Saturday, 19 August 2017

Is There a Nazi in the White House?

Written by Sonali Kolhatkar

Donald Trump is trying hard to put a pretty face on racism. But the racists, openly embracing the label, won’t let him.

Referring to the violent gathering of self-professed fascists in Charlottesville, Va., during his press conference Tuesday, Trump said, “Not all of those people were neo-Nazis, believe me. Not all of those people were white supremacists by any stretch.” But those who showed up for the “Unite the Right” rally Saturday defined themselves so clearly that Trump can’t whitewash their hatred away.

The Nazi website The Daily Stormer even declared this season the “Summer of Hate.” (The website has recently been dropped by its hosting company, GoDaddy). On Saturday, protesters gathered, wearing swastikas and chanting the Nazi slogan “Blood and Soil,” and marched KKK-style with lit torches. One attendee literally emulated those who pledge allegiance to Islamic State by plowing down people in the street with his car, killing a young woman named Heather Heyer.

Anyone claiming to be non-Nazi who marched alongside the Nazis either agreed with their fascist ideology or condoned it. Either way, Trump appears even more deluded than usual in his attempt to defend the Nazis when the Nazis themselves are proudly proclaiming their fascistic credentials.

Rather than use the euphemistic term “alt-right” to describe the conglomeration of pro-Confederacy activists, neo-Nazis, white nationalists, Ku Klux Klan members and Trump supporters who gathered in Charlottesville, we ought to use the familiar words: “Nazis,” or “fascists.” Not only are the terms interchangeable when judged by the aspirations of those they represent, they have an appropriate historical significance, reminding us of what is at stake.

A recent psychological study of people professing to be alt-right confirms that they actually look upon nonwhites as less human. So if you talk like a Nazi and walk like a Nazi, you are a Nazi unless you can prove otherwise. Another way to put it: You’re either with the fascists or against them.
Trump has repeatedly sent the message that he is with the Nazis. Which makes him a Nazi sympathizer at best, or simply a Nazi by default.

On Sunday, he attempted to spread the blame for the violence in Charlottesville on all sides, for which he was praised by the fascists. Then, on Monday he was reined in by his party and likely his own staff when he read scripted remarks that included the childish phrase, “Racism is evil,” and even deemed the KKK and neo-Nazis “repugnant,” (although he continued his silence over Heyer’s death).

But by Tuesday, his inner Nazi broke free, and the president practically frothed at the mouth at another press conference, ranting so overtly in favor of the fascists that even some conservative TV hosts were stunned.

When the world condemned the atrocities of Nazi Germany during World War II, there was an eventual reckoning that the inaction of “good Germans” was also partly responsible for the resulting Jewish holocaust. Republicans, including members of Congress who supported Trump during his campaign and after the election, cannot claim to be surprised by his fascistic tendencies surfacing in the wake of Charlottesville, given how often he courted Nazis and racists. Just as good Germans kept silent while disappearances and mass murder took place all around them, Republicans are continuing to stand behind Trump in relative silence, hoping the rest of us do not notice how they enable him.

While some GOP senators, such as Florida’s Marco Rubio, Utah’s Orrin Hatch and Arizona’s John McCain boldly and unequivocally denounced white supremacy, they did not publicly break with the president over it.

But the time is now. They are either with the Nazi in the White House or against him. They cannot denounce white supremacy but continue to support a white supremacist simply because he is president.

Nazism is not simply one end of a political spectrum. The world decided decades ago that it is an ideology that has no place on the spectrum at all. The adoption of Nazi symbols by this movement means it is deliberately aligning itself with one of the worst, most universally denounced mass crimes in modern human history.

We’ve fought this fight before, and despite the morally repugnant, unnecessary and horrific atomic bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki by the U.S., there was little argument in the years following World War II that Nazism needed to end.

Despite the fact that black Americans continue to face repression and discrimination in myriad forms, there has been very little deliberation in recent years over the fact that slavery needed to end or that the adoption of civil rights laws in the U.S. was imperative.

