Sunday, 14 October 2018

On Brexit, the Tories are gaslighting half the country

An attempt is being made to write Britain’s pro-European tradition out of history. But the 48% are still very much here

It is not yet 28 months since the referendum, but it feels longer. The Britain that had not yet decided to leave the European Union feels eerily remote for a place we lived in so recently.

Political intensity can do that. The weeks after the vote were crammed with enough drama to fill months. Then Theresa May squeezed a self-sabotaging general election into the tight Brexit negotiating window. The era when governments understood the value of EU membership lies buried beneath a landslide of events. Recent history has become political archaeology.

But it isn’t only the volume of news that has done this. The past is being chased out of view more aggressively than it might naturally recede. In the autumn of 2015, Tory MPs were still celebrating victory in an election won by David Cameron on a manifesto promising to “preserve the integrity of the single market”. How many MPs currently serving in Theresa May’s cabinet rejected that view? How many said that the single market was disposable because escape from the EU was a more valuable prize? The answer is none. Not one of May’s ministers – including those who speak of Brexit now as if they had yearned for it since childhood – saw fit to mention that feeling in public just three years ago.

Even on the back benches, “Eurosceptic” recently meant resistance to further European integration and a demand that powers exercised in Brussels be “repatriated”. The view that such a goal could only be achieved by quitting the club was explicitly held by about a dozen Tory MPs – including two who defected to Ukip in 2014. By referendum polling day, there was still not a majority of Conservative parliamentarians prepared to say that Brexit was a good idea.

People are allowed to change their minds, and the referendum result was pretty persuasive. It is normal for a seismic electoral event to reshape the political landscape. But it doesn’t have to eliminate memories of the way things stood before. Yet that is what the Brexiters seem determined to achieve.

A clique of Tory ultras have lately told Downing Street they might tolerate the UK staying in a shared customs space with the EU until 2022, two years beyond the transition period envisaged at present. This has been reported as a formal concession by the Brexiteers, although they have no official role in the process. The position of chair of the European Research Group, occupied by Jacob Rees-Mogg, has no constitutional value. It meant nothing two years ago. Somehow it has become the pulpit from which permissible boundaries of thought and deed are dictated to the prime minister.

The “concession” on a temporary customs union is meant to give May leeway to negotiate a Canada-style free trade agreement, and thereby to abandon her Chequers blueprint. Tory MPs are feeding out rope to be sure that any prospect of a softer Brexit is hanged. It is a proven system. Even the terminology has changed meaning since the referendum. A “hard” Brexit was once any deal that surrendered benefits of the single market. Now “hard” is used interchangeably with the idea of total rupture with no deal at all. “Soft” Brexit is used by many Tories to mean a deal unworthy of consideration by patriots.

That spectrum places the Canadian model as a middle way. But in 2016, the official leave campaign would not endorse such an obvious economic downgrade, ripping the UK out of frictionless commerce with its neighbours to borrow instead a template cut to suit a country 3,600 miles away.

Brexit hardliners are not really interested in the Canadian model, anyway. Their current position is just another twist of the ratchet, taking the whole conversation a notch further away from European integration. That has been the game all along: bullying by incremental demands, grinding away at Cameron until he offered a referendum, then the pantomime of waiting for his renegotiation, then the verdict that, alas, it was not good enough. Now it is the same with May: chivvying her towards the edge of a cliff while pretending to be interested in bridges.

It happens so insidiously that it can be hard to keep one’s bearings. Not long ago, comparisons of the EU to the Soviet Union were the stuff of sweaty diatribes on Ukip web forums. Now they appear in speeches by a foreign secretary who voted remain. That is not an ordinary conversion to Brexit. It is symptomatic of a project to pretend that Britain never had pro-EU Conservatives or a pro-European political tradition. It is the systematic erasure of remain from the national story. The new Tory orthodoxy casts EU membership as an aberration, an alien thing imposed by a few “citizens of nowhere” on a captive people who prayed in secret for deliverance, then rose up to take back control.

That isn’t how 48% of voters, 16.1 million people, saw it. But it takes an effort to keep hold of the memory. The past two years have felt like a vast exercise in gaslighting – the method of psychological coercion that involves subtly undermining people’s confidence in what is real until they begin to question their own judgment. Thus have the parameters of sanity in the debate shifted. The norms have moved so far that any deal starts to look like a victory for common sense over extremism. But that is only because today’s political maps don’t even mark the spot where realistic accounts of Britain’s European interests used to appear.

