Tuesday, December 27, 2011

Putin calls Russia protesters 'leaderless'

Putin calls Russia protesters 'leaderless': Facing biggest challenge yet in 12 years of rule, PM rejects demand for election rerun but promises "clean" March vote.

China jails veteran activist for 10 years?

China jails veteran activist for 10 years?: Essayist Chen Xi charged with "subversion of state power" in second sentencing of prominent dissident in four days.

Friday, December 23, 2011

General Idi Amin Dada: an Auto-Portrait by Barbet SchroederA...

General Idi Amin Dada: an Auto-Portrait by Barbet Schroeder

General Idi Amin Dada: an Auto-Portrait by Barbet Schroeder

A bizzarre and terrifying portrait of the dictator. Schroeder had intimate and unprecedented access to the man who came to be titled ‘His Excellency, President for Life, Field Marshal Al Hadji Doctor Idi Amin Dada, VC, DSO, MC, Lord of All the Beasts of the Earth and Fishes of the Seas and Conqueror of the British Empire in Africa in General and Uganda in Particular’.

Sunday, December 18, 2011

­Bill C-4's Doubtful and Ineffective Future

­Bill C-4's Doubtful and Ineffective Future:

Grassroots Australian activist warns against jailing refugees

VANCOUVER—Refugees who flee persecution and look for safety might want to think twice before coming to Canada through smuggling operations—at least that’s the message the Conservative majority government seems to be sending.

The federal parliament is set to pass Bill C-4 (formerly Bill C-49 and commonly known as the “anti-smuggling bill”), which would impose a mandatory one-year detention on any person who arrives in Canada via unconventional means. This could mean imprisonment of men, women and children who, facing desperate situations, failed to apply for and obtain refugee status before escaping their home countries for Canada.

The bill has received little support outside of the Conservative Party. Canada's three other political parties in the House of Commons, as well as human rights advocates and critics, are hoping to fight it off.

The Conservative Party has repeatedly said the bill is meant to protect Canadians and criminalize smugglers and smuggling operations, not to demonize refugees.

Critics of the bill, including Canadian Civil Liberties Association and Amnesty International Canada, disagree. Amnesty International says that the bill “will in reality punish people seeking protection in Canada.”

Before the bill comes into effect, concrete evidence is scarce as to whether the proposed legislation would protect or punish refugees.

Australia provides a relevant example. Since 1992, the country has practised mandatory detention of asylum seekers who arrive by unconventional means. In fact, the Canadian government has consulted over the years with Australia to learn from their anti-smuggling legislation. Bill C-4 is modelled loosely on its Australian equivalent.

The Dominion recently spoke to Mark Goudkamp to find out how the Australian legislation is affecting refugees. Goudkamp is the co-founder of Refugee Action Coalition in Australia, a grassroots organization that has campaigned against mandatory detention of refugees since 2000.

Excerpts from the conversation follow:

On how the anti-smuggling policy works in Australia:

“The Australian policy makes it illegal to bring in asylum seekers. It imposes jail sentences of up to ten years for people who organize the trips and it even criminalizes anyone who might spend money to help someone get on the boats. The government uses the rhetoric of human smugglers constantly, without asking the question of who these people being detained are.

“As an example, say there was an Afghan or Tamil family here in our community and they raise money for someone stranded in Malaysia or Indonesia, which is the main transit point for refugees to come to Australia. They spend money on these people so that they can use the money to pay for a smuggler. But then they could also be charged for helping these people, who are desperate.

“Not only that, there are hundreds of Indonesian boat crew members who are offered work as cooks or general hands on these smuggling boats. And they accept those jobs because there’s no more work left in their dying fishing industry. Many of these people are now in maximum-security jails in Australia.”

On whether there’s evidence that mandatory detention in Australia has deterred smuggling operations:

"The argument the government uses is that mandatory detention deters people from getting into boats, which is rubbish. People leave because they're fleeing persecution. And no matter how hard the policy is, they're going to do that.

“In fact, Australia’s human rights commissioner has just condemned one of the detention centres in Western Australia. She said many of the asylum seekers are dying from the inside out. She released a report talking about the number of self-harm incidents, suicide attempts and hunger strikes in the centre. She was basically trying to say that the mandatory detention centre isn’t deterring people from seeking asylum, but is harming them.

“There are also increasing mainstream voices, like the Australian Medical Association, that have come out against mandatory detention. Even the head of immigration, who has been a supporter of government policy historically, just a few weeks ago raised the question as to whether mandatory detention was working from the government’s perspective.”

On the lives of refugees who live in Australian detention centres:

“They can watch TV and access the internet, but they can’t go outside when they want. They can’t shop. They can’t contact people. They can’t go and get jobs or use the skills they have. They can’t gain new skills. They can’t send money back to their families at home. They know the Australian community sees them as a drain on society’s resources, and this kills their soul.

“The actual physical conditions, well, it’s not like a slum that’s infested with cockroaches and rats, it’s not. But it’s more the psychological impact of being in there that’s harmful.

“I mean, there are now 872 children in detention as of July 31; those are the most recent statistics. I saw a couple of kids at my last visit to a detention centre, and one of them was a seven-year-old girl. During the school year, she goes to an immigrant primary school everyday and comes back to the centre everyday. But besides that, she and others can’t come and go as they please. Now that the school holiday has started, she was asking her mother, 'Mom, why can’t we got out and go do this? Are we bad people?'

“So, you know, people shouldn't be in that situation. Not to mention that she also has a one-year-old brother who was born in the detention centre. Sadly, their parents recently received a negative security assessment from the Australian Security Intelligence Organization and can’t be accepted into the country for reasons unknown to the family or me. But the irony is that they did receive refugee status from immigration officials, which says they face persecution at home. So, since they can’t go home, they’re left with two choices: 1) find a third country to go to; or 2) stay in detention forever.

“Unless our campaign can overthrow these policies and get a more humanitarian perspective, they're going to be condemned for many, many years in this situation.

“Every individual story is moving. Once people hear the stories of these humans who the government tries to demonize, well, it becomes a lot harder for them to believe all the government’s bullshit.”

On why mandatory detention still exists in Australia:

“I actually think that the policy of mandatory detention is just as much about a feeling of insecurity and hysteria in the general Australian population, as it is about punishing foreigners. If people are jailed like this, it sends a message to the public that: a) they’re undesirable; b) they’ve done something wrong; and c) they can be used to divert people’s anger against things happening in Australian society, such as cuts to working conditions and cuts to public services, and so people have a useful scapegoat and a useful target for their anger and their grieving for why their lives are shit.”

On the Canadian government’s choice of Australia as a role model:

"Word of warning for the Canadian government. No policy, no matter how harsh, is going to stop people fleeing persecution from trying to seek asylum—all it does is create animosity in society and create more distress for people already traumatized.

“Refugees could be aware that there’s a detention system in Australia, and they know it’s not going to be nice. But that concern is far outweighed by the need to get into a country that’s a signatory of the Refugee Convention. The short-term pain of being on a boat where you risk your life, and to spend a year or two in detention, is far preferable to rotting in a country, being absolutely terrified in their country of origin, being killed, and having absolutely zero prospect of a future for you and your family.”

Stephanie Law is a journalist based in Vancouver, unceded Coast Salish Territories. Questions? Comments? Drop us a line: info@mediacoop.ca.

Turkey slams France over genocide bill

Turkey slams France over genocide bill: Turkey's prime minister today sharply criticised France for a bill to make it a crime to deny that the World War I-era mass killing of Armenians was genocide.

Thousands rally in Moscow, Petersburg

Thousands rally in Moscow, Petersburg: Thousands took to the streets of Moscow and St. Petersburg for a second weekend of protests over Russia's fraud-tainted parliamentary vote.

The Downside of Gentrification - CCAP 2011 Hotel Report

The Downside of Gentrification - CCAP 2011 Hotel Report:

DOWNTOWN EASTSIDE - The "upgrading" of SRO hotels is putting low-income residents out in the cold. The Carnegie Community Action Project's 2011 hotel report cites gentrification and government inaction for the worsening crisis.

