How Europeans Can Help Defend US Democracy

Marshall Plan
Europe broke it, America fixed it.

Europe has always been the world’s most divided and war-torn continent (the past 60 years of relative peace have helped us forget this inconvenient truth). In the 20th century, we decided to finally finish the job by tearing ourselves (and much of the outside world) to pieces in the two biggest wars ever seen. Although the Americans tend to overestimate US involvement in the European part of World War II, it’s undeniable that we owe America a huge debt of gratitude; firstly for joining the war in 1942, but perhaps even more significantly for the huge bail-out Europe received afterwards – better known as the Marshall Plan. Yes it’s true, the USA itself reaped huge rewards by holding Western Europe away from the Soviet Union; the bail-out kept America in the game as a global superpower – and after 1990, THE global superpower. But to deny US generosity would be wrong: to put it in American terms: they saved our asses.

The bail-out had far more than financial consequences. It allowed Europe to escape a spiral of poverty and bankruptcy, and implement a continent-wide social democracy, providing freedom, prosperity and a generous safety net to all Western Europeans. With universal healthcare, our life expectancies rocketed, and Europe’s workers became healthier and more productive, yielding economic gains. Generous welfare safety nets enabled people to take more risks, and thus encouraged entrepreneurialism. Social mobility rocketed.

Meanwhile across the Atlantic, America was heading in the opposite direction. The military-corporate war machine didn’t want to be closed down, and found an excuse to turn the short-term war into a permanent one: the “Red Threat”. So long as Americans could be kept ignorant and afraid (a condition which requires endless warfare), the corporations and military could endlessly undermine freedom and democracy, and grab power away from the people. To their own surprise, the US corporatocracy won the Cold War; this wasn’t the plan. Without war, the American people would demand a smaller military and greater freedom. New “threats” needed to be found (and, as we know, they were).  As George Orwell wrote in his classic Nineteen Eighty-Four:

The war is not meant to be won, it is meant to be continuous (full quote)

In WWII, American troops arrived in Europe to discover that they were better fed and taller than Europeans: now that has reversed. Europeans are now more likely to progress through the social hierarchies than Americans. The American Dream is still alive and well… but in Europe, not America.

Sooner or later, as Eisenhower warned in 1961, the power of the military-industrial complex would come to outweigh elected government, at which point democracy will be under mortal threat. That time may have now arrived. The 2000 Presidential election was clearly rigged by corporations working hand-in-hand with the Republican Party in Florida. The 2003 Iraq War was fought with the money and lives of ordinary Americans, for clear corporate objectives. In the 2010 Citizens United case, the US Supreme Court decided that free speech entailed allowing corporations to spend as much as they liked to influence election outcomes – effectively abandoning the principle of “one man one vote”. Money has always played a huge role in US elections; now it is the only thing that matters. The corporate aristocracy warned of by Thomas Jefferson in 1816 now truly holds the power in America.

Chief among those corporate aristocrats are the Koch Brothers. They are chiefly responsible for turning the Tea Party movement into a force which in turn drove out right-of-centre conservatism from the Republican Party, and transformed the party into a nakedly pro-corporate force. The brothers lobby heavily for their oil, gas and chemical interests, and spend big to ensure that right-wing Republicans who support their aims will win elections. From a British perspective, the activities of the Kochs are simply staggering: our democracy may have flaws, but buying elections in this brazen way would be, quite simple, illegal.

The US could easily improve its democracy by borrowing from Europe’s older and and more democratic systems: restrict lobbying and bar politicians from accepting donations from vested interests; restrict political advertising to political parties only; impose spending caps as well as donation caps; adopt voting systems that allow new parties to enter the arena; take easily-rigged electronic voting systems out of corporate hands; make registering to vote as easy as possible; extend democracy into the corporate boardroom. But while corporations can own US politicians, and buy elections, none of these things will happen.

In the shorter term, individuals can target the Kochs by boycotting their products. Shoq Value (@Shoq on Twitter) breaks down the Koch products and brands that Americans should avoid.

Koch products also reach us in Europe via their company Georgia Pacific EMEA, which provides a handy brand list on their website. European believers in freedom and democracy can ensure that they and their friends and families avoid the Koch brands listed below. OK; it ain’t the Marshall Plan, but it’s a start. America once saved our asses from fascist rule – let’s return the favour.

Boycott Koch:

  • Colhogar
  • Delica
  • DEMAK UP
  • Inversoft
  • Kittensoft
  • Lotus and Lotus Professional
  • Moltonel
  • nouvelle soft
  • Okay
  • Thirst Pockets

How #CreepingSharia Reminded Me Of My Love For Britain

Tommy Robinson: Fascist and Laughing-Stock
Tommy Robinson: Fascist and Laughing-Stock

Fascism was highly fashionable throughout Europe and North America in the 1930s, and Britain too was affected. Antisemitism and a desire to keep the “lower orders” in check were widespread beliefs among the British aristocracy, the media, the police, the Conservative Party and large sections of the population. My Jewish grandfather and his family, living in the ghetto in the East End of London, faced discrimination and the threat of violence on a frequent basis. The far-right was strong and confident, and the British Union of Fascists (BUF), led by Oswald Mosley, commanded a membership of up to 50,000, and the support of the ever-moronic Daily Mail.

On Sunday 4th October, 1936, Mosley decided to flex the BUF’s muscles by marching his “blackshirt” street thugs through the East End, the most Jewish area of England. The local Jewish population, including my grandfather, came into their streets to stop the blackshirts marching. They battled the fascists, and the London police who joined the blackshirts in fighting the Jews. But that’s not the full picture: the Jews alone couldn’t have stopped the blackshirts (and their police friends) from marching. The Jews were joined by other immigrants – largely Irish – along with socialists, communists, trade unionists and ordinary Londoners. Local women leaned out of their windows and dropped pots and pans on the blackshirts. The fascists were beaten off London’s streets.

The Battle of Cable Street was a turning point in British history. The BUF never recovered from their physical beating and humiliation. The British people had given their verdict on fascism – unlike in much of mainland Europe or the USA, British fascism was in retreat by the start of the Second World War in 1939. Mosley attempted a come-back in the 1950s and 60s, this time choosing black immigrants instead of Jews as his target, but he was largely irrelevant by then. His fascist mantle was picked up in the 1970s by a new group, the National Front, which targeted blacks, Jews and the latest arrivals: Asians (meaning primarily Indians and Pakistanis). The growth of the NF coincided with the Skinhead cultural movement among young working class whites, and the skinheads were (often unfairly) labelled as fascists and racists.

