British journalism and conspiracy theories


This Bob Dylan music video from the USA is called John Birch Paranoid Blues {Live at Town Hall 1963} – Elston Gunn. The lyrics of the song are here.

By Peter Frost in Britain:

Chapman Pincher: was he the Sixth Man?

Tuesday 19th August 2014

PETER FROST has a chuckle as he remembers a Grub Street journalist who thought just about everybody was a Soviet spy

IT WAS in the pages of the Daily Express in the late 1950s that I first came across Chapman Pincher.

The Express bylined Pincher as the world’s greatest reporter — and he certainly agreed.

He wasn’t, of course. But he did seem to have some interesting stories and he seemed immune to some of the D-notices and other techniques that the Establishment used in those days to keep so many scandals out of the papers.

Reaching my teenage years in the 1950s and early ’60s I got my ideas about the world and politics and what would be my lifelong love affair with print journalism from all kinds of newspapers.

At home we had the News Chronicle until it stopped publication in 1960, and the left-wing Daily Herald until 1964 when it tragically transmogrified into the Sun.

In 1961 I discovered a scrappy little magazine called Private Eye and also developed a soft spot for the Daily Mirror and its Labour politics.

I would buy an occasional copy of the Daily Worker. It changed its name to the Morning Star in 1966 and by then I was reading it regularly.

But alas I must admit most of the news and analysis in my youth came from some good right-wing Fleet Street Tory rags.

I loved the pre-Murdoch News of the World — then the biggest circulation newspaper in the whole globe.

Salacious stories of defrocked vicars, poltergeists, gangsters and dodgy spiritualists and their ectoplasm. What more could a young teenage boy want?

However, Pincher, in the Express, always seemed to get some of the best, most interesting stories.

Scoops they used to call them, and in Pincher’s scoops there was usually someone, often rich, posh or powerful, accused of being a Soviet spy.

Some were amazing speculations. He believed half the Labour Party and all of the trade union movement were in the pay of the Kremlin. No-one escaped his accusations, including prime minister Harold Wilson.

Most of his stories took him into the murky world of spies and double agents — almost always the world of communism and the Soviet Union, although it is true he wrote about the US atomic bomb before any US newspaper.

I read with amused fascination and a little chuckle when Pincher published stories about the Cambridge Four — or was it Five? — Kim Philby, Donald Maclean, Guy Burgess and Anthony Blunt, all undercover communists who had infiltrated and embarrassed post-war British intelligence so comprehensively.

Then came speculation into the so-called “Fifth Man.” Was it John Cairncross, James Klugman, Victor Rothschild, Guy Liddell or some other suspect?

Pincher came down heavy on former MI5 director general Roger Hollis and seemed to make this search and speculation a full-time occupation. It sometimes seemed to me Pincher was obviously the Sixth Man.

He did some good. As early as 1967, he revealed that British intelligence was reading the cables and telegrams of private citizens. That story is, of course, still unfolding today.

As well as newspaper articles he wrote more than 30 books. Best known is Their Trade is Treachery in 1981.

His sources for this book were the criminal Tory minister Jonathan Aitkin (Eton, Oxford, prison) and Spycatcher author Peter Wright, who himself betrayed and so upset his British intelligence masters.

In his book, Pincher argued that Hollis was a Soviet spy. It was typical Pincher stuff and not unexpectedly several investigations, even one by prime minister Margaret Thatcher, never actually proved Hollis guilty.

What isn’t well known is that Pincher started his own career as a spy. He worked on secret rocket weapons while serving in the British army.

He sold some of this top secret information to an old mate on the Daily Express defence desk. In return the Express offered him a job.

His politics were obviously Establishment and Tory and anti-Labour but that didn’t stop Tory prime minister Harold Macmillan writing in 1959: “Can nothing be done to suppress or get rid of Pincher?”

A more balanced view on Pincher came from ex-communist and famed historian EP Thompson, who in the New Statesman in 1978 described Pincher as “a kind of official urinal where high officials of MI5 and MI6 stand side by side patiently leaking their secrets.”

Pincher loved this judgement from someone he considered a wily old enemy. He said it was his greatest professional compliment.

Pincher, when he died aged 100 earlier this month, turned his own death into a newspaper story.

