Monthly Archives: December 2015

Why Is Ireland A Tax Haven For Apple, Google and Pfizer But Not ‘Slab’ Murphy?

The piece reproduced below from the website run by Independent North Dublin TD, Clare Daly was written before the the giant drug maker Pfizer merged with the Irish-based pharma company Allergan, a deal designed to allow Pfizer to take advantage of Ireland’s generous tax arrangements for multi-national corporations.

Deals negotiated by the Irish government with multi-nationals like Pfizer allow  corporations to base their headquarters in Ireland in exchange for minimal tax bills. In return the corporation will build a small headquarters and employ perhaps at most a couple of hundred people while the exchequer lets the corporation off with a tax bill that is a fraction of what they should pay, and would pay elsewhere.

The deal with Apple, for instance, allowed the giant computer corporation to pay a mere 2 per cent tax on $74 billion of revenue between 2010 and 2013. All of Apple’s foreign revenues, some 60% of its total business in 2013 were routed through Ireland and escaped the tax rates that would be levied at the point of production. But Apple is not alone; Google enjoys similar tax benefits and now so does Pfizer and a score of other large companies.

Despite protestations to the contrary from the Irish government, this is legalised theft, in which the people of numerous European and other countries are defrauded of revenues that could help to pay for roads, hospitals, schools and so on.

But it’s okay because some politicians and bureaucrats have made it okay.

Ireland is a tax haven for wealthy corporations in all but name.

Tom ‘Slab’ Murphy did the same as Apple, Google and Pfizer but on a tiny scale in comparison and without the approval of his government (although allegedly on foot of an assurance from “the architects of the peace process” that he would not be pursued.)

Why then are people in Ireland outraged by ‘Slab’s’ minor misdemeanor (minor, in comparison to Apple’s crimes) but quite content to allow Apple, Google and Pfizer to defraud millions of people of billions in tax revenues?

Surely, this is what should be exercising Ireland at the moment, not ‘Slab’s’ comparatively modest book-keeping excesses in the wilds of South Armagh.

Here is Clare Daly’s piece. Enjoy:

There has been a clear contradiction in the last week between international sources and the Irish government in relation to Ireland’s tax status. On the one hand we have the Taoiseach purporting that Ireland does not “do special tax-rate deals with companies”.  Tanaiste, Eamon Gilmore, has been adamant that Ireland’s corporate tax structure remains transparent. He has also toed the Taoiseach’s line that Ireland does not negotiate favourable or particular rates with any corporation.

In contrast both sides of the Atlantic have taken issue with Ireland’s tax structures. Congressional hearings in the United States, investigating Apple’s offshore taxation policies, found that Apple had negotiated favourable tax conditions when setting up in Ireland in the early 80’s.  More startling perhaps was the revelation that Apple had paid 2% on €74 Billion worth of revenue in the last three years. Clearly such figures would suggest discrepancy in the Government’s adamant assertion that Ireland’s corporate tax structures do not constitute ‘Tax Haven’ status.

Foreign sales, accounting for 60% of Apple’s profits, are routed through Irish subsidiaries and taxed nowhere.  Apple’s Irish holding company which has no employees at the top of its foreign operations also serves as a group finance company.  Apple Inc., the U.S. parent of the whole group, pays U.S. tax on the investment earnings of this company. In other words the holding company pays no tax to any government, and has not paid tax for five years.

Other multinational’s such as Google appear to have also taken advantage of the favourable Irish situation. This has been done through the setting up of multiple subsidiaries in Ireland, while still managing these subsidiaries from abroad. Such a situation blurs the legal clarity as to where these subsidiaries are registered and eligible for tax purposes. The outcome of which is that we now have U.S politician such as Democratic Senator Carl Levin saying that companies should not be able to “shift its value to a tax haven which is what Ireland is”.

In the United Kingdom there has been criticism of Google’s method of channeling profits and sales once more through Irish subsidiaries. This practice allows the company to avail of Ireland’s tax regime.

The injustice of all of this is highlighted by recently published research by All Ireland Research Observatory (AIBO), which has noted the stark contrast of tax burden in Ireland.  The change in the relative proportion of different tax receipts between 2006 and 2012 shows that income tax has grown from 27.2% of all tax receipts in 2006 to 41.4% in 2012, VAT has dropped from 29.5% to 27.8%, excise duty remains relatively unchanged at 12.3% to 12.8%, while corporation tax has fallen to 11.5% from 14.7%, and capital gains tax has fallen to 1.1% from 6.8%.

Basically the burden of tax receipts has strongly shifted to individual income tax and the trend on corporation tax has been declining since 2002 despite the boom years and the fact that since 2002 the volume and value of exports has grown.  In other words the rich have gotten richer while everyone else has shouldered the tax burden for the nation.

The introduction of the local property tax is yet another tax burden on individual families.  While the tax burden remains as low as 11.5% for corporations, a full and open debate about raising the tax share for corporations in a real attempt to share the load in an equitable fashion is long overdue.

So, Who Were The “Architects Of The Peace Process” Who Gave ‘Slab’ A Bum Steer?

An intriguing story in yesterday’s edition of The Irish Times, and intriguing not just because stories about the North in that publication these days meriting that adjective are about as rare as snow in New York this December.

Anyway fair play to Colm Keena for digging it out.

According to Keena, Tom ‘Slab’ Murphy and some of the lads in South Armagh are ripping mad over the prosecution and conviction of their boss on tax evasion charges because they were assured by people they call the “architects of the peace process” that such a thing would and could never happen.

Citing a source who had ‘official dealings’ with ‘Slab’ and his buddies in South Armagh, Keena wrote that: ‘Murphy and a group of about a dozen close associates believe the “architects of the peace process” assured them they would not be targeted in the wake of the 1997 IRA ceasefire, according to the source.’

The ‘gang’, as Keena calls them, now feel ‘betrayed’. (And, perhaps a little foolish, since they had only the “architects'” word for this and little good did similar assurances do the recipients of the IRA ‘comfort letters’?)

So who could these “architects of the peace process” possibly be?

Or, to pose that question in another way, is it just a coincidence that, in the wake of the controversy over ‘Slab’s’ conviction, Gerry Adams’ initial pose, which was to delay making any comment about ‘Slab’s’ predicament until his sentencing, was suddenly replaced by a lengthy and ardent defence of the post-1997 IRA ceasefire Chief of Staff?

Or, quickly following that, Martin McGuinness’ subsequent praise for that ‘good republican’, Tom Murphy and the valuable role he had played in delivering the peace process?

Could it possibly be that when ‘Slab’ and his buddies complain about ‘betrayal’ by the “architects of the peace process”, they have Gerry and Martin in mind?

For the sake of Messrs Adams and McGuinness, I sincerely hope not. Tom Murphy is not a person to lightly make an enemy of. If you don’t believe me, go ask the family of Eamon Collins or the grieving parents of Paul Quinn.

Will The Provos Stand By ‘Slab’?

UPDATE: Gerry Adams’ first reaction, as reported in The Irish Times:

‘I am aware of the reports of this morning’s judgment and that Tom Murphy has been released on bail…..He has strongly contested the accusations. I have no comment to make until the legal process has been concluded.’

Which, given that sentencing will not happen until some time in February, this may mean no need for a public position on ‘Slab’ by Gerry Adams until the general election is over.

Ain’t the legal system just great!?

A first thought, or rather question, following today’s conviction of Tom ‘Slab’ Murphy on nine counts of tax evasion at the Special Criminal Court in Dublin.

‘Slab’ was the IRA’s Chief of Staff from 1997 until…..well probably now, given that we now have official confirmation that the Army Council still exists and continues to run the IRA.

He took over at a delicate stage in the peace process – the Adams leadership had just survived, by the skin of its teeth, a vigorous challenge from Michael McKevitt at a General Army Convention – and ‘Slab’ was chosen to replace Tyrone veteran Kevin McKenna, who had held the post since 1983.

He was selected to steady the ship and he did that with considerable aplomb.


‘Slab’ was the man in charge during the most politically tumultuous years of the peace process which saw a split in the IRA, the Good Friday Agreement and the embrace of hitherto despised heresies:  partition, the Stormont parliament, the  power-sharing government, the principle of consent, the gradual decommissioning of IRA weapons and, finally, the PSNI.

It is very possible that without a man in charge of the IRA who not only had led the organisation in South Armagh, the byword for fierce Republican resistance to the British, but who had himself a lengthy and impressive personal military track record, the Adams’ leadership might not have survived. Who could accuse Adams of a sellout when the leadership in South Armagh supported him?

The debt of the Adams’ leadership to ‘Slab’ in relation to the peace process actually predates this period; ‘Slab’s’ decision to abstain in the crucial Army Council vote on whether to call the first ceasefire of the peace process in 1994 was, along with Joe Cahill’s last-minute decision to switch sides and support the move, enough to give Adams a comfortable victory and the political space to move forward.

And that is before one considers the many times ‘Slab’ rescued the IRA from financial holes by lending the organisation money likely earned by methods which the anti-terrorist Special Criminal Court has now deemed criminal.

Or, the crucial part he played in the Libyan arms venture whose effect was twofold: it seemed to give a lie to the claim that the peace process was a sellout, and provided the SF leadership with valuable bargaining chips when the peace process talks began.

