Monday, 25 January 2021

A HISTORY of PUSHKIN SQUARE: 1967 to 2021

In Moscow, last Saturday, an estimated 15,000 demonstrators gathered in and around Pushkin Square in the city centre, where clashes with police broke out and demonstrators were roughly dragged off by helmeted riot officers to police buses and detention trucks. Some were beaten with batons.
Navalny’s wife Yulia was among those arrested. Police eventually pushed demonstrators out of the square. Thousands then regrouped along a wide boulevard about a kilometer (half-mile) away, many of them throwing snowballs at the police before dispersing.
Some later went to protest near the jail where Navalny is held. Police made an undetermined number of arrests there.
Perhaps it would bee helpful if we compare what is happening now under Vladimir Putin with what took place in Pushkin Square in 1967 in the Soviet Era when a demo took place in protesting the arrests of some then political dissidents and the use of Article 70 of the then Criminal Code with regard to its use conflicting with the constitution.
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OVER 50 years ago on the 22nd, January, 1967 at 6p.m., a group of twenty to thirty young people gathhered in Pushkin Square carrying banners calling for the release of four prisoners and calling for the revision of Article 70 of the Criminal Code. As they unfolded their banners men in plain clothes rushed up from all sides of the square, seized the banners and arrested several people. Most of the others scattered, and among the small group remaining one shouted 'Down with the dictatorship! Release Dobrovolsky!' All the prisoners were taken to the HQ of the Komsomol. After some hours' questioning, two were released (Gabay and Delaunay) and two others (Kushev and Khaustov) taken to the KGB investigation centre* at Lefortovo prison.
Later on the 25th and 26th of January 1967, Gabay and Delaunay were re-arrested and another demonstrator was taken into custody. The houses of all the prisoners were carefully searched; the police were particularly interested in samizdat manuscipts** and confistcated most of them. Some hundred witnesses were questioned by the Prosecutor's Office and the KGB.
SPEECH FOR THE PROSECUTION ***
'Comrade Judges! This year is a great date for us - it is the 50th year of the Soviet Regime. The struggle for the maintenance of public order continues throughout the country. In Moscow, the maintenance of public order is particularly important. We have largely been sussessful in this respect. Imagine, in the circumstances, the astonishment and indignation of the citizens who witnessed what occurred in Pushkin Square on the 22nd, of January 1967. The place which these self-syled demonstrators chose for their activities - the vicinity of a great poet's monument - is a placewhich everyon holds sacred. Their gathering might have attracted large crowds - not, of course, of like-minded citizen but of curious onlookers. Had the Druzhinniki not put a stop to it straight away, it might have led to a large disturbance.'
* * KGB: translated in English as the Committee for State Security, was the secret police force that was the main security agency for the Soviet Union from 1954 until 6 November 1991, when it split into the Federal Security Service and the Foreign Intelligence Service of the Russian Federation.
** samizdat manuscipts: The remarkably viable underground press in the Soviet Union is called samizdat: The word is a play on Gosizdat, which is a telescoping of Gosudarstvennoye Izdatelstvo, the name of the monopoly‐wielding State Publish ing House. The sam part of the new word means “self.” The whole samizdat—translates as: “We publish ourselves”—that is, not the state, but we, the people.
*** The Demonstration in Pushkin Square by Pavel Litvinov (1968).

Saturday, 23 January 2021

Rochdale's Reputation for Cover-ups

ON Wed 18 Mar 2015 a former editor of Rochdale's Alternative Paper (RAP), John Walker, wrote a piece in The Guardian entitled 'Our Cyril Smith story came out in 1979. What followed was a 36-year cover-up':
'Finally the hunt is on to nail those responsible for aborting police inquiries into the child sex abuse allegations against the late Liberal MP Cyril Smith and other – as yet unnamed – establishment figures from the 1970s and 1980s. But his abuses have been covered up and ignored for over 35 years. Why should the victims feel that anything much has changed in recent days'...
'I write as co-editor of the Rochdale Alternative Paper, which in May 1979 published a 2,000 word article, quoting in graphic detail from the testimonies of boys Smith had sexually abused a decade and a half earlier. The article was cleared legally by three prominent lawyers, on a pro-bono basis. They went through every word with a view to potential libel pitfalls. On legal advice we sought Smith’s comments prior to publication. We received none directly: only a bungled “gagging” writ, which failed to prevent publication...
'Rochdale council made Smith a freeman of the borough, named a room in the town hall after him and, in a ceremony attended by the current MP Simon Danczuk, put up a blue plaque in his honour – now taken down, apparently to prevent vandalism. More rubbing the noses of many victims in their misery, on their home patch.'
The conclusion John Walker came to in 2015 was:
'Smith had got away with it. He increased his parliamentary majority and, emboldened by his escape from justice, possibly continued his abuse of pubescent boys for two decades. Action in 1979 could have stopped him in his tracks, and prevented abuse and misery for future victims. Files on Smith’s child abuse were passed around police forces and the security services in the 1970s and 1980s – with no prosecutions. More covering up and inaction, instead of an end to his abuse.'
On that occasion following the emergence of the first Jimmy Savile revelations in 2012, Northern Voices and Paul Waugn then of the Politics Home site (now of the Huff Post) interviewed several of Smith's victims ultimately resulting in Channel 4’s Dispatches programme running an episode on Smith. Which Walker says 'did justice to the subject, but was allotted a ludicrous graveyard airing slot'.
Editorial Observation:
In recent times the case of the self-confessed electoral fraud Cllr. Faisal Rana and his surprising rise to power on Rochdale Council, has followed a pattern parelling the cover-ups involving Cyril Smith. A former CID officer told me that a report on Smith had been sent to the then Director of Public Prosecutions (DPP) but had come back as 'Not in the Public Interest'. Similarly complaints have been ongoing about Cllr. Faisal Rana and it seems that the Rochdale police may have toned-down their report to the CPP and have failed to emphasis that it may have involved postal vote fraud which would require a prison sentence.
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Protests erupt in over 60 Russian cities today

By DARIA LITVINOVA and JIM HEINTZ on AP NEWS
Protests erupted in over 60 Russian cities on Saturday to demand the release of opposition leader Alexei Navalny, the Kremlin’s most prominent foe. Russian police arrested more than 850 protesters, some of whom took to the streets in temperatures as frigid as minus-50 Celsuis (minus-58 Fahrenheit)
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In Moscow, about 5,000 demonstrators filled Pushkin Square in the city center, where clashes with police broke out and demonstrators were roughly dragged off by helmeted riot officers to police buses and detention trucks. Navalny’s wife Yulia was among those arrested.
The protests stretched across Russia’s vast territory, from the island city of Yuzhno-Sakhalinsk north of Japan and the eastern Siberian city of Yakutsk, where temperatures plunged to minus-50 Celsius, to the Russia’s more populous European cities. The range demonstrated how Navalny and his anti-corruption campaign have built an extensive network of support despite official government repression and being routinely ignored by state media.
The OVD-Info group that monitors political arrests said at least 191 people were detained in Moscow on Saturday and more than 100 at another large demonstration in St. Petersburg. Overall, it said 863 people had been arrested by late afternoon in Moscow.
Navalny was arrested on Jan. 17 when he returned to Moscow from Germany, where he had spent five months recovering from a severe nerve-agent poisoning that he blames on the Kremlin and which Russian authorities deny. Authorities say his stay in Germany violated terms of a suspended sentence in a 2014 criminal conviction, while Navalny says the conviction was for made-up charges.
The 44-year-old activist is well known nationally for his reports on the corruption that has flourished under President Vladimir Putin’s government.
His wide support puts the Kremlin in a strategic bind — risking more protests and criticism from the West if it keeps him in custody but apparently unwilling to back down by letting him go free.
Navalny faces a court hearing in early February to determine whether his sentence in the criminal case for fraud and money-laundering — which Navalny says was politically motivated — is converted to 3 1/2 years behind bars.
Moscow police on Thursday arrested three top Navalny associates, two of whom were later jailed for periods of nine and 10 days.
Navalny fell into a coma while aboard a domestic flight from Siberia to Moscow on Aug. 20. He was transferred from a hospital in Siberia to a Berlin hospital two days later. Labs in Germany, France and Sweden, and tests by the Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons, established that he was exposed to a Soviet-era Novichok nerve agent.
Russian authorities insisted that the doctors who treated Navalny in Siberia before he was airlifted to Germany found no traces of poison and have challenged German officials to provide proof of his poisoning. Russia refused to open a full-fledged criminal inquiry, citing a lack of evidence that Navalny was poisoned.
Last month, Navalny released the recording of a phone call he said he made to a man he described as an alleged member of a group of officers of the Federal Security Service, or FSB, who purportedly poisoned him in August and then tried to cover it up. The FSB dismissed the recording as fake.
Navalny has been a thorn in the Kremlin’s side for a decade, unusually durable in an opposition movement often demoralized by repressions.
He has been jailed repeatedly in connection with protests and twice was convicted of financial misdeeds in cases that he said were politically motivated. He suffered significant eye damage when an assailant threw disinfectant into his face. He was taken from jail to a hospital in 2019 with an illness that authorities said was an allergic reaction but which many suspected was a poisoning.
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Friday, 22 January 2021