May is relying on that disorientation when urging MPs to back her in the Commons. She will offer something she calls moderate and declare its adoption vital for the national interest, measured on a scale that only shows degrees of folly and national self-harm. And then the idea is that we put the whole sorry business behind us, let EU membership fade from our minds. Let the wind and dust erode our memories until the past is barely recognisable: a ruin, somewhere the forgotten tribe of Remainia once lived. But the problem is, prime minister, we’re still here.

Rafael Behr is a Guardian columnist.

H/T Elly

Sunday, 7 October 2018

Is Trump's "I'm a self-made billionaire shtick"... well... a myth?

In an extraordinary and very lengthy piece of investigative journalism, the NYT does a lot to suggest that. Far too long to be reprinted here, below's just the opening salvo:

President Trump participated in dubious tax schemes during the 1990s, including instances of outright fraud, that greatly increased the fortune he received from his parents, an investigation by The New York Times has found.
Mr. Trump won the presidency proclaiming himself a self-made billionaire, and he has long insisted that his father, the legendary New York City builder Fred C. Trump, provided almost no financial help.
But The Times’s investigation, based on a vast trove of confidential tax returns and financial records, reveals that Mr. Trump received the equivalent today of at least $413 million from his father’s real estate empire, starting when he was a toddler and continuing to this day.
Much of this money came to Mr. Trump because he helped his parents dodge taxes. He and his siblings set up a sham corporation to disguise millions of dollars in gifts from their parents, records and interviews show. Records indicate that Mr. Trump helped his father take improper tax deductions worth millions more. He also helped formulate a strategy to undervalue his parents’ real estate holdings by hundreds of millions of dollars on tax returns, sharply reducing the tax bill when those properties were transferred to him and his siblings.
Around the time of the 2016 election PBS broadcastet a Trump documentary biopic that suggested the same (but with less depth) but unfortunately I can't find it.

Saturday, 6 October 2018

Roosh "Da Douche" Valizadeh of RoK infamy takes Hiatus

Ultra-misogynyst Douchebag Daryush V, who rose to notoriety with his "sarcastic" [cough!] proposal to decriminalise rape, is taking an indefinite break from his flagship site, Return of Kings (RoK). In his own words (I'm not linking):

After six years of continuous operation and 5,800 articles published, I’m putting ROK on an indefinite hiatus so I can take a break from the daily grind of maintaining the site. I don’t know when the hiatus will end.
The first factor for this hiatus is that site revenues are too low. We’ve been banned from Paypal and countless ad partners, which forced me to lay off the site editor last year and also lower payments to regular contributors. This started a negative spiral of declining content quality, site traffic, and revenues. Even the beloved comments section, which many see as the highlight of ROK, was badly hit when Disqus banned us. Currently, ROK receives half the traffic of its peak and less than one-fifth of the income.

Don't rush Roosh, you won't be missed, lad!

Friday, 5 October 2018

Mark Judge, alleged attempted rape assistant and... Gamergater!

How creepy is it that in the light of Dr Ford's allegations, Mark Judge turns out to have written in 2015 two articles attacking Anita Sarkeesian and praising her Gamergate critics? In view of the toxic misogyny pervading the Gamergate community, I'd say "Very!"

Shadow War in the Sahara

'War on terror' or competition for natural resources? A look at the US and French military presence in Africa.

Africa remains a key territory on the global chessboard of the 21st century. Rich in oil and natural resources, the continent holds a strategic position.

Sub-Saharan Africa is home to six of the world's 10 fastest growing economies. North Africa counts with vast oil and natural gas deposits, the Sahara holds the most strategic nuclear ore, and resources such as coltan, gold, and copper, among many others, are abundant in the continent. But despite its position and resources, conflict and chaos have spread throughout the continent. At the heart of this turmoil is a strategic territory: the Sahel.

The region that straddles the Sahara to the north and the savannas in the south has become an important new front in the so-called war against terrorism.

But is the official narrative, the fight against terrorism, masking a larger battle? Have the resource wars of the 21st century already begun?

