Archive for the ‘Electricity’ Category

Keir Starmer’s 10 Pledges for the Labour Party

February 22, 2020

I’ve just received a pamphlet from Keir Starmer’s campaign team, promoting him as the future of leader of the Labour Party. It begins with this quote

“I’ve spent my life fighting injustice. I’m standing to be leader of our Labour Party because I’m determined to unite our movement, take on the Tories and build a better future. If all parts of our movement come together, we can achieve anything.”

There’s a brief biography that runs

A Life Devoted to Fighting Injustice

Keir is the son of an NHS nurse and a toolmaker. As a former human rights lawyer, Keir is dedicated to Labour’s core principles of fairness and justice.

He has devoted his whole life to fighting injustice and defending the powerless against the powerful, as his ten-year unpaid battle over the McLibel case goes to show. he has fought against the death penalty abroad, defended mining communities against pit closures, and taken up hundreds of employment rights and trade union cases. After being the Director of Public Prosecutions, he was elected MP for Holborn & St Pancras in 2015, later becoming Shadow Brexit Secretary. Defeating Boris Johnson is a huge task but Keir knows that if we bring our movement together and stay true to our values, we can win, and change Britain for the better.

As leader of the Labour Party, Keir will contine to fight for justice in all its forms: social justice, climate justice, economic justice.

There’s then three columns of endorsement from people such as Dawn French, Rokhsana Fiaz, the elected mayor of Lewisham, Laura Parker, the former National Coordinator of Momentum, Emma Hardy, the MP for Hull West and Hessle, Aneira Thomas, the first baby born on the NHS, Sarah Sackman, a public and environmental lawyer, Alf Dubs, the refugee campaigner, Paul Sweeney, the former MP for Glasgow North East, Ricky Tomlinson, David Lammy, the MP for Tottenham, Doreen Lawrence, Konnie Huq, the TV presenter and writer, Mick Antoniw, the member of the Welsh Assembly for Pontypridd, Ross Millard of the Sunderland band, the Futureheads, Lucio Buffone, a member of ASLEF and LGBT+ Labour national committee member, and the Unison General Secretary, Dave Prentis.

The back page contains his ‘My Pledges To You’. He says

My  promise is that I will maintain our radical values and work tirelessly to get Labour in to power – so that we can advance the interests of the people our party was created to serve. Based on the moral case for socialism, here is where I stand.

His pledges are as follows

  1. Economic Justice.

Increase income tax for the top 5% of earners, reverse the Tories’ cuts in corporation tax and clamp down on tax avoidance, particularly of large corporations. No stepping back from our core principles.

2. Social Justice.

Abolish Universal Credit and end the Tories’ cruel sanctions regime. Set a national goal for wellbeing to make health as important as GDP; invest in services that help shift to a preventive approach. Stand up for universal services and defend our NHS. Support the abolition of tuition fees and invest in lifelong learning.

3. Climate Justice

Put the Green New Deal at the heart of everything we do. There is no issue more important to our future than the climate emergency. A Clean Air Act to tackle pollution locally. Demand international action on climate rights.

4. Promote Peace and Human Rights.

No more illegal wars. Introduce a Prevention of Military Intervention Act and put human rights at the heart of foreign policy. Review all UK arms sales and make us a force for international  peace and justice.

5. Common Ownership.

Public services should be in public hands, not making profits for shareholders. Support common ownership of rail, mail, energy and water; end outsourcing in our NHS, local government and justice system.

6. Defend Migrant’s Rights.

Full voting rights for EU nationals. Defend free movement as we leave the EU. An immigration system based on compassion and dignity. End indefinite detention and call for the closure of centres such as Yarl’s Wood.

7. Strengthen Workers’ Rights and Trade Unions.

Work shoulder to should with trade unions to stand up for working people, tackle insecure work and low pay. Repeal the Trade Union Act. Oppose Tory attacks on the right to take industrial action and the weakening of workplace rights.

8. Radical Devolution of Power, Wealth and Opportunity.

Push power, wealth and opportunity away from Whitehall. A federal system to devolve powers – including through regional investment banks and control over regional industrial strategy. Abolish the House of Lords – replace it with an elected chamber of regions and nations.

9. Equality.

Pull down obstacles that limit opportunities and talent. we are the party of the Equal Pay Act, Sure Start, BAME representation and the abolition of Section 28 – we must build on that for a new decade.

10. Effective Opposition to the Tories.

Forensic, effective opposition to the Tories in Parliament – linked up to our mass membership and a professional election operation. Never lose sight of the votes ‘leant’ to the Tories in 2019. Unite our party, promote pluralism and improve our culture. Robust action to eradicate the scourge of antisemitism. Maintain our collective link with the unions.