LABOUR Cllr JAILED for 17 months After Committing Fraud To Win His Seat

By jaybeecher Posted on January 20, 2021
CHAUDHARY Mohammed Iqbal, 51, told election officials that he lived in Ilford so that he could trick them into thinking he met the legal requirements to run for a seat in the constituency. In doing so, he committed electoral fraud.
Mr Chaudhary then broke the law yet again after his questionable election win in 2018, by continuing to hold that seat of office based on his lies, and to collect thousands of pounds in expenses payments.
When police began to investigate, Iqbal encouraged his tenant Kristina Stankeviciute to lie on his behalf and tell officers that he lived in a converted living room at the Ilford property.
Miss Stankeviciute has since left the country and a European warrant for her arrest was issued in December last year.
Iqbal had given multiple false addresses in his attempts to run for local office and successfully sat as a Labour councillor for more than two years, claiming more than £18,000 in expenses and allowances.
The former councillor pleaded guilty to three counts of making false statements in candidate nomination papers and one count of perverting the course of justice.
Iqbal, who has since moved to Preston, appeared at Southwark Crown Court earlier this month and was sentenced to a total of 17 months in prison.
He was also ordered to pay prosecution costs of £10,422.54, compensation to Redbridge Council of £10,000 for the by-election costs and compensation to Redbridge Council of £18,368 for the allowances paid to him and will not be allowed to run for office for at least five years.
EDITORIAL FOOTNOTE:
A Fashion for Fraud: How many more cases?
This case seems to have some similarities to the Rochdale case in which Faisal Rana was cautioned in 2018 for voting twice in the local elections. Some feel that the now Rochdale Labour Councillor Rana was let off lightly by the authorities. His party and the Rochdale council allowed him to remain in office despite the scandal.
At the time, in 2018, Councillor Rana told Sky News:
‘I have accepted a police caution for an electoral offence, which relates to me casting separate votes for two different wards in two different Constituencies (Spotland and Falinge, and Norden Ward) in the local elections earlier this year.
‘I legally registered my votes by providing my genuine national insurance number, date of birth and addresses and when I received these through the post I thought it would have been OK and that is why they issued me two ballots for two constituencies. ‘I did not realise this was an offence and misinterpreted the rule that says it is possible to vote in two different electoral areas. ‘As soon as this was brought to my attention I went for a voluntary interview at local police station and co-operated with police fully in this regard.’
The trouble is that Faisal Rana obtained postal votes which involved him in a seemingly illegal application, and this may yet still come back to bite him. Indeed compared to CHAUDHARY Mohammed Iqbal who has now moved to Preston; Cllr. Faisal Rana has had a charmed life rising to the top in the Labour Party despite admitting to election fraud. But then againn Rochdale's authorities overlooked the the ashortcomings of Cyril Smith for decades.
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'Free speech for presidents' by Philip Dickens

by Philip Dickens Comment, on the FREEDOM PRESS WEBSITE Jan 12th
Editorial Note: We are publishing below a post by Philip Dickens from the anarchist Freedom Website. In it Phil Dickens mocks the blog 'Spiked' edited by Brendan O'Neill as representing the 'reactionary fringes of the mainstream discourse'. It is worth noting that not only the American Civil Liberties Union has warned about the unchecked power of platforms like Twitter and Facebook to remove people from the forum of everyday discourse. I say 'everday discourse', but of course many people, including me, do not use either.
It shouldn't surprise anyone that Mr. Dickens sneeringly jumps up and down announcing: 'Predictably, this led to #thisis1984 trending on Twitter, with the right decrying the ban as Orwellian.'
And yet Dickens is right to argue that there is a 'legitimate debate about the impact of corporations on freedom of speech and expression, but it doesn’t rest on the right of a US President to Tweet'.
Nor is this a novel problem of the internet era. Indeed, Orwell noted in 1946 in his essay 'The Prevention of Literature' that: 'Any writer or journalist who wants to retain his [sic] integrity finds himself thwarted by the general drift of society rather than by active persecution. The sort of things that are working against him are the conceration of the press in the hands of a few rich men, the grip of monopoly on radio and the films, the unwillingness of the public to spend money on books, making it necessary for nealy every writer to earn part of his living by hack work, the encroachment of official bodies like the Ministry of Information and the British Council, which help the writer to keep alive but also waste his time and dictate his opinions... Everything in our age conspires to turn the writer, and every other kind of artist as well, into a minor official, working on themes handed to him from above and never telling the whole of the truth.'
Dickens knows all of this, as he himself suffers from earning his living as a tax inspector. At one time the left were the main advocates of free speech, but because of the cancel culture campaigns etc. this ground as the novelist Margaret Atwood has recently argued, has been largely surrendered to the right. The FREEDOM WEBSITE despite its anarchist pretentions has in the last two decades fallen short as a defender of liberty or free speech; its current editor in 2016 even put up a blacklist of four people he didn't like who had the audacity to apply for positions on the FRIENDS of FREEDOM PRESS committee. Dickes approach suffers from being too simplistic as shown were he writes that 'private ownership by the capitalist class is protected from dissent by the state and its monopoly on violence.' Dividing politics into a left / right dichotomy is of questionable application today, especially in relation to Trump who was generally recognised to be an unconventional president.
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'FREE SPEECH for PRESIDENTS' by Philip Dickens
FOLLOWING the short-lived occupation of the US Capitol building, Twitter and a number of other social media platforms have banned US President Donald Trump.
Predictably, this led to #thisis1984 trending on Twitter, with the right decrying the ban as Orwellian. Brendan O’Neill of Sp!ked – the publication which leads the advance of terrible opinions from the reactionary fringes into the mainstream discourse – declared this “a chilling sign of tyranny to come.” This is, he says, “a very significant turning point in the politics and culture of the Western world” as it sees “exceptionally wealthy and aloof elites determining which elected politicians may engage in online discussion.”
This isn’t a position confined to the right, however. A member of the American Civil Liberties Union’s legislative counsel has said that “it should concern everyone when companies like Facebook and Twitter wield the unchecked power to remove people from platforms that have become indispensable for the speech of billions — especially when political realities make those decisions easier.”
There’s a legitimate debate about the impact of corporations on freedom of speech and expression, but it doesn’t rest on the right of a US President to Tweet.
Yes, a few companies in Silicon Valley control the whole social media landscape and have undue influence as a result. That’s not a unique or historically unprecedented phenomenon though: it reflects the balance of power and ownership in both the traditional media and physical spaces.
What O’Neill calls the “powerful, unaccountable oligarchies of the internet era” are mirrors of the media barons who dominate print and broadcast news. However, the almost unmoderated right of reply that exists in social media is absent, and instead the discourse both reflects and directs the ‘Overton Window’ of acceptable opinion – with what is acceptable defined not by popular or democratic will but by who owns the press and by the fact that it doesn’t sell news to an audience but an audience to advertisers. In other words, just as O’Neill says tech companies are doing, media owners and advertisers have long been “exploiting their monopolistic power to dictate what political opinions it is acceptable to hold and express.”
In physical spaces, from the workplace to the public square, private ownership by the capitalist class is protected from dissent by the state and its monopoly on violence. Anti-strike legislation limits the extent to which workers can stand up to their bosses, whilst a tangle of laws serve to restrict the conduct of protests and criminalise protesters in a myriad of ways.
The media commentators who see unprecedented totalitarianism in Trump’s Twitter ban have no qualms over any of the above. Instead, they view any kickback against that monopolisation of discourse as the real threat to free speech. This is why they have been vocal in opposition to the Stop Funding Hate campaign, which seeks to redirect advertising influence towards making (for example) media demonisation of migrants unprofitable. It is why all of the furore around ‘cancel culture’ is centred on the defence of those with a considerable platform and privilege from any consequences for their words yet they will say nothing when Julia Hartley-Brewer, a member of the Free Speech Union’s PR/Media advisory council, threatening to get a man sacked for challenging her Covid-denying propaganda against the NHS.
In other words, they’re concerned about defending the free speech of the powerful from efforts by the powerless to resist that through free association and action.
So it is with Twitter. The platform is genuinely guilty of arbitrary and questionable banning decisions – more often than not against small voices who challenge the powerful or the genuinely dangerous. That, under immense pressure, it is occasionally forced to follow its own rules and look at safeguarding and risks of incitement isn’t the problem. Rather, the fact that under other circumstances the power and influence those accounts hold would protect it and see instead the less influential who challenge them banned is the problem here.
Private monopolisation of what should be public spaces is the key issue. Within that, the fact that (just like in real life) the powerful are protected from the consequences of their actions except in the most extreme circumstances is the crucial point.
Anarchists recognise that genuine liberty and equality go hand in hand, and that we cannot have either if we fail to address questions of power.
Alongside formal hierarchies, such as those embedded in the institutions of the state and capital, this includes invisible hierarchies that inevitably grow out of supposedly ‘structureless’ environs. In a group without a formal leadership, those with the most confidence and the loudest voices dominate with no democracy to rein them in. In a meeting without a chairperson, the most brash can speak unhindered – but the consequence is that others in turn are silenced.
That’s why our primary concern isn’t the right of US President to a massive platform and untold influence, including the ability to incite (amateurish, incompetent) coup attempts.
Those whose only demand is that those already with a platform and influence are never deprived of that do not stand for free speech. They stand in defence of a fundamentally unjust status quo in which free expression is directly linked to power.
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Wednesday, 20 January 2021

Alexei Navalny's probe & Vladimir Putin's 'palace'

Diana Magnay Moscow correspondent @DiMagnaySky
He may be behind bars, but the Kremlin has not succeeded in silencing Alexei Navalny.
On his first full day in Moscow's Matrosskaya-Tishina prison, Mr Navalny's team have released a huge video investigation into the construction and alleged slush fund behind what is known as "Putin's palace", a £1bn private residence on Russia's Black Sea coast.
Calling it "Putin's biggest secret", Mr Navalny and his team reveal new details about the sprawling complex near the resort town of Gelendzhik which has long been rumoured to belong to the Russian president.
Drone footage over the grounds, which the team says are 39 times the size of Monaco, shows an underground ice hockey complex, 2,500 square metre greenhouse, and underground tunnel leading out to the Black Sea.
Architectural floor plans secured from a contractor shocked at the extent of the luxury reveal a lavish indoor theatre, fully-fledged casino and purple-tinted "hookah bar".
It is "the most expensive palace in the world", Mr Navalny says in the narration. "A new Versailles, new Winter Palace."
Mr Navalny says the idea for the investigation, which he presents from Germany, came during his time in intensive care.
He travels to Dresden to trace Vladimir Putin's path from lowly KGB operative on the wrong side of the Iron Curtain to the pinnacle of power in the Kremlin, showing how the friends he made in the 1990s have remained the principle beneficiaries of his kleptocratic regime to this day.
"Putin's personal money is kept by those he met 30 years ago", the investigation says. "In search of sponsors for the most corrupt ruler in the history of Russia, you need to go to his past."
He calls the Gelendzhik property the "biggest bribe in the world" and claims to have uncovered a scheme by which money for its construction is funnelled into offshore accounts by Mr Putin's cronies as payment for lucrative state contracts he has handed them over the years.
"The standout for me is how bizarre and cuckoo-in the head our president is," says Vladimir Ashurkov, a close ally of Mr Navalny and executive director of his now disbanded Anti-Corruption Foundation. "Why do you need a billion dollar palace which you would never really use, as president?"
The Kremlin has denied that Mr Putin owns a palace in Gelendzhik.
The almost two-hour video investigation ends with a plea to the Russian people to go out and protest. "If 10% of those who are disaffected take to the streets, the government will not dare falsify elections," Mr Navalny says.
It is a call he repeated in a video message from a Moscow police station on Monday, shortly before he was taken to jail.
In a hastily convened court session inside the police station, a judge ruled that his detention should be extended for 30 days, until 15 February.
On 2 February, a court will decide whether to convert a three-and-a-half year suspended sentence he was serving for an alleged embezzlement charge into a custodial sentence on the grounds that he violated the terms of his parole whilst convalescing in Germany.
Mr Navalny says all the various charges he has faced over the years are politically motivated.
His team are calling for a nationwide day of protest this Saturday. Mass gatherings are banned in Russia because of the pandemic and so far in Moscow, just two thousand people have registered as going on the Facebook page.
"The message about Putin's property will reach people in different formats and different channels," Mr Ashurkov says.
"It's unlikely that the regime will change tomorrow and we'll see hundreds of thousands of people on the streets but it's a campaign of constant pressure and history teaches us that the only constant throughout the decades is change."
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Alexei Navalny: a modern-day Lenin?

