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Gypsies, Roma and Travellers – an Interfaith Roundtable

Today René Cassin held an Interfaith Roundtable on Gypsies, Roma and Travellers.  This brought together activists, professionals, academics and faith representatives to discuss various ways in which these communities face discrimination or disadvantage, both in the UK and in Europe – these include lower life expectancy, poorer educational attainment, stigmatisation by the media, forced adoption, unfavourable treatment by the police and the law, indifference or ill will from many politicians.

Shay Clipson, a Welsh Romany Gypsy, who has acted as a Trustee with UK Association of Gypsy Women, gave a particularly powerful presentation. We learnt how the police seemed slow or unwilling to act in response to serious hate speech incidents, how some forces kept family trees of Gypsy/Roma families, and how Shay herself has experienced bigotry directly during her time as the UK’s only Romany Gypsy Magistrate.

The media also came in for a good deal of criticism.  My Fat Gypsy Wedding perpetuated stereotypes, the word ‘pikey’ is apparently deemed acceptable by the BBC, and news reports almost invariably focus on negative elements.  More positive stories rarely get a look in. This coverage reinforces bigotry which in turn leads many to conceal their background.  However the Gypsy Roma Traveller Police Association is just one example of the efforts being made to reverse this trend.

René Cassin’s campaigning work on this issue is a good example of ‘fighting hatred together’, to quote the headline of the recent CST cross-post.  The Board of Deputies of British Jews shares these concerns, and draws attention to the problems faced by the Roma in its recent manifesto.

Jews and Roma were persecuted together during the Second World War, and continue to face abuse from extremists, especially in Hungary, but in other places too. Victimisation of the Roma needs to be tackled urgently.



Fighting hatred together or setting communities apart

This is a cross-post from the CST

CST’s work combating antisemitism is widely recognised as a model for others to follow and we are proud to help other communities combat bigotry, prejudice and hatred. We do this directly, such as by advising the Muslim organisation Tell MAMA, or via networks like Facing Facts! We do so because we believe our shared experiences can help to bring communities together.

The opposite approach is typified by MEND, a Muslim advocacy group that used to be called iEngage. iEngage often referred to “Zionist” or “pro-Israel” groups in conspiratorial terms and portrayed them as hostile to Muslims. This led CST to express our concern that iEngage had “a troubling attitude to antisemitism.” Sadly it appears that its rebranding into MEND has not changed this. In a talk at Cheadle Mosque in Greater Manchester last November, MEND Chief Executive Sufyan Gulam Ismail criticised the relationship between Tell MAMA and CST in these terms [24:54]:

We don’t want the Government to fob us off with some phony thing called Tell MAMA, which has got a made pro-Zionist pretty much heading it or in a very senior capacity and is making all sorts of comments we might not agree with when it comes to homosexuality, to be recording Islamophobia.

Ismail is presumably referring to former CST Chief Executive Richard Benson who is now a co-Chair of Tell MAMA (alongside former MP and Minister Shahid Malik). Ismail’s attitude is deeply troubling and his comments are irresponsible, given the proximity in Manchester of large Muslim, Jewish and LGBT communities. The full talk can be listened to here:

iEngage was removed from the secretariat of the All-Party Parliamentary Group on Islamophobia due to concern over its Islamist sympathies. Using its new name of MEND it appears to have had more success building links with Police & Crime Commissioners, working with the Crown Prosecution Service and holding fringe events at Party conferences. It is currently holding hustings for General Election candidates to meet primarily Muslim audiences.

In his talk in Cheadle, and a similar talk at a mosque in Bolton the month before, MEND CEO Sufyan Ismail consistently used “Israeli lobby” as a synonym for British Jews, which he presented as a political adversary for British Muslims. In both talks, Ismail described MEND’s lobbying efforts in support of a Parliamentary vote on Palestinian statehood in October 2014 that was overwhelmingly passed by MPs. Ismail put it in these terms, first in Bolton [1:54]:

The other night in Parliament, for the first time in British history, first time in 300 years of the Israeli lobby’s presence in the United Kingdom, first time in British history they lost a vote in Parliament. Do you know this? And the Muslim community didn’t just beat the Israeli lobby, we battered them.

Then in Cheadle, he described it like this [14:54]:

Have a look at this, in 300 years the Israeli lobby has not lost a vote in Parliament, for 300 years since it’s been in any serious organised fashion it has not lost any serious vote. A few weeks ago a vote was carried out on recognising Palestine… The Israeli lobby wasn’t just beaten, they were battered, absolutely battered. It shows you, when we’re organised we can achieve results. All they’ve had for these years, and I mean ‘they’ in a collective sense of the word, and we haven’t, is a game plan and a strategy.

