Archive for the ‘China’ Category

Killary Appearing at Cheltenham Literary Festival Today – But Will They Ask the Really Awkward Questions

October 15, 2017

Hillary Clinton was due to appear at the Cheltenham Literary Festival today, 15th October 2017, undoubtedly as part of her tour promoting her book, What Happened? In it, she tries to examine and explain how she came to lose the American presidential election to the orange maniac, whose now bringing us just that little bit closer to war with Iran, and nuclear Armageddon. Various American progressive and radical news shows, like The Young Turks, the Jimmy Dore Show and Secular Talk have extensively reviewed her book and ripped it to shreds very effectively. Some of the videos are quite long, but the problem with Hillary’s campaign can be summed up very simply: her. Clinton is a horrible person, and a horrible candidate. She is part of the corporate elite, personally corrupt in the sense that she is very much in the pocket of Wall Street and big business, and a warmonger, who was ramping up international tensions with Russia and China unnecessarily even before she lost the election. Now it’s even worse as she and the other corporatist Democrats try to cast the blame on Russian interference, rather than look much closer to home to the weakness of Clinton herself. She is massively out of touch with ordinary, working American people.

A majority of the population now want single-payer healthcare, like the rest of the Developed World. And which the Germans have had since Bismarck’s ‘Socialist Law’ of the 1870s, when the real Iron Chancellor tried to crush the rise of Germany’s Social Democrats by stealing a bit of their thunder. While Bernie Sanders has shown how America could easily afford it, and it would be cheaper both for the state and for ordinary Americans, Killary herself has declared that it’s ‘utopian’. Which is why it been working very well in Germany and the Scandinavian countries for more than a hundred years, and the French and Swiss have similar systems which mix state payment and private insurance. But this is still too far-fetched and difficult for the world’s only superpower.

Her record gets much worse when it comes to Black Americans. Bill Clinton was so popular with America’s Black population, and had the same easy charm that many of their politicians and celebrities have, that he was hailed as ‘the first Black president’. But Bill and his wife were responsible for putting in place the legislation that’s seen a massive proportion of Black men jailed for drug offences. She drew an artificial distinction between crack and ordinary cocaine, to make it appear that the one favoured by Blacks was a greater threat than the other, and so deserved greater punishment. Pushing this legislation, she talked about the threat of ‘superpredators’ at a time when this term was nearly exclusively used to describe young Black men.

On the world stage, she was responsible for arming Islamist rebels in Libya so that they overthrew Colonel Gaddafy. Gaddafy was certainly no saint. He was a dictator, who tortured and locked up his political opponents. But he kept the nation together and made sure that his country was paid a fair price for their oil after it had been run as an Italian colony from the late 19th century onwards. During the decades of his people’s struggle for independence, one third of the population was killed. It was a secular state, albeit one where the official ideology, as laid out in his Green Book, was a mixture of Islam and Arab socialism. There was free education and free healthcare. Libya was the most prosperous African country, and Gaddafy himself stood up for the continents’ rights in global affairs. And while he used the Islamists to assassinate his political rivals elsewhere in Africa and the Middle East, they weren’t allowed to terrorise his people.

After Gaddafy was toppled, the country descended into civil war between rival factions, including the Islamists. It is still divided between two completing authorities. Its education and healthcare systems have been destroyed, and the Islamists have seized control of large parts of the country.

And then there’s the issue of the coup in Honduras. Up until 2012 or so, this had a liberal president, who actually wanted to raise the living standards of the peasants and urban working class, who were desperately poor, as well as protect the land and livelihood of the country’s indigenous peoples. And, as usually happens in South and Central America when the establishment is faced with the threat of a liberal regime, he was overthrown by a right-wing coup. This installed a Fascist dictator, who started rounding up, imprisoning, killing and torturing opposition leaders, activists and trade unionists. America has legislation designed to prevent it from supporting foreign coups. Killary decided to get around this by officially declaring that the coup wasn’t military, so that America could continue giving aid to the Fascist government.

And in her own party, Hillary was in cahoots with the head of the Democratic National Convention, Debbie Wasserman Schultz, so that Democratic nominations were fiddled to steal the nomination from Bernie Sanders. Sanders was by far the better candidate, with far greater appeal to working Americans. But he’s a self-declared ‘Democratic Socialist’, who wants single-payer healthcare, a renewed American welfare state, stronger trade unions, and an altogether better deal for America’s poor and working people. And unlike the Clinton’s, Bernie has genuinely taken an interest in promoting the welfare of America’s ethnic minorities. He was one of the first, if not the first, mainstream American politician to go to the reservations of America’s First Peoples to seek their views on improving conditions for them.

But this was all too much for Hillary, whose entire electoral strategy consisted of turning against the party’s core constituency amongst blue-collar workers, Blacks and other minorities, to appeal to Republicans. Just like the Clinton’s mate, Tony Blair, pursued the Tory vote as the expense of the British White working class over here.

But Killary can’t accept any of that, and so blames everyone else in her book except herself, including Jill Stein, the head of the Green Party. Clinton’s tried to present herself as some kind of feminist, whose victory in the election would somehow be a step forward for America’s women, despite the fact that she would do nothing for them. Bernie was much more popular amongst the female population, because he promised women – and men – work and proper healthcare. As did Jill Stein. Stein was a doctor. I put up one of her election broadcasts I found on YouTube, in which Stein talked to a group of women about the necessity for a single-payer healthcare system. She stated unequivocally that it was especially needed for America’s women. And I don’t doubt for a moment that Stein’s absolutely right. From what I’ve seen, the cost of giving birth alone under the American private medical system is tens of thousands of dollars, so much so that American couples have to spend years saving up and then worrying if it’ll bankrupt them before starting a family. It’s a situation that also shows how hollow the Republicans’ concerns about the falling American birthrate is. Their solution is to try to ban abortion. I think Mussolini in Fascist Italy also did that. But he also passed legislation to give Italian women state aid in raising a family. It was part of the Fascists’ reactionary campaign to take women out of the workplace and back in the home and the kitchen, but even then it was far less reactionary in its methods than that of contemporary Conservativism.

The electorate knew that Hillary wasn’t going to do anything for ordinary women, and so voted for the other candidates. And so Killary responded by trying to smear Sanders as a misogynist, just as the Blairites in the Labour party tried to smear Jeremy Corbyn over hear. It hasn’t worked.

And Killary’s still trying to present herself as some kind of feminist ‘everywoman’. When she appeared on America’s Tonight Show with Jimmy Fallon a few days ago, the show’s female writers and a tearful Miley Cyrus also appeared to write ‘thank you’ notes to her praising her for being such an inspiration to them. The Humanist Report produced the video below rightly critiquing not just Hillary, but also the other mainstream comedians, who have politicos on their show, whether the comedians are Fallon, Bill Maher or whoever. He attacks them because they are using their comedy to promote a corporatist agenda regardless of whether the politicians are from the Democrats or Republicans. The Report’s presenter urges his audience to watch intelligently and critically. They can’t and shouldn’t censor, but they should hold presenters and broadcasters, even himself, up to a higher standard.

I am very definitely not a Humanist, but it’s an excellent point that can’t be repeated too much. Here’s the video.

I wonder just how many of the really tough questions have been or will be put to Hillary at the Cheltenham Literary Festival today. My guess is that they’ll ask some awkward questions, but nothing too hard or likely to make her feel uncomfortable.

As for Hillary’s appearance in Britain, I was talking about it to a friend of mine in Cheltenham the last time I was up there a week or so ago. He told me that one of his American friends had wondered what she was doing over here. The obvious answer is that Britain has a special relationship with America, and American politics directly affects this country, and indeed the rest of the world. But his reply was different. He said: ‘Because you owe us an apology’.

When George ‘Dubya’ won the election in 2000, Americans went on social media to apologise to the rest of the world. I think something similar is needed now. But instead of ordinary Americans apologising, it should be Hillary apologising to the ordinary Joes and Josies across the US for being such a transparent corporate shill that she lost to someone as bigoted, stupid and murderous as Trump.