HITLER and the Nazi Party soon decided that gasing the Jews was cheaper and more efficient than shooting them. In Russia, Lenin prefered poisoning what he considered enemies of the State.
Thus,the Russian opposition activist, Alexei Navalny, is merely the latest Kremlin critic suspected to have been poisoned in dodgy circumstances. Over the last century a series of political opponents have fallen mysteriously ill. Many have died. All have seemingly been victims of Moscow’s secret poisons laboratory, set up by Vladimir Lenin in 1921.
Its purpose was to deal efficiently and mercilessly with perceived enemies of the state. Some were domestic, others troublesome exiles. According to Stalin’s former spy chief Pavel Sudoplatov, the KGB concluded long ago that poison was the best method for eliminating unwanted individuals. The KGB’s modern successor – the FSB – appears to share this view.
During the cold war, the KGB exterminated its adversaries in ingenious ways. In 1959 an assassin killed the Ukrainian nationalist leader Stepan Bandera using a cyanide spray pistol hidden in a newspaper. In 1979 another hitman murdered the Bulgarian dissident Georgi Markov as he waited for a bus on Waterloo Bridge in London. The weapon: a poison-tipped umbrella.
In the 1990s under Boris Yeltsin, exotic murders stopped, at a time of cooperation between Russia and the west. Once Vladimir Putin became president in 2000, however, political killings stealthily resumed. There was speculation that the poisons factory – identified as a squat, gloomy, beige research building on the outskirts of Moscow – was back in business.
Possible victims included Roman Tsepov, Putin’s bodyguard in 1990s St Petersburg, who died after drinking tea in 2004 at a local FSB office. The same year, the journalist Anna Politkovskaya fell ill on a domestic flight to Rostov, losing consciousness after sipping tea on the plane. She survived. Two years later a gunman murdered Politkovskaya outside her Moscow flat.
Up to now the most notorious poisoning of the century took place weeks later. The target this time was Alexander Litvinenko, a former FSB officer turned vehement Putin critic. Two Moscow assassins – Dmitry Kovtun and Andrei Lugovoi – met Litvinenko at the Millennium hotel in London. He swallowed a few sips of green tea laced with radioactive polonium, dying three weeks later.
The murder led to a long and acrimonious period in British-Russian relations. It also threw up a grim question: whether Putin signed off on state hits, or merely set broad policy parameters for his spy chiefs to interpret. A 2016 public inquiry in the UK ruled Putin had “probably” approved the operation, together with the then head of the FSB. Some government evidence remains secret.
In March 2018, another pair of Kremlin hitmen flew into London from Moscow, in much the same way Kovtun and Lugovoi had done 12 years earlier. Their target was Sergei Skripal, a Russian double agent who had spied for MI6. The assassins were colonels in Russian military intelligence, working undercover: Anatoliy Chepiga and Alexander Mishkin.
According to the British government, Mishkin and Chepiga applied a Soviet-era nerve agent – novichok – to the front door handle of Skripal’s home in Salisbury. He and his daughter, Yulia, collapsed hours later on a city centre bench. They survived but another woman, Dawn Sturgess, died two months later after spraying novichok on her wrists. The UK and its allies expelled more than 150 embassy-based Russian spies.
Evidence of Putin’s personal involvement in poisonings remains circumstantial. We do not know how much he knows or the chain of command. But the large number of victims, at home and abroad, suggests the Kremlin views such episodes as an unpleasant but necessary evil. They send a message to society. It says that dissent has its limits, and that unbridled opposition to the state may carry a terrible price.
The immediate problem for Putin is how to handle Alexei Navalny's popularity as currently the most serious oppostion figure in Russia. Does he risk turning turn Navalny into a martyr by locking him up and throwing away the key or does he let him go and look weak? Hitherto, Putin has tried dismiss him as unimportant but this is harder to do when the facts on the ground seem to contradict this claim.
Even the manner of arrival of Navalny in Moscow last Sunday gave rise to historical comparisons with that of Vladimir Lenin's triumphant return to his home country on April 16, 1917*. Lenin’s arrival at Finland Station marked a turning point in Russian history. From this point, Lenin would go on to take the revolution into his own hands — and by early November (October O.S.), the Bolsheviks would seize power in what is today known as the October Revolution, setting the stage for the establishment of the Soviet Union.
Since his arrival last weekend the jailed anti-corruption blogger and opposition activist Alexei Navalny has called on Russians across the country to take to the streets.
“Do not be silent. Resist. Take to the streets – not for me, but for you,” Navalny said in a short video statement released after his hearing held in a police station, where an impromptu court had been set up a day after he was detained at Sheremetyevo after he arrived home from five months in Germany.
It is believed that Navalny appears to be hoping for a repeat of the 2013 demonstrations where thousands of people gathered outside the Kremlin walls to protest against his arrest at that time. On that occasion the Kremlin backed down and released him, but this time round the stakes are a lot higher.
On the same day as Navalny was arrested, Amnesty International officially named Navalny a prisoner of conscience.
At the same time, Navalny’s wife, Yulia Navalnaya, flew home with her husband and was with him, and in the camera’s focus, up until the point he was led away by police.
One scenario would be that Navalnaya stands for election in the September Duma elections in her husband's stead, copying opposition leader Svetlana Tikhanovskaya's decision to do the same in the Belarusian election.
After her husband’s arrest, Navalnaya went out on to the street to address the waiting crowd.
“Alexei is not afraid. I’m not afraid either and I call on you all not to be afraid,” she said over chants of “Yulia!”
Navalnaya has been playing an increasingly public role since her husband was poisoned. She rapidly flew from Moscow to Omsk, where he had been hospitalised in a coma in August and publically berated the doctors who were refusing to let her see her husband, after they asked for proof that they were married.
She then co-ordinated the effort to get an ambulance plane from Germany to transport her husband to Berlin, as well as fielded questions from the press corps that quickly arrived on the scene.
In perhaps her boldest move, she directly addressed President Vladimir Putin, requesting permission to let them bring her husband to Berlin. The Russian authorities dragged their heels on releasing Navalny to the waiting plane for as long as they could, but with the high tech, well-equipped plane standing on the tarmac and Navalny in a critical condition they could not refuse. Navalnaya can take a large amount of credit for forcing that decision through.
The poisoning saga represented her “moment of transition from an accompanying figure to an independent character,” said Alexander Baunov of the Carnegie Center in Moscow as cited by the Moscow Times. “Now that Alexei is arrested Navalnaya will act independently.”
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* After 17 years of exile in Europe, Communist revolutionary Vladimir Lenin staged a triumphant return to his home country on April 16, 1917, with aims to seize power from the Russian government and install a “dictatorship of the proletariat.” His return journey would change the course of world history in ways that are still being reckoned with.
Arriving at the Finland Station in Russia’s former capital of Petrograd (modern-day St. Petersburg), Lenin climbed atop an armored train car to address the thousands of his followers who had gathered. In a now-historic speech, Lenin argued that the Bolshevik Party must use armed force to seize control from the provisional government that had been formed after Tsar Nicholas II’s abdication.
“The people need peace; the people need bread; the people need land. And they give you war, hunger, no bread. … We must fight for the socialist revolution, fight to the end, until the complete victory of the proletariat. Long live the worldwide socialist revolution!" he cried that night.
Lenin’s arrival at Finland Station marked a turning point in Russian history. From this point, Lenin would go on to take the revolution into his own hands — and by early November (October O.S.), the Bolsheviks would seize power in what is today known as the October Revolution, setting the stage for the establishment of the Soviet Union.

Sunday, 17 January 2021

Alexei Navalny in Russia amid arrest threats

Fierce Kremlin critic and political campaigner Alexei Navalny headed back to Russia on Sunday, despite being warned by Russian authorities that he will be arrested upon his arrival.
Navalny left Berlin on a flight operated by Russian airline Pobeda and was scheduled to land at Moscow's Vnukovo airport. Just minutes before his arrival, however, Pobeda airline said the smaller airport was closed for arriving planes. The screens at Vnukovo then showed the flight as being diverted to Shermetyevo.
The Anti-Corruption Foundation (FBK), founded by Navalny, confirmed his arrival to Shermetyevo and invited people to "come meet him."
"You might still make it!" they wrote on Twitter.
While reasons for switching airports were not immediately clear, Russian authorities have threatened to arrest Navalny upon return. On Sunday, Moscow police detained several of his aides at Vnukovo and cleared the crowd that gathered to welcome him at his scheduled destination. Security had been tightened around the Moscow airport awaiting Navalny's arrival. The 44-year-old called on his supporters to meet him there, but authorities warned against unauthorized rallies on the premises.
'What bad thing can happen to me in Russia?'
Before taking off from Berlin, Navalny told reporters he was "very happy" and was "sure everything will be great."
He dismissed the fears he would be arrested upon arrival.
"Arrest me upon landing!? That cannot be done," he said.
"What do I need to be afraid of? What bad thing can happen to me in Russia?" he told reporters, saying he was innocent of any wrongdoing and felt he was "a citizen of Russia who has every right" to go back to his native country.
Police in Moscow detain Navalny aides
While Navalny was in the air, however, his close ally Ivan Zhdanov reported that several of Navalny's associates were detained in Moscow while waiting for the politician's plane to land.
The Russian authorities detained dissident and anti-corruption lawyer Lyobov Sobol as well Navalny's assistant Ilya Pahomov, along with several others, according to Zhdanov, who leads Navalny's Anti-Corruption Foundation (FBK). Navalny supporters posted this video from inside the airport, claiming that it showed the detainment of Sobol, Navalny's brother Oleg, and FBK official Ruslan Shaveddinov.
The news on Sobol's detainment was also confirmed by Russia's Dozhd TV. The independent broadcaster published a video of a man flying a Russian flag and chanting Navalny's name while at the same time calling President Vladimir Putin a "thief" at Vnukovo. The man was later detained, according to Dozhd.
Soon after, Dozhd reporter Eduard Burmistrov was also briefly detained while broadcasting live.
"Police officers literally grabbed me and are now dragging me somewhere," he said in the video posted on Twitter.
Earlier on Sunday, Sobol posted a video on her channel where she said she "went through [airport security] as usual."
The 33-year-old activist said she brought a special backpack with her because she had expected to be detained while making her way to the Vnukovo terminal.
Sobol added that "this is how it usually goes."
"I'm very happy that made it through the airport, that I'm sitting here and I'm very much hoping I would be able to meet Navalny and that there would be no provocations from the government," she told Russian Novaya Gazeta.
Navalny's wife makes movie reference before takeoff
"I'm flying home," Navalny posted from the tarmac.
The tweet links to a short video posted on his Instagram channel, which shows Navalny sitting in the plane next to his wife Yulia. He and his wife are seen taking off their face masks, with Yulia then saying, "Kid, get us some water, we are flying home" in reference to a final scene of the popular Russian movie "Brat 2." The 2000 film ends with a male and a female character taking a flight from the US to Moscow.
One of Putin's main rivals, Navalny was flown to Berlin in August last year after surviving an assassination attempt from the Novichok nerve agent.
Authorities intend to put the activist behind bars
The Russian federal prison service FSIN said on Thursday that it would take all actions necessary to detain him and had requested that his suspended sentence be upgraded to jail time.
Navalny was convicted in 2014 of fraud charges that the European Court of Human Rights has ruled unlawful.
"In theory, they can detain him as soon as he arrives [in Russia] but initially only for 48 hours," said Vadim Kobzev, one of Navalny's lawyers.
Moscow has denied all allegations of poisoning the anti-corruption activist although scientists in Germany, Sweden and France, as well as tests from the Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons all confirmed traces of the Soviet-era nerve-agent found on Navalny.
The activist also recorded a phone call with the agent who allegedly poisoned him admitting to his actions. Moscow has rejected the recordings as fake.
Navalny's poisoning and later treatment in Germany have been a source of contention between Russia and the EU.
Late last year, the European Union imposed travel bans and bank account freezes on several Russian officials over the incident, including the head of Russia's FSB intelligence service.
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Collision course: The Return of Alexei Navalny