When I reached my teens, the NF was at its peak, and my black friends would run on sight of a skinhead. But then, in the early-80s, support for the NF collapsed. But why? It wasn’t through official state action: the British police were incredibly racist, and often took the side of the NF in street confrontations. The Thatcher government was riddled with racists who had little understanding of the situation on the streets, and showed no interest in clamping down on street racism.

The answer was culture; or specifically working class culture as expressed through music. In the 60s, while middle class Brits were joining the hippie movement, the young, white working class had discovered Soul music, imported from the US. In the 1970s, the young black British population, with close links to the West Indies, was listening to reggae, the huge new trend from Jamaica. Young white people in the cities, who already had a taste for black music, were discovering reggae, which required going to black concerts and mixing with black people. In the late-1970s, the two-tone movement appeared, blending white skinhead and punk music with reggae and ska from the West Indies. The two-tone movement (including groups like The Specials, The Beat and The Selecter) saw concerts bringing enemy gangs together in the same venues. Rastas and skinheads shared music, danced together and smoked weed together. The National Front lost its constituency of angry, white, racist young men. This didn’t happen because government wanted it to – it happened largely without the knowledge of Britain’s rulers. It happened because of some X-factor in the British population; a natural ability to accept, integrate and mix with immigrant cultures that seems lacking elsewhere in Europe or in the United States.

If two-tone was the first, crude blend of white and black music, it was just the beginning. By the 1990s, mixed couples and mixed music scenes were becoming more frequent. Mixed-race children were becoming a common sight. The Jamaican Dub sound was adopted by musical pioneers in Bristol, who created a new set of genres such as Trip Hop. Jungle music, a London creation, took Jamaican ragga and European dance music and blended them. From this emerged Drum and Bass, and in the late-90s, UK Garage. UK Hip Hop began as a copy of the American version, but was quickly adapted to British styles, from which emerged a truly British poetry form, Grime. Asian sounds joined the mix of Jamaican and European influences. The blender ran ever faster, creating new musical styles that were ever more intertwined, and ever more British.

Outside the cities, most people were oblivious to this. As always, British urban youth were decades ahead of the establishment and the middle class mainstream in integrating their cultures together. The only time the urban scene ever made mainstream news was if a gun was waved at a Garage concert or a stabbing occurred at a Hip Hop rave.

By 2000, it seemed the far-right could never re-establish itself in such a mixed society, so at peace with itself, but 9/11 changed that. The new kid on the fascist block, the British National Party (BNP) quickly rewrote its literature, replacing the word Asian with the word Muslim. Anti-Muslim ideas began to gain traction, especially after 52 people died in the London bombings of 2005. Then the English Defence League (EDL) was born; while the BNP had tried to create a respectable, suited version of fascism, the EDL went back to NF ways, building a street army of angry young white men. The EDL grew fast, but then in the past year or so seemed to have peaked. The EDL’s apparent association with far-right Norwegian terrorist Anders Breivik doesn’t seem to have helped them.

If you follow me on Twitter, you’ll have seen regular tweets about the EDL and its idiot supporters, and especially its moronic leader, Tommy Robinson. EDL supporters on Twitter output a regular drip-feed of hateful misinformation about Muslims, which has been hard to tackle. Until yesterday, that is. Tommy Robinson had tweeted one of his standard pieces of anti-Muslim nonsense. Seeing a picture of a “mosque” on the Twitter home page (it was, in fact, the Taj Mahal), Robinson sent the following tweet:

Welcome to twitter homepage has a picture of a mosque What a joke #creepingsharia

The idea being, of course, to convince the British public that Islam is encroaching on every aspect of our daily lives. There have been many such tweets from Robinson and his supporters. But this time, some Twitter users decided to respond, and take the piss out of (to use a British expression) the #CreepingSharia hashtag. By yesterday afternoon, the trickle of tweets was growing into a flood, and by evening it was a tsunami. The British people, in their many thousands, had finally been given their chance to react, in a truly British fashion, to the cancer of the EDL. The response wasn’t anger, threats or hatred. It was a flood of laughter. The EDL was turned within a few hours into a national and international laughing-stock. It was more than a chance to let off steam – it was a turning point. It was a chance for the majority to demonstrate to British Muslims that the EDL is a small, unrepresentative and unliked group of people. The atmosphere on Twitter yesterday can be described as a carnival. I don’t think my grandfather, or other veterans of the Battle of Cable Street, would mind me comparing the two events. Yesterday, 16th April 2012, the British people hounded and humiliated the EDL just as they had the BUF on 4th October 1936.

Here’s a small selection of #creepingsharia tweets (sorry if they’re wrongly attributed – many were retweeted many times):

@DestinyofL: ‘Star Wars’ makes a ‘hero’ of a youth who is radicalised by a bearded old man who lives in the desert wearing robes #creepingsharia

@amna_kaleem: The weather in Britain is always Sunni or Shi’ite. #CreepingSharia

@lacatchat: If you look really carefully, a packet of iced gems looks like lots & lots of little Mosques. #creepingsharia

@stanyalplatford: All the fantastic and clever #creepingsharia tweets utterly nailed @EDLTrobinson . What a fucking prick.

@BristolAF: Fell asleep on the sofa again last night. My lovely Muslim housemate tried not to wake me when she got back from work. #creepingsharia

@ZiaQureshi11: I once had a go at my housemate for cooking bacon in my frying pan and not cleaning it properly #creepingsharia

@KarmaUnc: Marvelous to see the Twittersphere overwhelmingly handing @EDLTrobinson his #creepingsharia arse back to him on a plate today #EDL

@ammaarrahim: RT if the #creepingsharia trend made your day today… certainly made mine 🙂

It was a reminder to me that, whatever the downside of living on this cold, wet island among a people who enjoy moaning about most things on most days, there’s a huge reason to be proud of this country. As race hate strengthens in Hungary, The Netherlands and the USA, the British can again be an example to the rest of the western world. While patriotism grows in popularity elsewhere, the British don’t do patriotism. We don’t fly flags on our homes or on public buildings. It’s our contempt for those who label themselves British or English Patriots that is quintessentially British or English.

