More EU Hypocrisy

Probably you’ve seen the news about the “blogger” murdered in Malta:

Anti-graft blogger killed by car bomb

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Not much left of her to investigate, I’m guessing

Daphne Caruana Galizia, Malta’s best-known investigative journalist, was killed on Oct. 17 when a powerful bomb blew up her car, police said, in a case that stunned the small Mediterranean island.

Caruana Galizia, 53, ran a hugely popular blog in which she relentlessly highlighted cases of alleged high-level corruption targeting politicians from across party lines. “There are crooks everywhere. The situation is desperate,” she wrote in a blog published on her site just half an hour before an explosion tore into her car.

Locals said Caruana Galizia had just left her house and was on a road near the village of Bidnija in northern Malta when the bomb detonated, sending her car flying into an adjacent field.

Maltese Prime Minister Joseph Muscat, who faced accusations of wrong-doing by Caruana Galizia earlier this year, denounced her killing, calling it a “barbaric attack on press freedom.”

He announced that the U.S. Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) had agreed to help local police investigate the killing and was flying experts to the island as soon as possible.

“I will not rest until I see justice done in this case,” he said in a statement, calling for national unity. [Yeah, sure!]

Vigil

Heureusement, nous ne sommes pas Daphne

Around 3,000 people held a silent, candle-lit vigil yesterday evening in Sliema, just outside Valletta.

The hashtag Je Suis Daphne circulated widely among social media users on the island of 400,000 people, the European Union’s smallest state.

Malta is, of course, a member of the European Union (since 2004) and the British Commonwealth of Nations.

Recently, when the gnomes of Brussels announced plans to establish a new European public prosecutor’s office with powers to combat corruption and fraud involving EU funds, Malta was reported as refusing to sign up for it. Interestingly, that same news item mentioned in its final paragraph that Sweden and the Netherlands had expressed concerns about “losing sovereignty”. So I’m guessing those shining beacons of transparency and democracy are refusing to sign up too.

Britain’s Guardian of human rights and press freedom, in its coverage of Daphne Caruana Galizia’s murder, had this to say:

Maltese investigative journalist Daphne Caruana Galizia poses outside the Libyan Embassy in Valletta

Daphne Caruana Galizia in happier days

She believed, in essence, that malign and criminal interests had captured Malta and turned it into an island mafia state; she reported on a political system rife with corruption, businesses seemingly used to launder money or pay bribes, and a criminal justice system that seemed incapable, or unwilling, to take on the controlling minds behind it all.

Probably her greatest achievement over the past year was to spark, more or less singlehandedly, an extraordinary political scandal that has embroiled the island’s prime minister, his closest political allies, and the ruling family of Azerbaijan.

Had this fiercely independent journalist finally got too close to something – or was she proving too much of an irritant to someone?

There is nothing to suggest any of this is linked to her murder.

WHAT!! ARE THOSE PEOPLE SERIOUS?

Two questions for folks at The Guardian: When was the last time a journalist was assassinated in Turkey for posing a threat to the government? And who was in power at the time?

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Democracy under threat in New Zealand

Citizens in Germany and New Zealand have just exercised their democratic right to elect representatives to their countries’ parliaments. The results are not dissimilar but response from the media and mainstream politicians has been remarkably different.

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New Zealand is one of them – and Big Business doesn’t like it!

In Germany, the party led by Chancellor Angela Merkel won 33% of the popular vote, and 35% of the seats in the Bundestag. She, the country’s news media and most Germans expect Ms Merkel to continue as Chancellor after forming a coalition with one or two other parties. That’s the way the system works. It’s called Proportional Representation, and allocates seats in the nation’s legislature to parties according to the number of votes they receive. Sounds fair, doesn’t it? No moaning and grumbling – just get on with the job. As they do in Belgium, Denmark, Finland, Norway, Sweden, Switzerland and many other civilised countries using a PR electoral system.

But take a look at what’s happening in New Zealand. The governing conservative National Party gained 46% of the vote and a proportional number of seats in the House of Representatives; the Labour Party, 36%, and two minor parties, around 8% and 6%, entitling their supporters to some representation in parliament.

And listen to the uproar! The news media are filling their pages with black propaganda against Winston Peters, leader of the tiny NZ First Party:

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An orchestrated campaign to turn back the clock

“New Zealand’s hung parliament”

“The New Zealand First leader and kingmaker”

“Winston Peters, who currently holds the country’s future in his hands”

Kingmaker? Does that mean that the Prime Minister of New Zealand, almost always from the big business National Party, exercises the power of a monarch? More or less, yes!