Collision course Moscow: The Return of Alexei Navalny Five months after he was poisoned, the opposition leader is headed back to Russia. By Eva Hartog in POLITICO January 15, 2021
MOSCOW — The last time a plane carrying Alexei Navalny landed on Russian soil, the Russian opposition leader was unconscious and pilots had to make an emergency detour to save his life.
Five months later, after a miraculous recovery, a lucid Navalny plans to board a flight to Moscow this Sunday that will bring him back to the country where he suffered a near-fatal attack.
“I ended up in Germany, in an intensive-care box, for one reason: They tried to kill me,” Navalny said in an Instagram post announcing his arrival at Moscow’s Vnukovo Airport this weekend. “Russia is my country, Moscow is my city, I miss it.”
For Navalny, his return to Russia from Germany where he underwent treatment for poisoning from the military-grade nerve agent Novichok is at once a personal risk and a political boon. Notably, he is choosing to fly back with the airline Pobeda, Russian for “Victory.”
For the Russian authorities, however, his return spells nothing but trouble at the start of an important election year — trouble they were hoping to avoid by piling on the legal hurdles for Navalny and his entourage.
Most recently, in January, Russia’s penitentiary service asked a court to rule Navalny had breached the terms of his suspended sentence by staying in Germany. In a statement on Thursday, a day after Navalny’s Instagram post, it vowed to do “everything possible” to detain him upon his return to Russia.
It had all the semblance of a last-minute warning: Stay put, or else.
Pointing at Putin
That warning — or threat — seems to have fallen on deaf ears. As Russia’s No. 2 politician after President Vladimir Putin, Navalny has built his brand on refusing to be cowed. If anything, the poison attack has made him redirect his arrows at the very top of Russia’s pyramid of power.
From the moment he woke up from a medically induced coma in Berlin’s Charité Hospital in September, Navalny has accused Putin of personally being behind the poison attack (which the Russian president has denied). And he hasn’t stopped there.
Last month, building on an investigation by the journalism collective Bellingcat, Navalny prank-called a man whom he claimed worked for the FSB, tricking him into admitting the supposed involvement of the security services in his poisoning. A YouTube video of the call has been viewed more than 22 million times.
“No one has humiliated the FSB in this way in a long, long time — if ever,” said political commentator Konstantin Gaaze. “His return will be interpreted as an explicit challenge, there’s no doubt they will want to put him away.”
There are other reasons than revenge to want Navalny sidelined.
This autumn, Russians are set to vote for a new parliament to serve during the so-called power transition in the run-up to the end of Putin’s presidential term in 2024. Pundits are unsure about what will follow — will Putin hang on to the presidential seat, or appoint a successor while maintaining his grip on power? But whatever the preferred option, the Kremlin will want full control over the process.
Ahead of that election — and amid an economic downturn because of the coronavirus pandemic — commentators have pointed to a tangible tightening of the screws against dissent, including the hurried passing of a law late last year that allows individuals to be labeled as “foreign agents.”
Navalny’s “smart voting” strategy against the ruling party United Russia, which coordinates protest votes in challenges to their biggest contenders, and his ability to organize large street protests threaten to throw a spanner into the works.
Conspiracy theories
Russia has a tradition of dissidents returning to their homeland. Sometimes — as with Vladimir Lenin’s train ride in 1917 — they have triumphed. But then there is also the case of Mikhail Khodorkovsky, once Russia’s richest man, who returned to Russia in 2003 only to disappear behind bars for a decade.
Unsurprisingly, therefore, there has been a flood of speculation as to how the Russian authorities will thwart Navalny’s arrival.
Theories have ranged from the conventional (Navalny could be refused boarding on the pretext of COVID restrictions or detained on the runway and placed under house arrest) to the outlandish (the air carrier could be shut down, his flight canceled or a freak snow storm be used as an excuse to divert the plane).
Rather than a rich imagination, the speculation reveals a general sense of lawlessness after a summer that included a controversial vote on constitutional reforms which will allow Putin to stay in power beyond 2024 and Navalny’s brazen poisoning.
“If before we understood that Navalny could be jailed at any moment, now the scenario we have in mind is that he could be killed,” Ilya Yashin, an opposition politician and a close ally of Navalny’s told the Dozhd television channel.
Moreover, most commentators agree that political unrest in the United States ahead of the inauguration of President-elect Joe Biden plays into the Kremlin’s hands by drawing international attention away from Russia.
Touchdown
Presumably in an effort to prevent his immediate arrest, Navalny has called upon his supporters to meet him at the airport on Sunday. A large turnout could convince the authorities to hold back — temporarily at least.
Then again, a low turnout could backfire and convince the hardliners in government that punitive measures against the opposition politician will go largely unprotested.
A poll by the independent Levada Center late last year showed that fewer Russians believed the Kremlin was behind the poisoning than those who suspect the West — echoing the Kremlin’s own claims of a foreign conspiracy. Most Russians, however, were indifferent or believed the entire poisoning was staged.
But the authorities have to tread carefully: Jailing Navalny could risk making a martyr out of him and be interpreted as a sign of weakness. But leaving him free practically guarantees he will be a nuisance. In deciding how to respond to that conundrum, the Russian authorities are like a character in a fighting video game, forced to pick a weapon before entering into battle.
“Тhere are a million different options of how it will play out, but Sunday will undoubtedly be a very sharp start to the political season,” said Gaaze.
Or, in the words of political analyst Tatiana Stanovaya on Telegram: “The situation with Navalny is very similar to two trains rushing towards each other, doomed to collide. There will be many victims.”
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A New Class War: Democracy & Managerial Elites

HOW do we interpret the recent 'STORMING of the US CAPITOL'? How does it compare with, for example, The Storming of the Bastille in 1789 in Paris in 1789 or The Storming of the Winter Palace in Petrograd in 1920? Perhaps it's too early to tell!
DO ACTIONS SPEAK LOUDER THAN WORDS?
My departmental supervisor at Manchester Poly, John Phillips (Oxford), claimed when I did my thesis on conversational analysis argued that J.L.Austin, who had developed a theory of speech acts, that he had overlooked the alternative arguement that there was a case that there were also acts that could say some thing: 'words' may be able to do some things but 'acts' may be able to say some things. John Phillips gave as an example an episode in 'Shane' in which Shane played by Alan Ladd accounters a dirt farmer in the first scene, and without a word being uttered a conversation of actions take place in which the actor's recognise what is require and what is understood by the participants.
At the time I think we'd been studying language and conversational analysis in particular John Langshaw Austin (26 March 1911 – 8 February 1960), who was a British philosopher of language and leading proponent of ordinary language philosophy, perhaps best known for developing the theory of speech acts.
John Phillips was at the time in the 1970s keen to stress that actions can speak louder than words. In this context perhaps the storming of the US Capitol on the 6th, Janauary 2021, may well serve to speak volumes hisorically just as the earlier storming of the Bastille and Winter Palace did.
CHOMSKY on 'The FRAGILITY of AMERICAN DEMOCRACY'
To help us grasp what's going on in the US perhaps we should consider an interview on the 26 November 2020 with Noam Chomsky: 'Trump Has Revealed the Extreme Fragility of American Democracy' in what was presented as an exchange with C. J. Polychroniou Chomsky stated:
'Speculation of course, but I’ll indulge in a bad dream — which could become reality if we are not on guard, and if we fail to recognize that elections should be a brief interlude in a life of engaged activism, not a time to go home and leave matters in the hands of the victors.
'I suspect that Trump and associates regard their legal challenges as a success in what seems a plausible strategy: keep the pot boiling and keep the loyal base at fever pitch, furious about the “stolen” election and the efforts of the insidious elites and the “deep state” to remove their savior from office.
'That strategy seems to be working well. According to recent polls, “Three-quarters (77%) of Trump backers say Biden’s win was due to fraud” and “The anger among Trump’s base is tied to a belief that the election was stolen.” Rejection of the legal challenges with ridicule may please liberal circles, but for the base, it may be simply more proof of the Trump thesis: the hated elites will stop at nothing in their machinations.'
This conclusion by Chomsky that the 'Trump thesis: the hated elites will stop at nothing in their machinations' fits in with the concept that Trumpism is conceived as challenging the established liberal managerial elites. Chomsky himself has long complained that the politics in the US has been simply a choice between Coka Cola and Pepsi Cola.
Now we have Trump and Trumpism, did this break the mould of the managerial elite or not? Were the Clintons corrupt as many of the invaders of the Capitol complained? Does democracy need to be rescued from the managers, and is even Professor Chomsky part of the managerial elite as a dominant figure in the US community of scholars?
The Managerial Elite & American Politics
Perhaps we should examine these considerationa further by examining a review in October 2020 on the Chronicle's website, in which Pedro Gonzalez commenting on 'The New Class War: Saving Democracy From the Managerial Elite' by Michael Lind, writes:
'As Lind sees it, the country’s political institutions are a façade for the corporate state, while our government is merely an instrument for the rootless transnational elite and avaricious politicians, both of whom are aided by a vast army of bureaucrats teeming with resentment for those whose lives they manage. The managed—that is, the rest of us—are lumped into a racially divided, proletarianesque working-class, with a largely native-born, white core.'
Gillian Tett in her column in this weekend's Financial Times has argued that Western elites tend to assume that their way of thinking is the only valid mode of thought'. She quotes from Joseph Henrich, the evolutionary biologist and anthropologist, who in his book 'The Weidest People in the World' comparing to the mentality of Western, Educated, Industrialised. Rich and Democratic people against other more tribalistic groups.
Hendrich believes most societies throughout history have used different mental approaches: they see morality as context-based, presuming that someone's identity is set by family and, adopting a "holistic reasoning" rather than "analytical reasoning". "Analytic thinkers see in straight lines," Hendrich writes "Holistic thinkers focus not on the parts but the whole... and expect time trends to be non-linear, if not cyclical."
Gillian Tett concludes Trump has captured the tribal 'non-linear' approach of those who resent what they see as the elite managerial class and she writes:
'Here lies the epistemological split - and the futility of elites invoking "reason" to persuade Trump voters to rethink their convictions. Words alone will not heal America. Neither will the law, nor logical analysis of the constitution. What is desperately required is empathy... You can only counter the legacy of Trump if you first grasp why he was so potent to start with.'
Was Trumpism really a threat to what Chomsky use to call the Pepsi Cola and Coca Cola tradition of American politics? Whatever was the case, Professor Chomsky recently urged the public to vote for Joe Biden. Perhaps he prefers the Status Quo after all?
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Friday, 15 January 2021

