Guest Post: The Guardian’s Tea Party blogger

October 27, 2010

I asked Danielle Blake to write something on Lloyd Marcus blogging for the Guardian ahead of the November mid-term elections. The fact that it’s been so late in being put up here is because of my uselessness, not hers. Danielle blogs at Neither Here Nor There, and tweets at @DCPlod. Enjoy!

As part of its US midterm election coverage, The Guardian now has a Tea Partier blogging for it. That itself is hardly worth mentioning. What is worth mentioning is that Lloyd Marcus is black. The vast majority of African-Americans vote Democratic for a couple of reasons: since the Civil War it’s the Democrats who’ve done the most to guarantee black people equal treatment, and secondly, the Republicans have, since the passing of the Civil Rights Act, used what has become known as the “Southern Strategy”; wherein they pandered to the disgruntled white racists in the South which solidified virtually the entire region as a reliable GOP voting bloc. So for an African-American to be a conservative is highly unusual.

Anyone who’s seen photographs from the several Tea Party rallies that have taken place around America will know that they are so monochromatically white that the only colour is to be found on their signs. Signs which frequently have subtle or blatantly racist overtones. 

Then we had the actual leader of one group (the Tea Party is a patchwork quilt of factions rather than one organisation), Mark Williams, calling the NAACP a racist organisation for advancing black people’s rights,  saying he won’t ask racists to leave protests and writing an incredibly racist open letter from ‘the coloreds’ to Abe Lincoln asking him to revoke their emancipation because they’re dependent on white people (you have to read it to believe it), amongst many, many other things.

All in all, not the most welcoming or attractive group for black people. So why is Lloyd Marcus a conservative Tea Partier? Using the same blinkered reasoning behind the principle of ‘pull yourself up by the bootstraps’, he saw that his family made it without help, so he believes everyone can or should be able to. He was fortunate enough to have a solid family and father who had a good job, and fails to realise that not everyone is as lucky as he was. 

Sympathy and empathy are not Marcus’ strong points, as is made clear here:

So, my early experience living in the government project taught me that some folks simply have a ghetto mindset. I also witnessed the trap of government welfare. And why were so many around me angry and violent – despite getting free housing, food and healthcare?




Marcus says later in his post that in ‘the late 50s’, after they saw their rent rise to $72 when his father gained a new job as a firefighter, he and his family left the projects. From that we can infer that these ‘angry and violent’ black people witnessed the following: the Civil Rights Movement only began properly in 1955 with Rosa Parks’ act of defiance in refusing to move to the back of a bus; the necessity of the Missisippi National Guard, the US Army, and Border Patrol personnel to ensure one black student, James Meredith, enrolled in the state university in 1961; in 1963 four black children were blown up and peaceful protesters and bystanders were brutally attacked with fire hoses and dogs in Birmingham, Alabama; the South maintained the Jim Crow laws of 1876 which enforced segregation and reduced blacks to second-class citizen status, and some were still in force as late as 1965 (it took the Voting Rights Act of that year to finally end discrimination at the polling booth); the Civil Rights Act prohibiting discrimination was finally passed in 1964, however segregation in schools continued (and indeed continues) to be a serious problem in America. You’ll notice of course, that it was the much-demonised government, together with immense pressure from the Civil Rights Movement, that secured these measures.

And yet Lloyd Marcus actually has to ask why so many blacks were angry, some to the point of violence during the 1950’s, when blacks were still years from achieving full equality? For a black man to be that ignorant of the history of both his nation and his race is, if I’m honest, shameful. It goes without saying that during that period many blacks would have been ‘trapped in welfare’ due to still widespread racism. Unemployed whites would have been preferred to unemployed blacks. Marcus continues:

So, when I hear politicians, such as Barack Obama, pandering to the so-called poor of America, it turns my stomach. I’ve witnessed the deterioration of the human spirit, wasted lives and suffering that happens when government becomes “daddy”.

“So-called poor”? Marcus would’ve undoubtedly said ‘welfare queen’ there if that term didn’t have obvious racial connotations. Even a black guy who’s been spitting on his own race throughout his blog post has his limits, I guess. There’s a reason people are on welfare, and it isn’t because they’ve forgotten the details of their Swiss bank account. And Bill Clinton’s welfare reform bill of 1996 changed the landscape entirely – since then, welfare has no longer been an entitlement. People who are able-bodied now have to work for their payments. 

