Tuesday, December 24, 2013

Christmas Eve

The house is stuffed full. Of food and wrapped pieces of injection molded plastic, of Barbies and sausage rolls. While I find the burdens of middle class Christmas celebrations ethically suspect and more so every year (more and more stuff can't be the answer to love) I am grateful for the joy I feel when my daughter wonders at every ornament and sometime even dances with happiness. And I draw strength from the ancient assured pronouncements in the carols that this baby is going to make everything all right. That if anything is sacred in this world, it is this baby. Well, more accurately, if anything is sacred in this world it is the veneration of goodness we give to this baby, and the hope for a new world he brings.

We get our cues from the angels, the three kings, the glorious scripture: "For unto us a child is born, unto us a son is given: and the government shall be upon his shoulder: and his name shall be called Wonderful, Counseller, The mighty God, The everlasting Father, The Prince of Peace."

Let me stop Isaiah right there. It's the government part, it's the prince of peace part. Because I am ever mindful that even as we open the good Chablis tomorrow the wind is howling at our doors. The world is in decline, hijacked by a few, a government hijacked by money so that what is truly best for the people is ignored. The poor get poorer, the banks stay rich, the police state closes in, the infrastructure crumbles, conflicts fester all over the world and war profiteers grow ever more wealthy. Billions of our species have no access to education, a billion don't even have clean water. Suffering is everywhere.  But since we work harder and harder for less and less, and since this has been the case for many long years, our will to rise up and put the government on the shoulders of someone who more or less was willing to be prince of peace is not there. Hell, we don't have time to sign internet petitions or show up at a single protest, let alone foment a revolution. 

Everyone just projects their own shit onto Jesus but I am not the only one who really grooves on the revolutionary. On the game changer. I groove on it and what's more, I am freed of all specifics as an ex-Christian, I'm looking for anyone who is willing to lead people to justice. I personally would really like a prince of peace. If you think you might fit this description (gender is not relevant), send me an email. 

I am working on a play biopic of Bill Clinton and the more I learn the more I am humbled and amazed. Don't worry, the play will not be hagiography. But I bring it up because the guy has the right attitude. He has that prince of peace attitude.  He thinks he can change things for the better, and he does. Kosovo, Ireland, the United States, Israel, Palestine, Malawi. If component parts of that personality include a certain lust for life and an unshakeable self-regard, then so be it.  The world could use a lot more Bill Clintons. 

When you look for the people of our lifetime in the running for Jesus-like stature, you always come across some serious personality flaws: Elvis. And you also come across some seriously subversive behavior toward the State: Martin Luther King, Mandela.  (Mandela believed in violent insurrection against the state and was tried for treason) (Want to be as good as Mandela?) (Plenty of opportunities these days)

Mariella Frostrup wrote many years ago about the environmental movement. She said she was longing for a green Jesus. Someone to show her the way about what was right. Everything from getting on an aircraft to using cloth napkins. I agreed. And what's more, now I wish for a regular Jesus too who could save the earth but also bring peace and equality. I don't expect him or her to be anywhere near a church. But I am keeping my eyes open. Because I'm with ee cummings and I think miracles are yet to come.  I think we need them. And I think if we look for them, if we try to attract them, we might find one, and it might be ourselves. 

I realize most Christians find my writing blasphemous so sorry but for me the messiah is hope, it's a feeling of hope, and I don't care if it comes from Santa or Superman or Scrooge after he wakes up, or Bill Murray when he talks about getting greedy for that good feeling in Scrooged, or the reformed Grinch, or George Bailey. I don't care. I don't care if  it's Rudolph or Frosty. It's that veneration of goodness that leads to hope.  It's that new idea for Christians that love wins. 

It's my faith that this hope and this love will materialize in the world, that miracles are yet to come.  The justice is possible. Perhaps futile. Perhaps the glass of wine in a warm house and plenty of plastic for the children is the best I can do. But perhaps not. Perhaps not. And you too, perhaps not. You too. 



Sunday, November 3, 2013

Rhythm of Life, Sammy Davis, Jr., Sweet Charity

Imagine a girl, a thirteen-year-old girl going over to Bridgewater for Christmas with the British relatives right around 1980, and imagine that girl, near dawn on the red-eye from JFK, on her British Air headphones, finding the soundtrack of Sammy Davis, Jr, singing The Rhythm of Life on the Sweet Charity soundtrack. Imagine her emblazoned spirits. Imagine her adoration.Imagine that in that burning moment, that song became a secret anthem of her soul. Imagine the girl thinking she held some secret. Imagine that girl growing up into a Washington litigator, combative and shrewd, over decades. And imagine that she never tells anyone about how much she loves this song.

Then imagine that girl turns 37 and has a baby boy in London with her new husband. And imagine that the boy grows up, and the family moves to Cambridge, and the boy enters a Cambridgeshire Choir. And then imagine that the choir sings Rhythm of Life. And the boy is taken with the song and teaches it to his four-year-old sister. So this tiny entity randomly shouts out at breakfast that "Danny started out in San Francisco, blowing on his trumpet loud and mean!" and invariably chants that "the rhythm of life is a poweful beat, puts a rhythm in your fingers and a rhythm in your feet. Rhythm in the bedroom, rhythm on the street, for the rhythm of life is a powerful beat."

Then imagine that the girl bears witness to her own children adopting her obsession with the song without a single word from her. Can that girl deny that at the heart of the universe there is a common music? Even if that girl has no time for words like "god"?

Monday, October 21, 2013

On the Ghosts of Government Shutdowns, past, present and yet to come.

I am working on a play about President Clinton and the recent shutdown inspired me to go back to the Gingrich - Clinton standoff in the shutdown of 1995-1996 (a two part shutdown as this current one will do doubt be). Washington was thick with gossip and snow. Three feet fell on the 21st day of the shutdown, 6 January 1996 and it was like Winter's Tale. Bars emptying for snowball fights, cross country skiing past the White House, people falling in love in line at Safeway nabbing the last diet cokes. Rumors of epic stand-offs in the course of the negotiations.

Washington is bipolar. If you are good, your polar opposite is bad. All perception exists within this narrative. The narrative of being at war with the bad guys. Except the bad guys are not the bad guys. They are you.  We are all Americans. We all want to live in a prosperous and fair country. We all say we want peace. Yet all our human virtues, all the longings of our spirits, all the goodness in our vast expansive souls is crammed down into an identity as a Democrat or an identity as a Republican. And all that energy we get from our universe or our gods to express our love of justice - that is shrunken down to campaign donations.

The thing about the shutdowns is they are in some way, not even a conscious way, but in some way, they are a collusive distraction to the populace. Because we get concerned about a shut down without questioning the government that is being shut down. The list of agencies, councils, tribunals, marketing arms, commissions, subsidies - the list is equally bloated by both parties in the Faustian pact that is killing democracy.  Besides the courts, the state department and the armed forces (things expressly considered in the constitution) we have a huge list that essentially constitutes business or cultural subsidies to donors. Quid pro quos.

But everyone needs to get elected, and everyone needs donations, in fact, that is the first thing they tell someone interested in running for Congress - get out there and beg for money. It is a deeply ingrained culture of supplication to power. And so the power remains, and the Rs and the Ds carve up the districts in complicated deals (that involve creating more donor subsidies), and the system is in so much stasis, it is so glued down and unfree, purely the functionary of capital markets. The R's and the D's are like two identical massive nearly dead coral reefs next to each other in some vast sea, and when a tiny fish swims by, when an anemone pokes its head up, it is very exciting because even though it is just a tiny thing, at least it is some change, something to look at.  But the coral reefs don't change or move.