As for my great love, British urban music, this has continued to evolve over the past decade. For those of you who can’t be here in London to experience our mixture first-hand, here’s a taste of what young white, black and brown Londoners are dancing to, together, in 2012. It contains flavours of Africa, Asia, the Caribbean, Europe and the USA, but it’s uniquely British, and it unites young people from all backgrounds. The far-right doesn’t stand a chance.

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.

Moron Media Ignores Iran War Build-Up

New York Times Iraq War
Where Is The Free Press?

It was pretty clear, except perhaps to morons, that Bush and Blair were building up for their attack on Iraq long before war was declared in March 2003. Most people will still remember the huge global day of protest in February 2003. Most populations, with the notable exceptions of Israel and the US, were strongly against the war, and most people were well aware that the Iraqi “threat” had been concocted. People were also unconvinced that Saddam’s “evilness” constituted a reason for war, especially since he had been armed and supported by the US for years before he was identified as a “bad guy”.

London’s march on 15 February 2003 was the largest protest in British history: over a million people demonstrated against the war. However, that protest was not the first; 400,000 Londoners marched against an attack on Iraq in October 2002 – itself one of the largest marches ever seen in the UK. Already in October, most intelligent observers knew that the decision had been made, despite the Bush/Blair lie machine claiming that our leaders were still “hoping for a peaceful resolution”. Years later, we discovered we’d been right: Blair had already given his backing to the neo-con war plans in March 2002, a full year before the war began.

We weren’t fortune-tellers or mind-readers; we simply knew some history, and could see that the public was being softened up with scare stories about Saddam Hussein. Likewise, we already knew in 2002 that the neo-cons planned to attack Iran. On a successful “liberation” of Baghdad, they would continue on to Tehran. Fortunately, the Iraq war was incompetently handled, and the US became bogged down, preventing a new front from being opened. But the war on Iran wasn’t cancelled, just postponed.

As I’ve observed repeatedly over recent years, the only reason Iran hasn’t been attacked is that, with wars underway in Iraq and Afghanistan, the US doesn’t have enough military capacity. It’s no coincidence that, alongside the recent US troop withdrawal from Iraq, America has also opened dialogue with the Taliban (yes, those same evil-doers that they were going to wipe out in 2001, remember?) The US now has plenty of capacity for a new war – and when in recent history has it ever failed to take advantage of such a position?

The excuses for attacking Iran are as patchy as those for attacking Iraq. They may be developing WMD (in the form of nukes)… but the US has been saying that for years, and there’s still no firm evidence. Even if they are, there is nothing in international law to prevent Iran from owning nukes – Pakistan and Israel both developed the bomb in secret, resulting in relatively little fuss. There are simple lies aimed at the most gullible morons: Iran says it wants to wipe Israel from the map? False. Iran denies the Holocaust? Also false. Then there are truthful claims about Iran’s human rights record; yet Iran is no worse than many US allies: Saudi Arabia, Israel, Jordan, Uzbekistan to name a few. The US never – repeat Never – goes to war in order to defend human rights (in any case, wars can only make the situation worse for the people of Iran, and make it impossible for them to rise up against the regime).

You’d hope that enough Americans would have learned the hard way, from Iraq, or Vietnam before it. But most Americans rely on the US mass media for facts, and (as we saw in Iraq) the US mass media is incapable of holding the military-industrial complex to account. The New York Times famously apologised for its Iraq coverage; most US newspapers and TV channels were even worse, but failed to apologise.

Now, here we go again. We can see there is a war coming, because US troops are being deployed, rapidly and in large numbers, to the region. This is hardly a secret. Russia Today reported on January 5th that thousands of US troops were being deployed to Israel. The latest edition of The Economist confirms that 9,000 troops are in Israel, and a further 15,000 on their way to Kuwait. Western-backed terrorists – probably Mossad or the CIA – have already been carrying out attacks against Iranian military facilities, and have murdered at least four scientists.

The case against an Iran war is even simpler than the one against Iraq. Unlike Iraq, Iran has never attacked its people or neighbours with WMD. Indeed, it was Iraq that attacked Iran with chemical weapons in the 1980s; weapons that were supplied by the Reagan administration. Yet morons seem to never learn; and the moron media in the United States seems no more willing to tell the truth about this coming war than they were in 2002/03. Iran’s huge reserves of high quality oil hardly need mentioning.

The UK government is making supportive noises of the coming American war; Cameron will undoubtedly follow, but without the support of the population, just as Blair did. This time, much of the EU is also on board. The Obama administration may be no less warlike than the Bush regime, but it’s clearly more skilled at diplomacy.

When Blair took us to war, MI5 told him we would likely experience terror as a result. on 7 July 2005, 52 Londoners were killed on public transport, and hundreds injured. If we attack Iran, we expose ourselves to new terror – which in turn will create new justifications to continue this eternal American war. The next war is coming soon; our leaders are terrorists, and are inviting terrorism upon us; mass-murder will, yet again, be done in our name. And we have no choice but to resist.

Object Respond

My recent blog post, Feminists Or Fascists?, generated a lot of interest, sharing, blog comments, and discussion elsewhere. The blog looked at British anti-sex groups that refer to themselves as feminist, specifically mentioning the groups Object and UK Feminista.

Like most political bloggers, I obviously have my own opinions, and make no attempt to hide them. Impartiality in reporting is for news organisations, not individuals; I make no claim to be impartial. However, I do my best to honest and fair. If I had to lie to make my point, my point wouldn’t be worth making. So in my criticism of these groups, I did research, and in particular looked at their own web sites. I also carried out extensive interviews with women under attack by these groups, the first two of which were included in my podcast Strippers Are People Too.

As well as a lot of useful feedback and discussion, including from people with direct knowledge of the Hackney and Tower Hamlets campaigns against closing strip venues, I’ve had feedback from two people who strongly disagree with the points I’ve made. In the interest of fairness and balance, here are the relevant conversations in full.

Conversation 1, on my Facebook page:

[I post a link to the blog post, “Feminists Or Fascists?”]

Jackie M: What a load of ill-informed bullshit.

MoronWatch: Jackie, are there specific inaccuracies? Can you provide 1-2 glaring examples?