To talk of an “Israeli lobby” being present and organised in Britain for 300 years is nonsensical. It only makes sense as a synonym for British Jews, which Ismail then counterposes with “the Muslim community.” This risks increasing hostility and suspicion between the two communities, rather than building trust and empathy as CST tries to do via our work with Tell MAMA and other Muslim organisations and individuals.

Throughout his talk in Bolton, Ismail repeatedly compared Muslim experiences to Jewish ones in a way that risked encouraging a sense of grievance towards Jews amongst his Muslim audience. There are too many examples to list in this blog post, but this segment, discussing the 2013 arson attack on a Somali community centre in Muswell Hill, north London, is typical [7:38]:

This is Muswell Hill masjid, burnt to the ground completely. When’s the last time you saw a church burnt to the ground or a synagogue burnt to the ground or a gurdwara? I bet you can’t think of one. But mosques are now being burnt to the ground completely. Nobody was in the mosque at the time. Did you hear one politician condemn it? Did you even hear one politician condemn it? You have a bit of graffiti on the back of a synagogue or a gurdwara or whatever, and – oh by the way, in case you didn’t know, as taxpayers in the UK you pay for security outside synagogues. Were you aware of this? You actually pay for security guards outside synagogues. The government pays for synagogues to be protected. Certainly doesn’t pay for mosques to be protected.

As others have pointed out, Ismail is wrong to say that no politicians condemned the arson. Several did so and some also visited the Somali community in Muswell Hill to show their support. Ismail was also wrong to claim, in October 2014, that the government paid for security guards at synagogues, although they have since pledged to do so following jihadist terrorist attacks on Jewish communities in Paris and Copenhagen.

Much more concerning is Ismail’s use of the Muswell Hill arson to sow division by telling his Muslim audience that they get a raw deal compared to British Jews. In fact, immediately after the arson the local Jewish community in north London gave more practical support and emotional solidarity to the Somali community than any other ethnic or religious sector of the local population. This included provision of space in Jewish buildings and a solidarity march, organised by the local Rabbi, which was reported on national news. The Islamic Society of Britain gave Muswell Hill synagogue an award for their work with the Somali community as a result.

If British Jews are at all relevant to the story of the Muswell Hill arson, it should be to show that our communities can work together for the greater good and that we should not seek to gain advantage at the expense of other communities. Instead, MEND’s Chief Executive chooses to push the opposite message to British Muslims. It is a disappointing approach that is more likely to increase prejudice than to reduce it, and that suggests MEND remains as problematic an organisation as its predecessor, iEngage.


Galloway’s latest

George Galloway’s latest tweet about his Labour party opponent:

That would be the Naz Shah who tweeted this:

(Hat tip: Fasdunkle)

Update: It only gets worse:

Further update:- From Private Eye:-


Marco! Marco! Marco!

On Monday Florida Senator Marco Rubio became the latest candidate to enter the race for the 2016 Republican presidential nomination.

As a Democrat, I think Rubio might well be the strongest potential challenger that Hillary Clinton (or whoever the Democratic nominee will be) could face. He is young (43), photogenic, articulate and has a compelling life story.

He is the bilingual son of Cuban immigrants to Florida. His father was a bartender and his mother worked as a maid. (Rubio, however, embellished the story by originally claiming that his parents fled Cuba to escape the Castro regime, when in fact they left in 1956, three years before Castro came to power.) He obtained his college and law degrees with the help of scholarships and student loans.

His family background makes him less likely to say the sort of tone-deaf things that the born-to-privilege Mitt Romney said when he ran for president.

And– unusually for a Republican candidate– he spoke rather movingly in his announcement speech about the struggles of low-income workers and their families.

Whether or not we remain a special country will depend on whether that journey is still possible for those trying to make it now:

The single mother who works long hours for little pay so her children don’t have to struggle the way she has…

The student who takes two buses before dawn to attend a better school halfway across town…

The workers in our hotel kitchens, the landscaping crews in our neighborhoods, the late-night janitorial staff that clean our offices … and the bartenders who tonight are standing in the back of a room somewhere…

But as Ed Kilgore observes about Rubio: “He’s the symbol of change in the GOP, without really making many concessions that strain conservative orthodoxy.”

He opposes not only an increase in the minimum wage, but minimum wage laws themselves. And he’s clearly no friend of organized labor, which has historically helped move low-income workers into the middle class.

Instead he falls back on GOP cliches about the dangers of “big government” and about how reducing regulations and taxes will help create millions of good-paying jobs.

(A question: can anyone point to an example of a capitalist country where reducing government regulations resulted in better wages, benefits and working conditions for the lowest-income workers?)

And Rubio is on the long list of Republicans who insist that they are not scientists. (Has any Republican recently admitted to being a scientist?)