Certainly Big Business does not like the MMP system of proportional representation that citizens in New Zealand worked so hard to bring in in 1994. And I guess they are also not keen on Mr Peters, who campaigned against business “fat cats”, and has been harshly criticising the size of exit packages dished out to departing corporate CEOs.

Interestingly, voter turnout in NZ parliamentary elections has been increasing in recent years, possibly as voters start to realise the power MMP gives them to exercise some control over the actions of the government. This year the turnout was 79%, similar to Germany’s 76%.

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Not much has changed in the US. The best democracy money can buy!

Compare that to the United States of America, land of the free and loudest trumpeter of its hallowed democracy. In the 2016 election that brought Donald Trump to the world stage, only 58% of American voters bothered exercising their right. Two years previously, in the mid-term election for representatives to Congress, a mere 36% turned out.

I’m sure there is nothing Big Business in New Zealand would like better than to return to the old First-past-the-post voting system where the National Party used to regularly govern alone despite winning fewer than half of the popular votes, and sometimes fewer than the main opposition party.

When you have been the government for most of the last 70 years, you have had ample opportunity to “adjust” the system to ensure you continue to do so. Now it seems they are dragging out the counting of special votes to build up pressure on the small parties, and to persuade the New Zealand public that the system is bad. And they have the news media in their pocket. As always, prior to the election, the tame media once again built up the pathetic Labour Party into a “credible” opposition to ensure that the “minor” parties stayed that way.

When all the shouting is over, poor New Zealanders can look forward to another four years of being screwed by Big Business and their National Party stooges.

Trump thanks Turkey for hosting Syrian refugees

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If they don’t do as they’re told . . .

My beloved NZ Herald reported it under this headline: “Never heard a more courageous speech”. It was referring to US President Trump’s address to the United Nations General Assembly in New York City. The report went on to TRUMPET: “Trump vows to ‘totally destroy’ North Korea over weapons threats”.

The New York Times picked up on the President’s threats to other sovereign states his government is currently not happy with:

“In his speech, Mr. Trump vowed to ‘totally destroy’ North Korea if it threatened the United States or its allies. ‘If the righteous many don’t confront the wicked few, then evil will triumph,’ he said.

He also called Iran a ‘rogue nation’ and said the United States was ‘prepared to take further action’ on Venezuela.”

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Local governments in Istanbul and elsewhere provided free evening meals during the month of Ramadan – made some refugees happy for a time.

Our local English language newspaper in Turkey chose instead to focus on a brief mention Mr Trump gave to neighbouring countries that have been quietly getting on with the mammoth task of catering for millions of impoverished refugees from the six-year civil war in Syria.

“U.S. President Donald Trump has thanked Turkey for hosting Syrians who escaped from their war-torn country, while grilling North Korea and Iran during his first address to the United Nations General Assembly on Sept. 19. 

‘We appreciate the efforts of the United Nations agencies that are providing vital humanitarian assistance in areas liberated from ISIS, and we especially thank Jordan, Turkey and Lebanon for their role in hosting refugees from the Syrian conflict,’ Trump said.”

“Canım benim”, as Turks might say. Thanks for those crumbs of appreciation from the rich man’s table!

I’m not sure who is qualified to award the title of “The Righteous” to any human being on Earth – but I’m suspicious of anyone who applies the label to him or herself, and I’m 100% sure that precious few US Presidents would qualify.

 

Balancing fee speech and censorship

Twitter suspends 300,000 accounts tied to terrorism in 2017

“Twitter, under pressure from governments around the world to combat online extremism, said that improving automation tools are helping block accounts that promote terrorism and violence.

Twitter-Ban“In the first half of the year, Twitter said it suspended nearly 300,000 accounts globally linked to terrorism. Of those, roughly 95 per cent were identified by the company’s spam-fighting automation tools. Meanwhile, the social network said government data requests continued to increase, and that it provided authorities with data on roughly 3,900 accounts from January to June.

“Twitter, along with Facebook and YouTube, are instead building automation tools that quickly spot troublesome content. Facebook has roughly 7,500 people who screen for troublesome videos and posts.

“It’s also funded groups that produce anti-extremism content that’s circulated on the social network.

“American authorities made 2,111 requests from Twitter from January to June, the most of the 83 countries tracked by the company.

“Twitter supplied information on users in 77 per cent of the inquiries. Japan made 1,384 requests and the UK issued 606 requests. Turkish authorities continued a trend of aggressively policing Twitter, making 554 requests for account data and issuing court orders to remove 715 pieces of content. Other governments made only 38 total content-removal requests.”

