Friday, April 28, 2017

Qatar Pays the Largest Ransom in History - $500,000,000

The Qataris and Saudis were hunting with falcons in southern Iraq in December 2015 when they were seized by armed men from the the powerful Iranian-supported movement known as Ketaeb of God. What an adventure hunting with falcons in southern Iraq must have seemed like to two dozen wealthy Qataris and two Saudi Arabian friends. The hunting party got permission to hunt with their birds of prey from the government in Baghdad. The group, including several members of the Qatari royal al-Thani family, was going to be in the 'safe' part of the country far from the fighting against Isis in the north around Mosul. But there are many armed groups in many parts of Iraq that are not under the control of the Baghdad government. The armed groups are called 'militia' but they are often more like private armies that carry out the goals of religious or other leaders who are essentially war lords. When not fighting other religious groups or 'enemy' targets the militias are often engaged in criminal enterprises with the aim of self enrichment

Southern Iraq is also heavily Shia and Qatar and Saudi Arabia have backed and are backing Sunni militants in Syria and Iraq who are making war on Shia communities. That this wealthy hunting party thought they could go into the heartland of the Shia as Qatar and Saudi Arabia fund and arm Sunni fanatics who make merciless war on Shia shows how out of touch they are. The hunter became the hunted. The 24 Qataris and 2 Saudis were captured by a Shia militia.

The ransom not only involved $500,000,000 in dollars and euros in 23 x-ray proof bags sent to Baghdad airport - the trade involved the release of two surrounded Shia communities in Syria and two surrounded Sunni 'rebel' communities being allowed to evacuate to other areas under a truce. The Islamist 'rebels' showed what they thought of the truce when a suicide bomber in a truck that seemed to be loaded with supplies and treats for children drove next to the evacuation buses of the Shia civilians. As the bomber called the children off a number of buses to his vehicle he set of an explosion that killed about 170 people and wounded another 350. Qatar backs the Islamist 'rebels' who send truck bombers to specifically target Shia children. Another part of the $500,000,000 deal felt through when the Baghdad authorities tried to x-ray and scan the 23 bags that came in on an airplane from Qatar. The bags were cut open and the hundreds of millions of dollars and euros where reveal to the Iraqi authorities who seized the money. The Qatari ambassador to Iraq was on the airplane but had not asked for the bags to be given diplomatic immunity. The Qataris had apparently thought the the hostage takers where working with the Iraqi airport authorities and would pick up the money at the airport.

The Iraq government does not want to give a half billion dollars to help fund a private army that they have no control over. "Hundreds of millions for armed groups? Is this acceptable?" Iraqi Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi asked later at a press conference. In a special confidential document Mr. Abadi sent on 22 April 2017 told the Dawa Party members that Qatar had requested landing permission for a plane at Baghdad International Airport on 15 April 2017 so that freed hostages from the hunting party could fly home. When the aircraft landed and was routinely inspected airport officials "were surprised that there were 23 large heavy bags that appeared without prior notice or approval." Going through the x-ray machine "the image appeared black," meaning the contents were in some kind of lead lined bag to avoid detection.

Strangely the Qatari ambassador to Iraq and a special envoy sent by the Qatari Emir Tamimbin Hamad al-Thani got off the plane but did not ask for diplomatic immunity for the bags of money. Apparently the Qataris thought the kidnappers and militia had their own operatives at the airport who would take the bags upon arrival as the hostages came to the plane.

Even before the bags were opened the airport officials could hear the Qataris talking as if the 23 bags contained money. But opening the bags revealed a great deal of money, "hundreds of millions of dollars and euros."

The Iraq government confiscated the money even as the Qatar government informed them that it was a ransom payment. The Iraq government had not been informed, and the Iraq government did not want to see a private army get a half a billion in funding.

Thursday, April 27, 2017

Puerto Rico Students Battle Colonial Austerity For the Right of Independence!

Workers Vanguard No. 1110 21 April 2017

Puerto Rico

Students Battle Colonial Austerity

For the Right of Independence!

Since March 28, students have been on strike at the University of Puerto Rico (UPR), the island’s main public university system with a total of 70,000 students. UPR has been the target of $348 million in budget cuts over the past three years and it faces more austerity demanded by the American colonial masters. The students’ main demands are no budget cuts and no tuition increases. The strike is being actively supported by the unions of teachers and campus workers, who have themselves experienced union-busting attacks, wage reductions and shrinking pensions over the past decade. The students’ battle gives voice to the anguish and anger of Puerto Ricans enduring a desperate economic situation—a direct consequence of imperialist colonial domination. Victory to the student strike!

Many strikers today remember the two-month student strike at UPR in 2010, when the students fought against attempts by the bourgeoisie and campus administration to implement tuition hikes and budget cuts. That strike was met with bloody police repression, but it successfully beat back the worst of the government’s and UPR administration’s attacks.

We stand for free, quality public education for all, including open admissions and a state-paid living stipend for all students! But under capitalism, the provision of education and other social services is subordinated to the ruling class’s drive for profit. Our Marxist perspective is for a free, egalitarian society based on material abundance, where education is an actual right. This can only be achieved through a socialist revolution that sweeps away the decaying capitalist system and establishes workers rule in the oppressed colonies and neocolonies as well as in the U.S.

In 2016, the Obama administration imposed a Financial Oversight and Management Board, known as the “junta,” to ensure that Puerto Rico’s debt of over $70 billion is paid to the hedge fund parasites and financial institutions. The capitalist investors claim that Puerto Ricans, almost half of whom subsist below the poverty line, have been living “beyond their means” and must pay. These vultures sucked the blood of Puerto Rico’s economy and for decades enjoyed a tax haven with low-wage labor. The junta’s task is to oversee implementation by the island’s government of the bipartisan bill passed by the U.S. Congress, grotesquely dubbed PROMESA (“promise,” Puerto Rico Oversight, Management, and Economic Stability Act). This law demands budget cuts of $450 million to education alone—in addition to more taxes, the sale of $4 billion worth of public buildings and the slashing of government spending. The governor, Ricardo Rosell√≥, is a union-busting lackey of the imperialists, who is faithfully imposing their austerity.

The Puerto Rican masses are threatened with the destruction of public education, health care, pensions and the privatization of the government-owned public utility company, the Puerto Rico Electric Power Authority. The teachers’ pension fund is so depleted that contributions by working teachers flow straight out to retirees. The New York Times (8 March) reported that “none of Puerto Rico’s current teachers can expect to get their money back, because the fund is due to run out of money in 2018.” Since 2008, more than 350 schools in Puerto Rico have closed and today many hospitals have no funding to provide essential services. Workers in the U.S. should take a side with the workers and oppressed of Puerto Rico who are being ground down by colonial oppression and demand: Cancel the debt!

A century ago, Puerto Ricans were given limited American citizenship rights, but they are unable to vote in federal elections and have no voting representation in Congress. When Puerto Rico came under the rule of the U.S. in 1898, as a result of the Spanish-American War, the population was forced to receive their education in English. In 1909, Spanish was banned in all public schools. This was an assault on four hundred years of language and culture under the guise of “civilizing a savage people.” It wasn’t until 1949 that Spanish became the language of public education.

As forthright opponents of national oppression and U.S. imperialism, we favor Puerto Rican independence. Puerto Ricans hate their second-class status as residents of a U.S. commonwealth, but their feelings about independence are mixed. On the one hand, people on the island have a very strong sense of nationhood; on the other, many are fearful of losing the ability to live and work on the mainland and of sinking to the level of poverty of their independent Caribbean neighbors. We oppose any attempts to forcibly impose independence against the will of the population. Thus, we emphasize the right of independence.

The fight against colonial oppression in Puerto Rico would necessarily be directed at the local agents of imperialism and could therefore act as a lever for socialist revolution. Such struggles would also reverberate throughout the Caribbean, Latin America and on the U.S. mainland.

About five million Puerto Ricans live in the United States (the population on the island is 3.5 million), where they are a component of the multiracial U.S. working class in many urban centers. These workers can be a link for class unity of workers in Puerto Rico and the United States against both the imperialists and their local enforcers. Our perspective is to build Leninist parties in the U.S. and in Puerto Rico whose goal is to establish workers rule.