On the one issue where Rubio appeared to challenge GOP orthodoxy– immigration reform– he quickly backtracked in the wake of conservative outrage.

Rubio, who was elected to the Senate in 2010 with the strong backing of Tea Party Republicans, surprised conservatives in 2013 when he helped champion a sweeping, bipartisan immigration bill. The bill sought to beef up border security while also creating a pathway to citizenship for many of the 11 million undocumented immigrants living in the USA.

The bill, crafted by Rubio and seven other senators, known as the “Gang of Eight,” was approved by the Senate in 2013. However, it stalled in the House when Tea Party conservatives denounced it as amnesty and convinced GOP House leaders not to bring it to a vote.

Rubio, stung by criticism from fellow conservatives, began backing off his support for the bill soon after the Senate passed it. In February, he told the Conservative Political Action Conference that he has learned his lesson on the issue and now believes that the Southwest border must be secured before anything can be done to help undocumented immigrants.

I hope Rubio will let us know when the border is sufficiently secured to suit him.

Nonetheless I think Rubio will be a strong candidate for the GOP nomination, especially if fellow Floridian Jeb Bush’s campaign fails to take off.

One interesting sidelight about Rubio is that he is a fan of the original gangster rappers N.W.A. and their song “Straight Outta Compton.” If he ends up as president, I won’t be happy, but I’d at least hope he would invite them to perform the song at his Inaugural Gala.


“The case is still alive”

Guest post by Cait

Kirchnerismo has now tried twice to put an end to Argentine prosecutor Alberto Nisman’s charge that Argentine president Cristina Fernández de Kirchner, her foreign minister Hector Timerman and two Kirchnerite heavies conspired with Iran to cover up the AMIA Jewish community center bombing of July 18, 1994, which killed 85 people. After Nisman was found dead of a gunshot wound in his apartment, and after the prosecutor who was to have taken over following Nisman’s murder removed himself from the AMIA case, Nisman’s colleague Germán Moldes publicly committed himself to pressing ahead with Nisman’s charges.

On April 9 Timerman tried – and failed – to get a three-judge appellate panel to remove Moldes from the case. That day, Moldes told Radio Mitre that the government’s maneuvers “form part of a whole rosary of impediments and obstacles” but that “the case is still alive. They will say to me later that it’s on an official respirator or in intensive care, but it’s alive.”

It’s not known whether any of the non-Peronist presidential candidates will, if elected in October, pursue Nisman’s case against Kirchner, Timerman, et al. According to the Miami Herald, non-Peronist presidential candidate and Buenos Aires Mayor Mauricio Macri has led in several recent polls. Macri has said he would pursue “corruption charges” against Kirchner, but those charges are already many and various and should Macri win, he needn’t go as far as the AMIA case to be seen as keeping his word.

In the matter of Nisman’s death, Nisman’s former wife, Judge Sandra Arroyo Salgado (she has intervener status in the investigation into his death) lost her bid to remove the prosecutor, Vivian Fein, from the case.

Fein is arranging another “visual inspection” of Nisman’s apartment and has set up a “joint medical panel” to reconcile the conflicting forensic information, as if the facts could be determined by consensus. To re-cap, the official investigators found no physical evidence to speak of: no powder burns, no DNA on the clothing that was tested, no fingerprints, no bloodstains. An amazingly pristine crime scene after between 30 and 40 people are known to have traipsed through it. Among other things, Arroyo Salgado’s experts found bloodstain traces and determined that Nisman was shot execution-style while kneeling.

My bet is that more evidence is going to come out about the AMIA case, albeit slowly, but that no one will be brought to book for Nisman’s death.

It’s unlikely that Nisman included all his evidence in the document he was to present to the Argentine Congress. The case was not yet in court. Opposition congresswoman Patricia Bullrich has several times stated that Nisman had said there was more evidence. If Nisman entrusted additional evidence to others, it may be that the release of that evidence will depend on what happens with Moldes’s efforts to get the case to court.

The pressure on Moldes and others who seek to pursue investigations of the AMIA bombing and Nisman’s murder shows no signs of abating. On Easter Sunday, Ricardo Sáenz, one of Nisman’s colleagues – and one of the organizers of the February 18 Silent March in his honor – received a death threat via Twitter. The tweet, featuring one of the photos of Nisman’s corpse leaked on social media in March, said, “Tenés que terminar como este mamarracho” (“You’re going to end up like this idiot”). According to early reports, the authorities have shown little interest in investigating the threat.

For updates in Spanish on the AMIA case and on the investigation, such as it is, into Nisman’s murder, see the opposition newspapers clarin.com, lanacion.com.ar, and Infobae.com.

