Freedom of speech

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Was Mussolini’s 1931 Policy on the Banking Crash Better than Britain’s 2008 Bail-Out?

Here’s another interesting question posed by the changing policies of the Italian Fascist state towards industry and the financial sector. Fascism celebrated and defended private industry as the essential basis of the Italian economy and society. When Mussolini first took power in the early 1920s, he declared that Fascism stood for ‘Manchester School’ capitalism – privatisation, cuts to public services and expenditure and the lowering of wages and welfare benefits. But this changed with the development of the Fascist state through the establishment of the corporations – industrial organisations combining the employers’ organisations and the trade unions, which were supposed to take over the management of industry – autarky, which aimed to make Italy self-sufficient and the movement to a centrally planned economy.

This was partly achieved in the early 1930s when Mussolini set up two state institutions to buy out the Italian banks following the Wall Street crash of 1929 and the ensuing depression. These not only bought out the banks, but also the industries these banks owned and controlled, so that the Italian state ended up owning just under a fifth of the Italian economy.

This is described in a passage in the article ‘Industry’ in Philip V. Cannistraro’s Historical Dictionary of Fascist Italy (Westport, Connecticut: Greenwood Press 1982). This runs

Two public agencies were created to save banks and crucially affected industries: the Istituto Mobiliare Italiano (IMI) on November 13, 1931, which was to control credit; and the Istituto per la Ricostruzione Industriale (IRI) on January 23, 1933. IRI was by far the more radical solution, for it purchased all the shares of stock in industrial, agricultural, and real estate companies previously held by banks. (The banking law of 1936 prohibited banks from extending long-term credit to industrial concerns). Although the industrialists fully expected a return to “normalcy” and to private enterprise after the crisis had passed, Mussolini had successfully created an instrument for the permanent intervention of government in the economy. By 1939 IRI controlled a series of firms representing 44.15 percent of the capital of Italian stock values and 17.80 percent of the total capital of the country – hence, the Fascist government controlled a proportionately larger section of national industry than any other government in Europe except the Soviet Union. (p. 278).

This allowed the government to interfere and restructure the Italian economy leading to the expansion of the manufacturing economy and a reduction in imports. On the other hand, poor government planning and an inefficient bureaucracy meant that Italian domestic manufactures were frequently inferior and the country had a lower growth rate than many other western European countries.

But this contrasts very strongly with policy of Britain and America to the financial sector after the 2008. The banks were bailed out with public money, but were not nationalised and the government has continued with its ‘light touch’ approach to regulation. Meaning that the banks have been free to carry on pretty much as before. Public spending, especially on welfare, has been drastically cut. Despite the Tories claiming that this would boost the economy and they’d pay of the debt within a couple of years or so, this has very definitely not happened. In fact, the debt has massively increased.

This has added to the long term problems of Britain’s manufacturing industry. Left-wing economists have pointed out that Britain’s domestic industries suffer from a lack of capital because the financial sector is geared towards overseas investment. A situation that has no doubt got worse due to globalisation and the personal investment of many Tory and New Labour MPs in foreign industry and their savings in offshore tax havens. British industry has also suffered from the ignorance and neglect of successive prime ministers from Maggie Thatcher onwards. Thatcher couldn’t understand that her policy of keeping the Pound strong would damage British exports, and in any case did not want to rescue failing British industries. They were either to be allowed to go under, or else sold to foreign companies and governments. Tony Blair went further, and believed that manufacturing industry’s place in the British economy could be successfully taken over by the financial sector and the service industries.

But this has also been a failure. Ha-Joon Chang in his 23 Things They Don’t Tell You About Capitalism has pointed out that manufacturing industry is still very much of vital importance. It’s just that it has grown at a slower rate than the other sectors.

Fascist Italy was a totalitarian dictatorship where Mussolini ruled by fear and violence. There was no freedom of speech or conscience in a system that aimed at the total subordination of the individual, economy and society. Mussolini collaborated with Hitler in the persecution of the Jews, although mercifully this wasn’t quite so extreme so that 80 per cent of Italian Jews survived. The regime was aggressively militaristic aiming at the restoration of a new, Roman-style empire in the Mediterranean. Albania, Greece and Ethiopia were invaded along with Tripoli in Libya and Fascist forces were responsible for horrific atrocities as well as the passage of race laws forbidding racial intermixture with Black Africans.

It was a grotesque, murderous regime which was properly brought to an end by the Allied victory of the Second World War. It must never be revived and Fascism must be fought every where. But it does appear that Mussolini’s policy towards the banks and industry was better than that pursued by our supposedly liberal democracies. But the governments of our own time are also becoming increasingly intolerant and authoritarian. The danger of our country becoming similar repressive dictatorship under Boris and the Tories is very real.

We desperately need the return to power of a genuinely socialist Labour government, committed to investment in the welfare state and public services with a nationalised NHS, a mixed economy and positive commitment to democracy and freedom of speech rather than the illusion maintained by the mainstream media and Tory press.

And that will mean overturning over three decades of Thatcherite orthodoxy on the banks and financial sector, just as Mussolini changed his policies towards them with the aim of restoring and expanding Italian industry.

Speech, Harm, and Mill

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Fri, 02/10/2020 - 11:08pm in

I think the current debates about free speech are a good thing, because for far too long there has been much less debate about free speech than a free speech regime urges us to have about everything else.

That’s Frederick Schauer, professor of law at the University of Virginia, in a recent interview with Richard Marshall at 3:16 AM. Near the beginning of the interview, the two discuss John Stuart Mill’s arguments about freedom of speech and thought in On Liberty.

