The Null Device
Posts matching tags 'dissent'
This morning, 3RRR had an interview with Sarah Maddison, one of the editors of a book titled Silencing Dissent, which alleges anti-democratic and authoritarian measures by the Howard government in recent years. Maddison gave a few examples of the way the government has allegedly used its power to suppress dissent, such as gagging CSIRO scientists on issues like climate change, pressuring non-governmental organisations to suppress criticism of policies, and banning unsympathetic journalists and photographers from the Parliamentary press gallery. From the book's web site:
Silencing Dissent uncovers the tactics used by John Howard and his colleagues to undermine dissenting and independent opinion. Bullying, intimidation, public denigration, threats of withdrawal of funding, personal harassment, increased government red tape and manipulation of the rules are all tools of trade for a government that wants to keep a lid on public debate. The victims are charities, academics, researchers, journalists, judges, public sector organisations, even parliament itself.3RRR has taken a position consistently critical of the Howard government and its allies. For example, this morning's news mentioned the government's dealings with a nuclear power consortium, suggesting improper collusion between the government and mining concerns which have funded dubious research denying global warming.
I predict that at some stage (possibly after the next election, should they win it), the Howard government will get around to setting its sights on the community radio sector. This sector was established in the more politically liberal climate of the Whitlam government and those which followed it, and has a similarly anachronistically progressive outlook. In the mythology of Howard's Australia, the bulk of community stations represent a minority range of views—those of the inner-city latte-sipping pro-refugee socialist elite—increasingly out of line with the (economically aspirational, socially conservative) views of the Silent Majority Of Suburban Battlers in the marginal electorates. It is obvious that such an arrangement on scarce, federally regulated radio spectrum is not sustainable the climate of the Howard culture war; the only question is, how long will it be allowed to stand by default.
Perhaps sometime after the next election, we'll see a bold plan of community radio "reforms", with stations being subjected to the same majoritarian "objectivity" criteria as the ABC on pain of loss of licence, or possibly the three liberal stations in Melbourne (RRR, PBS, and the radical-leftist 3CR) being reduced to one, with remaining licences either being sold commercially or given to new stations run by groups "more in line with mainstream Australian values", such as, say, the Hillsong Church.
The Australian government is planning to strip environmental groups and trade unions of their tax-deductible status, for campaigning against the government during the last federal election. Interestingly enough, there is no mention of revoking charitable tax-deductible status from groups that involve themselves in politics on the government's side, such as hardline evangelical Christian organisations.
An article in Prospect looks at the tradition of black humour behind the Iron Curtain:
Communism was a humour-producing machine. Its economic theories and system of repression created inherently funny situations. There were jokes under fascism and the Nazis too, but those systems did not create an absurd, laugh-a-minute reality like communism.
When Russian tanks rolled into Prague in 1968, the population fought back with wit. Every night graffiti appeared in Wenceslas Square with lines like "Soviet State Circus back in town! New attractions!" and "Soviet School for Special Needs Children—End-of-Term Outing." People cracked jokes: Why is Czechoslovakia the most neutral country in the world? Because it doesn't even interfere in its own internal affairs. And: Are the Russians our brothers or our friends? Our brothers—we can choose our friends. "We showed our intellectual superiority," one former dissident told me proudly.
Jokes under communism were shaped by the cultures that produced them, as they are anywhere else. For the Czechs, a sense of humour encapsulated a type of national resilience. East German jokes, meanwhile, tended to be touchingly self-deprecating. And yet there was a pan-communist umbrella of comedy that stood above national distinctions, just as the international socialist project itself did. What ultimately defined the genre was less the purpose it served than its style. The communist joke was by nature deadpan and absurdist—because it was born of an absurd system which created a yawning gap between everyday experience and propaganda. Yet sometimes, through jokes, both communists and their opponents could carry on a debate about the failings of communism.
