Archive for the ‘Environment’ Category

‘I’ Predicts Laboratory Produced Meat Could Be on Sale in Two Years’ Time

November 25, 2020

More news about the rapidly approaching Science Fictional society on the horizon. Last Friday’s edition of the I for 20th November 2020 carried a piece by Madeleine Cuff, ‘Biofarm to fork: Lab-grown meat on supermarket shelf in two years’, which reported that an Israeli company has had such success growing meat in a lab, that it may be sufficiently commercially viable to compete with traditionally farmed meat. The article ran

Steak grown in a laboratory could be hitting dinner plates within two years, after an Israeli food start-up this week unveiled a “commercial prototype” of its cultured steak.

Aleph Farms’ steak slices are grown in a laboratory – they prefer the term biofarm – using cells extracted from a living cow. The firm claims its “slaughter-free” product has the taste, texture, aroma, and nutritional value of meat reared the traditional way.

It is not the first firm to produce lab-grown meat that mimics traditional meat, but it is the first to say it can produce lab-grown meat cheaply enough for the average shopper. Aleph claims its production system will soon be able to produce lab-grown steak slices as cheaply as conventional meat.

“One of the big challenges of cultivated meat is the ability to produce large quantities efficiently at a cost that can complete with conventional meat industry pricing, without compromising on quality,” said Didier Toubia, co-founder and CEO of Aleph Farms. “We have developed five technological building blocks unique to Aleph Farms that are put into a large-scale production process, all patented by the company.”

The slices are being unveiled today at an innovation conference in Singapore, ahead of a pilot launch at the end of 2022. The firm has raised $12m (£9m) in funding, including backing from the multinational Cargill, Swiss supermarket Migros and Israeli food manufacturer Strauss Group to fund its plans.

Aleph Farms says its system of meat production – which will take place in specially developed “Bio-Farms” – uses a fraction of the resources needed to rear livestock for meat. Beef is one of the most carbon-intensive foods, in part because it requires large amounts of land, food and water to rear cattle.

Switching to lab-grown meat would also curb the use of antibiotics in farm animals, one of the major drivers of antibiotic resistance around the world, Aleph Farms said.

But many consumers are still uncomfortable with the idea of eating so-called cultured meat, and farmers are expected to mount stiff opposition to its roll-out. In the US the beef lobby is already pressuring the US Department of Agriculture to define meat as a product that comes from the carcass of an animal.

This looks to me like it might be another industry puff-piece, like the glowing report a week or so ago that the rapid transit vacuum tube train system had been successfully tested. I’m starting to wonder if Lebedev or whoever owns the I now has shares in these companies.

SF writers and scientists have been predicting the development of lab-grown meat for decades now. I think it’s one of the targets the SF writers Pohl and Kornbluth take solid aim at in their 1950s satire of consumerism and advertising, The Space Merchants. It also appears in one of the Gregory Benford’s ‘Galactic Centre’ cycle of novels, where he describes the endless production of cloned turkey – lurkey- to feed an interstellar expedition sent to the centre of the Galaxy to find allies against an invading civilisation of intelligent machines. Outside SF, the late botanist David Bellamy gave an interview in the Sunday supplement for the Heil way back in the 1980s, in which he looked forward to the advent of lab-grown meat. This would end the cruelty of current farming, and cattle would then be reared as pets.

It’s an inspiring vision, and many people naturally have qualms about the way animals are reared and slaughtered. And there are plenty of veggies out there, who still want to enjoy the taste of meat. Hence the growth of vegetable substitutes.

But I’ve also got strong reservations about this. Firstly there’s the health aspect. What happens if you clone endlessly from a limited set of cells? I can see the nutritional value of such meat declining over time. I also don’t think it’s a good idea to get the meat from such a limited stock. One of the causes of the Great Potato Famine in Ireland was that the strains used by the Irish were too restricted. Other varieties of spud, which could have resisted the fungus which devastated the crop, weren’t available. And so when the fungus appeared, it destroyed such a high proportion that millions either starved to death or were forced to emigrate. And the British government was so unsympathetic, that immense bitterness was left that added a further spur to the Irish nationalists. I can see a similar problem devastating clone food.

I also worry about the potentially dehumanising effect this will have on us as well. One of the complaints we hear regularly from educators and agricultural/ nature programmes like Countryfile is that many children don’t know where their food comes from. Hence the schemes to take kids, especially from the inner city, to farms. For many people meat, and other foodstuffs, is simply what comes from the shops or supermarkets. But people aren’t robots or disembodied minds. As Priss says in the film Bladerunner, ‘We’re not computers. We’re biological’. And I’m afraid if we go down this route and begin the mass consumption of lab-grown meat, we’ll contact with that biology, to our own spiritual detriment.

And I’m not sure that it will be good for the animals either. Yes, I know the arguments. Cows need much space and vegetation, and their flatulence gives off such amounts of methane that it’s a major contributor to global warming. A little while ago a vegetarian organisation appeared on the Beeb local news programme for the Bristol area, Points West, to present their argument that if everyone in the Bristol, Somerset and Gloucestershire region turned veggie, the amount of land used for farming could be drastically reduced. The vast tracts of unused land could be rewilded, thus aiding the environment. But what humanity has no use for in the environment, it destroys or allows to become extinct. The wolf is extinct in Britain, and it’s been argued that the only reason the fox has survived is because there was precious little else left to hunt after the number of deer was reduced. And despite official protection, birds of prey are also under threat because they prey on grouse and so threatened that alleged sport and its profits in Scotland. Cattle continue to be farmed, but the previous varieties bred by our ancestors have become rare as their place has been taken by more profitable animals. If lab-grown meat takes off, then I’m afraid that cattle as a species will also become rare.

Whatever the environmental advantages, this looks like another step towards the kind of overly technological, dehumanizing dystopia SF writers have been warning us about. It’s an interesting idea, but it needs much more debate and caution.

‘I’: British Government Considering Solar Power Satellites

November 17, 2020

A bit more space technology news now. The weekend edition of the I, for Saturday 14th November 2020 carried a piece by Tom Bawden, ‘The final frontier for energy’ with the subtitle ‘Revealed: the UK is supporting a plan to create a giant solar power station in space’. The article ran

Millions of British homes could be powered by a giant solar power station 24,000 miles up in space within three decades, under proposals being considered by the government.

Under the plan, a system of five huge satellites – each more than a mile wide, covered in solar panels and weighing several thousand tons – would deliver laser beams of energy down to Earth.

These would provide up to 15 per cent of the country’s electricity supply by 2050, enough to power four million households – with the first space energy expected to be delivered by 2040. Each satellite would be made from tens of thousands of small modules, propelled into space through 200 separate rocket launches, and then assembled by robots.

The satellites would use thousands of mirrors to concentrate the sunlight on to the solar panels, which would be converted into high frequency radio waves. These would be beamed to a receiving antenna on the Earth, converted into electricity and delivered to our homes.

While the prospect of a solar space station beaming energy into our homes might seem outlandish, advocates are hopeful it can be done. The Government and the UK Space Agency are taking the technology extremely seriously, believing it could play a crucial role in helping the country to fulfil its promise of becoming carbon neutral – or net zero – by 2050, while keeping the lights on.

They have appointed the engineering consultancy Frazer-Nash to look into the technical and economic feasibility and it will report back next year.

“Solar space stations may sound like science fiction, but they could be a game-changing new source of energy for the UK and the rest of the world,” the science minister, Amanda Solloway, said.

“This pioneering study will help shine a light on the possibilities for a space-based solar power system which, if successful, could play an important role in reducing our emissions and meeting the UK’s ambitious climate-change targets,” she said.

Martin Soltau, of Frazer-Nash, who is leading the feasibility study, said: “This technology is really exciting and could be a real force for good. It has the potential to transform the energy market and make the net-zero target achievable – and from an engineering perspective it looks feasible.”

