Archive | February, 2014
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Man starved to death after benefits were cut

28 Feb

Man starved to death after benefits were cut

What the … ??? Words fail me. This is one of the richest countries in the world and a man has died of starvation !!!
You bastards 😦

Witch Hunt of Gays Begins in Uganda.

28 Feb

people need to know about this 😦

Tendance Coatesy

This front-page has been met with international outrage: l’Humanité calls it a “chasse aux sorcières médiatiques” (media witch-hunt). El Mundo reports the list of “200 personas homosexuales”. German media report, “eine Liste mit 200 Homosexuellen.”

The BBC states,

The BBC’s Ali Mutasa reports from the capital, Kampala, that many of the people named on Red Pepper’s list are known to be homosexuals, and some of them live abroad.

The list also includes some Ugandans who previously had not identified themselves as gay, the Associated Press news agency reports.

“The media witch-hunt is back,” tweeted Jacqueline Kasha, a prominent Ugandan lesbian activist who appears on Red Pepper’s list.

There was applause as Yoweri Museveni said: “Society can do something about it to discourage the trend”

Well-known gay rights activist Pepe Julian Onziema is also on the list, along with a popular hip-hop star and a Catholic priest, AP reports.

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A Truly Chlling Move: Part Time Workers To Face Housing Benefit Sanctions DWP Confirms

28 Feb

oh you bastards

the void

what-next In breath-takingly savage news, it has been reported that the DWP plans to stop Housing Benefit payments to low paid part time workers if they fail to carry out ‘work related activity’.

When Universal Credit is finally introduced, those earning less than the equivalent of the minimum wage for 35 hours a week will be forced to constantly look for more or better paid work to qualify for in-work benefits such as Tax Credits and Housing Benefit.  Part time workers could face being sent on workfare in the hours they are not at work and will have to prove to Jobcentre busybodies that they are constantly looking for another, better paid job.

Currently sanctions are usually only inflicted on unemployed people, lone parents or those on sickness or disability benefits.  Sanctions are often imposed for the most trivial reason such as being a few minutes late for a meeting with…

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Ukraine 1. Yanukovich’s end is a beginning

27 Feb

A great post on Ukraine from the People and Nature blog. Balanced and well worth a read

People and Nature

The movement in Ukraine that brought down the former president, Viktor Yanukovich, at the weekend has not fitted into some stereotypes used by people in western Europe, including socialists and left wingers. Having spent the last few days in Kyiv, I offer the following answers to questions that friends in western Europe frequently ask.

Question: Has there been a right-wing coup?

Gabriel: No, there has not. The new government will include some nasty right-wing people. How nasty they can get, only time will tell. But it’s difficult to imagine that they could take repressive measures more

Maidan Maidan, 1 December 2013. Photo: Mac_Ivan / Creative Commons

monstrous than those Yanukovich and co. used in the last few months (sniper fire into crowds, other types of murder, torture of activists, unbridled use of paid thugs, and so on).

In any case, the government’s potentially dangerous right-wing colouring is one thing; the character…

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Nazis in Ukraine

25 Feb

I have been watching the events of the last two weeks or so in absolute horror. The sight of open Nazis in Ukraine with Nazi insignias on their clothes, waving far right flags used in the war by Nazi collaborators and getting, until recently, uncritical coverage in the BBC and other media outlets, fills me with rage and despair, as an antifascist, as a Jew and as a human being 😦

There is however a real risk of any social anger against Yanukovich and his backers in the Kremlin being written off as being driven by the extreme right, a tactic that Russia has made use of before despite an increasingly intolerant and far-right political climate towards gay people, Muslims and other minorities with the Putin regime’s tacit approval. While they have come to be dominated by the extreme right, such as the extreme right wing, antisemitic Svoboda party, one of whose activists established a ‘Joseph Goebbels research centre’ and the the even further right Pravy Sector, initially at least the makeup of the protests was a lot more mixed and included left-wingers and even anarchists. The character of the protests changed when neo-Nazi activists were able to overpower other groups protesting, by for example smashing up a stall by Ukrainian trade unions in the square. The fact that they were physically more well prepared and well armed put the fascists at the forefront of most of the fighting against the police and government. They were able to set up barricades deciding who came in and out of the protest camps and most of these were dominated by far-right groups. However even now the protests are not fully dominated by Nazis – many homeless people came to the protest camps for example attracted by the free food.

