Archive for the ‘England’ Category

How the ‘White’ Race Was Invented to Divide the American Working Class

April 10, 2017

There was another, very interesting piece in Counterpunch last week by Richard Moser, ‘Pawns No More: Ted Allen and the Invention of the White Race’. This discussed the work of Theodore W. Allen’s classic analysis of the origins of racism and racial oppression in America, The Invention the White Race: Volume I Racial Oppression and Social Control and Volume II: The Origins of Racial Oppression in Anglo-America. Allen was a White working class writer and political activist, who spent 20 years working in the Virginia state archives to amass an impressive amount of evidence to support his view: that the ‘White’ race was invented by the colonial authorities to divide the bonded poor, both Black and White, and stop the formation of a united working class opposition to slavery.

Allen noted that when the first Africans arrived at Jamestown in 1619, there was no special status attached either to them or to people of European origin. Indeed, Whites, as a special demographic category, did not exist, and would not exist until after Bacon’s Rebellion 60 years later. Moser writes

What Allen discovered transformed our understanding of race in America and can transform our organizing practice and activism.

He shocked readers with a startling finding:

“When the first Africans arrived in Virginia in 1619, there were no “white” people there; nor according to colonial records would there be for another sixties years.”1

Oh, yes, there were English and Irish, but nowhere in the colonial record is there evidence that law or society granted special privileges to people based on European origin.

The white race and white identity were “invented,” Allen argued, by the ruling elite of Virginia, in order to divide laboring people in the aftermath of Bacon’s Rebellion of 1676. The white race was constructed and used as a political instrument to divide and conquer.

How did this come to be?

By 1620 or so, a system of unfree labor became the dominant labor system in Virginia. The system was essentially slavery, some “bond-laborers” had time-limited contracts, but most servitude was open to interpretation by custom. A majority of these bond-laborers were Europeans.

The archival evidence is clear, as well, that the role of African and African Americans was “indeterminate.” From 1619 to the years following Bacon’s Rebellion, the status of black people was contested in the courts and in the fields. Africans held a variety of social and economic positions: some were limited term slaves, some free, some endured lifetime bondage, while others were property holders, even including a few slave owners.

It was not until after Bacon’s Rebellion, or the second phase of Bacon’s Rebellion to be precise, that law and society created a new custom of racism, and for that to happen, the white race had to be invented.

What was the trigger?

“[I]n Virginia, 128 years before William Lloyd Garrison was born, laboring class African-Americans and European-Americans fought side by side for the abolition of slavery. In so doing, they provided the supreme proof that the white race did not then exist.”3

The Rebellion occupied the capital of Jamestown and pointed the way toward freedom for everyone, by contesting the rule of the oligarchs who had grown rich on slave labor and land stolen from the natives.

“[I]t was the striving of the bond-laborers for freedom from chattel servitude that held the key to liberation of the colony from the misery that proceeded from oligarchic rule…” 4

After the rebellion was suppressed, law and custom began to shift. Europeans were increasingly designated as “white” in the historical record, and given privileges that conferred a “presumption of liberty” while blacks were increasing subjected to legal and cultural limits to their freedoms. Whites were encouraged to view blacks with contempt and see their inferior social positions as proof of innate inferiority.

Conditions for working class Whites continued to be appalling throughout the US, both in the North as well as in the South, but there was a major difference between White and Black. The law presumed Whites were free, and so they had the ability to improve their conditions, and even such basic rights as the right to basic literacy – which were denied enslaved Africans.

Moser’s article is written not just as a piece of interesting historical analysis, but as a piece of factual ammunition for the campaign against the neoliberal rule of the rich elite in Trump’s America. He concludes

Here is Allen’s legacy and challenge to us: racism is historical, it is the product of human activity. If it was then, it is now. Racism was founded on a system of privileges designed to win working class white people’s support for slavery. And so it is to white privilege that we must look if we want to free ourselves from being the tools and fools of the rich and powerful.

We must be pawns no more.

The article’s at: http://www.counterpunch.org/2017/04/06/pawns-no-more/

This is important. American progressives have repeatedly pointed out the way the corporate elite are using working class White racism to bolster their own dominance, while at the same time doing everything they can to deny working and middle class Americans of their rights and ability to make a decent living, regardless of race. Bernie Sanders recounts in his book, Our Revolution, how he asked a local union leader in Mississippi how the Republicans got so many poor Whites to vote against their own interests. The union leader told him: racism.

Trump, Bush senior and junior, and Reagan all used White working class fears of Blacks and Black empowerment to get Whites to vote for them and policies that favoured only the rich in a policy that goes all the way back to Nixon’s ‘Southern Strategy’.

And the corporate elites over this side of the Atlantic have also used the same approach. It isn’t as blatant as it is in America, because British laws banning the promotion of racial hatred makes some of the overtly racist rhetoric of some American politicians illegal. But it’s there, nonetheless. You think about the way the Tories have constantly harped on the dangers of immigration, and the way that shaded quite quickly into racism with the vans Cameron sent round into mostly Black and Asian areas, which encouraged illegal immigrants to hand themselves in. Or asked the public to snitch on illegal immigrants. And then there’s UKIP, which again tried to attract White working class support through opposition to immigration, which at several times crossed over into real racism and Islamophobia, attracting members, who were very definitely part of the Fascist right. All the while also promoting policies that would hurt the very working class White voters they pretended to want to protect, such as privatising the health service, destroying the welfare state, as well as employment rights and rights for women.

Moser’s right in that this strategy, and the people behind it, need to be shown for what they are: a wealthy, corporate elite, who don’t care about the White working class, only about their own rule and power. A wealthy elite, who are using them to divide and rule working people. An elite that fears Whites and Blacks coming together to break their power and improve conditions for all working and middle class people, regardless of race. Theodore Allen’s analysis of the origins of the ‘White’ race is an important part of that ideological struggle.

Counterpunch Article Attacking Story that Assad to Blame for Last Week’s Poison Gas Attack

April 10, 2017

On Saturday I put up a couple of pieces from the Jimmy Dore show, in which the American comedian presented a very strong case that the horrific nerve gas attack, that prompted Trump to bomb Syria and threaten the country with invasion, was not the responsibility of Assad. He pointed out that Assad is actually winning the civil war against the insurgents, and so has nothing to gain and everything to lose from launching such an attack. He also pledged to destroy his chemical weapon stocks, which leaves the al-Nusra Front, who are basically al-Qaeda in Syria, and the other terrorist groups the sole possessors of such weapons. He also pointed out that the al-Nusra soldiers handling the bodies don’t wear the protective gloves needed when handling victims of Sarin gas. The area attacked doesn’t look like the area that was alleged to have been attacked, but instead resembles very much one of the rebel bases. The doctor tweeting about the alleged attack, Dr Shajul Islam, was investigated in Britain for what Dore calls ‘semi-terrorism offences’. And the victims of the attack themselves look like people, who were kidnapped a week or so ago from villages supporting Assad by the rebels. Dore also cited a previous chemical weapon attack, that was also blamed on Assad in 2013, which was also found to be a false flag attack. It was staged instead by Turkish intelligence in order to draw Obama into the war on the rebels’ side.

Last Friday, Tareq Haddad in Counterpunch also wrote a piece casting doubt on the assertion that Assad and the Syrian government were responsible for the attack. He reminded his readers of the false claims about weapons of mass destruction that were used to justify the invasion of Iraq. He also mentioned the widely reported lie that Iraqi soldiers had thrown babies out of incubators in a hospital after the invasion of Kuwait. This was another lie used to justify the Gulf War in the early 1990s.

In his article, Haddad presented the following points, which argue against Assad’s responsibility.

One: In spite of the assertions of US officials, there is still no independently verified evidence to suggest President Bashar al-Assad’s troops were behind the suspected chemical weapon attack.

Two: Most evidence thus far has come from the British-based Syrian Observatory of Human Rights – a network of opposition activists – and the White Helmets, founded by a former British Army officer. Both groups openly align with anti-Assad forces and are not impartial.