Seems the word “aggressive” only applies to Turkey. Wonder what those other governments are doing with the information supplied by Twitter?

Champions of Democracy – Sweden, Turkey and Ecuador

It seems as long as I can remember, Scandinavian countries, Sweden and Norway, and their neighbours, Finland and Denmark, have been held up as models of civilised behaviour and individual freedom, as paragons of democracy, excellence in education and pretty much everything else that’s good and true. Check out any list you like, you’ll find them right up there near the top:

  • Transparency? Denmark 1st, Finland 3rd, Sweden 4th, Norway 6th.
  • Standard of living? Norway 1st, Denmark 3rd, Sweden 6th, Finland 8th.
  • Press freedom? Norway 1st, Sweden 2nd, Finland 3rd, Denmark 4th.
  • Women’s rights? Finland 2nd, Norway 3rd, Sweden 4th.
  • LGBT rights? Sweden 4th, Norway 6th, Denmark 7th.
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Swedish women standing up for their rights

So I suppose they may feel justified in adopting a “holier-than-thou” attitude towards us less enlightened mortals lower down the scale. Look at Turkey! 75th place on the transparency list (well, at least that’s over half way!); 130th for women’s’ rights; 36th out of 38 OECD countries for standard of living; 46th out of 49 in Europe for LGBT rights! And that’s before we get started on freedom of the press! 162 journalists in prison! Or 81, or more than 200, depending on which source you believe. You’d wonder if there was anyone left to report the news.

Then I decided to check one or two statistics. I found that, according to official figures, there 2,459 published newspapers in Turkey, including 55 broad circulations dailies, 23 regional and 2,381 local rags! So I guess there must be a few journalists still scribbling. And then there are the television channels: 27 national, 16 regional and 215 local! Magazines? 2,522. Radio stations? 87. Furthermore, around the country there are 33 tertiary communications faculties catering for 5,000 students each year. So it seems the government has its work cut out if its going to be successful in stifling dissent.

Another aspect of the problem lies in defining exactly what a “journalist” is? Am I a journalist when I write this blog? Is Julian Assange a journalist? Possibly that accounts for the difficulty in counting how many of us are in prison.

finland winter

Rule One: Don’t blink or you’ll miss the daylight

Don’t you love statistics? I switched tack and researched a few more. I found that per capita consumption of alcohol is more than five times higher in Denmark and Finland than in Turkey; four times higher in Sweden and 3.5 times higher in Norway. I learned that, among 37 OECD countries, Turkey has the second-lowest suicide rate – with far fewer people topping themselves than in those self-righteous north European paradises. Maybe it has something to do with the climate, I thought. Average annual temperatures in Helsinki (high, low) are 9° C and 1° C; in Oslo, 10° and 2°; in Stockholm, 10° and 4°, and Copenhagen, 11° and 5°. From November to February, Stockholm averages 7.5 hours of daylight per day. So nowhere’s perfect, right?

Still, I was a little disappointed to read the other day that Sweden is obstructing the government of Turkey in its attempts to extradite from Spain a “journalist” they accuse of spreading terrorist propaganda. Hamza Yalçın apparently took refuge in Sweden in 1984, after spending some time in prison for political activities at a time when Turkey was roiling in violence from the extreme left and right. He was involved with an anarchist organisation that openly advocated violence to overthrow whichever government was in. Street violence ended when a military junta seized power in 1980, the third such takeover in twenty years.

It seems Sweden granted citizenship to Mr Yalçın, but he chose to retain his Turkish status – which is why that government feels it has the right to call him to account. You would think Yalçın might have been happy with the current government of Turkey since they have managed to pull the teeth of the country’s formerly all-powerful military – and it has been twenty years since they were last able to overthrow an elected government. Since he has been in Sweden, however, Hamza has continued his involvement in the political situation back home – criticising the government in a Turkish language magazine Odak (Focus). Turkish authorities issued an international warrant for his arrest. He was picked up by local police at Barcelona Airport and is being held in custody while a Spanish court decides whether or not to extradite him to Turkey. Enter the Swedish Foreign Minister, Margot Wallstrom, who is reportedly working to ensure the poor man gets his rights.