There is no debate over such things because we have moved beyond allowing them to remain morally acceptable. There is no need to rehash the argument about whether one race of humans is superior to another. Biology, human rights, common sense and basic decency are aspects of society that we should be able to take for granted in modern America. But along came Trump, and now we are not just fighting for progress on racial justice, gender justice and economic justice, we are obliged to spell out that Nazis are reprehensible and watch Trump forced to express such basic truisms as “racism is evil.”

The fascist right and its leader Trump are experts in deflection. Trump used the term ‘alt-left’ on Tuesday to ascribe violence to the counterprotesters in Charlottesville, feeding the popular right-wing myth that leftists are the violent ones, rather than the hate-spewing, heavily armed Nazis. There is even a debate about whether it is okay to punch Nazis, rather than a discussion about why Nazis are allowed to spew their hate publicly and incite violence against whole communities of people. Using the rubric of “free speech,” Nazis have even been able to garner the support of the American Civil Liberties Union, a noble organization with a long history of standing up for people’s civil rights, mine included, but which in this case chose to throw its weight behind a movement promising violence against others.

By backing white supremacists and fascists, Trump has declared war on the rest of us. The most important discussion we should having today isn’t about who is responsible for the violence or whether Nazis are really violent. We should simply ask why are any of us tolerating the Nazi in the White House?

This article was originally published at Truthdig.

Sonali Kolhatkar is the host and executive producer of Uprising, a daily radio program at KPFK Pacifica Radio, soon to be on Free Speech TV (click here for the campaign to televise Uprising). She is also the Director of the Afghan Women's Mission, a US-based non-profit that supports women's rights activists in Afghanistan and co-author of "Bleeding Afghanistan: Washington, Warlords, and the Propaganda of Silence."

A scary video interview with a of group of American Nazis.

Friday, 18 August 2017

Government Borrowing caps limited Grenfell Tower refurb budget, say council papers

Reported by Anthony Barej and first published at Public Finance Magazine

Council papers showed in 2014 the council estimated over the next five years it would require £110m to maintain its housing stock but was only able to earmark £64m, leaving a £46m shortfall.

This placed the council under pressure to find ways to fund necessary work, including the sale of assets and cost-cutting, according to the council’s HousingRevenue Account (HRA) business plan from 2015.

Planning documents show RBKC reduced its original budget for the work on the tower to £9.7m after it decided on using cheaper materials in the Grenfell Tower renovations.

This was partly due to government rules that do not allow authorities to borrow above a cap, the plan said. 

RBKC’s cap was £221m. “Given our current debt our headroom for borrowing is only £11.4m,” the plan stated.

This £11.4m represented a fraction of the £110m required by the council for maintenance across its housing stock including Grenfell, the papers showed.

“Given, the limited scope for additional borrowing, the intention is to not use it to fund maintenance work but to invest in future regeneration or development of affordable housing,” the document explained.  

A spokesperson for RBKC said: “Refurbishment works are likely to feature in the upcoming public inquiry into the Grenfell Tower fire.

“We want to be open and transparent, but we hope people understand that we also do not want to prejudice the fair conduct of the public inquiry in any way.”

Tuesday, 15 August 2017

Should we hold a Second EU Referendum?

David Miliband, a former Labour Foreign Secretary, made the case for a second referendum on the final terms of our exit from the European Union (EU), in The Observer last Sunday. I am not a fan of Miliband senior (or junior much), but I have to say I agreed with a lot of what he wrote in this piece.

He refers to Brexit as a ‘stitch up’ which when you consider the lies told by the Leave campaign and their complete refusal to even describe what kind of Brexit we will have, it is not hyperbole really. We still don’t know what kind of Brexit we will have, with different members of the Cabinet arguing over the form it should take.

Liam Fox, the international trade secretary, and Philip Hammond, the chancellor, made a declaration in a joint article for the Sunday Telegraph on the same day, which was intended to quash speculation that the cabinet is divided over how to implement Brexit and what will happen during the transitional period – or implementation phase, as ministers call it.

The two ministers state that after the transitional deal expires, in perhaps two years after our leaving date of March 2019, as the conditions of Article 50 require, the UK will not remain in the EU customs union. Today, the government issued a press released paper on their plans for the UK’s position on the customs union, after the transitional period ends. It lays out two options that will be pursued.