Previous analysis by other researchers on economic viability suggests space solar could be “competitive” with existing methods of electricity generation but that will need to be independently assessed, Mr Soltau said.

If the UK is to become net zero it needs to find a green source of energy that is totally dependable because the wind doesn’t always blow and the sun definitely doesn’t always shine.

This is where solar space comes in, with its panels sufficiently much closer to the sun that they are not blighted by clouds and darkness.

“This would provide a baseload of energy 24/7 and 365 days a year – and has a fuel supply for the next five billion years,” said Mr Soltau, referring to the predicted date of the sun’s eventual demise.

Until recently, this project really would have been a pipe dream – but two developments mean it is now a realistic prospect, Mr Soltau says.

The first is the new generation of reusable rockets, such as the Falcon 9 launcher from Elon Musk’s SpaceX, which mean satellites can be sent into space far more cheaply.

The cost of launching objects into low Earth orbit has gone from about $20,000 (£15,000) a kilogram in the early 2000s to less $3,000 now – and looks to fall below $1,000 in the coming years, he says.

At the same time, solar panels are much cheaper and more than three times as efficient as they were in the 1990s, meaning far fewer need to be sent into orbit to produce the same amount of energy.

Mr Soltau is hopeful, although by no means certain, that his study will find the technology to be feasible in economic and engineering terms – with the technology looking like it’s on track.

The five satellite solar power station system envisaged by the Government will probably cost more than £10bn – and potentially quite a lot more – more than the Hinkley Point C nuclear power station, which would produce roughly similar amounts of electricity, is expected to cost about £30bn, including decommissioning, Mr Soltau points out.

When all is said and done, there’s no getting away from the fact that building a satellite of that size and complexity in orbit is a mindboggling task. But it could well be feasible.

The article was accompanied by this diagram.

The captions read

  1. Solar reflectors: Orientation of satellite with respect to the Sun controlled to constantly reflect sunlight onto the solar power array below.
  2. Solar panels and transmitters: Approximately 60,000 layers of solar panels that collect the sunlight from the reflectors, and convert this to transmit high frequency radio waves.
  3. Power transmission: High frequency radio wave transmission from satellite to receiver on ground.
  4. Ground station: approximately 5k in diameter rectenna (a special type of receiving antenna that is used for converting electromagnetic energy into direct current (DC) electricity), generating 2 gigawatts of power enough for 2 million people at peak demand.

The solar reflectors are the objects which look rather like DVDs/CDs. The box at the top of the diagram gives the heights of a few other objects for comparison.

The ISS – 110m

The London Shard – 310m

The Burj Khalifa – 830m

The Cassiopeia solar satellite 1,700m.

The use of solar power satellites as a source of cheap, green energy was proposed decades ago, way back when I was at school in the 1970s. I first read about it in the Usborne Book of the Future. I don’t doubt that everything in the article is correct, and that the construction of such satellites would be comparable in price, or even possibly cheaper, than conventional terrestrial engineering projects. I went to a symposium on the popular commercialisation space at the headquarters of the British Interplanetary Society way back at the beginning of this century. One of the speakers was an engineer, who stated that the construction of space stations, including space hotels, was actually comparable in cost to building a tower block here on Earth. There was just a difference in attitude. Although comparable in cost, such space stations were viewed as prohibitively expensive compared to similar terrestrial structures.

Apart from the expense involved, the other problem solar power satellites have is the method of transmission. All the previous systems I’ve seen beamed the power back to Earth as microwaves, which means that there is a possible danger from cancer. The use of laser beams might be a way round that, but I still wonder what the health and environmental impact would be, especially if the receiving station is around 5 km long.

I also wonder if the project would ever be able to overcome the opposition of vested interests, such as the nuclear and fossil fuel industries. One of the reasons the Trump government has been so keen to repeal environmental legislation and put in place measures to prevent the Environmental Protection Agency from doing its job, is because the Republican party receives very generous funding from the oil industry, and particularly the Koch brothers. And there are plenty of Tory MPs who also possess links to big oil.

At the moment this looks like a piece of industry PR material. It’s an interesting idea, and I’ve no doubt that it’s factually correct, but given the resistance of the British establishment to new ideas, and especially those which might involve government expenditure, I have grave doubts about whether it will actually ever become a reality. Fossil fuels might be destroying the planet, but there are enough people on the right who don’t believe that’s happening and who get a very tidy profit from it, that I can see the oil industry being promoted against such projects for decades to come.

No Flesh Is Spared in Richard Stanley’s H.P. Lovecraft Adaptation.

October 20, 2020

Well, almost none. There is one survivor. Warning: Contains spoilers.

Color out of Space, directed by Richard Stanley, script by Richard Stanley and Scarlett Amaris. Starring

Nicholas Cage … Nathan Gardner,

Joely Richardson… Theresa Gardner,

Madeleine Arthur… Lavinia Gardner

Brendan Meyer… Benny Gardner

Julian Meyer… Jack Gardner

Elliot Knight… Ward

Tommy Chong… Ezra

Josh C. Waller… Sheriff Pierce

Q’orianka Kilcher… Mayor Tooma

This is a welcome return to big screen cinema of South African director Richard Stanley. Stanley was responsible for the cult SF cyberpunk flick, Hardware, about a killer war robot going running amok in an apartment block in a future devastated by nuclear war and industrial pollution. It’s a great film, but its striking similarities to a story in 2000AD resulted in him being successfully sued by the comic for plagiarism. Unfortunately, he hasn’t made a major film for the cinema since he was sacked as director during the filming of the ’90s adaptation of The Island of Doctor Moreau. Th film came close to collapse and was eventually completed by John Frankenheimer. A large part of the chaos was due to the bizarre, irresponsible and completely unprofessional behaviour of the two main stars, Marlon Brando and Val Kilmer.

Previous Lovecraft Adaptations

Stanley’s been a fan of Lovecraft ever since he was a child when his mother read him the short stories. There have been many attempts to translate old Howard Phillips’ tales of cosmic horror to the big screen, but few have been successful. The notable exceptions include Brian Yuzna’s Reanimator, From Beyond and Dagon. Reanimator and From Beyond were ’80s pieces of gleeful splatter, based very roughly – and that is very roughly – on the short stories Herbert West – Reanimator and From Beyond the Walls of Sleep. These eschewed the atmosphere of eerie, unnatural terror of the original stories for over the top special effects, with zombies and predatory creatures from other realities running out of control. Dagon came out in the early years of this century. It was a more straightforward adaptation of The Shadow Over Innsmouth, transplanted to Spain. It generally followed the plot of the original short story, though at the climax there was a piece of nudity and gore that certainly wasn’t in Lovecraft.

Plot

Color out of Space is based on the short story of the same name. It takes some liberties, as do most movie adaptations, but tries to preserve the genuinely eerie atmosphere of otherworldly horror of the original, as well as include some of the other quintessential elements of Lovecraft’s horror from his other works. The original short story is told by a surveyor, come to that part of the American backwoods in preparation for the construction of a new reservoir. The land is blasted and blighted, poisoned by meteorite that came down years before. The surveyor recounted what he has been told about this by Ammi Pierce, an old man. The meteorite landed on the farm of Nahum Gardner and his family, slowly poisoning them and twisting their minds and bodies, as it poisons and twists the land around them.

In Stanley’s film, the surveyor is Ward, a Black hydrologist from Lovecraft’s Miskatonic University. He also investigates the meteorite, which in the story is done by three scientists from the university. The movie begins with shots of the deep American forest accompanied by a soliloquy by Ward, which is a direct quote from the story’s beginning. It ends with a similar soliloquy, which is largely the invention of the scriptwriters, but which also contains a quote from the story’s ending about the meteorite coming from unknown realms. Lovecraft was, if not the creator of cosmic horror, then certainly its foremost practitioner. Lovecraftian horror is centred around the horrifying idea that humanity is an insignificant, transient creature in a vast, incomprehensible and utterly uncaring if not actively hostile cosmos. Lovecraft was also something of an enthusiast for the history of New England, and the opening shots of the terrible grandeur of the American wilderness puts him in the tradition of America’s Puritan settlers. These saw themselves as Godly exiles, like the Old Testament Israelites, in a wilderness of supernatural threat.

