Archive for September, 2013

In Search of Moebius’

September 30, 2013

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After Alan Moore on V for Vendetta, more comic book stuff. Last year, 2012, saw the passing of Jean ‘Moebius’ Giraud, one of the great auteurs of French, and indeed, world comics. Originally broadcast on BBC 4, I found it on Youtube. It traces the career and work of Jean ‘Moebius’ Giraud, from his from his modest background, as the child of a single parent following his mother’s divorce. He describes the shock he experienced at art school, when he encountered the better-off, and more polished bourgeois students. He never completed his training, as in his third year his mother married a Mexican, and he went with his mother to live in Mexico. The ancient country’s open landscape of deserts strongly influenced his later work. Back in France he launched the Western comic, Blueberry, scripted by Jean-Michel Charlier.

He then moved on to become one of Les Humanoides Associes, with Bernard Farkas, Philippe Druillet, and others who founded Metal Hurlant. Metal Hurlant was the French original of ‘Heavy Metal’, one of the first adult comics. Heavy Metal was later filmed as a cartoon of the same title. It comprised several individual stories based on the strips in the original comic. The ‘Taarna’ sequence in the movie was based on Moebius ‘Arzach’ strip. He was asked by the Chilean director, Alejandro Jodorowsky, to work on his abortive film version of Dune, providing concept drawings alongside Chris Foss and H.R. Giger. When the film fell through due to budget problems and the reluctance of the major cinema chains in America to screen it, Moebius then went back to comics. He continued to work with Jodorowsky, and together they produced the strips Arzach and The Incal.

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One of the classic images from Arzach.

He returned to the cinema to work once more with Giger and Foss on Alien, where amongst other things he designed the spacesuits worn by the crew of the Nostromo. Back in comics, he and Dan O’Bannon, one of the writers of Alien, created the Long Tomorrow strip, a future ‘noir’ story about a private detective. The vast city depicted in the strip influenced the design of the great metropolis in Ridley Scott’s ‘future noir’, Blade Runner. In 1987 Moebius went to America to work with the mighty Stan ‘the Man’ Lee on the Silver Surfer comic book, Parable. This strip met a mixed reception. Several of the comics’ creators speaking in
the film thought that it was largely well received by the Marvel comics readership.

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Others said that comics fans are quite conservative, and didn’t really like Moebius’ distinctively continental style of story-telling. Mike Mignola, the creator of Hellboy, was quite critical of the attitude of the American comics industry towards their European cousins. He felt that, although they were impressed with their work and wanted them to work on their comics, they nevertheless did not want them to work in their characteristic manner. Instead, they wanted to fix them so that they conformed to American conventions. Moebius himself was quite content to work on the superhero strip, but the others talking were much less than enthusiastic about the genre. Mike Mignola credited Moebius with inspiring him to leave superheroes behind. Jodorowsky was highly critical about superheroes, and went on to express his complete contempt for them and America. In the 1990s, Moebius once again returned to the cinema to provide the designs for Luc Besson’s The Fifth Element.

The film also touched briefly on his divorce and remarriage. His former partner on Metal Hurlant, Philippe Druillet, noted that wives of comic book artists are all strong women. While the artist simply wants to draw, they’re the ones, who are interested in percentages and the financial side. He believed that they had to be, as comic artists are all really children, who need a mother to protect them.

The film’s talking heads comprise a veritable gallery of some of the leading figures in American and French comics, including Smilin’ Stan Lee, the founder of Marvel, Jamie Lee, the artist on Marvel’s X-Men, Mike Mignola, the creator of Hellboy, Jodorowsky, Druillet and Moebius himself. In contrast to his bizarre heroes and galaxy-spanning quests, Moebius himself comes across as a quiet, affable man, though one of speakers said that they would be afraid of Moebius the man. The documentary gives a fascinating insight into the life and career of one of the great figures of Science Fiction comics. R.I.P., big man.

Warning: Metal Hurlant was one of the very first adult comics, and inspired similar magazines in America and Britain, such as Epic Illustrated and Warrior, in which Alan Moore’s V for Vendetta first appeared. These comics explored issues around sex, and so a few of the drawings contain sex and nudity.