The survey of privately-owned SRO (single room occupancy) hotels found the number of rooms renting for $375 or less has dropped by 5% in the past year to only 7% of the 3,500 private rooms in the neighbourhood. In 2009, the percentage of rooms under $375 was was 29%.

CCAP released its fourth annual survey - UPSCALE: The Downside of Gentrification - across the street from the York Rooms on Powell today. The York is currently being "upscaled".

The report found that:

  • More hotels are excluding low-income DTES residents by high prices and by class, racial and health profiling;

  • The number of rooms in hotels where the lowest rent is $425 or more declined;

  • The number of rooms in hotels where the lowest rent is $600 or more increased;

  • More hotels seem to be renting illegally on a daily or weekly basis.

Speakers at the press conference described widespread discrimination in who hotels will rent to - citing examples where "students" were encouraged to move in over Indigenous people and people perceived as low income.

The report recommends that:

  • The city buy 10 sites a year for social housing in the DTES and stop condo development until all current DTES residents have decent housing;

  • The province spend its $250 million Housing Endowment Fund on housing now;

  • The federal and provincial governments provide funds to replace 1,000 SROs a year for the next five years with self contained social housing residents can afford.

The complete report is online at ccapvancouver.wordpress.com

An Anarchist's Report Back from Occupy Vancouver and its Port Disruption

An Anarchist's Report Back from Occupy Vancouver and its Port Disruption:

This article represents the thoughts of one anarchist and does not necesarily attempt to represent other anarchists in the city

I was having a couple beers with a friend of mine few months ago, who has recently come to Vancouver after a few years among the Anarchist/Autonomist milieus in Europe. He was describing to me some level of shock and dismay when he came to the conclusion a year or so ago, that "anarchists are not going to make the revolution." Being somewhat comfortable with the idea (though not 100% convinced), I thought to myself "does everyone have to use the word anarchy to describe a society without rulers where all are empowered to make the decisions that affect their lives?"

"But we have to do something" I responded.

He agreed although his cynicism told him writing projects might be more "worthwhile" than organizing anything in the context that is the tiny Vancouver Anarchist scene. I don't feel I can yet make the same decision, I spent too many of my years in life not getting out there and engaging in struggle, and I'll be damned if I go back now! Anarchists that live in a place where an actual Anarchist movement exists can probably afford to always look inward, in a place where we are little more than a tiny clique, I feel we need to reach outward and spread our ideas and tactics, as far and fast as possible, to engage alongside a multitude of people who probably don't have a goddamn word to say about their "projectuality." And so I justified spending far too much of my time at the gong show that was the Occupy Vancouver encampment.

After exactly one month of painful conversations with libertarians, meeting new comrades, forging brand new relationships with people I would never have otherwise come into contact with, and beating my head against a brick wall, the Occupy Vancouver encampment was given an eviction notice for November 21st 2011. Unlike other Occupies the Vancouver encampment chose not to stand it's ground, and instead to keep on moving from place to place until it lost what little steam it had, settling for daily general assemblies with no encampment to build relationships of mutual aid. It was around the same time that Occupy was moving around, that a call was made for the west coast port shutdowns, Occupy was at this time far too scattered and hectic to make any kind of proposal to about the action.

With only about two weeks to go, some people from the Occupy Direct Action Committee on one hand, and some Anarchists and other working class rebels on the other, decided separately to try and respond to the call.

Having very little time to organize, led to a very limited amount of outreach, and lack of focus. The Occupy side made numerous attempts at negotiations with the president of the ILWU local 500, while Jim Sinclair of the BC Federation of Labour and union bureaucrats from the ILWU continued to refused to support the action (analysis of this here: http://vancouver.mediacoop.ca/blog/relentless-rising/9378).

The more autonomous group working on the action did not have the ability to make a poster to promote the action, and with what little time it had, made a few attempts to agitate port workers by going to the dispatch centre and passing out handbills, explaining the reasons for the port shutdown (video for those unfamiliar: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=OGqncu3wlEI). The response was profoundly inspiring with a couple port workers even going so far as to give precise directions on how to most effectively shut down the port. Knowing that there would be limited numbers involved in the action, we did not bother trying to implement either plan though the words of encouragement went a long way.

The official occupy action was called for 12 noon. This was smack-dab in the middle of the morning and afternoon shift changes and was going to result in mostly non-union, and Canadian Auto Workers Union truck drivers being blocked rather than the ILWU and non-union port workers. The resulting argument from union bureaucrats and others who wanted to restrict action (or were just lacking in analysis of class struggle), was that it was wrong to block truckers who were going to lose a day’s pay from our actions. Not that this should ever stop someone from taking action to stop the flow of capital, but that it did create a narrative within the corporate media and Occupy Vancouver about hurting “the 99%” (participants in the action were of course going to miss out on a day’s pay as well).

Since the official Occupy action was not able to mobilize an effective force at 7am to block the morning shift change, an autonomous group of Anarchists, union rebels, and people from the Occupy Direct Action Committee (about 25 people); came together and successfully disrupted the morning shift of port workers on their way into work, at the Clark Drive and Heatly Street entrances (article here: http://vancouver.mediacoop.ca/story/community-solidarity-picket-blocks-access-port-vancouver/9383 Video here: http://vancouver.mediacoop.ca/video/early-morning-blockade-vancouver-port/9386).

The action was highly successful in the sense that it received a lot of support from people on their way to work, and it destroyed the narrative being deployed by the union bureaucrats, and the corporate media. In spite of some of the best efforts from members of the Occupy Direct Action Committee the official Occupy action was hardly promoted through Occupy Vancouver and where it was, it became referred to as “Occupy the Ports” and made only vague references to “the 99%”. Here the morning action was once again successful at bringing the analysis back around to solidarity against police repression of the Occupy Movement, with the port truckers, and with the ILWU in Longview, WA, facing union busting and police repression as well. Following the lead from Oakland (read this: http://www.bayofrage.com/from-the-bay/the-anti-capitalist-march-and-the-black-bloc/), for about a day “we are the 99%”, became “we are the proletariat.”

At Callister Park at 12 noon only a handful of people had shown up for the official “Occupy the Ports” action. By 1:00pm about 100-150 people showed up for the action, and made their way to the McGill entrance to the port to stop trucks from entering. Meanwhile people went around the march ensuring that it wasn’t announced over a mic check, and told people about an idea to block the afternoon shift change at the 3 main entrances to the port. At about 1:30pm there was a brief standoff with the pigs, who were brandishing zap-straps to intimidate the crowd. At some point a decision made to head back to the park where the march had begun.

From the park, smaller groups got together and headed towards the Clark Drive and Heatly Street entrances (though it is still unknown as to whether anyone actually headed back to reclaim the McGill entrance).

By 3pm a large number of people had taken the Clark Drive entrance. At Heatly, police were vastly outnumbering those blocking the entrance who numbered only about 20 people. A call was made to the Clark blockade for reinforcements which then caused the numbers to swell at Heatly while only 30 or so remained at Clark. The police soon left Heatly and over to Clark Drive to intimidate the people there, very quickly deploying an LRAD sound cannon, to be used as a loud speaker, ordering people to get off the road. Soon a decision was made at Heatly, to abandon the entrance and march over to support the others where arrests seemed impending. As we marched with a red and black flag held high, we chanted things like “Help our Friends, The Struggle Never Ends”, and “Bosses, Landlords, We Don’t Need ‘em, All We Want is Total Freedom”.

Arriving at the intersection of Clark and Hastings we observed all the blockaders pushed onto the sidewalk with a line on pigs in front of them, and a line of pigs now blocking the port entrance themselves. People motioned and called for those on the sidewalk to join them in the middle of the intersection. The call was responded to by only a handful of individuals, while others stayed on the sidewalk for various reasons (fear, obedience to law and order, inability to comprehend the situation, etc.)

Before enough people could get to into the street, the police charged, pushing everyone onto 3 corners of the intersection. In the midst of the mayhem 3 people were arrested. 5 people in all were arrested in the action including 2 before the march had arrived at Clark and Hastings.

