The Fall, and when the dystopia comes to you

A while ago I wrote a short story set in the Strange world called The Fall. You can now read it for free on Hodderscape today.

The premise is that a woman is indicted for murder when she has a miscarriage after falling down a flight of stairs. It takes place in an America that has been governed by religous fundamentalists for several years, where a fetus is now a person under law. The extremists I was writing about propose these laws all the time as a way of making abortion illegal. When I wrote The Fall I thought I was extending that thinking to its predictably ludicrous conclusion, where every miscarriage would have to be investigated just as every death was, to determine if there was foul play.

Then they go and call my bluff.

The man who may be the next Attorney General in Virginia, Mark Obershain (The result is so close there may be a recount), once tried to do this:

Outrageously, Mr. Obenshain sought to force women to report miscarriages to the authorities. His explanation — that he was doing the bidding of a prosecutor who sought to protect newborn babies and that he withdrew the bill when he grasped its flaws — casts doubt on his basic legal competence and qualification for the office he now seeks.

Maybe I should sue.

Good Citizens Have Nothing to Hide, Great Canadian Hypocrites Edition

Not content to watch the UK and US try to pass ridiculous controls on the internet, Public Safety Minister Vic Toews tabled a Canuck version called Bill C-30, The Protecting Children from Internet Predators Act. It is as clumsy and ham-handed as the title suggests, where once again a government is trying to force the complete reworking of the internet to fit their political interests (or those of their donors.) Vic Toews has helpfully suggested that those who oppose the bill are basically standing with child pornographers, and attracted much-deserved ire from the internet and Anonymous, a group you really do not want to piss off. In retaliation for the bill, and his threats and hypocritical personal life, Anonymous has outed the woman they claim was his mistress while he was campaigning on a family values platform.

Another family values liar is no big news, but I think Toews has managed to turn himself into a perfect illustration of the inherent bullshit of ‘good citizens have nothing to hide’ that always crops up whenever people talk about regulating the internet. (Toews’ braindead comment about child pornographers immediately reminded of odious tabloid journalist Paul McMullan who testified that ‘privacy is for paedos‘ at the Leveson Inquiry.) What Anonymous is doing to Toews is what Toews wants to do to the entire Canadian public. As they say in the video, we cannot allow privacy to become a two-tier system.

An army of professional liars

Just when you thought your opinion of British tabloids couldn’t get any worse, the Leveson inquiry lends a helping hand:

One of the more striking aspects of last week’s testimony was just how many of the published stories that had proved so hurtful and damaging were simply not true – as with the manipulation of a photograph of Miller playing with a terminally ill child so as to make her look drunk and incapable, or the portrayal of Sheryl Gascoigne as having cut off the contact her ex-husband Paul had with their child, when she had done no such thing. Or, much worse, the printing of pages and pages of lies about the McCanns, which gives an entirely new twist to the old adage about not letting the facts stand in the way of a good story.

To make things even more bizarre, this incredible record of fabrication happens in a country with some of the most restrictive libel laws in the world. Simon Singh had to spend thousands to defend the right to talk about the lack of evidence for some chiropractic treatments, while the red tops can print any old junk.

Tory Eurosceptics auditioning UK to be the funny sidekick

Nick Clegg unloads on eurosceptic Tory rebels:

Both would have the UK give up our place at the European top table, sacrificing the influence essential to our prosperity. It is only by having a loud voice in a united Europe that we can promote the open economy that will deliver growth. Being shoved to the margins, or retreating there voluntarily, would be economic suicide: a surefire way to hurt British businesses and lose jobs. It would also leave us alone in the world at a time of great uncertainty. Eurosceptics tend to gaze longingly across the Atlantic, but the Americans are interested in us, in large part, because of our sway with our neighbours. We stand tall in Washington because we stand tall in Brussels, Paris and Berlin.

