Archive for September, 2017

Producer of Radio 4’s ‘Today’ Programme Promises Guest Editor Will Be AI

September 30, 2017

Sarah Sands, the new producer of Radio 4’s Today current affairs programme got into the news this week because of the controversy over her intention to expand the range of topics the programme covers. Sands has plenty of experience in the arts, but little as a political journalist. She’s already expanded the programme so that its coverage includes the arts, science, culture and fashion. The programme’s got 7 million listeners, and there are fears that she’s dumbing the show down. The I quoted John Humphries as complaining that she was filling it with ‘girls’ stuff’, as well as a fashion designer or journalist, who described how, when he interviewed her, it was clear he had no understanding or interest in the subject.

Sands has also said that she intends to line up a series of guest editors for the show, one of which will be an A.I. This was followed by a quote from her where she said that it was certain that Artificial Intelligence would outstrip human intelligence as sure as night follows day, but should humans bow to the superhumans?

Despite repeated assertions by computer scientists that next year, or perhaps the year after, no, wait, by the mid 2020s, or sometime soon at any rate, computers will be more intelligent than humans, I remain unconvinced. They’ve been saying that ever since I was at school in the 1970s and 80s. And even before then. The philosopher Hubert L. Dreyfus wrote a book, What Computers Still Can’t Do: A Critique of Artificial Intelligence, detailing the repeated failures of the attempt to recreate human-level intelligence in machines. One edition of his book was published 20 years ago in the 1990s, but I’ve still got no doubt that nothing much has changed in the intervening years. And looking round Waterstone’s a little while ago I saw a similar book on the shelves, with the title Humans Are Seriously Underrated.

So I really don’t see computers overtaking human journalists any time soon.

And then there’s the question of who this automated editor will be. Somehow I don’t it will be the great, computer-generated vid jockey, who appeared on Channel 4 in the 1980s: M-M-M-Max … Headroom!

Yes, the AI presenter with the big hair, big suits with massive shoulderpads, and an ego to go with it, as well as a fixation with golf and S-S-Severiano Ball-ll-ll-osteros. And also a massive electronic stutter.

Max was one of the biggest things on TV at one point, talking to Terry Wogan, David Letterman, and had his own chat show, whose guests included Boy George and Rutger Hauer.

Here’s a reminder from YouTube what the big guy was like.

This should be the only AI to guest edit, and front, the Today programme.

And yes, I realise it was actually Matt Frewer in rubber mask, suit, and wig, and the only thing that was really computer generated were the patterns behind him. But even so, he had style. And if you can bring back Elvis by hologram, you should be able to do the job for real and generate Max properly on computer this time.

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Boris Johnson, Brexit, and the Lies and NHS Privatisation of Daniel Hannan

September 30, 2017

Mike has put up two pieces today reporting on the antics of Boris Johnson and Daniel Hannan. BoJo has violated ministerial rules in allowing a pro-Brexit, free trade organization, headed by Hannan, to take up residence in the Foreign and Commonwealth Office. The rules, however, state that it is absolutely forbidden to give government or ministerial aid to organisations, which are against government policy. This has resulted in the cabinet secretary, Jeremy Heywood, making a statement that he intends to investigate this breach of the ministerial code. Mike is sanguine about what this will actually mean. He expects that rather than be severely reprimanded, BoJo will be let off with a slap on the wrist.

http://voxpoliticalonline.com/2017/09/30/civil-service-head-will-investigate-alleged-breach-of-ministerial-code-by-boris-johnson/

Knowing how libidinous Boris is, and his complete inability to take ‘No’ for an answer, he’ll probably take it as some kind of come-on.

As for Daniel Hannan, the Tory MEP for Dorset has managed to show his ignorance and complete lack of any understanding for how Brexit will affect ordinary people by comparing leaving Europe to moving house. It’s painful, but better in the long term. This has drawn widespread ridicule, as Mike shows in his blog.

http://voxpoliticalonline.com/2017/09/30/brexit-buffoon-hannan-bombarded-with-ridicule-over-nicer-home-claim/

In fact, Hannan has some very unpleasant right-wing views. He used to have a regular column over at the Telegraph Blogs, where he treated his online readers to his Eurosceptic views. Buddy Hell, the French philosophical feline over at Guy Debord’s Cat, has posted numerous piece attacking his posts. Like many Tories, Hannan has told any number of lies trying to convince people about how wonderful Brexit is, and the massive increase in prosperity that will result if we privatize everything and remove whatever’s left of the welfare state. So frequent is he with these untruths and falsehoods, that the Cat gave him the soubriquet of the ‘lyin’ King’.