After a little while, people retook the streets and marched to the Vancouver jail for jail solidarity. About 50 people arrived at the jail, where it was eventually realized that the arrestees had been released elsewhere with bylaw infraction tickets, rather than criminal charges (another account of events that afternoon: http://vancouver.mediacoop.ca/story/dawn-dusk-actions-disrupt-port-vancouver/9396).

Other Notes on the Days Actions

In Vancouver, longshore workers who are deemed full-time union members can sign up for shifts online, rather than having to wait at the dispatch centre. By about 12:30pm an abnormality was observed that out of over 200 shifts available for the afternoon only 9 positions had been filled, usually the list is next to full by well before the shift.

We may never know what the actual disruption to the port was in the form of money lost by corporations. The positive responses to the morning action and the agitation at the dispatch centre, and the information gathered regarding the shifts taken up online, will say that rank-and-file ILWU members were far more willing to respond to the call for solidarity with their counterparts in Longview, than the union leadership, and discouraging members of Occupy would like to believe.

As an Anarchist I was inspired by the response from rank-and-file union members to act outside of the constraints of collective bargaining and direction from the sellout bureaucrats. I was also inspired by the efforts of some of the occupiers to actually engage themselves with something more consise than flowery language about “consensus” and “the 99%”.

Mad props to everyone that made this happen!

For the Occupiers

No Autonomy: control by... ...consensus?

The key to a democratic state is that it keeps people participating in their own domination and exploitation. This logic is carried into Occupy Vancouver. If you choose to be part of the "occupy movement" then you are expected to adhere to the lowest common denominator within it.

In the first weeks of Occupy, a woman from within the tent council got up on the stage and declared the tent council autonomous from the general assembly, making its decisions for itself. She also declared that the encampment was now intended to be a "weapons free zone" meaning that police were no longer welcome.

A friend of mine being very inspired by the declaration, made a video about it, and posted it to the Vancouver Media Co-op (Video here: http://vancouver.mediacoop.ca/video/occupy-vancouver-tent-village-cop-free-zone/8792). Perhaps he was a little too fast.

A few days later the same woman got up on stage declaring a miss-portrayal in the video and wanted to assure the general assembly that the tent council was not autonomous. She did however continue with the idle policy of declaring the encampment a weapons free zone, as a way to veil their intentions to make it a pacifist only zone.

Why the change in heart?

The ideology of democracy affords a person, or group, or community no autonomy. Her statement was obviously seen as a threat by those at Occupy Vancouver who wanted to control the actions of others, and the movement generally. Consensus can best be practiced within a group or community that has affinity with each other. Since Occupy Vancouver is a random mixture of people from the woodwork, who only officially are coming together around the vague concept of "the 99%", the idea that they could understand each other’s needs enough to consent on everything is totally false. Given the woman's pacifist tendencies, it was probably quite easy for her to change her statement, given that she too has an interest in controlling the behavior of others.

While other Anarchists around the world champion the Occupy Movement, and pat themselves on the back, for its qualities of direct democracy, my own experience in Vancouver has been that the critique that democracy is a system of control no matter how direct it is, has rung nauseatingly true.

For myself the positive side of Occupy Vancouver has been that for a month it created a space that intended to step outside of the logic of capitalism. Here new affinities have been formed with people, and I was able to effectively agitate around issues of decolonization, and the rhetoric of non-violence.

The actual eviction order was set for November 21st while the eviction began long before. In the first week of November, the Vancouver Fire Department issued an order to the camp to create fire lanes through the middle of it for easy access (in pissing rainy Vancouver!), and orders to remove “dangerous tarps” from people’s tents that were protecting them from the elements. Without gathering any kind of consensus in the general assembly, a number of individuals started moving people’s tents around, and taking down others to comply with the fire order. Here in the logic of the democratic state people are quick to participate in their own repression, and in the direct democracy of the Occupy Movement, they are free to act from the position of law and order knowing that their actions will not be opposed by the lowest common denominator at the camp, while others who just want to organize a simple demonstration or take any kind of initiative of their own are decried as not operating on the consensus of the group.

From what I can tell about the Occupy Movement in other places it appears that the most effective actions, the ones that keep the movement full of life, are autonomous actions taken by affinity groups within the movements while others are free to join in or step aside, often resulting in them being passed by the general assemblies. Oakland would never have ripped down the fences to hold a general assembly and call for a general strike on November 2nd (for those unfamiliar: http://www.occupyoakland.org/2011/10/general-strike-mass-day-of-action/), had they waited for the consent of the lowest common denominator, or the lunatic pacifists. Seattle would have never squatted a building to carry the struggle on through the winter months (for those unfamiliar: http://seattletimes.nwsource.com/html/localnews/2016886287_apwaoccupyseattlesquatting.html), had they waited for permission from the lowest common denominator, or those that fetishize law and order. The ever popular “Run on the Banks” actions would never have taken off had people decided to be controlled by the “consensus” generated in groups of people that they have no or only limited affinity with.

When the fire lanes were cleared, and the tarps removed, at Occupy Vancouver, this created a very disempowering situation where people were roped into the obedience that others had for the law and authority of the Vancouver Fire Department, and the City Government. Not to mention that the people camping were getting soaked in their tents, and numbers dwindled as a result. When the eviction order finally came there was a very demoralized crowd left to deal with it, that had done nothing to defend itself or create any kind of controversy, this as a result of a skewed concept of what consensus means.

General assemblies should not be bodies of control, rather they should be places for people to gather a consensus by sharing ideas, to learn and debate with each other with the intention of furthering the struggle, rather than limiting it. Decisions should be made by people of their own accord with victories and mistakes learned from and adjusted though experience and discussion. (http://theanarchistlibrary.org/HTML/A._G._Schwarz__From_Movement_to_Space__the_anarchist_open_assemblies.html)

May Occupy Vancouver break itself out of suffocation and stagnation!

- A friendly local Anarchist

Links on Autonomous Organization



Monday, December 5, 2011

MAFIAAFire team's latest browser plugin beats the national firewalls of Britain, USA, and China

MAFIAAFire team's latest browser plugin beats the national firewalls of Britain, USA, and China:

The creators of the MAFIAAFire browser plugin (which allows you to reach websites whose DNS has been shut down without trial by the US State Department at the behest of entertainment conglomerates) have released a sequel: ThePirateBay Dancing, a plugin that anonymizes your connections to thepiratebay.org and other blocked sites by using randomly picked proxies for each connection.

Attentive readers will remember that the DHS's ICE unit asked Mozilla to remove the MAFIAAFire plugin from its repository, and that Mozilla told them to get bent.

“DNS and IP blocking is probably the most dangerous part of SOPA/PIPA in terms of ‘breaking the Internet,’ so we tackled that first. We will be going after the other parts of SOPA in later releases but probably not in ‘our usual plugin form’ – the other parts require different solutions that we have already started work on,” we were told.

Although the add-on carries The Pirate Bay in its name it also works with other sites such as Newsbin2 and BTJunkie which are blocked in the UK and Italy respectively. In a broader sense it can also be used to bypass national “firewalls” such as in China, and soon perhaps the US.

Putting the add-on to work only requires two clicks and is completely free.

‘The Pirate Bay Dancing’ Add-On Killls DNS and IP Blockades

20 minute documentary of Steve Jobs' NeXT years

20 minute documentary of Steve Jobs' NeXT years:

[Video Link] Mel Marton of TUAW says:

The NeXT episode was filmed by John Nathan for a TV series called Entrepreneurs produced by WETA in Washington D.C.

Some of the most interesting sections are Jobs pressing Joanna Hoffman at the 11 minute mark. Hoffman was one of the original members of the Mac team. His interaction with staff about delays in shipping at 15:33 is also a peek into the Steve Jobs worldview. You can watch the video clip below.

Jobs introduced the NeXT computer in 1988 after he left Apple. In 1996 Apple bought NeXT, Jobs returned to Apple, and the rest, as they say, is history.