As we said in our article “U.S. Colonialism Chokes Puerto Rico” (WV No. 1075, 2 October 2015):

“A victorious workers revolution in the U.S., in which class-conscious Puerto Rican workers can play a vanguard role, would immediately grant Puerto Rico independence and massive amounts of economic aid, establishing relations on the basis of its freedom to exercise national self-determination. But the spark of revolution could also come from the colonial or neocolonial countries. Workers struggle in Puerto Rico against U.S. colonial domination could inspire the multiracial working class on the mainland in the revolutionary overthrow of U.S. imperialism.”

Tuesday, April 25, 2017

'Wake Them Up!' - Making Videos About Ken Russell

When UK movie maker Ken Russell died in 2011 I made a number of videos using obituaries and summations of the man's work with a slide show as the visual. At one point the man had three first run films playing in London simultaneously. Yet he was treated as an eccentric joke by much of the British media for most of his working life. Ken Russell took chances, and he sure made mistakes, but his work is notable and striking.

Monday, April 24, 2017

Russia and China Should Fear the X37-B Space Plane

The Strategist 19 Oct 2016 by Malcolm Davis

A transformation in military space capabilities is occurring hundreds of kilometers above the Earth’s surface as the US Air Force X-37B Space Plane logs over 500 days in orbit in its latest mission.

The unmanned X-37B Space Plane is designed for long-endurance missions that are highly classified. It’s officially referred to as the ‘Orbital Test Vehicle’, and is described as a platform for testing “reusable spacecraft technologies for America’s future in space and operating experiments which can be returned to, and examined, on Earth.” A total of four missions have been flown since April 2010, with the fourth in progress since 20th May 2015. It’s designed to be launched on an expendable Atlas V booster, and there are currently two operational X-37Bs in the USAF’s inventory.

The current mission is testing a new type of ion-engine called a ‘Hall-effect thruster’. It was the Hall thrusters on the first USAF Advanced Extremely High Frequency (AEHF) satellite that saved the satellite when a rocket motor failed to raise it to the correct orbit. Hall thrusters provide higher thrust than traditional ion propulsion, with sustained thrust allowing a spacecraft to reach about 50km per second—much faster than even NASA’s Voyager 1 space probe now travelling out of the solar system at mere 17km per second. For satellites they provide a much more cost effective way of remaining in the right location within an orbit.

The laws of orbital dynamics and the fact that rockets use fuel at an alarming rate means satellites and spacecraft are not maneuverable like fighter aircraft within Earth’s atmosphere. Minimizing fuel use also demands the use of Hohmann transfer trajectories to move between orbits, reducing their orbital agility even further. Rocket engines and the need to carry large amounts of fuel adds mass and complexity to spacecraft design, blowing out cost and extending development time. Once the rocket fuel is used up, the spacecraft or satellite is useless.

The X-37B potentially changes this situation, as not only can the spacecraft be recovered and reused, but it uses a small amount of Xenon gas that is far lighter than traditional rocket fuel like hydrazine, though it has a high storage density to allow greater useful fuel. Maneuvering with Hall thrusters is slow compared to rockets (even though prolonged acceleration over time produces much higher velocities), but far more cost effective in terms of fuel. So the X-37B can stay up longer, maneuver at far lower cost in terms of fuel than a similar vehicle with traditional rockets, and enjoy a greater ability to maneuver within and between orbits. This flexibility would allow it to do more in space, including close surveillance of an adversary’s satellites in orbit, both in terms of optical imaging, and electronic intelligence and signals intelligence gathering. It can also fill a gap if satellites are badly positioned to respond to short notice events like a nuclear test in North Korea. The X-37B suggests a new generation of space capabilities beyond traditional satellites.

The Obama administration’s space policy eschews the weapons in space option. It instead emphasizes efforts towards ensuring space resilience and Space Situational Awareness (SSA) as a key aspects of space policy to deter adversary counter-space threats like anti-satellite (ASAT) weapons. Reconstitution of space capabilities after an adversary ASAT attack is also an essential aspect of space resilience, and DARPA is developing a vehicle similar to the X-37B, the XS-1 Spaceplane, which is designed to launch payloads at low cost in a responsive manner. Matching this responsive space launch capability with low-cost Cubesats means the US can rapidly replace lost capability after an attack.

Furthermore an ability to temporarily operate in a degraded space environment may also mitigate the effects of losing access to space capabilities. Yet the X-37B would give the next Administration an option to quickly develop a very advanced ASAT capability if it were needed. That’s going to be an important issue for the next occupant of the White House to consider, given that both Russia and China are continuing to ignore US efforts to prevent the weaponization of space, and are developing a broad range of ASAT capabilities that will allow them to threaten the vital satellites depended upon by the US and its allies. SSA only permits the monitoring of space activities, and real space resilience may need to include defending critical high-end satellites such as missile early warning, GPS or strategic communications satellites.

An expanded X-37B capability may be an answer to defending these vital assets through providing close-in escorting capabilities that can respond to an approaching threat before it can close within range of its target. For the US to take a step towards the weaponization of space is a policy dilemma for Washington and has implications on space security, both of which will considered in a subsequent article.

Saturday, April 22, 2017

Why this scientist is marching

"Science is real" and "Objective reality exists" read the signs that covered Jessie Square in San Francisco last December. "Immigrants make science great" read some at Boston's Copley Square in February.

An unlikely sector of the populace has begun to respond to the threat that the Trump agenda represents. Earth Day, April 22, has been called as a day of action for all of us who want to defend academic freedom, public health and the human habitability of the planet itself.

A few scientists were inspired by the January 21 women's marches that drew millions out in cities across the U.S. and began posting messages on Facebook that maybe those protesting were onto something. Maybe protest was the best way to defend ourselves against the anti-science agenda rolling out of D.C. And on January 22, scientists weren't merely onlookers. A contingent of hundreds of women and men in lab coats (some carrying their lab equipment) produced some of the loudest chants that day in Washington, D.C.

Why are science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) advocates so mad? What could possibly make us leave our microscopes and spectrometers en mass to engage in the political sphere?

Setting aside the fact that "STEMinist" T-shirts are selling like hotcakes and a huge proportion of STEM professionals are women, immigrants and LGBTQ people, scientists are mad because of, essentially, workplace grievances. In theory, the purpose of science is to understand the world so we can make positive change, but scientists cannot do this if we are unable to communicate our findings. And the current administration is not a fan of evidence-based peer-reviewed information being "leaked" to the public.

According to the Associated Press, political appointees of the current administration have been directed to review all studies and data from the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) prior to public release. "Review," in this case, will mean censorship. The current EPA scientific integrity statement reads that actions be "grounded, at a most fundamental level, in sound, high-quality science" that is "free from political interference." Clearly, this integrity can no longer be maintained without threat to one's career.

Even an agency as innocuous as the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) may be subject to political pressure. The FDA is the agency that ensures that our pills aren't going to make the cure worse than the disease. Before some federal oversight of our medications, drugs could have deadly side effects or be tainted with dangerous additives. Scott Gottlieb, Trump's candidate to head up the FDA, has suggested that rigorous clinical trials shouldn't be required for placing a drug on the market. Let the consumer decide if it is deadly--or, at least, their living relatives.

I AM marching on April 22 because, like other scientists, I'm mad about this. Like other scientists, I'm scared about this. And, like other scientists, I am determined to fight back.

I want to be counted among the people who are trying to send a message to the Trump administration that it should not cut public funding for science censor or restrict the communication of scientific findings or; ignore the scientific consensus in making policy.

But I also have other, more specific, reasons to march.

I am a teacher. Anyone who has ever taught, or even had a favorite teacher, knows the way teachers can care about their students. You become invested in how they feel, how well you help them get what they want in life. My task is to give them information, but much more importantly, to give them motivation and a method for exploring the natural world (I'm a biologist). And now, the same students I most inspired are the ones who won't have jobs--the students who wanted to study public health, the students who wanted to preserve endangered species, the students who wanted clean water. I work in the classroom to help them achieve this goal, why not also in the streets?

I am an anti-racist. Cuts to programs that protect the environment don't just affect all people equally. The lead crisis in Flint, Michigan, is the most recent well-known example, but the list goes on and on. It includes coal ash in Uniontown, Alabama; lead in West Dallas, Texas; and toxic polychlorinated biphenyls in Warren County, North Carolina. Environmental destruction disproportionately impacts communities of color.

The beginning of any struggle against environmental racism is to prove that the damage is happening. With severe cuts to the EPA, the routine monitoring will not happen. Say you smell oil as you walk by a creek on your way home from school. You call the city to report it, and they tell you to call the EPA. But no one is there to pick up the phone--they were all fired by the Trump administration.