Three: One of the doctors who documented the alleged use of chemical weapons and appeared on television networks claiming sarin was used is Shajul Islam, 31, from east London. In 2013, he was arrested for the kidnapping of two Western journalists and was considered a “committed jihadist” by MI6 before being struck off the General Medical Council in 2016.

Four: Assad, who trained as an eye doctor in London, is said to be so daft that he authorised the attack days before a major peace conference in Geneva and after he has already vastly gained the upper hand against anti-government militants.

Five: Faced with US invasion in 2013 and when former President Barack Obama made his “red line” declaration, Syria joined the Chemical Weapons Convention of the Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons and destroyed its 1,300-ton stockpile of chemical weapons and so-called precursor chemicals that can be used to make weapons.

Six: Though Assad is still believed to have some access to chemical weapons, he is not the only actor in Syria to do so. Following the 2013 chemical weapon attack in eastern Ghouta, which was immediately blamed on Assad, it emerged that groups such as the Al Qaeda-linked Al Nusra Front were more likely to be the perpetrators.

Haddad also discusses the false flag gas attack of 2013, and urged that before the US jumps in to start World War III, we should take steps to find out who really was responsible for the attacks.

See: http://www.counterpunch.org/2017/04/07/before-we-go-to-war-with-syria-inconvenient-truths-must-be-confronted/

The Case for Prosecuting Blair as War Criminal for Iraq Invasion

April 8, 2017

War Crime or Just War? The Iraq War 2003-2005: The Case against Blair, by Nicholas Wood, edited by Anabella Pellens (London: South Hill Press 2005).

This is another book I’ve picked up in one of the secondhand bookshops in Cheltenham. It’s an angry and impassioned book, whose author is deeply outraged by Blair’s unprovoked and illegal invasion, the consequent carnage and looting and the massive human rights abuses committed by us and the Americans. William Blum in one of his books states that following the Iraq War there was an attempt by Greek, British and Canadian human rights lawyers to have Bush, Blair and other senior politicians and official brought to the international war crimes court in the Hague for prosecution for their crimes against humanity. This books presents a convincing case for such a prosecution, citing the relevant human rights and war crimes legislation, and presenting a history of Iraq and its despoliation by us, the British, from Henry Layard seizing the archaeological remains at Nineveh in 1845 to the Iraq War and the brutalisation of its citizens.

The blurb on the back cover reads:

After conversations with Rob Murthwaite, human rights law lecturer, the author presents a claim for investigation by The Prosecutor of the International Criminal Court, Maanweg 174, 2516 AB The Hague, The Netherlands, that there have been breaches of the ICC Statute by members of the UK Government and Military in the run up to and conduct of the war with Iraq. That there is also prima facie evidence that the Hague and Geneva conventions, the Nuremberg and the United Nations Charters have been breached, and that this evidence may allow members of the UK and US Governments, without state immunity or statute of limitations, to be extradited to account for themselves. The use of hoods, cable ties, torture, mercenaries, cluster bombs, depleted uranium, aggressive patrols and dogs, is examined. Questions are raised over the religious nature of the war, the seizure of the oil fields, Britain’s continuous use of the RAF to bomb Iraq in 1920s, 1930s, 1940s, 1990s archaeologists acting as spies, the destruction of Fallujah, the burning and looting of libraries, museums and historic monuments; and the contempt shown towards Iraqis living, dead and injured.

In his preface Wood states that the conversation he had with Rob Murthwaite out of which the book grew, was when they were composing a letter for the Stop the War Coalition, which they were going to send to the International Criminal Court at the Hague. Wood himself is an archaeologist, and states that he is particularly shocked at the imposition of American culture in Saudi Arabia. The book’s editor, Anabella Pellens, is Argentinian and so ‘knows what imprisonment and disappearance mean’.

In his introduction Wood argues that there were four reasons for the invasion of Iraq. The first was to introduce democracy to the country. Here he points out that to Americans, democracy also means free markets and privatisation for American commercial interests. The second was to seized its oil supplies and break OPEC’s power. The third was Israel. The United States and Israel for several years before the War had been considering various projects for a water pipeline from the Euphrates to Israel. The Israelis also favoured setting up a Kurdish state, which would be friendly to them. They were also concerned about Hussein supplying money to the Palestinians and the Scuds launched against Israel during the 1992 Gulf War. And then there are the plans of the extreme Zionists, which I’ve blogged about elsewhere, to expand Israel eastwards into Iraq itself. The fourth motive is the establishment of American military power. Here Wood argues that in the aftermath of 9/11 it was not enough simply to invade Afghanistan: another country had to be invaded and destroyed to demonstrate the effectiveness of the American military machine.

Chapter 1 is a brief history of Iraq and its oil, with a commentary on the tragedy of the country, discussing the Gulf War and the Iraq invasion in the context of British imperialism, with another section on British imperialism and Kuwait.

Chapter 2 is a summary of the laws and customs of war, which also includes the relevant clauses from the regulations it cites. This includes

Habeas Corpus in the Magna Carta of 1215

The establishment of the Geneva Convention and the Red Cross

The Hague Convention of 1907: Respecting the Laws and Customs of War on Land
This includes a summary of the main clauses, and states the contents of the regulations.

The United Nations Charter of 1945

The Charter of the Nuremberg Tribunal, 1945
This sections shows how the judgements are relevant to the British invasion and occupation of Iraq. It also gives a summary of the judgments passed at the Nuremberg trials, beginning with the indictment, and the individual verdicts against Goering, Hess, Ribbentrop, Keitel, Kaltenbrunner, Frick, Streicher, Rosenberg, Frank, Funk, Schacht, Doenitz, Raeder, Von Schirack, Sauckel, Jodl, Von Papen, Seyss-Inquart, Speer, Von Neurath, Fritzsche, and Borman.

The Geneva Conventions of 1949 and their Protocols, containing extracts from
Convention 1 – For the Amelioration of the Condition of the Wounded and Sick in the Armed Forces in the Field; Convention III – Relative to the Treatment of Prisoners of War; IV – Relative to the Protection of Civilian persons in Times of War.

There are also extracts from

The Hague Convention for the Protection of Cultural Property in the Event of Armed Conflict, 1954;

Protocol 1 Additional to the Geneva Conventions of 1949 and Relating to the Protection of Victims of International Armed Conflicts, 1977.

Protocols to the Convention on Prohibitions or Restrictions on the Use of Certain Conventional Weapons Which May Be Deemed to Be Excessively Injurious Or to Have Indiscriminate Effects, Geneva 1980.

The 1997 Ottawa Convention and the treaty banning mines.

A summary of the rules of engagement for the 1991 Gulf War, which was issued as a pocket card to be carried by US soldiers.

The 1993 Hague Convention.

The Rome Statute of the International Criminal Court, 2002.

The International Criminal Court Act of 2001 and the incorporation of the Rome Statute into British law. This gives both the aims of the act and a summary of the act itself.

Lastly there are a few paragraphs on the Pinochet case of 1998, and extradition as a method of bringing justice.

Chapter 3 is on allies in war as partners in war crimes committed.

Chapter 4 is on the deception and conspiracy by Bush and Blair, which resulted in their invasion. This begins by discussing the American plans in the 1970s for an invasion of the Middle East to seize their oil supplies during the oil crisis provoked by the Six Day War. In this chapter Wood reproduces some of the relevant correspondence cited in the debates in this period, including a letter by Clare short.

Chapter 5 describes how Clare Short’s own experience of the Prime Minister’s recklessness, where it was shown he hadn’t a clue what to do once the country was conquered, led her to resign from the cabinet. Wood states very clearly in his title to this chapter how it violates one of the fundamental lessons of the great Prussian militarist, Clausewitz, that you must always know what to do with a conquered nation or territory.

