Sunday, 30 August 2015

Donald Trump: Plutocrat Unbound, by Ian Oakley

One of the great joys of the summer of 2015 has been Donald Trump’s domination of the American political scene.

While President Obama has been getting on with the difficult job of trying to govern, whether it is with his openings to Iran or Cuba, or with grappling with the Republicans in Congress, Trump has been providing the entertainment with his bid for the Republican nomination for President in 2016.

The great thing about ‘The Donald’ is that he is exactly the candidate that the modern Republican Party deserves.

The Republican Party is a party that was smashed by George W Bush’s Presidency and rebuilt on the back of Tea Party outrage. It is now a collection of warring interest groups.

The big business wing wants free trade and mass immigration to keep profits up and wages down. The Tea Party insurgents what protection and no immigration to keep jobs from being exported and wages up.

The one thing that unites them is a hatred for President Obama, with his attempts to give poorer people healthcare and with his support for tackling climate change.

Along with a Republican Party that enjoys fighting itself, almost as much as it enjoys denouncing Obama and Hillary Clinton, you have a media market that is polarised with partisan cable news channels and websites, and a political culture where everyone takes offence at everything.

So if a candidate for any major office makes a joke about something, or seeks to engage on difficult issues like race or religion, they are denounced by a Twitter ‘victim’ group, and that is then picked up by the partisan cable media.

This produces candidates as bland as beige cardigans. It fuels both the phoney media outrage, and a public distrust of do-nothing politicians.

Into this mess comes Donald Trump. The billionaire property developer and reality TV star who says exactly what he wants, when he wants, and about what he wants.

The first thing he did was show up most American political commentators as talking nonsense.

Many of them said he would not run; he ran. Most said that his comments on Mexicans would destroy his campaign; his poll numbers went up.Most said that his comments on John McCain would definitely destroy his campaign; his poll numbers went up. Most said his fight with Fox news was suicide; Fox News backed down (they need him for the ratings, and he delivers).

The American public is so tired of a political class that won’t say boo to a goose, that they are loving Trump’s crazed version of straight talking.

Donald Trump is the Republican Party’s own worst nightmare, because he is the living embodiment of what that party has become. 

The Republican Establishment worships the rich, and Trump is a billionaire. The Tea Party hates illegal immigration, and Trump will build a wall.

In truth the Republican Establishment would love to get rid of Trump, as they want a candidate such as  Jeb Bush, who will pretend to care about Latinos and the poor, who will get elected, and who will then get on with cutting taxes, with reducing regulation, and with keeping the illegal immigrants coming.

Unfortunately for them, the normal way to get rid of a candidate – cut off their rich donors – won’t work with Trump, as he can fund his own campaign.

The more that Establishment types attack Trump, the more that it feeds his support among the Tea Party wing.

The Trump campaign will probably come to a sticky end at some point next year.

But in his exposure of the uselessness of the commentator class, in his exposure of the awfulness of today’s Republican Party, and in his highlighting the issue of illegal immigration – a major concern of ordinary Americans – he has done the United States body politic a favour.

Tuesday, 18 August 2015

Assange and the Value of WikiLeaks: Subverting Illusions, by Norman Solomon

Three years after Ecuador’s government granted political asylum to Julian Assange in its small ground-floor London embassy, the founder of WikiLeaks is still there -- beyond the reach of the government whose vice president, Joe Biden, has labeled him “a digital terrorist."

The Obama administration wants Assange in a U.S. prison, so that the only mouse he might ever see would be scurrying across the floor of a solitary-confinement cell.

Above and beyond Assange’s personal freedom, what’s at stake includes the impunity of the United States and its allies to relegate transparency to a mythical concept, with democracy more rhetoric than reality.

From the Vietnam War era to today -- from aerial bombing and torture to ecological disasters and financial scams moving billions of dollars into private pockets -- the high-up secrecy hiding key realities from the public has done vast damage.

No wonder economic and political elites despise WikiLeaks for its disclosures.

During the last five years, since the release of the infamous “Collateral Murder” video, the world has changed in major ways for democratic possibilities, with WikiLeaks as a catalyst.

It’s sadly appropriate that Assange is so deplored and reviled by so many in the upper reaches of governments, huge corporations and mass media.