The film centres on the gradual destruction of Nathan Gardner and his family – his wife, Theresa, daughter Lavinia, and sons Benny and Jack – as their minds and bodies are poisoned and mutated by the strange meteorite and its otherworldly inhabitant, the mysterious Color of the title. Which is a kind of fuchsia. Its rich colour recalls the deep reds Stanley uses to paint the poisoned landscape of Hardware. Credit is due to the director of photography, Steve Annis, as the film and its opening vista of the forest looks beautiful. The film’s eerie, electronic score is composed by Colin Stetson, which also suits the movie’s tone exactly.

Other Tales of Alien Visitors Warping and Mutating People and Environment

Color out of Space comes after a number of other SF tales based on the similar idea of an extraterrestrial object or invader that twists and mutates the environment and its human victims. This includes the TV series, The Expanse, in which humanity is confronted by the threat of a protomolecule sent into the solar system by unknown aliens. Then there was the film Annihilation, about a group of women soldiers sent into the zone of mutated beauty and terrible danger created by an unknown object that has crashed to Earth and now threatens to overwhelm it. It also recalls John Carpenter’s cult horror movie, The Thing, in the twisting mutations and fusing of animal and human bodies. In the original story, Gardner and his family are reduced to emaciated, ashen creatures. It could be a straightforward description of radiation poisoning, and it indeed that is how some of the mutated animal victims of the Color are described in the film. But the film’s mutation and amalgamation of the Color’s victims is much more like that of Carpenter’s Thing as it infects its victims. The scene in which Gardner discovers the fused mass of his alpacas out in the barn recalls the scene in Carpenter’s earlier flick where the members of an American Antarctic base discover their infected dogs in the kennel. In another moment of terror, the Color blasts Theresa as she clutches Jack, fusing them together. It’s a piece of body horror like the split-faced corpse in Carpenter’s The Thing, the merged mother and daughter in Yuzna’s Society, and the fused humans in The Thing’s 2012 prequel. But it’s made Lovecraftian by the whimpering and gibbering noises the fused couple make, noises that appear in much Lovecraftian fiction.

Elements from Other Lovecraft Fiction

In the film, Nathan Gardner is a painter, who has taken his family back to live on his father’s farm. This is a trope from other Lovecraft short stories, in which the hero goes back to his ancestral home, such as the narrator of The Rats in the Walls. The other characters are also updated to give a modern, or postmodern twist. Gardner’s wife, Theresa, is a high-powered financial advisor, speaking to her clients from the farm over the internet. The daughter, Lavinia, is a practicing witch of the Wiccan variety. She is entirely benign, however, casting spells to save her mother from cancer, and get her away from the family. In Lovecraft, magic and its practitioners are an active threat, using their occult powers to summon the ancient and immeasurably evil gods they worship, the Great Old Ones. This is a positive twist for the New Age/ Goth generations.

There’s a similar, positive view of the local squatter. In Lovecraft, the squatters are barely human White trash heading slowly back down the evolutionary ladder through poverty and inbreeding. The film’s squatter, Ezra, is a tech-savvy former electrician using solar power to live off-grid. But there’s another touch here which recalls another of Lovecraft’s classic stories. Investigating what may have become of Ezra, Ward and Pierce discover him motionless, possessed by the Color. However, he is speaking to them about the Color and the threat it presents from a tape recorder. This is similar to the voices of the disembodied human brains preserved in jars by the Fungi from Yuggoth, speaking through electronic apparatus in Lovecraft’s The Whisperer in Darkness. Visiting Ezra earlier in the film, Ward finds him listening intently to the aliens from the meteorite that now have taken up residence under the Earth. This also seems to be a touch taken from Lovecraft’s fiction, which means mysterious noises and cracking sounds from under the ground. Near the climax Ward catches a glimpse through an enraptured Lavinia of the alien, malign beauty of the Color’s homeworld, This follows the logic of the story, but also seems to hark back to the alien vistas glimpsed by the narrator in The Music of Erich Zann. And of course it wouldn’t be a Lovecraft movie without the appearance of the abhorred Necronomicon. It is not, however, the Olaus Wormius edition, but a modern paperback, used by Lavinia as she desperately invokes the supernatural for protection.

Fairy Tale and Ghost Story Elements

Other elements in the movie seem to come from other literary sources. The Color takes up residence in the farm’s well, from which it speaks to the younger son, Jack. Later, Benny, the elder son tries to climb down it in an attempt to rescue their dog, Sam, during which he is also blasted by the Color. When Ward asks Gardner what has happened to them all, he is simply told that they’re all present, except Benny, who lives in the well now. This episode is similar to the creepy atmosphere of children’s fairy tales, the ghost stories of M.R. James and Walter de la Mare’s poems, which feature ghostly entities tied to specific locales.

Oh yes, and there’s also a reference to Stanley’s own classic film, Hardware. When they enter Benny’s room, glimpsed on his wall is the phrase ‘No flesh shall be spared’. This is a quote from Mark’s Gospel, which was used as the opening text and slogan in the earlier movie.

The film is notable for its relatively slow start, taking care to introduce the characters and build up atmosphere. This is in stark contrast to the frenzied action in other, recent SF flicks, such as the J.J. Abram’s Star Trek reboots and Michael Bay’s Transformers. The Color first begins having its malign effects by driving the family slowly mad. Theresa accidentally cuts off the ends of her fingers slicing vegetables in the kitchen as she falls into a trance. Later on, Lavinia starts cutting herself as she performs her desperate ritual calling for protection. And Jack and later Gardner sit enraptured looking at the television, vacant except for snow behind which is just the hint of something. That seems to go back to Spielberg’s movie, Poltergeist, but it’s also somewhat like the hallucinatory scenes when the robot attacks the hero from behind a television, which shows fractal graphics, in Hardware.

Finally, the Color destroys the farm and its environs completely, blasting it and its human victims to ash. The film ends with Ward contemplating the new reservoir, hoping the waters will bury it all very deep. But even then, he will not drink its water.

Lovecraft and Racism

I really enjoyed the movie. I think it does an excellent job of preserving the tone and some of the characteristic motifs of Lovecraft’s work, while updating them for a modern audience. Despite his immense popularity, Lovecraft is a controversial figure because of his racism. There were objections last year or so to him being given an award at the Hugo’s by the very ostentatiously, sanctimoniously anti-racist. And a games company announced that they were going to release a series of games based on his Cthulhu mythos, but not drawing on any of his characters or stories because of this racism. Now the character of an artist does not necessarily invalidate their work, in the same way that the second best bed Shakespeare bequeathed to his wife doesn’t make Hamlet any the less a towering piece of English literature. But while Lovecraft was racist, he also had black friends and writing partners. His wife was Jewish, and at the end of his life he bitterly regretted his earlier racism. Also, when Lovecraft was writing in from the 1920s to the 1940s, American and western society in general was much more racist. This was the era of segregation and Jim Crow. It may be that Lovecraft actually wasn’t any more racist than any others. He was just more open about it. And it hasn’t stopped one of the internet movie companies producing Lovecraft Country, about a Black hero and his family during segregation encountering eldritch horrors from beyond.

I don’t know if Stanley’s adaptation will be to everyone’s taste, though the film does credit the H.P. Lovecraft Historical Society among the organisations and individuals who have rendered their assistance. If you’re interested, I recommend that you give it a look. I wanted to see it at the cinema, but this has been impossible due to the lockdown. It is, however, out on DVD released by Studio Canal. Stanley has also said that if this is a success, he intends to make an adaptation of Lovecraft’s The Dunwich Horror. I hope the film is, despite present circumstances, and we can look forward to that piece of classic horror coming to our screens. But this might be too much to expect, given the current crisis and the difficulties of filming while social distancing.