In short: Lloyd Marcus is, despite his race, indistinguishable from any other Tea Partier – he uses welfare recipients as convenient punching bags, and hates government though he and his have personally benefited from it. And he even shares their attitude towards blacks.

An exploration through the turd-strewn swamp that is the “Ground Zero Mosque” Debate

August 26, 2010

There have been two stories floating around the news agenda recently that I have wanted to write about. It’s taken this long because I only got round to watching Richard Dawkins’s documentary on Tuesday. The two incidents are useful to illustrate the boundaries that religion ought, and is entitled, to have in a liberal society. On the one hand, we have the ongoing saga of the so-called “Ground Zero Mosque”. Balancing that, we have the increasing presence in Britain of Faith Schools, criticised by Dawkins in the documentary. Both these illustrate the need for the state not to interfere in religious matters. To approach the issues correctly, you need to appreciate the fact that Church and State must be separated.

Why is this separation so fundamental? It is because religious persecution stems from the desire to correct error. This, in turn, arises from a desire to save souls. It’s hard for different religious groups to shrug and sigh “Live and let live”, when the consequences of being wrong are potentially disastrous – you could end up in hell. All this makes it harder for a religious group to tolerate another group setting up next door and proclaiming that they are the true path, not the other lot.

If there is an official state religion, this institutionalises one particular religion, or one particular branch of a religion, as the officially-sanctioned “chosen path”. This could give the state a legitimate right to convert, even forcibly, people who do not follow this official faith. Remember Weber’s definition of a state: that it has a “monopoly of the legitimate use of violence in the enforcement of its order”. See, for instance, the horrendous treatment of the Jews and also of heretics in Catholic Western Europe during the Middle Ages. Blurring the boundary between church and state does not inevitably lead to pogroms, but does make it easier to discriminate on religious grounds. It’s no accident that the most repressive type of state is a theocracy.

The state must ensure that there is freedom for people to practise whatever religious faith they wish to. Most of the time this can be done by doing nothing. A great case in point is that the government should not intervene to stop the building of what everyone should not be calling the Ground Zero Mosque. The fact that it’s being called the Ground Zero Mosque at all shows that the media narrative of the right is winning. There are two key reasons why the “Ground Zero Mosque” should not be described as such:

1) It’s not actually a Mosque. It’s an Islamic community centre, and will be open to the public. This centre will also have a basketball court. And yes, it will have a mosque, but before any idiot says, “See – it’s got a MOSQUE inside it”, just consider this. The Guild of Students at Birmingham University has an Islamic prayer room, and a Chaplaincy. Airports and hospitals also have spaces to pray. This does not make them religious buildings. I hope you understand this stonkingly simple argument.

2) It’s not actually at Ground Zero. It’s two blocks away. In a building that used to be a coat factory. Hardly “hallowed ground”.

Henceforth, I will refer to the Ground Zero Mosque as the “Lower Manhattan Community Centre”.

The debate about whether the Lower Manhattan Community Centre should be built seems so stupid, even by the standards of political debate in America. Let me direct you to the First Amendment of the US Constitution. The text is all constitution; the italics are all mine:

Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances.

Barack Obama and Michael Bloomberg have both made eloquent speeches defending the right of the Lower Manhattan Community Centre to be built. Both emphasised the fact that neither could intervene, even if they wanted to, to stop this centre being built. The courts would immediately overturn such a block as unconstitutional.

The right are, therefore, trying to make this not a matter of religious freedom (which is obviously is) but instead are trying to paint the approval of the Lower Manhattan Community Centre as a victory for Islamism; just one more step towards a global caliphate. See, for instance, these two tweets by Newt Gingrich:

And this one:

The fact is, an establishment of a Manhattan Community Centre; open to all, with spaces to commemorate the victims of September 11th, would actually be a triumph for moderate Islam. It would be a sign that Islam is compatible with “The West”, as Fareed Zakaria argues. Above all, it would send a message that not all Muslims are crazy Jihadists who fantasise about blowing up McDonald’s.

Also, Gingrich is wrong to play down the fact that the outcry is not about freedom of religion, specifically the freedom of Muslims. These protests against the Manhattan Community Centre should be put into the context of other protests against the establishment of Mosques in Wisconsin, Tennessee and California. There is a vocal section in American against the building of other mosques, fuelled by the same sentiments that drive on the English Defence League here: hatred of Muslims and Islam. The Lower Manhattan Community centre must be built. We must  ensure that all religions can practise freely and fairly, without discrimination. We cannot give in to the racists on this point.