No one in Washington has the distance or the perspective (and many are too arrogant to listen to critical reasoning) to recognize the mass bipolar disorder. So who can bring balance? Can the voters bring balance? Not with pre-decided districts and purchased elections. And not with money. So many lovely people I know in Washington truly believe the answer is to give more money to their chosen democratic candidate. If I said that in the context of my individual bipolar - like, say, I need to barricade myself in a suite at George V and drink only vintage Champagne - they would make me take anti-psychotics. Yet that seems a perfectly normal thing to say.

There is no difference between the Rs and the Ds on perpetual war, on the bloated intelligence budget, on the subsidization of capital markets, on the rule of the banks, on the secret courts, on the surveillance of the populace. Neither party dares for any real districting reform. Both just want to afford a nice retirement in a post-Citizens United world. The insiders are very wealthy. Have you been to Washington lately? It is getting more and more like Capitol City in the Hunger Games.

Are the voters without power completely? Is the transfer to a plutocracy in service to capital markets complete? I fear it might be. I live in Europe. I don't know.  (At this point I am tempted to say please wake up, we are all living in police states but there is also an untreated American-Terrorist bipolarity that prevents me) But the next time the government is being shut down, just wonder if in fact you are being distracted. Distracted by the theater of an old West showdown with a winner and a loser. And ask yourself what you are being distracted from. Crippling wealth inequality, continuing environmental degradation, countries bankrupting themselves buying arms.  And try not to be distracted by the Great Distractors of American Politics, those topics that somehow have culturally consumed your love of justice, your love of virtue, your love of America, your passion. That great love has been condensed down into the sticky residue of abortion, gun control, health care: our flashpoints.  It does none of us any service to dwell in these flashpoints  - we have a government with a chronic, infectious mental disorder, and we must work together in new ways to rebalance our poor mad leaders.



Monday, October 14, 2013

Thoughts on a New Political Party

Today in activist world I was thrilled to be invited to a meeting tomorrow of Cambridge Left Unity, a group of people exploring a new political party.

I think that is good news. It looks union-supported, which could be good (although unions have their own issues). In some ways I hope it would not be a re-hash of Labour because of the stink of Blair and the fundamental slavery to the banks. But in some ways I hope it is an incarnation of the ideals of Labour. In part I hope this because people here do not change political party easily. It's not like America where many people I know have voted for different parties in different election. Here, it's like every element of your identity - it is kind of handed to you at birth. You are Labour. You are a Conservative.

One thing we know about all the political parties that have sway right now is that a core element of the identity of the leadership is upper class. Your socio-economic identity is important too. The network and consensus of Eton and Oxbridge cannot be overlooked.  The government is made up of people who really have very little idea of the responsibilities of managing day to day life in the working class or middle class. The government is made up of people who like most Americans believe that if you are poor, you just weren't trying very hard. The government is all made up of people who believe that every corporation is entitled to a share of the profits. This is their reality more than any compassion or mercy. The prisons are workhouses that line rich men's pockets. The buses run without schedules or maps, because that increases the profit to the CEO.  The Justice Ministry budget is cut by one-third between 2010 and 2015. One third. To me that is the worst statistic of them all. Without access to the courts, people have no access to the rule of law, and if people don't have access to the rule of law, they cannot challenge state decisions (imprisonment, deportation). The state has no accountability. That any government would commission a nuclear submarine at the cost of two billion dollars in favor of shaving the JUSTICE DEPARTMENT is simpy unbelievable.


And the Parliament itself is strangely powerless as well - although we did have that wonderful moment with the Syria vote. They are all colluding in these cuts.

I am thinking back to the hearings prior to the Leveson inquiry, when the MPs asked only safe questions to save the media empire and the police too much embarrassment (pure theatre). I am thinking about the arms industry, which fuels the UK's biggest export. I am thinking about the inability of government to force utilities into efficiency and against greed. I am thinking back to the multiple instances of police and Home Office misconduct and cover-ups  and possibly murders and how somehow, the MPs do not raise their voice. The Home Office does nothing to restrain the police, the police are governed by the IPCC which is an advocate for the police rather than a neutral judge. To me, reform of these fascist tendencies (no more apparent than in Occupy) it would be a welcome element of a new party platform.

Any new party would have to go in eyes wide open to the possibility that things are controlled by corporations much more than we have even considered.

Even the metrics are way, way off. We don't even know how bad it is. The Economist ran an article about the amazing vanishing crime rate in the UK. It was basically accusing the government of obscuring true statistics. And when Osborne says the Tories will run a budget surplus by 2020, hot damn, people, he is only saying that because he is confident he can completely manipulate the statistics.

I don't think anyone truly interested in ending austerity has much use for the mainstream media, but the information I get that is not from the mainstream media is that a lot of people in this country are hungry and in need. Ending hunger within Britain could be a unifying factor.

You will need a unifying factor. You could harness the spirit of revolution. The middle class needs to thrive and survive. I can say that it is actually pretty exhilarating to stand up for what you believe in.

Any new party would have to inspire people to change the habits of a lifetime in their party affiliation. But it could be done. I am from Occupy. I believe in the 99%. I think that it doesn't even need to be a Left party, it can be the 99%, a centrist party. Because the structural problems are as simple as the rule of law and the fundaments of fair taxation, and I think the 99% in Britain agree with the rule of law and fair taxation.  But considering how things have been going the last twenty years,I am not sure that any clear heir of Labour can even begin to bring in the outsider reform-minded strategy that would be the only hope.

One big hit piece of legislation, like making all banks non-profit, or legislating utility profit margins, or funding the courts (this is a big one), or reforming property taxes, or adopting a Green trade policy could very quickly generate a legitimate boost to the economy.

The more any new party tries to move away from the fundaments, the more trouble they are going to have. The central idea, the inspiring wave, the beautiful dream is that the people rise up and take back their own power, that the sacred ground of Runnymede is not forgotten. And while my generation has been greedy and myopic about their power and their rights, it is not too late. It is not too late for us to do right by our children. But we would have to ask our friends and families to get out of their ancient identities, to reach out across the ghettos.

I don't think Left Unity needs to put on any of the ridiculous garments of the previous parties. Reform the NHS, reform Ofsted, reform the FSA. That is noise, not signal. Those are diversions, and petty, destructive diversions at that. What parliament has done to the good people serving the ill and vulnerable is atrocious: consultants and fire sales. What parliament has done selling off a national security service that the Crown should provide its people in good times and in bad (Royal Mail) is atrocious. The taxes that the wealthy pay are atrocious. The taxes that corporations pay are atrocious. People have to opt for a better world and a lower profit margin. The people have to make them.

And as always I think that people should be invited under a new party umbrella how I saw the 99%.  all inclusive. Believing in the rising tide of the human spirit, fighting for the rule of law and mercy on the most vulnerable - that could be a left thing. But it is also a spiritual thing, it is also a core of people's political and nonpolitical idenity. Some would say that it is almost their religion. Justice and mercy are virtues. This is about being a good human being. It is about being an excellent human being, actually.

There are many of these excellent human beings on this island. Many. But in my experience they are too much in the box of their identity to be able to roll up their sleeves and work with the other 99%. Oh, I'm a socialist, I'm in a union, I'm with UK Uncut, I believe in direct action, I believe in punching the shit out of the EDL - we are all in our ghettoes. My Occupy Cambridge ghetto on Facebook I will attest is the loneliest ghetto of them all.

I hope the "unity" in Left Unity means that it will like Occupy inspire people to see that we are all massively the same in what we want and deserve from a just Government. Maybe I will see if my babysitter can come.

Monday, October 7, 2013

Scarecrow, Kaufman, Capitalism and Inspiration

So a friend of mine, a bright star of a friend, as in, she has been the speaker at a TED talk amazing, posted a viral marketing video for Chipotle, made in conjunction with a decision to locally source 2% of its vegetables. The video was a triumph of imagination, I was mesmerized by the animation and of course in tears with the tender message. It was about no less than the goodness of the earth, and the way humans had lost their way and parted from that goodness, but it was possible to reconnect with it through this burrito vendor, and say no to the gray existence our overwrought consumerism had forced upon us.