Americans Afraid of Violence at Election Buying Guns and Ammunition

October 11, 2020

There was a report in this weekend’s I, for 10 – 11th October 2020, that the sales of armaments in the Land of the Free has gone up as people are afraid of violence breaking out between the supporters of Joe Biden and Donald Trump at the election. According to the report, ‘Fears it could all turn ugly fuel boom in arms sales’ by Andrew Hay, some are even afraid the violence could lead to civil war or social collapse. The article runs

Americans worried about possible violence after the presidential election are forming community watch groups or even taking up arms.

A common fear is that the 3 November contest between President Donald Trump and Democratic challenger Joe Biden remains undecided, leading to protests that could escalate into civil unrest, or even sectarian conflict.

For Americans like financial adviser David Powell, the greatest worry is that they could be forced to take sides to protect civil rights, private property and even lives. “I’m not part of any group, don’t want to be part of a group, I’m your regular guy who is watching the news and is getting really concerned,” said Mr Powell, 64, or Raleigh, North Carolina. He said he worries about “Antifa thugs”, a term conservatives use to describe left-wing anti-fascist activists. He said he is prepared to “stand guard”. Some people are planning foreign vacations around election day or heading to rural retreats. Others have bought guns. Firearm sales hit a monthly record of 3.9 million in June, according to FBI data.

In Portland, Oregon, left-wing activist Dre Miller has reached out to leaders of the right-wing Proud Boys to set up a line of communication to resolve conflicts. “We need to be able to call a ceasefire when things get out of hand,” said Mr Miller, 37, an organiser with a Black rights group. “As a black man I cannot stand back. I’m standing up and standing by.” (p.13).

I’m not surprised. Although the Black Lives Matter protests have been described as mostly peaceful by the mainstream media, conservatives have posted videos on the internet showing violence and intimidation by BLM protesters, as well as mobs and individuals chanting racist slogans against Whites. This strikes at the racial and political fears that led to the emergence of the survivalist and militia movements in the ’80s and ’90s. They were formed by right-wing Americans afraid of social collapse and violence from Communists, the extreme left, and Blacks. There was a report on YouTube that Black Lives Matter protesters and a White militia faced off against each other a month or so ago. I’ve also seen reports that four members of a White militia have also been arrested for trying to kidnap the mayor of a town in Minnesota in order to start a civil war.

I don’t doubt that some of the fears of social collapse have been provoked by the emergence and collapse of CHUD, the autonomous anarchist commune in Seattle a few months ago. This lasted all of several weeks before it collapsed due to violence and lawlessness and the police moved in. But I’ve also no doubt that some of the fears also go back to some of the inflammatory, racist gibberish that the ultra-conservative right spewed against Obama. The conspiracy theorist Alex Jones ranted about Obama being the antichrist, and he and other members of the far right claimed that he was a Nazi, or communist, or militant Muslim, or atheist, filled with a genocidal hatred of White Christians. A couple of pastors running a church radio station told their listeners that he would start a ‘White genocide’ that would kill more people than Chairman Mao. Jones also claimed that Obama was plotting against the American people. America’s first Black president was going to declare an environmental emergency in order to imprison America’s people in FEMA camps as part of the globalist agenda to take over the world and turn us all into transgender cyborgs controlled by the evil, Satanic one-world government. Well, Obama’s been and gone for four years now, and Americans are as free as ever. But my guess is that those fears of a radical Black takeover are still lingering, and have been stoked by the BLM protests.

And there are parts of the American far right that would welcome a civil war before White and non-White, leftists and conservatives. The right-wing blogger Vox Day, aka Theodore Beale, posted a piece years ago expressing his view that America was going to disintegrate as the non-White areas split away from the White. I think he might have been looking forward to it, like many other extreme right-wingers, in the hope that it would mark the establishment of a White ethno-state.

So far tensions haven’t quite gone that far over this side of the pond. Britain has its fair share of gun freaks and shooting enthusiasts, but there isn’t the gun culture there is in America and paramilitary organisations like the militias are very definitely illegal over here. The NF/BNP used to organise weekend ‘self-defence’ courses, but these were shut down very quickly when the cops found evidence of weapons manufacture. When the contents of a garden shed was examined, the found a can of weed killer with its name crossed out and ‘Jew Killer’ written instead. Since then the BNP has collapsed and a slew of extreme right-wing, neo-Nazi organised proscribed as terrorist organisations.

Moreover, the Black Lives Matter protests over here have also been mostly peaceful, although this is challenged on YouTube by right-wing counterprotesters. The protests, like those in America, have been composed of both Blacks and Whites. One of the speakers at the protest in Cheltenham was a cute little girl, whose father was White. Black Lives Matter, or at least the branch in Bristol, also put out a statement that they weren’t trying to start a race war, but stop one. Whether these protests and the response to them would have remained peaceful had Sasha Johnson and her Black militia been active is highly debatable. As it is when the clip of her rallying her troops appeared on YouTube there were calls for government action from Alex Belfield amongst others. A right-wing backlash is now taking place against Black Lives Matter. Priti Patel and other members of the government have apparently denounced them so there is the potential for similar racial and political violence over here.

I honestly don’t know what can be done about the tense situation in America, except hope that the people with cool heads prevail and the protests, counter-protests and political rhetoric are toned down. The racial supremacists are going to be disappointed, as America is too old and stable for there to be a civil war. But there is the potential for serious violence and damage to people’s businesses and property, and obviously that needs to be avoided.

Let’s hope common sense and decency prevails against those seeking to provoke intolerance and violence.

Desperate BoJob Repeats the Tories’ Broken Promises

October 6, 2020

The signs are definitely increasing that Boris may be on his way out. His personal popularity has plunged to the point where a poll of Tory party members has rated him the second most unsatisfactory member of the cabinet. A poll a few weeks ago found that he was less popular than Keir Starmer, the duplicitous leader of the Labour party, who seems far keener on finding reasons to purge the party of genuine socialists and supporters of Jeremy Corbyn than opposing the Conservatives. Rishi Sunak, the current Chancellor of the Exchequer, according to a similar poll a few weeks or so ago is actually far more popular. Zelo Street has published a series of articles speculating that as Boris shows himself to be ever more clueless and incompetent, the Tories and the press are starting to consider his removal and replacement. The Murdoch press has published a series of articles criticising him, while the Heil joined in to give him the same treatment they dished out to Corbyn and Ed Miliband. The rag published an article about Tom Bower’s latest book, which happens to be a biography of BoJob’s father, Stanley. This claims that he once hit BoJob’s mother so hard that he sent her to hospital with a broken nose. Bower’s last book was a biography of former Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn, which cast various aspersions on him. Of course, the Mail has more than a little previous when it comes to attacking politicians through their fathers. It published a nasty little piece a few years ago smearing Ed Miliband’s father, Ralph, as ‘the man who hated Britain’ when Miliband junior was leader of the Labour party. Ralph Miliband was a Marxist intellectual and I think he was Jewish Belgian, who immigrated to this country. He despised the British class system and its elite public schools, but nevertheless joined the army to defend his new homeland during World War II. Which is far more than could be said for the father of the Heil’s former editor, Paul Dacre, who spent the war well away from the front line as the paper’s showbiz correspondent. Reading between the lines of an interview one of the Tory rags published with Michael Gove, Zelo Street suggested that Boris’ former ally was possibly being considered as his successor. But if Johnson does go, it’ll have to be through a coup like that which ousted Thatcher. Former speaker of the House of Commons John Bercow is undoubtedly right: no matter how unpopular Johnson becomes, he won’t leave voluntarily because he’s unaccountable.

