Mar 31, 2012

English Defence League humiliated by no-show Aarhus summit


The English Defence League
(EDL) suffered a humiliation in Aarhus, Denmark, where it arrived to set the stage for the rather grand sounding pan-European anti-Islamic Movement. Problem for the EDL'ers is that they couldn't attract the numbers. The turnout was so poor in fact, anti-fascist demonstrators outnumbered EDL supporters twenty-to-one.

Guardian:

Estimates suggested as few as 160 defence league members from several countries gathered at the inaugural far-right summit in Aarhus for the European counter-jihad meeting, devised to "send a clear message to the leaders of Europe" that Islamism would not be tolerated.

EDL leader Tommy Robinson admitted only 15 supporters from England made the trip, despite earlier speculation that hundreds might attend. By comparison, an anti-fascist demonstration in the same city, to protest against the arrival of the EDL, attracted up to 4,000 people.


When the EDL tried something similar in Amsterdam in 2010 the turnout was also dismal. They were outnumbered by vocal anti-racist supporters and Ajax fans who wanted them to take a hike.

The anti-fascist showing in Aarhus was impressive
. Projekt Antifa, the anti-fascist coalition, organized transportation to the demo in Denmark.



Anti-fascist demonstrators in Aarhus

The low EDL turnout isn't just restricted to Aarhus. There has been a falling off of support on home turf also. Fewer would-be crusaders prepared to hit the bricks. In fact the numbers have fallen off to the degree that British police have been advised by the think tank, Demos, to downgrade estimates of EDL marches and demonstrations. According to Demos the EDL inflates estimates of attendees.

The EDL and similar groups offer no real solutions. The identity politics of these groups is divisive - a dead-ender. It heightens suspicion and alienation at a time when the Eurozone - given economic challenges - badly needs people to pull together. Who wants a divided society with crypto-fascists and others with narrow nationalistic agendas driving Muslim communities further into a defensive posture. It's a recipe for disaster... one unfortunately pushed by misguided people who use their websites to spread alarm and fuel suspicion about European Muslims.

Mar 30, 2012

George Galloway: stunning landslide victory in Bradford West



George Galloway
, the British MP banned in 2009 from entry into Canada has achieved a stunning electoral victory in the UK. Standing for the Respect Party, Galloway pulled off an historic victory in Bradford West. Not too shabby for a guy humiliated by Canada - dubbed "an infandous street corner Cromwell" by former Jason Kenney sidekick, Alykhan Velshi.

Guardian:

On a turnout of 50.78%, Labour's shellshocked candidate Imran Hussain was crushed by a 36.59% swing from Labour to Respect that saw Galloway take the seat with a majority of 10,140.


For many years Bradford West has been considered a safe Labour seat. In the 2010 election Labour won with a majority of 5,763. Given Respect's fifth place finish in 2010, the byelection landslide is nothing short of sensational. Labour's Imran Hussain must have wondered what hit him. The Respect victory was aided to a degree by the collapse of the Tory vote.

Galloway:

"... we have won the most sensational victory in British political history … Labour has been hit by a tidal wave in a seat they have held for many decades and dominated for 100 years. I have won a big victory in every part of the constituency, including in areas many people said I should not even compete."

Galloway believes decisions made by Tony Blair have contributed to the erosion of Labour's credibility with the British people. He said his byelection victory has a connection with "the path of treason chosen by Tony Blair in 1994" that moved Labour "so far away from its traditional supporters that people feel neglected and betrayed".

He added that these days Blair is "swanning around making millions, instead of facing trial in the Hague for war crimes. The big political parties have had a very salutary lesson, and I hope they take note."

Galloway is a trench fighter with great skills as an orator and the charisma to go with it. But while these qualities may help at the polls, it is his policy positions that have been pivotal in taking him over the top. He has called for an immediate withdrawal of British troops from Afghanistan and wants a tougher stand in the fight against unemployment.

Galloway also sees the result as a judgment on what he describes as the "austerity-lite policies of Ed Miliband and Ed Balls." He predicts that Labour will face similar defeats in northern towns in upcoming local elections scheduled for May.