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Kevin Logan’s Critique of Vox Day and His Summary of Alt Right Principles

October 3, 2017

Kevin Logan is a British male feminist, whose Descent of the Manosphere vlog critically discusses various members of the men’s movement and other parts of the American and British far right, and exposes them for the utterly reprehensible human beings they really are.

In this video, he attacks and criticizes the American alt-right blogger and vlogger, Vox Day. Vox Day is a former newspaper columnist, an SF/Fantasy writer, and the author of a statement of the fundamental principles of the Alt Right. The Alt-Right is a diverse and often contradictory movement, and so there’s considerable disagreement amongst its members on what it actually stands. But Day’s summary of its principles have received the approval of its leading members, including Richard Spencer.

In the video Logan takes the viewer through Day’s ideas and bizarre personality, pointing out his intellectual vanity – he keeps harping on about how high an IQ he has, and how he used to be a nationally syndicated columnist for the tech pages of a paper in Minnesota. He’s also a massive fan of Donald Trump, whom he lauds, without irony, as ‘the God Emperor’, presumably like Leto Atreides, the half-sandworm ruler of the universe in the Dune sequel, God Emperor of Dune. So enamoured is he of Trump, that he also tries to excuse Trump’s comment about sexually assaulting women, trying to tell everyone that it’s ‘alpha (male) talk’, when it isn’t. It’s simply sexual assault.

He then critiques his statement of the principles of the Alt Right. These are basically that it’s a right-wing movement, which is not traditionally Conservative, Libertarian or Neo-Con, which promotes western civilization as derived from Christianity, the European nations and the Graeco-Roman heritage. It states that every nation has the right to their own homeland, free of domination by other groups and that no race is superior to another. But he also strongly rejects free trade, because that also brings with it immigration and diversity. He quotes approvingly the ’14 Words’ – ‘We must secure the existence of the White race and a future for White children’ of the Nazi, David Lane, and is also massively anti-Semitic. He states very clearly that Jews are not members of the American people, and are working against their interests. Day states he is in favour of peaceful repatriation, but shows how peaceful he really is by talking about gunning down immigrant boats and praising the Norwegian mass murderer, Anders Breivik, whom he calls a saint. He tries to defend the Alt-Right as in favour and based on science, but notes that this accompanied by a caveat – except where its conclusion have been altered by democracy – which therefore allows him and his Nazi friends to dismiss global warming and claim that Whites are intellectually superior to Blacks. The Alt-Right also claims to be ‘anti-equalitarian’, which it dismisses as being ‘unicorns and leprechauns’, and also claims to be based on history. States have to be ethnically uniform, as proximity + diversity = war. Although it also claims to be in favour of peace between nations.

Logan shows how the liberal parts of Alt Right ideology are either unviable or contradictory – for example, the statement that each nation has a right to its own homeland doesn’t account for instances where two ethnic groups also claim the same territory, like Zionist Jews and Palestinians. He also states that there are other examples. Indeed, he could have mentioned the Hungarians and Romanians, who both claim Transylvania as the historic cradles of their peoples. He also makes the point that if the Alt Right took seriously their point about each nation having the exclusive right to their own historic homelands, then this would mean that White Americans should return to Europe, as the country they’re currently inhabiting is that of the Amerindians. As would all the European colonists throughout the former British Empire, in Canada, Australia, New Zealand etc. The statement that no race is superior to another is a sop to the Alt Right’s battered egos to get them over the fact that so many sports are dominated by Blacks and other non-Whites. In short, the liberal aspects of Alt-Right ideology mask the real White supremacy and Nazism underneath.

As for Day’s attitude to women, he fears and hates educated women to the extent that he defended the Islamist assassin, who shot Malala Yousafzai in the head simply because she was a girl, who wanted to go to school as boys did.

To be fair, Day on his blog describes himself as a ‘cruelty artist’, and I think like Milo Yiannopolis, he’s also a troll who delights in saying the inflammatory and unspeakable simply because he enjoys shocking liberals and leftists. Or simply the majority of decent human beings. But the misogyny is still very real.

The only thing I disagree with here is Logan’s opinion that Christianity isn’t fundamental to western civilization. Logan states that it isn’t, because western civilization pre-dates Christianity, going back to Greece and Rome, and America is a secular country, while in recent centuries western Europe has also moved significantly away from Christianity. This is true. But historically Christianity has formed one of the major influences on European culture. It was through Christian writers and intellectuals that the ancient legacy of classical Greece and Rome was passed on and expanded, and which also mediated influences from other civilisations such as Islam, India and China. American secularism also has its origin in the demands made for religious toleration first articulated during the British Civil War by the Nonconformist sects. Again, there are other influences. Some of the atheist commenters on this blog have pointed to recent works arguing that the first radical democrats in Europe were influenced by Baruch Spinoza. It’s probably true, but that doesn’t mean there also wasn’t an influence from radical Christianity. See the collection of writings from the British civil war published by Penguin Classics as Divine Right and Democracy.

Theresa May Refuses to Sign UN Treaty Banning Nuclear Weapons

September 17, 2017

This is frightening. By refusing to sign up to the international treaty proposed by the UN to ban nuclear weapons, May is actively endangering our planet.

Mike today put up a piece reporting that the UN proposed a treaty in July that would ban nuclear weapons across the globe. 120 nations have already put their signatures. But Britain and the other nuclear powers oppose it. Nevertheless, Britain is coming under increased pressure to sign the treaty, which will be put forward before the UN again this week.

Mike in his blog suggests that Britain’s reason for not signing the treaty is because Michael Fallon no doubt thinks that he can sell a few nuclear bombs elsewhere in the world, along with all the other instruments of murder produced and exported by Britain.

http://voxpoliticalonline.com/2017/09/17/theres-an-obvious-reason-theresa-may-wont-sign-a-treaty-to-ban-nuclear-weapons/

I don’t think that’s probably the case. What is more likely is that Britain, America and the other members of the nuclear club, like Russia, Israel, India, Pakistan and China, are afraid that if they sign this treaty, then their own ability to defend themselves and intimidate the rest of the world will be weakened. In the case of America, it’s part of the country’s long history of exceptionalism, in which America is seen to be unique and above the laws and treaties that it imposes on other countries. It’s why America is keen to see the Serbs and other war criminals from the former Yugoslavia, for example, prosecuted by the international war crimes tribunal at the Hague, while not submitting itself to the tribunal. It’s why, despite the attacks on Islam by the American Right for the common practice of FGM, the US did not sign a UN treaty outlawing it. America simply wants to reserve the right to judge and invade other nations, but not to be judged and held to the same standards by them.

Ditto for this country, as we have spent so much of the post-War period riding on America’s coat-tails, pretending to be a global superpower when we lost that status nearly the moment the Second World War was over. The possession of nuclear weapons seems to be important to our national psychology. So long as we have them, we can convince ourselves that we can see off any foreign threat.

One of the interesting things I’ve read about the Labour party under Michael Foot is that, paradoxically, it was not extreme left. This is despite the foaming rants about ‘loony Labour’ and Communist infiltration by the Tories at the time. Foot was actually seen by many outside the party as a centrist. But Foot stood for unilateral nuclear disarmament, and so Thatcher portrayed him as someone, who was a positive danger to this country’s security. If we didn’t have nuclear weapons, it was argued, the USSR would not be deterred and would attack us or invade with impunity.

Except that if the Russians had launched a nuclear attack, our nuclear deterrent wouldn’t have mattered one iota. The MOD ran a simulation of what would happen if such a horrific event had occurred. The predicted results were that there would have been massive casualties in the first minutes of the attack, with millions dead and the destruction of our major cities.

Naturally, this was unacceptable to Thatcher, so she tried to falsify the results. She altered the parameters of the simulation, so that she could say that, well, actually most of us would survive and be able to strike back at the enemy. Except that for this to happen, most of the Soviet missiles would have had to land in Wales and other, largely rural parts of Britain. Even then, the casualties were too high, and the simulation was eventually abandoned because Thatcher’s interference to get the results she wanted made it completely unrealistic.