[End of conversation]

Conversation 2, on the original blog post:

Anna: I am personally offended by this article. What a joke.

MoronWatch: Exactly how did this article offend you?

[End of conversation]

I’m pretty sure that these people are activists, but I should make clear that I can’t prove that. However, the nature of their argument matches the quality of what I’ve read elsewhere, including on the Object web site. These people have the ear of the mass media, who are incredibly accepting of their claims; they feel little need to state their views in an arena where they may be analysed.

This a call to supporters of Object and UK Feminista to articulate your views here and join the debate. Surely, given the vehemence of your positions, and your insistence that free sexuality is harmful to women, you must be capable of intelligently explaining your position. So please, be my guest.

Also a request to those on the other side of the debate: please refrain from personal attacks and insults. If Object have a position to put, listen to it and respond politely and intelligently. If the above comments are the best they can offer, they’ve clearly lost the debate (although not necessarily the battle to close London strip clubs – politics and reason are two different things).

Strippers Are People Too

Following on from my recent post, Feminists Or Fascists?, this episode features in-depth interviews with two London strippers who have become political activists in order to protect their workplaces, jobs and incomes. In the boroughs of Hackney and Tower Hamlets, “feminist” anti-sex campaigners have teamed up with conservative Muslims to drive legal striptease venues (serving both gay and straight audiences) out  of the area. Gentrification and property prices also play a part, as newly-arrived middle-class residents move in to these formerly working class areas.

You can also subscribe to Moron-Free Radio on iTunes.

Further reading related to this podcast:

Research on lap dancing in England by Dr Teela Sanders & Kate Hardy of the University of Leeds.

Analysis of rapes in Camden by Brooke L Magnati (aka Belle de Jour).

Article providing a historical view on why striptease is under threat in Tower Hamlets.

Article about the mayor of Tower Hamlets, Lutfur Rahman, and his alleged links to extreme Islamic groups.

The Moron Awards 2011

Moron 2011
2011: A Moronic Year

It’s time once again to look back at the highlights and lowlights of the past year. The widespread economic and social problems have meant that, for millions, 2011 has been a difficult, challenging time. But not for MoronWatch! 2011 has one of the most moronic years in modern history. And it’s time to give thanks to all the morons who helped make it happen.

So here’s my attempt to remember just a few of this year’s moronic events, and the morons behind them. I couldn’t possibly cover every piece of moronitude, and I’ve undoubtedly missed some key events and people – feel free to add your favourites below.

Biggest Flop

Those who entertained us by promising to deliver, before completely failing to do so.

Winner: Harold Camping, who predicted the second coming would take place on 21st May, followed by the end of the world on October 21st. He worked it out using numbers. Sadly (at least for morons awaiting Judgement Day), his calculations turned out to be wrong. Jesus failed to show in May, but Harry stuck to his guns and said the world would still end in October (it didn’t, FYI). Honourable mention: the people who believed him.

Runners-up:

Rupert Murdoch and his son James, for breaking British law on a huge scale, with the help of police officers who they’d bribed, and then getting caught, allowing British democracy to strike back against the Murdoch strangehold over our elected leaders.

Guido Fawkes (aka Paul Staines), a right-wing British blogger who tried (with help from the moron press) to show, via an online petition, that the UK public were clamouring for a return of the death penalty. They weren’t.

Donald Trump, who reignited the birther controversy, demanding Barack Obama produce his long-form birth certificate. With beautiful timing, Obama duly did so, destroying Trump’s presidential campaign (though to be fair, Trump had already destroyed it himself by being Donald Trump).

Christopher Monckton, a man who has profited hugely from selling climate change denial to morons, despite having been repeatedly discredited, opened a Twitter account. After skirmishes with myself and other “fans”, he quickly closed it down again.

The far-right English Defence League (EDL) have continued to keep us entertained with their moronic (and badly-spelled) antics, both online and offline. This year, they discovered that posting online threats to attack the Occupy protesters in London would lead to them being arrested when they arrived in town for Remembrance Day.

Rick Perry, presidential hopeful, had a moronic plan to close entire government departments, but when asked during a TV debate, he couldn’t remember which ones. Oops!

The ever-inventive Tommy Robinson, leader of the EDL, who appears to have invented a beating at the hands of “Pakistanis”.

Michele Bachmann, after showing early promise to be the flag-bearer for American moronism in next year’s presidential election, vanished without a trace (as did several of her moronic competitors).

Global Menace

Who has been doing their best to destabilise world society, and (whether deliberately or accidentally) drive us towards war?

Winner: The Tea Party caucus in Congress for refusing to raise the US debt ceiling until the 13th hour, resulting in a downgrade for the USA’s credit rating. While some “moderate” Republican morons used the debt ceiling increase as a negotiating tool to try to force cuts in spending, the Tea Party, led by MoronWatch favourite Michele Bachmann, were genuinely prepared to force a US debt default, taking the global economy to the brink of panic.

Runners up:

European leaders for repeatedly failing throughout the year to take the actions necessary to stabilise the EU economy. Special mention to Silvio Berlusconi, for clinging to power despite having mismanaged the Italian economy for years, so he wouldn’t face prosecution for – well, pretty much everything. Very special mention to Dave Camoron and his nationalistic, Eurosceptic Tory right, who tried (perhaps successfully) to single-handedly derail a deal that would stop the European economy from collapsing.

Ongoing: The US for its moronic “war on terror” which grinds on, killing civilians in Afghanistan and Pakistan, pushing those countries steadily towards social collapse and so putting power in the hands of the Taliban and other extremists, who are (in theory) supposed to be the enemy.

Binyamin Netanyahu, who has stopped even pretending to care about peace in the region, and endlessly accelerates Israeli aggression and land theft. Special mention: the moronic pro-Israel lobby in the US who continue to support Israel, regardless of what it does.

Ongoing: most world governments for their endless execution of the utterly failed War on Drugs, which swallows endless billions of dollars and millions of lives, and results in more people taking more dangerous drugs.

Terrorism

Terrorism is becoming ever-more fashionable, especially among those who claim to be fighting terrorism. Here is my selection of the year’s top terrorists.