Inside NeXT: Steve Jobs documentary video

Pepper-spray inventor: "It's fashionable to use chemical agents on people who have an opinion"

Pepper-spray inventor: "It's fashionable to use chemical agents on people who have an opinion":

Amy Goodman interviews Kamran Loghman, inventor of modern pepper spray and developer of police procedures for its use. Loghman regrets his work today, and says it's "fashionable" to use chemical agents on "people who have an opinion":

It is becoming more and more fashionable right now, this day and age, to use chemical on people who have an opinion. And that to me is a complete lack of leadership both in the police department and other people who cannot really deal with the root of the problem and they want to spray people to quiet them down. And it’s really not supposed to be that. It’s not a thing that solves any problem nor is it something that quiets people down.”

Pepper Spray Developer: It Has Become Fashionable to Use Chemicals on People with Opinions

(via Naked Capitalism)

Unemployed, Liberal Groups to Hold 4-Day DC Protest

Unemployed, Liberal Groups to Hold 4-Day DC Protest:

WASHINGTON — Roughly 3,000 unemployed workers from around the country are expected in the nation's capitol next week for four days of protests with labor, religious and social justice groups that say Congress cares more about America's wealthiest 1 percent than it does the masses of struggling middle-class families.


read more

Friday, December 2, 2011

State appeals dismissal in Michael Allison case, 75 years in prison for recording the police

State appeals dismissal in Michael Allison case, 75 years in prison for recording the police:

[Video Link] The felony eavesdropping case against Michael Allison (who was arrested for videotaping the police in public) was thrown out by a judge. However the state of Illinois is appealing the dismissal to the supreme court to overturn the ruling. What the hell is wrong with the Illinois government? (Via Cynical-C)

Wednesday, November 30, 2011

B.C. physicians issue report on drug policy and law reform

B.C. physicians issue report on drug policy and law reform: It's hard to imagine an area more difficult for politicians talk about than drug policy reform.

Maybe raising taxes.

Today, B.C.'s Health Officers council gave the politicians some breathing room by issuing a report that calls for a provincial dialogue on reforming drug law in Canada and B.C. Not exactly a group of flaming radicals, the Health Officers Council is the professional association of public health physicians in B.C. They issue reports on the health impacts of, for example, driving while using your cell phone.

Ten years ago, few people could have imagined a functioning facility where nurses would supervise addicts injecting heroin, morphine and cocaine to make sure they didn't kill themselves in the process; that it would be supported by the health authority, municipal government and provincial government.

Similarly, ten years ago, few people could have imagined a study that looks at the outcome of prescribing heroin and hydromorphone to people who have failed at drug treatment. There has been one already. The second study is underway. Both in British Columbia. Both in Vancouver.

Today the majority of Canadians support Insite. British Columbians support drug policy reform that makes us safer and healthier, and have linked our endemic gang violence to the drug trade. But that hasn't been enough so far to open the door to even a discussion of reform and decriminalizing drug addicts. If anything, our drug law is going the other way, with tougher penalties and more jail time for addicts, despite the American experience.

There is now a little more space for those in positions of power to take up the Health Officers' call for a public discussion about what's working, and what's not working, in our current drug policy. Just a discussion. Hopefully, in ten years, we'll look back and shake our heads at the inability of our society to even discuss how we could improve our drug policy's effectiveness to increase safety, reduce harm, and reduce costs. Talk about reefer madness.

Monday, November 28, 2011

Miley Cyrus supports Occupy Wall Street with new music video

Miley Cyrus supports Occupy Wall Street with new music video:

The new video for Miley Cyrus’s “Liberty Walk” single goes out in support of the Occupy Wall Street movement with clips of protests from all over the world. A caption at the beginning reads “This is dedicated to the thousands of people who are standing up for what they believe in…”

Predictably there have been hilarious comments left all over the Internet, both pro and con. Me, I’m all for a pop video that introduces 11-year-old girls to the evils of capitalism and the concept of mass civil disobedience. In fact, I think it’s fucking great!

If Fox News isn’t already feigning outrage about this video, surely they will be soon!

Kalle Lasn: The Man Who Occupied Wall Street

Kalle Lasn: The Man Who Occupied Wall Street:
Adbuster's Occupy Wall Street poster incorporating the 3D work of Arturo Di Modica titled "Charging Bull".

Adbuster's Occupy Wall Street poster incorporating the 3D work of Arturo Di Modica titled "Charging Bull".

Adbusters’ leader Kalle Lasn receives a lengthy profile in the New York Times:

Kalle Lasn, the longtime editor of the anticonsumerist magazine Adbusters, did not invent the anger that has been feeding the Occupy Wall Street demonstrations across the United States.

But he did brand it.

Last summer, as uprisings shook the Middle East and much of the world economy struggled, Mr. Lasn and several colleagues at the small magazine felt the moment was ripe to tap simmering frustration on the American political left.

On July 13, he and his colleagues created a new hash tag on Twitter: #OCCUPYWALLSTREET. They made a poster showing a ballerina dancing on the back of the muscular sculptured bull near Wall Street in Manhattan.

For some people they were just words and images. For Mr. Lasn, they were tools to begin remodeling the “mental environment,” to create a new “meme,” the term coined by the evolutionary biologist Richard Dawkins for a kind of transcendent cultural message.

“There’s a number of ways to wage a meme war,” Mr. Lasn, whose name is pronounced KAL-luh LAS-en, said in an interview. “I believe that one of the most powerful things of all is aesthetics.”

Mr. Lasn, who helped found Adbusters in 1989, had spent much of his career skewering corporate America, creating “subvertising” campaigns like “Joe Chemo,” which deftly mocked the Joe Camel cigarette ads of the 1990s.

But the spread of the Occupy protests signals a substantial step up for the magazine and Mr. Lasn, who is 69. The protests, he hopes, will “somehow change the power balance and make the world into a much more grass-roots, bottom-up kind of a place rather than the top-down Wall Street mega-corporate-driven system we now have.”

“This,” he added, “is the kind of dream many Occupiers have.”…

[continues in the New York Times]

Dead Afghan Kids Still Not Newsworthy

Dead Afghan Kids Still Not Newsworthy:

Back in March, we wondered when U.S. corporate news outlets would find U.S./NATO killing of Afghan kids newsworthy. Back then, it was nine children killed in a March 1 airstrike. This resulted in two network news stories on the evening or morning newscasts, and two brief references on the PBS NewsHour.

On November 25, the New York Times reported--on page 12--that six children were killed in one attack in southern Afghanistan on November 23. This news was, as best I can tell, not reported on ABC, CBS, NBC or the PBS NewsHour.

There were, on the other hand, several pieces about U.S. soldiers eating Thanksgiving dinners.

Salon columnist Glenn Greenwald was one of the few commentators to write about the latest killings. As he observed:

We're trained simply to accept these incidents as though they carry no meaning: We're just supposed to chalk them up to regrettable accidents (oops), agree that they don’t compel a cessation to the war, and then get back to the glorious fighting. Every time that happens, this just becomes more normalized, less worthy of notice. It's just like background noise: Two families of children wiped out by an American missile (yawn: at least we don't target them on purpose like those evil Terrorists: we just keep killing them year after year after year without meaning to). It's acceptable to make arguments that American wars should end because they're costing too much money or American lives or otherwise harming American strategic interests, but piles of corpses of innocent children are something only the shrill, shallow and unSerious--pacifists!--point to as though they have any meaning in terms of what should be done.

Sunday, November 27, 2011

It's True: Cops Beat Protesters Even Before OWS

It's True: Cops Beat Protesters Even Before OWS:

New York Times media reporter David Carr has written some interest pieces on Occupy Wall Street. His piece today tries to work out where things go from here, but one comment in the piece about how Occupy Wall Street compares with protests of the past caught my attention:

There were citizens screaming invective about the rich while being confronted by the police in riot gear, the kind of spontaneous uprising we have not seen in almost half a century.

Huh. This is used to explain why the mainstream media found OWS so newsworthy.

But I remember things like this happening, way back in 1999-2000.