For frequent summaries on both matters in English and Spanish, see AlbertoNisman.org, Within a day or so of its appearance online, the Buenos Aires Herald roundly denounced the website because it is sponsored by the Foundation for Defense of Democracies. The Buenos Aires Herald’s complaint is that a major funder of the FDD runs a hedge fund that is battling to get Argentina to pay its defaulted debt. The newspaper, an English-language daily, is particularly irked that “several well-known conservatives” contribute to the FDD website.


An Update On The Anti-Assad Imam Killed In London

This is a cross-post by Kyle Orton

In Brent, northwest London, in the evening of April 12, a 46-year-old man was arrested as part of the ongoing investigation into the April 7 murder of the Syrian-born imam, Abdul Hadi Arwani, a long-time opponent of the Syrian regime of Bashar al-Assad.

Writing about the murder of Arwani last week, I noted that the available evidence suggested the motivations of the murderer(s) could be:

  • Financial: related to Arwani’s business dealings as the owner of his construction company
  • Other local or personal
  • Far-Right anti-Muslim
  • Intra-Islamist: Arwani had been the director at the Salafist An-Noor Mosque and was himself clearly an Islamist, but Arwani was against the Islamic State (ISIS), for example, which might have made him enemies among some congregants
  • Agents of the Assad regime, conceivably with the complicity of Iran and Russia

Those options still stand, but some important updates over the weekend have helped alter the relative likelihood of each.

Robert Mendick in The Telegraph provides clear evidence that Arwani’s assassins were not amateurs, whatever their motives.

Arwani had been telephoned by a man whose identity remains a mystery, and asked to provide a quotation for a building project, according to Arwani’s friends. Arwani went to meet the man at a property near Wembley Stadium on April 6. Arwani took along one of his teenage sons.

When [Arwani and his son] arrived, the man, who had two companions, apologised profusely, saying he had forgotten his keys.

He asked Mr Arwani to return the next day at 11 a.m. There was no need, explained the man, for Mr Arwani’s son to come the next day too.

On Tuesday [April 7], Mr Arwani duly parked his Volkswagen Passat in the same spot on a “blind” bend at the junction of Greenhill and The Paddocks out of sight of CCTV cameras. It is understood that when his body was discovered slumped at the wheel, the engine of his car was still running and the doors locked. The driver’s window was half open.

Other than the clear evidence of premeditation, two details leap out of this: whoever struck down Arwani wanted only Arwani dead and, to position Arwani out of sight of CCTV, the killers had some skill. Both details suggest this was a professional hit.

On April 8, Scotland Yard announced that officers from Counter Terrorism Command—known as SO15—were to head the inquiry into Arwani’s murder, rather than the homicide and major crime squad, which had initially been put in charge. This was most unusual, but the evidence here explains why such a decision would be taken.

While the terrorism angle points suggestively toward Assad and his allies, there are other possibilities.

Hussein Kesvani at BuzzFeed has been investigating Arwani’s murder, and his excellent write-up of the available evidence suggests at least two other possible directions from which a politically-motivated hit could come.

Arwani was the director of An-Noor Mosque in Acton, west London, between 2005 and (formally) 2012, though Arwani actually quit in 2011. One worshipper at An-Noor Mosque tells Kesvani that while the mosque is “Salafi,” Arwani was a “Sufi,” which in some Salafist circles, notably among ISIS supporters, is regarded as heretical. Then there are videos of people, mostly young men, converting to Islam at An-Noor Mosque. Some of the converts are white. Many far-Right “white nationalist” groups cast narratives where Muslims are seeking to colonise Western States from within; they can be assumed to take a dim view of a mosque that seeks, let alone achieves, white converts.

Arwani’s foes at An-Noor Mosque were not just ideological, but also political.

Arwani became the imam at An-Noor Mosque after the building and surrounding land were purchased in 2005 by Brickridge Ltd, owned by Burnell Mitchell, 60, a builder now known as Khalid Rashad after his conversion to Islam. Mitchell/Rashad is also a director of An-Noor Trust and de facto controller of An-Noor Mosque.

Arwani was engaged in a long-running court case with Mitchell/Rashad at the time of his murder about the control of An-Noor Mosque. The dispute seemingly centred on the financial arrangements: Arwani wanted the mosque to be registered as a charity under a board of trustees; Mitchell/Rashad wanted (and had) it as a private company. According to Mendick, the dispute between Arwani and An-Noor’s directors was “being mediated with a settlement due in the coming weeks.”

There is “no suggestion that [Mitchell/Rashad] is implicated in the murder.”

*********************************

Mendick also fills in some details about Arwani’s ideological background. In what I wrote I noted that, on the available evidence, “it seems likely Arwani was associated with the Muslim Brotherhood”. Mendick confirms this. One source told the Telegraph that Arwani “was an associate of the Brotherhood but had fallen out with its leadership in recent months. … Other friends denied this.”