Foot was actually quite right, and the number of times the world has been a hair’s breadth away from nuclear Armageddon is terrifying. Nuclear weapons are a real danger to the continued existence of our planet. A global ban is desperately needed.

And perhaps – just perhaps – if a ban on nuclear weapons were imposed, we could develop nuclear power for peaceful purposes without the suspicion that they would be used for manufacturing missiles. Like space exploration and colonization. in the 1960s, Freeman Dyson and NASA developed the concept of the Orion spacecraft, a spaceship that would use nuclear bomblets to achieve unheard-of speeds to zip around the solar system. Mallove and Matlock in their book, The Starflight Handbook, show that a fission rocket would cut the journey time to Mars from six months or so to three or four weeks.

Orion was cancelled because it would have violated an international treaty banning nuclear explosions in the Earth’s atmosphere. But if nuclear weapons were banned completely, and the only uses for nuclear power were civilian and scientific, nuclear rockets could be a safe option for exploring and colonizing Mars and the other worlds of the solar system.

But this won’t happen so long as the present situation persists, and the world is endangered by the existence of nuclear weapons and the threat of their use.

Abby Martin Exposes Israeli Racism and Fascism on Joe Rogan Show

August 18, 2017

This is a video from an Islamic website, though this is immaterial to the content of the video, which goes beyond religious or doctrinal differences. It’s a long, 25-minute extract from the Joe Rogan Show in which Rogan talks to Abby Martin. Martin’s a left-wing broadcaster and journalist, who was formerly with RT and is now with TeleSur. She talks about the Israeli occupation of the West Bank, their brutal maltreatment of the Palestinians, America’s support for Israel and the country’s deeply entrenched xenophobia and racist indoctrination as part of the compulsory military service.

It’s very strong, very disturbing material. She states very clearly that its a Jewish supremacist, White settler state. Palestinians in the occupied territories have no freedom whatsoever. They are subject to constant military checks and interference through a system of apartheid. They have no precious little in the way of provision of water and electricity. The water comes from large cisterns, in which Israeli soldiers will spray Skunk, which makes the water taste of excrement so that it becomes undrinkable for the next month. Even though the Israeli settlements in the occupied territories are illegal, this is ignored. Israeli mobs will come and occupy Palestinian homes, forcing the true owners out. If a Palestinian blogs about it, he will be tried and sentenced according to the number of hits on his site.

At the same time, Israeli soldiers shoot to kill and maim with impunity. They have a policy of ‘shoot to wound’, which means shooting people in the crotch. A woman was hit in her vagina, and men have their penises targeted. She also describes how a man, who was just drunk, was casually shot dead by Israeli soldiers. As was an Arab woman, who was shot at an Israeli checkpoint, and bled to death in front of her son.

It isn’t just Arabs gentiles, who are seen as inferiors, who can be ill-treated at whim. Martin states that the Israelis also look down on Black African Jews as racially inferior as well.

And official support for these illegal settlements goes all the way to the White House. Jared Kushner, Trump’s son-in-law, is the entrepreneur behind the Kushner Fund, a scheme which supports the construction of homes for Israeli settlers in the West Bank. She also talks about support for Israel by Richard Spencer, who describes himself as a White Zionist, who admires Israel as a racial state.

She also contrasts the popular reaction to the shooting of unarmed civilians by the authorities in Israel and the US. In America when the cops shoot an unarmed Black person, there’ll be a popular protest against it. However, in Israel, when the squaddie Elor Azaria shot an unarmed Palestinian, and was tried for it because of public pressure, there were also public protests against his trial. Rogan and Martin show footage of one of these demonstrations, in which the massed crowd chants ‘Death to Arabs’. Realising how bad this looks, they then change the chants to cries of supports for the troops. They even have a band rapping in Hebrew.

Martin pays due tribute to the courage of the Israelis, who film and speak out against these atrocities. In Israel many people will talk about treating the Palestinians better, but the idea of opposing Zionism is simply unthinkable, as this is their country. It’s like Americans opposing America. And the term ‘Leftist’ is a form of abuse.

As for crowds like that she filmed, they’ll also shout ‘Death to videographers’, as they hate the people filming this. Her team with her weren’t treated too badly, as they were Israeli Jews, but she says that there were attacked by people, who did wear Fascist-style cloaks.

She also talks about the immense amount of aide given by the American government to Israel. It’s $30 billion. However, in many cases, this is America giving a present to itself. Before then, Israel was able to do its own arms dealing, and was purchasing weapons from India. The aide has been given on the condition that it should be used to purchase American armaments.

As for the reason for America backing Israel, Martin states she doesn’t know why. She doesn’t believe its due to the power of the Israel lobby in the US. She states it’s more of a partnership, in the same way that America supports Saudi Arabia. Although Rogan points out that the Saudis have oil. Martin states that it’s probably to do with America using Israel as a point of leverage in the Middle East.

She goes on to make the point that the foundations for the country were laid after the Middle East was divided up by the colonial powers – Britain and France – by the Sykes-Picot Agreement. Jewish immigration to Israel, and support for the country was minimal until the Holocaust, when fear provided an instrument to increase support. The country was then partitioned by the UN, although she asks the rhetorical question of who gave them that power. She also states that it should have never been put in the Middle East, but should have been established somewhere like Australia, because of the immense amount of trouble it’s caused.

She says that several times in making her video, she thought she’d die. In Jerusalem she was asked if she was Arab. She also points out that the Zionists were also responsible for terrorist atrocities against Jewish communities in surrounding countries. These were false flag operations, which were blamed on the gentile communities, in order to create a climate of fear, which would inspire those Jewish communities to emigrate to Israel. And Israel itself grew through a number of massacres.

Rogan and Martin also discuss the role that national service plays in creating this massively xenophobic mindset. Rogan states that he knows people, who have joined the army in America, and its created a very strong bond between the service personnel, and a sense of separation, an ‘us and them’ attitude. He can only imagine the intense indoctrination that Israelis must undergo during their national service so that the hatred of Arabs becomes unquestionable.

As for the Arab settlements, she states that they are not as we’ve been told. She saw openly gay people, and the first time she filmed there she said there was weed in the air.

The interview concludes with Rogan asking her where her films can be seen. She says they’re at The Empire Files, and if you click on them, the various films she’s made about Israel will also be displayed.

This is very powerful stuff. It’s precisely what the Beeb and the other mainstream British broadcasters will not report, nor what the racists in the Campaign Against Anti-Semitism and the Jewish Labour Movement do not want severely normal people, Jewish and gentile, knowing about. Martin states in this video that the Israeli state and its supporters want this covered up, and do their level best to make sure it isn’t filmed.

Martin has called Israel a Jewish supremacist state. This is exactly what it is, with Judaism defined in racial terms. It’s comparable to the Christian clerical Fascist states which emerged in Europe prior to the Second World War, such as parts of the Fascist movement in Italy, where Fascist sympathisers in the Vatican saw Mussolini’s regime as a bulwark against materialism and Communism. As was Franco’s Spain, and the Slovak dictatorship of Monsignor Tizo, as well as elements of the Nazi party. It’s also similar to the viciously intolerant Islamist regimes in the Middle East, and the Hindu nationalist extremism of Modi’s BJP, as well as the militant atheism of the USSR and China. Shintoism also briefly became an intolerant, expansionist force during the Second World War. Israel isn’t unique by any means in its possession of a militantly intolerant nationalist ideology, which combines race with religion, or an official policy of anti-theism. But that does not mean that Israeli Jewish supremacism and Fascism should be ignored or excused.

As for the role national service plays in creating an intensely nationalistic, racial consciousness, political scientists have pointed to this as a major element in the construction of Fascism. Fascist and proto-Fascist ideologues admired the armed forces, not just from militarism and an admiration for military glory, but also because it offered an alternative and a tool against the expansion of socialism and democracy. The military was an ideal model, in their eyes, for society because it was hierarchical. At the same time, the uniform and common military identity and service under fire created a strong bond between men. This was valued as a way of stopping the development of working class consciousness and power.

And the bond of men under fire is very, very strong. The veteran BBC broadcaster on foreign affairs, Kate Adie, has said that it’s far stronger and ferocious than anything in the movies. So strong that it can’t really be shown on camera.