I gave her a hard time on her post, and posted in her timeline the spoof video about it made by Funny or Die. She took it to heart, and wrote a blog post about the experience and it really makes for good reading. I think it's so good because she is writing from the heart. This is a brave woman, willing to question anything and it inspired to respond. I mean, she calls me a cynic and that's a little wounding (she also called me one of the smartest people she knows, which was immediately retweeted by me with joyful abandon).

Her response is a defense of corporate responsibility as a real thing, and a good thing, and even, if you step back, a defense of capitalism. She comes from a place of knowledge, she has been at the forefront of change and innovation, she finds and sees the good in what comes of corporations.

In some ways she is preaching to the choir. The day I joined Facebook I said for political beliefs:

 Transparent Democracy, Civil Liberties and Capitalism is the way to go

And I still believe that. Let me just tell anyone reading this blog in the United States you have NO IDEA what it is like to believe in capitalism and be an activist who thinks the government should serve people and not banks. Holy god, the shit I take. But as my friend says in her post, the innovation and improvement in the lives of many people that capitalism creates is undeniable and powerful. People have to eat and they love eating. They have to sleep somewhere, wear something, get electricity - I don't think any other system has ever done more to meet these needs than capitalism - or at least a market economy.

And yet. And yet. Citizens United, my friends. The choking of democracy we see in Washington every day. These things are caused by corporations not being held to the rule of law as they should be. It costs a million dollars to run for Congress. I know. I got a little ways down that road. The only way to get that money is to start being beholden to private interests, which are largely corporate. Corporations decide what Universities investigate, how Sovereigns regulate the money supply, and how people forge their identity.

The harm of a capitalist system is that we have found ourselves puffed up with consumerism. As another wise friend of mine says with regard to the obesity problem, we have become human storage receptacles for surplus corn. But we also in America hinge our worth as humans by how wealthy we are, which is lethal to the soul. And we define ourselves by how we spend, not by who we are without reference to money.

That was a big point of my friend's defense, though, that she could define herself by her spending and make the world she wanted to from her consumer choices. My problem with that is that is ends with Kim Kardashian, who is only famous for her consumer choices. Other virtues are obscured. Other realities are unattended. The definition of self through spending choices has an odd tyranny, as if no other definitions of selves had substance. Your identity is what you have bought for yourself. I feel like the consumer part of our identity should be shrunk, should be shrunk like the number of legal derivative trades, down to a very low level. So that the genius and innovation and goodness of supply can shine through, but the people who are being supplied have spiritual and physical identities that are not shaped by marketing campaigns.

My friend said that I was a cynic, which means I believe people only act out of self-interest. I know that to be false. But corporations act for profit, and I know that to be true. So call me a corporate cynic. I align with every corporate law professor in the Western world.

But do I want corporations to go? No,  I think capitalism -a market economy populated by limited liability companies - is the most successful means to distribute goods and services humans have yet devised. I guess I want people to be bigger than corporations. I want people to be supremely cynical and skeptical of the profit motive.  It is a pretty base desire. The desire to better the world, to meet needs, to create a delicious food - those desires co-exist with the profit motive. But they need not be completely co-dependent on the profit motive. My friend defended capitalism with the argument that many business networks help people in need. That is true. But it is the people helping, not the corporations.

And as for Apple, I just think of that net they had to put up to slow down the rate of suicides at Foxconn.

Here is what Charlie Kaufman had to say on this point in the context of screenwriting:


It’s also equally ludicrous to believe that – at the very least – this mass distraction and manipulation is not convenient for the people who are in charge. People are starving. They may not know it because they’re being fed mass produced garbage. The packaging is colourful and loud, but it’s produced in the same factories that make Pop Tarts and iPads, by people sitting around thinking, ‘What can we do to get people to buy more of these?’

And they’re very good at their jobs. But that’s what it is you’re getting, because that’s what they’re making. They’re selling you something. And the world is built on this now. Politics and government are built on this, corporations are built on this. Interpersonal relationships are built on this. And we’re starving, all of us, and we’re killing each other, and we’re hating each other, and we’re calling each other liars and evil because it’s all become marketing and we want to win because we’re lonely and empty and scared and we’re led to believe winning will change all that. But there is no winning.

What can be done? Say who you are, really say it in your life and in your work. Tell someone out there who is lost, someone not yet born, someone who won’t be born for 500 years. Your writing will be a record of your time. It can’t help but be that. But more importantly, if you’re honest about who you are, you’ll help that person be less lonely in their world because that person will recognise him or herself in you and that will give them hope. It’s done so for me and I have to keep rediscovering it. It has profound importance in my life. Give that to the world, rather than selling something to the world. Don’t allow yourself to be tricked into thinking that the way things are is the way the world must work and that in the end selling is what everyone must do. Try not to.
End of quote.

Behind every corporation is some group of people, and people are the real magic. And people defined without reference to consumerism are the most magical people of them all.

During my work with Occupy I kept envisioning the hyperconsumerism of our time as some kind of swelling, something that needed to be cooled and stilled. If it could be, I think that people would be more interested in the non-consumer aspects of their identity. Their relationship to the State, to humankind, to their God, to their family. If they weren't so busy amassing the payments on their chronic debt, they could do amazing things.If the rule of law could reign in the systemic damage corporations have done to democracy and sovereignty, then that would be amazing too.

Just to say thank you my friend for taking my crank post seriously and therefore inspiring me to think on this more.

Saturday, October 5, 2013

Runnymede is sacred ground

So I never liked the idea of a direct action in the first place, the idea of a road block, annoying busy people, didn't have much to do with what we were protesting. And it seemed that we were alienating the very people who should be the most disconcerted with the cuts to the Ministry of Justice budget, which was, in the end, the reason we were there.

And I didn't like the chants of "We Hate The Tories" that came in at the end. I really enjoyed "Save our legal aid!" and I could have gone all day with "Law and Justice for the Masses, Not Just For the Ruling Classes" But when they start with we hate the Tories I just get discouraged that people aren't seeing the bigger picture. If you think there is a real difference between Tories, Lib Dems and Labour, you are kidding yourselves. What economic or policy decision would have been substantively different under any other party? There's no point in these negative emotions. I don't stand in the streets against anyone. I stand for something. I stand for justice. Standing against something diminishes me because I become defined as its opposite. I am a sacred miracle of life, as are you, and I do not want to be diminished.

What I really loved was going to the Man on The Moon pub after, which has become a squat, a sort of free pub. I have no objection to these kinds of places but I find the protocol baffling. Do we just get up and make ourselves some tea? Is a particularly poignantly placed drop in the donations box likely to be taken as an order? Dare I hope? Forgive me.

Anyway, I met some of the Cambridge Socialists and it was so refreshing to spend time talking to people who take as a given the failure of constitutional democracy when it is clogged by monetary interests. Honestly, I am so inspired by libertarians and anarchists these days, and people with the integrity to maintain and work on their understanding of their relationship with the state, and what they want and believe. It was fascinating that almost everyone I talked to had this view of Anonymous as a bunch of questionable, possibly criminal characters. Since I entered the world of activism from Occupy and only from Occupy, I hold in very high estimation Anonymous and UK Uncut both, not only for their positions but for the quality of character in their leaders. This anarchist worldview is like some kind of new Stoicism. It requires rigorous analysis of the justice of all your own actions. Anyway, I kind of dig it especially as I watch what is happening in my country, the approval ratings of Congress, the state of the European economy, the endless oppressions in the Middle East. The model of governance we have relied on is dysfunctional and outdated. It is time to think of a new thing. It is time to gather under the umbrella of the 99%. Or at least I think.

