Dark Money

I wrote this on Facebook in July 2016, but have decided to repost it here during the shenanigans attending Trump's presidency.

New Yorker journalist Jane Mayer’s painstaking analysis of the immense Dark Money streams funding rightwing Republican politics would be incredible if it were not so meticulously researched and presented in her ground-breaking book Dark Money (Scribe 2016). She claims that ultra-libertarian donors forum organised by Charles and David Koch (say Coke) holds a pot worth $889 MILLION ready to dump attack ads all over Hillary Clinton, once the presidential election kicks off in earnest. This paragraph gives a flavour of it.
'While amassing one of the most lucrative fortunes in the world, The Kochs had also created an ideological assembly line justifying it. Now they had added a powerful political machine to protect it. They had hired a top-level operatives, financed their own voter databank, commissioned state-of-the-art polling, and created a fundraising operation that enlisted hundreds of other wealthy Americans to help pay for it. They had also forged a coalition of some 17 allied conservative groups with niche constituencies who would mask their centralised source of funding and carry their message. To mobilise Latino voters, they formed a group called the Libre Initiative. To reach conservative women, they funded concerned Women for America. For millennials they formed Generation Opportunity. To cover up fingerprints on television attack ads, they hid behind the American Future Fund and other front groups. Their networks' money also flowed to gun groups, retirees, veterans, anti-labour groups, anti-tax groups, evangelical Christian groups, and even $4.5 million to something called the Centre for Shared Services, which coordinated administrative tasks such as office space rentals and paperwork for the others. Americans for Prosperity, meanwhile organised chapters all across the country. The Kochs had established what was in effect their own private political party.’ p313
‘On its own, in 2012 the Koch network of a few hundred individuals spent at least $407 million, almost all of it anonymously. This was more than John McCain spent on his entire 2008 presidential bid. And it was more than the combined contributions to the two presidential campaigns made by 5,667,658 Americans, whose donations were legally capped at $5000. Politico’s Kenneth Vogel crunched the numbers and discovered that in the presidential race the top 0.04% of donors contributed about the same amount as the bottom 68%.’ p314
The irony, not lost on Mayer, is that while to the civilised world Trump seems to be the epitome of a rightwing racist Republican demagogue tailor-made for delivering the American proletariat trussed and bound for corporate use he is in reality the Kochs’ worst nightmare. In the first place he is rich enough not to have needed to kowtow to them – so far – but far more to the point is his appeal to the white blue-collar voter rests on a jobs and protectionism which is THE most serious threat to the Kochs’ neo-con game plan of unfettered free markets. THEIR man was the sly Texas conservative Cruz with his carefully-manufactured right-wing talking points designed to bamboozle the ‘moral majority’ into electing him in order to execute his paymasters’ bidding. Bizarrely, the Clintons’ record of negotiating free trade agreements puts Hillary closer to the Koch camp than Trump.
Mayer explains that Koch Industries have been serial polluters over decades from their oil, coal, pipeline and logging activities. And that a significant part of their agenda has been to neutralise the US Environmental Protection Agency, under the rubric of shrinking government, and to weaken or minimise all forms of state controls and bureaucracy throu catspaws like the Tea Party. They are also fervent climate-change deniers, and have forced all candidates such as Mitt Romney seeking their funding to reverse their public stances on these and other issues dear to them. Apart from creating a range of think-tanks to peddle neo-con values, one of the network’s greatest successes was the corruption of academic debate by endowing faculties on hand-picked universities with dedicated programs promoting free-market values, such as 'The Centre on poverty, work and opportunity' within the University of North Carolina School of Law, and the 'James Madison program in American ideals and institutions' at Princeton University.