So all in all, the debt of the Adams leadership to ‘Slab’ Murphy is a considerable one.

The question now is whether that leadership will stand by ‘Slab’, as he stood by them, as he faces a jail term of a length yet to be determined but which for a 66-year-old man must be a disheartening prospect no matter it’s duration?

Or, with a general election pending in the South, will the Sinn Fein leadership succumb to the temptation to drop him and distance themselves from a figure whose embarrassing criminality is an unwelcome reminder to the voters of their own past?

After all, not for nothing was this Sinn Fein’s unofficial slogan: ‘Eaten bread is soon forgotten’.

Jeremy Corbyn, The British Media And That Hilary Benn Speech…..

Media Lens recently published this biting analysis of the British media’s coverage of Cameron’s decision to join the West’s bombing of Syria, viewing it through the prism of the much-praised speech given in the House of Commons by Jeremy Corbyn’s shadow Cabinet colleague, Hilary Benn, son of the famous left-winger, Tony Benn, and placing it firmly in the context of the almost universal media hostility to the new Labour party leader.

Manufacturing Consensus – Hilary Benn’s Speech

Everyone laughs when dictators claim ‘Victory!’ having secured fully 99 per cent of the vote. The deception is so naked, so obvious – nobody is fooled by this supposed ‘national consensus’.

By contrast, when Western politics and media appear to reach a consensus on the benevolent intent of ‘our’ leaders, on the Hitlerian qualities of ‘our’ latest Official Enemy – when war is understood to be an unavoidable necessity by just about everyone – nobody blinks an eye. The beauty of a system like ours – controlled by propaganda rather than Big Brother-style censorship and violence – is that it looks for all the world like freedom.

The corporate media system may appear to be comprised of a huge variety of newspapers, magazines, websites, TV and radio stations. But in fact these are all corporate media, and all corporate media share similar interests and pursue similar goals in alliance with the state. What looks like consensus is most often a lie – a phoney reflection of corporate dominance and mindless groupthink.

Thus the Guardian when it declared that historians ‘will look back to read an impassioned and impressive speech’.

A Telegraph leader agreed: the speaker gave ‘the country a rare reminder of what a first class parliamentary performer he is… The Commons brought out the very best in him.’

The Independent nodded. The speech ‘was the most persuasive case yet made… for war’.

And The Times: ‘It was a speech to admire for its willpower and its moral conviction…’. The speaker had demonstrated ‘greatness’.

We are describing the media response to Tony Blair’s, March 18, 2003 speech to parliament, on the eve of Britain’s calamitous and criminal invasion of Iraq. Blair’s performance was greeted with near-universal media acclaim and yet we knew – without even hearing or reading the speech – that the plaudits were false. How? As Seinfeld’s George Costanza said: ‘It’s one of my powers.’

We knew Blair’s speech could not have shown ‘greatness’ because we knew that his case for war – that Saddam threatened the West, that he possessed terrifying weapons, that he had links to al-Qaeda, that the West had to invade to protect itself – was nonsense. The entire argument was a tissue of lies, hype and deception driven by several varieties of corporate greed, notably greed for Iraqi oil.

Blair had written in September 2002 that Iraqi WMD represented ‘a current and serious threat to the UK national interest’. John Morrison, an adviser to the parliamentary intelligence and security committee and a former deputy chief of defence intelligence, told the BBC:

‘When I heard him using those words, I could almost hear the collective raspberry going up around Whitehall.’

To accept that Blair’s case merited a ‘raspberry’ was to understand, was to simply know, that Blair’s speech could not be ‘impressive’, because lies are not impressive; cold-blooded killing for profit is not impressive. And we were not about to be moved by his skill as a ‘parliamentary performer’.

Hilary Benn’s ‘Spine-Tingling’ Speech

This month, with Britain yet again on the brink of war – this time with Syria – the same corporate journalists and commentators in the same corporate media responded in the same way to a speech by shadow foreign secretary, Hilary Benn.

In the Telegraph, Janet Daley declared that Benn had given ‘a thunderous and morally unimpeachable speech’. For Col. Tim Collins in the same newspaper, the speech ‘will stand both as one of the great orations in our Parliament and as an inspiring example’. It was ‘spine-tingling’. The title of another piece added: ‘The House sat silent, rapt. Then, on both sides, MPs burst into applause.’ Dan Hodges wrote, also in the Telegraph:

‘Hilary Benn didn’t just look like the leader of the opposition. He looked like the prime minister… It is about to become the House of Commons “where were you when Kennedy was shot” moment. Where were you sitting. Who were you with. What were you thinking.’

The Guardian’s chief political correspondent, Nicholas Watt, applauded:

‘Benn finally emerged from the shadow of his late father, Tony, as he delivered a spellbinding speech… the speech had altered the dynamics within the party.’

Guardian comment editor, Jonathan Freedland, agreed:

‘Whether you agree or not, that was a truly electrifying speech by Hilary Benn. One that will define his career’

A Guardian news piece admired Benn’s ‘extraordinary’ speech. In the Observer, Andrew Rawnsley praised an ‘electrifying speech… It was a bravura performance…’

The hard-right ‘leftist’ New Statesman, owned by multi-millionaire media tycoon Mike Danson, celebrated ‘Hilary Benn’s remarkable speech’, which ‘received thunderous applause and moved MPs to tears as he made the case for intervention.’ Many more tears have been generated by the media’s response.

The oligarch-owned Independent noted:

‘Hilary Benn has been praised for “one of the truly great speeches” seen in the House of Commons after making a passionate plea for Labour MPs joining him to support air strikes in Syria.’

The oligarch-owned Evening Standard (same oligarch), commented: ‘Hilary Benn’s Syria speech lauded as one of the greatest in Commons history.’

The Sun’s chief political correspondent, one Craig Woodhouse, declared: ‘If you haven’t seen it, watch Hilary Benn’s speech here. One of the best speeches ever.’ In all of human history, we presume. The Spectator described Benn’s ‘extraordinary speech’. The Daily Mail felt that ‘Benn made the address of his political life’ drawing a ‘rapturous response.’ Also in the Daily Mail, Andrew Pierce noted the ‘bravura’ speech, ‘bookmakers have made him a favourite to succeed the hapless Jeremy Corbyn’. The Express reported that Benn’s speech was ‘gripping the nation’.

Andrew Neil, presenter of the BBC’s Sunday and Daily Politics programmes, tweeted:

‘Remarkable and unprecedented speech by Hilary Benn. House on both sides breaks into applause.’

Pulitzer prize-winning US journalist Glenn Greenwald commented on Neil’s tweet:

‘As always, fascinating how journalistic “neutrality” always permits swooning in the face of politicians’ war cries’

Greenwald added:

‘And asking genuinely: what was so “extraordinary” about Benn’s speech? it was filled with typical, war-justifying, pseudo-tough-guy clichés’

The BBC’s deputy political editor, James Landale, appeared overcome with emotion. It was, he said, ‘the most extraordinary speech… I’ve been reporting parliament for about twenty years and I have never seen a speech like it.’

Some restraint might have been expected from Landale, given his BBC News at Six description (August 22, 2011) of feelings inside 10 Downing Street on Nato’s calamitous and criminal war on Libya:

‘But all that caution has been matched by some satisfaction and optimism. Satisfaction that all David Cameron’s critics, who said that this couldn’t be done – that aerial bombardment would not work – have been proved wrong.’

On December 3, BBC Radio 4 ran Benn’s entire speech and suggested he might become Labour leader. We can be sure that this would not have happened – no matter how ‘extraordinary’ the speech – if Benn had been arguing against war.

Zac Goldsmith, Tory MP for Richmond, London mayoral candidate and former editor of The Ecologist, tweeted: ‘Hilary Benn is delivering a truly magnificent speech. Worth watching.’

In truth, Benn’s speech was the kind of grim, gung-ho guff that would never get within a million miles of The Ecologist’s pages. Goldsmith voted for war on Syria, having previously voted for war on Libya and Iraq – a depressing transformation indeed for a leading environmentalist.

An editorial in The Times hinted at the problem with the speech:

‘Mr Benn’s vision of this country and its responsibilities on the international stage is one to which, in many respects, The Times subscribes.’

Needless to say, the speech was awesome:

‘Long after most have forgotten the detail of the House of Commons debate on British airstrikes on the self-styled Islamic State, many will remember the words of Hilary Benn.’

Adam Boulton wrote in the Sunday Times:

‘The applause after Hilary Benn’s speech in favour of extending RAF bombing into Syria was unprecedented, running in a Mexican wave from the Tory benches, around the horseshoe of the chamber…’

As Peter Oborne has noted, the parliamentary speaker did not allow applause for earlier speeches; but it was allowed for Benn’s speech – a clear case of bias. Boulton added that it was ‘a great parliamentary speech… of genuine national significance’.

As usual, it was noticeable that the more honest, uncompromised commentators did not share the false consensus. Oborne wrote, accurately, in the Daily Mail that the speech ‘was not nearly as impressive as reported. Mr Benn showed no comprehension of the complexities of the Syrian civil war’, being ‘a political mediocrity who has become a convenient stalking horse for the Blairite faction which has been determined to destroy Jeremy Corbyn since he was elected’. Which, indeed, explains the media response to the speech.