The police were delightful today, how I thought police should be, standing away and not getting too involved, communicative and friendly with the protesters. I thought they were good. Of course they were good, in part, because the organizers did whatever they said. It kind of undermined the power of the protest in a way, but I didn't love the roadblock anyway, so I'm not going to worry about it. It is a tremendous thing to be relieved in some small way of my paranoia. And while my system crashes and Finfisher issues and phone problems still are unrelieved and spell to me "police state" I was mostly encouraged. I was mostly encouraged because these guys were definitely going to let us get our point across and I appreciated it.

I don't think we really worked up our point as much as we could have. Big picture, everyone. While people were debating the minutiae of the proposed budget cuts, I brooded on a forest/trees issue. The noise on the particulars is not good, but the sound is the chop, the point is the one third cut in the Ministry of Justice budget between 2010 and 2016. That is an assault of a fact. It is a real fuck you to the populace. It is removing recourse to the rule of law (to people like prisoners and immigrants). It is fulfilling Mussolini's definition of fascism. It is removing resistance to the state. If you want the state (hand in hand with the 1%, because the state just follows the dictates of bankers) to be unaccountable - if you want there to be no way to question or stand against the decisions of the state, then by all means be silent on these budget cuts. By all means jettison the rule of law. Man, so many cars were full of angry faces because our brief roadblocks were cutting short their shopping time. We are so poisoned by consumerism. We don't even see it. Identity is so much what you have and how you look here. Anxiety about meeting or god forbid missing social norms fuels debt creation. And we were standing in their way with a stupid road block.

There was a good spirit of camaraderie although, you know, there is nothing more horribly grating on the ears of the British than my braying East Coast Dora the Explorer American accent. I watched them visibly shrink at all my stereotypical American can-do, big smile, bull-by-the-horns attitude. It was a lot for the poor students to take, and I thank them. I really couldn't believe it though when just 70 minutes in people were saying they were fatigued and needed to go for a sit down. I got one word for you people: cardio.

No matter if you are an anarchist, libertarian, union member, socialist  - anyone who believes that the government should not have more rights than the individual - believes in the rule of law and needs the courts to make the ability of those most manipulated by the State to stand against the state. And the rule of law, I am telling you, that is the answer to all of the problems. The rule of law is to me a sacred thing. Courtrooms are sacred space. There is something that is a triumph of the human spirit to debate the truth in a courtroom or on a street, and in so doing, declare to the world that the State does not decide, in the end we decide, there is no justice, just us. Christians, take heed, where were you today?

So everyone who showed up to the Crown Court is to me some kind of hero, however imperfect, a hero. Because those people took the fight for that sacred space to the streets. And I don't care how we are different, I only care how we are the same.  We stand against the unjust power of the state. That is a sacred place to be.

Update - no arrests

No arrests, mostly because the 25 protesters did what the police told them to do, which was to go ahead with the road block but stop every three minutes or so to let traffic past.  It was strangely disempowering to be following the directions of the police but at least there was no kettling or, as I said, arrests.

I don't love road blocks, I realize there is a history, but people seemed mostly annoyed, and it is not really the point. I like standing in the streets being for something, not against something. But it was good to meet the kindred spirits also willing to stand. I felt like I couldn't really tell anyone that I wasn't against capitalism, but never you mind. All is well. Off to second birthday party now.

Friday, October 4, 2013

Thoughts on Tomorrow

First of all, I don't see how these sweet students coming to the protest planning on blocking the streets tomorrow end up anything other than arrested and charged. There hasn't been a protest in Cambridge since the brief occupation of Lady Somebody Hall and I don't think the latest police state shenanigans have really filtered into their collective consciousness. The minute they block traffic tomorrow I expect them to be arrested and the whole thing to end badly. Recent police reaction to Occupy Sussex and the Antifascist protester kettling shows that there is a whole lot to worry about. Never have I so fervently hoped that my paranoia was misplaced. I will write a dancing, weeping repentance of my cynicism in 24 hours if I was wrong, and the right to protest was respected. No one will be happier than me if that happens. But I've seen what I've seen, and I fear the worst.

Second, I am sweating in advance the multitude of logistical challenges facing us  on that most fateful of days, Saturday the 5th of October.. Theoretically, our middle class schedule tomorrow involves Ballet, Family Yoga, Kung Fu, Drum Lesson as well as two birthday parties. We have jettisoned large portions of the regular schedule so that birthday parties and protests may be attended. But we plan an evening out because my husband is playing guitar in a charity event jam at some pub on Mill Road. I feel academic papers could be written on the levels of logistical complexity tomorrow presents. Luckily, I have been tweeting my favorite Indian delivery place - the amazing Inders Kitchen - and they say they will deliver to jail tomorrow night.

Third, damned if I don't feel compelled to invite every person of faith that I know. What is my problem? I met up with a law school roommate on Tuesday who was in from NY and I was trying to explain to her about what it was like living in the UK. I really started zinging along when I mined the vein of "as if I haven't experienced enough rejection in my life, I feel I need to try to forge an alliance between Occupy and Christianity . . ." - it's a joke, right, how I keep trying. But I am right. If you are not visiting people in prison as Jesus asked you to, the least you can do is ensure they have access to the rule of law. And it's not just Christianity. The fire of Spirit of God is not in the temples or the mosques or the churches (that is where the Pharisees and Sadducees lived)  it is in the street with the wounded sinful outcasts. It is standing for the most vulnerable, the weakest, it is meeting their needs, it is calming their fears.

So of course in my Kantian pizza night manner I posit for all mankind the dictates of my soul - I say come! Come to East Road! Let's see how bad the police state is! Let's show the government that a few of us will stand for the rule of law. Or at least bear witness to their response to people who exercise their right to assemble.



Protest Tomorrow Cambridge Crown Court East Road Noon

5th October 2013Cambridge Crown Court – Support statement
People are gathered here to protest the cuts in legal aid that are part of an assault on the Ministry of Justice budget, which under the current government is slated to be cut by one-third between 2010 and 2016. (www.gov.uk/government/news 5 September 2013)
As a result, the most vulnerable people in our society: prisoners, immigrants, the working poor will not be able to secure legal aid. Sir James Munby, the Judge in charge of the Family Division of the Courts called the cuts “disconcerting” and said from the bench that “something should be done”. (www.familyandchildlawblogspot.co.uk)
The rights and liberties of the populace has seen an unprecedented assault in the last fifteen years. Our rights to protest and to privacy, to stand against the iniquities of the government at all have been eroded consistently, and now the ability of the poorest to protect their most fundamental rights is being diminished for cost savings, savings that most think are illusory. (See, e.g., Transforming Legal Aid, Civil and Prison Law Proposals: Justice at Risk? The Law Society, June 2013)
The economic collapse caused by the banks has stretched the middle class and the working class to the breaking point. It has made it more and more difficult to make a living, and we are all hard-pressed to find time to love and enjoy our families, let alone help right the wrongs in our country.  But the rule of law is fundamental. When it is only for the rich, our country is in danger of fascism. This is not a fringe issue. Access to the courts was the main demand at Runnymede. We need it still.
Please write to Minister Grayling and tell him you oppose these cuts. You can email him at general.queries@justice.gsi.gov.uk
Standing against the legal aid cuts is a way of standing up for the people with mental health problems in prison, the people with learning disabilities among the marginal poor, the people who the Crown seeks to arrest who have no one to defend them, the people known, in Christianity at least, as “the least of these my brethren”.


Monday, September 23, 2013

being the change you want to see in the world - Occupy two years out

The problem with being the change you want to see in the world is that you have to change, and that means you have to leave your comfort zone, and that means you are uncomfortable.

I remember when a neighbour in London told me she was getting a graduate degree in change management. I immediately went to the "this is bullshit" place in my mind (admittedly overdeveloped). It is the same place I go when people tell me they want to get an MBA. But really - eye roll - change management?