There are also likely to be cuts in federal health-monitoring programs. Those who work on those programs study things like why, unlike the global trend, more and more mothers are dying during childbirth in the U.S. Just like many other health disparities, these women are disproportionately low-income and Black. The Trump administration doesn't want to fund the studies that help us know this, much less the programs to help us stop it.

I am a socialist. I believe that mass social movements can win big reforms. Scientists were an important part of the original mobilizations that led Richard Nixon to create the EPA in the first place. And the experience of fighting for something well beyond laboratory funding made a more healthy, left-wing science.

When scientists sit back and let the "experts" handle the politics, we are in trouble. Ordinary people mobilizing--that's what can win.

I expect that very few scientists voted for Trump. I imagine that almost all of the participants in the upcoming March for Science think we wouldn't need to march if Hillary Clinton had won.

But as scientists, we also call for evidenced-based policy--and there's not a lot of evidence that the Democrats in power have responded seriously to things like the life-or-death situation around climate change. Bernie Sanders called out the inaction, why can't we?

So I'm marching as part of an argument both for science and with science. We should have a grassroots movement that is independent and self-reliant. Only then will we be able to pressure any and all politicians to enact the immediate change that's so badly needed.

'March for Science' Worldwide Rallies - 22 April 2017

By Bryan Dyne

22 April 2017

Hundreds of thousands of scientists, researchers, workers and youth are poised to participate in today’s “March for Science.” The main rally will take place in Washington, DC, with sister demonstrations and marches taking place in more than 600 locations across the world, involving people in at least 130 countries and encompassing six continents. It is slated to be the world’s largest pro-science demonstration to date.

The initial impulse for the march arose when the Trump administration deleted all references to climate change from the official White House web site minutes after Trump’s inauguration. Scientists across the United States saw this as the opening salvo in a much broader attack on science generally, leading to the creation of the March for Science Facebook group calling for a demonstration in Washington, DC, mirroring the protests against the Trump administration before, during and in the weeks following Trump’s first days as president.

More broadly, the March for Science reflects the general anti-Trump sentiment in the majority of the US and world’s population. The fact that the Facebook group has attracted more than 830,000 members shows just how many people, both scientists and non-scientists from all corners of the globe, are seeking an avenue to oppose the Trump administration and its reactionary policies.

One measure of this is the fact that the march has been endorsed by virtually every US organization with an orientation towards science and several international scientific institutions, including the American Association for the Advancement of Science, The Planetary Society, the Union of Concerned Scientists and the Bulletin of Atomic Scientists. The notable exceptions are endorsements from the official scientific agencies of various governments, such as ESA or NASA, though no doubt individuals from these organizations support and will be participating in the marches.

The event is being led by three honorary co-chairs, Dr. Mona Hanna-Attisha, Bill Nye “the Science Guy” and Dr. Lydia Villa-Komaroff, all of whom have been involved on some level as advocates for science in the political arena. Dr. Hanna-Attisha fought to expose lead poisoning in Flint, Bill Nye has repeatedly spoken out against climate change deniers and Dr. Villa-Komaroff pioneered the field of biotechnology.

Despite this, however, and despite the anti-Trump origins of the March for Science, the organizers have taken great pains to avoid any discussions of the anti-science policies of various Trump administration officials, from EPA administrator Scott Pruitt, to Secretary of Energy Rick Perry to Trump himself. No mention has been made of the policies that allow for the destruction of the environment, attacks on public education or various forms of censorship that scientists in the US and internationally often face, much less the increasing danger of nuclear war and the existential threat that this poses to all life on Earth.

These limitations are summed up in the declaration that attacks on science “are not a partisan issue.” While the mission statement for the March for Science correctly notes that science has been attacked by both Republicans and Democrats, it does not fully explain the inherently political nature of this question.

This is particularly striking when one considers that one of the three honorary co-chairs for the event is Dr. Mona Hanna-Attisha, director of the Flint Hurley Medical Center’s pediatric residency program, and the person who first revealed the doubling and tripling of lead in the blood of Flint children since April 2014. The science behind lead poisoning has been understood for decades, particularly the potentially deadly effect it has, especially on children.

This has become an intensely political issue for the residents of Flint, who are outraged over the fact that this problem was known to city and state officials but ignored by state appointed Emergency Manager Darnell Earley to slash city operating costs in order to pay city debts to Wall Street banks. Dr. Hanna-Attisha herself was attacked by city and state officials for tampering with the data even as residents were becoming ill and dying.

The forces that suppressed the lead poisoning data in Flint can trace their political heritage to those that have denied the dangers of nuclear winter for nearly four decades, those that attacked the theory of evolution during the Scopes Monkey Trial in 1925, and even as far back as the reactionary methods used to suppress Copernicus’ idea that the Earth revolves around the Sun. In every one of these cases, the scientists threatened material and political interests and were forcefully attacked.

The challenge for those participating in today’s march is not merely the “celebration of science,” but of connecting the attacks on science to the broader attacks on all progressive aspects of modern society by capitalism, a social and economic system in which all human activity is subordinated to the profit motive. As such, scientists and their supporters must connect the defense of science to the struggle of the most progressive social force in society, the working class, against the corporate elite.

Thursday, April 20, 2017

Louisiana's Governor Declares State Of Emergency Over Disappearing Coastline

20 April 2017 by Merrit Kennedy Instagram

Louisiana Gov. John Bel Edwards has declared a state of emergency over the state's rapidly eroding coastline.

It's an effort to bring nationwide attention to the issue and speed up the federal permitting process for coastal restoration projects.

"Decades of saltwater intrusion, subsidence and rising sea levels have made the Louisiana coast the nation's most rapidly deteriorating shoreline," WWNO's Travis Lux tells our Newscast unit. "It loses the equivalent of one football field of land every hour."

More than half of the state's population lives on the coast, the declaration states. It adds that the pace of erosion is getting faster: "more than 1,800 square miles of land between 1932 and 2010, including 300 square miles of marshland between 2004 and 2008 alone."

The governor estimates that if no further action is taken, "2,250 square miles of coastal Louisiana is expected to be lost" in the next 50 years. He emphasized the importance of the land to industries such as energy, maritime transportation and trade.

Lux says the governor hopes this will pave the way to move ahead with coastal projects:

"The state has a plan to implement more than 100 restoration and protection projects — like rebuilding marshes and barrier islands — but some of those projects are getting slowed down by federal environmental permits."

Those projects are part of a 50-year, $50 billion master plan that was unanimously approved by a state panel on Wednesday, according to The Times-Picayune. The newspaper says the plan "relies largely on money from settlement of the 2010 BP oil spill litigation to speed restoration of coastal land and wetlands and protect them from hurricanes."

Now Edwards is asking President Trump to declare the erosion of Louisiana's coast a national emergency and "provide appropriate federal attention and cooperation" to assist the state. The emergency declaration also asks for Congress to "consider legislation to provide for means by which to expedite all federal permitting and environmental review."

The New Orleans Advocate newspaper points out that Wednesday's emergency declaration and master plan are designed to work hand in hand:

"The juxtaposition of urgency and long-term planning is necessary when it comes to the coast, state officials have said. Projects to help stave off land loss will take years to design and build, but an emergency declaration could cut years off the permitting process for those projects."

BBC Report: “A Spy in the IRA” reveals British collusion in Irish Republican Army internal discipline murders

By Steve James 21 April 2017

The BBC’s April 11 flagship documentary Panorama, “The Spy in the IRA” by veteran journalist John Ware, highlighted the decades-long British state infiltration of the Provisional Irish Republican Army (IRA).

Ware centred on Alfredo Scappaticci, who became infamous 14 years ago, in 2003, when he was named as the alleged British agent “Stakeknife.”

Scappaticci, notorious as the alleged one time head of the IRA’s Internal Security, responsible for identifying and dealing with informers, denied everything.

In the intervening period, such material that has emerged into the public domain has tended to confirm the role of “Stakeknife” in the extended and murderous British military intelligence operation, which for many years hopelessly compromised the security of the IRA.

Three years after Scappaticci was named, in 2006, Denis Donaldson, the former head of the IRA’s international relations, was exposed as a long-term British agent.

Donaldson was assassinated later the same year. No one has ever been charged with the killing.

In 2008, Roy McShane, also formerly of IRA Internal Security, was taken into “protective custody” for fear his role as a British agent was about to be revealed.