And one of the things Hannan is in favour of is the privatization of the NHS. This has been pretty much Tory – and Blairite – policy ever since Thatcher took power, though they’ve kept very quiet about it and gone about it piecemeal, for the reason that if the general public realise what’s going on they’ll never be elected again. But Hannan, like the current Health Secretary, is all in favour of it. Though I expect that, like Jez, if he’s pressed on it he’ll probably talk in public about how much he ‘treasures it’, leaving his real views to be discovered only be people, who have actually managed to read what he’s written about it.

The fact that BoJo has given his ministerial blessing to the Lyin’ King, or as I think of him, Dan, Dan, the Sanitary Man, after one of the characters from Carry On Screaming, also shows what BoJo really thinks of the health service, as well as his support for Brexit and free trade.

Neither of them should be anywhere near government. Boris desperately wants to be PM, but would be an utter disaster for this country of the same magnitude as Trump.

The Rise of Fascism and the Failure of Neoliberal Capitalism

September 30, 2017

Today Mike put up a very good piece attacking Theresa May’s speech praising capitalism as the greatest force in human history for raising people out of poverty. In fact, as Mike shows, the type of neoliberal crony capitalism May is really in favour of, has done nothing but reduce people to poverty. The force that raised living standards in Britain and gave British people the highest standard of living that they enjoyed in 1977 was the mixed economy of democratic socialism and the welfare state introduced after the War, and which the Tories have been trying to destroy ever since the rise of Thatcher.

This should come as no surprise. The Korean economist, Ha=Joon Chang, makes pretty much the same case in his book, 23 Things They Don’t Tell You About Capitalism. Chang is also an admirer of capitalism, but his book is a sustained attack on Thatcherite neoliberalism. He shows that every country in the world has begun its rise to economic prosperity through protectionism, and that the countries with the most flexible labour markets and stable, prosperous industries are those with a mixed economy of socialized and private industries and a welfare state. And this includes those countries, where the industries may not be nationalized, but the workers have a share in the management, such as in Germany and Austria.

And the decline of socialism and communism in Europe has had terrible consequences. On Tuesday Counterpunch published a lengthy article by Gregory Barrett commenting on the rise on votes for the Nazi Alternative fuer Deutschland, The German Election: The West’s Nervous Breakdown Continues. He makes the point that this was assisted by the massive poverty and disillusionment caused by the failure of western capitalism to improve the lives of people in eastern Europe. He writes

As Stephen Gowans writes in his recent essay “We Lived Better Then”:

‘Of course, none of the great promises of the counterrevolution were kept. While at the time the demise of socialism in the Soviet Union and Eastern Europe was proclaimed as a great victory for humanity, not least by leftist intellectuals in the United States, two decades later there’s little to celebrate. The dismantling of socialism has, in a word, been a catastrophe, a great swindle that has not only delivered none of what it promised, but has wreaked irreparable harm, not only in the former socialist countries, but throughout the Western world, as well. Countless millions have been plunged deep into poverty, imperialism has been given a free hand, and wages and benefits in the West have bowed under the pressure of intensified competition for jobs and industry unleashed by a flood of jobless from the former socialist countries, where joblessness once, rightly, was considered an obscenity. Numberless voices in Russia, Romania, East Germany and elsewhere lament what has been stolen from them — and from humanity as a whole: “We lived better under communism. We had jobs. We had security.” And with the threat of jobs migrating to low-wage, high unemployment countries of Eastern Europe, workers in Western Europe have been forced to accept a longer working day, lower pay, and degraded benefits. Today, they fight a desperate rearguard action, where the victories are few, the defeats many. They too lived better — once.’

While the often racist and xenophobic manner in which East Germans and Eastern Europeans express their anger at what they see as an influx of foreigners who go to the front of the line for Western largesse — while the 30-year betrayal of the promises and misleading propaganda directed at themselves from 1989 to 1991 continues, although unacknowledged — is ugly and despicable, it is not hard to understand in its historical context. Somehow the assurances of the good life for all, thanks to the benevolent “invisible hand of the free market”, and the forecasts of blooming landscapes of prosperity across Eastern Europe, have failed to materialize. After more than a quarter of a century, prosperous areas exist but are exceedingly rare. In East Germany many small towns and villages are dying, and the population is shrinking as many follow the jobs westward, since few major employers have chosen to come eastward to them. Unemployment is much higher than in West Germany, and the cultural divisions between the citizens of the old DDR and West Germans have proven very stubborn and difficult to overcome. But the damage has not been confined to those in the formerly socialist countries. As Stephen Gowans points out:

‘But that’s only part of the story. For others, for investors and corporations, who’ve found new markets and opportunities for profitable investment, and can reap the benefits of the lower labor costs that attend intensified competition for jobs, the overthrow of socialism has, indeed, been something to celebrate. Equally, it has been welcomed by the landowning and industrial elite of the pre-socialist regimes whose estates and industrial concerns have been recovered and privatized. But they’re a minority. Why should the rest of us celebrate our own mugging?