And the fundamental position of military service in Israel is comparable to that of Prussia. It was said of the Hohenzollern’s kingdom that ‘Prussia is not a country with an army. It was an army with a country’. The kingdom was held together through its army, which was well-funded, had a very high status, and wide-ranging powers over the civilian population. For example, under Frederick the Great army officers could compel civilians to carry their baggage and equipment.

Martin states that she doesn’t know if Richard Spencer of the Alt Right would like to impose universal conscription like Israel. Well, he may not, but that has historically been the demand of British Fascists and those on the Tory right. And in the 2010 election one of the policies of the BNP was that every Brit should possess a gun as part of his volkisch identity.

As for Palestinian Arabs tolerating homosexuality, Islam has been traditionally far more tolerant of gays than western culture. The Qu’ran condemns sodomy as a sin against which the Prophet Lut – the Biblical Lot in the Hebrew Bible/ Old Testament preached. But the laws against it were a dead letter in Egypt as early as the 12th century. One of the most admired Arab poets of the 9th century was gay, so that even today, Arab poets often use the masculine 3rd person pronoun – ‘he’ – for the beloved, even when they are talking about a woman.

This point is important, as supporters of Israel will try to defend it as one of the few places in the Middle East which is tolerant of gays. Pamela Geller, of the Atlas Shrugs blog, one of the leaders of the ‘counter-jihad’ movement, has made this claim on her site. As has Michael Koren, a Canadian anti-Muslim broadcaster with Rebel Media. This week, a documentary on BBC 1 followed a Scots gay man from a Roman Catholic background, who was considering converting to Judaism because of Israel’s tolerance for gays. The Beeb filmed him travelling to the country, and Tel Aviv, which has been described as ‘the gayest place on Earth’. But this tolerance for homosexuality was traditionally shared across the Middle East. It is only in recent decades that attitudes have changed for the worse.

Despite Netanyahu’s insistence that Jews everyone are automatically Israeli citizens, there are very many Jews, who are bitterly opposed to it both from secular and religious principles. many of the supporters of the BDS movement are Jews or of Jewish heritage, as are several of the Counterpunch writers, who are also opposed to Zionism and Israel’s occupation of the West Bank. One of these writers stated in a recent article that he is against Israel because of the liberal Jewish values with which he was brought up. A recent study has found that an increasing number of young Jewish Americans are becoming indifferent or hostile to Israel, because of its maltreatment of the Palestinians. As the very Jewish Sam Seder and his Jewish co-host, Michael Brooks, pointed out on their programme, Majority Report, criticism of Israel is not anti-Semitism.

The Campaign Against Anti-Semitism and the Jewish Labour Movement, and other Zionist organisations and pressure groups, would have the world believe the opposite. It isn’t. Don’t believe their lies and smears. Instead, look at the exposures of Israeli racism and institutional brutality from anti-racist broadcasters like Abbie Martin, respected academics like Norman Finkelstein and Ilan Pappe, Lobster’s John Newsinger, and bloggers like Tony Greenstein.

Donald Trump Predicted in Stephen Baxter’s 1995 Novel ‘Titan’

July 16, 2017

I’ve been making my way through Stephen Baxter’s SF novel, Titan, these last few weeks. Baxter’s a British SF writer, with degrees in maths and engineering. He applied to be an astronaut on the Anglo-Soviet mission to Mir in the 1980s, which went to Helen Sharman. He’s probably best known for his Xelee-sequence books. These are set in a universe dominated by the extremely advanced, but mysterious Xelee, who are engaged in a war across the entire universe with the Photino Birds, dark matter creatures determined to age and extinguish the universe of ordinary matter. He has also written other novels about a variety of parthenogenic humans, descended from a lost troop of Romans, a catastrophic flood in the Bronze Age, and the books The Long Earth and The Long War, about parallel worlds, with the late, great Terry Pratchett. His novel, Voyage, an alternative history in which NASA launches a final manned expedition to Mars, was adapted for Radio 4 by Audio Movies in the 1990s. He was also the scientific advisor for the 1990s BBC SF series, Invasion Earth, about aliens from the higher physical dimensions invading the planet.

Titan is also about a last, crewed NASA mission. This time its put together by a team of astronauts, space scientists and ground control crew as the Agency’s last, great space expedition before it is closed down following a shuttle disaster. It’s set in what was then the near future – 2004 onwards – in America increasingly falling into right-wing extremism, irrationalism and Christian fundamentalism. The leading politician and subsequent president, is Xavier Maclachlan, a Texan with standing on an aggressively anti-science platform. Here’s the description of the man and his policies on pages 284-5.

Hadamard was in Washington during the inauguration of Xavier Maclachlan, after his wafer-thin win in the 2008 election.

Maclachlan called it a ‘liberation of the capital’.

Armed militia bands came in from Idaho and Arizona and Oklahoma and Montana, to fire off black-powder salutes to the nationalist-populist who promised to repeal all gun control laws. In the crowd, Hadamard saw a couple of Ku Klux Klan constumes, a sight he though had gone into an unholy past. Come to that, there was a rumour that a former Klan leader was being made ready to become a future White House chief of staff. And in his speech Maclachlan appealed to the people to end what he called the ‘Israeli occupation of Congress’…

And so on.

As soon as Maclachlan lifted his hand from the Bible, US peacekeeping troops in the Balkans and Africa started to board their planes to leave. Foreign aid stopped. The UN was being thrown out of New York, and there was a rumour that Maclachlan was planning some military adventure to take back the canal from Panama.

Army engineers – set in place during the handover from the last Administration – started to build a wall, two thousand miles of it, along the Mexican border, to exclude illegal immigrants. White it was being built, troops brought home from peacekeeping abroad were operating a shoot-to-kill policy.

There was chaos in the financial markets. Machlachlan had withdrawn the US from the North American Free Trade Treaty, from the World Trade Organisation, from GATT. Reviews of the country’s membership of the World Bank and the IMF had started – arms of an incipient world government, Maclachlan said, designed to let in the Russians. He had raised tariffs – ten per cent against Japan, fifty per cent against the Chinese – and world trade collapsed.

The Chinese, particularly, screamed. And so Maclachlan sent the Seventh Fleet to a new station just off the coast of Taiwan.

Meanwhile all the strategic arms treaties with Russia were torn up, as Maclachlan orderd his technicians to dig out the blueprints for Reagan’s old dream of SDI. In fact, Maclachlan wanted to go further. He was inviting ideas for what he called his ‘da Vinci brains trust’. The press was full of schemes for fantastic new weapons: smart remote sensors; dream mines that could shoot at passing traffic; smart armour that would use explosive tiles to deflect incoming projectiles; maybe even an electrical battlefield in which electricity-propelled shells would be zapped in by low-flying aircraft.

And back home, Machlachlan had cut off any remaining programs which benefited blacks and other minorities, and any funding that appeared to support abortion, which had been made illegal in any form.

Xavier Maclachlan was a busy man, and he was fulfilling his campaign promises.

Clearly, much of this is an extrapolation from the policies and attitudes of the Republican party and the American extreme Right in the 1980s and 1990s. Reagan had brought right-wing Christian fundamentalists into the Republican party, who had previously stood aloof from politics as part of a corrupt, fallen secular order. He had also begun to wind up government welfare programmes, particularly those aimed at benefiting minorities, such as Black Americans. Fears of an imminent apocalypse, social breakdown and Russian invasion, even after the collapse of Communism, had resulted in the emergence of the survivalist and then Militia movements, armed right-wing paramilitary groups. These had a bitter resentment of the federal government, which culminated in McViegh’s bombing of the Federal Building in Oklahoma. They also tended to be bitterly racist and anti-Semitic. They believed and still believe in stupid Nazi conspiracy theories that claim that the Jews are trying to destroy the White race through racial intermixing and that America is covertly controlled by the Jews through the ‘Zionist Occupation Government’, or ZOG. These groups and right-wing American fundamentalist organisations also believed that there was a secret, Illuminati conspiracy to create a one world Satanic superstate centred on the UN. Phyllis Schlafly, who was actually a Democrat, regularly denounced the UN as well as women’s rights. And one leading figure in the militias – I think it may have been Bo Gritz, who supposedly served as the model for ‘Rambo’ – stated that the way they would clear America’s international debt would be by minting a single coin with the legend ‘1 Trillion Dollars’. As for the Klan, there were a series of scandals in which senior Republican politicos were revealed as having links to or membership in the White racist terrorist group. The most notorious of these was David Duke in Louisiana, who is unfortunately still around and blaming the Jews for everything even today.