A Tissue Of Twaddle

In his speech, Benn declared a ‘clear and present threat from Daesh’; language that bore an unfortunate resemblance to Blair’s claim of a ‘current and serious threat’ from Saddam Hussein that earned rude noises from UK intelligence experts.

On September 10, 2014, a report in the New York Times commented on Isis:

‘American intelligence agencies have concluded that it poses no immediate threat to the United States. Some officials and terrorism experts believe that the actual danger posed by ISIS has been distorted in hours of television punditry and alarmist statements by politicians, and that there has been little substantive public debate about the unintended consequences of expanding American military action in the Middle East.’


‘”It’s pretty clear that upping our involvement in Iraq and Syria makes it more likely that we will be targeted by the people we are attacking,” said Andrew Liepman, a former deputy director at the National Counterterrorism Center who is now a senior policy analyst at the RAND Corporation.’

In his speech, Benn argued:

‘We now have a clear and unambiguous UN Security Council Resolution 2249, paragraph 5 of which specifically calls on member states to take all necessary measures to redouble and co-ordinate their efforts to prevent and suppress terrorist acts committed specifically by Isil…

‘So given that the United Nations has passed this resolution, given that such action would be lawful under Article 51 of the UN Charter – because every state has the right to defend itself.’

By contrast, The European Journal of International Law noted on the UN resolution:

‘However, though the resolution, and the unanimity with which it was adopted, might confer a degree of legitimacy on actions against IS, the resolution does not actually authorize any actions against IS, nor does it provide a legal basis for the use of force against IS either in Syria or in Iraq.’


‘Thus, the resolution is to be seen as only encouraging states to do what they can already do under other rules of international law. It neither adds to, nor subtracts from, whatever existing authority states already have.’

Benn argued that there is much ‘support from within the region including from Iraq’. He omitted to mention Syria and the fact that the attacks have not been requested by the Syrian government and are therefore illegal. Syrian president Assad said recently of Western intervention:

‘It is legal only when the participation is in cooperation with the legitimate government in Syria… we are a sovereign country’.

Benn continued:

‘It has been argued in the debate that airstrikes achieve nothing. Not so. Look at how Daesh’s forward march has been halted in Iraq.’

The claim has been flatly contradicted by highly-respected, veteran investigative journalist, Patrick Cockburn, who commented in the London Review of Books last month:

‘By October the US-led coalition had carried out 7323 air strikes, the great majority of them by the US air force, which made 3231 strikes in Iraq and 2487 in Syria. But the campaign has demonstrably failed to contain IS, which in May captured Ramadi in Iraq and Palmyra in Syria…’

Perhaps, like many journalists, Benn has been deceived by Operation Inherent Resolve, a Washington propaganda campaign intended to mitigate the failure of its air campaign by making exaggerated claims of success. Cockburn again:

‘Maps were issued to the press showing that IS had a weakening grip on between 25 and 30 per cent of its territory, but they conveniently left out the parts of Syria where IS was advancing. Such was the suppression and manipulation of intelligence by the administration that in July fifty analysts working for US Central Command signed a protest against the official distortion of what was happening on the battlefield. Russia has now taken advantage of the US failure to suppress the jihadis.’

Perhaps the most eloquent answer to Benn-style warmongering was supplied by the Boston Globe way back in April 2003 when it quoted As’ad AbuKhalil, a professor of political science at California State University:

‘”The Soviet occupation of Afghanistan gave us the Taliban,” AbuKhalil says. “The American occupation of Saudi Arabia gave us bin Laden and Al Qaeda. The Israeli occupation of Lebanon gave us Hezbollah. Let us see what the American occupation of Iraq is going to give us.”‘

Benn said:

‘I say the threat is now, and there are rarely, if ever, perfect circumstances in which to deploy military forces.’

Curiously, on November 15 – just three weeks before his December 2 speech – Benn himself was quoted in the Independent as being opposed to bombing:

‘Mr Benn… said that the Government should drop plans for a new House of Commons vote authorising military attacks in Syria to concentrate on peace talks and providing humanitarian support for refugees.’

‘Mr Benn said the “terrible events in Paris” meant it was “even more important that we bring the Syrian civil war to an end” before considering air strikes on Isis…. asked if he thought they should, Mr Benn said: “No.” He added: “They have to come up with an overall plan, which they have not done. I think the focus for now is finding a peaceful solution to the civil war.”‘

What changed between November 15 and December 2? A question that again has eerie echoes of the Iraq war, specifically the debate over legality.

In a stirring conclusion that brought tears to the eyes of many a state-corporate crocodile, Benn said:

‘And what we know about fascists is that they need to be defeated. And it is why, as we have heard tonight, socialists and trade unionists and others joined the International Brigade in the 1930s to fight against Franco. It’s why this entire House stood up against Hitler and Mussolini. It is why our party has always stood up against the denial of human rights and for justice.’

In similar vein, in his 2003 speech, Blair said:

‘We can look back and say: there’s the time; that was the moment; for example, when Czechoslovakia was swallowed up by the Nazis – that’s when we should have acted.’

On Benn’s claim that ‘our party has always stood up against the denial of human rights and for justice’, British historian Mark Curtis observed wryly:

‘These claims are… amusing for anyone with the remotest knowledge of Labour’s postwar and recent foreign policy.’

Curtis wrote in his book, The Ambiguities of Power:

‘Since 1945, rather than occasionally deviating from the promotion of peace, democracy, human rights and economic development in the Third World, British (and US) foreign policy has been systematically opposed to them, whether the Conservatives or Labour (or Republicans or Democrats) have been in power.’ (Curtis, The Ambiguities of Power – British Foreign Policy Since 1945, Zed Books, 1995, p.3)

Unsurprisingly, Blair enjoyed Benn’s speech immensely :

‘I thought it was a tour de force and very important in restating the progressive case in helping people in need.’

There have been rare glimmers of dissent in the press, mostly supplied by comedians Frankie Boyle, David Mitchell and Mark Steel performing almost as jesters to the corporate liberal court.


Conclusion – Beyond Bias

The myth of corporate media impartiality – vital for retaining readers’ support – makes it hard for structurally pro-war media to declare too openly in favour of the West’s endless wars. What they can do is celebrate speeches that just happen to be pro-war. To applaud skills of oratory, courage, leadership – to note that numerous politicians and journalists (all with a lucrative, warmongering axe to grind) admired the speech – is a powerful way of supporting war without looking too obviously biased. In his article, Mark Curtis wrote:

‘I’ve been monitoring the mainstream media for 30 years and cannot remember a time like this: literally everything is being thrown at Corbyn.’

Indeed, the propaganda war being waged on Corbyn and the related support for war and Benn’s wretched speech – has moved beyond mere bias. The British corporate media are no longer merely channelling distorted news and views to democracy; they are openly working to undermine democracy. In effect, state-corporate power is telling the 250,000 people who voted for Corbyn, and anyone else who supports anti-war politics, that the Corbyn option is not allowed. Democracy is one thing, but his brand of politics goes too far.

When elite interests determine what is and is not politically possible, we are entering the realm of fascism.

The Perfect Christmas Gift……..?


With the Christmas festivities well under way on this side of the Atlantic, that estimable and venerable publication, The New York Review Of Books is offering as a gift idea, specially-framed and mounted copies of drawings of famous people that have appeared in its columns over the years.

For $150.00 ( €141.00/£100.00) you can purchase the perfect Christmas present for that special person in your life. The NYRB has an archive of over 4,000 drawings created by its team of famous artists (David Levine, John Springs, James Ferguson and Pancho) to choose from and you can browse for that favourite liked or disliked celebrity by category.

Look who I found under ‘Radicals and Extremists – Left and Right’. Depending on your politics you could hang it over the water cistern or on the wall over your bed. You better hurry, though, as the deadline expires tomorrow:



If $150 sounds a bit steep to you, Liam O’Rourke discovered this on the website for Abe books, a signed photo of the great man available for a trifling $1076.90, plus shipping costs of $28.58 (for a photo!):


When Catholics Were America’s Muslims….

Cross out the word ‘Muslim’ and insert ‘Catholic’ in its place, go back in time  exactly one hundred years, get hold of one of the country’s most popular newspapers of that day, a publication called ‘The Menace’, and you could be forgiven for thinking that religious/racial intolerance and paranoia are as American as…..well, Donald Trump.

A fascinating article here from Matt Pearce of the Los Angeles Times traces an enduring feature of American history: fear of, and hostility to the unalike.

Nowadays it is radical Islaam, ISIS and Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi who strike fear in the hearts of many Americans; back in 1915, it was the Vatican, the Pope and his legions of priests and nuns who were plotting to take over America.

Read this article and you can more readily understand a), why it was not until 1960 that a Catholic, John F Kennedy could be elected to the White House, and then only when he gave assurances to the voters that his ultimate allegiance would be to the US Constitution and not the Vatican.

And b), why America has an endless and enduring fear of an all-threatening enemy out there driven by an overwhelming urge to attack and destroy American values: whether that be Blacks, Catholics, Chinese, Japanese, Communists or Muslims.

Reading what follows will not seem that peculiar to readers from Ireland, particularly its Northern counties. The equivalent of the aptly named The Menace – a publication called The Protestant Telegraph – could be bought on Royal Avenue, in East Belfast and in the centre of Ballymena on any Saturday afternoon during the 1960’s, long after The Menace had faded into lost memory.