Things change. People deal with it. End of discussion. I wasn't quite that harsh, but nearly.

Years later, I am starting to see the point. I mean, I knew the who-moved-my-cheese point that change is scary. What I didn't think until recently is that change is something to be pondered, discussed, procedurally monitored and ethically considered. That's right, as always, I am back on the ethics - the moral foundation.

Because to navigate change, you need fidelity to a vision, a set of virtues and ideals. A blueprint, a guidebook. And this guidebook can't just be cold calculations, it has to be loved with hearts and minds. Justice. Liberty. Peace. Equality. The highest essence of humanity.

Much change we cope with is just consumerist bullshit of the highest order. Enforced obsolescence of technology, rebranding, repackaging, fashion - all change we spend our precious time responding to and for what? To serve a corporation's goal of increased shareholder return. That's all. As we worry about our skin care regime or our fall fashion "investments", a billion people live on less than $2 a say. A billion people go to bed hungry at night. Hundreds of millions of children have no schools.

But if you can get past that consumerist noise you are still in the middle of  vast change. To our climate, to the distribution of wealth, to the extent of our liberties and the efficacy of our government. And they are all getting much worse. All of those are much more important than what phone we have or whether we buy those ankle boots. But I think it is quite difficult to perceive those changes, because you do not continually have evidence before you. The oceans rising you may think about occasionally but the ankle boots you wear almost every day.

I would like to end with an exhortation to throw off your consumerist shackles and rise up! Normal people like us, we don't want war, we don't want carbon fuels to harm our environment, we don't want the government to turn fascist, we don't want money to control democracy. No one wants those things. So let's get some real change management, and turn these things around.

I would like to end with that exhortation, but I bought ankle boots today.

Some days I would defend myself.  My husband says that no one who campaigned against the 1% wanted so badly to be in it. [Fun fact: if you take the whole world as the 100%, you are in the wealthiest 1% if you make more than $38,000 a year (or the equivalent in another currency] [So under that standard I am in the 1%][I was hoping there would be move caviar.] The point is why can't I exhort people to throw off their consumerist shackles and also buy ankle boots? Why not?

Because then I am not being the change I want to see in the world.

You know in the early general assembly meetings at Occupy London, I did say in all seriousness that if any aspect of the movement endangered Champagne production I was out. I was only half kidding. When I showed up, I was kind of horrified at first by the anti-capitalist position. And I still think that capitalism should survive: revised, reigned in, trimmed of the baroque excesses of derivatives and structured financial products, made to serve humans more than shareholder return.  I like the competition of capitalism. I like the reward of (some) income inequality. I LIKE CHAMPAGNE.

Two years on from Occupy big anniversaries are in my heart. I still can't explain what it was like to watch the camera feed of the arrests on Brooklyn Bridge on October 1, 2011 without crying. What I am beginning to realize - just starting to see - is that Occupy was not a failure, it is not over, it was an irresistible force in the streets unlike anything I have known, it was humans gathered  to make a new guidebook:  not with cold calculations, but with loving hears and minds. Justice. Liberty. Peace. Equality. The highest essence of humanity.




Wednesday, September 18, 2013

Repellent News About Public Drunkenness

Today Northamptonshire Chief Police Constable Adrian Lee proposed that the management of public drunkenness in the UK be privatized.

Various police associations here have complained about having to deal with drunk people and now - like with the courts - privatization creeps in.

Please let me get this straight - you take a populace, put them under pressure just to earn enough to survive and then you take their chief cultural outlet for release of that pressure - cheap booze -- and you take its misuse as an opportunity for a private company to earn revenues. In fact, Lee called for it to be prohibitively expensive.

If this isn't a huge, steaming helping of blame the victim, then I don't know what is.

Since when are the police so overburdened with drunks that they can't handle the situation? Are you kidding? UK police report crime figures have vanished into nothingness (see recent Economist cover story).

The populace of so-called first world countries are little more to their leaders than sources of income. Not only taxes, but extreme fiscal penalties for drunkenness, or shareholder profit to G4S for every arrest in the privatized justice system, or Innocent smoothies or pieces of data.  Humans are treated resources for shareholder return.

Examples like this are extreme and this proposal - I hope - will not go through. But if you are searching for an understanding of the relationship of the state to the populace, this is a good example. You are an opportunity for shareholders to make money. That is all you are. Now get back to work and don't complain. And don't bother the police, they are very busy.

Sunday, September 15, 2013

For Jose

I am an owl. People give me owls  - my mom gave me one when I graduated from law school and the mother of one of my clients gave me one when I won a case and by the third time I could not help but conclude it was a clue about who I am. I am an owl. (Winnie the Pooh reality: I live in a tree and always know the official spelling). I am gray glazed pottery in texture, people bring me glazed pottery and it sits on wood and that is me. I am a messy eater. No one needs a washing machine more than me. I cannot navigate a car journey, it all seems very mysterious and complicated. I recognize myself once a day when I exercise, run or yoga or whatever, my body and I work together and this is the arc of memory that makes a coherent self possible. Not the coworkers or zip codes, or boyfriends or accomplishments, not a reflection in the mirror. But the same person has been running, rowing, chasing a tennis ball, dancing, on the cross trainer, in a step class, in a spin class, at ballet, doing Jane Fonda's Aerobics tape, doing Greg Smithy's Buns of Steel, whatever  - just trying to bring body and mind together and forget the monologue.

For many years the dark monologue was mostly the coherent arc of my identity. The familiar strains of vicious attacks on the self. Always the idiot, always the shameful fool, too ugly, too needy, unbearable. And this self-laceration became comforting in its familiarity even as it tore me down. No compliment was true and every criticism that hurt a thousand times more in its truth. I was always just the worst. I was condemned to hell. I grew up in an Evangelical church and at a cellular and doctrinal level, that was true. I was and am always full of sin. Unworthy.

Now I am old and tired of the dark monologue. Now I am wise enough to sometimes remember its falsity and when I am feeling strong, I think I will vanquish it forever. The Evangelical virus still lives in my muscles, in my nightmares, in the unloveableness of me. I am learning to work around it but geez what a hassle. I hope some time to even hono(u)r the owl and the gray glazed poetry.   I hope to believe all the people who say that they love me. I hope to let myself be worthy of their love by not changing a single thing about the gray glazed poetry and the owl and the laundry. I hope you will too.

Friday, August 30, 2013

goodbye Seamus Heaney

Blackberry-Picking
by Seamus Heaney

Late August, given heavy rain and sun
For a full week, the blackberries would ripen.

At first, just one, a glossy purple clot
Among others, red, green, hard as a knot.
You ate that first one and its flesh was sweet
Like thickened wine: summer's blood was in it
Leaving stains upon the tongue and lust for
Picking. Then red ones inked up and that hunger
Sent us out with milk cans, pea tins, jam-pots
Where briars scratched and wet grass bleached our boots.
Round hayfields, cornfields and potato-drills
We trekked and picked until the cans were full
Until the tinkling bottom had been covered
With green ones, and on top big dark blobs burned
Like a plate of eyes. Our hands were peppered
With thorn pricks, our palms sticky as Bluebeard's.
We hoarded the fresh berries in the byre.
But when the bath was filled we found a fur,
A rat-grey fungus, glutting on our cache.
The juice was stinking too. Once off the bush
The fruit fermented, the sweet flesh would turn sour.
I always felt like crying. It wasn't fair
That all the lovely canfuls smelt of rot.
Each year I hoped they'd keep, knew they would not.