And political scientists and economists were predicting the rise of China and the other ‘tiger economies’, which would dominate the ‘Pacific Century’ even then.

Of course, there are things Baxter failed to predict, like 9/11 and the invasions of Afghanistan and Iraq. He also takes the conventional view that the various free trade agreements and UN organisations, like the IMF and the World Bank, are nice, liberal, benefificial institutions, rather than the way corporate America imposes its own neoliberal policies on the rest of the world, particularly the developing nations.

Not that the Democrats have been much different. Counterpunch has reported that Obama was considering removing the ‘No first strike’ policy towards a nuclear confrontation, and Killary has been every bit as aggressive in her stance towards Russia and China as the Republicans, perhaps even more so.

As for the White extremist and racist groups supporting the new president, all that’s different is that the Klan has been largely replaced, or subsumed, into the internet-based Alt Right. But the hysterical fear of gun legislation, promoted and lavishly funded by the gun manufacturers and the NRA, against the desires of the majority of Americans, and even the NRA’s own rank and file membership, remains strong.

It shows how long the attitudes held by the American right, and which led to the election of Donald Trump, have been around. Since his election, left-wing news sites such as The Young Turks, Secular Talk and the David Pakman Show have reported that Americans have become increasingly dissatisfied with Trump. Sixty per cent of the American public want him impeached. This dissatisfaction even extends to Republican voters.

Trump, however, in his racism, his isolationism, aggressive nationalism and hatred of the welfare state and women’s rights, is very much in line with the general political stance of post-Reaganite right-wing American politicians. Indeed, he’s so much a part of this political trend that, with caveats, his election – or rather, the election of someone like him – was predicted by Baxter over two decades ago.

No wonder an increasing number of young Americans are looking to progressive politicos like Bernie Sanders for leadership and the redemption of their country against a corrupt political elite and the military-industrial complex. And I fervently hope they win, and that humanity will continue to reach out to the cosmos in a spirit of genuine exploration and wonder, and not as another arena for warfare.

Ancient Christian Apologist Tertullian on Human Damage to the Environment

July 15, 2017

Some of the most vocal opponents of environmentalism and climate change in the US are politically Conservative Christians. They object to it, not just on the grounds that they believe it to be wrong scientifically, but also because they are highly suspicious of it on political and religious grounds. It is argued that the Green movement is really a pagan movement, or else a way of sneaking Socialism in through the back door through stressing the need for legislation and the regulation of industry to protect the environment. It’s also denounced as a form of Nazism, because the Nazis were also eager to protect the German environment.

It’s true that Green politics has strongly influenced some contemporary neo-Pagan religious movements, particularly Wicca, whose deities consist of an Earth mother and horned god. However, the scientific evidence on which the Green movement is based is separate and independent from any one particular religious or political group. And modern Green politics began with books such as Silent Spring in the 1960s and the Club of Rome, a gathering of concerned scientists, in the early ’70s, and not with Hitler and the Nazis.

Furthermore, writers and philosophers long before the Nazis were also acutely concerned with the threat of overpopulation and the damage humans were doing to the environment. One of them was the early Christian apologist, Tertullian, who wrote

‘Most convincing as evidence of populousness, we have become a burden to the Earth. The fruits of nature hardly suffice to sustain us, and there is a general pressure of scarcity giving rise to complaints. Need we be astonished that plague and famine, warfare and earthquake, come to be regarded as remedies, serving to prune the superfluity of population?’

This quotation was dug up by Adrian Berry, a fellow of the Interplanetary Society, Royal Astronomical Society and Royal Geographical Society. Berry is very much a man of the right, who used to write for the Torygraph. He used it to argue that people have always had exaggerated fears about the threat to society. Or alternatively, they could also be extremely complacent, such as the 2nd century AD Roman writer Pliny. Pliny wrote of the enduring splendor of the Roman Empire just before it began to collapse. Jonathan Margolis also cites in his chapter on predictions of environmental catastrophe, ‘Global Warning’, in his A Brief History of Tomorrow: The Future, Past and Present (London: Bloomsbury 2000) 89, where he also discusses the possibility that predictions of environmental collapse may be wrong.

At the moment, the majority of the world’s scientists are convinced that climate change and environmental damage caused by humanity are real, and a genuine threat to the planet, its flora and fauna, and ultimately humanity itself. Furthermore, archaeologists become increasingly aware how global changes to the environment have caused civilizations to collapse. The early Viking colonies in Greenland were destroyed in the 14th century, when the environment in the northern hemisphere became colder, making it impossible to practice European-style agriculture so far north.

Similarly, the highly developed Pueblo Indian cultures in the Chaco canyon in what is now the southwestern US collapsed and were abandoned when the climate became hostile in the 13th century. The cultures existed in an arid region of the US, using extensive irrigation canals to water their crops. The area suffered an intense drought, and unable to support themselves, the inhabitants moved away.

As for ancient Rome, one of the causes for the barbarian invasions may well have been climate change. The environment became colder from the 3rd century onwards. Central Asian tribes, such as the Huns, moved west, crossing the steppes into Europe and moving south to attack China. This displaced other tribes, such as Goths, who were settled around the Black Sea. The sea levels began to rise, so that the Frisians and other Germanic tribes settled in what is now the Netherlands, were forced to abandon low-lying farms and villages on the coasts. This may have been one of the causes of the Anglo-Saxon migrations to Britain.

In the Greek-speaking eastern Roman Empire, towns shrank, while in the west there was a movement away from the cities, partly through economic grounds. Historians have argued whether the Roman population was decimated by disease. Certainly in Rome itself, located amidst swampland, malaria was endemic, and the sheer size of the population meant that it was periodically subject to outbreaks of other diseases. And the city depended on a steady influx of new immigrants to replenish its population. And there was a constant threat of starvation. The free Roman masses depended on shipments of grain from Egypt and north Africa, and one of the elected officials in the city was responsible for securing the grain supply. Amongst the graffiti found scrawled on walls in Pompeii are election slogans urging men to vote for a particular candidate because ‘he gets good bread’.

Tertullian may well have been absolutely right about the dangers of overpopulation. And regardless of whether he was or wasn’t, the fact that he, one of the great defenders of Christian faith and doctrine in the Roman Empire, was prepared to accept and argue that overpopulation and environmental damage were a danger, shows that there is nothing inherently anti-Christian in the Green movement. This was shown a few weeks ago when the current pope, Pope Francis, criticized Trump’s government for ignoring science and failing to tackle climate change. There’s an irony here in a religious figure attacking the elected leader of a supposedly secular state for having an anti-scientific attitude. And it remains true that there is nothing fundamentally contrary to Christianity about Green politics regardless of the support for Green politics amongst peoples of other religions or none.

Government Internet Censorship in Stephen Baxter’s ‘Titan’

July 6, 2017

One of the very real concerns about the current attacks on freedom of speech by British and American governments is these states’ demands for increasing powers to regulate and censor what is posted on-line. This has all been framed under the pretext of protecting the British and American peoples from pornography, especially paedophile, and terrorism.

Stephen Baxter is one of Britain’s leading writers of Hard SF. This is the subgenre of Science Fiction, which follows Asimov and Clarke in being based on real science, though obviously also with a greater or less degree of extrapolation and invention permitting the inclusion of FTL drives, AIs and aliens. Baxter’s best known for his Xelee sequence series of books. These are set in a universe dominated by the advanced and unknowable Xelee, an alien race so far ahead of humanity that humans and the other intelligent species compete with each other to scavenge bits and pieces of their technology. At the same time, the universe is being prematurely aged by the Photino Birds, dark matter creatures for whom the light and warmth of the universe of normal matter is a hostile environment.