[Kay Rosen, “Better Days”]

Professor Schauer first describes what he takes to be the typical interpretation of Mill’s arguments:

The most common reading of On Liberty takes Chapter 2 as an instantiation of Chapter 1. That is, in Chapter 1, Mill, famously, argues that it is illegitimate for the state to restrict personal conduct except to prevent harm to others. Preventing harmless immoralities, or preventing harmful conduct harming only the actor, are, Mill argues, beyond the state’s proper powers. And so when in Chapter 2 Mill argues for the “liberty of thought and discussion,” it seems straightforward to take thinking and discussing as coming within the Chapter 1 argument and thus as harmless. And this reading is reinforced by the childhood adage “Sticks and stones may break my bones, but names will never hurt me,” by the common civil libertarian acceptance of the harmlessness of speech, and by the frequency with which arguments from harmlessness are conjoined with distinct arguments from free speech, as is especially common (and often justified) in the case of arguments against restricting certain forms of sexually explicit speech whose only regulable attribute is its challenge to a certain form of moral sensibility about sexuality.

Professor Schauer thinks there’s a better interpretation available:

In contrast to the conventional reading I have just described, I think a better reading (whether it was Mill’s intended reading I will leave to others to decide) is that Chapter 2 is an argument not for protecting thought and discussion because they are harmless, but despite the harm they may cause. Thus, when Mill argues for the epistemic advantages of a regime of liberty of thought and discussion, I read him—or reread him—as saying that protecting even harmful thought and discussion is necessary to secure the epistemic advantages of a free speech regime, or to secure the advantages of intellectual character that come from requiring people to confront what they think false, and thus to understand why what they think false is actually false. And thus the conventional reading, which takes freedom of speech to be protected because of speech’s harmlessness, cannot explain (or justify) the protection of harmful speech, and thus offers a defense only of a weak and very limited free speech principle. My preferred reading explains and justifies a more robust free speech principle, although the question then remains whether such a robust principle is a good thing.

I think the current debates about free speech are a good thing, because for far too long there has been much less debate about free speech than a free speech regime urges us to have about everything else…

With respect to pornography, many of these debates have been frustrating because of confusions about labels. Traditionally, those who would restrict sexually explicit depictions have objected to the sexual explicitness, and have defined “pornography,” and the legal term “obscenity,” in terms of sexual explicitness. But although most sexually explicit literature until recently was distressingly celebratory of sexual violence and sexual coercion, there is nothing about sexual explicitness itself that needs to include such themes. Conversely, there is nothing about the verbal or pictorial endorsement of sexual violence, coercion, and exploitation that requires explicitness. So if we take Mill as arguing only for the protection of harmless speech, he turns out to have little to say about the regulation of speech that encourages or endorses or tolerates sexual violence, at least if we accept—and this is an empirical social science question and not a purely conceptual one—that widespread endorsements of sexual violence have a probabilistically causal relationship to the societal level of sexual violence. But if we take Chapter 2 as arguing for the desirability of protecting false views—the view that women who say “no” mean “yes,” to take one of the most notorious examples—then Mill provides support for the existing American legal and constitutional view, although, again, it is hardly clear that that that view should be accepted.

Much the same applies to many of the parallel debates on university campuses, many of which are focused on various forms of so-called hate speech, including race-based insults, vilification, and denigration. Again, there are important debates to be had about whether such speech ought to be protected in general, or ought to be especially protected (or especially unprotected) in university environments. But such debates will remain shallow as long as proponents of restriction insist that everything that is harmful ought to be restricted while opponents insist with equal vigor that the speech is harmless. Only by accepting that some of such speech is genuinely harmful can we have a fruitful discussion of when (if ever) and why harmful speech ought to be restricted, and when (if ever) and why harmful speech ought to be protected or tolerated.

You can read the whole interview here.

The post Speech, Harm, and Mill appeared first on Daily Nous.

How Does the Ban on Teaching Anti-Capitalist and Extremist Materials Affect Mainstream Textbooks?

Yesterday, Gavin Williamson, the secretary of state for education, issued his departments guideline informing schools what they could not teach. This included materials from organisations determined to end capitalism, as well as anti-Semitic material, opposition to freedom of speech and which approves of illegal activity. The Labour Party’s John McDonnell pointed out that this would mean that it’s now illegal to teach large sections of British history and particularly that of the Labour Party, trade unions and socialism, because all these organisations at different times advocated the end of capitalism. He is, of course, right. In 1945 or thereabouts, for example, the Labour Party published an edition of the Communist Manifesto. He concluded

“This is another step in the culture war and this drift towards extreme Conservative authoritarianism is gaining pace and should worry anyone who believes that democracy requires freedom of speech and an educated populace.”

The economist and former Greek finance minister, Yanis Varousfakis, who has also written a book, The Crisis of Capitalism, also commented this guidance showed how easy it was for a country to lose itself and slip surreptitiously into totalitarianism. He said

“Imagine an educational system that banned schools from enlisting into their curricula teaching resources dedicated to the writings of British writers like William Morris, Iris Murdoch, Thomas Paine even. Well, you don’t have to. Boris Johnson’s government has just instructed schools to do exactly that.”

Quite. I wonder how the ban affects even mainstream textbooks, which included anti-capitalist or other extremist literature. For example there are any number of readers and anthologies of various political or historical writings published by perfectly mainstream publishers for school and university students. Such as the one below, Critics of Capitalism: Victorian Reactions to ‘Political Economy’, edited by Elisabeth Jay and Richard Jay, (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press) 1986). This collects a variety of writings authors such as John Francis Bray, Thomas Carlyle, Marx and Engels, John Stuart Mill, John Ruskin, Matthew Arnold, Thomas Hill Green, William Morris and George Bernard Shaw. These texts obviously document and illustrate the reactions to the rise of economics as an academic subject in the 19th century, and several of the authors are titans of 19th century British culture, literature and political philosophy, like the art critic Ruskin, the socialist, writer and artist, William Morris, the playwright George Bernard Shaw, the liberal political philosophers John Stuart Mill and Thomas Hill Green, and Matthew Arnold, the headmast of Rugby, the author of Culture and Anarchy. This is quite apart from Marx and Engels and John Francis Bray, who was a socialist and follower of Robert Owen. Carlyle’s now largely forgotten, but he was a philosopher and historian who was massively influential in his day.