Chapter 6: A Ruthless Government describes the vicious persecution of the government’s critics and their removal from office. Among Blair’s victims were the weapons scientist Dr David Kelly, who killed himself after questioning by the Chairman of the Joint Intelligence Committee and MOD and an intense attempt by Blair and his cabinet to discredit him; the Director General of the BBC, Greg Dyke, Gavin Davies, the Beeb’s chairman, and the reporter, Andrew Gilligan. Others target for attack and vilification included Katherine Gun, a translator at GCHQ, the head of the nuclear, chemical and biological branch of the Defence Intelligence Staff, Dr Brian Jones, Elizabeth Wilmshurst, a Deputy Legal Advisor to Foreign Office, George Galloway, Paul Bigley, the brother of the kidnap victim Ken Bigley, and Clare Short. Bigley’s apartment in Belgium was ransacked by MI6 and the RFBI and his computer removed because he blamed Blair for his brother’s kidnap and beheading by an Iraqi military faction. There is a subsection in this chapter on the case of Craig Murray. Murray is the former British ambassador to Uzbekistan, who got the boot because he told the government that the president was an evil dictator, who had boiled someone alive. This was most definitely not something Blair wanted to hear.

Chapter 7 is a series of cases studies. Each case has its own section, which includes the relevant Human Rights and war crimes legislation.

7A is on the breakdown of the country’s civil administration and political persecution. The two are linked, as Blair and Bush had all members of the Baath party dismissed from their posts. However, membership of the party was a requirement for employment in public posts across a wide range of fields. Wood points out that you could not even be a junior university lecturer without being a member of the party. As a result, the country was immediately plunged into chaos as the people who ran it were removed from their positions without anyone to take over. In this chapter Wood also discusses the unemployment caused by the war, and the disastrous effect the invasion had on the position of women.

7B is on the destruction of services infrastructure.

7C is on damage to hospitals and attacks on medical facilities.

7D is on the destruction and looting of museums, libraries and archaeological sites. Remember the outrage when ISIS levelled Nineveh and destroyed priceless antiquities in Mosul? The US and Britain are hardly innocent of similar crimes against this most ancient of nation’s heritage. The Americans caused considerable damage to Babylon when they decided to make it their base. This included breaking up the city’s very bricks, stamped with the names of ancient kings, for use as sand for their barricades around it. Remind me who the barbarians are again, please?

7E – Seizing the Assets is on the American and British corporate looting of the country through the privatisation and seizure of state-owned industries, particularly oil. This is very much in contravention of international law.

7F – Stealing their plants. This was covered in Private Eye at the time, though I’m not sure if it was mentioned anywhere else. Iraq has some of the oldest varieties of food crops in the world, among other biological treasures. These are varieties of plants that haven’t change since humans first settled down to farm 7-8 thousand years ago. Monsanto and the other GM firms desperately wanted to get their mitts on them. So they patented them, thus making the traditional crops Iraqi farmers had grown since time immemorial theirs, for which the farmers had to pay.

7G describes how the Christian religious element in the war gave it the nature of a Crusade, and religious persecution. The aggressive patrols and tactics used to humiliate and break suspects involve the violation of their religious beliefs. For example, dogs are unclean animals to Muslims, and would never be allowed inside a house. So dogs are used to inspect suspect’s houses, even the bedrooms, by the aggressive patrols. Muslims have their religious items confiscated, in contravention of their rules of war. One man was also forced to eat pork and drink alcohol, which is was against his religion as a Muslim. The message by some of the army ministers and preachers that Islam is an evil religion means that Iraqis, as Muslims, are demonised and that instead of being viewed as people to be liberated they are cast as enemies.

There are several sections on the restraint of suspects. These include the use of cable ties, hoods, which have resulted in the death of at least two people, setting dogs on people, standing for hours and other tortures, which includes a list of the types of torture permitted by Donald Rumsfeld, aggressive patrolling, killing and wounding treacherously – which means, amongst other things, pretending to surrender and then shooting the victims after they have let their guard down, marking the bodies of victims in order to humiliate them, the deliberate targeting of the house owned by the Hamoodi family of Chemical Ali, the mass shooting from aircraft of a wedding party in the Iraqi desert by the Americans, but supported by the British; another incident in which people gathered in a street in Haifa around a burning US vehicle were shot and massacred; cluster bombs, including evidence that these were used at Hilla; the use of depleted uranium. Thanks to the use of this material to increase the penetrating power of shells, the incidence of leukaemia and other cancers and birth defects has rocketed in parts of Iraq. Children have been born without heads or limbs. One doctor has said that women are afraid to get pregnant because of the widespread incidence of such deformities; the use of mercenaries. Private military contractors have been used extensively by the occupying armies. Counterpunch has attacked their use along with other magazines, like Private Eye, because of their lawlessness. As they’re not actually part of the army, their casualties also don’t feature among the figures for allied casualties, thus making it seem that there are fewer of them than there actually is. They also have the advantage in that such mercenaries are not covered by the Geneva and other conventions. Revenge killings by British forces in the attacks on Fallujah. 7W discusses the way the Blair regime refused to provide figures for the real number of people killed by the war, and criticised the respected British medical journal, the Lancet, when it said it could have been as many as 100,000.

In the conclusion Wood discusses the occupation of Iraq and the political motivations for it and its connection to other historical abuses by the British and Americans, such as the genocide of the Indians in North America. He describes the horrific experiences of some Iraqi civilians, including a little girl, who saw her sisters and thirteen year old brother killed by British soldiers. He states that he hopes the book will stimulate debate, and provides a scenario in which Blair goes to Jordan on holiday, only to be arrested and extradited to be tried as a war criminal for a prosecution brought by the farmers of Hilla province. The book has a stop press, listing further developments up to 2005, and a timeline of the war from 2003-5.

The book appears to me, admittedly a layman, to build a very strong case for the prosecution of Tony Blair for his part in the invasion of Iraq. Wood shows that the war and the policies adopted by the occupying powers were illegal and unjust, and documents the horrific brutality and atrocities committed by British and US troops.

Unfortunately, as Bloom has discussed on his website and in his books, Bush, Blair and the other monsters were not prosecuted, as there was political pressure put on the ICC prosecutor and chief justice. Nevertheless, the breaches of international law were so clear, that in 2004 Donald Rumsfeld was forced to cancel a proposed holiday in Germany. German law provided that he could indeed be arrested for his part in these war crimes, and extradited to face trial. To which I can only salute the new Germany and its people for their commitment to democracy and peace!

While there’s little chance that Blair will face judgement for his crimes, the book is still useful, along with other books on the Iraq invasion like Greg Palast’s Armed Madhouse, and the works of William Bloom, in showing why this mass murderer should not be given any support whatsoever, and his attempt to return to politics, supposedly to lead a revival of the political centre ground, is grotesque and disgusting.

The book notes that millions of ordinary Brits opposed the war and marched against it. Between 100 and 150 MPs also voted against it. One of those who didn’t, was Iain Duncan Smith, who shouted ‘Saddam must go!’ Somehow, given Smith’s subsequent term in the DWP overseeing the deaths of tens or hundreds of thousands of benefit claims after their benefits were stopped, this didn’t surprise. He is clearly a militarist, despite his own manifest unfitness for any form of leadership, military or civil.

Michael ‘Poundland Pinochet’ Howard Rattles Sabre over Gibraltar

April 3, 2017

Mike over Vox Political posted up a piece today reporting Michael Howard’s belligerent comments about Gibraltar. Theresa May didn’t mention Gibraltar when she gave the EU her notification that Britain would like to trigger Article 50. As Spain also has territorial claims to the Rock, the EU then inserted a clause stating that Spain would have a veto over any negotiations.

This has caused Howard to start getting his toy sword out, and start waving it around whichever parliamentary play room he now inhabits. Howard has declared that Britain will defend Gibraltar, and that the country will rally round the Tory party, just like they rallied around Mrs T. over the Falklands.

Mike over at Vox Political points out how stupid this is, and includes a selection of tweets about it from the many others, who also think that Howard has gone off the deep end. At least one of them points out that NATO countries cannot go to war on each other. Others point out that the EU was formed to stop European countries attacking each other. And there’s a piece from 2000 AD’s Calhab Justice way back in the 1990s, in which Britain nukes Spain over Gibraltar.