Arwani also campaigned against the deportation of the hook-handed Abu Hamza al-Muhajir and Babar Ahmed to the United States, during which time Anjem Choudary claims he met Arwani. Arwani also “knew” Abu Qatada al-Filistini, one of al-Qaeda’s most important ideologues, according to Arwani’s friends, though they are at pains to stress that Arwani was against terrorism. Mendick notes that there is “no evidence” Arwani was engaged in violent activity.

Arwani arrived in London in 1995. At that time there were so many Islamists arriving in London, many of them on the run from Arab dictatorships against which they had launched failed revolutions (notably Algeria), that the French would come to call the city “Londonistan”. The Islamists who set up in London conceived of themselves as having a “covenant of security” with Britain. Having signed visa documents, the Islamists believed, they were agreeing that while they could organise and finance Salafi-jihadist terrorism from London, they would not launch any attacks inside Britain. There are signs that the British government accepted this deal, which has laid the groundwork for so much of the present trouble, including ISIS’ video-butcher Mohammed Emwazi (“Jihadi John”), who got started in an al-Qaeda network in London.


Maduro’s “sign or else” petition

In the weeks leading up to the regional summit last week in Panama City, Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro put aside such mundane concerns as a collapsing economy, exploding inflation, shortages of basic goods, out-of-control crime and corrupt police to concentrate on something really important– collecting millions of signatures on a petition denouncing recent US sanctions against Venezuelan human rights abusers.

Unfortunately for Maduro, he was upstaged at the summit by the handshake and meeting between President Obama and Cuba’s Raul Castro. The Venezuelan leader promised to deliver the petition to Obama through diplomatic channels. I’m sure Obama will take the time to read through all of the signatures carefully.

Oh, and the Venezuelan government was unabashedly coercive when it came to collecting the signatures. The PanAm Post reported last week:

On Sunday, April 5, authorities in the country’s southern Amazonas State arrested National Guard Second Sergeant Frank Manuel Muñoz for refusing to sign the petition convened by the Venezuelan government. On the day in question, the soldier was called at his home on multiple occasions by local commander José Miguel Alaña for him to come to headquarters to sign the document.

After Sergeant Muñoz failed to present himself, a group arrived at his house to force him to comply. A subsequent confrontation between the soldier and his comrades led to Muñoz’s arrest.

On Tuesday, Muñoz was presented before the Eighth Military Tribunal of Control in Puerto Ayacucho, where he was charged with insubordination and military disobedience, as outlined in the Organic Code of Military Justice. He was then transferred on Wednesday to the pretrial military prison at Ramo Verde, Miranda State.
…..
It also emerged this week that employees of the PDVAL state food distribution network in Monagas State, eastern Venezuela, have been demanding that people sign copies of the government’s petition. Those affected by the situation showed the PanAm Post images of shoppers being asked to sign the document before they could buy anything.

The latest episode of political pressure has revived memories of 2004, when Congressman Luis Tascón used data from local NGO Súmate to persecute and stigmatize all those who signed a petition asking for a recall referendum, as outlined in Article 72 of the Constitution, which enshrines citizens’ right to recall elected officials.

The so-called Tascón list was used by government agencies to identify and fire those employees who disagreed with the policies of former President Hugo Chávez. The list was also used to withhold various state services from signatories on a discretionary basis.

And anti-regime Venezuelan blogger Daniel Duquenal wrote about his and his partner’s unhappy experience with the petition:

The shame has continued unabated. Even my personal one. I have almost forced my S.O., a sickly public worker, to go and sign the Maduro farce in a way to be seen by his co-workers, to make sure he does not raise any suspicion at work, to make sure he does not compromise his job, to make sure he does not risk his health insurance. We are not proud but we live in a dictatorship. I can afford not to sign, he cannot because my means do not allow me to support him financially 100%, the more so that the bolivarian revolution is homophobic and contrary to many other LatAm countries has no provision for same sex couples so I cannot put him on my insurance, my retirement, my inheritance, etc. In many other countries there are such possibilities now, but bolivarian Venezuela is probably the most backward country now in South America. Then again homophobia is but one of the many tools of subjection available to fascism.

But my personal shame made me digress.

The fact of the matter is that the 10 million + signatures the regime plans to present today in Panama are a sham at many levels. Outside of Venezuela it is quite something to see that so many people do not realize it. I was watching this morning CNN, the Hong Kong edition. They were surprised that Maduro’s regime had taken the pain to raise so many signatures for 7 human rights violators (that much wisdom from the US they did not question) but apparently nobody seems to have inquired much about how those signatures were raised.