This poverty hasn’t been confined to eastern Europe. It’s led to us in the west being forced to work harder, for less pay, and fewer welfare benefits. Otherwise capital simply outsources our jobs to one of the eastern European nations.

He then examines the way Merkel and the Christian Democrats, and the other right-wing parties have persuaded their workers to vote for policies which only benefit the rich industrialists. This is by stressing ‘innere sicherheit’, ‘internal security’, and the threat to it posed by crime and immigrants. Just like the Tories, Kippers and other parties of the right over here. She also took credit for many of the welfare reforms initiated by the SDP, the German equivalent of our Labour party. This has led to the SDP being reduced to only 20 per cent of the vote, and they have said that they are no longer available as coalition partners. Barrett is extremely pessimistic, stating it is probably too late, with the exception of Britain, to save Europe’s Social Democratic heritage. Germany now joins the Netherlands as a country, whose political landscape is a mosaic of competing parties. A landscape in which one element is the extreme right, who believe she betrayed Germany by allowing an influx of migrants.

See: https://www.counterpunch.org/2017/09/26/the-german-election-the-wests-nervous-breakdown-continues/

There isn’t much to add to this, except that the SPD could probably save themselves by scrapping the heritage of Gerhard Schroeder and moving leftwards, as Labour has over here. Schroeder was the German equivalent of Tony Blair, and just as Blair tried to remake Labour as a party of the neoliberal right, so did Schroeder try to do something similar with the German Social Democrats.

As for Merkel, I think her mistake was announcing that one million immigrants from Syria and the Middle East could settle in Germany. She meant well, and I think it was a genuinely liberal, generous gesture intended to show how non-Nazi and welcoming modern Germany was. But she failed to take into account some of the simmering racial tensions in Germany. The German birthrate is falling, so that when I was at school in the 1980s, there were headlines in the Frankfurter Allgemeine, Germany’s paper of record, stating that there would be 30 million fewer Germans by the year 2000. Of course, this was before reunification boosted the country’s total population. The Germans have also been worried about Turkish Germans creating a parallel society, in which they needn’t speak German, because they’re surrounded by Turkish businesses and Turkish language broadcasters. And some German Turkish writers have also written about how the authorities in their communities placed pressure on the young in their community not to become friends or associate with ethnic Germans, or to see themselves as Germans, but to remain Turks and isolate themselves from mainstream society.

Of course Germany isn’t the only country facing such issues. Our government has similarly expressed fears about the immigrant, and particularly Muslim communities over here, as have the French across le Manche.

Even so, I think some of the xenophobia that led to the increased voting for the AfD could have been avoided, if Germany had not suffered the 200-odd spate of rapes committed by Syrian or North African immigrants the other Christmas. I’ve no doubt whatsoever that most rapists in Germany are ethnic Germans, just as the majority of child molesters over here are White Brits, and not Pakistanis or other Muslim Asians. But just as resentment over the rapes and abuse committed by the Asian paedophiles in Rotherham, and the failure of the local authorities to act against it, aided UKIP, so did the rape attacks aid the far right in Germany.

And also, it should be said, the rest of the world. They were widely reported to the point where a new word, ‘rapefugee’, was coined by the Islamophobic right.

Across Europe and America, immigrants and decent, ordinary people are facing the threat of renewed Fascism. It will need determined action by anti-Fascists to defeat it and support genuine anti-racist, tolerant and pluralistic societies. At the same time, we also need to recognize the role of neoliberalism in creating the poverty and insecurity, which leads to so many traditional White Europeans fearing for their future, and the way Conservatives and Fascists across Europe and America are exploiting this to keep themselves in power by misdirecting these fears onto immigrants, Blacks, Muslims, Roma and Jews.

Telesur English on the Similarities between Trump’s Action on Venezuela and the 1953 Coup in Iranian

September 30, 2017

This is another very ominous video from Telesur English. It’s short – about three minutes long – but it succeeds in showing the very clear parallels between the Anglo-American coup against Iran’s democratically elected prime minister, Mohammed Mossadegh, and Trump’s campaign against Chavez and now Maduro. In 1953 Mossadegh nationalized the Iranian oil industry, which had previously been owned by British industrialists as Anglo-Persian Oil. He wanted to use the profits from the industry to fund a variety of social and welfare programmes. We and the Americans responded by slapping on sanctions. This resulted in massive public arrest. The video also mentions sponsored assassination attempts, but this could refer to the situation now in Venezuela. The Iranian people naturally blamed the ensuing poverty on Mossadegh, and there was widespread discontent and very public displays of dissatisfaction. Mossadegh responded by suspending the constitution. This seemed to confirm that he was a dictator, reinforced by British and American propaganda. Finally, a mob paid by us and the Americans in dollars overthrew him, and he was confined to house arrest, where he died. And so began the gradual process by which the Shah gradually took power as the country’s absolute ruler.