And Mike also points out that Gibraltar, unlike England, voted to stay within the EU.

See: http://voxpoliticalonline.com/2017/04/03/poundland-pinochet-michael-howard-thinks-uk-should-declare-war-on-spain-over-gibraltar/

There are number of aspects to this latest piece of Tory warmongering that need to be commented on. Firstly, the Tories have nearly always been the War Party. During the 1990s under Blair the situation was reversed, and many Tories campaigned against his evil and mendacious invasion of Iraq. Now that they’re in power, the situation has reversed again and the Tories are back to demanding more fire and blood. As usual.

Now dictatorial regimes faced with a domestic crises often start an international crisis in order to divert attention away from their weaknesses. Franco used to do it too with Gibraltar. As soon as his regime started to look insecure and unrest increased, he’d start banging on about sovereignty in order to get the Spanish people to rally round him. Mussolini and Hitler were both imperialists by conviction, rather than expediency, but they also used their imperial ambitions to divert resentment away from their regimes to the countries they fought and invaded.

Now under Theresa May, Michael Howard is using the same tactic.

Which suggests that you really can’t trust the polls. They may show that the Tories are way ahead in the polls, but the fact that Howard feels that a war is needed to rally Brits around them, and raise the spectre of Thatcher and the ‘Falklands Factor’ again, suggests otherwise. Whatever the polls say, it appears that secretly some Tories are very worried.

Good. Let’s make ’em petrified.

Howard talks about Margaret Thatcher and the Falklands, but it could very easily have gone the other way. At the time, Thatcher was cutting back the armed forces. I got the impression that we were able to defeat the Argentinians because we had the help of the Americans and Chile.

The Tories have similarly cut back the armed forces since David Cameron took power. Even before then, British troops in Afghanistan had problems acquiring needed kit, to the point where Private Eye reported that they were being nicknamed ‘the borrowers’ from their American comrades because they were forced to borrow theirs.

America also cannot be relied upon to give its support automatically to Britain. Britain lost the Suez canal when it was seized by Nasser back in the 1950s, because the Americans refused to back Eden’s proposal for military action. This effectively ended Britain as a leading superpower, and our replacement by the Americans.

Lobster’s editor, Robin Ramsay, is very critical of the EU as an instrument of economic domination across the Continent in favour of big business. He’s run several articles arguing very strongly, and with very good evidence, that Britain’s membership of the Common Market, or EEC, as it then was, was due to lobbying by right-wing business groups and the Americans. Now I don’t support Brexit, but do accept that there is much about the EU that is undemocratic and massively needs reform. I mention that the Americans pressured us into the joining the EEC to make the point that they may not support us if we withdraw.

In short, the Americans will embarrass May’s government by denying Britain their support to safeguard their own interests, just like they did Eden.

But let’s suppose that somehow, Britain did go to war with Spain. This could escalate, as both sides start trying to find allies. It’s unlikely, but this could end up with NATO divided, and several of its countries shooting and bombing each other.

In which case, congratulations, Howard and May. You’ve just destroyed 70 years of western European peace and divided a continent, causing massive bloodshed. Because you wanted to get yourselves re-elected by causing another Falklands War.

And finally there’s a lesson from the First World War. This was opposed by radical Socialists across Europe as an imperialist war. It was fought by the great powers for the benefit of big business. The ordinary Brit, Frenchman, German or Austrian was being told to sacrifice his or her life for the profit or their country’s ruling classes. Ordinary working people across Europe had more in common than national divisions, and so should not participate in a fratricidal war.

The same criticism applies exactly today to Howard’s ludicrous outburst. Neoliberalism is the economic doctrine espoused by the political elites across Europe and the rest of the globe. But it is doing nothing to benefit the poor and working people. Indeed, quite the opposite. Poverty is increasing. Now Howards wants to start a war with Spain, or threaten a war with Spain, so that his neoliberal party of exploiters can benefit by bamboozling working people into dying on their behalf.

Just like Blair did in the invasion of Iraq.

We were lied to about that war. Millions have perished and been displaced as a result. We will not be lied to again.

Bernie Sanders’ Presidential Medicare For All Bill

April 3, 2017

In his book, Our Revolution: A Future to Believe In, which I reviewed yesterday, Bernie Sanders devotes an entire chapter to the problem of healthcare. He states very clearly and in great detail why America a system of free healthcare, which he calls Medicare For All. He shows that 48 million Americans cannot afford health insurance, and those that can, still may not be able to afford to go to the doctor because of the complex system of deductions that are part of private health insurance policies. The costs of prescription drugs is artificially high thanks to the pharmaceutical companies, so that poor Americans may not be able to afford them. Despite the Republicans sounding off, like the Tories over here, about the importance of access to mental health care, this is all beyond the reach of many Americans. As is proper dentistry. I’m English. Orwell joked as long ago as the 1940s in his book The Lion and the Unicorn: Socialism and the English, how my people have bad teeth, and it’s a gibe that’s been made regularly by Americans ever since. But despite the shining whiteness of the toothy-pegs of Hollywood celebrities, even this is beyond many Americans. Sanders describes how dentists and dental nurses in one county in Virginia once a month treat patients free for a day. So desperate are people for this treatment, that they actually sleep over night in their cars.

America needs Medicare For All. Bernie included it as one of the planks of his presidential campaign. He gives the text of it in his book. Here it is.

Medicare For All:
Leaving No One Behind

Coverage

A federally administered single-payer health care p0rogram means comprehensive coverage for all Americans. This plan will cover the entire continuum of health care, from inpatient to outpatient care; preventive to emergency care; primary to specialty care, including long-term and palliative care; vision, hearing and oral health care; mental health and substance abuse services; as well as prescription medications, medical equipment, supplies, diagnostics, and treatments. Patients will be able to choose a health care provider without worrying about whether that provider is in-network and will be able to get the care they need without having to read any fine print or trying to figure out how they can afford the out-of-pocket costs.

What It Means for Patients

As a patient, all you need to do is go to the doctor and show your insurance card. A single-payer plan means no more co-pays, no more deductibles, and more fighting with insurance companies when they fail to pay for charges.

Getting Health Care Spending Under Control

We outspend all other countries on our health, and our medical spending continues to grow faster than the rate of the inflation. Creating a single, public insurance system will go a long way toward getting health care spending under control. The United States has thousands of different health insurance plans, all of which set different reimbursement rates across different networks for providers and procedures. This results in an enormous amount of paperwork and high administration costs. Two patients with the same condition may get very different care depending on where they live, the health insurance they have, and what their insurance covers. A patient may pay different amounts for the same prescription drug depending solely on where the prescription is filled. Health care providers and patients must navigate this complex and bewildering system, wasting precious time and resources.

By moving to an integrated system, the government will finally have the ability to stand up to drug companies and negotiate fair prices for the American people collectively. The government will also be able to track access to various providers and make smart investments to avoid provider shortages and ensure that communities have the providers they need.

Major Savings for Families and Businesses

The United States currently spends $3.2 trillion on health care each year – about $10,000 per person. Reforming our system, simplifying our payment structure, and incentivising new ways to make sure patients are actually getting better care will generate massive savings. This plan has been estimated to save the American people and businesses more than $6 trillion over the next decade.

The Typical Middle Class Family Would Save Over $5,000 Under This Plan

Last year, the average working family paid $4,955 in premiums and $1,318 in deductibles to private health insurance companies. Under this plan, a family of four earning $50,000 would pay just $466 per year to the single-payer programme, amounting to a saving of over $5,800 for that family each year.

Business Would Save Over $9,400 a Year
in Health Care Costs for the
Average Employee

The average annual cost to the employer for a worker with a family who makes $50,000 a year would go from $12,591 to just $3,100.

How Much Will It Cost?

This plan has been estimated to cost $1.38 trillion per year.

How Would It Be Paid For?

* A 6.2 per cent income-based health care premium paid by employers. Revenue raised: $630 billion per year.