This is all good, radical stuff, but there are problems. Firstly, his commitment to taking ‘robust action to eradicate the scourge of antisemitism’ and his decision, along with the rest of the Labour leadership contenders, to sign the Board of Deputies’ highly manipulative pledges, means that more people are going to be thrown out of the party without any opportunity to defend themselves, based only the allegations of anonymous accusers. We’ve seen innocents like Jackie Walker, Ken Livingstone, Marc Wadsworth, Mike Sivier, Tony Greenstein, Martin Odoni and so many others suspended and thrown out through the party’s kangaroo courts. One poor lady has died through the shock of being so expelled, even though she was a passionate anti-racist. This isn’t justice, it’s a pledge to renew the witch hunt.

As for promoting peace and human rights – how long will that last with the Board of Deputies demanding to supervise everything relating to Jews? Israel is a gross violator of human rights, but the Board has consistently defended it and its deplorable actions. Their demands that Labour adopt the IHRC definition of anti-Semitism was to stifle criticism of Israel by declaring them ‘anti-Semitic’. This pledge might be genuine, but the momentum anyone applies it to Israel the BoD will start howling ‘anti-Semitism!’ again and decent people will start getting expelled. Especially if they’re Jewish.

And his plan for giving Britain a federal constitution doesn’t seem to be a good one. From what I’ve read, it has been discussed before, and while it may solve some problems it creates others. It’s supposed to be no better than the current arrangement, which is why it hasn’t been implemented.

I also don’t back him on Europe. Oh, I’m a remainer at heart, but I think a large part of  the reason we lost the election was because, instead of accepting the results of referendum, Labour pledged itself to return to the EU. This was partly on Starmer’s insistence. He is right, however, that EU nationals in the UK should have voting rights.

But I have to say that I don’t trust Starmer. His campaign team were all supporters of Owen Smith, one of those who challenged Corbyn’s leadership. They include Luke Akehurst, one of the leading figures of the Israel lobby within the Labour Party. Tony Greenstein a few days ago put up a piece arguing that, whatever he claims to the contrary, as Director of Public Prosecutions he always sided with the authorities – the police, military and intelligence services – against everyone else.

My fear is that if he becomes leader of the Labour Party, he will quietly forget these pledges and continue the Blair project.

See: http://azvsas.blogspot.com/2020/02/keir-starmer-is-candidate-that-deep.html

http://azvsas.blogspot.com/2020/02/pauline-hammerton-expelled-for.html

Beeb Producers Decide News Programmes’ Slant Before Shootingll

February 17, 2020

A few days ago I put up a review of Robin Aitken’s Can We Trust the BBC? (London: Continuum 2007). This argues that the Corporation isn’t full of Conservatives and has a right-wing bias, but the opposite: that it is crammed full of left-wingers and has a marked, institutional bias against Conservatives and the monarchy, former British empire and Christianity. While Aitken musters a considerable amount of evidence for this, he also ignores the far greater amount of evidence against his view. The Beeb has nearly always been biased against the Labour party and the trade unions, although I’m prepared to admit that there may have been pockets in the Beeb, like Scotland, where Aitken started his career, that may have been more left-wing. If this changed, it was while the Beeb was under the control of John Birt and Greg Dyke. But while Dyke may have been a member of the Labour Party, he was a New Labour convert to the free market. Which means he definitely wasn’t Old Labour. Since the departure of Dyke, the Beeb has become very blatantly biased against Labour and especially against Jeremy Corbyn. It did as much as the rest of the media to push the anti-Semitism smears.

But there is one part of Aitken’s argument that I believe, and still think remains true today, even after Brit’s departure and the Beeb’s alleged return to the Right. Aitken states that Birt wasn’t satisfied with merely presenting the news. He wanted the Beeb to contextualise and explain it. And this meant that news and documentary producers decided on their programmes’ content and direction before they shot any footage or interviewed anyone. Aitken writes

I saw Birtism close up when I moved to the Money Programme. This long-established show had a loyal audience for its Sunday evening slot, but the old populist format was viewed with disdain by Birt. What he wanted was analysis, and lots of it. The new programme style was uncompromising. A subject would be chosen – say electricity privatisation – and a storyline worked out. A detailed script including putative interviews was worked up before a single word had been uttered by an interviewee, or a frame of film shot. We worked from written sources (previous articles/ analyses by academics) and briefings by individual experts.The fine detail of these scripts was obsessively wrangled over until, finally, filming actually began. The task then was to make sure reality conformed to our preconceptions.

All this accorded with Birt’s philosophy. In his autobiography, The Harder Path, he writes: ‘Directors and reporters were sent off with a clear specification of the story their film should tell … [they] … had lost the freedom of the road; they had forfeited much of their discretion’. Birt had encountered stiff resistance to this methodology at Weekend World, similarly at The Money Programme the producers and reporters resented the new straitjacket but had to embrace the new orthodoxy. (pp. 23-4).

My guess is that this system is still very much in place. It’s why the Beeb has followed the rest of the media in demonising the Labour Party and Jeremy Corbyn and his supporters as anti-Semitic. And it’s particularly responsible for the horrendous bias of the Panorama programme about anti-Semitism in the Labour party. This was so extreme that it sparked a storm of complaints and resulted in the production of a documentary film refuting it. A film that inevitably was attacked by the same fanatical Zionist witch hunters responsible for the smears against Labour.