Like all the rhetoric that comes out from this government on what will happen after Brexit, this is wishful thinking. The EU will resist any kind of deal on customs union, the single market, and freedom of movement of peoples, which is better than the existing arrangements the UK has as an EU member. The transitional deal will probably be an off the shelf one, that is remaining in the European Economic Area (EEA) (the so called ‘Norway model’), because the EU will not have the time, apart from anything else, to negotiate a new bespoke agreement with us.

This would mean of course that, with the next general election approaching (probably in 2022), we would have to accept a divorce settlement without any real change in our terms, in fact Norway pays more than it would do by being an EU member. How popular do you think this will be with leave voters?

To be fair, Labour’s stance on Brexit is no more realistic than the government’s, and again different shadow ministers say different things. The shadow international trade minister, Bill Esterson, repeatedly failed to give a clear explanation of Labour’s position on the customs union on BBC radio this morning. Pressed on the question, Esterson said, ‘That’s why you negotiate, isn’t it?’ Essentially this is the same as the government’s line, that, the EU will give us everything we want. We’ve had similar wishful thinking on staying in the single market from Labour too.

As Miliband said in his piece last Sunday, ‘democracy did not end on 23 June 2016… the settlement of a workable alternative to EU membership is a delusion.’

I think this may be dawning on more and more British voters. The opinion polls on whether we stay or leave the EU have shifted a little in the direction of remaining, but still are very tight. What prospect of a rerun of last year’s referendum?

The Green Party and the Lib Dems stood at this year’s general election on the promise of a second referendum on the issue. Both parties did poorly though, and most post-election studies find that remain voters, mainly backed Labour. Labour was probably perceived as not as bad as the Tories on this issue, despite the smokescreen created by Labour on exactly how they would leave the EU.

But by the time of the next general election things will have become much clearer on the details of our exit. The general election could be used instead of a referendum, to make the case for staying in the EU or possibly the EEA. One way or another, Labour and the Tories will have to lay their cards on the table at the next general election. 

Saturday, 12 August 2017

Twice as Many Americans View North Korea as a Critical Threat Than Can Find It on a Map

Media coverage has created a massive gap between US desire to attack North Korea and an understanding of the crisis.

Written by Adam Johnson and first published at Alternet

A recent poll conducted by the Chicago Council on Global Affairs found that 75 percent of Americans list North Korea as a “critical threat” facing the United States, up from 55 percent just two years ago. The same poll found that 40 percent of Americans support conducting preemptive air strikes on North Korean “nuclear facilities”—a move that would effectively start and all-out war on the peninsula.

Contrast this poll with another one from March showing that just 36 percent of Americans can locate North Korea on a map. This means that there are more people in the United States who want to launch a unilateral, unprovoked war against North Korea than even know where North Korea is. This massive gap—between our collective desire to bomb something versus not having a clue what that something is—is stark evidence of a colossal media failure in the United States, a media failure that, as a rule, decontextualizes the “crisis” in North Korea and strips it of all political nuance.

Routinely, the media frames the US as responding to North Korean bellicose as if they are the ones initiating conflict out of thin air. Take, for example. President Trump’s recent threats to reign “fire and fury” upon North Korea, which was largely presented as a response to a hostile and unstable Kim regime.

“Trump Warns North Korea: Stop Threats,” the Wall Street Journal front page read Wednesday. This gives people the distinct impression the United States was just minding its own business and some random lunatic decided to provoke an otherwise benevolent and innocent Trump administration. Missing from this narrative is that North Korea’s “threats” are almost always qualified as defensive in nature, which is to say they are always on the condition of a US first strike.

This is consistent with a broader historical context that’s never provided. Rarely does the media mention that the Korean War never ended and the destruction the US leveled against the peninsula—while largely forgotten stateside—is still very fresh in the minds of both South and North Korea.

Rarely is it mentioned in the media that during the US bombing of Korea from June 1950 to July 1953 the US military, according to their own figures, killed approximately 3 million Koreans—roughly 20 percent of the population—mostly in the North. This is compared to 2.3 million Japanese killed in the whole of World War II, and that included the use of two nuclear bombs.

