Trayvon: A View From The UK

Trayvon Martin Demonstrators Wearing Hoodies

A Killed Boy Or A Broken Country?

A tweeter questioned today whether I (being British and watching from afar) perhaps don’t understand the anger driving people over the Trayvon Martin shooting. I’d suggested that all sides needed to “chill-the-fuck-out”, following a bounty put on Zimmerman (the shooter) by the New Black Panthers, and the retweet of Zimmerman’s address by film-maker Spike Lee (which turned out to actually be the address of an old couple).

It’s true that, from afar, it’s hard to really take the pulse and understand people’s feelings in a foreign land – although Twitter does help convey the emotion of the event far better than the “old media”, where events are cleansed through the minds of journalists. It’s been possible to watch the reaction emerge hour-by-hour: incredulity that Sanford police didn’t arrest a killer; the obvious racial stereotyping that was going on; the shouts of racism; the counter-accusations from morons determined to find fault in a 17-year-old unarmed boy who had been killed; the bizarre, peculiarly American polarisation, splitting the country in half over a case where the basic facts seem so simple.

It’s true, I’m undoubtedly missing local, cultural nuances, watching  from London, but I have some advantages; it’s easier to see bigger pictures from afar; and I have the advantage of comparison. How would this same story unroll in the UK, mainland Europe or elsewhere?

There was a time, before mine, when America was viewed here with little but admiration. The US presents itself so effectively; Hollywood had packaged and presented a place that was exciting and free (if somewhat violent). But coming of age in the early-80s, that time had already passed. The civil rights era and Vietnam had tarnished America’s claim to being the land-of-the-free. By the time I could follow politics, America, under Reagan, was the world’s foremost sponsor of terrorism, and a threat to the independence of small states. I had Chilean friends who had fled Pinochet’s regime of terror, backed to the hilt by Reagan. South African apartheid was holding together, largely because of quiet backing from the US, and nearby states such as Angola were being torn apart by US-backed insurgencies. The small Caribbean island of Grenada was directly invaded to prevent a left-wing government taking over. US-backed terrorists were killing thousands in El Salvador, Nicaragua, Guatemala and more. The Afghan Mujahideen, precursor of Al Qaida and the Taliban, was skinning Russian soldiers alive, backed with US funds and arms.

We also learned that life in the US was different from the Hollywood view. British reggae band UB40, a favourite of mine at the time, wrote a song in 1981 called Tyler, about Gary Tyler, a young black man from Louisiana who had been obviously framed on a murder charge; yet not one person, police, judge or jury, stopped him from going to jail. Similar stories were to be heard frequently. The freedom mask was slipping.

I first went to the US in 1989, and have been perhaps 15-20 times since. I fell in love with San Francisco and other cities, and began to see a 3D picture behind the 2D portrayals. As I visited more, I went more off the beaten track. The segregation was the first thing to surprise me. It seemed the civil rights movement hadn’t settled racial issues as I’d thought, but merely ended in a ceasefire. White flight left black populations inside cities, while the suburbs were white. And notably, the sight of a mixed-race couple, which was becoming commonplace in London, was extremely rare, even in “liberal” bastions like New York or San Francisco. I began to see that police brutality was so common, it could happen right in front of even me, a tourist. The police acted with such arrogance and authority, I began to wonder how such a police state could exist in a country that believed itself to be, not just a democracy, but THE democracy.

I saw homelessness on a scale I’d never seen in Europe or elsewhere. I visited black ghettos in New York, Boston, San Francisco and Las Vegas, and saw a desperate, poor, lawless country, unlike anything I’d seen before. I saw that thuggish police drove around the ghetto outskirts, the message clear: you do whatever you want inside, but don’t you dare step outside. US ghettos aren’t just poor neighbourhoods; they are drug-infested, crime-infested prison camps.

I saw the reality of a country without universal healthcare. People everywhere living in fear of the simplest thing: falling ill. I’d been born two decades after the establishment of Britain’s NHS, and the idea that people in the richest country could have to cope without medical care was shocking. Today, universal healthcare is even appearing in Africa: Ghana was the first to implement it there, a few years ago. And yet America is currently tearing itself in half over Obama’s simple proposals to ensure that people are covered by insurance.

