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The luxury of truth

Here’s the latest from occupied Zimbabwe:

The World Association of Newspapers and World Editors Forum have called for the repeal of a punitive luxury tax on newspapers that are imported into Zimbabwe, which is preventing independent newspapers from reaching their audience.

The tax was imposed in early June in the run-up to the widely condemned presidential election won by Robert Mugabe after his opponent quit the race in the face of escalating violence against his supporters. It aims to reduce the influence of South African-based news sources, which have been extremely important to Zimbabweans.

Restricting access to information by punitive taxation constitutes a clear breach of the right to freedom of expression, which is guaranteed by numerous international conventions, including the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, the Paris-based WAN and WEF, which represent 18,000 newspapers world-wide, said in a letter to President Mugabe.

The two organisations called on Mugabe to remove the luxury tax on foreign publications and to end state intimidation of the independent media. All domestic independent newspapers and broadcasters in Zimbabwe are banned.

The letter to the President said:

We are writing on behalf of the World Association of Newspapers and the World Editors Forum, which represent 18,000 publications in 102 countries, to call on you to immediately lift the punitive luxury tax imposed on imported newspapers, magazines and periodicals, which is clearly aimed at preventing independent newspapers from reaching the people of Zimbabwe.

On 8 June, the state-owned Herald newspaper reported that all foreign newspapers sold in Zimbabwe will now have to pay import duty, as the government moves to protect Zimbabwean media space. The newspaper went on to say that this move is meant to curb the entry into the country of what it called hostile foreign newspapers.

All foreign publications are now classed as luxury goods and therefore attract import duty at 40 percent. The tax appears to be particularly aimed at South African-based news sources, which have been extremely important to Zimbabweans. All domestic independent newspapers and broadcasters in Zimbabwe are banned.

The Zimbabwean, a twice-weekly newspaper printed in South Africa for distribution in Zimbabwe, has been forced to pay almost USD20,000 per week and is reducing its circulation from 200,000 copies to 60,000 as a result.

The Zimbabwe Revenue Authority refused to release a consignment of 60,000 copies of the 19 June issue of The Zimbabwean. This followed the burning of 60 000 copies of The Zimbabwean on Sunday on 25 May.

We respectfully remind you that restricting access to information by punitive taxation constitutes a clear breach of the right to freedom of expression, which is guaranteed by numerous international conventions, including the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. Article 19 of the Declaration states: Everyone has the right to freedom of opinion and expression; this right includes the freedom to hold opinions without interference and to seek, receive and impart information and ideas through any media, regardless of frontiers.

We respectfully call on you to remove the luxury tax on foreign publications and to end state intimidation of the independent media. We urge you to take all necessary steps to ensure that in future your country fully respects international standards of freedom of information.

WAN, the global organisation for the newspaper industry, defends and promotes press freedom and the professional and business interests of newspapers world-wide. Representing 18,000 newspapers, its membership includes 77 national newspaper associations, newspaper companies and individual newspaper executives in 102 countries, 12 news agencies and 11 regional and world-wide press groups.

The WEF is the organisation for editors within the World Association of Newspapers (http://www.worldeditorsforum.org).

Inquiries to: Larry Kilman, Director of Communications, WAN, 7 rue Geoffroy St Hilaire, 75005 Paris France. Tel: +33 1 47 42 85 00. Fax: +33 1 47 42 49 48. Mobile: +33 6 10 28 97 36. E-mail: lkilman@wan.asso.fr.

— World Association of Newspapers (2008-07-08): Newspapers Fight Luxury Tax in Zimbabwe

WAN and WEF have to be diplomatic in their letter, so they can only respectfully remind. But I am under no such obligation, so I will take the liberty of saying here that the actions of the armed faction occupying the seats of power in Harare are despicable and yet another step down an incredibly dangerous road. Zimbabwe is a naturally rich and fertile country that has been systematically stripped and immiserated by a century of successive kleptocratic armed factions — first the land-grabbing white colonialists, and then an independent white apartheid government, and now a violent anti-colonial, revolutionary government which intones populist slogans to justify thievery, patronage to its political supporters, and sustained state and paramilitary assaults on all popular movements and all centers of civil society that are even remotely independent of the all-devouring State. This latest assault on Zimbabwean civil society and basic norms of truth and rationality, in declaring all non-State-dominated sources of information a mere frippery, indeed as a sort of decadence from which Zimbabweans must be protected against their wills, is only one of many incredibly troubling developments from a belligerent occupying regime, which imposes the will of a tiny political-military clique on the innocent and unwilling majority, and which indulges in the incredible audacity of passing itself off as a Leftist regime, while actively constituting itself as one of the most violently anti-worker governments in the world.