(via Boing Boing)
A New York artist has created a wearable anti-surveillance outfit with a provocatively Middle-Eastern appearance:
The design of the headdress borrows from Islamic and Hindu fashion to comment on the racial profiling of Arab and Arab-looking citizens that occurred post-9/11. The design of the headdress is thus a contradiction: while its goal is to hide the wearer, it makes the wearer a target of heightened surveillance.
The laser tikka (forehead ornament) is attached to a hooded vest and reflective shawl. The laser is activated by pressing a button on the left shoulder of the vest. When pointed directly into a camera lens, the laser creates a burst of light masking the wearers face. The wearer can also use the reflective cloth to cover the face and head. The aluminized material protects her/him by reflecting any infrared radiation and also disguises the wearer by visually reflecting the surroundings, rendering the wearers identity anonymous.Of course, in jurisdictions where shoot-to-kill policies apply, one wears this at one's own risk.
I wonder how long until the CCTV camera-zapping technology is integrated into thug hoodies or Burberry-print baseball caps?
Speaking of hoodies, someone is now making them for iPods; perfect for your 50 Cent/Lady Sovereign MP3 collection.
As of today, it is a crime in Australia to make any statement that inspires discontentment with the monarchy (there goes the Fenian wing of the republican movement), either house of parliament, or any of Australia's allies (looks like Brendan Nelson finally has a stick to use against the "anti-American" teachers he has been griping about). So you'd better lay off the unkind remarks about fat SUV drivers, Australians.
I wonder whether Australia's allies include Singapore, China or Saudi Arabia, and, if so, how much criticism of these states' human rights record or democratic credentials is allowable.
As for claims that the government won't use the sedition laws, the Scott Parkin incident suggests otherwise. A few months ago, they arrested and deported a US anti-globalisation activist who was about to give a workshop on non-violent demonstration. Back then, they would have been unable to act against him had he been an Australian citizen. Now the gloves are off, and all protest or dissent more vigorous than writing polite letters to a newspaper is essentially a crime. Australia is moving closer to being like Singapore, where activism is reserved for those with nothing left to lose, and there are severe disincentives to rocking the boat in any way (see also: "relaxed and comfortable").
The fact that Labor whipped its MPs to vote in favour of the sedition law, even with the Tories not needing their support, is depressing, and doesn't bode well for Australia becoming a liberal democratic society again within the next decade or so. Perhaps the period of liberalism and civil rights of the past 3 or so decades was an anomaly, and in the longer, historical sense, authoritarianism (from the penal-colony days to the first Menzies era of which Howard is so fond) is the Australian norm?
In a rush to stop an "imminent terrorist attack", Australia is about to pass sweeping "anti-terrorism" laws, which include sedition laws that effectively criminalise many forms of protest and dissent, and indeed much art and commentary critical of the state of affairs could fall foul of them:
Gill's visual record of the Eureka Stockade, Tucker's images of evil and Nolan's post-World War II paintings are just some of the works that might have offended the sedition clause in the proposed legislation, says Tamara Winikoff, the executive director of the National Association for the Visual Arts.
Playwright David Williamson, yesterday did not mince his words: "It's one of the major functions of art — to look critically at what's going on around you. I think this is the most authoritarian government this country has ever had and it doesn't like voices of dissent.
"You get the feeling that the concept of democracy is not strongly held by this government. It's as if there's only one political line, one opinion. Everything else is attacked with a ferocity unlike anything in our nation's history."Welcome to Joh Bjelke-Petersen's Queensland, Australians.
And here is an article from those known Comsymps at Indymedia, on how, far from being "un-Australian", sweeping sedition laws and the criminalisation of dissent are fine Australian traditions.
Meanwhile, while the 24-style high drama of the terror laws (will they pass them in time for Jack Bauer to capture the bad guys? Stay tuned.) rages in the front pages, the government's Dickensian industrial relations laws, whose details have just been released, are slipping under the radar.