Final results in Bradford West look like this:

George Galloway (Respect) 18,341
Imran Hussain (Labour) 8,201
Jackie Whiteley (Conservative) 2,746
Jeanette Sunderland (Liberal Democrat) 1,505
Sonja McNally (UKIP) 1,085
Dawud Islam (Green) 481
Neil Craig (Democratic Nationalists) 344
Howling Laud Hope (Monster Raving Loony Party) 111

Part of Galloway's speech following the Bradford West victory:



More coverage - Guardian - Michael White admits he called it wrong - BBC

Mar 28, 2012

Merah killings: more about psychiatric issues than jihad?



To describe the Mohamed Merah killings as the act of a jihadi-on-a-mission is the type of simplistic narrative that short circuits more in-depth discussion of Merah's motivations. There are questions about his psychological state that raise questions in turn about whether he was acting as an Al Qaeda connected "mujahedin" - a claim he made when speaking with French police.

Merah grew up in one of the roughest housing estates in Toulouse. He had a chaotic and disjointed childhood. When he was age 5 his father left to head back to Algeria. His mother was largely unemployed. He drifted into a life of petty crime. A local official described him as a "little failure."

Although Merah traveled to Pakistan, at this point it's unclear whether claims that he received military training in Waziristan are true or not. According to some reports that cite intelligence officials, a group of Frenchmen operating under the name Jihad-e-Islami received training in the use of explosives and weapons in North Waziristan. One source claims the camps where training took place were located near the town of Miran Shah and in the Datta Khel area.

To date French officials have dismissed claims that Merah received any such training. Yet other reports indicate he may have been involved in the planting of explosives for the Taliban.

Was Merah motivated just by jihad or were his actions also driven by more dysfunctional urges? He relished killing in a strange, almost sadistic fashion - spoke of how he took "infinite pleasure" in killing. This would relate more to the Ogrish-type execution videos Merah apparently enjoyed than the content of any mujahedin training video. Certainly the way he carried out his crimes doesn't fit the mold of a jihadi on a mission.

Independent
:

But despite apparently professing grand aspirations, a police source... said that Merah seemed more obsessed with himself than with his cause. "He wanted to give himself a starring role," the source said. "He had a narcissistic need to seem important."

The practice of filming his victims during the attacks suggests that he intended to view the tapes at a later date, perhaps for vicarious thrills. Maybe he even hoped to find a way to post them online.

According to the head of the French police counterterrorism agency, Bernard Squarcini, Merah had shown signs of "psychiatric issues" in the past.

Independent:

Bernard Squarcini, head of the French internal security service, told Le Monde newspaper: "He (Merah) resembles no other pattern we have seen until now... What he did points more to a mixture of medical problems and fanaticism than the usual career of a jihadist."

While there can be no justification for Merah's crimes, the tragedy also draws attention to the harsh social and political realities facing Muslims in France that too often get overlooked in the rush to point the finger of blame.

Sarkozy's effort to attract votes from the far-right by complaining about the numbers of 'foreigners', targeting halal meat and veils, fails to address the real challenge faced by France. Western military adventures, occupation of Muslim lands, Islamophobia linked to old colonial prejudices, the marginalization of French Muslims, racism and xenophobia - these are the issues that lie at the root of the challenges facing France. Until these matters are addressed no amount of scapegoating of Muslims and their customs will improve the situation.

It's interesting to note the different reactions to the murderous rampage of American serviceman Robert Bales - that also took the lives of innocent children - and the Merah killings.

We have heard comment from American media sources drawing attention to the "human side" of Bales - recipient of numerous military awards. We learned that he's a Dad, a "regular guy" to those who knew him. He had pressures... was financially strapped. Even the very deed itself somehow or other couldn't have been perpetrated by an American serviceman in his right mind. Bales had to have been drunk, brain damaged, stressed, on drugs... any number of reasons to explain away what was by any standard an act of cold blooded savagery. The children Bales murdered remain pretty much faceless in the media, for the most part no names either. The collateral damage of a soldier's psycho night out.

By contrast in the wider public forum many are more than happy to brand Merah a terrorist, a jihadi, a Muslim fanatic, evil, a monster... as though that's all we need to know. The danger of this type of tabloid thinking is that it adds to the risk of similar occurrences down the road.

More also from Guardian and Stopwar.org

Mar 26, 2012

Rob Ford: Toronto's 'notorious big' loses subway vote


Toronto mayor Rob Ford is keen on catchphrases. Some of his faves are... "Stop the gravy train" - "It's all about subways" - "End the war on the car" and "Respect for taxpayers." Ford is a black-n-white slogan-friendly kinda guy. He stands as a living witness that a caricature can be elected mayor of a major N. American city.