I began to be sure of one thing in America’s future. There’s a revolution coming. Or perhaps more accurately, there’s a permanently rolling, rumbling revolution ready to burst to the surface when it can. Why else would military-style policing be needed on a daily basis? How else do you explain an incarceration rate higher than China or the Soviet Union at their worst? I began to wait for the trigger.

In 2000, the election was blatantly, publicly rigged to bring George W Bush to power. Voter lists had been casually cleansed of black-sounding names. Florida police had been physically stopping black people from voting. In the 21st century, the old South was still there, plain as day. The US journalist Greg Palast quickly exposed the scam in a short film. But not one media network in the US would show it. The US media was censored to the hilt. The film was instead shown on BBC TV’s Newsnight – I’m not sure if it’s ever reached American TV, and YouTube didn’t exist back then. Then Katrina hit, and the world saw a third-world population living in the middle of the world’s wealthiest country.

In late-2001, four black friends of mine came to visit London from Houston. At the time, London tourism had been badly hit as Americans had cancelled flights, post-9/11, so I asked my friends whether they’d been afraid to travel. One of the girls looked at me and said “We’re black. We live in Texas. Pretty much anywhere is safer than home.”

In 2011, Occupy Wall Street, a remarkable grassroots movement, exploded into life from apparently nothing. Putting aside arguments over its approach or lack of policies, what has been most obvious is its violent suppression. The scenes coming from New York or Oakland aren’t scenes from a free country. The first amendment seems to no longer apply on America’s streets.

Violence, daily police harassment, police killings with impunity are the day-to-day experience of many Americans. Meanwhile, in TV-land, perfectly coiffured blondes report on a version of reality that doesn’t seem to exist if you walk the streets of an American city. The shooting of Trayvon Martin inevitably crystallised the rage.  The screaming over racism-or-not, justified-or-not doesn’t capture what I see: a place that’s so afraid of itself that it’s possible to debate whether killing of an unarmed man may have been justified. Whether Zimmerman was racist or not, he was conditioned enough to see a threat in a lone, unarmed black teenage male. He was scared. From here, all of America seems scared. Of what? Of “black crime”. And Muslims. And Latinos. And immigration. And drugs. And people-muscling-in-on-my-hard-earned cash. And getting sick. And terrorism. And Iran getting nukes. And Iraq getting WMDs. And Communism. And Somali pirates. And Hugo Chavez. And Fidel Castro. And people peacefully protesting against injustice in the streets. What sane wealthy country would need to build gated communities?

The people who are least afraid are the ones who most deserve to be. America’s minorities seem to be weary, fed up, and angry. The rage around one boy’s shooting is a small taster of what is to come. America: You can’t lock up everybody, although you seem to be trying to. Egypt and other countries showed that the most brutal policing won’t keep people in their place forever.

The US is a country that feels it should “police” the globe. In practise, US wars bundle up the racism, fear and hatred prevalent in US society, and inflict them, unwanted, on the rest of the planet. If the US ever did have a moral right to intervene in other countries, it long since surrendered that right. All this can be fixed: get corporate money out of politics, put the police in their place as servants, not masters, reduce prison populations, introduce modern healthcare, stop letting the ultra-rich set the media agenda. Alternatively, perhaps you should revisit your national anthem: land of the free and home of the brave? That’s not how it looks from here.

Can 210,000 British Drug Deaths Be Prevented?

David Nutt Ranking of Drugs By Harm

Professor David Nutt's ranking of drugs by harm (image:Economist.com)

Regulation is often a dirty word, especially to the political right; but one set of regulations is generally accepted across the political spectrum: those that prevent monopolies from forming. An unfortunate fact about markets is that they tend to become less competitive over time. The winners purchase the rest, or drive them out of business, and without regulation, monopolies or cartels are virtually inevitable. The UK, EU and US all have anti-trust laws aimed at maintaining at least some competition within markets, and by-and-large, they work.

I can only think of one industry that is not only not subject to anti-trust legislation, but where governments actively weigh in to support one player above all the competitors: the recreational drugs business. Getting drunk, stoned, high or generally off-your-tits is one thing that almost all human societies have in common. Escaping daily reality, using one substance or another, is apparently one of the most universally human of all activities. Once we have food, water, shelter and sex sorted it seems that twisting reality is our next priority.