The Protestant Telegraph’s editor and founder had a happier ending and a longer life than Mr al-Baghdadi is ever likely to experience, but I suspect that was all to do with the fact that he had friends in places – like South Carolina and most places south (and a few north) of the Mason-Dixon line – that the leader of ISIS can only dream about.

Enjoy, if that’s the right word:

A century ago, fear of a Roman Catholic plot to take over America

The year was 1915, and the strange new newspaper in Aurora, Mo., had grown so quickly in its first four years that rail officials had to build extra tracks for all the paper and printing materials suddenly rolling into town.

The Aurora post office, according to one account, more than tripled its staff to handle mail to and from the publication’s astonishing 1.5 million weekly subscribers — a circulation that dwarfed the largest daily newspapers in New York and Chicago.

Hatred had become big business in southwestern Missouri, and its name was the Menace, a weekly anti-Catholic newspaper whose headlines screamed to readers around the nation about predatory priests, women enslaved in convents and a dangerous Roman Catholic plot to take over America.

“The cowardice of a Roman thug has no parallel in either the human or animal kingdom,” the newspaper frothed in one 1914 edition, calling for “men with red blood in their veins” to defend women and children from Catholics. “If we are compelled to live in this county with Romanists, as our weak-kneed Protestant critics say we are, the Romanists will have to be taught their place in society.”

America’s deep and widespread skepticism of Catholics is a faint memory in today’s post-Sept. 11 world. But as some conservative politicians call for limits on Muslim immigration and raise questions about whether Muslims are more loyal to Islamic law than American law, the story of Aurora’s long-ago newspaper is a reminder that America’s vaunted principles of tolerance and religious liberty have been dotted with plenty of intolerance over the years.

Today, there are calls for federal surveillance of mosques in the name of preventing terrorist attacks; a century ago, it was state laws that allowed the warrantless search of convents and churches in search of supposedly trapped women and purported secret Catholic weapons caches.

“I see huge parallels,” said Sharon Davies, executive director of the Kirwan Institute for the Study of Race and Ethnicity at Ohio State University. “I think we haven’t seen anything quite like this since the beginning of the 20th century, when we passed laws that permitted the Catholics to be treated in ways that no other religious group was treated.”

Anti-Catholicism stretches back to the nation’s colonial times, when some states barred Catholics from holding office, and continued through the mid-1800s, which saw the Know-Nothing party’s campaign against Catholic politicians. Lynch mobs killed Italian immigrants and arsonists burned down Catholic churches.

Perhaps no publication captures the animus toward Catholicism at the start of the 20th century as vividly as the Menace, launched in an old opera house in Aurora in 1911, when the city’s population was only a little over 4,000.

The Menace wasn’t the country’s first anti-Catholic newspaper, but it quickly became one of the biggest, eventually selling anti-Catholic books and launching a lecture series. Its editor, the Rev. Theodore C. Walker, claimed its target was not rank-and-file Catholics but the Catholic Church itself.

“It begins a kind of tidal wave, a journalistic explosion that sweeps the entire country,” said Justin Nordstrom, an associate professor of history at Penn State Hazleton who has studied the Menace. “There are people paying attention to this newspaper — urban settings, rural settings — all across the country.”

On its banner, the Menace sometimes bore the logo of skull and crossbones wearing a papal hat, as well as a drawing of a public school, which is described as “the antidote for papal poison.”

“OPEN ROME’S PRISON HOUSES IN AMERICA!” blared one headline for a December 1911 story that claimed the church was murdering the babies of nuns and throwing the infant corpses into a pit.

In the same issue, the Menace urged its readers to vote against all Catholic political candidates regardless of party or platform, describing the church as “the most dangerous power that threatens our government today.” It added ominously, “A defeat at the polls today is far better than a defeat at arms tomorrow.”

“There was a widespread belief that Catholics were waiting for the day the pope would put into motion a campaign to make the country Catholic, and in the meantime amassing [stockpiles] of weaponry that would be used when that day came,” Davies said.

Not everyone bought what the Menace was selling — which was a year’s subscription for 50 cents.

“It is a menace to decency — a menace to peace and order — a menace to tolerance — a menace to true Americanism — a menace to the spirit of fraternity,” Chicago journalist Charles A. Windle wrote in one broadside against the weekly. “It breeds bitterness and strife between neighbors and converts life-long friends into enemies. Its columns reek with slander. Every page is a seething cesspool, in which writhe and wriggle hell-born lies.”

Catholic leaders also mobilized against the Menace, clipping out accounts asserting lewd behavior by priests to prompt federal prosecutors to indict the paper’s editors on suspicion of mailing obscene materials, according to Nordstrom’s book on the anti-Catholic press, “Danger on the Doorstep.”

When the Menace won the federal obscenity trial in Joplin, Mo., in 1916, one sympathizer wrote that Aurora celebrated, with “an immense crowd comprising more than half the population gathered at the depot, headed by the band, and when the defendants stepped from the train they were royally welcomed.” The Menace described its home base as “The World’s Headquarters for Anti-Papal Literature.”

“It was a black page in Aurora’s past,” said Mary Strickrodt, president of Aurora’s historical society. “I wish everyone had been aghast and run them out of town, but it seems to have hired a lot of people. We have postcards [showing] a huge amount of train cars being loaded with the newspaper to be shipped out.”

The paper’s immense popularity Strickrodt finds baffling.

“Why did it get big?” she wondered. “Why are people so quick to find people to hate? To be bigger than?”

The paper’s circulation declined as the nation turned its attention to the First World War, and soon after the newspaper’s printing plant burned down in 1919, the Menace sputtered out, along with other anti-Catholic publications.

Anti-Catholicism lived on in the Ku Klux Klan, but after the country elected its first Roman Catholic president, John F. Kennedy, in 1960, the worst of the hatred seemed to fade.

Rick Hinshaw, a spokesman for the Catholic League for Religious and Civil Rights, said the group’s biggest concerns today are anti-Catholic depictions on TV and in movies and the federal government’s healthcare mandates.

“Today, it’s more the cultural elite that we feel we run into,” Hinshaw said.

Little trace remains of the Menace in Aurora, except when new homeowners tear down walls or explore attics and find copies, like the man from Rhode Island who moved to town and called local Chamber of Commerce director Shannon Walker to tell her about a strange discovery in his home.

“You’ll never guess what I found,” Walker recalled the man telling her.

“The Menace?” she replied.

“How did you know?”

Sinn Fein, Austerity And The Sound Of Scales Falling Off Eyes And Hitting The Ground With A Thud…..

Interesting piece in yesterday’s Irish Times:

Sinn Fein not committed to an anti-austerity left wing government

The party’s recent talk about coalition with Fianna Fail and Labour will cause concern among those who look to Sinn Fein to bring change

‘We need a left based on principled opposition to austerity and oppression’. Photograph: Eric Luke / The Irish Times‘We need a left based on principled opposition to austerity and oppression’. Photograph: Eric Luke / The Irish Times

Stability: that is the Government’s pitch for its own re-election. While it rings true for the 300 richest people who have increased their wealth from €50 billion to €84 billion in the last five years, for many others it is a sick joke.

For those facing skyrocketing rents and unaffordable mortgages or threatened with homelessness, for those on hospital waiting lists, for the one in four workers who struggles to make ends meet, there is no stability.

With their mantra of “stability”, they are also trying to restore the fortunes of establishment party politics. Seven years of crisis and austerity have not just upended people’s lives, they have transformed politics. The most significant change is the dramatic decline in the combined support for Fianna Fáil, Fine Gael and Labour. In last year’s European elections they were reduced to below 50 per cent, as also happened to the establishment parties in Spain and Greece.

This has been added to by the mass movement against water charges and the movement for marriage equality. There has also been an unprecedented politicisation and radicalisation in working-class communities, amongst women and young people.

The result is a significant opportunity for those who want to see an end to the rule of the conservative parties and the interests of big business, bankers and bondholders who they represent. It is an opportunity that must not be missed by repeating the mistakes of the Labour Party, which betrayed its voters by implementing austerity together with Fine Gael.

Principled opposition

Instead, we need an ambitious left which doesn’t settle for the role of mudguard for the establishment parties and which struggles for a left government with socialist policies. We need a left based on principled opposition to austerity and oppression, committed to building movements, such as the mass boycott of the water charges, and a willingness to challenge the rule of the capitalist elite.

The Anti-Austerity Alliance wants to be part of a left government that can mark a fundamental and radical shift away from a society dominated by the profits of the 1 per cent to one where the needs of the 99 per cent and the environment come first. Such a left government will have to exclude Fianna Fáil, Fine Gael and Labour as they would clearly act in a coalition to block any significant change taking place.

If it is possible after the next general election to form a government without the traditional establishment parties, the Anti-Austerity Alliance will discuss with others to see if a left programme for government can be agreed. This would have to include the reversal of the cuts implemented over the last years, abolition of austerity taxes such as water charges and property tax, investment to resolve the housing crisis and increasing the minimum wage and improving working conditions.