Announcing his death, his son Michael passed on a last and typical quote from his father — “Tell them no more scoops.”

I guess we should all be grateful for that.

Peter Frost blogs at frostysramblings.wordpress.com.

Spanish dictator Franco’s mass graves uncovered


This video says about itself:

Exhumations, Memory, and the Return of Civil War Ghosts in Spain

21 May 2014

Francisco Ferrandiz, Spanish National Research Council (CSIC)

Since 2000, the exhumation of mass graves from the Spanish Civil War and the Post-War years, mostly involving the largely abandoned graves of civilians killed in the Francoist rearguard by paramilitary groups, has become a central element in contemporary social and political debates in the country about the nature of the armed conflict and the dictatorial regime following it. Although exhumations have become a crucial tool for symbolic reparation and have triggered claims for justice for the crimes committed and now unearthed, the social process unleashed by their opening is way larger, and relates to the emergence of a fragmented and heterogeneous political culture focused on the memory of the defeated in the war. This emergent political culture is expressed in multiple acts of ‘memory recovery’ and ‘dignification’ of the diverse victims of Francoism beyond exhumations, in political acts such as concerts, homages, book publishing, street renaming, battleground tourism, pressure over Francoist monuments, or even academic conferences.

In this talk, the complexity and dynamism of this process is analysed, including from political and legal initiatives of great social and media impact to local actions on the ground, at times failed, ephemeral or almost imperceptible, but no less crucial. Regional differences, associated to uneven public memory policies, will also be considered. In the last few years, the politics of dignification of those defeated in the war is increasingly incorporating elements drawn from international law, such as the concept of ‘crimes against humanity’ or the category of ‘forced disappearence.’ This revitalization of the memory of the defeated in the Civil War has also been accompanied by a resurgence of winners in the war, which have inaugurated an active brand of neofrancoism.

Dr. Ferrandiz is a staff researcher interested in the anthropology of the body, violence and social memory (in Latin America and in Spain), with focus on the analysis on the current process of exhumation of mass graves from the Civil War (1936-9). To cite only a few, his ranging interests include cultural memory, human rights, forensic archaeology, forensic anthropology, to crimes against humanity.

Session 8 in the public, one-credit course Reframing Mass Violence: Human Rights and Social Memory in Latin America and Southern Europe.

Organized by the IAS Reframing Mass Violence Research Collaborative. Cosponsored by the Human Rights Program, and the Center for Holocaust and Genocide Studies. This talk occurred on May 8, 2014, from 3:00-4:30pm in 1-109 Hanson Hall.

By Alejandro López in Spain:

Mass graves from Spain’s civil war uncovered

18 August 2014

The Association for the Recovery of Historical Memory has found mass graves in the Estépar Mountains on the outskirts of the Spanish northern city of Burgos.

A team consisting of 50 Spanish archaeologists, anthropologists and forensic scientists estimates that four mass graves could include between 300 to 400 corpses.

Archaeologist Juan Montero told El Diario, “We have managed to contact sixty families. Everyone is well aware that given the large number of mass graves and the lack of economic resources, due to there being zero government involvement, the tasks of identifying the victims are going to be tremendously complex.”

This music video from Spain is called Ave Maria, Antonio José, BURGOS 2012 03 10.

Among those who are said to be buried there are the composer Antonio José Burgos and his brother Julio, and the father of the writer Francisco Ayala, the last representative of the poets and writers of the Generation of 1927. …

According to local historian José Ignacio Casado, most victims come from those who were arrested and then released. Waiting for them were Falangists, soldiers and members of the Guardia Civil, who would execute them in what were known as “sacas” or “paseos” (“strolls”). Many of these prisoners were released from jails and concentration camps, driven to isolated places at dawn and shot.

The number of bodies in each grave matched the number of released prisoners who stayed in Burgos prison. Ignacio explained to El Diario, “I can tell you that it is those who left prison on September 29 and 30, 1936. Some cases may vary, but we can know who they were by identifying them and their ages with the documentation on those released from the prisons.”

Witnesses described to the Internet daily Público how the victims were executed. After being arrested, and to prevent them from cheering liberty and republic, they were gagged with straps, which were then washed in vomit and saved for the next execution. The executioners forced them to dig their own graves. They were shot at close range, and finished off with rifle butts.

