Some Warm Comfort in Rip-Off Britain

POLITICS-Energy-104808_355-6252114I’ve talked about the Conservative-induced culture of self-loathing in Great Britain today. And part of that is the widespread view across the British population that ordinary people are being “ripped off” by large corporations – specifically the energy companies.

As part of my role managing non-profit company SilenceBreaker Media, I’ve worked a lot in my birthplace of Doncaster, and lately, specifically Edlington, an area once home to coal mining, which was of course wiped out in Margaret Thatcher’s attack on unionised industry. Edlington’s since declined, ranking high on the indices of deprivation and hitting national news headlines only for criminal incidents. What SilenceBreaker Media have tried to do is tackle digital exclusion, as a lack of internet access is more prominent in disadvantaged areas, who thus have less access to information and no voice of their own to counter the negative perceptions that in turn breed negative activity.

Beyond the interest in internet activity, there’s also the whole wider issue of telecommunications companies monopolising the market as part of “Rip-Off Britain” – one of the great tragic ironies of Thatcher’s privatisation agenda that was supposed to offer “freedom of choice.” If the internet is supposed to be a human right, why is it costing a bloody bomb?

But the energy companies really take the cake. Edlington’s own Labour MP, Caroline Flint, has long crusaded against the rising energy prices hurting ordinary, decent people like her constituents, already struggling as it is. Of course, the Tories conveniently ignored Thatcher’s work and instead blamed even this on Labour, like they do everything else (the global economic crisis, unemployment, bad weather, venereal disease…)

Having been a customer of Utility Warehouse – the new kid on the block that offers the provision of phone, internet, gas and electricity all on one monthly bill – I was impressed by their price promise that Utility Warehouse would cost less than other providers – and if they were proved wrong, they’d pay me double the difference.

As Utility Warehouse save money by relying on individual, entrepreneurial “distributors” rather than mass advertising, a lot of people were unaware of this provider, and I decided to sign up as a distributor myself just to be backed up with all the facts, stats, and information to convince them how good a deal it is (and I’m still a customer myself).

Meanwhile, after leading on the challenge to Rupert Murdoch’s News International, Labour leader Ed Miliband struck a chord with the British population when he vowed that a Labour government would forcibly freeze energy prices for around a couple of years when they came to power. With Labour’s popularity increasing, the Tories had to do something, and do something fast; drastic, even.

“When an offer sounds too good to be true it usually is,” they scoffed, as they entered Damage Control mode and quickly announced a cutback on the green levies on the massive profit-making energy companies so that these “savings” could apparently be passed on to the consumer…even though the consumers in the most deprived areas would lose out on the energy-efficiency measures, thus pay more. “Too good to be true”? They’d know about that, I guess.

You can sign up or find out more about the Utility Warehouse through my own personal distributor page – or ask me about it.

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I Hate Myself, & I Hate You Too

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Great Britain, eh? What a country.

They used to say the sun never set on the British Empire, so vast and wide did our violent oppressive imperialist power influence reach around the world.

In fairness – though we didn’t invent it (the Greeks take credit for that) – we did export modern democracy to the four corners of the globe, and after the Second World War that saw communities pull together, we dealt with the rebuilding process through setting people to work – with a welfare safety net for those who weren’t able to find work, and even universal health care for the sick. Incredible.

Yet when, a few years ago, I first came back to the UK after living overseas, a man on Sheffield’s Supertram saw my suitcase, asked me about my circumstances, and then posed the question: “Why would you want to come back to Britain? It’s shit.”

So what happened?

Today, under the most right-wing government we’ve had since the above-mentioned war, we have an economically frail country with a culture full of self-loathing and cynicism. Britain really doesn’t feel so “Great” any more. It seems we’re a sad little island with nothing going for us, only appealing to people desperate and devious enough to come here for what they can get out of it. What Ed Miliband called “A miserable, pessimistic view.”

You only have to skim the daily newspapers to see it: welfare claimants are lazy scroungers, immigrants come here to exploit and drain our services, there’s no money left in the country’s coffers, and things are only going to get worse, so bloody get used to it…

Job Centres – originally set up so that those unfortunate enough to not have a job can have enough cash to get by – are now almost entirely staffed by bouncers at the entrances, stopping just short of frisking us for weapons because, insanely, over a quarter of us are only there to rob and scam the state for a whopping fifty or sixty quid a week while the nation’s treasury is skint.

Muslims – apparently once part of our nation’s rich diversity and ethos of religious freedom – are now one of the epic threats of our time, with the Islamification of our culture, to the point where mosques are being built in every town, on nearly every street, white women are being veiled, and you can’t even give someone a good old-fashioned colonialist insult like “Paki” anymore; it’s going the way of “Chinky” down in the history books.

Immigrants – once the backbone of our country during wartime – are such a big deal that they dominate the news, both in print and on television, the media’s own polls reflecting the concerns of their audience, because these immigrants pick on us, to walk in and easily access our strained welfare state and healthcare services, driving our country to the brink of economic collapse.

The Conservative government even recently decided to actually push propaganda in lands as far away as Romania and Bulgaria showing what a shit-hole Britain now is, so as to discourage their citizens from ever wanting to come here. To add insult to injury, many of these foreigners suggested we were flattering ourselves even by doing that, because not many of them actually had any desire to visit in the first place. Ouch.

What a crappy little island, eh? No money left! No jobs going! People getting money for nothing, and a better life for those foreigners when we’ve worked so hard here for so long! Poor us!

But don’t kill yourself just yet. Wait a moment! Please! Just give me a minute here.

Let’s try and imagine a different kind of Britain…

Imagine a Britain where literally billions of pounds have gone unclaimed in welfare benefits, just sat there in the state bank account.

Let’s fantasise about a Britain where even though there are millions of people without a job, the mass majority of these desperately want their lives to be fulfilled and valued in work where they can have a good home and enjoy travelling to other countries to see how piss-poor those places are when compared to the UK.

Maybe we can dream of a Britain where, while Christianity remains the dominant faith, our multicultural society promotes religious freedom, and other religions such as Islam, Judaism, Hinduism and Buddhism all account for around 8% of the population…combined.

Or how about thinking of Britain as a country of rich history, democracy, diplomacy, decency – a good, wealthy western country full of good people where hardly any of us would even contemplate anything other than handing a quid each to a hundred hungry people if we had to get rid of £100.

Just imagine a truly Great Britain.

The strange thing is, this alternate reality is the reality.

Britain is signed up to Article 9 of the European Convention on Human Rights, so stands for religious freedom; the welfare system is very rarely ever abused; billions of pounds of benefits go unclaimed due to ignorance or fear of stigma. Yes, what we think is the myth is real, and what we think is real is the myth, because Margaret Thatcher’s Britain has successfully become a country where doormen stand at the entrances of job centres, the Hitler-loving BNP, mosque-burning EDL, and the xenophobic UKIP have us believing in the threat of “outsiders,” and we’re told to swallow our pride as we’re forced-fed the Credit Crunch™ breakfast cereal to start our day of daily lies in our daily lives.

All this while all that private debt the bankers racked up to the tune of a trillion is now made our public burden, and – with that excuse – the richness of public services can be cut off and sold off to private interests for profits, as the state is shrunken so that we can be a country run by brokers and suits, rather than an industrial nation – a nation supposed to be the envy of the world, a nation proud to be a beacon of human rights and democracy, and a nation full of good intentions, seeing the best in others, and welcoming diversity, having fought a war to end fascism.

But this is now David Cameron’s Britain.

I don’t hate myself. And I don’t hate you, either. Of course I don’t. But David Cameron does.

David Cameron hates you, the same way he hates this country, and everything that made it great. And in order for him to keep doing what he’s doing, he needs you to hate yourself, too. Feel bad, save yourself, watch your back, and hate yourself, hate your neighbours, hate welfare claimants, hate immigrants, hate Muslims. Just don’t hate him or his cabinet, whatever you do. At all costs, you must hate yourself and absolutely everyone and everything else.

Just don’t hate them, because they’ve got a job to finish – rolling back human rights, eroding workers’ rights; dividing and conquering, while selling off the state to their privileged pals. Keep living the dream, and it’ll become instead a self-fulfilling prophecy.

A miserable, pessimistic view indeed.

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What Happened to My Town?

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Yep, that’s me. A kid in Doncaster, once home to The Good Woman pub on St Sepulchre Gate, where railway worker Thomas R Steels drafted up the proposal to the Trades Union Congress for the formation of a political party to represent the labour workforce: the Labour Party. The rest is history.

By the time I was growing up there just under a century later, things had already gone into reverse: a key railway town that shifted coal from its mining pits full of unionised workers to all parts of Britain, Doncaster had been a key battleground in Conservative Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher’s attack on workers’ rights – and the villages around me had the bloodstains on the streets to show for it, since Thatcher utilised her Ridley Plan that required mobile squadrons of police to abuse and even flout the law and use brute force against miners trying to protect their livelihoods and the communities fuelled by them.

Thatcher’s dream was one of right-wing neoliberal disaster capitalism: Selling off huge portions of the state through privatisation of steel, shipbuilding, aerospace, telecommunications, gas – taking key operation and ownership from the public into private profit-making interests.

This dream included buying whatever ideology the United States were selling. The rampant individualism and ideology of “survival of the fittest” – Social Darwinism – was packaged and sold to us all as opportunity to make it, regardless of anyone else.

