Category Archives: society

The CIA and GCHQ may be reading this…

If I included the words “jihad”, “plastic explosives” and “kill” in this blog post, do you think MI5 will be knocking on my door? I ask because GCHQ have been revealed to be spying on internet users. This after the news that America’s NSA had been supplied information on us by Facebook and Google. Given stuff I’ve shared and liked on Facebook, I wouldn’t be surprised if GCHQ or the NSA have me on a “dangerous lefty/anti fascist” watch list. Maybe I should stop using Facebook and Twitter to randomly insult members of the cabinet.

Anyway, what does this meaning for us – the general Facebook, Twitter and Google using public? Should we be worried about what we are typing into Google, in case we’re viewed as a terrorist? I mean, just because we are Googling stuff does not meant we are preparing terrorist attacks, we could just be researching a book (which is what I’m doing at the moment, Google). If we joke on twitter about making bombs, would that make us terrorists in the eyes of the security services? If someone writes poetry and sticks it on the internet about jihad, would that make them a terrorist? It seems the freedom to write, joke and imagine is now under threat. Especially if you put it online for spooks to read. Thought Crime appears to be an actual offence now.

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Paolo Di Canio: Is Fascism acceptable now?

So this weekend, premier league strugglers, Sunderland fired their manager Martin O’Neill and replaced him with self-declared fascist, Paolo Di Canio. Now, I know you’re going to say, “but what does it matter, as long as Sunderland stay up?”

You may not worry about the man’s political views, but when those same views (held by others) are responsible for the deaths of millions of people (Jews, Gypsies, etc) I think we should be concerned. And they concerned former foreign secretary, David Miliband – himself of Jewish extraction – so much that he resigned from the Sunderland board immediately. Apparently, that’s an overreaction. It’s lead to calls for Di Canio to “clarify” his political beliefs.

Firstly, it amuses me how they legitimise an anti-democratic, racist ideology by referring to them as beliefs. Now, before you all come squealing at me “he’s not a racist, he said so”, I’ll just remind you that one characteristic of fascism is demonisation of a scapegoat. This can be a political scapegoat, like communists, but is often an ethnic group or foreigners in general. Just look at Golden Dawn in Greece for an example of this.

(If you want to read more of fascism’s characteristics, here’s a good link)

Secondly, while some are concerned about an extremist at the helm of a premiership football club, others are wondering what’s the big deal. After all, it’s only his political views. What’s worrying about the second attitude is the disregard for the dangers of what an extremist ideology can do, and also the disrespect shown to all those who fought and died fighting fascism in Europe during the 1930s and 1940s. It follows the growing popularity of extremist organisations across Europe – The National Front in France, Golden Dawn in Greece, the English Defence League – which are responding to the economic crisis by blaming migrants, specifically North African/South Asian migrants, for the mess the banks caused. Where will it end? Views that were once considered repulsive, are slowly becoming acceptable and popular among a section of society.

As Pastor Martin Niemoller once wrote;

First they came for the communists,
and I didn’t speak out because I wasn’t a communist.

Then they came for the socialists,
and I didn’t speak out because I wasn’t a socialist.

Then they came for the trade unionists,
and I didn’t speak out because I wasn’t a trade unionist.

Then they came for the Jews,
and I didn’t speak out because I wasn’t a Jew.

Then they came for the Catholics,
and I didn’t speak out because I wasn’t a Catholic.

Then they came for me,
and there was no one left to speak for me.

One day, fascist ideology will have made such progress into society that there will be no one left who is shocked and repulsed by it.

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Coalition whacks the poor in the wallet

Last night with his merry majority of 56, Iain Duncan Smith won his vote to cap benefits to a 1% (one percent) rise per year. The Tory logic is that “it’s not fair” on hard-working people (read: “deserving poor”) who haven’t had an wage rise for years.

Very well, but if you look at the list of welfare benefits that this change will effect, most are received by those in work on low incomes – for example, tax credits and income support. Even the Department for Work and Pensions, admitted the poorest would suffer most. That includes those in work, as well as those stuck on Jobseekers Allowance because the recession kicked them out of work.

So what is the point of these changes, if rather than help the poor, they actually push them closer to poverty. IDS referenced the answer in the debate yesterday when he said that Labour spent

“like drunks on a Friday night”.

Meaning that this is not so much about benefit reform as deficit reduction. Then the question is, why do you expect the poor to pay off the deficit? What do you expect to get out of someone on a very low income, apart from beans and crumbs? It seems that by targeting a section of the poor perceived to be scroungers, (and Labour are just as guilty of using this inflammatory language) public attention is diverted away from the real scroungers and cheats – the large corporations and mega-rich individuals who exploit every loophole going to avoid paying the correct amount of tax. That’s you, Vodafone, Amazon, Starbucks and Lord Ashcroft! If the public realised that the financial problems aren’t caused by a single mother struggling to feed her kids on a tiny wage and tax credits, then the Tories may just be worried.