Burgos witnessed one of the most notorious repressions during the Civil War. It is estimated that 2,500 people were executed, mainly consisting of members of the trade unions UGT and CNT, local politicians and mayors of Izquierda Repúblicana, and members of the Socialist Party (PSOE), and in some cases peasants and workers whose crime had been to claim unpaid wages.

According to Paul Preston’s The Spanish Holocaust, 200,000 people were executed between 1936 to 1945 by the fascists.

The regime of General Franco and post-Franco revisionist historiography have justified the repression as a response to the “red terror”. In fact, the fascist repression was planned well in advance, targeting the organised working class and any whom they deemed oppositionists.

In May 1936, two months ahead of the coup, General Mola, in charge of the northern sector, passed instructions to the military bases: “The action must be extremely violent as soon as possible to reduce the enemy, which is strong and well-organised. Of course, we will arrest all the leaders of the political parties, associations or unions that are not affiliated with the [National] movement, applying exemplary punishment to those individuals in order to strangle rebel movements or strikes.”

On July 19, two days after the coup, Mola sent another order: “It is necessary to spread terror, eliminating without scruples or hesitation all those who do not think as we do…. All those who oppose the victory of the movement to save Spain will be shot.”

Since the death of Franco and the end of the fascist dictatorship in 1978, successive governments have attempted to cover up the crimes of fascist regime.

After its election in the 2011, the Popular Party (PP) government of Mariano Rajoy reduced by 60 percent the budgets dedicated to the Law of Historical Memory (LHM), passed by the previous Socialist Party government, and abolished the Office of Victims of the Civil War and the Dictatorship, which coordinated the exhumation of the remains of those that disappeared. For 2013-2014, the budget for LHM ceased to exist, forcing the associations dedicated to recovering the remains to rely on donations.

Last September, the Popular Party government refused to extradite four fascists indicted by Argentinean judge María Romilda Servini, who declared that under universal jurisdiction they could be charged under international law if the Spanish judiciary did not carry out prosecution.

This came four years after judge Baltasar Garzón, who began an investigation into Franco-era crimes, was subjected to an intense campaign of vilification that led to his prosecution and being barred from practising as a judge for 11 years.

Against Servini, the PP and the opposition PSOE closed ranks in defence of the 1977 Amnesty Law, passed during the transition from fascism to bourgeois democracy following Franco’s death in 1975, which prevents any reckoning and investigation into the crimes committed during the Spanish Civil War and the dictatorship. In response, the former leader of the Stalinist-led United Left, Gaspar Llamazares, called for a mere modification of the law.

The government has remained completely silent on the latest list of recommendations sent in July by the United Nations Working Group on Enforced or Involuntary Disappearances, which call for a “schedule indicating the measures that will be taken.”

While the recommendations are not binding, Madrid has an obligation to reply.

The efforts to conceal the past crimes are not motivated only by historic concerns. Under conditions where the economic crisis and austerity have caused 21 percent of the population to be classified as poor, where 2.3 million children—27.5 percent of the total—live under the poverty line, and where 25 percent of workers are unemployed, the same conditions that led to the revolutionary explosions of the 1930s and the ruling class’s pre-emptive counter-revolution, are being created.

The ruling class sees the need to justify past dictatorships in order to set up a new one and to smash any opposition to austerity and imperialist war.

Magpies not jewel thieves, says new research


This video from England is called Magpie Building nest at Paxton Pits Nature Reserve, March 2013.

From the BBC:

16 August 2014 Last updated at 00:35 GMT

Magpies ‘don’t steal shiny objects’

By Roger Harrabin, BBC environment analyst

Magpies do not steal trinkets and are positively scared of shiny objects, according to new research.

The study appears to redeem the myth of the “thieving magpie”, which pervades European folklore.

It is widely believed that magpies have a compulsive urge to steal sparkly things for their nests.

But Exeter University scientists show that the birds are actually nervous of such objects, presumably because they are novel and may prove dangerous.

The study involved a pile of shiny items (metal screws, small foil rings, and a small rectangular piece of aluminium foil), and a pile of the same objects covered with matt blue paint.

Researchers placed mounds of edible nuts just 30cm away from each of the collected objects. In 64 tests during feeding, magpies picked up a shiny object only twice – and discarded it immediately.