Having dropped out of university, travelled, gained real world media experience in disadvantaged communities, and lived in another post-industrial town – Kitchener, Ontario, Canada – I returned to Doncaster in 2009 to find my town had changed quite a bit: the unionised industries were long gone, of course; women overtaking men in subregional employment yet in short-term, part-time, low-paid, unstable, non-unionised jobs in the service sector, a Frenchgate Centre shopping mall expanded and incorporating the transport interchange, full of American multinational chains. But there was something else: ultra right-wing Peter Davies of the “English Democrats” had, indeed, been democratically elected as Mayor of Doncaster, capitalising on voter disenchantment after the worst series of scandals in the history of local government.

I’d looked at Doncaster with my last documentary, Escape from Doncatraz, which took me to Doncaster, briefly, to document Doncaster Prison (nicknamed “Doncatraz”) – oh yes, the prisons had been sold off and privatised as well.

Now is the time for a Return to Doncatraz. Because the vested interests weren’t sated with all of the above: they wanted more, and they made sure the Conservatives – who enjoy half of all their proceeds from the banking sector that triggered the recent economic crisis – got into power to claim “there’s no money left” as simply an excuse to sell off what was left: £1bn of our cherished and proud National Health Service has already been privatised, and everything else that can be sold off to their mates, will be…if they can get away with it.

Now comes the challenge of financing a film no one in power wants to be seen, much less made at all.

Strangely, I was recently refused funding from the banks. It didn’t help that when I founded SilenceBreaker Media at the School for Social Entrepreneurs that was courting banker types for corporate sponsorship, I actually took shots at them in my graduation speech after they had, before me, admitted “corporates too often think communities need things doing to them”:

The video doesn’t do justice to the level of awkwardness in the room. But what the heck.

One thing that can’t be broken in Doncaster is the spirit of the people – the same people who recently ousted Peter Davies as Mayor, and who donate their hard earned cash they’re strapped for just because they feel their voices aren’t heard.

I want to tell my story and make this film as though it’ll be my last. From my childhood growing up in Doncaster, my upbringing, the destruction of communities my family held dear, to the (51st) state of the country we find ourselves in today. Let’s get to the bottom of it, before we’re all driven there by this government.

The film will premiere in early 2015, and proceeds from cinema screenings will then help take it around disadvantaged areas and marginals where we can actually stop the nasty, cynical, miserable Tories getting in.

If you’d like to support Return to Doncatraz, you can visit the official website here, and donate or just spread the word here.

Because we need alternative media, and different narratives to the ones Sky, ITV and even the BBC have long since stopped resisting; they’re perpetuating the same myths while people are being thrown off welfare and millionaires are seeing their bank balances balloon.

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Left Out of View: Why a Labour Leader Can’t Spout Left-wing Rhetoric

Many of us are familiar with the viewpoint that Britain’s postwar era really arrived at its tragic conclusion with Thatcherism: gone was the postwar consensus, as citizenship was replaced by consumerism, a commercialised media opened up for Rupert Murdoch’s dominance.

With that, of course, came New Labour: Neil Kinnock kept enough distance from Arthur Scargill and the National Union of Mineworkers that the backbone of Britain’s unions was broken, setting the stage for Tony Blair to instead woo Rupert Murdoch himself, his tabloid “news”paper The Sun switching its seemingly acceptable biased support to Blair’s New Labour project, seeing him elected.

As a working class guy from a Labour family, I raged against New Labour; believing it was betraying its core values of standing up for the working class mass majority and protecting them from greedy corporate interests, I protested outside Labour Party conferences, marched for miles in opposition to the illegal invasion of Iraq, and even made a full feature-length low-budget documentary about Blair’s Britain, here shown as a surveillance state in enclosed borders, keeping a population trapped and afraid:

Of course, aside from the sexy stories of closed-circuit television cameras, identity cards, and illegal oil wars, there were the bread-and-butter issues, as a pro-Europe Labour Party oversaw an influx of European funding poured into disadvantaged communities, in addition to introducing Sure Start centres, Working Tax Credits, the Minimum Wage, and built brand-new schools, albeit no doubt with about as much enthusiasm from High Chancellor Blair as he had when bringing in the Human Rights Act. The difference was the Labour Party base: radical, grassroots workers who stood firm in the party to pin it to its founding principles in the face of vested interests.

So, when the little good Labour did became genuinely under threat from the Conservatives in a 2010 election under the usual primitive pro wrestling-style no holds barred rules known as First Past the Post, I swallowed my pride and vowed to hold on to the few things we’d gained by casting a red vote to protect the most vulnerable in British society as best I could in this faux democracy – such a faux democracy that Tory leader David Cameron went into 10 Downing Street with only 36% of the vote from a turnout of 65%, and, with help from the Liberal Democrats, set about putting together the most right-wing government in British postwar history.

When Ed Miliband, MP for my hometown of Doncaster, emerged as a Labour leadership candidate following the resignation of Gordon Brown (who had inherited an absolute mess of affairs from a Tony Blair who had long since overstayed his welcome), I made the half-serious joke that I’d become a Labour campaigner if he were to be successful in his attempt. Of course, he did win, and the right-wing press quickly mobilised to portray his victory as one rigged by “union barons” – simply because a proportion of the leadership ballot included unionised workers, here supposedly having had guns put to their heads by these mysterious, ominous, omnipotent Union Barons™.

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I’ve since written at length about how Ed Miliband has been often abandoned by the progressive left in and around the party, leaving him alone to face the Blairites pounding on his door, and I even maintain a sub-blog called What Ed Said, since the right-wing press dismiss most of his arguments that make any sense, and the public miss any of his populist statements that would otherwise make an impact.

But for those of us who have seen A Very British Coup, about the fictional Benn-esque MP for Sheffield Central, Harry Perkins, we know how this system works: no Labour leader today can go to the press and stand up for Union Barons™, or demand softer immigration laws, or even defend welfare claimants: in this system, with an undemocratic media, controlled by an increasing amount of elite interests, it would be career suicide (you only have to look at this recent depressing news story to see the overwhelming majority of the British public favouring crackdowns on immigrants and lone parents, all while the banks fail to pay back the £1.6 trillion we gifted them to keep them in business.)

This is what a Labour leader – and any politician – is up against.

Without access to an alternative media – by the people, of the people, for the people – the vast majority will happily sleepwalk away from the founding values of Labour. The cleverly concocted hysteria over Union Barons™ now brings the Labour Party to a point where the post-Thatcher consensus suspicious of “all too powerful” unions has them looking at cutting union funding for a party actually called Labour – while 50% of Conservative Party funding comes from the City of London: Banker Bonus Central. And the press don’t mention a word of it.

That bigot you recently argued with in your local pub may well represent the greater ignorance of his town. And who could blame them? When people are being hammered over the head, every hour of every day, on TV news and non-news narratives, it’s even a miracle they’re not all burning down mosques while calling for closed borders and the closure of the entire welfare state. Where are the facts? Where are people repeatedly told that the banks are laughing all the way home, debt is being transferred from private hands into public hands, and wealth is being carried from the public sector into the private sector? Where are people being told that immigration is a non-issue, and that housing and workplace rights are the true issues of the day? Where are people being told that the NHS has faced strain due to outsourced services that takes their taxes over into the pockets of shareholders, as their government opens it up to greater privatisation? And where are people being told that their country is still one of the wealthiest in the world, with the wealth going to an ever-increasing number of millionaires and billionaires bankrolling the Conservative Party? Let’s admit it: they’re not being told a bloody thing.

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So, don’t expect a Labour leader with a marginalised group of progressives in his party to start spouting left-wing rhetoric. Why? Well, the arguments that are as yet unpopular would be counter-productive. Heck, even the arguments that are popular with the people but unpopular with the Media Barons would provoke a massive push of propaganda from the right-wing press to spread fear about, say, renationalising the railways with “money the country doesn’t have” (to tap into another very popular misconception there).

It makes no sense, and it won’t increase votes. Not yet. Not until we’ve successfully fought for and won an alternative media network of grassroots-based, not-for-profit initiatives. Until then, we’ll have to accept that even the red leader will speak shit from time to time and avoid the right-wing wrath of the Media Barons you never hear much about unless Red Ed’s attacking them. And if it works to get the reds in, after bringing us so many crumbs while in power before 2010, instead of the Social Darwinist blues we’ve had since – in a rigged two-party system? You might even see me smiling at that very shit…while everyone else around me, understandably fearful for their jobs, raises their pints and cheers.

Help me fight for alternative media: check out my social enterprise SilenceBreaker Media and join me in making what is unpopular, popular.

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You Can Only Be a Terrorist if You’re a Muslim

A hundred years ago, a certain group of people holding a specific religious faith were demonised, in this country and others; passports and border controls were introduced to limit their numbers, and people widely spoke of them, their beliefs, and their culture, in disgusted tones and mocking manners. They were so freely targeted as the cause of so many of our problems that this hatred was taken to its logical conclusion: more than any other minority group, including the disabled, or socialists, or vegetarians, Jews were incarcerated and exterminated in their millions by Adolf Hitler’s Nazis.