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Vikings enjoying a few drinks

On the plus side for Sweden, I hear they have decided to drop their rape investigation against Julian Assange. The Wikileaks founder was granted sanctuary in the Ecuador Embassy in London after British courts had agreed to extradite him to Sweden, despite the fact that no actual charges had been laid. While he admits having sex with the two women concerned, Assange maintains that relations were mutually consensual. And you have to admit, the guy doesn’t fit your picture of a typical rapist. The women concerned are aged 27 and 31 respectively, not underage schoolgirls – and Sweden does have a long-standing reputation for moral flexibility in the field of sexual relations. Still, it’s a woman’s right to say “No” – though on the whole it’s probably better to say it loudly and clearly before taking a guy you don’t know very well back to your flat, getting naked and climbing into bed with him.

Assange, for his part, is certain that the rape accusations were fabricated to get him to Sweden whence he could then be extradited to the United States, where authorities would very much like to try him for spying, treason, conspiracy or whatever, lock him up in a penitentiary somewhere and throw away the key. And it wouldn’t surprise me at all.

So let’s take a look at our trio of democracies:

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Didn’t get quite as much coverage in the West as that iconic pic from Tiananmen Square

  • Turkey, the world’s second-highest provider of international aid; whose head of state is the first democratically elected president in the 94-year history of the republic; governed by a political party that has gained majority popular support in 7 elections since 2002; currently struggling to feed, house and employ three million refugees from the civil war in Syria; whose people last year faced down guns and tanks to thwart an attempted military coup.
  • Ecuador, Latin America’s largest recipient of refugees, with net annual immigration; whose government has, for five years, courageously stood up to pressure from powerful governments to protect the right of press freedom; whose president for ten years, Rafael Correa, worked tirelessly to ameliorate high poverty and inequality and improve health and education services (even the CIA World Factbook website admits this!) in the face of powerful opposition.
  • Sweden, cooperating with the world’s number one imperialist super-power to help them silence brave voices working to reveal the extent of their lies and evil actions; and siding with other hypocritical European “democracies” (Greece and Germany) to harbour traitors and terrorists lawfully sought for trial by the government of Turkey.

Who gets your vote?

What are we fighting for?

Country Joe And The Fish – Vietnam Song

Rock Cellar Magazine called it the greatest protest song of the Sixties, which may well make it the greatest protest song of all time.

Country Joe and the Fish performed it at the Woodstock Festival in 1969. Alter a word or two here and there (North Korea, Syria, Iraq for Vietnam, for example), and it’s as relevant today as it was nearly 50 years ago.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=-7Y0ekr-3So

Well, come on all of you, big strong men,

Uncle Sam needs your help again.

He’s got himself in a terrible jam

Way down yonder in Vietnam

So put down your books and pick up a gun,

We’re gonna have a whole lotta fun.

 

And it’s one, two, three,

What are we fighting for?

Don’t ask me, I don’t give a damn,

Next stop is Vietnam;

And it’s five, six, seven,

Open up the pearly gates,

Well there ain’t no time to wonder why,

Whoopee! we’re all gonna die.

 

Come on Wall Street, don’t be slow,

Why man, this is war au-go-go

There’s plenty good money to be made

By supplying the Army with the tools of its trade,

But just hope and pray that if they drop the bomb,

They drop it on the Viet Cong.

 

And it’s one, two, three,

What are we fighting for?

Don’t ask me, I don’t give a damn,

Next stop is Vietnam.

And it’s five, six, seven,

Open up the pearly gates,

Well there ain’t no time to wonder why

Whoopee! we’re all gonna die.

 

Well, come on generals, let’s move fast;

Your big chance has come at last.

Now you can go out and get those reds

‘Cause the only good commie is the one that’s dead

And you know that peace can only be won

When we’ve blown ’em all to kingdom come.

 

And it’s one, two, three,

What are we fighting for?

Don’t ask me, I don’t give a damn,

Next stop is Vietnam;

And it’s five, six, seven,

Open up the pearly gates,

Well there ain’t no time to wonder why

Whoopee! we’re all gonna die.

 

Come on mothers throughout the land,

Pack your boys off to Vietnam.

Come on fathers, and don’t hesitate

To send your sons off before it’s too late.

And you can be the first ones in your block

To have your boy come home in a box.

 

And it’s one, two, three

What are we fighting for?

Don’t ask me, I don’t give a damn,

Next stop is Vietnam.

And it’s five, six, seven,

Open up the pearly gates,

Well there ain’t no time to wonder why,

Whoopee! we’re all gonna die.

 

Thanks to Dr Stuart Jeanne Bramhall for bringing the song to mind. Visit her blog The Most Revolutionary Act . . .

And Thom Hickey. If you haven’t visited his Immortal Jukebox, you really should!

End of Labour as a major political force?

The Light Dawns – The Penny Drops!

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It came to me in the bathtub!