The movie can also be seen on Youtube at http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=jNas99oEXBU.

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Nixon’s Political Heirs: Convicted Tory Peer Now Campaigns for Prison Reform

September 30, 2013

I just heard this little bit on the One Show, and it seemed a very telling sign of the post-Nixon state of British and American politics. There’s a bit in the film Whoops Apocalypse where the first female president of the USA goes in search of her predecessor to ask his advice on the current international crisis. The film shows the presidential limousine going up to a grand mansion. It then passes it, to stop at a group of convicts working on the road nearby. ‘Hi, Mr President’, the President calls from her car, ‘how’s life?’. ‘Still doing it’, replies one of the convicts. Nixon’s impeachment clearly influenced Douglas Adams’ when he was writing The Hitch-Hikers Guide to the Galaxy (still better selling than Celestial Homecare Almanac). In it, Zaphod Beeblebrox, the extremely laid-back and highly weird President of the Galaxy has spent one of his two presidential terms in jail for fraud. In the TV series, there was an advert for one of Beeblebrox’s products, running ‘Vogon Firelighters Never Go Out’. Now here’s another case of reality following art.

Ben Miller was on the One Show to talk about his latest play, The Duck House. It’s based on the MPs’ expenses scandal of a few years ago. It’s hero is an MP, who flips his houses so that he can claim expenses, and employs his wife as his secretary and his son as his researcher so that he claim for them as well. The One Show then produced a few cases of what some of the real MPs got up to. This included a Labour MP, who fraudulently claimed £30,000 worth of expenses, and was jailed, and a Tory Peer, who was also imprisoned for falsely claiming £14,000. The former Labour MP has now disappeared from view, but the Tory Peer is now campaigning for prisoners’ rights and prison reform. Well, there’s nothing like personal experience. Clearly this has stopped one Tory claiming that jails are too soft on criminals.

It also shows just how far political corruption and jailing of MPs is now almost commonplace, after Jeffrey Archer, Jonathan Aitken and the Hamiltons, not to mention the Libdem couple, have been sent down. ‘How’s life, Mr President?’ ‘Still doing it’ seems to sum exactly this state of affairs. Unfortunately, none of those jailed have been Blair or Cameron, at least, just yet.

From 1999: Empower America Suitably Honours Rupert Murdoch’s Services to American Culture

September 30, 2013

With Murdoch’s News International still in the headlines over the phone-tapping scandal, this item from Private Eye fourteen years ago seems a particularly appropriate comment on the Dirty Digger’s contribution to artistic standards worldwide. In their edition from the 1st October, 1999, the Eye reported that Australia’s ‘minister for public enlightenment’ had been awarded a prize for his achievements by a campaigning Right-wing group over the other side of the Pond. The article read

‘When Rupert Murdoch was awarded the Humanitarian of the Year award by an obscure American body two years ago, this well-deserved tribute received copious coverage in his newspapers.

Strangely there has been no mention of his latest triumph: being “dishonoured” by right-wing media lobbying group Empower America.

Even before Murdoch’s 20th Century Fox releases Brad Pitt’s sick new film Fight Club, Rupert has scored a double, picking up two awards. He wins the third annual Silver Sewer Award for his “outrageous contribution to the degradation and coarsening of our culture and unswerving dedication to the pursuit of profit above principle.” And he also picks up a “Lifetime Achievement Award” for his “personal role in the corrosion of American values.’

Now I actually like Fight Club, and I do think it made an excellent point about the existentialist despair, lack of direction and emasculation some men felt in consumerist modern American society. But it definitely ain’t family viewing.

As for Empower America and their Silver Sewer Award to Dirty Rupe, all I can do is say what the great wit and philosopher, Voltaire, would probably have said in these circumstances. ‘I may not agree with your political views, but I will defend to the death your right to stick it to this horrible old media tycoon’.

Staring into the Abyss: The Return of the Colonels to Greece?

