Douglas Adams -Prophet and seer, visionary of the post-modern world

Republican 2016 U.S. presidential candidate businessman Donald Trump listens to a question at the first official Republican presidential candidates debate of the 2016 U.S. presidential campaign in ClevelandFor all those well-intentioned Americans  going into paroxysms of fury over their new President, here are some words of wisdom from Douglas Adams – one of the great geniuses of the late 20th century. Adams, as I’m sure you are aware, was the author of that “increasingly inaccurately named trilogy”, the five-volume “Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy”.

Adams penned his master work in the days when it was still possible to satirise Western governments and their leaders. These days they have gone far beyond the wildest imaginings of the most hallucinatory satirist. Adams saw the writing on the wall. Way back in 1978, he foresaw the election of the big DT!

79b489450d3f20ddffb5041c3f8a42ef“It was not in any way a coincidence that today, the day of culmination of the project, the great day of unveiling, the day that the Heart of Gold was finally to be introduced to a marvelling Galaxy, was also a day of culmination for Zaphod Beeblebrox. It was for the sake of this day that he had first decided to run for the Presidency, a decision which had sent waves of astonishment throughout the Imperial Galaxy – Zaphod Beeblebrox? President? Not the The Zaphod Beeblebrox? Not the President? Many had seen it as clinching proof that the whole of known creation had finally gone bananas.

Zaphod Beeblebrox, adventurer, ex-hippy, good timer, crook? (Quite possibly), manic self-publicist, terribly bad at personal relationships, often thought to be completely out to lunch.

President?

No one had gone bananas. Not in that way, at least.

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Big Arnie leading the way in California

Only six people in the entire galaxy understood the principle on which the Galaxy was governed, and they knew that once Zaphod Beeblebrox had announced his intention to run as President it was more or less a fait accompli: he was the ideal Presidency fodder.

It might not have made much difference if people had known exactly how much power the President of the Galaxy actually wielded: none at all.

Only six people in the Galaxy knew that the job of Galactic President was not to wield power but to attract attention away from it.”

Bonkers for BUNKERS: Doomsday Prep for the Super-Rich | Paraguay Compounds?

Look out, New Zealand. Your years of quiet, isolated complacency are coming to an end. I’m reblogging this from Lara Trace Hentz.

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The swimming pool at Larry Hall’s Survival Condo Project. These days, when North Korea tests a bomb, Hall can expect an uptick in phone inquiries about space in the complex.

(New Yorker excerpt) …On a cool evening in early November, I rented a car in Wichita, Kansas, and drove north from the city through slanting sunlight, across the suburbs and out beyond the last shopping center, where the horizon settles into farmland. After a couple of hours, just before the town of Concordia, I headed west, down a dirt track flanked by corn and soybean fields, winding through darkness until my lights settled on a large steel gate. A guard, dressed in camouflage, held a semiautomatic rifle.

He ushered me through, and, in the darkness, I could see the outline of a vast concrete dome, with a metal blast door partly ajar. I was greeted by Larry Hall, the C.E.O…

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“NZ at the Crossroads” – A somewhat overdue book review

Well first up, I want to apologise for the lateness of this review. In mitigation, I will offer the excuse that my birth was still some years in the future when the book itself was published in 1936. I managed to get hold of a copy recently after a search on the Internet turned up a signed first edition at a bookshop in Symonds Street, Auckland.

nz-xroadsWhy was I searching? I’m a long-standing proponent of monetary reform – a firm believer that most of the world’s ills stem from the fact that ninety per cent of the money governing every aspect of human life on planet Earth is created as interest-bearing debt by private bankers. And not until the power to create money is removed from private interests and vested in the state, the government and the people who elect them, will true social justice ever become an achievable goal.

Back in the late 70s and early 80s in New Zealand I was actively involved with a political party/pressure group arguing for monetary reform. I stood twice (unsuccessfully) as a candidate for parliament in 1981 and 1984. I saw close up the dirty tricks the forces of reaction would stoop to ensure the Social Credit Political League was wiped out as a voice of reason in a system designed to maintain a corrupt and unjust financial structure.