The Corporation’s bias may have changed from Labour to Conservative – if it was ever ‘Labour’ in the first place – but the mindset and methodology behind the biased reporting is exactly the same.

Labour Leadership Contender Keir Starmer Promises to Axe Tuition Fees

February 15, 2020

Here’s a piece of optimistic news. It was reported in Wednesday’s I, for 12th February 2020 that Keir Starmer has said that he would abolish tuition fees for university students. The article by Hugo Gye runs

Sir Keir Starmer said last night that he would keep Labour’s promise to scrap tuition fees as he vowed to embrace much of the Corbyn agenda.

He said: “Labour must stand by the commitment to end the national scandal of spiralling student debt and abolish tuition fees.”

The leadership front runner also committed to nationalising trains, energy companies, water and the Royal Mail.

Speaking ahead of the first televised hustings in the leadership race, Sir Keir announced 10 pledges which  he said would “unite Labour, defend its radical values and take on the Tories.”

The policies encompass much of what was included in the party’s general election manifesto, but excluded the free broadband idea.

I’m not entirely happy with Starmer, as I believe him to be a man of the Labour right. Tony Greenstein has put up piece showing that he has also sided with the police and authorities against protesters. As part of this, he successfully defended the policeman, whose assault on a man returning home from work during the riots of 2010 led to his death. And his team also includes Luke Akehurst and his cronies. Akehurst is a fanatical Zionist and one of the people behind the anti-Semitism witch hunt in the Labour party. But if Starmer is sincere about the embracing much of Corbyn’s policies – which were genuinely popular – then it shows that he is serious about uniting the party and creating an effective challenge to the Tories and the Thatcherite neoliberalism that is wrecking this country, and impoverishing and killing its people.

Trump’s Climate Denial Is a Danger to Post-Brexit Britain

January 23, 2020

Yesterday Mike put up a piece reporting and commenting on Trump’s denunciation of Green activists at the Davos summit. He called them ‘prophets of doom’, who were trying to dominate, control and transform the lives of everyone in the world, and announced that he would not change his country’s high carbon economy. He would, though, sign up for planting, restoring and conserving a trillion trees.

This didn’t impress Greta Thunberg, who was also there. Mike quotes her as saying

“Our house is still on fire. Your inaction is fuelling the flames by the hour, and we are telling you to act as if you loved your children above all else,” she said.

“You say: ‘We won’t let you down. Don’t be so pessimistic.’ And then, silence.”

And she asked: “What will you tell your children was the reason to fail and leave them facing… climate chaos that you knowingly brought upon them? That it seemed so bad for the economy that we decided to resign the idea of securing future living conditions without even trying?”

Beeb wildlife presenter Chris Packham also made a speech about the climate emergency at the BAFTA’s, warning that unless we act to solve the environmental crisis, future generations may look on Trump, Jair Bolsonaro of Brazil, Vladimir Putin and Australia’s Scott Morrison in the same way as mass murderers like Hitler, Stalin and Pol Pot, because of the millions killed through climate change.

Mike also makes the point that while the world’s leaders are doing nothing about climate change, Boris is moving closer to a trade deal with Trump, one that will also make him deny the danger. Mike states that our clown of a prime minister has missed opportunities to make a difference, and asks if he will sell us down the river again for the sake of a few American dollars.

See: https://voxpoliticalonline.com/2020/01/22/trumps-prophets-of-doom-speech-suggests-the-uk-should-not-enter-trade-deal-with-him/

The answer is yes, yes, he will. And it’s for the same reasons Trump and the rest of the Republican party are denying climate change: powerful corporate interests. The Republicans received very generous campaign funding from big industrialists like the Koch brothers and the other heads of the fossil fuel industry. These big businessmen also sponsor fake grassroots organisations and biased scientific think thanks in order to lobby against and discredit climate research and laws to protect the environment. The results have been disastrous. Since he took power, Trump has gutted the environmental protection agency and forbidden it from publishing anything supporting climate change or environmental decline in America. Koch money has seen universities close down proper climate and environmental research and their replacement with laboratories and organisations funded by the brothers and others in the fossil future industry. These present as fact the false information they want the public to hear: that climate change isn’t occurring, and the coal and oil industries ain’t wrecking the landscape. But these industries are. There are a whole sections of the Louisiana swamps that is heavily polluted by oil. The oil pipeline through indigenous people’s land in Idaho that made the news a few years ago was opposed because the indigenous people of the area feared that there would be spillages that would pollute the water they use for drinking and which nourishes their wildlife. They were right to do so. There have been a large number of similar spillages, which have not garnered so much media attention, which have similarly contaminated vast acreages of land. And then there’s the whole fracking industry, and the damage that has also caused the water table in areas where it has been allowed.