Implementing these policies means prioritising public services and housing over paying the bankers’ debts, shifting the burden of taxation on to the wealthy, corporations and high-income earners and challenging the straitjacket of the EU’s “Austerity Treaty”. A left government would also repeal the Eighth Amendment and challenge the oppression faced by women, Travellers, migrants and others.

Living standards

These policies are necessary in order to improve the living standards of ordinary people. Unfortunately, we have major doubts as to whether Sinn Féin would agree to such a programme.

As one of the architects of the “Fresh Start” agreement in the North, it has demonstrated that it is willing to implement austerity, agreeing to welfare cuts and 20,000 job losses, while also cutting corporation tax. In the North, they are based on one community and the party’s actions deepen sectarian division.

Its recent talk about coalition with Fianna Fáil and Labour will cause concern among those who look to Sinn Féin to bring about change. If Sinn Féin truly wanted to see an end of the rule of the establishment parties in this country, it would rule out coalition with them and instead declare for an anti-austerity government based on non-establishment forces.

In the case that no left programme for government can be agreed, but a government could be formed without the establishment parties, our TDs will vote in the Dáil to allow the formation of that alternative government. While we would not participate in a government without a left programme, we would allow that government to come to power and then vote to support measures that benefit working-class people and oppose ones that do not.

At the same time, we would seek to build a mass movement outside the Dáil to put pressure on the government to deliver on its promises and to achieve a genuine left government as soon as possible.

Paul Murphy is an Anti- Austerity Alliance TD for Dublin South West. Ruth Coppinger is an Anti-Austerity Alliance TD for Dublin West

Is Trump Un-American? The Historical Evidence Says No…….

The study reproduced below of the history of US immigration, citizenship and voting laws, compiled by Jana Breziel of the University of Cincinatti and reproduced by, shows that Donald Trump’s suggestion of a ban on Muslim immigration or entry to the US is part of a practice of racial discrimination that goes back almost to the American revolution.


To begin with Blacks were the main target of race-based laws but they were replaced – or perhaps joined would be the appropriate word – by Asians, especially Chinese, and then by South Asians, Japanese and Filipinos, whose entry to the US was either barred entirely or subject to severe restriction.

During World War II, after America’s involvement in Vietnam, and under Cold War pressures these restrictions were gradually relaxed or removed and the new targets became illegal immigrants from Mexico and Latin America.

These various discriminatory Acts and measures could have been vetoed or opposed by the White House of the relevant day but never were. For Obama White House to declare Trump ‘unfit’ to become president is therefore a statement too far; he is part of an old American tradition.

“The Naturalization Act of 1790 passed by Congress employed explicitly racial criteria limiting citizenship to ‘free white persons’; after this act was successfully challenged on behalf of blacks after the Civil War, ‘Asian immigrants became the most significant “other” in terms of citizenship eligibility’ (Lesser, 85)” (Wong 5).

Critical race theorists and legal scholars have also explored the implications of race, citizenship and the American legal system. In addition to whiteness defining the legal status of a person as slave or free (in the pre-Emancipation period), Cheryl I Harris argues that “white identity conferred tangible and economically valuable benefits” and was “central to national identity and to the republican project” (280, 285). Harris’s essay explores the valences’ legally, historically, and ideologically of “whiteness as property,” and she extends this analysis to the changing definitions of citizenship as introduced in the Naturalization Act of 1790: “The franchise, for example, was broadened to extend voting rights to unpropertied white men at the same time that black voters were specifically disenfranchised, arguably shifting the property required for voting from land to whiteness” (286). [Harris, “Whiteness as Property,” from Critical Race Theory].

National Amendments or Prohibitions to Citizenship:

Amendment 14: Civil Rights – Citizenship Granted to freed African Americans (ratified in 1868).

Amendment 15: Black Suffrage – Voting rights extended to African Americans (ratified in 1870).

Asian Exclusion Acts: barring immigrants from citizenship & ownership of property.

“Though Congress never enacted a law that specifically names ‘Asians’ or ‘Orientals’ as an Asiatic racial category, legal theorist Neil Gotanda has argued that the sequence of laws in 1882, 1917, 1924 and 1934 that excluded immigrants from China, Japan, India and the Philippines, combined with the series of repeal acts overturning these exclusions, construct a common racial categorization for Asians that depended on consistently racializing each national-origin group as ‘nonwhite'” (Lowe 19).

Chinese Exclusion Acts / Immigration Exclusion Act (1882) – prohibited citizenship for Chinese immigrants. Subsequent acts reinforcing the exclusion of Chinese immigrant were passed in 1884, 1886 and 1888.

“In 1882, 1884, 1886, and 1888, Congress passed Chinese exclusion acts, suspending immigration of Chinese laborers and barring reentry of all Chinese laborers who departed and did not return before the passage of the Act” (Lowe 180-81fn14).

Immigration Act of 1917: Exclusion of Asian Indians (1917)

“A geographical criterion was used to exclude Asian Indians, because their racial or ethnic status was unclear” (Lowe, 180-81fn14).

Ozawa v. United States (1922)

“In the Ozawa v. United States case (1922), the Supreme Court ruled against a Japan-born applicant to naturalization (who had lived most of his life in the United States), arguing that had these particular races [like the Japanese] been suggested, the language of the act would have been so varied as to include them in its privileges.í To circumvent the question of color, the Court defined ‘white’ as ‘Caucasian'” (Wong 5).

Supreme Court Decision regarding South Asian Immigrations (1923)

“However, when an immigrant from India, Bhagat Singh Thind, attempted to gain citizenship by arguing that he was Caucasian, the Supreme Court changed its definition again, brushing aside anthropological and historical issues and appealing to the more popular meaning of the term ‘white’ (S. Chan 1991: 94). Furthermore, in its 1923 decision against Thind, the Court invoked the criterion of assimilability to separate the desirable immigrants from the undesirable ones: Asian Indians were distinguished from the swarthy European immigrants, who were deemed ‘readily amalgamated’ (italics in original) with the immigrants ‘already here’ (Lesser, 88)” (Wong 5).

Immigrant Act of 1924: Exclusion of Japanese

“The Immigration Act of 1924 barred entry of ‘aliens ineligible to citizenship’; because Japanese and other Asians were barred by the 1790 naturalization law stipulating that ‘whites only’ could be naturalized as citizens, the 1924 act totally excluded them from immigration” (Lowe 180-81fn14).

Tydings-McDuffie Act (1934): Exclusion of Filipinos

U.S. colonization of the Philippines (1898-1946)

The Tydings-McDuffie Act of 1934 cut Filipino immigration to a quota of fifty persons per year, and all Filipinos in the United States were reclassified as ‘aliens.’ [Ö] The U.S. exclusion of Filipino immigration was continually connected with the issue of Philippine independence from U.S. colonization . . .” (Lowe 181fn14).

Alien Land Laws (1913, 1920, and 1923) “prohibited Asian immigrants from owning land and other forms of property through the legal construction of nonwhites as ‘aliens ineligible to citizenship” (Lisa Lowe, Immigrant Acts 13).

“Asia Barred Zone” (1917)

“The 1917 immigration act denied entry to people from a “barred zone” that included South Asia through Southeast Asia and islands in the Indian and Pacific Oceans, but excluded American possessions of the Philippines and Guam” (Lowe 180-81fn14).

Magnuson Act (1943): lifted the barriers to citizenship for most immigrants of Asian origin.

“The Magnuson Act had three significant parts: it repealed the Exclusion Act of 1882; it established a quota for Chinese immigrants; and it made Chinese eligible for citizenship, negating the 1790 racial bar” (Lowe 20).

Asian Exclusion Repeal Acts (1946, for Filipino and East Indian)

Mc Carran-Walter Act (1952): abolished the 1917 ‘Asia Barred Zone’; allowed for immigration into the United States based on ethnic quotas.

“Quotas were not specified by national origin, but through racialized ethnic categories such as ‘Chinese.’ In other words, the McCarran-Walter Act provided that one hundred ethnic Chinese persons enter annually; these Chinese originated from diverse nations. Even laws that repealed exclusion acts continued to ‘racialize’ Asians. . . .” (Lowe 193fn53).

“The McCarran-Walter Act, an expression of the cold war era, legislated strict quotas, created an area called the ‘Asia-Pacific triangle’ based on a strategically territorial mapping, and contained language delineating the exclusion of and right to deport ‘any alien who has engaged or has had purpose to engage in activities “prejudicial to the public interest” or “subversive to national security”‘” (Lowe 9).

Immigrant Act (1965): eliminated immigration quotas, establishing new criteria for immigrants.

“The 1965 immigration act removed ‘natural origins’ as the basis of American immigration legislation and was framed as an amendment to the 1952 McCarran-Walter Act. The 1965 act abolished ‘national origin’ quotas and specified seven preferences for Eastern Hemisphere quota immigrants: (1) unmarried adult sons and daughters of citizens; (2) spouses and unmarried sons and daughters of permanent residents; (3) professionals, scientists, and artists of ‘exceptional ability’; (4) married adult sons and daughters of U.S. citizens; (5) siblings of adult citizens; (6) workers, skilled and unskilled, in occupations for which labor was in short supply in the United States; and (7) refugees from Communist-dominated countries or those uprooted by natural catastrophe. [Ö] Since 1965, two million Asian quota immigrants, two million nonquota immigrants, and one million refugees outside the seventh preference have arrived” (Lowe 181-82fn16).

