Category Archives: Current events

Terrorism – Time to man up, Monsieur le Président

I’ve been living in France since 1981. Six years ago I retired to a quiet corner of the Vendée, but before that I spent 30 years in the Paris region. In 1986, when Fouad Ali Saleh and his bunch were setting off bombs all over the city, I crossed Paris twice a day to and from work, as did millions of others. We would check under the seats in the métro and the RER, and generally keep an eye open for unattended bags — I caused a minor upset by calling the security service over what looked look an abandoned briefcase in the office block where I worked in La Défense — but beyond that there was nothing we could do, and we knew it. Statistically, the chances that any one of us would be harmed were minimal, so we just went about our business as usual.

Naturally, this experience came to mind as I read Rachida Dati’s opinion piece about the terrorist threat for the Guardian last week. Opportunist as ever, she does in fact make some good points, but you’d never have guessed where she was going from the opening paragraphs, which are a disgustingly demagogic diatribe against the government:

The French prime minister, Manuel Valls, addressed the people in the aftermath of the attacks and implied that they should expect more attacks on French soil in the near future. For such a senior figure to suggest that we should adapt to fear, violence and bloodshed was, in my mind, beyond belief. It displayed a clear lack of leadership at a time when the people need more: the people need to be, and to feel, protected.


The whole point is that an open, democratic society cannot protect itself 100% against terrorism without betraying its core values, and France is particularly vulnerable, as Jason Burke points out here:

Undoubtedly, the role France has historically assumed as standard bearer of western secular liberalism has also put the nation in the spotlight. Islamic extremists may see the US as a source of moral decadence and economic exploitation, but France is seen as an atheist power which is both defending western ideals such as human rights, free speech and democracy and, in the eyes of jihadis, trying to impose them on the Islamic world.

Hollande looks punch-drunk. Extending the state of emergency is a sop to the Right. I suppose it makes some sort of twisted sense in political terms, but the situation demands more than politics. In any case, the Right will always want more (give ‘em an inch…) because, by definition, the Right speaks to the people’s baser instincts; whereas the Left ought to be invoking higher, shared ideals. Existing laws give the security services all the powers they need, and more; what they do need is more resources and better equipment. Even so, it’s hard to see how they could identify someone like that truck driver in Nice.

The fact is that we’re all vulnerable and Valls is right to say so (not that I can think of much else he’s right about). In fact I think Hollande should make a major speech backing him up and spelling out the situation in all honesty. This is no time for political considerations. The threat facing France, Europe and indeed the whole world demands of the French president that he become a statesman and rise above a point-scoring faux debate. Troops on the streets (with no bullets in their guns) serve no useful purpose at all. They’re only meant to reassure the public that “something is being done”. Let the Right squeal, Hollande can only gain in credibility and respect by sending them back to their barracks. In addition, and if he really wants to make an impact, he must declare an end to the state of emergency: appeal to the people’s better nature and emphasis that whether we like it or not we are now – each and every one of us – front line soldiers in the battle against terrorism. Each of us must carry on as usual – albeit watchfully – knowing that our number could come up anywhere, any time.

That would send a powerful message to the terrorists and a dignified, pertinent one to the rest of the world: we are not afraid, we will not be divided, and we will not allow our society to drift ever rightwards into tyranny.

Out of office, out of mind

Set against all the stories of economic doom and gloom, corruption and Super-Power posturing, this one about the rape of the Masai makes me particularly sad.


You have to go five clicks down the Guardian’s website to find it, squeezed in between “Pledge gives PM byelection jitters” and “Columbian search for lost general”, opposite “Milk study: should I quit?” and “Best UK winter seaside holidays”.

Tanzania has been accused of reneging on its promise to 40,000 Masai pastoralists by going ahead with plans to evict them and turn their ancestral land into a reserve for the royal family of Dubai to hunt big game.

It’s the same old story of Man’s inhumanity to Man. I’m naïve and idealistic, I know, but it shocks and saddens me to think that this sort thing still goes on and even the Guardian thinks it rates no higher than the search for a lost Columbian general.