So with things looking ominous and the vultures circling, Johnson today gave an upbeat speech in which he promised to build 40 new hospitals, more houses and increase the amount of power generated from green and renewable sources. Mike in his piece about Johnson’s falling popularity includes a Tweet from ‘Russ’, who helpfully points out that Johnson also made the same promise to build 40 hospitals a year ago. And hasn’t done it. He’s allocated £3 billion for their construction, although the real cost of building them is £27 billion. As for his promise to have a greater proportion of this country’s power generated by renewables, like more wind tunnels out in the Severn, we’ve also heard this before. Remember how dodgy Dave Cameron told the British voting public that his would be the greenest government ever and stuck a little windmill on the roof of his house? That lasted just as long as it took for Cameron to get both feet into No. 10. As soon as he was over the threshold he very definitely went back on his promise, giving his support to fracking while the windmill disappeared. Johnson’s promise is no different. It’s another lie from the party of lies and broken electoral promises. Like when Tweezer told everyone she wanted to put workers in company boardrooms. It’s like the Tories’ promises on racism and racial inequalities. After the Black Lives Matter protests, Johnson promised to set up an inquiry into it. Just like Tweezer did before him. All lies, empty lies that the Tories never had any intention of honouring.

And then there was his promise to build more houses. This was fairly bog-standard Thatcherite stuff. Johnson declared that he was going to build more houses so that more people would be able to own their own homes. But this wouldn’t be done by the state. He would do it by empowering people, who would be able to paint their own front doors.

Eh? This seems to make no sense at all. It does, however, repeat some of the points of Thatcher’s rhetoric about homeownership from the 1980s. Thatcher aimed at making Britain a home-owning nation of capitalists. She did by selling off the council houses and passing legislation forbidding councils from building new ones. This was supposed to allow everyone, or at least more people, to own their own homes. Many council tenants did indeed buy their homes, but others had them bought by private landlords. A few years ago Private Eye published a series of articles about the plight of these former council tenants, whose new landlords were now raising the rents to levels they couldn’t afford, or evicting them in order to develop the properties into more expensive homes aimed at the more affluent. And one of the reasons behind the present housing crisis is the fact that many properties are simply too expensive for people to afford. This includes the so-called ‘affordable housing’. This is set at 80 per cent of the market value of similar houses, whose price may be so high that even at this reduced price the affordable houses may be well beyond people’s ability to purchase. Thatcher’s housing policy needs to be overturned. Not only do more houses need to be built, but more genuinely affordable properties and council houses for those, who can only rent. Johnson isn’t going to do any of that. He just repeated the usual Thatcherite rhetoric about people owning their own homes and empowering them against the state. Just as Thatcher said that there was no society, only people and the Tories talked about rolling back the frontiers of the state.

It’s just another set of empty promises. In the clip I saw on the news, Johnson didn’t say how many he’d build, nor who would build them if the state wasn’t. Like the promises to build the hospitals and increase green energy, it’s another promise he doesn’t even remotely mean to keep. Just like all the others the Tories have made.

See also: https://voxpoliticalonline.com/2020/10/06/johnsons-popularity-hits-record-low-but-bercow-says-he-wont-quit-as-hes-not-accountable/

https://zelo-street.blogspot.com/2020/10/bozo-gets-miliband-corbyn-treatment.html

https://zelo-street.blogspot.com/2020/09/murdoch-abandons-bozo.html

Labour Assembly Against Austerity’s Petition against Rishi Sunak’s Recovery Plan

September 25, 2020

A couple of hours ago I got an email from the Labour Assembly Against Austerity. They are petitioning against Sunak’s support package announced earlier this week on the grounds that it doesn’t go nearly far enough in giving people the help they need. They wrote

‘Urgently Needed – A Plan for the People


Rishi Sunak’s announcement this week was too little, too late, and will not prevent a massive increase in unemployment. We need to fight for every job and we need to fight for an economic plan for the people. As part of this campaigning, over 9000 people have now signed up in support of this plan to fight the Tories and put people first. Please help us get this up to 10,000 by taking 30 seconds to:

  • Retweet it here
  • Share & Like our Facebook video here
  • Add Your Name here

Let’s keep fighting the Tories and for a better future – for people and planet,

The Labour Assembly Against Austerity Volunteer Team.’

The text of the petition runs

A Post-Pandemic Plan for the People – #PeopleBeforeProfit. Add Your Name!The economic crisis we now face is set to be the worst any of us have experienced. We urgently need to transform our economy and society to ensure that people’s jobs, livelihoods and health come before private profit.

DEFEND LIVINGS STANDARDS AND JOBS – INVEST IN OUR FUTURE

The fight to prevent soaring unemployment is paramount. We need to build a movement that demands the Government takes the action needed to create full-employment with well-paid secure jobs for all.
This will need massive, sustained investment in our infrastructure, in council housing, transport, public services, industry and beyond.
We must eradicate financial insecurity through a minimum earnings guarantee at a decent level, ensure Statutory Sick Pay at living wage levels, support for renters, and build a Social Security System that is universal and not punitive.
The crisis has shown we need trade unions more than ever. Greater union rights and freedoms will help end the exploitative zero-hour and precarious contracts that dominate our economy, save jobs and give workers a proper say in their workplace.

REBUILDING TO TACKLE THE CLIMATE CATASTROPHE AND ACHIEVE SOCIAL JUSTICE:

We must rebuild in a way that tackles the existential threat of climate breakdown with ambitious, redistributive policies that put jobs, equality and improving people’s lives first. Research shows £85bn investment in green infrastructure could help create 1.24 million jobs in 2 years.
The state must urgently invest to create high-quality green jobs and technologies through a Green New Deal, providing a just, environmentally sustainable transition of our industries and infrastructure by safeguarding the employment of all.

UNIVERSAL, PUBLICLY-OWNED SERVICES:

Our public services provided the vital support needed during the pandemic. But this crisis also sharply exposed how a decade of austerity and privatisation has left them at breaking point. We need to rebuild them to be the world class services our communities deserve creating hundreds of thousands of socially useful jobs at the same time. Only public ownership and universality will ensure access to our public services.
Our transport system should be integrated and upgraded, with the railways and buses publicly owned and education properly funded and free for all. NHS under-funding, staff shortages and privatisation must end. We urgently need a public, universal social care service.

EQUALITY FOR ALL:

This pandemic has shone a spotlight on the deep structural inequalities in our society. Now is the time for real change. The dismantling of systematic inequality and liberation for all must be at the heart of how we rebuild better.
The Black Lives Matter movement has rightly pushed the structural racism to the top of the political agenda. Real government action, not just words, is now needed.
Women and disabled people have already seen a rolling back of equality gains under the Tories and these risk being further undermined, while LGBT+ people face a reactionary government which is not afraid to use the tactics of divide and rule. We must demand an end to the scapegoating of disabled people on benefits.

If you support it, please go over to their website and sign it, as I’ve done.

Gorbachev’s Final Programme for the Russian Communist Party

September 22, 2020

Robert V. Daniels’ A Documentary History of Communism in Russia from Lenin to Gorbachev (Burlington, Vermont: University of Vermont Press 1993) contains the last party political programme Gorbachev. This was put forward at the last party plenum in 1991 before Communism finally collapsed. It’s an optimistic document which seeks to transform the totalitarian party and the Soviet Union’s command economy into a democratic party with a mixed economy. Gorbachev also cites as the principles underlying the transformation not just the values of the Communist party, but also the wider values of democracy, humanism and social justice.

The extract’s several pages long, and so I won’t quote it in full. But here some passages that are particularly interesting, beginning with Gorbachev’s statement of their values.

  1. Our Principles

… In its political activity the CPS will be guided by: – the interests of comprehensive social progress, which is assured by way of reforms…

-The principles of humanism and universal values.

-The principles of democracy and freedom in al ltheir various manifestations…

-The principles of social justice…

– The principles of of patriotism and internationalism…

-The interests of integrating the country into the world economy.