Clearly this is an entirely respectable text from a very respectable publisher for history students. But, thanks to the government’s new guidelines, you could well ask if it’s now illegal to teach it in schools, thanks to its anti-capitalist contents.

The same question also applies to very respectable histories by respectable, mainstream historians and political scientists, of extremist movements and ideologies like Fascism, Nazism, Communism and anarchism. For example, one of the books I used while studying the rise of Nazism at college was D.G. Williamson’s The Third Reich (Harlow: Longman 1982). It’s an excellent little book published as part of their Seminar Studies in History range. These are short histories of various periods in history from King John and the Magna Carta to the origins of the Second World and the Third Reich, which include extracts from texts from the period illustrating particularly aspects and events. Williamson’s book is a comprehensive history of the Nazi regime, and so includes extracts from Nazi documents like Hitler’s Mein Kampf, Goebbel’s diaries and as well as eyewitness account of Nazi war crimes and individual acts of heroism and resistance. It presents an objective account of Hitler’s tyranny including its horrors and atrocities. There is absolutely no way it, nor other books like it, could remotely be considered pro-Nazi or presenting any kind of positive assessment of Hitler’s regime.

But if schools are now forbidden from teaching anti-capitalist, anti-Semitic, racist and anti-democratic material, does this mean that they are also forbidden from using books like Williamson’s, which include the writings of the Nazis themselves to show the real nature of the regime and the motivations of the men behind it. I hope not, and Owen Jones in his tweet attacking the new guidelines quotes them. From this, it should be possible to make a distinction between texts produced by extremist organisations and extracts from them in mainstream histories or editions from mainstream publishers. According to Jones’ tweet, the guidelines state

Schools should not under any circumstances use resources produced by organisations that take extreme political stances on matters. This is the case even if the material is not extreme, as the use of it could imply endorsement or support of the organisation. Examples of extreme political stances, include, but are not limited to

  1. a publicly stated desire to abolish or overthrow democracy, capitalism or end free and fair elections.

2. opposition to the right of freedom of speech, freedom of association, freedom of assembly, or freedom of religion and conscience.

3. the use or endorsement of racist, including anti-Semitic language or communications.

4. the encouragement or endorsement of illegal activity.

5. a failure to condemn illegal activities in their name or in support of their cause, particularly violent actions against people and property.

Responding to Jones’ tweet, Jessica Simor QC asks this very pertinent question

Do the fourth and fifth bullet points mean that schools should not accept Government money?

Good point.

I also have no doubt that the vast majority are going to be extremely careful about which organisation’s materials they use because of the danger of using extremist or otherwise inappropriate material.

But I can also how sometimes it may also be necessary for schools to use such materials in order to criticise them and educate their pupils about their dangers. For example, in the 1980s the BNP or NF tried to appeal to schoolchildren by launching a comic. Other extremists have also turned up at the school gates on occasion. When I was at school in Bristol during the ’81/2 race riots, a White agitator with a beard like Karl Marx’s turned up outside the school entrance with a megaphone trying to get the kids to join in. We ignored him and the headmaster next day in assembly said very clearly that any child who did join the rioting would be expelled.

Nazis are also known for lying and deliberately distorting history. If some Nazi group, for example, produced a pamphlet aimed at schoolchildren and teachers found it being passed around the playground one of the actions they could take, as well as simply banning it and punishing any kid who tried to promote it, might be for a suitably qualified teacher to go through it, pointing out the deliberate lies. When Hitler himself seized power, one Austrian university lecturer embarrassed the fuhrer by showing his students how Hitler took his ideas from the cheap and grubby neo-Pagan literature published in the back streets of Vienna. One of these pamphlets claimed that the ancient Aryans had possessed radio-electric organs that gave them superpowers like telepathy. I think it was highly unlikely that anyone listening to this professor’s lectures on Hitler ever came away with the idea that Hitler had some deep grasp of the essential forces of human biology and and natural selection.

I see absolutely no point to this legislation whatsoever. Teachers, parents and educators are already careful about what is taught in schools. In the past few years most incidents of this type have come from fundamentalist religious schools. These have mostly been Muslim schools, which have been caught teaching their students to hate Christians, Jews and non-Muslims, but there was also a Jewish school which became the centre of controversy for its opposition to homosexuality. In the 1980s Thatcher and the right-wing press ran scare stories about Communist teachers indoctrinating students with evil subversive subjects like peace studies. I am not aware that anyone with extreme left-wing, Communist or Trotskite views has been trying to indoctrinate children. But there are concerns about Black Lives Matter, which I have heard is a Marxist organisation. If that is the case, then the guidelines seem to be an attempt to ban the use of their materials. BLM did produce materials for a week of action in schools, which was thoroughly critiqued by Sargon of Gasbag, aka Carl Benjamin, the sage of Swindon and the man who broke UKIP. Sargon has extreme right-wing Conservative views himself, though I honestly don’t believe that he is genuinely racist and his criticisms of the BLM school material was reasonable. Williamson’s guidelines look like a badly thought out attempt to stop them being used without causing controversy by tackling the organisation’s anti-racism or its critique of White society.

But it also marks the growing intolerance of the Tories themselves and their determination that schools should be used for the inculcation of their own doctrines, rather than objective teaching that allows children to come to their own. Way back in the 1980s Thatcher tried to purge the universities of Marxists by passing legislation making it illegal for them to hold posts in higher education. They got round it by making a subtle distinction: they claimed to be Marxian rather than Marxist. By which they argued that they had Marxist culture, but weren’t actually Marxists. It’s a legal sleight of hand, but it allowed them to retain their teaching posts.