"What we are currently experiencing can be described as 'a new scramble for Africa'," says Jean Batou, Professor of History at Lausanne University.

'Whoever controls Mali, controls West Africa'

At the centre of the troubled region of the Sahel is the nation of Mali, which is among the world's poorest. Unemployment is rampant and most people survive hand to mouth.

Yet, back in the 13th century, the Mali empire extended over much of West Africa and was extraordinarily wealthy and powerful. Ivory and gold made it a major crossroads for global trade at the time. But inevitably, these resources lead to conquests.

"We are the transition between North Africa and Africa that reaches the ocean and the forests. This gives us an important strategic position: whoever controls Mali, controls West Africa - if not the whole of Africa ... That's why this region became so coveted," says Doulaye Konate from the Association of African Historians.

The imperial European powers unveiled their plans to colonise Mali and the rest of Africa at the Berlin Conference in 1885. Britain, Belgium, Portugal, Spain, Germany, Italy and France, each got their share.

"The arrival of colonisation tore us apart. It felt like a cut, almost like a surgical operation," Konate says.

The French colonial empire extended over much of western and northern Africa, but in the late 1950s the winds of freedom started blowing across Africa, and France was to lose all its colonies.

However, the euphoria of independence was short. France retained troops, bases and political influence over its former colonies: the policy of "France-Afrique" was born.

"France was Africa's watchdog, defending the West in the region," says Antoine Glaser, author of France-Afrique.

The US and the threat of 'terrorism'

In the 1960s, the discovery of huge oil reserves in the Gulf of Guinea attracted a new player: the United States.

The US made military as well as economic investments on the African continent and Africa became a battleground in the Cold War.

In 1992, the US launched a so-called humanitarian intervention in the strategic Horn of Africa. The US sent 28,000 soldiers to Somalia to help to put an end to a civil war. The operation ended in disaster two years later after American soldiers were captured and killed, images of their mutilated bodies broadcast around the world. They decided to withdraw.

In 2001, the attack on the World Trade Center reconfigured the geopolitics of the world. The US launched a war in Afghanistan - a war that would soon spread far beyond.

A few months after September 11, the US military returned to the Horn of Africa with plans to stay. They established their first military base in Djibouti.

"The Sahel played a key role in looking at the movement of weapons, the movement of potential foreign fighters, and organised crime ...," says Rudolph Atallah, the former Director of Africa Counter-Terrorism, US Department of Defense.

The US Africa Command (AFRICOM)

The United States is the only country to have divided the world into separate military sectors to monitor and patrol, NORTHCOM, PACOM, SOUTHCOM, EUCOM, CENTCOM and now AFRICOM.

Under the stated goals of fighting terrorism and providing humanitarian assistance, AFRICOM implanted itself on the continent, conducting military exercises with a growing number of African countries.

The establishment of AFRICOM was key for the consolidation of US interests in Africa.

The Americans sought to establish the headquarters of AFRICOM as well as a headquarters for the CIA in Mali. The problem was that the Africans had a common position of refusing the establishment of new military bases.

This opposition forced the US to set up the command of AFRICOM thousands of miles away, in Stuttgart, Germany.

Muammar Gaddafi: The 'mad dog of the Middle East'

African resistance to AFRICOM was spearheaded by Muammar Gaddafi, the Libyan leader.

President Ronald Reagan had labelled him the "mad dog of the Middle East" and had tried to assassinate him in 1986 by bombing his palace.

The Libyan leader's independence and influence flowed from the vast petroleum reserves, the largest in Africa, which he had nationalised when he took power.

Gaddafi wanted to demonstrate that Africa could develop without depending on the Western banking system or the International Monetary Fund.

"From the beginning of his political career as a leader, Muammar Gaddafi was opposed to a foreign military presence in Africa. One of the first things he did after coming to power in 1969 was to expel the British and US military bases in Libya itself," Maximilian Forte, the author of Slouching Towards Sirte: Nato's war on Libya and Africa, explains.

But in March 2011, as the Arab's Spring spread through North Africa, France and the United States decided to act. This was AFRICOM'S first war and its commander-in-chief was the first African-­American president.

The fall of Gaddafi produced a shockwave that would be felt far beyond Libya.