In Venezuela the country’s oil industry was nationalized in 1976. it does, however, still possess the world’s largest oil reserves. Under Hugo Chavez, the profits from the oil industry were, like Mossadegh intended in Iran, to be used to fund a series of social programmes. America responded by imposing economic sanctions. This has resulted in widespread discontent and rioting. So Maduro has attempted to rewrite the constitution. Just as Mossadegh suspended his. And so he’s been denounced as a dictator, and Trump is now stating that he has ‘not ruled out a military option’.

The programme therefore asks if the same tactics are being used on Venezuela as they were in Iran.

I think the answer’s an unqualified ‘Yes’. America has always responded aggressively to any vaguely left-wing popular politics in South America, overthrowing left-wing or politically liberal regimes when they threaten American political or corporate interests. The most notorious examples were the 1973 coup against Salvador Allende in Chile and the 1958 coup against Jacobo Arbenz in Guatemala. But they also overthrew the prime minister with us in Guyana, because he also tried to enact liberal reforms for his people. And then there was Reagan in the 1980s supporting the Fascist death squads in El Salvador and Nicaragua.

It ain’t just Trump, of course. Killary did the same, backing a Fascist military coup in Honduras, because the previous government was enacting a series of reforms giving free education and cheap electricity to the peasants and workers, and trying to protect the land and rights of the indigenous peoples.

In fact, it’s more or less been that way since the promulgation of the Monroe Doctrine in the 19th century. America’s aggressive wars and seizure of territory from its Hispanic neighbours have naturally been bitterly resented, and resulted in the creation of the ideology of Arielismo. Taking its name from Shakespeare’s Tempest, this sees the people of Latin America as the indigenous victims of US colonialism. America has never been short of comprador elites willing to collaborate with them in the oppression and exploitation of their own peoples, but the resentment is still there.

As for us, Lobster in the 1990s published a scholarly article arguing that it was we British, not the Americans, who took the leading role in the Iranian coup. And it also reflects very badly on Winston Churchill. It was his government which sponsored it, just as we had seized the Iranian oil industry during the Second World War to prevent it falling into the hands of the Germans.

RTUK on the True Scale of Hidden and Rural Homelessness in the UK

September 30, 2017

This is another excellent piece from RTUK. And it shows why we’re better off looking at alternative sources of news on the Net than relying on flagrantly biased BBC. Even when those alternative sources are owned by Putin’s Russia.

This report discusses the true scale of hidden and rural homelessness in the UK, which is much bigger than previously considered. Among the chilling statistics, it reports that 1 in 10 people experience homelessness every year, and that homelessness has increased 50 per cent since the Tories took power in 2010. In London, 12,500 people are forced to sleep on sofas or the Tube every night. Nationally, 70,000 people were sofa surfing, 20,000 people sleep in unsuitable accommodation, 12,500 living in squats, 9,000 living in tents. A spokesman for Centrepoint states that the statistics are patchy and unclear, and that homelessness is often unreported by the general public, because they don’t know the homeless people they see sleeping rough. This prevents it from gaining the attention it needs to attract proper political action.

Not all towns deal with the problem in the same way. While most councils try to get the homeless into a hostel or similar, Carlisle is trying to solve the problem by giving the homeless tents, toiletries and other things they need, a policy which is praised by one homeless man, a Mr. Dubka, interviewed on the programme. The programme does report the government’s response, which says that it is committed to tackling homelessness and has devoted £550 million to this goal by 2020. The government is also about to pass the Homelessness Reduction Bill intended to force council to act in cases where people are about to become homeless.

But councils are still finding it difficult to cope, as budgets have been slashed by 70 per cent from 2014, councils are forced to concentrate on the urban centres, a point supported by a spokesman for another charity, Porchlight. The programme also cites statistics collected by Herriott Watts University. It concludes that on the one hand, it’s good that the figures for rural homelessness are finally being included and pressure is being placed on the government to include them in its Homelessness Reduction Act, but on the other funding is still being reduced.

I am not surprised that there are a high number of ‘hidden homeless’ in London and around the country. A little while ago I found a study of homelessness in New York, written by an American social scientist and based on his doctoral research in the 1980s and 1990s, when it was briefly a major issue in American politics. It’s actually more difficult to define the scale of the homelessness problem in New York, because many of the homeless aren’t living on the streets. They are sleeping on friends’ couches, or in basements or closets or other areas given to them to sleep in by kindly janitors. And although the problem is much bigger in the 21st century than it was twenty or so years ago, it has practically disappeared as a political issue.

Many of those homeless in New York are graduates. I wonder how many are also people with university degrees in this country, who can’t find accommodation in the cities in which they moved to attend uni, because of a shortage of affordable housing.

The report also makes another excellent point, though one by tacit demonstration rather than open statement. The government has said that it’s devoting £550 million to the problem by 2020. This looks impressive, but as the programme shows, this is actually a cut of 70 per cent. It shows why you should be always very careful about accepting the government’s stats when they are given in isolation without corresponding data to compare it with.