Winner: President Assad of Syria, for the mass-slaughter of his own people in the streets of Syrian cities. Of course, like all good state terrorists, Assad says that his victims aren’t civilians at all, but are themselves terrorists working in behalf of Syria’s enemies. No doubt, Syria has its own population of morons who believe him.

Runners up:

Barack Obama, for drone strikes on Pakistan that kill civilians on a regular basis. Obama fans may point out that it’s actually the Pentagon or the CIA carrying out these attacks, but if we blamed Bush’s wars on Bush, let’s be consistent and lay the blame for post-2008 terrorism on Obama. It’s only fair. And by the way, it’s probably about time Obama returned his prematurely-awarded Nobel Peace Prize.

West Bank extremist settlers for their barely-reported campaign of “price tag” terrorism against Palestinian civilians. Their strategy is to endlessly provoke the Palestinian population by ripping up crops, sabotaging irrigation systems or damaging mosques, then shooting people who protest. If the protests get too big, they go running to Mummy (aka the Israeli Defence Force) who shoot or arrest and torture Palestinian civilians.

Mystery winner: somebody, probably Israel or the US, carried out a terrorist attack on an Iranian military base, and quite possibly other attacks we haven’t heard about. If Iranians protest or retaliate in any way, it just shows how unreasonable they are. Honourable mention: Western media and politicians who ignore these attacks and continue to beat the drums of war against Iran.

London’s Metropolitan Police, who executed Mark Duggan, a young black man, in North London, based merely on the suspicion that he might be carrying a gun. Immediately after the shooting, the police lied to journalists, saying an exchange of fire had taken place – it hadn’t. The shooting triggered an uprising in Tottenham which led to the UK summer riots. Notably, this is the second time a riot has begun in Tottenham after the police killed an unarmed person. Special mention to the poorly-named Independent Police Complaints Commission, who are never independent and always ignore complaints. As ever, they came down on the side of the police.

The Inhumanity!

While it’s useful to understand motivations, some people are just plain evil.

Winner: “Pepper Spray Cop” – the policeman in Berkeley, California who was videoed casually spraying peaceful, seated protesters in the face with pepper spray. He was just one of many US police officers who took part in violent attacks on peaceful Occupy protesters this year, showing that free speech isn’t as much an American value as we might have hoped.

Runners up:

The US state of Georgia, who executed Troy Davis, despite strong evidence that his trial had been rigged.

Ugandan MPs, who have repeatedly tried to introduce laws making homosexuality a crime punishable by death. Special mention also to Ghana, Malawi and most other African countries, which have continued to make life as hard as possible for homosexuals.

The US, for using their UN veto to block the legal right of Palestine to be recognised as a state, a result that will simply encourage Israel to do whatever it likes, however brutal or illegal. As usual.

Supporters of presidential candidate and libertarian, Ron Paul at a debate. Paul was asked about his “libertarian” approach to healthcare: what should happen to people with no health cover if they were to fall ill? He confirmed that they should be given the “freedom” to die. At which, the audience applauded heartily, yelling “Let him die!”.

Hypocrisy

Everyone loves a little hypocrisy. Well, MoronWatch does, anyway. Here are some of the highlights.

Winner: Joint prize to The UK, France and the US for attacking Libya, to “protect civilians”. Strangely, their newly-found morality hasn’t been applied in recent years where civilians in their thousands (or tens of thousands) have been persecuted, slaughtered, raped or driven from their homes in various countries including Zimbabwe, Sri Lanka, the Democratic Republic of Congo, Syria and Bahrain. Did I mention Libya is a major oil producer?

Runners up:

The British Royal Family, who invited Bahraini royals to the royal wedding while protesters were being shot dead in the streets back home.

The Republican Party, who desperately fight for tax cuts for the rich, while proving decidedly reluctant to extend a tax cut for working Americans. Not only is this morally suspect, it’s also economically moronic: tax cuts for people on low and average incomes feed back into economic growth far more effectively than extra money for the wealthy.

Western conservatives, who enjoy using the words freedom and democracy incessantly but who, when faced with Arabs demanding democracy, proved decidedly lukewarm about the idea.

Just Plain Moronic

Awarded for general acts or statements of stupidity.

Winner: The British Public, for rejecting a modest improvement (the Alternative Vote, or AV) to our democratic system that would help weaken the current Labour-Conservative duopoly on power, open the door for the creation of fresh new political parties, and revitalise our democracy (as had already happened when AV was adopted in Australia). The newspapers (which mostly support the Tories or Labour) had largely come out against AV, and since most of the public pay no attention to politics, they voted as the press barons told them to. Thus proving that referendums, though seemingly democratic, are not in practise.

Runners up:

UK Prime Minister Dave Camoron for publicly giving the advice that people should pay off their debts. Although this advice is sensible, unfortunately our current economic system isn’t. A widespread shift from spending to saving, at a time when the economy is already struggling, would make the situation worse. By the end of the day, Dave was forced to reverse his advice. People are supposed to keep spending, and paying down their debts, even as the majority of them become poorer. How will that work? It won’t.

All-round weird moron Donald Trump, for suggesting that the US should take Libya’s oil as “payment” for “liberating” Libya. It’s almost like the good old days of Empire. In fact, I think it is the good old days of Empire.

Republican presidential candidate Herman Cain, for his wonderfully simple (in every sense of the word) 9-9-9 economic plan, under which corporation tax, income tax and sales tax would all be pegged at nine percent. The tax would result in the poor paying more, the top 10% doing pretty well, and the top 1% doing fantastically well. Cain proved incapable of explaining how it could possibly work, just as he proved incapable of explaining anything at all, from foreign policy to why a series of women would accuse him of sexual harassment.

The delightfully named, but not at all delightful, Eric Pickles, Tory government minister, for the most pointless spending exercise of the year. Councils across the UK have been encouraging recycling by providing households with recycling bins and reducing general waste collections from weekly to fortnightly. Although this is sensible and desirable, the British press and public did what they do best: moan about it. So Pickles threw £250m at restarting weekly bin collections, thus managing to waste huge amounts of cash and reverse years of progress towards recycling, all to win a few moron votes. Not only was the idea moronic, but most councils have rejected the cash anyway.

Fox “News” presenter Megyn Kelly, following the “Pepper Spray Cop” attack on Californian protests, said it was no big deal, as pepper spray is basically a food. However, she ignored social network calls for her to eat some pepper spray live on air.