Recently I have been heartened to see a re-emergence online of individuals and organisations arguing for Positive Money. It’s long overdue. The case is irrefutable. The main stumbling block is public ignorance about how money actually works. The Money Power Elite use this ignorance to maintain a grotesque system that keeps most of the world’s population in poverty and slavery.

The author of “New Zealand at the Crossroads” was Henry J Kelliher, knighted by Queen Elizabeth II in 1963 for his “services to Philanthropy”. It may have helped that he was one of the country’s richest men as a result of being owner/founder of Dominion Breweries, one of the two companies that produced most of NZ’s beer. Nevertheless, the case for Sir Henry’s philanthropy may have a better foundation than other mega-rich claimants to the title in our days.

In 1956 he set up a trust to administer an annual award for promising painters, and some of the NZ art world’s biggest names were early recipients. The award was discontinued in 1977, but a second foundation continues to present annual prizes for essays written by young students of economics.

I’ve searched online and I’ve been unable to turn up any of the subjects these young economists have written about. It also possibly detracts a little from Sir Henry’s reputation for philanthropy that his knighthood was put forward by a National (conservative) government at the time. “New Zealand at the Crossroads”, however, provides firm evidence that its author had a strong social conscience, and was at the forefront of the contemporary movement for monetary reform.

In fifteen chapters and 184 pages, Kelliher covered such topics as:

  • The nature and function of money
  • The social and economic disaster of unemployment
  • The importance for all of economic security
  • The urgent need for monetary reform
  • The influence of the press in resisting reform
  • The hypocrisy of the church in failing to fight for social justice

His first sentence announced that his book was “intended for those men and women who prefer to do their own thinking,” and he made a clear statement of intent in his introduction:

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Arresting “Communists” in Auckland, 1932

“It must be evident that a government which does not recognise as a fundamental duty the function of issuing all new money, and of controlling and regulating all money in circulation does not control the affairs of the country, nor is it safeguarding the welfare of the people. Such a government may govern but does not rule, because the real control of the country is in the hands of the ‘Invisible Government’ – the Money Power.”

In November 1935, in the depths of a global economic depression, and suffering more than most its socially destructive effects, New Zealand voters overwhelmingly elected the country’s first Labour Government. The main reason for Labour’s broad appeal, to farmers and owners of small businesses as well as wage-earners and the unemployed, was its “pledge to the people of New Zealand to take control of its own money and credit.” And they were not alone. According to Kelliher, “In Italy, Germany, Russia and Japan money [had] recently been put completely, or almost completely, under control of the governments of those countries.” Such a claim might cause one to wonder whether there was a more sinister agenda behind the demonisation of those countries in years to come. Whatever the case, Sir Henry argued that “There [was] ample evidence of a deliberate and well-planned conspiracy to keep this truth and knowledge from the people by those who hold this all-powerful monopoly to manufacture money and to conceal or disguise the unsoundness and iniquity of the existing system.”

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Mickey Sav – The portrait that hung on many a domestic wall in NZ for years afterwards

That New Zealand Government after 1935 did indeed attempt to implement its pledge first and foremost by converting the NZ Reserve Bank into an entirely State institution, then using credit provided thereby to carry out a programme of house building that provided a stimulus to industry, jobs for citizens, and low-cost, high quality housing for the needy. The results of the programme saw that Labour Government beloved by the people, and its Prime Minister, Michael Joseph Savage, elevated to a status bordering on, or possibly exceeding, sainthood.

Sad to say, that programme was a one-off. Kelliher wrote prophetically in his conclusion, “The great privilege, and the still greater responsibility to carry out the wishes of the people, and to bring to full fruition the possibilities and potential effects of this momentous piece of financial legislation [the Reserve Bank Act] rests entirely with the Government. The machinery has been provided, and the future will depend on the full and effective use and wise direction of this machinery in the service of the people.”

The Government reneged on its pledge. Some argue, and it is indeed highly probable, that the supra-national “Money Power” cajoled and threatened Labour’s leading politicians into dropping their programme. Those in the government who argued for its retention were sidelined or driven out. Within a couple of years, the British Empire had launched itself into a horrendous global war, financed by traditional private sector-created debt. New Zealand took the wrong turning at those crossroads, an epochal chance was lost – and the world settled comfortably (for some) back into hands of the blood-sucking money monopolists.