These new guidelines look like an extension of such previous legislation in order to preserve capitalism from any kind of thorough critique. Even when, as the peeps Mike quotes in his article, show very clearly that it is massively failing in front of our eyes.

Schools are now for indoctrination, not education, as teaching of non-capitalist ideology is forbidden

Don’t Be Fooled – Boris Wants to Strip You of Your Human Rights

Mike put up a piece on Sunday commenting on an article in the Sunday Telegraph that our lawbreaking, lawless Prime Minister and his gang intend to withdraw Britain from the Human Rights Act and the European Convention on Human Rights. This has been a goal of the Tories for nearly a decade. Mike was warning about this as long ago as 2013. Cameron was trying mollify us by saying that they’d replace it with a Bill of Rights. Presumably the title of this proposed Tory replacement was chosen to remind everyone of the Bill of Rights that was issued after the Glorious Revolution of 1688. This was a piece of revolutionary, progressive legislation in its time. However, any Bill of Rights the Tories pass is going to be a highly-diluted replacement for the Human Rights legislation they’ve repealed. If we see such a bill at all. Mike states that the Torygraph article was behind a paywall, so he couldn’t see it. But what he could made no mention of it.

Don’t be fooled. The Tories are an authoritarian party with a dangerous, Stalin-like cult of personality under Generalissimo Boris. Boris has shown us he’s more than willing to break the law to get what he wants, such as illegally proroguing parliament and deceiving the Queen, and now getting his loyal minions to troop into the lobbies to pass a law breaking our international agreements with the EU. He, and they, are a real, present danger to democracy.

The Tory faithful are no doubt welcoming this as some kind of move that will enable them to deport the illegal immigrants – meaning desperate asylum seekers – they tell us are invading this country. There’s also the long-standing complaint that human rights legislation protects the guilty at the expense of their victims. But Conservative commenters on the British constitution have also quoted the 18th century British constitutional scholar, Lord Blackstone, who said that it was better that 10 guilty men go free than one innocent man wrongly punished. The Tories do not want to repeal this legislation because they somehow wish to defend Britain from invasion by illegal immigrants, nor because they wish to protect people by making it easier to jail criminals. They want to repeal this legislation because it protects the public and working people.

One of the reasons the Tories hate the EU is because of the social charter written into its constitution. This guarantees employees certain basic rights. Way back when Thatcher was a power in the land, I remember watching an edition of Wogan when the Irish wit of British broadcasting was interviewing a Tory MP. The Tory made it clear he had no problem with the EU predecessor, the EEC or Common Market. This would have been because, as the European Economic Community, it offered Britain a trading area for our goods and services. What he made clear he didn’t like was the Social Charter. He and the rest of the Tories want to get rid of it in order to make it even easier to sack workers at will, and keep them on exploitative contracts that will deny them sick pay, maternity leave and annual holidays. They want more zero hours contracts and job insecurity. As well as the right, as Mike also points out in his article, to persecute the disabled, for which the Tory government has also been criticised by the EU and United Nations.

The Tories have also shown their extreme authoritarianism, like Blair before them, in passing legislation providing for secret courts. If the government considers it necessary because of national security, an accused person may be tried in a closed court, from which the public and the media are excluded, using evidence which is not disclosed to the accused. This breaks the fundamental principles of democratic, impartial justice. This is that justice should not only be done, it should be seen to be done. Hence the traditional practice of making sure people are tried with the public present. The secret courts are far more like the grotesque, perverted judicial systems of Kafka’s novels The Trial and The Castle, and which became a horrific reality in Nazi Germany and Soviet Russia.

The Tories are also keen to undermine British liberty in another way as well, by reintroducing identity cards. These were carried during the War, when Britain was in real danger from Nazi invasion and Fascist spies and saboteurs. But afterwards, as Zelo Street has reminded us, the government withdrew them because they were seen as a threat to traditional British freedom. Now Dominic Cummings wants to bring them back. So did Thatcher when I was at school in the 1980s. She didn’t get very far. It was rejected then, it should be rejected now.

Apparently the new identity cards will be online or something like that. But this won’t make counterfeiting them any more difficult. Way back in the 1990s the Indonesia government, hardly a bastion of liberal democracy, introduced a computerised identity card. This was supposed to be impossible to hack and and fake. Within a week there were fake cards being sold in the country’s markets.

This looks like a step towards the biometric identity cards Blair was also keen on in the late 90s. These were also condemned by privacy campaigners and opponents of state surveillance, and which eventually seem to have petered out. But it seems that the forces that were pressing for them then have now resurfaced to repeat their demands. And if they’re being made by a government determined to ‘get Brexit done’, then these cards cannot be blamed on the EU, as they were when I was at school.

The Tories have also shown themselves intolerant of demonstrations and protests. When Cameron was in power, he sought to stop or limit public demonstrations through legislation that would allow local authorities to ban them if they caused a nuisance. Mass gatherings and protest marches frequently can be a nuisance to those stuck behind them. But they’re tolerated because freedom of conscience and assembly are fundamental democratic rights. Cameron wished to place severe curbs on these rights, all in the name of protecting communities from unwelcome disturbance. And, in the wake of the Extinction Rebellion blockade of Murdoch’s printing works, Priti Patel wishes to have the press redefined as part of Britain’s fundamental infrastructure in order to prevent it from disruption from similar protests in future. Now that newspapers sales are plummeting thanks to the lockdown to the point where right-wing hacks are imploring you to buy their wretched rags, you wonder if she’s considering legislation making their purchase and reading compulsory.

Don’t be deceived. The repeal of the human rights act is an outright attack on traditional British freedoms by an authoritarian government intolerant of criticism and which casually violates the fundamental principles of justice and democracy. It may be dressed up as protecting decent, law-abiding Brits from crims and illegal immigrants, but this is just another pretext, another lie to get the sheeple to accept it. Tony Benn once warned that the way the government behaves to refugees is the way it would like to behave to its own citizens. He was right, and we shall it when the Tories withdraw from the European legislation currently protecting us.