The apolitical silent majority of Australians, bathed in the nurturing glow of their TVs in their suburban living rooms, is on record as being "relaxed and comfortable" with the changes.
Not that long after the Rolling Stones sort of discovered their inner Radiohead and recorded a song (sort of) criticising the neoconservatives, another veteran musician is stepping up to the podium. Veteran composer Burt Bacharach has written and recorded songs critical of the war in Iraq, which will be appearing on his new album. Bacharach, 77, famous for songs like Walk On By and Say A Little Prayer, is not known for his political lyrics, or indeed for his lyrics at all, having in the past left those to songwriting partners. The new album will also include drum loops by rap producer Dr. Dre. (I wonder whether Bacharach's record company made him do that; wasn't he dead against any sort of electronic music?)
Reports from the UN Summit. It looks like Make Poverty History is history, with plans for poverty reduction having been blocked. Meanwhile, the UN passed a resolution calling on member states to outlaw incitement to terrorism. The exact definitions of "incitement", and indeed, "terrorism", are left for individual states to interpret, which makes it somewhat less than the sweeping victory it was painted at. Nations would be free to exempt pet groups of ideologically-allied "freedom fighters" from being classified as terrorists, whilst using the laws to crack down on all sorts of dissent; for example, it is conceivable that China would declare Falun Gong and Tibetan independence movements "terrorist" under these laws, or that Australia would classify, say, anti-war, anti-logging and refugee-rights movements as terrorist and reserve the ability to bring the full brunt of anti-terrorist laws against anyone with a copy of No Logo (incitement to protest, which in John
Bjelke-Howard's Australia is seen as a national security issue), should they sufficiently annoy the right interests.
Jailed dissident Belarussian scientist Yury Bandazhevsky: the only decent release from The Cure since the 1980s? Discuss.
The activity doesn't seem to have made him many friends; Israeli troops didn't see the humour in it and pointed their guns at him, while an old Palestinian man complained that it made the hated wall look beautiful.
The British government has found yet another use for the ever-versatile anti-social behaviour order, or ASBO: using them to ban protesters from approaching US military facilities; the Ministry of Defense has sought an ASBO against a 63-year-old grandmother and peace protester who has been upsetting personnel with protest signs outside the NSA listening post Menwith Hill.
An interesting NYTimes article on how mobile phones (many donated by South Korean journalists) and video recorders (which have become cheap as Chinese consumers adopt DVD players) are breaking down North Korea's barriers of isolation:
"In the 1960's in the Soviet Union, it was cool to wear blue jeans and listen to rock and roll," said Andrei Lankov, a Russian exchange student in the North at Kim Il Sung University in 1985, who now teaches about North Korea at Kookmin University here in the South. "Today, it is cool for North Koreans to look and behave South Korean, as they do in the television serials. That does not bode well for the long-term survival of the regime."
(Tangent: as Western pop music infiltrated Russia, it produced bizarre hybrids; porn-metal bands like Korozia Metalla and evil-sounding electronic noise acts and things like t.A.t.U. All of which makes one wonder what North Korean popular music will be like when the regime collapses. Assuming that it collapses without making North Korea (or, indeed, much of the Pacific Rim) into a radioactive crater.)
The North Korean government isn't taking this lying down: they've bought radio-location devices for detecting mobile phone signals. Meanwhile, to combat the video recorder menace (which, it would seem, is to repressive hermit-states what the Boston Strangler is to... never mind), the North Korean police simply switch off the power to areas, a block at a time, and inspect the tapes stuck in video recorders for subversive content. Those caught are probably executed if they're lucky, or used in hideous experiments if they're not. And Kim Jong Il has good reason to fear:
"They are gradually learning about South Korean prosperity," Dr. Lankov said. "This is a death sentence to the regime. North Korea's claim to legitimacy is based on its ability to deliver the worker's paradise now. What if everyone sees that it is not delivering?"