Different regions of the world have discovered their own substances of choice, and these have become tightly woven into human cultures and religions over the course of millennia. The Hebrews, probably including Jesus, used cannabis “anointing oil” for religious ceremonies. Asia has used cannabis and opium since pre-history. Native Americans had access to coca and most of the world’s hallucinogens; and of course, Europe found a special love for its drugs of choice, alcohol and caffeine, and exported these tastes to North America and other regions. There are many other drugs that have found a place in one culture or another.

As European empires began the process we now call globalisation, our different cultures clashed, and so did our drug habits. Europeans, in their wisdom, decided that their drugs were superior to those of other cultures, and in their fear of substances they didn’t understand, began to attack foreign drugs and the cultures surrounding them. The first drug to be outlawed in modern times was cannabis, banned by the British Empire in Egypt. Later, American puritans launched war on all drugs, and successfully banned several; but soon alcohol, the white man’s drug of choice was legalised again, while the cannabis and cocaine favoured by blacks, Latinos and Chinese remained banned. Popular new lab-created drugs, invented in more recent times, have been banned as they gained popularity; LSD, MDMA and Mephedrone being among the most popular of these.

Dozens of drugs are now banned in the UK, with little or no justification; three popular choices remain legal: alcohol, tobacco and caffeine. In a 2010 study by the then-government drugs specialist, Professor David Nutt, twenty popular drugs (legal and illegal) were ranked in order of harm. Alcohol came at the top, with Heroin and Crack Cocaine in second and third place. Tobacco came sixth. See the chart above for the full list.

A recent study by British doctors’ organisations predicted that up to 210,000 people would die from alcohol use in the next 20 years. The predictable response from the moronic media and politicians was a call for yet more alcohol controls. Yet alcohol is already a very well regulated substance, from production to retail. What the media and politicians failed to mention was that by making alcohol the government-approved recreational drug of choice, and leaving other drugs in the hands of criminals, our leaders have created us this problem.

The big lie is this: alcohol deaths are not treated as drug deaths – they are reported separately. If, instead of reporting 10,000 or so alcohol deaths in a year, the media said: “… around 11,000 recreational drug deaths, of which alcohol comprised around 90%…”, the nature of the problem becomes clearer. Alcohol is by far the most dangerous drug on the street.

There is an obvious need for a free (but sensibly regulated) market in recreational drugs; could it really be imagined that, faced with a selection of 10 or 20 legal drugs, most people would continue to choose the most dangerous of them all? Of course not – and this is why the alcohol industry is so desperate to keep its competitors outlawed. This is why a single Ecstacy-linked death can make headlines in the big business-friendly media, while a typical week in the UK brings well over 100 unreported alcohol deaths.

The legalisation, regulation and taxation of drugs would need to be done with care and under expert guidance – in other words by taking advice from the very experts the government repeatedly ignores. While the details are complex, the approach is potentially very simple: for example, as a first step, the authorities could legalise every drug scoring under 30 on Professor Nutt’s scale (note: alcohol scores over 70). This means legalising all shown on the chart, with the exception of heroin, crack and methamphetamine. Those dangerous drugs already legal would remain legal (we already know how dangerous a ban on alcohol would be, by looking at America’s failed experiment with prohibition).

Possession of any substance should not be a criminal offence – these laws serve only as an excuse for police and judiciary to harass and criminalise those sections of society they choose. The supply needs to be regulated from end to end. Drug addiction is best treated as a medical, not a criminal, problem. And most important, the public needs honest education. Many die from using drugs today, not because the substances are inherently dangerous, but because the government, criminally, refuses to provide information on safe usage, and continues to allow criminals to sell untested, unregulated substances to millions of users.

We don’t have to let 210,000 British people die unnecessarily – it’s a choice, and those leaders who make that choice should be held accountable for the deaths. People who have a free choice of drugs carry full responsibility for their own health and wellbeing. But those who are damaged by alcohol can, at least in part, blame the government for attacking alternative, safer, substances.

Wearing Hoodies, And Other Dangerous Things

Geraldo Rivera, Moron

Moron

The story so far… a 17 year old black Florida teenager, Trayvon Martin, did something silly: he walked to a local shop to buy some Skittles, while both wearing a hoodie and being black. A “vigilante”, George Zimmerman, shot him dead. The local (Sanford) police decided there was no case to answer. And if it hadn’t come to national and global attention, the case would have ended there.