The Toronto mayor looks a bit like an off-duty Santa in a bad suit. He reddens up easily. This frequently happens when he's ranting in the chamber about subways - a topic near and dear to his heart.

A recent pro-subway rant displayed Ford's high-end rhetorical skills:

People hate the St. Clair. They hate these streetcars. You can call them what they want. People want subways folks. They want subways, subways. They don’t want these damned streetcars blocking up our city...

The session also included trademark Ford-style heckling and sign language - such as yelling "bring it on" accompanied with "wanna fight" hand signals directed at councillor Adam Vaughan. The bully-in-chief in city hall is an inspirational role model for playground badasses everywhere.

Ford failed to produce anything close to a viable financing plan for his Shepherd subway plan. His scheme was dashed by a council vote that approved light rail rather than a subway extension for Sheppard Avenue East.

The mayor's brother on council, Doug, weighed in with a conspiracy theory:

As far as I'm concerned, this is social engineering, this is a nanny-state, when politicians dictated to the people, against their will, this is what you're getting.

The problem is more basic. There is a crisis in leadership because the Toronto mayor's office is host to an overgrown ten year-old. Rather than acknowledge his critics with a degree of maturity, Ford dismisses them as "lefties"... snubs them, cuts out, sulks and resorts to put downs.

A few examples of Ford-in-action makes you think his critics must be on to something.

A Toronto woman named Ottilie Mason was driving with her 6 year old kid when she spotted a van with "ROB FORD" on the customized plate. The mayor was nattering away on his cell phone. When Ms Mason rolled down her window to ask him to get off the phone, Ford flipped her the bird. Not a casual finger... a very deliberate finger. Check out this video to hear it in Ottilie Mason's own words.

Boorish behavior is nothing new. In 2006 security removed a drunk and belligerent Ford from a Maple Leafs game after he yelled insults at an out-of-town couple. When the man asked Ford to be quiet, Ford responded with “Who the fuck do you think you are? Are you a fucking teacher?” He next targeted the man's wife with “Do you want your little wife to go over to Iran and get raped and shot?” Ford later apologized.

Some Ford related graffiti from the streets of Toronto:












More on Ford's sketchy past - here.

Mar 24, 2012

UK bans Israeli tourism ad for fudging borders

Israel map

Maps that suggest the occupied territories are part of Israel appeared on ads put out by the Israeli Tourism Ministry. The fondest dream of Zionists everywhere no doubt, but not welcomed by the UK's Advertising Standards Authority who say the ads are "misleading." The Israelification effort also included replacing the term "West Bank" with "Judea and Samaria."

The ad first appeared in UK papers in November, 2011, to promote a new book about northern Israel. It drew 350 complaints.

The ASA statement said that the Israeli Tourism Ministry should "not imply that the West Bank, the Gaza Strip and the Golan Heights were internationally recognized as part of the state of Israel. We also told [the Israel Government Tourism Office] not to imply claims were universally accepted..."

This isn't the first time either. Back in 2009 a poster campaign run by an Israeli Government Tourist Office featured a map of Israel with the West Bank, Gaza Strip and Golan Heights as apparent add-ons. That attempt also included the fudging of borderlines. ASA said they were "faintly produced and difficult to distinguish".

More from Electronic Intifada - here.

On another occasion in 2010 Israeli Tourism produced an ad with a photo that showed the Temple Mount and East Jerusalem. It was banned by the ASA on the grounds that the ad didn't make it sufficiently clear that the areas in the photo were in dispute.

The argument that the maps "aren't political" just schematic is a little disingenuous. Anything relating to a map of Israel and territories is political by default and there is no way of getting around that. How would the Irish react if a section of County Cavan was made to appear as part of N. Ireland in a tourist map... there would be hell to pay. There are some lines (no pun intended) that you don't cross... or even smudge.

'Lines' don't work for me

Israel alters borderlines to include occupied territories

Mar 22, 2012

Utah Data Center: 'a massive eavesdropping complex'


Wired Magazine has an article about the new NSA spy center being constructed in Utah. It has the user friendly name Utah Data Center.