Thankfully the controversy over faith schools is conducted in a more sedate fashion. This was reflected by Dawkins in “Faith Schools Menace”, which is an excellent documentary. There was none of his shrill polemic that tends to put many people, including a great deal of atheists, off his work. He talked to almost everyone connected with faith schools; from teachers, pupils and parents to Charles Clarke and the British Humanist Association.

I had no idea, until Dawkins mentioned it in his programme, that one-third of all state schools were actually faith schools. This expansion is thanks to New Labour. It was Charles Clarke as Education Secretary, who wrote against faith schools in a 1978 pamphlet, who authorised the creation of 42 academies run by Christian groups, as well as one hundred schools run by other faith organisations (such as Islam, Judaism or Hinduism). Previously, in return for some special powers over their curriculum, religious groups could fund and run schools. Labour gave these schools millions of pounds, but the schools retained their exclusive controls.

Government money should not be going to schools run by religious institutions. It’s as simple as that. Faith schools ghettoise children at a very early age, when they should be mixing with kids from all backgrounds.

Also, despite the now cliched stories of parents faking a religious conviction and attending church to get their child into a faith school – and Dawkins finds a lot of evidence of that – there’s no real evidence that faith schools are better at teaching than other comprehensives. Steve Gibbons of the LSE, who Dawkins interviewed, compared the results of thousands of pupils. When comparing pupils with the same postcode, when one child had attended a faith school and one had not, Gibbons found that their academic record was very similar, regardless of the school they went to. What really matters, in his view, is the child’s social background and motivation of their parents.

Furthermore, as Johann Hari has written:

On average, [faith schools] get higher grades. But look again. A number of studies, including by the conservative think thank Civitas, have blown a hole in this claim. They have proven that faith schools systematically screen out children who will be harder to teach: children from poor families, and less bright children. Once you look at how much a school improves the pupils it actually admits, the only real measure of a school’s success, it turns out faith schools do less well than other schools – which isn’t surprising given they waste so much time teaching them crazy nonsense like Virgin births and Noah’s Ark. 

Perhaps the worst aspect about faith schools is that their RE curriculum is not monitored at all by the independent OFSTED, but is instead by religious authorities. This fact seems to be abused by certain faith schools: in “Faith Schools Menace” the British Humanist Association  provided examples of a Jewish school that had eight hours of timetabled RE lessons a week, compared to six for science. Some Catholic schools taught their sex education lessons in RE, so that what was being said could not be monitored by government regulators. Combined with what can euphemistically be described as a “lacklustre” teaching of evolution in the faith schools that Dawkins finds, it’s worrying that these schools continue to by funded by the taxpayer.

The argument over faith schools hinges of the issue of parental choice. You need to balance the right of a parent to choose how to educate their child with the right of the child not to be brainwashed. It feels that at the moment the balance is tilted too far in favour of the parent. If the parent wants to instil their child with religious values, there are other ways of going about it – Sunday Schools for instance – without it being funded by the taxpayer.

Britain and America are supposed to be secular, liberal democracies. This means that we can have mosques should be built without an outpouring of bile from the usual suspects, and the state shouldn’t fund faith schools.

Guest Post – Iraq: The End?

August 20, 2010

Hannah might be on holiday at the moment, but her dedication to Paperback Rioter remains. Here’s her take on the American withdrawal from Iraq:

I’m on holiday in Paris at the moment.  So far we`ve managed to visit most of the main sights associated with a trip to Paris: the Louvre, Notre Dame, the Seine.  One of the other stalwarts of any foreign holiday is the reassuring presence of the BBC World Service on the hotel cable TV.  It was from this source, this morning, that I learnt that the last US combat troops are leaving Iraq

So ends the seven-and-a-half-year long occupation, and the formative geopolitical event of the new millenium.  It was also one of my formative political moments.  I was 14 when the “Coalition of the Willing” invaded Iraq in the March of 2003.  I woke up, got up as I would any other morning, made my breakfast as usual and turned on the television to see the Americans’ “Shock and Awe” raining down on Baghdad, lighting up the night skyline.  At school assembly, our Head of Year lead prayers for Iraq; she may have lit a candle – my memory isn’t clear – but it was a sombre moment; but in truth, not entirely unexpected.  While the moment the war began came as a surprise, it had been foreshadowed by a long and fractious political process.   Several members of my school year had attempted to organise a walkout in protest, and not those you would have imagined as tuned in to politics.  In the end the teachers got wind of it and put a stop to the idea, although they bought us with for the opportunity to write letters to the Government in school time.  I enthusiastically joined in, as did a great many others in this country.  Around 1 million people demonstrated in London, out of a normally politically sluggish population.  It did nothing.