Inside Venezuela we know better. We do not need to be private eyes to know that. The regime itself has published images of school children signing… That is enough to invalidate the process, amen of all of us knowing someone who had been forced to sign, starting with yours truly confession above, wrenching by this historical blog standards. The charade is so widespread that people by themselves wonder how come if 10 million people indeed signed the streets were so empty yesterday to celebrate the end of the drive and the cursing of Obama.


Hillary! Hillary! Hillary!

In probably the least surprising news of the year, Hillary Clinton has announced that she is a candidate for President in 2016. She decided to forgo a rousing speech to thousands of cheering supporters and instead simply released a video:

I’m not sure how this “I’m just another one of the folks getting ready for the future” shtick will play (a little too humble?), but I was pleased to hear her acknowledge from the start that “the deck is still stacked in favor of those at the top.”

(And I can assure you that you won’t be seeing happy gay couples in any of the videos from Republican candidates for President.)

Whether this means she’ll be willing to denounce head-on some of the big players on Wall Street who helped wreck the economy in 2008 and who have supported her in the past remains to be seen. As Danny Vinik noted in The New Republic:

Clinton has long cultivated close ties to Wall Street. In the 2008 presidential election, she received more than $7 million in donations from the “Securities and Investment” industry, according to the Center for Responsible Politics. That included nearly $450,000 from JPMorgan Chase and around $400,000 each from Goldman Sachs and Citigroup. Only EMILY’s List and DLA Piper, a law firm, gave more to Clinton. Other banks like Lehman Brothers and Merrill Lynch also gave her sizeable donations.

The money didn’t stop flowing over the past few years either. Since Clinton left the State Department, she has earned millions of dollars in speaking fees at events across the country, including ones sponsored by Wall Street. In October 2013, for instance, Clinton gave two speeches at Goldman Sachs, which, if Goldman paid her customary speaking fee, netted her a cool $400,000.

It’s still hard for me to imagine Clinton saying, as Senator Elizabeth Warren did:

There’s a lot of talk coming from Citigroup about how the Dodd-Frank Act isn’t perfect.

So let me say this to anyone who is listening at Citi: I agree with you. Dodd-Frank isn’t perfect.

It should have broken you into pieces.

Also I can’t imagine Clinton doing what Warren did when the senator used the reported threat by Citigroup and JPMorgan to withhold all or part of their contributions to the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee as a fundraising tool.

I appreciated her acknowledgement that as Barack Obama’s Secretary of State, she thought it was a failure not to aid the anti-Assad rebels in Syria in the early stages of the uprising against his regime, and that Obama’s stated foreign policy goal (“Don’t do stupid shit”) is “not an organizing principle.”

And while I have mixed feelings about former Virginia Senator Jim Webb, who is considering seeking the Democratic nomination, I’d like to see him get in the race just to make things more interesting and force Clinton to sharpen some of her positions.

At any rate, as things stand now, she has an almost sure lock on the Democratic nomination and is a favorite to beat any of the likely Republican prospects for president in 2016– even while the overwhelmingly favorable ratings she once had have declined.

And Fox News and the rightwing echo machine notwithstanding, I am quite sure that neither Benghazi nor her use of email while Secretary of State will have a serious impact on the campaign. Which isn’t to say that something genuinely damaging will never come up.

And no, I don’t have anything specific in mind. But you can expect to be able to fill this card rather quickly.

Update: And now a word from the last Republican candidate for president:


Too Quick on the Trigger

This is a cross-post from Gerasites by James Snell

I do not begrudge you the ability to precede anything you write, say or do with a warning. That is your right, and I would not want to take it away from you even if I could.

But there is, of course, a disparity of some magnitude between prefacing your own words with a cautionary notice – in this case a ‘trigger warning’, a practice which has gained some campaigning traction of late, especially in higher education – and demanding that others do the same. And there is an even greater gulf between doing so in a private capacity and wishing for universities and other public bodies to institute similar arrangements as a matter of policy.Such measures, especially when some advocates start to argue for their establishment out of civilised necessity, begin to resemble censorship on the sly. While it does not ostensibly interfere with the individual’s freedom of speech – a vital and inalienable right as that is – attaching warnings to undesirable material, those writings and works which contain unwanted aspects, could lead to the driving away of potential readers or viewers. Forcibly impeding the free dissemination of ideas is still censorious, even if the hat worn while doing so is one of kindness and concern.

And given that some of the most contentious and important issues are also the most uncomfortable to witness and confront – think of female genital mutilation, for example, or torture – is it really the right idea to give citizens, especially those who go to universities to gain an education, messy and potentially combative and rowdy as that is, an opt-out clause on matters such as these?