Monday, August 12, 2013

Edinburgh Fringe Review 2013: Finally the women are taking over

The first show I saw got me so excited I floated through the rest of the day. The tag line is Samuel Becket meets Larry King in a new play by CJ Hopkins. Two actors, 70 minutes, a putative pundit interviewing an author in a Washington insider Sunday morning talk show. It's called The Extremists. It starts and quickly the cascade of bullshit starts washing over you. Every hollow buzz word and button pressing, the speculation about the extremists, who they were, how we could protect ourselves by keeping our heads down and not thinking about it. The dialogue is both rapid-fire and repetitive. But then almost imperceptible it turns, the cascades change, the intention change, the true hearts of the humans come out. It was a little like watching a Sizek philosophy lecture, a little like watching an Anonymous video. They discuss the fact that no one has successfully transformed the state without violence in the past. (Ignoring my beloved Havel I might add).  I was stirred and inspired and provoked. You may still be able to get tickets for this one. It is at Assembly Roxy.

Then to The Events, the new David Greig play at The Traverse about a nice lesbian minister who is dealing with the aftermath of being the teacher in a mass shooting at her show choir/community drop in center. It was good, it was ingenius. It was really dark. It was the kind of play I discuss in the lobby after and tell people what I thought it meant and they get despondent and then I feel bad that I've shown them that much darkness. But the thing is, the choir was not healing choirmaster. The play opens with a choir - and they use an American college choir for this, not professional actors, singing their hearts out in the Glee version of War! What is it good for? as she sits in a funk. It ends after a striking retelling of the events of the shooting with the choir singing - moved to tears by the experience of the soaring melodies - but  even as these college kids have glistening tears backlighting their carefully applied mascara, for the audience the singing has no healing power - it's been plunged into the falsity of Glee. Its surfacy, fake community feel was actually creepy.

From there to Tom Wrigglesworth  - I saw two excellent comedians try their hand at confessional, autobiographical one man shows, Wrigglesworth and Phil Nichol. They were perfectly good shows and had their moments, but to me that genre risks being maudlin by its nature and, well, their grief is their grief and their stories are their stories but I wanted either one of two things: either more self-knowledge revealed for the audience or more laughs.

Then to my surprise LOVE (I always know that Assembly is going to be good and Traverse is going to be amazing but who knows at some of these other places) we saw Fleabag, a show by a company called Dry White. One twenty-something woman recounts her career, romance and friendships in London. It just could have been very boring, but it was riveting and beautiful and true. The Lena Dunham theme emerged: that women's friendships matter more to them than their romances, but they will sacrifice the former for the latter every time. The economic wasteland that is London, the frank review of the pleasures and perils of running a cafe with a guinea pig. The performer -Phoebe - is so mesmerizing. Maybe it takes a whole theatre company to create a stunning one person show. This generation is so listless and consumerist and over-awed by the male gaze. This generation is the same as me. This is interesting to think about.

The next morning up and early to Baby Wants Candy - an improv group that is offering a couple two hour workshops on improvising musical theatre. I have a musical theatre project I will work on in the near future and so it was great to get a glimpse of the scaffolding of form and  theory they use. Baby Wants Candy improvised musicals are a hot ticket - and for good reason. These guys get three seconds from the audience suggestions of place and time to the opening number. It's intimidating but if you are enlightened enough to be free of pride, then it is super fun.

I really liked getting an opportunity to practice "Yes, and. . .".  That is the answer to everything.

Then a delightful lunch at The Living Room on George Street and the decadent low-down trip to SpaceNK and we were at Grounded at the Traverse. Reams have been written about the brilliance of Grounded. A one-woman show - a fighter pilot grounded by pregnancy becomes a drone pilot in Las Vegas and slowly loses her mind. My ever informed lovely Fringe companion Ellen let me in a little fact: post traumatic stress disorder is higher in drone pilots than in combat soldiers. They don't know why, but the theory is that a fair fight is less stressful than playing God. This woman was a phenomenal character, Tom Cruise in Top Gun but as a hot blonde woman who loves AC/DC. The way that the screen and she merged, and the horrific monotony and evil of what she was asked to do broke her down but the way she chose to tell the story was what killed you. Beautiful imagery, acting just incredible. Should be on the must-see list of anyone who is wondering what staring at a screen all day is doing to the minds of humans. You will never get tickets in this festival, but if it comes near you don't miss it. Probably the best thing.

We then watched 20 minutes of Pendulums Bargain Emporium which seemed so fiendishly interesting and good that I really didn't want to leave, but I had fallen for the hype of another show. A show called The Play That Went Wrong. The rumor is it was signed straight to the West End before it even opened in Edinburgh. It is pretty hilarious and I think it will be a big hit and it is just the thing to bring people to see. A play within a play at a junior college. The theatre director's last chance, mayhem and missteps and on-purpose amateur acting of the most hilarious calibre. Sit near the front. First because there are a lot of dead bodies who can't sit still (we couldn't see them at the back) and second because the lines are very blurred and tekkies come down from the light booth to mess with the lights hanging right above the audience's heads before the show uttering unreassuring curses and expressions of ignorance. Some of the moments were exquisite. I love to laugh my head off. I love the old gags. I loved how it played with and subverted all comedy expectations and gave them new life. A locked door, a falling picture, a misplaced prop. Two shout-outs; first to a foppish white boy romantic lead who delivered all his lines like Kanye West and second to the best on-stage concussions I have ever witnessed. Also judicious use of snow.

Across town to St. Stephens, a venue I have shunned since a bad experience with Eastern European dancers fanning feathers randomly across a stage there in 2005. I overcame my issues to see On The Other Hand which was a circular, feminine, painful storytelling of four women in vignettes unrelated or related, which ingenius sets, and great theatricality. The plight of women, the endless struggle for identity, what we give to our children and what we are ourselves. It was a mushy round hole of a space to be in, foreign in a way, but I was glad to be there. It was very different from the rest of the Fringe, and that is a good thing.

The next morning to Ciara at 10:00 am at the Traverse. You won't get tickets and it's pronounced Kee-rah, not See-air-a which is how I pronounced it until the show started.   It starts as a rich Karen-Walker-esque art gallery owner from Glasgow telling her story and morphs into a Tarantino organized crime thriller.  Ciara is the daughter of a crime boss and heroin dealer, proud and ashamed, but it is the juicy narrative and compelling performance that makes this such a joy.

Besides Fleabag, my other surpose LOVE was Uncanny Valley. I didn't know what the Uncanny Valley was until after the play was over. From Wikipedia:

The uncanny valley is a hypothesis in the field of human aesthetics which holds that when human features look and move almost, but not exactly, like natural human beings, it causes a response of revulsion among human observers.

This was a love story between a robot and Wilson Grey, an orphan whose parents had died in a storm. It was told by three robot-human hybrids who had been sent from the very far future to tell the story of Wilson, who was the most important human in their history. How I wish I could attend the Jacques le Coq school of mime and theatre from whence so much of the genius I have seen on the UK stage has sprung.

First, in devised theatre style the boundaries were blurred. The female robot who played the romantic lead greeted people as they came in. Except Ellen and I were deeply, deeply engrossed in a discussion about the surrealist nature of drafting commercial contracts. Suddenly we looked up and there was a perfectly robotic human gazing deeply into our eyes with affection. That's the Fringe, baby! That's why you shouldn't miss it. These moments are just so weird and wonderful. Wilson Grey, the human orphan, becomes an apprentice weatherman to Chris Diamond - an exquisitely realized weatherman/media personality.

The scenes where Wilson and the robot first interact are too magical for even me to spoil.

I will tell you about two scenes. Wilson seeks knowledge of his cyborg love (gifted to him by his uncle) at a museum of robots. He sees the first robot, devoid of taste and feeling. Then he meets the laborer robot, skilled only at work. Finally he meets a robot used in therapy that is only skilled at mirroring the interior emotional life of the person it touches. The robot touches Wilson and then screams in agony and fear relentlessly. I loved that because if the robot touched me, that is exactly what it would do too. I felt for Wilson.