September 30, 2013

Pride’s Purge has posted this disturbing piece, Far-Right Coup in Greece in the Offing?, on an ultimatum delivered to the Greek civilian government by the country’s Reservist Special Forces demanding the dissolution of the current government, the nationalisation of German-owned businesses and the expulsion of immigrants. The Purge’s article begins:

‘(Not satire – it’s the result of pointless austerity to pay back non-existent debts to reckless bankers)

A very worrying announcement has just been made by the Greek army Special Forces Reserve Union in Greece after increasing violence between neo-fascist Golden Dawn supporters and the government.

A bulletin was posted on the SFRU website yesterday which included a demand for the immediate resignation of the democratically elected Greek government, the seizure of German owned business and repatriation of immigrants.’

He then gives a rough translation of the Reservists’ demands.

The article can be read at http://tompride.co.uk/far-right-coup-in-greece-in-the-offing.

Now this is extremely worrying, and should put everyone involved in left-wing politics in Europe on the alert. It looks like the army, or at least a section of it, once again wants to take power in Greece, just as it did in the 1970s. Their seizure of power was the result of a deliberate ‘strategy of tension’ planned and executed by Fascist groups and parties in collaboration with sympathetic extreme Right-wing elements in the state. One of the chief agents in this was an Italian neo-Fascist called Della Chiaei, who has to be one of the most vile characters ever to stalk the Post-War political fringe. Della Chiaei hated the post-War, bourgeois democratic Italian republic. He later said of himself that ‘others coloured their nausea with red. I coloured mine black’, meaning that like the extreme Left, he was sickened by modern Italy, but turned to Fascism rather than revolutionary socialism. Fascist ‘strategy of tension’ consisted in promoting political break down and establishing a state of emergency by infiltrating radical Left-wing groups and directing them towards terrorism. The resulting chaos and panic provides the Fascist sympathisers in the state with the opportunity of declaring a state of emergency, seizing political power and establishing a Fascist dictatorship with the consequent dismantling of any human rights or democratic political institutions. Della Chiaei began his career infiltrating a Bakuninite anarchist group, and encouraging them to engage in a bombing campaign. When his campaign of ultra-Right terrorism failed to result in a Fascist coup in Italy, he went off to do the same in Greece. The result was the military coup and the notorious ‘rule of the Colonels’. According to Purge’s article, the Reservists state that they are demanding these policies as a result of their battles with the Fascist Golden Dawn. Although the army’s opponents in this case are Neo-Fascists, rather than the extreme Left, it still seems very much to me that a similar ‘strategy of tension’ is being enacted there.

And if it happens in Greece, it will start to happen elsewhere as well. Despite Mussolini’s initial statement, history has proved that Fascism is very much for export. Della Chiaei went all the way round the world, including to South America, working for extreme Right-wing dictatorships. I was talking about the current European political situation with a friend of mine a few weeks ago, and he was worried that were seeing the end of the democracy in Europe. Right-wing parties, and anti-immigrant and anti-Semitic organisations are on the rise all over Europe, from Jobbik in Hungary and the Front National in France. Some of this is simply a reaction to mass, extra-European immigration, particularly from the Islamic world. It is also a reaction to the failure of Neo-Liberalism to provide jobs and opportunities for the poorest in society. Capitalism appears to have failed, Communism was discredited when the Soviet Union collapsed. Many of the European Socialist parties have taken over Neo-Liberal policies to a greater or lesser extent. The Financial Times reported in its magazine right at the beginning of the Millenium in 2000 that many Germans were disillusioned with the Socialist SPD in Germany following Gerhard Schroder’s cuts in benefits. The result is that for some disaffected Europeans, the extreme Right becomes a credible political alternative, and a channel for their resentment at a global economic order that has no time for them.

At the moment, with the exception of the Front National and Hungary’s Jobbik and, to a lesser extent, Fidesz parties, the explicitly Fascist parties in Europe are miniscule. The actual long-term membership of the BNP in Britain is minute: about 200 people. Most of its recruits leave after about 2 years, as by and large they have no interest in Fascist ideology. They join it mostly because from an hostility to non-White immigration. The problem is, the Nazis were also a fringe policy until the financial crash of 1929. In an interview on the BBC Alan Moore, the writer of the V for Vendetta graphic novel, said that he was worried about the current government. This wasn’t because the Coalition were Fascists, but because the current austerity programme mirrored Weimar Germany. While I disagree with many of Moore’s views, here he is absolutely right. The news of a possible coup in Greece is extremely worrying. We urgently need to guard against its emergence there, and in the rest of Europe.