Also, whatever they say, this government will do the barest minimum to tackle homelessness. Due to Tory policies, the wider British economy depends on house prices remaining high. And they can only remain high if there’s a demand for them.

Anti-Fascist Pop: If You Tolerate This, Your Children Will Be Next

September 30, 2017

I just found this on YouTube. It’s the Manic Street Preacher’s song, If You Tolerate This, Your Children Will Be Next. I think the Manics always were a very political band, and the song takes its name from one of the left-wing slogans of the Spanish Civil War. It was put on posters showing an atrocity committed by Franco’s Fascists, with the legend ‘If you tolerate this, your children will be next.’

It’s even more relevant today as when the Manics first wrote it, with the rise of the Alt Right and Libertarian Fascism under Trump, the victories of the Fascist parties in eastern Europe and the rise of the AfD in Germany.

And experience has repeatedly shown that what the extreme right and racists do to minorities, like Blacks, Jews, Muslims or whoever, they then feel confident enough to do it to the rest of mainstream society.

A few weeks ago The Young Turks reported how the cops arrested an American nurse, because she rightly refused to hand over medical information on suspect the hospital was treating. The cop’s request was actually illegal under American law. Even so, they arrested her for refusing their command. The Turks made the point that such Fascist policing has previously been confined to Blacks, but now it was being used against the White middle class.

Just as the Libertarians and Republicans have used images of Black poverty, crime and ‘welfare dependency’ to get White Americans to support them and their campaign to cut the same welfare services that poor Whites depend on.

Just like the Tories, Lib Dems and Blairites have been doing over here.

If we tolerate this, our children will be next.

Sam Seder’s Majority Report on the Koch Brothers and Libertarian Holocaust Denial

September 30, 2017

More Nazis and Holocaust deniers again, I’m afraid. But this is very relevant, as it compliments the other information I’ve found showing the profound links between Libertarianism and neo-Nazism.

In this half-hour segment from The Majority Report, Seder’s producer and occasional presenter, Michael Brooks, talks to Mark Ames, the senior editor of Pando Daily, about how he found out that the Koch Brother’s magazine, Reason, published pro-Apartheid and Holocaust Denial pieces in the 1970s. The Koch brothers are oil billionaires. They’re probably America’s richest men, with a net worth of $100 billion. And they’ve been involved in rightwing politics since the 1960s/70s. They were two of the founders of the Libertarian party in the 1970s, which campaigns for the absolute dismantlement of whatever remains of the American welfare state, massive privatization and the paring down of the federal government to the barest minimum. All in the interests of free trade, capitalism and property.

Ames states that he and his colleague, Yashler, started researching the Kochs after they were kicked out of Russia. They had been active there exposing the oligarchs and their murky involvement and connections to politics. This went too far for Putin and the Russian authorities, and they were expelled. Back in the Land of the Free, Ames and Yashler became interested in the Kochs and their political activities because they looked very much like same type of phenomenon: just another pair of oligarchs, meddling and perverting politics. But they found out that the pair were more seriously committed than most oligarchs.

They also found references to Koch’s having published Holocaust denial literature in the Libertarian party’s magazine, Reason. The Libertarians had tried to remove all records of it, and they had trouble hunting it down, but eventually they found it. It was from 1976, when the magazine published an entire edition devoted to denying the Holocaust. Ames mentions the names of some of the people published in that issue, and their connections to extreme right-wing and neo-Nazi movements. One of them was a British member of the National Front. The issue is now online, apparently, and he showed it to Deborah Lipstadt, the expert on Holocaust Denial. She said it was a list of nearly everyone involved in this pernicious attack on history.

He also found that at the same time, Reason was also publishing articles praising Apartheid in South Africa. When Ames published his articles on the promotion of Holocaust Denial and Apartheid, in both cases the magazine’s article came back to make a kind of non-denial that they had done so. They said that they had published the pieces denying the Holocaust as part of their commitment to academic freedom, but weren’t Holocaust deniers. They also claimed that they weren’t in favour of Apartheid, and had also published articles against it. In fact, the article they cited for this merely argued that South Africa, with its minimal labour legislation and regulation of industry, was a country enjoying a high level of freedom according to their Libertarian criteria. They also promoted tourist visits to the country. This was despite the fact that the Black population was very definitely unfree, forced into the Bantustans, where they suffered massive poverty and malnutrition, resulting in an appallingly high death rate.

The magazine’s and party’s attitudes only changed in 1980 with the election of Ronald Reagan. The Koch brothers want to push politics further to the right. They found that their ideas had now entered the mainstream with Reagan, with the exception of the racist and Nazi ideas. So they issued a statement complaining that these ideas were too popular, and dropped them so that they weren’t used to discredit the rest of their squalid programme.