Scappaticci, Donaldson, and McShane are only a few of the most prominent figures thus far identified, in what is now assumed to be a list of agents that runs into many hundreds.

The role of “Stakeknife” and Scappaticci’s name only became known because of the efforts of a former British military intelligence officer, Ian Hurst. Hurst was a member of the British Army’s Force Research Unit (FRU), one of whose tasks was running spies in both loyalist and republican paramilitary organisations. Hurst appears to be primarily motivated by anger over the fact that British agents’ lives were sacrificed to maintain “Stakeknife’s” cover within the IRA. This was chiefly the angle taken by Ware, although the broadcast shed light on how Scappaticci came to be recruited.

Former IRA volunteer, now historian and writer, Anthony McIntyre, told Ware that Scappaticci was an admired and feared republican figure in the Markets area of Belfast. Scappaticci was detained in 1971, when, during the early years of “the Troubles” the British government introduced mass internment without trial, and was only released four years later.

Sometime after this, according to Ware, Scappaticci, who was a building worker, appears to have become tangled up in a VAT fraud. He was arrested by the Royal Ulster Constabulary (RUC), was recruited as a police informer and avoided prosecution. At some later stage, responsibility for handling him was transferred to the FRU. He was given number 6126, and a codename, “Stakeknife.” By this time, he already appears to have been placed in the IRA’s Internal Security section, which he came to lead during the 1980s.

McIntyre described Internal Security as “like an electrical junction box through which every wire must flow.”

Scappaticci was able to inform his handlers on many operations the IRA was planning and on threats to other perceived or real British agents within the organisation. Some of these, like Vincent Robinson, were innocent. According to Ware, Robinson was killed by the IRA after he was tortured by the police into revealing the location of an arms dump.

Others, such as Frank Hegarty, were spies. Hegarty was a republican who dropped out of the movement, then rejoined as an FRU agent. Having passed on the whereabouts of a stash of Libyan-supplied arms, he was shot in the head in 1986. According to Ware, Scappaticci knew Hegarty was going to be killed and told his handlers as much.

Ware has also recently brought out another aspect of Scappaticci’s activities, although this was not covered by Panorama.

Writing in the Irish Times April 15, Ware noted that Scappaticci was also responsible for the IRA’s “Civil Administration” in nationalist areas. According to Ware, Civil Administration was responsible for the vile practice of shooting working class youth in the knees, elbows and ankles for petty misdemeanours such as car theft and drug dealing. One mother described Scappaticci as warning her, “The next time we hear he’s been at it, or of any complaints against him, I will personally blow the head off him.”

The man in question was shot dead a few years later.

In 2016, after years of delay, the British police opened Operation Kenova, a £35 million police investigation involving as many as 50 detectives from across the UK with a remit to establish whether there is evidence of crimes that may have been committed by “Stakeknife” or “by members of the British Army, the Security Services or other Government agencies.”

Head of Operation Kenova, Jon Boutcher was distinctly non-committal to Panorama, but Ware outlined the circumstances surrounding two of the cases with which Kenova is likely to be dealing.

One was the murder of Joe Fenton, a Belfast estate agent who was manipulated into serving as an agent for the Special Branch of the then Northern Ireland police, the RUC. According to Ware, Fenton set up safe houses for the IRA, which were then bugged by Special Branch and information gathered used to compromise their operations. As head of IRA Internal Security, Fenton came to Scappaticci’s attention, as did a succession of failed operations. Scappaticci is said to have warned his handlers that an investigation into Fenton was imminent. Nothing was done, so Fenton was interrogated and shot.

As many as 50 murders are alleged to have been carried out by Internal Security, 30 under Scappaticci. By contrast, another agent, Sandy Lynch, who was facing the same fate under Scappaticci’s supervision, was rescued at the last moment by the RUC.

The entire sordid affair is a testimony to the brutal and oppressive character of the British and Northern Ireland military, intelligence and police operations against the IRA during the decades-long “dirty war.” But Sinn Fein have also colluded with the British state in preventing exposure of the infiltration and subversion of their own ranks and leading bodies. This is consistent with the party’s key goal of securing a working agreement with British imperialism. Following the 1999 Good Friday Agreement, and 2006 St Andrews Agreement, Sinn Fein has functioned as a loyal government partner with the hard-right Democratic Unionist Party (DUP) in Northern Ireland and currently promotes itself as a prospective coalition partner with either Fine Gael or Fianna Fail in the Irish Republic.

Sinn Fein are currently embroiled in protracted negotiations with the British government and the DUP over the terms on which it might be possible for the Northern Ireland Assembly to be revived after an indecisive election in March left the DUP with just one more seat than Sinn Fein. Items under dispute include the impact of Brexit, the status of the Northern Ireland border, the Irish language, and the continued leadership of the DUP by Arlene Foster.

Also under discussion are the so-called “legacy” cases of “the Troubles.” However, while historical cases are the subject of immense tension between the talks’ participants, none of them, including Sinn Fein, have any interest in a full exposure of what took place since all are compromised and implicated.

Tuesday, April 18, 2017

Boston's Revolutionary Doctor - Antoinette Konikow: A Trotskyist To The End

by John G. Wright

From The Militant, Vol. 10, No. 28, July 13 1946, p. 3.

Antoinette Konikow was a revolutionary socialist to the last day of her life. A striking incident the night before she died indicates her spirit.

One of her friends in the medical profession, a leading Boston psychiatrist, visited her. Antoinette has long been famous in the medical world. But the conversation quickly turned to questions far more important than shop talk. Antoinette raised the question of dialectical materialism. The doctor responded with an attack on the dialect method claiming that it has not been borne out by latest developments in science.

Antoinette did not spend much time on the defensive. Almost 60 years as a Marxist had taught her the extraordinary importance of the dialectic method, and all her experiences in the medical field as well as study in other sciences had only confirmed what she had learned from the great Marxist teachers. She opened up with a counter-attack that quickly won her the upper hand. And then to pursue her advantage she persuaded her foe in dialectics to continue the subject the following night.

Antoinette wanted to pass on to the younger generation the lessons and truths gleaned in a long lifetime of hard experience. Three years ago, she retired from active practice, intending to devote the remainder of her life entirely to recording the most important things she had learned.

She assembled the great mass of notes she had jotted down from time to time and began putting them in order. First on the agenda was her memoirs. After writing about her childhood and youth in Czarist Russia and Germany as a background, she took up her political recollections. These begin with her impressions of George Plekhanov, the founder of Russian Marxism and teacher of Lenin.

Still Learning—At 76!

To facilitate her work she decided last winter to learn touch typing—at the age of 76! Her letters to the Political Committee changed all at once from the long-familiar, diffieult-to-de- cipher handwriting to neatly typed communications.

But she did not succeed in finishing her memoirs. The considerable body of material she leaves will have to be assorted and woven together by someone else.

Her main objective in this work was to leave the younger generation with a true impression of more than a half century of revolutionary socialism. She had seen what damage opportunism can do. With her own eyes she saw the Second International brought to ruin and betrayal. In the light of this experience she understood to the full the need for battling Stalinism tooth and nail, for the Stalinist regime not only spreads the same poison-of opportunism as the Second International, but wields totalitarian state power with utter ruthlesness. Consequently she devoted a great deal of her last days to analyzing the revolutionary period of the Communist International in order to show what the Bolsheviks under Lenin and Trotsky really set out to do. The task of her gener- action, she felt, was to hand on the program of revolutionary socialism as Marx, Engels, Lenin and Trotsky had shaped it. Her study of the First Four Congresses of the Communist International resulted in an outline for class use and much additional unpublished material.

She wanted especially to write down her impressions of the Bolshevik generation that led the October 1917 revolution. Many of them she knew personally. They were the men cruelly slandered by Stalin as fascist “dogs gone mad.” She knew them to be victims of Stalin, framed- up in the Moscow trials organized by the Kremlin dictator.

In 1940 she visited Leon Trotsky and his wife Natalia at Coyoacan. There the friendship with the great revolutionary couple, already many years old,: was still more firmly cemented. The assassination of Trotsky by a GPU agent was a terrible personal blow to Antoinette. Despite her age, Antoinette followed the press very closely. She intervened actively in political events, following the Militant and Fourth International and sending in her criticisms and opinions.

Recently she pointed out the necessity for the European Trotskyist movement to start up a paper in the Russian language. She mentioned the hundreds of thousands of Russian-speaking refugees now in various countries. The paper, she thought, should be popularly written, and even if her own Russian wasn’t “classical” she was willing to become a contributor.