Membership figures prove Tories really are a minority party and neo-liberalism has failed

September 30, 2013

Mike here provides the statistics to show just how unpopular David Cameron’s leadership has been amongst grass roots Tories. Although Tory membership has not fallen below 100,000, as has been claimed, it is no longer the mass political party that once boasted a quarter of a million members. This is almost entirely due to modern politicians preference for obtaining funding from rich donors, rather than party membership fees and subscriptions. There was a piece in Lobster a little while ago that discussed this issue, and which cited America has an example of the state of extreme political apathy and indifference that resulted from it. As the leaders of the political parties turn to wealthy donors and big business to finance their campaigns, so their grass roots membership of ordinary citizens has collapsed. In many states, there are only one or two party activists. If you consider that many American states are larger in land area than Britain, this shows the extent to which the average American has been disenfranchised from the party political process. The same thing is occurring here. With the decline of Tory party’s mass membership goes the legacy of Disraeli’s ‘One Nation’ Conservatism. Historians have remarked that Disraeli’s achievement lay not in developing or advancing Tory ideology, but by establishing it as a modern, mass political party with a solid working-class base through founding Conservative clubs and societies, like the Primrose League. One of the ways he drew the working-class into the party was through setting up football clubs. This achievement is being swept away as Cameron alienates the Tories’ working class ‘angels in marble’. And I don’t believe for a single minute Cameron really cares. Cameron, Osborne, Iain Duncan Smith and their coterie are all public school boys from an elite, aristocratic background. What comes across most powerfully about them is their sheer lack of concern or any interest in the working or lower middle classes, except in so far as these groups provide the labour and services, which support their grandiose ambitions and lifestyle. Cameron and Clegg appear to look for their political inspiration not to the late 19th century development of the modern party system, but to the 18th and early 19th century. This was the age when the franchise was limited to a miniscule membership and the Tory party represented the interests of the aristocracy and the Anglican church. They seem far more impressed by the nature of political parties in the 18th century, when they acted as patronage groups, than their 20th century character as mass societies, which represented the wider political views and aspirations of the electorate, and where the political nations comprised every adult citizen, rather than just the upper classes. I’ve compared the Tories several times with the Nazi party. Cameron’s disinterest in establishing a mass, working class membership is another point of similarity between them. In both Fascist Italy and Nazi Germany the Fascists saw themselves as an elite governing group. They therefore expressly limited formal membership of the Fascist and Nazi party to 100,000 members. To control effectively all aspects of society in the ‘total state’ to which Fascism aimed, the Fascists and Nazis established a network of mass political organisations, clubs and societies, so that, in the words of adult Hitler, the German citizen could never be alone, and the party should even extend into the local whist club. Cameron and Clegg have rejected this form of totalitarian mass control, while taking over the Fascists’ elitism and contempt for the masses.

Vox Political

The Conservative Party has released details of its membership, after it was claimed that people were leaving the party in droves.

It had been suggested that membership had dropped below 100,000 and, while the figure quoted is in fact 134,000, it is still pathetically low for a party that claims to speak for a nation of 60 million.

Worse than that, it seems membership has halved under the leadership of David Cameron; in 2005, 253,600 members voted in the leadership contest between him and David Davis.

The party itself claims 174,000 members – but this includes ‘friends, non-member donors and others’ in the numbers. In other words, people who are not members of the Conservative Party – and that figure is another dumb Tory lie.