Section III, ‘Our Immediate Goals’ declares

… The CPSU stands for the achievement of the following goals:

In the political system. Development of the Soviet multinational state as a genuine democratic federation of sovereign republics;

setting up a state under the rule of law, and the development of democratic institutions; the system of soviets as the foundations of the state structure, as organs of popular rule and self-administration and of political representation of the interests of all strata of society; separation of powers – legislative, executive and judicial…

In the area of nationality relations: Equal rights for all people independently of their nationality and place of residence; equal rights and free development of all nationality under the unconditional priority of the rights of man…

In the economy. Structural rebuilding (perestroika) of the national economy, re-orienting it toward the consumer;

modernization of industry, construction, transport and communications on the basis of high technology, overcoming our lag behind the world scientific technical level, and thinking through the conversion of military production.

transition to a mixed economy based on the variety and legal equality of different forms of property – state, collective and private, joint stock and cooperative. Active cooperation in establishing the property of labour collectives and the priority development of this form of social prosperity;

formation of a regulated market economy as a means to stimulate the growth of economic efficiency, the expansion of social wealth, and the raising of the living standards of the people. This assumes free price formation with stage gains to needy groups of the population, the introduction of an active anti-monopoly policy, restoring the financial system to health, overcoming inflation, and achieving the convertibility of the ruble.

working out and introducing a modern agrarian policy; free development of the peasantry; allotment of land (including leaseholds with the right of inheritance) to all who are willing and able to work it effectively; state support of the agro-price parity in the exchange of the products of industry and agriculture;

comprehensive integration of the country in the world economy, and broad participation in world economic relations in the interest of the economic and social progress of Soviet society.

In the social sphere. Carrying out a state policy that allows us to reduce to a minimum the unavoidable difficulties and expenses connected with overcoming the crisis in the economy and making the transition to the market…

Averting the slide toward ecological catastrophe, solving the problems of [Lake] Baikal, the Aral Sea, and other zones of ecological impoverishment, and continuing the liquidation of the consequences of the Chernobyl disaster.

In education, science and culture. Spiritual development of the people, impoving the education and culture of each person, and strengthening morality, the sense of civic duty and responsibility and patriotism…

IV. Whose Interest the Party Expresses

… In cooperation with the labour movement and the trade unions we will defend the interests of the workers, to secure: due representation of the working class in the organs of power at all levels, real rights of labour collectives to run enterprises and dispose of the results of their labour, a reliable system of social protection…

We stand for freedom of conscience for all citizens. The party takes a respectful position toward the feelings of believers…

… We are against militant anti-Communism as a form of political extremism and negation of democracy that is extremely dangerous for the fate of society…

V. For a Party of Political Action

Communists are clearly aware that only a radically renewed party – a party of political action – can successfully solve new tasks.

The most important direction of renewal for the party is its profound democratization. This assumes the independence of the parties of the republics that belong to CPS, and space for the initiative of local and primary organizations.

… Guarantees must be worked out in the party so that its cadres never utilize their posts for mercenary interests, never speak contrary to conscience, and do not fear a hard struggle to achieve noble ends.

The renewal of the party presupposes a new approach to the understanding of its place in society and its relations with the state, and in the choice of means for the achievement of its political goals. The party acts exclusively by legal political methods. It will fight for deputies’ seats in democratic elections, winning the support of voters for its electoral platform and its basic directions of policy and practical action. Taking part in the formation of the organs of state power and administration, it will conduct its policy through them. It is ready to enter into broad collaboration wherever this is dictated by circumstances, and to conclude alliances and coalitions with other parties and organizations in the interest of carrying out a program of democratic reforms. In those organs of power where the Communist deputies are in the minority, they will assume the place of a constructive opposition, standing up against any attempt at infringing with the interests of the toilers and the rights and freedoms of citizens. Collaborating with other parliamentary groups, Communist deputies will manifest cooperation toward positive undertakings that come from other parties and movements…

The CPSU is built on the adherence of its members to the ideas of certain values. For us the main one of these is the idea of humane, democratic socialism. Reviving and developing the initial humanitarian principles of Marx, Engels and Lenin, we include in our arsenal of ideas the entire richness of national and world socialist and democratic thought. We consider communism as a historic perspective, a social ideal, based on universal human values, on the harmonious union of progress and justice, of the free self-realization of the individual.

(pp.379-82).

It’s an inspiring document, and if it had been passed and Communism and the Soviet Union not collapsed, it would have transformed the Communist party into a modern, centre-left party, committed to genuine democracy, religious freedom, technological innovation and development, tackling the ecological crisis, rooting out corruption within the party and standing with other groups to defend workers’ rights. I do have a problem with its condemnation of extreme anti-Communism. You would expect this from a leader who still wanted the Communist party to be the leading political force in the Soviet Union. It could just refer to groups like the morons who set up various Nazi parties and organisations in the 1980s. They had absolutely no understanding of what Nazism stood for, just that it was anti-Communist. But that clause could be used against other, far more moderate groups demanding radical change. I was impressed, however, by the statement that the Communists should be prepared to take a back seat in opposition. This completely overturns the central Communist dogma that the party should always take the leading role, even when in a coalition with other parties. It’s how Stalin got them to win democratic elections, before purging and dissolving those parties and sending their members to death or the gulag.

Ultimately the programme failed. One reason is that Gorbachev really didn’t understand just how hated the Communist party actually was. When I was studying the rise of Communist and Fascist regimes at college in the mid-80s, one of the newspapers reported that there were underground pop groups in the USSR singing such ditties as ‘Kill the Commies and the Komsomol too.’ The Komsomol was the Communist party youth organisation.

Daniel Kalder in his book Dictator Literature: A History of Despots through their writing (Oneworld: 2018) that Gorby’s project was undermined by the release under glasnost of Lenin’s suppressed works. Gorbachev had based his reforms on a presumed contrast between a democratic, benevolent Lenin, who had pledged Russia to a kind of state-directed capitalism in his New Economic Policy, and Stalin with his brutal totalitarianism, collectivisation of agriculture and the construction of the Soviet command economy. But Lenin frequently wrote for the moment, and his writings contradict themselves, though there is a central strand of thought that is consistent throughout. More seriously, he himself was viciously intolerant and a major architect of the Soviet one party state through the banning of other parties. The newly republished works showed just how false the image of Lenin as some kindly figure was, and just how nasty he was in reality.

But even after 30 a years, I still think Gorby’s proposed reforms are an excellent guide to what socialism should be. And his vision was far better than the bandit capitalism and massive corruption of Yeltsin’s administration, when the Soviet economy melted down. And its anti-authoritarianism and intolerance of corruption makes it far better than the regime of the current arkhiplut, Vladimir Putin. Although it has to be said that he’s done much good restoring conditions after Yeltsin’s maladministration.

And it’s also far better than the neoliberalism that has infected the Labour party, introduced by Tony Blair in Britain and Gerhard Schroder in Germany. I think we need something like Gorbachev’s vision here, in the 21st century Labour party, instead of further Thatcherism under Starmer.

Don’t Be Fooled – Boris Wants to Strip You of Your Human Rights

September 15, 2020

Mike put up a piece on Sunday commenting on an article in the Sunday Telegraph that our lawbreaking, lawless Prime Minister and his gang intend to withdraw Britain from the Human Rights Act and the European Convention on Human Rights. This has been a goal of the Tories for nearly a decade. Mike was warning about this as long ago as 2013. Cameron was trying mollify us by saying that they’d replace it with a Bill of Rights. Presumably the title of this proposed Tory replacement was chosen to remind everyone of the Bill of Rights that was issued after the Glorious Revolution of 1688. This was a piece of revolutionary, progressive legislation in its time. However, any Bill of Rights the Tories pass is going to be a highly-diluted replacement for the Human Rights legislation they’ve repealed. If we see such a bill at all. Mike states that the Torygraph article was behind a paywall, so he couldn’t see it. But what he could made no mention of it.