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The dedication in my copy of the book

As a footnote, my copy of this little book, signed by HJ Kelliher himself, 27 years before his knighthood, is dedicated to CG Scrimgeour Esq. Colin Graham Scrimgeour, popularly known as “Uncle Scrim”, was a hugely influential personality in New Zealand in the Golden Age of radio broadcasting. Under the guise of religion, “Scrim” broadcast regular weekly programmes during the Depression years giving voice to the concerns of the common people and “pushed the rigorous censorship of broadcasting to the limit”. He was a strong supporter of the Labour Party in the lead up to the 1935 election, and some say, an important contributor to its electoral success.

In spite of that, however, he was not given the commercial licence he was expecting to operate his own radio station. Savage’s Government in fact nationalised broadcasting – before later re-privatising the creation of money. As the Labour Government moved away from its financial reform pledge, Scrim became an increasingly outspoken voice of conscience. After Savage died, he was succeeded by the newly conservativised Peter Fraser, who led New Zealand enthusiastically into the Second World War, and reintroduced military conscription, against all his one-time principles. Fraser did not conceal his hatred for Scrim, had him called up for military service at the age of 40, and dismissed from his position as Controller of the National Commercial [sic] Broadcasting service.

I’m sorry to say, you are unlikely to find a copy of Kelliher’s book. I consider myself inordinately fortunate to have found this one. Call it fate or coincidence. HJK was once upon a time my grandfather-in-law – though I only met him once when he had long-since given up his reforming zeal. I do encourage you, though, to click on this link to Positive Money, and do your best to draw aside the veil of ignorance covering this all-important of subjects. Eighty years on, it’s more important than ever!

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Postscript: You may wonder why I’m posting this seemingly irrelevant book review on my blog site about Turkey. It occurred to me that these ideas on financial reform were very prevalent in the 1920s and 30s, around the time Mustafa Kemal Atatürk was trying to build a modern viable republic from the economic and social ruins of the Ottoman Empire. I can’t help wondering if he managed to finance some of his rebuilding projects by intelligent use of the new nation’s credit.

I haven’t yet turned up any corroboratory evidence – but neither have I found any serious discussion of where the money actually did come from. It’s equally true that you will search hard through any histories of New Zealand in those days before you find even the most oblique reference to how Labour financed its state housing project. So I’m not ruling it out.

For Trump, the enemy within is US intelligence

Here’s an interesting piece from the Bangkok Post. Not a source I read regularly, I have to tell you. Maybe I’ll check it out more often. Thanks to my old friend Rob in New Zealand for the link.

cia-loves-u-760208“If you look at the fireworks between President-elect Donald Trump and the American intelligence community under Barack Obama — about whether the Russians hacked the US election in favour of Mr Trump — it’s helpful to research history for clues that may explain how a president-elect could have become so hostile to America’s own spy agency.

“In 1950, President Truman appointed a soldier, Gen Walter Bedell Smith as director of the CIA shortly after the invasion of South Korea. The CIA had been created with the National Security Act of 1947, in part because of American unpreparedness for the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbour.

“A crucial turning point came with the Vietnam War, when the well-trained and often idealistic CIA spies were practising real-life social engineering and counter-insurgency tactics in the dangerous environments of South Vietnam — risking being shot every day — when the anti-war movement in the US took serious hold and began to reach its full bloom.

“It became impossible for American politicians to continue to support that war. The victory for the peaceniks meant defeat for those government employees who served as instruments of US policy and who bore the gritty, tragic hardships and sorrows of the war — the effects of which resonate to this day (including in my own family).

“That was the moment when the true rulers of the United States — the one per cent of super wealthy families and the military-industrial corporations they own and control — grasped who their real enemy was — the domestic US population, the only group of people in the world with the means to foil their plans.”

Intrigued? Read more here

And furthermore . . .

CIA chief Mike Pompeo visits Turkey to discuss policy on Syria and Isis

You can read The Guardian’s take on that here.