However the supreme bete noire to billionaire neo-con has been Barack Obama himself. He represents everything they hate: he is black: he is charismatic: he is a community builder; and most unforgivably, he is an able politician whom the majority of American supported. Having tried all the dirty tricks in the arsenal to stop him at both elections they decided that the game would be humiliation, and in consequence the Republican leadership in consultation with their paymasters chose to withdraw all cooperation - including such bizarre episodes as witholding budget approval leading to the Government shutdown of 2013, the outright opposition to the Affordable Healthcare Act, and many other stunts. The range of dirty tricks employed at state level defies both belief and enumeration, notably in N Carolina - where '
'With a final tally all $7 billion in traceable spending on the presidential and congressional campaigns, it was the most expensive election in American history by far. One donor alone, Sheldon Adelson, who had a vowed to spend “as much as it takes," had dumped nearly $150 millions, $92 million of which was disclosed, and had still come up short. Approximately $15 million of that had reportedly gone to the Kochs’ group, Americans for Prosperity. All in all, super PACs and independent groups that could take unlimited contributions had spent a staggering $2.5 billion and, it seemed, Change nothing Obama would remain in the White House, and the Democrats would continue to dominate the Senate, and Republicans would continue to control the House.’ p331.
'Black voters, meanwhile, held steady, casting an overwhelming 93% of their votes for Obama. The America that the conservative donors were counting on was out of touch with the reality.’ p330
At a seminar for conservative donors one of the strategists, President of a front organisation called the American Enterprise Institute: 'explained why conservatives had lost: only a third of the public agreed with the statement that Republicans "care about people like you." Further, only 38% believed that they cared about the poor.’ p355
‘The Kochs’ extensive research has shown that what the American “customer" wanted from politics, alas, was quite different from their business-dominated free-market orthodoxy. It wasn't just that Americans were interested in opportunity for the many, rather than just for themselves. It also turns out, Fink acknowledged, that they wanted a clean environment and health and high standards of living, as well as political and religious freedom and peace and security.
‘These objectives would seem to present a problem for a program led by ultrarich industrialists who have almost single-handedly stymied environmentalists' efforts to protect the planet from climate change. The extraordinary measures that the Kochs and their allies had taken to sabotage the country's first program offering affordable healthcare to millions of uninsured citizens might also seem to be problematic.
‘These political problems would seem to have been compounded by new statistics showing that the top 1% of earners had captured 93% of the income gains in the first year of recovery after recession.’ p359
So what was the Kochs’ answer? Another astroturf campaign headed by a ‘philanthropic’ front organisation to persuade the US public that life was fairer under Republicans! To accomplish this they made a $25 million donation to the United Negro College Fund in order to ‘increase well-being and help people improve their lives.’ And Wake Forest University, that already had a Koch-funded Center for the Study of Capitalism, was also to get a “well-being center.”
So it goes on. Every year, every day, policy wonks funded by the Koch’s network of donors are systematically coming up with strategies to deceive voters as to the true intentions of the Republican high command. 'The idea of sugar-coating anti-government free-market aetiology as a nonpartisan movement to enhance the quality of life had clear advantages.’ p363. ‘The Kochs were also directing millions of dollars into online education, and into teaching high school students, so a non-profit that Charles devised called that Young Entrepreneurs Academy. The financially pressed Topeka School system, for instance, signed an agreement with the organisation which taught students that, among other things, Franklin Roosevelt didn't alleviate the Depression, minimum wage laws and public assistance hurt the poor, lower pay for women was not discriminatory, and the government, rather than the business, caused the 2008 recession.’ p365
If I've whetted your appetite, go buy the book - and the scales will fall from your eyes as you realise how Dark Money has been systematically corrupting the public discourse in America, and to a considerable extent in Britain too, for 30 years. It’s unlikely to be accidental that Andrea Leadsom, the would-be Conservative leader, had accepted an expenses-paid invitation from ‘a conservative group of Christians’ to visit America – which she was unable to accept owing to the leadership election. But it tells you where her heart is, and why the big money backers recognised her as their candidate of choice.