* A 2.2 per cent income-based premium paid by households. Revenue raised: $210 billion per year. A family of four taking the standard deduction can have income up to $28,800 and not pay this tax.

Progressive Income Tax Rates

* Revenue raised: $110 billion a year. Under this plan the marginal income tax rate would be:

* 37 per cent on income between $250,000 and $500,000.

* $43 per cent on income between $500,000 and $2 million.

* 48 per cent on income between $2 million and $10 million. (In 2013, only 113,000 households, the top 0.08 per cent of taxpayers, had income between $2 million and $10 million).

*52 per cent on income above $10 million. (In 2013, only 13,000 households, just 0.01 per cent of taxpayers, had income exceeding $10 million).

* Taxing capital gains and dividends the same as income from work. Revenue raised: $92 billion per year. Warren Buffett, the second-wealthiest person in the country, has said that he pays a lower effective tax rate than his secretary. The reason is that he receives most of his income from capital gains and dividends, which are taxed at a much lower rate than income from work. This plan will end the special tax break for capital gains and dividends on household income above $250,000.

* Limit tax deductions for the rich. Revenue raised: $15 billion per year. Under this plan, households making over $250,000 would no longer be able to save more than 28 cents in taxes from every dollar in tax deductions. This limit would replace more complicated and less effective limits on tax breaks for the rich, including the alternative minimum tax, the personal exemption phaseout, and the limit on itemised deductions.

* The Responsible Estate Tax. Revenue raised: $21 billion per year. This provision would tax the estates of the wealthiest 0.3 per cent (three-tenths of 1 per cent) of Americans who inherit over $3.5 million at progressive rates and would close loopholes in the estate tax.

* Savings from health tax expenditures. Revenue raised: $310 billion per year. Several tax breaks that subsidise health care (health-related “tax expenditures”) would become obsolete and disappear under a single-payer health care system, saving $310 billion per year.

Most important, health care provided by employers is compensation that is not subject to payroll tax or income taxes under current law. This is a significant tax break that would effectively disappear under this plan, because all Americans would receive health care through the new single-payer, rather than employer-based program.

(pp. 334-8).

Bernie Sanders: Our Revolution – A Future to Believe In

April 2, 2017

London: Profile Books 2016

Bernie Sanders is the ‘democratic socialist’ senator for Vermont, who ran against Hillary Clinton last year for the Democratic presidential nomination. He didn’t get it. Although he had more grass roots support than Killary, he was cheated of the nomination through the intervention of the Democrat superdelegates, who massively favoured her. He is the man, who should now be occupying the White House, rather than the gurning orange lump of narcissistic Fascism now doing his best to drag the country back to before the Civil War. The polls show that Bernie could have beaten Trump. But he wasn’t elected, as Bernie’s far too radical for the corporate state created by the Republican and mainstream, Clintonite Dems.

How radical can be seen from this book. It’s part autobiography, part manifesto. In the first part, Sanders talks about his youth growing up in Brooklyn, how he first became interested and aware of politics as a student at Chicago University, his political career in Vermont, and his decision to run for as a presidential candidate. This part of the book also describes his campaigning, as he crisscrossed America holding rallies, talking at town hall and union meetings, appearing on TV and social media trying to get votes. A strong feature of the book is Bernie’s emphasis on his background as one of the country’s now threatened lower middle class. His father was a Jewish immigrant from Poland, who worked as paint salesman. He and his family lived in a rent-controlled apartment in Brooklyn, where conditions were cramped so that they often slept on couches. He freely admits that his parents were also relatively affluent and had more disposable income than others.

After having left uni, he began his political career in Vermont in 1971 when he joined and campaigned for the senate in the Liberty Union party, a small third party in the state. During the same period he also ran a small company producing educational films on the history of Vermont and other states in New England. Finding out that none of the college students he spoke to had ever heard of Eugene Victor Debs, he went and brought one out on the great American labour leader and socialist politician. On the advice of a friend and college professor, Richard Sugarman, Sanders ran for election as mayor of Burlington. He won, introducing a number of important welfare, educational and municipal reforms he called ‘socialism in one city’, a play on Stalin’s slogan of ‘Socialism in One Country’. He was strongly opposed by the Democrats. A few years afterwards, however, he was elected to Congress as an Independent, where, despite some resistance from the Democrats, he was finally admitted to the Democratic Caucus. In 2006 he ran for senator, contested the seat vacated by the Republican, Jim Jeffords, who had retired. By 2013 he was being urged by his supporters to campaign for the presidential nomination. To gauge for himself how much support he was likely to receive, Sanders went across America talking to ordinary folks across the country. After this convinced him that he had a chance, he began to campaign in earnest.

At the beginning of his campaign for the nomination, Sanders was very much the outsider, getting 15 per cent of the votes polled to Clinton’s 60 per cent. Then he started winning, climbing up the ladder as he took something like seven out of eight states in a row. The corporatist wing of the Democrats did everything they could to block his rise, culminating in the theft of the nomination through the intervention of the superdelegates.

Sanders is a champion of the underdog. He garnered much support by going to communities, speaking to the poor and excluded, often in very underprivileged neighbourhoods where the police and security guards were worried about his safety. He spoke in a poor, multiracial community in New York’s South Bronx, and to poor Whites in rural Mississippi. The latter were a part of the American demographic that the Democrats traditionally believed were impossible to win. Sanders states that actually speaking to them convinced him that they were way more liberal than the political class actually believe. During a talk to a group of local trade unionists, Sanders asked why people in such a poor area voted Republican against their interests. This was one of a number of counties in the state, that was so poor that they didn’t even have a doctor. The union leader told him: racism. The Republicans played on Whites’ hatred of Blacks, to divide and rule the state’s working people.

Sanders makes very clear his admiration for trade unions and their members, and how frequently they know far better than the politicians what is not only good for their members, but also good for the industry, their customers, and their country. He praises the nurses’ unions, who have endorsed his campaign and backed his demand for a Medicaid for all. He similarly praises the workers and professionals maintaining America’s infrastructure. This is massively decaying. 25 per cent of American bridges are, according to surveyors, functionally obsolete. Towns all over America, like Flint in Michigan, have had their water poisoned by negligent water companies. The electricity grid is also unspeakably poor. It’s ranked 35th worst in the world, behind that of Barbados. Yep! If you want to go to a country with a better electricity network, then go to that poor Caribbean country.

He describes how the poor in today’s America pay more for less. Drug prices are kept artificially high by pharmaceutical giants like Pfizer, so that many poor Americans can’t afford them. In one of the early chapter, he describes leading a group of women from Vermont over the Canadian border, so that they could buy prescription drugs cheaper. These same companies, like the rest of the big corporations, do everything they can to avoid paying tax. In some cases, these big corporations pay absolutely none. This is because of the corruption of American politics by donations from big business. As a result, the country’s politicians don’t represent the ordinary voters. They represent big business. He makes it clear he respects Hillary Clinton, but ran against her because you can’t combine representing ordinary people with taking money from the corporate rich. And at the heart of this corruption is the Koch brothers, oil magnates with a personal wealth of $82 billion and a corporate wealth of $115. They are not, explains Bernie, small government conservatives, but right-wing extremists. Their goal is to dismantle taxation completely, along with Medicaid and what little the country has of a welfare state. All so that the 1 per cent, who own as much as the poorest 90 per cent of the American population, can get even richer.

Sanders goes further to describe the massive inequalities that are now dividing American society, including the racism and sexism that ensures that women, Blacks and Latinos are paid less than White men. The notorious drug laws that have ensured that more Blacks are jailed for marijuana and other drugs than Whites. The crippling debt that faces more and more Americans. 48 million Americans are in poverty. 24 million have no health insurance. Many of these are people, who are in work, and frequently working their rear ends off just to make ends meet. He describes talking to a charity worker, who purchases just out of date food to give to the local food bank. According to the young man he spoke to, 90 per cent of the people using the bank are working Americans, whose jobs pay so little that they literally can’t afford to eat. In this section of the book he quotes a letter from a woman, who states that she and her husband are work 2 and 3 jobs each, but still can’t make a living. As a result, the young can’t afford to buy their houses, or go to university. He contrasts this with the situation in the 1950s. It wasn’t utopia, and there was still massive inequalities in wealth according to race and gender. But the economy was expanding, more people had the prospect of good, well-paying jobs, owning their own homes, and sending their children to college. This America is disappearing. Fast.