As much as I hate to quote anything from Nick Clegg but a statement of resignation, he gets at the strangest aspect of euroscepticism in this country. Little England-style isolationism I’d get it, even if I don’t agree with it. If independence is what’s at stake, why would they want to pry us from Europe, where we are one of the big players, and make us dependent on America, which can never see us as more than funny-talking cousins. Why should they? They are the most powerful country on earth and we are a small island. Is there really that much appetite among the backbenchers to be dragged into another invasion on false pretenses?

I think it is America’s raw power that attracts them into alliances like Dr. Fox’s Atlantic Bridge with American neocons. They are still in mourning for the time when Britain could throw its weight around, and are getting a vicarious taste of that old drug through America. They’re willing to damage the economy and what’s left of the country’s diplomatic clout for another hit of Empire.

Privatized torture

When you set up a worldwide campaign of kidnapping and torture, it’s important to control costs:

The manner in which American firms flew terrorism suspects to locations around the world, where they were often tortured, has emerged after one of the companies sued another in a dispute over fees. As the 10th anniversary of 9/11 approaches, the mass of invoices, receipts, contracts and email correspondence – submitted as evidence to a court in upstate New York – provides a unique glimpse into a world in which the “war on terror” became just another charter opportunity for American businesses.

The New York case concerns Sportsflight, an aircraft broker, and Richmor, an aircraft operator. Sportsflight entered into an arrangement to make a Gulfstream IV executive jet available at $4,900 an hour rather than the market rate of $5,450. A crew was available to fly at 12 hours’ notice. The government wanted “the cheapest aircraft to fulfil a mission”, Sportsflight’s owner, Don Moss, told the court. But it was the early days of the rendition programme, and business was booming: the court heard that Sportsflight told Richmor: “The client says we’re going to be very, very busy.”

The client in this case is the US Government. The report also states that detainees, who ‘were usually sedated through anal suppositories before being dressed in nappies and orange boiler suits, then hooded and muffled and trussed up in the back of the aircraft,’ were described by the head of one of the charter companies as ‘invitees.’ Classy.

I modelled the torture business in The Rapture on what I had read about the near-complete privatization of the US security state. So much of the CIA, NSA and the rest of the alphabet soup have been contracted out that they are now effectively unable to do things on their own. It’s bad enough that torture became a profit centre for these companies, but you also have to wonder how much lobbying went the other way. How much did companies compete for this ‘business’? The firms involved don’t sound big enough to increase the number of renditions on their own, but if you think big national security industry players like CACI International and Halliburton don’t have an effect on US policy, then I have a Vice-President to sell you.

The flights are detailed in mind-numbing detail, down to the cost of the snacks being consumed by the crew. These logs are a gold mine of intelligence, as the charity Reprieve has proven. They used the expense claims to tie specific planes to those who were rendered, and then to probable locations of black sites. That’s how intelligence works, not smacking someone until they say what they think you want to hear.

Sectarianism for fun and profit

Crybaby asshole Glenn Beck has decided he hasn’t been in the news enough lately:

The temperature may have dropped a little in Jerusalem on Wednesday night, but it was more than compensated for by the heat produced by Glenn Beck as he brought his “Restoring Courage” rally to the Old City.

The former Fox News presenter and devout Mormon stood at a podium beneath the gunmetal grey of the dome of the al-Aqsa mosque to direct a tirade of invective at governments, human rights organisations, the United Nations, Europe and Arab states – and sometimes just “them”, whoever they are.

Dressed as though attending a funeral, Beck stood in sharp contrast to the casual attire of his overwhelmingly white American Christian audience, many of whose baseball caps and T-shirts denoted their state of origin, their church or their adherence to the US Tea Party movement.

But the surprising number of empty seats belied the organisers’ claims that demand for tickets had outstripped availability at the 2,000-capacity Davidson Centre.

