Sunday, 14 December 2014

Footnote 32, by Loz Kaye

If the history of this century has been about anything so far, then it is the bargain of national security. A constant state of war carried out on a need-to-know basis.

Our governments of various political hues, the NSA, CIA, GCHQ, have constantly asked for, even demanded, our trust. We're keeping you safer, trust us. We're acting within the law, trust us. We need the powers we ask for (and many more you don't know about), trust us.

The shocking report to the Senate Intelligence Committee on CIA torture activities has revealed one tiny corner of the truth, one tiny corner of the misery the US - and by collusion its allies - has unleashed on the world.

News outlets have shied away from describing the atrocities contained in it for what they actually are. I can't. It's rape, kidnap, mental cruelty, thuggery, torture and murder.

Once and for all, this report shows how flawed that bargain of national security has become. The trust we have been asked to have in the war on terror and the rush to mass surveillance has been dangerously misplaced.

The report is full of instances where the public and their elected representatives have been lied to.

The CIA claimed that these “enhanced techniques” led to useful information, preventing terrorist attacks. The committee found that in no case examined was this true. Not one.

CIA Deputy Director of Operations James Pavitt told the Senate Intelligence committee in 2001 they would be informed of each individual who entered CIA custody. Didn't happen.

Pavitt denied torture, and in 2002 denied existence of a detention facility. Lies.

The CIA lied about the number of people detained. They lied about videotaping of interrogations. They lied about using starvation. They lied about using sleep deprivation to medically damaging extent.

The idea that we should take the security services' word at face value after this is not just laughable, it's obscene.

In lots of places, coverage of the report has been rather warped by the CIA's point of view.

It was presented that the failure had mainly been that the torture was ineffective. In other words, that if it had been effective, then it might have been worth persevering with the anal rehydration and simulated drownings. 

To my mind that is obviously monstrous.

What this has done, though, has been to dispel the Jack Bauer, 24 fantasy that for our spooks the ends justify the means and can be made to do so within a very strict timeframe with space for adverts.

The constant claim has been that lives have been saved, and therefore complaining about collateral damage was naive or dangerous.

We now know that those claims have been made falsely in the past and there is no need to take them as true without question in the future.

Equally, the notion that this was done by a few “bad apples” has also been stripped away.

Far from being a few rogue agents, this torture programme was devised by contractor psychologists James Mitchell and Bruce Jessen.

They formed a company worth $180m, and received $81m in payouts over seven years. This shows that abuse was planned, systemic and well-funded.

In all the detail of the report, as journalist Trevor Timm pointed out, there is one case that seems to sum up that whole miserable saga.

Gul Rahman was tortured at the CIA black site known as the Salt Pit, he was chained to the floor and froze to death.

Footnote 32 explains curtly, “Gul Rahman, another case of mistaken identity.” A human life, someone who lived, loved and was loved, ended up as a footnote by mistake.

The favourite go to phrase for the mass surveillance lobby is that if you have nothing to hide, then you have nothing to fear.

Clearly, Gul Ruhman had everything to fear, freezing to death as a footnote in history. In the globalised war on terror, we can all fear becoming another fatal footnote.

Of course, some of us more than others. Currently, Muslims and people of Middle Eastern origin.

But until the government and mainstream parties truly face up to what they have done, until we have a proper inquiry in the UK, and until the release of the Chilcot Report, then the powers that be deserve our fear, not our trust.

Loz Kaye is the Leader of the Pirate Party UK.

Thursday, 11 December 2014

America's Real Rape Culture, by David Lindsay

Fair Warning.

This article is not about Rolling Stone or the University of Virginia. Nor is this an anti-American piece; one could say plenty about the United Kingdom.

The rape culture in the United States consists in the staggering prevalence of even quite casual references to heterosexual and homosexual rape as a way of referring to domination and humiliation.

And, for that matter, in the staggering prevalence of even quite casual references to domination and humiliation themselves. Why do so many things have to be framed in those terms?

A sports team, even a school one, only has to beat its rival for it to be said to have "raped" the other side. 

Whether playfully or menacingly, a heterosexual man will state his intention to make another heterosexual man his "bitch", which sounds hilariously gay to British ears.

Over here, calling a man a "bitch" is done only by the kind of men who refer to each other as "she", a small minority even of gay men, high camp to the point of social and cultural separatism.

"Faggot" means something quite different, and now rather obscure, in Britain, where it otherwise still sounds American on the rare occasions that it is heard. But it is an insult of first resort in America.