The birds essentially ignored or avoided both shiny and blue objects, and often fed less when they were present.

Lead author Dr Toni Shephard said: “We did not find evidence of an unconditional attraction to shiny objects in magpies. Instead, all objects prompted responses indicating neophobia – fear of new things.

“We suggest that humans notice when magpies occasionally pick up shiny objects because they believe the birds find them attractive, while it goes unnoticed when magpies interact with less eye-catching items. It seems likely that the folklore surrounding them is a result of cultural generalisation and anecdotes rather than evidence.”

Righting old wrongs

The scientists – psychologists from the Centre for Research in Animal Behaviour (CRAB) – undertook the study after an internet search uncovered just two published accounts of magpies actually stealing shiny things: a missing engagement ring found in a nest in 2008, and a magpie in Rochdale stealing keys, coins, and a spanner from an automotive garage a year earlier.

Dr Shephard told BBC News: “Some birds do use eye-catching objects in the nest after mating occurs, like black kites, to warn off potential predators. But we had already looked inside a dozen magpie nests and not seen any shiny objects. So, I was not expecting magpies to use objects for this purpose.”

The test may challenge the Collins English Dictionary definition of the magpie as “a person who hoards small objects”.

It may prompt calls for a belated revision of the libretto of Rossini’s opera La Gazza Ladra (The thieving magpie), which features a servant girl sentenced to death for a series of silver thefts actually committed by a magpie.

This music video is called Rossini – Ouverture La Gazza Ladra – Gustavo Dudamel – HD.

It may upset, too, the publishers of The Tintin comic The Castafiore Emerald, in which a prized gem is stolen by a magpie.

This video is called The Castafiore Emerald.

But the research is not conclusive – yet. Due to the nature of the test with fixed feeding stations, the scientists could only assess “married” magpies that inhabit a set territory. Single magpies without a steady partner are less predictable in their feeding habits.

So maybe, just maybe, it is bachelor birds wanting to woo potential mates with silver rings that have sullied the birds’ name.

United States homophobe Scott Lively attacks lesbian Christian musician


This video from Britain is called Vicky Beeching – first TV interview about coming out as gay. August 14th 2014. Channel 4 News.

From daily The Morning Star in Britain:

Anti-gay pastor slammed for berating Vicky Beeching

Saturday 16th August 2014

CAMPAIGNERS slammed a homophobic US pastor who took to TV studios to berate musician Vicky Beeching after she came out as gay.

Church minister and Christian rock star Ms Beeching received widespread support after she disclosed her lesbianism in a newspaper interview. She said she had vowed to come out after suffering an auto-immune disease from the stress of keeping her sexuality a secret.

But on Channel 4 News on Thursday night, she was paired with anti-gay pastor Scott Lively, who told her she had “given in to a lie.”

Stonewall spokesman Richard Lane said: “Scott Lively is a clear demonstration of the huge amount of work left to do to eradicate discrimination against lesbian, gay and bisexual people.

“Lively has proudly boasted about his work to introduce draconian anti-gay Bills in Uganda and Russia. Thankfully, with role models like Vicky Beeching, young people will know that you can be gay and practise your faith. That’s a truly inspirational message.”

A homosexual French Muslim imam is spreading a message of religion and tolerance in Europe. In addition to opening a gay-friendly mosque in Paris, he also recently married a lesbian couple in Sweden: here.

Michael Brown killed, new rap song


This music video from the USA is the song by J. Cole – Be Free.

From TIME magazine in the USA today:

J. Cole Responds to Michael Brown Shooting With an Emotional New Song

Samantha Grossman

“All we wanna do is break the chains off / All we wanna do is be free”

“That coulda been me, easily. It could have been my best friend,” he wrote in a blog post. “I’m tired of being desensitized to the murder of black men. I don’t give a f–k if it’s by police or peers. This s–t is not normal.”

Cole’s sentiment comes through on his new tribute to Brown, titled “Be Free.” He sounds like he’s on the verge of tears as he sings over a simple, grave piano loop. “And now I’m in denial,” the song begins. “And it don’t take no X-ray to see through my smile.” Later in the track, he repeats the following lyrics: “All we wanna do is break the chains off / All we wanna do is be free.”