See also:

Tyrannicide Day 2008

Happy Tyrannicide Day (observed)!

Today, March 15th, commemorates the assassination of two tyrants. Today is the 2,051st anniversary — give or take the relevant calendar adjustments — of the death of Gaius Julius Caesar, the military dictator who butchered his way through Gaul, set fire to Alexandria, and, through years of conquest, perfidy, and proscription, battered and broke every barricade that republican institutions had put in the way of military and executive power, until he finally had himself proclaimed dictator perpetuus, the King of Rome in everything but name. On March 15th, 44 BCE, a group of republican conspirators, naming themselves the Liberatores, rose up and stabbed Caesar to death on the floor of the Senate. Meanwhile, Thursday, March 13th, was also the 127th anniversary (give or take the relevant calendar adjustments), of the death of Czar Alexander II Nikolaevitch, the self-styled Caesar of all the Russias. Alexander was killed by grenades thrown by a group of anarchist conspirators on March 13th, 1881 C.E., in an act of propaganda by the deed. In honor of the events, the Ministry of Culture in this secessionist republic of one has proclaimed March 15th Tyrannicide Day (observed), which is kind of like President’s Day, except cooler. Instead of another dull theo-nationalist hymn on the miraculous births of two of the canonized saints of the United States federal government, Tyrannicide Day gives us one day in which we can commemorate the deaths of two tyrants at the hands of their equals — men and women who defied the tyrants’ arbitrary claims to an unchecked authority that they had neither the wisdom, the virtue, nor the right to exercise. Men and women who saw themselves as exercising their equal right of self-defense, by striking down the would-be tyrants just like they would be entitled to strike down any other two-bit thug who tried to kill them, enslave them, or shake them down.

It is worth remembering in these days that the State has always tried to pass off attacks against its own commanding and military forces (Czars, Kings, soldiers in the field, etc.) as acts of terrorism. That is, in fact, what almost every so-called act of terrorism attributed to 19th century anarchists happened to be: direct attacks on the commanders of the State's repressive forces. The linguistic bait-and-switch is a way of trying to get moral sympathy on the cheap, in which the combat deaths of trained fighters and commanders are fraudulently passed off, by a professionalized armed faction sanctimoniously playing the victim, as if they were just so many innocent bystanders killed out of the blue. Tyrannicide Day is a day to expose this for the cynical lie that it is. As many reasons as there are to criticize the strategy behind the assassinations of Czars, Princes, and Dictators Perpetual, the fact that the brutal absolute monarch of a monster State lay dead at the end is not among them.

There are in fact lots of good reasons to rule out tyrannicide as a political tactic — after all, these two famous cases each ended a tyrant but not the tyrannical regime; Alexander II was replaced by the even more brutal Alexander III, and Julius Caesar was replaced by his former running-dogs, one of whom would emerge from the abattoir that followed as Augustus Caesar, to begin the long Imperial nightmare in earnest. But it’s important to recognize that these are strategic failures, not moral ones, and what should be celebrated on the Ides of March is not the tyrannicide as a strategy, but rather tyrannicide as a moral fact. Putting a diadem on your head and wrapping yourself in the blood-dyed robes of the State confers neither the virtue, the knowledge, nor the right to rule over anyone, anywhere, for even one second, any more than you had naked and alone. Tyranny is nothing more and nothing less than organized crime executed with a pompous sense of entitlement and a specious justification; the right to self-defense applies every bit as much against the person of some self-proclaimed sovereign as it does against any other two-bit punk who might attack you on the street.

Every victory for human liberation in history — whether against the crowned heads of Europe, the cannibal-empires of modern Fascism and Bolshevism, or the age-old self-perpetuating oligarchies of race and sex — has had these moral insights at its core: the moral right to deal with the princes and potentates of the world as nothing more and nothing less than fellow human beings, to address them as such, to challenge them as such, and — if necessary — to resist them as such.