For such powerful entities, truly informative leaks to the public are plagues that should be eradicated as much as possible.

Notably, in the U.S. mass media, Assange is often grouped together with whistleblowers. He is in fact a journalistic editor and publisher.

In acute contrast to so many at the top of the corporate media and governmental food chains, Assange insists that democracy requires the consent of the governed” to be informed consent.

While powerful elites work 24/7 to continually gain the uninformed consent of the governed, WikiLeaks has opposite concerns.

Genuine journalistic liberty exists only to the extent that overt or internalized censorship is absent.

Especially in a society such as the United States with enduring press freedoms (the First Amendment is bruised and battered but still on its feet), the ultimate propaganda war zone is between people's ears.

So much has been surrendered, often unwittingly and unknowingly. Waving the white flag at dominant propaganda onslaughts can only help democracy to expire.

Julian Assange has effectively insisted that another media world is possible and the corporate warfare state is unacceptable.

Not coincidentally, the U.S. government wants to capture Assange and put him away, incommunicado, in a prison cell.


Last week, in Sweden, most but not all of the sexual-assault allegations against Assange expired. Still, Assange notes, “I haven't even been charged.”

And Sweden’s government -- while claiming that it is strictly concerned about adhering to its laws -- has refused to limit the legal scope to its own judicial process.

As the BBC reports, “Assange sought asylum three years ago to avoid extradition to Sweden, fearing he would then be sent to the U.S. and put on trial for releasing secret American documents.”

Closely aligned with Washington, the Swedish government refuses to promise that it would not turn Assange over to the U.S. government for extradition.

Julian Assange has spent more time incarcerated in the small rooms of the embassy, with no access to fresh air or exercise and contrary to international law, than he could ever spend in a Swedish prison on these allegations,” says one of his lawyers, Helena Kennedy.


While government leaders have ample reasons to want to impale his image on a media spike and put him in prison for decades, many corporate titans -- including venerated innovator billionaires of Silicon Valley -- are not much more kindly disposed.

The extent of their relentless commitments to anti-democratic greed has been brilliantly deconstructed in Assange's 2014 book When Google Met WikiLeaks.”

Google's geopolitical aspirations are firmly enmeshed within the foreign-policy agenda of the world’s largest superpower,” Assange wrote.

As Google's search and internet service monopoly grows, and as it enlarges its industrial surveillance cone to cover the majority of the world’s population, rapidly dominating the mobile phone market and racing to extend internet access in the global south, Google is steadily becoming the internet for many people.

Its influence on the choices and behavior of the totality of individual human beings translates to real power to influence the course of history.”

As for courage -- which too often is the stuff of mystifying legends about heroes on pedestals -- Assange’s observations might help us to grasp how it can gradually be summoned from within ourselves.

Worth pondering:

“Courage is not the absence of fear. Only fools have no fear. Rather, courage is the intellectual mastery of fear by understanding the true risks and opportunities of the situation and keeping those things in balance.”

Assange added:

“It is not simply having prejudice about what the risks are, but actually testing them.

“There are all sorts of myths that go around about what can be done and what cannot be done. It’s important to test. You don’t test by jumping off a bridge.

“You test by jumping off a footstool, and then jumping off something a bit higher, and a bit higher.”

While visiting him last fall and a couple of months ago, I found Assange no less insightful during informal conversations.

This is a dangerous person, in words and deeds -- dangerous to the overlapping agendas of large corporations and governments in service to each other -- dangerous to those who constantly make a killing from war, vast inequities and plunder of the planet.

Norman Solomon is the executive director of the Institute for Public Accuracy and the author of War Made Easy: How Presidents and Pundits Keep Spinning Us to Death. He is a co-founder of

Thursday, 13 August 2015

Re-legalising Caste-based Discrimination, by Meena Varma

Caste remains a sticky subject. In the UK, Caste discrimination is experienced amongst the South Asian diaspora – whether they are Sikh, Hindu, Muslim or Christian.

To people outside of those societies the discrimination is not obvious – only by looking at behaviour closely is it discernible. But to those who are the victims of caste discrimination it is a blight on their lives.

Be it the sudden block to promotion at work, the arbitrary refusal of a care worker to bathe your elderly relative, or your child at school bullied and taunted for being a Dalit – and ‘untouchable’.