Beck, in a rare moment of honesty before his new fame, called himself a ‘rodeo clown.’ He’s pulling these stunts to make sure his name is in the news, and suckers keep throwing money at his mini-empire of paranoid bullshit. American conservatism has its own ecosystem in a way that I haven’t seen anywhere else. It’s a collection of radio shows, TV pundits, books and personalities that create a whole alternate reality of FEMA camps and black helicopters. It’s why the Republican field is full of candidates like Newt Gingrich, who are grifters strictly there for the money being a pretend candidate can bring in.

More interesting to me is how perfectly the rally captures the weirdness of Christian Zionism. A number of American Christians have come to Israel in the name of a Biblical prophecy its citizens do not share. Far right Israelis and their supporters in the West have tried for several years now to equate any opposition to government policy as anti-semitism. Christian Zionists are a strange mirror-image of this smear: they are resolutely behind Israel the nation (as long as it holds the West Bank) but are against Judaism:

But the accompanying belief that Jews must then convert to Christianity in order to be saved has prompted widespread opposition to Christian Zionism – and Beck’s rally – within Israel. Some rabbis denounced the broadcaster and called on Jews to boycott the event.

For Christian Zionists, Jews are merely a means to an end.

Panic sets the guilty free

The Guardian reports an 18 year-old man has been cleared of setting a fire in Salford during the riots:

A teenager who spent nine days in prison after being charged with setting fire to Miss Selfridge during the Manchester riots has been cleared after new evidence emerged confirming his innocence.

Dane Williamson, 18, said he had had a nightmarish ordeal after he was charged with being involved in causing £500,000 damage to the Market Street store during the riots, despite having five alibis.

He was charged with criminal damage and being reckless over property damage or endangering life. His name was widely reported and Facebook groups were set up on which he was identified and subjected to abuse.

Williamson’s flat in Salford was damaged by fire while he was on remand in Forest Bank prison; he lost all of his possessions and is now homeless. He suffered panic attacks after he was targeted by other prisoners who taunted him about what he had supposedly done.

These are the cases we need to keep in mind when the Prime Minister and the media talk about rough justice for the rioters. Too often people still fall into the frame of thinking that evidence and correct investigation is somehow a gift to criminals, or about their ‘rights,’ when it’s actually about sussing out the son of a bitch responsible. Dane Williamson was one of the usual suspects — young, had spent most of his life in care with two previous convictions — and he kind of looked like one of the rioters captured on CCTV. A little extra investigation revealed that his clothing wasn’t the same as the arsonist and another polic officer had already identified someone different as the suspect.

So the slow methodical justice of the courts prevented an innocent man’s life being destroyed (at a cost to us of around £40 000 a year.) More importantly the police are still on the hunt for the real suspect. Had passion overruled procedure we might as well have been patting the real arsonist on the back and sending him on his way.

The Debt Ceiling and the yearning for apocalypse

I don’t expect anyone to follow American politics as I do; most Americans sure don’t, and they can actually vote. The debt ceiling nightmare is an exception, because if these assholes sitting an ocean away default on the US debt, it will screw up the economy of the whole world.

If the debt ceiling had a threat level, it would be moving from ‘this is incredibly stupid’ to ‘stock up on canned goods’ (from Think Progress):

House Speaker John Boehner (R-OH) said today that some members of his own caucus who are refusing to agree to a compromise debt ceiling deal are hoping to unleash “chaos” and thus force the White House and Senate Democrats to make bigger concessions than they’re already offering. As many as 40 House Republicans, especially Tea Party members and freshmen, have demanded nothing short of changing the Constitution to include a balanced budget amendment before they would vote to raise debt ceiling, even though that has zero chance before the U.S. faces potential default on Aug. 2.

He’s speaking on conservative radio host Laura Ingraham’s program. The assumption has been that this kind of talk is for negotiation, but Boehner is before an audience of believers here. The supposed leader of the House is basically admitting that he isn’t in control of his own caucus.

BOEHNER: Well, first they want more. And my goodness, I want more too. And secondly, a lot of them believe that if we get past August the second and we have enough chaos, we could force the Senate and the White House to accept a balanced budget amendment. I’m not sure that that — I don’t think that that strategy works. Because I think the closer we get to August the second, frankly, the less leverage we have vis a vis our colleagues in the Senate and the White House.