Sanders has given his support to women’s groups, and is a very staunch anti-racism campaigner. Amongst those who backed his campaign were Harry Belafonte and Dr. Cornel West, among other Afro-American intellectuals, performers and politicians. He also received the support of a number of Hollywood celebrities, including Seth MacFarlane and Danny DeVito. And comic book fans everywhere with genuinely progressive values will be delighted to here that his campaign manager ran a comic book store in Vermont. Presumably this guy is completely different from the owner of the Android’s Dungeon in The Simpsons. Sanders talks about his support for the Civil Rights movement, and Selma march, paying due tribute to its heroes and heroines, including Dr. Martin Luther King. He’s also a keen supporter of Black Lives Matter, the Black movement to stop cops getting away with the murder of Black people. As part of his campaign against racism, he also actively supports the campaign against the demonization of Muslims and rising tide of Islamophobia in America. When he was asked whether he would support this by a Muslim American, Sanders replied that he would, as his own father’s family were Jewish refugees from Poland.

Sanders is also strongly opposed to the current wars in the Middle East. He was not in favour of Gulf War 1 in the 1990s, and has attacked the invasion of Iraq under Bush for destabilising the country and region, and causing massive carnage. But he was no supporter of Saddam Hussein, and is also a staunch supporter of veterans, adding his political clout to their campaigns to stop the government cutting their benefits. He points out that the blame for these wars lie with the politicos, not the soldiers who had fight.

Bernie also takes worker ownership very seriously. Among the policies that he recommends for saving and expanding the American middle class are strengthening workers’ cooperatives and allowing workers to purchase their companies. One of the measures he states he will introduce will be to establish a bank to lend funds to American workers so that they can buy their own companies. He also wants to end the ‘too big to fail’ attitude to the big banks and start regulating them again. And as part of his campaign to strengthen and expand American democracy, he is a very harsh critic of the various laws the Republicans have introduced in states across America to stop Blacks, Latinos, the poor and students from voting. He also asks why it is that European countries can afford free medical care, but America can’t. And why Germany can provide college education free to its students, while Americans are faced with a mountain of debt.

Sanders is a genuine American radical in the tradition of Eugene Debs. It’s no wonder that the rich and the powerful now trying to pull the country back into the colonial era, when it was ruled by coterie of rich White men. He states that his country is now an oligarchy, and even a ‘banana republic’. He’s right, and right about the ways these issues can and should be tackled.

The Republicans have also tried to deter people from voting for him based on his apparent lack of interest in religion. They couldn’t attack him for being Jewish – although with those monsters Spencer and Gorka in the White House, I don’t know how long that will hold – so insinuated that he was an atheist. Well perhaps. But Sanders does have religious supporters. His friend and support Richard Sugarman is an Hasidic Jew and Sanders himself several times states how impressed he is with Pope Francis’ support for the global poor. He also made it clear in a speech he gave to the very Conservative Liberty University that he was impressed with the good in all religions, Judaism, Christianity, Islam, Buddhism, whatever. So he’s secular, but not anti-religious. Just anti-bigotry, and the way the right is trying to use religion to divide America.

It’s also remarkable that Sanders was the focus of a popular phenomenon far beyond his own campaign team. He states in the book that he wanted to control the campaign, and not have a SuperPAC telling people what he didn’t or didn’t believe. But he also found that up and down America, people at the grassroots were organising independently of his campaign team to support him. Unlike the astroturf fake populist campaign the Republicans and Libertarians have set up, Bernie’s genuinely popular with a growing number of American working people.

America desperately needs him. And so do we in Britain. The predatory, parasitical capitalism at the heart of American society has also been exported over here by the Conservatives. Just like the Americans need Bernie, we need Corbyn. And we need the two together, because if Bernie can do anything to stop the current political degeneration in America, it will also help stop the process over here.

Incidentally, Bernie has a personal connection with Britain. His brother is a member of the Green party in Oxfordshire, and campaigns against the privatisation of the NHS. Sanders also has a strong interest in protecting the environment and promoting renewable energy.

I also recommend this book to aspiring young politicos because of the chapters in which he talks about running a campaign, funded by your own supporters, not corporate backers, and what you need to do when running about the country. Like making sure you can get there in time and aren’t double-booked. It’s good advice, and although the latter seems obvious, he talks about a number of incidents in which he disastrously failed to follow it.

Sanders talks about the way people are being turned off politics in America, thanks to the massive corporate corruption. This also reaches into corporate media. Sanders also has a few ideas how they can be reformed. He himself was the subject of a media blackout, as the TV and news companies definitely did not want to cover him, and very much favoured Killary. Hopefully Bernie’s book will reach more of the alienated folk now being excluded from American politics, and show them that there is someone actively fighting for them. And so encourage them to get involved for themselves.

How Labour Can Become a Party of the Countryside

April 2, 2017

Last Thursday Mike put up a piece asking ‘How can Labour become the party of the countryside again?’, following the announcement by the Fabian Society that it was launching a project to investigate ways in which the Labour party could start winning over rural communities in England and Wales. The Society stated that the government had promised to match the subsidies granted to farmers and rural communities under the Common Agricultural Policy until 2020. However, farmers are faced with the devastating prospect of losing access to European markets, while being undercut by cheap foreign imports. Environmental regulations are also threatened, which also affect the continuing beauty of the English and Welsh countryside.

The Society recognises that agriculture isn’t the only issue affecting rural communities. They also suffer from a range of problems from housing, education, transport and the closure of local services. Rural communities pay more for their transport, and are served worst. At the same time, incomes in the countryside are an average of £4,000 lower than in the towns, but prices are also higher. Many market towns, pit villages and other rural communities have been abandoned as their inhabitants have sought better opportunities in the towns.

The Society is asking Labour members in rural communities to fill out a survey, to which Mike’s article is linked, and give their views on how the party can succeed in the countryside.

http://voxpoliticalonline.com/2017/03/28/how-can-labour-become-the-party-of-the-countryside-again/

This is a fascinating project, and if successful would see Labour challenge the Tories and Lib Dems in their heartlands. The Tories in particular seem to see themselves as the party of the countryside since the 18th and 19th centuries, when they represented the Anglican aristocracy, who tried to emphasise the rural traditions of a mythical prosperous ‘merrie England’ against the threat of the towns of the growth of the Liberal middle class.

Mike states that one of the problems he’s faced as a Labour party campaigner in his part of rural Wales is the myth that ‘Labour wants to nationalise farms’. Clearly, this is the part of the same complaint I remembering hearing from middle class children at school that ‘Labour wanted to nationalise everything’. It was to allay these suspicions that Blair went off and got rid of Clause 4 as part of his assault on Labour as the party of the working class. But even before then it was nonsense.

Following Labour’s defeat in the 1950 elections, the party halted its programme of nationalisation. Labour was in any case committed to nationalise only when it was necessary and popular. Thus, Atlee’s government set up the NHS and nationalised the utilities, with very little opposition from the Tories, but did not proceed further. And the Social Democratic section of the party, led by Tony Crosland, argued very strongly against nationalisation on the grounds that it was not only unpopular, but the benefits of nationalisation could be achieved in other ways, such as a strong trade union movement, a welfare state and progressive taxation.

This held sway until the 1970s, when the Keynsian consensus began to break down. Labour’s response in 1973 was to recommend a more comprehensive programme of nationalisation. They put forward a list of 25 companies, including the sugar giant, Tate & Lyle, which they wanted taken into public ownership. How large this number seems to be, it is far short complete nationalisation.