I have been informed that March 15th is also commemorated as the International Day Against Police Brutality. Make of that what you will; what the Ministry of Culture will make of it is an excellent opportunity for a program of commemorative song.

Our first piece is a skolion for the Athenian lovers Aristogeiton and Harmodius, who assassinated the tyrant Hipparchus in 514 BCE, using swords they had concealed in ceremonial myrtle wreaths. In the Athenian democracy, the couple were celebrated as martyrs for liberty, and often remembered in hymns and songs sung before banquets. This is Edgar Allan Poe’s 1827 translation of the most famous surviving Hymn to Aristogeiton and Harmodius; feel free to sing it at your Tyrannicide Day holiday dinner:

Wreathed in myrtle, my sword I’ll conceal
Like those champions devoted and brave,
When they plunged in the tyrant their steel,
And to Athens deliverance gave.

Beloved heroes! your deathless souls roam
In the joy breathing isles of the blest;
Where the mighty of old have their home
Where Achilles and Diomed rest

In fresh myrtle my blade I’ll entwine,
Like Harmodius, the gallant and good,
When he made at the tutelar shrine
A libation of Tyranny’s blood.

Ye deliverers of Athens from shame!
Ye avengers of Liberty’s wrongs!
Endless ages shall cherish your fame,
Embalmed in their echoing songs!

— Hymn to Aristogeiton and Harmodius, trans. Edgar Allan Poe (1827)

Our second piece, in honor of the combined occasions for the day, is one of the most famous outlaw corridos from the south Texas borderlands, The Ballad of Gregorio Cortez, a cowboy and small-time farmer in Karnes County, Texas, who became a legal cause celebre, and a folk hero for many Tejan@s, after he fought back against a racist sheriff in June 1901. Sheriff W. T. Brack Morris was interrogating Cortez and his brother, and accused them of horse-thieving — based on nothing more than the fact that they did have a horse, and Cortez met the description of the suspect in a recent horse-theft — a suspect who had been described only as a middle-sized Mexican. Morris tried to arrest Cortez; Cortez told him off, and said that Morris had no reason to arrest him. The deputy who was translating mistakenly claimed that Cortez had said No white man can arrest me; that was enough for Morris, who pulled his gun and shot down Cortez’s brother. Cortez fired back, killing Morris, and then fled across the state on foot. He managed to elude capture for ten days, repeatedly making daring and close escapes when surrounded and outnumbered by sheriffs, posses, and the rinches (Texas Rangers). The cops threw his wife, his mother, and his children into jail. Anglo papers called for him to be lynched, and Anglo mobs rioted against Latin@s in Gonzales, Refugio, and Hayes counties. After Cortez was finally captured and put on trial for murder, his supporters organized legal defense campaigns, arguing that Cortez had killed only in to defend himself and his family; eventually they got all but one of the murder convictions reversed on appeal. In 1913, they convinced governor Oscar Colquitt to grant Cortez a conditional pardon. Meanwhile, his fame spread in the countryside through this ballad.

Like all corridos, there as many different versions of Gregorio Cortez as there are performances of it. This version is stitched together from my favorite parts of some of the several variants transcribed by Américo Paredes; cf., for example 1, 2, 3.

Gregorio Cortez

Traditional (1900s–1920s).

En el condado de El Carmen
miren lo que ha sucedido,
muri?@c3;b3; el Cherife Mayor
quedando Román herido.

Se anduvieron informando
como media hora después
supieron que el malhechor
era Gregorio Cortez.

Decía Gregorio Cortez
Con su pistola en la mano:
–No siento haberlo matado,
lo que siento es a mi hermano.–

Soltaron los perroes jaunes
pa’ que siguieran la huella,
pero alcanzar a Cortez
era seguir a una estrella.

Tir?@c3;b3; con rumbo a Gonzales
sin ninguna timidez:
–Síganme, rinches cobardes,
yo soy Gregorio Cortez.–

Y en el condado del Kiansis
lo llegaron a alcanzar
y a pocos más de trescientos
allí les brinc?@c3;b3; el corral.