Wikipedia tells me:

Tanzania /ˌtænzəˈnə/,[8] officially the United Republic of Tanzania (Swahili: Jamhuri ya Muungano wa Tanzania), is a country in East Africa in the African Great Lakes region. It is bordered by Kenya and Uganda to the north; Rwanda, Burundi, and the Democratic Republic of the Congo to the west; and Zambia, Malawi, and Mozambique to the south. The country’s eastern border is formed by the Indian Ocean. Kilimanjaro, Africa’s highest mountain, is in north-eastern Tanzania.

I had an idea Tanzania was called something else when I was at school, and sure enough it resulted from the fusion of Tanganyika and Zanzibar in the 1960s. Vague echoes of Nyerere and Pan-African Socialism came to mind and it seemed to me that Tanzania was one of the less unfortunate of those states that straddle the tropics.

Wikipedia again:

The UNCT said,

National reviews and assessments of equality between men and women … have identified a range of challenges …, which continue to prevail. These include the persistent and increasing burden of poverty on women; inequalities in arrangements for productive activities and in access to resources; inequalities in the sharing of power and decision-making; lack of respect for and inadequate promotion and protection of the human rights of women; and inequalities in managing natural resources and safeguarding the environment. … Particular attention should be drawn to the widespread marginalization of the girl child in different spheres of life, including education, and the total exclusion caused for many by early and forced marriage. … Gender-based violence is prevalent. According to a 2005 World Health Organization survey, 41 percent of ever-partnered women in Dar es Salaam have experienced physical or sexual violence at the hands of a partner.[3]:¶¶ 24-6, page 6  (my emphasis)

OK, got the picture…

With half the population condemned to second class status, small wonder that 40,000 Masai count for nothing against the whims of one family of rich Arabs—and a substantial kickback for an obliging Tanzanian politician.

A spokesperson for Tanzania’s natural resources and tourism ministry said : “It’s the first I’ve heard of it. I’m currently out of the office and can’t comment properly.”


Ferguson and beyond – the reality of a militarised police force

 “The United States today has become excessively militarized, mainly through federal programs that create incentives for state and local police to use unnecessarily aggressive weapons and tactics designed for the battlefield.”

(See the ACLU‘s June report here.)

And these are cops...Cops on patrol or troops in a combat situation? What do they look like to you?

In fact they’re one and the same. As far as I can make out, these guys are from the Highway Patrol which has taken over policing of the Fergason riots after the regular cops made such a balls-up of it. Now apparently the HP in turn is to be replaced by the National Guard, so at least we’ll know that those soldier lookalikes really are soldiers.

The riots didn’t start out as such of course. Peaceful protest was met by clumsy, confrontational policing and human nature did the rest. Not far down the road I can imagine someone changing the vocabulary again and calling the riots, optimistically, an “uprising”. Optimistically because no one should think even for one minute that the forces of so-called law and order are going to let that happen.

The Guardian’s coverage of events in Ferguson has been extensive. But this story needs to be read and evaluated against the background of rampant militarisation of the US police, as detailed in this article by Glenn Greenwald on his new blog, The Intercept.

Greenwald read Radley Balko’s “Rise of The Warrior Cop” before publication in order to write the blurb:

“There is no vital trend in American society more overlooked than the militarization of our domestic police forces.” The Huffington Post’s Ryan Grim, in the outlet’s official statement about Reilly’s arrest, made the same point: “Police militarization has been among the most consequential and unnoticed developments of our time.”

As a trend, the militarisation of the police pre-dates 9/11, with the Pentagon off-loading hardware because it could no longer find enough wars to fight. It accelerated under Bush and Obama appears to have nothing to stop  it:

June article in the New York Times by Matt Apuzzo (“War Gear Flows to Police Departments”) reported that “during the Obama administration, according to Pentagon data, police departments have received tens of thousands of machine guns; nearly 200,000 ammunition magazines; thousands of pieces of camouflage and night-vision equipment; and hundreds of silencers, armored cars and aircraft.” He added: “The equipment has been added to the armories of police departments that already look and act like military units.”