And I felt for his bravery when he hijacked the Chris Diamond weather show to sing Mona Lisa to his beloved robot. We saw the robot watching it on television and realizing that he loved her, and that this was just for her. And we knew how brave he was to sing it. So I am in the second row crying my eyes out at this when Wilson catches my eye as he sings. He gives me a look that says - "I am so proud of myself that this is moving you to tears.". I roll my eyes and shoot him a narrow side-eye that says, "You're not that good a singer, it is just the context that is making me cry and I don't appreciate you crowing about it.".  Now that is some theatre! But actually his voice was dreamy.

Which made it somehow harder when the robot broke his heart because of the Uncanny Valley she knew was coming.

The thing about Uncanny Valley was that it hinted at being a trilogy. I definitely wanted more.

I always want more.

Until next year, signing off.

The 4 Festival and the Three Day Play: Liberty and Owain.

This summer in our back yard nine children devised a play over three days and performed it for the parents on a hot afternoon (alleviated by bottles of ice cold rose). It was run by Gomito, a theatre company I love and admire here in the UK. There is something to this collaborative, devised theatre that is so good. The play was called Topsiccum and was the story of  the people of Topsiccum. Their old, grandiose town leader is chased by two assassins working for an evil queen through portals to different worlds.  A community disrupted, a community healed. Of particular note was the cheesy, scene-stealing death my own son stretched out over several minutes when as the King of Candy Kingdom he was poisoned in a potion-switching game of chicken.

Yesterday we had the 4 Festival. It was strange explaining to the adults that it was the vision of my 4 year old daughter. She got the DJ, she planned the make-up tent, the inflatable swimming pool, the stuffed animal tent (we are in the tenth year of soft toys, they fill a tent), the story corner, the slack line - we told her class at Homerton and Heritage about it and invited the neighborhood kids and they came, first as a trickle, then like a real festival, with parking problems and everything. Children poured obscene amounts of poster paint and filled part of our fence covered with white paper - but mostly just enjoyed pouring the paint. Kids fell into the pool - especially after an impromptu game of bobbing for apples. A large patch of the lawn we are reseeding, and to protect it created a barrier out of chopsticks and string and filled the space with all the little plastic figures which multiply obscenely in middle class homes. We had horses, bunnies, rhinos, giraffes, Moshi monsters, Bakugan, Skylanders and for every one of them three dinosaurs. This post-modern circular zoo sort of became the focus for the dancing, especially when we had the kids going around it walking like Egyptians. Owain acted out a story with toys called Future and Past Collide! Speedracer and a gaudy French knight on horseback were locked in eternal combat through all space and time, and in this chapter fighting amongst the giant dinosaurs. One of the DJs, who was being supplied with Prosecco instead of being paid was really into it, and so were the kids. I was surprised that the canopy with nothing but a few chairs and piles of Donaldson-Scheffler children's stories was one of the most popular. We went through tons of guacomole and a hundred cupcakes and at 3:00 we had to make a beer run. I think next year we may have the 5 Festival.

Saturday, August 3, 2013

reblogged from Scriptonite Daily: Sleepwalking Into Fascism

UK SLEEPWALKING INTO FASCISM: WORKHOUSES FOR DISABLED, THE #RACISTVAN, RACIAL PROFILING

 
 
 
 
 
 