Today, moron Fox News commentator Geraldo Rivera said he would “bet money” Martin was shot because of the hoodie he was wearing. Personally, I’d bet money that Martin would still be alive if he wasn’t black.

In the spirit of Geraldo, here are some other victims who brought it on themselves:

  • Those who died on 9/11: you worked in a tall building? What did you expect? Stop blaming those poor, misguided terrorists.
  • Pearl Harbour: if you’re going to sit there looking all pearly and harboury, how did you expect the Japanese to resist?
  • Holocaust victims: look, everyone knows how much Europeans hated Jews. I bet money it wouldn’t have happened if the Jews had just acted a little less Jewish.
  • Deep South lynching victims: come on, you know what Southerners are like… just buy some skin bleaching ointment, already.
  • Rape victims: you walk around looking all rapeable. Who told you to smell nice and cut your hair?

Geraldo Rivera is one of a long list of victim blamers. Strange: it always seems to be the Freedom-screaming right who manage to find reasons why too much freedom is a bad thing. Here’s hoping someone catches Rivera outdoors wearing something they find scary. He’s asking for it.

Toulouse Shootings: a Win for Nazis and Zionists

Aftermatch of Jewish School Shooting in Touolouse

Aftermath of Jewish School Shooting

The fallout continues from the recent Toulouse shootings; at the time of writing, a French man of Algerian origin, Mohammed Merah, is under siege by police at his home. Regardless of the motivations behind the attacks, the outcome will be broadly predictable: a strengthening of the racist, moronic right in France and mainland Europe in general, and a win for Zionists. Why? Let’s look at France first.

France, as I’ve reported, is probably the most racist country in Western Europe. Worryingly, this is no recent blip, but seems consistent throughout recent French history. While constitutionally, all citizens are equal, and France has consistently rejected a multicultural approach, in practice, black, Jewish and North African citizens have always found integration difficult, and tend to share the same ghettos. An attack by a North African, one of the most persecuted French groups, would quickly be linked to immigration, boosting the racist right’s claim that there “too many foreigners in France“.

The far-right in France, represented by the National Front, is going through a brand detoxification under its new leader, Marine Le Pen. The National Front regularly polls in the 20% range; additionally a strong racist vote goes to Sarkozy’s right-of-centre UMP, as indicated by Sarkozy’s pandering to racism. Contrast to the UK, where the far-right struggles to gain 5% of the vote, and the strength of race hate in France becomes clear. Anecdotal stories from French friends, both white and brown, strengthen this picture. The French have recovered from any shame they may have felt over their enthusiastic implementation of Nazi anti-Jewish policies, and open racism is again prevalent in the French street.

In summary, the French situation is simple: any race-related attack by anyone will serve to strengthen French fascists.

But Israeli Zionists too will be heartened. The Israeli right has long focused on the anti-Semitism experienced by France’s large Jewish community. While broader Jewish interests would be served by the preservation of what remains of non-Israeli Jewish communities, the Zionist goal is clear: to maximise Israel’s Jewish population in order to strengthen and accelerate the ongoing theft of Palestinian land.

To the Zionist right, the existence of half a million Jews in France is a waste of Jews. Indeed, rather than strengthen and support France’s Jewish community, Zionists (including late PM Ariel Sharon) have often been caught trying to frighten French Jews into migrating to Israel.

As in the 1930s, France has become one of the European strongholds of the racist right. The coming election thus becomes a litmus test of French views: can the National Front increase its vote? Can it again make it through to the second round of voting? If it does, Sarkozy and his previously mainstream UMP will likely strengthen its immigrant-bashing rhetoric in order to shore up its share of the racist vote. France threatens to fall to fascism as it did once before.

Puritans: The Guardian vs Iran’s Morality Police

Bratz

Bratz: Call The Morality Police!

The sheer quantity of information available today has its pros and cons. One of the joys of so much information is making unexpected connections. Here’s one such link: Iran’s ultra-conservative morality police, and the Guardian, world-renowned newspaper and voice of British liberalism. Puzzled? Skeptical? Read on…

Exhibit A: Iranian morality police take Barbie dolls off shelves in Iranian shops. The Barbie doll is clearly a symbol of Western decadence that will corrupt the innocence of Iranian children. Iranian rulers are on record as condemning Barbie for her “destructive cultural and social consequences.”