“In the period since 1965, legal regulations on immigration include Asians among a broad segment of racialized immigrants, while policing has refocused particularly on ‘alien’ and ‘illegal’ Mexican and Latino workers. Asian Americans, with the history of being constituted as ‘aliens,’ have the collective ‘memory’ to be critical of the notion of citizenship and the liberal democracy it upholds; Asian American culture is the site of ‘remembering,’ in which the recognition of Asian immigrant history in the present predicament of Mexican and Latino immigrants is possible” (Lowe 21).

Three acts have facilitated the immigration and resettlement of Southeast Asian refugees:

Indochina Migration and Refugee Assistance Act (1975)

Refugee Act (1980)

Amerasian Homecoming Act (1987)

“Another distinguishing feature of the post-1965 Asian immigration is the predominance of immigrants from South Korea, the Phillipines, South Vietnam, and Cambodia, countries deeply affected by U.S. colonialism, war and neocolonialism” (Lowe 16).

“Despite the usual assumptions that Asians immigrate from stable, continuous, ‘traditional’ cultures, most of the post-1965 Asian immigrants come from societies already disrupted by colonialism and distorted by the upheavals of neocolonial capitalism and war” (Lowe 16).

Immigrant Reform and Control Act (1986)

Immigration Act (1990)

“As the Immigrant Reform and Control Act of 1986 and the Immigration Act of 1990 attest, however, immigration legislation continues to be the site for the resurgence of contradiction between capital and the state, between economic and political imperatives, between the ‘push-pull’ of markets and the maintenance of civil rights and is riddled with conflicts as the state attempts to control through law what is also an economically driven phenomenon. In the 1990s, recent immigration policies and de facto immigration policies express this contradiction around the ‘crisis’ of illegal immigration, particularly from Mexico and Latin America (though Haitian and Chinese examples have also emerged)” (Lowe 20).

California’s Proposition 187:

“California’s Proposition 187 passed in 1994, attempts to deny schooling and medical care to illegal immigrants; although the referendum does not specify immigrants from Mexico and Latin America, its execution would certainly be aimed at these groups” (Lowe 20).

“Since the 1950s, undocumented immigrants from Mexico and Latin America have provided much of the low-wage labor in agriculture, construction, hotels, restaurants, and domestic services in the western and southwestern United States. The wages and working conditions of these jobs do not attract U.S. workers: state policy will not legislate the improvement of labor conditions, but neither does it declare officially that the U.S. economy systematically produces jobs that only third world workers find attractive. The result is an officially disavowed and yet unofficially mandated, clandestine movement of illegal immigration, which addresses the economyís need for low-wage labor but whose dehumanization of migrant workers is politically contradictory” (Lowe 21).

IRA Campaign Has Lessons For U.S. And ISIS…….

Those of us who lived through the Troubles, especially the early years, know the tale well.

It is the story of how a campaign for civil rights spiraled out of control and became a war that would be long, bloody and intractable, so unaccommodating to a solution that it lasted the best part of a quarter of a century, touched nearly every person in Northern Ireland and took more than a decade of frustratingly slow diplomacy to end. And it hasn’t really ended, even yet.

The story of how this happened in a small, insignificant place like Northern Ireland, is one that America would do well to study with care as the country gears up for a presidential election next year that looks set, short of a dramatic reversal in ISIS’ fortunes, to be dominated by demands for a full-blooded response to ISIS’ threats to bring its violence to America’s streets.

The parallels are far from exact of course. The cultural differences are vast, the historical background very different, the scale of violence and loss of life, actual and potential, puts Northern Ireland in the ha’penny place and, of course, the capacity for world-wide instability an ever-present threat in a way that was never the case in the North.

Nonetheless warfare is warfare and human beings are human beings, and that being the case it seems to me that the one universal lesson that can be learned from the Northern Ireland experience is the stupidity of knee jerk reactions, especially when deliberately provoked.

In this regard, I have in mind as a lesson for America’s handling of ISIS, the background to the introduction of internment in August 1971, the enormous boost this gave to the IRA, and the utterly transformative impact it had on the politics of Northern Ireland.

In early 1971, the Provisional IRA was growing, but only slowly and hardly at all outside of Belfast. What military success it did enjoy was down to the fact that its ranks were being filled by young men and women with no family record of involvement in republicanism and therefore no police file.

It is easily forgotten now, but the IRA of the 1950’s and 1960’s was largely shunned by Northern Ireland’s Catholics, primarily because to do so risked the unwelcome and hostile attention of the Royal Ulster Constabulary (RUC), and could lead to problems at work, like being sacked. The IRA was small and its membership well known to the Special Branch. As long as it stayed like that it posed no real threat to the state.

But the Loyalist-led, attempted pogrom of August 1969 in West and North Belfast in response to the civil rights marches had attracted a new generation of Catholic recruits, driven by the imperative to defend their areas rather than ideology and who were largely unknown to the RUC.

The old, pre-1969 IRA could be neutralised in a couple of well-directed internment swoops, as had happened in almost every decade since the foundation of the state; but not the new Provisional IRA, whose make-up was largely a blank sheet of paper to the RUC.

This was a great advantage to the IRA but some of its leaders in Belfast knew this was a likely temporary advantage. Eventually the Special Branch, augmented now by British military intelligence, would get their act together and the post-1969 IRA would become known and therefore vulnerable at some point in the not too distant future.

The Belfast leadership knew that internment would come – but it calculated that the sooner this happened, the better. A plan was laid to force the British into a premature and ill-prepared strike, carried out before the IRA became exposed; but its success was entirely dependent upon the IRA’s opponents reacting in a predictably intemperate fashion.

In 1971, Northern Ireland was still governed from Stormont by a Unionist-dominated parliament and government. Led by Brian Faulkner, the Unionist cabinet was under intense pressure from its own right-wing and from a rabble-rousing Ian Paisley. IRA violence and concessions to the civil rights campaign had unnerved the Unionist grassroots, demands to resist Nationalist encroachment were growing and Faulkner’s political survival was questionable.

While the British government in London had final responsibility for Northern Ireland it was desperate to avoid a closer entanglement. Direct Rule from London was the only alternative to Stormont, but while it was easy to begin, it would be devilishly difficult to end. It was therefore an option to avoid, if possible.

The British government’s priority then was to prop up Faulkner, even if that meant bending to his right-wing and embracing security measures that might be distasteful and controversial.

Fully aware of all these pressure points and knowing that the circumstances could not be more propitious, the IRA in Belfast set out in the Spring and early Summer of 1971 to exploit them to the full and force the British into a premature and ill-prepared internment swoop.

And so, spurred on by a strategically gifted, 23-year-old commander of the Second Belfast Battalion called Gerry Adams, the IRA began a destructive economic bombing campaign in Belfast that soon had Unionists screaming for internment.

The high point of the campaign, if such it can be called, was a provocative series of bombs along the route of the Twelfth Orange parade that exploded the night before. Belfast Orangemen marching to the field at Finaghy that July 12th morning, had to walk past devastated store fronts, the twisted remnants of car bombs, and wrecked buildings, all testament to this new threat to their supremacy.

And so, internment without trial was introduced within weeks. Old RUC Special Branch records were scoured for lists of suspects and, as Adams and his allies predicted, the new Provisional IRA escaped largely unscathed when the troops raided homes in Belfast and elsewhere.

Meanwhile the one-sided nature of the internment operation – only Republicans and Nationalists were targeted – combined with the reality that largely innocent or no longer involved people had been targeted, served to deepen Catholic anger and in protest a wide spectrum of that community withdrew almost wholesale from public life.

It is now a generally accepted truth that the internment operation of August 1971 was a major turning point in the Troubles. Not only did the communal anger in Catholic districts boost recruitment to the IRA in Belfast and in rural areas where previously it barely existed – and arguably laid the foundations for the subsequent political strength of Sinn Fein – it also marked a point at which the Nationalist population as a whole signaled that there could never be a return to the Northern Ireland of old.

But all of this was only made possible because the British gave into the demand from Unionists for a response to match the IRA’s violence. Or, to put it another way, the IRA had laid a trap and the Unionists and British had walked right into it.

I don’t know whether the leaders of ISIS have studied the history of the Troubles and I doubt whether they need to. After all, the story of how internment transformed the conflict in Northern Ireland is really as old as warfare itself, being essentially an illustration of how to provoke an adversary into an act of self-defeating stupidity.

We are, arguably, at a point in the U.S. almost equivalent to Northern Ireland in the early summer of 1971. ISIS has delivered violence in the U.S. and threatens to deliver more in the hope that the Americans, like the Unionists, will demand like for like.

President Obama has given a response that the British and Unionists would have been sensible to have given forty-four years ago, but did not, could not, would not. Similarily, the gut American response is to revile Obama and instead follow the lead given by Donald Trump, the Ian Paisley, surely, of the United States:


A disaster beckons. To understand the full meaning of that prediction, I really do recommend that readers should revisit, or visit for the first time, Rajiv Chanderasekaran’s brilliantly entertaining, if ultimately depressing account of American rule in post-invasion Iraq: ‘Imperial Life in the Emerald City’.