So the President is trying to negotiate with a party that doesn’t have a coherent position of its own. The money-worshippers are down on their knees praying their billionaire employers will come and save them from the people they’ve always treated as useful idiots, while the idiots in question actively hope for the second worldwide economic crisis in five years.

So basically we’re on track to have the largest economy in the world crashed purely by magical thinking. What kind of jackass would want such a disaster?

It’s all in Boehner’s quote. The Tea Partiers yearn for economic apocalypse the same way fundamentalists yearn for a Christian one. There’s obviously some overlap between those two groups, but these prophetic ideas are so deeply embedded in our culture that you don’t have to be up on your testaments to follow their thinking. Both groups think the world(or nation) is too corrupt to reform on its own, and what is needed is a great cleansing fire to sweep away the old order. Then a new, better one can be built, better in this case meaning conforming exactly to their own ideas, whether it’s the Ten Commandments or a constitution that forbids deficits and gay marriage. They will be the phoenix that rises from the ashes. And when you try to tell them that the phoenix is a mythical beast, the only thing that will prove is that you’re an enemy.

The Other Apocalypse

Even though the Rapture earlier in the year didn’t work out, it looks like Republicans are trying to bring about the end of the world regardless:

With prospects of a government default looming in early August, leaders on both sides denied Thursday that a deal was close…Both sides warned that an agreement is not near. “There is no deal,” Mr. Boehner told radio host Rush Limbaugh. White House spokesman Jay Carney used similar language. And White House officials said Mr. Obama has never considered an agreement that did not include revenue increases.

For those of you not inclined to follow American politics, here is a quick summary. A quirk in US law requires legislation to raise the debt ceiling, and without it the Treasury can’t borrow any more money. That would mean the Treasury would default on its loans, destroying faith in T-bills and generally putting the global economy on a glide path to (another) meltdown.

I didn’t pay much attention to this in the beginning, because grandstanding and hostage taking is how the modern GOP rolls. I assumed they’d wring some concessions out of the perpetual chumps known as the Democratic party and then move on to another racket. I think that was the assumption of almost everyone.

Boy were we wrong.

The Republicans have been offered almost everything they want in exchange for an increase, and there’s still no deal. Washington is slowly beginning to realise that, instead of just being a hard-knuckled style of negotation, the GOP leadership may not have the power to deliver on a deal at al. Eric Cantor has been gunning for Boehner’s job, and appears determined to blow up negotations, even as his own wealthy backers ask him to raise their taxes in exchange for a deal.

The corporate wing of the party is terrified, because their wealth is dependent on the financial markets that will be thrown into chaos by default. The Tea Party wing, on the other hand, is actually hoping for a default. They think it will somehow bring the debt under control, and have made voting against the increase one of their many fetishes in an imagined campaign against Obama’s tyranny. They’ve drunk so much Kenyan post-colonialist-flavoured Kool-Aid that they are incapable of believing anything that doesn’t fit in with their pre-existing views. So when pretty much everyone tells Tea Partiers that the consequences of default will be catastrophic, they are as much incapable of believing them as they are unwilling. The default, like the Tribulation, is a cleansing fire from which a stronger nation made in their image will emerge. In the meantime there won’t be any frills like social security or veteran’s checks, but they think that’s another lie too.

A society holding so many contradictory fantasies that it becomes unable to tell the difference between reality and its own delusions was a big part of The Children’s Crusade. I used Maoist China as my inspiration, but it seems around 27% of the American public is hell bent on making me prescient. They really need to stop, it’s frickin’ terrifying.

Journalism warning labels

Tom Scott has some very useful labels for our friends in the press. Unfortunately he hasn’t updated it with a ‘Article based on hacking missing girl’s phone.’ Hopefully we won’t need it from now on. I have a bad feeling that ‘This article based on information bought from bent coppers’ will still be needed, unless senior heads at the Yard roll.