The US state of Oklahoma, for banning Shariah law, despite only 0.4% of its population being Muslim (and none of them having asked for Shariah anyway). Special mention also to France, which passed a law banning women from covering their faces, in a spiteful act of bullying against a few hundred women.

The British government and media, for creating a new moral panic about Sexualisation, an imaginary problem designed to scare parents that society had become too sexual, and was threatening their children – and hence laying the foundations for future legislative attacks on sexual freedom.

And finally, just so I haven’t missed anyone:

People all around the world, who got suckered by an Apple PR campaign that transformed Steve Jobs, a highly capable CEO, into a hero and saint who had improved the world for everyone (rather than what he actually did, which was to launch some rather nice electronic equipment).

Want More?

I follow over 1,600 morons on Twitter, each one hand-picked for your delectation. Check out their real-time tweets for an endless stream of moronic entertainment.

Rewind: My Predictions for 2011 Reviewed

Moron 2011
2011: A Moronic Year

Anyone who says they can reliably predict anything complex is either deluded or a liar. Nevertheless, “pundits” are well paid by media outlets to do exactly that, and the start and end of the year is a particularly busy time for this type of quackery. These modern-day soothsayers will of course focus heavily on their successes and ignore their failings, thus “demonstrating” that they’re qualified for the job of telling us what the coming year will hold, or where we should invest our money.

Not to be left out, I made my own predictions at the start of the year, and it’s only fair, given my strict adherence to scientific principles, that I review my success. I made seven predictions. Let’s see how I did.

Prediction 1: Winter will be colder than summer

OK, this was a pretty easy one. This was actually a prediction that morons would greet the cold weather with cries of “What happened to global warming?” I was right on that count too. And you watch, the moment a cold snap hits anywhere, especially in the US, they’ll say it again this year. I think this is what morons think of as humour.

Score: 10/10

Prediction 2: The Tea Party Will Become Increasingly Confused

Given how confused the average Teapartier already was this was a brave prediction. Did it come true? Well, the “grass-roots” phase of the Tea Party seems to have fizzled out. Though designed to look like a movement of the people, it was a well-funded campaign by far-right interests to win seats in Congress, and it succeeded. The initial phase involving marches of angry, misinformed morons has ended, and the morons have gone home, perhaps wondering how they were so easily fooled into marching for billionaires’ interests (but probably not).

The rise of Occupy, a genuinely spontaneous (and unlike the Tea Party, global) movement eclipsed the Tea Party from September onwards. Teapartiers were left to gloat on Twitter that police didn’t assault and arrest Tea Party marchers like they did Occupiers. Well yeah, that’s because the Tea Party was fighting for the right of the powerful to remain powerful – Occupy on the other hand was a genuine challenge to authority.

Was I right? Kind-of – I don’t really know how to measure this accurately. The Teapartiers were confused, are confused and will continue to be confused.

Score: 5/10

Prediction 3: Islamophobia to Rise in Europe/Israel, peak in UK/US

This is a big prediction, and hard to measure over such a short time-frame.The Islamophobes march onward. Breaking it down:

  • Mainland Europe: the drumbeat of fascism pounds ever louder, and Muslims are bearing the brunt. As the hate becomes established “fact” in the mind of morons, inevitably crazies take action – most noticeably in Norway in July, when Anders Breivik attacked and killed 77 people associated with the Labour Party. He was partly driven by hate for Muslims, and inspired by the English Defence League (EDL) and the Muslim-hating American Pamela Geller. For sure, things haven’t improved in Europe during 2011.
  • Israel: fascism is rising, and is taking an increased stranglehold over government. Israel, once a largely secular country, is increasingly religious, and the religious right is establishing itself in government and the military. Islamophobia isn’t at the heart of Israeli fascism, but it plays an increasing role. Israel continues to head rightwards into fascist territory.
  • UK: the main far-right party, the British National Party (BNP), seems to have undergone a partial collapse through the year. The EDL, a fascist street movement, also doesn’t seem to have made gains in support, though it recently announced an electoral pact with a tiny far-right group, the British Freedom Party. Overall, the far-right looks weaker than it did a year ago – whether that involves wishful thinking on my part though, I’m unsure.
  • US: I’ve detected less Islamophobic screaming on Twitter, as the right turns more to immigration as its primary cause. But recently, a non-controversial TV show called All American Muslim showed that Muslim-hate is not only strong among ordinary morons, but that corporations could be swung as well.

Score: 6/10… probably

Prediction 4: US Economy Will Gain Strength as UK Weakens

The US was pushing ahead with a government-funded stimulus; a fairly weak one, but a stimulus nonetheless. Meanwhile, the British government began heavy spending cuts in 2010. This provided the perfect comparison: stimulus or austerity? Which would win?

Stimulus won convincingly. The US economy is showing increasing (but still weak) growth and unemployment is starting to fall. Meanwhile, growth has completely stalled in the UK, and we may have already entered another recession. UK unemployment is rising fast. The bad news is that moronic Western governments are now all determined to use austerity before the economy is strong enough to take it, despite the lessons of the US/UK experiment (which proved yet again that Keynes was right).

Score: 10/10

Prediction 5: Oil price rises, morons draw wrong conclusions

As demand for oil rises globally, the price can only go up. As I predicted, the price rose strongly until April. At that point, new fears emerged over the US and European economies, and the price started to slide. It then rose again, and finished the year higher than it had begun. This prediction wasn’t difficult – energy prices are going to keep rising fast until huge investment is made in non-fossil fuels. And (as I pointed out), the Republicans controlling the House of Representatives won’t let that happen; neither will the oil-industry-loving Conservatives in the UK. We continue to wait for Germany and China to deliver mass, low-cost alternatives.

As for morons drawing the wrong conclusions: that was an even easier prediction. US morons blamed President Obama and demanded more domestic drilling (which is happening anyway). UK car-driving morons screamed that the government takes too much tax (missing the point that it’s only high taxes on fuel that have stopped us becoming even more addicted to oil than we already are).

Score: 10/10

Predictions 6 and 7: Jesus won’t return and the world won’t end

A fair number of morons believed the crazy predictions of preacher Harold Camping that Jesus would return on May 21st, and Judgement Day would come on Oct 21st. I bravely predicted this wouldn’t happen. And it didn’t. Yay!