Baxter has also written a number of novels set in an alternative world. In Voyage, he described a crewed NASA expedition to Mars, whose triumph – a successful Mars landing – comes just when the entire American space programme is cancelled. The book was adapted as a radio play and broadcast on Radio 4.

In Titan, published in 1995, Baxter tells the story of a group of NASA and JPL scientists and astronauts, who launch a manned expedition to Titan to investigate further the discovery of living biochemistry by the Cassini probe. This is to be NASA’s last hurrah after the crash of the Columbia space shuttle results in the cancellation of the manned space programme. The story begins in 2004, in a world that is almost identical to the present of the time the book was written.

There are a few exceptions, however. Amongst the new inventions of this future past are computerised tattoos, which change shape according to the wishes of the wearer, and soft computer/TV screens, which can be rolled up and pasted on walls like paper.

And one of the issues that is very alive is the American government’s ruthless censorship of the internet. This is discussed in one scene, where NASA’s head, Hadamard, meets Paula Benacerraf, an astronaut aboard the ill-fated Columbia mission, her daughter, Jackie, who is responsible for publishing the discovery of life on Saturn’s moon, and her young son, at an official ceremony in Texas to honour China’s first taikonaut, Jiang Li.

He found Paula Benacerraf, who was here with her daughter, and a kid, who looked bored and restless. Maybe he needed to pee, Hadamard thought sourly. On the daughter’s cheek was an image tattoo that was tuned to black; on her colourless dress she wore a simple, old-fashioned button-badge that said, mysteriously, ‘NED’.

Hadamard grunted. ‘I’ve seen a few of those blacked-out tattoos. I thought it was some kind of comms problem -‘
Jackie Benacerraf shook her head. ‘It’s a mute protest.’
‘At what?’
‘At shutting down the net.’
‘Oh. Right.’ Oh, Christ, he thought. She was talking about the Communications Decency Act, which had been extended during the winter. With a flurry of publicity about paedophiles and neo-Nazis and bomb-makers, the police had shut down and prosecuted any net service provider, who could be shown to have passed on any of the material that fell outside the provisions of the Act. And that was almost all of them.
‘I was never much of a net user,’ Hadamard admitted.
‘Just to get you up to date,’ Jackie Benacerraf said sourly, ‘we now have one licensed service provider, which is Disney-Coke, and all net access software has built-in-censorship filters. We’re just like China now, where everything goes through the official news agency, Xinhua; that poor space kid must feel right at home.’
Benacerraf raised an eyebrow at him. ‘She’s a journalist. Jackie takes these things seriously.’
Jackie scowled. ‘Wouldn’t you, if your career had just been f***ed over?’
[Censorship mine].
Hadamard shrugged; he didn’t have strong opinions.
The comprehensive net shutdown had been necessary because the tech-heads who loved all that stuff had proven too damn smart at getting around any reasonable restriction put in place. Like putting encoded messages of race-hate and smut into graphics files, for instance: that had meant banning all graphics and sound files, and the World Wide Web had just withered. He knew there had been some squealing among genuine discussion groups on the net, and academics and researchers who suddenly found their access to online libraries shut down, and businesses who were no longer allowed to send secure encrypted messages, and … But screw it. To Hadamard, the net had been just a big conduit of bullshit; everyone was better off without it.
(pp. 130-1).

This is Science Fiction as the literature of warning: against cuts to the space programme, and net censorship. It even mentions rising graduate unemployment, in a scene where Paula Benacerraf arranges a meeting with her team to discuss the possibility of launching a crewed mission to Titan. They meet at dinner party in Benacerraf’s house, served by her housekeeper, Kevin. Kevin is a fine art graduate, who is working as Benacerraf’s housekeeper in order to work off his student debt. His works are the usual horrors inflicted on the world by contemporary artists. In her only visit to his atelier, Benacerraf is shown a 1/4 size sculpture of himself which Kevin has gnawed from a block of lard. This is just a study for a full-size work, which he intends to gnaw from his own liposuctioned fat or faeces. As she and her guests are being served by Kevin, she reflects that he is like the majority of graduates, who will never have a job.

Well, the shuttle programme has been cancelled, but hopefully this will not prevent the further exploration of universe. The Chinese certainly are looking to put a person into space, and are believed to be aiming to land a human on the Moon by 2020. Baxter also mentions this in Titan in his description of the spacewoman’s mission to the Deep Black, where he states that this is believed to be in preparation for a moon landing in 2019.

And Baxter is absolutely correct about the demands for a comprehensive censorship of the internet by the British and American governments. The only difference is the terrorists the governments are panicking about are Islamist, rather than neo-Nazi. So far, the demands for censorship have been limited, so there isn’t the almost-complete shutdown of the net described in Baxter’s version of the recent past.

But this is still a very real danger, as these accompanying threat, which Baxter didn’t predict, of increased state surveillance of electronic communications, for the same reasons as censorship.

Someone once remarked that all science fiction is really about the issues of the time they were set. Titan reflects the fears about the internet that were present back in the 1990s, when it was first emerging. These fears, and the consequent demands by government to censor nearly everything we see or read online, are still very real, and Baxter’s book is still very relevant.

End Workfare Now! Part 1

June 20, 2017

This is the text of another pamphlet I wrote a year or so ago against the highly exploitative workfare industry. As the pamphlet explains, workfare, or ‘welfare to work’, is the system that provides industry with cheap, unemployed temporary labour under the guise of getting the jobless back into work by giving them work experience. If the unemployed person refuses, he or she is thrown off benefit.

These temporary jobs go nowhere, and it’s been proven that the unemployed are actually far better off looking for jobs on their own than using workfare. And it’s very similar to other systems of supposed voluntary work and forced labour, such as the labour colonies set up in Britain in 1905, the Reichsarbeitsdienst in Nazi Germany, and the use of forced labour against the ‘arbeitscheu’ – the ‘workshy’, as well as the compulsory manual labour required of all citizens in Mao’s china during the Cultural Revolution, and the Gulags in Stalin’s Russia.

Mike over at Vox Political has blogged against it, so has Johnny Void and the Angry Yorkshireman of Another Angry Voice, and many other left-wing bloggers. It’s another squalid policy which New Labour and the Tories took over from Reagan and Bill Clinton.

Jeremy Corbyn has promised to get rid of the work capability tests. I hope also that under him, the Labour party will also get rid of this vile policy, so that big corporations like Poundland and supermarkets like Tesco’s will have to take on workers and pay them a decent wage, rather than exploiting desperate and jobless workers supplied by the Thatcherite corporate state.

End Workfare Now!

Workfare is one of the most exploitative aspects of the contemporary assault on the welfare state and the unemployed. It was advocated in the 1980s by the Republicans under Ronald Reagan in America, and in Britain by Thatcher’s Conservatives. In 1979 the Tory party ranted about the need to ‘restore the will to work’. Geoffrey Howe, the Chancellor of the Exchequer, declared that ‘The Government and the vast majority of the British people want hard work and initiative to be properly rewarded and are vexed by disincentives to work’. At its heart is the attitude that the unemployed should be forced to work for their benefits, as otherwise they are getting ‘something for nothing’. Very many bloggers and activists for the poor and unemployed, including Vox Political, Johnny Void, Another Angry Voice, and myself have denounced it as another form of slavery. It’s used to provide state-subsidised, cheap labour for big business and charities, including influential Tory donors like Sainsbury’s. And at times it crosses the line into true slavery. Under the sanctions system, an unemployed person is still required to perform workfare, even if the jobcentre has sanctioned them, so that they are not receiving benefits. Workfare recipients – or victims – have no control over where they are allocated or what jobs they do. The government was challenged in the courts by a geology graduate, who was forced to work in Poundland. The young woman stated that she did not object to performing unpaid work. She, however, had wanted to work in a museum, and if memory serves me correctly, had indeed got a place at one. She was, however, unable to take up her unpaid position there because of the Jobcentre’s insistence she labour for Poundland instead. A young man also sued the government, after he was sanctioned for his refusal to do 30 hours a week unpaid labour for six months for the Community Action Programme. The High and Appeal Courts ruled in the young people’s favour. They judged that the government had indeed acted illegally, as the law did not contain any stipulations for when and how such work was to be performed.