Of course, our fight in the Second World War was to end fascism, supposedly. And yet, while today fascists form political parties and even win a seat representing us and our flag in the European Parliament, we never really truly cared for the Jews, did we? No, we signposted them somewhere far, far away from here – over in the Middle East, where all the Muslims were, and we armed them and told them to do us a favour and make sure we didn’t have to endure another group like their lot ever again. And, LO!, Israel was created. And what else did we do? Ignored international law, illegally invaded Iraq, massacring up to hundreds of thousands of innocent Iraqi civilians after the tyrant we supported no longer played by our rules. And for a decade, we essentially occupied Afghanistan, where tens of thousands of civilians have been killed because those Taliban types we funded for our anti-communist mission ran amok as well. And this state-sponsored terrorism is called “The War on Terror.”

“When you drop a bomb do you think it hits one person? Or rather your bomb wipes out a whole family? … Through Koran we must fight them as they fight us … I apologise that women had to witness this today but in our lands women have to see the same. You people will never be safe. Remove your governments; they don’t care about you. You think David Cameron is gonna get caught in the street when we start busting our guns? Do you think politicians are going to die? No, it’s going to be the average guy, like you and your children. So get rid of them. Tell them to bring our troops back … leave our lands and you will live in peace.”

I visited Norway a few weeks ago, days after the incident in Woolwich, London, where two men used a car to drive into a man in a hoodie, before stabbing him, hacking him to death with meat cleavers, and uttering the above words at cameraphones that captured them on record.

The news agencies ran with it. Footage was bought and sold; rights were shared. The Sun and ITN paid big money for the grainy video. The ITN news site that usually averages 860,000 unique visitors a day had been overwhelmed by 1.2 million people in panic and morbid curiosity, crashing the site. David Cameron, mentioned by one of the attackers, Michael Adebolajo, cut short his visit to Paris, France, to attend the second of two meetings of COBRA (no, not those of G.I. Joe fame, but rather the Cabinet Office Briefing Room committee) that had engaged Home Secretary Theresa May, London Mayor Boris Johnson, and Met Police Commissioner Sir Bernard Hogan-Howe, and other members of Britain’s intelligence agencies. Yes, kids, this was actually just like G.I. Joe: far from some random act of knife-related crime, this was an international incident, a terrorist attack, a matter of national security! It also whipped up fear, hatred, and racism like nothing else for a long time: in the following days and weeks, Muslims were assaulted, mosques were vandalised and set on fire, fascist groups marched in the streets, and anti-fascist demonstrators were promptly rounded up and arrested.

And yet, arriving in Norway, everything seemed pretty peaceful. Here in this model of social democracy, with the fourth-highest per capita income in the world, a strong welfare state, universal healthcare, free education, and the greatest well-being amongst its citizens, I could stroll right on up to the doors of their parliament building in the capital of Oslo, without any freak-out at all. No sign of armed guards. No watchful eye of CCTV cameras noticeable. No paranoia. This, from a country who had experienced such an horrific attack on its governing Labour Party youth group by Anders Breivik, killing 77 people and injuring 319, less than two years previous. I’m sure you remember it. I know I do. On July 22nd, 2011, my partner, Jane Watkinson, told me of the breaking news of a series of attacks, to which I replied, “Ah, it’ll probably be some nutty right-wing Christian extremist.” I was only half-serious, but it turned out to be true.

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And yet in Oslo, or anywhere else in Norway, I saw no mention of it. No memorials, no news, nothing. They certainly weren’t milking this thing American-style, but then many Norwegians, like us British, retain the memory in our collective consciousness from those of our population who are still alive today yet recall Nazi aggression – in our case, fascist bombs being dropped on our streets, schools and hospitals. But no, Norway’s Labour Prime Minister Jens Stoltenberg didn’t decide to crank up domestic security, attack civil liberties, and invade some country that held a vague connection to the perpetrator. Instead, he called for “more democracy, more openness” and “love,” while the Labour youth group’s leader Eskil Pedersen echoed the Prime Minister’s call for “openness,” adding that Norway should continue its tradition of tolerance. Meanwhile, Anders Breivik, who gunned down children on his mission against this progressive politics, went to court amidst questions of his sanity. Later deemed sane, he simply claimed he knew what he was doing, had a plan, and in online exchanges with other extremists, told the English Defence League to “keep up the good work” over here in Britain. Yes, they’re all on the same page, singing from the exact same vile Christian fundamentalist hymn sheet. Which sounds like dinner’s late in a dog pound full of hungry bulldogs, in case you were wondering. Howl.

But how often did we see the press calling Anders Breivik a “Christian terrorist”? On 9/11, it was constantly called a “Muslim terrorist attack,” as was 7/7. Even the incident in Woolwich where two guys crazier than a bag of snakes killed one person in a “Help for Heroes” hoodie was described as a “Muslim terrorist attack,” with the soldier martyred while the hacks kept peddling fear and boosting support for the unjustifiable campaign of aggression in the Middle East, using and abusing our brave Ministry of Defence troops for their own offensive agenda and offering them a hoodie and a few lousy quid upon their return.

In 1999, an ex-BNP member with connections to Christian fundamentalist groups named David Copeland targeted ethnic and gay communities in London, killing three people, including a pregnant woman, and injured 139 others, four of whom lost limbs. Yet again, press coverage didn’t instantly call him a “Christian terrorist,” either. In fact, they barely ever even mentioned the word “terrorism.” They just blamed entertainment media instead.

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Keep in mind, in Woolwich, one man was killed. David Copeland killed 3, if we’re keeping a morbid count of bodies here. And of course, Anders Breivik killed 77. But the first incident is supposedly a clear “act of terrorism,” the others being examples of people with questionable sanity running amok with weapons. Weren’t the two killers in Woolwich of questionable sanity? Even if their sick attempt at rationalising their violence seen at the top of this post makes me feel uneasy because in many ways it has a point, I think we’d all agree it’s not normal to go around the streets with a meat cleaver, or drive a car into someone because to you they represent oppressive forces overseas. Gandhi said “an eye for an eye makes the whole world blind.” That’s why these kinds of things are irrational. But “an eye for an eye” is as much Christianity’s Old Testament as it is the ramblings of a self-proclaimed Muslim criminal wielding a weapon.

Yet for some reason, if you blow up a government building, gun down peaceful progressive activists, or explode a device that fires nails into a baby’s skull on a mission to kill people who aren’t white or straight, you’re still not committing an act of “terrorism,” regardless of your declarations. Even if you’re their friends in the BNP or EDL, and you’re attacking people and their places of worship and given a platform on unchallenged airtime on the “objective” BBC, don’t worry, you won’t be branded a “terrorist.” No, apparently, if you commit a crime, and you go around claiming you’re a Muslim, then you’re a “terrorist.” Then and only then.

I dread the day when a Muslim player scores a goal that knocks England’s national soccer team from the World Cup. The next morning, even the sports pages will bear the headline “ACT OF TERRORISM.”

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The Wicked Witch is Dead: Why the Right is Wrong

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You know, I never believed the death of any human being should be celebrated. And I’m not saying the death of former British Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher should be, either.

But nor should it be mourned.

We can only hope her draconian anti-society ideology now dies with her. As her Conservatives dominate a coalition after receiving a minority of votes in 2010 from an electorate that, in fact, overwhelmingly voted for progressive politics (as they usually do), the media obituaries may or may not include her appalling track record that I’ll address in a moment. Sure, too often Adolf Hitler is used as a comparison to any politician any of us dislike, but we did celebrate the ruthless dictator’s death, and few would have ever objected to such jubilation. So why the offence at applause to the news of Thatcher’s death?

You see, Thatcher the Milk Snatcher didn’t just remove free milk drinks from our schoolchildren. She sided with and befriended General Augusto Pinochet, the Chicago Boys’ own poster boy dictator of Chile after U.S.-backed forces successfully removed democratically-elected socialist leader Salvador Allende and, from September 11th of 1973, slaughtered three thousand people and tortured many more under Pinochet. And Thatcher loved him, and his regime. She wholeheartedly supported it. Maggie may have had dementia, but no Meryl Streep movie will make Chileans forget that.

At home though, Thatcher also launched an all-out and at times illegal attack on workers’ rights, and deregulated not only the media sector for the likes of Rupert Murdoch to come closer to monopolizing, but also the financial sector – embracing the Chicago Boys doctrine that let the bankers run amok, ultimately leading to the current economic crisis.

But perhaps worst of all, Maggie decimated communities through removing their local industries, and declared a Social Darwinist free-for-all where it was survival of the fittest, stating, “There’s no such thing as society” – dividing and compartmentalizing people. By focusing on individuals, differences began to overtake commonalities, and, as a result, increased prejudices. It was a society being divided and conquered. But hey, that’s what Right-wingers thrive on. It’s what they rely on; they’d never get elected otherwise.

Thatcher was merely representative of the Right-wingers she was supposedly leading in the Conservative Party, wielding her handbag and using her “Iron Lady” image to intimidate and at times seduce the populace that read Murdoch’s press that provided her with further propaganda. But racist, sexist, homophobic views have all predominantly been supported or perpetuated by the Right – they opposed suffrage, opposed gay rights, opposed the anti-war movement, and even opposed the fox-hunting ban. They protected the filthy rich time and again while launching assaults on the disadvantaged and chinking their champagne glasses together.