Rarely is it mentioned the US dropped more bombs and napalm on Korea in the early ‘50s than it did during the entire Pacific campaign against the Japanese during World War II—635,000 tons of munitions and 32,557 tons of napalm.

Rarely is it mentioned that, according to Dean Rusk, the Assistant Secretary of State for Far Eastern Affairs, the United States bombed “everything that moved in North Korea, every brick standing on top of another.” Rarely is it mentioned that after running low on urban targets US bombers destroyed hydroelectric and irrigation dams, flooding farmland and wrecking crops. Rarely is it mentioned the CIA oversaw South Korean death squads that killed thousands on suspicion of being communists.

Now, this may not matter to the casual media consumer but it matters a great deal to the North Korean government and this historical context goes along way explaining the martial posture on display. If this seems like ancient history we can go back to just 1994 when House Republicans helped torpedo a nuclear deal then-President Clinton arrived at with the North Koreans in good faith. Or to 2002 when George Bush listed North Korea in its “Axis of Evil” hit list then proceed to invade and destroy one-third of that list. Or to 2011 when NATO bombed Libya into a failed state six years after Gaddafi gave up his nuclear ambitions in earnest. The US has, for decades, given the North Koreans no reason not to pursue nuclear weapons and contextualizing the situation as such would, perhaps, reduce the amount of Americans eager to bomb Pyongyang without provocation or attack.

One doesn’t have to like or sympathize with a government to understand its motivation. Once one understands the history of the US’s war on Korea and internalizes the fact that the North Koreans don’t see the war as being over, their actions don’t seem irrational or unhinged—they seem like the last resort of a country that views itself, fairly or not, as under siege. If only the media could make an effort to reflect this context far more often, perhaps it would reduce the amount of people itching for war and—along with some useful visual aids—significantly increase the number of Americans who at least know where or what North Korea is.

Adam Johnson is a contributing analyst at FAIR and contributing writer for AlterNet. Follow him on Twitter @AdamJohnsonNYC.

Thursday, 10 August 2017

Will a New Political Centre Party be Formed in the UK?

This really is a news story that will not go away. Ever since Jeremy Corbyn was elected Labour Party leader, but especially since after he was re-elected to the post last year, there has been a constant drip, drip of speculation, of a breakaway ‘centre left’ party being formed.

This week, the story was re-ignited by a tweet from James Chapman, a former aide to Brexit Secretary of State, David Davis, and ex Daily Mail political editor. The text of the tweet @jameschappers was:

“Past time for sensible MPs in all parties to admit Brexit is a catastrophe, come together in new party if need be, and reverse it.”

He later tweeted it was “well past time for sensible journos on papers that supported Brexit to admit it is going to destroy lives of many of their readers.”

As this suggests, the main issue that might unite elements of the Labour right and Tory left (such that it is), together with the Lib Dems, is Brexit.

On the original tweet, Chapman copied in Remain-sympathising MPs Chuka Ummuna (Labour), Vince Cable (Lib Dem), Anna Soubry (Tory), Nicky Morgan (Tory), Rachel Reeves (Labour), Nicholas Soames (Tory), Pat McFadden (Labour) and Stella Creasy (Labour).

Who might we add to this list? In Parliament, other Blairite Labour MPs and Europhile Tories, like Chris Leslie and Ken Clarke, and peers Like Lord Mandelson and Lord Heseltine. Perhaps the Scottish Tory Party leader Ruth Davidson?

Outside of Parliament, Tony Blair ex Labour Prime Minister, ex Labour Foreign Secretary, David Miliband and Nick Clegg, former leader of the Lib Dems. And what about the former Tory Chancellor, George Osborne? Chapman was previously an aide to Osborne when he was Chancellor, who now edits the Evening Standard. He has used this position to attack the Tory government, especially over Brexit.

Chapman has even suggested a name for the new party, ‘The Democrats’. The New Statesman revealed back in June this year, that Osborne had approached the then Lib Dem leader, Tim Farron and some Labour MPs, after the Brexit vote, with this idea, and with the same suggested name. Might Chapman be the front man for Osborne here?