These are the industries funding Trump’s campaign. They’re part of the reason why there were right-wing jokers all over the internet yesterday sniggering at Trump’s put down of Thunberg. Trump and his supporters really do believe that environmentalists are some kind of crazy apocalyptic cult with totalitarian aims. There’s a section of the American right that really does believe Green activists are real, literal Nazis, because the Nazis were also environmentally concerned. And the corporate interests sponsoring Trump are the same industries that want to get a piece of our economy and industries.

The Tories have already shown that they are little concerned about the environment. They have strongly promoted fracking in this country, and the book The Violence of Austerity contains a chapter detailing the Tories’ attacks on the environment and Green protest groups. David Cameron’s boast that his would be the greenest government ever vanished the moment his put his foot across the threshold of Number 10.

If Boris makes a Brexit trade deal with Trump, it will mean that our precious ‘green and pleasant land’ is under threat from highly polluting, environmentally destructive industries. It will mean further reductions in funding for renewable energy in favour of oil, gas and coal, attempts in this country to discredit and silence respectable, mainstream climate research and scientists in favour of corporate-sponsored pseudoscience. And there will be further laws and state violence against environmental protesters.

Trump’s climate denial is a threat to the British environment, industry, the health of its people, democracy and science. But Boris depends on him for any kind of successful trade deal.

He will sell out and wreck this country and its people for those dollars offered by Trump and his corporate backers.

The Tory Attacks on Health and Safety Legislation Is Causing Carnage

January 21, 2020

Since almost as long as I can remember, the Tories and their lackeys in the press have been attacking health and safety legislation. The common reasons trotted out are that it is an unnecessary burden to employers, binding them with complicated red tape and costs. More recently the authors of Britannia Unchained and similar works have demanded that such legislation protecting people at work should be rolled back in order to make Britain more competitive against countries in the Developing World, whose workers don’t benefit by such protection. The Tories have tried to make this assault popular by making health and safety legislation seem not only cumbrous, interfering and bureaucratic, but also massively overprotective and silly. Remember all those stories from the Heil years ago claiming that, thanks to the ‘Nanny state’, schools were having to make children wear goggles before playing conkers?

The truth is that when health and safety legislation was introduced in the ’70s, it massively cut down on deaths and injuries among working people – and that’s basically why the Tories would like to get rid of it. They want labour to be cheap and easily disposable, and health and safety laws are an obstacle to that. And the chapter by Hilda Palmer and David Whyte in The Violence of Austerity by Whyte and Vickie Cooper shows exactly how devastating in terms of lives and injuries their attacks on the legislation has been. The government watchdog in charge of overseeing the implementation of the legislation, the Health and Safety Executive, has had its funding cut by 47 per cent. The Tories have also threatened to close it down altogether. In 2013 the government launched a review in order to see whether there was still a need for its functions and if it complied with good governance. The number of staff employed at the executive fell from 3,702 in April 2010 to 2,706 in December 2013. Since the Tories came to power, the number of inspections by the Executive has fallen by a third.

These cuts have resulted in an increase in work-related accidents and injuries, although the authors warn that the government’s figures are almost certainly too low. The real figures are almost certainly higher. They write

Typically, the official ‘headline figure’ published by the HSE records between 140 and 240 deaths per year resulting from sudden injury and 13,000 deaths caused by occupational diseases and illnesses. Those figures, however, only reflect a small proportion of total deaths caused by work. The first figure does not include key categories of deaths cause by work. The Hazards Campaign estimates that seven times more deaths are caused by work incidents than the figure official cited by the HSE. HSE figures exclude work-related road traffic deaths, the workplace deaths recorded in other industries that the HSE does not have formal responsibility for, like the maritime and civil aviation industries, or deaths to members of the public killed by a work activity, such as scaffold collapses or train crashes. A more complete estimate would also include suicides attributed to work related stress. There are approximately 6,000 suicides involving working-age people in the UK each year, and a number of those involve workers driven to despair by work-related stress. In Japan, where work-related suicides are officially recognised and compensated, it is estimated that 5 per cent of suicides are work-related. This estimate, if applied to the UK, would amount to roughly 300 people killed through work related strees.

In sum, a more complete figure of workplace deaths caused by sudden injury, which takes into account all of the above exclusions, would amount to between 1,000 and 1,400 deaths every year, or 3-4 deaths per day. (p. 142).

They also argue that the estimated number of deaths from occupational diseases are also probably grossly underestimated once recent academic studies are taken into account. For example, a 2005 study of the causes of occupational and environmental cancer by Richard Clapp estimated that about 8-16 per cent of all cancer deaths came from occupational cancer. If the mid-range figure of 12 per cent is taken as the number of occupational deaths from cancer, the number of people dying through work-related cancer is 18,000 per year.

A 2005 paper in the journal Occupational and Environmental Medicine estimated tath 15-20 per cent of all cases of COPD – chronic obstructive pulmonary disease – could be work related. Which means 6,000 deaths per year. There is also evidence that up to 20 per cent of all deaths from heart disease are related to conditions at work. This figure adds up to 20,000 deaths per year.