Wired:

A project of immense secrecy, it is the final piece in a complex puzzle assembled over the past decade. Its purpose: to intercept, decipher, analyze, and store vast swaths of the world’s communications as they zap down from satellites and zip through the underground and undersea cables of international, foreign, and domestic networks. The heavily fortified $2 billion center should be up and running in September 2013. Flowing through its servers and routers and stored in near-bottomless databases will be all forms of communication, including the complete contents of private emails, cell phone calls, and Google searches, as well as all sorts of personal data trails—parking receipts, travel itineraries, bookstore purchases, and other digital “pocket litter.”



The facility is being built outside Salt Lake City in Bluffdale. The author and NSA expert James Bamford has described it as "a massive eavesdropping complex"... capable of...

... collecting a tremendous amount of information every day by satellites, by tapping into undersea cables, by picking up microwave links and tapping of cell phones and data links on your computer, email links, and so forth. And then it has to store it someplace, and that’s why they built Bluffdale. And then that acts as, in essence, like a cloud, a digital cloud, so that agency employees, analysts from around the country at NSA headquarters and their listening posts in different parts of the U.S.—in Georgia, Texas, Hawaii and Colorado—can all access that information held in Bluffdale in that data center. And that’s pretty much a summary of what that data center is all about.

Bamford points out that after failures in the past to detect the threats that resulted in the World Trade Center bombing, the targeting of US embassies in East Africa and the USS Cole attack, NSA has been looking to create an intelligence operation that focuses on the worldwide network of communications.

NSA is also building another facility in Tennessee at Oak Ridge. It will house a massive computer that can work at lightning speed. It's a system capable of utilizing "brute force" as it searches through data seeking out key patterns.

According to reports, NSA will be harvesting data not just abroad, but also in the U.S. This adds credence to the NY Times report that claimed that NSA had engaged in extensive wiretapping with an assist from companies such as Verizon.

A few pundits have noted with some irony that this is unfolding under an Obama administration. Obama was critical of the eavesdropping that went on during Bush's tenure. Nonetheless the president voted for legislation that will help implement eavesdropping on an unimaginable scale. He has also shown support for legislation that grants immunity to telecom companies.

For a detailed discussion of the topic check out Alternet.

Mar 18, 2012

Rise of the Pirates: a new way of doing politics


The old way of doing politics is increasingly leaving a lot of people disenchanted and disengaged. Low election turnouts and the apathy of voters often comes down to the conviction that it makes little difference who you elect because the mainstream parties play the same old game by the same old rules.

This in part explains the appeal of Pirate politics. Pirate Parties have been started in over 40 countries. They address the need for a new type of participatory politics.

The pirate party idea got its start when the Swedish Piratpartiet was founded in 2006. In 2009 European Pirate Parties agreed on a common declaration of goals:

- reform of copyright, exemption of non-commercial activity from copyright regulation, reduction of the duration of copyright protections; banning of DRM technologies, opposition to media or hardware levies;

- reform of patent law, particularly stating that patents on life (including patents on seeds and on genes) and software should not be allowed;

- strengthening civil rights, transparent government, speedy and fair trial and freedom of speech; expansion of the right to anonymity in communication.

Wikipedia:

In the European Parliament election of 2009 the Swedish Pirate Party received 7.1 percent of the votes, winning two seats and achieving the first major success of a Pirate Party in an election. The German Pirate Party managed to win 8.9 percent of the votes in the Berlin state election, 2011.

The German Pirate Party is self-described as the "party of the information society." In common with Pirate Parties elsewhere, it wants to see greater emphasis placed on transparency and civic participation.

Der Spiegel:

Take, for example, "LiquidFeedback," the Pirate Party's Internet voting software, which can give a greater voice to the individual than other parties have done until now. Or "Mumble," a voice conference program that allows Pirates to participate in discussions with just about anyone from the comfort of their own homes -- as long as they have a computer, an Internet connection, a microphone and loudspeakers.



The German Pirates surprised a lot of people with their showing in parliamentary elections in the Berlin state election in 2011 when they got 8.9% of the vote. In upcoming parliamentary elections in the German state of Schleswig-Holstein the Pirates stand to take between 6 to 8% of the vote based on poll projections.

In Canada the Pirate Party was registered with Elections Canada in 2010. The Canadian Party advocates intellectual property reform, network neutrality and greater government openness.

Mar 12, 2012

'Doonesbury' abortion strip sparks controversy

Part of an earlier Doonesbury strip in abortion-related series

A Doonesbury strip due to run this week that addresses the harsh realities of the Texas abortion law has been rejected by some U.S. newspapers. Others may opt to put it in the editorial page rather than the comic section.