It is true that "bugger" and "sod" are treated as mild, and even quaintly old-fashioned, profanities on these shores, scarcely more serious than "bloody". But that is because their use is entirely divorced from their original meaning, of which, in the case of "sod", most people are probably unaware.

Americans even say "f**k you" instead of "f**k off". They manage to shock even those of us who are quite hardened to these things, by addressing the c-word to women, something that almost never happens in Britain.

Indeed, that word seems to be addressed mostly to women, such that its use against men, which is nearly its only use among Britons, would presumably sound odd to Americans.

Most bizarre of all to the rest of us are those invitations to suck the genitals of men or boys who, like those to whom they issue those invitations, are assumed to be of the most unimpeachable heterosexuality.

Lurking behind all of this, and not very far in its background, is the horrific level of prison rape in the United States.

That is part of the general harshness of the American penal system, and it is connected to the very lengthy sentences that are handed down there as a matter of routine.

Prison rape happens in Britain, but it is far less common, and it is certainly not something that mainstream entertainment regularly uses for comedic purposes.

Fear of being raped seems to be seen as part of the deterrent value of the American system of mass incarceration, itself so integral to American economic and political activity that its subcultural features are prominent as points of normal cultural reference.

And there would be no fear of being raped in prison unless it were known as a day-to-day fact of life that men truly were being raped in prison.

Meanwhile, other, although not unrelated, forces compel that huge numbers of people, especially men, and most especially young and non-white men (categories that are in any case depicted in hypersexualised ways), have to spend often prolonged periods inside that system.

As we saw first at Abu Ghraib and now also in the Senate report on torture, the American Republic has taken to using sexual violence as an official weapon of war, in at least the latter case with full approval all the way up to the very top of the Bush Administration.

That Administration was not the first, of either party, to have been steeped in fraternities and related organisations, the likes of Skull and Bones, that are as baffling when seen from this side of the Atlantic as is the not unconnected system of legacy admissions.

The strongly sexual aspect of that kind of thing, even if not actually violent or non-consensual, is nevertheless as coercive and exploitative of the men involved as it is of the women.

Being rich and, although Americans would delude themselves and dispute the term, being posh do not make one any older than one is in actual fact.

Still only in their late teens and desperate to fit in, as well as often having a family tradition to keep up, these men are told that this is how to do so.

Products of what in itself is this wildly atypical milieu wield vastly disproportionate economic, social, cultural and political influence.

Thus is rape really quite central to even humdrum American cultural expression.

If there is in fact a huge incidence of sexual violence in general in the United States, then that is hardly surprising.

Saturday, 6 December 2014

Why The Euro Cannot Work: Flow of Wealth to the Core, by Martin Prior

When I look at the prevailing threats to democracy, not least from the EU, the IMF and ever since 1951 in Iran, the United States, I wonder if we are approaching a turning point, just as the Roman Republic did when it became too unwieldy to match vested interests, and became an Empire.

When I recently stood for the Compass Management Committee I issued the following supporting statement:

As a democrat,

(1)            I am a member of the Labour Campaign for Electoral Reform, with a preference for STV,
(2)        I believe, along with Unite, my union, that the TTIP should be torn up.  There are in fact likely to be disadvantages for lower-than-median incomes: this is a multinational stitch-up, which will also represent a neo-colonial blueprint for future deals with the Third World.

As an erstwhile econometrician,

(1)        I argue that austerity is counter-productive, note Greece in particular and of course here, see my blog at .
(2)        To my mind the Euro cannot work.  It attracts wealth to the centre, i.e. Germany, and those on the periphery inevitably lose out.  Certainly their problems cannot be overcome with fantasy and neo-liberal panaceas.

In fact, CAPITALISM IS A CANCER and in particular we must dismantle the neo-liberalism of the EU.

As regards democracy, I could say a lot about STV as an effective mechanism for choosing the choices, including preferred candidates within a party, and I feel the key thing wrong with the TTIP and its like is that in a world where there are so many dangers to the environment, standardising regulations with somebody who is climate-change denier half the time – i.e. the US - is something we need like a hole in the head, let alone the ozone-layer. 

I would like to turn to my statement that the Euro “attracts wealth to the centre, i.e. Germany, and those on the periphery inevitably lose out.”  In a blog three years ago, in 2011, I argued that the Euro was inherently unsound.  I stated:

However I have a further objection [to the question of economic heterogeneity], which to my mind is extremely serious: I feel that when you have an economic area operating under a market economy, wealth will always flow from the periphery to an economic centre of gravity. This leads to lower inflation at the centre and a depreciation of currencies at the periphery. This is apparent in Europe, and we also see for example in the Antipodes that the New Zealand Dollar slowly but inexorably depreciates against the Australian Dollar...