Let’s all laugh at the Iranian morality police and their stupid fear of a plastic doll. Certainly, we liberal Western types would never do anything so ludicrous.

Exhibit B: Western “liberals” decry the corrupting effects of Bratz dolls. This recent Guardian article is primarily a reasonable attempt to cover the recent Rush Limbaugh slut-shaming incident. And yet, true to form, the Guardian seems unable to take a sex-positive stance on any issue. It appears that the editor has weakened the thrust of the original story; at least, I assume so. How else can the article’s self-contradictory nature be explained? While starting and ending with solid coverage of current US attacks on sexuality, the middle part of the article  gives credence again to one of the Guardian’s pet subjects: the “sexualisation of children”. As I’ve blogged previously, the sexualisation concept has little basis in reality – it’s an attempt to introduce censorship under the standard pretext of “defending children”.

The article attacks Bratz dolls as follows: “The sexualisation of young girls – such as Bratz dolls with their bee-stung lips and short skirts – has outraged liberals and feminists”. The article provides no evidential backing for these two claims: 1) That “young girls” are being “sexualised”, and 2) That “liberals and feminists” are “outraged”. For sure, some anti-sexuality campaigners label themselves feminists – that’s somewhat different from the Guardian’s take on the subject.

And so to summarise: Those silly Iranians are worried about kids being corrupted by Barbie; those sensible “liberals” are worried about kids being corrupted by Bratz dolls. The Guardian’s reputation for accuracy again takes a knock on the subject it finds it so hard to cover honestly: sex.

The Moronic Right and Attacks on Bill Maher

Michelle Malkin Moron

Michelle Malkin, Moron-Puppeteer

Being the product of an inner-London state education, I have to admit my Latin ain’t what it should be. When I first encountered the term ad-hominem, used frequently enough in online debate, I had to go and Google it. It means an attack on the person rather than the idea – a simple enough concept, but the use of the neat Latin phrase is understandable, given Twitter’s 140 character limit. It’s a useful term as it describes much of the discourse of morons both online and in the mass media, and especially on the right. Given the sheep-like behaviour of right-wing morons, when an ad-hominem attack is begun in the moron media, I usually see it echoed a thousand-fold on Twitter.

This week’s example is an attack on the satirist, Bill Maher. Maher didn’t actually have to do anything to warrant the attack; what happened was a textbook exercise in the manipulation of morons. The starting point was Rush Limbaugh’s hysterical attack on Sandra Fluke, who he used as a proxy to label women who enjoy sex as sluts. Limbaugh’s attack exposed not only his hatred of women, and of female sexuality, but in the wave of support it created for him, it exposed the American Taliban’s war on sex.

While it’s easy for the truly moronic to scream about sluts, the moron-puppeteers – those who make a living winding up morons – had to be more circumspect. After all, Rush got a kicking from his advertisers; and other right-wing moron commentators, such as Michelle Malkin, didn’t want to follow that example. So the strategy was to use the right-wing staple, ad-hominem. Rather than defend the indefensible, attack someone else as a smoke screen. They chose Maher, labelling him misogynistic for attacks he’s made on Sarah Palin and others. “The liberal war on conservative women!” they screamed.

From the little coverage I looked at, Maher isn’t a misogynist. The Malkin trick is simply to label any attack on a woman, however well founded, as sexist. Who’d fall for that? Morons of course. But the point is, it’s not relevant – morons are screaming at Maher, not because he’s said anything wrong, but to try to balance out the obvious Republican hatred of women, and make it look like it exists on both ends of the political spectrum. Of course, hidden in this strategy is an admission of guilt: the Republican Party has undoubtedly declared war on female sexuality, via abortion, contraception, and simple slut-shaming. The attacks on Maher only serve to underline the lack of a defence.

The use of ad-hominem attacks by morons is frequent and entertaining. The key antidote is to not get distracted by them. Laugh, ignore and move on. After all, if the only attack you can make on Richard Dawkins’ wonderful work on promoting atheism is that his ancestor may have owned slaves, you’ve lost the argument. The fact that Obama-haters have exhausted themselves trying to prove he wasn’t born in the US is a sign of desperation. And I myself have been labelled an Alinskyite so frequently, I had to Google it to find out what it meant.