Thoughts on Transparency and Corruption – and who’s telling the story

I want to preface what follows with a clear statement that I love my country. New Zealand is the land of my birth, the land where my children grew up, and I am always proud to acknowledge it as my homeland. I also love my adopted country, Turkey, for other reasons entirely. However, in neither case does that love blind me to the fact that both countries have their weaknesses and problems.

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Martial law in Paris? Over one guy with a machete?

One thing I find difficult to understand, though, is how those two countries are depicted in international media. Turkey is unrelentingly portrayed as a land torn by internal divisions, corruption and violence. New Zealand, on the other hand, despite much evidence to the contrary, still manages to retain a reputation for squeaky cleanliness in nature and government, a South Sea paradise of equality and opportunity.

Well, let’s start with Turkey. An article in Time Magazine in January trumpeted, A Relentless Cycle of Terror Threatens to Tear Turkey Apart”. “The bloodshed,” we read, “has become endemic over the past year and a half, as Kurdish separatist militants and Islamic State jihadists have slaughtered hundreds, and an abortive military coup attempt left more than 200 people dead and sparked a wave of repression by President Recep Tayyip Erdogan.”

Another source maintained that “martial law” is in force in Turkey, and the country is under threat of “military intervention” by NATO.

The recently released Corruption Perceptions Index ranked Turkey 75th out of 176 countries, equal with Bulgaria, Kuwait and Tunisia, behind the Solomon Islands and Burkina Faso, but marginally ahead of Brazil, China and India. On that list, New Zealand is ranked 2nd in the world for “perceived” lack of corruption (more on that later); the United States is 18th, and Estonia, 22nd. Well, I don’t want to single out Estonia for unfair attention, but I can’t help observing that, according to the CIA World Factbook, that tiny Baltic state is a growing producer of synthetic drugs; increasingly important transshipment zone for cannabis, cocaine, opiates, and synthetic drugs since joining the European Union and the Schengen Accord; potential money laundering related to organized crime and drug trafficking is a concern, as is possible use of the gambling sector to launder funds; major use of opiates and ecstasy.”

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From Freedom House. Apparently the green countries are free

An organization calling itself Freedom House has also just released a report entitled Freedom in the World 2017. Ranking all countries from 100 (Blissfully free) to 0 (Miserably enslaved), New Zealand again scores at the top end (98). The USA registers a creditable 89, while Turkey’s rating of 38 places it in the seventh group out of ten, in descending order.

OK, I’m not going to spend a lot of time here defending Turkey. Merely, I will observe that, if your intentions are bad, you can blacken pretty much anyone’s name. Paris, I understand, remains on “a high state of terrorist alert” fifteen months after 130 people were killed (slaughtered?) in a series of attacks by ISIL operatives. The state of alert continues and was justified, apparently, when a guy with a machete attempted to “storm” the Louvre Museum, and was shot by police before he could actually harm anyone. Turkey’s state of alert, on the other hand, is labelled “martial law”, and its government is accused of carrying out a “wave of repression”, despite having narrowly avoided overthrow by a military coup in July that left hundreds of civilians dead. I’m not making light of the tragedy in Paris, but come on, people!

When I first came to Istanbul in 1995, platoons of soldiers jogging around the streets carrying automatic weapons were a common feature of urban life. Martial law, high state of alert or whatever, I haven’t seen such sights here for years.

What about New Zealand, then? Well, despite scare-mongering implications by senior government spokespersons, the last hint of terrorism,” according to a recent Bloomberg article, “came a generation ago, when French spies bombed a Greenpeace campaigning ship docked in Auckland harbor in 1985.The focus of that article was New Zealand’s emergence as a popular bolthole for the mega wealthy.” The reason, they suggest, is the country’s location about as distant as you can get from normal terrorist targets without actually leaving planet Earth.