So what has this year’s long conflict achieved?  The other thing about BBC World is that, released from the watchful eye of the government and querulous and organised conservatives, it is free to drop the pretense that, to the extent that there is objective truth, it always lies equidistant between opposing positons, on any given topic.  I’ve therefore been able to watch the BBC’s finest telling it like it is, on Iraq.  The report opened with an American soldier speeding out of Iraq in convoy crying, “Wooh!  It’s over! We won! America, I love you!  We’ve brought democracy to Iraq!”

The report then cut to BBC correspondent, Hugh Sykes, who called this “triumphalism” and told us that 100, 000 Iraqi civilians had been killed; that Iraq now had a chapter of al Qaeda, which it had never done previously; security was low due to the disastrous decision to disband the Iraqi army in the wake of the invasion; even those Iraqis who do not want Western troops to leave didn’t want them to come in the first place; finally and most, damningly, Iraq, far from being a successful democracy, is now completely without a permanent government

What he did not say is that, however much its apologists resist their classification as such, this conflict has brought civilian casualties on the other side as well, with 191 people being killed in Madrid, in 2004, and 52 in London, in 2005.   

 Jeremy Bowen was even more blunt, on the main 10 o’clock evening bulletin.  It was “impossible”, he said, “to call this a victory.”  4,500 American troops had been killed and 30,000 injured; “huge mistakes” had been made in the execution of the occupation. “We don’t want them” said a representative Iraqi.  It was, the report summed up, “one of the most damaging military adventures in (US) history.” 

They are right.  Judged by any of its publically stated aims, the occupation has been an utter failure: the WMDs Iraq was, ostensibly, invaded to contain never existed and to say that its citizens are better off now is to conjure up this absurd image.   

This news comes the same week that fresh suspicions emerged over the death of WMD inspector and whistleblower, David Kelly.  Truly, this whole period was a shabby, shameful episode of British history. 

Sadly, some mistakes cannot be fixed.  Western forces may be able to extricate themselves from Iraq, but the hundreds of thousands of dead will remain dead and democratic Iraq is unlikely to survive its internal struggles.  To quote Hugh Sykes: “It’s over? We won? No and No.”

Another possible Republican nominee for 2012

July 22, 2010

Following on from Danielle’s blog about Sarah Palin, it seems there’s another darling of the American right who wants to be President in 2012.

Bachmann, whose district is a sprawling stretch of farms and small cities, has used her theoretically modest political platform to catapult herself to the forefront of conservatism in America. She does not shy away from extreme opinions, lambasting President Barack Obama as a socialist threat to the American way of life. She is stridently anti-government, pro-business and socially conservative. She has even called for her fellow congressional politicians to be investigated to see if they are “pro-America” enough.

To many on the left of US politics, her outlandish statements seem a poor joke. She is regularly lampooned on liberal blogs in a similar manner to Palin, whose family life dominated the gossip magazines last week after the unexpected engagement of her daughter. But as Palin becomes more of a media force than a political one, Bachmann is rising to replace her. Her verve and anger have entranced a significant section of the population, one expected to vote in huge numbers in this November’s mid-term elections. “Bachmann is media-savvy, energising and charismatic, just like Palin. But unlike Palin, she is a seasoned politician. She is not a political lightweight; she is serious,” said Professor Shaun Bowler, a political scientist at the University of California at Riverside.

I must confess I know little about Bachmann, but here are some of her more exotic observations. Amongst them:

“Back in the 1970s swine flu broke out then under Democrat President Jimmy Carter. I’m not blaming this on President Obama, I just think it’s an interesting coincidence.”

Not much to add to that really, is there?

Sarah Palin: President of the United States? (guest post)

July 18, 2010

Another guest poster now: Danielle Blake on Sarah Palin’s presedential ambitions.