The party was strongly aware of the massive problems the Soviet Union had in feeding its population, thanks to the collectivisation of agriculture. Most of the food produced in the USSR came from the private plots the peasants were allowed on their kholkozy – collective farms. Tito’s government in Yugoslavia had attempted to avoid that by letting the farms remain in private hands. At the same time, only companies that employed more than 20 people were to be nationalised.

Even in the 1930s and 40s I don’t think the nationalisation of farmland was quite an option. Looking through the contents of one of the secondhand bookshops in Cheltenham, I found an old copy of Production for the People, published by the Left Book Club in the 1940s. This explored ways in which Socialists could raise production in industry and agriculture, to the benefit of working people. The section on agriculture was almost wholly devoted to the question of subsidies and suitable government infrastructure to support farmers. I can’t remember there being any mention of nationalisation. The closest the book came was to argue for an expansion of rural cooperatives.

This project may well embarrass the Fabian Society. I’ve got the distinct impression that the Society is now staffed very strongly with Blairites, and it is Blairism as a barely left extension of Thatcherism that is at the heart of so many of the problems of rural communities. Blair, for example, like Major and now the administrations of Cameron and May, strongly supported the big supermarket chains. But the supermarket chains have done immense damage to Britain’s small businessmen and farmers. They force small shopkeepers out of business, and impose very exploitative contracts on their suppliers. See the chapter on them in George Monbiot’s Captive State. Yet national and local governments have fallen over to grant their every wish up and down the country. David Sainsbury even had some place in one of Blair’s quangos. I think he even was science minister, at one point.

If Labour would like to benefit farmers and traders, they could try and overturn the power of the supermarket chains, so that farmers get a proper price for their products and are not faced with the shouldering the costs while Sainsbury’s, Tescos and so on reap all the profits. At the same time, your local shops together employ more people than the local supermarket. So if you cut down on the number of supermarkets in an area, you’d actually boost employment. But this is unlikely to go down well with the Blairites, looking for corporate donations and a seat on the board with these pernicious companies when they retire or lose their seat.

At the same time, rural communities and livelihoods are also under attack from the privatisation of the forestry service. Fracking is also a threat to the environment, as is the Tories campaign against green energy. A number of villages around Britain, including in Somerset, have set up local energy companies generating power from the sun and wind. But the current government is sponsored heavily by the oil and nuclear companies, and so is desperate to close these projects down, just like the Republicans are doing in America.

The same goes for the problems of transport. After Maggie Thatcher decided to deregulate bus services, the new bus companies immediately started cutting unprofitable services, which included those to rural areas. If Labour really wants to combat this problem, it means putting back in place some of the regulations that Thatcher removed.

Also, maintaining rural communities as living towns and villages also means building more houses at prices that people in the countryside can afford. It may also mean limiting the purchase of housing stock as convenient second homes for wealthy urbanites. The Welsh Nats in the ’70s and ’80s became notorious for burning down holiday homes in Wales owned by the English. In actual fact, I think it’s now come out that only a tiny number – perhaps as low as 1 – were actually destroyed by Welsh nationalists. The rest were insurance jobs. But I can remember my Welsh geographer teacher at school explaining why the genuine arsonists were so angry. As holiday homes, they’re vacant for most of the year. The people, who own them don’t live locally, and so don’t use local services, except for the couple of weeks they’re there. Furthermore, by buying these homes, they raise the prices beyond the ability of local people to buy them, thus forcing them out.

This is a problem facing rural communities in England, not just Wales, and there are some vile people, who see nothing wrong with it. I’ve a friend, who was quite involved in local politics down in Somerset. He told me how he’d had an argument on one of the Somerset or rural British websites with a very right-wing, obnoxious specimen, who not only saw nothing wrong with forcing local country people out of their homes, but actually celebrated it. This particular nutter ranted on about how it was a ‘new highland clearances’. I bet he really wouldn’t like to say that in Scotland!

Labour may also be able to pick up votes by attacking the myth of the fox hunting lobby as really representing rural Britain. Well, Oscar Wilde once described them as ‘the unspeakable in pursuit of the inedible’. Which about accurately describes them. They were resented in the early 19th century, when some farmers and squires started ‘subscription hunts’. Their members where wealthy urban businessmen, off for a day’s ‘sport’ in the country. At the same time, harsh laws were passed against poaching, which saw starving farm workers transported.

Mike’s put up statistics several times on his blog, which show very much that very many, perhaps even the majority, of rural people do not support fox hunting. And I know people from rural Britain, who actively loathed and detested it. I had a friend at College, who came from Devon. He bitterly hated the Tories and the fox hunters, not least because the latter had ridden down a deer into school playing field and killed it in front of the children.

Another friend of mine comes from East Anglia. He told me how many of the tenant farmers over there also hated the fox hunting crowd, not least because of the cavalier way they assumed they had the right to ride over the land of the small farmers in pursuit of the ‘game’.

The fox hunting crowd do not represent rural Britain as a whole, and their claim to do so should be attacked and shown to be massively wrong at every opportunity. As for the Tories’ claim to be the party of the countryside, they have represented the interests only of the rich landed gentry, and the deregulation and privatisation introduced by Maggie Thatcher and carried on by successive right-wing administrations, including May and Cameron, have done nothing but harm real working people in rural Britain. The bitter persecution of the farmworker’s unions set up in the 19th century clearly demonstrate how far back this hatred and contempt goes.

The Young Turks Lay in to Daily Mail’s Sexist Cover

March 30, 2017

The Daily Heil regularly judges women and girls on their appearance, rather than their intellectual abilities and achievements, but a few days ago they surpassed themselves by running a piece by Sarah Vine about whether Theresa May or Nicola Sturgeon had the best legs as their cover story. The headline was ‘Never Mind Brexit, What about Legs-It’ or something similar, and showed a photograph of May and Sturgeon sitting together in skirts which rose above the knees. And The American progressive internet news show, The Young Turks, have duly laid into the article for its sexism.

Cenk Uygur noted that Theresa May just shrugged it off as a ‘bit of a laugh’, as she would, considering that one of her press secretaries used to work for the Heil. Ed Miliband, the former Labour leader, simply commented that ‘the 1950s called. They want their headline back.’ Uygur and his co-host, Ana Kasparian, then ripped into the article proper. This raved about how the women’s ‘pins’ and ‘shanks’ were the two women’s greatest weapons. However, Theresa May sat demurely, as befitting the public schoolgirl vicar’s daughter she was. Sturgeon, however, was rather more sexy, ‘seductively’ pointing her feet at the audience.

Uygur and Kasparian point out that the article’s describing two of the most powerful women in Britain – the British Prime Minister, and the First Minister of Scotland. These two ladies were discussing a vitally important issue – Britain’s departure from the European Union, which also threatens to destroy the three-century old union with Scotland, should Scots vote to remain in the EU. And the Daily Mail is there trivialising the issue into a simple contest over which one had the better legs. Uygur says at one point that he doesn’t know what Vine’s ‘proclivities’ are, but Sturgeon wasn’t trying to seduce the audience. She was just sitting there. Kasparian was also deeply unimpressed about the Mail’s blatant sexism, and advised Vine to go off and examine her life.

Here’s the video:

This rather unsavoury piece of journalism is very much par for the course for the Mail, whose articles frequently comment on the appearance of female personalities and celebrities. The newspaper was specifically aimed at a female readership when it was set up in the 20s or 30s. It was aimed at the wives of the men, who read the Torygraph. Despite this, it has a very strong anti-feminist stance. In the 1990s it ran an article about a group of women calling themselves the fluffragettes. These young women were a kind of anti-feminist group, who wanted women to go back to being more ‘feminine’ – in their view – by being ‘fluffy’. And feminists have frequently criticised the paper for the way it judges women by their appearance. This is not just demeaning, but also dangerous. Many girls and young women are severely anxious about their bodies, which can and does lead to problems like eating disorders and an obsessive concern with pursuing an illusory ideal of female beauty and physical perfection, an ideal that can take over and ruin the lives of women, who have absolutely nothing wrong with their appearance in the first place. And this is quite apart from fostering the attitude that, whatever else a woman may achieve, her primary role is simply to look good.