Score 10/10

So I think I did pretty well. OK, I didn’t mention the Arab uprisings, the ongoing meltdown of Europe, the Japanese quake and tsunami, the rise of Occupy, or the laughable mess of the Republican Party’s race to find an opponent for Obama (I should at least have predicted the last one).

What do you think will happen in 2012? I reserve the right to “borrow” the best predictions and make them my own.

How To Tell If You Live In A Police State

Nazi Searches
Look Familiar?

Remember Freedom? It was that thing we were going to deliver to Afghanistan and Iraq. OK, so it was a little embarrassing when Iraqis joined the Arab Spring to demand the end of the US Occupation, but good intentions and all that…

So anyway, it turns out that the whole “War on Terror” thing may have backfired on us. As the Bush administration was warned, if you’re going to undermine rights on your own territory in order to “fight terrorism”, then, well – the terrorists can claim to have won. And so it now seems. Asian and African leaders can laugh out loud when the US State Department slaps their wrists for doing all the same things that the US has been guilty of over the past decade.

The slide from democracy into a police state is subtle. Some of the very people trumpeting the danger are the same ones supporting attacks on civil liberties. Here is a list of ten ways to spot the trend:

  1. The prison population increases. This isn’t due to increasing crime, but increasing fear of crime resulting in more laws and harsher punishments. Large prison populations are incompatible with freedom – that seems obvious, but morons don’t seem to have noticed. The US has the world’s biggest prison population (24% of total), followed by China (17%) and Russia (9%). Smell the freedom!
  2. You hear a lot about a “terrorist threat”. This is an excuse that has been used by dictators from Hitler to Gaddafi. The tiny number of successful attacks on Western targets in recent years is an indication that the “threat” is hugely exaggerated. But don’t expect morons to understand that.
  3. You hear a lot about “crime increasing” even if it isn’t. Crime is at a historic low in much of the Western World. Crime surveys agree with the official figures: people feel safer in their own neighbourhoods. However, the conservative media’s job is to convince people that life is becoming more dangerous, and the drip-feed of scare stories about crime takes its toll on morons. Fear of crime means that the police are allowed to get away with more abuses, most of which aren’t noticed by the frightened middle classes (though working class people in the inner cities certainly feel the pain of all that extra police attention).
  4. You hear about “knife crime epidemics” that don’t actually exist. This is a favourite in London. A growth in knife crime was “discovered” by the British media just before the mayoral election in 2008, just in time for the right-winger Boris Johnson to be elected. This led to more stop and searches by police (largely on young, non-white males). The UK murder rate has remained extremely low throughout. But morons are frightened, and fear allows the police state more leeway to act as it likes.
  5. You hear scary new phrases like “sexualisation of children”. “Sexualisation” was a clever PR invention by a UK-based Christian lobby group. This was drip-fed through the media so that the average moron has come to believe this is a sudden new problem, indicating some kind of moral breakdown in society. The truth is, all children become sexualised; it happens when they hit puberty, just as it has always done. However, it’s now being used by the UK government (and others) to justify new censorship measures, from Internet filtering to attacks on “explicit” music videos. The S-word has also recently been spotted in the US and Australia.
  6. Minorities become a “threat”. This, of course, is standard far-right methodology. Find a scapegoat that is too powerless to fight back, and imbue it with threatening attributes. It worked against the Jews and this time Muslims are taking the brunt. Moronic attacks on Muslims are gathering pace, especially in mainland Europe. Many morons believe in this “threat”, as a glance at my Twitter family will reveal.
  7. The police are allowed to stop and search someone without good reason. One of the foundations of a free society is that you don’t get harassed by the police unless they have good reason to believe you have committed a crime. This has clearly slipped a long way already, especially in the inner cities. And when young people finally get sick of it, the police are given even more powers to harass them.
  8. The police start finding new reasons to stop people. Terrorist laws are always (yes, always) used to attack free speech. In the UK, terrorism law has been used to harass press photographers who might expose police behaviour. In the US, the Patriot act has been abused to attack Occupy protesters. But the most pernicious of all are the drug laws; while these aren’t new, they are enforced, or not, at the whim of the police. Millions of people use illegal drugs, and always will, but that’s not the police’s concern; the drug laws are simply a proxy for being able to stop anyone, anywhere, any time.
  9. The police get ever-better weaponry, despite crime falling. The police recently deployed rubber bullets for the first time on the UK mainland. Because of increased violence? No, to create increased violence. This adds to the increasing armory of the police, already carrying tasers, batons and pepper spray. Thirty years ago, with much higher crime rates, the police managed without most of these weapons.
  10. Fellow citizens take an increasing interest in your private life. Before we go blaming the state for everything: remember, a police state depends largely on a moronic, frightened citizenship that believes the scare stories served out to them on a daily basis. Effective police states like that in Communist East Germany require citizen spies. Today, citizens are stoked up into constant fear about crime and terrorism and asked to report on “any suspicious activity”.

We’ve got ourselves into a mess. Many things need doing, including:

  • Repeal the Patriot Act and similar “anti-terrorist” laws elsewhere.
  • Make concerted efforts to cut prison populations – however much the morons may squeal.
  • Decriminalise drug possession, removing the police’s single biggest excuse to stop people.
  • Tighten stop and search powers to prevent their random use.
  • Confiscate the police’s arsenal of anti-citizen weaponry.
  • Strengthen laws against police violence – almost no officer is ever prosecuted, even when someone is killed.
  • Educate the morons: their fear drives a vicious circle of ever more aggressive state behaviour.

Is Capitalism Amoral Or Immoral?

It was fashionable (and desirable) until the mid-80s to question how well capitalism worked as a basis for running society. Then the social “greed is good” changes brought about by the Reagan/Thatcher revolution began to take hold of the Western (or at least the Anglo-Saxon) psyche, and it became a form of sacrilege to question the magic power of the free market to fix any problem, anywhere. That superstition gradually became established fact – until, of course, the system began to show its deep flaws in 2008.

Saturday’s Guardian carries a comment article from Tim Montgomerie (editor at the ConservativeHome web site) titled Capitalism is amoral – we’re our own worst enemy. The piece tries to make the case that the ills of recent years have been caused by “extraordinary government activism”, not by out-of-control markets. However, the examples supplied are weak – the author seems to accept, for example, that the main problem with Obama’s $787bn stimulus is that it was too small, given the scale of the crash. Another example given is the Iraq War, seeming to forget the huge profit motive of the oil, arms and reconstruction industries to make that senseless war happen.