25 Votes

NB1 
This week has seen a plethora of actions by the UK government, which if adopted by any other country, any compassionate person would consider fascist. Government sponsored vehicles are roaming the streets telling people to dob in suspected illegal immigrants, the UK Border Agency are stopping mostly non-white commuters on the transport networks and requesting they display credentials to prove their right to be here, and disabled people are being carted off to modern day workhouses. Yet in spite of all this, many are still reluctant to face the gut wrenching reality that all is not well in blighty.
Godwin’s Law? Oh Give it Up
 NB2
No doubt someone is already preparing a comment accusing me of Godwin’s Law for making this comparison.  So I’ll take a moment to set out why I am making it, and why it does not conform to the term.
Godwin’s Law was intended to highlight the sort of ‘Little Hitler’ comparisons to the Third Reich.
Train conductor just gave me a fine for not having a ticket… Nazi!”
Health and Safety laws mean I can’t smoke in my office anymore…it’s like Nazi Germany in here!
The government is telling me I can’t smack my kids anymore…Fascists!
This is the sort of thing that Godwin’s Law pertains to.  This is not what I am doing today.  I am laying out some clear similarities between policies in the UK today, and widely agreed upon Fascist nations in history.   These similarities should raise real concerns about the direction in which successive governments are driving our nation and should lead us to take a pause and ask ourselves if this is the direction we want to head in.
Despite this, I accept that nevertheless many people are determinedly unwilling to consider the awful prospect that our government might not be acting on our best interests and will use Godwin’s Law as a tool of cognitive dissonance.  In essence, Godwin’s Law itself can become a tool of censorship, used to close down important debate about the authoritarian impulse of the state and corporate power.
Fascism
NB5 
“The first truth is that the liberty of a democracy is not safe if the people tolerate the growth of private power to a point where it becomes stronger than their democratic state itself. That, in its essence, is Fascism — ownership of government by an individual, by a group, or by any other controlling private power.” ~ Franklin D. Roosevelt, April 29, 1938. Message to congress
To be clear, Fascism is not about soldiers in jackboots goose-stepping along Whitehall. This is a post WWII idea of Fascism which, it could be argued, provides a smokescreen for identifying original Fascism. Umberto Eco coined the term ‘Eternal Fascism’ for this brand I write of, the antecedent of the nationalist, racist Nazi-style Fascism considered as default today.
If one say’s of Britain ‘We live in a fascist regime’, the immediate response is most often an irritated, dismissive shake of the head followed by ‘Well why don’t you go live in Iran/North Korea/Russia?’ depending on the chosen pariah state of the moment. To be clear, I wouldn’t want to live in those states either. Equally, we have a responsibility as, purportedly, the sovereign power of this country (our sovereignty delegated to parliament through democratic universal suffrage) to ‘put our own house in order first’.
People presented with this premise will find themselves unable to take the ideological side step required to acknowledge our corporatist system as fascist, rather than free market run amok. It is the truth we dare not admit. I argue this is mainly because no one wants to think they live in a fascist state, no one wants the burden of being called into action to defend against a fascist state and most people sincerely want to (and in many cases do) believe that matters of ideology and politics are irrelevant in the context of their daily lives. All of this is human and understandable. But that is different from it being correct or responsible.
In his 1995 essay, Eternal Fascism, Italian thinker and essayist Umberto Eco, provided one of the most compelling and ‘eternal’ definitions of fascism available to date.  He set out the key characteristics, observable in a fascist state.  He did not specify that ALL these conditions needed to exist for the state to be defined as Fascist, but that any, some or all of them are indicators of a fascist disposition. Of his 14 categories, there are at least 8 which apply to the UK today.
What’s Fascist about Blighty?
 UKBA2
Umberto Eco’s characteristics of ‘Eternal Fascism’ can be seen in the policies of the UK government over a number of years, arguably we have been careering towards this point throughout the unbroken rise of neoliberalism, from 1979 to today. For now, let’s focus on just three of these.
Fear of Difference 
The neoliberal dominated institutions of politics, media and even economics have made strident efforts to rebrand the Financial Crisis – a clear crisis of the private sector and neoliberalism itself – into a public sector crisis.  This scapegoating has affected a number of groups, but in recent months, the narrative on immigration has been ratcheted up out of all proportion to the size of the issue.  I have written in detail on the reality of immigration, so will not rehearse here.  In summary, the UK has a lower immigrant population than almost any ‘developed’ nation, these immigrants are mostly assessed via a Points Based System, only 7% are asylum seekers, and only 33% of asylum claims are accepted.  There is no open door. Finally, the immigrant population does not have accessto a vast majority of the benefits available to UK citizens, the benefits they do receive are nowhere near the same value as those received by UK citizens and they are a third less likely to claim benefits than UK citizens.
Nevertheless, constant media and political attention is expended on the immigration issue – with almost no time asking the question – why are people coming here?  Many migrants are economic migrants, and those who are not are political migrants – both are systemic, not personal issues.  To argue in favour of ‘closing the door’ on people fleeing the system our country is so pivotal in exporting around the globe, often by force – what kind of morality if this?  This is the national equivalent of first class guiding their lifeboats away from the steerage passengers after the sinking of the Titanic.  The problem is the sinking ship, not the poor bastards swimming for their lives.
This week, the government launched the ‘Go Home’ campaign, driving an ad van around predominantly poor, mixed ethnicity areas of London warning that illegal immigrants would be arrested, with a number to text with information.  The van is planned to go nationwide in coming months.  Some might ask – well how is this racist?  It’s racist because it contributes to the total lie that immigration is out of control, a big problem and a culture of fear and suspicion of people who look different to the majority – ‘any of them could be an illegal!’
In the same week, in the same areas, UK Border Agency officers wearing stab vests patrolled commuter hubs such as Kensal Rise, Stratford and Walthamstow stations stopping predominantly non-white travellers and asking them to produce credentials proving their right to be in the country.  Reports suggest these officers became aggressive when questioned as to what right they had to request this information, by those being stopped and by concerned passers-by.  This might well be because under UK law the police do not have the right to perform random ID checks such as this without direct cause for suspicion – they are not permitted to perform this kind of random stop and search using racial profiling techniques.  This is because a person in the UK should not be suspected of being an illegal immigrant because they look or sound ‘foreign’ to a police officer or anybody else.  If not, we open the door to the yellow stars and the pink and black triangles which singled out Jewish, gay and disabled people during the Third Reich.
Finally this week, the UK Home Office twitter account took to producing stats each day of how many ‘suspected’ illegal immigrants they had arrested under the hash tag #immigrationoffenders – evendisplaying pictures of people they had arrested (while still only ‘suspects’) for us all to gawk and point at.  The fact that people are still even asking ‘how is this racist’ tells you just how damaging this conversation about immigration has become.  The UK populace is being taught to fear the ‘illegal’ and the ‘immigrant’ as a drain on our resources, while the country is being feasted upon by privateers and profiteers.
Contempt for the Weak
To be clear, this is the neoliberal interpretation of weak – which means, cannot perform the primary role of a citizen under this system, go to a workplace, make money (mostly for someone else) and pay taxes.  One of the most absurd aspects of this current system is that there is so much work to be done, so many people who could contribute to that, and yet we are only permitted to earn a  living through ‘jobs’.  These jobs may not match our skills, or deliver the most critical work that needs doing, and the physical layout of the workplace, inflexible hours and penalisation of sickness absence actively freezes out both the maximum contribution possible by our human resources, and the most efficient use of those people to deliver maximum utility for their effort.  In short, we do the wrong things, in the wrong way, with half our team on the bench – then we blame the people left behind rather than the system.  This isn’t just an ideological problem, but a problem that destroys and ends lives.
The government has mandated that every single person claiming social security payments for sickness or disability undergo a work capability test with Atos, to determine whether they could really be working.  The clear implication being – these people could really be working. In fact, ministers have not merely implied it, but propagandised about it until many people believe it was benefit fraud, and not the Bank Bailout which caused our sky high debt.
Earlier this year, the UK Statistics Authority publicly condemned the DWP’s misleading use of figures, accusing them of making claims about the efficacy of their policies that were ‘unsupported.  In short, they are just making this stuff up.  The Guardian has also exposed repeated cases of the Secretary of State Iain Duncan Smith, and Tory party Chairman Grant Shapps, misrepresenting data on benefit claims and the results of their policies.
The made up figures made it into press releases, which resulted in bogus articles in the Telegraph, The MailThe Sun, the Express and the ITV and BBC News (along with myriad local news outlets)– all of which parroted disinformation without bothering to verify it.
As a result, the lies repeated often enough became the truth and a climate of suspicion formed around those who find themselves reliant on the welfare system.
Despite all this posturing and bemoaning, the DWP’s own estimates put the cost of benefit fraud at just £1.2bn (or only 0.7% of claimants).  To put this in context, the DWP loses almost double that (£2.3bn) each year through administrative error.
The government’s own statistics show that between 2010 and 2011 10,600 sick and disabled people died within six weeks of their Atos assessment. This is 204 people a week, or 29 people a day. 2,200 of these people died before finding out if they were still entitled to their social security, and an astonishing 1,300 had been declared ‘Fit to Work’ by being placed in the Work Related Activity Group. These people spent their final weeks alive being harassed by the Job Centre, answering pointless questions, and fretting over late payment notices and threats of eviction as their social safety net was ripped away.
It was revealed this week that disabled people are now to face the 21st century version of the Workhouse, with the UK government requiring them to attend live in residential ‘training’ scheme, anywhere in the country they are required and to perform mandatory workfare placements while they are there.  If they refuse, they lose their social security.
If this state harassment of those who are failed by the system was not punishment enough, hate crime against disabled people rose 25% in 2012 – as the toxic narrative of the burdensome disabled poisoned the public well.
The Cult of Tradition and Rejection of Modernism
The cult of tradition is the premise that all that is knowable is already told and it is for us to accept this, than seek to define some new idea.  Whilst we might be embracers of the modern in terms of technological and scientific progress, when it comes to the matter of ideas for new means of organising ourselves socially, politically and economically – the cult of tradition and the rejection of modernism is enforced to shut down and stifle debate.  In a recent article, I charted the emergence of the idea that There Is No Alternative to neoliberal capitalism.  This idea was launched and embedded under Thatcher, but entirely embraced by New Labour (hence the ‘New’), the Conservative Party and the Liberal Democrats.
The sneaky trick with this Cult of Tradition though is that it presents itself as Modernism.  It hijacks the language of progress – reform, modernise, develop – only apply if referring to neoliberalising an organisation, institution or economy.
Anyone suggesting that this might not be the most effective, efficient or ethical way or running things is treated not as a critical thinker, but a heretic.  This ideology is so entrenched that even people who consider themselves ‘apolitical’ seek to close down the debate with such rhetorical tricks as ‘well what do you want, Communism?! That worked well in Russia!’ or simply that talking politics is somehow dry, boring or oppressive.
Economist Professor Steve Keen writes on the ideological cleansing of Universities in the field of economics, such that students are only taught neoliberal theories, only academics endorsing the neoliberal view receive research grants or publication in major journals.
In Nazi Germany, you needed to be a member of the Nazi party to gain employment.  In the UK today, you need to be a card carrying neoliberal.  In most office based jobs, the narrative of neoliberal, privatisation, outsourcing, so called free market and profit is ‘the way we do things around here’.  There is not even a space in which to present an alternative view or narrative, within the system, hence one is placed outside of it to present challenge.
We are Sleepwalking into Fascism
 PS4
Wherever we look, with regressive changes to the legal system which make being annoying an arrestable offence, the scapegoating of immigrants, the sick, the elderly and the disabled, or the refusal to encourage and enable critical thinking and the development of a more equitable and sustainable alternative – neoliberalism has turned Fascist, and our neoliberal state has turned fascist with it.
We are just a few years behind Greece on the ‘austerity’ programme, and that nation is now rounding up ‘undesirables’ such as LGBT people, drug addicts, prostitutes and immigrants and the poor and transferring them to internment and labour camps.  If it can happen in the state that created western democracy, it can happen anywhere.
The time to wake up is right now, the time to reject the narratives of scapegoating, suspicion and envy is now.  The most revolutionary acts we can partake in today are to grow things, make things, mend things and care for each other.
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