Don’t be fooled. The Tories are an authoritarian party with a dangerous, Stalin-like cult of personality under Generalissimo Boris. Boris has shown us he’s more than willing to break the law to get what he wants, such as illegally proroguing parliament and deceiving the Queen, and now getting his loyal minions to troop into the lobbies to pass a law breaking our international agreements with the EU. He, and they, are a real, present danger to democracy.

The Tory faithful are no doubt welcoming this as some kind of move that will enable them to deport the illegal immigrants – meaning desperate asylum seekers – they tell us are invading this country. There’s also the long-standing complaint that human rights legislation protects the guilty at the expense of their victims. But Conservative commenters on the British constitution have also quoted the 18th century British constitutional scholar, Lord Blackstone, who said that it was better that 10 guilty men go free than one innocent man wrongly punished. The Tories do not want to repeal this legislation because they somehow wish to defend Britain from invasion by illegal immigrants, nor because they wish to protect people by making it easier to jail criminals. They want to repeal this legislation because it protects the public and working people.

One of the reasons the Tories hate the EU is because of the social charter written into its constitution. This guarantees employees certain basic rights. Way back when Thatcher was a power in the land, I remember watching an edition of Wogan when the Irish wit of British broadcasting was interviewing a Tory MP. The Tory made it clear he had no problem with the EU predecessor, the EEC or Common Market. This would have been because, as the European Economic Community, it offered Britain a trading area for our goods and services. What he made clear he didn’t like was the Social Charter. He and the rest of the Tories want to get rid of it in order to make it even easier to sack workers at will, and keep them on exploitative contracts that will deny them sick pay, maternity leave and annual holidays. They want more zero hours contracts and job insecurity. As well as the right, as Mike also points out in his article, to persecute the disabled, for which the Tory government has also been criticised by the EU and United Nations.

The Tories have also shown their extreme authoritarianism, like Blair before them, in passing legislation providing for secret courts. If the government considers it necessary because of national security, an accused person may be tried in a closed court, from which the public and the media are excluded, using evidence which is not disclosed to the accused. This breaks the fundamental principles of democratic, impartial justice. This is that justice should not only be done, it should be seen to be done. Hence the traditional practice of making sure people are tried with the public present. The secret courts are far more like the grotesque, perverted judicial systems of Kafka’s novels The Trial and The Castle, and which became a horrific reality in Nazi Germany and Soviet Russia.

The Tories are also keen to undermine British liberty in another way as well, by reintroducing identity cards. These were carried during the War, when Britain was in real danger from Nazi invasion and Fascist spies and saboteurs. But afterwards, as Zelo Street has reminded us, the government withdrew them because they were seen as a threat to traditional British freedom. Now Dominic Cummings wants to bring them back. So did Thatcher when I was at school in the 1980s. She didn’t get very far. It was rejected then, it should be rejected now.

Apparently the new identity cards will be online or something like that. But this won’t make counterfeiting them any more difficult. Way back in the 1990s the Indonesia government, hardly a bastion of liberal democracy, introduced a computerised identity card. This was supposed to be impossible to hack and and fake. Within a week there were fake cards being sold in the country’s markets.

This looks like a step towards the biometric identity cards Blair was also keen on in the late 90s. These were also condemned by privacy campaigners and opponents of state surveillance, and which eventually seem to have petered out. But it seems that the forces that were pressing for them then have now resurfaced to repeat their demands. And if they’re being made by a government determined to ‘get Brexit done’, then these cards cannot be blamed on the EU, as they were when I was at school.

The Tories have also shown themselves intolerant of demonstrations and protests. When Cameron was in power, he sought to stop or limit public demonstrations through legislation that would allow local authorities to ban them if they caused a nuisance. Mass gatherings and protest marches frequently can be a nuisance to those stuck behind them. But they’re tolerated because freedom of conscience and assembly are fundamental democratic rights. Cameron wished to place severe curbs on these rights, all in the name of protecting communities from unwelcome disturbance. And, in the wake of the Extinction Rebellion blockade of Murdoch’s printing works, Priti Patel wishes to have the press redefined as part of Britain’s fundamental infrastructure in order to prevent it from disruption from similar protests in future. Now that newspapers sales are plummeting thanks to the lockdown to the point where right-wing hacks are imploring you to buy their wretched rags, you wonder if she’s considering legislation making their purchase and reading compulsory.

Don’t be deceived. The repeal of the human rights act is an outright attack on traditional British freedoms by an authoritarian government intolerant of criticism and which casually violates the fundamental principles of justice and democracy. It may be dressed up as protecting decent, law-abiding Brits from crims and illegal immigrants, but this is just another pretext, another lie to get the sheeple to accept it. Tony Benn once warned that the way the government behaves to refugees is the way it would like to behave to its own citizens. He was right, and we shall it when the Tories withdraw from the European legislation currently protecting us.

I’ve no doubt the Tories will try to disguise this through retaining a sham, hollowed out semblance of justice, free speech and democracy. Just like the Soviet Union drew up constitutions guaranteeing similar freedoms to disguise its vicious intolerance. On paper communist East Germany was a liberal state and multiparty liberal democracy when the reality was the complete opposite. Even Mussolini made speeches claiming that that Fascist Italy was not a state that denied the individual their liberty.

The Tory withdrawal from EU Human Rights law is an outright attack on our British freedoms, not a gesture of defiance against European interference. It’s another move towards unBritish, but very Tory, despotism and dictatorship.

https://zelo-street.blogspot.com/2020/09/online-id-cards-polecat-megalomania.html

Private Eye: Tony Abbott Part of Free Trade Group Wanting to Sell NHS to Americans

September 10, 2020

This fortnight’s Private Eye for 11th -24th September has a very ominous story about new Brexit adviser’s Tony Abbott’s attitude to this country’s single greatest institution, the NHS. He’s part of a free trade group run by the extreme right-wing Tory MP, Daniel ‘Lyin’ King’ Hannan, which wants to privatise the NHS. The article ‘Rough Traders’ runs

Britain’s controversial new trade adviser Tony Abbott, ex-Australian PM, is also on the advisory board of a right-wing British “free trade” group that wants to open the NHS to US competition in a future trade deal.

Abbott, appointed to the government’s new Board of Trade last week, joined the Initiative for Free Trade, a think tank set up by keen Brexiteer and former Tory MEP Daniel Hannan, in 2017. International trade scretary Liz Truss has co-opted Hannan on to her new Board of Trade alongside Abbott, making clear the official sympathy for Hannan’s think tank (whose launch in 2017 was graced by a certain Boris Johnson, then foreign secretary).

So what kind of Brexit does these two gung-ho free marketeers now advising the government actually want? In September 2018, their Initiative for Free Trade jointly published an “Ideal US-Uk Free Trade Agreement” with the Cato Institute, a right-wing US think tank. Its proposed deal “should open all government procurement markets to goods and services providers” from either country; and it said explicitly: “Health services are an area where both sides would benefit from openness to foreign competition” – meaning the NHS, its hospitals and drug purchasing should be fully open to US firms. It accepted the NHS was a political hot potato – “We recognise any changes to existing regulations will be extremely controversial” – and so suggested a stealthy approach whereby “the initial focus should be on other fields such as education or legal services” before health, so “negotiators can test the waters and see what is possible”.

The paper from Abbott and Hannan’s think tank also said the UK should get ready to eat US chlorinated chicken and hormone enhanced beef; and any deal should avoid “restrictions based on scientifically unsubstantiated public health and safety concerns”. And provisions on workers’ rights and environmental protections? Yes: any deal should avoid these too.

Much of the objections to Abbott’s appointment have concentrated on his own personal failings – his racism, sexism and homophobia. He comes across as personally obnoxious, the living embodiment of Barry Humphries’ character, Sir Les Patterson, the Australian cultural attache. More serious is his sheer incompetence. He was in office for two years before his own party gave him the heave-ho, and then lost his safe seat to an independent.