Dalits, whether they live in South Asia or here in the UK are still seen as ‘lesser humans’.

UK Dalit organisations, including the Dalit Solidarity Network UK, have campaigned since 2007 for the inclusion of ‘caste’ as a discriminatory factor in what was then the UK’s Single Equalities Bill – now the Equality Act 2010 – where huge gains were, momentarily, made.

As a result of a meeting in February 2010 in the House of Lords, where national, regional and local Dalit organisations came together with one voice, an amendment was included in the Equality Act 2010 allowing for the introduction of secondary legislation as soon as evidence of caste discrimination comes to light.

Consequently, research into caste discrimination in the UK was commissioned by the then Labour Government from the National Institute for Economic and Social research.

Their report was published in December of that year, confirming the existence of caste-based discrimination in the UK.

The report recommended “extending the definition of race to include caste would provide further, explicit protection.”

Indeed, in 2012 the United Nations Committee on the Elimination of all forms of Racial Discrimination recommended to the United Kingdom in its review:  “that the Minister responsible in the State party invoke section 9(5)(a) of order to provide remedies for victims of this form of discrimination.”

In April 2013 the Government tabled an extraordinary last minute amendment in the Enterprise and Regulatory Reform Bill to convert the existing power in Clause 9(5)(a) of the Equality Act into a duty to include caste as an aspect of race for the purposes of the Equality Act.

Gains were being made to finally legislate against caste-based discrimination here in the UK.

In July 2013 the Government introduced a timetable which set out a series of steps including a public consultation leading to the commencement of caste legislation in the summer 2015.

While an initial stage of research was conducted by the Equality and Human Rights Commission that included a socio-legal review and a stakeholders consultation (published in February 2014), the next scheduled stage of the process, to issue a formal public consultation in spring 2014, was never conducted, resulting in the reforms being made to the bill stagnating.

There are two likely reasons this consultation was not issued.

First, the Equality and Human Rights Commission [EHRC] withdrew from its second phase of research to establish a baseline data into the extent of caste discrimination due to concerns it might be difficult to commission successfully and that “people could find [collecting data on caste] intrusive and it could have a detrimental effect on good relations in affected communities if not conducted with appropriate sensitivity.”

However Ministers then approved a feasibility study to be conducted into if, and how, it might be possible to estimate the extent of caste-based discrimination in Britain.

The report was due in November 2014. It has yet to be published.

Secondly, the employment tribunal case, Tirkey v Chandok. In this case, the Claimant was a woman whose caste was described as Adivasi (or Scheduled Tribe).

The Claimant claimed that her employers had treated her badly and in a demeaning manner, in part, because of her caste.

The employer sought to strike out the part of her claim related to discrimination by reason of her caste on the basis that caste is not a protected characteristic under the Equality Act.

The ET decision was appealed to the Employment Appeal Tribunal.

Its judgement in December 2014 concluded that, depending on the specific circumstances of an individual case, caste-based discrimination could already be unlawful under existing discrimination law, namely the ‘ethnic origin’ limb of the EA’s race provision, but not necessarily so.

Caste remains a contentious issue. So much so, that caste was appropriated for party gains in the final run ups to the General Elections.

Much to the delight of the pro-legislation lobby the LibDems included a pledge to implement the much delayed caste legislation in their Election Manifesto:

To tackle the racial discrimination faced by Black, Asian and Minority Ethnic (BAME) people we will…… Outlaw caste discrimination.

When asked for its position on the issue, the Labour Party stated:

In 2013 Labour voted for Cross-bench amendments in the House of Lords clarifying the law in relation to caste discrimination… We did so because we believe individuals have the right to protection against discrimination on the basis of their caste or perceived caste, in the same way that they do on the basis of race or gender.

Playing the Caste Card: Anti-caste Legislation Manoeuvres in Harrow East

Harrow East is one of the most economically and culturally diverse in the capital, with around a third of the electorate Gujarati Hindus and a large Jewish population. Caste is therefore an important political issue in this area.

Conservative Bob Blackman stood against Labour rival Uma Kumaran and Liberal Democrat candidate Ross Barlow for the position of local MP.

With a turnout of just under 70% to the poles, Tory Bob Blackman managed to double his majority, taking 50% of the vote to cement a majority of 4,757.