DRACO: Death to the Virus

DRACO: Death to the Virus:

In a paper published 27 July [1], researchers from MIT reported successful tests in mice with a new drug that holds the promise of being a cure to all viruses. The drug, DRACO (Double-stranded RNA Activated Caspase Oligomerizer), works as a “broad-spectrum” antiviral, killing virus-hijacked cells by targeting double-stranded RNA produced in the viral replication process. DRACO proved successful against all 15 viruses tested “including rhinoviruses that cause the common cold, H1N1 influenza, a stomach virus, a polio virus, dengue fever and several other types of hemorrhagic fever.” [2]

We may expect results from cell trials against AIDS within the next 12 months.

DRACO is but one broad-spectrum therapeutic being developed as part of a project called PANACEA (Pharmacological Augmentation of Nonspecific Anti-pathogen Cellular Enzymes and Activities) headed by Dr. Todd Rider, senior staff scientist in MIT Lincoln Laboratory’s Chemical, Biological, and Nanoscale Technologies Group.

I met with Dr. Rider in the food court of the MIT co-op bookstore early on a weekday. He had already finished tending to his mice and, after we chatted, he rose to declare that he off to do “real work”… writing grant proposals to keep his research alive.

Could you give us a broad overview of the Panacea project?

Sure. We’ve come up with a broad-spectrum antiviral that we call DRACO, Double-stranded RNA Activated Caspase Oligomerizer (I love acronyms), and it’s basically designed to detect any long double stranded RNA, so we’ve created chimeric proteins where one end will detect the chimeric RNA — the double-stranded RNA — and then the other end will trigger apoptosis, or cell suicide. So the net effect is that these DRACO molecules can go inside all the cells in your body, or at this moment, inside all the cells in a mouse, and if they don’t find anything, then they don’t do anything. But if they find a viral infection, if they find a viral double-stranded RNA, then that will activate the back ends to trigger cell suicide, and that will kill the infected cell. That terminates the infection.

So there wouldn’t be a difference between DNA Viruses and RNA Viruses?

It works with both. We’ve tested it on both. All known viruses make double-stranded RNA, and that’s true from the literature and also true from our experiments. So here (indicating illustration) the viruses we tested included a couple DNA viruses, and it worked quite nicely against those. Others in the literature are also known to make quite a bit of double-stranded RNA. Other DNA viruses, like pox viruses and herpes viruses, also make double-stranded RNA.

Has it been tested on each family of virus?

It’s been tested on these families of viruses so far (indicating paper). There are a gazillion viruses, so we’re working our way through them as quickly as we can. It’s been tested on several very different families so far.

My understanding is that viruses usually kill the cell anyway, but retroviruses usually do not. I don’t know how viruses cluster. Are there any odds at all that there would be a retrovirus that clusters too tightly in a certain organ where it [triggered cell death by DRACO] would cause a lesion?

Virtually all viruses will kill the host cell on the way out. Of the hand-full that don’t, your own immune system will try to kill those infected cells. So we’re really not killing any more cells with our appraoch than we already have been. It’s just that we’re killing them at an early enough stage before they infect and ultimately kill more cells. So if anything this limits the amount of cell death.

So that’s not really a legitimate fear.

It shouldn’t be.

How far along are you and how far away are you from human trials?

Unfortunately quite a long way. We’ve done a number of tests in mice. We need to do more testing in mice. Of course, MIT is not a pharmaceutical company. There’s only so far we can take it at MIT. We’re hoping to license it to some pharmaceutical company, and they would carry to larger-scale animal trials. Usually the FDA wants to see a lot of mouse trials, which we’ve done already; and then a lot of trials in, say, rabbits or guinea pigs, and then trials in monkeys before they approve human trials. So, if a licensee takes this, if we have funding for it, it still might take a decade or so before it really is available for humans.

So how’s the funding working now?

We have funding from NIH [National Institutes of Health].

And can you take it up to monkey here [at MIT]?

We may be able to take it into further animal models here, but mice are the easiest thing to use. We have a lot of mice. We’re also limited by funding. We only haved NIH funding at the moment, and we only have enough funding for about 1 person, and we have 4 people total, counting me, working at the moment, so we’ve split the funding four different ways…

Has anybody reached out to you?

Nope. Not so far.

When I first read about this I thought this was an amazing story, that this would be front-page news in a couple of hours. Weeks later, I was thinking this must not have been a true story. That’s when I looked it up again and saw that it was indeed on the MIT site. What’s the relative lack of interest. There haved been articles, but I feel this is definitely front-page material.

Well thank you. On the funding front, I think there’s a ton of funding for very basic research — not applied research, trying to cure something, but basic research — Let’s go study this virus, see how this virus works in a little more detail. There’s a ton of NIH funding for that. On the applied front, if you are ready for human trials — so you’re 10 years more advanced than we are now — then there are government agencies and companies that will take it and take it to that final step. But in that long gap in between there’s very very little funding out there. So we’ve been struggling for all of 11 years now just working to get funding, and at the moment we’re just barely limping along.

This is a subset of PANACEA, right? Can you describe PANACEA?

PANACEA is a family of broad-spectrum anti-pathogen treatments. We’ve tested some others, we’ve tried to get funding for others. This [DRACO] is the one that is furthest along.

What are some of the others that look promising?

We have a number of others. [DRACO] is a broad-spectrum antiviral. We have other broad-spectrum antivirals. We also have other PANACEA treatments that we’ve adapted to go after other things. Like for bacteria. And of course there are antibiotics, but for bacteria that are resistant to existing antibiotics, such as tuberculosis, malaria… so we can adapt this to pathogens other than viruses. We’ve done some initial experiments, we just can’t get funding for that so far.

Do you foresee any potential wild-cards in the human trials?

It’s always difficult to tell what will happen. I hope that there won’t be. We’re always concerned that there will be some toxicity or other unforeseen problems. We’ve been very pleased every step of the way in the cell testing. We’ve tested in a number of different human cell types representing many different organs; human lung cells, human liver cells, all kinds of different human cells, as well as a variety of animal cells. We haven’t seen any toxicity or any other strange effects in any of those cell types. In the mice we were again very concerned about toxicity, and we haven’t seen any toxicity in the mice. We inject the mice with very high doses of the stuff daily for a number of days, and they seem fine. We let them move for a while, eventually we dissected them, looked at the tissues. All the tissues were fine, there’s no organ damage or anything. It’s always possible something unexpected could come up further down the road in monkies or in humans. We certainly hope not. But I think there is enough flexibility in the concept that even if there were a problem, there are ways to redesign the constructs that we have to overcome any potential problems.

That might also speak to the production cost. Is it fairly low production cost if, say, it was to be mass-produced in the future?

These are produced in bacteria, and at the moment I really don’t know what the ultimate production cost would be. We produce on a very small scale, barely enough for our mice. Of course cells eat a lot less DRACO than mice do. So if we’re producing for cells, that’s a very small quantity, but just a few flasks of bacteria will produce enough to last us for a while. But once you scale this up to a large-scale production large-scale animal trials or human trials, hopefully the cost would go down. I don’t know exactly what the cost would be.

Do you envision the final end-plan to be people with DRACO in their medicine cabinet, or more like penicillin today?

If it’s safe I’d like to see it used as much as possible for as many different things as possible. I would guess that if it were approved for human use by the FDA, initially they would be conservative enough that they would only want to see it used in very dire cases, just in case there are interesting side-effects or something, and it’s only to people with ebola or HIV that’s become resistant to other drugs who would get this. If this proved to be safe in those cases, then I would hope that they’d approve it for wider use against more common pathogens, perhaps all the way down to the common cold. And if it really is safe, then maybe you’d just pop a DRACO pill any time you felt a cold coming on.

How long does it stay in the system? It’s obviously not a vaccine –

Right. In cells it lasts at least for a couple of weeks, possibly longer. In the mice it lasts for at least 2 days. We have a lot of data in the paper showing it will persist in mice for at least 48 hours at fairly high doses in the tissues. This is really about trying to optimize that. There are a lot of tricks we can use to try to make it last longer if necessary. And if this stuff is truly completely safe, then you can give it prophylactically. You could even concievably give someone the gene for the DRACO so that their cells would just permanently produce the DRACO, and they would naturally be resistant to almost everything.