Huffington post:

Romenesko compiled comments from editors who pulled the cartoon. Numerous papers, including The Press of Atlantic City, The Oregonian and The Vacaville Reporter in California, said that it crossed a line for their comics pages. The Ogden Standard-Examiner in Utah cited the cartoon's language and the Rock Hill Herald in South Carolina referred to "graphic content" as reasons for not printing.

Given Republican attacks on women's rights in the U.S., the Doonesbury strip is just the type of satirical riposte required.

In Texas women seeking abortions are required to have an ultrasound - a medical procedure that is as much about guilt and shaming as it is about anything ostensibly health related. Another Republican Governor, Bob McDonnell, is behind a similar bill in Virginia that also requires women to undergo an ultrasound procedure before having an abortion.

The Doonesbury strip features a woman who goes to an abortion clinic in Texas. She is told to wait in "the shaming room." A state legislator asks her if she has been to the clinic before and she replies in the affirmative - to get contraceptives. The legislator asks: "Do you parents know you're a slut?"

She tells a nurse that she doesn't want an invasive vaginal examination and is informed that "The male Republicans who run Texas require that all abortion seekers be examined with a 10-inch shaming wand." The nurse then announces: "By the authority invested in me by the GOP base, I thee rape."

In an email to The Guardian Doonesbury cartoonist Gary Trudeau described Republican moves on women's healthcare as "appalling" and "insane."

Guardian
:

Asked about the use of the word "rape" to describe what was happening to women seeking abortions in Texas, he [Trudeau] said it was perfectly apt for the compulsory insertion of an object into the vulva. "That falls within the legal definition of rape. Coercion need not be physically violent to meet the threshold. Many people here are now referring to trans-vaginal sonograms as 'state rape'. That seems about right to me..."

Women's healthcare rights have come under attack across the U.S. in initiatives pushed by conservative dinosaurs who are driving what can best be described as a sexual counter-revolution. Religion is a major driving force in the push against contraception and abortion rights. It's no surprise that many conservatives view uber-Catholic Rick Santorum as a poster boy for their turn-back-the-clock agenda.

Where there are attacks on women's healthcare, misogyny doesn't lag far behind. Right wing radio host Rush Limbaugh, attacked Georgetown University student Sandra Fluke for testifying in Congress on the importance of government mandated funding for birth control.

Limbaugh characterized Fluke as a "slut" and suggested that: "If we are going to pay for your contraceptives and thus pay for you to have sex, we want something. We want you to post the videos online so we can all watch."

Given his track record, Limbaugh's later apology likely had as much to do with off-setting negative fallout and loss of sponsorship as with anything approximating genuine regret.

Republican's "problem with women" beneath:



More from Huffington Post.

Women's healthcare under attack

women going for abortions shamed in Texas

Mar 10, 2012

Meir Dagan: Iran 'a very rational regime'


The increasingly strident calls for military action against Iran evokes the hyped-up threat rhetoric prior to the invasion of Iraq. As we now know, despite all the "expert" opinion, the alleged threat posed by Iraqi WMD turned out to be a crock. A chimera.

Fear mongering about Iranian nukes is a favorite pastime in some US political circles. If one of the Republican candidates raises the specter of an Iranian nuke and vows military action, instant applause follows. Only Ron Paul has shown restraint and some common sense on the issue.

Of course the situation in Iran is vastly different from pre-invasion Iraq. What they have in common is an unclear picture. Along with what we believe we know about Iran and its capabilities, there is a lot we don't know. That's a bad position for making anything close to a credible assessment of threat.

Someone with a working understanding of the Iranian situation is former head of Israeli intelligence - Meir Dagan. As MOSSAD boss Dagan had the inside track when it came to the inner workings of the regime, in particular the nuclear situation - it was after all part of his job.

Not long ago Dagan went on record saying that he thought bombing Iran was "the stupidest idea" he had ever heard.

In a more recent interview he told 60 Minutes' Lesley Stahl that "An attack on Iran before you’re exploring all other approaches is not the right way how to do it."

Dagan clearly doesn't buy into the "mad Mullah" stereotype. He told Stahl that "the regime in Iran is a very rational regime."

Stahl followed up with "Do you think Ahmadenejad is rational?"