His unprecedented support may have been related to the controversial leaflets produced by multi-faith group Dharma Sewa Purvapaksha, claiming to speak for Hindus, Jains and Sikhs.

They urged people to vote for Bob Blackman over Ms Kumaran (Labour) and Ross Barlow (Liberal Democrat) due to their party’s support of laws banning caste discrimination.

Bob Blackman, while distancing himself from the leaflets, voted against legislation to criminalise caste-based discrimination in the Commons.

Uma Kumaran condemned the leaflet as “gutter politics”, adding:

“It saddens me that my faith is being used against me.

In Harrow we’re proud of our diversity and this divisive leaflet seeks to tarnish what we’ve all worked so hard to build. I will represent the whole of Harrow East.

It needs an MP who will unite our community rather than divide it.”

Yet Dharma Sewa Purvapaksha is not alone in its appropriation of caste as a means to sway voters.

The Hindu Forum of Great Britain, the National Council of Hindu Temples (NCHTUK) has published letters and articles clearly urging its members to vote Conservative.

An NCHTUK letter said: “British Hindus, Sikhs & Jains voting for Labour is now like Turkeys voting for Christmas”.

They were reported to the Charity Commission and after initiating an investigation, the organisations removed the letters and documents from their websites and the investigation was dropped.

According to the Dharma Sewa Purvapaksha, Patrick Forbes, a member of the Conservatives’ policy unit, told the DSP that his party was against discrimination of any kind.

But he said the party would “not take any further action to include caste within the provisions of the Equality Act” because it believes there are sufficient legal solutions to caste discrimination already in place.

Subsequent correspondence from the Conservative Party stated that Patrick Forbes never issued an official statement and was misquoted.

Since Parliament resumed, Bob Blackman MP wasted no time in calling for repeal of the legislation – despite denying any knowledge of the ‘Hindu’ call to arms in his constituency.

His question to the Minister on June 11th:

“In the last Parliament, the other place passed unwanted, ill-thought-out laws on caste discrimination, causing a great deal of concern in the Hindu community. The Government have said that they do not intend to enact those unwanted laws. May we have a statement on when the Government will repeal them?”

For the Government, Chris Grayling MP responded:

“I understand my hon. Friend’s concern, and I know that the matter has greatly concerned the community in his constituency. I will ensure that those concerns are drawn to the attention of the Department for Communities and Local Government, and I will ask the Department to respond to him.”

So where does that leave us?

It appears that the efforts to stall the caste legislation have indeed come from the very top of the Conservative Party.

Whether that is due to a word from a funder or the fear of upsetting Mr Modi’s India where the motto of ‘Make in India’ is a rallying cry to many UK and other international businesses.

Nonetheless, Her Majesty’s Government is under a statutory duty to introduce caste as an aspect of race into the Equality Act.

Ministers need to complete their stated programme of consultation with a view to the commencement of the Act as a matter of urgency.

It is two years since Parliament made its view clear on this issue. This was a provision that was voted for by MPs and Peers of all parties and of no parties.

Recent case law developments have ruled that, dependent on the facts of any individual case, in some circumstances claims of caste-based discrimination can be made through the existing ethnic origins element.

On one hand it is argued that the ruling means that ‘caste’ can be subsumed under race and ethnic origins; on the other the ruling was clear that each case must be decided on the individual circumstances - determined by whether the Claimant’s descent can fall within the definition of “ethnic or national origin”.

The uncertainty of case law on this issue makes it imperative for clarity to be given by incorporating caste as an aspect of race in the 2010 Equality Act, as Parliament agreed in 2013.

So as it stands, caste-based discrimination is yet to be outlawed in the UK. Victims and potential victims of this form of discrimination still have no recourse to justice.

And even if the government decides to go down the case law route, it can only do so by going to the Supreme Court, at a cost of many hundreds of thousands of pounds.

Of course, if the Dalit Solidarity Network’s Honorary Chair, Jeremy Corbyn, is elected Labour Leader on September 12th, then we shall finally have a champion at the highest level, to be the voice that Dalits so desperately need in order to protect them from one of the most hidden forms of discrimination in the world today.

Meena Varma is the Director of Dalit Solidarity Network UK.