Antoinette spent her last days in the kind of surroundings she loved most, a cottage on the shores of Morse Pond, a beautiful lake at Wellesley, Massachusetts. The green surroundings reminded her of the Black Forest country of Germany where she one lived. She particularly admired a great pine tree standing between the porch and the lake. Some time ago a bolt of lightning ripped through the branches of this tree. After every storm Antoinette came out to see hour it had weathered the ordeal. But it always stood, sturdy and strong, ruggedly beautfiul despite the scars of time, wind and lightning.

Busy With Party Tasks

It was here that Antoinette Konikow died, busy with party tasks up to the very end.

Antoinette was not only a great teacher and leader of the Trotskyist movement. She was an Integral part of the Boston branch of the Socialist Workers Party. The members counted her as their closest friend and advisor. Most of them she had nurtured as budding revolutionary socialist politicians of the working class, and she took great personal interest in the development of each one. Her classes in speaking, in the principles of Marxism, and in the history of the movement gave most of the Boston comrades their first insight into Trotskyism.

No one saw through sham and pretense quicker than Antoinette. No one had more contempt for the traitors, the liars and the tyrants who occupy the high places. No one was more revolted than she over the medals showered by Stalin on his sycophants. But that did not prevent her from seeing the value of genuine leaders and of appreciation well earned. In fact she probably understood the pricelessness of these things all the more because she was a real iconoclast. One of the most moving incidents in her political life was her reaction to an autographed photograph and letter from Leon Trotsky on her Fiftieth Anniversary in the Marxist movement. In response to the tribute paid her by those present on the occasion, she responded:

Trotsky’s Warm Tribute

“The comrades have received me with warmth and friendship. It gives me tremendous happiness. The kind words written by Comrade Trotsky on his picture presented to me remind me of the greatest honor—the honor that was! —given to comrades in Russia, the Order of Lenin pinned upon their breasts. I feel as if Comrade Trotsky has pinned the Order of Trotsky on my breast! Not that I am a hero- worshipper—for I have helped to pull down too many heroes from their pedestals, But in the last ten years of darkness, of despair, the words of Leon Trotsky have been like a bell for a ship in distress, leading it to safe harbor.”

How to Trap a Wild Squirrel

In US eastern cities, before the Civil War, squirrels had been hunted to extinction. Cities with large populations like Boston, New York, and Philadelphia were free of squirrels because people had hunted and eaten then since colonial times.

Around 1870 nature boosters began to release birds and squirrels into newly constructed urban parks. The animals were seen as a way to bring wild creatures back into the city for all to experience a bit of nature.

Now, squirrels are everywhere in cities across the US and spend a lot of their time chewing on things. As rodents squirrels have sharp teeth that grow continuously. Squirrels have to chew on hard things to keep their teeth the right length and sharpness. So, they chew on trees and houses and power lines and telephone poles and....anything. They get in people's houses or businesses and chew, chew, chew.

So...people want to get rid of the squirrels in their homes or property. If they are inside a building one can leave out cubes of rat poison stuck in peanut butter. Large spring rat traps can be baited with peanut butter and peanuts to attract a squirrel. There are many brands of catch and release traps available for about $30 or $40 and up.

If one catches or traps a rodent or squirrel inside a home or property one can kill it. Some removal experts say that they have put color code marks on squirrels fur and released them ten miles away and then caught the same animal later. So putting a squirrel down is perhaps the best way to stop squirrel problems in a home or business. One way is to fill a barrel with water and put the trapped animals cage into the water for a quick death. Squirrels cause millions of dollars of damage and untold numbers of fires and danger to humans.

Trapping a squirrel outdoors is a different story. One can not release a capture squirrel onto a public park or woods. If one catches a squirrel on their city property the only legal way to release the animal is to buy property in the country and release the animal there. Check local rules and regulations.

Monday, April 17, 2017

Syrian rebels massacre at least 126 civilians in suicide bomb blast

17 April 2017

A convoy of buses evacuating residents from the government-held towns of Foua and Kefraya in Syria’s Idlib province was targeted by a suicide bomber Saturday, claiming the lives of at least 126 civilians. The attack occurred west of Aleppo as the buses made their way to government-controlled areas.

The evacuation of the residents of the two towns began Friday morning and was part of a swap deal agreed between the government of Bashar al-Assad and rebel forces. In exchange for allowing the evacuation of residents from Foua and Kefraya, rebels agreed to resettle the populations of Madaya and Zabadani, two towns they control near Damascus. In total, around 7,250 people were evacuated from the four towns. It was part of a broader plan brokered by Iran and Qatar to move up to 30,000 people over a 60-day period.

According to the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, which is linked to the rebels, 68 children were killed in the blast. Other sources have put the figure as high as 80.

The observatory confirmed the blast was caused by an improvised explosive device carried in a vehicle, backing up an earlier report on Syrian state TV which said the attackers used a van meant for delivering aid to gain access to the area.

An al-Jazeera reporter at the scene described how many of the buses were completely destroyed and dead bodies littered the ground. Ambulances rushed those from the scene who had been injured.

Although no group has yet claimed responsibility for the attack, it occurred in a rebel-controlled area. Ahrar al-Sham, a conservative Islamist militia, condemned the bombing and called for an international investigation to determine who was to blame.

In stark contrast to the moral outrage expressed by politicians and the media in the wake of the alleged gas attack in Khan Sheikhoun earlier this month, which the Trump administration seized upon to launch an illegal missile strike on a Syrian air base, the death of over 100 Syrians in a suicide bombing—substantially more than the number who died in the alleged gas attack—prompted virtually no condemnation from the Western powers.

The US State Department released a weasel-worded statement which, while condemning the killings, sought to strike a pose of impartiality and refused even to identify the rebel Islamist militias as being responsible. “We deplore any act that sustains or empowers extremists on all sides including today’s attack,” said State Department spokesman Mark Toner.

At a comparable stage in the aftermath of the Khan Sheikhoun incident, just hours after the alleged attack, US government officials had already acted as judge, jury and executioner, and were proclaiming the guilt of the Assad regime without presenting any evidence.

President Donald Trump, who invoked the deaths of “beautiful babies” and the need to defend the “civilized world” in justifying his April 6 cruise missile strike, which killed nine civilians, did not even comment on the bloodbath carried out by forces linked to the American CIA.

For their part, the servile corporate-controlled media reported on the incident, if at all, in a largely routine manner.

The New York Times published a lengthy front-page report concentrating almost exclusively on the crimes committed by Assad during the war, alleging that “the largest number of violations by far has been by the Syrian government.” It criticized the failure to bring government officials before the International Criminal Court in the Hague and blamed Russia for blocking any action by the UN Security Council.

The general indifference shown by the political and media establishment to the victims of this brutal massacre exposes once again the hypocrisy of the crusaders for “human rights” in the United States and the European imperialist powers. It demonstrates the fraudulent character of the propaganda campaign in the wake of the alleged gas attack, designed to conceal the real aims of US imperialist intervention in Syria: regime change in Damascus and the consolidation of Washington’s hegemonic position in the energy-rich Middle East against any challenge from its geopolitical rivals.

The reason for the lack of reaction is not hard to find. While it remains unclear precisely which faction of the rebels carried out the mass slaughter, Washington and its Gulf allies have the main responsibility for arming the collection of right-wing Islamist militias fighting the Assad dictatorship and enabling them to continue the civil war. The opposition is now dominated by the al-Nusra Front, which was formerly affiliated to Al Qaeda.

If any journalist were honest enough to follow the evidence, they would have to apportion a significant part of the blame for the bus convoy bombing to the criminal and reckless policies of US imperialism. More than six years after instigating the Syrian civil war, Washington has the blood of an estimated 500,000 Syrians on its hands.

This does not even take into account the upwards of 1 million people killed as a result of the illegal invasion of Iraq in 2003, the hundreds of thousands of deaths due to wars either led or sponsored by Washington in Afghanistan, Yemen, and Somalia, and the millions throughout the region forced to flee their homes as a consequence of conflict and societal breakdown.

The highly selective concern shown for “human rights” issues by the representatives of US imperialism is nothing new. Saturday’s bombing came less than a month after a single US air strike launched as part of the ruthless onslaught against Mosul, Iraq’s second largest city, claimed the lives of as many as 300 civilians sheltering in a basement. This horrific war crime, coming on top of the thousands of civilian deaths that have occurred since the US-backed offensive was launched last October, was largely buried by the media.