As the decades become centuries, time tells us again and again that they are to be damned by history as not only being “Conservatives” trying to “conserve” things but, beyond that, actually prevent progression. They should change their name to The Anti-Progression Party, perhaps with the slogan “We’re Behind You – And The Times.” These bastards have been wrong about almost everything ever, with the people blasting back against them to forcibly have them change, because they won’t do it without persuasion. Thatcher’s Milton Friedman economics are already now widely regarded as absolutely grotesque, and dangerous, let alone passé.

It’s an obvious equation. The Right = oppression and exploitation; anything to the Left is an improvement. Hell, even Stalin – the crackpot that he was – had a death count half that of Hitler’s. And who did the corporations support?

Thatcher was damaging to our society. She decimated communities and destroyed the lives of generations. She rolled back rights at home and endorsed death and torture abroad. Unfortunately Britain’s current Prime Minister embraces much of what she stood for, and is taking things even further.

The corporate mainstream media ensures we have short memories. So let her demise bring back to the collective consciousness all she did from the perspective of the people’s history – not just a Hollywood portrayal distributed by her old friend Rupert Murdoch. Instead, ask for the opinion of people in Swansea, or Newcastle, or Liverpool, or Sheffield. If Hollywood doesn’t give them a voice, my next film hopefully will.
Without alternative media not fueled by a simple profit motive, though, much of this is likely to be washed away in the sands of time by the waves of radio, television and print that presents us with cleansed obituaries.

When democratically-elected Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez was on his death bed – despite being an albeit controversial figure who fought against US oppression and attempted coups, to alleviate pain on millions of working class Venezuelan lives – millions more right-wingers in the UK and US tweeted their celebratory remarks in all their glorious sickness; it was all over Twitter, unashamedly posted for all to see:

Now though, Thatcher’s death is already being covered by the press with sensitivity, even tenderness. Beyond Hugo Chavez, if Saddam Hussein, Osama bin Laden or Muammar Gaddafi had been reported on in the same way Thatcher is following death, there’d have been outrage. No, people were cheering and throwing parties when those guys were shot, or dumped in the sea, or dragged through the streets, or hanged on television.

Yet when more people in our streets choose to instead celebrate the death of a true homegrown tyrant who did nothing but harm to poorer people, the media condemns it. Reject the hypocrisy, think critically, and you find it’s all actually quite understandable, perhaps even patriotic. Yet the media will cleverly demonise demonstrators as “sick” for protesting a funeral. But looking at the actual reasons why, it becomes perfectly acceptable: they’re not picketing a funeral as perhaps Thatcher’s anti-gay followers might have following the demise of an AIDS victim – they’re angry because even now, Thatcher is empowered to steal money from poor people despite being dead…

Thatcher represented the 1980s rise of unabated capitalism and mass private ownership. The only insult to her, then, is to actually give her a state funeral. As has been argued for a while now, the entire ceremony should be privatized. If she’s the darling of the greedy corporate world, let them show their support, and fund it.

Britain’s greatest ever Prime Minister, Clement Attlee, never received a state funeral, despite helping to give us welfare and free universal health care, and save the country from total financial collapse thanks to his Keynesian economic policies.

Not only is Thatcher undeserving of a state funeral, she’s undeserving of any grief from a nation she so badly damaged, and which is still struggling to recover from her decisions to this day. Let her death be instead a time to remember what the Right are really all about, and why she shouldn’t be mourned. The wicked witch is dead. We lost another oppressive piece of wretched refuse; a cancer on our society, preying on the weak and vulnerable. The world just got a little lighter.

Not just here, but perhaps somewhere in Chile, cheers are being heard after the thousands of deaths there that Thatcher herself celebrated. Yes, karma is often like Thatcher herself.

In the words of Mark Twain, “I didn’t attend the funeral, but I sent a nice letter saying I approved of it.”

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Feminism: Why Having a Dick and Being a Dick Aren’t the Same Thing

Wow! Three weeks, two universities, one city: It’s been quite a tour de force for the feminist movement here in Sheffield! And if you know me, you’ll be aware of the fact I’m a feminist. We can get into Pop Psychology 101 and talk about how I was taught at home by my mother, but the fact remains the same: I’m simply for equal rights and responsibilities and will continue to campaign for these things…thus, I’m a feminist. It’s pretty simple, really.

The 1 Billion Rising movement has been phenomenal. Founded by no less than The Vagina Monologues writer Eve Ensler, it’s a campaign to raise awareness on violence and oppression against women worldwide, strategised in an empowering, rather than sympathetic way – its slogan is “Strike, Dance, Rise!” And indeed the dancing is a major part of it. (Even I busted a few moves)

I had the pleasure of attending one event – A Memory, A Monologue, A Rant, and A Prayer – at Sheffield Hallam University on February 15th, featuring a collection of monologues spoken by various figures from the Sheffield arts and politics scene. It was both moving and funny, but most of all, it was powerful. It was also interesting to witness the screening of this video of Patrick Stewart in the pre-show:

I was impressed by this inclusion, as it was important to demonstrate how men can be affected and changed by their awareness of violence against women, experienced first-hand or otherwise.

It was also refreshing to take part in a 1 Billion Rising event, as many of them took place on Valentine’s Day – a clever co-opting of what’s usually little more than a Hallmark bonanza of annual token commercial gestures of “love.”

Then came March 8th, International Women’s Day, and a University of Sheffield screening of a Persepolis, an animated movie adapted from a graphic novel about a young woman growing up through the Iranian Revolution. Feminist MP Paul Blomfield gave a a nice introductory speech about the importance of the occasion.

What disturbed me, though, were the words of the otherwise excellent Student Union Women’s Officer Amy Masson, who found fault with the film, she said, because it featured the voice of Sean Penn. That’s right: the actor who’s spent so much time in his recent years supporting same-sex marriage, personally helping to rescue victims of Hurricane Katrina, travelling to countries like Venezuela and Cuba to support progressive causes, condemning the invasion of Iraq, and questioning British colonialism. But, here he was damned by the Women’s Officer because – way, way back in 1987 – he assaulted then-wife Madonna…with a baseball bat, no less, in one of his drunken rages. Admittedly horrific.

“I was an angry young man,” Sean’s since said. “I had a lot of demons and I don’t really know who could’ve lived with me at the time.” Madonna, meanwhile, reportedly still admires Penn, who last year attended one of her concerts. They consider each other good friends, and the violence seems to have been forgiven and put behind them as ancient history, included in context, with the actor maintaining good behaviour ever since, as he ought to.

But that doesn’t seem to be enough for some. While Amy Masson made a really good point about celebrity culture failing to condemn stars at the time – even rewarding them, as is evidenced by Chris Brown’s continued success after his high-profile beating of Rihanna -  I’d put a 1987 incident pretty low on my list, to be honest, and definitely way lower than the more recent actions of scumbag Mel Gibson, who’s pretty much sustained in Hollywood by feminist Jodie Foster (how’s about that then, eh?)

I’m guessing that every crew member of the film ought to have first been screened in case any one of them had ever committed any one indiscretion at any one time in their entire lives, and then been removed from the project because of it (by which rationale you might as well just support the death penalty or other forms of punishment as opposed to rehabilitation since this is based on viewing human life in the most cynical way possibly).

When I tweeted Masson about her remarks, myself comparing Sean Penn to another reformed domestic abuser, feminist singer John Lennon, she claimed he had hit Yoko Ono too, so couldn’t possibly be a feminist. And what was incredible was the additional trolling on Twitter I received from anonymous individuals mockingly sniggering “Oh, artists can’t do any wrong because they made a good song,” as the radical troops were rallied.

Speaking of which, I realise Amy is a radical feminist, as she states on her Twitter bio – which may mean both Patrick Stewart and myself are wasting our time because we have our sexual organs on the outside of our body so are inherently evil – but here’s an interesting blog post by another self-proclaimed radical feminist who says:

“When you think of John Lennon today, please remember the man who learned how to stop being violent to women in his life. Remember the man who chose to spend time with a woman who sparked his imagination more than three guys he’d spent the prior several years with and how this choice of his outraged so many men, who believe there is nothing more sacred than male bonding and that women “get in the way”. Remember the quote that begins this post, about how hurt they each were that so many people said such ignorant and insensitive things about their love for one another, and about Yoko Ono specifically. Remember the man who understood that Yoko Ono was not beneath him or above him–she was with him, as an equal: a partner in love and life. And please don’t forget that he was her love too. The love story isn’t just about what she gave to him.”

To suggest that men can never learn from their mistakes is to give up on them. Maybe that conveniently goes along with the extremist view that men are pure evil and can’t be feminists and so we have to utilise all-women shortlists to get the job done (by which token I assume we require shortlists for token gay people, token black people, token disabled people…none of which would tackle the root causes of socio-economic oppression in the first place). But no, I disagree that men can’t campaign for women’s rights, just as I disagree with the view that middle class intellectuals can’t fight for workers, or that white folks can’t oppose racism, or that straight people can’t support gay marriage.

Anyone can fight for anything if they believe in it enough. And past indiscretions don’t doom those people any more than they did for Vietnam veterans who had gunned down Vietnamese citizens and torched villages full of children, only to go on to oppose the American campaign there, tossing away their medals and marching with peace campaigners.