"Unfortunately there was not a very good handle on the 40,000-plus weapons that Gaddafi had, so quickly, over 35,000 disappeared," Atallah says.

Some of the weapons fell into the hands of the Libyan rebels. Others, including anti-­tank and anti-­aircraft missiles, fell into the hands of Tuareg fighters who fought alongside Gaddafi.

The heavily armed Tuaregs formed a new fighting force, the MNLA, and launched an offensive against the government in Bamako in January 2012.

Tuareg and other rebel forces invaded the major cities of northern Mali. Despite years of training and millions spent, the West's greatest fear became a reality: a so-called Islamic state was established in northern Mali.

"Nobody believed that a few hundred 'Jihadist fighters' would take over [Bamako] a city of three million people where they had no significant presence," says Batou.

But soon the French armed forces lent their support to the Malian units. The rebel advance was stopped and in just two weeks, the French regained the north. The French army claimed to have killed hundreds of so-called terrorists. The former colonial power had become the saviour of the country.

'The El Dorado of the Sahel'

Despite the chaos, wars and revolutions, the interest of Europeans, Americans and the Chinese remains high in what may be the largest untapped oil reserves on the continent, "the El Dorado of the Sahel", which extends from Mauritania to Algeria across north Mali.

The interest of major US energy companies in Africa has not decreased. The needs of Asia and Europe will not stop growing. Nearly $2 trillion of investments in African oil and gas are expected in the next two decades.

"We all know oil resources are becoming increasingly rare. The last major reserves of oil in Africa will become increasingly important. Pre-positioning oneself with a view to exploiting these resources is vital," says Batou.

In May 2014, US President Barack Obama announced that he would allocate an additional $5bn to the fight against global terrorism.

An increasing number of African governments have signed on to the AFRICOM programme, like in Niger, where the US military brought together African forces comprising 1,000 soldiers from 17 countries for military exercises.

The US have also established drone bases in Djibouti, Niger, Kenya, Ethiopia, Somalia, South Sudan, Burkina Faso and the Seychelles, and sent troops to Liberia during the Ebola crisis in 2014.

Not to be outdone, France also announced plans to increase its presence in the Sahel with a redeployment of 3,000 troops.

The increasing militarisation of Africa is a new profit centre, coveted by the military-industrial complex with millions of dollars of contracts for arms manufacturers and private contractors.

More than 130 years after the Berlin Conference, a new division of the African continent is underway as new powers seek to ensure oil supplies, strategic minerals, arable land and even the water under the desert sands.

"In reality, the big issues are not being addressed. It is as though the West lives off wars, as though wars need to be created, for them to justify their power," says Imam Mahmoud Dicko, president of the Islamic High Council of Mali.

Source with some really useful links.

Thursday, 4 October 2018

Mr Flipflop and the Presumption of Innocence

Barely had trump finished praising Mrs Ford, or he released his large inner child to attack her at a rally. Turns out that Mr Flipflop's respect for innocent until proved guilty was in any case quite selective:

Tuesday night, at a rally in Mississippi, President Donald Trump expressed concern about what precedent a failure to confirm Kavanaugh would set. He lamented what it would mean if a stranger could cause a person to lose their job by merely making an accusation. “Guilty until proven innocent, that’s very dangerous for our country. That’s very dangerous for our country,” he repeated, emphasizing that in America, due process comes first.

Of course, he used to feel differently.

ON APRIL 19, 1989, Trisha Meili was assaulted, raped, and nearly beaten to death while jogging in Central Park. Subsequently, five boys, then ages 14 to 16, were arrested and jailed for the assault. On May 1, 11 days later, and before the conclusion of any investigation, much less a trial, Trump spent $85,000 on a full-page ad in all four of New York’s major newspapers, including the New York Times, calling on New York to “BRING BACK THE DEATH PENALTY. BRING BACK OUR POLICE!”

Even if you remember the ad from when it ran, it’s worth taking another look at the small print today. “They must serve as examples so that others will think long and hard before committing a crime or an act of violence,” Trump inveighed. “I am not looking to psychoanalyze or understand them, I am looking to punish them. If the punishment is strong, the attacks on innocent people will stop.”