It’s one of Cole’s rawest, most emotional recordings to date.

See also here.

British poet Attila the Stockbroker on punk rock


This video from Amsterdam in the Netherlands says about itself:

Attila the Stockbroker & Barnstormer – Live @ Soundgarden 02.11.2012 – Pt 1:

1. LEVELLERS / DIGGERS 2. BAGHDAD SKA 3. COMANDANTE JOE 4. TYLER SMILES 5. THE BLANDFORD FORUM.

Attila the Stockbroker on vocals, violin, crumhorn and recorders; Dan Woods on guitar; Baby Beaken on bass; Mass Murder McGee (some of them are also members of The Fish Brothers.)

Attila the Stockbroker (born John Baine, 21 October 1957, Southwick, Sussex, England) is a punk poet, and a folk punk musician and songwriter. He performs solo and as the leader of the band Barnstormer. He describes himself as a “sharp tongued, high energy social surrealist poet and songwriter.” He has performed over 2,700 concerts, published six books of poems, and released 30+ recordings (CDs, LPs and singles).

By poet Attila the Stockbroker from Britain:

The Europeans’ knack for culturally nourishing rebellion

Thursday 14th August 2014

On the road with Attila the Stockbroker

Amsterdam is always a pleasure to visit, and the Paradiso club — once a squatted church — is a legendary presence in the scene.

Did a gig there, solo poetry and with my band Barnstormer, as part of a vibrant and wide-ranging evening of spoken word and music and then headed to Peine, near Hannover in Germany, to celebrate the 30th anniversary of their autonomous centre, the AJZ.

When it comes to independent music, politics and culture generally, much of mainland Europe is a completely different world compared to Britain.

Autonomously run venues emerged from the squatter movement years ago and are now legal and run independently by local left-wing activists — there are literally hundreds of them, dotted across many different countries, which guarantees performers like myself a network of ready-made places to play, run by like-minded people.

For someone whose British network consists of fairly mainstream arts centres and rock venues and sympathetic pubs that let people put on gigs in an an upstairs room, it’s always a sheer pleasure to see how things can be organised differently.

Highlight in Peine was a blistering performance by Canadian punk legend and activist Joey “Shithead” Keighley and his band DOA, whom I was to meet again a few days later at last weekend’s annual Rebellion punk festival in Blackpool.

For many years now, thousands of punks, young and not so young (!) have taken over the Winter Gardens there for a four-day celebration of the music we love.

As usual, this year’s event was a blast and I had a wonderful gig on the Almost Acoustic Stage on the Friday. As for whom I saw on stage, well, here goes…

My mate TV “Adverts” Smith and his band the Bored Teenagers were fantastic. So were The Men They Couldn’t Hang, Peter & The Test Tube Babies, John Otway, Ruts DC, The Cravats, Roy Ellis aka Mr Symarip (doing “Skinhead Moonstomp” and reminding us that real skinheads have hated racism since 1969) and The Outcasts and The Defects from Belfast. To name but a few.

But it’s absolutely wrong to think that Rebellion is just about the old guard, and among the new breed I must single out acoustic singer/songwriter Louise Distras, who is the sharp, angry voice of her generation of punk rockers and a real breath of fresh air in the scene. Her set was a masterpiece.

We have to beware the impostors though. Inside the Winter Gardens there was a real sense of unity, but outside I came across a group of fascists, some with tickets, some not, intent as always in spreading hate and causing trouble.

I had a verbal altercation — I’m 56 and was on my own, I’m glad it stayed verbal — and soon realised that many of them were from eastern Europe. Cue the ironic rant!

“Brain dead morons from mainland Europe, coming over here, singing crap English songs, crap English fascists wrote in stupid accents… We’re full up, mate.

“We’ve got our full quota of racist cretins with IQs smaller than their boot size. Piss off back to where you come from!”

It would be funny if it wasn’t so tragic.

Next stop Guernsey, and a rather different festival. Happy holidays to one and all.

Louisiania government lied to hospital about death penalty drugs


This music video from the USA is called Gil Scott-Heron: Angola, Louisiana (1980). The lyrics are here.