Even greater – or at least less quotidian – aspects are also at stake here. When one prefaces a work, be it literature, film or even reportage, with a warning as regards content, that work is denuded of some of its impact. Imagine sitting down to watch Saving Private Ryan, for example, with advance knowledge (and not just that – also an opportunity to vacate your seat) of the beach-borne carnage which characterises the opening scene. Quite a few, I imagine, would take the opportunity either to walk out or to steel themselves for what comes ahead; and whichever way this scenario works out,  the emotional and physical impact of the spectacle is lessened. The drama is diminished, and the action upon which much of the moral basis of the film is predicated is somehow weakened. (I am of course being deliberately facetious; but what about if the same were true of Shakespeare’s most emotionally fraught scenes, Dickens’ most wrenching depictions of poverty, or even Orwell’s journalism in documenting the sad fates of Britain’s poorest. Every instance allows for a subtle degradation of the art form.)

James Robins writes effectively – and affectingly – about the possible effects trigger warnings may have on our great literature; but it goes deeper than that: worryingly, ‘t[his] policy could extend to History’, to journalism. Consider these arguments carefully.

Another problem – perhaps more prosaic than the desire to preserve the integrity of art itself or to maintain a suitably open, intellectually challenging atmosphere at our universities – cannot be overlooked entirely: beyond simply debating the principle of matters, it appears that trigger warnings might not even work.

An esteemed Professor of Psychology at Harvard, Richard J. McNally, in a comprehensive summary of the relevant research, outlines this argument as follows:

Trigger warnings are designed to help survivors avoid reminders of their trauma, thereby preventing emotional discomfort. Yet avoidance reinforces PTSD. Conversely, systematic exposure to triggers and the memories they provoke is the most effective means of overcoming the disorder.

This flies rather dramatically in the face of many campaigners; they, after all, argue that trigger warnings are vital in making those who have been the victims of trauma feel integrated into and safe within society. Indeed, it appears that ‘[a]ccording to a rigorous analysis by the Institute of Medicine, exposure therapy is the most efficacious treatment for PTSD’.

And these statements, while they do not – of course – diminish the rights of individuals to attach warnings to the beginning of their own work, might lessen the justification for doing so; if it does not help, after all, why should even vocal advocates persist with the practice?

There we have it. Four salient reasons to resist the rise of trigger warnings in higher education and general usage. For the sake of resisting censorship by stealth, for the sake of artistic integrity, for the sake of maintaining serious intellectual openness in higher education, and for the sake of those suffering from trauma themselves, I beg you – don’t get too trigger-happy.


History written by the losers

General Robert E Lee surrendered to General Ulysses S. Grant on 9th April 1865, one hundred and fifty years ago. What do Americans make of this? Has this historical event been as marked as the outbreak of World War I was marked here in 2014? During the extensive coverage everyone spoke of their family connections to that conflict as well as of the nations lurching and clashing.

Gore Vidal said of the American Civil War:- “my mother’s family had fought for the Confederacy and my father’s for the Union, and that the Civil War was – and is – to the United States what the Trojan War was to the Greeks, the great single tragic event that continues to give resonance to our Republic.”

Vidal took what was the well educated view of his time (1986), that the war was to preserve the Union rather than to abolish slavery. The causes of the civil war are contested and revised and here’s a piece taking a different angle. It’s closely argued and difficult to quote except in its entity, so please read the whole thing:-

On November 6, 1860, the six-year-old Republican Party elected its first president. During the tense crisis months that followed — the “secession winter” of 1860–61 — practically all observers believed that Lincoln and the Republicans would begin attacking slavery as soon as they took power.

The author’s point is that contemporaries did see the war as being about slavery as those on the allied side saw World War II as being about Nazi aggression.

The Nazi analogy will offend some but the War Nerd has no doubts and so lauds Sherman for his march from Atlanta to the sea, burning as he went, as the proper and absolute strategy for the defeat of a vile ideology:-

Atlanta was burned by William Tecumseh Sherman, the greatest general in American history. Damn right. That’s not a matter of blame, but of sound military sense.

What Southern romanticists… will never get—because it’s their very nature not to get it, just as a paranoid schizophrenic can never get that no one is persecuting him—is that Sherman’s whole military enterprise was an attempt to stop the slaughter by slapping the South into adulthood. From way before the war, when Sherman was a professor at a military academy in Louisiana, his attitude toward the South’s Planter culture was like a fond uncle watching his idiot nephew stumbling into a fast car, planning to drive drunk into the nearest tree.