I’ve no doubt the Tories will try to disguise this through retaining a sham, hollowed out semblance of justice, free speech and democracy. Just like the Soviet Union drew up constitutions guaranteeing similar freedoms to disguise its vicious intolerance. On paper communist East Germany was a liberal state and multiparty liberal democracy when the reality was the complete opposite. Even Mussolini made speeches claiming that that Fascist Italy was not a state that denied the individual their liberty.

The Tory withdrawal from EU Human Rights law is an outright attack on our British freedoms, not a gesture of defiance against European interference. It’s another move towards unBritish, but very Tory, despotism and dictatorship.

As if we didn’t have enough to deal with, Boris Johnson is reviving plans to end your human rights

The Tories Are the Implacable Enemies of Free Speech

Since 75 members of Extinction Rebellion decided to do what so many people have wanted to and blockade Murdoch print works in England and Scotland, Boris Johnson and his rabble have been pontificating about democracy and the need to protect a free press. This is all crass, hypocritical rubbish, and the truth, as with so much of Tory policy, is the exact opposite. In all too many instances, the Tories are the inveterate enemies of free speech and press freedom.

Mike and Vox Political have both shown this in their articles reporting that the Council of Europe has issued a level 2 media alert warning about Johnson’s government. This was because MoD press officers refused to deal with Declassified UK, a website focusing on foreign and defence stories. This was because Declassified’s journos had been critical of the government’s use of our armed forces. The Council issued a statement that they did so because the act would have a chilling effect on media freedom, undermine press freedom and set a worrying precedent for other journalists reporting in the public interest on the British military. They said that tough journalism like Declassified’s, uncomfortable though it was for those in power, was crucial for a transparent and functioning democracy. This puts Boris Johnson’s government with Putin’s Russia and Turkey, who also have a complete disregard for journalistic freedom.


We’ve been this way before, and it’s grim. Way back in the 1980s, Maggie Thatcher withdrew LWT’s broadcasting license over a similar piece of journalism that severely criticised the military. This was the documentary Death on the Rock, about the SAS’ shooting of a squad of IRA terrorists in Gibraltar. The documentary presented clear evidence that the squad had been under surveillance all their way down through Spain, and that the army could have arrested them at any point without bloodshed. This means that the SAS’s shooting of them was effectively an extra-judicial execution. They acted as a death squad.

This wouldn’t have been the first or only instance of such tactics by the British state in Northern Ireland. Lobster has published a number of articles arguing that special SAS units were active under cover in the province with the deliberate task of assassinating IRA terrorists, and that the security forces colluded secretly with Loyalist paramilitaries to do the same.

I heartily condemn terrorism and the murder of innocents regardless of who does it. But if ‘Death on the Rock’ was correct, then the British state acted illegally. The use of the armed forces as death squads clearly sets a dangerous precedent and is a violation of the rule of law. Most Brits probably agreed with Thatcher that the IRA terrorists got what was coming to them, and so would probably have objected to the documentary’s slant. But as the Tories over here and Republicans in the US have argued again and again about freedom of speech, it’s the freedom to offend that needs to be protected. Allowing only speech that is inoffensive or to which you agree is no freedom at all. Thatcher was furious, LWT lost their broadcasting license, which was given to a new broadcaster, Carlton. No doubt named after the notorious Tory club.

Then there was Thatcher’s interference in the transmission of another documentary, this time by the BBC. This was an edition of Panorama, ‘Thatcher’s Militant Tendency’. This argued that, just as Kinnock’s Labour party had been infiltrated by the hard left Militant Tendency, so Fascists from the National Front, BNP and others had burrowed into the Tories. In fact there’s always been concern about the overlap in membership between the Tories and the far right. In the 1970s there was so much concern that the Monday Club, formerly part of the Tory party until David Cameron severed links with it, opened its membership books to the Board of Deputies of British Jews. The Panorama programme was also too much for Thatcher, who had it spiked.

At the moment, the Tories are running a campaign to defund and privatise the Beeb under the specious claims that it’s biased against them. They were moaning about bias back in the ’90s under John Major and then Tony Blair, because Jeremy Paxman, among the Beeb’s other journos, insisted on asking tough questions. This resulted in Michael Heseltine walking off Newsnight, tossing his mane, as Ian Hislop described it on Have I Got News For You. Right-wing internet radio hack Alex Belfield has been ranting about how the BBC is full of Guardian-reading lefties in the same way Jeremy Clarkson used to about ‘yogurt-knitters’, who also read the same paper. Guido Fawke’s former teaboy, Darren Grimes, has also been leading a campaign to defund the Beeb. He should know about dictatorships and a free press. His former master, Paul Staines, was a member of the Freedom Association when that body supported the Fascist dictatorship in El Salvador. They invited to their annual dinner as guest of honour one year the leader of one of its death squads.

Belfield and the rest of the right-wing media have been loudly applauding the announcement that the new Director-General will cancel left-wing comedy programmes like Have I Got News For You and Mock The Week. Because they’re biased against the Tories. Er, no. Have I Got News For You was as enthusiastically anti-Jeremy Corbyn and the Labour Party as the rest of the media establishment, to the point where I got heartily sick and tired of watching it. And I haven’t watched Mock the Week for years. I don’t even know if it’s still on. Both the programmes are satirical. They mock the government as well as the rest of the parties. And the dominant, governing party over the past few decades has been the Tories, with the exception of New Labour from 1997-2010 or so. Which means that when they’ve been attacking the Tories, it’s because the Tories have been in power. A friend of mine told me that Ian Hislop, one of the regular contests on HIGNFY and the editor of Private Eye, was once asked which party he was against. He replied ‘Whoever’s in power’. It wouldn’t surprise me at all if he was a Conservative, but that is, ostensibly, the stance of his magazine. The Tories have been expelling much hot air about how a free press holds governments to account. But in the case of the BBC, this is exactly why they despise it.