A further conservative estimate that diseases in which work can be a contributory cause, such as Parkinson’s, Alzheimer’s, rheumatoid arthritis and so on comprise a further 6,000 deaths per annum.

They state

All of this adds up to an overall estimate by the Hazards Campaign of up to 50,000 deaths from work-related illness every year – four times the typical HSE estimate of around 13,000 per year. Our contention then, is that the HSE figures grossly underestimate the number of workers whose current working conditions expose them to both the well-known and the newer risk factors, that will produce the workers deaths of the future. (p. 143).

They also make the point that the death toll is still rising, because of toxins to which people may have been exposed to as much as 40 years previously, such as some carcinogens. The EU has estimated that in the 1990s five million workers, or 22 per cent of the working population, were exposed to cancer-causing substances.

They also argue that, thanks to austerity, more workers are suffering under poor working conditions that are damaging their health. These include bullying and harassment, long hours, and the zero hours contracts imposed on 5.5 million workers. The insecurity these contracts cause are linked to stress, heart and circulatory diseases. Workers are also still exposed to dusts and chemicals that cause or contribute to respiratory and heart diseases. They also point to the connection between low paid work and poor safety standards

Low paid work guarantees more than hardship: low pay goes hand in hand with low safety standards. Occupational injuries and diseases such as diabetes and cancer are directly linked to low paid jobs. (p. 144).

They also make the point that the ‘compensation culture’ the Tories have claimed exists is actually a myth. In fact, many workers don’t receive the compensation to which they’re entitled. They write

One of the first moves of the Coalition government, in October 2010, was to appoint Lord Young, a former Cabinet minister under Margaret Thatcher, to deliver ‘a Whitehall-wide review of the operation of health and safety laws and the growth of the compensation culture.’ He found absolutely no evidence of this ‘compensation culture’, citing figures which actually showed a downward trend to legal claims, but still demanded action to deal with ‘red tape’. Indeed, figures obtained by Hazards Magazine show that fewer than one in seven people suffering an occupational injury or disease ever receive compensation. For occupational diseases alone, this drops to just one in twenty-six. For most occupational cancers, there is barely any prospect of compensation at all.  (p. 145).

They also show that the government’s division of work into high and low risk is also highly dubious and has resulted in an increase in deaths at work. It was done by Cameron’s government in order to restrict HSE inspections to those jobs considered high risk. But the low risk category is wide, and includes textiles, clothing, footwear, light engineering, road and air transport and docks, electricity generation and the postal and courier services. Hazards Magazine found that 53 per cent of all deaths at work caused by sudden injury were in the low risk sector. Palmer and Whyte state ‘In other words, the government’s fiscal purge of health and safety enforcement has meant abandoning scrutiny of the workplaces where the majority of deaths occur’. (p. 145).

Palmer and Whyte state that this death toll should be a ‘call to arms. to any government, regardless of its political stance. But instead, despite the ‘glaring’ evidence that the red tape is good for workers, employers and the economy, governments have doubled down and insisted that such legislation is an intolerable nuisance. This has reached the point where the HSE doesn’t even both to ask ‘what’s so wrong with red tape anyway?’ The government’s ideological obsession with red tape means that ‘there is no room for argument or evidence that health and safety legislation doesn’t burden business, while its absence carries a high cost to business, workers and the public purse.’

This means that when some rag like the Heil, the Depress, or the Scum claims that health and safety legislation is unnecessary, costly and stifling business, they are lying. And lying to defend an attitude to workplace safety that is murderously dangerous to working people.

But then, as the disabled have found, Tory responsibility for mass injury and death is nothing new.

 

 

Trotsky on the Failure of Capitalism

January 16, 2020

I found this quote from Trotsky on how capitalism has now outlived its usefulness as a beneficial economic system in Isaac Deutscher and George Novack, The Age of Permanent Revolution: A Trotsky Anthology (New York: Dell 1964):

Capitalism has outlived itself as a world system. It has ceased to fulfill its essential function, the raising of the level of human power and human wealth. Humanity cannot remain stagnant at the level which it has reached. Only a powerful increase in productive force and a sound, planned, that is, socialist organisation of production and distribution can assure humanity – all humanity – of a decent standard of life and at the same time give it the precious feeling of freedom with respect to its own economy. (p. 363).

I’m not a fan of Trotsky. Despite the protestations to the contrary from the movement he founded, I think he was during his time as one of the leaders of the Russian Revolution and civil war ruthless and authoritarian. The Soviet Union under his leadership may not have been as massively murderous as Stalin’s regime, but it seems to me that it would still have been responsible for mass deaths and imprisonment on a huge scale.

He was also very wrong in his expectation of the collapse of capitalism and the outbreak of revolution in the Developed World. As an orthodox Marxist, he wanted to export the Communist revolution to the rest of Europe, and believed that it would be in the most developed countries of the capitalist West, England, France, and Germany, that revolution would also break out. He also confidently expected throughout his career the imminent collapse of capitalism. This didn’t happen, partly because of the reforms and welfare states established by reformist socialist parties like Labour in Britain and the SPD in Germany, which improved workers’ lives and opportunities, which thus allowed them to stimulate the capitalist economy as consumers and gave them a stake in preserving the system.