Dagan: "The answer is yes. Not exactly our rational, but I think that he is rational."

He went on to say that he believed the Iranians considered "all the implications of their actions."

This is surprising coming from a man who in the past has been guarded about giving his views on hot button political issues. But it seems that Dagan believes he needs to speak out on the nuke issue. Not for the first time either. In May he said an attack on Iran would violate international law. He feared an attack would trigger war with Iran - as he put it "It is the kind of thing where we know how it starts, but not how it will end."

There are reasons to take Iran to task but it has not been known as a war starter in the region. Unlike the US and Israel, Iran isn't known for pre-emptive strikes and full-scale invasions of other countries. The war with Iraq was essentially a war of defence against Saddam Hussein, who in those days was backed and supplied by the Americans.

For hype free analysis of the alleged Iranian threat check out Noam Chomsky's take on it beneath:



More on Meir Dagan comments - Think Progress

Mar 9, 2012

UK study finds hardcore far-right support for 'armed conflict'



A new study out of the UK suggests that a hardcore of far-right supporters believe conflict between ethnic, racial and religious groups is unavoidable.

Guardian:

The study, From Voting to Violence? Rightwing Extremists in Modern Britain (pdf), by Matthew Goodwin, of the University of Nottingham, and Jocelyn Evans, of Salford University, was launched at Chatham House on Thursday .

The report questioned more than 2,000 supporters of "radical-right" and "far-right" groups and found that many endorsed violence, with a "hostile inner core" apparently willing to plan for and prepare for attacks.


This study is particularly important given rising concern about far-right violence. Examples include the notorious crimes of Anders Breivik in Norway and the Zwickau-based neo-Nazi terrorist cell in Germany - responsible for a string of killings, bank robberies and bombings.

In discussing the study Matthew Goodwin mentioned 17 far-right supporters in the UK who have been imprisoned for terrorist-related offences. He said that "When you go through the transcripts of those cases what they often emphasise is this notion of impending race war, the impending clash of civilisations that meant they needed to stockpile explosives and plan attacks to defend their group from a perceived threat. It is that apocalyptic, almost survivalist notion that goes with far right ideology that we have begun to explore through these exploratory questions."

Guardian:

The authors found that almost half of the BNP supporters in their sample thought "preparing for conflict between different groups is always or sometimes justifiable" and two-fifths considered armed conflict to be "always or sometimes" justifiable.


Goodwin noted that even at the "less extreme end of the radical-right spectrum" there is the belief that relations between different groups in society will not be harmonious and will descend at some point into violent conflict.

He also pointed out that: "These findings do not necessarily represent the views or policies of the parties themselves but they are instructive as to the motivations and views of members and supporters."

The study is particularly timely given the publicity surrounding the trial of Anders Behring Breivik and the questions that have been raised about his purpose and motivation. It is alleged that Breivik had extensive online contacts with members of the English Defence League (EDL) and the British National Party (BNP). It has also been alleged that he took part in EDL rallies. Editor of the anti-fascist magazine Searchlight, Nick Lowles, said there was "clear evidence" of a direct link between Breivik and the EDL. The claims have been denied by EDL leader Stephen Lennon.

It's ironic that many on the right have been going out of their way to distance themselves from Breivik's actions. Right-wing pundits with their histrionic obsession with Muslim immigration have been actively creating the Frankenstein that is a Breivik, yet few are prepared to be identified with the consequences.

Breivik is the logical, if unintended, outcome of a right-wing campaign that persistently beats the drum warning of a Muslim take-over... no less than a "clash of civilizations." This type of hardline thinking allows for no middle ground. It debases our common humanity because it is predicated on a "them-and-us" mentality. It's a mindset that provides fertile ground for extremists to justify and promote violence.

Mar 6, 2012

Thor Steinar store 'Brevik' sparks outrage in Germany


A German clothing retailer popular with far-right extremists has sparked outrage in Germany with a controversial store opening in Saxony.

A new Thor Steinar store in the city of Chemnitz has opened with the name "Brevik." This is considered by many Germans to be a tribute to Anders Breivik, the Norwegian mass killer. Thor Steinar denies this. It claims the store name "Brevik" really refers to a town south-east of Oslo, but few people buy their explanation.




Anders Behring Breivik has become a hero in some far-right quarters in Germany. He was responsible for the massacre of 69 people at a camp of the Norwegian Workers Youth League on the island of Utøya. Breivik also staged bombing attacks on government buildings in Oslo that resulted in the deaths of eight people.

