high level encryption programs. Yet, European software producers are free to produce computer encryption codes of all levels of security without providing keys to any government authority. Purchasers of encryption software value security above all else. These buyers will ultimately choose airtight encryption programs that will not be American-made programs to which the U.S. government maintains keys.”

Answer: John Ashcroft, in 1997. Gosh, that was a long time ago…

PS: I got 12 out of 14 at morons.org! Thanks for the link.

The City by the Bay

December 11th, 2001

It isn’t only in Florida that they have difficulties counting ballot papers. Thanks to Jo and Alec for keeping me informed about the recent shenanigans in San Francisco. From the 10 December Las Vegas Sun:

San Francisco Shamed By Election

Several weeks after the November election, the Coast Guard fished eight ballot-box lids out of the San Francisco Bay, and 240 uncounted ballots were found stuck in voting machines – the latest embarrassments in the city’s sorry electoral history.

San Francisco has had persistent vote-counting problems and has gone through five election directors in the past six years. And the most recent foul-ups have left politicians and citizens angry and demanding reform.

“This election department and the people in charge of it are making San Francisco the biggest laughingstock this side of Florida,” said Aaron Peskin, a member of the city Board of Supervisors. “Heads should roll!”

City officials hope to avoid more trouble in Tuesday’s runoff for city attorney – a relatively simple vote to count, since there are only two candidates. Still, state fraud investigators will be watching closely.

But longer-term change may be on the way: In a little-noticed measure on November’s ballot, voters overwhelmingly approved creation of a seven-member commission to run the elections department and to hire a director.

The most controversial question voters faced on Nov. 6 was a measure to seize Pacific Gas & Electric Co.’s power lines and provide power directly to the public. It led on Election Day, but lost after all the absentee ballots were counted five days after the polls closed.

Three weeks later – a few days after the lids were found floating in the bay – PG&E’s lead narrowed again, to just 515 votes, after 240 uncounted ballots were discovered stuck in machines.

Elections Director Tammy Haygood finally certified the election last week – the day after 400 blank ballots were discovered at a former poll worker’s house in yet another embarrassing episode.

Confidence in the results had not been high from the start. On Election Night, some 5,500 absentee ballots were secretly moved to a loosely guarded room in an auditorium. Haygood said she had them moved because of anthrax fears…

More entertaining details are reported by the San Francisco Bay Guardian: those who spotted ballot boxes being carried out of a ballot processing station on election night will be reassured to learn that the official report concluded that “the boxes held trash from an employee dinner”.

Student Finance

December 8th, 2001

My colleague Stewart is interested in anyone’s answers to the following questions about student finance:

1. Do you think the £1,075 p.a. fee is a deterrent to people from poorer backgrounds going to university?

2. Do you think current arrangements for student loans are a deterrent for these groups?

3. Do you think 17-18 year olds think differently about the financial burden associated with a debt that they leave college with, and a graduate tax that they might have to pay when they go into work to pay for the university education they had?

4. Do you think the amount of money, if any, the state gives to students who go to higher education (say in a grant) should be means-tested based on their parents’ income?

Answers to the weblog, please.

Rant

December 8th, 2001

Michaele wrote to the weblog the other day [3.12.2001]:

I just want to rant for a little while about how the Bush administration’s attitude about terrorism is currently being deployed to justify some horrendously incoherent foreign policy and the failure to take a morally brave and politically urgent stand on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. Warning: this may be mildly incoherent, as I am a bit tired and angry.