Oh, wow. That’s an amazing idea.


I feel like this is something that should be fast-tracked. We have all this planning in regards to epidemics. There is all kinds of scare that we’re ripe for an epidemic.

Perhaps we will be [approached with funding offers] in the future, but so far we haven’t been. We’ve really struggled along for the past 11 years, barely getting enough funding to stay alive.

So this has been on the table, at least as an idea, for 11 years?

Right. We just got good data from the mouse trials and published that, but 11 years ago we started engineering the DRACOs. Genetic engineering was a bit more primative in those days, so it took us a while to actually produce these things. Then it took us a while to produce and test them in cells. We ultimately tested against 15 different viruses in cells. As I said, we were kind of limping along for funding for much of that time, so we could only work on it when we had funding to work on it. For some fraction of our time, we had funding to work on it. Eventually, we were able to test against the 15 different viruses in cells in 11 different cell types. And then we had funding to do some mouse trials, got data, and then we got published.

If you get a cold this winter… are you going to be tempted?

I’m not tempted by colds. I’ve had very bad stomach viruses and I’ve been tempted to give myself the stuff to see what would happen.

You don’t think you’ll do that, though?

It wouldn’t be enough anyway. We only produce enough for mice, and for a human you require a much larger dose than for a 20 gram mouse.


  1. http://www.plosone.org/article/info%3Adoi%2F10.1371%2Fjournal.pone.0022572

  2. http://web.mit.edu/newsoffice/2011/antiviral-0810.html

Alan Moore talks V for Vendetta Guy Fawkes masks

Alan Moore talks V for Vendetta Guy Fawkes masks:

The Guardian catches up with Alan Moore, writer of V for Vendetta and noted grumpy, uncompromising debullshitificator, and asks how he feels about the Guy Fawkes mask from his comic becoming a symbol of Anonymous and Occupy protests.

"I suppose when I was writing V for Vendetta I would in my secret heart of hearts have thought: wouldn't it be great if these ideas actually made an impact? So when you start to see that idle fantasy intrude on the regular world… It's peculiar. It feels like a character I created 30 years ago has somehow escaped the realm of fiction..."

Moore first noticed the masks being worn by members of the Anonymous group, "bothering Scientologists halfway down Tottenham Court Road" in 2008. It was a demonstration by the online collective against alleged attempts to censor a YouTube video. "I could see the sense of wearing a mask when you were going up against a notoriously litigious outfit like the Church of Scientology."

But with the mask's growing popularity, Moore has come to see its appeal as about something more than identity-shielding. "It turns protests into performances. The mask is very operatic; it creates a sense of romance and drama. I mean, protesting, protest marches, they can be very demanding, very gruelling. They can be quite dismal. They're things that have to be done, but that doesn't necessarily mean that they're tremendously enjoyable – whereas actually, they should be..."

"I find it comical, watching Time Warner try to walk this precarious tightrope." Through contacts in the comics industry, he explains, he has heard that boosted sales of the masks have become a troubling issue for the company. "It's a bit embarrassing to be a corporation that seems to be profiting from an anti-corporate protest. It's not really anything that they want to be associated with. And yet they really don't like turning down money – it goes against all of their instincts." Moore chuckles. "I find it more funny than irksome."

Alan Moore – meet the man behind the protest mask

(Image: Anonymous at Scientology in Los Angeles, a Creative Commons Attribution Share-Alike (2.0) image from sklathill's photostream)

Thursday, November 24, 2011

To be governed

To be governed: To be governed is to be watched over, inspected, spied on, directed, legislated, regimented, closed in, indoctrinated, preached at, controlled, assessed, evaluated, censored, commanded; all by creatures that have neither the right, nor wisdom nor virtue........ To be governed means that at every move, operation, operation or transaction one is noted, registered, entered in a census, taxed, stamped, priced, assessed, patented, licenced, authorised, recommended, admonished, prevented, reformed, set right, corrected. Government means to be subjected tribute, trained, ransomed, exploited, monopolised, extorted, pressured, mystified, robbed all in the name of public utility and the general good. Then at the first sign of resistance or word of complaint, one is repressed, fined,despised, vexed, pursued, hastled, beaten up, garroted, imprisoned, shot, machine gunned, judged, sentenced, deported, sacrificed, sold, betrayed, and to cap it all ridiculed, mocked. outraged and dishonoured. That is government, that's it justice and its morality.
These words were written by Pierre-Joseph Proudhon in 1853 over 150 years ago yet all the above is still relevant and we are still allowing it happen in the mis-lead belief in western democracy. Think again and RISE UP!!!!

Egypt police detain, beat, sexually assault US-based journalist Mona Eltahawy; other journalists also targeted

Egypt police detain, beat, sexually assault US-based journalist Mona Eltahawy; other journalists also targeted:

[video link] US-based Egyptian blogger, speaker, and journalist Mona Eltahawy was released today after spending 12 hours detained by Egyptian security forces in Cairo. According to her tweets, she was arrested by riot police while observing the ongoing protests in Tahrir Square, where thousands of Egyptian citizens are calling for the military junta SCAF to be disbanded, and a representative, democratically-elected leadership to take their place.

While she was held, Mona managed to tweet from a fellow detainee's Blackberry that she had been beaten and was in prison. When she was released, Mona tweeted more details: she had been sexually and physically assaulted, and sustained a broken arm and a broken hand from beatings inside the interior ministry in Cairo, in the early hours of Thursday morning.

"The whole time I was thinking about article I would write," she writes, "Just you fuckers wait."

A number of journalists and well-known voices from Twitter have been detained in the last few days, including Egyptian-American documentary maker Jehane Noujaim, and Maged Butter, shown below (WARNING: graphic image):

More details from Mona's tweet-stream over the last few hours:


12 hours with Interior Ministry bastards and military intelligence combined. Can barely type - must go xray arms after CSF pigs beat me.

A thousand thanks for all well wishes and support. Fuck #EgyPolice.

I can barely imagine what my family and loved ones were going through those 12 hours-I know they were worried about me to begin with. Sorry

Thank God a political activist in MOI with me lent me his phone to tweet. Right after my tweet his battery died

5 or 6 surrounded me, groped and prodded my breasts, grabbed my genital area and I lost count how many hands tried to get into my trousers.

They are dogs and their bosses are dogs. Fuck the Egyptian police.

Yes sexual assault. I'm so used to saying harassment but those fuckings assaulted me. #CSF

@Sarahngb is coming to kindly take me to the hospital. Besides beating me, the dogs of CSF subjected me to the worst sexual assault ever

Didn't want to go with military intelligence but one MP said either come politely or not. Those guys didn't beat or assault me.

Instead, blindfolded me for 2 hrs, after keeping me waiting for 3. At 1st answered Qs bec passport wasn't w me but then refused as civilian

Another hour later I was free with apology from military intelligence for what CSF did. Took pics of my bruises and recorded statement

On sexual assault and said would investigate it and said they had no idea why I was there. Then who does??! WTF!

The past 12 hrs were painful and surreal but I know I got off much much easier than so many other Egyptians.

God knows what wuld've happened if I wasn't dual citizen (tho they brought up detained US students) & that I wrote/appeared various media.

#Egypt must be free of those bastards

Military intelligence blindfolded me for 2 hrs. Didn't want 2 go with them but 1 said I either go politely or else. 3 hrs later,

My Cairo phone got lost during my beating so no calls there

I was arrested alone and I didnt know that @MagButter was arrested too. Glad to hear he was released as well

My left arm and right hand are broken acc to xrays

More on US involvement in her release, from the Guardian:

A US embassy representative in Cairo told the Guardian that the reports of her detention were "very concerning" and that "US embassy consulate officers are engaging Egyptian authorities".

An AP/MSNBC item on the story is here.

PHOTO: The face of bravery. Mona, having just received medical treatment after being released from prison, tweeted this photo of her casts an hour ago.