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The Paralympics and Atos

(It’s a slightly black joke, but all good satire is slightly dark)

As we all watch the Paralympics and smile patronisingly at the disabled people competing, a good number of the population sense the irony in one of LOCOG’s choice of sponsors. Atos – also the government’s choice of stick to beat the disabled into work. Are they standing in the changing rooms with clip boards assessing the athletes? “Right. You’ve just wheeled 100m in twenty seconds, you’re fit for work.”

That may not be accurate, but it’s a good illustration of what the company is doing to disabled people across the country. From people in wheelchairs to cancer patients to the visually impaired. People with a range of disabilities have been given less than the 15 points required for Employment and Support Allowance, and are declared fit for work.

To most people this would seem illogical. How can you force people who are not in the physical shape to work? A cancer patient is too sick to have to add work to the schedule of chemo and radiotherapy. A visually impaired person cannot be expected to see dangers, and would be a danger to themselves and others a workplace. How can Atos and the Department for Work and Pensions decide that a wheelchair-bound person is able to work, when many areas of public transport are not open to them? Then there’s an issue of throwing more people into the job cattle market, when there are no jobs to apply for.

See the irony? A stage for people with disabilities (and good at sport) to shine, being sponsored by a company that is contracted to make their lives as horrible as possible. No matter how much the coalition say, “oh we’ve got to cut public spending”, “the previous government left the country’s finances in a mess” – it does not justify picking on those less able or disadvantaged.

So, while you watch the Paralympic coverage and marvel at those disabled people who excel at sport – remember that many people like them (without the “good at sport” bit) are having to fight a dirty war for something they are entitled to.

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Pussy Riot: Not anti-Christian hooligans

Russian feminist punk rockers, Pussy Riot, have been sentenced to two years in prison for “hooliganism inspired by religious hatred”. When you look at the English translation of what they actually said, and why they chose to perform in an Orthodox Cathedral, you realise that the verdict is laughable.

The actual lyrics, as translated by the Free Pussy Riot website;

Virgin Mary, Mother of God, become a feminist
Become a feminist, become a feminist

(end chorus)

The Church’s praise of rotten dictators
The cross-bearer procession of black limousines
A teacher-preacher will meet you at school
Go to class – bring him money!

Patriarch Gundyaev believes in Putin
Bitch, better believe in God instead
The belt of the Virgin can’t replace mass-meetings
Mary, Mother of God, is with us in protest!

Hardly threatening the foundation of Christian faith. What the group were actually protesting against was the cosy relationship between Vladimir Putin and the Russian church. History has shown us that when the church and state are cuddling up in bed together, people tend to be oppressed and the church tends to act a little unchristian. Rather than launching full assault on the faith of the world’s Christians, Pussy Riot were simply calling for an end to the rule of Putin (which it does seem has gone on forever) and for the church to stop trying to be best mates with the government.

Detailed analysis will follow.

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Is the UK’s democracy in decline?

Interesting – and slightly worrying – piece in The Guardian this evening about the sorry state of democracy in the UK. It’s illustrated with a photograph of Boris Johnson, but I’m sure that is nothing to do with the actual story!

Anyway a group called Democratic Audit has shared the findings of its report with the Guardian, and the conclusions paint a bleak picture. While devolution and Parliamentary select committees were welcomed (because the latter does a good job at holding the likes of Rupert Murdoch to account), it’s concerns were over how much parliament really represents us and how much power corporations hold over us.

Now, in the last few years Parliament has had enough scandal to turn most of the country away from politics. The expenses saga showed us that a lot of our so-called representatives are more concerned about lining their own pockets than their constituents. The state of the economy and the worries over cuts to services mean that the public see a government full of wealthy young men, out of touch with the majority of the population, who never have to worry about Workfare or the closure of their local libraries. The Phone Hacking scandal and the subsequent Leveson Inquiry showed us just how close big business, government and parts of the state really are. The question the report’s author asks is,

Britons could soon have to ask themselves “whether it’s really representative democracy any more?”

Is the government representative of the whole country, or just the interests of Murdoch and Eton Old Boys?

That said, there is a strong civil society opposition to the public spending cuts, like the local opposition to the closure of Friern Barnet Library and the UK Uncut group which plans sit-ins against corporations known to be guilty of tax evasion. The internet and twitter are full of active bloggers and politicos – though these might be the kind of people who aren’t ever going to be disillusioned by politics, no matter how many Eton Old Boys are thrown into government. Indeed, politics is becoming an interest for the minority, while most people look from the outside and see back-stabbers, expenses-fiddlers, careerists and out of touch rich boys arguing amongst themselves, whilst making sure they steer well clear.

The sad thing is, if we don’t reach out to the people alienated and fed up of politics, then the democratic deficit is only going to get bigger.

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