But will this new party ever actually happen? I think the chances are against it. The fate of the break away party from Labour in the 1980s, the Social Democrat Party (SDP), is still fresh in the minds of many MPs, particularly Labour ones. After a brief spike in the opinion polls (polling at around 50%), the party dwindled and merged with the then Liberal Party to form the Lib Dems.

Some point to the victory of Emmanuel Macron in the French presidential election this year, on an unambiguously centre ground ticket. But Macron only got 23% of the vote in the first round of the election, and only won so easily in the second round because his only opponent was the far right Marine Le Penn. His new party did though win the most seats in Parliament.  

It is highly likely, given the First Past The Post electoral system in the UK, which makes it very difficult for new parties to break the old Tory/Labour duopoly, that this new party would suffer the same end as the SDP.

It is debatable whether being anti-Brexit is enough in itself to attract large numbers of voters, as the Lib Dems found at the recent general election, where they only made modest gains, despite being the main pro-EU party (in England anyway). Over 16 million people voted to stay in the EU, but the Lib Dems only got less than two and a half million votes. Many Remain voters backed Labour, but Labour fudged the issue of Brexit somewhat, but that can’t last forever.

One thing the new party might do though, like the SDP did, is split the anti-Tory vote, and make it impossible for Labour to win. When Blair came up with his New Labour Party idea in the 1990s, it was accepted in the party mainly because, hindered by the SDP, Labour had lost four general elections in a row. The Blairite’s might see this as the only way they will pull the Labour Party to the political right, or ‘centre ground’ as they see it.

Wednesday, 9 August 2017

Stop Social Cleansing in London - Stop Haringey Development Vehicle

Protesters against HDV outside Haringey Civic Centre earlier this year

Written by Gordon Peters

I’m an active older resident of Haringey in London who spends a lot of time with individuals and groups supporting vulnerable older people.  I was a Parliamentary candidate in Hornsey & Wood Green for the Green Party in 2015 and I’m very concerned about the housing crisis and lack of decent and affordable homes in the borough.

I’m taking legal action – now including a Judicial Review – in order to stop Haringey Council’s leadership from demolishing several housing estates and selling off its public assets.  At an eventual value of £2bn, it would be the biggest ever sell-off of public assets in local authority history. 

It will affect many of the present Council estate residents who would lose their current homes as well as those who are currently homeless.  The council have refused to give a written guarantee of a right to return on council tenancies, and only a small percentage of the new accommodation will be on social rents. Whilst some tenants might be rehoused locally, most will lose their current residential rights as tenants.  The replacement homes will have a lack of genuinely affordable housing and there is no guarantee at all of social housing.  

“Regeneration” is about bringing wealthier people into Haringey and many poorer people having to move out – as has happened in Southwark with Lendlease, Haringey’s chosen partner.  In addition, there is a very high risk to all of Haringey residents by putting so much of the public purse in the hands of a new limited company with no guaranteed income and no risk assessment shared.

Many of Haringey’s Labour councillors also share our concerns but the leadership have refused to accept their own Overview and Scrutiny Committee’s reports calling for a halt to the HDV.  We have also called in the District Auditor who is conducting a public interest investigation.  

There has been a serious lack of consultation, of democratic process, of transparency and accountability, as well as duties of equal treatment which must now be addressed in a court of law.   A 'Funday' survey asking if tenants want 'improved housing' would be expected to return an almost 100% 'yes' vote!  But there has been no genuine consultation on the HDV and only a limited amount on the demolition of Northumberland Park.

We have issued a ‘Pre-Action’ letter to the Leader of Haringey Council and in subsequent correspondence she has dismissed our concerns.  Over £8,000 has been raised already for these legal costs so far but we now have to go to the High Court where our barristers will make the case for stopping the HDV and reconsidering.  We therefore need £4000 soon and we may well need more after that.

If we win – and our lawyers Leigh Day feel we have a very strong case - , a judge can stop this vehicle in its tracks and make Haringey reconsider its options – including putting its case before the electorate in the Council elections of 2018.  The wide coalition opposing the HDV includes members and councillors of the Labour Party and the Lib-Dems as well as the Green Party.  It also includes many non-affiliated individuals and groups including the Federation of Haringey Residents’ Associations and Unite Community Branch.