It may seem unusual in the UK but protests with this sort of mixed character are not unusual in Eastern Europe. In 2009 for example, there were protests in Moldova against the Communist Party who at the time controlled the country. These protests eventually forced the removal of the governing party and resulted in a victory for a coalition of ‘pro-European’ parties, some of whom, but not all, included the extreme right. Russia was quick to allege fascist involvement in the protests, a charge that didn’t really stick given the wide range of people involved in them. But there was a grain of truth involved in these claims. The protests split the country with many Russian speakers, rural people and older people being against them and shocked by the disorder. On the other hand fascist groups were involved in the protests as well as ordinary people, leftists and ‘liberal‘ pro EU nationalists such as the ‘Hyde Park‘ group (portrayed in western media as a liberal, pro-European integration group, but when I took their leaflet on a demonstration I walked past while I was living there, I discovered it was racist).

Although I do have some time for some of the activists in this group and others of a similar political nature, the insipid pro-EU liberalism of these organisations as a whole, and uncritical attitude towards anything which opposes Russia, leaves much to be desired – their politics don’t tend to go further beyond the idea that “we should join the EU and all be nicer to each other”, and with the implied idea being that EU integration, likely to be opposed by Russians, is itself a good idea in itself, that it will automatically make the country more prosperous etc – and that the only “problem” is Russia. Thus in these social movements and organisations you get liberals, pro-EU “economic liberals” and free-market types alongside social democrats and leftists who think that joining the EU will lead to a more “european style” democracy and standard of living – and fascists, who will have very different motivations for wanting closer ties to the West from the above, but the vagueness and apolitical liberal nature of the above means it’s easy for them to support it or to be supportive. When there I came across a few people who supported government austerity plans and supported the EU because they imagined that they would largely impact old Russian people who were “communists” – these plans were popularised on this basis, too.

Groups like Hyde Park are often in favour of human rights and campaign for very reasonable things, but they also campaign against things like “the russification of the national curriculum”. Being pro-western and pro-EU usually implicitly means the increased use of the national language – and the marginalisation of the Russian language. It is doubtful whether many of these groups would organise protests against for example, Romanian and Ukrainian nationalists in the same way.

In addition, irredentist nationalist slogans such as ‘Basarabia pamant Romanesc‘ (Bessarabia is Romanian land) were common during these protests, some people (not all of them far-right) thinking that closer integration to the EU would be a way to reunite with Romania, something which is by no means only supported by the extreme right but is promoted by them as the answer to the country’s problems – an answer that by implication excludes Russians. A closer look at the groups promoting this ideology reveals racism against Russians and Jews as well as extreme homophobia. I once looked out of the window on the way to work and saw protesters with Romanian flags, ‘Basarabia pamant Romanesc’ and the Celtic cross on a black background leaving you in no doubt as to where they were politically.

Here’s a video of Moldovan fascists marching to be part of Romania.

When I was there the new Moldovan government introduced an austerity programme which included, for example, ending free bus travel for pensioners. Surprisingly this received a bit of public support from some people I met who initially at least saw these policies as targeted at old Russians and Communist Party supporters. One of these people also told me that “our language is very dirty, with a lot of Russian words”. On my way to work I used to walk past a headquarters of a religious group with an icon of Jesus and Mary facing the traffic – facing inward was a billboard alleging a conspiracy between Jews and the leaders of the Russian Orthodox Church complete with “photo evidence”, a surprising theory given that this church has been caught selling copies of the Protocols and other extreme-right literature in Russia.

That said most people I met there who had been involved in the protests or were at least supportive of them were definitely not fascist, but were very dissatisfied by the inequality presided over by the Communist Party and also, frequently, actual and perceived discrimination in favour of the Russian minority. They were in the majority of cases motivated by real and justified anger at the government, and in the moldovan case fash were in a definite minority. The protesters occupied government buildings and struck at the power of the state. You have to remember that the left in these places is practically non existent and where it does exist the organized left isn’t worthy of the name, being bag carriers for the Kremlin and presiding over neoliberal policies and corruption, promoting Russian nationalism and trading on Soviet nostalgia, but with something far nastier frequently lurking underneath – the former communist president of Moldova describing a black opposition activist as ‘a negro who came down from a tree’ . The lack of a left that is not nostalgic for the soviet union and with it, Russian rule over the ‘backward’ eastern european countries, itself a key idea in Russian imperialist nationalism has been one of the contributory factors that has opened the gateway for the extreme right.

The fact that Russian far-righters have been involved on the opposite side to the Maidan protesters, and, ludicrously, that the police have reputedly been told that the protesters are led by Jews despite clear evidence of fascist involvement, demonstrates that the idea that Yanukovich’s regime and the Kremlin are motivated by antifascism is hard to swallow, as is Putin’s claim that he is against corruption and imperialism when the regime is perfectly happy to tolerate their own oligarchs and use Russian military bases in former soviet countries as a way to control them.