Let’s hope this puts to rest once and for all any argument against Vox Political‘s long-held position that the Conservative Party is an…

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Charles Dickens on the Brutality and Rapacity of the Tories

September 29, 2013

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Charles Dickens is one of the great titans of modern English literature. His works have been prized, celebrated and imitated since the publication of The Pickwick Papers . The book’s appearance prompted a horde of copies lower down the press hierarchy in the penny journals. The copyright laws were much less rigorous then, and so these, lesser novels all had titles similar, but not identical to those of Dickens himself. His book, Sketches by Boz, was taken and copied by one of the 19th century popular journalists, as ‘Sketchbook by’, followed by a name very similar to Dickens’ ‘Boz’. His books have been adapted into stage plays, films and musicals, most famously A Christmas Carol, which has twice been filmed as a cartoon, and Oliver Twist, which became Lionel Bart’s musical, Oliver! His novels have also been frequently adapted for television. In the 1970s, for example, many of the Beeb’s period costume dramas broadcast on Sunday evening were adaptations of Dickens. I particularly remember Nicholas Nickleby and David Copperfield.

Despite his deserved popularity and immense respect, I suspect Dickens’ status as one of the Great Men of English Literature has probably done much to put people off him. People have a tendency to distrust automatically anything that becomes official, established art. One way to guarantee that people refuse to read a particular willingly is to put it on the school syllabus. Moreover, modern audiences are also likely to be left alienated by some of the characteristics of much 19th century writing, such as verbosity and their sentimentality. Boys in particular are likely to be put off him because of his novels’ period character, which associates them with the great 19th century lady novelists Jane Austen and the Brontes. In Superman II, for example, Clarke Kent’s identity as a wimpish square is firmly established, when Superman’s alter ego announces he wasn’t around to cover one incident as he was at home that evening reading Dickens. One suspects that its the kind of literature that such narrow-minded upholders of bourgeois respectability as Mary Whitehouse liked. For those younger readers suspicious of Dickens, I strongly recommend his short story, The Railwayman. It’s one of the classic British ghost stories, and completely amazed me when I read it as a teenager with its complete absence of all the dullness, verbosity and sentimentality I’d expected to come across in his works. Today one of Dickens’ great champions is the thesp Simon Cowell, who has toured in a one man play about the great writer and his life, and even appeared as his hero in a episode of Dr. Who, with Christopher Ecclestone playing the Time Lord. The video below comes from the Guardian, and is on Youtube. In it, Simon Callow takes the viewer around Dickens’ London.

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Dickens is partly celebrated for his work defending the poor and describing the hardship and poverty of the lives of ordinary people in 19th century Britain. Indeed, his surname has become a byword for conditions of grinding poverty and squalor in the word ‘Dickensian’. Dickens himself consciously wrote some of his novels both as works of social criticism, but also actively to improve the conditions of the poor. Horrified at the respectable middle classes’ indifference to the suffering of the labouring poor, he wrote A Christmas Carol. This transformed Christmas from a relatively minor holy day into the massive festival that it is today. As a socially engaged writer, Dickens could and did write bitter pieces sharply attacking the Conservatives. In 1841 the Liberal magazine, The Examiner, published his ballad, The Fine Old English Gentleman: New Version. It was a parody of a traditional ballad celebrating the virtues of the gentry. The hero of the traditional ballad shared his good fortune with his social inferiors, in the line ‘while he feasted all the great, he never forgot the small’.

Dickens wrote his satirical versions after the reforming Whigs had lost office and been replaced by Peel’s Conservatives, and the country was in the middle of a depression. The poem attacks the Tories for their corruption, brutal and oppressive laws, and their savage oppression of the poor to enrich themselves and the other members of the aristocracy. Cheekily, Dickens states as a direction for the poem’s performance that it should be said or sung at all Conservative dinners. It shows that what could be described as agit-prop literature long preceded the Communist party. The blackly humorous suggestion of performance venue and the bitter satire of the poem itself very much reminds me of the same mixture of humour and bitter social criticism in much contemporary radical, popular protests following 1960’s Situationism. This leads to the question of whether Dickens, if he were alive today, would be marching with the demonstrators, neatly attired in top hat and tail coat, and wearing a Guy Fawkes mask. Here’s the poem:

‘I’ll sing you a new ballad, and I’ll warrant it first rate,
Of the days of that old gentleman who had that old estate;
When they spent the public money at a bountiful old rate
On ev’ry mistress, pimp and scamp, at ev’ry noble gate,
In the fine old English Tory times;
Soon may they come again!