We’ve all known since the W. administration first started talking about a “War on Terrorism” that the definition of terrorism and the list of terrorist organizations and their state sponsors was not based in any principled understanding of what counts as terror (versus, say, freedom fighting or legitimate acts of self-defense), but rather was based in political expediency: a combination of what our “allies” would tolerate, what was necessary to make “allies” of those governments in the first place, and what would justify only the sorts of military action that W. and his more hawkish advisors wanted to pursue anyway (that is, attacks on the Taliban and al Qaeda, and the Gulf War Redux, which is by all reports just around the corner). But until the past twenty-four hours, this peculiar understanding of who the enemy was did not seem to be wholly morally bankrupt (and has therefore had shocking credence among many of my friends and family, despite their varying degrees of distaste with the talk of war and revenge). Whatever objections one might have to war, however much W.’s frequent use of the term “evildoers” in public speeches made one think of a bad Saturday morning cartoon, it made some sense that people who have the capability and the desire to attack civilians across state borders need to be dealt with _in some manner_ because of the unpredictable threat that they pose to the security and stability of those who would be their intended targets.

Yet after W.’s speech in which he extended the moral authority of the U.S. to respond to the Taliban/al-Qaeda to Israel responding to yesterday’s horrific attacks, whatever slight moral promise that his administration’s understanding of terrorism held was completely betrayed. The administration has been flip-flopping since�January on its policy towards Israel, which has to make you wonder whether it is a matter of the much publicized conflicts between Powell and Rumsfeld/Cheney, or simply that no one with any authority in the W. administration has a clear idea of what to do in the Middle East (in part because they thought back in January that they could get away with a policy of selective American isolationism). Sometimes, the administration has condemned Israel’s ‘retaliatory’ attacks on Palestinians as going too far; sometimes it has justified Israel’s attacks. If you look carefully, there seems to be _some_ rhyme and reason to when the administration condemns Israel: when the attacks seem to be on Palestinians in general, involve a disproportionate use of military force, and result in Israeli occupation of�a particular area for some time. When the administration supports Israel, it is typically because the Israeli military has sought out specific targets and isolated them for attack (such as the Hamas leaders traveling by car a few weeks back).

However, last night’s speech by W. in essence authorizing Israel to respond forcefully to the “terrorist” attacks (in quotes because I recognize that who counts as a terrorist really does seem to be a matter of who those with the really big guns think is a terrorist, not because I do not personally condemn the attacks), combined with today’s utter _failure_ to condemn Israel’s attacks on the Palestinian Authority (which smack of war, and not war on terrorists) is a clear sign that the administration has finally abdicated any semblance of taking the moral high ground in its war on “terrorism”. One would think that W. would have learned from his father’s mistakes: taking a permissive ‘we support you-and we won’t interfere’ attitude towards how another state treats its minorities or the sovereignty of state boundaries only serves to firm up other states’ resolve in transgressing international norms. Iraq would not have invaded Kuwait without having the impression that the U.S. would not intervene. Sharon’s Israel could not have notched up the violence and the provocativeness of its attacks on Palestinians, Hamas, and now directly the Palestinian Authority without believing firmly that this would in no way jeopardize relations with its one true ally, the U.S. The absurdly self-congratulatory and self-interested definition of terror and terrorists that is sustaining U.S. actions in Afghanistan is now justifying Sharon’s brutal policy of trying to provoke Palestinians to become more and more violent, more and more politically extreme, so that he can sustain the popular support that keeps him in office, and pursue the policy of complete expulsion of the Palestinian people that he has clearly wanted from the beginning.

I don’t mean to downplay here how much we ought to be critical of how the U.S. attack on terrorism has been deployed to justify the specific way that the U.S. has responded to Sept. 11th. (As a U.S. citizen, I am deeply concerned about how the Justice Department and the executive branch are trying to increase their authority and the secrecy in which they might carry out their war). However, I think that the events of the past 24 hours call on us to be even more vigilant about how the justification of a war on terror is and can be deployed to justify the pursuit of violence over the pursuit of peace, the pursuit of relative homogeneity over the pursuit of pluralist political arrangements that aim at justice for all people living in and sharing a particular space. I originally was concerned about how the war on terror would justify the W. administration’s policies. It is clear that we also need to be concerned about how it divests the U.S. of any moral authority to condemn the clearly objectionable treatment of peoples like the Palestinians in the name of a war on terror.

I think that’s enough for now. Let the criticisms begin!

Thanks for this, and apologies for the delay in posting it on this page.

biannual

biannual