She couldn’t name a newspaper she reads. She thought living in the closest state to Russia gave her foreign policy experience. She didn’t understand the role of Vice President of the United States, the role she was running for. She quit halfway through her first term as governor of Alaska. You’d be forgiven for thinking this Palin’s first name was Michael and not Sarah. 
Yet Sarah Palin remains firmly in the public eye, and is considered to be a leading contender for the Republican presidential nomination in 2012. Why is someone so obviously unfit for office given any attention at all, let alone seriously considered as a potential presidential candidate? Ironically, it is the very media Palin regularly expresses contempt for (she refers to them as the ‘lamestream media’, and bans the press from her public appearances) that ensures she stays in the spotlight. These days the purpose of American cable news is not to inform or fact check but to maximise ratings, and so to them, the most controversial VP pick in history is manna from heaven. This is why, despite poll after poll showing the American people can’t stand Palin, the media continues to hype her as a serious and important figure. Even in the print media, so-called journalists follow her every tweet, Facebook post, and speech as they degrade themselves and their profession by keeping this irrelevant, childish, ignorant person in the news.
Is she likely to run? Initially, after her stunning decision to resign in July 2009, the consensus was Palin was finished in politics. Who after all, would vote for a quitter for president? And surely someone unwilling/unable to handle a governorship would not seek higher office? With a resignation speech from Bizarro World – by quitting she was fighting; only ‘dead fish go with the flow’ i.e finishing the job one is elected to do is a sign of apathy; she was tired of all those bothersome ethics investigations (not because she was guilty, of course, but because she wanted to save taxpayer money) – Palin gave yet more notice that she was incapable of leading. Soon after, Palin realised that she would make far more money and maintain a higher level of exposure by hitting the ‘wingnut welfare’ circuit, where many conservatives have been given jobs and money on the basis of ideology, not any discernable talent. Sure enough, after a brief absence from public life she resurfaced as a contributor to Rupert Murdoch’s right-wing propaganda machine Fox News; she published a ghostwritten and fact-free autobiography, and charged extravagant amounts to give speeches and read crib notes off the back of her hand. 
This might suggest a woman more interested in lucre than laws; who prizes the trappings and status of power over the actual exercise of it. But make no mistake – Palin has been very active, if incoherent, in pushing her right-wing agenda. She has her own political action committee, SarahPAC, which fundraises for and donates to candidates who fit Palin’s idea of conservatism. She has made several high-profile endorsements, albeit to little effect. She has jumped aboard the Tea Party bandwagon and set herself up as the representative of thousands of other angry white people mistakenly outraged at what they believe is outrageously high taxes, out of control spending, and a socialist takeover of America. It looks very much like she is positioning herself for a run at the nomination.
If she did run, would she win? In 1964, Barry Goldwater infamously declared at the Republican convention: “Extremism in the defence of liberty is no vice! Moderation in the pursuit of justice is no virtue.” Due in no small part to his uncompromising conservatism and that kind of extremist rhetoric, Goldwater went on to lose the election in a huge landslide to Lyndon Johnson, a lesson evidently lost on the current GOP base. For all the American right’s harping about the US being a ‘centre-right’ nation, they make the mistake of putting emphasis on right, not centre. There is a great swathe of Americans who dislike extremism or at least the appearance of it on either side, as Goldwater and George McGovern can attest. These are the Americans a candidate must win to win the White House. So if history is anything to go by, if Palin were to run and win the GOP nomination, the result in the general election would be a crushing landslide win for Barack Obama. 

Michael Steele’s the show

July 6, 2010

This is incredible.

Absolutely incredible.

Who, do you reckon, said this, and about whom?

Well, if he’s such a student of history, has he not understood that you know that’s the one thing you don’t do, is engage in a land war in Afghanistan?

That was Michael Steele, who is a member of the Bangles  Chairman of the Republican National Committee,  talking about Barack Obama.

Because, of course, it was Obama who invaded Afghanistan in 2001.

This isn’t some good ol’ tea-party boy saying this. This is the leader of the Republicans, for heaven’s sake.

I have grown to accept that political discourse in America doesn’t really have much of a relation to reality. But how can someone think they can make these remarks and get away with it?

It looks like Steele might not – the Republicans are getting increasingly tired of his leadership. It’s nice they’ve given themselves something to distract themselves from campaigning for the midterm elections isn’t it?


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