The ruling class considers the deaths of civilians to be collateral damage—a price worth paying in their ruthless struggle to uphold US imperialist interests in the Middle East and around the globe. Barely 24 hours after the bus bombing, Trump’s National Security Adviser General H.R. McMaster vowed in an ABC News interview that Washington was ready to escalate tensions with Russia still further, not only over Syria, but over Europe as well.

McMaster said of Russia’s alliance with Assad, “So Russia’s support for that kind of horrible regime, that is a party to that kind of a conflict, is something that has to be drawn into question as well as Russia’s subversive actions in Europe. And so I think it’s time though, now, to have those tough discussions with Russia.”

Friday, April 14, 2017

Verizon Strike 2016 - One Year Anniversary - Challenged a Giant and Won April 13, 2017

April 13 marks the one-year anniversary of the start of a nationwide strike at Verizon that won important gains for Verizon workers. Danny Katch talked to Dominic Renda, a call center worker and member of Communications Workers of America (CWA) Local 1105, and Amy Muldoon, a technician and shop steward in CWA Local 1106, about their memories of the strike, and some of the lessons it can hold for workers and others fighting to defend their rights under the Trump presidency.


WHAT WERE you striking for?

Dom: Verizon wanted to eliminate our job security. We had known they wanted to lay us off by the thousands since 2002, when they did lay us off by the thousands and the union took the company to court, won that battle and those thousands of employees got their jobs back. So Verizon has wanted to lay us off since then, and they need to eliminate our job security language to be able to do that.

Amy: They wanted to reorganize their workforce to be more "flexible." They wanted to be able to transfer us, lay us off and basically be able to change everything in the contract: vacation days, personal days, overtime regulation, right of transfer. Then they wanted to change all our benefits and protections as well. So it was kind of from the bottom up that they wanted to rewrite the whole thing.

WHAT WAS the result of the strike?

Dom: We beat them back on their attempt to eliminate job security. We won restrictions on outsourcing--there was quite a bit of our work that we got back, which was pretty much unprecedented. How often do you hear of outsourced work coming back anywhere, whether it be a union location or a non-union location?

We won the creation of 1,000 new jobs, and that was also something that pleasantly surprised me because I think a lot of us didn't see that coming. We had lost about half our membership over the years as a result of people quitting, getting fired or passing away, and Verizon hadn't replaced the people that had left. So this was the first time that we got new people hired in a long time.

Amy: People talk about the couple of years in the run-up to the contract expiration as the worst years in their careers at Verizon. Morale was incredibly low, attendance was terrible. In the last six months before the strike, there was the imposition of a disciplinary program called the Quality Assurance Review (QAR), which meant that you could be questioned about literally every minute of your day.

It was used to fish for any violation that a technician might have incurred in the course of their workday. And even if they didn't find anything, these interviews would go on for six hours--some people were repeatedly interviewed. In Manhattan they racked up 700 days of suspension while the QAR was in effect. It was just horribly demoralizing and people felt harassed and insulted.

So I think dignity on the job was one of the things that people felt they were fighting for and that fueled a lot of anger on the picket lines. And QAR was gotten rid of in the course of the strike.

They haven't gotten rid of all the jerk managers, that's for sure. But I think that upper management has realized that they want to stick with the wire line side of the business because wireless is not the cash cow that it was two years ago. So they want peace, and I think a lot of that has to do with the fact that we won the strike.

They could have had peace on their terms, which was a terrified, disorganized workforce. But now we're seeing peace on our terms, which means less mandatory Saturdays and less harassment. And the QAR has been eliminated and been replaced by something called Performance Plus--we don't fully know what that means yet, but we do know that we haven't seen people being called in week after week and their entire day being gone over with a fine toothed comb.

We've also seen more leniency on disciplinary cases. Where before managers might have felt entitled to just send someone home for 30 days, we've now seen cases in my own garage where that hasn't happened. So even though the strike was a real hardship, it did have positive benefits for our working lives.

Dom: Also, the most inspirational part of this contract victory was Verizon Wireless workers in Brooklyn winning their first contract--they had been negotiating for two years prior to that. That was huge because now we can use that to organize and mobilize other wireless workers.

DID WINNING the strike make a difference in the daily quality of your life?

Dom: Absolutely it did. Before our strike happened I felt like the union was going to be in a perpetual decline until it didn't exist anymore, and our jobs were just going to be eliminated somehow. I remember talking to my family and saying I might have to move into your basement again because I don't know how much longer I'm going to have a job.

So I went from concerned about whether I'm even going to work for Verizon in the future to having a sense of security that we can reverse this tide of decline that's been going on for years with our union.

CAN YOU give me one particularly strong memory from the strike that still sticks with you to this day?

Dom: Just a lot of uncertainty. You don't know you're going to win the strike when it's happening; you don't know how long it's going to go on. So it's just the uncertainty, but also the inspiration, because so many other workers--janitors and random members of the public--were coming out to support us. So even though there was a lot of uncertainty, there was a lot of cause for hope.

Amy: The two things--I'm going to cheat--were being in my doctor's office and getting a phone call that the police had just escorted scab vehicles through an active picket line, which just inflamed people to no end. The company was bringing out-of-state contractors up with their own equipment and putting them up in the outer borough hotels and a mass picket went to greet them in the morning. It was one of those expressions of people's pent-up rage finally boiling over. You could see all the forces in society that wanted us to lose lined up on one side, and to know that we triumphed against that is pretty incredible.

The other thing I remember was being part of a solidarity event the day that the contract was settled, and just the feeling of excitement that we didn't know what was in the contract, but we were pretty certain that we had won. And it was a different feeling than any of us had had before. Because it was really our victory: we knew we fought for it and we earned every letter of that contract.

YOU'VE BOTH been on strike before. What was different this time among the members?

Dom: I really was impressed with a lot of members' eagerness to picket at Verizon Wireless store locations, where we were organizing a boycott. I was also impressed with our membership--that we didn't fall into management's traps. Management had sent us all letters on how to scab. People literally burned those letters and got creative on how to destroy them.

Amy: We had a terrible strike in 2011 that was floundering and then cut short. There was a resentment and distrust in the union, and then there was a change in the leadership, and I think they really won the respect and trust of the membership. Part of the way they did that was they gave people the room to fight and organize on their own terms. That experience for some individuals was transformative, and I think it healed our union in a lot of ways. People feel much more confident and less cynical post-strike than they did pre-strike.

THE STRIKE happened in the spring of 2016, at the same time as Trump was running for president on the theme of the decline of blue collar America. But while the strike made news while it was happening, why do you think it didn't have more of an affect on the national conversation about how to defend decent working-class jobs?

Dom: Even while our strike was going on, it didn't get the media attention that we deserved. Our strike was the largest strike in the United States for five years prior. There was a You Tube channel called Redacted Tonight that said our strike got less coverage than Donald Trump's tweet about a taco bowl.

Working people don't necessarily have confidence in their own self-activity. So even though our strike beat back a huge corporate behemoth, it doesn't translate into the entire working class realizing that they have power again. And that's why I feel like it's important to remember the strike one year later to remember that working people do have power and that they can take on huge corporate forces that make over a billion dollars in profit every month and we can win.

Amy: Who would remind people of the lessons of our strike? Trump? Clinton? It's up to people like us to keep that memory alive. Too many people still think that change is going to come from above. So until the working class movement in this country has more of its own institutions and more of its own voice, it's going to feel like these things happen in isolation from each other. But I was on a picket line today at Spectrum and the people there remember our strike very well. So I think that for people who are forced to be in a situation of fighting for their jobs, it is a relevant lesson.

My favorite strike action of the Trump presidency thus far was the strike of the taxi workers who refused to go to JFK during the first go attempt at the Muslim travel ban. I don't think we can take credit for that action, but these things provide reference points for people who are trying to figure out what's the most powerful way you can push back.

WHAT LESSONS can we take from the strike for the Trump era?

Dom: I hope that people learn from our strike and use the strike weapon to their advantage, whether it be at their workplace or for whatever cause their fighting for like LGBTQ rights or immigrant rights or against war. I just hope the strike weapon is used more because it is effective.