As a phenomenon, the militarisation of the police is now so deeply entrenched as to be virtually irreversible. Homeland Security, that sprawling mess of an organisation thrown together in the aftermath of 9/11, is the third biggest Cabinet department, so jobs and prestige are at stake. So too — inevitably — is money, big money.

All of this has become such big business, and is grounded in such politically entrenched bureaucratic power, that it is difficult to imagine how it can be uprooted. As the LA Times explained:

“An entire industry has sprung up to sell an array of products, including high-tech motion sensors and fully outfitted emergency operations trailers. The market is expected to grow to $31 billion by 2014.”

In an echo of Chomsky’s reminder that the first enemy of government is always the people, Greenwald concludes:

The reason the U.S. has para-militarized its police forces is precisely to control this type of domestic unrest, and it’s simply impossible to imagine its not being deployed in full against a growing protest movement aimed at grossly and corruptly unequal resource distribution.

So think again about those water canon Boris wants in London. There’s no doubt in my mind that they are but the thin end of the wedge. Let’s try, just for once, to learn something from the Americans instead of blindly copying them.

Time for a coffee

This article by Mark Stephens in Guardian about the implications of last week’s ruling by the European court ought to set alarm bells ringing.

Last week’s judgement by the European court of justice allowing anyone to demand that a search engine should remove unwanted information from its index – even if it is accurate, lawful, and publicly available elsewhere – is a dangerous step in the wrong direction.

Coffee shopYou’re not bloody kidding, it is!

[…] Among the most troubling implications of the judgement is its impact on political speech and processes. Potential candidates for public office will now have a means of curating their own bespoke search results to ensure that only flattering information remains readily available to the public. The ruling is not limited to those embarrassing photos we wish we could banish from social media but includes news stories and other items of critical importance to an honest accounting of history.

And this is just the thin end of the wedge. Remember the rule of thumb: any law that can be abused will be abused. Never doubt that for one minute. This dreadful decision opens the door to the re-writing of history on an Orwellian scale. I’m only surprised because I didn’t see it coming.

Remember life before Google? Everything you needed to know was “available”, provided you had the time to go the library and they had what you needed, provided you had the skills of a professional researcher and knew where to look. It could take you a week to check a single fact. The information you needed to form a balanced, informed world-view was available; but it wasn’t accessible. Now there’s Google. It’s improved by leaps and bounds and is getting better — more intuitive — all the time. Google provides access to knowledge.

And therein lies the rub. Knowledge empowers and Google empowers us — the people. We can, if we choose, keep up to date with the 99.9% of current events that are not on the front page of the papers or crammed into the first three minutes of the 8 o’clock news.

Now, that is not good news for the governing classes, because we are showing increasing signs of actually using that power. Worse, we use the Internet to organise, forming pressure groups and even — just imagine! — talking to each other. The political coffee shop is reborn and it’s gone global!

Hell-fire and damnation! The plebs are organising and they know all our nasty little secrets. Any time now they’ll be storming the Bastille!

We, the people, are fucking angry!

Politicians, take note. We know the Earth’s climate is fucked up and we know that you know too. That’s why we’re so fucking angry about your persistent failure to take it seriously.

Crowd_2We, the people, are fed up with being lied to and taken for fools. We’re fed up with your fudging and thoroughly pissed off by the attitude of your pals in Big Money who don’t give a shit about anything except – Big Money. You can all abandon your own grandchildren to the effects of runaway global warming if you will — but not ours.

divine rightIt’s our world and we want it back. Unlike kings, parliament is not backed up by Divine Right. The power we delegated to you has been abused, frittered away, sold off – and not even to the highest bidder. We have been sold out.

But we are the people and we are sovereign. So, just this once, we are taking back that power and exercising it ourselves, directly – over you.