It also seems to me that capitalism is still actively creating wealth – the rich are still becoming massively richer – and it is benefiting those countries in the Developing World, which have adopted it, like China and the east Asian ‘tiger’ economies like South Korea.

But in the west neoliberalism, unregulated capitalism, certainly has failed. It hasn’t brought public services, like electricity, railways, and water supply the investment they need, and has been repeatedly shown to be far more inefficient in the provision of healthcare. And it is pushing more and more people into grinding poverty, so denying them the ability to play a role as active citizens about to make wide choices about the jobs they can take, what leisure activities they can choose, and the goods they can buy. At the moment the Tories are able to hide its colossal failure by hiding the mounting evidence and having their hacks in the press pump out favourable propaganda. But if the situation carries on as it is, sooner or later the mass poverty they’ve created will not be so easily hidden or blithely explained away or blamed on others – immigrants, the poor themselves, or the EU. You don’t have to be a Trotskyite to believe the following:

Unfettered capitalism is destroying Britain – get rid of it, and the Tories.

UK Police Targeting Non-Violent Protest Groups as Terrorists

January 11, 2020

Mike this morning has put up a piece about the police in the south-east of England placing Extinction Rebellion on a list of extremist organisations and ideologies, which should be reported to the authorities running the Prevent programme. This comes from the Guardian, which states that the environmental activist group is included in a 12 page document, Safeguarding Young People and Adults from Ideological Extremism along with Islamism and neo-Nazism. This is, of course, of concern because Extinction Rebellion are actually non-violent, unlike Nazis and Islamists. I think they’re included because of their tactics of direct action. They deliberately try to stop and block traffic. This is an immense pain, and I don’t blame the commuters, who tried to pull one of them off a train they’d stopped to give him a beating, although I don’t approve of them wanting to beat him up. But Extinction Rebellion not violent, and don’t deserve to be treated as terrorists.

See: https://voxpoliticalonline.com/2020/01/10/terrorism-police-listed-extinction-rebellion-as-extremist-why-does-boris-johnson-get-off-the-hook/

But Extinction Rebellion aren’t alone. There is a chapter in The Violence of Austerity by Rizwaan Sabir, ‘Policing Anti-Austerity through the ‘War on Terror’, on the way anti-austerity activists are viewed almost as terrorist groups by an increasingly militarised police. Sabir tells how he obtained copies of the City of London’s police’s ‘Terrorism/extremism communique’ and similar documents through a Freedom of Information request after the communique had appeared on the net in 2011. These documents included UK Uncut, Occupy London and a number of other, peaceful groups, alongside al-Qaeda and the Columbian rebel group, FARC. One of the terrorist attacks the police believed were being planned was a ‘yoga and mediation flashmob’ by the group, Wake Up London.

When queried, the City of London Police claimed that the document’s title was a mistake and that they did not intend Occupy London to be included as a terrorist organisation. Sabir finds this unconvincing, as the information would have to have been collected by Special Branch and the Counter-Terrorism Department, and they’d done this seven times before. It was less of a mistake than a habit. Furthermore, the City of London police had a project to counter ‘hostile reconnaissance’, Servator. This refers to ‘criminals’, including extreme protest groups, organised crime and terrorists’. He also describes how the police used unlawful terror tactics to harass and intimidate protesters and journalists at Climate Camp’s 2008 protest against a power station in Kent.

He concludes that the use of coercive tactics used against activists and campaigners as counter-terrorism measures is neither new nor unique. The police see such activists as terrorists, and so feel justified in using violence and coercion against them. And the blurring of the boundaries between peaceful activism and terrorism leads the public to become indifferent to the criminalisation of protesters and the militarisation of the police. He concludes

Such policing practices undermine the UK’s purported commitment to human rights processes and its claim that it upholds principles of liberal democracy.

But you can’t really expect otherwise from the Tories.

Weird Science: Plants as Interplanetary Communication Devices

January 9, 2020

Science Fiction has been described as the literature of ideas, and one of the most bizarre ideas is that grass is an artificial computing device. This strange notion appears in Clifford Simak’s 1965 novel, All Flesh Is Grass. This is about a small American town that finds itself completely enclosed beneath a forcefield. The town is on a nexus linking our world and its counterpart in a parallel universe. Investigating the force field and the strange disappearance years earlier of a mentally handicapped lad, the hero finds himself transported to this alternative Earth, where he meets the missing boy, now grown up. He also encounters a group of mysterious travellers from yet another universe, who have come to the world simply to listen to music and dance. Returning to our Earth, he finds that the force field has been put around the town by intelligent extradimensional aliens. There is a series of alternative Earths, who have come together to form some kind of interdimensional federation. These wise, enlightened beings wish to help humanity. They are skilled physicians, and show their good intentions by healing the town’s sick free of charge. It’s revealed that grass is some kind of intelligently engineered device, which was used by an alien race for information storage thousands of years ago.