Steve Baker calls on Boris to publish Freedom Plan

From Lockdown Sceptic Website
by by Will Jones / 15 January 2021
Steve Baker, the Deputy Chair of the anti-lockdown Covid Recovery Group (CRG) of Conservative MPs, has issued a rallying cry to the group’s members. The Sun has the story.
In an explosive rallying call to fellow members of the lockdown-sceptic Covid Recovery Group, the ex-minister blasted: “People are telling me they are losing faith in our Conservative Party leadership.”
The group represents dozens of Tory backbenchers who are worried about the side effects of long lockdowns.
Mr Baker urged those colleagues to make their concerns directly to Mr Johnson’s Commons enforcer, Chief Whip Mark Spencer.
In a bombshell note to MPs seen by the Sun, Mr Baker writes: “I am sorry to have to say this again and as bluntly as this: it is imperative you equip the Chief Whip today with your opinion that debate will become about the PM’s leadership if the Government does not set out a clear plan for when our full freedoms will be restored.”
He told them to demand “a guarantee that this strategy will not be used again next winter”.
The major intervention reads: “Government has adopted a strategy devoid of any commitment to liberty without any clarification about when our most basic freedoms will be restored and with no guarantee that they will never be taken away again.”
The action appears to have been triggered by key Government advisers going public with their view that lockdowns must continue well into 2021.
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Wednesday, 13 January 2021

Avon Lady Calling With The Virus by Les May

EARLIER this evening someone dropped an ‘Avon Catalogue’ enclosed in a plastic bag through my door. I could see the information that it would be collected on Sunday. If whoever did this is infected with the virus which causes Covid 19 then potentially they are putting in danger the lives of everyone in the houses to which they distributed the catalogue.
No doubt this action not specifically excluded by the lockdown regulations. But that does not mean it is a sensible thing to do. If by chance whoever did this is prosecuted I shall not waste any crocodile tears on them.
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Tuesday, 12 January 2021

Lockdown sceptics should support this lockdown

Editorial Comment: THE Spectator ran an article on the 6th, January by Alistair Haimes, who had until then been a enthusiastic lockdown sceptic, which called on others to support the current government Lockdown. As a consequence of this both Will Jones on the LOCKDOWN SCEPTIC WEBSITE and Les May on the NV Blog have responded with their views on posts displayed below on the NV Blog.
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Scepticism is supposed to be the bedrock of science. But where scepticism shades into cynicism it can be as blind to changing events as the unexamined credence it claims to displace. Scientific belief should be based on informed supposition which is then rigorously tested against the evidence — that is the basis of the scientific method. There should be no shame in changing opinions and assumptions when facts change. We start with assumptions, test them against the evidence (which itself changes) and then use that conclusion to repeat the process, ad infinitum. So if conclusions don’t change when facts change, something might have gone awry.
As an example: your view on the merits of the current winter lockdown versus the Halloween lockdown. First: do you think a lockdown is prima facie defensible? To some people, ‘no!’; to far more people, ‘normally no, but it depends’. Whatever initial view you put into your decision hopper, now try to bend that assumption around the first input of information: the healthcare system either (a) clearly has capacity left, apparently running at below average levels for the time of year, as it was in October; or (b) might credibly need to triage fairly basic healthcare within, say, three weeks as seems to be the case now, or so we are told. Whether we are in (a) or (b) should change your opinion; if it doesn’t, you might be doing this wrong.
Now, add in the game-changer of approved, effective vaccines. Your opinion should be different before and after the approval of the vaccines (2 December for Pfizer, 30 December for Oxford). Put simply, it is perfectly justifiable to be against open-ended restrictions in a world with no vaccine, but to think a brief period of restriction while vaccines are rolled out is sensible, and personally I know many lockdown sceptics whose views pivoted on the day the first vaccine was approved.
Finally, consider the pace of the epidemic. Have cases apparently stabilised, as at end of October, or has there been an out-of-leftfield development like the Kentish variant, which experts believe might be at least 50 per cent more transmissible with no obvious sign of deceleration? Whatever the state of your opinion on lockdown so far, this development should alter it at least somewhat.
You might be stridently, philosophically, against lockdowns whatever the consequences, or you might be a dour socialist zealot who instinctively thinks that the cilice should always be tightened in a crisis; but for everyone in-between, allowing opinion to change with evidence like this is likely an excellent idea. Where opinion becomes rigid it can also become brittle, and often doesn’t age well.
Personally (not that it matters given I’m just a punter rather than in government) I have unashamedly been sceptical of the government’s use of interventions throughout the epidemic, though I’m closer to the moderate than the fundamentalist wing. I thought that the March 2020 lockdown was sensible and inevitable while disease parameters and treatment protocols were clarified and healthcare capacity was built, but believe it dragged on far too long, inflicting incredible social, economic and collateral health damage when the first wave of Covid was obviously waning with the seasons. It appeared the government was allowing opinion-polls to lead it down a path of ever more severe restriction rather than examining realistic targeted alternatives that could tide us over sustainably until a vaccine arrived (which I admit came miles faster than I’d imagined possible), and hadn’t stopped to gauge the damage done along the way.
You can of course understand the bind. There is a crisis, the government needs to do something, lockdown is something it can do, so it does lockdown. It might well be the only lever to pull initially, but that doesn’t mean the lever should stay pulled. Who knows, it may even be the best answer in the medium-term, but it is hard to believe that scrutinising every cost and alternative along the way wasn’t a very worthwhile exercise even so.
For lockdown two, like many others, I thought that the case in November was not well argued, was farcically presented with scary out-of-date death charts and poorly administered (creating the boom Halloween weekend by leaking plans on the Friday night was absolutely unforgiveable).
Every intervention, after all, has a beginning and an end, and the degree of social mixing from the ‘one last shindig’ at the beginning to the ‘thank God that’s over’ effect at the end may conceivably outweigh the temporary reduction in R — such ‘forcing events’ cause discrete social circles to overlap which otherwise wouldn’t intersect.
But in the event, the key moment in autumn (possibly during lockdown) wasn’t underground kids parties or news presenters’ knees-ups, it was the emergence of the Kentish variant. Some have hypothesised that the variant emerged from the way we treat Covid sufferers. Hospitals with chronically ill patients create living petri dishes for mutation (it is worth remembering that a quarter of all infections are still presumed hospital acquired). Add in treatments like convalescent plasma (blood extract containing antibodies­) and there are then all the pressures needed to evolve a mutant strain. We will, like good scientists, have to await more data.
Lockdown three, I’m sorry to say (and I can hear the howls from sceptics as I write this), is justifiable, practically and ethically. Given the rollout of the vaccine, the emergence of the new variant and the plausible risk of the healthcare system falling over, there is probably now no realistic alternative. Whatever one’s objections to the first two lockdowns, on both cost-benefit and libertarian grounds, it is at least a defensible position to acknowledge the merit of a brief lockdown during a maximum-speed vaccination campaign to minimise morbidity and mortality along the way.
The calculation is entirely different now from that of the previous two lockdowns. Given the vaccine, the variant and the healthcare situation, the current restriction can be supported (regretfully) without cognitive dissonance by those who opposed the previous lockdowns vehemently and vocally. It is either bad logic, bad faith or fundamentalism to argue otherwise.
This is a position that will make no friends. The zero-Covid Sanhedrin (whose ship sailed long ago in a connected Europe) and the libertarian sceptics (very few of whom are actually anti-vaxx by the way) will both find reasons why this nuanced view is outrageous.
The big, big difference this time is this: an opening in a rock without an exit is a cave — but if you can see an exit, it’s a tunnel. The previous two lockdowns were caves. It was dark and nasty, possibly involving bats, and we had no idea how we were going to get out except back into the same world we’d entered from. But this time really is different: we’re going not into a cave but into a tunnel, there is a credible exit strategy that we can see and believe in, and we’re scheduled to emerge in about 100 days (give-or-take) into a country where almost all the most vulnerable will have been vaccinated and where lockdown is not just lifted but dismantled, hopefully never to be seen again, and good riddance.
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Monday, 11 January 2021