Because what’s at stake is the survival of civilisation as we know it. And any civilisation, even the one we know with all its fragile foibles, its inherent weaknesses and its outright, shameful failures is still better than none at all. Yet the Earth will burn before you lot stop fiddling.

Beware the people. You’ve scorned us for too long. But we’ve got a brand new box of matches: it’s called the Internet and we will use it to remind you, forcibly, that all power comes ultimately from us – not from money and not out of the barrel of a gun. For we the people are sovereign and if we choose to we can stomp all over you.

You should heed this warning – you might not get another one. The Paris climate conference in December 2015 will be your last chance to get it right. To put aside your silly squabbles, your pork barrel deals and your blinkered thinking; to look at the big picture, the shit and the fan; to move on from nit-picking procrastination and point-scoring; to cooperate and take the hard decisions.

If you get it right we’ll all be in for a rough ride – rougher than we can imagine. That’s why you’ve ducked those decisions up till now, isn’t it? Down that road lies political suicide – that’s the pitiful excuse for your inaction, isn’t it? Well, listen – I’ll tell you a secret: we don’t give a monkey’s for your political careers.

Contrary to what you like to think, we the people are not entirely foolish. We know that cutting CO2 emissions drastically and rapidly will be desperately hard. We’re not kidding ourselves. We know there will not just be discomfort and hardship: there will be suffering and strife and great distress. There will be pain, anger and frustration and many will die – perhaps millions. There will be cock-ups and injustice and sheer bad luck, because we don’t have the time to design a nice, tidy, zero-risk master plan. Change on this scale has never been attempted but it’s no longer avoidable, even if means martial law as a prerequisite. We have no choice but to plunge in at the deep end and trust that we’ll be able to manage the worst of the bad as events unfold.

Order from chaosWe the people are capable of accepting all that if – and only if – you stop talking to us like children; if you tell it the way it is, and if we believe you are sincere – the biggest if of all, for you have squandered all but the last dregs of your credibility.

What we care about is preserving a world in which our great- great-grandchildren will be able to know the same happiness we’ve enjoyed: music and silence, sunshine and storm clouds and silk-washed dawns; knowledge and thoughtfulness and understanding; love and pain and anger; moon drops and snowfields, the perfume of the dunes and the purr of a cat; because it takes all that and more to make a life.

We the people are big enough, wise enough, generous enough to accept that a period of transition lasting for two or three generations – however painful and chaotic it might be – is but a small price to pay if it ensures that future generations may flourish by the thousand. Morally, this is a challenge we cannot refuse.

Yes, morally. There’s an important factor we’ve lost sight of amid the shambles of what currently passes for public debate over climate change; and that something is ethics. All too often options are discussed, evaluated and dismissed within an exclusively economic framework — we can’t afford to do such-and-such. Whereas we ought to be saying, “Morally, we have no choice. We have to tackle this and we have to get it right and the hell with what it costs!”

in our millionsWe’ve probably left it too late, almost certainly in fact. But we, the people, will not go down without a fight. So during that Paris conference we will flock to our national capitals the world over and in our millions we will lay siege to our respective parliaments. We don’t need unions or associations to organise us – and certainly not political parties. Like spontaneous order appearing out of chaos, we can organise ourselves. We’ll get to Paris, New York, Berlin… by bus or train or tram, by bike or on foot if need be, and we’ll surround your august assemblies. You won’t be able to get in or out, your privileges will be stripped away.  We’ll call you rude names and shit on the doorstep. Above all we’ll be present – visibly, audibly, undeniably present – and in such vast numbers that you won’t be able to pretend we don’t exist.

This is not something we want to do. That’s why you’ve got away with doing nothing for so long. We’d much rather sit on our collective arse and let you get on with it. Indeed that’s probably what we shall go back to doing if you make a decent fist of things in Paris. But we’ll need to be sure that you’ve taken the right decisions and that you won’t renege on them. So you will need to be exceedingly convincing.

We are the people. You only rule with our consent. And we, the people, are fucking angry! Remember that.