As with many of the stranger ideas in literature, whether Science Fiction or not, you wonder where the idea came from. Some clue is perhaps given in the 1973 Erich Von Daniken book In Search of Ancient Gods: My Pictorial Evidence for the Impossible. Beginning on page 192, the world’s most notorious author on ancient astronauts discusses how two American scientists suggested that plants could be extraterrestrial communication devices. He writes

So far all attempts to capture signals from the cosmos with the aid of electromagnetic waves have failed. Dr George Lawrence of the Ecola Institute in San Bernardino, California, hit on a fantastic new way to communicate with extraterrestrial intelligences. Lawrence wondered if plants connected to an electronic control system would be suitable for communication with the universe. It is known that plants possess electrodynamic properties, indeed their capacity to assimilate tests and react in a binary way like a computer is sensational. Lawrence closely observed the semiconductive and general electromotive capacities of plants. He asked himself the following questions as part of his programme:

  1. Can plants be integrated with electronic apparatuses in such a way that they yield usable data?
  2. Can plants be trained to react to specific objects or events?
  3. Is the assumption that plants have the capacity for exception perception provable?
  4. Which of the 350,000 kinds of plants is most suited for the test. (p. 192)

Von Daniken then goes on to describe how plants respond to electric stimulation, and how Dr Clyde Backster, an expert in lie detectors, observed similar responses in 1969 during experiments in which he believed his test plants responded telepathically, at first to himself lighting a match, and then to a bucket of shrimps being plunged into boiling water. This response became known, apparently, as the Backster effect. Von Daniken continues

Dr Lawrence next tried to use plants for electromagnetic contact with the cosmos. A series of experiments, christened Project Cyclops, was organised over a distance of seven miles in the Mojave Desert, near Las Vegas. On 29 October 1971 at the same fraction of a second the measuring sets attached to the plants registered heightened curves which were transferred to the tape by an amplifier. What was going on? Was something underground stimulating the plants? Were there torrents of lava, earthquakes, magnetic influences? New sets were made, the plants were protected in lead boxes and Faradaic cages. The result was the same! Observed over a long period of time, curves and notes showed a certain synchronicity. The plants seemed to be communicating. Plants cannot think: they can only react. Every conceivable kind of magnetic wavelength was tried. At the moment of the different reactions, nothing could be heard. Could the process be connected with the fixed stars, with quasars or radiation? A new series of experiments clearly showed that the cause came from the cosmos. Radioastronomers with their gigantic antenna could pick up nothing, but plants showed violent reactions. Obviously a wavelength that functioned biologically was involved. This brought the experimenters into a territory whose existence has been suspected, but which is not measurable so far – telepathy. A biological contact took place in a way unexplained to date, but during the detour via the cells it became measurable. Dr George Lawrence said on the subject:

Obviously biological interstellar communication is nothing new. We have only 215 astronomic observatories in the world, but about a million of the biological type, although we call them by other names such as churches, temples and mosques. A biological system (mankind) communicates (prays) to a far distant higher being. Biological understanding is also the order of the day in the animal kingdom; we have only to think of dogs and cats which find their way home again by instinct. A fascinating feature of the experiments in the desert is the realisation that these biological contacts with the cosmos are connected with the speed of light.

The suspicion is growing stronger that the plants are called up by someone in the constellation Epsilon Bootes at a hundred times the speed of light. That is also why radioastronomers could not register the transmissions. Why use a big drum when a kettledrum is available? Perhaps we have investigated interstellar contacts with the wrong instruments, the wrong wavelengths and the wrong spectrum until now. (p.194-5).

This is clearly very fringe science, if not actually pseudoscience of the type likely to get Richard Dawkins grinding his teeth. It also merges into a kind of New Age pantheism, in which the cosmos itself may be some kind of God or supreme intelligence. It’s all very different from what I was taught in secondary school that grass was a monocotolydon. That means, it only has one leaf. I also note that the experiments started in 1971, some six years after Simak published his novel. But scientists and novelists were discussing plant intelligence from the 1950s onwards, including the idea that they could feel pain. It’s now been found that plants do communicate biochemically, and there was an article in the papers last week stating that they do feel pain. Perhaps Lawrence’s ideas, or ideas similar to them, were being discussed several years before Lawrence conducted his experiments, and influenced Simak when he wrote his book.

‘I’ Review of Art Exhibition on Ecological Crisis and Some Solutions

January 8, 2020

Also of interest in yesterday’s I was a review by Sarah Kent of the exhibition, Eco-Visionaries, at the Royal Society in London. This was about the current ecological crisis, and showcased some possible solutions to the problem, some of them developed by architects. This included a moving desert city, the Green Machine, which also planted a watered crops as it moved. The article ran

Melancholy humming welcomes you to the exhibition, with a globe suspended in the cloudy waters of a polluted fish tank. This simple installation by the artist duo HeHe neatly pinpoints our predicament: our planet is suffocating.