It was a favourite saying of my old middle school teacher, Mr Hislop. It was a mildly sarcastic form of congratulations when one, or all of his pupils finally showed signs of understanding something he had been at pains for some time to explain.

The words came to my own lips as I read an opinion piece in New Zealand’s own Herald newspaper/website. The writer was commenting on the woes of the NZ Labour Party in the lead-up to this year’s General Election. The conservative National Party has been in power since 2008. The Prime Minister for most of those years was an unabashedly rich finance mogul whose standard response to news media questions about the numerous scandals that broke during his term of office was, “Oh, nobody cares about that!” New Zealand has a ludicrously inflated housing market, a playground for wealthy local and foreign “investors”. The country has received dishonourable mention in global reports on child poverty and international money laundering.

In spite of that, and more, the main opposition Labour Party is plunging rather than rising in public opinion polls, and the party’s panicked response has been to choose a new leader, four months out from Election Day. It’s the beginning of the end of Labour as an automatic major political force,” says this political commentator.

Interesting choice of words, don’t you think? automatic major political force”? Unfortunately, that’s what it is, and has been for the last 40 years – and not just in New Zealand A brain-dead response by people unhappy with the social injustice created by traditional conservative economics. Political pundits in the UK are desperately trying to convince voters that the local Labour Party has found, in Jeremy Corbyn, a leader to take them back to their roots. The US Democrats managed to sell Barack Obama to their well-heeled, trendy-lefty supporters, and nearly did it again with Bernie Sanders. The sad fact is that Labour Parties (and their alter egos) in these countries and Australia, and others for all I know, are just a construct of the established financial elite who wield the real power while conning a pathetically gullible electorate into thinking they have a choice at the ballot box.

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Labour back from the dead – again?

Let me quote you some facts and figures. New Zealand voters elected their first Labour Government in 1935, in the depths of the Great Global Economic Depression. That government did actually manage to implement some genuine socialist reforms, on which their successors have been dining out ever since. By 1949, however, they had turned their back on most of their founding principles, got rid of any dissenting voices in their own ranks, and were deservedly thrown out in that year’s general Election.

68 years have passed since then. Conservative National governments have held the reins of power for 47 of those, and pale pinkish-blue pseudo-Labour governments, the remaining 21. The last possibly true old-style Labour Prime Minister, Norman Kirk, was elected in 1972 on the slogan, “It’s time for a change” – which voters were ready to accept after twelve years of National rule. Unfortunately, Big Norm died two years later, and Labour were thrown out in 1975, having failed to achieve much at all.

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Work it our for yourself.

National returned to office and proceeded to make themselves pretty unpopular, nevertheless winning again in ‘78 owing to their own electoral gerrymandering and Labour’s predictable incompetence. Despite NZ’s manifestly unfair first-past-the-post electoral system, a rejuvenated force had appeared on the NZ political scene. The Social Credit Political League began picking up support from voters fed up with the lies and deceit of the two main parties. After giving the National Party two shock defeats in by-elections, Social Credit actually replaced Labour as the country’s preferred opposition party in public opinion polls in 1980.

That was when the business/financial elite showed their true colours. Going against almost total international opinion, the National Prime Minister arranged for the NZ Rugby Union to host a tour of the country by a team from apartheid South Africa. Whatever naïve political writers tell you, it was a deliberately cynical ploy to divide the country along conventional lines, with the rugby-mad and the libertarians supporting the tour, and left-leaning union-leaders, armchair liberals and “intellectuals” coming out strongly against it. The 1981 General Election returned to the same-old-same-old, manipulators-extraordinaire National and a temporarily ideologically renewed Labour.

The victory went again to National, but by 1984 NZ voters had definitely had enough of them. Seeing the writing on the wall, the same business/financial elite set up a well-financed straw party to siphon off the protest vote and ensure that Labour would finally return to office. But what a Labour Government!! Their public relations creation windbag Prime Minister led a government that implemented libertarian reforms drawing inspiration from the UK’s Iron Witch Margaret Thatcher and US Wild West hero Ronald Reagan.

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Sorry, folks – Labour won’t take you to the Emerald City.

The simple fact of the matter is those who hold the real power in New Zealand (and other Western pseudo-democracies) want to retain the Labour Party as the main political “opposition” to maintain the illusion that voters have a choice. “The end of Labour as a political force?” Sorry, mate, that happened decades ago. They’ve been dead for years – they just won’t lie down.

I’d like to believe that the light is finally dawning in New Zealand, and the penny will drop to activate the machinery of a new political age – but I don’t hold out much hope. Too many people want to believe in the yellow brick road.