But let’s challenge the core assertion, one that is so often repeated without challenge: Montgomerie repeats the popular idea that “Capitalism is not immoral but amoral. It does what its users demand of it”. Is that true? Does the profit motive always work for consumers? Montgomerie gives food and transport as examples, so let’s examine these industries: amoral or immoral?

Food Industry

It’s true that competition has given us more food choices that ever before. That applies to the wealthier parts of society, at least. In young markets, competition creates an explosion of choice, which is certainly a good thing. But once corporations became established in the food industry, strategies changed. Choice is just one way to attract a customer base, but there’s an easier way: make your customer dependent on your product. This is where the needs of the market and the needs of the consumer diverge. Humans are designed to seek out rare ingredients that we need. Meat fat was such a rarity in pre-history (before hunting tools were developed) that we find it highly attractive and addictive. Refined sugar is an addictive drug, only discovered in recent centuries. Salt is a generally rare and necessary substance that, again, we have a natural addiction to. So in the amoral world of the market, it makes sense to add increasing amounts of these ingredients to food, not because users are demanding them, but because profitability naturally rises as a result.

So far, as suggested by Tim Montgomerie, this is amoral behaviour, not immoral. No harm is intended. The next stage is this: scientific researchers (state-funded usually) begin to notice that people are getting fatter; that tooth decay is increasing; that diabetes and other diseases are rocketing. This information starts to spread to the consumer. It’s at this stage that markets lose their claim for amorality. The food industry now has three options:

Moral: listen to researchers and make food healthier, even if that hurts profits.

Amoral: continue to address the evolving desires of the market as consumer demand dictates. Of course, this does happen, but as the history of the food industry suggests, it’s far cheaper (and thus more profitable) to use healthy-sounding language than it is to take addictive substances out of your products.

Immoral: begin propaganda operations to counteract scientific research that might hurt profits. Most markets end up here. Once you have a consumer base hooked on your product, the logic of profit is remorseless: attack anyone or anything that threatens your bottom line.

In a young market, amorality (following consumer needs) is the way to go; but in mature market, the immoral choice is often the most profitable. Rather than simply track consumer demands, it’s more profitable to control them. Many examples can be found of immoral behaviour by the food industry in pursuit of profits: in the US, private corporations have often won contracts to supply schools with food and drink. The result is a fall in the quality of food eaten by children. Now they can get consumers addicted to junk ever younger, and resist the pressure to educate children about food and health, thus crushing future consumer demands for better food. In a perfect example of market immorality, in 1998 Oprah Winfrey ran a show exposing the appalling way the American beef industry was rearing cattle. The amoral response would have been to track any change in consumer attitudes, and change production techniques; but that would be hugely expensive. Far cheaper to shoot the messenger, as Oprah found to her cost. She immediately lost advertising and faced action, both legal and propaganda to discredit her. She backtracked quickly, providing a non-critical “interview” with a beef industry rep. to “set the record straight” (i.e. lie without interference). Examples like this are legion: the food industry will viciously attack anyone that questions the health of its products (remember McLibel?)

Transport Industry

We can apply the same approach to transport. Mass transit (when not starved of investment), offers the fastest, cheapest and most fuel-efficient way to carry large numbers of people and goods. From the 1940s, the car provided an alternative that was more glamorous but slow, expensive and fuel-hungry. Sure, people desired cars, but they wouldn’t trash superior transport systems for an inferior one. Given that cities only had the space for a fraction of their population to use cars, would people destroy their environments just to own cars?

Enter the car mafia, comprising several industries: car manufacturers, tyre manufacturers, road builders, and of course, oil producers. Car transport requires far more resources than rail, trams and buses: huge, multi-lane highways which require vast amounts of space. More space still needed for parking (most private cars spend most of their lives wastefully parked). And most important of all, cars burn far more fuel than mass transit to move the same numbers of people. Would consumers abandon cheap, fast transport for slow, expensive transport? Of course not; but they were never given the choice.

The car mafia set about destroying mass transit, which they could never have competed against in a free market. Across the US, between 1936 and 1950, mass transit systems vanished as the car mafia went into action, destroying electric transport infrastructure. History tells us how happy post-war consumers jumped at the chance to own cars, and that’s undoubtedly true; less is said about the abolition of transport choice. Free market fundamentalists claim markets create choice, but the opposite is often true.

In the UK, the world’s greatest rail system was cut to pieces; between 1950 and 1975, the railways were slashed from 21,000 miles to 12,000. The most significant steps were taken in the 1960s by Dr Richard Beeching, Chairman of British Railways. Beaching was encouraged to cut the railways by Ernest Marples, the Conservative Transport Minister. Marples also happened to be a major shareholder in a construction company that made huge amounts of money from motorway construction. This story is an important part of modern British history, and the name Ernest Marples should be remembered as one of Britain’s best known crooks. But the car mafia, and their tame media, have ensured the British people have forgotten what happened to our transport system

The transport market has failed; we make ever slower journeys for ever higher cost, and most people use the car not by choice, but because choice was taken away to increase profits.

And The Rest

Given the choice of being amoral and following consumer needs, or immoral and crushing competition, the car mafia did what any market does: follow profit at any cost to society. The consumer doesn’t lead; he takes what corporations offer, which is often the most inefficient and expensive (and hence profitable) option. Markets do work, when they’re young and genuinely competitive, but that is a temporary phase. Endless examples can be found of market immorality: the Iraq War was fought so that the US taxpayer could be fleeced of $trillions by US corporations; the millions spent on climate change denial have shored up billions in oil industry profits; the tobacco industry likewise denied the cancer link for decades after the evidence was available.

Markets are good at creating and incubating fresh ideas and new technology. They liberate individuals and societies from bureaucracy and make societies more creative. But this is always a temporary effect. Established markets will support literally anything – murder, slavery, war – to hold on to their privileged positions. So Tim Montgomerie and other “markets are amoral” fundamentalists are disingenuous, only telling half the story. Markets are immoral; only a strong, well-funded democratic state can hope to keep them in check.