But this is what really scares me. He and his buddy Hannan really do want to sell off the NHS. Hannan’s been promoting this for a very long time, so it’s no surprise from this direction. They’re going to do it by stealth, which also comes as no surprise, as that’s what they’ve been doing for the past forty years or so. And the Americans have been very heavily involved in all this. Johnson and the Tories have already included the NHS in their talks with the Americans, and one their best to kept it secret. They’re trying to pass further legislation to keep the negotiations as a whole under wraps, so we can’t see that this is what they’re doing.

And to cap it all, they’re determined to feed us chlorinated chicken, hormone injected beef, and wreck the environment and further degrade workers’ rights. Because this is what free trade American capitalism is all about – feeding people dodgy food, wrecking the planet and making sure there are no penalties for workers’ sick or injured at work.

Get Abbott out of the Brexit negotiations. Get private industry out of my NHS. And get the Tories out of office!

The Tories Are the Implacable Enemies of Free Speech

September 7, 2020

Since 75 members of Extinction Rebellion decided to do what so many people have wanted to and blockade Murdoch print works in England and Scotland, Boris Johnson and his rabble have been pontificating about democracy and the need to protect a free press. This is all crass, hypocritical rubbish, and the truth, as with so much of Tory policy, is the exact opposite. In all too many instances, the Tories are the inveterate enemies of free speech and press freedom.

Mike and Vox Political have both shown this in their articles reporting that the Council of Europe has issued a level 2 media alert warning about Johnson’s government. This was because MoD press officers refused to deal with Declassified UK, a website focusing on foreign and defence stories. This was because Declassified’s journos had been critical of the government’s use of our armed forces. The Council issued a statement that they did so because the act would have a chilling effect on media freedom, undermine press freedom and set a worrying precedent for other journalists reporting in the public interest on the British military. They said that tough journalism like Declassified’s, uncomfortable though it was for those in power, was crucial for a transparent and functioning democracy. This puts Boris Johnson’s government with Putin’s Russia and Turkey, who also have a complete disregard for journalistic freedom.

See: https://voxpoliticalonline.com/2020/09/06/heres-the-shocking-reason-your-tory-government-is-more-guilty-of-attacking-press-freedom-than-extinction-rebellion/

https://zelo-street.blogspot.com/2020/09/free-speech-tories-speak-with-forked.html

We’ve been this way before, and it’s grim. Way back in the 1980s, Maggie Thatcher withdrew LWT’s broadcasting license over a similar piece of journalism that severely criticised the military. This was the documentary Death on the Rock, about the SAS’ shooting of a squad of IRA terrorists in Gibraltar. The documentary presented clear evidence that the squad had been under surveillance all their way down through Spain, and that the army could have arrested them at any point without bloodshed. This means that the SAS’s shooting of them was effectively an extra-judicial execution. They acted as a death squad.

This wouldn’t have been the first or only instance of such tactics by the British state in Northern Ireland. Lobster has published a number of articles arguing that special SAS units were active under cover in the province with the deliberate task of assassinating IRA terrorists, and that the security forces colluded secretly with Loyalist paramilitaries to do the same.

I heartily condemn terrorism and the murder of innocents regardless of who does it. But if ‘Death on the Rock’ was correct, then the British state acted illegally. The use of the armed forces as death squads clearly sets a dangerous precedent and is a violation of the rule of law. Most Brits probably agreed with Thatcher that the IRA terrorists got what was coming to them, and so would probably have objected to the documentary’s slant. But as the Tories over here and Republicans in the US have argued again and again about freedom of speech, it’s the freedom to offend that needs to be protected. Allowing only speech that is inoffensive or to which you agree is no freedom at all. Thatcher was furious, LWT lost their broadcasting license, which was given to a new broadcaster, Carlton. No doubt named after the notorious Tory club.

Then there was Thatcher’s interference in the transmission of another documentary, this time by the BBC. This was an edition of Panorama, ‘Thatcher’s Militant Tendency’. This argued that, just as Kinnock’s Labour party had been infiltrated by the hard left Militant Tendency, so Fascists from the National Front, BNP and others had burrowed into the Tories. In fact there’s always been concern about the overlap in membership between the Tories and the far right. In the 1970s there was so much concern that the Monday Club, formerly part of the Tory party until David Cameron severed links with it, opened its membership books to the Board of Deputies of British Jews. The Panorama programme was also too much for Thatcher, who had it spiked.

At the moment, the Tories are running a campaign to defund and privatise the Beeb under the specious claims that it’s biased against them. They were moaning about bias back in the ’90s under John Major and then Tony Blair, because Jeremy Paxman, among the Beeb’s other journos, insisted on asking tough questions. This resulted in Michael Heseltine walking off Newsnight, tossing his mane, as Ian Hislop described it on Have I Got News For You. Right-wing internet radio hack Alex Belfield has been ranting about how the BBC is full of Guardian-reading lefties in the same way Jeremy Clarkson used to about ‘yogurt-knitters’, who also read the same paper. Guido Fawke’s former teaboy, Darren Grimes, has also been leading a campaign to defund the Beeb. He should know about dictatorships and a free press. His former master, Paul Staines, was a member of the Freedom Association when that body supported the Fascist dictatorship in El Salvador. They invited to their annual dinner as guest of honour one year the leader of one of its death squads.

Belfield and the rest of the right-wing media have been loudly applauding the announcement that the new Director-General will cancel left-wing comedy programmes like Have I Got News For You and Mock The Week. Because they’re biased against the Tories. Er, no. Have I Got News For You was as enthusiastically anti-Jeremy Corbyn and the Labour Party as the rest of the media establishment, to the point where I got heartily sick and tired of watching it. And I haven’t watched Mock the Week for years. I don’t even know if it’s still on. Both the programmes are satirical. They mock the government as well as the rest of the parties. And the dominant, governing party over the past few decades has been the Tories, with the exception of New Labour from 1997-2010 or so. Which means that when they’ve been attacking the Tories, it’s because the Tories have been in power. A friend of mine told me that Ian Hislop, one of the regular contests on HIGNFY and the editor of Private Eye, was once asked which party he was against. He replied ‘Whoever’s in power’. It wouldn’t surprise me at all if he was a Conservative, but that is, ostensibly, the stance of his magazine. The Tories have been expelling much hot air about how a free press holds governments to account. But in the case of the BBC, this is exactly why they despise it.

The Tories hate the BBC because it’s the state broadcaster, and so is an obstacle to the expansion of Rupert Murdoch’s squalid empire of filth and lies. They’d like it defunded and privatised so that Murdoch, or someone like him, can move in. Not least because Murdoch has and is giving considerable support to the Tories. And in return, the Tories and then New Labour gave Murdoch what he wanted, and he was allowed to pursue his aim of owning a sizable chunk of the British press and independent broadcasting with Sky. This has alarmed those concerned about the threat posed by such media monopolies. It’s why Extinction Rebellion were right to blockade Murdoch’s papers, as both Mike and Zelo Street have pointed out. We don’t have a free press. We have a captive press controlled by a handful of powerful media magnates, who determine what gets reported. John Major in his last years in office realised the political threat Murdoch posed, but by this time it was too late. The Tories had allowed Murdoch to get his grubby mitts on as much of the British media as he could, and he had abandoned the Tories for Blair. Who was all too ready to do the same and accede to his demands in return for Murdoch’s media support. Just as Keir Starmer is desperate to do the same.

Murdoch’s acquisition of British papers, like the Times, should have been blocked by the Monopolies and Mergers’ Commission long ago. There were moves to, but Thatcher allowed Murdoch to go ahead. And Tony Benn was right: no-one should own more than one paper. If the Beeb is privatised, it will mean yet more of the British media is owned by one of press and broadcasting oligarchy. And that is a threat to democracy and press freedom.

The Tories are defending the freedom of the press and broadcasting. They’re attacking it.