Decía Gregorio Cortez,
con pistola en la mano:
–¡Ay, cuánto rinche cobarde
para un solo mexicano!–

Cuando les brinc?@c3;b3; el corral,
seg?@c3;ba;n lo que aquí se dice,
se agarraron a balazos
y les mat?@c3;b3; otro cherife.

Decían Gregorio Cortez
con su alma muy encendida:
–No siento haberlo matado,
la defensa es permitida.

Sali?@c3;b3; Gregorio Cortez,
sali?@c3;b3; con rumbo a Laredo,
no lo quisieron seguir
porque le tuvieron miedo.

Decían Gregorio Cortez:
¿Pa’ qué se valen de planes?
No me pueden agarrar
ni con esos perros juanes.

Decían los americanos:
–Si lo alcanzamos ¿qué hacemos?
Si le entramos por derecho
muy poquitos volveremos.–

Allá por El Encinal,
Seg?@c3;ba;n lo que aquí se dice,
le formaron un corral
y les mat?@c3;b3; otro Cherife.

Ya se encontr?@c3;b3; a una mexicana,
le dice con altivez:
–Platícame qué hay de nuevo,
yo so Gregorio Cortez.

–Dicen que por culpa mía
han matado mucha gente,
pues ya me voy a entregar
porque eso no es conveniente.–

Venían todos los rinches,
por el viento volaban,
porque se querían ganar
diez mil pesos que les daban.

Cuando rodearon la casa
Cortez se les present?@c3;b3;:
–Por la buena sí me llevan
porque de otro modo no.

Deciá el Cherife Mayor,
como queriendo llorar:
–Cortez, entrega tus armas,
no te vamos a matar.–

Decía Gregorio Cortez,
gritaba en alta voz:
–Mis armas no las entrego
hasta estar en calaboz’.–

Ya agarraron a Cortez,
ya termin?@c3;b3; la cuesti?@c3;b3;n,
la probre de su familia
lo lleva en el coraz?@c3;b3;n.

Ya con ésta me despido
a la sombra de un ciprés;
aquí se acaba el corrido
de don Gregorio Cortez.

Gregorio Cortez

Trans. (2008) Charles Johnson.

In the county of El Carmen,
Look what’s gone down
The Big Ol’ Sheriff is dead,
Leaving Roman dying on the ground.

They walked around asking questions
and in half an hour or so
they found out the man who did it
was Gregorio Cortez.

And so said Gregorio Cortez,
with his pistol in his hand,
I don’t feel sorry that I killed him;
what I feel sorry about is my brother.

They unleashed the hound dogs,
to follow on his trail,
but chasing after Cortez
was like following a star.

He tore off down toward Gonzales
Not timid in the least;
Come after me, cowardly rinches;
I am Gregorio Cortez.

And in the county of Kiansis,
They showed up to try and grab him,
A bit more than three hundred
There, and he jumped out of their corral.

And so said Gregorio Cortez,
With his pistol in his hand:
Man, look how many cowardly rinches
For just one Mexican!

But when he jumped the corral,
What they say around here is,
The bullets started flying,
And he killed them another sheriff.

And so said Gregorio Cortez,
With his soul burning bright,
I don’t feel sorry that I killed him.
A man’s got a right to defend his life.

Then Gregorio Cortez got away,
got away down the way to Laredo;
they wouldn’t have wanted to follow,
Now he had them scared to.

And so said Gregorio Cortez:
What’s the good of your plots?
You can’t get your hands on me,
Not even with those hound dogs.

And so said the Americanos:
If we catch up to him, what can we do?
If we go after him in a straight-up fight,
There won’t be many coming back.

Out there by El Encinal,
What they say around here is,
They got him in another corral
And he killed them another sheriff.

Then he met another Mexican,
And he said with some arrogance,
What’s the news? Tell me–
I am Gregorio Cortez.

They say that because of me,
They’re killing lots of folks
So now I’ll turn myself in,
because that ain’t fit at all.

Down came all the rinches,
Flying through the wind,
Because they wanted to get ahold of
Ten thousand pesos like they were offered.

When they surrounded his house
Cortez showed himself to say:
You’ll take me in by my own will,
And not any other way.