The good old laws were garnished well with gibbets, whips, and
chains,
With fine old English penalties, and fine old English pains,
With rebel heads, and seas of blood once in hot in rebel veins;
For all these things were requisite to guard the rich old gains
Of the fine old English Tory timnes;
Soon may the come again!

The brave old code, like Argus, had a hundred watchful eyes,
And ev’ry English peasant had his good old English spies,
To tempt his starving discontent with fine old English lies,
Then call the good old Yeomany to stop his peevish cries,
In the fine old English Tory times;
Soon may they come again!

The good old times for cutting throats that cried out in their need,
The good old times for hunting men who held their fathers’ creed.
The good old times when William Pitt, as all good men agreed,
Came down direct from Paradise at more than railroad speed …
Oh the fine old English Tory times;
When will they come again!

In those rare days, the press was seldom known to snarl or bark,
But sweetly sang of men in pow’r, like any tuneful lark;
Grave judges, too, to all their evil deeds were in the dark;
And not a man in twenty score knew how to make his mark.
Oh the fine old English Tory times;
Soon may they come again!

Those were the days for taxes, and for war’s infernal din;
For scarcity of bread, that fine old dowagers might win;
For shutting men of letters up, through iron bars to grin,
because they didn’t think the Prince was altogether thin,
In the fine old English Tory times;
Soon may they come again!

But Tolerance, though slow in flight, is strong-wing’d in the main;
That night must come on these fine days, in course of time was
plain;
The pure old spirit struggled, but its struggles were in vain;
A nation’s grip was on it, and it died in choking pain,
With the fine old English Tory days,
All of the olden time.

The bright old day now dawns again; the cry runs through the
land,
In England there shall be deear breat – in Ireland, sword and brand;
And poverty, and ignorance, shall swell the rich and grand,
So, raly round the rulers with the gentle iron hand,
Of the fine old English ~Tory days; Hail to the coming time!

Great literature transcends the ages, and speaks eternal truths about human nature, politics and society. What is shocking reading this is just how much is true today. The line about the silence of the press in the face of horrific oppression and abuse just about sums up much of the modern press under Murdoch, Dacre, the Barclay twins and the rest.

Source
Colin Firth and Anthony Arnove with David Horspool, The People Speak: Democracy Is Not A Spectator Sport (Edinburgh: Canongate 2013).

Alan Moore on ‘V for Vendetta’

September 28, 2013

Mike over on Vox Political is, if you hadn’t already guessed, a long term comics fan. He’s blogged several times on the very disturbing parallels between the current financial crisis and the authoritarian, exploitative Coalition government, and the Fascist Britain portrayed in his graphic novel, V for Vendetta. I found the video below on Youtube at http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=QX7ehbE1vc0. It was originally broadcast on either BBC 3 or 4 in their documentary series, Comics Britannia. Moore here talks about how it came out of his activities with Rock against Racism, and states that like a lot of Science Fiction it was really about what is happening now, not the future. He makes very plain his anarchism and antipathy to leaders. He also says that he wanted to explore the morality of violence and states that he did not want to write it so that because he, Moore, was an Anarchist, it was therefore all right for the Anarchist hero to use violence.

He also wanted to portray the Fascists in the novel as ordinary people, some of whom may even have been likable. The Nazis, he points out, were not monsters from space and did not suddenly arrive from the pit of hell. This is, unfortunately, entirely accurate. Hannah Arendt in her description of the trial of Adolf Eichmann talked about the ‘banality of evil’. Primo Levi, the noted Italian author and holocaust survivor, said of the concentration camp guards that they were no different from the rest of humanity. In his words, ‘they had our faces’. Moore points out that the Nazis included the butchers, teachers and street-sweepers, many whom simply went along with what was going on, or they believed in the ideology. It’s a point which needs to be made. There’s a lot of complete rubbish written about Nazi Germany. Since the book The Morning of the Magicians appeared in the 1960s there has been a slew of books portraying Hitler as a literally demonic force, an evil black magician in touch with malign occult entities. He wasn’t. The Nazis were a product of the racial, geopolitical and eugenic theories then current in Europe and America at the time. There were brought to power by the financial collapse of 1929, the political disintegration and factionalism of the Weimar Republic, and the fear of global Communism and Soviet totalitarianism, although this last has been disputed by some historians. Hitler had read and taken some of his ideas about evolution from the pamphlets produced by the leaders of bizarre, Neo-pagan groups, like Lanz Von Liebenfels and Guido Von List. Their ultimate influence on Nazism was minimal and they were suppressed under Nazis. Some of their ideas survived in Himmler’s SS. For a proper understanding of this aspect of Nazism, see The Occult Roots of Nazism, by Nicholas Goodrick Clarke (London: I.B. Tauris & Co, 1992).