Scepticism About The Sceptics, by Les May

I AM responding to the piece by Will Jones taken from the ‘Lockdown Sceptics’ website.
Let us start with a few statements which I think are sufficiently well established that we can call them facts.
1. The cause of the disease known as Covid 19 is a virus.
2. The virus has the ability to infect humans.
3. The virus can be transmitted between humans.
4. The virus can enter the body via our eyes, our nose and our mouth.
5. Infected people carry virus particles in their upper respiratory tract.
6. Speaking, singing, coughing, sneezing and breathing cause infected people to shed into the air virus particles in droplets and aerosols which do not settle immediately, but may do so after a time depending on their size.
7. Virus particles can be inhaled as droplets or aerosol.
8. Droplets settle out of air more rapidly than aerosols.
9. People who are infected may shed the virus without showing clinical symptoms.
10. Virus particles settling on surfaces remain capable of causing infection for variable amounts of time depending on the nature of the surface.
11. Virus particles can be transferred to our hands by touching a contaminated surface.
So what do these tell us about how we can reduce the spread of infections?
Point 4 suggests we should so far as possible avoid touching our eyes, nose or mouth.
Points 10 and 11 suggest we should take steps to decontaminate surfaces regularly or if this is not possible place anything entering our house in quarantine for a period.
Points 4, 10 and 11 suggest we should wash our hands regularly.
Points 3, 5. 6, 7 and 9 suggest we should try to encounter as few people as possible.
Point 7 suggests that if we do encounter people we should attempt to keep as far away from them as possible and that a physical barrier such as a mask, worn by them and us, may help to protect us from inhaling droplets, but unless produced to n95 specifications will not fully protect us from aerosols.
All the above methods of reducing the spread of infections are ‘non pharmaceutical’ methods. Taken alone, none will guarantee that we will remain free of infection, but each incrementally reduces the likelihood of picking up the infection. That’s why hospitals implement similar, but more stringent methods. In other words, contrary to what Will Jones claims, non pharmaceutical methods do work.
Will Jones may not like what the government is doing, but however flawed their methods are they are simply an attempt to use what we know about the virus and how it spreads, to reduce the number of infections.
The restrictions which have been implemented will cause economic damage, and they will restrict children’s education, but not making any attempt to halt the number of infections also has its costs.
Is he suggesting that in order to allow hospitals to continue functioning as they did before the pandemic they should effectively close their doors to Covid 19 patients? Is he suggesting that it is acceptable to expect nurses and doctors to treat a continuing stream of Covid 19 patients when any one of them may be the cause of their death? Is he suggesting that an increase of more than a million (1,013,190) new infections in the three week period 19 December to 9 January will not have economic and social costs? Is he able to assure us that the behaviour of himself and his lockdown sceptical friends has not resulted the death from Covid 19 of anyone who had the misfortune to encounter them?
He claims that it would be ‘inhumane to expect the vulnerable to shut themselves away’. These are fine words. I am one of the ‘vulnerable’ as is my wife and most of our friends. Since last March the only time I have been more than 200m from my house taking exercise, is a visit to the doctors for a flu jab. And one reason for that is because I don’t know when I am going to meet someone who does not take the guidelines on distancing and the other non pharmaceutical interventions seriously, in other words a ‘Lockdown Sceptic’. One could say their ‘freedom’ is my ‘prison’.
In his autobiographical account of the development of British radar during WW2 Robert Watson-Watt says that when under pressure to improve the equipment he always accepted the 3rd best solution. His reasoning was that the 2nd best would be too late and the best would never arrive. Lockdowns may be a third rate solution to controlling infections, but they may also be the best we are ever going to get until, people like Will Jones recognise that their behaviour may be contributing to prolonging the pandemic.
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Saturday, 9 January 2021

A Defence of Lockdown Sceptics

FROM the LOCKDOWN SCEPTIC's WEBSITE - By Will Jones / 8 January 2021
I was disappointed to read the Spectator article by Lockdown Sceptics contributor Alistair Haimes about his departure from our ranks. The brilliant data analyst has been a valuable ally and I hope he will return to the fold in due course.
His argument boils down to this: “When the facts change, I change my mind.” But what facts have changed? He cites three. First, the health service is under severe stress and unless we can reduce virus transmission over the next few weeks it’s at serious risk of being overwhelmed. That wasn’t true when the second national lockdown was imposed in November, he says, but it is today. Second, we now have two approved Covid vaccines, with more to follow, so any new restrictions will be short-lived. Third, there is a new variant of SARS-CoV-2 which is around 50% more transmissible than the pre-existing variants.
I’ll take each of these in turn – although I may digress a bit.
First, I’m sceptical of the claim that we have X number of days to save the NHS – a familiar trope that I thought the Labour Party had flogged to death. Let’s not forget that a winter bed crisis in the NHS is an annual event, as you can see from this collection of Guardian headlines. According to PHE, there was no statistically significant excess all-cause mortality in England in the final week of 2020 and while excess winter deaths this season are above the five-year average, they are currently below the peaks reached in 2016/17 and 2017/18. We published a piece on Wednesday in Lockdown Sceptics by Dr Clare Craig on Emergency Department Syndromic Indicators that looked at various indexes of ill-health, such as hospital admissions for Acute Respiratory Infection, Influenza-like illness and Pneumonia, and those are all below the baseline for an English winter – or were until a week ago. These data suggest that some of the people currently in English hospitals with COVID-19 have either been misdiagnosed or would have been hospitalised with something else if they hadn’t been laid low with Covid. In some NHS regions, Critical care bed occupancy numbers are currently above what they were in December 2019 – an unusually mild flu season – but there was still some headroom on December 27th, as you can see from this bar chart.
But let’s allow that things have got worse by an order of magnitude in the past week or so and some NHS trusts really are on the cusp of being overwhelmed, which they may well be. (See today’s report from the senior doctor.) Will the lockdown Boris announced on Monday do anything to avert this catastrophe, as Alistair seems to think? The only difference between the new national lockdown and the Tier 4 restrictions that were already in place in 80% of England on January 1st is that restaurants and pubs can no longer serve alcohol to take away and schools will be closed. But schools had already closed when London went into Tier 4 on December 20th and there isn’t much evidence that those restrictions reduced the R number in the capital. As SAGE member Professor Andrew Hayward pointed out on Tuesday, nearly 10 million key workers are still travelling to and from work. In addition, people are still going to supermarkets, chemists and corner shops. The statistician William M. Briggs, co-author of The Price of Panic, argues that it’s misleading to think of lockdowns as quarantines. Rather, they just create a number of ‘concentration points’, herding people into a limited number of spaces, and in that way increase the rate of transmission. If masks worked this mobility might not matter, but the recent mask study in Denmark suggests they don’t.
Some lockdown enthusiasts pick out a handful of examples where lockdowns have coincided with a fall in Covid deaths but that’s not a scientific approach. Numerous research studies, published in reputable, peer-reviewed journals, have concluded that there’s no association between Covid mortality and the standard suite of non-pharmacuetical interventions, such as mandating masks in indoor settings, closing schools and universities, shutting non-essential shops, imposing curfews and banning domestic travel. You can adjust the lockdown variables all you like – timing, severity, etc. – but there’s no signal in the noise. The American Institute for Economic Research has collected some of the best of these studies here and we’ve created a compendium of the evidence that non-pharmaceutical interventions don’t work at Lockdown Sceptics. The epidemiological models that SAGE uses to persuade the Government to ratchet up the restrictions rely on counterfactuals – if you don’t do y, x number of people will die – that cannot be falsified because the Government always end up doing SAGE’s bidding, as Alistair Haimes has pointed out.
On the other hand, it is incontestable that lockdowns cause harm. Lockdown sceptics are sometimes accused of putting profit before people, but I’m not just talking about economic harm – increased borrowing, businesses going bankrupt, growing unemployment. The negative impact of school closures on children has been flagged up by numerous educational organisations, including Ofsted, with the most disadvantaged paying the highest price. The Centre for Mental Health estimated in October that that up to 10 million people will need either new or additional mental health support, thanks to the trauma of enforced isolation, and reports of domestic abuse to the Metropolitan Police increased by 11% during the first lockdown compared to the same period last year. Drug overdoses in San Francisco killed more than three times the number of people last year than COVID-19.
It’s also nonsense to imagine the economic damage caused by the lockdowns won’t have ruinous public health consequences – anything that hurts profits, hurts people. Professor Sunetra Gupta estimates that the global economic recession caused by the lockdowns will result in 130 million people starving to death and the United Nations predicts it will plunge as many as 420 million residents of the developing world into extreme poverty, with low-income countries seeing average incomes falling for the first time in 60 years.
Even in the absence of the detailed cost-benefit analysis the Covid Recovery Group of MPs has repeatedly asked for, it seems overwhelmingly likely that the harms caused by lockdowns in the UK alone are greater than the harms they prevent. According to one study out of Bristol University, the ongoing restrictions will cause 560,000 deaths, 310,000 more than Professor Neil Ferguson and his team predicted would die absent a lockdown but with voluntary ‘mitigation’ measures in place. As the now disgraced President of the United States said, the cure is worse than the disease. That essential point hasn’t changed, so I see no reason why sceptics should change their minds about lockdowns now. Yes, the NHS may be in genuine peril, but that doesn’t mean we should set aside our well-founded doubts about the effectiveness of heavy-handed interventions. On the contrary, trying to quarantine people for a third time, given that the policy clearly hasn’t worked, seems like Einstein’s definition of insanity: doing the same thing over and over and expecting different results.
What about the vaccines? True, some sceptics did argue that shutting people in their homes until a vaccine became available was impractical because it might take years to develop one. But that was never the central plank of our case (see above). On the contrary, our preferred alternative to locking down is ‘focused protection’, as set out in the Great Barrington Declaration, and vaccines make that strategy more attractive, not less.
Our starting point is that the number of people who died from COVID-19 in English hospitals in 2020 who were under 60 with no underlying health conditions was 388 and the virus is less deadly than seasonal flu for healthy people under 70. Note, we’re not claiming that SARS-CoV-2 is less deadly than the average bout of seasonal flu for the entire population – although that’s true of some flu seasons – only that it’s likely to kill fewer healthy people under-70, including children. Whenever we cite that 388 statistic, critics accuse us of being callous, as though we’re saying older people and those with chronic conditions don’t matter. Far from it. We think the Government should pull out all the stops to protect those who are vulnerable to this disease, including care home residents, who made up about 40% of those who died from COVID-19 in the first wave (and 50% of those who died in Scotland). Shielding for people in these groups should not be compulsory – we believe in trusting people to make their own risk assessments and adjust their behaviour accordingly. But it should be a viable option, with all the necessary support. Meanwhile, the rest of us should be permitted to go about our lives, taking the same precautions we would in a normal flu season.
The arguments for and against ‘focused protection’ have been well-rehearsed, but the vaccines deal with one of the best objections – that it would be inhumane to expect the vulnerable to shut themselves away until the rest of the population develops natural herd immunity. That would create a two-tier society. But now that we have a vaccine, those groups only need shield until they’ve been immunised, at which point they can re-enter society (something they can’t do at present, even after they’ve had the jab, because there’s no ‘society’ to re-enter). The Government is planning to vaccinate 13.9 million people by mid-February – although that number includes everyone who works in health and social care settings – and there are about 16 million who fall into the above vulnerable categories.
So, yes, the vaccines do make a difference – they strengthen the sceptics’ case by making ‘focused protection’ more palatable.
What about the new variant? I’m reserving judgment on whether it’s more transmissible. As Mike Hearn pointed out yesterday, ONS infection survey data released on December 23rd show that the percentage of the UK population testing positive for the new variant began to fall in November before taking off again, and in some areas it has already started to dip, as was clear from the plot presented by Chris Whitty on Tuesday. If it’s 50% more transmissible than pre-existing variants, why isn’t the percentage just constantly rising in all parts of England?
But suppose the new variant is more infectious. What evidence is there that the new lockdown measures will interrupt transmission? If the first two lockdowns didn’t stop the original virus in its tracks, why will a third stop a turbo-charged version?
I sympathise with Alistair Haimes. He believes the NHS is at risk of falling over and wants us to do something – anything – to protect it. Lockdown sceptics also don’t want to see the NHS fall over, but where I part company with Alistair is in believing that a third national lockdown is the right mitigation strategy. Wouldn’t it be better to offer robust protection to the vulnerable and make vaccinating them an absolute priority? Not only would that be more likely to ‘save the NHS’, it would save the rest of us from the harms caused by yet another lockdown. ‘Focused protection’ is sometimes dismissed as not scientifically credible, but the 700,000+ signatories of the Great Barrington Declaration include over 13,000 medical and public health scientists and nearly 40,000 medical practitioners.
Alistair thinks this lockdown is more palatable than the others because there’s light at the end of the tunnel, thanks to the vaccine. Within 100 days, he estimates, it can be dismantled, hopefully never to be seen again. I wish I shared his optimism. At Tuesday’s Downing Street briefing, Chris Whitty said restrictions might well be back next winter and some people have called for masks to remain mandatory indefinitely.
The problem with allowing the state to suspend your civil liberties is that you may never get them back. I treat the Government’s claims that it will relinquish the powers it has arrogated to itself when the crisis is over with extreme scepticism, just as I do every official announcement about the virus.
One final point. Over the past week or so, some of the most prominent lockdown sceptics have been vilified in the media, accused of encouraging members of the public to ignore social distancing guidelines and thereby causing people to die. These attacks may ratchet up over the next few days as the NHS comes under more and more pressure, although it’s hard to imagine them becoming even more hysterical. Paul Mason wrote a column in the New Statesman on Wednesday saying that Allison Pearson, Laurence Fox, Julia Hartley-Brewer, Peter Hitchens and me should be consigned to the seventh circle of hell. But the assumption underlying these criticisms is that lockdowns work, which is precisely the point under dispute. Is it reasonable to expect us to just take that on faith and keep any doubts we have to ourselves? After all, we don’t ask the Paul Masons of this world to take it on faith that lockdowns cause more harm than good and accuse them of killing people by advocating for tougher restrictions. We think history will prove us right, but we’re not so full of righteous certitude that we want to silence our opponents.
One of the most unpleasant aspects of this crisis is that it has brought out an ugly, authoritarian streak in so many people, particularly those in positions of authority. Before March of last year, I believed that totalitarianism could never take root in British soil because we are such a Rabelaisian, freedom-loving people, fiercely proud of our independence. Now, I’m not so sure.
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Trump And Freedom Of Speech by Les May