UPDATE: There are now reports of other women, possibly a female journalist from France, being stripped and sexually attacked at Tahrir.

Wednesday, November 23, 2011

Media, Propaganda and Censorship

Media, Propaganda and Censorship:

A Talk by David Barsamian

Wednesday, November 30 at 7 pm

Arlene Francis Center for Spirit, Art, and Politics

99 6th Street, Santa Rosa, CA

David Barsamian is the founder and director of the award-winning Alternative Radio, www.alternativeradio.org, based in Boulder, CO. For now more than 25 years, David has brought alternative perspectives from leading activists, academics and writers on current events, issues, history and more in this weekly radio program, each broadcast an antidote to the propaganda heard on the mainstream media.

The weekly program airs on public and community radio stations across the U.S., Canada, and Australia. In the Bay Area AR airs on KALW 91.7 FM, Mondays 1-2 pm. David has done a series of books with Noam Chomsky, Howard Zinn, Tariq Ali, Arundhati Roy, Eqbal Ahmad and Edward Said. His latest book with Chomsky is How the World Works. In late September he was deported from India, the world’s largest democracy.

Open to the public. Suggested donation $5-10.

For more information, contact: Martin Hamilton, 707-228-4704.

Copies of How the World Works by Chomsky and Barsamian will be available for purchase.

Sponsored by the Peace and Justice Center of Sonoma County, Media Freedom Foundation,

Project Censored, Media Roots, Fair Share of the Common Heritage Project

The Self-Attribution Fallacy

The Self-Attribution Fallacy:

Intelligence? Talent? No, the ultra-rich got to where they are through luck and brutality.

By George Monbiot. Published in the Guardian 8th November 2011

If wealth was the inevitable result of hard work and enterprise, every woman in Africa would be a millionaire. The claims that the ultra-rich 1% make for themselves – that they are possessed of unique intelligence or creativity or drive – are examples of the self-attribution fallacy. This means crediting yourself with outcomes for which you weren’t responsible. Many of those who are rich today got there because they were able to capture certain jobs. This capture owes less to talent and intelligence than to a combination of the ruthless exploitation of others and accidents of birth, as such jobs are taken disproportionately by people born in certain places and into certain classes.

The findings of the psychologist Daniel Kahneman, winner of a Nobel economics prize, are devastating to the beliefs that financial high-fliers entertain about themselves(1). He discovered that their apparent success is a cognitive illusion. For example, he studied the results achieved by 25 wealth advisers, across eight years. He found that the consistency of their performance was zero. “The results resembled what you would expect from a dice-rolling contest, not a game of skill.” Those who received the biggest bonuses had simply got lucky.

Such results have been widely replicated. They show that traders and fund managers across Wall Street receive their massive remuneration for doing no better than would a chimpanzee flipping a coin. When Kahneman tried to point this out they blanked him. “The illusion of skill … is deeply ingrained in their culture.”(2)

So much for the financial sector and its super-educated analysts. As for other kinds of business, you tell me. Is your boss possessed of judgement, vision and management skills superior to those of anyone else in the firm, or did he or she get there through bluff, bullshit and bullying?

In a study published by the journal Psychology, Crime and Law, Belinda Board and Katarina Fritzon tested 39 senior managers and chief executives from leading British businesses(3). They compared the results to the same tests on patients at Broadmoor special hospital, where people who have been convicted of serious crimes are incarcerated. On certain indicators of psychopathy, the bosses’s scores either matched or exceeded those of the patients. In fact on these criteria they beat even the subset of patients who had been diagnosed with psychopathic personality disorders.

The psychopathic traits on which the bosses scored so highly, Board and Fritzon point out, closely resemble the characteristics that companies look for. Those who have these traits often possess great skill in flattering and manipulating powerful people. Egocentricity, a strong sense of entitlement, a readiness to exploit others and a lack of empathy and conscience are also unlikely to damage their prospects in many corporations.

In their book Snakes in Suits, Paul Babiak and Robert Hare point out that as the old corporate bureaucracies have been replaced by flexible, ever-changing structures, and as team players are deemed less valuable than competitive risk-takers, psychopathic traits are more likely to be selected and rewarded(4). Reading their work, it seems to me that if you have psychopathic tendencies and are born to a poor family you’re likely to go to prison. If you have psychopathic tendencies and are born to a rich family you’re likely to go to business school.

This is not to suggest that all executives are psychopaths. It is to suggest that the economy has been rewarding the wrong skills. As the bosses have shaken off the trade unions and captured both regulators and tax authorities, the distinction between the productive and rentier upper classes has broken down. CEOs now behave like dukes, extracting from their financial estates sums out of all proportion to the work they do or the value they generate, sums that sometimes exhaust the businesses they parasitise. They are no more deserving of the share of wealth they’ve captured than oil sheikhs.

The rest of us are invited, by governments and by fawning interviews in the press, to subscribe to their myth of election: the belief that they are the chosen ones, possessed of superhuman talents. The very rich are often described as wealth creators. But they have preyed upon the earth’s natural wealth and their workers’ labour and creativity, impoverishing both people and planet. Now they have almost bankrupted us. The wealth creators of neoliberal mythology are some of the most effective wealth destroyers the world has ever seen.

What has happened over the past 30 years is the capture of the world’s common treasury by a handful of people, assisted by neoliberal policies which were first imposed on rich nations by Thatcher and Reagan. I am now going to bombard you with figures. I’m sorry about that, but these numbers need to be tattoed on our minds. Between 1947 and 1979, productivity in the US rose by 119%, while the income of the bottom fifth of the population rose by 122%. But between 1979 and 2009, productivity rose by 80% , while the income of the bottom fifth fell by 4%(5). In roughly the same period, the income of the top 1% rose by 270%(6).

In the UK, the money earned by the poorest tenth fell by 12% between 1999 and 2009, while the money made by the richest 10th rose by 37%(7). The Gini coefficient, which measures income inequality, climbed in this country from 26 in 1979 to 40 in 2009(8).

In his book The Haves and the Have Nots, Branko Milanovic tries to discover who was the richest person who has ever lived(9). Beginning with the loaded Roman triumvir Marcus Crassus, he measures wealth according to the quantity of his compatriots’ labour a rich man could buy. It appears that the richest man to have lived in the past 2000 years is alive today. Carlos Slim could buy the labour of 440,000 average Mexicans. This makes him 14 times as rich as Crassus, nine times as rich as Carnegie and four times as rich as Rockefeller.

Until recently, we were mesmerised by the bosses’ self-attribution. Their acolytes, in academia, the media, think tanks and government, created an extensive infrastructure of junk economics and flattery to justify their seizure of other people’s wealth. So immersed in this nonsense did we become that we seldom challenged its veracity.

This is now changing. On Sunday evening I witnessed a remarkable thing: a debate on the steps of St Paul’s Cathedral between Stuart Fraser, chairman of the Corporation of the City of London, another official from the Corporation, the turbulent priest Father William Taylor, John Christensen of the Tax Justice Network and the people of Occupy London(10). It had something of the flavour of the Putney debates of 1647. For the first time in decades – and all credit to the Corporation officials for turning up – financial power was obliged to answer directly to the people.

It felt like history being made. The undeserving rich are now in the frame, and the rest of us want our money back.



1. http://www.guardian.co.uk/science/2011/oct/30/daniel-kahneman-cognitive-illusion-extract

2. http://www.guardian.co.uk/science/2011/oct/30/daniel-kahneman-cognitive-illusion-extract

3. Belinda Jane Board and Katarina Fritzon, March 2005. Disordered Personalities at Work.

Psychology, Crime & Law, Vol. 11(1), pp. 17-32. DOI: 10.1080/10683160310001634304

4. Paul Babiak and Robert Hare, 2007. Sankes in Suits: when psychopaths go to work. Harper, London.

5. http://www.nytimes.com/imagepages/2011/09/04/opinion/04reich-graphic.html

6. The graph here shows the average income of the top 1% rising from just over $400,000 in 1980 to $1,138,000 in 2008, measured in 2008 dollars. The income of the bottom 90% flatlined during the same period. http://motherjones.com/mojo/2011/10/one-percent-income-inequality-OWS

7. http://www.poverty.org.uk/09/index.shtml

8. http://www.poverty.org.uk/09/index.shtml

9. Branko Milanovic, 2011. The Haves and the Have-Nots: a brief and idiosyncratic history of global inequality. Basic Books, New York.