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NZ’s former Prime Minister dining with China’s richest man

 

Maybe those Bloomberg people are right – though if the world is indeed “going to hell in a handbasket”, as Megaupload founder Kim Dotcom reckons, the greed of those “mega wealthy” parasites would be one of the main reasons. But New Zealand may hold an additional attraction besides its isolation and natural beauty. The notorious Panama Papers, leaked to the world’s media in April 2016, brought to light documents hacked from the Panama law firm Mossack Fonseca. Among the revelations:

  • Details from the Panama Papers show how a stream of foreign cash became a torrent flooding into New Zealand trusts in order to avoid tax offshore.
  • Tens of thousands of Panama Papers documents reveal how New Zealand, Niue, The Cook Islands and Samoa have become prime destinations for the rich to hide their financial secrets.
  • Wealthy Latin Americans are using secretive, tax-free New Zealand shelf companies and trusts to help channel funds around the world.
  • Mossack Fonseca actively promoted New Zealand as a good place to do business due to its tax-free status, high levels of confidentiality and legal security.
  • The number of foreign trusts in New Zealand has surged to almost 10,700 this year from less than 2,000 ten years ago, according to Inland Revenue figures.
  • At the centre of the New Zealand operation is Roger Thompson, a former Inland Revenue employee. His accountancy firm – Bentleys, in the heart of Auckland’s business district – is the New Zealand agent for Mossack Fonseca.

Well, I don’t know about Mexican or other Latin American tycoons, but I do know that a controversy has arisen recently over the granting of New Zealand citizenship to “technology billionaire and Donald Trump supporter Peter Thiel”. The story broke when it was learned that Thiel had bought a 193-hectare waterfront estate on Lake Wanaka, near Queenstown – playground for the wealthy in NZ’s South Island. Apparently Mr Thiel was made a citizen at a private ceremony at the New Zealand consulate in Santa Monica, USA, in August 2011. It seems he failed to meet the usual requirements for citizenship, even admitting he had no intention of living in the country, but allegedly donated $NZ1 million to the relief effort after the devastating 2011 earthquake in Christchurch, and got fast-tracked.

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Countries said to be implicated in the Panama papers in red. What colour is Turkey?

It’s a worthy cause, of course, and you can’t criticise the guy for that – but there does seem to have been a certain amount of shady stuff surrounding the rebuild of NZ’s third largest city. The Canterbury Earthquake Recovery Authority (CERA) was established in 2011 to oversee reconstruction, but seems to have been plagued by suggestions of mismanagement until it was disestablished in April 2016, with the city still far from recovered. Panel members for instance, were reportedly being paid $1,000 a day for their services, and staff numbers at one stage ballooned to 357. I don’t know if there’s any connection to Peter Thiel’s generous donation, but three former high-level CERA employees are currently under investigation for having abused their positions as public servants to carry out lucrative private property deals.

Another interesting foreign national awarded NZ citizenship under highly questionable circumstances is a gentleman known variously as Yong Ming Yan, Liu Yang, William Yan and Bill Liu. Despite warnings from the Department of Internal Affairs, evidence that the guy was using fraudulent documents, the vast sums he loses gambling in Auckland’s Skycity casino and his Number 5 ranking on the Chinese Government’s list of most-wanted criminals, the NZ Government is in no hurry to hand him over, and he is said to have recently cut a secret deal with the NZ police after $40 million of his assets had been frozen on suspicion of money-laundering – the charge he is wanted for in China.

In view of the above, you may be surprised to learn that Peter Thiel’s name does not appear on National Business Review’s Rich List for New Zealand. Nor is there a single Chinese name, in spite of the fact that Wang, Lee, Chen and Liu have overtaken Smith as the top four surnames in Auckland. The Neo-con National Government frequently reassures local citizens that the remarkable influx of immigrants from China is totally unrelated to the explosion of prices that has seen Auckland become the 20th most expensive city in the world to buy a house, with an average selling price of $911,800. According to that source, you can buy cheaper in Berlin, Madrid or Dubai!

Those people compiling the Corruptions Perceptions Index made some interesting observations in their report, one of which was “This year’s results highlight the connection between corruption and inequality, which feed off each other to create a vicious circle between corruption, unequal distribution of power in society, and unequal distribution of wealth.” Well, no surprises there, but in the light of that, let’s consider a recent UNICEF report stating that “As many as 28 per cent of New Zealand children – about 295,000 – currently live in poverty.” An article in the New Zealand Herald quoted the mayor of a region in the North Island as saying, “subcultures of poverty” persisted in the area despite years of central Government programmes.