The people he writes about are the same sorts currently crawling up walls in anger all over America in the wake of the slaughter in San Bernardino. A delighted ISIS can only grin in anticipation, much like the IRA hierarchy did in 1971.

Here is a sample from the opening chapter:

Chapter 1

Versailles on the Tigris

UNLIKE ALMOST ANYWHERE else in Baghdad, you could dine at the cafeteria in the Republican Palace for six months and never eat hummus, flatbread, or a lamb kebab. The fare was always American, often with a Southern flavor. A buffet featured grits, cornbread, and a bottomless barrel of pork: sausage for breakfast, hot dogs for lunch, pork chops for dinner. There were bacon cheeseburgers, grilled-cheese-and-bacon sandwiches, and bacon omelets. Hundreds of Iraqi secretaries and translators who worked for the occupation authority had to eat in the dining hall. Most of them were Muslims, and many were offended by the presence of pork. But the American contractors running the kitchen kept serving it. The cafeteria was all about meeting American needs for high-calorie, high-fat comfort food.

None of the succulent tomatoes or the crisp cucumbers grown in Iraq made it into the salad bar. U.S. government regulations dictated that everything, even the water in which hot dogs were boiled, be shipped in from approved suppliers in other nations. Milk and bread were trucked in from Kuwait, as were tinned peas and carrots. The breakfast cereal was flown in from the United States–made-in-the-USA. Froot Loops and Frosted Flakes at the breakfast table helped boost morale.

When the Americans had arrived, there was no cafeteria in the palace. Saddam Hussein had feasted in an ornate private dining room and his servants had eaten in small kitchenettes. The engineers assigned to transform the palace into the seat of the American occupation chose a marble-floored conference room the size of a gymnasium to serve as the mess hall. Through its gilded doors, Halliburton, the defense contractor hired to run the palace, brought in dozens of tables, hundreds of stacking chairs, and a score of glass-covered buffets. Seven days a week, the Americans ate under Saddam’s crystal chandeliers.

Red and white linens covered the tables. Diners sat on chairs with maroon cushions. A pleated skirt decorated the salad bar and the dessert table, which was piled high with cakes and cookies. The floor was polished after every meal.

A mural of the World Trade Center adorned one of the entrances. The Twin Towers were framed within the outstretched wings of a bald eagle. Each branch of the U.S. military–the army, air force, marines, and navy–had its seal on a different corner of the mural. In the middle were the logos of the New York City Police and Fire departments, and atop the towers were the words thank god for the coalition forces & freedom fighters at home and abroad.

At another of the three entrances was a bulletin board with posted notices, including those that read






The kitchen, which had once prepared gourmet meals for Saddam, had been converted into an institutional food—processing center, with a giant deep fryer and bathtub-size mixing bowls. Halliburton had hired dozens of Pakistanis and Indians to cook and serve and clean, but no Iraqis. Nobody ever explained why, but everyone knew. They could poison the food.

The Pakistanis and the Indians wore white button-down shirts with black vests, black bow ties, and white paper hats. The Kuwaiti subcontractor who kept their passports and exacted a meaty profit margin off each worker also dinned into them American lingo. When I asked one of the Indians for French fries, he snapped: “We have no French fries here, sir. Only freedom fries.”

The seating was as tribal as that at a high school cafeteria. The Iraqi support staffers kept to themselves. They loaded their lunch trays with enough calories for three meals. Between mouthfuls, they mocked their American bosses with impunity. So few Americans in the palace spoke Arabic fluently that those who did could have fit around one table, with room to spare.

Soldiers, private contractors, and mercenaries also segregated themselves. So did the representatives of the “coalition of the willing”– the Brits, the Aussies, the Poles, the Spaniards, and the Italians. The American civilians who worked for the occupation government had their own cliques: the big-shot political appointees, the twentysomethings fresh out of college, the old hands who had arrived in Baghdad in the first weeks of occupation. In conversation at their tables, they observed an unspoken protocol. It was always appropriate to praise “the mission”–the Bush administration’s campaign to transform Iraq into a peaceful, modern, secular democracy where everyone, regardless of sect or ethnicity, would get along. Tirades about how Saddam had ruined the country and descriptions of how you were going to resuscitate it were also fine. But unless you knew someone really, really well, you didn’t question American policy over a meal.

If you had a complaint about the cafeteria, Michael Cole was the man to see. He was Halliburton’s “customer-service liaison,” and he could explain why the salad bar didn’t have Iraqi produce or why pork kept appearing on the menu. If you wanted to request a different type of breakfast cereal, he’d listen. Cole didn’t have the weathered look of a war-zone concierge. He was a rail-thin twenty-two-year-old whose forehead was dotted with pimples.

He had been out of college for less than a year and was working as a junior aide to a Republican congressman from Virginia when a Halliburton vice president overheard him talking to friends in an Arlington bar about his dealings with irate constituents. She was so impressed that she introduced herself. If she needed someone to work as a valet in Baghdad, he joked, he’d be happy to volunteer. Three weeks later, Halliburton offered him a job. Then they asked for his résumé.

Cole never ate pork products in the mess hall. He knew many of the servers were Pakistani Muslims and he felt terrible that they had to handle food they deemed offensive. He was rewarded for his expression of respect with invitations to the Dickensian trailer park where the kitchen staff lived. They didn’t have to abide by American rules governing food procurement. Their kitchens were filled with local produce, and they cooked spicy curries that were better than anything Cole found in the cafeteria. He thought of proposing an Indian- Pakistani food night at the mess hall, but then remembered that the palace didn’t do ethnic fare. “The cooking had to make people feel like they were back at home,” he said. And home, in this case, was presumed to be somewhere south of the Mason-Dixon Line.

Cole’s mission was to keep the air in the bubble, to ensure that the Americans who had left home to work for the occupation administration felt comfortable. Food was part of it. But so were movies, mattresses, and laundry service. If he was asked for something, Cole tried to get it, whether he thought it important or not. “Yes, sir. We’ll look into that,” he’d say. Or, “I’m sorry you’re so upset. We’ll try to fix it as soon as possible.”

The palace was the headquarters of the Coalition Provisional Authority, the American occupation administration in Iraq. From April 2003 to June 2004, the CPA ran Iraq’s government–it enacted laws, printed currency, collected taxes, deployed police, and spent oil revenue. At its height, the CPA had more than 1,500 employees in Baghdad, most of them American. They were a motley bunch: businessmen who were active in the Republican Party, retirees who wanted one last taste of adventure, diplomats who had studied Iraq for years, recent college graduates who had never had a full-time job, government employees who wanted the 25 percent salary bonus paid for working in a war zone. The CPA was headed by America’s viceroy in Iraq, Lewis Paul Bremer III, who always wore a blue suit and tan combat boots, even on those summer days when Iraqis drooped in the heat. He was surrounded by burly, machine gun—toting bodyguards everywhere he went, even to the bathroom in the palace.

The palace was Versailles on the Tigris. Constructed of sandstone and marble, it had wide hallways, soaring columns, and spiral staircases. Massive bronze busts of Saddam in an Arab warrior’s headdress looked down from the four corners of the roof. The cafeteria was on the south side, next to a chapel with a billboard-size mural of a Scud missile arcing into the sky. In the northern wing was an enormous ballroom with a balcony overlooking the dance floor. The heart of the palace was a giant marble rotunda with a turquoise dome. After the Americans arrived, the entire place took on the slapdash appearance of a start-up company. Dell computers sat atop ornate wooden desks partitioned by fabric-covered cubicle dividers. Data cables snaked along the gilded moldings. Erasable whiteboards hung from the mirrored walls.

A row of portable toilets lined the rear driveway. The palace, designed as a showplace for Saddam to meet visiting dignitaries, lacked enough commodes for hundreds of occupants. Dormitory space was also in short supply. Most new arrivals had to sleep on bunk beds in the chapel, a room that came to resemble a World War II field hospital.

Appearances aside, the same rules applied in the palace as in any government building in Washington. Everyone wore an identification badge. Decorum was enforced in the high-ceilinged halls. I remember hearing a soldier admonish a staffer hustling to a meeting: “Ma’am, you must not run in the corridor.”

Whatever could be outsourced was. The job of setting up town and city councils was performed by a North Carolina firm for $236 million. The job of guarding the viceroy was assigned to private guards, each of whom made more than $1,000 a day. For running the palace–cooking the food, changing the lightbulbs, doing the laundry, watering the plants– Halliburton had been handed hundreds of millions of dollars.

Halliburton had been hired to provide “living support” services to the CPA. What that meant kept evolving. When the first Americans arrived in Baghdad in the weeks after Saddam’s government was toppled, all anyone wanted was food and water, laundry service, and air-conditioning. By the time Cole arrived, in August 2003, four months into the occupation, the demands had grown. The viceroy’s house had to be outfitted with furniture and art suitable for a head of state. The Halliburton-run sports bar at the al-Rasheed Hotel needed a Foosball table. The press conference room required large-screen televisions.

The Green Zone quickly became Baghdad’s Little America. Everyone who worked in the palace lived there, either in white metal trailers or in the towering al-Rasheed. Hundreds of private contractors working for firms including Bechtel, General Electric, and Halliburton set up trailer parks there, as did legions of private security guards hired to protect the contractors. The only Iraqis allowed inside the Green Zone were those who worked for the Americans or those who could prove that they had lived there before the war.