10. The debate was organised by Reclaim the City: http://www.reclaimthecity.org/

The Corporate Welfare State

The Corporate Welfare State:

Despite the crisis, it’s still socialism for the 1%, capitalism for the rest.

By George Monbiot, published in the Guardian 22nd November 2011

In the documentary series which finished on Friday evening, the heiress Tamara Ecclestone set out to prove that she isn’t “a pointless, quite spoilt, really stupid, vacuous, empty human being”(1). This endeavour was not wholly successful. Channel 5 showed her supervising the refurbishment of her £45m home in London, in which she commissioned a £1m bathtub carved from Mexican crystal, an underground swimming pool complex, her own nightclub, a lift for her Ferrari, a bowling alley with crystal-studded balls and a spa and massage parlour for her five dogs, to save her the trouble of taking them to Harrods to have their hair sprayed and their nails painted. But there was something the series didn’t tell us: how much of this you helped to pay for.

In court a fortnight ago, her father, the Formula One boss Bernie Ecclestone, revealed that the fact that his family’s offshore trust, Bambino Holdings, was controlled by his ex-wife rather than himself could have saved him “in excess of £2bn” in tax(2). The name suggests that the trust could have something to do with supporting his daughter’s attempt to follow the teachings of St Francis of Assisi.

Ecclestone has also been adept at making use of the corporate welfare state: the transfer by the government of wealth and power from the rest of us to the 1%. After the mogul made a donation to Labour’s election fund, Tony Blair demanded that Formula 1 be exempted from the EU’s ban on tobacco sponsorship. The government built a new dual carriageway to his racetrack at Silverstone(3).

In other countries his business has received massive state subsidies. Russia, for example, has recently agreed to build a circuit for Mr Ecclestone, and then charge itself $280m for the privilege of letting him use it(4). Working in India in 2004, I came across the leaked minutes of a cabinet meeting in which the consultancy McKinsey insisted that the desperately poor state of Andhra Pradesh – where millions die of preventable diseases – cough up £50-75m a year to support Formula 1. The minutes also revealed that the state’s chief minister had lobbied the prime minister of India to exempt Ecclestone’s business from the national ban on tobacco advertising(5).

Socialism for the rich, capitalism for the poor: that is how our economies work. Those at the bottom are subject to the rigours of the free market. Those at the top are as pampered and protected as Tamara Ecclestone’s dogs.

On Tuesday the Chancellor, George Osborne, decided at last to review the private finance initiative (PFI), under which the companies building public infrastructure made stupendous profits while the state retained the risks(6). But if you thought that Osborne’s decision represented a wider shift in policy, you’ll be sorely disappointed. Two days later he agreed to sell the state-owned bank Northern Rock to Richard Branson. Under the deal, the state keeps the liabilities while Branson gets the assets: rather like PFI. The loss equates to £13 for every taxpayer(7).

Someone who will not suffer unduly from being touched for £13 is Matt Ridley. As chairman of Northern Rock, he was responsible, according to the Treasury select committee, for the “high-risk, reckless business strategy” which caused the first run on a British bank since 1878(8). Before he became chairman, a position he appears to have inherited from his father, Matt Ridley was one of this country’s fiercest exponents of laissez-faire capitalism. He described government as “a self-seeking flea on the backs of the more productive people of this world … governments do not run countries, they parasitise them.”(9)

The self-seeking parasite bailed out his catastrophic attempt to put his ideas into practice, to the tune of £27bn. What did the talented Mr Ridley learn from this experience? The square root of nothing. He went on to publish a book in which he excoriated the regulation of business by the state’s “parasitic bureaucracy” and claimed that the market system makes self-interest “thoroughly virtuous”(10).

Having done his best to bankrupt the blood-sucking state, he returned to his family seat at Blagdon Hall, set in 15 square miles of farmland, where the Ridleys live – non-parastically of course – on rents from their tenants, hand-outs from the Common Agricultural Policy and fees from the estate’s opencast coal mines(11). No one has been uncouth enough to mention the idea that he might be surcharged for part of the £400m loss Northern Rock has inflicted on the parasitic taxpayer. It’s not the 1% who have to carry the costs of their cock-ups.

Even in the midst of this crisis, when the poor are being hammered on all sides, the government still seeks to transfer their meagre resources to the rich. Last month Vince Cable’s business department listed five employment rules that businesses might wish to challenge. Among them were the national minimum wage and statutory sick pay(12).

On Friday, David Cameron opened negotiations with Angela Merkel over the Eurozone crisis. His two principal demands were that there should be no Robin Hood tax on financial transactions and that the working time directive, which prevents companies from exploiting their staff, should be renegotiated(13,14).

Just as instructive was what he did not discuss. In fact, as far as I can tell, none of the European leaders have yet mentioned it in their summits, even though it accounts for almost half the EU’s spending. It is of course the agricultural subsidy system, which now costs British taxpayers £3.6bn a year(15).

We like to imagine that this money supports wizened shepherds who tie up their trousers with bailer twine, but the major beneficiaries are people like the Ridleys. The more land you own, the more support you receive from the state. The Common Agricultural Policy is a massive state subsidy to the richest people in Europe: the aristocrats and plutocrats who possess the big holdings. British politicians pretend that it is protected only by the French. This is bunkum: in February a House of Commons committee demanded not only that the existing subsidy system be sustained but also that we should reinstate headage payments, encouraging farmers to produce food nobody wants(16).

Last week the Guardian exposed a system which looks like state-enforced slavery. To qualify for the £53 a week they receive in Job Seekers’ Allowance, young people are being forced to work without pay for up to eight weeks for companies such as Tesco, Poundland, Argos and Sainsbury’s(17). Some of the nation’s poorest people, in other words, are being obliged by the state to subsidise some of its richest businesses, by giving them their labour.

For the corporate welfare queens installing their crystal baths, there is no benefit cap, no obligation to work, in some cases no taxation. Limited liability, offshore secrecy regimes, deregulation and government handouts ensure that they bear none of the costs their class has inflicted on the rest of us. They live at our expense, while disparaging the lesser mortals who support them.



1. http://www.channel5.com/shows/tamara-ecclestone-billion-girl

2. http://www.guardian.co.uk/sport/2011/nov/09/bernie-ecclestone-germany-trial-witness

3. http://www.guardian.co.uk/theobserver/2011/nov/13/profile-bernie-ecclestone

4. http://www.guardian.co.uk/theobserver/2011/nov/13/profile-bernie-ecclestone

5. http://www.monbiot.com/2004/05/18/this-is-what-we-paid-for/

6. http://www.hm-treasury.gov.uk/press_128_11.htm

7. http://www.guardian.co.uk/commentisfree/2011/nov/17/northern-rock-virgin-money-editorial

8. Treasury Select Committee, 2008. Fifth Report.


9. Matt Ridley, 22nd July 1996. Power to the people: we can’t do any worse than government. The Daily Telegraph.

10. Matt Ridley, 2010. The Rational Optimist: how prosperity evolves. Fourth Estate, London.

11. http://www.blagdonestate.co.uk/documents/factsheet.pdf

12. http://www.bis.gov.uk/news/topstories/2011/Oct/employment-law-red-tape-challenge

13. http://www.guardian.co.uk/business/2011/nov/20/eurozone-crisis-european-union-plans

14. http://www.guardian.co.uk/business/2011/nov/20/cameron-merkel-working-time-directive

15. DEFRA press office, 31st August 2011. By email.

16. House of Commons Environment, Food and Rural Affairs Committee, 9th February 2011. Farming in the Uplands. http://www.publications.parliament.uk/pa/cm201011/cmselect/cmenvfru/556/556.pdf

17. http://www.guardian.co.uk/society/2011/nov/16/young-jobseekers-work-pay-unemployment