Elegy for Jo Cox

This week I finished the first movement of a piece I've been working on since September. It’s the first movement of an Elegy for the murdered MP. I began to think about it a few weeks after her death when it became patently clear that her death was going to have no impact on the snarling nastiness that has become integral to our contemporary version of the peasants’ revolt.    

It was an interesting challenge to write lyrics that expressed the situation without recourse to religious or rhetorical language – which I was pretty certain would erode support among those who might otherwise give it. Eventually what emerged was 

Why is it that the golden ones are taken?
Why is it that those who bear most love fall first?
Why is it that what is noble can awaken
Poisoned feelings in a hate-filled breast?

Oh but this saddest of tales is the oldest of stories,
Those who risk least in their lives attract the most praise,
While those risking all for love are ignored within their days
and only afterwards accorded glory.

A week or so later I felt I knew the tone /feel it needed and a musical motif appeared. So the journey that lasted months began. I find that ideas as they are forming often cause depression – something of which you’re not at first aware seems to be sucking life and energy out of you; and then when it first pokes its nose out from its lair in the subconscious it’s like a tapeworm (I've heard) or a cobra that has to be coaxed into the light with milk, so that you can begin the business of wrestling it and the supporting framework into a unity. 
Philip Larkin once said ‘you can only usefully write poetry for about an hour a day; so you might as well do another job in the meantime.’ Not only do I find that true, but actually I've found over my life that whenever I sit and wait for inspiration nothing happens – but when I'm at full stretch then what/who-ever the geist is that brings ideas smiles like a Cheshire cat and places the final straw on the camel’s back, as if to say ’there you are: make of it what you will.’ And of course you have to, because if ignore it it won't return.* 
During this four months there weeks at a time when ideas didn’t flow. At one point I broke off and composed the second movement. It was like being stuck on a sandbank, waiting for the tide to float you off again, but not when when /how /whence /whether that tide would come.
Id always wanted to write a piece for choir and orchestra, but the occasion had never presented iself. The challenge here was to write something within the range of a choral society that wasn’t banal; so I tried to address that issue by creating orchestral interludes around the vocal sections. I think it works, but without hearing it live I don’t know whether /how well. But then all composition is just a hypothesis waiting to be validated by others.  

If you would like to hear it click here. I've placed a midi-audio demo on SoundCloud which lasts 9’45". Alas you cannot know what is being sung as the ‘voices’ are but ghosts in a machine; however you get the sense by reading the first two verses. The words are repeated so you have to hold back v2 till about 6' in. It is my plan to record just the vocal parts with live singers in order to put the piece in presentation form, and then see if I can muster any enthusiasm among Jo Cox’s former colleags before offering it to choirs in the north which is probably Elegy’s best chance of finding a ‘constituency’. Verse two is quite different, for acappella SAATB semichorus, but that won't be part of my presentation.

If you think this love’s labour lost, then you cannot think it more wholeheartedly than I – but for me creativity isn't simply about pleasing others, it’s about the process of being attentive. [The actual meaning of the word Muslim] And after a lifetime of coming to terms with my inner anarchy I've realised that when I listen best I am most fulfilled. A situation best exprest in this poem by the 1thC Indian mystic Kabir 

* In this tree a single bird
with dancing song almost unheard
swoops & thrills its deepest leaves
with the enchanting tune she weaves.

Who knows its purpose? For at night
she comes, and leaves by first light.
For whom she sings, if not for me,
who knows? It may be nobody.

Holystone Well, Northumbria

What is beyond us? What is it that we reach out to? What is it that sometimes rewards us with a blast of oxygen in a smog-filled world? Bigger than all these questions: why has consciousness evolved in humans to be so blind, destructive and disconnected from its own natural environment?

At times like the present, when naked bigotry has been elevated to a political principle, only reconnecting to the ancient wisdom of the earth can restore faith in a future. It has seen it all before. Sadly, many times over. And Holystone Well is a perfect place to reconnect Self to Otherness - using whatever language you prefer. I first saw it on the delightful BBC4 series Pagans & Pilgrims, and was immediately drawn. Recently I was filming in the north and made sure I scheduled time for a visit.

It’s a misleading title, since in its present incarnation, Holystone is a pool not a well. But the spring feeding it provides enough flow to supply water for the neighbouring hamlet, so in that sense it can be called a well. And doesn't that make you think about the word's original meaning? "All shall be well, and all manner of thing ...” For our ancestors clean water would have been a prerequisite of being well.