He quotes Sherman – a general who wrote like no American general could or would write today, alternating as they do with militaryese and private profanity:-

You people of the South don’t know what you are doing. This country will be drenched in blood, and God only knows how it will end. It is all folly, madness, a crime against civilization! You people speak so lightly of war; you don’t know what you’re talking about. War is a terrible thing! You mistake, too, the people of the North. They are a peaceable people but an earnest people, and they will fight, too. They are not going to let this country be destroyed without a mighty effort to save it … Besides, where are your men and appliances of war to contend against them? The North can make a steam engine, locomotive, or railway car; hardly a yard of cloth or pair of shoes can you make. You are rushing into war with one of the most powerful, ingeniously mechanical, and determined people on Earth — right at your doors.

In another article the War Nerd considers the military occupation badly executed due to the insufficient hanging of Confederate officers. Those unhanged went on to continue with terrorism like the displaced Sunni after the invasion of Iraq, hiding their faces in white masks and spouting about the sons of Ham as they persecuted their former helots, as the displaced Sunni cover up with black masks and spout the Qu’ran.

it’s clear that the policy the Union actually pursued—not hanging any Southern officers except the miserable wretch who commanded Andersonville POW camp—failed miserably. A decade after we defeated the Confederacy at the cost of 300,000 loyal Union soldiers’ lives, the same planter oligarchy was running the South again, terrorizing the Freedmen and women who were our only loyal allies during the war, making sure black people never got a chance to vote, running them off their farms, doing their best to recreate slavery without the name.

This less abrasive article considers the Occupation as being ended too soon:-

A full-scale military occupation continued for at least another five years, and without it, slavery may have persisted far longer than it did. Almost 100,000 Army soldiers remained in the South through the end of 1865, .. with up to 20,000 troops stationed there until 1871. ..

the final end to slavery, and the establishment of basic civil and voting rights for all Americans, was “born in the face of bayonets.” Put simply, the military occupation created democracy as we know it.

The outcome of American occupation of defeated peoples have obvious parallels with Iraq (failure), and Germany (success).

Historians of the post–Civil War period—aka Reconstruction—have been chary of studying the military’s role, in large part because Southern apologists have used it to claim themselves the victims of an overzealous federal government. …

Congress had to impose martial law in order for blacks to gain basic freedoms. If military officers sometimes vacated racist local laws, if they removed ruthless sheriffs and judges, if they tried white supremacists in unfair military tribunals—all of which they did—they did so for necessary ends. Equality would come to the South no other way.

But as with other American occupations, they got fed up and went home, leaving the place to fester.

Similar campaigns of terror occurred wherever and whenever the military left. In Georgia, Congress briefly pulled back the military after its first biracial elections in 1868. The result? Elected white officials refused to sit their elected black colleagues while 400 white vigilantes massacred 20 black men for marching in a political parade. Throughout the South, whites immediately voted black and white Republicans out of office, electing dozens of klansmen in their place.

Democracy when it came, would be through the blacks themselves and their Civil Rights movement a century later. So the last time I saw the Confederate version of the St Andrews Cross was in the film Selma, where it was waved by a lot of thugs at the Civil Rights activists marching to Montgomery.

On the 150th anniversary the song The Night they drove old Dixie down went on to Facebook, and for its 5 minutes I could think “tragedy” instead of “well-deserved thrashing. “

In the way of a good ballad it tells as much in its three verses as a novel would do in 300 pages, of the displaced Southerner Virgil Caine. Stoneman’s cavalry tears up the railway tracks – well, this was the first railroad war. Virgil Caine goes back to chopping wood and working the land – the rural south vs the industrialised north. The proud and brave older brother in his grave by eighteen haunts like the thousands images we see of the young soldiers in this much photographed war. When I read Edmund Wilson’s great anthology of Civil War writings, Patriotic Gore, the good grammatical plain English and excellent hand-writing of ordinary people in the nineteenth century as well as of generals like Sherman and Grant were familiar. Those Anglos in a plantation colony are recognisable kin.

What I know of this war is through my heart and mind but Americans must feel it in their blood and bones. What do they make of it? Or has it become something like the Napoleonic Wars – interesting, but distant and unfelt. It nearly half a century since The Band sang that song in The Last Waltz.

Gene adds: I took this photo this morning about a mile-and-a-half from where I live in Lexington Virginia:

Lexington is the burial location of Robert E. Lee and Stonewall Jackson. Lee is buried in a chapel at Washington and Lee University, where he served as president after the war and where my niece is now a professor.

Lexington is a largely liberal and Democratic town surrounded by much more conservative and Republican rural areas. A few years ago the city council voted to allow the display only of the United States and Commonwealth of Virginia flags, effectively banning the display of Confederate flags on city property and causing outrage among groups such as the Sons of Confederate Veterans.

More recently the removal of a Confederate flag from the Lee Chapel caused another brouhaha.

Living in Lexington is a constant reminder of William Faulkner’s truism: “The past is never dead. It’s not even past.”