“Our failure to deal with entrenched poverty means we are turning our young people into unskilled dependants and, in some cases, drug addicts, gang members and criminals,” he said.

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Auckland, with the population of Philadelphia, PA, and Phoenix, Arizona

In the mean time, guys like Yong Ming Yan, or whatever his real name is, can steal money from China (at least $129 million, they claim), launder it in New Zealand, lose $300 million in Auckland’s Skycity casino without jumping off the harbour bridge – and be rewarded with citizenship. What’s next? A knighthood in the Queen’s Birthday honours? For sure the Skycity owners will be pretty happy with the guy who made such a generous contribution to their $1 billion revenue last year. I can’t see the obvious benefits to New Zealand, though, given that those owners apparently live in Australia, and most of the profits go offshore.

All of which led me to ask, who is compiling the statistics and writing those reports about freedom and corruption in the world? So I checked out Freedom House. According to its own website:

Freedom House was established in 1941 in New York City . . . with the quiet encouragement of President Franklin D. Roosevelt, to encourage popular support for American involvement in World War II at a time when isolationist sentiments were running high in the United States.

Having been created in response to the threat of one great totalitarian evil, Nazism, Freedom House took up the struggle against the other great twentieth century totalitarian threat, Communism, after the end of World War II. The organization’s leadership rightly believed that the spread of democracy was the best weapon against totalitarian ideologies. Freedom House embraced as its mission the expansion of freedom around the world and the strengthening of human rights and civil liberties here at home. As a result, Freedom House strongly endorsed the post-war Atlantic Alliance, as well as such key policies and institutions as the Marshall Plan and NATO.”

Wikipedia provides further insights. I didn’t check out all the board members, but four names caught my eye: Kenneth Adelman, Zbigniew Brzezinski, Donald Rumsfield and Paul Wolfowitz. Mr Adelman was a long-term member of the Pentagon’s Defense Policy Board, a “lifelong neo-con activist” who was a big supporter of the US destruction of Iraq, and outspoken proponent of the discredited claim that Saddam Hussein was hiding weapons of mass destruction. Brzezinski, clearly of good Protestant Anglo-Saxon stock, is known, among other achievements, for cosying up to Communist China, overseeing the transition of Iran from an important US ally to a major terrorist threat, and arming the Taliban in Afghanistan to oppose the Soviet Union. Rumsfeld was US Secretary of Defense under Gerald Ford, and again under George Dubya Bush. He was a major organiser of US invasions of Afghanistan and Iraq, and supporter of using “enhanced interrogation techniques” on unconvicted prisoners at Abu Ghraib prison in Iraq. Wolfowitz is another neo-conservative, former president of the World Bank and once considered by the George Dubya administration as possible head of the CIA.

FREEDOM House? Phooey to them, say I! What value would you place on any report of theirs?

As a conclusion that may or may not be relevant to the present discussion, I read reports of an interview with President Donald Trump the other day. Apparently he had appeared on the Fox News channel where the interviewer was giving him a hard time about his refusal to criticise Russia’s Vladimir Putin, demanding to know how he could lend support to “a killer”. Trump’s quoted response?

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That’s Him saying it, up there on The Mount

“There are a lot of killers. We’ve got a lot of killers. What do you think? Our country’s so innocent?”

I have to tell you, the big DT went up considerably in my estimation. The USA has had a few presidents in recent years making political capital out of their Christian faith. This, however, is the first time I have heard one echo the words of that religion’s eponymous founder quoted in Matthew 7:5.

“You hypocrite, first cast out the beam out of your own eye; and then shall you see clearly to cast out the speck out of your brother’s eye.”

French MPs Can’t Rule on Genocide

I’m passing on this news item without comment. It was reported on the Turkish Coalition of America website:

French Constitutional Council Reaffirms that Crimes Against Humanity or Genocide must be Established by Competent Courts not Legislature

“On January 26, 2017, the Constitutional Council of France repealed a provision of the Law on Equality and Citizenship that aimed to criminalize speech that disputes genocides.