Iain Duncan Smith, the notorious head of the Department of Work and Pensions, was outraged. He called the decision ‘rubbish’ and said, ‘There are a group of people out there who think they are too good for this kind of stuff .. People who think it is their right take benefit and do nothing for it – those days are over.’ This is rich coming from IDS, who was taking over a million pounds in farm subsidies from the EU. Eventually, Smith got sick of the criticism he was taking for the government’s welfare policies, and flounced off early in 2016 moaning about how unfair it all was that he should get the blame, when the notorious Work Capability Tests inflicted on the elderly and disabled were introduced by New labour.

Those forced into workfare are in no sense free workers, and it similarly makes a nonsense of the pretense that this somehow constitutes ‘voluntary work’, as this has been presented by the government and some of the participating charities

The political scientist Guy Standing is also extremely critical of workfare in his book, A Precariat Charter, demanding its abolition and making a series of solid arguments against it. He states that it was first introduced in America by the Republicans in Wisconsin, and then expanded nationally to the rest of the US by Bill Clinton in his Personal Responsibility and Work Opportunity Reconciliation Act. It was part of his campaign to ‘end welfare as we know it’. Single parents receiving social assistance were required to take low-paying jobs after two years. Legislation was also passed barring people from receiving welfare payments for more than five years in their entire lives.

David Cameron, unsurprisingly, was also a fan of the Wisconsin system, and wanted to introduce it over here. In 2007 he made a speech to the Tory faithful at the party conference, proclaiming ‘We will say to people that if you are offered a job and it’s a fair job and one that you can do and you refuse it, you shouldn’t get any welfare.’ This became part of Coalition policy towards the unemployed when they took power after the 2010 elections.’ Two years later, in 2012, Boris Johnson, speaking as mayor of London, declared that he was going to use EU money from the Social Fund to force young adults between 18 and 24 to perform 13 weeks of labour without pay if they were unemployed. In June that year David Cameron also declared that there was a need to end ‘the nonsense of paying people more to stay at home than to get a job – and finally making sure that work really pays. Ed Miliband’s Labour party also joined in. Liam Byrne, the Shadow Secretary for Work and Pensions, declared that

Labour would ensure that no adult will be able to live on the dole for over two years and no young person for over a year. They will be offered a real job with real training, real prospects and real responsibility … People would have to take this responsibility or lose benefits.

This was echoed by Ed Balls, who said

A One Nation approach to welfare reform means government has a responsibility to help people into work and support for those who cannot. But those who can work must be required to take up jobs or lose benefits as such – no ifs or buts.

Forced Labour for the Unemployed in History

Standing traces the antecedents of workfare back to the English poor law of 1536 and the French Ordonnance de Moulins of twenty years later, which obliged unemployed vagabonds to accept any job that was offered them. He states that the direct ancestor is the 1834 Poor Law Amendment Act, the infamous legislation that, under the notion of ‘less eligibility’, stipulated that those receiving support were to be incarcerated in the workhouse, where conditions were deliberately made much harsher in order to deter people from seeking state
support, rather than paid work. This attitude is also reflected in contemporary attitudes that, in order to ‘make work pay’, have demanded that welfare support should be much less than that received for paid work. This has meant that welfare payments have become progressively less as the various measure to make the labour market more flexible – like zero hours contracts – drove down wages. The workhouse system was supplemented in 1905 by the Unemployed Workmen Act, supported, amongst others, by Winston Churchill. This directed unemployed young men into labour, so that they should not be ‘idle’ and be ‘under control’. Nor were leading members of the early Labour party averse to the use of force. Sidney and Beatrice Webb, two of the founders of the Fabian Society, were also in favour of sending the unemployed to ‘labour colonies’, chillingly close to the forced labour camps which became such as feature of the Nazi and Communist regimes. Weimar Germany in the 1920s and ’30s also developed a system of voluntary work to deal with the problems of mass unemployment. This was taken over by the Nazis and became compulsory for all Germans from 19-25 as the Reicharbeitsdienst, or Imperial Labour Service It was mainly used to supply labour for German agriculature. Because of its universal nature, the Reicharbeitsdienst had no stigma attached to it, and indeed was seen as part of the new, classless Germany that was being created by Hitler. In a speech to the Service’s workers, Hitler declared that there would be no leader, who had not worked his way up through their ranks. Much harsher was the Nazi’s treatment of the serially unemployed. They were declared arbeitscheu – the German word, which forms the basis of the English ‘workshy’. These individuals were sent to the concentration camps, where they were identified with a special badge on their pyjamas, just like those marking out Jews, gay men, Socialists and trade unionists, and so on.

Liam Byrne also harked back to the Webbs to support his argument for workfare as Labour party policy. He stated

If you go back to the Webb report, they were proposing detention colonies for people refusing to take work … All the way through our history there has been an insistence on the responsibility to work if you can. Labour shouldn’t be any different now. We have always been the party of the responsibility to work as well.

The Workfare Scheme

The result of this is that many unemployed people have been placed on the Mandatory Work Activity – MWA – scheme, which requires them to perform four weeks of unpaid work for a particular company, organisation or charity. The scheme also includes the disabled. Those now judged capable of performing some work are placed in the Work-Related Activity group, and required perform some unpaid labour in order to gain ‘experience’. If they do not do so, they may lose up to 70 per cent of their benefits.

This has created immense fear among the unemployed and disabled. Standing quotes one man with cerebral palsy, who was so afraid of being sanctioned for not performing the mandatory work, that he felt physically sick. Mental health professionals – psychiatrists and psychologists, have also released reports attacking the detrimental effect the stress of these tests are having on the mentally ill. So far they have estimated that upwards of a quarter of a million people with mental health problems such as depression and anxiety have had their condition made worse – sometimes very much worse – through the stress of taking these tests.

The system also affects those in low-paid part-time jobs or on zero hours contracts. These must prove that they are looking for more working hours or a better paid job. If they do not do so, they may lose benefits or tax credits. In 2013 the Tory-Lib Dem government made it even harder for people to claim tax credits by raising the number of working hours a week, for which tax credits could not be claimed, from 16 to 24.

End Workfare Now: Part 3

June 20, 2017

Workfare Is Unjust

Workfare unfairly penalises the unemployed. For example, in 2011 the ConDem government made the conditions imposed on benefit claimants and the penalties for avoidance under the Labour government’s New Deal even more stringent. Those performing workfare were required to work for up to thirty hours a week for 28 days. The work performed was to be that which benefited the community. Taken as wages, this meant that claimants were working at a rate of £2.50 an hour, well below the minimum wage. If they turned the job down, or didn’t complete the course of mandatory labour, they had their benefits sanctioned for three months. This was increased to six if they repeated the ‘transgression’. This is unjust, because no-one else in society is expected to work for the minimum wage except convicts in prison.

It’s also unjust in that it makes the economically insecure even more so, and takes away the way long-accepted social right to refuse to work. At the same time, it gives power over the unemployed to the state’s bureaucrats and the private outsourcing companies. Also, forced labour is offensive against human dignity and does not lead to increased personal development.

Workfare Stops People Looking for Jobs

Spending thirty hours a week on workfare actually cuts down on the available time the unemployed are able to spend looking for work. P.A. Gregg, in their book Job Guarantee: Evidence and Design (Bristol: Bristol University Centre for Market and Public Organisation 2009) actually found that because of this, workfare actually stopped people from getting jobs.

Lowering Incomes over Life

Workfare is also unjust, as instead of giving people the ability to acquire a career, or jobs leading to one, it may instead lower their long-term income by keeping them in a series of low-paid, temporary work. People should have the right to decide for themselves which jobs to take and what they should do when it affects their long term prospects. If the state instead forces them to take a certain course, then it should also be required to compensate them if the course demanded is the wrong one.