A REGULAR THEME of what I have written for Northern Voices is the threat to freedom of speech posed by those who try to prevent people whose views they disagree with from presenting them to others. When this happens in universities and colleges it is commonly called ‘no platforming’. It’s a staple tactic of those who engage in the politics of identity.
It is the antithesis of how George Orwell defined liberty when he said ‘It is the right to tell people what they do not want to hear’. So is the decision by Twitter to refuse to allow Donald Trump to post on the social media platform an attack on liberty?
The Twitter decision does not prevent Trump saying whatever he likes. Twitter is under no obligation to provide space on it’s servers for the outpourings of Trump, myself or anyone else. If he wants to use some form of social media to enlighten his followers with his wisdom, he is entirely at liberty to set up his own version of Twitter.
Veteran Trump watchers will recognise the irony of his complaint. There are many instances at his press conferences of his refusing to answer questions he does not like and denigrating accredited journalists.
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Friday, 8 January 2021

The Managerial Revolution & Trump's evolution

Editorial Comment:
EIGHTY YEARS AGO James Burnham published his book The Managerial Revolution, which in 1941 caused a stir both in the USA and in this country. It recently occured to me as I struggled to make sense of what was going on now, that what was happening in the United States with Trump had something to do with the phenomena of managerialism. In this book Burnham took the view that capitalism was on the way out, but that Socialism was not replacing it, and that what was emerging was a kind of planned, centralized society which would be neither capitalist nor, in any accepted sense of the word, democratic.
In such a society what may be called the new boss class was arising, and was to be composed of, in Burnham's view; business executives, technicians, bureaucrats, and soldiers, lumped together as 'managers'. What it gave us in 1945 with in the UK, under the Labour government, was nationalisation and the NHS, and the New Deal in the USA.
Below is an account by Timothy Shenk on what lies behind the developments which have led to what has now come to be called 'Trumpism'.
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The Dark History Behind Donald Trump
'The Republican intellectual establishment (in the USA) is united against Trump – but his message of cultural and racial resentment has deep roots in the American right' so wrote Timothy Shenk, in an article in The Guardian (Tue 16 Aug 2016) entitled 'The dark history of Donald Trump's rightwing revolt'.
And he added: 'Trump is a unique character, but the principles he defends and the passions he inflames have been part of the modern American right since its formation in the aftermath of the second world war. Most conservative thinkers have forgotten or repressed this part of their history, which is why they are undergoing a collective nervous breakdown today. Like addicts the morning after a bender, they are baffled at the face they see in the mirror.'
Conservatives tend to portray their cause as the child of a revolt against the liberal status quo that began in the aftermath of the second world war, gained momentum in the 1950s when a cohort of intellectuals supplied the right with its philosophical underpinning, attained political consciousness in Barry Goldwater’s 1964 presidential campaign, and won vindication with Ronald Reagan’s election to the White House. Ideas have consequences, they proclaimed. Just look at us.
But there is another way of interpreting the history of the American right, one that puts less emphasis on the power of ideas and more on power itself – a history of white voters fighting to defend their place in the social hierarchy, politicians appealing to the prejudices of their constituents so they can satisfy the wishes of their donors, and the industry that has turned conservatism into a billion-dollar business.
This is the explanation preferred by leftwing critics, who typically regard the Republican party as a coalition fuelled by white nationalism and funded by billionaires. But this line of attack also has a long history on the right, where a dissenting minority has been waging a guerrilla war against the conservative establishment for three decades. Now the unlikely figure of Donald Trump has brought in a wave of reinforcements – over 13 million in the primaries alone. Their target is the managerial elite, and their history begins in the run-up to the second world war, when a forgotten founder of modern American conservatism became a public sensation with a book that announced the dawning of a civilisation ruled by experts.
'The Managerial Revolution: What Is Happening in the World' was the most unlikely bestseller of 1941. The author, James Burnham, was a philosophy professor at New York University who until the previous year had been one of Leon Trotsky’s most trusted counsellors in the US. Time called Burnham’s work a grim outline of “the totalitarian world soon to come” that was “as morbidly fascinating as a textbook vivisection”.
The son of a wealthy railway executive, Burnham graduated near the top of his class in Princeton in 1927 before studying at Oxford and then securing his post at NYU. But the Great Depression radicalised him, and he began a double life, lecturing on Aquinas by day and polemicising against capital by night. By 1940, Burnham had lost his faith in the revolution of the proletariat. While Trotsky denounced his erstwhile disciple as an “educated witch doctor”, Burnham started work on the book that would justify his apostasy.
According to Burnham, Marxists were right to anticipate capitalism’s imminent demise but wrong about what would come next. Around the turn of the 20th century, he claimed, the scale of life had changed. Population growth surged, immense corporations gobbled up smaller rivals, and government officials struggled to expand their powers to match the growing size of the challenges they faced.
These structural changes fundamentally altered the distribution of power in society. In the 18th century, authority had rested with aristocrats; in the 19th century with capitalists; in the 20th century it had passed on to the managers, whose authority derived from their unique ability to operate the complex institutions that now dominated mass society.
Technocrats had become the new ruling class. According to Burnham, fascism, Stalinism and Franklin D Roosevelt’s New Deal were all products of this transformation, and there was no use struggling against the world that was coming into being – a world where state ownership of the means of production had become the norm, where sovereignty had shifted to a bureaucratic elite, and where the globe was divided into rival superstates.
Burnham was not the first to foresee a society run by managers, but the arguments he borrowed from others took on a different meaning when brought together in this form. His sweep was global, his narrative reached back centuries, and he almost seemed to welcome a totalitarian future. For Burnham, the only sensible response to the managerial revolution was to recognise that it had occurred and accept there was no point in trying to bring back a world that was already lost. This bleak forecast captured the public imagination. Fortune called it “the most debated book published so far this year” and it went on to sell more than 200,000 copies.
But Burnham quickly moved on to new territory. His true subject, he concluded, was power, and to understand power he needed a theory of politics. Marx had been his guiding influence in The Managerial Revolution; now he turned to Machiavelli, constructing the genealogy of a political theory that began with the author of The Prince and continued into the present.
For a Machiavellian, Burnham wrote, politics was an unending war for dominance: democracy was a myth, and all ideologies were thinly veiled rationalisations for self-interest. The great mass of humanity, in Burnham’s dark vision, would never have any control over their own lives. They could only hope that clashes between rival elites might weaken the power of the ruling class and open up small spaces of freedom.
Burnham’s new found zeal for defending freedom led him, in 1955, to a conservative magazine called National Review, and to the magazine’s charismatic young founder, William F Buckley Jr. Buckley’s goal was to turn a scattered collection of reactionaries into the seeds of a movement. His journal set out to make the right intellectually respectable, stripping it of the associations with kooks and cranks that allowed liberals to depict it as a politics for cave-dwellers who had not reconciled themselves to modernity. Burnham was there at the start, one of five senior editors on the masthead of the first issue.
Soon Burnham was Buckley’s ranking deputy. But in an editorial staff riven by abstract debates between ardent libertarians and devout Christians, Burnham was the pragmatist who urged his colleagues not to ask politicians for more than the electorate would accept. For the right to win over working-class voters, Burnham argued, the movement had to embrace a more populist economic policy – contrary to the wishes of his anti-statist colleagues and their corporate backers, who wanted to lower taxes on the rich and roll back the welfare state. “Much of conservative doctrine,” Burnham wrote in 1972, “is, if not quite bankrupt, more and more obviously obsolescent.” Less than a decade later, Ronald Reagan was president, and it was Burnham who seemed like a relic of the past.
For a long time, the only major study of Burnham’s work was a slim volume published in 1984 by a minor academic press under the title Power and History. The book’s author, Samuel Francis, seemed a typical product of the insurgent conservative movement Burnham had helped to create – though by the late 1990s, when Francis published an updated version of Power and History, it made more sense to speak of a new conservative establishment. Outsiders who arrived at the White House with Reagan had become senior executives in Conservatism Inc. With the end of the cold war, the right had lost the glue that had bound its coalition, but there were still battles to be waged, and the money was better than ever.
Francis was never going to become a star in the emerging rightwing infotainment complex. Shy and overweight, with teeth stained from smoking, he had difficulty making it through cocktail parties. After completing a PhD in British history at the University of North Carolina, Francis left academia for Washington – first working at a rightwing thinktank, then serving as an aide to a Republican senator, and finally joining the editorial staff of the capital’s influential conservative daily newspaper, the Washington Times.
Francis retained his academic interests while he ascended into the ranks of the conservative establishment. He published six books in his lifetime, but he worked in private on one massive volume that he hoped would bring together all the disparate strands of his thought. Finished in 1995 but not discovered until after his death a decade later, the result was published earlier this year under the title Leviathan and Its Enemies. It is a sprawling text, more than 700 pages long, digressive, repetitive and in desperate need of an editor.
It is also one of the most impressive books to come out of the American right in a generation – and the most frightening. It is a searching diagnosis of managerial society, written by an author looking for a strategy that could break it apart.
Like much of Francis’s writing, Leviathan and Its Enemies began with Burnham – in this case, quite literally. “This book,” Francis announced in the first sentence, “is an effort to revise and reformulate the theory of the managerial revolution as advanced by James Burnham in 1941.”