And so said the Big Ol’ Sheriff,
like he was about to cry:
Cortez, hand over your guns,
and you won’t have to die.

And so said Gregorio Cortez,
With a great big yell,
I’m not handing my guns over
Until you’ve locked me in my cell.

And so they took in Cortez,
And that’s where it came to an end.
His poor family
Carry him in their hearts.

And with that I’ll say my goodbye
In the shade under a cypress;
Here I’ll finish off the ballad
Of Don Gregorio Cortez.

Thus always to tyrants. Beware the State. Celebrate the Ides of March!

Further reading:

T-shirt: Celebrate Tyrannicide Day

Colonialist logic

Thanks to P.M. Lawrence @ LewRockwell.com (2008-03-10) for highlighting an interesting passage from an old book. Interesting to me, anyway, because of the way in which its aging rhetoric reveals what it once tried to conceal, and the way in which what it reveals lives on to this day, in the theory and practice behind countless privateering government development projects, both at home, and abroad. This is from Sonia E. Howe’s 1938 history of the French conquest and colonization of Madagascar, under the rule of political hit man Joseph Simon Gallieni.

There was the introduction of equitable taxation, so vital from the financial point of view; but also of such great political, moral and economic importance. It was the tangible proof of French authority having come to stay; it was the stimulus required to make an inherently lazy people work. Once they had learned to earn they would begin to spend, whereby commerce and industry would develop.

The corvée in its old form could not be continued, yet workmen were required both by the colonists, and by the Government for its vast schemes of public works.

No, they weren’t.

The General therefore passed a temporary law, in which taxation and labour were combined, to be modified according to country, the people, and their mentality. Thus, for instance, every male among the Hovas, from the age of sixteen to sixty, had either to pay twenty-five francs a year, or give fifty days of labour of nine hours a day, for which he was to be paid twenty centimes, a sum sufficient to feed him. Exempted from taxation and labour were soldiers, militia, Government clerks, and any Hova who knew French, also all who had entered into a contract of labour with a colonist. Unfortunately, this latter clause lent itself to tremendous abuses. By paying a small sum to some European, who nominally engaged them, thousands bought their freedom from work and taxation by these fictitious contracts, to be free to continue their lazy, unprofitable existence. To this abuse an end had to be made.

No, it didn’t.

The urgency of a sound fiscal system was of tremendous importance to carry out all the schemes for the welfare and development of the island, and this demanded a local budget.

No, it didn’t.

The goal to be kept in view was to make the colony, as soon as possible, self-supporting. This end the Governor-General succeeded in achieving within a few years.

No, he didn’t.

The Malagasy natives supported themselves well enough on Madagascar, through the sweat of their own brow, for centuries before ever a white man ever arrived. What the Governor-General succeeded in achieving within a few years was not to make Madagascar self-supporting, but rather to use a mixed system of robbery and involuntary servitude to coerce otherwise unwilling Malagasy workers into working more than they otherwise would, in return for less than they would otherwise get, so that a self-supporting population could be browbeaten and bullied into not only supporting themselves, but also supporting a parasitic new class of governors and land-grabbers in the style to which the kleptocrats had become accustomed.

Of course, it is typical enough for politicians and politically-connected businessmen with a vast scheme to call out armed men to seize taxes and force labor, on the excuse that something so big couldn’t ever be pulled off consensually, which amounts to nothing more than demonstrating that robbery and slavery are the necessary means to an unnecessary goal. But what’s especially interesting to me here is the classical colonialist rhetoric, to the effect that it must be the inherent laziness and moral turpitude of the Malagasy natives that made them more interested in living their own lives and freely pursuing their own projects and traditions, rather than happily turning over their wealth and their lives to the vast schemes of the Government and the enrichment of its sponsored privateers. If they dare to prefer working on their own stuff to working on white people’s stuff, then clearly it will take the cudgel to teach them some civilized manners.