As I felt at the time, the deficit in Greece, among other countries, has not gone away, and indeed there is concern about economic heterogeneity that spans the political spectrum from left to right in this and many countries.  But now I feel it time to look at the statistical evidence.  The following graph relates the depreciation of various mainly Western countries’ currencies against the Deutsche Mark, versus the distance of the capitals from Frankfurt.  This is the 16-year period 1963-1999, the eve of the Euro:

Two curves are shown, the green fitted to all countries in the EU in 1999, on the eve of the Euro, and the white one fitted to the original signatories to the Treaty of Rome in 1958.  (SF is Finland.)  Germany is not part of the fit, since the rise against itself would have to be +0% and the distance perhaps zero.   Where the curve goes through +0% could be an average distance within Germany from Frankfurt, either in geographic, population or economic terms.  Here it is around 250-265m, reasonably consistent with my own calculation of 215km for the mean, which would go up to 260km with re-unification, though this latter covers only the last nine years of this period.

Now these curves are perhaps the simplest curve fit, which is known as a log-linear fit.  Let us look at the example of two countries, one which is twice the distance of the other from Frankfurt, at least at the capitals.  We have Italy, where Rome is 959km from Frankfurt, whereas Paris is 471km.  And Athens is 1804km from Frankfurt, almost twice that of Rome.  Let us look at the change in currency values for Greece and Italy: in 1962, the Drachma was worth 20.83 Lire, but in 1999 it was worth only 6.42 Lire, well below half its previous value.  The white curve, extended as yellow beyond the original six signatories, gives a halving time of 25 years for countries where one country is half the distance of the other from Frankfurt.  In 1987, the Drachma was worth 9.80 Lire, just under half its 1962 value.  Both currencies lie close to this curve.

In fact we have a very straightforward idea: double the distance, halve the strength.  For the green curve the halving rate is roughly 33 years.

Now clearly there is not enough data to refute the hypothesis of halving times related to distances from a centre of gravity.  There are indeed irregularities.  But we may also note that the graph suggests that the Netherlands exerts a pull on Belgium, and also Spain on Portugal, since in each case one is above the curve line and the other below, or much closer to the curve line.

The graph also shows that the more recent a country’s accession to the EU, the less their currencies have fallen.  All countries acceding after the first six in 1958 – with the exception of the UK - have depreciations above the white line, and countries that acceded 1994 onwards are well above both lines.  This suggests that the greater the economic integration, the greater the gravitational pull.  Nevertheless one has to be careful with this figure, since before accession, their circumstances will be varied.

Now what we can see here is that all the countries that have had deficit difficulties, i.e. the ‘pigs’ - Portugal, Ireland, Italy, Greece and Spain – are those at the bottom of the chart.  It doesn’t matter that they are on or above one of the curves, and Spain and Ireland are above both curves: a deficit is a deficit.  It is clear that the pressures to devalue in the latter half of last century are still there, and that all the things that devaluation is meant to avoid will still happen in the new Euro environment.

As I said in my blog:

Now if what I say is correct, then we cannot put Greece and other southern countries on a firm footing once and for all, but rather the slippage will occur indefinitely.

It is clear that economic union cannot really happen effectively until the wealth of the EU starts to converge, but within the present scenario, the inequalities will in fact worsen, and it has to be the case that if an economic union needs intermittently to mercilessly punish its weakest members, there has to be something wrong with the underlying philosophy of that economic union.

I have in this short paper tried to look at currency movements, since the problems of the Eurozone directly relate to currencies.  Clearly more detailed analyses are required.  For example the volatile movements between 1973-83 led to halving rates of around 12-14 years – probably due to exceptional transport costs – but returned to more like 40-50 years in the remainder of the century.  But this suggests that the following depreciations against the Deutsche Mark might have occurred from 1999-2013, had there been no Euro:

from Frankfurt(km)
[German av’ge 260km]
predicted change
(50-year halving rate)
predicted change
(75-year halving rate)

This table clearly shows the slippage within a free-trade zone over a 15-year period.  Italy was showing signs of sluggishness around 2007, eight years after the start of the Eurozone.  And now, 15 years after the start, France is having difficulty recovering from the recent slump.  Austerity measures are likely to aggravate France’s problems, both in terms of trade and the deficit.  Italy too.

And according to the model, London’s distance from Frankfurt lies in between that of Paris and Rome, so we would have started having trouble over the Euro around 2010, had we been in.