Ames states that the Kochs published the Holocaust material as part of their ideological programme of rolling back Roosevelt’s New Deal. They want to destroy the minimal welfare legislation FDR introduced. However, it’s actually extremely popular because it has helped millions of Americans. To attack the New Deal, they therefore have to try and discredit FDR and present him as a monster. And that means attacking America’s entry in the Second World War. America did not enter the War to defend the Jews, but the Holocaust is clearly one of the strongest justifications for it. And so the Kochs and their collaborators wanted to discredit the Holocaust, just as they spread daft conspiracy theories claiming that FDR was somehow responsible for, or knew in advance, about the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbour.

Ames also states that they have an inverted idea of freedom, in which FDR is a Communist monster, as is MLK, who they’ve tried smearing as an agent of Moscow. Brooks and Ames agree, however, that MLK did have extreme views regarding the nationalization of industry. He did, and it’s one of the things, along with his deep criticism of American capitalism and racism, that’s conveniently left out of the modern cult surrounding him. They’re too extreme for right, despite remaining highly pertinent to today’s political situation with the political power of the big corporations and resurgent racism. They’ve also twisted and perverted the idea of who’s elite. They’ve tried to make it mean a public bureaucrat. In fact, it means the rich and propertied. Thus they’ve tried to turn FDR into a monster of statist power, like Adolf Hitler and a determined foe of freedom, even if this is the reverse of what he did by benefiting the American people with his welfare programmes.

Ames states that what made the public of Holocaust denial literature in Reason possible was the disordered and confused state of American politics at the time. Many left-wing ideas were floating around and looked like being accepted. Americans wanted the end of the Cold War, and there was even a feeling that the CIA would be abolished. The Koch brothers caught the mood, and tried to exploit it by introducing Holocaust denial and Libertarianism as two more radical ideas that should now be considered freely along with the other, left-wing ideas. And the Kochs weren’t alone in publishing Holocaust denial material. A whole slew of other right-wing thinktanks also did so, including the Cato Institute.

And he also points out that before the Neo-Cons arose, many of whose members were Jewish, Jews were most often associated with the Left and socialism. One of the founders of the Neo-Con movement actually wrote a piece asking why Jews were so against capitalism. Ames states that this attitude survives today, and that he has been called a ‘cultural Marxist’, which he sees as another anti-Semitic code word for ‘Jew’.

This little bit is important, as it adds to the information I’ve found already showing how Libertarianism is morphing into outright Fascism. Reichwing Watch has put up a series of pieces, including testimony from former Libertarians, showing how the Libertarian organisations are full of real White supremacists and Nazis. This has gone so far that the Black Libertarian YouTuber, ‘That Guy T’, has made enthusiastic videos about the emergence of what he calls ‘Anarcho-Fascism’. In fact, Italian Fascism was an extreme right-wing revision of anarcho-syndicalism. The corporate state is what you get when former Syndicalists decide that they actually like the state and big business, and despise working class trade unions. The Spanish Fascists tried to get the Syndicalists to join them in the Spanish Civil War by stressing their common origins and rejection of parliamentary democracy. The syndicalists remained true to their principles, and told them where they could stick it.

The Libertarians have got inside the Republican Party, and they’re also over here, influencing the Tories and UKIP. And their British counterparts have been as every bit sympathetic to South American Fascists as they have been. Back in the 1990s the Freedom Association, or one of the Libertarian organisations in the Tory party, invited the head of one of Rios Montt’s death squads from El Salvador to their annual dinner as guest of honour. And one of the members of this British Libertarian outfit was the founder of the Guido Fawkes blog, now ranting about anti-Semitism in the Labour party. The accusation that Labour has a particular problem with Jews is a smear by the Blairites and the Israel lobby. In the case of Guido, it’s pure hypocrisy coming from someone, who was part of an organization that admired and lauded Fascist butchers and torturers. Just as the Libertarians and Monetarists in America, as Ames and Brooks comment, proudly embraced Chile and the other Fascists in South America.

The times’ long past when Libertarian ideas should have been expelled from the mainstream. They, and the people that make these claims, should be expelled from decent political debate and activism.

This shows that the Nazi element in Libertarianism isn’t a recent aberration. It’s always been there, as part of the Libertarians’ reactionary programme against welfare legislation, democracy and the state. The Libertarians have always tried to claim that they are just another form of anarchism, but one which rejects communal ownership of property in favour of capitalism. But as this shows, they’ve always had a Fascistic dimension.

As for all the right-wing ideologues, who immediately denounce anything vaguely left or progressive as ‘cultural Marxism’, without having any idea what that really means, Ames’ statement that the term is just another anti-Semitic code word throws it back in their face. Many of those, who use it try to smear socialism and the Left by claiming that Hitler’s Nazis were socialists. They weren’t. But if the term is seen as a form of anti-Semitic abuse, then it means that those, who use it to attack the left are also anti-Semitic, thus reversing the accusation and turning it back on them.