By Tom Hall in the USA:

Louisiana procured death penalty drug through deception

13 August 2014

The Louisiana Department of Corrections deceived a hospital in southwest Louisiana into providing it with a drug to be used in executions, according to a report from the New Orleans-area investigative journalism outfit The Lens. The drug in question, hydromorphone, is part of the same two-drug protocol used in the drawn-out, agonizing deaths of Dennis McGuire in Ohio and Joseph Wood in Arizona earlier this year.

The fact that Louisiana has resorted to cloak-and-dagger methods to procure the supplies needed to carry out its state killings testifies both to the immense and growing opposition to the death penalty and to the collapse of any commitment to democratic rights or the rule of law in the American ruling class.

In late January, Elayn Hunt Correctional Center’s Medical Unit contacted Lake Charles Memorial Hospital to request 20 vials of hydromorphone, a potent painkiller and controlled substance. It is common practice for licensed pharmacies to sell drugs to other pharmacies, provided that they are needed to treat medical patients. As the only facility housing the state’s chronically or seriously ill inmates, Hunt Correctional Center would have had a plausible reason to request the drug. Indeed, the prison pharmacist explicitly told the hospital that the drug would be used for a “medical patient.”

However, the real destination for the drugs was the infamous Louisiana State Penitentiary, commonly known as Angola, where the state’s death row facilities are located, where it was to be used to execute Christopher Sepulvado, sentenced to death for the 1992 murder of his stepson, in only a week’s time.

Lawyers for Sepulvado were able to temporarily delay his execution, arguing that he had a right to know the manner in which he was to be executed. In May, after botched executions in Ohio and Oklahoma created a public uproar, the Louisiana Department of Corrections agreed to a six-month delay of Sepulvado’s execution in order to review the state’s lethal injection protocol.

The documents surrounding the state’s underhanded procurement of the execution drugs were made public last week as part of Sepulvado’s ongoing legal battle. By sheer chance the state, which, like other states, jealously guards the source of its lethal injection drugs, neglected to redact the name of the pharmacist at Lake Charles Memorial Hospital in official records.

Like many other states throughout the country that currently administer the death penalty, Louisiana has scrambled in recent years to find alternative sources of lethal injection drugs after the European Union banned the export of chemicals to the US to be used in executions. Louisiana had switched to the two-drug protocol involving hydromorphone and midazolam, a commonly available sedative, on January 27, only a day before the Hunt facility filed its request for hydromorphone with Lake Charles Memorial Hospital.

Before then, Louisiana had used a one-drug protocol involving pentobarbital, which had been in widespread use throughout the country since 2011 after the previous three-drug standard had become unavailable due to shortages. However, pentobarbital has also become scarce, and the state’s supply ran out last fall.

The impending shortage of lethal injection drugs sent the state into a flurry of improvisation to find a work-around in order to execute Sepulvado. In September, the state explored the possibility of obtaining pentobarbital from a Tulsa-based compounding pharmacy, the Apothecary Shoppe. In addition to the significantly lower quality of drugs produced at compounding pharmacies, such an arrangement would have been in flagrant violation of state law, which requires that suppliers be licensed in the state of Louisiana.

The Apothecary Shoppe has allegedly also supplied lethal injection drugs to Missouri, which has carried out seven executions in 2014, and Oklahoma, which botched its execution of Clayton Lockett last May (see: “Missouri carries out seventh execution of 2014”).

Earlier this year, a bill was introduced in the Louisiana state legislature to protect the confidentiality of the sources of the state’s lethal injection drugs, in addition to allowing the state to legally purchase medication from out-of-state suppliers. The bill attracted overwhelming support within the state legislature before it was pulled at the last minute by its sponsor, Joe Lopinto (R-Metairie), after public outrage erupted in the aftermath of botched executions in Ohio and Oklahoma.

The dangers inherent in the ad hoc hydromorophone-midazolam protocol that Louisiana switched to were known even before the horrific executions in Ohio and Arizona. Deborah Denno of Fordham University told Mother Jones in November of last year, “We don’t know how these drugs are going to react because they’ve never been used to kill someone … It’s like when you wonder what you’re going to be eating tonight and you go home and root through your refrigerator to see what’s there. That’s what these departments of corrections are doing with these drugs.” …

The author also recommends:

Arizona’s two-hour execution and the brutalization of America
[26 July 2014]

The horror in Ohio’s death chamber
[22 January 2014]