The most horrific aspect of the Nazis and other totalitarian butchers is that they were not literal demons or crazed alien machine creatures, like Dr. Who’s Daleks, but ordinary people. That needs to be accepted if we really wish to understand the immense evil they did as part of the dark side of the human psyche.

This is Alan Moore, talking about his work on V for Vendetta.

Government Still Trying To Hide Crisis Loan Replacements

September 28, 2013

This is another piece of information that should be known to everyone facing unemployment and the problems of making ends meet on benefit payments. The Void notes that, although Crisis Loans are being phased out, they have been replaced by Short Term Benefit Advances, which are available to those suffering delays in payment for their benefits. He also details how these advances may be claimed and has a link to the guidelines on the Advance issued to Job Centre, Contact Centre and DWP staff published on the website of the Child Poverty Action Group. As for the government not publicising these benefits, that seems in line with the policies of John Major’s government. Under his administration there was little official promotion of various benefits for the unemployed, sick and disabled. This allowed the government not only to save money, but also to claim that the benefits available were so generous, they were underused. I can remember the way various public information films, supposedly promoting various forms of benefit appeared, which stated that there were so many millions in benefit going unclaimed every year, while not actually saying what these benefits were or how they could be claimed. To understand fully what benefits may be available, you really do need to get hold of the guides to the welfare system produced by organisations like the Child Poverty Action Group. I’ve used their handbook myself, and they really are an immensely useful and encyclopaedic resource to the benefits and loan payments available.

the void

The DWP have today released guidance on what’s left of the Social Fund which completely ignores the replacement for Crisis Loans – arguably one of the most vital sources of support for people in an emergency.

Crisis Loans were small sums of money which could be borrowed from the government to cover periods of hardship due to benefit delays or household emergencies.  Often they were used to provide vital support when someone had been a victim of crime, or faced a flood, fire or other personal disaster.

The loans were rarely more than £60 and had an almost 100% repayment rate, meaning the cost to the tax payer was almost zero.  Despite this, they were abolished completely on the 1st April this year in a petty and spiteful move by Iain Duncan Smith which is likely to leave the poorest dependent on both legal and illegal loan sharks.

Claimants in…

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The Work Programme Is Getting Worse Latest Figures Reveal!

September 28, 2013

Beginning with a photo of Royston Vesey’s domineering Job Centre head from The League of Gentlemen, The Void here shows how the DWP’s own statistics has shown that the Work Programme is actually getting worse. The number of people, who have found work through it, is actually lower than those, who have been able to find a job without it. The proportion of disabled or sick people on Employment Support Allowance on the Work Programme, who have got a job is only 4 per cent. The DWP claims that the number of people on Unemployment Benefit, who have got a job through the Work Programme, is gradually increasing, but admit that it actually went down in the last quarter. They claim that 37,000 former unemployed people managed to find a job through the Programme, but admit that 1.14 million had been unemployed for over a year, a period sufficiently long for them to have found a job anyway. As Mr. Void points out, that’s about a million people to whom the Work Programme has made no difference whatsoever. This means that the Work Programme, for all its claims, is a waste of public money. Helping the unemployed find work is not, however, the Programme’s true function. Its real function is to allow the Coalition to cut benefits and maintain a low wage, low-tax economy – but only for the rich – to provide a desperate and demoralised workforce ready to be exploited by the big multinationals now funding the Tories and Libdems. The Work Programme provides a fig leaf for this policy by apparently showing that the government is genuinely concerned and actively helping the unemployed, while maintaining that the policy’s failures are due to the unemployed themselves, not for an inefficient and exploitative system the Tories themselves have erected.

the void

pauline-jobcentreStatistics released by the DWP today show that the performance of the Work Programme – which was already achieving less than doing nothing at all – is steadily getting worse.