Deborah Lipstadt on the Lies of the Holocaust Deniers

September 30, 2017

This is a quarter of an hour TED talk by the respected historian, Deborah Lipstadt, on the lies of those, who would deny the Holocaust, and in particular David Irving and the coterie surrounding him. I think Lipstadt is a member of staff at the Holocaust Museum in America. In the 1990s she proved to be David Irving’s nemesis after he sued her for libel. Her testimony utterly wrecked whatever serious academic reputation Irving had, and the last thing I heard he was banged up in jail in Austria. That country, like Germany, has laws against denying the Holocaust. No doubt he’s there with others like him, trying to fend off the attentions of Wolfgang der Kannibaler.

Lipstadt begins her talk by saying that the first time she heard about Holocaust denial, she laughed, because the Holocaust is one of the best documented genocides in history. There is plentiful documentation, as well as eye-witness testimony from the victims and survivors, the Poles, who lived around the wretched death camps, the people in the towns and villages, who saw the Jews being rounded up and herded away, and lastly by those responsible for those terrible crimes. She makes the point that while they often claimed to have been forced to commit them – they were only following orders, or some such – they never denied that they had committed their monstrous crimes against humanity.

Then a few years later she was asked by academic colleagues to look into the milieu of Holocaust denial, and find out what was behind them. She laughed again. But she describes them as ‘wolves in sheep’s clothing’. They don’t look like Nazis. They try to look like professional academics, adopting an air of respectable academic discourse. They have a slick academic journal, the Historical Review, they don’t describe themselves as Holocaust deniers, but ‘revisionists’, and they don’t wear Nazi uniforms.

But underneath all that it’s the same anti-Semitism, the same racism and the same Nazism.

So she wrote her book on them, and then a few years later got the news from her British publisher, Penguin, that she was being sued for libel by David Irving, whom she had named in her book. Irving certainly doesn’t believe in the Holocaust. At one point he said that more people had died in Bobby Kennedy’s car at Chappaquiddick than in the camps. She was told by friends that she could just ignore the suit. She replied that she couldn’t do that, as English law, unlike the American and other legal systems, demanded that she prove her case. If she couldn’t, or simply didn’t try to fight her case in court, then by default Irving would have won. And if that happened, she couldn’t look another Holocaust survivor in the face.

She states that she won, not by proving it happened, but by disproving what Irving claimed happened. She did so by looking up every footnote Irving made, and looking at the source literature cited. And in every one – not just one or two, or even several instances, but every case – he alters and falsifies what these documents and books actually say. He leaves things out, inserts things that weren’t there, invents witnesses, alters the sequence of events. The tril ended with the judge ruling that Irving was indeed a liar and a Holocaust denier, but in the type of severely erudite and strong language members of the judiciary use when sending down villains.

Lipstadt says that the trial was important, because not only did it discredit Irving, it also discredited others like him. Because they’re all deeply interconnected. They cite him and he cites them, so that the evidence of Irving’s book effectively shows all of them to be liars.

She ends by making the important point that there is more at stake here than just Irving’s reputation. She talks about how we’ve moved into the supposed age of ‘fake news’ with the internet, and the way this has flattened the difference between reality and falsehoods. She also talks about how academic freedom has dictated that everything should be up for discussion. The internet has enabled the Nazis in the form of the Alt Right. But it isn’t the case that everything is only a matter of opinion. There are such things as facts, and there are some matters which should not be up for academic debate, like the Holocaust. Truth exists, and needs to be defended.

This last piece is an attack on radical postmodernism, which claims that there is no objective truth, only competing narratives. As for Irving, she says that he was slightly passe at the time he sued her. I got the impression that it was the opposite. Irving had appeared in the papers with his book doubting the scale of the Holocaust, and caused a massive controversy when he was invited to speak at the Oxford Union. The trial between her and Irving was filmed as Denial, with I think Timothy Spall as the odious Irving.

Raouf Halaby on Vonnegut’s ‘Slaughterhouse Five’ as Great Banned, Anti-War Book

September 29, 2017

There’s a great piece over at Counterpunch today by their contributor, the academic Raouf Halaby, on a celebration of banned books. One of the librarians at a local university celebrated Banned Books Week by holding a Banned Books Read-Out in the college amphitheatre. Students and teaching and non-teaching staff were invited to choose a banned book, and read from it for ten minutes. The librarian also provided 100 banned books from the university library to help people decided and participate.