I came here seeking to be well - whole in mind and purpose - and wellthy, having the energy to serve causes that create common-wealth. And I came away with a renewed connexion to the silent sanity which still underpins the collective madness of humanity. I drew deep reassurance from the fact that the invisible flow of Holystone's well-ness, a springing gift from the the planet itself, is beautifully maintained today by the National Trust as a sacred space, set aside for reflexion.

Someone from Austin Texas was here in 2014 and left a medallion. Visitors have contributed a little spiral of coins, a rosary and a crucifix - witnesses to the many dimensions of time and existence. Nominally the pool is dedicated to St Ninian, who is represented in a medieval statue - but as a psychic reality the figure is the genius loci, the spirit of the place. The being or thought-form who has grown alongside and because of the spring, the trees, the nourished earth and the humans who became part of the nurturing cycle.

And so in this unbroken chain of pilgrimage came my wife and I and dog to this magical space, and like the great precession we were rewarded with a re-vision of possibilities. The reflexion I took away was that while we humans have made a mess and a mockery of our only habitat we alone are the solution. Yet we few cannot work as effectively alone as we can together, and to articulate a vision that unites people we need leadership. And uh-oh …

This too will pass.

The re-creation offered by Holystone is beautifully evoked in this poem The Divine Bird by the 15thC mystic, Kabir (around the time St Ninian’s statue was carved), which I versified from Tagore’s translation a couple of years ago.

In this tree a single bird
with dancing song almost unheard
swoops & thrills its deepest leaves
with the enchanting tune she weaves.

Who knows its purpose? For at night
she comes, and leaves by first light.
For whom she sings, if not for me,
who knows? It may be nobody.

Suddenly present, as if from nowhere,
she may as quickly disappear.
I was not told about this tree,
far less the bird – nor have I seen

either its colour or its form,
nor e’en what dance it may perform;
yet its etheric call I hear –
its ballet, tho unseen, is clear.

Beside an abandoned path, this place
is missed by those who’re ruled by haste.
Few there are who know the way,
and fewer still who choose to stay.

Brother sadhu, Kabir says,
don’t invite the race of fools,
who’ll drown the songs and cut the branches:
rather, merely leave them clues.

One or two within your days
may note your path and share your gaze –
them you’ll know without a word:
for in their silence sings that bird.

Bk2:95. #33 


A Quaker Perspective - January

The tour of the north I made with my wife Clancy in the first week of the year to film more interviews for A Quaker Perspective was one of the most intensive but fulfilling of my life.  

Standing in Brigflatts Meeting House I felt in the centre of a centuries-old continuity of faith & testimony that was at once robust, unemphatic yet totally contemporary. Zen-like in its strength and detachment. 

The interior was totally unchanged from this 19thC photo (except for the removal of the stove) to the degree that it had no power sockets in the MH – an unforeseen hazard. This drawing of a wedding ceremony was  particularly charming – an interesting period detail being the ‘hat honour’ of the men on the back row.

I felt drawn to go there and shoot an opening sequence. Probably this won't be relevant for a Quakers-only version, but I thought it might be handy for outreach purposes. 

Our first port of call was Marcie Winstanley near Hexham, a 19 y/o Friend who was coherent and focused in her intention to enter politics at some point after she graduates as a teacher. It's an ambition she has held since seeing the Iraq War on TV at the age of 8. On of the reasons for going to film before doing any further fund-raising  

I hope to have clips ready in a fortnight or so. Editing each interview is at least 3 days’ fulltime work.

Some of Marcie’s Quaker roots stem from her grandparents by whom Clancy & I were handsomely entertained. David and Caroline Westgate run a series of Peace Lectures in Hexham, and while we were there they were busy preparing for a WW1 exhibition  voicesandchoiceshexham.org/ presented in Hexham to travel to Noyan, France. 

The next port of call was Lancaster, where Sam Barnett-Cormack spoke eloquently on topics which included disability campaigning and his own position as a non-theist Quaker - a term which I discovered had nothing in common with atheism.

Finally to Ackworth School where Junior Head Katharine Elwis argued forcefully for the importance of Quaker schools as a bridge between doctrinaire nature of the state system and the economic elitism of the private sector.