By June 2013 a lower percentage of people who had been on the scheme for one full year had found a job which lasted at least 6 months  – known as a sustained job outcome – than in the previous two months.  In April 2013 14% of claimants who had been on the scheme for one year had found sustained jobs, by June this had dropped to 13%.

Following intervention by the UK Statistics Agency, the latest Work Programme figures now focus on the numbers of people finding work after spending one year on the scheme.  This change has been introduced to reflect that the longer someone has been on the two year Work Programme, the more likely they are…

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One Third Of Homeless People Hit By Benefit Sanctions

September 28, 2013

Just when you think the DWP under Iain Duncan Smith really can’t sink any lower, they manage to find ways of making you really sick. The Void has a very strong interest in reporting and commenting on the problems of the homeless. Here he discusses a report by the charity Homeless Link, revealing the immense harm done to the homeless by having their benefits cut or stopped altogether. All this had been done under the pretext of motivating them to get back to work. Now, I am by no means an expert on homelessness, but I should guess that the reasons many of them are homeless are the same reasons they have been unable to find or hold down a job, such as the severe drug, alcohol or mental health problems the report mentions as being exacerbated by the DWP’s stoppage of their benefits. What is particularly disgusting is that some of these have had their benefits stopped through events that were completely beyond their control, and which most people would argue were entirely good reasons why they could not attend their meeting at the Job Centre. The Void mentions one instance in which a man was sanctioned for non-attendance, who was actually in hospital. Another man had his benefits stopped because he took his daughter to hospital instead of going to his interview. The Void also quotes the report to show the demoralising effect this has on homeless people trying to get back off the street, who find themselves knocked back down. One of the items in this report, which I found particularly disturbing was the statement that Hardship Payments were being converted into loans. This effectively means that the homeless person, who is fortunate enough to get one of these discretionary payments, has their benefit cut while they pay it off. Many of the homeless already have problems budgeting. Stoppages and cuts in benefits will only make matters worse. What is needed is better support to help alcoholics, drug addicts and the mentally ill recover, more hostels and truly affordable housing. There’s also a need to tackle the wider societal issues behind homelessness, such as family break-up and child abuse – many of the homeless may be battered wives, or young people fleeing horrifically abusive homes; teenage pregnancy, and excessive and grossly inflated mortgages that people on ordinary incomes may find impossible to pay after their circumstances change, such as through unemployment. The government also needs to tackle the social reasons behind drug and alcohol abuse. Some of it no doubt is down to personal weakness. In other cases, it’s probably caused, at least in part, through the despair created by unemployment, poor working conditions, and the absence of any kind of opportunities for personal development or advancement. Those issues would mean, however, that the government would actually have to spend money, and it would contradict the Neo-Liberal ideology that it’s all down to personal choice and irresponsibility. It’s much easier, and so much more popular with the Sun and Mail-reading voters, to slash benefits and then scream that it’s all the fault of the homeless themselves, exploiting the generosity of those in work.

the void

sanction-sabsA damning report has been published by Homeless Link which reveals that one third of homeless people on unemployment benefits, and just under a fifth of those on the sickness and disability benefit Employment Support Allowance, have had benefits stopped or sanctioned for failing to carry out ‘Work Related Activity’.

According to Homeless Link, who are an umbrella body for homelessness organisations, many of those sanctioned have mental health conditions, learning disabilities or substance use problems.  Young homeless people and non-English speakers also face a higher risk of sanction.

Around one million benefit claims are expected to be sanctioned this year.  Sanctions can now last up to three years and leave people dependent on discretionary Hardship Payments – which are being converted into loans and are not available to everyone – of just £43 a week.  Claimants can be sanctioned for an ever growing list of offences, including missing…

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