Halaby himself chose Kurt Vonnegut’s SF novel, Slaughterhouse Five because of its powerful anti-war message, a message that is unfortunately still very pertinent five decades after he wrote it. The novel was written against the Vietnam War, and is about a man, who comes unstuck in time, going backwards and forwards into the past and future, but returns to 1945 and the infamous bombing of Dresden, before ending up in an alien zoo. Vonnegut himself had been an American squaddie during World War II, and he and his fellows were in Dresden when it was bombed. They had been captured as P.O.W.s, and were imprisoned in a converted abattoir called ‘Schlachthof Funf’ – ‘Slaughterhouse Five’ – during the bombing. Vonnegut was a great master of irony and black humour, and I’m very sure he saw the dark humour in having been saved from a bombing raid that killed an entire town while shut up in a slaughterhouse.

Halaby states that his mother was a quaker, and that’s possibly where he gets his anti-war ideas from. But he was a soldier, and dedicated his reading of Vonnegut’s great work to some of his army buddies, who were killed in Vietnam. As for the book’s continuing relevance today, he writes

For my ten minutes, I selected Kurt Vonnegut’s acclaimed Slaughterhouse Five for the following reasons: 1. Since the end of WWII the U.S. has waged war on the Korean Peninsula, Vietnam, Cambodia and Laos, including Afghanistan, Iraq, Syria, Libya, and at least half a dozen more countries around the globe. 2 Ken Burn’s Vietnam documentary has, at long last, forced us to engage in some serious soul searching, and a much needed conversation about the many lies, mistakes, and atrocities of this war, thus providing an opportunity to reach out to the hundreds of thousands who served in Vietnam as well as those who opposed the war and helped bring it to an end. 3. The U.S. is still using its superior military power, a disproportionate, scorch earth power that incinerates thousands of precious lives in faraway lands, and a power that pulverizes entire nation states. 4. Recent threats of unleashing the “fire and fury” of nuclear weaponry poses a grave danger to humanity. 5. Innocent civilians seem to always be in the sights of machine guns, missiles, and now, drones and MOABs . 6. Those who order soldiers to wade into the hades of military adventures do so under the guise of national security; waging a war is, after all, a pernicious flag-waving pathway to furthering political careers; gullible voters continue to buy into war snake oil. 7. And finally, I have seen firsthand the ravages of war and the devastating effects wars have had on individuals, communities, nations, and regions. I have inherited my mother’s Quaker values.

Much of his article is a long passage from the book, presumably the one he read out, describing the author’s experience in Dresden and their imprisonment in the slaughterhouse, and how it shows the brutality and inhumanity of war. All war. And makes the case that ordinary bombing with conventional weapons can kill as many people as nuclear bombs. A bombing raid on Tokyo with ordinary bombs one night killed 84,000 + people, while 79,000 + people were incinerated at Nagasaki. Not that this makes nuclear weapons any better, and they’ve gone on to vastly outstrip the destructive power of conventional weaponry. He also makes the point that war is evil, but the people, who commit the acts of mass death may be perfectly normal, otherwise decent people.

See: https://www.counterpunch.org/2017/09/29/dont-let-them-ban-our-books/

I don’t know if Vonnegut’s book was ever banned, though I don’t doubt that it’s anti-war stance and biting satire was extremely unpopular amongst the right and the military. It was so popular, that it was made into a movie in 1972, though critics like John Clute have said it does not equal the book. Vonnegut passed away a few years ago. However, he was still a trenchant critic of American politics and society right to the end. I remember reading a newspaper article in which he made his opinions of George W. Bush, then the US president, very clear.

Which Reporter’s Name Should Be Used as the Scientific Unit of Media Bias?

September 29, 2017

Thinking about the Beeb, Nick Robinson and Laura Kuenssberg and their spurious protestations of objectivity and impartiality the other night, I remember one of the jokes going round Nazi Germany about Goebbels, Hitler’s notorious ‘Minister for Public Enlightenment’. There were a number of comments and nicknames about him. He was very promiscuous, so much so that he got the nickname ‘the Tadpole’. Like Hitler, he was also short, so that the Germans produced a saying ‘Luegen haben kurzen Beinen’ – ‘Lies have short legs’.

And one of the jokes played on the various scientific terms then being coined as research advanced. For example, in electronics there are the terms volt, amp and ohm, which all take their names from the physicists Volta, Ampere and Ohm, who did pioneering research into electricity.

Thus, German wags defined the Goeb – from Goebbel’s monicker – to be the minimum unit of power required to turn off 100,000 radio sets. The joke here being that every time the Nazi propagandist appeared on the radio to rant about how wonderful the Reich was, and how evil Jews, Communists, democracy, Socialism, trade unionism, ‘capitalism’ and the allies were, the Germany public reacted en masse by finding something much better to do. This might explain why family board games are still very popular in Germany. After all, if there’s a choice between listening to another foam-flecked rant from Adolf, or playing Cluedo, I think most people would probably opt for the latter.

Thinking about the joke made me wonder, however. Which modern broadcast journalist would we choose to have their name used as the minimum unit of right-wing political bias? At the moment, I’m undecided between Nick Robinson and Laura Kuenssberg. I wonder who else people would nominate?