It was Saddam who first decided to turn Baghdad’s prime riverfront real estate into a gated city within a city, with posh villas, bungalows, government buildings, shops, and even a hospital. He didn’t want his aides and bodyguards, who were given homes near his palace, to mingle with the masses. And he didn’t want outsiders peering in. The homes were bigger, the trees greener, the streets wider than in the rest of Baghdad. There were more palms and fewer people. There were no street vendors and no beggars. No one other than members of Saddam’s inner circle or his trusted cadre of guards and housekeepers had any idea what was inside. Those who loitered near the entrances sometimes landed in jail. Iraqis drove as fast as they could on roads near the compound lest they be accused of gawking.

It was the ideal place for the Americans to pitch their tents. Saddam had surrounded the area with a tall brick wall. There were only three points of entry. All the military had to do was park tanks at the gates.

The Americans expanded Saddam’s neighborhood by a few blocks to encompass the gargantuan Convention Center and the al-Rasheed, a once- luxurious establishment made famous by CNN’s live broadcasts during the 1991 Persian Gulf War. They fortified the walls with seventeen- foot-high blast barriers made of foot-thick concrete topped with coils of razor wire.

Open spaces became trailer parks with grandiose names. CPA staffers unable to snag a room at the al-Rasheed lived in Poolside Estates. Cole and his fellow Halliburton employees were in Camp Hope. The Brits dubbed their accommodations Ocean Cliffs. At first, the Americans felt sorry for the Brits, whose trailers were in a covered parking garage, which seemed dark and miserable. But when the insurgents began firing mortars into the Green Zone, everyone wished they were in Ocean Cliffs. The envy increased when Americans discovered that the Brits didn’t have the same leaky trailers with plastic furniture supplied by Halliburton; theirs had been outfitted by Ikea.

Americans drove around in new GMC Suburbans, dutifully obeying the thirty-five-mile-an-hour speed limit signs posted by the CPA on the flat, wide streets. There were so many identical Suburbans parked in front of the palace that drivers had to use their electronic door openers as homing devices. (One contractor affixed Texas license plates to his vehicle to set it apart.) When they cruised around, they kept the air-conditioning on high and the radio tuned to 107.7 FM, Freedom Radio, an American-run station that played classic rock and rah-rah messages. Every two weeks, the vehicles were cleaned at a Halliburton car wash.

Shuttle buses looped around the Green Zone at twenty-minute intervals, stopping at wooden shelters to transport those who didn’t have cars and didn’t want to walk. There was daily mail delivery. Generators ensured that the lights were always on. If you didn’t like what was being served in the cafeteria–or you were feeling peckish between meals–you could get takeout from one of the Green Zone’s Chinese restaurants. Halliburton’s dry cleaning service would get the dust and sweat stains out of your khakis in three days. A sign warned patrons to remove ammunition from pockets before submitting clothes.

Iraqi laws and customs didn’t apply inside the Green Zone. Women jogged on the sidewalk in shorts and T-shirts. A liquor store sold imported beer, wine, and spirits. One of the Chinese restaurants offered massages as well as noodles. The young boys selling DVDs near the palace parking lot had a secret stash. “Mister, you want porno?” they often whispered to me.

Most Americans sported suede combat boots, expensive sunglasses, and nine-millimeter Berettas attached to the thigh with a Velcro holster. They groused about the heat and the mosquitoes and the slothful habits of the natives. A contingent of Gurkhas stood as sentries in front of the palace.

PSNI Appeal For Information On MRF Would Be Laughable If It Wasn’t So Serious

I nearly fell off my chair last night when I noticed this headline in The Guardian: Northern Ireland police appeal for information on covert British army unit.

A policeman called DCI Peter Montgomery had this to say to the media:

We have been carrying out enquiries in relation to a number of shooting incidents between April and September 1972, during which two people were killed and a number of others were injured. We are looking at these incidents as part of an overall investigation into the activities of the Military Reaction Force at the time.

We know these events took place a long time ago and we know they took place during one of the worst years of the Troubles when many shootings occurred but we believe there are people out there who can help us progress this investigation and we are appealing to them to contact us.

Upon closer examination this was, in effect, less an appeal for help than an announcement by the Police Service of Northern Ireland (PSNI), that a long overdue investigation had been launched into the activities of the Military Reaction Force, or MRF, an acronym that became a somewhat fearsome shorthand in the Belfast of the early 1970’s, for an undercover unit that in part specialised in drive-by shootings of people they suspected of being involved in the Provos and other ‘subversive’ groups.

The other bit of the MRF concerned itself with agent-running. It recruited widely from all the paramilitary groups, Loyalist as well as Republican, and was the first successful effort to infiltrate the IRA by the British security forces.

(I once met a former MRF paramilitary recruit – they were called ‘Freds’ internally – at the very outset of my journalistic career way back in 1978/79. A former member of the Official IRA from the lower Ormeau Road district, he told me he had helped the MRF identify fellow Officials around his Battalion area. He then graduated from the MRF to the Rhodesian Armed Forces, in which capacity he helped corral rural Blacks into heavily fortified villages, rather as the Americans had done in rural Vietnam, to frustrate hostile forces seeking food, arms dumps and general help from sympathetic locals. That puts the MRF into perspective, I think.)

A young Frank Kitson. Now 91, Kitson went on to create the MRF and is someone the PSNI really need to talk to - before it's too late

A young Frank Kitson. Now 91, Kitson went on to create the MRF and is someone the PSNI really need to talk to – before it’s too late

I call this a PSNI announcement rather than an appeal to the public in Northern Ireland for information about the MRF, because the latter would be rather like asking people who may have been alive during World War II to come forward with any information they may have on the activities of the Wehrmacht in continental Europe between 1939-45.

There is no need for witnesses. It is all there in various forms and places that anyone with subpoena and arrest powers, like the PSNI, can access.

To begin with there is a virtual mountain of books, newspaper articles and television documentaries dealing in whole or in part with the MRF’s activities. Then there are all those files, decaying away in Ministry of Defence archives in various parts of England. And finally there are still living, breathing soldiers, some at a high level, who were involved with the MRF, who could be asked to come down to the local station for a few pertinent questions.

What the good folk of Belfast can contribute to this effort, aside from statements like: ‘I saw a man fire a machine gun from the window of a black taxi’, is beyond me.

I rather suspect that the PSNI announcement is really a public relations move, proclaiming that at long last, after countless allegations over many, many years that the MRF committed murder in Belfast, it has decided to do something, or be seen to be doing something about a squad that could have fitted quite comfortably into Central America circa 1974.

Hence the suspicion that this is the PSNI once again playing peace process politics, as the force did in the wake of the McGuigan killing, confirming that when it comes to political pandering, the PSNI can equal or even exceed the old RUC, albeit at the behest of different masters. (Remember the warning to journalists not to jump to conclusions re IRA responsibility for the McGuigan slaying?) If the PSNI charges people with MRF-inspired murders I’ll be happy to review my opinion. But I think I’ll be okay on that one.

Anyway, in the unlikely event that the PSNI really don’t know that much about the MRF, and really do need information from the public, here are a few tips on where to go and who to talk to from this member of the public.

Memo to PSNI:

  1. There is a chap called Frank Kitson. You really need to talk to him. He was the commander of 39 Brigade, i.e. Belfast, in much of the period you are interested in. Furthermore most of the accounts of this time say that Kitson, who retired in the late 1980’s with the rank of General, actually set up the MRF and based it on his counter insurgency experiences in Kenya. So he must know an awful lot. He is very old now, about 91 years or so, but apparently still of sound mind. But go easy. I wouldn’t recommend the Antrim Suite for him but he he’s a member of a club or two in the West End that would do just as well. He has a Wikipedia page, which you should also read, and I would suggest he really is your go-to-guy as far as the MRF is concerned.
  2. The National Archives at Kew is an Aladdin’s cave of information, but to get at the really juicy bits, you may have to kick some ass. The problem is that the Ministry of Defence has intervened to overrule the thirty-year rule and close the files that are potentially most relevant to your investigation, for instance the war diaries during 1972 and 1973 for both 39 Brigade, where Kitson was active, and British Army Headquarters, for as much as 100 years, or until the middle or last quarter of this century, when we will all be long gone and the MRF will be a distant and dim memory (and that of course was the probable purpose of the exercise). But to help you in your efforts to access these files, a sight I eagerly await seeing, here is a list of the super-embargoed files – note the contrast with war diaries at the same level in England and Europe. Good luck with this one!o_b83ee308f9b2c4db_001o_b83ee308f9b2c4db_002
  3. Then there is this little gem, unearthed by Ian Cobain of The Guardian back in 2013. He wrote a story about ‘hundreds and hundreds’ of boxes of British Army files – 66,000 files in all, it seems – which were transferred from the Army’s Thiepval Barrack HQ, Lisburn in 2009 and secretly stored in a TNT archive depot in Swadlincote, Derbyshire, when instead they should have been made available to Kew to be declassified and, if appropriate, made publicly available. Does this hoard contain valuable nuggets on the MRF? We don’t know, but it sure would be worth finding out. And goodness knows what else you might find. So away you go PSNI, you now have three valuable leads to follow up! How’s that for information from the public?