The Tories hate the BBC because it’s the state broadcaster, and so is an obstacle to the expansion of Rupert Murdoch’s squalid empire of filth and lies. They’d like it defunded and privatised so that Murdoch, or someone like him, can move in. Not least because Murdoch has and is giving considerable support to the Tories. And in return, the Tories and then New Labour gave Murdoch what he wanted, and he was allowed to pursue his aim of owning a sizable chunk of the British press and independent broadcasting with Sky. This has alarmed those concerned about the threat posed by such media monopolies. It’s why Extinction Rebellion were right to blockade Murdoch’s papers, as both Mike and Zelo Street have pointed out. We don’t have a free press. We have a captive press controlled by a handful of powerful media magnates, who determine what gets reported. John Major in his last years in office realised the political threat Murdoch posed, but by this time it was too late. The Tories had allowed Murdoch to get his grubby mitts on as much of the British media as he could, and he had abandoned the Tories for Blair. Who was all too ready to do the same and accede to his demands in return for Murdoch’s media support. Just as Keir Starmer is desperate to do the same.

Murdoch’s acquisition of British papers, like the Times, should have been blocked by the Monopolies and Mergers’ Commission long ago. There were moves to, but Thatcher allowed Murdoch to go ahead. And Tony Benn was right: no-one should own more than one paper. If the Beeb is privatised, it will mean yet more of the British media is owned by one of press and broadcasting oligarchy. And that is a threat to democracy and press freedom.

The Tories are defending the freedom of the press and broadcasting. They’re attacking it.

Secret trials threaten open justice in Australia

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Thu, 30/07/2020 - 6:18pm in

Whistleblowers, lawyers and journalists face prosecutions without proper public scrutiny

Hands off Timorese Oil - Brisbane May Day 2017 parade

Protesters in Brisbane protesting Australia's claim on Timor Leste oil, May 2017- Photo by Andrew Mercer / Flickr (CC BY-NC 2.0)

A government illegally bugs the office of a foreign country’s Prime Minister during treaty negotiations. The spy in charge who turned whistleblower and his lawyer face secret trials. Connections are exposed between government politicians and a big oil company that gained financially from the treaty.

A cold war spy novel or a modern scandal involving Russia’s Foreign Intelligence Service (SVR) or America’s Central Intelligence Agency (CIA)? Think again!

Spying on Timor Leste

In 2004 Australia and the new nation of Timor Leste were negotiating a treaty over their border in the Timor Sea. The future of rich oil and gas fields was at stake.  The Australian Secret Intelligence Service (ASIS) bugged PM Xanana Gusmão’s office to steal an advantage in the talks. The Australian Foreign Minister at the time, AlexanderDowner, apparently ordered the surveillance. He later took a consultancy with Woodside Petroleum, the company that benefited from the original treaty. There have been other suggestions of conflicts of interest. That treaty was eventually renegotiated in 2018 after the deception was made public.

Global Voices reported on the unfolding story in 2013:

‘Australia Spied on Timor Leste to Gain Commercial Advantage’

East Timor: ‘Australia Spied on Us for Oil Secrets’

Veil of secrecy

The identity of the whistleblower, known as Witness K, has been suppressed. In 2018 he and his lawyer Bernard Collaery were charged with conspiracy to give secrets to Timor Leste. This required the consent of the minister in charge of justice, the Attorney-general Christian Porter. They are facing separate trials.

Witness K has pleaded guilty but maintains that his only breach was to prepare an affidavit for arbitration hearings between the governments at the International Court of Justice in The Hague.

Collaery, who is a former Attorney-general of the Australian Capital Territory, has pleaded not guilty. Part of Collaery’s trial will take place in secret following a court decision that protects sensitive or classified information.

Many people on social media have been outraged by the prosecutions, fearing the direction their country is taking:

Many also question just who or what is being protected. The intelligence agencies? Government ministers who authorized the spying operation or have approved the prosecutions? The commercial oil interests and others who profited from the original treaty?

Human rights campaigner Tom Clarke is a vocal advocate for Witness K and Collaery:

Others believe that the real purpose behind the drawn-out legal proceedings is to deter possible future whistleblowers.

In August 2019, the Australian Broadcasting Corporation (ABC) Four Corners program examined the Timor Leste scandal in Secrets, Spies and Trials. It explored ‘the tension between those who say national security is paramount and those who fear the steady encroachment of state security on the public's right to know’.

Stephen Charles, a former judge of the Supreme Court of Victoria and barrister, has represented both ASIS and ASIO ( the foreign and domestic intelligence agencies) in past cases. He was just one of several senior legal figures interviewed in the program who were disturbed by the direction of the trials:

It is a fundamental aspect of the rule of law that proceedings take place in public. It is difficult to imagine any justification for these proceedings taking place in secret.

Everyone who reads the newspapers is aware that ASIS officers entered and bugged the Timorese cabinet premises. Everyone is aware that the result of bugging those premises was that Australia got a huge and very unfair advantage in the negotiations being carried out between Timor and Australia.

Prisoner in the iron mask

The trend to prosecute whistleblowers has been alarming. In an unprecedented case, decorated military intelligence officer Witness J’s identity, trial, conviction and prison sentence were kept completely secret. He and Bernard Collaery have been given Empty Chair Human Rights awards by civil rights organisation Liberty Victoria:

The secret trials… challenge one of the fundamental bases of our legal system: the requirement for open justice and accountability.

The cases… highlight the need for strong action to ensure that any such trials are held in open court and subject to public scrutiny.

The Afghan files

Former military lawyer David McBride also faces a potentially secret trial for blowing the whistle on alleged war crimes by Australian soldiers in Afghanistan. His “Afghan Files’ revelations were behind a Federal police raid on the ABC and possible criminal charges against one of its journalists.