“The absence of a future has already begun,” declare Ana Vaz and Tristan Bera in a film, Reclaimed (2015). We know this already – according to the UN, we need to cut carbon emissions to zero by 2050 if we are to prevent the collapse of the Earth’s ecosystem. So what are we waiting for?

Vaz and Bera highlight the problem. The situation requires a wholesale change in attitude: minor tinkering can’t solve it. We need “reciprocity with nature rather than domination… We are nature.” We are mesmerised by events such as the Arctic on fire, Greenland’s ice-cap melting and Venice drowning. But the scale of the problem is so enormous that we can only watch, “fascinated by the acceleration” of the crisis.

The collective Rimini Protokoli encourages us to confront our imminent extinction. On film we see a tank full of languidly floating jellyfish. They flourish in the warming seas and, with diminishing fish stocks, there’s less competition for the plankton they feed on, so their numbers are increasing dramatically. Humans are similarly multiplying – by 2050, according to the UN, there will be 9.7 billion of us – but unlike jellyfish, we require too much energy to adapt to climate change so, like the dinosaurs, our days are numbered. At the end of the presentation they invite us to go with the words: “Your time is up; you will have to leave.”

The Royal Academy is to be congratulated for hosting an exhibition that tackles this urgent issue, but the show exemplifies the problem. The warnings are persuasive, but the solutions envisaged are pitifully inadequate, mainly by architects who don’t address the catastrophe but instead offer us post-apocalyptic follies. The Green Machine (2014) is Studio Malka’s answer to desertification. Resembling a giant oil rig, this monstrosity trundles across the Sahara on caterpillar treads that plough the ground then sow and water the seeds to produce 20 million tons of food per year. Solar towers, wind turbines and water-capturing balloons create a “self-sufficient urban oasis” for those inside. What percentage of the 9.7 billion will they accommodate, I wonder?

Studio Malka’s Green Machine mobile desert city.

It’s a grim subject, and clearly the ecological crisis requires drastic action across the entire globe and very soon. But I am fascinated by the Green Machine. It reminds me of the giant moving cities that cross the devastated future Earth in the SF film Mortal  Engines. As for how many people such a machine could house, the answer is: very few. Douglas Murray’s book Last Futures: Nature, Technology and the End of Architecture predicts that if we carry on as we are, we will end up with a future in which the rich will inhabit closed, protected environments like the various biodomes that were created in the 1990s, while the rest of humanity will be left to fend for itself in the decaying world outside.

It’s a bleak, dystopian prediction, but one I fear will come true if we carry on electing leaders like Trump and Johnson.

Labour Leadership Candidate Lavery Blames ‘Remain’ for Labour Defeat

January 3, 2020

Yesterday’s I (2nd January 2020) also ran this report on the candidates for the Labour leadership by Jane Merrick, ‘Labour ‘foisted Remain on working class’. This runs

One of the architects of Labour’s historic election defeat has claimed that the party’s attempt to “foist Remain” on working class communities was responsible for last month’s result.

Ian Lavery, the party’s chairman and general election campaign coordinator, denied that Jeremy Corbyn’s policies contributed to the losses.

Mr Lavery is among several Labour MPs considering running to succeed Mr Corbyn. Ahead of nominations opening next week, speculation is mounting that Jess Phillips, one of the most widely recognised MPs among the general public, is about to announce her candidacy.

Yesterday she tweeted: “2020 starts with fire in my belly and I promise that won’t change.”

I’m a Remainer, but Lavery’s right: all the northern and midland communities that voted for Boris were Leave areas. Labour’s manifesto promises for the nationalisation of rail, water and electricity, strengthening the welfare state, restoring workers’ rights and union power, were actually well-received and polled well. But they’re a threat to the upper and upper middle classes, including media barons like Murdoch, the weirdo Barclay twins and Lord Rothermere, so the Tory press is doing its absolute best to try and discredit them.

And the I unfortunately is also following this line. It has always backed the ‘Centrists’ in the Labour, for which read ‘Blairites’ and ‘Thatcherite entryists’, who stand for more privatisation and the destruction of the welfare state. But they pretend – mostly – to be more ‘moderate’ than the Tories. The I’s also been promoting female candidates for the party leadership, and loudly denouncing opposition to them as ‘misogyny’. It’s noticeable in all this that the women, who’ve thrown their hats into the ring are all Blairites, and so the election of someone like Phillips would just be a liberal disguise for the right-wing policies underneath. Just like Hillary Clinton over the Pond is right-wing and militaristic, and therefore very establishment. But she was claiming that, as a woman, she was somehow an outsider, and the people, including women, who back Bernie Sanders for the Democratic nomination for the presidency instead were just misogynists.

At the moment the I’s backing Lisa Nandy, who appears to be another wretched Blairite.

Lavery, however, is working class, and so a far better spokesman for those areas and people that have suffered from the neoliberalism the Tories and their pet press have pushed on us.