With that in mind however, it is clear that the far right have played a huge part in the Ukrainian protests, bigger than their part in Moldova or even for that matter in the Orange Revolution in 2007, where groups such as UNA-UNSO, a paramilitary organization which was one of the forerunners of Svoboda, played a role in the demonstrations, and several figures in Viktor Yushchenko’s party had links to them. By unbreaking the link above BTW you can see an odd article combining a call for Ukraine to join the EU with antisemitic statements about ‘Jewish lords’. It is estimated that around 30% of protesters are involved in far-right groups such as Svoboda and Pravy Sector and many more will sympathise with them, especially because these neo-Nazis have been doing the bulk of the fighting with the government. Even more concerning is the fact it looks likely that Svoboda may enter a coalition in the new government. This used to be their old logo by the way:

Svoboda's original logo. nice huh?

If Russia’s conduct has been grotesque as they try to portray themselves as a bulwark against fascism it has been equally sickening to see the UK government portray these events as entirely peaceful protesters while Nazi symbols have been on display and protesters have been photographed with weapons, wearing helmets and shields with far-right leaders screaming about how they want to kill their enemies. The images of lynch mobs and ‘government supporters’ forced to pray at shrines for dead protesters (when they say government supporters what does that mean, officials or just some poor random Russian?) And the reports that Nazi propaganda has now been legalized are extremely disturbing – whether or not we should have such a law it’s a strange priority for a new government. The images of these “friendly protesters” daubing Celtic crosses and SS symbols on areas they occupied should worry anyone.

[​IMG]

The more disturbing part of this is the entirely uncritical attitude of the EU and the American government, describing the protesters as being ‘peaceful’ even when they are photographed with fascist insignia and weapons. It is, to pit it mildly, very unlikely that Ukraine will become a Nazi dictatorship to say the least. One of the candidates for the new president, Klitschko, looks like an apolitical figurehead brought in on the basis of his popularity elsewhere, and he is far from being universally popular with the protesters at Maidan, especially not the organized far right. Like most of the high profile politicians there such as Yulia Timoshenko, the corrupt ‘gas princess’ feted by the west and seemingly transformed into some sort of Aung Sung Suu Kyi figure, Klitschko has had his own rumours of corruption such as a doping scandal.

It may even be that Yanukovich’s old party get back in at the next elections. We don’t know, all sorts of scenarios could play themselves out. However the deeply concerning thing for now is the possibility of further ethnic violence in both Ukrainian and Russian areas – already there are reports of Crimeans in Sevastopol holding ‘antifascist’ rallies to ‘defend Russia’. In the early 1990s the leaders of the pro-Russian separatist breakaway state of Pridnestrovie (Transnistria) used pro-Romanian and anti-Russian sentiments by Moldovan nationalist leaders such as the slogan “Suitcase – train station – Russia”, to justify breaking away from Moldova. The fears people had of the possible consequences of Moldovan independence were very real given that during the 1940s the Nazis had turned the area into a giant death camp.

And in addition the very real likelihood of attacks on, for example, Jews – in the last few months several antisemitic attacks have taken place and there are reports of Jews being threatened and told to get out of the country – as well as Crimean Tartars who often traditionally identify with Ukraine in an area that is majority Russian and who are discriminated against and tend to have a far higher poverty and unemployment rate than the rest of the population as it is, having been deported by Stalin and only allowed to start returning at the end of the 1970s.

The wider implications of the protests and what they mean for the far-right will be felt for a long time to come. While it is very unlikely that the far right will emerge completely victorious and the leaders of a new Ukrainian Reich, as some of the more hysterical commentary from pro Russian sources has seemed to imply, this is a huge victory for the far right and they are extremely strengthened by it, they have grown in confidence and gained a fair amount of experience and some public support, despite the fact that the majority of Ukrainians have not participated in the protests and nowhere near the numbers of, for example, Egyptians who did. The repercussions of this will be felt for a long time to come. At the level below the top echelons of the state institutions like MAUP, the Ukrainian university which had ex KKK leader David Duke to speak and routinely gives ‘lectures’ attacking Jews, will feel more confident in propagating their views now they know they can do so with impunity.

Some further thoughts.

It is difficult for leftists to argue in these countries that there was anything good about for example Lenin and Trotsky when many Eastern Europeans experienced even Lenin’s rule as a brutal occupation and following his death the cult of Lenin became inextricably linked with the Soviet state and Russian rule. The whole concept and vocabulary surrounding ‘communism’ has for a lot of people become linked to ethnicity (although austerity measures, rising inequality and attacks on already shit pay and conditions affect everyone regardless of ethnicity) therefore especially here, taking all your views from these ‘dead Russians’ is unlikely to be helpful, one reason perhaps why Trotskyism never took off there).