Over the years, I have been close to women who had been subjected to both assault and rape, but while I’ve never hit a woman, I myself have been subjected to assault from women in the past – yet even though I deserved it no more than any women who’ve been subjected to violence by men, I don’t think they’re sexist because of that. People make mistakes, and people can change. Or do we just hold onto memories of what people once were?

heston1961

Look at that photograph of Charlton Heston. You remember: the right-wing NRA guy who tastelessly visited towns that had experienced mass shootings, to further promote gun ownership. But here, further back before his years as a gun nut, you can see him marching for civil rights. Conveniently, we don’t remember him for that much, though. Should we? Or should we accept what he later became? Because I happen to think he changed his mind, and made up his mind. And, yes, he died a bit of a racist douchebag.

It’s important to remember what people are, and to hold faith in what people can become. As a young man myself, though admittedly a feminist, I had all sorts of stupid ignorant views and acted in all kinds of idiotic ways that I’m far from proud of. But while raised and educated by a woman, I’ve also seen many men in my life change for the better, and to have never afforded them that chance would have been utterly tragic, I can tell you: society would’ve been the loser.

Funnily enough, while I participated in International Women’s Day – and will continue to do so until women are truly liberated from oppression – I didn’t take part in Mother’s Day. Whether to you it is religious or commercial or simply peer pressure, I can’t bring myself to allow my subjective, personal relationship with my own mother – or father – to become reduced to token gestures once a year; these relationships are ours to remember and celebrate and grieve at times convenient to us as individuals. Every day ought to be Mother’s Day. Sadly, mothers will never enjoy such a true reality as that without such things as International Women’s Day. Free the woman, and you free the mother!

Penis:

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Hacking’s Just Fine (If You’re Rich)

Sheffield’s own Hallam University student Richard O’Dwyer this year faced extradition to the United States where he could have faced up to five years in prison for copyright infringement. His crime? He dared to use his entrepreneurial spirit to create the TVShack.net website, which allowed people to search for and share links to television shows and films available, in full, across the web. Quite a clever idea, I’m sure we all agree, since he was simply providing a resource for people to access the pirate sites, not pirating anything himself, nor hosting torrents for these to be downloaded. But this kind of entrepreneurship is frowned upon because O’Dwyer was a Sheffield lad exploiting a chink in the armour of the entertainment industry, and not the entertainment industry itself.

British Home Secretary Theresa May actually approved the U.S. request for extradition, after rejecting a similar request over Gary McKinnon, a London man with Asperger’s syndrome and depression who hacked into U.S. military systems ten years ago to try and find information on UFO’s.

I guess there isn’t much corporate sponsorship from the U.S. military for British politicians, eh? Because if you run a television show, film and video game company like Dreamworks – as David Geffen does – you might want to spend some time with a high-ranking New Labour bigwig like Lord Peter Mandelson at the Rothschild villa in Corfu, Greece, just before the introduction of the Digital Economy Act, one of the last gasp works of the New Labour project, in 2010, before it was killed off by the general election aftermath. The Digital Britain report had recommended that copyright infringements online should not result in such drastic measures as internet disconnection. But after a chat with Universal Music Group chief Lucian Grainge and his little vacation in Corfu, Lord Mandelson decided to suddenly take a firm stance in rejecting the recommendations of the Digital Britain report and call for harsh technical measures as proposed punishments, though adopting this position two months before public consultation had even been completed. As my partner Jane Watkinson recently pointed out to me, it’s something the Tories have done since: hold a consultation, listen, and then do what you wanted to do, anyway. Lord Mandelson might as well have holidayed in Llamedos. Never heard of it? Read it backwards.

So, as Britain suffers an economic depression partially thanks to cuts following a £1.5 trillion bail-out of the banking companies, and people lose jobs, seek what’s left of welfare benefits, and stay home finding cheap or free entertainment, they meanwhile face severe consequences of downloading programming, movies and music. Well now of course this media activist would never dream of doing it myself, but if I were ever to download music or movies, it might be because the expansive collection I’d accumulated over the years was never returned to me from my time in Canada, so if there’s ever a complaint from authorities, I’ll be sure to forward it over there…’kay?

Beyond people replacing or replenishing their stockpile of entertainment, folk rock legend Neil Young calls torrents “the new radio.” “I look at the radio as gone,” he said. “Piracy is the new radio. That’s how music gets around.” His point that the weakness of audio file-sharing online means lower qualities than what vinyl offered “in 1978” also supports the argument for artists to become true performers, making their money from the ability to sing and play well live while gigging prolifically. Radical concept, eh? This could mean that acts have to hold a more personal relationship with their audience while proving they’re as good as their tracks suggest they are, possibly cutting out middle-men via merchandise sales at shows…a dangerous concept to major entertainment companies like Dreamworks and Universal who want so much control of the contrived crap that fills most of the airtime.

Then there’s News Corporation, the second-largest media organisation and third-largest entertainment group on the planet that in 2010 contributed £1 million to the Republican effort in the States while supporting the Conservatives here in Britain. It is, of course, controlled by Rupert Murdoch – the tycoon who backed Margaret Thatcher, Ronald Reagan, Tony Blair and George W. Bush, and largely ensures all of his “news” ventures perpetuate his political perspective, whether they be Fox News, Sky News, The Wall Street Journal, New York Post, The Sun, The Times, or The Australian.

A thorn in the side of Rupert Murdoch, Tom Watson MP spoke here in Sheffield this week as News Corporation have been submerged by an avalanche of allegations of hacking attempts – into accessing Gordon Brown’s private legal files, medical records, and bank account, as well as the into phones of NewsCorp media rivals, in addition to celebrities, soldiers’ families, even victims of crime and the 9/11 and 7/7 terrorism attacks, all for the benefit of their “news” outlets. Sickening as this is, the subsequent investigations and even the recommendations from the Leveson Inquiry often lack the same momentum of pursuit as those targeting lowly hackers in basements, file-sharers, or drunken kids on Facebook.

Yes, in the wake of the 2011 summer riots in Britain, 20 year-old Jordan Blackshaw and 22 year-old Perry Sutcliffe-Keenan created Facebook events organising “riots” of their own as, essentially, nothing more than a practical joke. Now, nobody turned up, and the pages were deleted with apologies. Yet the judge, Elgan Edwards QC, called this harmless and hilarious epic social media fail an “evil act,” adding, “Your conduct was quite disgraceful and the message you posted on Facebook chills the blood.” The obnoxious old fart then claimed that the only reason no one showed up to start a riot was entirely due to “the prompt and efficient actions of police,” – not, in fact, that people just aren’t inclined to start smashing shit up because of a Facebook status posted in a drunken stupor. The two lads were jailed for four years. Yes: four years. For creating and deleting a Facebook page that caused no harm to anybody.

I don’t know about you, but the judge’s words chill my blood, and his absolutely irrational, irresponsible claims seem provocative enough to instigate real riots. It’s a wonder hundreds of us aren’t going and creating all kinds of Facebook events to incite riots. Would they arrest us all? I guess the pages Facebook refuse to ban – such as those calling for violence against women – are just fine. This kind of attitude and wanton desire to destroy the lives of two otherwise harmless young people while revering the police is everything that’s wrong with Britain. To subject these lads to such misleading, melodramatic vitriolic scorn is absolutely vile, and the fact they’ve been sent down is an injustice and an affront to the very values and laws Elgan Edwards is supposed to stand up for. He should be ashamed, he should be sacked, and – if there was any actual justice – he’d be the one in the nick, preferably with all the blokes he sentenced over the years. Attacking and punishing innocent people who committed no crime is a crime itself – so by that rationale, this judge should be locked up.

The riots of 2011 saw many people take leave of their senses. Jane Watkinson and I, even amongst the Left, seemed like lone voices amongst the reactionary rants of so many people who bought into the demonisation of youth that Murdoch’s media, and most other media, took part in. The fall-out from Thatcherism’s Big Bang and subsequent rampant materialist individualism as a Tory government abolished the Future Jobs Fund and Education Maintenance Allowance, the riots were merely sparked by the latest in a long line of Met Police injustices, the social conditions ideal kindling for the raging rioting of the summer heat. When the bankers cost our country £1.5 trillion, no one is held to account; when young people damage private property, and steal sneakers and big screen television sets and the latest “must-have” gadgets, they’re punished even more than they already were by the terror of government policy.

This is today’s right-wing Britain – where costing your country money or stealing secrets is just fine, so long as you’re rich and powerful.

I wonder if I’ll get four years for posting this?

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Who’s to be in Charge of South Yorkshire’s Disgraced Police?

Here in South Yorkshire, the election to choose a Police and Crime Commissioner is very poignant.

Sure, the job title may sound as though they’re commissioning crime as well as police. And sure, such a commish may never have been asked for by the majority of us – Police Commissioners are something the Americans have in Batman and stuff, right? (Maybe that’s why they felt they couldn’t just call it “Police Commissioner”) But the election is here, and it is important.

In my lifetime alone, South Yorkshire has suffered from terrible corruption in its police force.

When Margaret Thatcher declared war on coal miners for daring to be unionised, pickets truly did become a warzone – such as The Battle of Orgreave in 1984. While the media was busy portraying the miners as thugs, rather than working men defending their jobs and each other when the police, in accordance with Thatcher’s plan, attacked them. And it wasn’t just a lethal injection of London’s notorious Met police that administered the brutality; that excuse in these communities has long since faded: the South Yorkshire police officers allegedly manipulated evidence – they too were working for Thatcher it seems, even if it meant breaking the laws they were supposed to uphold.