Amy: One lesson is, don't drink management's Kool-Aid. Donald Trump thinks that he's utterly unbeatable, to the point that he doesn't recognize losing when it happens. Verizon thought they could replace a skilled workforce with people who they trained for a week who never worked on fiber, and look how that turned out. It was a combination of overreach on the part of management--and every time we turn on the news we see overreach on the part of the administration--and then when people take it in their own hands to push back, it's possible to win.

Thursday, April 13, 2017

Charlie Hebdo Does Trump

Children prefer to read books on paper rather than screens

There is a common perception that children are more likely to read if it is on a device such as an iPad or Kindles. But new research shows that this is not necessarily the case.

In a study of children in Year 4 and 6, those who had regular access to devices with eReading capability (such as Kindles, iPads and mobile phones) did not tend to use their devices for reading - and this was the case even when they were daily book readers.

Research also found that the more devices a child had access to, the less they read in general.

It suggests that providing children with eReading devices can actually inhibit their reading, and that paper books are often still preferred by young people.

These findings match previous research which looked at how teenagers prefer to read. This research found that while some students enjoyed reading books on devices, the majority of students with access to these technologies did not use them regularly for this purpose. Importantly, the most avid book readers did not frequently read books on screens. Why do we think children prefer to read on screens?

There is a popular assumption that young people prefer to read on screens. This was mainly driven by education writer Marc Prensky who in 2001 coined the term "digital natives". This term characterises young people as having high digital literacy and a uniform preference for screen-based reading.

But young people do not have a uniform set of skills, and the contention that screens are preferred is not backed up by research.

Despite this, the myth has already had an impact on book resourcing decisions at school and public libraries, both in Australia and in the US, with some libraries choosing to remove all paper books in response to a perceived greater preference for eBooks.

But by doing this, libraries are actually limiting young people's access to their preferred reading mode, which in turn could have a detrimental impact on how often they choose to read.

Young people are gaining increasing access to devices through school-promoted programs, and parents face aggressive marketing to stay abreast of educational technologies at home.

Schools are motivated to increase device use, with Information and Communication Technology being marked as a general capability to be demonstrated across every subject area in the Australian Curriculum.

The drivers toward screen-based recreational book reading are strong, but they are not well-founded. Why are students more likely to prefer paper books?

Reading on devices through an application leaves more room to be distracted, allowing the user to switch between applications.

For students who already experience difficulty with attention, the immediate rewards of playing a game may easily outweigh the potentially longer-term benefits of reading.

Digital literacy could also be an issue. In order to use a device to read books, children need to know how to use their devices for the purpose of reading books.

They need to know how to access free reading material legally through applications such as Overdrive or websites such as Project Gutenburg. Tips for encouraging your child to read

Research shows that reading books is a more effective way to both improve and retain literacy skills, as opposed to simply reading other types of text. Yet international research suggests that young people are reading fewer and fewer books.

While equipping children with devices that have eReading capability is unlikely to encourage them to read, there are a number of strategies, supported by research, that can help encourage children to pick up a book. These include:

Be seen to enjoy reading. This study found that a number of students did not know if their literacy teachers actually liked reading. Teachers who were keen readers inspired some students to read more often and take an interest in a broader range of books.

Create (and regularly access) reading-friendly spaces at home and at school. Loud noises, poor lighting and numerous distractions will not help provide an enjoyable reading experience, and are likely to lead to frustration.

Encourage regular silent reading of books at school and at home. Giving children time to read at school not only encourages a routine of reading, but it also may be the only opportunity a child has to read self-selected books for pleasure.

Teachers and parents should talk about books, sharing ideas and recommendations.

Continue to encourage your child and students to read for pleasure. While we know that children tend to become disengaged with books over time, in some cases this can be due to withdrawal of encouragement once children can read on their own. This leads children to falsely assume that reading is no longer important for them. Yet reading remains important for both children an adults to build and retain literacy skills.

Find out what your child enjoys reading, and support their access to books at school and at home.

Sunday, April 9, 2017

Thursday, April 6, 2017

Wit and wisdom - Middlemarch by George Eliot

by AS Byatt

3 August 2007

What do I think of Middlemarch? asked the great American poet Emily Dickinson. "What do I think of glory?" And Virginia Woolf called it "The magnificent book, which with all its imperfections, is one of the few English books written for grown-up people". Many of what Woolf thought were imperfections are in fact strengths. It is possible to argue that Middlemarch is the greatest English novel.

"Middlemarch" has a double meaning. One is Nel mezzo del cammin di nostra vita. The other is to do with the central English provincial counties in which it takes place - a "march" or "marchland" in English is a border between counties. The novel is an image of a society, political, agricultural, aristocratic, plebeian, religious, scientific. Its ambitions are those of Balzac's Human Comedy, from which George Eliot learned much. It is a microcosm, local but also universal, containing bodies and minds, individuals, families and groups, birth and death, tragedy and comedy, Rome and Europe as well as middle England in Middle Earth.

It began, as works of art often do, with an unexpected connection. Eliot was writing a story called "Miss Brooke", and she began work on a story of a scientifically ambitious young doctor in a provincial town, and suddenly saw that these two were parts of the same whole. Dorothea Brooke and Tertius Lydgate could be called the hero and heroine of the work, though they do not meet until the end of the first part of the book, and one of the powers of Eliot's writing is that a large number of her other characters, for a time, or briefly, are the heroes of their stories and the centres of their worlds.

It is not a romantic novel, though it is a very passionate one. It is anti-romantic. It does not lead from frustrated love to fulfilled love to climactic marriage. It begins with the mistaken marriage choices of its "heroine" and "hero" and shows the inexorable workings of their coming to terms with their folly. Both are idealists. Both are very intelligent. Dorothea, young and beautiful, passionate and orphaned, desires to make something of her life. She tries to look after the poor and wants to dedicate herself unselfishly to a great man, who is doing great work. She accepts the offer of an elderly and pedantic clergyman, Mr Casaubon, who has spent his time constructing an unfinished Key to All Mythologies

Lydgate wants to make scientific discoveries as well as being a good doctor. Eliot describes convincingly how he is hit by an intellectual passion as a boy in a library, opening a book on the valves of the heart. She remarks wryly: "We are not afraid of telling over and over again how a man comes to fall in love with a woman and be wedded to her or else fatally parted from her." She goes on to point out that we do not so frequently describe the scientific or intellectual pursuit of form and beauty that "must be wooed with patient thought and the renunciation of small desires".

She makes Lydgate's scientific passion solid and truly exciting. He wants to follow up the work of the French physiologist Bichat, who held the theory that all living bodies "must be regarded as consisting of certain primary webs or tissues, out of which the various organs - heart, brain, lungs and so on - are compacted, as the various proportions of a house are built up in various proportions of wood, iron, stone, brick, zinc and the rest".

"There are, believe it," she tells us, "passions of the mind." One of the reasons I loved her work when I met it was that she both showed people thinking intensely - as well as feeling - and knew and understood herself what they were thinking about. In an essay, "Silly Novels by Lady Novelists", written when she was editor of the Westminster Review, she mocks the authors of what she calls "mind-and-millinery" novels, in which the heroines are horribly perfect: "Her eyes and her wit are both dazzling; her nose and her morals are alike free from any tendency to irregularity; she has a superb contralto and a superb intellect; she is perfectly well-dressed and perfectly religious; she dances like a sylph, and reads the Bible in the original tongues."

Feminist writers have criticised Eliot for this extraordinarily lively and funny piece - she is seen as letting down the sisterhood. I don't think so - she is saying that any writer, man or woman, who presents thinking and feeling people must be able to imagine the thinking and the feeling solidly, through and through. This she does herself. Dorothea is ignorant and wants not to be. Her moral instincts are good and unpractised. Lydgate is clever and industrious. But when we meet him we are subtly told that he has "spots of commonness". He likes to be liked. He likes his patients - John and Elizabeth - as people, Elizabeth a little more than John. He is a gentleman and likes to live well.

The irony is that these people, unusually thoughtful about things beyond the usual range of novels, are trapped by exactly what Eliot has described as the restrictive subject matter of novels - "how a man comes to fall in love with a woman". They both pay it too little attention, or attend to it in the wrong way.