There is an official investigation being conducted by the Inspector-General of the Australian Defence Force, with alarming claims continuing to emerge such as the murder of non-combatants. The slow progress of the inquiry is a concern for some on social media:

Closed justice

These trials are being held as Australia is fast becoming a security state with surveillance laws undermining digital rights and police raids on news organisations and journalists attacking media freedom. Journalist Paul Gregoire, writing on The Big Smoke opinions platform, argues that the decline of open justice in Australia has “glimmerings of totalitarianism”.

Journalists at the ABC have taken to Twitter to add their voices:

In a recent development, proposed national security legislation would allow children as young as fourteen to undergo compulsory interrogation by intelligence agents. their parent or guardian could be removed from an interview for being disruptive.In addition, tracking devices could also be planted on cars or in bags without a warrant.

On Our Revolutionary Moment

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Thu, 23/07/2020 - 1:00am in

50 years ago this fall, in the midst of an immense upheaval over the role of American institutions in perpetuating...

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Lobster: Ruth Smeeth Was American Agent

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Tue, 30/06/2020 - 2:49am in

Robin Ramsay has updated his ‘View from the Bridge’ column for the current issue of the online parapolitics/ conspiracies magazine, Lobster. And one of the interesting pieces is about Ruth Smeeth, the nasty piece of Blairite trash who accused Marc Wadsworth, the Black anti-racist activist, of being an anti-Semite. As you will recall, it was because Wadsworth embarrassed her in a meeting by pointing out she was passing information onto a Torygraph journalist. Smeeth then accused him of an anti-Semitic trope, that of the disloyal Jew. Wadsworth didn’t know she was Jewish, and what he said about her was in any case correct. She was passing material on to a Tory journalist, and that had absolutely zilch to do with her ethnicity or religion. One suspects that the real reason she smeared Wadsworth was because he was yet another supporter of that horrible leftie, Jeremy Corbyn. This led to the spectacle of Wadsworth being hauled before a Labour Party kangaroo court, while a posse of White Blairite women descended on the proceedings to demand something be done about him. To some people, this looked very, very much like White anti-Black racism, and explicit comparisons were made to racist lynchings in the American deep south.

The former head of the Commission for Racial Equality, Trevor Phillips, writing in his Times column, revealed that Smeeth is now the head of Index on Censorship, ‘the global freedom of expression campaign’. Phillips also claimed that, because of her accusation against Wadsworth, she received 25,000 abusive message in two months. According to her, 20,000 of those came in the first 12 hours. Ramsay’s sceptical about that claim, as even if she could open and read them at a rate of ten a minute, it would still take 33 hours. Put that way, it does indeed look like a very dodgy claim. It shows the Blairites are still keeping up the smears that its only the Labour left that’s making threats and hurling abuse. While it’s wrong to send abusive texts, I don’t really have much sympathy for Smeeth. The victims of the anti-Semitism smears, and especially the Jewish victims, have also received horrendous abuse. Jackie Walker has had people send her messages telling her that she should be lynched – a horrendous thing to say to a woman, whose mother was a Black civil rights worker – and that she should be cut up and put in bin bags. Phillips himself also has form when it comes to dubious statements. Tony Greenstein has called him an ‘Uncle Tom’ on his blog for his weak attacks on racism, and Zelo Street has several times discussed how Phillips has made Islamophobic remarks and retailed bogus stories smearing Muslims.

But what is really interesting is the revelation that Smeeth was an American agent. This comes from a leaked cable from the American embassy in 2009 that ran

‘Labour Prospective Parliamentary Candidate for Burton Ruth Smeeth (strictly protect) told us April 20 that Brown had intended to announce the elections on May 12, and hold them after a very short (matter of weeks) campaign season.’ (emphasis added).

Which has caused Ramsay to ask what it was that she had done or offered to do to become a confidential source for the American embassy.


This also shows just how powerful were the forces working to undermine Corbyn. But because that cable came from Wikileaks, it will be discounted as a mere conspiracy theory, if not totally ignored altogether, by the British political and media establishment.



A Resignation at Philosophical Studies and a Reply from the Editors (updated w/ comments from Cohen, Dembroff, Byrne)

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Sat, 13/06/2020 - 6:52am in

Last week, Stewart Cohen, professor of philosophy at the University of Arizona, resigned as editor-in-chief from the prestigious academic philosophy journal, Philosophical Studies, a position he held for 25 years.

Why did he resign?

Philosophical Studies published “Are Women Adult Human Females?” by Alex Byrne (MIT). It then accepted an article replying to Byrne’s article, “Escaping the Natural Attitude about Gender” by Robin Dembroff (Yale). Cohen objected to what he called “unprofessional personal attacks” on Byrne in Dembroff’s paper. He wanted the journal to issue an announcement declaring that it was a mistake to have accepted Dembroff’s paper “without removing the personal attacks.” He also wanted to invite Byrne to reply to Dembroff. The other editors, Wayne Davis (Georgetown) and Jennifer Lackey (Northwestern), along with the publisher, Springer, declined to go along with Cohen’s wishes, so he resigned.

Professor Cohen sent me a statement to this effect on June 5th (but without naming the specific papers and parties). Here it is:

There has been a lot of discussion and speculation on social media about this. One thing to note is that there are multiple parties involved in this story, and that Cohen’s is just one account of it.