Pissed off about Bush winning a second term? Planning to leave the US or renounce your citizenship? It's not that easy. Getting permanent residency in Canada takes more than half a presidential term in itself, and other countries are equally difficult (unless, of course, you are fabulously wealthy, in which case various Caribbean tax havens are more than willing to sell you citizenship, or if you prefer, you can live on a Liberian-registered ocean liner on the high seas with other cranky rich people). Meanwhile, the US State Department won't let you renounce your citizenship unless you have another one to fall back on, and apparently even if you do go overseas, the IRS will still require you to keep sending the income tax cheques back to fund all those wars of conquest and faith-based missile-defense systems and such. (via bOING bOING)
Remember all those claims about how the internet was to render tyranny and authoritarianism unviable and usher in a global blossoming of democracy, pluralism and liberty? Well, according to this article, that's not happening, and if anything, the web is helping to reinforce authoritarian regimes and dissipate dissent:
Singaporean dissident Gomez says the Web empowers individual members of a political movement, rather than the movement as a whole. Opposition members can offer dissenting opinions at will, thus undermining the leadership and potentially splintering the organization. In combating an authoritarian regime, in other words, there's such a thing as too much democracy. Two of the most successful opposition movements of the last few decades--the South African opposition led by Nelson Mandela and the Burmese resistance led by Aung San Suu Kyi--relied upon charismatic, almost authoritarian leaders to set a message followed by the rest of the movement. The anti-globalization movement, by contrast, has been a prime example of the anarchy that can develop when groups utilize the Web to organize. Allowing nearly anyone to make a statement or call a meeting via the Web, the anti-globalizers have wound up with large but unorganized rallies in which everyone from serious critics of free trade to advocates of witches and self-anointed saviors of famed death-row convict Mumia Abu Jumal have their say. To take just one example, at the anti-globalization World Social Forum held in Mumbai in January, nuanced critics of globalization like former World Bank chief economist Joseph Stiglitz shared space with, as The New York Times reported, "a long list of regional causes," including anti-Microsoft and anti-Coca Cola activists.
In China, the Web has similarly empowered the authorities. In the past two decades, Beijing's system of monitoring the population by installing informers into businesses, neighborhoods, and other social institutions has broken down--in part because the Chinese population has become more transient and in part because the regime's embrace of capitalism has meant fewer devoted Communists willing to spy for the government. But Beijing has replaced these legions of informers with a smaller group of dedicated security agents who monitor the Internet traffic of millions of Chinese.
Though the article suggests more that the effects of the internet will be slower to take effect, and more long-term. While China has clamped down on anti-government dissent more or less effectively, Chinese environmental activists are organising in ways they would have been unable to before; meanwhile, a new generation of urban Chinese are used to more freedom of choice and cultural expression, and the Communist Party has been forced to enshrine private property and human rights in law (not that that necessarily changes much, but it will). Maybe if we check back in 20 years' time, the verdict on the liberating potential of the internet will be different.
Then again, with the intellectual-property interests which increasingly make up most of the West's economies pushing for "trusted computing" systems, which could just as easily be used to stop samizdat as MP3 sharing, and the increasing will (on the part of both the public and legislators) to accept mechanisms of surveillance and control unthinkable three years ago to defend against an asymmetric terrorist threat, perhaps the liberating potential of computers has peaked, and it can only go downhill from here?
There have been mass arrests in the People's Democracy of Cuba after the official Communist Party newspaper printed a photograph of Fidel Castro doctored to look like Hitler. The offending issues of Granma (which is presumably similar in tone to Pravda before it turned into the Weekly World News) were quickly retrieved by the secret police; the efficiency of this operation evident in the vagueness of descriptions of the photograph, which few people have actually seen (or will admit to having):
Some say that those seated in the background of the photograph, which was published on December 4, have had their glasses darkened, to make them look like mafiosi, or that they have had white lines superimposed on their lips, suggesting that they dare not speak out against Dr Castro's wishes.