Dorothea marries her elderly clergyman and goes on a wedding journey to Rome, where she is overwhelmed and part-terrified by the vast and looming presence of ancient and modern art - a shock to someone reared on "art of the hand-screen sort". Casaubon, who is always accompanied by images of dusty windowless corridors and a dripping candle, disappears into the stacks of libraries. Eliot's description of the horrors of the honeymoon - strengthened by the conventions of Victorian decorum - is both deeply tragic and deeply comic. Dorothea has expected to be carried away on a flood of feeling, and is reduced to floods of tears. Casaubon has already uneasily reflected that his "stream of affection" has turned out to be "an exceedingly shallow rill". We do not know, but are invited to imagine, the embarrassments of the shared bedroom. Dorothea does not even know what it is that she is not experiencing. She is reduced to being "a victim of feeling". But Eliot's greatness consists partly in the breadth of her imagination - she is equally able to convey poor Casaubon's sense that his new wife, far from being a protection against his sense of inadequacy, is a perpetual threat and reproach.

Then Dorothea meets Will Ladislaw, Casaubon's young artist cousin, who remarks casually that the Key to All Mythologies is already out of date; Casaubon has not read "the Germans", who have done the work. Dorothea is now also a threat to Casaubon's self-esteem. Lydgate's mistake is quite different. He marries Rosamond Vincy, the daughter of the mayor of Middlemarch, who flatters him, and flirts with him, and traps him into believing that he has inadvertently led her to expect a proposal - and he is too good-natured not to propose, and not astute enough to see he has been trapped. Rosamond turns out to be manipulative, complacent, spendthrift and stupid. She miscarries because she insists on riding with Lydgate's rich cousin. She interferes in his family relations. She destroys his research, and turns him into a practitioner who alleviates the gout of the rich in seaside resorts.

Middlemarch was published serially, and its early readers expected the novelist to contrive the eventual marriage of hero and heroine. She did not. She wrote against "compensation" in fiction - the idea that at the end of a story the characters are compensated for their suffering by a happy marriage, or unexpected riches. As a young woman she wrote a long review of Riehl's Natural History of German Life, and she wrote of her own work in terms of natural history. She saw her writing as a series of "experiments in life", and wished, she wrote, "to trace the gradual action of ordinary causes rather than exceptional". She not only used images drawn from the natural sciences, but saw the world of her novel as a microcosm in which all the parts related to the whole.

There is the hunting and shooting baronet, happily married to Dorothea's sister; there is the Puritan banker Bulstrode, who ends up committing a crime; there is the feckless Fred Vincy, Rosamond's brother, and Mary Garth, who loves him, and is also a heroine in her parts of the tale - a sensible, thoughtful, responsible woman, who is also loved by the clergyman Farebrother, who collects insects. All these have real moral problems, real passions, real tragedies and real moments of wit and humour.

All are held together by one of the most complicated and brilliantly worked metaphors anywhere in fiction. It is a metaphor of a web, or a tissue like those Bichat worked on. It is both a field of force, a trap like a spiderweb, and a pattern of invisible connecting links between humans meeting each other's eye. We meet it in Mrs Cadwallader, the vicar's wife, who sees Middlemarch itself as a spiderweb of gossip, which connects to the idea that Lydgate is doomed by the common consciousness of the society he is in: "Middlemarch, in fact, counted on swallowing Lydgate and assimilating him very comfortably." And earlier we have had an image of Mrs Cadwallader's matchmaking as a waterdrop under a microscope - which under a weak lens shows an actively voracious creature, but under a stronger one shows "certain tiniest hairlets which make vortices for these victims while the swallower waits passively at his receipt of custom".

"Municipal town and rural parish gradually make fresh threads of connection," Eliot observes, showing how these work as the railways are installed, or elections take place. There is a virtuoso description of the way in which Rosamond "entangles" Lydgate with an interwoven gossamer web of glances. This is connected to a wonderful image of Rosamond's egocentric gaze arranging all scratches of fact into a pattern centring on her, as a candle will arrange the random scratches on a mirror into a pattern round its light. Dorothea's gaze is trapped in Rome: she stares at statues with marble eyes "that seemed to hold the monotonous light of an alien world", while the red drapery hung in St Peter's basilica - "for Easter", Eliot mistakenly believed - entangled her gaze and "spread itself everywhere like a disease of the retina". Biology, society, the self and others are linked through this powerful metaphor with proliferating implications. It has been said that good novels are in some sense a metaphor of themselves. The fine threads and interconnecting hairs of this set of metaphors - all of which modify the others - show the form of the world of the novel, as well as of the minds of the characters.

When I was younger it was fashionable to criticise Eliot for writing from a god's eye view, as though she were omniscient. Her authorial commenting voice appeared old-fashioned. It was felt she should have chosen a limited viewpoint, or written from inside her characters only. I came to see that this is nonsense. If a novelist tells you something she knows or thinks, and you believe her, that is not because either of you think she is God, but because she is doing her work - as a novelist. We were taught to laugh at collections of "the wit and wisdom of Eliot". But the truth is that she is wise - not only intelligent, but wise. Her voice deepens our response to her world. Here is Casaubon, having just been told he is mortally ill: "When the commonplace 'We must all die' transforms itself suddenly into the acute consciousness 'I must die - and soon', then death grapples us, and his fingers are cruel; afterwards he may come to fold us in his arms as our mother did, and our last moment of dim earthly discerning may be like the first."

And here is Dorothea struggling with newlywed misery: "That element of tragedy which lies in the very fact of frequency, has not yet wrought itself into the coarse emotion of mankind; and perhaps our frames could hardly bear much of it. If we had a keen vision and feeling of all ordinary human life, it would be like hearing the grass grow and the squirrel's heart beat, and we should die of that roar which lies on the other side of silence. As it is, the quickest of us walk about well wadded with stupidity."

The language and the images are wholly adequate to the complexity - and to the knife-like painfulness - of these reflections.

A Woman by a Tree in a Mist

Sunday, April 2, 2017

Dead burglar's family complains victim’s AR-15 rifle made the fight unfair

Max Cook, Jacob Redfearn, and Jake Woodruff

Three Masked Home Invaders Who Were Shot Dead While Breaking and Entering

Three Oklahoma teens were fatally shot after police say they broke into a home in Broken Arrow and were confronted by the homeowner’s 23-year-old son, who had armed himself with an AR-15 rifle.

Max Cook, Jacob Redfearn and Jaykob “Jake” Woodruff, who range in age from 15 to 18 or 19, were killed in the botched burglary attempt, KOTV reports.

The homeowner’s son, identified in court documents as Zach Peters, was not injured. He is not facing charges and the Wagoner County Sheriff’s Office said it appears he was acting in self defense.

A 21-year-old woman was arrested after she admitted to police she dropped the three teens off at Peters’ home and was supposed to be their getaway driver. Elizabeth Marie Rodriguez, of Collinsville, told police she fled after hearing gunshots.

She was arrested on suspicion of three counts of felony murder. Felony murder charges can be brought against someone who commits a felony resulting in death in Oklahoma regardless if they actually kill someone, according to state law. Rodriguez was also arrested on three counts of first-degree burglary.

The burglary occurred on the afternoon of March 27,2017, police said.


A 23-year-old man from Broken Arrow, Oklahoma made headlines this week when he shot and killed three teenage home invaders. The three teens had robbed the garage earlier that day, then returned to try the main house. They awoke Zach Peters, the homeowner’s son, who grabbed his AR-15 and defended himself against 3 armed and masked intruders. Max Cook, 19; Jacob Redfearn, 17; and Jake Woodruff, 16, were shot and killed. Cook’s 21-year-old girlfriend, get-away driver, and “robbery mastermind”

Elizabeth Rodriguez was arrested and charged with three counts of both first degree murder and burglary. Her murder charges come from the felony murder rule which charges anyone involved in a felony with murder if a death occurs during or due to the felonious act.

Now the family of one of the deceased criminals is complaining. They don’t believe it was fair that Peters was allowed to defend himself with an AR-15 when the criminals were only armed with knives and brass knuckles.

Leroy Schumacher, grandfather of Jacob Redfearn, says his grandson made a bad choice but didn’t deserve to die. “What these three boys did was stupid,” said Leroy Schumacher to ABC News. “They knew they could be punished for it but they did not deserve to die.”

Schumacher complains that it wasn’t a fair fight and his grandson didn’t have a chance to defend himself… while breaking into another man’s home and attempting to rob him. “Brass knuckles against an AR-15, come on, who was afraid for their life,” he continued.

Zach Peters has not, and will not be charged with a crime for a justified shooting of three armed intruders and Schumacher is furious. “There’s got to be a limit to that law, I mean he shot all three of them; there was no need for that,” said Schumacher.