There is a worrying tendency in many eastern European countries for some people within the state to take advantage of the bitterness that people feel about the Soviet occupation and communist rule and use this to argue that the Nazi occupation was as bad, or less bad than what happened under communism. Ironically these trends started to develop in some countries under communism itself with Ceausescu arguing before his death that Antonescu, the fascist leader during the war, had in fact been a national hero. Likewise in Ukraine, the Holodomor (the famine in the 1930s which killed millions of people) has become a cornerstone of the far-right, who have used popular anger about the suppression of information about this issue and the lack of recognition about it, especially in Russia, as a way to promote nationalist conspiracy theories and far-right ideology.

In Hungary, much of the Jewish community have boycotted the official commemorations of the holocaust because they whitewash Hungary’s involvement in the war and refuse to admit that the government did anything wrong. A similar trend has emerged in Lithuania, where the EU has actively assisted in propagating this agenda, and where leading politicians have described Nazi sympathizers during the war as heroes and partisans and anti-Nazi fighters as criminals. And the EU are somehow absolutely fine with this state of affairs just as they are with the ‘peaceful protesters’ in Ukraine.

'peaceful' protesters

Watching this from over here makes me feel so powerless. Not really much else I can say. And yeah I know I don’t have links to back up everything I’ve said here but it’s late, work in the morning and I’ll put them in tomorrow or over the next few days. Comments, criticisms etc always welcome.

Floods

16 Feb

Well here it is. The climate change we have been warned about is actually happening. The rain keeps pouring down and apocalyptic scenes with storms of 80 to 100 miles an hour have become a terrifying regularity. The floods and violent weather across the UK have caused billions of pounds of damage with little way to mitigate it – where I live flood waters have been diverted away from the main road into side streets or pumped into allotments, making it impossible to grow anything there. people have seen their livelihoods washed away, trees and crops rotting under the flood waters, workplaces having to be closed for weeks and people unable to get to work. in Somerset, one village has been cut off for over three weeks, forcing residents to commute by boat.

Government spending on flood defences has gone down within the last four years, despite repeated claims to the contrary, indeed that the government has spent more than any other administration on flood defence.  http://www.independent.co.uk/news/uk/politics/defra-concedes-flood-defence-figures-were-inaccurate-spending-falls-from-237bn-to-234bn-under-the-coalition-despite-repeated-claims-to-the-contrary-9068443.html

Further cuts could mean over 3 billion pounds in damage, and up to 15% of jobs at the Environment Agency are to be cut over the next year, and proposed privatizations and cuts in the fire service, vital for rescue operations and flood defence, are due to make a grim situation even worse. On Friday there was a landslip between Leamington Spa and Banbury which made it impossible for trains to run, and parts of railway line have been washed away, problems more reminiscent of developing countries than one of the richest economies in the world.

image

Existing flood defenses, described as ‘ageing assets’ needing urgent upgrades, have been overwhelmed by the crisis. an additional cost has been the loss of power to areas affected by the flooding and power lines blown down by the hurricane strength winds.

What the flooding crisis has also laid bare is the substandard housing in many areas of the UK, the poor insulation and damp conditions, mostly for poorer residents who cannot afford to live anywhere else, or who need to live there for work. unscrupulous landlords are all too able to get away with letting out accommodation which is damp and poorly insulated due to laws which favour landlords, the prohibitive costs of housing and the shortage of homes. The BBC documentary ‘Poor Kids’ shown about a year ago showed the devastating effect of damp mouldy conditions on children’s health, and the current weather would only have made this worse. Mould and damp conditions can produce respiratory problems and lung infections, as well as nausea and a reduced capacity to deal with milder illnesses such as colds. The rising costs of fuel bills (despite the government recently saying they will take £50 off them) and the rain and wind will only worsen the conditions within much substandard housing to say nothing of the ‘beds in sheds’ and people forced to sleep in garages and other completely inadequate areas.

image

The response not only of the government and and main parties but also of many leftists hows how wholly unprepared they are for this crisis. And how ideologically driven there responses have been. The most infamous example was the UKIP councillor who declared that the floods were caused by gay marriage and were a punishment from God. Yet we saw a similar response from some leftists who were quick to gloat that the floods had affected areas where the population voted largely Tory or UKIP, as if Labour was that different to the Conservatives – and that in many areas a majority of people do not vote, especially in local elections, not because of ‘apathy’ but because none of the parties represent their interests at all. such a response shows the irrelevance of the mainstream left and the contempt for working class people.

I will make a final and more optimistic comment. During the initial flooding of my road some weeks ago, we experienced incredible generosity from other people affected by the flooding, who we did not even know. People helped us lift sandbags and gave us trolleys from the supermarket. Rather than the ‘every man/woman for themselves’ view many have of others during a crisis which is often given to justify the idea that Marxist views are unrealistic, the opposite seemed to happen despite the scenes which were reminiscent of a disaster movie. This and other recent initiatives in my area such as a tenant’s organization which has been set up give me hope that one day things will be different.