For the colonial mindset, this kind of attitude was like oxygen is for us–pervasive, invisible, taken for granted, and absolutely essential. In 1938, a European historian writing about colonialism in Africa would think nothing of saying commonplaces like these, and if it is jarring to read now, it’s only because, in the intervening years, the most explicit statements of that mindset have been questioned, vigorously challenged, and cast down out of cultural favor in Europe and the U.S. But the mindset itself is not gone, and its legacy lives on in the new words that the new powers that be have crafted to conceal what these old words now reveal to us. This is true of the way that the ruling elite in the U.S. and the other Great Powers talk about their military and government-financing projects abroad; it’s also true of the way that the ruling elite in the U.S. and the other Great Powers talk about their government seizure and government financing projects at home–whether in the form of taxes, government-driven technology plans, or the seizure, bulldozing, transfer, and subsidized remaking of undeveloped land.

The Revolution devours its own daughters: Over My Shoulder #36, from Inventing Human Rights: A History by Lynn Hunt

Here’s the rules:

  1. Pick a quote of one or more paragraphs from something you’ve read, in print, over the course of the past week. (It should be something you’ve actually read, and not something that you’ve read a page of just in order to be able to post your favorite quote.)

  2. Avoid commentary above and beyond a couple sentences, more as context-setting or a sort of caption for the text than as a discussion.

  3. Quoting a passage doesn’t entail endorsement of what’s said in it. You may agree or you may not. Whether you do isn’t really the point of the exercise anyway.

Here’s the quote. This is from chapter 4, There Will Be No End of It, in Lynn Hunt’s new book, Inventing Human Rights: A History. The chapter has to do with the expansive logic of natural rights, and the way in which the universalizing ideal gradually (though, in the French case, fairly rapidly) to encompass demands for religious freedom, the emancipation of the Jews, rights for free blacks, the abolition of slavery, and the liberation of women. Unfortunately, in the end, the self-styled vanguard of the Revolution was more willing to recognize the rights of their brothers than they were with certain other of their siblings.

In September 1791, the antislavery playwright Olympe de Gouges turned the Declaration of the Rights of Man and Citizen inside out. Her Declaration of the Rights of Woman insisted that Woman is born free and remains equal to man in rights (Article 1). All citizenesses and citizens, being equal in its [the law’s] eyes, should be equally admissible to all public dignities, offices, and employments, according to their ability, and with no other distinction than that of their virtues and talents (Article 6). The inversion of the language of the official 1789 declaration hardly seems shocking to us now, but it surely did then. In England, Mary Wollstonecraft did not go as far as her French counterparts in demanding absolutely equal political rights for women, but she wrote at much greater length and with searing passion about the ways education and tradition had stunted women’s minds. In Vindication of the Rights of Woman, published in 1792, she linked the emancipation of women to the explosion of all forms of hierarchy in society. Like de Gouges, Wollstonecraft suffered public vilification for her boldness. De Gouges’s fate was even worse, for she went to the guillotine, condemned as an impudent counterrevolutionary and unnatural being (a woman-man).

Once the momentum got going, women’s rights were not limited to the publications of a few path-breaking individuals. Between 1791 and 1793, women set up political clubs in at least fifty provincial towns and cities as well as in Paris. Women’s rights came up for debate in the clubs, in newspapers, and in pamphlets. In April 1793, during the consideration of citizenship under a proposed new constitution for the republic, one deputy argued at length in favor of equal political rights for women. His intervention showed that the idea had gained some adherents. There is no doubt a difference, he granted, that of the sexes [sic –RG] … but I do not conceive how a sexual difference makes for one in the equality of rights. … Let us liberate ourselves rather from the prejudice of sex, just as we have freed ourselves from the prejudice against the color of Negroes. The deputies did not follow his lead.

Instead, in October 1793, the deputies moved against women’s clubs. Reacting to street fights among women over the wearing of revolutionary insignia, the Convention voted to suppress all political clubs for women on the grounds that such clubs only diverted them from their appropriate domestic duties. According to the deputy who presented the decree, women did not have the knowledge, application, devotion, or self-abnegation required for governing. They should stick with the private functions to which women are destined by nature itself. The rationale hardly sounded new notes; what was new was the need to come out and forbid women from forming and attending political clubs. Women may have come up least and last, but their rights did eventually make the agenda, and what was said about them in the 1790s–especially in favor of rights–had an impact that has lasted down to the present.

–Lynn Hunt (2007): Inventing Human Rights, pp. 171–172.

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