A report from the Human Rights Council of Australia says that Australia is moving towards an authoritarian state under Howard. Among the symptoms of this are a political climate dominated by fear, insecurity and division, and the "de-legitimising" of dissent., including, for example, through the demonisation of those with alternative views and the restriction of their resources and public standing, the council says.
There are increasing controls on information, while potential dissenters are co-opted or even coerced, for instance through exploiting growing financial dependence on government and use of provisions in contracts.
There has been a radical shift in how government business is done, with tight constraints on the capacity for dissent. "All but the bravest" will avoid speaking out as more organisations become dependent on government funding.
(Wasn't Howard going to revoke the tax-exempt status of charities that become involved in political debates (as opposed to just handing out soup or blankets)? Has that gone through?)
Though at least here we have the
Democrats Greens; on the occasions that Labor shows some backbone, they can blunt the worst of the government's legislation. Unlike in the US (where third parties only serve to leech votes from their respective lesser evil) or the UK (where the upper house is comprised of hereditary peers, gradually being replaced by anointed political cronies; I'm sure a true believer in protecting the interests that matter from the friction of excessive democracy like Teflon Tony won't be in any hurry to bring in proportional representation.
Speaking of which, Blair is planning to lower the voting age to 16 in Britain. Not sure what he'll do to prevent outbreaks of Greenism and socialism in the Houses of Parliament; introduce US-style first-past-the-post voting, count on British youth being less given to rocking the boat (see also: Greg Palast's rants about the Brits habitually deferring to their betters where Americans would raise a fuss), or just sign over enough sovereignty in international "free trade" treaties to render Parliament no more relevant than a student union?
(Speaking of Palast: have there been any counterexamples to his assertion, of British subjects forcing the powers that be to overturn odious legislation through protest or civil disobedience? Wasn't that what happened to Thatcher's poll tax?)
China moves to block spam senders, blocking 127 machines sending e-mail spam. Before you get excited at the prospect of less spam, note that all but 8 of the servers are outside of China, and 90 are in Taiwan. This suggests that the Chinese government may be more concerned about political dissidents spamming Chinese internet users with proscribed messages than they are about genuinely cracking down on penis-pill-hawking chickenboners. Either that or this is connected to the China/Taiwan "hacker war" in the news recently.
Naomi Klein on how the War on Terror has become a universal tool for smashing dissent, with everyone from unassimilated ethnic minorities to trade unionists becoming terrorists-by-association, and thus exempt from pesky human-rights considerations:
[Spanish PM] Aznar has resisted calls to negotiate with the Basque autonomous government and banned the political party Batasuna (even though, as the New York Times noted in June, "no direct link has been established between Batasuna and terrorist acts"). He has also shut down Basque human rights groups, magazines and the only entirely Basque-language newspaper. Last February, the Spanish police raided the Association of Basque Middle Schools, accusing it of having terrorist ties.
So Basque separatists are all tarred with the brush of terrorism now? I wonder whether we'll see Tony Blair or one of his successors cracking down on Plaid Cymru or the Scottish National Party in this fashion. Those pesky Welsh-speakers are probably all up to something...
Post-September 11, the [Indonesian] government cast Aceh's movement for national liberation as "terrorist" - which means human rights concerns no longer apply. Rizal Mallarangeng, a senior adviser to Megawati, called it the "blessing of September 11".
And then those who practice that most heinous form of economic terrorism, trying to sabotage the efficiency of export processing zones by agitating for workers' rights:
Last August, speaking to soldiers at a military academy, [Philippine president] Arroyo extended the war beyond terrorists and armed separatists to include "those who terrorise factories that provide jobs" - clear code for trade unions. Labour groups in Philippine free trade zones report that union organisers are facing increased threats, and strikes are being broken up with extreme police violence.