“The amendment, contained in article 173 of the Law of Equality and Citizenship, had been stealthily inserted into the reform package late last year through efforts by the Armenian French lobby. However, the Constitutional Council repealed the amendment on grounds that it violated France’s Law on the Freedom of Speech and Press and the French Constitution. The Council’s decision described the amendment as an unnecessary and disproportionate attack against freedom of speech.  The Council also reaffirmed its earlier decision that a crime against humanity or genocide must be established by a competent court, not by the legislature.

“Armenian French organizations have long lobbied to criminalize what they consider genocide denial in order to stifle debate and inhibit scholarship on the Ottoman-Armenian tragedy that does not agree with their one-sided perspective. Their efforts have repeatedly been pushed back by the French high court.”

Interestingly, I can’t find any reference to this decision of the French court in any mainstream Western media – even in French! It only seems to have been reported objectively in Turkish sources, eg The Ministry of Foreign Affairs, and on Armenian blog sites, with their predictable slant on the business.

Some Thoughts on Terrorism

We had visitors from New Zealand last summer. An old friend from university and his wife spent a few days in Istanbul, then we drove together down the Aegean coast to Bodrum via the towns of Çanakkale and Selçuk. On the way we stopped over to see the killing fields and cemeteries of Gallipoli, the ruins of ancient Ephesus, and the nearby house where, according to some, God’s virginal mother, Mary, spent her declining years.

dscf0105It’s always good to catch up with old friends, but I was especially delighted on this occasion because this couple came in defiance of dire warnings from the New Zealand Ministry of Foreign Affairs about the dangers of traveling to Turkey.

We picked up our rental car from Atatürk Airport on Tuesday morning, 28 June, missing by a few hours the bomb attack that killed 45 people and injured 230 more. Blissfully unaware of our near miss, our friends went on to enjoy a fortnight of sightseeing and sailing before returning to Istanbul and flying out of the country on Friday 15 July. That evening, as we got ready for bed in our Bodrum retreat, Dilek’s daughter called from the USA to inform us that a military coup was under way in Istanbul and Ankara.

Infantrymen in First World War trenches believed that an incoming artillery shell would, or would not, have your number on it. If it did, your number was up, your name would be inscribed on a war memorial and your mortal remains, if they could be found, interred with appropriate military ceremony. As the years go by, I find myself increasingly willing to adopt that fatalistic view of life and death.

On 22 February 2011 a 6.3 magnitude earthquake caused widespread damage to the city of Christchurch in New Zealand’s South Island. 185 people lost their lives, 115 of them in the collapsing six-storey Canterbury Television building. Among the victims was a young woman from Çanakkale in Turkey. Didem was on a post-graduate scholarship to study international relations at Otago University. That weekend she visited a friend in Christchurch and while in the city, saw a doctor at his surgery in the CTV building. What can you say? Avoid visiting New Zealand, and in particular, stay away from Christchurch?

Dilek and I have just returned from a trip to visit family in New Zealand and Australia. We had a marvellous time with my sisters, children and grandchildren. The weather was delightful, and a welcome break from the cold of a northern winter. The last stage of our journey took us to Melbourne where my daughter lives with her partner and two small sons. On Thursday, 19 January we took a tram to the central city, alighting in Bourke Street and strolling down to the Yarra River. We spent some time munching hamburgers, watching tennis in Federation Square and wandering along the riverbank, enjoying some free entertainment with the little ones. The next day, as we were packing for our return home, a young man drove his Holden Commodore at speed into a crowd of pedestrians in the Bourke St mall, killing five and injuring twenty others. Stay away from Melbourne? Where can you go these days, I ask you?

Still, one comforting thought did come out of the Melbourne tragedy. Police spokespersons were quick to assure us that the killer was not a terrorist. Victorian Police Chief Commissioner Graham Ashton said the man “had no links to terrorism”. Acting Commander Stuart Bateson was able to “confirm that this is not a counter terrorism-related incident.” Whatever that means. The best reason I could come up with was that the guy seems to have been of Greek extraction, and therefore, we gather, not a Muslim. Which makes it better, I guess. It was just a random act of gratuitous violence, rather than another manifestation of the global Islamic assault on Christendom.