Please donate to the legal challenge fees at Crowd Justice

For further information go to

Gordon Peters is a retired Social Services Director and currently chair of Haringey Older Peoples Reference Group. He is a member of Haringey Green Party and a Green Left supporter.

Tuesday, 8 August 2017

Why do we Owe the EU Money after Brexit?

The Sunday Telegraph reported at the weekend that the UK government has accepted that it will have to pay a ‘divorce settlement’ to the European Union (EU) after leaving the organisation. The figure quoted is £36 billion, although the government has said this is just speculation.

The Evening Standard revealed over a month ago that Whitehall ‘sources’ said it was widely accepted among civil servants that a fee of £30 billion to £40 billion would have to be paid the EU. The Standard also reported:

‘A UK Government official said the size of any payment was a matter for negotiations, adding: “We have already said we will meet our obligations in line with international law. We have also said the payment of vast sums to the EU will end.”’

This is a considerable change of line from the government, with Foreign Secretary, Boris Johnson, only weeks ago saying the EU can ‘go whistle’ for any payment. The Prime Minister, Theresa May, was also reported to have told Jean Claude Juncker, President of the EU Commission, ‘we don’t owe you a penny’ at a dinner in Downing Street, although this was before the general election.

The EU have said that negotiations on any future trade deal between the EU and UK will not begin until the exit payment is agreed. So, the EU has us over a barrel, so to speak, but what exactly are our obligations to the EU?

In a recent report, the EU Commission said that “orderly withdrawal…requires settling the financial obligations” and that “the methodology for the financial settlement…has to be established in the first phase of the negotiations”.

The Commission has though published its opening position on its methodology which states:

‘Through its approval of the successive Multi-annual Financial Frameworks (MFFs) and the Own Resource Decision (ORD1), the United Kingdom committed to fund a share of the Union obligations defined by the ORD rules in all its dimensions. In particular, through the adoption of the basic acts (legal base), each programme has been allocated a reference amount to be spent according to a financial programming over the period 2014-2020.’

Clear as mud then.

We do have some idea of the likely items that will constitute the UK’s obligations to the EU after Brexit. The Institute for Government says there are four main components:

Outstanding budget commitments

EU budget payments are ‘back loaded’ and so some commitments are not fully funded as yet. The budget cycle runs until 2019-20, the year the UK is scheduled to leave the EU, but the EU may want to carry forward payments into 2020-21, which the UK is reluctant to do. However, if a transitional exit deal is agreed then this would run on for the period of this deal, at least.

EU officials’ pensions

Obviously, this is an item that has future liabilities, and the UK would have to at least fund its own citizen’s EU pensions after Brexit, but the EU may well want the UK to contribute to whole fund, perhaps as a one-off payment, for other associated costs to the scheme.

Contingent liabilities

The EU acquired these whilst the UK was a member, so the EU will expect payments to cover all liabilities. For example, when the 2015 EU accounts were drawn up, outstanding loans to Hungary, Ireland, Portugal and Ukraine collectively amounted to €49.5 billion. Some of this money might be reimbursed though, if the loans are repaid.

Other costs of withdrawal

This would cover the relocation of the two London-based EU agencies after Brexit; the European Banking Authority and the European Medicines Agency. Other costs include the decommissioning of the Joint Research Centre nuclear sites and funding British teachers seconded to European schools until 2021.

There will be calls from the hard Brexit camp to simply walk away from the negotiations, and stuff any future trade deal. If a political solution cannot be agreed, it could become a legal case in the International Court of Justice or the Permanent Court of Arbitration, both located in the Hague. It is hard to predict the ruling, but if it went against the UK, we would have to stump up the money, or face possible economic sanctions.

It appears that the UK will have to pay some kind of settlement, but it could be staged over a number of years and the figure of £36 billion is probably pretty close to what we will end up paying. Although, I think public opinion may be shifting against leaving the EU, and so we may not leave at all.