Workfare Keeps Wages Low

By forcing people to take low-paid jobs, and making this a threat to force other workers also to take jobs that pay less than they would otherwise take, workfare leads to lower wages. The Labour Party in the UK declared that it was in favour of a ‘national living wage’ above the minimum. However, it then contradicted this intention by stating that those performing workfare would do so at the minimum wage. The Labour party may have meant this to stop those on workfare competing with those in paid employment, though MPs like Liam Byrne have shown themselves to be every bit as spiteful and punitive in their treatment of the unemployed as the Tories. In any case, this policy still puts on pressure to force wages downwards.

For there to be a genuine living wage, politicians should increase and strengthen the ability of the unemployed to bargain for higher wages. It is only when workers really have an effective ability to bargain that employers are either forced to pay a living wage, or decide that the job is unnecessary and the potential productivity too low. Standing concludes from this that ‘The reality is that the utilitarian mindset does not care about the precariat’.

Workfare Labour Replaces Genuine Workers

If the jobs performed under workfare were genuine and productive, it would be unfair to workers in those jobs, and to the short-term unemployed, as the government-subsidized labourers supplied under workfare would replace existing workers, or stop them hiring other unemployed people. In 2011 Tesco collaborated with the Jobcentres to create 3,000 unpaid placements for those on workfare, who would work for the company for four weeks. Homebase and Asda were
also keen to use such unpaid labour. As was Poundland, which also announced that it was taking on benefit claimants, though it denied that this would affect their existing recruiting activity. Whatever those companies said, clearly their use of cheap workfare labour was replacing paid workers and stopping the unemployed from getting permanent jobs with those companies.

Workfare Extends State Power

When the High and Appeal Courts upheld the challenge to performing mandatory workfare by the geology graduate, who objected to having to work in Poundland, and a young chap, who had been sanctioned for refusing it, the Condem government responded by rushing through emergency legislation making the refusal to perform workfare punishable by sanctions. The procedure in which the legislation was rushed through parliament was supposed to be use only in national emergencies. The legislation further contravened accepted notions of justice, in that it acted retrospectively. That is, it punished actions committed before the laws against them had been passed, an idea that strikes at the very notion of justice enshrined across the world in human rights laws. The Labour party, which should have opposed this motion, didn’t. They abstained, and members of the Shadow Cabinet were told that if they voted against the motion, they would have to resign. This demonstrates just how deeply workfare had become embedded as the official ideology of the state and the main parties.

Welfare-to-Work as Corporate Scam

The private companies administering workfare, such as A4E and Ingeus, have profited immensely from this new, growth industry in unfree labour. They are paid £13,500 for every person they manage to put in a long term job. If the job is only short-term, then they receive only half that amount. There is thus considerable pressure for them to choose only those most likely to obtain long term employment, and thus discriminate against vulnerable minorities, including the disabled. The Employment Related Services Association, the trade body for the welfare-to-work industry, complained that more of the people being referred to these companies were those with disabilities, who had been judged ‘fit for work’ according to the tests imposed for the Employment and Support Allowance awarded to the disabled to help them maintain their independence.

The workfare companies also have wide powers in deciding which ‘work placements’ to put people on, and what counts as ‘community benefit’. The DWP permits them to place workers in private companies if this is considered to benefit those firms’ local communities. For a long time the DWP has refused to publish the information on the allocation of workfare labourers to private firms. The government flatly refused to reveal the identities of the participating firms on the grounds that if they did so, the scheme would fail due to public pressure forcing them to drop out. A list of the firms involved has recently been released after a series of Freedom Of Information Act requests. The two largest workfare contractors also refused to comment, when they were asked if they were forcing the workers contracted to them to work for private companies.

Additionally, many of the private companies administering the scheme are run by, or have links to, politicians, which is symptomatic of the general corporate corruption of parliament and the revolving door between corporations, MPs and senior civil servants. Tomorrow’s People, the charity that became notorious for stranding the workfare labourers it had employed for the Queen’s Diamond Jubilee under London Bridge, where they were forced to sleep, was run by a Conservative peer.

Conclusion: End Workfare Forced Labour

Workfare is thus highly exploitative, and should be banned. It is the thin edge of a wedge leading to the increasing use of force against the poor and unemployed. One staff member from the Citizens’ Advice Bureaux described the situation to Standing thus

The boundaries of the acceptable are being pushed further in the direction of unfree labour. We’ve been here before – breaking stones in return for food during the Irish famine, and similar schemes in 16th & 17th century England, the difference being that technology means peoples’ activity can be monitored more and informal economy lifelines are being pushed further underground. I was talking with a colleague who has picked up growth of prostitution as one means of survival. I don’t know what it would take to break us (society, whatever that means) out of apathy to make protests against what we’re doing to ourselves.

Standing also makes a very apt point, directed at those members of the Left, who refuse to take a stand on it, fearing that it would damage their parties’ chances of winning elections. He states

It is a moralistic policy that should be passionately opposed by every liberal and progressive. If doing so puts political success at risk, so be it. Values matter.

This looks like a dig at Blairite New Labour, which has consistently abstained on the workfare issue instead of firmly opposing it. The Blairites based New Labour’s electoral success on appealing to swing voters, and not challenging Tory policy, except on the grounds that they could administer it more efficiently and were more concerned with social justice. The latter view is particularly specious, as in many cases New Labour went much further in its austerity and privatisation programmes than the Tories. It’s a concern that still motivates the Blairites in their repeated campaigns against the Labour leader, Jeremy Corbyn. And it’s not an excuse for failing to tackle this new form of forced labour, a system that is slowly edging towards real slavery.

Bibliography

Alexander Berkman, ‘Lazy Men and Dirty Work’, in George Woodcock, ed., The Anarchist Reader (Fontana Press: 1986) 334-338.

Alex DeJonge, Stalin and the Shaping of the Soviet Union (Fontana/Collins 1986) 270-2.

‘Miss World and Mrs Mao’ in Clive James, The Crystal Bucket (Picador: 1982) 232-4.

Guy Standing, A Precariat Charter: From Denizens to Citizens (London: Bloomsbury 2014) 262-79.

‘Labour Service (Reicharbeitsdienst – RAD)’ in James Taylor and Warren Shaw, A Dictionary of the Third Reich (London: Grafton Books 1988) 213.

‘Unemployment’ in James Taylor and Warren Shaw, A Dictionary of the Third Reich (London

The Saturn Five Variants that Were Never Built

May 4, 2017

And now a little break from the elections. This is a short video from Vintage Space, discussing the variants of the Saturn V moon rockets that were designed, but never built. These new space vehicles were designed to be bigger and better. From what is said about them in the video, it seems the designers adopted a modular approach, or something like it, so that stages and rocket motors could be swapped around and altered to allow the rockets to be customised to suit different missions.

It’s a pity that these awesome machines were scrapped at the end of the Apollo missions. I’ve read letters in Spaceflight, one of the magazines published by the British Interplanetary Society by scientists, who believed that the proper way into space would have been through building Big Dumb Boosters. Although not reusable, they could be mass produced, which would mean they could be constructed for the cost of a battle ship, and bring launch costs down to about $100,000.

Some space scientists are still bitter about the destruction of the Saturn Vs and even the plans for them. They were the only rockets capable of taking people out to the Moon, and potentially further out into the Deep Black. John Lewis in his book, Mining the Sky, on how humanity could expand into space to exploit the rich material and energy resources of the solar system, compares the destruction of the Saturn V to the destruction of Chung He’s fleet. Chung He was a Fifteenth century Chinese explorer, who led an expedition that sailed around the world. One of the places he reached was the Bight of Benin in West Africa. On his return, however, the eunuchs of the imperial court decided that the fleet represented a threat to the stability and order of the Chinese empire. So they destroyed it, thus helping to keep China isolated from the outside world for centuries. The bureaucrats, who ordered the destruction of the Saturn V moon rockets were, in Lewis’ view, guilty of the same kind of thinking.

There are alternative crewed space vehicles under development, and it is believed that the Chinese are planning to send a crewed mission to the Moon, quite apart from the various schemes to land people on Mars.

In the meantime, this video shows some the spacecraft that could have been.