We should be heartened by the sheer stupidity of right-wing debating tactics. They’re already scraping the bottom of the barrel – where can they go next? In fact, don’t answer that – the truth could be scary.

Slut-Hating Morons Take A Last Stand

Slut Pride

Sluts Rise, Morons Retreat

It’s appropriate that International Women’s Day comes just after a tsunami of misogyny has swept through the more moronic sections of American society. While it’s traditional to focus on those places where being a woman seems almost unbearable – rural Afghanistan among the Taliban, or in the Democratic Republic of Congo where a rape epidemic never seems to end, for example – we’re reminded that the Western World isn’t quite as advanced as we like to think. Indeed, it seems that many women-hating morons in the West are only staying quiet about their true feelings as part of the ongoing crusade to paint Muslims as less civilised than we are.

Slut-hate reached fever pitch in the US last week when right-wing moronjock Rush Limbaugh labelled Sandra Fluke, a contraception advocate, a slut. Even more extreme, he said that she was a prostitute (since she was calling for her contraception to be paid for by taxpayers) and demanded that she post videos of herself having sex in return.

Rush’s moronic minions echoed his slurs online. Bizarrely, many of those screaming at Fluke were the same ones screaming that Muslims disrespect women. The American Taliban is nothing if not hypocritical.

Slut-hate has been around as long as morons have, and words like slut, whore, ho, tart, slag and many other derogatory terms are thrown at women. And yet, the base meaning of Slut is: a woman who is promiscuous. To be a slut therefore, isn’t a matter of shame – the problem isn’t with the meaning of the word, but that it is used as a hate term.

When I was a teenager, a radical school student magazine called Blot existed for a little while. It ran a feature dealing with the British word Wanker (wanking means masturbation). The article made the point (obvious in hindsight, but not to a 1980s teenager) that almost everybody, male and female, wanks; therefore the shame isn’t in the act, but in the use of the word as abuse. It concluded by suggesting a comeback for anyone labelled as a wanker: “I do: don’t you?”

Similarly, the word Nigger has been a derogatory term for centuries; by reclaiming it through hip-hop (and respelling as Nigga), black Americans have, at least partially, defused its potential to sting. While once, white racists could throw the word and cause pain, today, they’re reduced to whining: “Why can black people say it, but if I do, I’m a racist?” (to which the correct answer is: “You’re a moron”).

And finally, Slut Pride has arrived; in 2011, the SlutWalk movement burst into life. Sluts proudly marched in Toronto, and then the movement rapidly spread worldwide. SlutWalk was a small part of a social revolution that ignited globally in 2011; but it was still very important. Reclaiming the S-word from bigots was a vital step towards female equality; for decades, feminists have rightly complained that men can be “sluts” without shame, and yet women can’t. SlutWalk made a statement that echoed around the globe: there is no shame in being a slut.

SlutWalk introduced a new, powerful vocabulary: slut is no longer derogatory. Bigoted attacks on sluts, like Limbaugh’s, are referred to as slut-shaming. Hatred of sluts is slutphobia. In a stroke, the tide had turned: the accusers became the accused. SlutWalk provoked rage – not just among fundamentalist morons but among the anti-sexuality wing of the feminist movement, who found themselves taking a remarkably similar line on SlutWalk to the fundamentalists.

Women cannot be free until they are sexually liberated, and don’t have to deal with slutphobic bigots who take an unhealthy interest in other people’s sex lives. We react in disgust when a raped woman in Saudi Arabia faces corporal punishment; but the slut-shaming antics of Limbaugh and his army of bigoted moron fans are little different. Limbaugh attempted to carry out a public lynching of Sandra Fluke; but here’s the good news: he failed. The American Taliban may still be powerful, but it now embarrasses the American mainstream, and it’s in retreat.

International Women’s Day must highlight the poor position of women in poor countries, but it also should highlight the problems in America. After all, this is a country that partially justifies its ongoing brutality in Afghanistan from a women’s rights perspective, and may again play this card when it attacks Iran. The US was once a global thought leader; it no longer is. It needs to get its own backyard in order rather than try to dictate to the rest of the world.

My next podcast (edition 3, if you’re counting) will be on the subject of sluttishness; you can subscribe via iTunes so you don’t miss it.