Then again, I don’t know. I’m not in any way justifying the slaughter of innocent people by fanatics pursuing a political or religious agenda – but I can at least understand where they are coming from. They believe in something greater than themselves, and they are prepared to die for it.

One of my all-time favourite movies is the 1996 historical biopic, “Michael Collins”, starring Liam Neeson as the Irish revolutionary hero who brought the British Government to the negotiating table and paved the way for the foundation of the modern independent Republic of Ireland. According to his Wikipedia entry, Collins “directed a guerrilla war against the British”, creating “a special assassination unit called ‘The Squad’ expressly to kill British agents and informers”. Collins ironically died at the hands of Irish nationalist assassins during a bloody civil war fought over the conditions of independence from Britain. The first president of the Irish republic, Eamon de Valera, is on record as saying “It is my considered opinion that in the fullness of time history will record the greatness of Michael Collins; and it will be recorded at my expense.” Without Collins and his campaign of violence, Irish independence might never have been realised. Conventional history, however, prefers to remember de Valera, and play down the role of Michael Collins.

Am I making a case for violent rebellion against one’s lawful government here? By no means! But an important question arises here. To what extent was the British Government in the early 20th century the lawful government of the Irish people? Even peaceful protestors campaigning for Irish independence could be convicted as traitors and executed, or taken out in extrajudicial killings reminiscent of today’s US drone strikes. Proponents of Irish independence had found that peaceful protest got them nowhere, and confronting head on the might of the British Armed forces led inevitably to bloody defeat. They turned to asymmetrical guerrilla tactics, and their cause was successful.

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Muslim “detainees” at Guantanamo prison

One might argue there are parallels here with the plight of Muslim countries in the Middle East. Ever since oil emerged as the world’s most important energy source, Britain and the United States have been forcibly interfering in the internal affairs of countries with large reserves of the black gold. Regimes friendly to Western interests have been installed and supported while others choosing to pursue their own national interests have been overthrown, their leaders ousted or killed. George W Bush’s invasion of Iraq massacred tens of thousands, and left a power vacuum where chaos reigns thirteen years after the execution of bad guy Saddam Hussein.

That other bad guy, Muammar Gaddafi was killed and his regime toppled by NATO forces in 2011. Since then, Libya too has descended into political and social chaos. Nevertheless, Nobel Peace laureate, Barack Obama, authorized B-2 bombing strikes on Libya last week, just days before his term in office ended. Are you surprised to learn that Libya has the largest proven oil reserves in Africa, and ranks 9th in the world?

Again, I’m not supporting Daesh operatives beheading innocent Western journalists – but where do you think they got the idea for those bright orange overalls?

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So who’s representing that bottom 50%? And are we surprised that most of them don’t even bother to vote?

But getting back to Melbourne and that non-terrorist tragedy in Bourke St mall . . . I can’t help feeling that there is more to these “random acts of violence” in the West than that that label suggests. Fanatical Muslims may be fighting a losing battle – but at least they have organisations they can belong to that give them a coherent identity, and which they feel are fighting for their rights and beliefs. What about the downtrodden 50% in the United States that share a mere one per cent of their nation’s wealth, while the richest 400 have a minimum annual income of $100 million? Do Hilary Clinton and her armchair liberal supporters give a brass nickel for their disenfranchised poor fellow citizens? The Labour Party in New Zealand celebrated its centenary in 2016. Its founding fathers (and mothers, probably turning in their graves) were socialists fighting for the rights of the working poor. In the 21st century, as George Orwell wrote in “Animal Farm”, “The creatures outside looked from pig (Labour Party) to man (Conservative/National Party), and from man to pig, and from pig to man again; but already it was impossible to say which was which.”

The left wing revolution in the West has been bought and sold – but those “random acts of violence” carry an underlying message those countries’ leaders would do well to heed. And their privileged citizens should beware of the complacent self-righteousness that allows them to ignore levels of anger in other lands.