This whole issue also distorts and complicates attitudes in the workplace. Since the 1970s feminists have been campaigning against sexual harassment at work. Again, a few years ago there was a piece of research, in which groups of men and women were shown or played footage of a man greeting female colleagues in various ways, including commenting on their appearance. This was done in order to gauge what the audience considered sexual harassment. Normal greetings at the start of the working day, like ‘Good morning, Mrs X,’, or ‘Hi, Sue’ obviously don’t count. When it involves commenting on a woman’s appearance, it can be sexist or demeaning, or be construed as such.

The Mail’s obsession with female appearance creepily extends to teenage girls. A few years ago Ian Hislop and some of the other panelists on Have I Got News For You also laid into the Heil for its very dubious moral stance in whipping up fears about predatory paedophiles, when it also ran sexualised articles about teenage girls. They made the point that the newspaper regularly printed articles showing photographs of 14 year old girls under headlines admiring their beauty.

I have to say I was really somewhat amazed by the Mail’s attitude, as it didn’t strike me that there was anything particularly sexy about the women’s pose. May and Sturgeon are politicians, which is hardly a physically glamorous profession. One comedian once said that it was ‘Hollywood for ugly people’. It’s not entirely true, but it does make the point that most politicians aren’t there because of their good looks. Nor should they be. The only criteria for their election to office should be whether they are effective representatives of their constituencies and good managers and leaders. And it also goes without saying that they should also be moral, law-abiding citizens.

It’s also not a bad idea to have a female journo commenting on May and Sturgeon as politicians and negotiators. There’s one strand of feminism, which says that women bring a different set of skills and perspectives to politics than their male comrades. I did wonder whether Thatcher deliberately excluded women from her cabinet, because they could see through her management strategies in a way that may not have been apparent to the men there, and so formed a potential challenge to her authority. If women do have a different leadership style, then it would make sense to have a female writer analyse it, as she might be able to perceive subtle nuances that may not be quite so apparent to a bloke.

But this was precisely what the article didn’t give us. We didn’t get any deep insights into the debate about Brexit and the British constitution between the two leaders. We just got a bit of drivel about which one had the better ‘pins’. It really does make you wonder about the people writing and reading the Heil. My guess is that many of the hacks there have come from the even lower end of the tabloid spectrum, like the Scum, which regularly feature various attractive young women in states of undress. The Heil is supposedly somewhat above this style of journalism, but as this headline showed, not by much. The journalistic urge to write about how glamorous and sexy a woman is, is still very much there. It’s just that it’s now applied to female politicians.

I think Ana Kasparian’s right. Someone at the Heil desperately needs to sort their life out. Or take a cold shower, at least.

Future Possible ESA Space Launchers from 2005

March 26, 2017

The British Interplanetary Society published these designs for a possible future space launcher for ESA, the European Space Agency, in their magazine Spaceflight, vol. 47, no.5, for May 2005. Below it was a caption explaining some of them. This read

Artist sketch of several concepts considered under ESA’s Future Launcher Preparatory Programme (FLPP). On top left are the European eXPEriment Re-entry Testbed (EXPERT) capsule and the Intermediate Experiment Vehicle (IVX), a hypersonic re-entry demonstrator. Below are the Phoenix suborbital reusable demonstrator and two concepts advanced reusability demonstrators.

On the right are concepts for future operational launch systems – a fully reusable winged shuttle, a fully expendable launcher and partly reusable launch vehicle.

Maintaining a guaranteed access to space for Europe is one of ESA’s strategic missions. In order to prepare the future European launch systems, which might replace the current Ariane launchers when they will have to retire, ESA and European space industry are reviewing multiple concepts to ensure the continuity of European space transportation while reducing the cost of putting payloads into orbit.

In 2001 it was proposed the ESA Council should set up a programme to assess concepts for future European launchers. The result was the decision to set up the FLPP. This programme, kicked off in 2004, covers the further development of expendable launchers as well as the identification and assessment of technologies required to design partly or fully reusable launch systems.

I’m afraid I don’t know what, if anything, was decided about these spacecraft. For all I know some or all of them may still be under consideration. If Skylon does become a reality and begins flights from a British spaceport in 2020, I think it’ll probably stimulate interest in competing spaceplanes from the other European nations, such as the Hermes spaceplane in France and the Saenger craft in Germany.

Counterpunch on Washington’s Fear of a Russia-EU Superstate

March 23, 2017

There’s a very interesting article in today’s Counterpunch by Mike Whitney, which suggests that the current demonization of Russia and its president, Vladimir Putin in the American media and the build up of troops and military installations on Russia’s borders – in Poland and Romania, for example – is to prevent Russia joining the EU. It begins with a speech by Putin, from February 2012, in which Putin declared that Russia was an inalienable part of greater Europe, its people think of themselves as Europeans, and that is why Russia is moving to create a greater economic space, a ‘union of Europe’, stretching from the Atlantic to the Pacific. The carefully orchestrated ‘Orange Revolution’ in Ukraine, which saw the pro-Russian president ousted in favour of the current, pro-Western government, which includes unreconstructed Nazis, is part of Washington’s programme to prevent the emergence of this massive superstate.

The article revisits the Mackinder doctrine. This was the thesis, put forward by a geographer in the early 20th century, that the crux for global power is control of the Eurasian landmass. Mackinder believed that the powers that ruled it would become the dominant global power, while those on the Atlantic fringe of the landmass, such as Britain, would be doomed to decline. He notes that Russia is rich in supplies of oil and natural gas, which it can easily supply through the construction of projected pipelines, to Europe.

Whitney states that the Americans are also concerned at the way the Chinese are also increasing their economic connections across Eurasian through the construction of roads and railways allowing the rapid and efficient transhipment of their consumer goods. Hence the construction and reinforcement of American military bases in South Korea and in the Far East. The Americans hope to block China’s economic growth by dominating the sea lanes militarily.

Whitney also argues that the Russians and Chinese are emerging as the new, global economic powers against America because they are actually better at capitalism than the Americans are. They are building new infrastructure – roads, railways and pipelines, to allow them to exploit the markets in central Asia and Europe, while the Americans can only try to compete with them through threatening them with military force. Hence the continuation of the conflict in Syria with as a proxy war against Russia.

Whitney also makes the point that blocking the emergence of a single free trade block in Eurasia is vital for the survival of the American economy. The moment such a free trade zone stopped using the dollar it would knock one of the key financial supports out of the American economy, causing markets to collapse, the dollar to slump and the economy to fall into depression.

See: http://www.counterpunch.org/2017/03/23/will-washington-risk-ww3-to-block-an-emerging-eu-russia-superstate/

This is very interesting, as it shows just how far current international tensions with Putin’s Russia are caused by America’s fears of a resurgent Russia and China, and its own looming economic irrelevance. The use of the dollar as the international currency is absolutely critical in this. One of the reasons why Colonel Gadaffy was overthrown was because the ‘mad dog of the Middle East’ wanted to create an Arab economic bloc like the EU, which would use the dinar rather than the dollar as its international currency. America’s economy is propped up to a very large degree through the use of the dollar as the international currency of the petrochemical industry. Once that goes, the American economy, and its status as the world’s only superpower, goes up. Hence the Americans determination to have him overthrown, even if that meant the collapse of Libya as a functioning state and the replacement of its secular welfare state by a hardline theocratic regime.

There’s a considerable amount wrong with the EU, but it also has enormous economic, legal and political benefits. In the 19th century, British companies played a large part in Russia’s industrialisation. Before the Revolution, one of the main Russian cities was called Yusovska, a name derived from ‘Hughes’, the surname of the British industrialist, who had set up a company there. By voting to leave the EU, we may also have missed the opportunity to benefit from closer economic contacts with Russia and China. Or rather, England has. Scotland voted to remain, and this may well begin the break-up of the United Kingdom. In which case, Scotland may well be in an economically stronger position than England. We English may well have consigned ourselves to increasing irrelevance and decline on the global stage, just to satisfy the xenophobic wishes of the Tory right.