Then, five years later, we had the Hillsborough disaster here in Sheffield. 96 Liverpool soccer fans died due to a lack of crowd control at the FA Cup semi-final game between Liverpool and Nottingham Forest at the Hillsborough stadium. Again as the media did their job demonising the working class, South Yorkshire police were busy altering statements in the aftermath of the incident.

So when the ConDem government decide that our country’s subregions are going to have elected police commissioners Police and Crime Commissioners, a chill might run along your spine. If they’re this bad now, how bad will they be with a right ol’ bastard in charge of them?

This is, of course, not to say that all the police are bad, or that the force itself is rotten. There are many, many South Yorkshire police officers who have been excellent at protecting innocent people, helping our communities, and communicating with citizens. But the goodness needs nurturing, especially in the wake of such corruption charges. They need a leader who is going to set an example; someone on the right side of all this history.

There’s no doubt the Labour Party have done well the last couple of years, taking on Rupert Murdoch, calling for investigations into Hillsborough, and Orgreave. And though they didn’t call for a commissioner of this kind, they’ve stood candidates. Why? Well, would you want the Tories or some other right-wings fruitloops running your police force? No, didn’t think so.

So here’s the deal: in South Yorkshire, people who don’t vote, don’t get to complain about what their police are like any more. You’ve got essentially two choices, whether you were for the elected position or not: vote Labour, or let the ConDems, Ukip, or English Democrats take charge.

If they did take charge, imagine the police at Orgreave or Hillsborough…on steroids.

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U.S. Election: From the Archives…

Tonight’s the night.

Barack Obama’s again the target of those who either don’t think he’s right-wing enough, or don’t think he’s left-wing enough – all the while the Republicans block and scupper his attempts at progressive policies, and the radicals remain obstinately ignorant to context and claim he has complete power to act in a radical way even with a CIA, military industrial complex, corporate lobbying, and lame Democrats surrounding him constantly.

This last group are, of course, the ones who claim to be “principled”; the self-righteous who tell other Americans not to vote for Obama and instead vote for independents, even if it costs him the election and psycho Mitt Romney and his Republicans seize power and make Obama Capitalism look like a socialist state by comparison. These are the ones prepared to quite comfortably and uncompromisingly see women, ethnic minorities, and the poor suffer even more – for their precious little “principles.” They’re the ones threatening to happily hand the election to money Romney.

Sorry, folks, but I’m rooting for Obama. It’s a choice between him and Romney, straight and simple, and with that choice, who with a clear conscience can wish worse on other people? I’ll be watching the results tonight with my partner, Jane Watkinson, and tweeting away as we do.

For those who haven’t yet bought my collection of blog posts, Soon To Be Banned: Musings of a Media Activist, or read the posts the first time around on my old website, fear not! Not only am I releasing a brand-new collection of entries, and more, in the coming weeks, but I’m offering a few postings here for today’s election in the United States. Enjoy…


“Does it Matter Who’s President?” (from MediaActivist.com; April 22nd, 2008)

So Pennsylvania today has a key deciding factor in the Democratic Party’s choice of a leader in the hopes of breaking the eight-year Republican hold on the White House.

There are two reasons this race is so important.

Firstly, in spite of millions of Democratic votes that will go uncounted in 2008 (just as they had in 2000, and on a larger scale in 2004), the Republicans, as I’ve said before, are doomed; they never had any realistic candidates, and now the fully face-lifted John McCain is not only seeing through his nostrils these days, he’s also already been discredited mere hours after becoming his party’s leader.

Secondly, whether we like to admit it or not, the fact is that the decisions made in the United States will affect the whole world in some way. They refer to themselves as the “world’s policeman,” but it’s much more than that. Britain’s economy has been affected by America’s even more than next-door neighbors, Canada. How messed up is that? But it’s something we have to accept. They’re the big shots.

Once again, the whole world is watching, but this time the Republican elephant is old and tired and ready to be put out of its misery, while the Democratic donkey never had a chance like this before, because when people joke about one-sided elections by saying “a donkey could run, and still win,” this time it’s true!Except neither candidate is a donkey; this is the best crop of candidates in decades. Though I realize that’s not saying much.

Morrissey once sang that in America, “the President is never black, female, or gay,” but two out of three ain’t bad, because with the election now the Democrats’ for the taking, they have guaranteed us that the brand-new President of the United States will, in fact, be either black or female (let’s hope Pee-Wee Herman runs next time!)

Barack Obama hasn’t quite taken my previous suggestions that he cut interviews like wrestler-turned-actor Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson, but he has, nonetheless, been impressive and charismatic. Sure, there are links to Antoin Rezko and the mob in Chicago. Sure, contrary to popular belief, his campaign has had an abundance of support from the corporations he’ll thus become indebted to. And sure, he’s still a capitalist. But just like the man himself says, this is about a different kind of politics, a kind of diplomatic politics, one that has no place for trigger-happy Texans or emphasis on religious faith.

Unfortunately, his opponent seems to have a short memory from her days inspiring the book and film Primary Colors, when the Clintons were agonizingly choosing to take the moral high ground against a mud-slinging Republican Party. She’s been pretty low throughout the campaign, using tactics you’d expect more from John McCain, who’s now lying low himself. It’s all about the Democrats, baby. Even when some of them are acting like Republicans.

Hillary Clinton gave up her fight to provide Americans with good health care, which she’s now hoping to make up for. But she also supported the attack on Iraq, and whilst, yes, it’s an international issue, and it sure is sexy, it’s still a pretty important factor, one that has an enormous effect on the world, and also gives us an idea of what kind of people certain politicians are.

But hoping for a Barack Obama win isn’t just about Iraq. Do you realize that the alternative option will plunge America into a monarchy? The Presidential list of over twenty years would be: Bush-Clinton-Bush-Clinton. That’s right: George HW Bush Sr (1988-1992), Bill Clinton (1992-2000), George W Bush Jr (2000-2008), and Hillary Clinton (2008-2012). Is that what America really wants? Because in that case, let’s just repeal its independence and put it under the rule of the Queen.

Barack Hussein Obama is a symbol that all is not lost in the United States of America. Choosing him would be proving that it doesn’t matter if you have dark skin or even have a name that sounds similar to America’s greatest two manufactured enemies from the last twenty years, and it’d also suggest that they’re not just going to shoot and ask questions later. What America needs now is a statesman, who will act rational – whether you agree with him or disagree with him. “Barack says he’s going to lay the smack down on some roody-poo candy-asses…but only after debating and deliberating first, because war sucks, jabronies.” Wouldn’t that be nice to hear for a change? The cycle can be broken.

The last time I was in the United States, in 2001, I took my feet from the ground of Pennsylvania onto a plane across the Atlantic, and never looked back, as the Twin Towers collapsed behind me and with them any sense of rationality, reason, or restraint. That was the last place I set foot. If they make the right choice today, it may well be the first place in the United States I want to set foot next.

 

“Four Million Americans Over The Top” (from MediaActivist.com; November 2nd, 2008)

“Here we go again,” you’re probably saying. “Another American election; the more things change, the more they stay the same.” It’s no surprise so many people are cynical. But people are also hopeful- it’s just that they’ve had their hopes dashed so many times they don’t like to build them up too much anymore.

Well, this election really does matter, more than any other in American history. Here, I’ll explain why. But first, we have to go back to the beginning, to the demise of the left, and to a place at the other side of the Atlantic…

In 1990s Britain, Bill Clinton was seen as an inspiration by Tony Blair, and there’s a reason for that: the party of the progressive movement couldn’t get elected in the system ruled by money, until the leader used his charm and smarm to trick the left into supporting him while selling-out his party to the same business interests his opponents courted – the Rupert Murdochs of the world that influenced the information people received, as well as the economy. The cynical sell-out strategy worked in the United States, and it worked in the United Kingdom, too.

Bill Clinton said he smoked marijuana but “didn’t inhale,” still getting into power with the backing of the corporations, the media and its moguls, pushing some progressive policies but also rewarding private interests by throwing ten million people off welfare, bombing Sudanese aspirin factories, and supporting sanctions that led to the deaths of half a million Iraqi children, his Democratic colleague Madeleine Albright explaining that “we think the price is worth it.” The seeds had been sown in the Middle East; forget the CIA-funded Ba’ath Party led by Saddam Hussein – it was the CIA training given to the Taliban’s Osama bin Laden that was really being used now to plot against America through Al Qaeda. We knew who really had the Weapons of Mass Destruction – those we sold them to!

Al Gore was set to take Clinton’s place, which the Democrats welcomed, since, despite economic growth, he experienced growth of another kind during his sex scandal with intern Monica Lewinski – over $6,000,000 of taxpayers’ money being spent on investigating the affair. However, we all know the next part of the story: Florida’s Secretary of State in charge of elections, Katherine Harris, paid $10,000,000 to Database Technologies to remove specific kinds of people from voter rolls, who just happened to be Democrat voters, while she just happened to be co-chairperson for the Republican campaign as well! Technically, the Republicans had fewer votes and lost the election, but the scam worked, and with a media portraying Gore as a sore loser, he stopped protesting to save his party’s public image, and the rest is history. Cocaine-user George W Bush Jr was the first man to be sworn-in amongst riots, not allowed to walk the last block to the white house, in a break from tradition. Heck, the whole thing was a break from tradition – back when I was a lad, it used to be that the candidate that got the most votes became President. Not anymore! I feel so old-fashioned now, believing in that “democracy” stuff.