Francis agreed that society had been taken over by managers, but he believed the new ruling class was far more vulnerable than Burnham had realised. Not everyone had benefited from the rise of the experts – and Francis saw this unequal distribution of rewards as the managerial regime’s greatest weakness.
For reasons he never quite explained, he insisted that the cosmopolitan elite threatened the traditional values cherished by most Americans: “morality and religion, family, nation, local community, and at times racial integrity and identity”. These were sacred principles for members of a new “post-bourgeois proletariat” drawn from the working class and the lower ranks of the middle class. Lacking the skills prized by technocrats, but not far enough down the social ladder to win the attention of reformers, these white voters considered themselves victims of a coalition between the top and bottom against the middle.
According to Francis, this cohort had supplied the animating spirit of rightwing politics since the death of Franklin Roosevelt in 1945. They had supported Goldwater – but Francis regarded Goldwater’s programme, like the “movement conservatism” of the National Review, as a quaintly bourgeois” throwback to the oligarchic politics of the 19th century, with nothing to offer the modern working man. Their tribune was not Goldwater but George Wallace, the notorious segregationist and Democratic governor of Alabama – who won five southern states as an anti-civil rights third-party candidate in the 1968 presidential election. Richard Nixon and Ronald Reagan had appealed to this group, too, but neglected their interests after taking office. Despite having elected multiple presidents, the post-bourgeois proletariat had yet to find a voice.
But not all of the right’s intellectuals have been so blind. While keepers of the conservative flame in Washington and New York repeatedly proclaimed that Trump could never win the Republican nomination, in February a small group of anonymous writers from inside the conservative movement launched a blog that championed “Trumpism” – and attacked their former allies on the right, who were determined to halt its ascent. In recognition of the man who inspired it, they called their site the Journal of American Greatness.
Yet Francis had difficulty explaining why managerial society would generate so much opposition in the first place. In Leviathan and Its Enemies, he argued that resistance to the cosmopolitan elite would be driven by “immutable elements of human nature” that “necessitate attachment to the concrete and historical roots of moral values and meaning”.
He was more candid in a speech he gave while working on the book. “What we as whites must do,” he declared, “is reassert our identity and our solidarity, and we must do so in explicitly racial terms through the articulation of a racial consciousness as whites.” Where mainstream conservatives depicted the US as a nation whose diverse population was linked by devotion to its founding principles, Francis viewed it as a racial project inextricably bound up with white rule. The managerial revolution jeopardised this racial hierarchy, and so it must be overthrown.
Francis delivered his remarks on racial consciousness at a conference organised by American Renaissance, an obscure journal devoted to promoting white nationalism. Years earlier, Francis had struck up a friendship with Jared Taylor, who went on to found the magazine with Francis’s encouragement. From their first encounter, Taylor recalled, he and Francis “understood each other immediately”.
Francis’s employers at the Washington Times were not as sympathetic. The paper fired him after his comments were released, a move that was part of his larger expulsion from the respectable right. Buckley himself dismissed Francis as “spokesman” for a group that had “earned their exclusion from thoughtful conservative ranks”.
Yet Francis would not be so easily purged. For years he had cultivated a relationship with Pat Buchanan, a one-time Nixon protege who had become one of the country’s most recognisable conservatives thanks to his role as co-host of CNN’s popular debating programme Crossfire. In 1992, Buchanan launched a long-shot campaign against incumbent president George HW Bush that, against all expectations, garnered almost 3m votes in the primaries. While all this was going on, Buchanan was growing closer to Francis, whom he later called “perhaps the brightest and best thinker on the right”.
Francis and Buchanan were linked by their association with a breakaway faction on the right known as paleoconservatism. While mainstream conservatives had taken advantage of cushy gigs in New York and Washington, paleocons depicted themselves as spokesmen for the forgotten residents of flyover country. Francis urged Buchanan to make another run for the White House in 1996, this time as the candidate of the post-bourgeois resistance. That campaign would be based on three issues: protectionism, opposition to immigration and an “America First” foreign policy that repudiated global commitments and foreign interventions in order to focus on defending the national interest.
Buchanan listened, and he went on to a surprise win in New Hampshire’s pivotal early primary, convincing Francis that the managerial elite was more vulnerable than at any point in his lifetime. While mainstream Republicans and Democrats celebrated forecasts that the US population was on track to become less than 50% white as a sign of America’s capacity to adapt and grow, Francis believed that the members of his post-bourgeois proletariat regarded these shifting demographics as another reminder of their dwindling power.
Buchanan’s campaign fizzled after New Hampshire, but Francis had a ready explanation for the collapse: Buchanan was too loyal to the Republican party to seize the opportunity he had been granted. “Don’t even use the word ‘conservative,’” Francis told Buchanan. “It doesn’t mean anything any more.” The managerial class had absorbed Buckley and his followers. They, too, were the enemy.
After Buchanan’s defeat and his own exile from mainstream conservatism, Francis devoted himself to what he called “racialpolitik”. He was a regular contributor to outlets promoting white racial consciousness – becoming, in Jared Taylor’s words, “the intellectual leader of a small but growing movement”. Francis denied that he was a white supremacist, but he condemned interracial sex, warned of “incipient race war” and drafted a manifesto for a white nationalist group arguing: “The American people and government should remain European in their composition and character.”
When he looked ahead, Francis was especially concerned with the threat that one rising political star posed to his vision of the future. Barack Obama, he remarked in 2004, was “the model of what the New American is supposed to be”. Ivy League-educated, effortlessly cosmopolitan, promising to transcend barriers of race – Obama was the embodiment of the managerial elite. He represented everything Francis loathed about the contemporary United States.
The fact that Obama, Francis’s symbol for American decadence, became one of the most popular figures in the country brought the great contradiction of his thought into relief. The 19th century belonged to the bourgeoisie and the 20th century to the managers, he argued, because these rising classes had performed necessary social functions. His post-bourgeois proletariat, by contrast, were on the decline.
So was Francis. The supposed realist who cast hunger for power as the driving force of world history spent most of his time writing for journals with subscribers in the low five figures. In his last years, he was a lonely man. Before his sudden death from a cardiac aneurism in 2005, he had begun a study of conservatism and race. His masterpiece, Leviathan and Its Enemies, was still tucked away in a box of floppy disks; when it was published 11 years later, it would be under the auspices of a white-nationalist press. The right-leaning Washington Examiner ran one of his few obituaries. “Sam Francis,” it said, “was merely a racist and doesn’t deserve to be remembered as anything less.” It seemed just as likely that Francis would not be remembered at all.
"You want you to really listen to this,” Rush Limbaugh told his listeners in January this year. The king of rightwing talk radio was lecturing his audience, which averages around 13 million people a week, on Samuel Francis. Prompted by a magazine article casting Francis as the prophet of Trumpism, Limbaugh read aloud from one of Francis’s post-mortems on the Buchanan campaign. “What’s interesting,” Limbaugh said, “is how right on it is in foretelling Trump.” Before abandoning the subject, he added one point. Francis, Limbaugh noted, “later in life suffered the – acquired the – reputation of being a white supremacist”, a reputation Limbaugh insisted was undeserved.
The white nationalists who rallied to Francis in the last decade of his life disagree on that point, but they also see Trump as a vindication of their longtime inspiration. “Sam would have said that Trump is doing exactly what he advised Patrick Buchanan to do,” maintains Jared Taylor, who made news in the primary season when it was revealed that he had recorded automated phone messages endorsing Trump. (“White Supremacist Robocall Heartily Urges Iowa Voters to Support Trump,” reported a headline in the conservative Daily Caller.) According to Taylor’s American Renaissance, “Francis would be very pleased to see the GOP and conservative establishments mocked and destroyed.”
Even liberal commentators are looking back at Francis – whose prediction of a white working-class backlash against a globalist ruling elite seems to be coming true not just in the US but across Europe. “If you just drop the white nationalism a lot of Francis makes sense,” says Michael Lind, who once worked as an assistant to Buckley but now describes himself as a “radical centrist”. According to Lind, conservatives have been “spurning their natural constituency – the mostly white working class”, creating space for the rise of Trump.
Francis was also an inspiration for the team at the Journal of American Greatness, who called him “the closest thing to what could be described as the source of Trumpian thought” in their very first post. They admitted that Francis’s writing “overtly indulges various Southern nostalgias”, but insisted that his “deservedly criticised statements on race” could be separated from the core of his analysis. The managerial class was still the enemy, and only Trump seemed even dimly aware of what it would take to mount an effective challenge.
Trump the candidate, they admitted, was at best an imperfect messenger. But it was the message that counted: “The American regime – like nearly all its cousins in the west – has devolved into an oligarchy.” JAG was not just arguing that Trump’s campaign had a coherent agenda – a controversial assertion, given that many on both the left and right have dismissed Trump as an unhinged demagogue jabbing randomly at pressure points in the electorate. It was arguing that Trump succeeded because of his platform. Without those ideas, he would have been just another novelty candidate. Armed with them, any of Trump’s more disciplined rivals might have stolen the nomination from him – but instead they opted for recycled bromides from the Reagan era.
The site could be fiery in its defence of Trump, but the best moments came when its targets were the grandees of the right. There are plenty of scathing articles about rightwing thinktanks written from the left, but none of their authors could write a sentence such as “Seeing conservatives court billionaires – which I have had occasion to do dozens, if not hundreds, of times – is like watching dorks tell cheerleaders how pretty they are.”
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