All five convictions were vacated in 2002, after Matias Reyes, a serial rapist and convicted murderer, confessed to raping Meili, and DNA evidence confirmed his guilt. To date, Trump has never apologized for calling for the deaths of these innocent children.

“At what point did we cross the line from the fine and noble pursuit of genuine civil liberties,” asked Trump in his 1989 ad, “to the reckless and dangerously permissive atmosphere which allows criminals of every age to beat and rape a helpless woman and then laugh her family’s anguish. And why do they laugh? They laugh because they know that soon, very soon, they will be returned to the streets to rape and maim and kill once again — and yet face no great personal risk to themselves.” They laugh, in other words, with impunity.

This week, in Mississippi, Trump was the one laughing. With an enthusiastic crowd behind him, Trump joked about Ford’s inability to remember certain details about the night of her alleged assault, 36 years ago: “How did you get home? ‘I don’t remember.’ What neighborhood was it? ‘I don’t know.’ Where’s the house? ‘I don’t know.’ Upstairs, downstairs, where was it? ‘I don’t know. But I had one beer.’” As the crowd behind him jeered, it was difficult not to recall Ford’s fragile testimony, during which she said one thing she could never forget was the laughter of her attackers, “indelible in the hippocampus,” still echoing 36 years later.

At last Tuesday’s rally, Trump seemed to consider, for a moment, that the claims against Kavanaugh might have merit. But it didn’t seem to matter. “People are saying, ‘well maybe it’s true.’ And because of the fact that maybe it’s true, he should not become a United States Supreme Court Justice,” he said. “How horrible is this? How horrible is this?” It wasn’t a denial. It was a rejection of the premise that anything, even a credible assault claim, should stand between Kavanaugh and his destiny.

@ TI.

Flawed reporting on antisemitism claims against the Labour party

Open letter to the Guardian.

We have long had serious concerns about the lack of due impartiality and accuracy in the reporting of allegations of antisemitism against Jeremy Corbyn and the Labour party. The recent report by the Media Reform Coalition examining coverage of Labour’s revised code of conduct on antisemitism shows that we are right to be concerned.

The research examined over 250 articles and broadcast news segments and found over 90 examples of misleading or inaccurate reporting. In relation to the IHRA definition of antisemitism that was at the heart of the dispute, the research found evidence of “overwhelming source imbalance” in which critics of Labour’s code of conduct dominated coverage, with nearly 50% of Guardian reports, for example, failing to include any quotes from those defending the code or critiquing the IHRA definition. Moreover, key contextual facts about the IHRA definition – for example that it has only been formally adopted by eight countries (and only six of the IHRA member states) – were consistently excluded.

The researchers conclude these were not occasional lapses in judgment but “systematic reporting failures” that served to weaken the Labour leadership and to bolster its opponents within and outside of the party.

It is of course entirely appropriate and necessary for our major news outlets to report on the horrors of antisemitism, but wrong to present it as an issue specific to the Labour party.

In covering the allegations that Labour is now “institutionally antisemitic”, there have been inaccuracies, clear distortions and revealing omissions across our most popular media platforms. We believe that significant parts of the UK media have failed their audiences by producing flawed reports that have contributed to an undeserved witch-hunt against the Labour leader and misdirected public attention away from antisemitism elsewhere, including on the far right, which is ascendant in much of Europe.

Signed: Prof Noam Chomsky Brian Eno Francesca Martinez Yanis Varoufakis Ken Loach Raoul Martinez Justin Schlosberg Birkbeck, University of London Prof Des Freedman Goldsmiths, University of London Prof Imogen Tyler Lancaster University Prof Aeron Davis Goldsmiths, University of London Prof Annabelle Sreberny Soas, University of London Prof Greg Philo University of Glasgow Prof Natalie Fenton Goldsmiths, University of London Prof David Miller Bristol University Prof David Hesmondhalgh University of Leeds Prof James Curran Goldsmiths, University of London Prof Julian Petley Brunel University Stephen Cushion Cardiff University Jason Hickel Goldsmiths, University of London Einar Thorsen Bournemouth University Mike Berry Cardiff University Tom Mills Aston University Jenny Manson Jewish Voice for Labour Leah Levane Jewish Voice for Labour Lindsey German Stop the War Coalition Mike Cushman Free Speech on Israel Glyn Secker Jewish Voice for Labour