Here’s another account, from a message sent yesterday to the Board of Consulting Editors at Philosophical Studies by its current co-editors-in-chief, Davis and Lackey:

We were deeply saddened that Stewart Cohen, long-time Editor-in-Chief of Philosophical Studies, and our long-time friend and colleague, resigned from the journal, and did so unhappily. His public resignation announcement may lead to some concerns about the journal that we wish to address. The critical article he found objectionable was reviewed blindly according to the highest standards of the profession by leading, well-respected and objective experts in the area, and after a round of revisions was recommended for acceptance without reservation. We recognize that what some judge to be warranted philosophical criticism may be regarded by others as personal attacks. But unless they engage in genuine libel or harassment, we respect our author’s freedom of expression. The former Editor-in-Chief suggests that the journal’s publisher, Springer, intervened to prevent the author whose work was criticized from publishing a reply in Philosophical Studies. In fact, the author was welcome to submit a reply, which is currently being reviewed blindly as per our policy. Springer leaves editorial decisions to its editors. We look forward to continuing to serve the philosophical community in the tradition of our distinguished predecessors.

To pull out some relevant details from these accounts:

  • Dembroff’s article was published after successfully making it through the normal peer review process at Philosophical Studies, which includes peer review by two referees and revisions.
  • Cohen apparently wanted to avoid the normal editorial process at the journal for Byrne’s reply to Dembroff. The other editors and Springer did not agree with giving Byrne’s paper special treatment.
  • Byrne’s reply to Dembroff has not been rejected by Philosophical Studies, but rather is currently under review.

I will update this story as more details become available.

UPDATE (7:10pm): In light of previous allegations of irregularities with Cohen’s editing at Philosophical Studies (here), I asked him whether Byrne’s initial paper had been anonymously reviewed, and if so, by how many referees. He wrote:

The paper was sent to one referee only. That has been our policy for years, especially since we have been overwhelmed by skyrocketing numbers of submissions in recent years. Springer’s general policy for all their journals requires two referees.  But our publishing editor (who oversees our journal for Springer) has allowed us an exception to this policy given the recent deluge of submissions. Of course, I read the paper myself and concurred with the positive review of the referee.

UPDATE (6/15/20, 7:40am): Dembroff comments on these events and issues in a public Facebook update.

UPDATE (6/16/20, 8:55am): Byrne comments on these events and issues here.

*  *  *  *  *

(An opinion on the alleged “unprofessional personal attacks”.)

Much discussion on social media about Professor Cohen’s resignation focused on what in Dembroff’s paper constituted “unprofessional personal attacks,” with the most popular answer concerning material in the last lines of their paper:

Byrne’s paper fundamentally is an unscholarly attempt to vindicate a political slogan that is currently being used to undermine civic rights and respect for trans persons. And it is here that I return to Byrne’s advice to question the motivations behind this debate. “If someone is personally heavily invested in the truth of p,” Byrne writes, “it is prudent to treat [their] claim that p is true with some initial caution.” I agree. So we may ask: What are the motivations of someone who would so confidently insert themself into this high-stakes discourse while so ill-informed?

In his paper, Byrne complains about what he takes to be a lack of argument for the claim, “TW”, that “Trans women are women, even if they have not had ‘reassignment’ surgery or hormonal treatments,” and suggests that “non-epistemic factors” may be influencing people’s acceptance of it. Insistence by trans women on the truth of TW is not persuasive, Byrne writes, because “if someone is personally heavily invested in the truth of p, it is prudent to treat her claim that p is true with some initial caution.” In short, the motivation of those arguing for TW is relevant to our assessment of the evidence and arguments for TW. Dembroff’s question at the end of their paper appears to be making the same move, suggesting that in light of their examination of Byrne’s arguments, there may be “non-epistemic factors” affecting Byrne’s thoughts on the subject that are relevant to our assessment of the evidence and arguments for his view.

Why did Dembroff’s deployment of this move attract criticism from Cohen and other commentators, while Byrne’s passed relatively unnoticed? For one thing, those who might have felt personally attacked by Byrne’s remarks are trans women, and in philosophy that means that there are fewer people to complain about it, they are discouraged by their social and professional vulnerability from doing so, and their complaints are not taken as seriously.

Another factor, I think, is that there is a bit of a bias we’re all subject to: we treat similar behavior differently based on whether the person engaging in it is part of the dominant “group” or not. Just reverse some elements of this story to see this:

  • Had an established philosopher explicitly said in an article that some specific junior, gender-queer philosopher’s work was ill-informed or the result of motivated reasoning, and the latter philosopher complained about this, “the crowd” would tell them to toughen up, stop being so sensitive, and get used to the rough and tumble environment of professional philosophy.
  • Had the journal editor tried to intervene and either retract the article or issue an apology on behalf of the journal for publishing it, the crowd would have confronted the editor with charges of censorship, howls about political correctness, and demands to step down.
  • And had an editor been found trying to offer a non-peer-reviewed publication to that junior scholar so they could reply, the crowd’s response would have been to blast the editor for favoritism and complain that “these people” or “these views” only get as much space as they do in our professional venues because of special treatment.

That the crowd has acted so differently in the actual case is something we can learn from.

This is not a call for the crowd to be consistently vicious. Nor, alas, is the solution as simple as for everyone to be equally charitable to all, all the time, since the contexts in which arguments are deployed and the motivations of those who deploy them can have epistemic import. That it is rational to alter our distribution of charity accordingly is something we recognize as soon as we take our philosopher hats off. That said, we aren’t mind readers, and we don’t always know people’s motivations or their significance, and we’re limited and biased in our thinking. So perhaps charity all around is generally called for as a kind of default for when philosophers interact with one another. But a default is just a default, and some deviations from it will make sense. Under what conditions? I don’t pretend to have an answer to that, but it is one question among many we might take from this.

Related: “Guarding the Guardians (or Editors)“; “Philosopher’s Article On Transracialism Sparks Controversy

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Trump’s Freedom for the Thought HE Loves

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Thu, 04/06/2020 - 8:59am in

When Twitter put warning labels on his tweets Trump fulminated. He announced that he would issue an executive order cracking down on social media for fact-checking. Trump seems of have little understaning of freedom of speech, libel laws or executive orders. Continue reading

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