The citizens of Chemnitz are outraged by the presence of the store.

Spiegel:

On Monday, several thousand Chemnitz residents gathered to protest against right-wing extremism and neo-Nazis in the city. The city's mayor, Barbara Ludwig, told the local Freie Presse newspaper that 2,000 people had gathered in the inner city, to send a "message of a peaceful, cosmopolitan, diverse and tolerant Chemnitz in which there is no place for Nazis."

Thor Steinar clothing is banned from being worn in the German Bundestag. Norway has taken exception to the company's use of Norwegian symbols and place names.

Spiegel:

According to the Freie Presse, Norway has long sought to distance itself from Germany's Thor Steinar brand, which has used the Norwegian flag and other Nordic symbols on its clothing in the past. "We consider it very regrettable that Thor Steinar uses Norwegian place names in order to associate Norway as such with Thor Steinar and the extreme right-wing scene," Anne-Kirsti Wendel Karlsen of the Norwegian Embassy in Berlin told the newspaper.

In Germany explicit Nazi symbols are banned so extremists have had to become innovative. Not unlike the store name "Brevik" far-right symbols that appear on Thor Steinar clothing can be somewhat ambiguous. Symbols associated with Nazism - for example the numbers 18 and 88 - can be taken to mean "Adolf Hitler" and "Heil Hitler." On the other hand they can also be passed off as "just numbers."

The far-right advertises its presence in surprising ways in Germany - for example customized  license plates have been used to signal extremist sympathies.

I posted on Thor Steinar a while back along with a set of photos - here.

More on the story from The Guardian.

Mar 3, 2012

Morrissey and Roger Waters on Las Malvinas


Morrissey and Pink Floyd's Roger Waters have both spoken out on the Malvinas issue.

During a concert in the Argentinian city of Córdoba Morrissey told the crowd "The Malvinas Islands, everybody knows they belong to Argentina..." He also added "So please don't blame the British people, we know the islands belong to you."

In an interview that aired on Argentine and Chilean TV Roger Waters said the islands "should be Argentine." In addressing the ongoing feud over the islands he brought up Britain's colonial history, something Sean Penn has also touched on.

Waters' comments are timely because the Malvinas issue is being exploited for political ends, especially given the prospect of natural resource finds.

Waters:

There's nothing they like more than to toe the line in the Houses of Parliament and stand there with hand on hip and say: the Falkland Islands are British and they always will be and the Falklands islanders' wishes are paramount and as long as they want to be British ... Bullshit!

Behind the flag waving and the bombast, the truth is that Argentina has the more solid claim to the Malvinas.

The British claim goes back to a colonial expand-and-grab period in the 1800's. The islands were seized in 1833. The captain of the HMS Clio - one John Onslow - had instructions to "exercise rights of sovereignty" over the islands. In retrospect it's quite astounding the powers the other island up north arrogated to itself when it came to sailing around the globe seizing territory.

Settlers from Argentina were replaced by British settlers - some also came from Gibralter.

Successive British governments were well aware that their claim on the Malvinas was weak. This together with the challenges posed by the logistics of the geographical situation explains why some kind of negotiated settlement was often on the cards.

In a Guardian article, Richard Gott makes mention of this:

The record suggests that successive UK governments have considered the British claim to the islands to be weak, and some have favoured negotiations. Recently released documents recall that James Callaghan, when foreign secretary in the 1970s, noted that "we must yield some ground and ... be prepared to discuss a lease-back arrangement"....


No doubt pro-Falklands cheerleaders will respond to Morrissey and Waters much as they did to Sean Penn with the old "celebrities butt out" line.

Morrissey and Waters should be commended for having the courage of their convictions while knowing full well that the hardcore flag wavers back home will pile scorn on them for speaking out. They have a platform and they're right to use it - especially given the revved up patriotic hype of late around this issue.

On another note, Roger Waters' nine scheduled concerts at the River Plate football stadium quickly sold out. According to The Guardian some 370,000 tickets were purchased.

Video beneath of Morrissey's comments on-stage in Córdoba:



Mar 2, 2012

Did dirty tricks help Stephen Harper to a majority?


Stephen Harper denies the Conservative Party of Canada had anything to do with robo-calls and other misleading phone calls made during the 2011 federal election. The calls sent some Canadian voters on a wild goose chase, hunting for "relocated" polling stations that didn't exist.