A thought-provoking essay on the decline of the idea of democracy in the US and McWorld:
There are plenty of signs of our democratic dysfunction, beginning with the fact that we're sending a bunch of generals and corporate executives - professionally groomed to honor anti-democratic procedures - to do the job. Then there is the most elitist media in American history demonstrating its love for democratic debate by blacklisting voices of dissent before and during the Iraq invasion, turning its airwaves over to spooks and military brass, and embedding itself without a hint of skepticism in the administration's agitprop.
'Customer' and 'consumer' were not the only words being used to change the nature of citizenship. David Kemmis, the mayor of Missoula, MT, pointed out that the word 'taxpayer' now "regularly holds the place which in a true democracy would be occupied by 'citizen.' Taxpayers bear a dual relationship to government, neither half of which has anything at all to do with democracy. Taxpayers pay tribute to the government and they receive services from it. So does every subject of a totalitarian regime. What taxpayers do not do, and what people who call themselves taxpayers have long since stopped even imagining themselves doing, is governing."
As the war rolls on, demonstrations are an angrier affair. The middle-class Guardian-reader types who went to the February demos are largely staying away, leaving the protesting to the usual militant nutjobs.
Gone, it seemed, were the ranks of the well-dressed middle-classes, most of whom had been holding a placard for the first time, who swelled the first event to such historic proportions. Instead, the more bizarre groupings and banners (South London Home Educators; Sex Workers of the World Unite - and, yes, you can bet that heads were craning to see who was holding the poster) were almost lost in the sea of CND, SWP and Socialist Alliance posters, and their messages were not the stuff of musical comedy. 'Weep with the Widows of Iraq.' 'Bomb Texas, they have oil too.' The Workers' Revolutionary Party Young Socialists, in particular, built a number of bridges with the rest of the nation by carrying the simple, pithy, 'Victory to Iraq.'
Could it be the realisation that if the Yanqui imperialists did what the protesters demanded and withdrew all troops immediately, Saddam's forces would roll into formerly-conquered cities and exact terrible revenge on anyone suspected of welcoming in the invaders; or that leaving Saddam in power at this late stage would be the worst outcome for all (other than the ANSWER people, to whom he's a Third-World Liberation Leader, just like Che and Lumumba and Mugabe and Idi Amin and such)? Or has the smooth and (apparently) not overly bloody running of the war so far raised the hope that maybe, just maybe, it will be over soon and will have been all for the best?
Chinese political dissident Wu Chong has declared that he's proud that his T-shirts were used in the Global Weekend of Protest. The 45 year old former University professor, who is serving a 10 year sentence was delighted to learn the T-Shirts he makes in the prison sweatshop had been screenprinted with anti-war slogans, such as "No hoWARd" and "There's a village in Texas that's lost its idiot", and worn in rallies in London, Madrid and Sydney.
"I'm honoured they chose my T-Shirts to find against injustice." He said he thought that the choice would have been based not just on the competitive price of his T-Shirts, but the quality of his stitching. He noted his labour camp had some of the strictest "quality control incentives" in China.
In Cuba, where the government aims to control every aspect of the flow of information, one needs special permission to borrow most books from libraries. As such, speakeasy libraries are the latest form of dissent, and seen as the latest threat to socialism:
"I can't just walk into a public library and ask for books on Afro-Cuban religion," said Luis Antonio Bonito Lara, a retired engineer and avid reader. "I can't even ask for copies of Granma from two years ago without special permission. It's enormously frustrating."
(Remember, this is the Another World that the people protesting outside the Nike store will tell you Is Possible.) (via Reenhead)
Recently East Timor, which attained independence after years of bloody repression, held presidential elections. A thought that occurred to me: would East Timor have had any chance of getting its independence today, had it not done so before the World Trade Center terrorist attack? Probably not; given how governments across the world have capitalised on the War On Terror to label domestic pro-autonomy movements (from Chechens to Uighurs) as "terrorists" ineligible for sympathy or human rights, I can imagine Indonesia being given carte blanche to pacify its recalcitrant province by all means necessary, with no interference from the Western media, in return for joining the coalition against al-Qaeda.