But for me, the highlight of the trip was Brigflatts. Someone /sun-one was smiling on us since our scheduled afternoon there was the most beautiful ‘mid-winter spring’* amid a week of fairly grim weather. I felt that in that truly sacred space the essence of what I am trying to capture today has always existed and that our job is merely to be the means through which it speaks. 

This film is a celebration of Quaker testimonies in the lives of the interviewees. See our first interviewee Harvey Gillman.

In February I shall announce the next step, which is a crowd-funding appeal in order to meet the costs of the filming - which so far I have met myself. 

LITTLE GIDDING - The last of TS Eliot's 'Four Quartets')
Eliot was writing about the church of the religious community started by Nicholas Ferrar in Little Gidding Cambs in 1625; but what he writes applies just as much to Brigflatts.

Midwinter spring is its own season
Sempiternal though sodden towards sundown,
Suspended in time, between pole and tropic.
When the short day is brightest, with frost and fire,
The brief sun flames the ice, on pond and ditches,
In windless cold that is the heart's heat,
Reflecting in a watery mirror
[…] This is the spring time
But not in time's covenant. Now the hedgerow
Is blanched for an hour with transitory blossom
Of snow, a bloom more sudden
Than that of summer, neither budding nor fading,
Not in the scheme of generation.
Where is the summer, the unimaginable
Zero summer?
[…]                 And what you thought you came for
Is only a shell, a husk of meaning
From which the purpose breaks only when it is fulfilled
If at all. Either you had no purpose
Or the purpose is beyond the end you figured
And is altered in fulfilment. There are other places
Which also are the world's end, some at the sea jaws,
Or over a dark lake, in a desert or a city—
But this is the nearest, in place and time,
Now and in England.
                               If you came this way,
Taking any route, starting from anywhere,
At any time or at any season,
It would always be the same: you would have to put off
Sense and notion. You are not here to verify,
Instruct yourself, or inform curiosity
Or carry report. You are here to kneel
Where prayer has been valid. And prayer is more
Than an order of words, the conscious occupation
Of the praying mind, or the sound of the voice praying.
And what the dead had no speech for, when living,
They can tell you, being dead: the communication
Of the dead is tongued with fire beyond the language of the living.
Here, the intersection of the timeless moment

Is England and nowhere. Never and always.

A Quaker Perspective - December

This is the first (December 16) news update about my planned documentary about Quakers in Britain.

The idea crystalized on the day of Trump’s election. I thought: there isn't much I can do to oppose the darkness that he represents except to make a film celebrating the light – people who are attempting to do positive things for others and the planet. I don’t want A Quaker Perspective to be sectarian, but I feel that Friends' unique record of peace-making makes them ideal standard-bearers against the kind of divisiveness and spite that Trump stirred up in his campaign. Moreover there is a sufficient diversity of viewpoints within Quakers  to cover the gamut of constructive opinions for people wishing to express both spiritual and non-theist motivation/s. 

The project has arisen in part from the film I made with Shaftesbury Young Friends during this summer featuring members of Shaftesbury Meeting. Despite being principally a musician, I have always enjoyed film-making and always wanted to make a documentary but had never previously found a suitable subject that within my scope to complete on my own. 

Last week I took a meeting with three senior office-holders at Friends House, who were incredibly helpful in making me aware of all sorts of factors and people able to can give the project form.  I am presently commissioning a logo for the film, and have bought a second hi-spec Canon video camera to go with my other and the lighting and sound equipment I have built up over the years for music recording. 

I shall be launching a crowd-funding site in Jan/Feb to assist with the costs of the enterprise. But already I am making filming plans. 

Next week I shall kick off with Harvey Gillman, who was a particularly imaginative and effective Outreach Secretary for the Society whom I knew 20 years ago.  Then over the new year I intend to film three Friends in the north. One has recently been an intern in with an English MEP, one is the Head of Ackworth (Quaker) Junior School, and the third is a campaigner for disabled people. Of those who have already responded to my research these guys struck me as having more than one qualification for inclusion. If possible, I hope to film Quaker Homeless Action over Christmas. Of course, all this has to be fitted in around my other commitments.