Then came September 11th, 2001 – the day the Middle East struck back at Western aggression with mostly Saudi Arabians hijacking planes and flying them into the World Trade Center’s twin towers in suicide attacks. $3,000,000 was spent investigating the 9/11 atrocities, half the amount spent on the Lewinski affair, leaving all kinds of discrepancies unexplained, and suggesting that the deaths of three thousand people was less important than a stain on a dress. The important thing was that Bush’s lack of popularity was turned around when he suddenly became a “war president,” saying “I go to work with war on my mind,” meaning, conveniently, that he didn’t have time to pay much mind to social programs – slashing them because his big government needed the funds to build up arms to attack terrorists…wherever they may be.

Bush used the Al Qaeda terrorist attack on 9/11 and the nation’s grief and fear to justify passing the Patriot Act – legislation that eroded civil liberties and meant he could control and keep tabs on his own population to check for dissidents. He then ignored international law and, based on inconsistent intelligence, sent poor kids into harm’s way in, of all places, Iraq – having them shoot anything that moved, blowing everything to smithereens, and seizing the oil fields, before “liberating” anyone. The “War President” gave Vice-President Dick Cheney’s company, Halliburton, a big fat uncontested contract to “rebuild” Iraq – in the midst of 100,000 Iraqi civilian deaths and rising insurgency movements opposed to their country being occupied. But the paranoia, combined with millions more votes lost (not just in Florida, but also Ohio and New Mexico), put Bush Jr back into the White House for a second term, shocking the world, with most peoples citing not terrorists but the United States government itself as the greatest threat to peace on earth. The international community’s hatred towards America only grew.

Bush continued with making loose and outlandish connections between Al Qaeda and oil-rich Iraq, in spite of the fact that “Islamic” extremist Osama bin Laden and secular dictator Saddam Hussein hated each other’s guts. Presumably the fact that both Al Qaeda and Iraq had the letter Q in their names was enough for Bush’s so-called intelligence. The Bush-Blair “Downing Street Minutes” showed that the U.S. and U.K. had almost everything they needed to conquer Iraq: aircraft, tanks, bombs, guns – the only thing missing was an actual legitimate reason. So they did what most war criminals would do, and made up a story about Weapons of Mass Destruction being left lying around there for terrorists to pick up and play with, like kids left with matches.

After entering office with a substantial treasury surplus left by Clinton, War President Bush put the country trillions of dollars into debt, exacerbating extremism and terrorism worldwide – with everyone and their cleric arming themselves to the teeth! Meanwhile, the American people were more over-worked and underpaid than they’d ever been, getting poorer and lacking in welfare and health care, kept afloat by a short-term, unsustainable credit card system. America had caught a cold, and the world was hoping it wouldn’t sneeze.

Eventually, though, the American people were starting to spot the incredible illusion of coincidence – the illegal invasion of Iraq, the lack of WMDs there, the oil money, troops dying in huge numbers, people in poverty…and New Orleans, a city full of African-Americans, left to rot with the government ignoring the threat of Hurricane Katrina and the armed forces too busy in the Middle East to fully attend to the clean-up – another city destroyed, another big contract for corporations to “rebuild” and essentially cleanse the place of “undesirables” (what Naomi Klein called Disaster Capitalism). While the media provided us with some disturbingly racist portrayals of “black looters” in New Orleans, the real looting of the devastated Iraq was carried out not by the Iraqi people themselves, but Western corporations. However, even they were realizing that it wasn’t going to be easy to set-up shop in Iraq. The popularity of the War President waned when what he’d called a “mission accomplished” became, in essence, another Vietnam, a war of attrition with young troops fighting for years, put to battle against angry Iraqis wanting their country back.

While New Orleans drowned, Bush’s approval ratings sank to record levels, eventually hitting 23%, surpassing even those of Richard Nixon at the time of his resignation in the wake of the Watergate scandal (26%), and making him the second most unpopular president in American history, just ahead of Harry Truman’s 1952 rating (22%). The American people had finally had enough, along with the rest of the world. America’s economic collapse – predicted by Noam Chomsky and echoed in my article ‘A Waterfall into the Mainstream’ – finally began; it sneezed, and the rest of the world caught that darned cold.

On February 12th, 2007, I wrote that the tide was turning, that things were about to change for the better. I claimed that without Chuck Hagel leading the Republicans, they really didn’t have any chance of legitimately winning the next election. I also suggested that Barack Obama might be a good choice to become Democratic leader, citing his ability to resemble wrestler-turned-actor Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson, joking that he might ask “Do you smell what Barack is cookin’?” Maybe someone saw my blog and told him – because, lo and behold, what does he do? He goes on top professional wrestling show Monday Night Raw itself to parody The Rock and actually asks “Do you smell what Barack is cookin’?” Sometimes the accuracy of my predictions scares even me. I’ll have to be more careful in future!

On April 22nd, 2008, I blogged about the Democrats needing to choose Barack Obama over Hillary Clinton not just because of his different approach, but because he represents a change in Washington – not the rhetoric he speaks, but real change from a potential Bush-Clinton-Bush-Clinton twenty year monarchy of the elite. The Democrats chose him, the most progressive of all the candidates. For the first time in a long time, there was a chance for real change in American politics.

As it happened, Barack Obama – who had massive grassroots support and garnered a staggering estimate of 88% of his campaign funds from ordinary people giving small donations – gave his Democratic leadership acceptance speech on the 45th anniversary of another famous speech; the one by Martin Luther King when he told the world of his “dream.”

So many struggles had taken place over the last century, and this was to be another. The civil rights movement gained rights for African-Americans. The suffragettes died to gain women the right to vote. The allies fought fascism in the Second World War, defeating the Nazis who had risen in poverty-stricken Germany after the country was brought to its knees by the First World War. It was in that war that so much human life was sacrificed in record numbers. The soldiers dreaded the moment they were told to go “over the top” – to leave the trenches and head onto the fields, often doomed to be mowed-down by heavy artillery.

The facts suggest as many as four and a half million Democratic votes will be lost in this election. As Greg Palast told buzzflash.com, “four and a half million votes are going to be shoplifted.” Palast, the investigative journalist who via the BBC exposed the Florida scam in 2000, and the voter fraud in 2004, went on to explain that “that doesn’t mean that they will own the White House, it just means that they start with a big old thumb on the electoral scale.” That gives John McCain a head-start of at least four million votes already. I’ve always said that there can be no Ralph Nader excuses – Jesse Ventura is right; America needs more than just two capitalist choices. Two choices is not a true democracy. But there can be no excuses about lost votes, either. The American people have to give Barack Obama so much of an overwhelming majority that those four million votes don’t even matter, so that four million people go “over the top” first, are sacrificed, and then the other brave troops of democracy stand up and be counted, achieving victory for the Democrats.

Then there are hoax stories of extremists from the Barack Obama camp, and talk of a possible “Bradley-Wilder Effect,” where the polls are showing people are voting for the black man, but will do the opposite when in the privacy of the voting booth. I’m not sure about that – while Britain is full of racist media right now and “there ain’t no black in the Union Jack,” I think Americans are ready to have black represent their flag, and put a black man in the White House.

But ultimately, as Shami Chakrabarti said in the closing scenes of my film Escape from Doncatraz, “people aren’t any less political than they’ve ever been, they’re just less party political.” In some cases giving him a ten-point lead, it’s not just the polls that show Barack Obama with a lead over John McCain, it’s the streets – where, for example, in Fort Wayne, Indiana, a friend of mine walked around this traditionally Republican territory and saw nothing but Barack Obama yard signs. There are some stating “Republicans for Obama.” Even Republican Colin Powell recently endorsed Barack Obama. Colin freakin’ Powell! This is incredible. How did this happen?!

For starters, John McCain insulted the people, his own people, when – in the absence of Hillary Clinton from the election race – he cynically “chose a vagina” (to quote suicidegirls.com) as his running mate in hopes he’d garner some female voters. Alaska governor Sarah Palin, a supposed “soccer mom” who had charged the state for her kids’ travel expenses, claimed she had foreign policy experience “because Alaska shares its borders with Russia and Canada,” became a complete liability, and had even less major political experience than Barack Obama – who himself chose as his running mate one Joe Biden, one of the least wealthy men in Washington, a man who commutes to work every day.

The Republican voters – even those in the south – have switched sides, fearing “more of the same” from the GOP (even while Bush is essentially kept off TV to distance the campaign from his legacy), fearing 72 year-old John McCain’s demise during office, and thus fearing Sarah Palin left in charge of the country. Yep, in Fort Wayne and cities like it all over the United States, people are switching sides.

This is the ultimate slap in the face of the corrupt capitalist mob in the GOP who claimed there was a link between Iraq and Osama, who lied to them for so long, who took their hard-earned money and spent it on war, who drove the country into a financial crisis. These ordinary people slapped those bastards in the face by instead supporting a candidate who opposed the invasion and massive military spending from the start, who wants to open diplomatic dialogue with the Middle East, supports a social safety net and universal health care and investment in education, a man who not only smoked pot but inhaled as well, in addition to sucking up cocaine in school too…and, yes, a man whose name rhymes with “Iraq” and “Osama” and has Hussein as his middle name! Ha, ha! This is a message from the American people that they’ve had enough of living in fear and paranoia and propaganda, and of being broke. They’ve had enough of the status quo and the predicament they’ve been put in.