A disposable cellphone registered to a mysterious Pierre Poutine of Separatist Street, Joliette, Quebec, featured in the phone scams. Curiously enough the phoney voting location where voters were being steered in Guelph - the Old Quebec Street mall - has a restaurant nearby named Pierre's Poutine.


If you believe Harper, the Conservative Party had nothing to do with any of it.

The scamsters and phone artists who misrepresented themselves, lied about poll locations and harassed the hell out of voters were just a bunch of rogue operators. Maybe even just one guy on speed - a sort of trans-Canada phone magician.

What we do know is that the efforts of these shadow operators to mislead were geared to the benefit of one party, and one party alone - that being the Conservative Party of Canada. Even so, nobody in the party was involved - especially not Harper who has a strategic knack of not knowing about things he prefers not-to-know-about.

Inconvenient revelations have surfaced that call Harper's claims into question.

Huffington Post
:

A Mission, B.C., woman says she was given misleading information by the Conservative Party a few days before the May 2011 federal election.

Astrid Dimond said she had been called six times for Conservative donations during the last election. After a seventh call, she said she did an internet search on the caller’s phone number, which had shown up on her call display.

"It came up as the Conservative Party in Victoria," Dimond said.

The next time she received a call from the same number, she told the caller she was supporting the NDP in the election in the hopes the calls would stop.

Two days before the election, Dimond said she got another call from the same number.

“[The caller] just said, ‘Did you know the polling station had changed,’ and basically, I said, ‘No it hasn't,’ and that was the end of the conversation. I wouldn't let her continue because I knew it was a falsehood."


That's a loose end that might take some explaining. In the meantime speaking of loose ends - according to a CBC report the Tories are busily reviewing every call made by the Responsive Marketing Group in advance of Election Canada investigators.

If some Tories were indeed in on it in a backdoor "unofficial" capacity, why would they take the risk? Well there was a lot at stake. Harper has been after a parliamentary majority for years. On successive occasions he was denied by Canadians who amazingly enough didn't seem to really trust Harper with a majority that would allow him to take it to the next level in his take-over-of-Canada-plan. Yet another minority in the 2011 federal election would have meant a loss of political face for Harper.

The calls that went out in Guelph and elsewhere were targeted. The Tories have an impressive database on voters - a data Goliath known as the Constituency Information Management System. It serves up info about Tory backers running all the way from an individual's policy priorities to whether or not someone in say Brampton might be willing to plant a Conservative lawn sign.

It stands to reason that a database used to track supporters could also be used to come up with lists of non-supporters. Certainly Pierre Poutine and associates seemed to to have access to lists and knew exactly who they were calling. One woman in Guelph, a Liberal supporter, noted that a suspect caller asked specifically to speak to her rather than to her husband.

Did the dirty tricks affect the outcome in the ridings? Very possibly. In Nipissing-Timiskaming, Lib incumbent Anthony Rota lost to Tory Jay Aspin by just 18 votes. NDP MP Jim Malloway has candidly stated that dirty tricks played a part in his loss by 300 votes to Conservative Lawrence Toet.

The Green Party's Elizabeth May, has said that she regards the Saanich-Gulf islands as a "pilot project" for the more recent efforts at voter suppression in Canadian ridings. The Saanich-Gulf incident is worth repeating because it mirrors the more recent shenanigans.

During the 2008 election the NDP candidate in Saanich-Gulf, Julian West, dropped out of the race as a result of revelations about a scandal. West pulled out of the race too late for his name to be removed from the ballot.

Oddly enough NDP voters were then bombarded with calls urging them to vote for West who ended up with a surprising tally of 3,667 votes. This represents 6% of the total, way higher than the 1% a pre-vote poll projected for West. Wasted votes that may otherwise have gone to the Liberal candidate helped ensure Conservative Gary Lunn's victory.

Whether or not these phone tactics and related dirty tricks are found to be criminal remains to be seen. But one thing is clear - they speak to a contempt for democracy... contempt for the rights of Canadians... contempt for Canadian institutions. They signal that what really matters is control of the agenda and the capacity to retain power at all costs.

Of course none of that is remotely characteristic of Stephen Harper who true-to-form knows nothing about any of it and prefers to cast it all as a Lib/NDP smear job.Link