Republicans are crying about the Democrats’ campaign funds being spent on TV commercials when they “could be used to fix the economy.” What? The campaign funds are for, um, campaigning, duh; so when he is President, he can fix the economy. What a stupid, imbecilic and idiotic thing to say (though to be fair it did come from Arnold Schwarzenegger). So, when that argument fails – despite the fact that the Republicans control leading network Fox News – they complain about “media bias.” Well, the fact is that John McCain’s been flying by military jet, while Barack Obama’s invited the press on his planes with him. Besides, the media haven’t been able to control this machine – and everyone knows they like to back a winner. Nope, not even those stupid voting machines could stop the real machine.

There’s still a lot of right-wing media in America, though; almost all of it, and the attacks on Barack Obama have been significant, even at risk of turn-off from American viewers sick of cynicism. They call him a “socialist,” as though the existence of their libraries, schools, fire service and police force is not through socialist policy, when in fact it is; those are socialist principles. Obama’s said he’s a capitalist, a “free marketeer,” and it’s true; he’s about as much of a socialist as John F Kennedy, a man who also faced such accusations when in fact he was a major capitalist himself. However, Barack Obama speaks of Franklin D Roosevelt’s “New Deal” policies with admiration, and like JFK knows that all the clever capitalists in the last century have only prevented total socialist revolution by “tweaking the valve” – giving the people just enough to keep them from revolting. That’s not such a bad thing, considering that in the United States you only have two capitalist choices, anyway.

Barack Obama and the Democrats answer to different groups than the Republicans. If, like JFK, he is assassinated, Barack Obama will be martyred and the LA riots of 1992 would look like a mere playground fight, so he’s untouchable. If, however, he sells-out and betrays the grassroots groups that put him in power, he won’t be in power for long. He has to deliver, and he will – just don’t expect anything socialist, as the right-wingers are screaming. The capitalists in congress and the media would unanimously assault him, then, for sure.

We already know who the majority of people will be voting for: the Democrats – just like in the last two elections! My predictions may have a good track record, dear readers, but I don’t know what the result of this election will be; none of us do. But the change has already begun, regardless of the outcome. If Democratic voters send more than four million of themselves “over the top,” then Barack Obama will certainly be the next leader of the most powerful, most influential nation on the planet. But even if that doesn’t happen, and the GOP steal yet another election, that nation has already embraced change. The system may be broken, but the power is coming back to the people.

Leave the lights on. As Leonard Cohen once sang, “democracy is coming to the USA.”

 

“Angel of the Public Interest” (from MediaActivist.com; February 26th, 2009)

“The night after I was sworn in, I waited for a visit from the angel of the public interest. I waited all night, but she did not come. Federal Communications Commission chief Michael Powell, an avid deregulation advocate and son of Colin Powell.

Does media matter? That’s what I’m asked a lot.

Well, ask yourself how many of your opinions have been formed by something you heard, something you saw; a television show, a magazine, a song, a movie, a newspaper, or even a conversation – which, in turn, was likely largely based on opinions formed from…media! Sorry, but there’s really no way around it, honey. Media controls the world. That’s just how it is. The more we’re informed, the more our opinions are formed.

But who controls the media? I guess that’s pretty important, then, eh? Well, unfortunately, it’s being left to rich, greedy, white, right-wing men in suits who – funnily enough – have the tendency to tell twisted tales to the people consuming their media, so that they keep hating each other and voting the right-wing political parties into power. That’s pretty much how the whole thing works, right there.

In Britain, after boom-and-bust Conservative strategies left the incoming Labour government in economic turmoil – subjected to the (first) Winter of Discontent – Margaret Thatcher led the Tories back to power in 1979 with help from not just the clever, cynical, fake and now-infamous “Labour Isn’t Working” billboard poster designed by advertising agency Saatchi & Saatchi, but also Rupert Murdoch’s tabloid newspaper The Sun encouraging the population to vote for the Tories, like an evil nanny feeding a starving child arsenic and telling them “It’s good for you,” and it being trustingly gulped back.

No doubt many working class people – feeling that Labour had already significantly compromised their socialist approach moulded three decades earlier by the great Clement Attlee – felt less enthusiastic about voting for Labour again. That’s to be expected. But it was predominantly the less industrial, more middle class, more suburban south of England that provided the push needed to solidify the support necessary to put in – and keep in – a Conservative government, all the way to 1997.

The Tories didn’t simply fall from favour in 1997. No, it’s no coincidence that Rupert Murdoch had become impressed by Tony Blair’s “Third Way” route for New Labour that promised to continue the media deregulation started by Thatcherism – so much so that he had his News Corporation, and indeed The Sun, support them…resulting, of course, in their rise to power. And also resulting in deregulation and near-monopolisation of the media for Mr Murdoch.

Sure enough, Blair’s Britain continued along that path, as did Bush’s United States. In 2003, Murdoch claimed Bush “will either go down in history as a very great president or he’ll crash and burn…I’m optimistic it will be the former.” He put his Fox News Network to work on making his hopes a reality, almost always portraying Bush in a good light, discrediting his critics, and – most crucially – omitting certain facts about him and his party, only increasing the role of the channel as being, in actuality, Faux News, while Murdoch bought MySpace two years later, and continued his quest for his right-wing domination of the media world, and the people of the planet showed the propaganda wasn’t completely succeeding as millions marched in streets across the globe in opposition to the U.K.-U.S. led illegal invasion of Iraq.

The Bush administration, of course, didn’t let these deeds go without reward. In the spring of that same year, Colin Powell’s son, Michael Powell, in his role as chief of the Federal Communications Commission, set about dismissing thirty year-old rules while further loosening restrictions on just how much media could be controlled by a single company like News Corp. These changes threatened to allow a single network to buy stations that, combined, reached as much as a staggering 45% of the American people.

Think about that for a moment: one ideology, one message, one slant – bombarding as many as almost a half of all Americans. Murdoch could control the information of entire cities in the world’s most powerful nation. Yep, deregulation was still being attempted in return for propaganda and campaign funds donated to the bigwigs by the media moguls. It was becoming a tired old sick joke.

Speaking of sick jokes, Powell simply stated, “The night after I was sworn in, I waited for a visit from the angel of the public interest…I waited all night, but she did not come.” This pissed off a lot of people, with leading media activist Aliza Dichter responding, “Since he had trouble seeing one angel that dreadful night on March 22nd, we shall descend upon him in droves!” and Indy Media announcing “We encourage all Angels such as yourself to come to the gathering dressed in your best Angel garb – halo, wings, glitter, the whole nine yards. (If no angel gear, come anyway!)”

They’re still waiting for the droves of angels to descend on the FCC, and I’m very tempted to come to Washington, D.C. myself. There are all kinds of media activist opportunities there, because it’s the seat of power, and if I’m allowed there, I’ll be helping to kick the legs from under it along with the rest of the people wanting change through responsible, fair media.

Barack Obama’s great. The media has pleasantly focused on the fact that, for the first time ever, an African-American now resides in the White House. Why trivialise it? Why reduce it to tokenism? He got where he is today because he wasn’t Colin Powell; he represented the wishes and hopes and dreams of America. He made promises he is already struggling to keep while under pressure from the same old system – be it by appeasing the military industrial complex by pulling forces from Iraq and simply putting them into Afghanistan, or by using the economy as an excuse to put progressive policies on the back-burner. Yes, his achievement is historic, yes it’s important – but we must not forget the real reason he was put into power, because a black man means nothing unless he represents the people, and nor does a woman.

Deregulation was pushed to unprecedented places by Margaret Thatcher, one of the most devastating Prime Ministers in British history. That’s something worth remembering. And with that in mind, it’s time to take back control of the airwaves and the printing presses, because once Murdoch and his ilk have had their way, we’ll only get their side of the story.

When the media lie, they get sued. So what do they do instead? Omit. It’s lies through omission. If someone threatens you and your loved ones, and provokes you into threatening them in return, to then accuse you of threatening behaviour would only be part of the story, and, some might say, as bad as lying. That’s what the mainstream media do: they lie through omission. Omitted details about immigration, about Iraq, about Palestine, about Ireland, about everything. There are certain things they’d rather you didn’t know about or focus on. Because if you did? You’d be ripping their papers and brand-new asses for their bosses; you’d be organising and forcing change.

Ever noticed how everyone complains about how hard life is, and how much they work, yet things just largely stay the same? Ever wondered how that’s even possible? They filter the information; they tell you that the arsenic is good for you! Everything’s okay; just blame the immigrants. Everything’s alright; blame the benefit frauds. Everything’s fine; blame the poor who went into debt. Whatever you do, don’t even consider questioning capitalism’s free market or why there are just a few privileged people with eight-bedroom mansions, limousines and lear jets, while the mass majority in the world are struggling, and 1.4 billion live in official poverty.

What the media clues you in on is nowhere near as important as what they’ve left out. It can be quotes, statistics, editorials, and the screaming headlines themselves – overpowering or even replacing a few extra crucial details to the story. Given the fact that more and more of the media is being controlled by fewer and fewer people – with right-wing interests in contrast to the interests of the mass majority – our information is being controlled more and more, as well. It’s being filtered. But heck, information is too important to our lives to be left in the hands of the right who are doing us wrong. We have to do something.

Get involved. Be an angel.

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